Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street Review

The Wolf of Wall Street Review
Director : Martin Scorsese

Cast Headliners: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal, Matthew McConaughey

Original Release Date: December 25th, 2013
            Ah, the stock market. The real Wall Street is a high energy world of big money being moved around and many people moving around huge rooms.  As Michael Douglas once said in a very similarly titled film however, “greed is good.”  The Wolf of Wall Street both provides an often heard of but seldom seen side of the stocks, as well as provoking some interesting thoughts about what money can do to people.
            Jordan Belfort is the main character of the film, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  The film’s plot uses some interesting time jumps, portraying Jordan’s rise then fall then rise again through the world of the Wall Street stock markets.  His company Stratton-Oakmont evolves along with him, going from something small and rough into an empire.  It is an empire built on lies though.  Jordan is not a good man at all and is incredibly conniving, egotistical, and most of all greedy.  For sure the main point of commendation should be given to DiCaprio here. He is awesome, with incredible range and charisma.  He is just simply firey as he plays Jordan falling into the vices of any rich businessman: sex, drugs, and rock and roll with a massive emphasis on both of the first two.  The film has a shocking amount of partying, narcotic-isation, and fornication taking place.  But from the darkest of debaucheries to the most zany of shenangins, DiCaprio lights up the screen with his words from this fascinating character.   He delivers strongly, but the supporting cast isn’t too shabby either with the equally insane characters of Mark Hanna (played in a unfortunately brief appearance by Matthew McConaughey), Donnie(Jonah Hill), Brad Bodnick(Jon Bernthal) and many more.  It seems that everyone in the cult of personality that is built around Jordan at Stratton-Oakmont is a wild hedon, and it makes for some great chuckles and a form of spectacle.
            The humor comes from the great dialogue, as expected from a Martin Scorsese film.  Scorsese has created a fast-paced movie in both its words and its filming. So many witty words are said in this movie, with most conversations feeling heated as they should.  It’s impressive that stocks, an arguably boring subject, is made into a very thrilling experience, almost like a bank robbery heist, fittingly so considering how Jordan manipulates his victims.  There is also some great moments of extreme insanity that must be seen, quaaludes are a hell of a drug as there’s this one paticuliar part involving them that is an knee slapping outrageous display of both Scorsese’s direction and DiCaprio’s acting.
            The quality of Scorsese is felt but that editing wasn’t one hundred percent perfect however.  The Wolf of Wall Street was supposed to come out a month before its original release date, apparently facing a problem of having way too much content filmed.  And so to fix it, it was delayed to cut it down to improve it since the original draft is said to have been over well over 4 hours long. The print in theaters is at about an exact three hours, and it can be said that maybe more things should have been trimmed.   It seems like the “first part” of the plot takes way longer than the exciting twists near the end, so while I don’t really know what could have been done maybe that is because of some behind the scenes work Scorsese had to juggle with.  This is only a minor grievance however, as all plot points are explained and followed through. There’s just really “so much” to the film that it can be overwhelming.  An example would be many nearly identical scenes of raucousness, we get the point Scorsese.
            What this film is though is a solid Wall Street story, and of this Jordan fellow. It is a mostly great example of an “anti-hero.” It is held mainly up by Leonardo DiCaprio.   It’s a long crawl, but by the end it is very much worth it.  8.75 out of 10

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Anchorman 2 Review

Anchorman 2 Review
Director : Adam Mckay

Cast Headliners: Will Ferrell , Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate 

Original Release Date: December 18th, 2013, seen early December 4th

            The world’s most beloved news anchor ever returns for an ambitious sequel.  Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues reunites Will Ferrell as the titular character with the entire main supporting cast from the last film.  I would call the first one a great comedy. This one brings more of the same, but perhaps can be said to be even better.
            The suave 1970’s have come and gone. The film takes into account the real time between the release of its past entry by moving the time period up to the risky and changing world of the 1980’s.   The legend Ron Burgundy himself is of course the main focus, with Will Ferrell really careering the film and causing laughs with every single world that comes out of his mouth.   His pals Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell), Brian Fantana( Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner), and now-wife Veronica Corningstone(Christina Applegate) all return for more chuckles.  There are even more re-appearances that must be seen, I recommend seeing the first one as there are many jokes and references which make it even better for a prior fan.    I think another amazing, and true highlight of the film, is its “cameo” sequence. Fans of the first will know what this means. Like much of the film, it takes that first one and puts it on steroids.
            It’s more of the same, and that’s both a good and not so good thing. More than a handful of jokes are just variations on what has been said before, a common pitfall of comedy sequels although the writing and humor here are overall quality. I do wish the setting of the 1980’s had been involved more as it could lead to more good jokes, instead though it is mostly in the background as the humor is about the many weirdly wonderful characters of the Anchorman world.    Some jokes are slightly stupid, while others cause minutes of laughter.  But one knows what kind of humor to expect from Will Ferrell: weird, wacky, extreme, and yes pure silly fun.
            Ron Burgundy of course is the highlight, but I would say that Brick, already amazing in the first film, is possibly even funnier here. And I mean the funniest.  He really is focused on as a sort of second protagonist with even his own plotline and love interest. It’s quite something to see.  Steve Carrell deserves a shoutout for his amazing hilarious contributions to scenes.
            Like its jokes, the plot twists and turns but like most comedies can’t be truly called “amazing.” It in itself is a large joke, with its tales of how Ron and company change the world with their new 24 hours news format.  There are some occasional emotional moments, but don’t worry on it veering into the melodramatic as it all has a good humorous feeling.   This movie amplifies the amount of cameos, “Extremeness” (you’ll see), and its story scope to a largely good result.  It is an very long film and it can drag on at times, perhaps containing just a bit too much Burgundy power. Overall however, it really is the quality comedy film it looks like. The secret of Harrison Ford is something that is highly recommendable to discover.  8.5 out of 10

