Film Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

In an attempt to be different, Fantastic Four leaves out everything lovable about superhero films – including fun.


After months (possibly years) of bad press and mixed anticipation for Fox’s reboot of Fantastic Four, the film released to scathing reviews and some added behind-the-scenes drama. The movie, helmed and co-scripted by Josh Trank, director of Chronicle, seeks to do something different in the superhero genre.

The story we probably know from the first series of films. In the name of science, a (future) husband and wife, her brother, and their friend, are essentially infected with different powers. They must learn to harness their abilities, while working as a team, to save the world. 

The first two films were largely disliked for their goofy tone and cartoonish plot. In this 2015 reboot, they attempt to ground the film as hard as they can in reality, so as to not make the same mistakes as the other films.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a brilliant young scientist who, with help from his childhood best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), builds some impressive spacetime-bending equipment. Noticed by Dr. Storm (Reg. E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) at a high school science fair (I guess they were just browsing random science fairs? Not too clear on the reasoning there), Reed is given a scholarship in exchange for help building the Quantum Gate with the Storms and the moody Victor Von Doom. Oh yeah, and Johnny Storm crashes a car and is punished by being made a high-valued member of the Quantum Gate team, for some reason.

Von Doom’s entire part in the film is completely inexplicable. From his introduction where he’s simply an angry brat who hates everyone, to his only occasional feelings for Sue Storm, to his on-again off-again friendship with Reed, to whatever his motives are for briefly trying to destroy Earth, Von Doom just doesn’t make any sense.


There are some admirable aspects to Fantastic Four. I appreciate the attempt at a grounded, realistic tone, but “realistic” doesn’t have to mean it sacrifices fun. In fact, there’s almost no action in the entire film. Isn’t that why we go to superhero movies? There’s only one real fight scene, and it’s horribly predictable.

The film started to really interest me when the four returned with their powers. Each was under observation, and everyone was scared for what could happen. Just when I thought the film would really explore the fear and psychological effects that these strange powers would have, the film jumps ahead a year, skipping the interesting part! I was so disappointed.

In the end, Fantastic Four had a lot of potential, ultimately wasted by forgetting why people see superhero films: to have fun and see crazy action. Without either of those elements, replaced by a really confusing and uninteresting story, Fantastic Four is a bust.

Sidenote: There was a lot of talk about either Trank being really hard to deal with or Fox putting too much pressure and control on a creative, leading to this mess. Without any of us truly knowing what happened, it’s hard to put the blame on any one person. For an interesting timeline of the bad press, check out this great article from Film School Rejects.


Film Review : The Gift

The Gift surprises and impresses at almost every turn.


At the start, The Gift appears to be a traditional thriller. The setup is so average that the viewer could assume he knows the plot and the twist within the first few minutes. As the film progresses, however, it becomes fairly clear that nothing is as expected.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move from Chicago to California, close to where Simon grew up. Soon enough, while out shopping one day, the couple runs into an old acquaintance of Simon’s, named Gordo (Joel Edgerton). Everything feels pretty standard; Gordo is a weird dude who hangs around a bit too much, creeping out the couple. Things go in very unexpected directions more than once, keeping you on your toes.


The audience of course tries to guess where the film is headed at every turn. Every time it seems like you may have figured it out, the film completely surprises you. The writing here is really strong. Not only does the plot trick you, it’s not even the type of movie you think it is.

In addition to his excellent performance, Edgerton writes and directs this very promising debut. There may not be anything groundbreaking here, but The Gift is a very enjoyable, tense, and unexpected delight. Edgerton is certainly a filmmaker to keep our eyes on.


Film Review: Ricki and the Flash

Stuffed with Oscar winners, Ricki and the Flash delivers a fairly unsurprising plot with a nice polished exterior.


Meryl Streep stars as Ricki Rendazzo, the wannabe-rock-star and nonexistent mom trying to figure out how to reconnect with her family. When her daughter Julie, played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, attempts suicide after losing her husband, Ricki returns home to help her pull herself together. Of course, Ricki must learn to pull her own life together first.

The premise alone is pretty unremarkable. We’ve heard this all before. Luckily the film has enough charm and superb performances to make up for the cliches.

