Wednesday, December 31, 2014

30 Terrific Moves That Didn't Make My Top 10 of 2014

2014 is now over, poof, never coming back.

I hope everyone had a great time celebrating. My girlfriend and I went over to a friends house and a had a real nice time. I hope all of my readers had a nice time too, and now before I go to bed, I have to get going on my second favorite thing to do around this time of year, reflect on an entire year of movies.

Of the course of the year we just ended, I wound up seeing 160 new releases. This includes any new released that came the last 12 months or any festival or foreign film from 2013 that finally got wide, United States distribution. Since this blog is my hobby and not my life, I think 160 indicates that I gave the year a real nice shot. There are some films that I really wanted to see that I just couldn't see in time, like "Inherent Vice," "Wild," "Whiplash," "Selma," "The Imitation Game" and "Unbroken." In fact, I was so busy this last month and December all together was a wash. So please keep that in mind as you read my upcoming lists over the next couple days.

The list I am offering tonight is a warm-up, when I sat down tonight to make my Top Ten list and my Runner Up's list, I pulled those choices from a list of fifty films I felt really made a mark on me this year. Some of you may think that is broad, but its true, I like more movies than I dislike each year. I started this blog because of my love of film and nothing else. Sometimes, it feels like film critics hate nearly everything they see, and I wonder why they got into film criticism in the first place.

These thirty films are special, movies that made the year great, but still couldn't find a place on my Top Ten or my Runner's Up. I am sure you will agree that these were some of the years gems. I will hyperlink my review for each film if one was written, if not, I'll give a mini-description of the movie. I got so busy at the end of the year that I didn't find time to review every new thing I watched. But 2014 was a great year and here is what I have to say about it. In no particular order...

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I - Jennifer Lawrence continues to dominate this franchise, and now I can't wait for the big finish.

2. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Whether you liked what Peter Jackson did with "The Hobbit" or not, there is no doubt that he ended it with both barrels blazing.

3. The Interview- Because comedy deserves to be off-the-charts crazy sometimes.

4. 22 Jump Street- A sequel that makes fun of sequels...but is still as sequel. Weird.

5. Afflicted- You know why vampires are popular right now? Because people are getting more and more creative with them.

6. Edge of Tomorrow- Yep, Tom Cruise delivers AND this was the most underrated blockbuster of the year.

7. Joe- Nicolas Cage acting in a movie without his "Crazy Nic" persona? Sign me up!

8. Frank- Could be the most oddly rich performance of Michael Fassbender's entire career.

9. Noah- Easily the most ambitious and most entertaining of the biblical movies from this year.

10. The Sacrament- I can't believe how much this one affected me, and after seeing twice since May, its images are still seared in my brain. A true, goose bumps-induced fright-fest.

11. Godzilla- Putting the "G" in Gorgeous.

12. How To Train Your Dragon 2- I have always rated Pixar above DreamWorks, simply because I believe that Pixar makes movies for everyone, while DreamWorks only caters to children. The "How To Train Your Dragon" franchise could easily turn that around. This sequel features eye-popping animation, great themes which can be absorbed by everyone and features some of the very best action from any animation movie. Yeah, the action scenes are big and I do mean BIG.

13. Interstellar - Yeah, its not up to par with the rest of Christopher Nolan's filmography, but its still a rich experience with iconic scenes and images.

14. We Are The Best!- In a film world dominated by male heroes, it feels so fresh to have a movie completely revolved around girls. A movie that doesn't feel like a forced cliché, or about normal female things, or isn't sappy and predictable. I love that there is a movie about girls, which female audiences can identify with. We need more movies where women are the main heroes. This Swedish film featured that and then some!

15. Locke- Really awesome for a movie that takes place completely in a car.

16. Life After Beth- You know why zombies are popular right now? Because people are getting more and more creative with them.

17. Nymphomaniac Volume I- I really wish Volume II wasn't the letdown it was, but this first half was so good, I couldn't get it out of my head over the year.

18. St. Vincent- You really can't go wrong with Bill Murray, ever.

19. The Babadook- This British horror movie was easily the most frightening thing I saw all year.

20. The Congress- A less popular, yet more beautiful take on the technological surrealist film that beats "Transcendence" at its own game.

21. Tim's Vermeer- Even the most regular of Joe Schmoe's is capable of greatness!

22. X-Men: Days of Future Past- Whatever woke Fox out of its funk and got its ass moving on good X-Men movies again needs a raise immediately.

23. Big Hero 6- Proves that anything is possible in the realm of superheroic animation.

24. A Most Wanted Man- Proof to why Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of our all-time greats, and that he was great with accents.

25. Almost Human- The most memorable scene of 2014? An alien shoving an egg into a woman's vagina through its mouth.

26. The Expendables 3- Is Sly getting better with every film? I think so!

27. Calvary- Brendan Gleeson, who did such a fine job brining Mad Eye Moody to life, plays a simple priest in this piercing Irish drama. The priest is told by a man in confession that he was molested by someone of the cloth when he was young, and now he will kill the priest he is confessing to, even though he is not the person who tormented him as a child. The seven day clock the film installs in the movie is a horrid time table, and Gleeson knocks the audience off its feet, time and time again.

28. The Battered Bastards of Baseball- Making professional teams in the most unlikely places.

29. E-Team- Netflix is crushing it with its documentaries.

30. Earth to Echo- Oh yeah, its that good.

So these are the thirty films that I felt where really good movies, movies I am glad I saw in 2014. But they all didn't make the big list, which I will publish tomorrow. Its been a wonderful year at the movies, and I hope you all would agree.

See you tomorrow for the big list and keep tuning in within the next few days. I got a lot of end-of-the-year mania to subdue you with!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Overlooked Film of the Week- "The Cabin In The Woods" (2012)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #89
 
The Cabin In The Woods
I am really surprised that not enough people talk about this movie.

