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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

REWIND REVIEW: The Boxtrolls

MOVIE
The Boxtrolls

CAST
Isaac Hempstead-Wright,
Ben Kingsley

RATING
PG

RELEASE
September 26, 2014

DIRECTOR(S)
Graham Annable,
Anthony Stacchi

STUDIO(S)
Focus Features, LAIKA

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 37 minutes






STARS
***1/2








REVIEW:

After the successes of "Coraline" and "ParaNorman," it has been shown that Focus Features and LAIKA are forces to be reckoned with, and their latest project "The Boxtrolls" continues to prove that.  By not forcing in numerous pop culture references and instead giving us fascinating heroes and villains, directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, along with screenwriters Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, have told a story that is both timeless and entertaining to watch.  The message about it being ok to be different is something that lots of kids these days need to hear considering all of the discrimination going on around the world.  The villains were too outlandish for my taste, and the film dragged on a little, but at the end of the day, "The Boxtrolls" is a well-made, funny, sweet, and pretty great family movie that kids will definitely enjoy and possibly even rewatch again and again.




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

REWIND REVIEW: Oculus

MOVIE
Oculus

CAST
Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites

RATING
R

RELEASE
April 11, 2014

DIRECTOR
Mike Flanagan

STUDIO
Relativity Media

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 44 minutes







STARS
***3/4








REVIEW:

Horror movies these days mostly rely on cheap jump scares and tons of gore as a means of providing "entertainment" to audiences, which is why I don't see that many of them.  I prefer mostly to see horror films that are as scary as they are intelligent in their execution, and "Oculus" is no exception here.  This film, being more of a psychological thriller than anything, tells the story of two siblings trying to overcome a possible supernatural being that lives inside an ancient mirror and had claimed the lives of many people over the past few centuries, including their parents.  What makes this film more interesting than other scary movies is that it plays with the heads of both the main protagonists and the audience watching it.

Is the mirror the cause of all of the insane antics going on in the house, or is it the minds of the characters playing with them?  At the end of the day, the movie never actually gives you a definitive answer to that question, adding to the eeriness of it all as a whole.  While the editing, particularly in the third act, is questionable, "Oculus" succeeds at being a chilling movie that showcases some great performances by the lead actors, as well as a showcase for writer/director Mike Flanagan.  This is the type of horror film that I believe should be shown by Psychology teachers.  Give Psych students a double feature of this and "Inception," and they will have one hell of a time thinking about them both.




MINI-REVIEW: Life Partners

MOVIE
Life Partners

STARS
Leighton Meester,
Gillian Jacobs

RATING
R

RELEASE
November 6, 2014 (VOD)
December 5, 2014 (LIMITED)

DIRECTOR
Susanna Fogel

STUDIO
Magnolia Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 33 minutes






STARS
***3/4








REVIEW:

When two people have great chemistry together, it's hard to see them fall away from each other due to differing life situations.  Take, for example, Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs' characters in the indie "Life Partners."  Meester and Jacobs are best friends who love to hang out with one another, despite their differing sexual preferences.  When Jacobs' character meets a man played by Adam Brody, their friendship soon begins to take a turn for the worst, and their relationship together soon fades into oblivion.  This was a movie that I watched without really expecting anything great from, and to my surprise, I found it to be funny, heartfelt, and compelling all-around. In addition to the great performances from Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, and Adam Brody, this film also manages to be real and authentic in its presentation, as well as give us characters who all have some type of tragic flaw within them.  Sure, some of them might have gotten on the annoying side of the spectrum, plus the movie itself drags a little bit, but it's hard to deny how sweet and charming this is. "Life Partners" is little indie gem that I highly recommend you checking out!



REWIND REVIEW: Men, Women & Children

MOVIE
Men, Women & Children

CAST
Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 1, 2014

DIRECTOR
Jason Reitman

STUDIO
Paramount Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours






STARS
**1/4








REVIEW:

It was only a matter of time before someone, with that someone in this case being "Juno" director Jason Reitman, made a movie about how dangerously connected most of the population is in the world of texting and the internet.  Just last year the movie "Disconnect," a highly overlooked film if you ask me, tackled the same topic with much more grit and grace, if you ask me.  With "Men, Women & Children," the biggest complaint I have with it right off the bat is that it has too much going on in it.  There are several stories going on throughout the movie, with some rarely ever connecting with one another in the way it seems Reitman does.  I mean, seriously, why there was a recurring narration by Emma Thompson about a spacecraft baffles me.

The performances in the film, aside from a few, are actually really good.  The standouts of the movie are Ansel Elgort from "The Fault in Our Stars," Kaitlyn Dever from "Short Term 12," Dean Norris from "Breaking Bad," and notable funny-man Adam Sandler.  These actors are the only ones that save this from being a truly terrible film in my eyes.  Jennifer Garner just annoyed me here, but I blame that mostly on the how poorly-written and one dimensional her character is made out to be.  The script by Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson seemed like it was trying to cram so much in that in the end, everything just felt bloated, forced, and even unintentionally hilarious.  Seriously, some of the lines here are so awful that they're practically funny.