Ricki and Greg (Rick Springfield) lead The Flash, the aging house band at a tiny bar in Los Angeles. The film opens on their performance, a great sequence that starts only on the band, leading the audience to believe it might be a successful group, until swiftly cutting to the small, old, and odd crowd in the bar.

Once Ricki returns to the family in Indiana, the family drama shines. Ricki’s ex Pete (Kevin Kline) is fairly uninteresting, but the family dynamic keeps things snappy. A dinner sequence with the whole family in particular overcomes so many predictable moments with hilarious dialogue.


As with every Streep performance, we’ll see this performance coming into the awards conversation soon, but it’s deserved. Ricki is a severely insecure character who covers with false confidence. Streep’s subtleties let the insecurity feel so true. Mamie Gummer holds her own alongside her mother: Julie’s depressed character also steals the show. While it may not be groundbreaking or Oscar-caliber, Gummer deserves awards talk of her own.

Ricki and the Flash is nothing new in the family drama realm, but the humor and performances make it an enjoyable, if unremarkable, film.


Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

  The Martian is Castaway in space.
Astronaut Mark Watney is marooned on Mars and is left to survive on his own for hundreds of days. He needs to deal with a diminishing food supply, as well as the innumerable hazards that come with being the only inhabitant on a lifeless planet. This is the epic story of survival and humanity banding together to save a man’s life. 

This is probably the best book I’ve read this year. The Martian is thrilling, suspenseful, and hilarious. Mark Watney’s narrative voice is utterly readable and memorable–almost addictive. This is a fantastically compelling story of a man and all that he will do to keep on living. 

Finally, other than the excellent writing, I appreciated the accessible hard science fiction here. Like Michael Crichton, Andy Weir has made this a book that doesn’t dumb down the technical aspects but brings the readers up to what they need to understand while also not wasting time on the minutiae.

The Martian is a rare book, and I look forward to seeing how the film adaptation treats it. The one thing they can’t leave out (which the trailer seems like it may…) is Watney’s irascible sense of humor. It’s an essential aspect of his character that should not be lost. It’ll be hard to replicate the “captain’s log” inner monologue format, but that helps keep the book from getting too dark. 

The Last Man on Earth – TV Series Review

**Contains spoilers for the pilot episode of The Last Man on Earth**


You had me at “Chinese hello.”

In a sitcom landscape populated with crowded ensembles and overused concepts, here comes Phil Miller, the last man on earth.

The Last Man on Earth starts around two years after some unexplained catastrophe hit earth. Phil Miller (Will Forte) travels the country looking for another human alive, but to no avail. He settles down in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, and tries to survive on his own. He does, but he’s going pretty crazy.


The loneliness is getting to him. In one of the best scenes of the pilot, Phil decided it’s time to off himself. It’s surprisingly heartbreaking for a sitcom, even if we know he’s not going through with it. With confidence, The Last Man showed the audience that it’s not afraid to get dramatic.

It’s a sad concept if you think it through. That would be true lonliness. That’s why we immediately sympathize with Phil, and we want him to find another human.

And find one he does. Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal) is everything Phil did not want to find in a partner. She’s corrective, annoying, and hilarious.

What I love about The Last Man is that in this wholly original concept, it finds it’s way back to sitcom tropes. The relationship between Phil and Carol is similar to many marriages in older sitcoms, with a nagging wife and the slacker husband. But here we have a whole new spin on things. They’ve got to get along or die alone. It’s pretty black and white.


The concept drew me in, but it didn’t stop there. The visual comedy is some of the best on TV right now. Sight gags and funny cuts are used heavily, separating it from many of the dialogue driven sitcoms that are so prevalent (not that those are bad, mind you).

The Last Man on Earth has an immediately intriguing premise and pitch-perfect comedy, with two stars that we can’t help but root for. As long as Forte and director/producers Phil Lord & Chris Miller have a long-lasting plan for the series, The Last Man on Earth will be well worth tuning into for years to come.


Fresh Off The Boat – TV Series Review


ABC has been basking in the glory of their crown jewel Modern Family. It’s a cash cow, and it’s won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series five years in a row (one for every single season so far), tying Frasier‘s record. They new they hit something good with relating to white families, so of course they must replicate it.