When I bring it up, it always seems like a select people have heard of it, and that includes the biggest of horror fans. I can't believe most horror buffs I know have never taken the time to catch this one. This is a horror movie wet dream. It could also be described as a summation of the  entire genre as a whole. This somehow seems like the perfect time to bring up "The Cabin In The Woods."

You know the guys over at Walt Disney Studios and Marvel Studios? The guys who are tearing it up for Marvel right now? Well, just in case you don't know, the big names that headline the Marvel universe right now are Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. They both came together to make this ode to the horror genre. Goddard directed it, Whedon produced it and they both took part in writing the screenplay. It is of no surprise that Chris "Thor" Hemsworth plays one of the main characters in the movie. Just as Whedon and Goddard have such a firm grasp of what makes the Marvel Universe so great, they use that same steady hand to play with horror genre fetish after horror genre fetish, while also making a movie that stands on its own terms. Never something that is easy to do, and both Whedon and Goddard make it look effortless.

The film's premise is actually quite simple...or is it quite simple? Let me think. Well, I'll let you decide for yourselves. A jock (Hemsworth), his slutty girlfriend (Anna Hutchison), the slutty girlfriends virgin best friend (Kristen Connolly)  a guy that always has the best weed (Fran Kranz) and a token black guy (Jesse Williams) retreat to a isolated cabin for a weekend of partying. Soon enough the cabin begins to be attacked by zombies and these friends are targeted one by one. If I am painting this description in uncomfortable, clichéd terms...good. Because that is the whole point of the movie. It is really slick how Whedon and Goddard play by the rules of the horror genre, while also tearing them down and starting new at the same time.

As the friends are being attacked by zombies, two technicians (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) are having a conversation and working on...something. It becomes pretty clear that they are somehow connected to what is happening to the five friends, but how? Why are these five friends being specifically stalked by zombies? Why are they constantly making dumb decisions? The key to these questions lie in what Jenkins and Whitford are doing, and both of these veteran actors make the most of their screen time. In fact, the entire cast, across the board, is really good. Hemsworth, Hutchison, Connolly, Williams and Kranz are all spectacular in their roles. They are cliché when they need to be, but when all the big secrets of the movie begin to pour out, I like they suddenly become humans stuck in an extraordinary situation. The screenplay is so smart, so rich with detail, that it will make every horror fan smirk in delight. There is also a big cameo by a major actor at the very end of the movie, and trust me, it is a dozy.

Also for a movie that is purposely bending the horror genre, I was shocked by just how scary some moments of the film were. I love that Whedon and Goddard play with sudden deaths in one crucial moment in the film. I love that there are moments for the more obscure fans of horror and also moments for the gore lovers. There are also moments dusted across this entire runtime that will make the most stern of horror buffs happy, and I could not get over the foreign homages that Whedon and Goddard made in this movie, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you'll slap your knee at all the Easter Eggs hidden in this little treasure.

If you have seen this movie before, do me and everyone who hasn't a favor and don't submerge the comment section with spoilers. Let whomever hasn't seen this yet experience it with a clean slate, they'll be glad they did. I know its been a few years since its release, but since so few people ever bring this movie up, its about time this one has its due.


The Essentials- "Casablanca" (1942)

The Essentials- #89
 
Casablanca
"Casablanca" is larger than life, and it is a movie that I feel lives up to its own hype. I think it is indeed one of the very best movies of all time, and it is also an important building block which lead to what cinema is today. But I don't just love it for its importance to American cinema, I love it because I can also feel the need to re-watch it whenever. I think it is rich on that type of level, and it is something that is very special to me. Sitting in my dining room is possibly the slickest looking "Casablanca" poster, and I love how it really ties the room together. For Christmas, I got the movie along with "The African Queen," which I'll probably do next week. Re-watching the movie, I feel the power of cinema all over again.
 
I know it has never felt like it on this blog before, but I am sucker for a good romance movie. Yes, I like "The Notebook," because it is a movie that does exactly what it sets out to do. There was no fooling on the marketing, "The Notebook" was clearly a straight-up romance movie. Not only that, but it is the most confident romance movie of the last twenty years, easy. I also feel the exact same thing about "Casablanca." It is not only a romance movie, but it is also a spy thriller. Being a fan of both the romance drama as well as the spy thriller, seeing how easily the two can be meshed together was a ton of fun.
 
During the first ever Essentials review, I said everything was better with Bogart, that is Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor. There was something very special about those old school movies back in the 1940's, and I think Humphrey Bogart was one of the all-time greats. It was pretty common during this time period that nearly every actor over-acted, and they had a tendency to overplay their roles. That wasn't necessarily bad because it was apart of the style. I never thought Humphrey Bogart did that, he always played his roles just right. It was also shocking just how witty and even funny he could be in a role. Rick Blaine is an incredibly iconic character, and part of the reason why the character appears on the AFI lists is due to the fact that Bogart played him well and brought him to life in a way no other actor could.
 
Not to say that the rest of the cast isn't solid, because it is. Ingrid Bergman is outstanding in this, playing a sort of foil to Bogart's Blaine. This is a couple who fell drastically in love with each other, and were sadly pulled apart by some Nazi's and a wee bit of deception. Watching Bergman share screen time with Bogart is a treat and they do very good work together. Sydney Greenstreet is awesome, as is Paul Heinreid and Conrad Veidt.
 
The music by Max Steiner is stupendous. There are very few musical scores from this era that could really draw me in. The music by Steiner is instantly iconic and it really sets up the movie the audience is about witness. This is an almost perfect example of how a song can set up a movie and its expertly handled. I also love the many quick shots of noir camera shots throughout the film and I love the use of darkness and light to set up tension in a scene. It is much more than style on display, it is art.
 
