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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

MOVIE
The Hunger Games:
Mockingjay Part 1

CAST
Jennifer Lawrence,
Josh Hutcherson

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
November 21, 2014

DIRECTOR
Francis Lawrence

STUDIO
Lionsgate

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 3 minutes






STARS
****








REVIEW:

After a really good introduction to a series and an even better follow-up, I think it's pretty safe to say that "The Hunger Games" series is as good as it is faithful to the source material.  Needless to say, after "Catching Fire" came out last year I was immediately excited for "Mockingjay."  Then again, I was already excited for it having read all three of the books written so well by Suzanne Collins.  I also happen to enjoy final installments when they're split into two films, a prime example being "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1."  There have been a decent amount of people complaining about how this film merely was just here to set up for the action-packed adventure that "Mockingjay Part 2" is going to be.  Honestly speaking, that's exactly what I was expecting from this movie.  And being the fan of "Mockingjay" that I am, I can happily say that "Part 1" is a satisfying and accurate portrayal of what I believe is a satisfying conclusion for this series.

Jennifer Lawrence keeps on impressing with every movie she's in, and her performance here is no exception.  The same goes for other cast members such as Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and Liam Hemsworth, who all bring their A-game here.  Julianne Moore is great as President Coin, Donald Sutherland is menacing as ever as President Snow, and it's great to see that the late and great Phillip Seymour Hoffman's talents weren't wasted here.  Looking back on the film as a whole, I have absolutely nothing wrong with it.  The action was well-paced and intense, the political aspect of this impending war between the Capital and District 13 is extremely engaging, and overall the movie is just fantastic.  Some may be turned off at this being "the appetizer before the main course," so to speak, but for me this was a great set up to an even heavier and more emotional finale to a series that I've begun to respect more and more after each film.  At the end of the day, I think "Mockingjay Part 1" isn't just a great sequel and great buildup to a sure to be spectacular conclusion, but I just think it's a great movie in general.







Thursday, December 11, 2014

REWIND REVIEW: A Merry Friggin' Christmas

MOVIE
A Merry Friggin' Christmas

CAST
Joel McHale, Robin Williams

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
November 7, 2014

DIRECTOR
Tristram Shapeero

STUDIO
Entertainment One

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 22 minutes






STARS
**







REVIEW:

Alright, before you go any further into this, I want you to take a look at the cast listed on the poster.  Ok, since I'm assuming you looked, isn't that a great cast?  I mean, you have Joel McHale from "Community," Clark Duke from "Hot Tub Time Machine," and the late Robin Williams along with many other talented people present here!  Alright, with a cast as great as that, you would think that the film they're all in would be up to the comedic and talented chops that each one of the ensemble members has, right?  Well unfortunately, you're wrong today.  "A Merry Friggin' Christmas" tells the tale of a man's quest to keep the Christmas spirit alive for his kids after his father failed to do so when he was a kid.  What ensues from there on is 82 minutes of hijinks and craziness that is supposed to expel laughs from the audiences' system.  As someone who isn't necessarily a fan of Christmas movies, I wasn't necessarily expecting anything extraordinary.  However, considering that this was one of Robin Williams' last films, I was hoping for some type of film that would do his career justice and give him a decent send off from the world of film.  What is presented here is a movie that, while harmless, is uninventive, uninteresting, and just stupid overall.

Sure Williams is giving his all here and does a fine job as the grumpy father to Joel McHale's character, but in the end this is just 82 minutes of stuff happening that I, for one, couldn't have cared less about.  Had this film stuck to a focused storyline, maybe delved into the characters' past a little, and put something of an R-rated edge to the jokes and the script, then I honestly think the film could have worked in the way that "Bad Santa" worked.  Unfortunately, this is just another Christmas movie that was made for a quick buck.  Even if you just want to see Robin Williams in a movie one more time, do yourself a favor and wait for the new "Night at the Museum" movie.  Sure it's probably not going to be that great, but I can bet that it will be more entertaining and smarter than this.  "A Merry Friggin' Christmas" is a holiday film that is forgettable, bland, and something that will dissolve into the abyss of other movies that aren't "Home Alone" or "A Christmas Story."




