Monthly Archives: August 2015

American Ultra or “The Bourne Identity” staring Jesse Eisenberg

So I have to admit something. I had very low expectations for this film. I really believed it would turn out awful. As much as I like comedies, I’m getting really sick of all of them that have their heroes basically stoned out of their mind throughout the whole film. Mainly I have just seen James Franco and Seth Rogan do too many films together. Don’t get me wrong, they’re funny. I laugh, but I don’t know anything about getting high or being completely stoned. I see that look you’re really disappointed in me. I know, how can one guy watch so many movies and not get completely high? I don’t know, maybe it’s because no one has ever really offered me drugs. Is that a thing that just happens? You’re minding your own business and someone is just like “Hey, want some drugs?”. Maybe it’s a secret handshake or “look” you have to give someone to indicate you want your mind altered. Anyway, I’m pretty boring. I occasionally drink and send inappropriate texts to everyone on my phone, so there’s that.

Where was I? Oh, I was pretty sure that “American Ultra” was going to be a crappy film. Imagine my surprise when I genuinely had fun watching this film, despite its obvious flaws. Even though the poster showcases and heavily implies, weed was not a huge co-star in this film. It had more of a supporting role. The film itself is a straight up hero tale that doesn’t deviate much either way, but there are just some excellent set pieces along with some perfectly timed awkward Jesse Eisenberg.  After watching him in “The Social Network” and “Zombieland”, I have never had a moment to doubt Eisenberg’s work. He doesn’t do anything here to dissuade me either. The character he plays seems to fit him so well and seem fresh even though we’ve seen the variation several times. He did absolutely nothing to ruin the film. Now, I don’t know why Crappy Venom was the bad guy, but I’ll let it slide because he didn’t harm the film. His character was just there because they needed an antagonist.  What I can gush about was the fight choreography. Those who love films like “Wanted”, “Kingsman”, or “Netflix’s Daredevil” will really get a treat here. And even more impressive, the writer let Jesse Eisenberg stay in character the whole time. Of course his fighting skills are supernatural and ridiculous, but he maintains his personality all the way through and that was different.  “American Ultra” was mostly harmless. It comes at the end of a huge Action Blockbuster summer and delivers laughs as well as some really different action sequences. Seriously, when is the last time you saw someone get beaten with frozen hamburgers or an eye liner pencil be used to incapacitate someone? There was something off about the film, but I just can’t put my finger on it.

Didn’t read my fancy words, here is the short version:

You’re more than likely going to enjoy “American Ultra”. It’s mostly harmless and doesn’t offer up too many surprises. Pick it up on Blu-Ray and enjoy it with some buds (you pick which kind).

The Gift or How to Film a Suspense Movie 101

When Alfred Hitchcock terrified audiences with “Psycho” in 1960, he did it with style and a twist that not many would have seen coming. Since then (and arguably before), audiences were treated to a general formula for suspense. It was either “Who dunnit?”; “Where is the monster?”, and “Oh my god why are you opening that door when you know the creepy guy with a [insert melee weapon of doom] is behind that noise you just heard?” Yeah, in my opinion, these sorts of films have gotten extremely stale. Some even label them as part of the horror genre. I guess that works, but you see the problem, suspense and drama has just sorta melted into the genre pool of slashers, shaky cam, or torture porn.

After seeing the decidedly creepy trailer WAY too many times (seriously, when you spend as much time as I do at the theater, you end up getting tired of the film before it even comes out), I wasn’t particularly interested, but I heard some good things and after a week of real life drama, I decided to relax in the safety zone of the dark theater. What waited for me in the digital format was something I hadn’t encountered in quite a while….an actual suspense movie.

First I have to talk about Joel Edgerton. He not only directs and stars in this film, he bloody wrote it too! That’s a lot to ask of one guy and with the myriad jobs he took on, I have to say I was impressed with him. If he keeps this up, we’ll have another Ben Affleck among us. Yes, I like Ben Affleck as Batman and yes, he is extremely talented and you’re just in denial. Enough of my Bat-Fleck crush….er, I mean fantasy, er, screw it, I love the guy. With my unhealthy obsession with Ben, it should let you know just how impressed I was with Edgerton.

Throughout the entire length of the film, there were plenty of jump scares, and more than one tense moment with the perfect crescendo with the sneaky accomplices called a symphony. This is where the movie excels. Every scare or tense sequence is filled with a brilliant score. Other than Edgerton’s creepy performance, I truly believe the score does more to unnerve the audience than any trap that Jigsaw could create. Again, hats off to Edgerton.

What really worried me was Jason Bateman. Not only could I not imagine George Bluth acting seriously, he just doesn’t have that “must see actor” vibe (unlike a certain “Armageddon” star). My fears were not really that justified as Bateman played his part as the “tough and successful guy” in every suspense film well enough. Of course I was always waiting for the tension to be broken by him calling for his son George Michael (seriously, they could have totally put Michael Sera in this film.). He hits his notes well and doesn’t embarrass himself. All the other actors play their respective roles well. The only other performance I want to mention is Rebecca Hall’s. She’s far from a scream queen, but with most moments of tension surrounded by her alone in the house, her performance is also a key portion of making the suspension work. Edgerton cast his actors well.

While I’m not going to spoil anything in this review, I was a little disappointed in both the run time and the ending. Usually you’re looking for some grandiose payoff for your time spent watching the movie, but as part of Edgerton’s suspenseful, he really leaves it disturbingly open. There is also a bit about the ending that just rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t say what it was, but it was no gift I’d receive and the only chink in Edgerton’s armor. His writing just wasn’t that compelling in the third act. Dialog was fine and creepy as all get out (yeah, Radiohead would be extremely proud), but I felt the ending fell flat. Don’t get me wrong, as with most suspense films, it doesn’t end well for anyone, but I didn’t come away with a sense of dread…just more of the need for a shower.

Maybe that’s your sort of deal. Who am I to judge, with all my man love for Mr. Affleck (my future last name if he ever reads a new movie review website from two dorky dudes and Virginia comes to its senses and allows our love to flourish). A guy can dream, right?

Didn’t read my fancy words, here is the short version: (by the way, this is my version of Too Long Didn’t Read [TL:DR])

The director, writer, producer and actor Joel Edgerton showcased his talent and I look forward to more of his work. Since this is his freshman dip in most of those roles, “The Gift” has some rough edges, but if you love suspense, give yourself a treat and see this movie when it is available via video.