There is a great reason why "Casablanca" has survived throughout the ages and if you haven't given this one a try yet. I hope you do now.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Foxcatcher Review

Foxcatcher Review
As I sat down to watch "Foxcatcher" tonight, I had no idea it was based on a true story. I knew absolutely nothing about the Schultz brothers or John du Pont. I had no idea that a guy named Mark Schultz won a gold medal for wrestling during the 1984 Olympics. This was all very new to me, and sometimes that can be cool. Sometimes I like to just sit down and let a movie play out for me. All I knew was that the trailer for this movie made the film look incredible, and I could hardly wait to see it.
 
In the movie "Foxcatcher," Mark Schultz is played by Channing Tatum, Mark's older brother David is played by Mark Ruffalo and John du Pont is played by Steve Carell. It is pretty clear that Tatum, Ruffalo and Carell knew about this true story, as it seemed to me that they very much became these characters, Tatum and Carell in particular. This maybe an odd observation, but pay close attention to the way Tatum and Carell walk in this movie. Yes, I really mean it, pay attention to the way they walk. Neither actor walks as they would normally, there is something very off, yet something very natural in the way each actor walks in the movie. Its awfully clear that both of these actors studied their roles well before filming, and the movie is much richer for it. I must also warn that despite the cast, there is nothing funny about this movie.
 
As the movie opens, we find Mark Schultz almost drifting through life, rigorously getting ready for the 1988 Olympics, desperate for a second gold medal. All that training is starting to get to him, mentally and maybe even emotionally. It seems he needs a new outlet in life, he just doesn't know what. Then one day, he gets a phone-call out of the blue, by John du Pont of the du Pont family, known as the wealthiest family in America. It seems John du Pont is a wrestling coach, and he wants to prepare Mark for the 1988 Olympics. Without any hesitation, Mark accepts the offer, and moves far away from his brother in order to train. He instantly forms a strong bond with John du Pont, and they seem to gel well as individuals. But due to strange circumstances, that relationship becomes perverted.
 
"Foxcatcher" is definitely a movie about being under immense pressure. I used to feel pressure before Cross Country races in high school or even Track meets. I can't even imagine what it would be like to train four years for anything in the Olympics. Mark is feeling the pressure about going back and winning another gold medal, while du Pont is drunk on the amount of prestige a gold medal would mean to his family and to his reputation. It is incredibly stressful, and we see how that effects their relationship.
 
But this movie is also about broken individuals. Mark never really had anybody in his life but his brother, so when he meets John du Pont, he sees this as a new beginning for him in the form of a friendship, and he inadvertently plays a foil for du Pont. We learn that du Pont never really had any friends growing up, so bonding with Mark became important for him. So how do you draw a line between being someone's friend and being someone's coach? Its a powerful question the movie asks, and it asks it well.
 
Who knew Steve Carell could be so strange, so elevating and so gravitational on-screen. Seriously, every time his character walks onto the set, it seems all the energy gravitates towards him. It's interesting because Carell never really has any long pieces of dialogue, du Pont is mostly made up of small conversations and gestures. But the way Carell plays it off is fascinating, and I think the Academy just found its Best Supporting Actor winner. I don't think you are going to believe how good Carell is, hiding under so much grotesque make-up. He just proved that he can be much more than a family man, and he relishes every moment on the screen. As does Channing Tatum, giving a furious performance, sporting believable cauliflower ear. I feel like Tatum has been revving up for a role like this for a long time, and now that it has finally hit I am completely speechless.
 
The work done by director Bennett Miller is absolutely stunning. I love how nearly 97% of the scenes in this movie are completely music-less. But when it is time to punctuate a scene with music, composers Rob Simonsen and West Dylan Thordson deliver something that gets under your skin in the most unsuspecting of ways. I love the gritty, grim overview of each scene, which adds to the flavor of the film. But what I loved most was how Miller was able to make a very talky movie feel exciting. I will warn that this is a "talky" movie and not a mechanical sports movie, so if that is not your cup of tea, skip this.
 
If I were to read the synopsis to this movie, before learning who the cast was, I'd be shocked by it. But this just goes to show why we can never put certain actors into a box and leave them there. Each actor is capable of great range, and Carell and Tatum proved that in a big way throughout "Foxcatcher." The best thing about this movie is watching these two guys simply share the screen with each other. They keep us incredibly engaged with the film's material, and it is all uniquely well done.
 
FINAL GRADE: A


The Gambler Review

The Gambler Review
I can't remember if I have ever mentioned this on my blog before, but I have a very "love-hate" relationship with Mark Wahlberg. Yes, believe it or not it is true. There is no doubt that Wahlberg is talented when he wants to be, and I think he has become more mature with his career decisions as he has matured in age. But if you watch every movie in his filmography, its pretty clear when he's working for a paycheck and when he's working because he believes in the movie. It is hard for me to fathom that the same guy who starred in "Max Payne," "The Happening" and "Planet of the Apes" is the same guy who starred in "The Departed," "Three Kings" and "Boogie Nights." And I sincerely hope its clear which block of movies I prefer over the other.

As the opening titles shot off during "The Gambler," I noticed that not only did Marky Mark star in this movie, but he also produced it. So, its pretty clear to me that he believed in this movie. I would also draw evidence to the fact that this is the very best acting work Wahlberg has done so far, bar none. Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, English professor by day, and gambler by night. Actually, I am not sure if the term gambler can even be put on Jim Bennett. It seems what draws Bennett to the world of gambling is the high he gets on betting large. Just as some people are addicted to drugs, and others are addicted to alcohol, Jim Bennett is addicted to betting at the tables. This gets him into very serious trouble, yet he never seems to mind. Using the term broken when describing Jim Bennett is a sour understatement. This guy is a dead man walking, every single time he steps into a casino, and Wahlberg is very particular that we feel everything Jim Bennett is feeling.