The Hobbit:Desolation of Smaug Review

The Hobbit:Desolation of Smaug Review
Director : Peter Jackson

Cast Headliners: Martin Freeman, Ian McKlellan , Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly

Original Release Date: December 13th, 2013
  The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films was a stellar adaption of quintessential fantasy novels.  It worked then since each of the epic three novels were translated into a single movie each, with some things being shuffled around or included into the extended director home video cuts.  Now with these Hobbit prequels, it’s all been made screwy. Originally meant to just be a two part straight up conversion, the singular Hobbit book is now an intricate trilogy of films.  I did enjoy the first part An Unexpected Journey from last year very, very much but that was more of a traditional movie. Because it is pretty obvious that this film was cut from material not meant to standalone, though it has worked out quite well, I will not review it in a normal way. Instead, here are the thoughts of a hardcore Tolkein fan on this crazy creation Peter Jackon has made, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug:
- Beorn, woah cool fellow!
- Gorgeous Peter Jackson scenery and aesthetic
- Amazing visual effects during action sequences
- Darker vibe than the previous film
- Legolas, ludicrously awesome
- Tauriel, an interesting and cool character
- Gandalf’s entire plotline, fan dream to see the Necromancer stuff on screen and makes sense
- The Wood Elves in general, and King Thrainduil
- Oh out of order, but an great spider battle very reminiscent of the bug scene from King Kong, which is a good thing
- When Bilbo has a chance to take, great as always thanks to Martin Freeman
- Lake-town’s vibe and its new characters of Bard(the underrated Luke Evans) and the Master(the wonderful Stephen Fry)
- SMAUG, wow. Amazing choice to use Benedict Cumberbatch who has followed up his performance as Khan with another great villain role. And also the most awe inspiring dragon ive ever seen on film. 
- The ending Smaug action sequences, wow
- The Legolas/Tauriel vs Orcs, well done finale

-          The very fact it exists in the first place as assembled from other footage, in this case over a third of the film was meant for AUJ
- Not enough Beorn, very rushed and seems much was rushed
-          Less humor/small moments for the characters aka telling the dwarves apart.  Some are still very mysterious, show us more!
-          The darker vibe makes it feel odd, neither hobbit nor LOTR at times and thus nebulous
-           Bilbo needed more dialogue and focus this time
-           The Kili/Tauriel/Legolas love triangle, eugh total fan fictionish on Peter Jackson’s part and largely uneeded
-           Cliffhangers actually being slightly lame, making it feel tense but unfinished!
-           Perhaps at times the final action set pieces ran a bit long
-           Evidence of the stretch to three films
Overall, I had a great time seeing it. One can’t deny Peter Jackson’s ability to craft an epic blockbuster. This film contains some of the novel’s best moments, and it comes through to a largely great though not perfect effect.  It feels a bit hodge podge at times, but it really is bursting with a lot of happenings.  It’s one of those middle parts that needs to happen for the final part of the story to work.  This is the “build up” film, and so I take that into consideration when critiquing it.   Because of how LOTR’s final film turned out, I am incredibly excited for the film of next December.  If you’re a fan, you’ll most definitely love it.  If you’re not, don’t see it too much ruckus.   9.05 out of 10

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Oldboy Review

Oldboy Review
Director : Spike Lee

Cast Headliners: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L Jackson

Original Release Date: November 27th, 2013
            Remake films are tricky business.  It is a careful balancing act.  The elements which made the original so great have to be preserved, while also something fresh should be included to avoid it being a simple carbon copy of its source.  The matter is made even more difficult when the source film is from another country, like in this case of Oldboy where it was a South Korean film originally based on a Japanese manga.  The story of Oldboy has now travelled between two mediums and three cultures, and because of this a point of concern for this version may be that it would turn out as a train wreck of mediocrity.   I can say, as a massive fan of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 original that it could have turned out much worse. That’s in a “good way.”
            Josh Brolin plays the protagonist Joe Doucett, an advertising executive.   His life isn’t exactly the best with an venomous relationship with his wife and making some mistakes in his profession.  One such mistake sets him over the edge, and he gets incredibly drunk.  Now, I can say Brolin is one of the best aspects of the movie as Joe.   His character nearly completely transforms over the course of the plot. However, the acting during these drunken scenes felt very exaggerated.  This segment dragged on for a bit too long.  The wonky dialogue reared its head in not just this portion.  It is a shame, since it is about a halfway split between quality writing and “zany” writing.   I would also like to point out that Joe changes from a more interesting seedy character into…. a generic angry action hero. More on that in a moment.
            In many ways Oldboy can be said to be a character study of Joe.   The events of that night lead to the main crux of the film that being the fact that he is mysteriously locked in a hotel-like prison for 20 years with only cereal and Chinese dumplings to eat.    This part, as the original, is incredible.   Some of the finest bits of the film come from Joe’s descent into madness. It is like a dark twisted version of The Count of Monte Cristo, and with his attempted escape that element comes to mind more than the original Korean film.   He has literally no contact for years, which makes this section extremely emotional. I would call it a series of great montages. Director Spike Lee made the smart choice to not directly use the scenes from the original, and instead create new equally dark and surreal imagery.
            His time in his prison shapes Joe into something new. He submits to his isolation at first but soon forges himself into a strong warrior with a mission of revenge.  Soon, he is freed. But his adventure only just started.   I did enjoy the fact that there are a few parallels and references to the original film that I infer to be meant specifically for fans of the original.   For example, to say one, there is no “octopus scene” here, but there is an octopus.  There are also some scenes omitted or occasionally reworked to negative effect. One action sequence copied from the original is the “hammer fight”. But where that fight took place in a single hallway and was beautifully shot in real time, a cinematic achievement, this version uses many special effects and takes place across a few floors of the facility where Joe breaks into.   It feels very much like the blockbuster  “America” version,  and this is not the only other time where this takes place.
            However, some other changes enhance the film over its source. There are additions to the narrative which show how certain things happened or how people got to places.  It would also take much to explain, but the motivation of the villain receives some changes (once again with an element of American larger-than-life exaggeration) which actually make it interesting in its own way.  I will say that Sharlto Copley is great as always in his villain role, and also Samuel L Jackson gives a classic SLJ villian performance as well.  His use of his favorite “m word” is appropriate given the dark and gritty style of the film.   I also think Joe’s soon-ally Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) gets more depth to her than the Korean version.  She is a compassion contrasted to Joe’s brute force.    Ironic that where Marie has a bit more to here, Joe is largely just an angry, though this is what Brolin does best, guy with a grudge.
            There are issues with some of the translation of scenes, and objectively with some of the pacing and dialogue. But these are complimented with a great dark tone, a twisting narrative every bit as engaging as the original, and some bloody action.  A word to describe it would be crazy.  Sometimes, it’s a bit too all over the place.  There were times when the tone jumped from pure black to black comedy; perhaps a trademark of Spike Lee but this isn’t always the place for it.  I also want to mention that where the original had some deep moral messages and introspections, this version eschews that mostly. It’s become a straightforward thriller but is worth it for Josh Brolin , the action, and those plot elements which still carry through.  In my opinion, far from bad if a bit flawed. 7.45 out of 10