Black-ish premiered in fall 2014 and tried to do for black families what Modern Family did for white families. Anthony Anderson’s comedy is decent, but never truly feels original. It’ll last, I’m sure, but it’s not the newest and greatest show.

Enter Fresh Off The Boat. Premiering a bit under the radar, this new series stars an Asian family who makes a move from Washington, D.C. to Florida and must adjust during the mid-90s. Rather than focusing primarily on the adults, Fresh is narrated by Eddie, the eldest of the three elementary-age boys. Eddie’s perspective guides the show as the family makes due in their new lives. He’s a wannabe gangster rapper, and his nineties-vibe is hilarious and well-written.


The family is entirely likable, even the harsh Jessica (Constance Wu) and Louis, portrayed by the funny, if not the best actor, Randall Park. The secondary kids are all funny and decent actors, unlike all the kids in Black-ish. Of course Eddie is the standout as the lead. It’s a fresh perspective, different from the kids on Modern Family.

Fresh Off The Boat succeeds where Black-ish fails. While it centers on an Asian family, the storylines don’t hinge on racial stereotypes. While Black-ish (often a very funny show, don’t get me wrong) seems to only have one card to play, Fresh Off The Boat doesn’t use race as an excuse to fill every episode. Sure there are plenty of racial jokes and funny bits having to do with the Asian family, but it’s secondary to the main plot.

Don’t get me wrong, Black-ish is a funny show that will hopefully get better, but Fresh Off The Boat is the real “answer” to Modern Family. It’s got a unique perspective and hilarious take on the family sitcom. I hope it continues.


Daniel’s Top Ten Films of 2014


2014 provided to be an incredible year all-around for film. Amazing blockbusters, spectacular indies, and epic Oscar films. It also happened to be the year I saw more movies than I ever have before. I saw 51 films in theaters this year (most of them for free, don’t worry), and 84 films released overall in 2014. It was truly difficult, as it always is, to lay out my top ten films. Some choices were easy, and there were some tough cuts. I even had to cheat a little bit with one tie. These are films that affected me in some way, challenged me, enlightened me, or even simply humored me. Check out the list, along with some honorable mentions.


10. TIE: CHEF, BEGIN AGAIN Okay, okay. So I cheated. But I really couldn’t decide between these two. The reason I paired them together is that I had very similar feelings about them both. They are purely happy films. They’re feel-good, enjoyable experiences. Begin Again was an absolute surprise going in, and I left the theater floored at just how fun the film turned out. Chef has an infectious energy that pervades the whole film. They both deal very much with creatives and the importance of an artist’s free expression. Both are musically driven and have fantastic soundtracks. I couldn’t decide which I like more, and I stand by that. They’re under-seen, happy films, and the world needs more just like them.


9. STILL ALICE The closest thing to a horror movie you’ll find on my list, Still Alice was a terrifying look at Alzheimer’s disease. I expected to like Moore’s performance, but I didn’t realize I would love the movie so much. It’s such a simple film, modestly shot, very few locations, small scale, but it’s so effecting. There are moments of shock at the progress of the disease. It’s frightening. “I wish I had cancer,” she declares at one point, and we get it completely. Moore’s performance is so pitch-perfect, capturing the fear along with the forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s. This a powerful film exploring a real-life killer. Watch it.

TT158. SELMA What an eerily well-timed film. In my life, the Civil Rights movement has always felt before my time, in the past. Of course as this year has taught us, it’s not that simple. Oyelowo gives an absorbing performance, showing MLK’s powerful authority, his zen-like leadership, and his behind-the-scenes boiling anger. Selma is an excellent, thrilling film, beautifully shot and exciting. It’s not a perfect film, yet I understand the confusion (read: anger) over it’s lack of a real presence at the Oscars, but let’s remember it’s nominated for Best Picture. When other films miss out on nominations, we don’t cry racism. Maybe that’s the reason, or maybe the voters just liked other films more. Either way, Selma works, and it’s a film that will last.


