[#2015oscardeathrace] Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

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Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Zack Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Screenplay: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo

119 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Director (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor (Michael Keaton) (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone) (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound Editing (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound Mixing (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

Wow. Birdman, like Interstellar, is a movie you just kind of have to let it settle in to get something out. This movie actually kept me in silent thought for hours after leaving the theater, but what an incredible journey.

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Riggan (Michael Keaton, Batman, Need for Speed) is an aging former star, known for his Birdman franchise of superhero films from some time ago. Now, he wants to reignite the flame of his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” with the help of friend and lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover, Muppets Most Wanted). He has just fixed a casting problem by hiring wild card performer Mike (Edward Norton, Fight Club, The Grand Budapest Hotel) who has complicated production right before preview nights start. Now, Riggan’s entire world is crumbling around him as his career rides the line, his complex relationship with daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone, The Help, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) melts away, and his cracked relationship with actress Laura (Andrea Riseborough, Oblivion, Welcome to the Punch) takes on startling new weight, all while being egged on by his ego in the latest film from visionary storyteller Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful).

This movie just melts the mind with its constant onslaught of problems for Riggan and his production. I love the cinematography here, playing out as if the entire film is one long sequential shot. It doesn’t let you pause for a moment, and that’s just the way I like it. As Riggan runs out of time to stop, so too do the audience as Inarritu throws issues at the screen. I loved being inside Riggan’s head and what Michael Keaton was able to do with this character who I’m sure he connected with in a big way as the fictional Birdman franchise becomes a critique of the entire superhero genre (of which Keaton should be very familiar with) as well as the entire canon of pop culture franchises that are spewing out of Hollywood right now.

The screenplay, a tongue-in-cheek masterpiece of its own, presents a warped view of fame and personal acceptance (or lack thereof) and sends up a lot of current filmmaking trends while skewering itself for the very same problems. This film has more levels than an onion and I loved the smell it reeked of as I peeled each layer away.

Michael Keaton’s work here is stunningly off-putting. He is a broken man who just wants the world to see him as he does. His interactions with fellow performers Lesley (Naomi Watts, King Kong, St. Vincent) and Laura present the feeling of walking on thousands of eggshells while his confrontations with the complexly inept Mike makes one shudder.

Even the visual effects, though few, add to its own narcissism. I love what this movie says about movies and the entire performing arts as a whole. This is the best parts of Cabin in the Woods and Black Swan rolled up.

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I can’t say enough about this movie but I can say that it sends out a rhythm of sadness and absurdity that I didn’t know Inarritu was capable of. See this movie, even if you don’t believe me. You will soon enough.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Virunga (2014)

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Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

Screenplay: Orlando von Einsiedel

90 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

Virunga will be one of the best short documentaries of the year. They just need to chop off the middle half hour. Seriously.

Mountain gorillas are reaching the end of their existence. If not for a brave group of people, they would be today. Virunga tells their story. The Congo’s civil war has reached Virunga National Park. In May 2012, we see these people, an ex-child soldier, a mountain gorilla caregiver, and a conservationist, among others, defend the park from armed militia seeking to take it over.

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Virunga gives us a great introduction to these people and why they care so much. It also gives us a finale that is intriguing, tragic, deeply moving, and wholly unsettling, but it definitely drags in its second act. I felt like the film unhinged from its path and took too many detours here and there, not a bad thing, but by that point, I was far too invested in the main path. Virunga is still a worthy piece of film, but as far as Best Documentary, I’m not completely convinced.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Let’s Begin…

Hey everyone, so here’s the deal, every year, I try to make my way into seeing every film nominated for an Academy Awards (no short films, it’s just not possible). This year, there were forty-five films nominated, and here they are:

Best Picture:

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

 

Best Director:

  • Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
  • Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

 

Best Actor:

  • Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

 

Best Actress:

  • Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  • Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore, Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon, Wild

 

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Robert Duvall, The Judge
  • Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
  • Edward Norton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

 

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Laura Dern, Wild
  • Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

 

Best Original Screenplay:

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • American Sniper
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inherent Vice
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

 

Best Animated Feature:

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

 

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • Ida
  • Leviathan
  • Tangerines
  • Timbuktu
  • Wild Tales

 

Best Documentary:

  • Citizenfour
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

 

Best Original Score:

 

Best Original Song:

  • “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie
  • “Glory” from Selma
  • “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars” from Begin Again

 

Best Sound Editing:

 

Best Sound Mixing:

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
  • Interstellar
  • Unbroken
  • Whiplash

 

Best Production Design:

 

Best Cinematography:

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

 

Best Costume Design:

 

Best Film Editing:

 

Best Visual Effects:

 

So, how many can you see? You’re on!

