Monday, December 29, 2014

My Top Ten Movies of 2014

Here we are again, at the end of a year. My personal life has had some crazy ups and downs, and films were a big part of that. Here's a ranking, and this list is by what i personally liked more, and if something major isn't on here, I likely haven't experienced it sorry but hopefully
sooner than later.  Without further ado:

Top 10 2014 Films:

1.) Birdman, for its amazing acting and mind blowing directing/production
2.) Gone Girl, for one of the biggest twists and performance surprises in recent memory and a insanely gripping plot
3.) Guardians of the Galaxy, for showing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be amazing even when it's not on Earth and being the best "Star Wars" since the OT
4.) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for some deep emotions, cool actions and monkey mania
5.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for showing what a traditional superhero film can be and offering amazing pacing/action
6.) Interstellar, for amazing visuals and music with a ponderous plot that make one feels as if they went to space themselves
7.) The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies, for being a epic end to the Tolkein movieverse with action and emotion right up there with the best ones in the franchise
8.) The Lego Movie, for showing that everything is awesome when you're living the dream/ Morgan Freeman and Bionicle in the same film
(Her would be a #9 but was released technically at first in 2013)
9.) Snowpiercer (this was too but was in Korean before its 2014 release), for a fantasticly unique world/ art design , sweet action, and even some feels
10.) X-Men : The Days of Future Past, by being a fantastic continuation to the old/new cast storylines and offering tantalizing possibilites for the future

Honorable 11 to 13s:
- godzilla
- the interview.
- the giver

The Interview Review

The Interview
Directors: Evan Goldberg/ Seth Rogen
Cast Headliners: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park
Original Release Date: December 24th, 2014
            When the initial premise of the next Seth Rogen / James Franco combo movie came out, it seemed like a dumb if sure fire comedy romp.  The Interview simply can be summed up as the two comedians portraying friends Dave Skylark (Franco) and Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) who are given the chance to interview Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) but are tasked by the CIA agent Lacey ( Lizzy Caplan) to kill him during it.  Yes, that’s THE real North Korean leader who is their guest/target and so the simple prompt simultaneously caused both a fun film and a real world cyber warfare crisis.
            It’s a strange world we live in that these two have affected politics and international relations. But the movie of which this all started… is it that bad?  Well, it is blatantly a mocking parody of the Asian nation. But that’s just a major theme in a field of parodies.  The movie actually features a surprising amount of time NOT in North Korea, and these segments are great with the heroes’ show Skylark Tonight, fun pokes at entertainment journalism and obligatory Rogen/Franco film celebrity cameos included.
            Once the plot moves to Pyongang, it ends up being a very typical comedy like the others from this team.  Franco takes the main focus this time and is hilarious as the often na├»ve Dave. Rogen is equally good as Aaron as well. They aren’t exactly breaking out of a box but they deliver.  Because the central cast of characters is so intimate, including the ones listed above and Diana Bang as North Korean communications head/ love interest for Aaron , there is some great character interplay.  The main characters have many great scenes like “smeagol to his precious. ” Without spoiling the film’s best twist and funniest scenes, the material with Kim and Skylark are amazing. Park does a wonderful job, managing to appear like the real person while bringing a new comedic perspective to his role.     And of course there’s some epic action spiced in as well.
            The movie is dumb at parts, but that’s to be expected. Repeated jokes and ones that fall flat are made up for by its scenes of brilliant inanity.  Some segments drag on but the film’s two hours go buy quickly because of the amount of laughs.   While certainly offensive to the despotic country, it’s nothing TOO obscene.   It’s a pretty solid victory not only for America but another win to the long line of Franco/Rogen buddy comedies. 8.35 out of 10

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies Review

The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies 
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast Headliners: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly
Original Release Date: December 17th, 2014