Had this movie featured about two or three of the narratives rather than the five or six present here, then I think the story would have been more tightly structured.  However, if Reitman wanted so bad as to keep all of the stories of practically ever single character in tact, I personally would have expanded the script and improved on the character development and made it a mini-series on HBO or something.  "Men, Women & Children" had the potential to be a great movie, but the sad outcome of it all is that this is a two hour drama filled with some great performances, some bad performances, too many stories and characters, and some lines that are actually pretty hilarious considering how they're supposed to be taken so seriously.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

REWIND REVIEW: The Raid 2

MOVIE
The Raid 2

CAST
Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra

RATING
R

RELEASE
March 28, 2014

DIRECTOR
Gareth Evans

STUDIO
Sony Pictures Classics

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 30 minutes






STARS
***1/2








REVIEW:

Two years after the action genre produced a worthy film in the form of "The Raid: Redemption," director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais return to continue the story with "The Raid 2."  This sequel picks up right where the first one ended and sees our protagonist Rama being recruited to go undercover and infiltrate an underground mob society in order to expose them of their crimes.  By raising the budget, increasing the amount of locations, and adding nearly an hour's worth of material compared to the first movie, Evans has made a bigger, crazier, and even cooler sequel to an already cool movie.  In terms of action, cinematography, and choreography, this sequel tops the original by a long shot.  Having said that, there were things that I enjoyed more in the predecessor than I did here.

I do feel like the first film had a stronger narrative and more interesting characters, but the action here is definitely better this time around.  Not to mention, there's this deaf girl here wielding two hammers as her weapons of choice who steals every single scene she's in.  Overall, "The Raid 2" has better martial arts choreography and action sequences, not to mention the acting is pretty solid, but the first movie had this sort of charm and intimacy in its one building setting that, in the end, I consider both films to be equal.  Definitely check both out if you're a fan of action movies, and I'd even recommend checking them out back to back.  It'd be a long day for sure, but it'd be a long day full of awesome fighting, gore, and fun.




Friday, December 26, 2014

REVIEW: Interstellar: The IMAX Experience

MOVIE
Interstellar

CAST
Matthew McCounaughey,
Anne Hathaway

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
November 5, 2014
(70mm IMAX)

DIRECTOR
Christopher Nolan

STUDIO(S)
Paramount Pictures,
Warner Bros. Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 45 minutes






STARS
****









REVIEW:

Last year, director Alfonso Cuaron took audiences into space with the 3D technical achievement "Gravity."  This year, "Inception" director Christopher Nolan has not only taken us into space in his new film "Interstellar," but into wormholes, distant galaxies, and different planets as well.  Along for the ride with the audience is Matthew McConaughey's Cooper, a farmer who has volunteered to travel into the vast abyss of space to find a new planet for the humans to live on in order to keep the human species alive.  For those who don't know, Nolan shot about an hour of this 165 minute movie with IMAX cameras, meaning that it would fill up the entire IMAX screen should people choose to see it in that format.  I personally waited over a month so I could have my first viewing of this film be on a 5 story high IMAX dome showing the film in 70mm IMAX film, the most ideal quality out there to see the film in.  Having seen a lot of movies this year, I will happily say that my experience with "Interstellar" is one of the more memorable ones I've had this year.  Not to mention, this is one of the best films of the year, period.

The first thing that I need to talk about is how original and intelligent the concept and the script are.  I've seen people complain about the script being poorly written and not making much sense, but that didn't apply to me here.  Aside from a couple of moments, I pretty much understood everything that was going on here.  This film wasn't meant to be a mind-bender ala "Inception," rather it was simply trying to capture the struggle that a group of humans face when they are given the task to save the human race.  And to think that it plays with your expectations and manages to play with your emotions at the same time is also something pretty rare and cool to find in a big Hollywood film like this.  So for that, I give props to both Christopher and Jonathan Nolan for thinking outside the box and, for the most part, writing an original, intelligent, and even realistic space thriller.

Christopher Nolan's direction has never been stronger, in my personal opinion.  From the intense and spectacular scenes taking place on different planets and within some mind-blowing visual effects to the intimate and emotional scenes both on Earth and within the confines of a spaceship, Nolan knows how to bring the best performances out of his actors and tell a story that is well-told and really fascinating.  I loved Nolan's use of IMAX footage here, as seeing this on a 5-story high, 70 feet wide dome really added to my experience personally.  There are some sequences shot with IMAX cameras, done by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, that honestly made my jaw drop in amazement.  Even if you don't like the film as a whole, it's hard to deny how amazing the film looks with its visuals.  In fact, another impressive thing done in this film is that there are a decent amount of effects done practically, with only the necessary effects done digitally.  The visuals in this movie were like that extra icing on the cake to the impressive narrative and great acting present thanks to Nolan's direction.

I am one of those people who thinks that Matthew McConaughey didn't deserve his Oscar win for "Dallas Buyers Club" earlier in the year.  In fact, I believe that Leonardo DiCaprio should have won for "The Wolf of Wall Street."  Having said that, I'm pretty surprised that McConaughey isn't in the talks for a Best Actor nomination at the 2015 Academy Awards.  Now to be fair, the Best Actor race is extremely crowded as it is, but McConaughey really packs a punch with some of his scenes, particularly one involving a video his daughter sends him during his space journey.  If the race wasn't as packed as it was, I would honestly be rooting for him to get a nomination for his performance here.  Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain are also great here, but again, the acting races are really crowded this year, so sadly it doesn't seem like they'll be in the talks for nominations.  These three, to me, delivered the best performances of the film, and in turn have given three of the most overlooked performances of 2014.

