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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

REVIEW: The Giver

MOVIE
The Giver

CAST
Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
August 15, 2014

DIRECTOR
Phillip Noyce

STUDIO
The Weinstein Company

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 40 minutes






STARS
***1/4









REVIEW:

In 1993, author Lois Lowry published "The Giver," a book about a society with no free will and the individuals who have access to the memories of the past.  For years, Jeff Bridges had wanted to make this movie, and he even wanted his father Lloyd Bridges to play the titular character.  However there were several falling-outs between Bridges and the studios that had owned the rights to the book that prevented the movie from being made.  But alas, after over two decades of negotiating and jumping from place to place, Bridges has finally brought this story to the big screen.  As someone who never read the award-winning book, I wasn't particularly that excited for this movie.  Even with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep as two of the main characters, there was something about this movie that just didn't fully grab me the way previous young-adult book adaptations have before.  Having now seen the film, I can honestly say that, like many other book to film adaptations that have come out this year, I was pleasantly surprised with "The Giver."

Jeff Bridges was at his wisest and his "dudiest" here as the titular character.  The performance overall was engaging to watch and overall was just a fascinating character to learn about in general.  Meryl Streep, though in a hippie-esque wig, was also really good as the leader of the Elders in the community.  I liked how menacing her character could be while not showing that much emotion.  Think of her as the Hal 3000 but with the face of Meryl Streep, more emotion, and the hairdo of Tommy Chong.  However these guys weren't quite as impressive as their younger co-stars, in my eyes.

Brenton Thwaites pulls off a solid breakout-esque performance as Jonas, being a really likable guy and a pretty good actor as well.  Same goes for Odeya Rush, though she isn’t as developed as she should have been in my opinion.  Even Taylor Swift was pretty good in the movie, though she was only in it for about 10 minutes or so. Now with every solid set of actors, there's bound to be a couple who don't really shine as brightly as the others.  In the case of this movie, there were two performances that did just that, which is upsetting considering how much talent they have in general.

Alexander Skarsgard I thought was fine in general, but he wasn’t particularly memorable in the slightest and was just reading his lines and not getting lost in his character.  And then, there was Katie Holmes' mediocre performance.  It’s not that the character was written poorly, because she actually might have been somewhat interesting; It’s just that Holmes brought nothing to this performance and just made me somewhat cringe every time she was talking.  It kind of reminded me of Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance in "Terminator Salvation," in which they were just there to be a snooty supporter of someone.  Overall, every performance (aside from Holmes) was actually pretty good, which is probably thanks to the work from director Phillip Noyce.

The only other Phillip Noyce directed film I have seen was the 2010 Angelina Jolie flick "Salt," which I particularly wasn’t a fan of.  However, the direction in that film I will admit was pretty solid.  Noyce definitely shows he understands the craft here, and through that helps to tell an interesting story that so many around the world have only been able to imagine in their heads.  What I admired the most about his direction is how he used color in this movie.  Staying true to the book, (from what I've heard) the first 20 or so minutes of this movie, aside from a few little shots here and there, are entirely in black and white.  Once Jonas sees these memories for the first time, the colors from them feel more vibrant and give off the illusion that we as an audience are too experiencing colors for the first time.  The funny thing about that is that once the film fully transitions into color, the community and everything that isn't in a memory looks grey and a bit muted.  This, to me, was Noyce's representation of the bland and bleak world that Jonas lived in all his life, which made me admire his direction even more.

Now as for the other things I didn't care for in this movie, other than Katie Holmes, is the fact that the beginning didn't grab me and the ending was pretty rushed. I thought the beginning of this movie was a little too generic for my liking and it didn’t really suck me in the way I wanted it to. It was when Meryl Streep first appears, that the movie really started to peak my interest. As for the ending, this huge climax happens that has the audience on the edge of their seats, and then there's literally one minute of "resolution" before the credits start rolling. That might have been setting up for a sequel, but honestly I don't care. It's the type of ending that makes us audience members longing for just 5 more minutes in this world that we've already spent over 90 minutes in. Putting those problems aside, this as a whole is a pretty solid movie.