            It’s hard to believe that this time has finally arrived. Not that this is the third Hobbit film of three parts or that a adaptation of the novel even came out in the first place. The bittersweet realization is that The Hobbit:  The Battle of Five Armies represents the likely end of the works of JRR Tolkein on the big screen.  With such big circumstances come big expectations, and this film bites off an insanely massive amount. But can it handle that “bite”, or is it more than it could chew? Like Samwise Gamgee’s bread in the Two Towers, there’s a satisfying soul to its few traits resembling the old. But this isn’t Sam’s era, this is Bilbo Baggin’s.
            Bilbo (Martin Freeman) shared the most screen time with the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch)  in the last film but when it comes time for the final showdown with the beast he can only join his companions in looking on in terror as Lake-town is destroyed.   This segment wraps up the dragon storyline with great spectacle. Although it perhaps would’ve been better suited and felt like more of a resolution last go-around, one can see why it was put here as it makes for an exciting start to the film.
            A trend which can be felt many times through these newer films in director Peter Jackson’s repertoire is that there are great things but they get lost or underutilized with the massive amount of other things happening.  Freeman’s Bilbo maintains his charismatic charm but because of the large amount of action and smaller perspectives his actions come across as having little importance. The same reduced presence goes with the ever brilliant Gandalf played for a finale by Ian McLelllen, though viewers should know he has many more awesome adventures ahead in the age of Frodo..
            Peter Jackson creates a tale here that more or less makes sense to the audience but because of the massive cast it’s hard to empathize with some of them because of the angle placed on others.  Thorin (Richard Armitage) gets a great arc focusing on the madness  of suddenly obtaining control of Smaug’s treasure but  some of the other dwarves in the company get no lines at all. It’s also interesting that Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel ( Evangeline Lilly) are made arguably the most important characters in the story when their characters weren’t even mentioned in the original novel. And this prequel trilogy has gotten its own Jar Jar Binks in “comic relief” scenes featuring Alfrid of Lake-town.  While his humor is a nice change of pace and makes sense for a work that is meant to be ligher in tone than the Lord of the Rings; it can be said in those films that Jackson gave equal time and importance to the (even larger) cast.
            But what is that’s pushing these characters aside and causing distruption? Well, this is the movie’s strongest suit. When a film has the word “battle” in its name it’s expected that there will be a large amount of battling. Large doesn’t even begin to cover how much there is.  Once the various factions come clamoring for Smaug’s gold it nearly doesn’t let up until the final minutes of the film.   This may be a detraction to some but in my personal opinion I can’t complain about these scenes. The orc and troll combat in the sieges reminds me just why I loved the Lord of the Rings franchise in the first place and it captures a feeling similar to the great battles of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith just like those. I think that the siege of Dale will be regarded as one of those great scenes as well.
            The avalanche of action and intense cries would be nothing if not also for visuals to back them up.  Peter Jackson has put full effort into driving home the spectacle, and everything looks gorgeous especially when viewed in IMAX3D.  Some of the models are a bit curious such as when Legolas does “elf-tricks” (of which now have reached Fast and the Furious levels of wacky but are located in a much better franchise than those)  or the fact that Dain Ironfoot (Billy Connolly)  is an entirely CGI creation even when the rest of the dwarves are live action.  But these are minor spots in an otherwise breathtaking set of locales and fight sequences.
            These moments of either adrenaline or shock (from their extreme levels of weirdness) are also interspersed with some true dramatic emotion.   The material between Thorin and Bilbo is the best, and of course the movie has some tearful losses.  It does a nice job ending the movie as opposed to the multiple endings from Return of the King which aids its snappy 2 and a half hour runtime (the shortest of the Hobbit films) and when the final credits roll it has quite a impact.    While  the book might have not needed to be split into three different parts, it has allowed us to see things which would never have been on film from the Tolkein world such as the material with Gandalf and his White Council.  Hardcore fans, myself included, have been wanting to delve more into those subjects through media more and it delivered past our expectations.  For the others, for people who just know the movies, it serves as a great  if perhaps slightly inferior companion to the series which put Peter Jackson and so many other actors on the map.   There’s been some high ups and low downs overall but there’s been some amazing times across the franchise.   May you sail peacefully into the Grey Havens,   the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film franchises!!  9.1 out of 10

Monday, December 1, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2 Review

Horrible Bosses 2 
Directors:Sean Anders
Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudekis
Original Release Date: November 26th, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2, this time there’s some bosses. But this time they are the bosses!   Nick   (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are back and this time they’ve decided to open their own franchise.  Dealings with newcomers    Burt and son Rex Hanson ( Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine respectively) go south and so the crew creates a plan get their money back.
            This simple premise leads to a simple plot but it’s the jokes that matter.  The comedy is just as great as the first one and arguably is even better as it ramps up the insanity.   If a moment existed in part one, its been given steroids in this.  Day steals the show as Dale as he has some of the films best gags but his two peers are great as well. 
 Chris Pine is a wonderful addition to the crew as archetypal rich arrogant jerk.  He has great chemistry with the rest of the cast and fits the insanity of this world.   The person who is underutilized is Christoph Waltz as he is in more of a serious and bit part, which is a shame since he has great comedic potential.
 Familiar faces return in Jennifer Aniston’s nymphomaniac Dr. Harris, Kevin Spacey’s  now-imprisoned  David Harken, and  Jamie Foxx as “Motherfucker” Jones.  The former mean bosses are really fun in their all to brief appearances. Luckily Motherfucker’s  role has been increased and he has some of the funniest scenes of the movie.  
The all star cast and plot get a bit jumbled at times with it just being a lot to handle. But laughs are in store for  a silly crazy time that’s even better than the first  with some great writing and wacky situations.  7.5 out of 10

The Hunger Games : Mockingjay Part 1 Review

The Hunger Games : Mockingjay Part 1
Directors: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson
Original Release Date: November 21st, 2014

            The Hunger Games franchise has appeared with its third entry already.  The original novel was relatively lengthy, and so thus in a combination of “doing the original justice” as well as corporate money seeking this is the first of two halves in Mockingjay Part 1.  While delivering some great buildup, its existence as only a prologue brings some challenges yet also a few benefits.
            This is a series of cliffhanger after cliffhanger, and so after the last film ended with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in a rough condition, and then in this wakes up in a similar form and place.  It’s been a breakneck ride, but this time the “games” are gone entirely and there is only WAR. Well, the slow political build up to war.  Katniss and her other friends have been brought to the deep underground District 13 with its  own set of new characters.
            These include their leader President Coin (Julliane Moore), head of security Boggs (Mahersala Ali) and the return of Plutarch (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) amongst others.  While Hoffman offers some solid words and scenes, the new characters all feel  just kind of “there”.    The presentation of this new faction is bland after the interesting main heroes of the past installments
            Lawrence still inspires as Katniss….most of the time.  Some dialogue is rousing as ever, while other times there is a repetition of her drama. We get it; she has stress and misses Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).    It’s interesting to see the path each take and the growth they go through whether its Katniss’ ascension to rebel hero or Peeta’s slow decline into tortued induced insanity from the vile President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
            Some of this may seem tantalizing, but its dragged down but just too dang much of it.  They stretched the dialogue heavy part of the novel even further, which logically leads to more dialogue.   They had also promised more action scenes but what comes through is brief and anti-climactic. Most criminal is that the only action sequence from the novel, when Katniss and crew take down some bombers, is actually shorter than the original. 
            This leads to a overall film that is quality but too sparse. The anti-climax in the end is so much to the point of dis-taste.  The good characters, visuals, and fast pace is around from the past installments but only in brief moments instead of sweeping epic movements.   This is a ok if underwhelming experience. But now that the slow part is out of the way, here’s hoping the conclusion makes up for the mistakes of this and delivers all climax.  7.85 out of 10