So as you might have seen already, "Interstellar" is not a movie that everyone will enjoy.  People have complained about its run time, the script, and other things of that sort.  Me personally, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  As a film experience, this is a jaw-droppingly unbelievable achievement in cinema.  It's one of those movies that needs to be seen on the largest screen available in order to have the best experience possible.  Even if you're not able to see this on the big screen, I still feel that the performances, visuals, and emotional punch are enough to enjoy the film as a whole.  This is one of those movies that just reminds me on how amazing, original, and ambitious movies can be if directors and writers chose to do things outside of sequels, reboots, and adaptations all of the time.  I'm not saying that those types of films are bad, as some of my favorite movies this year have been sequels and adaptations, but sometimes it's nice to have an original concept unfold itself for the first time on screen.  "Interstellar" is an ambitious, emotional, visually outstanding, and overall amazing movie that I highly recommend checking out before the year is up.






REVIEW: Foxcatcher

MOVIE
Foxcatcher

CAST
Steve Carell, Channing Tatum

RATING
R

RELEASE
November 14, 2014 (NY/LA)
November 21, 2014 (Expands)

DIRECTOR
Bennett Miller

STUDIO
Sony Pictures Classics

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 14 minutes






STARS
***3/4









REVIEW:

I take it that when you see the names Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo all associated with the same movie, the first thought that comes to your mind is "that's gonna be funny."  Well in case you haven't even heard of their latest film or the true story behind it, "Foxcatcher" is anything BUT a comedy.  Believe it or not, this is a film, based on the real life murder of Dave Schultz at the hands of millionaire John du Pont, that is meant to be taken seriously.  And aside from the crinkling of popcorn bags and the occasional cough from an audience member, I could practically hear pins drop due to everyone being so captivated by the intensity this film brought in its quiet nature.  Director Bennett Miller is no stranger to films that tell tales based on real life people, as his last two films "Capote" and "Moneyball" all hit it big during their awards seasons.  The same should be expected with this one, as "Foxcatcher" is a brilliant look into the lives of a millionaire slowly driven to insanity and the brothers who are in the passenger's side of the insanity the whole way through.

Without a question, my favorite performance in the film belonged to Steve Carell.  While Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo were great here and deserve all of the praise they've received thus far, Carell just blows them out of the park mainly due to how much he loses himself in the role of John du Pont.  Rather than being loud and hilarious as he usually is, Carell is quiet and a low talker, which makes him all the more menacing and terrifying along with the fantastic prosthetics he's wearing.  When du Pont gets angry at someone like Mark Schultz in the film, he doesn't yell or have a temper tantrum, which just adds to the character's eerie nature.  Not only is this performance a favorite of mine in regards to Carell's already great career, but this is also one of my personal favorite performances of the year.

Bennett Miller's direction here, while slow, is calculated and really well orchestrated. The screenplay by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman allows for the audience to see the breakdown of a friendship between du Pont and the Schultz brothers, thus adding to the constant tension present in the movie.  These three men allow their visions to mesh so well that it's almost as if we the audience are watching a documentary on the characters in the movie.  The musical score also keeps an eerie vibe alive during the movie as it's barely noticeable and not as extravagant as other scores have been this year.  The one complaint that I have with the film is that when it's slow, it's pretty damn slow.  However, considering how great everything else is in the film, that didn't really bother me as much as it may bother others.

Nothing in "Foxcatcher" is meant to be light-hearted or serve as some type of relief from everything else going on.  From the first scene on, we are on a two hour journey of shock and dread that is both unpredictable and jaw-dropping if you don't know the true story that this film is based on.  The performances are amazing here, the script and direction are well-calculated and great, and the film as a whole feels authentic and makes each of the characters both despicable and empathetic at the same time.  This movie is not meant to put people in a good mood, rather its purpose is to tell a shockingly true story and to showcase the range that the actors, who usually are on the comedic spectrum of things, have here.  "Foxcatcher," thanks to its intensity and slow burning nature, is a film that leaves a lasting impact on the audience long after the credits roll.




PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Danny Collins

Selma

Blackhat

Unbroken

Big Eyes

Mr. Turner





Thursday, December 25, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: Laggies

MOVIE
Laggies

CAST
Keira Knightley,
Chloë Grace Moretz

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 24, 2014 (NY/LA)

DIRECTOR
Lynn Shelton

STUDIO
A24

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 40 minutes






STARS
***1/4







REVIEW:

Being in my senior year of high school currently, I always wonder how my life is going to be ten years from now when I'm trying to get my life on track.  Hopefully, I won't be in the situation that Keira Knightley's character in "Laggies" is in.  Knightley's character, Megan, is a twenty-something woman who hasn't done much to improve or enhance her life in anyway from her high school self.  She still lives with her high school boyfriend, and her current job involves flipping a marketing sign outside of her father's office.  Megan sees that her life isn't the way she wants it to be, so she escapes her adult life and ends up befriending/staying with a 16 year old girl named Annika and her father Craig.  What follows from there is a predictable and flawed, but well-acted and sweet movie that gets the job done and overall acts in the way that "comfort food" does.

Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Kaitlyn Dever all deliver delightful, humorous, and even real performances that help to carry the film's rather typical flare.  The movie itself is predictable and features characters, those in particular played by actors such as Mark Webber and Ellie Kemper, that aren't the least bit interesting and, frankly, aren't written that well.  The ending also felt a little abrupt if you ask me, but that's only a minor nitpick I have compared to everything else.  Overall, there was more here that I liked than disliked, so in that regard I'm glad I got to see it. "Laggies" won't change your life in anyway, but it most likely will make you feel good and give you a nice time while watching a film.




PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Inherent Vice

Big Eyes

A Most Violent Year

While We're Young





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.