Wild (2014)

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Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffman

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

115 min. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language.

 

Who’s ready to get Wild? Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Inherent Vice) certainly is, as she portrays real life Cheryl Strayed, a woman about to take on the journey of a lifetime, and Witherspoon takes on the performance of a lifetime.

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Cheryl Strayed has had a rough time: drugs, alcohol, anonymous sex, cheating, lying, deceit. Now, after losing her husband (Thomas Sadoski, TV’s The Newsroom, Loser), Cheryl is ready to take on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), an 1,100 mile solo hike from one end of the US to the other. This is a staggering endeavor, and Cheryl takes us along for the ride as she documents the trek and gives us flashbacks to what brought her here.

This is a far different Reese Witherspoon than we have ever seen, and it might just be the best performance in her career. She plays a broken woman ready to stand back up and fight, and her tragic relationship with mother Bobbi (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, When the Game Stands Tall), proves that both actresses here are at the top of their respective games. Everything in the film is seen through Cheryl’s perspective, and it causes a looseness to the tale that almost feels dreamlike in its portrayal of the trials on the trails.

The screenplay by Nick Hornby (An Education, Fever Pitch) gave me several avenues and relationships to delve into, but the film feels unfinished even though it finished. The ending is tied up so quick I almost wasn’t sure that I should get out of my chair. Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria) shows us a stunning vision of open America. The music, and sometimes lack thereof, gives us a more personal and intimate connection to Cheryl’s journey.

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Now, the film has a lot in common with films like Into the Wild and 127 Hours that I didn’t walk away as blown away as I had hoped, but Wild is still definitely worth a trip to your theater, as long as the theater is closer than a thousand miles.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight (1995)

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Director: Ernest R. Dickerson

Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett Smith, Thomas Haden Church, CCH Pounder, John Kassir

Screenplay: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, Mark Bishop

92 mins. Rated R for gore, horror violence, sexuality and language.

 

Only a series like Tales from the Crypt can make a joke about going postal into a plot point. Seriously.

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It’s been twenty years since the first in a planned (but cancelled) trilogy of Tales from the Crypt films was released in theaters. Demon Knight is the story of an age-old battle between good and evil, following Brayker (William Sadler, The Shawshank Redemption, Machete Kills), a man who has lived far past his years, as he is hunted throughout the forgotten roads of western civilization by a being known only as The Collector (Billy Zane, Titanic, The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption). Brayker is in possession of a mystical relic, a key, and The Collector will stop at nothing to retrieve it. As Brayker holds up in an old church turned into a motel, owner Irene (CCH Pounder, TV’s NCIS: New Orleans, Avatar) fears he is dangerous and accidentally brings The Collector right to their door. Now, Brayker, Irene, and the rest of the motel residents, including ex-con Jeryline (Jada Pinkett Smith, TV’s Gotham, Collateral) and Roach (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways, Heaven is for Real), a guy just looking for a good time, to stop The Collector from unleashing hell on Earth in this full-length tale told by the menacing Crypt Keeper (John Kassir, Pocahontas, The Smurfs 2).

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It is tough to judge a film based on campiness when camp is the overall goal in mind. The movie is goofy, but has a solidly enjoyable screenplay, though it gets a little muddled at the end. Some of the rules created don’t exactly make sense (kind of like Gremlins, you don’t really need to care). The performances are all loopily over-the-top, sometimes too much so. This whole movie exists to service the fans, and half of them weren’t even serviced all in all. I happened to enjoy it, but I agree that it may have worked better as a longer episode rather than a feature. I will say, though, it’s still a pretty damn fun time.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

 

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the work that Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) and his creative team has accomplished. Six films, two trilogies, and hours upon hours of extended editions have comprised the Middle-Earth Saga.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz) and the company of dwarves have just let the diabolical Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Penguins of Madagascar) loose on Lake Town. It’s up to Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, Fast & Furious 6) to stop the evil dragon and reclaim their lives. Tempers soon flair up as the treasures of Erebor are up for grabs and Thorin (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm), consumed by greed, has decided not to honor the agreement made with Bard and his people. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) continues his battle against the dreaded Necromancer.

The finale to The Hobbit trilogy is a far different film from its predecessors, and with a very simple plot, revolves entirely around the Battle of the Five Armies, one of the biggest battles in Middle-Earth history. It is very similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, where the entire film revolves around the climactic ending as opposed to standing on its own. It is definitely my sixth favorite Middle-Earth film.