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To Review

Dumb and Dumber To
Directors: Bobby and Peter Farrelly 
Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden 
Original Release Date: November 14th, 2014

            Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels have each had long and hilarious careers in comedy films.  When they came together in 1994 for Dumb and Dumber, a dynamic duo of idiocy was born and a classic title in their pantheon.   I have not seen the “sequel” Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd but I’ve heard some very, very bad things about it as it does not even feature the two stars.  But now here is a proper sequel in Dumb and Dumber To, and it has just about as much stupid fun as the original.
            Set in today and featuring a visibly aged Lloyd( Jim Carrey) and Harry( Jeff Daniels) the movie shows how their lives have changed since then like any good comedy reunion.  And considering these two knuckleheads are well… dumb and (dumber) that means nothing has at all.  The source of the film’s humor, and credit to its stars, is that our two heroes still act as goofy as they once did.  Time hasn’t caused them to mature even 0.000001% and that’s totally alright.  There’s some small, and funny , references to the first film but otherwise it’s a wild new ride.
            The mission these two find themselves on this time is that Harry is dying of a failed kidney (don’t worry it doesn’t get even closer to being “dark” though there’s some jarring bits of melancholy that luckily don’t overall distract from the laughs)  and needs a donor from a relative. It just so happens that he has discovered he has a long lost daughter.   Lloyd joins him as they journey across the country and get involved with many many silly mishaps.
            The movie is funny enough on their own but filling supporting roles this time around are Laurie Holden as the mysterious Adele and Rob Riggle as twin brothers Travis and “the Captain.”  They aren’t exactly showstoppers but offer a nice complement to the Carrey/Daniels, especially Riggle who has some great lines. 
            The movie manages to have a surprisingly decent plot mixed with hilarious moments that must be seen first hand.  The stakes are raised from the first film, and there’s even some minor action.   But  there are some gross-out low brow poop jokes as well. It’s a shame that it seems they felt forced to include such eye-rolling (because of how many there are)  jokes like that in order to “up the ante” and compete in today’s film market.
            The movie is best when it’s embracing it’s best asset: Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels acting very stupidly.  The “reunion” plot line gives it a charming vibe which sets it apart from the first one, but the great jokes are in smaller number. Still a decent watch however if one doesn’t mind dumb fun. 7.3 out of 10

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review

Big Hero 6
Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams
Cast Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Genesis Rodriguez, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr, TJ Miller
Original Release Date: November 7th, 2014
            Big Hero 6 is interesting because its place within Disney’s pantheon can be viewed in two ways.  On one hand it’s the next step for a studio which has redefined itself through CGI brilliancy in films such as Tangled, Wreck It Ralph, and Frozen.  But also it represents the very first time that the mouse company has used a work by its subsidiary Marvel Comics in an animated motion film that does not bear the “Marvel Studios” name.   Their first animated superhero is another breath of fresh air for the studio which constantly is surprising.
            The movie is based on a semi-obscure part of the Marvel print universe but aside from the basic premise, the city of San Fransokyo, and the character names everything else has been swapped out by Disney for a new tale.  In an alternate world’s future Hiro (Ryan Potter) is  a young boy and  robot inventor who competes in underground bot fights while being scolded by his older brother; role model and brilliant student himself Tadashi (Daniel Henney).   As with any Disney film the parents are out of the picture as they live with their Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) and Hiro seeks to prove himself to the local university after a tour from his brother.
            The cast of characters, once again like Disney’s track record, are strong.  The titular team is made up of overwhelmingly adorable yet somehow action capable robot Baymax( Scott Adsit who’s robotized voice blended with brilliant animation flow make him the best part of the  movie),  bubblegum incarnate via personality and powers Honey Lemon(Genesis Rodriguez), risky and cool hoverskater Gogo(Jamie Chung), cautious energy blade wielding Wasabi (Damon  Wayans Jr) and lastly the other comedic highlight comic book obsessed Fred (TJ Miller who has some of the film’s best lines too.)   The writing between the characters makes one feel like they are really a team. Sure it can be a bit over saccharine but it gives the movie a sense of joy and fun.
            This sense is also found through the amazing visuals. Each passing release by Disney has brought them to rival if not even risk succeeding what their peer Pixar does for lush visuals. The world blends the universes of Asia, the United States, and an optimistic take on the future to form a perfect backdrop for a pop art adventure like this. The addition of 3D to my experience was worth it as well.
            The movie has some emotional moments of course but aside from that the story won’t blow anyone’s minds.  It’s an adventure propelled by its sharp animation, funny characters, rousing score, and more action than usual (considering its superhero roots) that accomplishes what it sets out to and much more.   You’ll come to see Baymax do silly things, and you’ll leave going “ooh” at the fun moments and outrageous lighthearted atmosphere. It won’t change the conventions of the genre but what it does prove is that Disney should borrow from Marvel more often since it works this time. 8.4 out of 10