MINI-REVIEW: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

MOVIE
Birdman

CAST
Michael Keaton,
Zach Galifanakis

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 17, 2014

DIRECTOR
Alejandro González Iñárritu

STUDIO
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 59 minutes








STARS
***3/4









REVIEW:

"Birdman," or "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance," can be summed up best in a single word: surreal.  If you look up "surreal" in a dictionary or on the internet, the synonyms that you will find to be associated with the word would include "weird," "strange," "dreamlike," and, most commonly, "bizarre."  This film comes to us from writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, and it has Michael Keaton playing the titular character.  Well, the titular character of a famous movie series Keaton's character Riggan was the star of to be exact.  It's pretty obvious here to see a strong comparison between the character of Riggan and Keaton's own life in regards to him playing "Batman" in the late 80s/early 90s.  It's also pretty easy to see a strong resemblance to another film that Fox Searchlight released and helped to win many accolades, Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan."

You might be thinking to yourself "Wait, how the hell does a Michael Keaton movie relate to that movie where Natalie Portman is losing her mind and manages to make out with Mila Kunis?"  Well, as hard as it may be to believe, the films are a lot similar to each other in more ways than one.  For starters, both delve in to the psychological aspect of their main character, making the audience question what is real or what is a fragment of the characters' imaginations.  Second off, they both have the central character in a type of rivalry with someone who potentially are more gifted and more pleasing than they are.  Third off, both movies strangely enough feature a scene featuring some lesbian loving.  Not gonna lie, that last one doesn't seem too much of a coincidence on my end of the spectrum, and it unfortunately doesn't further the plot or receive any explanation or recognition after it happens.  Don't worry guys, that's the worst I can say about this movie, as the hype surrounding this flick is real and something to believe.

Aside from a couple of subplots that go absolutely nowhere, a score that sounded a little too repetitious at times, and an ending that felt like it was trying to be ambiguous just for the sake of doing it, it's hard to deny how great "Birdman" is as a performance showcase, an experiment in filmmaking, and an all-around movie in general.  Michael Keaton is fantastic here and deserves all of the praise he's gotten thus far, although I personally believe the two standouts of the film were Edward Norton and Emma Stone.  The cinematography was gorgeous and precise, and the whole concept of this film having the illusion of being one continuous shot is nothing short of groundbreaking.  Iñárritu's direction and script, which he co-wrote with three other individuals, are concise and very sharp in their methods of storytelling.  Aside from the little problems I had with the film, I can't deny that "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" is a masterful film and one that will be remembered long after 2014 concludes.







PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Blackhat

Unbroken

Big Eyes

Foxcatcher

The Theory of Everything

Wild





Wednesday, November 19, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: Whiplash

MOVIE
Whiplash

CAST
Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 10, 2014

DIRECTOR
Damien Chazelle

STUDIO
Sony Pictures Classics

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 46 minutes







STARS
****







REVIEW:

I personally believe that Jazz is the best form of music out there, hands down.  From the rhythm to the swinging tone to the combination of instruments, I just love everything about it.  That might be part of the reason why I was really looking forward to Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash."  Poised to be a big player in the awards circuit this year, "Whiplash" won the top prizes given out at this year's Sundance Film Festival and even went on to play at the prestigious Cannes, Toronto, and New York film festivals before finally rolling out to theaters.  The film tells the story of a drummer played by Miles Teller from "The Spectacular Now" who gets into a top jazz orchestra band that has given way to the careers of many great musicians in the past.  He quickly finds out upon entering the program that his instructor, played fiercely by J.K. Simmons, is a man willing to do anything to have his disciples see the true talent within themselves.  When I say anything, I mean anything, as he does some of the most despicable and shocking thinks out there to his students.

Chazelle, an up-and-coming screenwriter and director, doesn't hold anything back in regards to the content shown here.  It's pretty easy to tell that this came from personal experiences of his, as the intensity of each scene is heightened and gripping at the same time.  It's possible that the way Simmons' character in the movie is portrayed in a bit of an over-the-top manner, but to me this actually sort of added to the character a lot.  When people remember their teachers or old acquaintances, the recollection is more exaggerated than it actually was, but they sometimes forget that the teacher's job is to help their students succeed.   And just like Simmons' mission in the film to help get the best out of Miles Teller, Chazelle's past helped push him to make this amazing powerhouse of a movie.

"Whiplash" is not a movie for the faint of heart.  It is an intense, shocking, and yet mesmerizing film that people I know have called "the most anxiety-driven 2 hours of 2014."  Frankly, I can see why many people would think this, as it really is a film that has anxiety as one of the central emotions for both the characters in the movie and the audience members watching it.  Miles Teller continues to prove that he is one hell of a talented actor, and at 28 shows that he's not slowing down anytime soon in terms of winning some awards.  J.K. Simmons really IS as terrifying and brilliant as people have been making him out to be, and definitely deserves all of the attention he's gotten for his performance.  These two actors, along with Damien Chazelle's crisp direction and sharp script helped to make "Whiplash" exactly what Teller's character sets out to be at the beginning of the film: one of the greats.








PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Rosewater

Big Eyes

Unbroken

Foxcatcher

Mr. Turner



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

REVIEW: Dumb and Dumber To

MOVIE
Dumb and Dumber To

CAST
Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
November 14, 2014

DIRECTOR(S)
Bobby Farrelly,
Peter Farrelly

STUDIO
Universal Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 51 minutes






STARS
**1/4









REVIEW:

Just for a minute, let's journey back to the year of 1994, otherwise known to many filmgoers as one of the best years for movies in history.  Looking back on it, some of the most widely acclaimed and quoted films of all time, including "Forrest Gump," "The Shawshank Redemption," and "Pulp Fiction," were released in this magical cinematic year.  Another reason why 1994 is so iconic is that it's the year when Jim Carrey became an overnight sensation.  Over the course of 365 days, Carrey went from being just Fire Marshall Bill on "In Living Color" to one of the most notable names in Hollywood, thanks to the three films of his that were released this year: "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "The Mask," and "Dumb and Dumber."  In case you don't remember, each of these hilarious films had follow-up features that, let's face it, didn't do the originals any justice whatsoever. (I'm looking right at you, "Son of the Mask.)  However, for some reason, people kept crawling back to the idea of a sequel to "Dumb and Dumber."  Well to those people who spent two decades asking for a "proper" follow-up flick to one of the smartest yet most juvenile comedies of the modern era, I say congratulations, because your wish has finally been granted.

If only I could write that last sentence with a smile on my face and with some type of enthusiastic joy, because not only is this sequel not as funny as the original, (an impossible feat if you ask me despite the returning actors and directors/writers) but it's just unfunny and unoriginal as a whole.  To be honest, I actually laughed a lot during the initial trailer that was released.  It looked absolutely dumb, but it looked like it had the right amount of dumb to balance the potentially hilarious humor that was promised.  Unfortunately, aside from a couple of scenes that made me laugh out loud, the trailers featured the film's better moments and weren't even that funny to watch in the context of the film.  I wouldn't be so disappointed with this movie if it hadn't copied exact plot points, jokes, and moments from the first film, ala "Wayne's World 2" and "The Hangover Part II."  Yeah, it's one of THOSE kinds of comedy sequels.  The idea of seeing Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne initially sounded great, especially since Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels were coming back.  Unfortunately, that's all the film should have stayed as: an idea.  It pains me to say this, but "Dumb and Dumber To" was absolutely stupid, and not even in a good way.

I will give credit where credit's due and say that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are great in this movie.  They fit back into the roles of Harry and Lloyd, as Ace Ventura once said, "like a glove."  Both men try their hardest with the material given and do what they can do, and for the most part succeeded at being these lovable idiots once again.  Jeff Daniels especially impresses considering that he's been doing dramatic work on "The Newsroom" for the past few years.  Jim Carrey is great too, but then again, this is the type of performance to expect from Jim Carrey considering his last few films being a bit of the same as this.  However, this sort of leads into one of my biggest issues with the movie: the Farrelly brothers somehow managed to make Harry and Lloyd even DUMBER than they were in the first movie!

I know what you're thinking: Well what do you expect with a movie called "Dumb and Dumber?"  Well, as a fan of the original and having seen it many times, I can confidently say that I expected a smarter film.  In the first movie, the characters were stupid, but they had some type of intelligence that made them tolerable and more interesting.  Here, they just do stupid things for the sake of looking and sounding stupid.  I would give an example of this, but the one example I want to give would give away the ending of the film, so just think of the stupidest scenario to occur with a plot like this.  The other supporting characters, particularly the one played by Laurie Holden from "The Walking Dead," are also written and performed pretty poorly.  Then again, what else is there to expect with such an unfunny and clichéd script?

Let's face it guys: The Farrelly Brothers haven't exactly been great in the past few years.  On one side of the spectrum, "The Three Stooges" had some incredibly clever jokes and its three leads taking on the iconic roles incredibly well.  On the other end, "Hall Pass," at least from what others have told me, wasn't funny and instead was just despicable and mean-spirited.  With this movie, we fall on the latter end unfortunately.  The humor isn't entirely funny, and instead just gets repetitive, juvenile, and even downright mean at times.  Like, it gets shockingly mean compared to the first movie.  I'm all good with shock humor when it's done right.  Here, it just felt like the Farrelly's were trying to be mean and see how others would react to it.  Well guys, here's my reaction: shock, disgust, and sadness.

As mentioned before, this film is practically a rehash of its 1994 predecessor.  Even though it mentions "Mary Samsonite" and her whereabouts in the beginning, as well as show characters like Billy the blind kid all grown up, the story for the most part is identical to the original.  The villains and their motive is the same, the love-esque storyline is the same, and a decent amount of the jokes from the first movie are given a slightly new edge to them, but overall are unfunny. Even when they have one of the most iconic vehicles of 90s cinema,the Mutt Cutts car, to bring back nostalgia, the opportunity with it is wasted and is only used for a really dumb and pointless gag. It's a shame too because recent sequels like "Toy Story 3" and "22 Jump Street" proved that movies can get away with older versions of beloved characters while still having fresh and hilarious jokes to compliment that.  Aside from a few moments involving jokes that made me laugh out loud and a few twists that were actually pretty inventive, this movie wasn't remotely original and simply copied its former almost identically.

The last thing I wanted to do is to bash on this movie, because as I've said before, the original "Dumb and Dumber" is a modern comedic classic to me.  Not to mention, the only other sequel Carrey made to one of his films, "Ace Ventura: Nature Calls," was a decent enough film with some solid laughs.  Here, we have an unfunny, stupid as hell, and piss-poor follow-up that left me shocked and sad when walking out of the theater.  In fact, the movie itself left me in my seat in shock, which I consider a good thing now since it introduced me to the song "When I'm Alone" by Lissie (if you hear the song, you'll be questioning why it's even in the credits to begin with) as well as a rather awesome post-credits scene that teases a "Dumb and Dumber For" to come out in 2034.  After seeing this movie, the last thing I'd want to see is another one of these movies.  As much as I wanted to like this movie and get past its sheer stupidity, I couldn't help but criticize how repetitious, predictable, unfunny, and just all around mediocre "Dumb and Dumber To" sadly is at the end of the day.  I guess it makes sense now as to why Warner Bros. dropped this project in the first place before Universal picked it up.