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

The Hunger Games:Catching Fire Review
Director : Francis Lawrence

Cast Headliners: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson 

Original Release Date: November 22nd, 2013
            The Hunger Games is starting to become one of those franchises which is poised to be up there with the greats. In the wake of a Harry Potter world, studios sought the next big thing and Lionsgate has found it with the Suzanne Collins trilogy, released a few years back.  Last year’s titular first installment, The Hunger Games, was a pretty good if flawed adaption which delivered the emotional intensity of the book but was brought down by a rough cinematic style and a sem-rough budget.  I personally am a major fan of the series, so I was not upset by any means but I would say “the book is better.” I can happily say that this film surpasses the first both as an movie experience and as a translation of the source.
            The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that very important middle chapter of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Like other great trilogies, the world is introduced in one installment which may or may not be able to exist on its own as a standalone story.  The first film was a riveting tale of a strange far future world and of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) trying to survive in the death match arena for which the series is named.  Whereas the theme of that was all about merely trying to survive in a fight to the death between youths and the dangerous wilderness, there were hints of so much more.  That is why I adore Catching Fire as my favorite installment of the novels, as it both is an improved version of that survival while bringing in themes of rebelling against the dystopia that is the Capitol.   It is a darker film where all stakes are raised.
            Katniss is recovering from the trauma of the first film.  She nearly died and nearly had Peeta die as well.  She also feels conflicted over Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and of her place in the world.   It is incredibly interesting to see Katniss back in her hometown of District 12 again, changed by the horrors she faced in the arena last go around.  Catching Fire, like its predecessor, is filled with some great characters and performances but it is Jennifer Lawrence who steals the show as Katniss.   She portrays an incredible range of emotions portraying her scarred psyche.  It is easy to see why exactly she becomes such a hero symbol to the citizens of Panem, as it’s easy to feel sympathy her sorrow, to fall in love with her charm, and to cheer her on in her trials.    Katniss is packed with nuance and the now-Oscar winning Ms.Lawrence really delivers the goods when it comes to this.  
            I can say the best thing about this film is that it has MORE.  More of an ensemble cast, from the dashing trident wielding warrior Finnick Odair (Sam Ciaflin),  the eccentric inventor Beetes (Jeffrey Wright), and the new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Plutarch has an especially important role going into the further films, but here Hoffman is a stellar calculating and commanding presence from the Capitol’s control room of the Quarter Quell games which occupy the film’s second half.    Praise must be given to Jena Malone as Johanna Mason, whose spunky fierce attitude makes her a fantastic rival to Katniss.  The returning cast is great too, with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) having some great quips and even Peeta being even more likeable.   And Donald Sutherland as President Snow, leader of the Capitol, is absolutely menacing. One can tell that when he makes a threat such as promising to kill Katniss’ family, he is going to do it with utmost efficiency. The power drips off every word he says.  Each character has great new development, with more time being given to get to know them. There is some fantastic dialogue and moments.    There’s even once in a while some great and smart humor as well, especially when it involves Haymitch being, well, Woody Harrelson.   And Stanley Tucci’s ridiculous, vile, but also lovable Ceaser Flickmann.
            The characters are amped up to the next level, and so is the story.  The slow but ever increasing spark into uprising by the people of Panem is presented very well, and by the time the chaos leads into the “Quarter Quell” games the intensity is at an all-time new level.   The plot never lets up, with an exciting string of twists, especially the ending which blows away the first films.
            This “Quarter Quell” match of the Hunger Games is the highlight of the film. Last time, it was a standard yearly tournament in the canon of the film’s universe but was shocking for us to see because of its slaughter of kids.  This time however, more time is spent leading to the circumstances of why this emergency game is forced upon Katniss which makes it start pack even more emotional intensity. Her opponets were children this time, but now it is a sort of all-stars match of past victors, many of them who are older and more experienced than her and Peeta.   The arena packs dangerous threats, from poisonous fog (one of the standout sequences) to giant killer monkeys to tidal waves and more.  The threats created by the Capitol are incredibly extreme, making the frequent set pieces excellent and leaving one on the edge of their seat.
            The plot, characters, and Hunger Games themselves are injected with steroids of quality, but perhaps one of the greatest things about Catching Fire is the new talent behind the scenes.   The new director is Francis Lawrence, of I Am Legend fame. Like that film, there are some incredible views of desolate landscapes such as the mountains of District 12 and the ominous metropolis of the Capitol.  The world feels very finely crafted and authentic which gives proof that he was a perfect choice for this world.  Whether it be by his choice or not, the most welcomed improvement of this movie is that it does not have the “realistic camera” of the first film. The closed in, shaking camera has been avoided making everything crystal clear and eye appealing. This makes the fast moving energetic scenes much more tolerable on the eyes, and thus the entire film is candy for the eye.  It can be inferred that an impressive budget was put into this as well, with special effects dazzling. Catching Fire does not like in amazing futuristic technology, and it seems very real here.   After seeing the wonderful work done here, I am pleased to hear that he has been contracted for all future films in the franchise. 
            Overall, Catching Fire is, to say the truth, awesome.  Its dark tale ranges the gamut of emotion from sorrow to anger to adventure.  Deeper themes of rebellion and the meaning of society begin to rear their heads, and each moment brings something more.    It is an exciting installment in an exciting franchise, and this time it truly delivers on the promise of what Hunger Games is all about. Once again I can say as a fan, it was everything I wanted and even a bit more.  I loved seeing the perspective of President Snow and Plutarch, which was absent in the book. I loved seeing new lines of humorous dialogue made from the film, such as Katniss, Haymitch, Peeta, and Johanna meeting for the first time.  I loved seeing the epic moments in the Quarter Quell come to life, which was nearly every moment in that arena.   This is both an exciting blockbuster and a thought provoking saga. This, like its source novel,  is a must-experience  and one of the best things of the year if not in many years.  9 out of 10