Jim Bennett ends up owing two very dangerous thugs lots of money, and he plans to pay them back by borrowing money from another dangerous thug (played wondrously by John Goodman). We learn that Jim Bennett has seven days to pay everybody off, and the movie ticks the days away as Bennett spends his time either trying to pay off his debts, or not trying to pay off his debts. The ticking clock of the week Bennett is given gives the movie a slick edge, and it repeatedly pays off in a stylish way. I also like the camera work in this movie, as they always give the audience the best seat in the house during the card game scenes. Director Rupert Wyatt seems determined to rub the audience faces into this fast-paced, grungy world of gambling, and he does so with superb skill.

The film is filled with great performances. Michael Kenneth Williams, so good on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" plays Neville, one of the dangerous people Bennett owes money too. Just like with every role Williams obtains, he adds a creative edge to his character, drawing the audience in with ease. I also really liked Brie Larson, who plays Amy, a student of Bennett's who accidently gets drawn into his life outside of school. Even though Larson isn't given a whole lot to do in this movie, she makes sure every bit of her screen time counts. I also have to give special mention to Anthony Kelley, an actor whose name doesn't have information on Wikipedia yet. Kelley plays Lamar, another of Bennett's students who is the best player on the college's basketball team. Lamar has a crucial role near the end of the movie, and I think Kelley brings unsuspecting life to his character. Much like Larson, Kelley only has a few scenes in the movie, but he also makes every single one of them count. I am sure this guy is off to a resounding career.

 I think this is Wahlberg's best performance simply because he's never really played anybody like Jim Bennett. Sure, Wahlberg has been broken and bruised before onscreen, but never to this extent. Plus, he's never played a character who slyly talks through every bad situation. The scenes where Jim Bennett is giving his English lectures is some of the very best material in the whole movie, and how alive Wahlberg is in those moments is incredible. Much like Sgt. Dignam from "The Departed," I think this role will allow Wahlberg fans to look at him in a much different way.

While the movie wraps itself up, making a happy ending that is a tad unbelievable, I still couldn't help but get sucked into this film's story. I couldn't help but keep my eyes transfixed on the screen, dazzled by the characters. "The Gambler" is in no way a deep or meaningful movie, but its confident enough to be wildly entertaining.

FINAL GRADE: A
 


Friday, December 26, 2014

The Interview Review

The Interview Review
I just realized that due to being so busy with holiday stuff and trying to cram as many new 2014 movies before the year ends, I never weighed in on the Sony debate.

When I heard that Sony was going to pull "The Interview" from theaters across our nation, I was pretty peeved about it. Not only because I thought I wasn't going to lay eyes on something I've wanted to see for several months, but because we were allowing some tyrant miles and miles away to decide how we far our freedom of speech goes, and just how far are freedom of expression would go in this country. The idea that someone so far away can dictate how we as a country expresses ourselves artistically is completely shameless. This isn't the first time a movie like this has ever been made. Who remembers "Team America: World Police" ten years ago? Who remembers "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" or "Hot Shots: Part Deuce" from the 1990's which made Saddam Hussein look like a ridiculous buffoon? Not to mention that a mockumentary was made in Great Britain in 2006 detailing the assassination of George W. Bush. Satire on current politics is nothing new in the world of movies, and bending to the will of a dictator seemed sad. Though, I do realize that no matter what, it was a tough decision for Sony. Something very serious could have came from all of this, and that blood would have fallen squarely in Sony's hands. But, does that mean we have to allow someone to control us through fear?

I have been debating about this one for weeks now. In the end, I figured Sony would find some kind of outlet to present their movie. When I heard that Sony would release "The Interview" on several venues, including Xbox Video and YouTube. But what made me even more overjoyed with happiness was that some theaters allowed the film to show. One thing we would have lost if home viewing was the only option is the wonderful sound of unified laughter. Movies unite us, in more ways than we realize when we are sitting in the dark, and had we lost that to an extant...it would have killed me.

I am also glad I got to witness "The Interview" because it is a batshit-insane, wild ride of a comedy.

We already know the story now. James Franco and Seth Rogen play David Skylark and Aaron Rappaport, both of whom run a successful talk show in America. By a strange will of events, David gets an interview with Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) in North Korea. Just as David and Aaron are ready to set off into the communist state, they are assigned by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean leader. From there, shit goes down. With a premise like that, I knew I was in for a crazy ride, I just didn't know how off-the-rails, Rogen and his co-writer Evan Goldberg were going to go.

I love that this is a film that dabbles in the raunchiest of jokes, the most zany of jokes and even the most offbeat of jokes. This is a movie so rich with laughter that I could hardly believe what I was seeing. There are also some fun action scenes, that are very much in the style of Goldberg and Rogen movies. "The Interview" has everything, anybody would want in a comedy and I love that this cast and crew didn't hold anything back at all.

We already knew over the years that Rogen and Franco can carry a movie with genuine ease. They make it all look effortless once again. Rogen is playing his yelling, crazy self again, but much more restrained, which I like. The real goldmine in this movie is the work done by Randall Park. I don't see how anybody walking away from this movie can't see Randall Park as the highlight of the movie. He creates such a funny portrayal, such a strange portrayal of Kim Jong-Un that its hard not to be drawn by it, captured in the weird fascination of it. Randall Park has some of the funniest material in the entire movie, and he really nails it all. He also has the most difficult part to play in the whole movie, and I loved how well he handled all of his characters transitions in the movie. This is a guy who relished every moment he was onscreen, and the audience is richer for it. In order for this movie to work, they needed to find the perfect actor to play this dictator, and boy I think they nailed it.