Monday, November 10, 2014

REVIEW: Nightcrawler

MOVIE
Nightcrawler

CAST
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 31, 2014

DIRECTOR
Dan Gilroy

STUDIO
Open Road Films

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 57 minutes





STARS
****









REVIEW:

"Nightcrawler" is the type of film that explores the craziness of its central character without fully delving into the psychological factor of his life.  The character of Louis Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a man who will do whatever he thinks is necessary to get himself to the top.  The movie opens with him stealing some chains off of a gate in the pursuit of making some quick cash.  When trying to sell the chains and a few other things to a buyer, he makes a proposition on how he'd be more than qualified to work for this man, ending his mini speech by saying his motto: "If you wanna win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket."  This motto, and even this entire 7 minute chunk of the movie, basically describes the type of person Lou is, as well as gives an explanation for why he does what he does throughout the entirety of it all.  To describe this movie is to describe Lou Bloom as well: twisted, insane, unpredictable, and darkly hilarious.

If you look up writer/director Dan Gilroy on IMDB, two movies that he wrote the screenplay for will prominently be shown as the top results: "The Bourne Legacy" and "Real Steel."  I've only seen the latter of the two, but from what I saw in "Real Steel," Gilroy had a well-developed story that made for an entertaining family action flick.  With "Nightcrawler," Gilroy not only shows the capability he has as a screenwriter, but also the capabilities he has as a filmmaker in general.  The style that he has here is slick and engaging, with the story and the direction allowing the viewer to be fully engaged with everything going on, despite most of the film being conversations between Lou Bloom and others.  In fact, I would say that Gilroy's creation of Bloom is one for the ages, and overall is a character who has a lot of complex and surreal layers to him.  Saying that Gilroy gets all of the credit for this character isn't exactly fair, as the man who portrays Lou, Jake Gyllenhaal.

In general, it would be extremely difficult to talk about this movie without talking about Jake Gyllenhaal's mesmerizing performance as Lou.  This character is sly, intelligent,  vicious, and a force not to be reckoned with.  Despite his character learning about the television industry with fresh eyes, he's able to turn himself into an expert on it, thus giving him the ability to manipulate and persuade others to help him get to the top.  What. I found to be so brilliant about this character is that he's able to be menacing and terrifying through his calculated words and not through the means of cursing or even violence.  This came to me as something of a relief considering that we live in a world of violence, sex, and language, and here comes Louis Bloom just staying calm and stern as he threatens a person he's talking to.

The character of Lou himself, in a really strange way, reminded me of myself.  Lou is a person who has a vision in life and, at least in the way I perceived it, saw life as his own circus or movie of sorts. Everything he does seems to be carefully calculated and structured in such a way that he's never actually wrong and is always going to get his way.  The idea of him seeing life as a film struck me during this big chase scene in the film's climax in which, without trying to spoil anything, made it seem like Lou thought of himself as a director of sorts.  There are explosions, an extremely fast pace, and Lou simply follows it all while telling his assistant to never stop filming it all.  There are also other moments where, in order to "direct" his life, he will do things that are shocking and strangely unsurprising considering the circumstances Lou is put into by others.  It's because of these traits, along with how committed and method Gyllenhaal's performance was, that makes this, to me, the best performance of 2014 thus far.

Everything in "Nightcrawler," like the name suggests, crawls into your mind for 2 hours and gives you as an audience member an insane trip into the corrupt world of TV news in Los Angeles.  This film isn't for the faint of heart, but rather those who are looking to see one man's mission to get to the top and the methods that he has to do this.  If it wasn't for Gilroy's sharp direction and script, the film's dark sense of humor, and Jake Gyllenhaal's commanding, even Award-worthy, performance, then I don't know how exactly the film would have played out.  Luckily we live in a world where this scenario is a reality, and that is something we should all be happy about.  "Nightcrawler" is a twisted and wickedly awesome thriller that manages to get under your skin while being an entertaining-as-hell movie at the same time.









ME WITH THE STAR OF "NIGHTCRAWLER" 
JAKE GYLLENHAAL, AS WELL AS THE FILM'S WRITER/DIRECTOR DAN GILROY BEFORE A VERY SPECIAL ADVANCE SCREENING OF THE FILM ON OCTOBER 25, 2014!!!!! 




MINI-REVIEW: St. Vincent

MOVIE
St. Vincent

CAST
Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
October 17, 2014

DIRECTOR
Theodore Melfi

STUDIO
The Weinstein Company

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 43 minutes








STARS
***1/2









REVIEW:

It's hard not to love and respect the talented comedic genius of Bill Murray.  Even if the film he's in isn't necessarily great, Murray still manages to shine through it all and deliver a performance that's memorable and just great all-around.  In the movie "St. Vincent," Murray plays a drunken old man, and for the first 20 minutes that's where it seems the limit is for the film's jokes.  Once the son of Melissa McCarthy's character, played by newcomer Jaeden Leberher, starts forming a bond with Vincent, the film itself becomes more intriguing and significantly more entertaining than it was.  In fact, the movie itself gets to be a lot more dramatic and realistic than the trailer and the poster would suggest, which elevates the quality of it as a whole.