Friday, October 18, 2013

Reviewmania: Don Jon/Rush/The Wackness/Now You See Me/Rush/Cloudy2/The Family/Metallica/AfterEarth/Gatsby : Crazy Mini Review Roundup to mid October 2013

You may have noticed it's been a long time since my last review. Im really sorry, besides watching movies and reviewing them I am a full time student who is very busy.  and also when so many reviews stack up i have no choice but to combine them like this.  Anyways, here are some movies I feel like i must say something about I've seen over the past while, both in theaters and DVD. very quick critique and a score on each. cya next full review!

(let's begin)

-Don Jon: Guy is addicted to porn, turns his life around. some good laughs, warning alot of nudity, and a decent dramatic  story with quality acting from JGL/ScarJo/Julliane Moore.  some bad writing at times. 7.8 out of 10

-The Wackness:  Rap loving guy is addicted to drugs, sorta turns his life around.  Great 90's vibe and recreation. great story. Great ben kingsley. great soundtrack.  josh peck's best performance of his life. classic coming of age feels. indie charn. 8.65 out of 10

-Now You See Me: Magicians rob bank, shenangins.   great ensemble cast, funny witty writing.   decent special effects, interesting magician crime plot.  some plot holes and questionable twists. 8.2 out of 10

-Rush:  F1 Racing rivalry in the 70's. great story, great racing intensity.  quality performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl.  overall quality movie for what it is. 8.25 out of 10

-Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2: the food themed CGI movie returns, with a island of food animals. great color, decent charm. decent plot for what it is. a solid example of chi. 8.1 out of 10

-The Family:  Ex-Mafia movie in France, one crazy family.  great Robert De Niro and  Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones.  OK storyline. great writing. ok direction. not perfect, but fun. 7.65 out of 10

-Metallica through the Never:  Metallica plays a concert during some trippy riot sub story. only for metallica fans, but band gives a objectively awesome performance. looks quality in 3d.  visual plot makes no sense but some good dark prats.  8 out of 10

-After Earth: shymalayan and the father/son Will and Jaden smith team up for a sci fi about earth with different animals and aliens. Alot of problems, oh my. Pretty visuals, interesting concept. WEIRD and bad dialogue that's a distraction. jaden's worst performance ever, will's lame performance. way too short. some palm facing parts.   very flawed, wasted potential with a hint of what couldve been redeeming it from complete failure but kinda bad. 5.85 out of 10

-The Great Gatsby: adaptation of the classic partying city novel.  Macguire is kinda lame, Leo Cap is pretty good. too slow at times.  out of place but unique soundtrack, good and bad depending on the times.  great beatiful color scheme and visuals. some questionable moments of why they filmed what they filmed. 7.7 out of 10

and that's all!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The World's End Review

The World's End Review
Director : Edgar Wright

Cast Headliners: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike

Original Release Date: August 23rd, 2013 (in the US)