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Ian McKellan is a torn Gandalf here, caught between his allegiance to the Company of Dwarves and his commitment to reason and peace. McKellan continues to impress.

Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost, Real Steel) is great as Tauriel here, the elf who has developed feelings for the poisoned dwarf Kili. Her relationship with Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers) and his father Thranuil (Lee Pace, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire, Guardians of the Galaxy) are further delved into in this film and helps to increase her internal and external conflicts as the story progresses.

As far as the Company of Dwarves, we get more great but wholly underutilized work from Ken Stott (Shallow Grave, One Day) as Balin, the dwarf who will one day claim Moria, and James Nesbitt (Coriolanus, Match Point) as Bofur, the dwarf who, above all else, just wants his home back.

I also loved the continual references to future events and foreshadowing from The Lord of the Rings, like the cameo appearances from Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2), Ian Holm (Ratatouille, Lord of War), Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas). My only major issue was that I wanted more. Tolkien fans will know that Balin ends up in Moria with Oin, we know that Gloin has a son named Gimli, we know Saruman’s fate, but I wanted to see more in this film.

Director Jackson continues to prove he can handle action and large-scale battle sequences, the action here is incredible. His cinematography mixed with the amazingly well-put-together sequences, and Howard Shore’s deep and thunderous score.

It took me a while to really enjoy Billy Boyd’s final song, “The Last Goodbye,” but once I did, I really felt it tied together not just this film, but the trilogy and in fact the entire saga.

If you get the chance to watch Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance capture for Smaug and the Necromancer, do it. He is incredible to watch even without the CGI placed over it.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t Jackson’s best work, but it certainly is a perfectly fine finale to an epic series. I feel like the theatrical cut of the film is missing some key details, and I hope that the extended cut has the ability to expand this on the film and show us some more connective tissues.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

Interstellar (2014)

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Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine

Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

169 mins. Rated PG-13 some intense perilous action and brief strong language.

 

Just give me one more minute so I can calm down, then we can discuss this movie.

Okay. Okay. I think I’m good now.

Interstellar. Wow. A film that needs to be seen once and then most likely again right after. This movie just took my breath away.

The world is dying. The last of the renewable food sources is almost depleted and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, TV’s True Detective, Dallas Buyers Club) is on his way through a black hole with a crew of scientists to find a new planet capable of sustaining human life. I don’t want to give away too much here, because this film requires you to be a participant in it.

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The plot here is one that pulls you in and keeps you there the entirety of the film. The screenplay from director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) and his brother Jonathan is just incredible, presenting ideas that are grounded in real science and also contribute to a grander understanding of the universe.

McConaughey’s Cooper is an incredibly faceted character, one that could only be played by the Academy Award winner. He is a man who is forced to make decisions that cause him and his family pain in order to save the human race, and he is not without his pain. It is as though he is constantly suffering from survivor’s guilt in a way similar to Russell Crowe’s performance in 2014’s Noah.

Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, Rio 2) gives a tormented performance as Brand, a woman who is emotionally just as weak as Cooper but chooses not to see it as a connection between the two. These two are both willing to give up great happiness in the goal of the mission, and they both pay dearly for the sacrifices.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, A Most Violent Year) and Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream, Draft Day) add to the strength of this cast, but the real surprise here is TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rachel Getting Married), an artificial intelligence assisting Cooper and Brand in their mission. TARS is a unique robot reminiscent of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, a lot of this film pays homage to Kubrick’s masterpiece. TARS provides comic relief while being a fascinating creature in this world created by Nolan.

The cinematography is spectacular here, and presents a quiet and lonely universe, one where the only friend you have is the mission. It is a quiet empty space with beautiful visuals that deeply sadden the viewers while maintaining a bit of wonder.

The score is equal parts quiet and enveloping. Completely engrossing and altogether despressing.

Just a note on visual effects. It’s winning the Oscar, just prepare for it.

Interstellar is one of the best films ever made. It is one of the best films out this year and I will be looking for it on the list of Best Picture nominees. Not only does it present a dismal future but also a hopeful future, and it comes down to a beautifully realized and wholly engaging story with incredible performances and some terrific surprise cameos too. Watch this movie.

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Now, I’m off to see it again.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Have you seen Interstellar? What did you think? Did you find a hit through the black hole or a extinction of film? Let me know!