Instead of being entirely schmaltzy and formulaic, writer/director Theodore Melfi manages to strive away from the usual and turn in a product that, frankly, I'm glad I got to see.  Sure it's a bit clumsy at times, the jokes in sections fall flat, and Naomi Watts' Russian accent takes a little bit of getting used to, but "St. Vincent" in the end showcases an up-and-coming filmmaker exceedingly well, as well as reminding people of why they love Bill Murray in the first place.  Not to mention, Murray doesn't even give the film's best performance.  Believe it or not, it's the charisma and charm of Leberher that stole the show for me.  If you want to see a realistic, dramatic, but overall charming and authentic movie, then definitely see "St. Vincent" when you get the chance.



PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Inherent Vice


Dumb and Dumber To


The Wedding Ringer


Wild


The Imitation Game


Big Eyes




Wednesday, November 5, 2014

REVIEW: The Guest

MOVIE
The Guest

CAST
Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe

RATING
R

RELEASE
September 17, 2014

DIRECTOR
Adam Wingard

STUDIO
Picturehouse

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 39 minutes






STARS
****








REVIEW:

There aren't enough words in the dictionary or in my head that can describe how much I loved "The Guest."  This film comes from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, whose last collaboration together came in the form of the wickedly clever home-invasion flick "You're Next."  The film itself stars Dan Stevens from "Downton Abbey" as David, a man who knew the eldest son of the Peterson family, Caleb, during the war before he was killed in battle.  Out of respect for his friend, David comes to the Peterson family to give them their family member's final words to them.  In return, the Petersons invite David to stay at their home for a little bit, and of course he says yes.  What the Peterson family don't know about David is that he has a lot of hidden skeletons in his closest that are just irking to come out as his stay with them increases.

If you looked up the year "2014" and the term "fun" in my own personal dictionary of life, the film you would find there is "The Guest."  This is the type of movie that fans of the 80s, the filmmakers behind this, and action-thrillers in general will swoon over and possibly even thank the almighty lord over, because it's just THAT good.  At least, that's how good it was for me.  It could have just been the experience I had seeing this flick, but to me this was everything I could have asked for in a cinematic venture, and then some.  The trailers, which don't give anything big away, show this off as a straight up action-thriller when it's actually more than that.  This film is actually played to be not only smarter than it looks, but a hell of a lot funnier than it looks as well.

This might have been the hardest I've laughed in a movie all year, and this film doesn't even technically qualify as a "comedy" in the first place.  Part of this is due to how expertly written and played the character of David is.  The script itself is fantastic, but the way Dan Stevens plays this part just takes the film to a whole new level of awesomeness in my eyes.  Everything this character does, from his smile to the way he can get the best results from others for the people around him, is done with such precision and accuracy that it's hard NOT to love this guy.  Even when we as an audience start to learn about all of the skeletons hiding in David's closet, it's still hard to not love how cynical and devilishly spectacular he is as a character.  His character, without spoiling anything, is like the nicest and sweetest, and yet most dangerous and most frightening version of the T-100 out there.

I could honestly go on for several more paragraphs talking about this movie, but honestly, I don't want to.  The reason for this is because I feel like talking about everything I loved about this movie would give away some of the twists and turns and surprises that the film has to offer.  At this moment, it seems that this movie has sadly left theaters in the United States, which is a shame because seeing this on the big screen can have a big difference on watching the same film on a TV, computer, or phone.  Having said that, I have now received word that this film is hitting VOD in December with a Blu-Ray release in January, so this movie won't be out of reach forever.  To say that I'm recommending this movie is an understatement of my thoughts as a whole.  A movie hasn't made me feel this great and so happy to talk about in a very long time, which is saying something since most of my reviews are positive.  In the end, I'm not just recommending "The Guest;" I'm imploring you to see it when you can.  It's films like this that remind me how awesome movies can be when given the chance to be made.







ME WITH THE  SCREENWRITER OF "THE GUEST," SIMON BARRETT, AFTER A SPECIAL MIDNIGHT SCREENING OF THE FILM AS A PART OF THE 23RD PHILADELPHIA FILM FESTIVAL ON OCTOBER 18, 2014!!!!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: Rudderless

MOVIE
Rudderless

CAST
Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 17, 2014

DIRECTOR
William H. Macy

STUDIO
Samuel Goldwyn Films

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 45 minutes









STARS
***1/2








REVIEW:

You'd think that, with all of the films he's been a part of and the talent he's worked with, William H. Macy would have made his directorial debut a long time ago, right?  Well, it looks like he didn't find the right project to take full control over until now.  "Rudderless" was the closing night film of this year's Sundance Film Festival and stars the likes of Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, and Lawrence Fishburne to name a few.  The movie tells the tale of a man who, still trying to cope with the death of his only son, begins to sing some original compositions at a local bar.  A younger kid in his 20s hears this man's music and persuades him to form up a band with him.  However, what the younger individual doesn't realize is that the songs his musical "genius" friend is singing were actually written by the deceased son.  Without spoiling anything, let's just say that this movie's being labeled as a drama for a reason.

The performances in this movie are simply excellent, particularly from Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin.  Crudup especially brings a lot of soul and passion into his character and, in my eyes, gives the best performance of his career thus far.  The story itself is interesting and keeps the audience interested, and the way the script is written helps give the film a slight sense of mystery to it for reasons I can't explain without spoiling something major that occurs.  Not to mention, the music in the movie, which most of them are original compositions, are fantastic to listen to and elevate the tone of the film.  Overall, though there are some problems here including characters who aren't fully developed and an ending that leaves the viewer wanting more, I found "Rudderless" to be heartbreaking, affective, and a solid directorial debut by Macy.  If you happen to come across this film sometime soon, it is definitely something I'd recommend checking out.