Seen: Late August 2013
 The apocalypse has been a popular film topic over the past couple of years. Perhaps it is due to our modern troubling times, in which it seems like the event can happen any day. Some movies thought the December 2012 prediction would come true and played off that to add to their appeal. But, it didn’t happen. And thus any movies based around this theme might seem pointless. However, both This is the End and now The World’s End both show that there is a ton of potential for greatness. The World’s End takes the “apocalypse comedy”, and turns it on its head in typical Edgar Wright fashion.
            This movie, as with the past two team ups of Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost, combines witty British-style comedy with a central “theme”. This is the “finale” of the so-called Cornetto trilogy, and in some ways encapsulates the themes into a final mix. With Shaun of the Dead, it was zombies, the familiar transforming into the unknown. In Hot Fuzz, it was cultists and the familiar hiding the unknown.  Here, what is familiar and unknown is mixed up when space robots are involved.
            But this is a comedy right, what is this talk of space robots? Any good fan of director Edgar Wright knows things start of “normal”.  The opening prompt here is that back in the 90’s, the fun-time boy crew of edgy Gary (Simon Pegg), clean-cut Andy(Nick Frost), average guy Steven(Paddy Considine), charismatic Oliver/”O-man” (Martin Freeman), and paranoid Peter(Eddie Marsan)., tried to go on a pub crawl through their home town after graduation. Shenanigans happened, and things did not go as planned.  Like any good comedic story, it jumps to 20 years later and re-unites the old friends.  Gary is now a loser, still living in the past. He re-unites the crew for another go at the crawl, to finally reach the titular World’s End with a pint in each pub along the way.  However, things get….interesting real fast.
            This movie gets many things right. It’s interesting to note that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the usual Laurel and Hardy-esque laugh causing duo, are each playing characters out of type here.  Pegg’s Gary is a sarcastic jerk, an anarchist, a partying rebel. Totally different than the hard worker he was in Hot Fuzz.  And Frost, arguably the most funny of the duo, is shockingly serious and anti-fun here. That’s probably a nod by Edgar Wright, swapping the stereotypes of the two heroes.  The dialogue between them, and all of the characters, is great. It’s witty and high-brow humor, really about the words said.  Though some moments of zany-ness happen too.  
            The cast is filled with some great people besides Pegg and Frost, especially the characters of Steven and Oliver, and Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike).  It’s an ensemble crew for a ensemble adventure. One really gets attached to these characters, and no one is really forgotten about. That’s a rare aspect of movies sometimes.  It’s not a spoiler to say that things on this pub crawl get crazier than old friends disagreeing. The space robots come, appearing as clones of the townsfolk.
            Edgar Wright has a knack for making an exciting adventure. It’s great seeing the guys fighting off common people , violently, in pubs and simple streets.  The action is flashy and high speed as usual, with incredible choreography. The soundtrack is pumping, with some awesome 90’s callbacks.  The pace, both in epic-ness and humor, keeps ramping up as the film goes on. This is essential Wright, snappy fast editing in full awesome force.
            It’s not perfect however. As funny as it is, some of the gags are repeated to the point of losing their humor. The plot starts of strong, but too feels repetitive at parts.  Luckily it all ties up for the ending. And, in my opinion. Nick Frost’s wasn’t right for that role. It kind of feels weird seeing him in the movie, and only rarely laughing at him.  
            The World’s End is a movie which sums up the greatest trademark aspects of Edgar Wright’s filmmaking career.  The laughs are great, the action is fun, and the story and characters are interesting. The formula of mashing the real and fantastical works once again, but in some ways it has reached its creative as well as spiritual limits.  However, this movie is worth seeing for a lighthearted good time. The end of the World’s End is worth the wait.  8.35 out of 10

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Kick Ass 2 Review

Kick Ass 2 Review
Director : Jeff Wadlow

Cast Headliner: Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Original Release Date: August 9th, 2013
            The first Kick-Ass film, based on the comic series of the same name, was a wonderfully unique film. It looked at how a superhero would work in the real world. It was also delightfully violent and humorous, being outrageous despite being in the real world.  By the end, scrawny Dave Lizewski(Aaron-Taylor Jonhson) had become a true super hero called Kick-Ass, and gained a comrade in Hit-Girl/Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz), an enemy in Red Mist/Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and lost a mentor in Big Daddy.  What could happen after that?
            Well, Kick-Ass 2 deals with the aftermath of the first film. Dave is adjusting to being a hero still, and after her father’s death Hit-Girl is adjusting to being a normal girl with her new step-father. It’s interesting to see that Kick-Ass has inspired others to become homemade superheroes, and he soon joins a gang called Justice Forever. The members of this are funny and awesome to behold, from Insect Man with his stun batons, Dr.Gravity with his “gravity bat”,  a mom and pop team called Remembering Tommy, the clearly named Night Bitch, and even Marty(Clark Duke) the friend of Kick-Ass who’s is calling himself Battle-Guy ( in one of the funnier scenes of the film when they discover each other). The cast has certainly expanded, doubling if not tripling with many great characters good or evil. The most important member of the team, besides Kick-Ass, is Colonel Stars and Stripes played by the legendary Jim Carrey. Carrey is entirely unrecognizable as the gruff and burly hero. Carrey is always great when he is going extreme in his acting, and this fits right in with his classic roles. The best jokes, and the best punches, come from Colonel Stars who becomes one of the main protagonists. Justice Forever has some great interaction as they fight crime, sort of a street smart version of the Avengers.
            It must be mentioned, without spoiling too much, that pretty much none of the events of Justice Forever involved Hit-Girl. Mindy has her own parallel storyline involving her time in high school and dealing with bullying.  There are some good moments of humor, but unfortunately it feels like a cliché teen movie. This was perhaps done as satire, but in my opinion it really distracts from the vibe of the rest of the movie. I think that’s because this film is both an adaptation of the Kick-Ass 2 comic arc, AND of the Hit-Girl interquel spin off line which focused on her. Luckily, when she is actually being  Hit-Girl she is incredibly awesome as usual.
            Good must always have an evil counterpart, and of course every bad guy character is just as wackyily interesting as Justice Forever. At the end of the first one, Red Mist declared himself as using the new name and attitude “The Motherf#cker”. MFer is quite a villain, oh my. The normally geeky Christopher Mintz-Plasse is deliciously evil and charismatic here, delivering many of the best jokes to even rival Colonel Stars and Hit-Girl in swagger.  MFer’s main henchman Mother Russia is also a fun sight, with special mention of the scene where she takes out three cop cars with her bare hands.
            The (ironic) vibe of extremeness is the main highlight of Kick-Ass 2. Camera cuts feel like a comic book. Action sequences bounce and pop with color.  There’s no such thing as too much blood for this movie, which is a good thing here.   It’s not all zaniness however, as the plot is even more complex and darker than the first film. Things get genuinely emotional and epic sometimes. It’s a rollercoaster of vibes, and it totally works.
            Kick-Ass 2 is a bloody good time.  It feels like more of the same, which has drawn some criticism from fellow peers. However, it’s the same but with the knobs cranked up. There’s more action, more blood, more humor.  It delivers on its deeper themes of looking at what it means to be a hero. Some scenes may be too zany and delve into “stupid” for sure. But overall, it is simply a fun movie. It is entertaining and worth seeing, and it kicks some ass too.   8.6 out of 10