Friday, November 7, 2014

Interstellar Review

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon 
Original Release Date: November 7th, 2014
            Christopher Nolan knows no bounds. He’s created films which are out of order, which contain deep webs of twists and theories, turned Batman into a trilogy of epic dramas, and made dreams cool.  With all these realms conquered it only made since for him to go to the final frontier of space science fiction. Interstellar is Nolan’s first foray into the realm of science fiction, and it can easily be said that the combination is a match made for the stars.
            The world of the film starts incredibly depressing and dark.  At some point in the far future the planet Earth itself is dying. Crops are going extinct and resources are so few that anyone who is not a farmer or has the aptitude for college is viewed as useless. The world has forgotten about technology as its clinging on for its dear life.  Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former astronaut raising his kids in the dry dusty farmlands of dystopian Midwest America.  Nolan’s attention to detail even in these scenes would make for a fascinating gritty film on its own but it is of course only the barest tip of the iceberg.
            Circumstances soon lead to Cooper being sent on a mission into the depths of space, alien worlds, and even places which are indescribable.  One may infer that they have a full sense of the film from trailers but the way it unfolds is fantastically surprising. Nolan makes us feel as if we are a member of the crew with Cooper and his peers.  That’s the strength of any Christopher Nolan film in that no character is underutilized.  An exceptional cast has been assembled. McConaughey’s Cooper is nuanced, tenacious, and compassionate in his motives.  Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand brings intelligence and critique to the mission.  Even less seen crew members Romily (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) get their moments to shine through action and dialogue. Michael Caine, Jessica Chaistain, Casey Affleck, an unexpected Matt Damon, and surprisingly even Topher Grace bring quality to their roles but to say who they are exactly would ruin the surprise.  There’s also the brilliantly sarcastic voiceovers of the cool geometric robots in the starship crew of TARS(Bill Irwin) and CASE(Josh Stewart), and a minor but funny spot by John Lithgow as Cooper’s father in law Donald.
            In fact each character has at least a notable modicum of intelligence as the film requires more cerebral thought of any of Nolan’s prior work. Scientific terms are flown around nearly every few minutes which may overwhelm some viewers but luckily it’s presented for the most part in a way that’s digestible. As mentioned earlier it’s as if the viewer is immersed in this world so whether it be Cooper drawing a diagram or someone explaining a formula it usually makes sense but not always.  Some of the “scientific” elements can become overwhelming at times even then especially near the chaotic end which involves the science of a black hole.
            Immersion and atmosphere are two of the absolute most key words that embody Interstellar.  I had the pleasure to view the movie in IMAX format and I absolutely recommend it.  This is a movie meant to be viewed on a proper massive screen. No matter how one sees it, the vistas of the cosmos and alien worlds that are visited are like actual photographs and paintings come to life.  This is a damn beautiful movie and the amazing thing is that Nolan has managed to make the effect work whether it be at the half hour mark or 2 and a half hour mark (it’s a long and at times slow burner but worth it).   This is complemented by an amazing ethereal score by Hans Zimmer of piping organs and electronics.   There is a power that emanates from Interstellar and after exciting the room after viewing it you will have an ache of excitement over your body since it will have felt like YOU were the one who went to the void and back.  The visuals are of such high quality that it has me questioning if Nolan himself went to space to film this.
            It’s not perfect though but is almost there.  This may be because I am comparing it to Nolan’s astonishingly impressive pedigree, but the story and twists within felt less shocking that in other works by him.  A couple moments which are meant to be massively shocking feel less impactful because of over extensive foreshadowing to them.  If a risk is mentioned as being a possible risk, there is no reason for the character to react in that way when it ends up happening. You’ll know what it means when you see it.  The 85% mark of the film or so is also handheld semi-messily as there is repition of a certain revelation over and over again a few more times than it should have been. It’s a convoluted bit in an otherwise solid dramatic narrative.   There’s also the fact that what’s going on the decaying Earth is much less interesting than what Cooper and crew face in deep space. Switching between the two perspectives brings some jarring moments.
            Overall however Interstellar delivers on the potential a Nolan/sci-fi collaboration promised. His trademark quality production and direction, visual and aural magnificence, and exciting set pieces are all present.  A large and great cast delivers an intense emotional storyline.  It can be a bit much to take in at times, but that’s what the exploration of space is all about. We are specks in a mysterious universe and Interstellar showcases what dangers and wonders that can bring. 9.1 out of 10