The performances are solid, the story kept my attention, and the direction/use of color here is pretty great. Judging from what I’ve been told from those who have read the book and have seen the movie, this is a pretty faithful adaptation despite some changes here and there.  The movie itself might be flawed, but the positives outweigh the negatives, which gives me pleasure to recommend this to people.  While films like "The Fault in Our Stars" and "Divergent" were better made films, "The Giver" managed to hold its own and even give people something to see as the summer is winding down.  Overall, "The Giver" got the job done in what it was trying to do, and in return gave me an entertaining movie that I can happily recommend.




REVIEW: How To Train Your Dragon 2

MOVIE
How To Train Your Dragon 2

CAST
Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett

RATING
PG

RELEASE
June 13, 2014

DIRECTOR
Dean DeBlois

STUDIO(S)
DreamWorks Animation,
20th Century Fox

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 42 minutes





STARS
****








REVIEW:

It's one thing for a sequel to be a worthy successor to the original, but for it to be superior to the original is another story.  Case in point, here "How To Train Your Dragon 2" is to surprise me so much in a summer that has already given us so many great movies as it is.  I missed this movie throughout the season due to plans falling through, other movies conflicting, and other things of the sort; and while the movie wasn't in 3D when I saw it, I still found everything else to be just as exhilarating and immersive as it would have been with the goofy glasses on.  Seriously, this is the single biggest surprise of the summer for me, and something I'm really glad I got to see on the big screen before it left.

Before anyone asks, there are plenty of chichéd things present here.  For example, many moments are very easy to predict and aren't the most original of ideas.  Not to mention, there's a random subplot of a love square (yeah that's right, four people are involved here) between some of the smaller supporting characters for no reason other than just to have comedy.  But here's the thing: I honestly gave in to everything this movie presented my way.  Recent films like "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and "Maleficent" were good overall, but their predictability and overused story lines took me out of the experience a little bit, making them drop in quality for me.  Here is a movie that managed to suck me in from frame one and never let me go, regardless of the little tiny flaws that others would have.

As a whole, the story itself is actually well developed and well done considering it had to live up to the original "How To Train Your Dragon."  The main protagonist Hiccup has to go up against a foe who claims to be forming a dragon army, and at the same time has to deal with his father wanting him to be the leader of his Viking tribe as he is now an adult.  Other family issues are present as well, and they all are blended into the story pretty damn well if I say so myself.  The conflicts and moral dilemmas that Hiccup goes through here are not only great to watch, but they were also incredibly relatable to me as somebody getting ready for his final year of high school before college and life take their place.  This is just one of those movies that came into my life at the right time, if that makes any sense, and I think that's why I enjoyed this so much.

As with all DreamWorks movies, one has to talk about how well the voice acting and animation are.  Well, to simply put it, this is the most beautiful animation I've ever seen DreamWorks do.  I'm being completely serious when I say that the animation is the most visceral, entrancing, and gorgeous work that the studio has done in all of their years as a company.  Even though my print of the flick wasn't the 3D cut, I still found the animation to be so good that it on its own kept off the screen.  And as for the voice acting, everyone here did a fantastic job in their respected roles.  Major props go out to Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, and Djimon Hounsou for really bringing their A-game to their performances and giving it their all, which in return gave some incredible voice work that appropriately fit with their respected characters.  Everyone else in the movie is great as well, but these four just stood out to me among the rest.