If you haven't had the chance to see this yet, you need to has fast as you can. This is what outstanding political satire in our modern world looks like. But at the end of the day, I love what this movie boils down to is just how great a true friendship can be, and the importance of holding onto those friendships. Especially in the face of great danger. If the trailers for this movie made you raise an eyebrow, then you owe it to yourself to see this movie. Celebrate the freedoms we have in this country, and how their importance makes us winners towards dictatorships who will never understand how important freedom truly is.

Oh, and margarita's? Definitely NOT gay!

FINAL GRADE: A


Earth to Echo Review

Earth to Echo Review
When I sat down to watch "Earth to Echo" tonight, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. What I didn't expect, was to be lampooned by an engaging story about friendship.
 
 
"Earth to Echo" does revolve around three best friends helping an alien get home. That is a story that is as old as time. We have seen in "E.T." and we saw it only a few years ago in "Super 8." If "Earth to Echo" was just going to be another young-people-help-alien-get-home movie, I am not sure if I would have liked it. I know each of the films I listed above revolve around unrelenting friendship in the heart of saving an alien. But I feel "Earth to Echo" approaches friendship in a very unique way. This is a movie about three closely-nit friends. They are Munch (Reese C. Hartwig), Alex (Teo Halm), and Tuck (Astro). Munch and Alex are getting ready to move after spending their entire lives being friends with Tuck, due to a new expressway being built in their neighborhood. Tuck is really feeling an empty void of his life if his friends move away, and he wants to spend one last night with them.
 
This is all while their cellphones all of sudden begin to break down. The trio soon realizes that their phones are showing a map of some kind, and these friends are determined to find out where this map leads...and they find an alien. They quickly realize that this alien wants to go home and that he is being chased by the government. Yes, like I said, this is a story we have heard a zillion times before. But what made "Earth to Echo" standout so much in my mind is this film executed its ideas.
 
I never had a best friend who lived just down the street, so I have no idea what it feels like to grow up with a best friend so close, but I also have no idea how bad it would hurt if that friend moved away. The trio doesn't just follow this map out of sheer curiosity, but because they see this event as their last big night together. They need to do something new, they need to do something fresh, they need to do something that they will all remember forever. They sneak away from their homes in order to follow this map. Which is something I definitely identify with. I think many can identify with that one point when you were all very young, and the first night you decided to sneak out at night, or do something you know you weren't supposed to do. I used to sneak out of my house and go do something fun with friends when I was in high school, and I never once got caught. I could definitely relate to these characters and I was feeling plenty nostalgic because of it.
 
I think the audience can feel all of these emotions because the work done by Hartwig, Halm and Astro is so believable, so human and so raw that we feel every bit of their emotional journey. These are wonderful young actors, and I hope I get to see more of each and every one of them soon. Between the three of them, they create a believable friendship and we definitely feel like these kids have been friends forever.
 
I liked this movie more so than I thought I would. I was engaged on this adventure from minute one to the final frame of the film. The acting is all spot-on from start to finish, and the special effects work is at least believable to the point of being entertaining. While "Earth to Echo" may dabble in material we have seen before, it does so in a unique and powerful way.
 
FINAL GRADE: B+


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Annie Review

Annie Review
As I was growing up, I  remember watching the original "Annie" a couple of times. The film was 1982 was neat as I watched it growing up. But it wasn't something that particularly blew me away. Even as a young boy, it wasn't my most favorite thing to watch as a kid. Sure, the songs were catchy and the idea of an orphan finding a family and a home of their own resonated well with me, it just wasn't my favorite. I understand how powerful it is as a musical, and as a popular culture piece on whole. While I understand the tendency to recreate the big, popular culture pieces. I just really don't see a point in remaking "Annie."
 
In this new updated version, Quvenzhane Wallis plays Annie. Wallis is an actress I pretty much fell in love with when I saw her in "Beasts of The Southern Wild," I thought for sure that she was going to be the next big child star. But I also thought she would be a child star who wasn't afraid to make the edgy choices, and that excited me. Jamie Foxx plays Will Stacks, the rich guy who takes Annie under his wing in order to fall into father figure mode. Cameron Diaz plays Miss Hannigan, the cruel foster care provider who is Annie's caregiver. Both  Rose Byrne, David Zayas and Bobby Cannavale fill out the rest of the supporting cast. That is a pretty stellar cast for any movie, but this cast is completely wasted and completely wrong for a new rendition of "Annie."
 
The first big problem I see in "Annie" is that, even though "Annie" has always been a musical, this film is absolutely wrongheaded as a musical. It seems director Will Gluck had no interest in dance choreography, singing, dancing, or basically any movement at all. The musical numbers are the most awkward to watch over this film's hour and forty-five minute runtime. It seems everything about the musical numbers where an afterthought in this movie, because they feel like an afterthought over the entire film. Quvenzhane Wallis maybe a great, young actress, but she really can't sing. I hate to bad-mouth such a young actress, I really do. But, there is something very off about her singing, and they run all her musical numbers into the ground.
 
As for Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale? Well, they spend the whole movie overacting. There is an overdone quality to each of their performances, and it is hard to not snicker each time one of them comes onscreen. That is the biggest disappoint for me overall. Foxx, Diaz, Byrne and Cannavale are all actors I love a lot, all actors I respect with the utmost sincerity. But watching them overact just comes off phony to me. Cameron Diaz is trying way to hard to be despicable, and it just doesn't work. Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne feel completely pedestrian in their roles, and Cannavale is flat overall. It really just gets sad to watch after awhile.
 