[Happy 60th Birthday!] Ordet (1955)

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Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Cast: Henrik Malberg, Emil Hass Christensen, Cay Kristiansen, Preben Lerdorff Rye

Screenplay: Kaj Munk

126 mins. Not Rated.

 

Religion is still a tough subject to tackle as a filmmaker. We see it now in our time. Freedom of speech will only get you so far. We have situations like the one that happened just a few days ago for the people of Charlie Hebdo. Such a tragic time. I myself am a religious person but I also accept that others have different beliefs and it is our freedom to question it and challenge and I believe it makes us better people and stronger in the beliefs we have to challenge them.

Sixty years ago today, the film version of Kaj Munk’s play Ordet was released. It challenged religion too.

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The Borgen family has a lot of different views on life. Patriarch Morten (Henrik Malberg) is a patron of the local church. His eldest son Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen) has no faith but is married to Inger who is very religious. Morten’s youngest son Anders (Cay Kristiansen) is in love with a woman of a different religious sect and both his father and hers do not allow the marriage. Then there is Johannes (Pebren Lerdorff Rye), who has lost his touch with reality and believes himself to be Jesus Christ. The Borgen family’s differing beliefs are about to collide with the oncoming birth of Mikkel’s third child.

Ordet is perhaps not nearly as religiously challenging as more contemporary releases have been, but it allows the audience to witness the trials and tribulations that come with having differing opinions about the world. How easily issues can escalate. We can see that today more than ever.

The film runs smoothly enough. Director Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr) has subtly added his own touch to Munk’s play in his adaptation, though not truly altering the play itself. To the contrary, Dreyer’s adaptation alludes to other works by the director and through studying his films, one can see some interesting symbols playing off each other.

Rye’s performance as Johannes is equally depressing and over-the-top goofy. He adds an unnerving and maddening vibe to the proceedings.

Now, the film has some faults. I wasn’t truly invested in Anders’ story. I didn’t think he was all that multi-dimensional. And Morten Borgen is a rather infuriating character entirely, played rather dryly by Malberg.

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To all end, films like Ordet are needed in our society. We need to find challenges in our beliefs and opinions in order to strengthen them. That’s what the film is about; strengthening your beliefs or finding that you believe something else entirely. If you take nothing else away from this post, take this: do not feel threatened by someone who believes something different than yourself. Believe what you want, but it is when we find violence rather than mutual appreciation that we find ourselves without out minds. Good night.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Let’s Be Cops (2014)

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Director: Luke Greenfield

Cast: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle, Keegan-Michael Key

Screenplay: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

104 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use.

 

When an actor tries to make that jump from television to film, it’s a big deal. The transition can go three different ways. 1) Success: the actor creates a film career practically overnight, or 2) Failure: the actor can lose all chances of a film career, but will at least exist on the small screen, 3) Super Failure: the actor loses his television career in the process. I’m hoping Jake Johnson (TV’s New Girl, Neighbors) is only #2.

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Let’s Be Cops stars Johnson as Ryan, a guy who had all the chances after high school, but who never really took off the way he thought. The same is true of his friend Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr., TV’s Happy Endings, Big Hero 6). Yeah, seriously the same character practically. When the two come across some truly lifelike cop costumes for what they think is a costume party, they decide to just pretend they are cops, which gets them into deep doo-doo when they get involved in a major drug crime in this new film from director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door, Something Borrowed).

This film’s tone is all over the place. It tries too hard to be a comedy when it should be serious, and it comes off as too serious when it tries to be a comedy. These main characters are all so flat and similar that I wasn’t interested at all. I liked Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street, Dumb and Dumber To) as fellow real cop Segars. He was a nice infusion of actual comedy.

Johnson and Wayans are both funny when they get the chance to shine, but Greenfield’s script with Nicholas Thomas is riddled with unfunny moments throughout.

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I started out liking Let’s Be Cops, but soon it became a film with somewhat unlikable and terribly underwritten characters just kind of doing things in front of the camera. It’s a shame because I really like Jake Johnson and I want to see his career continue. Fingers crossed that everyone else finds this film as forgettable as I did.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Have you seen Let’s Be Cops? What did you think? Was it an undercover success or a Super Failure? Let me know!

Top Ten of 2014 (incomplete)

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You might notice this list is incomplete. Here’s how it works. This list begins in January and continues until the midway through 2015. There are a lot of films still being released and becoming available from 2014, so this list will be adjusting as time goes on. Here it is so far…

 

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. The Lego Movie
  3. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  4. Noah
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy
  6. Draft Day
  7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
  8. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
  9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  10. Sex Tape

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