So if you haven't guessed already, I absolutely adored "How To Train Your Dragon 2."  Everything about this movie, including the formulaic stuff that normally would bother me, just simply worked for me.  I'm not going to say this is flawless, because it's not, but it's one of those rare instances where nothing about this movie felt sour or too much.  Instead, I was captivated with every laugh, thrill, and emotion that this movie had within it.  DreamWorks has truly outdone themselves here, and that's saying something considering their previous movies.  If this movie is still playing near you and you haven't had the chance to see it, I implore you to make the time to do so.  This is a movie that, while just as enjoyable on a TV screen at home, is something that is a great theater experience overall.  If you can't make it to the theater, though, try to make the time to see this movie when it arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray.  "How To Train Your Dragon 2" is overall a smart, funny, emotionally investing, and riveting work of animation that just, for me, got every single thing about it right.




PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Paddington

Annie

The Book of Life

Penguins of Madagascar

Home





Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: Life After Beth

MOVIE
Life After Beth

CAST
Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 15, 2014

DIRECTOR
John Baena

STUDIO
A24

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 29 minutes







STARS
**1/2







REVIEW:

With a cast and a concept like the ones featured in "Life After Beth," one would expect something kind of hilariously awesome, right?  Well, that's not particularly what was delivered here.  "Life After Beth" stars Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, and many other recognizable faces that'll surprise you.  The movie is about a girl named Beth (I guess the title spoiled that) who died, but then mysteriously comes back to life to her boyfriend Zach (what a good name) and parent's surprise.  However Beth isn't the same as she was when she was first alive, and pretty soon she starts changing into something sort of supernatural.  The problem that the movie possesses is that it doesn't know what genre it wants to be.  Is it supposed to be a comedy with horror elements, or a horror with comedic elements?  Either way, the film feels very uneven.

Aside from a few clever jokes, the humor in this movie felt very dull and restrained.  The horror elements never feel smart or clever, and rather it just tries to go for the usual horror cliches that have been done so many times before.  This movie is kind of like an American version of "Shaun of the Dead" but without the heart and soul that that movie had.  I did like Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan's performances, though, as they managed to bring something to their performances.  Plaza even manages to play a pretty good zombie when she's fully transformed into the flesh-eating undead creature.  However, that doesn't make up for the movie's unbalanced script.

Some characters in this movie are written in one way, and then in the second half pull a complete 180 and turn into something that comes literally out of nowhere.  Not to mention, the ending out of the blue goes from this grim setting to a relatively happy one for no reason other than to have a happy ending.  This was writer/director John Baena's first movie, and it clearly shows.  While there were things to like about "Life After Beth," the negatives bring it down and make it just an average and forgettable horror-comedy.  If it was on cable one day and there was nothing else I was doing, then maybe I'd check it out.  Other than that, if this is something you really want to see, I'd say just wait for when it comes out on DVD or something.  Overall, "Life After Beth" is an average and disappointing movie with some solid performances and some decent jokes, but suffers from a jumbled script and a sense of confusion on the writer/director's part.



REVIEW: Let's Be Cops

MOVIE
Let's Be Cops

CAST
Damon Wayans Jr.,
Jake Johnson

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 13, 2014

DIRECTOR
Luke Greenfield

STUDIO
20th Century Fox

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 44 minutes






STARS
***3/4








REVIEW:

At the time of first seeing this movie, I had only one thing to show me what this was going to be like, and that was a 3 minute long "red band" trailer.  What made me happy about that was that the trailer focused on mostly what was going on in the first half hour or so of the movie, and even then it didn't even shine on the film's full plot line.  "Let's Be Cops" follows "New Girl" stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. as a pair of best friends, one a video game designer and the other a man trying to make his way around life, who mistakenly dress up as cops for a masquerade party.  After ditching the party and walking around town, they soon realize that people really think they're cops, and being a cop has its advantages.  While Damon Wayans' character Justin wants to leave their one night of fun in the past, Jake Johnson's character Nick doesn't, and he decides to actually patrol the streets as if he were a legit cop, which is highly illegal.  However, things start to get very crazy for Nick and Justin as they get involved in a ruthless criminal world of mobsters, which forces them into the line of duty for real.  At least, until they don't get caught.