I feel if musicals are going to work as films, the acting and singing needs to be paramount. The best musical-films, like "Moulin Rouge!" or "Paint Your Wagon," or "Les Miserables" only work because they nail their singing and acting perfect, and the cast makes sure we feel every emotional beat each character makes. I just didn't get that from "Annie." If you are going to make a musical, the musical aspect of the movie needs to matter. Its pretty clear to me that it didn't matter to Gluck and that is too bad.
 
FINAL GRADE: F
 
 


Dumb and Dumber To Review

Dumb and Dumber To Review
When "Dumb and Dumber" came out, it was 1994, and it was a movie that is really special to me. I don't understand how someone could sit down to watch a film called "Dumb and Dumber" and not have a good understanding of what they are getting into. Of course this was going to be a movie that as slapstick as slapstick gets. Of course this was going to be a movie filled with weird gross-out humor and immature jokes. I knew, even at a young age, that Jim Carrey was going to be perfect for the role. When I was young, my first exposure to Jeff Daniels was "Dumb and Dumber." As I got older, and I saw more titles in Daniels' catalogue, I was always amazed by his raw talent. I was also equally amazed that he never did extreme slapstick again.
 
"Dumb and Dumber" was a movie that knew exactly what it was and it was not embarrassed to do whatever it wanted to do. I am still astounded by how awesome it is and how much laughter spews out of me when I watch it. When I heard about a sequel, coming out ten years after the first film was released, I didn't know what to think. Telling by the trailers, I could see that Carey and Daniels were ready to jump right into their characters again. And throughout the entire runtime of "Dumb and Dumber To," Carey and Daniels play Lloyd and Harry almost exactly how they did ten years ago. That, to me, is not a bad thing. There is a specific type of humor you are getting into when you watch "Dumb and Dumber" and if you can't, at least, embrace that type of humor, than this sequel won't be for you. Carey and Daniels anchor this sequel, and they do strong, delirious, comedic work in this sequel and I found most of it affective.
 
The big, hanging problem I have with "Dumb and Dumber To" is just how lazy it is.
 
Let's reflect on "Dumb and Dumber" for a moment. The plot of that film was pretty simple, which was good for a brain-dead, slapstick comedy. Basically, Lloyd and Harry competed over the affections of a girl, while inadvertently stopping a criminal plot. "Dumb and Dumber" also mixed that plot with a "roady" type movie. "Dumb and Dumber To" is essentially the same movie. Lloyd and Harry are competing over the affections of a girl, they travel cross-country for this girl, and they inadvertently stop a criminal plot. I thought it was weird that Carey and Daniel felt compelled to come back to these characters after ten years, to essentially make the same movie over again.
 
Now, before you tell me that lots of sequels tread water, hear me out. When this plot was used in the first film, it was fun and had lots of energy. The problem with this sequel, is the material is a lot less interesting the second time around. Plus, having Harry find his long-lost daughter (Rachel Melvin) in order for Harry to receive a kidney transplant seems like a cliché way to bring these characters back together. It also feels equally cliché that Lloyd would form a puppy-love crush on Harry's daughter, its also a bit weird too. Rob Riggle and Laura Holden show up as the antagonists in this film, and both Riggle and Holden do good work here. But the criminal sub-plot of this movie could have been completely taken out and the movie would have been better. Whereas I thought that aspect of the story in the first films made thematic sense.
 
But like I say, Carey and Daniels do good work. There are also great cameos by Bill Murray, Mama June and Cam Neely. I just wish there was more purpose behind the making of this movie. I know sequels usually redo the first film's plot, but this film seems so compelled to be just like the first film that it seems odd to watch. I can't believe that Carey and Daniels chose to come back for an idea so unoriginal, so uninspiring and so devoid of fun. When it boils down to it, "Dumb and Dumber To" is rather shocking disappointment.
 
FINAL GRADE: D-
 



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review
Now this is how you end an overlong trilogy.

I know I have given Peter Jackson a bit of a hard time, expanding a small book into three woozy movies. I know that I surprised myself to be taken aback by what Jackson completed. Despite dragging the story out, despite adding material from Tolkien's appendices, what Peter Jackson created with his "Hobbit" movies has always been worth it. For the third film, the story finally reaches its rousing finale. A moment I have been waiting for awhile now.

I love that the movie wastes no time getting started. Peter Jackson has marked the beginning of each of his Middle Earth movies with a clever opening, just to get the audience reacquainted with the characters and story. This time, he wastes no time getting started. The movie throws itself back into the action, as Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) is off to Lake-Town and Bard (Luke Evans) becomes a hero. This is how Peter Jackson chooses to begin his final installment of "The Hobbit." I like that Jackson chose to throw himself into the action right away, wasting no time at all.

Then Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarves reclaim their mountain, and the elves, led by Thranduil (Lee Pace) and the Lake Men, led by Bard, wishing to claim something that has belonged to the elves. Thorin refuses, and a new war nearly begins right there. Until, the evil Orcs, lead by Azog (Manu Bennett) arrives to begin the subjugation of Middle Earth under Sauron, who Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) are all trying to stop. This is essentially the movie. Each piece of this trilogy is punctuated by a particular event. The first half is all about Bilbo (Martin Freeman) finding the ring of power, the second half is about the introduction of Smaug, and this last half is the grand finale,  a final showdown. And when I say grand finale, I mean it in every aspect of the word.

Need details? Okay, I'll give you details. Giant worms pushing themselves from the ground, giant bats flying in from the sky. Massive trolls carrying destructive machinery on their backs. This is complete destruction at its finest, but not only are is there lots to see of the battle, the emotional toll is almost too much to bear. Tolkien described the Battle of Five Armies as a terrible battle, and a terrible battle it is. I was shocked by the body count and just how every life lost counted to me.