Elysium Review

Elysium Review
Director : Neill Blomkamp

Cast Headliner: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley

Original Release Date: August 9th, 2013

What will the future be like? Will it be better; shall humanity live in a utopia?  Will our flaws manifest themselves into a horrific wasteland of stagnation?  According to director Neill Blomkamp director in this film Elysium, it’s both. The year is 2154 and up in space the most elite citizens and the government have a wonderful, bright existence on the titular Elysium space station. Meanwhile on Earth, at least where we see in Los Angeles, is a gigantic ghetto. Think of it as an extreme version of the Berlin Wall.  In this world, Matt Damon plays Max Da Costa, a robot factory worker in the slums. He has, basically, a very hard life.
For, this film is set in the future and thus classified as science fiction, but it is really more  about sharing a political message too. An obvious class struggle is at play here, with the rich abusing the poor and etc.  At times the message, while perhaps true, can be too preachy. I felt as if some scenes with Max being abused  by cops were unneeded.  And aside from the vile Secretary Delacourt (wonderfully portrayed by Jodie Foster), the government seems to not be that evil aside from being apathetic.   
Most importantly perhaps then is the focus on the story of Max. He ends up needing to reach Elysium, where the machines can fix you. He joins some rather “risky” people, and essentially gets into trouble with the governmental forces.   The plot makes some interesting twists and turns, certainly defying most expectations. It ends up being predictable, but a few moments will certainly shock.
The themes and atmosphere are certainly interesting, but two things shine about this film. The action and special effects during them are stellar. Blomkamp has a knack for creating mind-blowing scenes and using slow motion. The robots, or droids as they’re called ala Star Wars, appear incredibly lifelike. The visuals of the Elysium space station are beautiful, and it’s a different yet equally great kind of beauty to see it be damaged in the fights.   
Now the other thing to mention is Sharlto Copley’s Krueger character. He is one of those perfect villians. A villain so evil, so vile, so mean that you just can’t help but appreciate him. Copley does a great job at being wicked, and all of the heart and humor of the film comes whenever he’s on screen. Ironic in that he is the character that has the highest kill count. Aside form his charisma, he is also formidable combat threat.  Both he and Max are equipped with cyborg strength suit, and even better for him in that he has a plasma shield and a sword. There isn’t much reason to use a sword in a age of plasma guns 100 years from now, but it can be excused in that Krueger is such a superb villain.
            Unfortunately though, Krueger is the only interesting character in the whole movie. Matt Damon is a decent hero, but pretty basic. Love interest Frey is bland, and his comrades in Spider’s gang are slightly annoying.  The scope of the film also could have been more, after District 9 I expected more action. Nonetheless, it is a unique and original well-crafted science fiction film. Even when ignoring the class propaganda, it is a very fine piece of cinema. 8.3 out of 10 

The Wolverine Review

The Wolverine Review
Director : James Mangold 

Cast Headliner: Hugh Jackman

Original Release Date: July 26th, 2013

Seen: Early August 2013
         Within the X-Men franchise, there is no one who can compete with Wolverine played by Hugh Jackman. He’s a comic book fan and audience favorite, and one of the main centers of focus in the series.  It makes since that he would get a spinoff of his own, and in 2009 there was in “X-Men: Origins Wolverine”. That was a controversial film, between its mediocrity and plot flaws and ruining the adaptation of some comic characters. Luckily, this film “The Wolverine”, is a vast improvement and one of the best of the series.
            This actually (and for the best) takes places after the third X-men film, which makes it all new material for the timeline. Wolverine aka Logan is back to his old wandering ways in Canada, and is still stricken with grief and haunted by visions of his former lover Jean Grey/Phoenix (Famke Janssen back in a surprising amount of new material). It is definitely nice to see these two old cast members again, and interesting to see how it has this affects his psyche.   He is soon found by a mysterious Japanese warrior and mutant named Yukio( Rila Fukushima).  She is employed by a Mr.Yashida(Hiroyuki Sanada) , who wants to thank Wolverine ,in person in Tokyo, for saving his life during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in World War 2.  Logan begrudgingly follows, and he is greeted with a twisted world of danger.
            The greatest aspect of this film is that it is set in Japan. Previous installments have sort of blended together, with similar locales and characters. Aside from Wolverine, everyone else in the film is a new character. An effort is really made to create an authentic atmosphere, with Asian cast members and beautiful cinematography.
            The careful directing hand of James Mangold is evident here, with some great angles and intense camera in fight scenes. A problem which plagued “Origins” was bad quality CGI and effects compared to films in its era, but here everything is top notch.  From the atomic bomb drop in Nagasaki to the Silver Samurai mech suit in the end, everything is very believable. Never before has Wolverine’s claws shone with so much sheen.
             Besides the many great and unique fight scenes (Logan vs Yakuza! Logan vs Ninjas!), there’s heart at this story. Wolverine has to deal with where his life is going, and what it means to be immortal. Some astonishingly good dialogue is here, and also some decent romance with Mariko Yashida(Tao Okamoto)  of whom the antagonists are targeting. Yukio deserves special mention as her role of wisecracking sidekick.   So far this all may make it seem like a Yakuza or martial arts film, but it doesn’t forget that it’s a part of the X-Men franchise.
            Wolverine is awesome and nearly unstoppable in his claw slashing and healing abilities, but he has a match in Viper played Sveltana Khodchenkova.  This villain is not only the other white cast member but also has formidable combat abilities. I would say that besides the fights against the Yakuza, the final sequence involving her, Logan, the “Silver Samurai”, and others is cool and classic X-Men in vibe.
            The Wolverine is both an excellent classic X-Men movie, and also a successful experiment. Looked at as a X-Men movie, it’s a look at what happens with Logan’s (and in a slight way, Jean’s) life after the finale that was X3. Yet also, it deals barely with mutants and super powers and instead is a tale of Japanese crime drama. The classic sequel film which spices things up by making things nuanced.   This makes it a great watch, and a sign of good things to come. 8.15 out of 10