I think one of the key things that helps the film work is the undeniably strong chemistry between Johnson and Wayans.  From the moment we meet these two guys at the beginning of the movie singing the Backstreet Boys song "I Want It That Way," you can immediately tell that these two are best friends, both in the film and in real life.  The things that come out of their mouths are both hilarious and pretty real things that guy friends would say to one another.  I loved the dynamics they get themselves into once they become "cops" and get themselves involved with real police work.  While some of the stuff was implausible and over the top, these guys helped to make it work thanks to their reactions and how they fired one-liners off one another.  If it was anyone else in these roles, I honestly don't know if the film would have been as good since these two practically MADE the film as funny as it was.

Nina Dobrev plays a solid role in here as the love interest to Damon Wayans Jr.'s character.  She might not spew out one-liners like how most of the people do in this movie, but she's still entertaining and she doesn't come off as a straight up damsel in distress, which is always a plus one in my book.  Rob Riggle, well, when isn't Rob Riggle funny in a movie?  Seriously, I think Riggle is something of a comedic genius in terms of the way he acts in general and the way he just shoots joke after joke at you non-stop.  In this movie, he is no exception, as he is not only hilarious but manages to be a badass in his own right as well.  Also among the hilarious cast is Keegan-Michael Key, best known for his work on the show "Key & Peele."  This role is definitely up is alley, and further shows how hilarious of a comedian he is.

Aside from the jokes, the thing that shocked me the most about this movie is how it addresses the violence presented in police-related media.  This movie actually tries to be somewhat realistic despite the concept being incredibly ridiculous.  That's just one of the many things that makes "Let's Be Cops" unique and a standout amongst the countless other comedies that have come out this year.  The jokes hit hard, the story is somewhat smarter than one would expect, and Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. have incredible chemistry together.  I can see a good amount of people not liking this because of its implausibility, but for me, nearly everything about this movie hit pretty damn hard.  For that, I highly recommend you checking this movie out, as it's a pretty great way to turn your brain off and have a good laugh before the summer ends.






ME AND MY FRIEND CHRIS FYFE WITH "LET'S BE COPS" STARS DAMON WAYANS JR. AND JAKE JOHNSON AT A SPECIAL MEET AND GREET/SUPER EARLY ADVANCE SCREENING OF THE FILM ON APRIL 22, 2014!!















ME WITH JOSHUA ORMOND, AKA "LITTLE JOEY" FROM "LET'S BE COPS" AFTER AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW BETWEEN HIM AND I ON JULY 30, 2014!!  CHECK OUT OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW BELOW THIS PICTURE!







Tuesday, August 12, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: The Hundred-Foot Journey

MOVIE
The Hundred-Foot Journey

CAST
Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal

RATING
PG

RELEASE
August 8, 2014

DIRECTOR
Lasse Hallström

STUDIO(S)
DreamWorks Pictures,
Touchstone Pictures (Disney)

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 2 minutes





STARS
***








REVIEW:

When Disney produces live action movies, I think it's safe to say that a schmaltz-fest is expected, especially when it's a film about people from another part of the world changing things up for locals.  Well for the first hour of "The Hundred-Foot Journey," that's exactly what it is: a pure schmaltz-fest filled with quotes made just for the trailer, as well as jokes that aren't even that funny and an incredibly predictable romance between two characters.  However once the first hour has passed, and the story goes beyond this Indian family opening up an Indian restaurant in France, that's when the movie actually got interesting.  The main character isn't Helen Mirren's character, as the poster/trailer might suggest.  The movie actually focuses on Manish Dayal's character, who is an aspiring chef.  Basically the second half focuses on him getting his big break and stuff, differing away from all of the cliched crap.  The movie is well-acted, and the script is fine for the most part.  Despite all of the cliches and typical "inspirational story" bullsh** that is seen far too often, I didn't mind "The Hundred-Foot Journey."  At best, this is a fine rental to have with the family on a rainy night.  There's no point seeing this in the theater, but I did smile a few times, and for that, I'll recommend this sucker.