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Birdman Review

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Original Release Date: October 17th, 2014
            Birdman is a very dark dramedy directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrituu starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson. The character, an actor, who made a name through the superhero Birdman in a series of blockbuster films but is now a c-lister trying to create something “meaningful” through Broadway. This meta-aspect and its relation to Keaton’s career raise the stakes even more so. The movie could work as a biography. But it’s much more than that
            The difference between our Keaton and his role as Riggan is that he’s absolutely insane. The film has a hefty dose of the bizarre and surreal. Riggan floats in the air as he meditates in and uses telekinesis in his spare time. There is also the brilliant struggle of the jerk demonic voice of Birdman himself in his head which makes the struggle he faces all the more hilariously intense.   
            The film defies expectations and plays with the audience at several turns. Plot lines are interspersed with shocking twists whether the effect is one of laughter or gasping.  The play “doesn’t go as planned” and it feels as if one is right along with the in-film audience as they are surprised. This diegeticness also comes about brilliantly through the groovy jazz score as it snakes its way constantly in the background.   Several times  the drum hits are shown to be coming from a drummer around a corner and the volume adjusts.  Little touches like this exemplify Inarritu’s delicate touch.
            But as a character says I’ve just been using in my review “labels, labels, labels” as in Broadway.  This is a movie about intricate characters that make Riggan seem normal.  Zach Galifinakis does a great dramatic turn as his high maintenance assistant Jake.  Emma Stone is his just-out-of rehab daughter.  Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough as his equally distressed co-stars Lesley and Laura.  Each cast member delivers an incredible performance  and there’s some great interplay between each of them.  No one is really a “minor character” in this.
            But the absolute shining star who brings a nuance to match Keaton’s is Edward Norton as Broadway mega star Mike Shiner. Norton is here with his often-used antagonistic charisma  which correlates with Shiner.  Shiner seeks to tell stories of “complex human emotion” and ridicules Keaton for his career choices.  This may perhaps this is another meta-critique of modern blockbuster cinema.   The friction between the two makes for some of the best scenes in the film.
            Each moment is magnified by the fact that the camera is constantly moving. The unique cinematography is accomplished by having a camera “float” close up to the actors at all times.  Like the music there is never a second of “visual silence.”  However, this is one of the small negatives  from making the film perfect.  The fact that it zooms so in on Keaton’s face can make things uncomfortably claustrophobic at times.
            The other point of detraction is some of the reality bending moments towards the end.   It’s massively cool for the film to acknowledge the Avengers , Robert Downey Jr, and the popcorn-like existing within its world. But when a moment happens latter where Riggan imagines what it’d be like to be in a modern blockbuster the CGI is not the best.   This may also be intentional but it’s jarring when compared to the rest of the expert visual production.
            Overall most of the laughs in Birdman come from how pathetic and backstabbing its characters are. It’s so depressing one can’t help but snicker. But we cheer on these corrupt actors as their lives spiral out of control around them. There’s a tale of Riggan Thomson being the last of the Hollywood old guard who hasn’t sold out to do more action reboots, but its lost in a swirling darkness of confusion.  This hypnotic tone makes for a compelling argument and a amazing film. 9.8 out of 10

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dracula Untold Review

Dracula Untold
Director: Gary Shore
Cast Headliners:Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance
Original Release Date: October 10th, 2014
                        There have been what, one million adaptations of the Dracula and vampire tale?  The Bram Stoker character has nearly become public domain by this point, which is why Dracula Untold only comes a couple years after Adam Sandler in Hotel Transylvania.   To create a new Dracula film in 2014 with the hope of being unique is akin to making a Fu Manchu film in hopes of being new.  It can’t help but feeling “overdone.”
            This film hopes to remedy that by taking a look at the real inspiration for the legendary vampire in Prince Vlad II “the Impaler” of Transylvania (then Wallachia).  The prince, played by Luke Evans, has to contend with a Turkish army led by the powerful Sultan Mehmet (Dominic Cooper), and so must turn to the dark vampiric powers offered by the Master (Charles Dance). The “historical” premise and origin of this famous character does make it stand but it’s almost certain they were not entirely accurate.
            What is here is a few good aspects. Evan’s Vlad also goes by the name “Dracula” or son of the Dragon, and he very much embraces that in his performance. He is one of the only interesting characters in the film and brings a brooding ferocity to his role.  The plot concerning his transformation down the dark side of vamprisim is quite cool and one can feel his emotion.   There is an overall dark atmosphere to the film accomplished through beautiful misty landscape backgrounds and more bats than you can shake a Bruce Wayne at.   His interactions with Dance as the vampire who infected them are also great, as Dance’s brief appearance makes him out to be a great villain who is woefully underutilized.
            What’s less interesting is the major plot concerning the Turks. The Sultan has less depth than a cartoon character, and his soldiers don’t seem to pose much of a threat at all besides their number.  The film’s action scenes can be counted on one hand and all consist of Dracula turning into a swarm of bats and destroying every one nearly instantly .  Pretty cool, but when it’s literally the only appeal of the film it’s  not the best argument to go see it.
            The movie has flat characters and sparse action but is saved by its characterization of  Dracula and some cool special effects. It’s not the worst movie ever and has some moments of dumb fun when Dracula destroys armies. But it feels like it ends way too sooner than its 2 hour run-time. Here’s hoping the sequel it’s hinting at brings things to more interesting areas which it does hint it.  Considering that it feels so much like the video game Castlevania : Lords of Shadow 2 already, that should be a cool  place indeed. ….  6.35 out of 10