This second half featured the best acting by Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Lee Pace from the entire trilogy. I don't think the casting for a young Bilbo Baggins could have been in more perfect of hands, as is the casting for Thorin. The work by Armitage is just, plain solid and he really brings his character to life. We finally see some of the big motivations regarding Thranduil and Pace does a good job highlighting those motivations. While I thought the inclusion of Legolas Greenleaf seemed like a cheap way to shoehorn a popular character, I think Orlando Bloom does what he can to make his time matter. I like his material he shares with Evangeline Lilly and they both do good work.

Yes, despite the awesome final battle that escalates...and escalates...and escalates into more awesomeness, I couldn't help but still feel like Jackson was just trying to outdo himself, even though that is now how this prequel should have served the overall story. "The Hobbit" is not meant to outshine "Lord of the Rings," its function is to merely set the stage for it. This third entry doesn't make up for all the material that could have easily been edited out. Plus, the references to the "Lord of the Rings" are so on-the-nose that I couldn't help but laugh at them. "Lord of the Rings" still carries the most emotional heft out of the two trilogies, but that is how it was suppose to be all along.

No matter what, this is a great finale. Go find the best screen in your town just watch this slow-burn battle unfold. Go for a group of talented actors really pushing themselves forward in a way I can't describe. If this is the last time Peter Jackson ever visits Middle Earth, than I can happily say that he has done a spectacular job.

FINAL GRADE: B+
 


Entourage trailer

One show that got me to seriously start considering television was "Entourage." Before that show, and a rare amount of other shows I committed myself to, TV really wasn't my forte. I didn't like a lot of television and I put a lot of my screened interests into movies. I see my love spurred by TV once again, but as far as the 2000's go, "Entourage" pushed that interest forward.

I think part of the reason why the show had such a resonating effect on me was because it was a show about the movie industry, which I was fascinated by. It also revolved around a group of close-knit friends, which made the show a favorite among my college friends. It was actually my college friends that introduced me to the show. It was hard not to see the reflections of the friendships on the show and how they paralleled our friendships.

I felt the show ended on a proper note, and I did not see how the show could have more story to tell. So it kind of baffles me that a movie about the show is coming out next year. What possibly could be so good that it needed to be in a movie? How much further can they push these characters? What possibly needed to be said that was not said in the television show? I don't know, but I hope it was more than just to make a quick buck. It seems like so many decisions are made on the quick buck that going to the movies is becoming a chore, I hope this particular time proves me wrong.

Check out the trailer below:


Monday, December 22, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review
There is a line that religious movies tout when they are released. I have a sneaking suspicion that many studios that make religious movies are tied to a specific church, so the acting and direction doesn't need to be fantastic, the church-goers will like it anyway. Then are the major Hollywood studios who make them because they realize how iconic the imagery is, and they are sure they will get a massive payday. In this day and age, it definitely does not feel like these movies are made for any other purpose. I gave negative reviews this year to both "Son of God" and "Heaven Is For Real" precisely because I felt they had nothing to do except chase money. Anybody can make a movie for any purpose, getting an audience to care is the real trick.
 
There have already been countless interpretations of the story of Moses that if a director really wants to revisit this material, they have to have something special planned. When it was revealed that Ridley Scott was going to take the helm for another Moses movie, I thought it was an interesting choice. When Ridley Scott reinterpreted The Crusades with "Kingdom of Heaven," it was flawlessly superb. On the flip side, when Ridley Scott reinterpreted Robin Hood, it went south fast. In fact, it seems that Ridley Scott is possibly the most inconsistent mainstream filmmaker working. Yes, he's given us gold like "Alien," "Blade Runner," "Gladiator," "Matchstick Men," "Black Hawk Down," "A Good Year," "American Gangster," "Body of Lies" and "Prometheus," is the same guy that gave us "Legend," "Black Rain," "G.I. Jane," "Hannibal," and "The Counselor." As I walked into "Exodus: Gods and Kings" tonight, I did not know what to expect.
 
First of all, as I feared, there is something off about the casting. I spoke at length months ago about how bad the "whitewashing" of roles has become. With that said, I feel Scott went completely overboard with the casting. Actors like John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Joel Edgerton, and even Aaron Paul appear to play roles and it all feels very much like a community theater portrayal of the story. I mean, come on, Aaron Paul is playing Joshua for crying out-loud, nothing against Paul, but that made me burst in laughter. Almost as hard as how much work was given to try to make Edgerton look like an Egyptian, too funny. Mixed this with the fact that all the costumes and set pieces look like they came from an old, 1950's style Moses movie, and you've got something that feels off quick.
 
Second of all, it seems like Ridley Scott was completely confused by the movie he trying to make. At one point, it does feel like Scott wants to make a deep, passionate re-telling of the Moses story. Then, at times he resorts back to popular scenes of ancient carnage. The problem is, the hyper-violence has no place in this movie. It's just filler so that Scott could make his epic feel more "epic." There is so much to this film that is so brutally confusing that its mind-numbing. Christian Bale is a great actor, and he's someone that I have respected and admired all my life. But he brings nothing to the table as Moses. I don't know if this was his personal interpretation, Scott's direction or the poor script-writing, but  Bale is quite boring in the role.
 
And the interpretation of God in this movie was of an 11-year-old boy. Yep, God was a child, what a cliché.
 
I think the worst sin the film commits is that it fumbles with its two big image pieces. The big draw of the Moses story to watch the ten plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea. I can say with utter confidence that Scott botched both scenes. There is no thematic or emotional pull to either scene and they both play out fairly anti-climatic. The two major set pieces of the movie are completely wasted and vanished. If you can't make those two iconic scenes work, then you should not make a movie about Moses. It's really that simple.
 