7. BIRDMAN What a captivating, unique film. Wonderfully shot as if in one-take, Birdman draws us in, making the camera, along with the audience, almost feel purely like a spectator of a real event. The performances are top-notch all around. I feel as though I need to see Birdman a second time. The first viewing was more to experience it, but a second time is necessary to really appreciate what Birdman is trying to say. There are plenty of excellent emotional moments, like when Sam rips her father apart, telling him he doesn’t matter. But there are plenty of hilarious moments too, like most of Mike Shiner’s scenes. Birdman is a such a unique creation.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-zoe-saldana-chris-pratt6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Easily the best blockbuster this year, and there were a lot of great ones to choose from. Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, it’s surprising, and it’s just purely, unashamedly awesome. Sure it’s part of a franchise, but it’s a completely new universe. Everything feels fully developed and lived in. Chris Pratt proves he’s a star and gives a great performance. Guardians isn’t perfect, but it’s infectiously fun.


5. GONE GIRL Incredibly written and endlessly intriguing, Gone Girl never stops making you think. It’s a thriller that has you guessing from the moment you finish the trailer. Rosamund Pike gives one of the best performances of the year-or of most years- as Amazing Amy Dunne. The film is so spectacularly woven together, releasing precise pieces of info at very specific moments. Cutting back and forth from real-life to Amy’s diary was a beautiful choice that only muddied the waters even more. This is certainly one of the best written films this year. Gone Girl adds yet another powerful thriller to David Fincher’s near-perfect filmography.


4. INTERSTELLAR Interstellar is more of an experience than most films. I saw the movie in true 70mm IMAX, and it was worth it. It’s an immersive ride that drives you to want more. Story-wise, Interstellar is more interesting than impactful. The family drama is a little cliche, the characters aren’t all-in-all original. I stuck with the exploration aspect the whole time, but it lost me when we were brought into the staircase dimension. Still, in the end, none of that seems to matter. These are minor mistakes in a spectacular film. It didn’t reach the heights it hoped, but it reached farther than most. It’s a beautiful film filled with wonder. Inspiring and intriguing, Interstellar leaves me wanting more films just like it.

TT203. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING This was a surprising film, but in many small ways. We go into Theory of Everything expecting an Oscar-caliber performance from Redmayne, and he delivers whole-heartedly. We expect less from Felicity Jones, who succeeds and exceeds these expectations at every turn. Theory is romantic and sad, painful and inspiring. Such a well-crafted film from beginning to end. Despite a sad ending, you can’t help but leave the film happy.

Whiplash-5547.cr22. WHIPLASH It was a very, very difficult choice between my top two. I swapped the titles multiple times before posting. Despite a tough battle, Whiplash has settled at a very respectable number two. J.K. Simmons’ formidable, intimidating performance is what makes the film. But don’t get me wrong, Whiplash is so much more than just that. Through his screaming and torment, Simmons’ Fletcher forces his students to give him only the best. One of the best lines of the year is spoken more than halfway through the film: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.'” Honestly, it’s hard to disagree with him in the moment. His methods are maddening and horrifying but he begs a tough question: how far would you go for greatness? An intense, well-crafted, exciting, dramatic piece of art, Whiplash simply works.


Boyhood is exactly, perfectly my type of film. It’s an achievement all on it’s own: following a central actor portraying a character over twelve years of his life, filming a little bit each year. It’s a powerful concept flawlessly executed. The acting isn’t all around the best, and the story isn’t the most complex and original, but it doesn’t matter. It simply feels real. It’s life, pure and simple. We watch Mason grow up right before our eyes. It’s a truly effecting experience filled with catharsis. We all grow up searching for answers and meaning, and here we watch one such journey play out. It’s a powerful thing, this search for truth. While Mason certainly hasn’t found absolute truth in the end, his journey impacts us. Boyhood will remain an important film for decades to come. A pure slice of what it was like to grow up in this age. This is film history in the making. This is powerful, raw, emotional storytelling. Boyhood is the best film of 2014, and one of the best films in decades.

Honorable Mentions:

Best Animated Film: The Lego Movie

Best Documentary: Citizenfour. Incredible, thought-provoking real-life thriller.

Biggest Surprise: Edge of Tomorrow

Best Under-Seen Film: Snowpiercer

Worst Film of the Year (that I actually saw: Pompeii