Friday, June 28, 2013

World War Z Review

World War Z Review
Director : Marc Forster 

Cast Headliner: Brad Pitt

Original Release Date: June 21, 2013
With zombies being so popular these days in pop TV and video games, it’s no surprise that more mainstream movies will try and cash in on that rush. The Zombie Survival Guide is a fantastic book useful and funny by Albert Brooks, and the follow up World War Z is perhaps even better and a modern classic novel. Now a movie of the same name has been made, and adaptation-wise it is unfortunately mostly in name only.  Brad Pitt stars in and helped to make this, and it well… let’s get started.
Zombies are supposed to be scary, a threat of the deformed familiar. One of the highlights of the TV shows the Walking Dead is that each monster is hand-crafted with polish and amazing makeup on actors.  Pitt’s Gerry character, in this plot essentially made up for this movie, faces the terrifying threat of bad CGI.  With a budget so high, you’d think more makeup on actors could be used. It’s an artistic choice, a bad one, that the enemy in this are super high speed infected people who look are basically humans but can run nearly 20 or more mph. It’s “dangerous” for sure, but because in most scenes they are barely seen the tension is not there.
Another flaw of this movie is that it’s only rated PG-13. So even when zombies do appear, the killing of them is quick or off-screen. There’s also a useless token “I gotta help my family” thing with the Gerry clan, but his daughters are way more annoying than sweet. Besides maybe his motivation in protecting them  through a deal with the army, and a moment near the end, I pretty much forgot about them.
Gerry gets sent around the world tracking down the cause of this zombie disease and never really finds the answers. What he does find are some action set pieces scattered around the globe , in a plot which definitely has signs of development trouble , that  are mostly extremely cheesy and ridiculous.  The scene where he meets some marines in a derelict army base in South Korea and has to escape, well. The lauded siege of Jerusalem with millions and millions of zombies, uhh wacky I guess and cool just because its so extreme.  There are moments of tension even with the messy low quality CGI.  World War Z actually makes a huge improvement in the last 15 minutes or so, with a thrilling final encounter. I think the reason it’s so good is because there’s no army backup, there’s no “war”   , it’s just Gerry and some people fighting hand to hand in building corridors.
It’s a shame that a “non-war” action sequence is the best part in a movie called WORLD WAR Z. Brad Pitt is a cool action hero and charming as always, but without him this movie would lose even more.  It has its moments, but overall it’s a shame that this has the same name as a great novel.  Go for the extreme-ness of the zombies and if you like Pitt, but otherwise there’s better zombie fare out there. 7.1 out of 10

Born on the Fourth of July Review

Born on the Fourth of July Classic Movie Review
Director : Oliver Stone

Cast Headliners: Tom Cruise

Original Release Date: December 20, 1989

Seen: June 2013
   Born on the Fourth of July is undeniably the magnum opus of Oliver Stone and simultaneously the crowning achievement highlight of Tom Cruise’s acting career. This is the true story of Ron Kovic , a Vietnam war veteran and public speaker. It is a hard touching journey, and every minute of it is fantastic.
            The structure is almost like a dark Forrest Gump.  Kovic has a childhood in the idyllic 60’s, a time of bright hope for America.  Stone interweaves clever metaphors into the film, an example being the “violent” opening scene of kids playing war. A older Ron Kovic is played by Cruise from here on out, and as his high school graduation approaches he has to deal with the responsibility of choosing to be a marine. Special mention goes out to Tom Berenger who appears as a marine speaker at Kovic’s high school, and also to Willem Dafoe who appears as another Vietnam veteran much later in the film. It is a long movie, but the tension of it keeps the pace moving. In a way it is a follow up to the ideas of the fellow Vietnam War movie Platoon, building upon its ideas as I’ll soon mention.
            Born on the Fourth of July, like Cruises’ role in Kovic, constantly changes.  The scenes actually in Vietnam are both beautifully and realistically shot, really bringing the horrific war to life. While there, the proud Kovic is unfortunately injured and left paralyzed.  A young war hero is left defenseless, and this is where the real movie starts. Because really, this is a post-Vietnam aftermath film and not a Vietnam war film.  Kovic goes through horrible things abroad, but perhaps faces even greater challenges when he is crippled and confined to a wheelchair.   Cruise has some tear-inducing moments trying to survive and be successful. He shows such a range and grace as Kovic, transforming his trademark charm into emotional power. He certainly would have been worth winning the Oscar nomination he got for this.
            Stone has crafted a very emotional drama, with scenes aided by a stellar soundtrack.  As with any Oliver Stone creation, there is a not-so-subtle message at play.  The anti-war movement Kovic interacts and drifts into has some dramatic clashes with the government. Perhaps the message gets repetitive, but it is thought provoking.
            This is touching drama about what soldiers who experience the tragedies of war really feel. Ron Kovic was brought to the cinema with expertise by Tom Cruise, and this should be remembered. 9 out of 10  