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Gone Girl Review

Gone Girl
Director: David Fincher
Cast Headliners: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Original Release Date: Cotober 3rd, 2014
            Gone Girl is a deceptive film.  On the surface this dramatic thriller, which is based upon a 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn which I have not read, appears to be a typical mystery quest.  There’s a missing wife; there’s barely any clues around; and dark shadows lurk in the corners.   But the truth behind the mystery is so much more horrifying than what it first appears to be. The same can be said for the film as a whole.
            Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is a former writer who runs a bar in Missouri with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon).   His marriage to his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has gone through some trouble of late and this is not aided when he comes home from work to find that she is completely missing with signs of a struggle in the house.  Nick enlists the aid of the local police amongst others including Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) to track down Amy.
            The movie could have continued along this line and been perfectly acceptable. But it’s an intricate evolving beast of a movie.  It’s refreshing to see in the tumultuous world a stable person in Nick. Affleck has grown tremendously as an actor over the past few years and his performance here is a quality one. He embeds Nick with a charismatic everyman charm much like his other films, but yet he manages to make it restrained and mesh well with the tone of this very dark film.  
            The film is intricate because it is not just straight forward playing but also a web of flash-backs and flash-forwards and separated side plots and more.  The directing effort of David Fincher absolutely must be praised as he makes it all work. It never becomes difficult to understand what is happening. As things become crazier, they also start to make more sense as the puzzle pieces slide into place.   His distinct style is present as well, as shots are crisp and arguments are impactful.  The dark tone of the film is something only he could have made. He has created a film which definitely belongs amongst the best of his filmography.   He is also aided by some incredible musical work from associate Trent Reznor who’s music fits this film so well.
            This aids to the role of Amy. Amy manages to be an incredibly important character despite showing up through flashbacks or narration in large parts of the film. Rosamund Pike has done an incredible job.  Even when it’s only her voice, she manages to deliver powerful words painting a picture of a marriage gone wrong. There is a subtle but impactful set of themes in the film which critique marriages as well as the role of perspective in media.  To spoil this would ruin the film’s number 1 greatest trait (the many shocking twists and turns), but I’ll just say that Amy is more than she appears to be from Nick’s perspective and that Pike is thrillingly chilling as the (antagonist).
            The movie drifts at times between being grim dark as heck with several touching moments, but also has some surprising laughs. Everything manages to blend together well which is another credit to Fincher. On a related note, normal comedy stars star as characters in Amy’s creepy rich ex-boyfriend Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) and celebrity charismatic lawyer Tanner (Tyler Perry).   Both are playing out of usual type and are fantastic . It’s a shame that they don’t appear to late into the picture and are woefully under-featured.
            The other gripe is that at 149 minutes long it’s no quick breezy experience. This is a film which really feels its length.  It’s worth it by the end, but one wonders if there was a way to cut down on the run time. But I suppose it needed all that time considering the amount of things which happen in the delightfully chaotic plot.  
            Overall the film contains a terrific cast and an exciting dark roller coaster of a plot.  Because of its runtime there are a few minor plot holes here and there and a sore lack of NPH, but otherwise it’s a nearly flawless film.   Affleck, Pike, and Fincher  have delivered amazing work in Gone Girl.  I’ve joked that it’s a test for Affleck as Bruce Wayne before his next movie in Batman, and he will do great at the job.   This movie gets a very deserved 9.15 out of 10

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mini-Reviewmania: Into The Storm/Let's Be Cops/The Giver

            It’s the hazy last act days of summer, and so sometimes one does not want to devote whole review to movies. Thus, here we have a REVIEWMANIA!!! :
            Into the Storm:  I’ll call this one “Netflixesque-so-meh-it’s-good” quality. Has a simultaneously interesting and jarring mix of “found footage” and traditional style shots.   What is good is its tornado destruction shots which save it from a kinda dumb story although filled with some emotional acting from Richard Armitage.   6.5 out of 10
            Let’s Be Cops:  Get ready for a couple hours of the same joke since literally everyone and anyone believes the heroes are cops. That’s fine though, as there are some pretty funny scenes.  Damon Wayans is pretty funny,  but Jake Johnson is actually funnier for better or worse. Some silly times and rough edges but some fun inside.  6.65 out of 10
            The Giver: Surprisingly, it adapts a book which would seem ill-suited to being done.  Wonderful art direction/visuals with its slowly disappearing  black and white look. Great performances from Jeff Bridges as the Giver and  Brenton Thwaites as Jonas.  Quality pacing, and new elements that don’t detract from the original story however this is not always effective. Does what it sets out to do more or less and filled with emotion. 8.05 out of 10

Till next time true believers…

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast Headliners: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Johnny Knoxville
Original Release Date: August 8th, 2014
Everyone loves the Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles. Maybe however the word would be loved the “classic” TMNT franchise.  Hollywood has come again to grab a nostalgic IP and drag it out with a reboot, and the four green brothers are its next victim.  After many years in development hell and rumors of radical changes (aliens! Other planets! Removing “teenage” and “mutant “from the name!)  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is here with Michael Bay producing in tow. It’s….. an interesting movie.
            The premise is one that’s been seen many times across many adaptations of turtles. The Foot Clan lead by Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) is causing ruckus in New York City and there are reports of vigilantes who aim to step them.   The human heroine of the film is April O Neil, a lead played by Megan Fox which is not a very good starting point for the quality of the film.
Technically April as a character is just about the same character as she usually is, but Miss Fox has stooped to a new low of lameness even past the Transformers films. She literally either just stands there, asks plot exposition, or mainly just screaming and running.  However the movie isn’t all about her; it isn’t about other “goofy” characters like Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick or Whoopi Goldberg’s Bernadette Thompson. It’s about ninja turtles.
Several things are gotten right about the turtle brothers but yet also they are imperfect.  Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is in classic angry form and his vocal performance is good, but for some reason he has sun glasses with no explanation.  He otherwise seems right out of the old cartons, along with the mostly humorous Michelangelo (Noel Fisher).  For some reason Leonardo was motion captured by one actor (Pete Ploszek) but voiced by another (Johnny Knoxville) but it works out as he’s as calm and collected as ever.  The character who has been ruined though is Donatello (Jeremy Howard). Before he had been the intelligent and shy one, but never taken to these extremes. He’s been given a pair of taped up glasses, and a extremely annoying “nerdy” voice and personality. It’s an irritating part of the film though he gets an alright line or two. This purple banded one had been my favorite though so it’s personally irksome. 
The CGI effects on the turtles look pretty fluid aside from design changes. The effects are also quality on Splinter ( co-acted/played by Danny Woodburn and Tony Shalhoub) and the mentioned Shredder who is as vile as ever. It’s a shame that some quality characters and interactions are drowned out by shallow villains like William Fichtner as business mogul Erick Sacks or Minae Noji as Karai(who is way less awesome than usual).
The movie has a lot of weird moments of attempted but failed humor. Sometimes humor comes through but is majorly immature. Too many pop culture references are used.  Action sequences are sometimes way too dark or confusing.  However, there are occasionally truly fun action sequences such as a standout part on an icy mountain slope (side note: in New York state in March, what the heck?) and the film’s surprisingly semi-intense final showdown.  Sometimes the action was indecipherable. 
Overall the movie is a “mixed bag.”  Even though it wasn’t directly directed by Michael Bay (instead by Battle: Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman) it shares many tropes with the Transformers film series.  Luckily weird alterations weren’t made to the premise since it’s in many ways a near remake of the ideas from the first ninja turtles film. But it’s very messy, and sits in a weird position between being entertaining and being laughably bad. It’s just extremely “meh.”  7 out of 10

Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods Review

Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods
Director: Masahiro Hosoda
Cast Headliners: Various
Original  Japanese Release Date: 2013

American Release Date: August 5th, 2014

  Dragon Ball whether in its original arcs or in Z or GT incarnations, was one of the cornerstone action animes of the 1990’s and 2000’s.  The storyline finished and it’s been awhile, but now a new film has reached its way in English stateside with Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods. It’s like 14 years since the last film release have never even passed.
            The main antagonist of the movie is a pair of new villains named Beerus and Whis. Beerus is a Egyptian Anubis/cat/rabbit like god of destruction and has been woken up by his assistant Whis after an extremely long slumber.  He wants to fight a Super Saiyan God, and will scour the universe till he finds one. Typical DBZ movie stuff:  a new villain raises the bar for being a threat and the Z-fighters have to stop them.
            This one is a bit different however. Simultaneously, it’s Bulma’s birthday party and all of the old crew is gathered to celebrate. The movie is really a love letter to fans and reunion for the series. Every old voice actor and actress are back, and there are a lot of references and jokes to the series’ past.  This is surprisingly funny, and the humor is something even a non-fan could enjoy.

            This is supplemented by beautiful new animation and thrilling action scenes. It’s more of a light hearted reunion comedy than a dark epic, but that’s a fine thing. It’s a gift to DBZ who have been waiting YEARS for something new. Beerus is a classic new villain, and this movie is a new classic entry.  With another scheduled for 2015, it looks like the Year of the Dragon may have begun again.  8.85 out of 10

Hercules Review

Director: Brett Ratner
Cast Headliner: Dwayne Johnson
Original Release Date: July 25, 2014
            Hollywood is filled with all kinds of reboots and remakes, but one of the oldest characters OF ALL TIME is Hercules. He’s had tales told about him for literally many hundreds of years, and here we are with yet another one.  But this one will be different because it has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson right?  Well, he’s a good asset but otherwise this film is even more generic and stale than the Scorpion King movies.
            Apparently the movie is based upon Radical Comics “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” graphic novel series so there are some twists to this ancient tale. Hercules/(The Rock) may or may not be the true son of Zeus since the film has a unclear message about whether the myths and gods are true. Don’t expect to see Hercules fighting cool creatures much since that’s only in a short series of montages and dreams, the trailer lied to audiences.
            The story that is here is about Hercule’s mercenary band (?!?!!?) who have more (slightly) more flavor than the hero. There’s future vision seeing Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), knife using short tempered Autolycus(Rufus Sewell), beastly norseman-like Tydeus(Aksel Hennie),  Amazon women archer Atalanta(Ingrid Bolso Berdal), and Hercules’ nephew (?!?!) Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). They work for Lord Cotys(John Hurt) to defend the Greek city-state of Thrace from invaders.
            These one-note players are interesting because they at least embody their traits hard, if sometimes to the point of annoyance.  This is unlike Hercules. Because sure he is strong and fierce and boisterous, but only barely so. The usually entertaining Johnson gives off here one of his most basic performances in his career, not seen since his early WWE days. He’s decent, but that’s it.  At least he … looks cool in his costume?
            The characters are dumb, the story is dumb, but what is entertaining is the action. This redeems the film and sure it’s all human on human scuffles but there manages to be a plentiful variety of action sequences.  Big dumb moments happen, such as when Hercules punches an enemy yards backwards with merely his fist. But it’s all part of the expectations of this formula.  One can’t say the movie isn’t at least a bit entertaining.
            This movie could have been so much more, but it’s not horrible. The spectacle of the clashing armies is cool and there are actually a couple of surprising twists in the plot.  Dwayne Johnson is of course decent when fighting against armies, but is even better when the rare emotional scenes about his departed family arise.  There are a couple gems in this rough film, and it should have had more. But still a good “rental” movie or so.  7.06 out of 10