Saturday, December 6, 2014

REVIEW: Big Hero 6

MOVIE
Big Hero 6

CAST
Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit

RATING
PG

RELEASE
November 7, 2014

DIRECTOR(S)
Don Hill, Chris Williams

STUDIO
Disney

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 42 minutes






STARS
****








REVIEW:

You know how one movie might be considered a "kids" movie and another might be considered a "family" movie?  Well, "Big Hero 6" is a full-fledged family film, and in the best ways imaginable.  With the parade of PG-13 superhero films coming out every year, it's nice to see Marvel let the heads of Disney tinker around with one of their properties while not going in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  On the surface, this looks like any other superhero film, only it's animated and has a plush robot as one of its main characters.  However, looks can be deceiving, as many have already figured out first hand.  While this is a superhero film, "Big Hero 6" is a story about the bond between friends and the love a family has for one another.  It was these elements that made me fall head over heels for this latest Disney masterpiece.

The lead character, Hiro, is a someone we can all see ourselves in.  We all grow up being told that we can do anything we want to if we set our mind to it, but most of the time we manage to slack off and take the easier and sometimes more dangerous roads.  Hiro happens to be in the stage of his life where, despite having graduated high school at 13, doesn't want to put his gifted mind to the best of use.  I can admit that I am still in this type of phase in my life, though I'm trying to establish a better way to have the best of all worlds I happen to reside in at the moment.  Hiro is the type of character that people, especially teenagers, will look at and be like "I've been there."  Not only that, but the bond he has with his brother Tadashi is something that many will strike a chord with.

It's no surprise that Tadashi dies in the film, as this has been widely implied and advertised for a while now.  However, what makes this different than the many other Disney films where family members die is that we actually get to know and connect with the bond between Hiro and Tadashi.  We see how these two mesh with one another and how they influence each other in their motivations and their work.  With the film having a good 20-25 minutes worth of chemistry between the brothers, it made Tadashi's death all the more impactful not just for that moment, but also when it's brought back throughout as Hiro's motivation to form the superhero team.  It's the things like this that make me maintain faith in the power of movies these days.

Last year, Disney released another film about the love between siblings last year, the worldwide hit "Frozen."  I have since re-watched "Frozen" and, to be perfectly honest, I don't find it as great as many others have.  Sure it's a well made movie, and it's entertaining overall, but I just don't think it deserves to have been as much of a "cultural movement" as many have made it out to be.  But to each his own, the film pleased a lot of people out there, and there's nothing I could do to convince people that it's not as great as they're making it out to be; rather I'm only in charge of recommending what's good, or maybe even great, out now.  This film, to me, had the impact on me that "Frozen" unfortunately didn't.

"Big Hero 6" isn't just a great movie in terms of its comedy, storytelling, and empathetic characters, but I personally believe it's the most important movie to see this holiday season.  This is the type of film that has something for every family member going to see it, from children to teenagers to parents to even grandparents.  It's rare when a movie can be so entertaining and still convey an important message about family and the bond between siblings.  This is a sleek, funny, emotionally engaging, and overall wonderful animated flick that made me truly feel Disney's magic for the first time in a while.  And if Disney goes through with making a sequel to this film, as their end credits scene teased, then you can count on me being first in line to see it.  Even if the film doesn't impress you as much as it did for me, then I guarantee that the short preceding the film, "Feast," will at least put a smile on your face.  To be honest, though, I have a feeling it's going to be hard for people to resist the adorable nature of Baymax the robot in this film.  That character alone will keep people invested for the 102 minutes that "Big Hero 6" lasts.





PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Annie

Paddington

Hilsong: Let Hope Rise

Minions

Tomorrowland

Inside Out







Tuesday, December 2, 2014

REVIEW: Before I Disappear

MOVIE
Before I Disappear

CAST
Shawn Christensen,
Fatima Ptacek

RATING
NR

RELEASE
November 28, 2014

DIRECTOR
Shawn Christensen

STUDIO
IFC Films

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 38 minutes







STARS
***3/4








REVIEW:

In 2012, writer/director Shawn Christensen made a 20 minute short film entitled "Curfew," telling the story of Richie, a suicidal man given the opportunity by his desperate/estranged sister to take care of his niece Sophia for a few hours.  The short has been widely lauded by everyone who's seen it, myself included, and even went so far as to win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short.  Christensen then took the short, along with its music and his young co-star Fatima Ptacek, and expanded it to a 98 minute feature film entitled "Before I Disappear," which actually won the Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year.  Some notable differences present include an expanded storyline that includes the main character Richie's personal life, as well as the casting additions of "Shameless's" Emmy Rossum and "Sons of Anarchy's" Ron Perlman.  To me, these additions actually enhanced the film as a whole into something deeper, more symbolic, and a lot more personal than the short it was based off of.