Monster's University Review

Monster's University Review
Director :Dan Scanlon

Cast Headliners: Billy Crystal, John Goodman

Original Release Date: June 21 , 2013
            Monster’s Inc was a classic Pixar film, with great humor and charm.  Now they have returned, and rather than a number 2, with Monster’s University Pixar have chosen to create a prequel. Prequels can be hit or miss, but it is safe to say this is one of the better ones.
            All of the old voice actors return for this, so it’s good to hear Billy Crystal as Mike and John Goodman as Sully again. This shows their first meeting, and it is actually not what one would expect. Mike and Sully were rivals at first, and the events of the movie cause them to have to work together. It’s interesting to see Mike be even more of a dweeb, and Sully being even more of a jerk.  Don’t worry as the story makes them more into what they are later. Also be on the lookout for cameos of younger versions of characters from the first film.
            Every great college movie stereotype is used here, and the humor is plentiful. You can tell they had a lot of fun coming up with all of the different frats and sororities who compete in the “Scare Games”.  The events are entertaining to watch, and especially with the characters involved.  Pixar are no strangers to having tons of lovable side characters, and this time it continues with everyone Mike and Sully befriend. There’s the odd Art (played by funnyman Charlie Day), the unique guy Squishy, the strange twins Terry and Terri, and the charming Don Carlton.  They’re not the greatest team in Oozma Kappa, but they try.
               The humor and visuals and characters are classic Pixar, but there is some deeper meaning as always. The plot starts going in one direction then takes a few surprise twist turns.  The emotion is sometimes lacking, especially when compared to Boo’s story in “Inc”. Boo is missed for sure, but there’s definitely still some cute and charming moments.
            Overall Monster’s University is a solid Pixar film, back to tradition after Brave’s experimentation.  It’s not perfect or anything, but it’s certainly very funny and will put a smile on your face. 8.65 out of 10

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Man of Steel Review

Man of Steel Review
Director :Zack Snyder

Cast Headliners: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fisbourne

Original Release Date: June 14th , 2013

        Superman is perhaps the most iconic superhero of all time in both comics and movies. His career has had ups and downs, but no movie so far as been able to fully accomplish the powerful capacity this guy has. Man of Steel, named ala The Dark Knight and even  moreso Batman Begins from which it gets inspiration (helped by the fact that Christopher Nolan helped with producing this), does true justice to this character.  
This reboot goes even farther back than anything else has before, beginning literally with Superman’s birth as baby Kal-El on Krypton to Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara.  This segment on Superman’s alien home world is much longer than expected, and gives Jor some heroic screen time of his own.  One of my favorite aspects, which I’ll elaborate on later, was this part as this aspect of Superman’s life has pretty much been unknown in film and even other media. It resembled a cool alternate science fiction world that is usually only seen in movies like Star Wars.  This beginning  gives the film a long epic tone, as one of the reasons for Krypton’s problems is the extremely evil General Zod (Michael Shannon).  He is ejected into exile in the Phantom Zone, and infant Superman is sent on a spaceship to sanctuary on Earth. Its worth finding out for oneself, but Crowe’s performance as Jor is certainly not brief and he is involved in more than just the prologue of and does a great job as a powerful mentor.
It jumps to present Earth, and Kal is now Clark Kent. Superman is played in this movie by Henry Cavill, and he is a great choice. Cavill is perfect as both a charming everyman citizen, and a Superman who comes to terms with his incredible powers and destiny.  The supporting characters are all very good as well, with a heroine in Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and her interesting boss Perry White (Laurence Fishbourne) who both have side-plots you really care about.  The Lois Lane/Superman romance was a better one than most recent comic movies for sure.   Clark Kent’s adoptive mother Martha (Diane Lane) was decent, but praise should be given even more so to Jonathan (Kevin Costner).  Costner is stellar as ever here, and the talks between him and Clark about the destiny of Superman are great.    There are some genuinely emotional moments in the story and interesting use of flashbacks, a new thing for the director.
Man of Steel tries to bring up questions of deeper meaning in this, but sometimes it falls flat. The story was interesting, but then it seemed like it fast forwarded to a long finale when Zod comes back into Superman’s life.  As I said earlier, this movie is all about the science fiction spectacle. That is the awesome main strength of this.  Zod is a scary villain, and Shannon makes his performance especially fearsome. I’d also like to give a shoutout to one of the main henchwoman’s Faora  (played by Antje Traue) who is nearly as powerful as Zod and equally terrifying.   Zack Snyder was a great choice as director since he knows how to create big explosive set pieces.  A problem with some past Superman material is that there has been little action or he has faced simple human enemies.  Facing a worldwide invasion of evil Kryptonians is more than enough of a challenge for Superman.  The action must be seen, the speed and ferocity of it is awe-inspiring.  Skyscrapers are thrown around and cities demolished. It makes the Avengers seem slightly tame in comparison. This alien threat really showcases the action power of Superman as a hero, letting him fly and lazer eye many things. That is one aspect I felt was done mostly well, however sometimes the CGI appears….off which ruins it.  The flight sequences also felt cheesy sometimes as well.  Snyder tried hard, but the influence of Sucker Punch has bled through into this a bit sadly.  

Nonetheless, now that Batman has had his time to shine Superman has taken the same approach to a mostly grand success.  The epic, dark tone melds well with Superman thanks to the inclusion of a big sci fi tonality.  It isn’t Batman-dark considering the title character is Superman; it feels more like a grand comic book arc.  I’d also like to point out some extremely subtle references to the extended DC universe.  Fans expected more world building for a future Justice League, but remember this is just Superman’s origin tale.  There may be more heroes out there, and if Man of Steel is the new DC paradigm, then I am looking forward to what is to come. 8.7 out of 10