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

REWIND REVIEW: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

MOVIE
Supermensch:
The Legend of Shep Gordon

RATING
R

RELEASE
June 6, 2014

DIRECTOR
Mike Myers

STUDIO
Radius-TWC

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 25 minutes









STARS
***1/2






REVIEW:

If you were to mention the name "Shep Gordon" to anyone you know, chances are that little to none of them would even know who the hell you're talking about.  Now if you were to mention any of the clients he's managed over the years, including Emril Lagasse and Alice Cooper, then obviously more people would recognize those names.  Shep Gordon, the subject of Mike Myers' directorial debut "Supermensch," is the man that everyone in Hollywood is friends with and mostly goes to for parties, a place to crash, or just plain old advice.  Myers says in the film that Shep is "the nicest guy he's ever met, hands down," and judging from the 85 minutes I got to spend with him, I can definitely see why. This movie is funny when it needs to be, but the things that grabbed me about this movie were the stories that Shep tells.  These stories are so good and so engrossing that you just simply have to hear them.  The story of Shep himself, though, is the type of tale that shows how much he does for other people regardless of his current situation and how he never asks for anything in return.  If you want to learn more about this fascinating individual, then I'd highly suggest seeing this flick.  "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" is a funny, fascinating, and just downright entertaining look into the life of the most famous man you've never heard of.




Monday, October 27, 2014

REVIEW: White Bird In A Blizzard

MOVIE
White Bird In A Blizzard

CAST
Shailene Woodley, Eva Green

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 24, 2014 (LIMITED)

DIRECTOR
Greg Araki

STUDIO
Magnolia Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 31 minutes






STARS
**1/4








REVIEW:

As much as I love Shailene Woodley both physically and as an actress, it was inevitable that she would one day be in a film that is less than good.  That day, I am sad to report, has come with the release of her new indie mystery thriller, "White Bird in a Blizzard."  The film starts off in the late 80s when 17 year old Kat Connor's mother mysteriously disappears without a single trace of evidence as to what could have happened to her.  The film stays in this period for half of the film before jumping into the early 90s when Kat is in college and has let the whole situation with her mother simmer down.  If you weren't interested in that plot description at all, then I'm afraid that the movie wouldn't even do much for you despite the presence of an incredibly talented cast.

Shailene Woodley is fantastic here as Kat.  Imagine a character who is the direct opposite from Aimee Finicky, her character from "The Spectacular Now," and you just about have her character in this film.  Throughout the film, we see Kat exploring her sexuality and maturing as the mystery behind her mother's disappearance thickens.  Woodley just keeps proving film after film that she is going to win an Oscar most likely some day, and also that she is quickly becoming one of Hollywood's biggest sex symbols of the modern era.  If the rest of the cast was as good as she was here, then this film would have been a lot better in quality in my eyes.

Eva Green in this film is absolutely annoying, plain and simple.  It seems like, with every character and role she takes on, she's simply trying to say "I am hot, I am gorgeous, and guys swoon over me." when in reality she's just giving a hammy performance that is both uncomfortably over-the-top and ridiculous at the same time.  Her performance is so hammy, it would be too big for the entire family to finish in one sitting.  The yin to her yang is Christopher Meloni, who is basically a quiet, moody, and babyish guy who goes from that to something else entirely in a flash.  Angela Bassett, Shiloh Fernandez, and everyone else was fine, I guess, but that's just about it.  They didn't bring anything significantly stunning or interesting to their roles, thus making them just people who are merely there for the sake of filling up time and the cast list.

Greg Araki seems to know how to make a calculated and smart movie based on how he directed this flick.  Unfortunately, his predictable, annoying, and sometimes laughable adapted script didn't allow us as an audience, especially if we weren't familiar with him, to see that.  Hell, there's even a scene at the end of the film that shows a character laughing at how ridiculous a certain situation is.  To that character, I say "cheers," because that's almost exactly how I reacted when the film's final moments were presented.  "White Bird In A Blizzard" could have been a solid, if not great mystery thriller had the story been more balanced, the twists more unexpected, and the characters better written.  But alas, the film isn't any of that in the end, and the only thing that's remotely great in the film is Shailene Woodley's sexy and mature performance.  If you thought you were going to be getting a fascinating narrative with your 5 minutes of Ms. Woodley's naked physique gracing the screen, then boy are you going to be disappointed.





MINI-REVIEW: One Chance

MOVIE
One Chance

CAST
James Corden,
Alexandra Roach

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
October 10, 2014

DIRECTOR
David Frankel

STUDIO
The Weinstein Company

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 43 minutes






STARS
***









REVIEW:

Look, there are a lot of these "inspirational true story" films that come out every year, but that doesn't mean they are all bad.  "One Chance" is not a bad film by any means, as it manages to succeed thanks to its engaging story and James Corden's great performance as Paul Potts.  The problem that lies with this movie is that this type of story has been done so many times before that it almost seems repetitive.  David Frankel is a solid director, as shown with films like "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Marley & Me."  It felt to me that he was just making this particular film simply to make it, not to add anything new to the table or to find a way to make it stand out from the rest.  As a whole, though, "One Chance" is charming, sweet, and funny enough for me to give this a solid recommendation to those who like biopic films.  If this film does manage to make people look up who exactly Paul Potts is and how his story continued after the film's conclusion, then it must be doing something right.