I give props to Christensen for being able to take this story and give it a dark and realistic edge to it, while at the same time going out for the strange and surreal quirks that the film has.  This felt like Christensen's version of "Garden State" in the sense that both films deal with things that feel very personal on screen as well as the surreal minds that the main characters of both films see the world with.  Christensen himself not only wrote and directed a well-made movie, but his performance as Richie was very impressive and pretty damn great.  While the last film he wrote, 2011's "Abduction," wasn't anything particularly great, I still found something rather personal in it, plus the concept of it all was original and clever.  It is clearly shown here that Christensen learned from his mistakes in "Abduction" and has made a movie that is sharper, more engaging, and overall a very good movie.

As great as Christensen's work on the film was, I still felt that his 11 year old co-star Fatima Ptacek stole the show.  She reminded me a lot of Ciara Bravo from the TV shows "Red Band Society" and "Big Time Rush" in a good way.  Both actresses have this quirky spunk to them that makes them not only adorable, but incredibly likable at the same time.  Ptacek's character in this movie, Sophia, compliments Christensen's Richie very well.  Both characters need each other, whether they realize it or not, and that makes their journey together all the more relatable.  The rest of the supporting cast, including Emmy Rossum, are all really good and serve their purpose to the story very well.  Having said that, though, it's the bond and chemistry between Christensen and Ptacek that drives the film home and makes it more than just a good film.

"Before I Disappear" is quite a remarkable directorial debut from Mr. Christensen.  Over the course of an hour and a half, we get a simplistic yet layered story, characters that all serve a purpose, and an overall message of living life despite the world around not always being so grand.  It's kind of funny to have this film come out the same year as Zach Braff's follow up to "Garden State," "Wish I Was Here."  Considering that "Wish I Was Here" wasn't as great as it could have been considering how incredible "Garden State" is, I guess you could consider this film to be that follow-up people had been looking for.  Is this a perfect film on all accounts?  I would say no to that.  However, the flaws I had with this film are minimal, and at the end of the day, "Before I Disappear" is emotional, touching, and overall a really great indie gem to come out in this insanely crowded year for movies.





Monday, November 24, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: Horns

MOVIE
Horns

CAST
Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 31, 2014

DIRECTOR
Alexandre Aja

STUDIO(S)
Radius-TWC,
Dimension Films

RUNNING TIME
2 hours







STARS
***1/4








REVIEW:

Daniel Radcliffe is doing a bang-up job getting away from his "Harry Potter" image.  From historical dramas like "Kill Your Darlings" to delightful rom-coms like "What If," he's definitely succeeding at showing people how capable of an actor he really is.  With the new film "Horns," Radcliffe delves back into the realms of fantasy and horror as he plays Ig Parrish, a man whose longtime girlfriend was murdered and is accused by the town he lives in that he's responsible for it.  After a drunken night of playing with god, Ig wakes up to the startling discovery of horns growing from his forehead.  And yet, that isn't even the craziest thing in his life.  Things are even stranger when people, when they see the horns, begin to tell the truth, and doing so revealing their darkest and most cynical thoughts out loud.

The story itself becomes pretty predictable and the villain, without spoiling who he or she is, is pretty obvious and cliched, but I had fun with "Horns" overall.  Daniel Radcliffe looks like he's having a fun time in the role of Ig, and there are scenes with his character that are both hilarious and awesome.  The visual effects and makeup designs are also very impressive, looking realistic and just plain cool in general.  The script by first time screenwriter Keith Bunin, based on Joe Hill's novel of the same name, suffers from not knowing exactly what genre it wants to be.  There are moments that are played purely for laughs and others that are played for scares.  Unlike other recent horror films like "You're Next" and "The Cabin in the Woods," this film didn't have the right tools to properly mesh the two genres well enough so the film has an equal balance of both horror and comedy.  Having said that, I still found enjoyment in Radcliffe's performance and several key moments that had me say "F** yeah" out loud.  If you're looking for a fun, but flawed, horror flick, "Horns" is a solid film to choose.