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Cast Headliners:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper
Original Release Date: August 1st, 2014
            Marvel Studios has built a massive cinematic empire which has really, for the first time, been successful at fusing together different storylines and worlds.  It’s not just a brand but an entire “Cinematic universe.”   They’ve gone and told the stories of the Avengers and all that; in this process they’ve made an incredible amount of money and this has allowed them to experiment. This first experiment is Guardians of the Galaxy, based upon a semi-obscure comic book series.  Can anything they touch turn out good even if obscure, will audiences react well, does it feel like a Marvel film with no superheroes? The answer to all these questions is a resounding YES.
            The film begins with an emotional scene in the 1980’s on Earth as a young Peter Quill loses his mother. After running from the hospital he is abducted by an alien ship and brought far from his home.   26 years later an older Peter has grown up into a space pirate by the name of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). Star-Lord finds himself involved in the war between Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace)’s forces and those of the Nova Empire after he steals an ancient artifact.  He also has to contend with his “stepfather” Yondu (Michael Rooker) who wants his head as well.
            Events soon transpire to where he begrudgingly teams up with fellow space renegades including the fierce assassin Gamora(Zoe Saldana), the brutish Drax (Dave Bautista), the plant-based Groot( mocapped and voiced by Vin Diesel), and the wise guy animal Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper).  
            The absolute highlight element of the film is the interplay between these characters. Every single one of them is hilarious in their own ways because they’re so unique. Drax’s species does not understand metaphors. Groot can only say “I am groot”. Rocket is a roguish raccoon with expertise and big guns and explosives. Traits such as these make every line of dialogue joyish to hear. Star-Lord is the one who ties them together, and Pratt was a perfect choice to be the lead. He has a charisma and attitude not seen since Harrison Ford was on a interstellar adventure.   He and his peers even make the Avengers seem a bit dull, probably because they were scripted from the ground up to have great interactions with each other with this first movie.
            The great charactization extends to the supporting cast as well.  John C Reilly and Glenn Close are funny and fierce respectively as Nova Corps leaders. Michael Rooker offers his usual gruff performance yet fits in wonderfully into the humor of the movie.  The villains are vile, from Lee Pace in standard firey self as Ronan to his assistants Nebula (Karen Gillian) and Korath(Djimon Hounsou).  Even Thanos’ brief appearance , recast as Josh Brolin, or Benicio Del Toro as The Collector are awesome. 
            Thanos is the connective tissue to the primary Marvel series, since otherwise this could be a fantastic standalone science fiction comedy adventure. Some locations from the Avengers are seen as well as the Macguffins from movies like Captain America and Thor 2.   What is obvious are the usual Marvel film elements like amazing visuals, plentiful action, and snappy dialogue.
            The movie feels like a gem in the Marvel universe because of its director however. James Gunn has had an interesting career but has never made a blockbuster like this. But one can tell the  huge amount of passion that went into this project. The humor is really edgy even for Marvel, and the soundtrack is largely composed of hand-picked 1970’s and 1980’s funky/soul songs which give the movie a unique atmosphere.  It’s a sleeker, funnier, more entertaining take on the Marvel style and Gunn deserves praise for it.
            The Guardians of the Galaxy is incredible because it works both as a stellar example of a Marvel film, but yet also as a standalone space opera. It might be the Star Wars of our time, and even if not it is an awesome movie.  A 9.5 out of 10

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast Headliners:  Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell
Original Release Date: July 11th , 2014
  The original Planet of the Apes is an great film with deep insight into the way different groups treat and subjugate others, which made sense being that it released in the 1970’s, but was told through a lens of monkey overlords.  Aside from sequels of varying quality there was a alright but underperforming remake by Tim Burton the franchise had remained dormant. 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes directed by Rupert Wyatt was an incredible re-restart to the world of Apes, and showed a fascinating and emotional new beginning to this world of super simians. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows up that film to a great result.
            The film does not jump all the way to fully civilized apes just yet.  It is set five years after the events of the last film. The world has been ravaged by the Simian flu and human civilization has collapsed. In this “post-ape-palyptic” world we are re-introduced to Caesar (played again by Andy Serkis) and his tribe of intelligent apes. Every single motion capture actor playing the apes deserves praise, especially Serkis. The visuals and effects on them are so good that they seem shockingly real.  A large portion of the film takes place from Caeser and other ape’s perspectives.  Sign language and subtitles are used with minimilstic visual story telling but it is never boring or hard to follow. The direction by Matt Reeves at the helm manages to make their story digestible and emotional.  Although the ape society is at a not-much-more than Neanderthal level some deep politics and discussions take place.  This time several of the apes talk in brief voiced English tones, but it makes sense and does not come off as cheesy even though they look like real animals. This is aided by the emotion of Serkis in his physical and vocal role, along with his peer Koba (played by Toby Kebbell) who has a ape performance right up there with Serkis’.
            This dark world is also a tale of human survival.  In the overgrown ruins of San Francisco a band of survivors exists still led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Oldman is his usual charismatic self and turns out to be a horrible villain by the end. Dreyfus , after various events, sends a team including Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his wife Ellie (Keri Russell) and their son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and others.  The performances by these are very solid as well. The film is as expected incredibly emotional; and the drama between these players is very heartfelt through acting and the lush musical score.

            The film balances moments of quiet emotional contemplation with intense dramatic face-offs. The interaction and prejudice between the two species’ societies brilliantly unfolds to an epic action packed finale.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has taken everything that made the first film great and improved on all of those areas.  It’s the most thoughtful and introspective blockbuster of the summer, but yet it still manages to be one of the most exhilarating.  9.1 out of 10