It really blows my mind when so many striking artists gather to do something completely forgetful. When I reviewed "Noah" back around March, I was nearly surprised by how drawn to it I was. I thought that when Darren Arnofsky set out to make that movie, bringing in the religious crowds wasn't necessarily on his mind. He went out of his way to make something ambitious, tremendous and memorable. It seems here that all Ridley Scott wanted to do with the Moses story was go through the motions, and that is just a waste of resources. When something like "The Prince of Egypt" has more emotional heft than a big-budget rendition of the same story, something has gone terribly wrong.
 
FINAL GRADE: D-



Have You Seen The Epic "Marvel Vs. DC" fake trailer?

One thing I love about this country and what I love about being a movie-obsessed person is watching everyone else's reaction to what I am watching. I also thank my stars every day that YouTube is a real thing that is a mere click away on my computer.

Over the years, I have seen seemingly hundreds of fake trailers for coming attractions. Some have  been cool, others have been horrendous, and others were on the brink of perfection. Seriously, some of these people who make these fake trailers should go get jobs as editiors in Hollywood, because I believe they would make a fortune. The person behind the brilliant "Marvel vs. DC" trailer is profoundly one of those people.

Marvel vs. DC was a fun comic which put the best of worlds against each other at one time. It was basically a What If issue which pitted each of these iconic companies together. In the comic, Hulk fought Superman, Batman fought Captain America, Silver Surfer vs. Green Lantern, X-Men's Storm clashed with Wonder Woman. It was pretty epic, although I think there was a slight bias for the DC staple. No matter, it was a cool concept. The concept just gave birth to an awesome fake trailer.

The fake trailer is so good that I want this to be a reality. But I highly doubt anything like this will ever happen. "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is one thing, "The Avengers" is one thing, "Marvel vs. DC" is something else. Marvel is still struggling right now to acquire all of their character under one studio banner, how does one studio or the other plan on getting rights to everybody? I'd love for WB and Disney to come together for something like this, but I doubt it would ever happen. I am not sure WB or Disney would ever settle on a monetary agreement. Even though the billions of dollars this film would inevitably bring in would be enough to satisfy even the most stern of studio executives.

But that's the beauty of YouTube, to allow us to dream. Like I said already, the best fake trailer for anything on the internet right now. For everyone involved in the making of this trailer, bravo!



Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Essentials- "Christmas Vacation" (1989)

The Essentials-#88
 
Christmas Vacation
There is one movie I have to watch every Christmas season. If I don't watch it, my holiday season feels disastrously incomplete. Its a movie that feels a step up from the rest of the holiday fare, something that feels separate from the rest of the herd. It is a movie I have  been watching with my family holiday after holiday for as long as I can remember. That is no suggestion either, when we didn't own the movie, we would hit up a video store around this time of year, just so we could rent it. I remember the video cassette had a trailer for "Gremlins 2" that I remember watching every single year. That movie is "Christmas Vacation."
 
"Christmas Vacation" is the best movie of the vacation films. It is the best because I think its the only movie that had a meaningful plot. The rest of the series seemed like an excuse to get the Griswold family to an exotic location for a whole bunch of slapstick. I think the idea of holiday stress is something everybody can relate to, so it feels more personal than the rest of the film. But the film is not some kind of character study, the movie is all comedy. What is cool though is that the funny situations presented in this movie seem relatable and fun, not forced like so many other slapstick comedies.
 
Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and Randy Quaid had become the main Griswolds over the years, but I think "Christmas Vacation" is the movie where they really flesh out their characters. We finally see why they are so special and what makes them particularly human. We see what makes Ellen and Sparky click as a couple and...dare I say it...we actually feel their love. Not bad for a goofy comedy, but that's the point. Adding John Galecki and Juliette Lewis as the Griswold children was a nice touch, but its really Chase, D'Angelo and Quaid who make this what it is.
 
There are several holiday movies out there which dabble in holiday anxiety and "Christmas Vacation" maybe the best of them.


Overlooked Film of the Week- "Bad Santa" (2003)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #88
 
Bad Santa
Its an idea that never felt original, felt like it could have dreamed up by anyone. It had to have come across the minds of everyone at least once. Has anybody ever wondered what those shop mall Santa's really are after the red coat comes off? It seems like an idea that could spawn several different types of scripts, could star just about anybody, and be about any type of subject matter. "Bad Santa" keeps it simple, and its a movie that anybody could make. But its that simplicity that finally won me over as I sat down to watch this movie.

The idea that I am talking about, the idea that becomes the premise of this movie, revolves around Willie (Billy Bob Thorton), a con-man who dresses up as Santa once a year and scams people with his partner (played by Tony Cox). The entire comedy is about this premise. Yes, there is a subplot about a child who changes Willie's life, which I felt was a production note with feet. But alas, the movie still works as a whole. It is a much different type of Christmas movie that is ripe for this time of year.

Billy Bob Thorton has always been a dramatic guy, but he's been a guy with great range. For not being built like an action hero, he can be quite intimidating with the right script. However, he is not the first actor who comes to my mind when thinking of comedies. Which is why he was probably perfect for this role. He fits right into the comedic scene with a great amount of ease. His revealing talent is what anchors the movie, and builds it towards something memorable. The work by Tony Cox is also very good. There are also great supporting performances by Bernie Mac and Lauren Graham.

"Bad Santa" gave us just enough to make itself count, just enough to give the audience a good laugh. It is not a movie that overstays its welcome. It was not a movie  that tried to drag itself out longer by creating unneeded sequels. "Bad Santa" came, did its thing and left. Sometimes, that is just enough create a connection with an audience.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Who Played It Best? Carrie White

Who Played It Best? Carrie White
"Carrie" was the first Stephen King book I ever read.
 
Little did I know I was getting my first taste of my favorite author ever.
 
I always loved "Carrie" because it was a warped version of "Cinderella." What if Cinderella didn't need a fairy godmother and she was born with amazing powers. Instead of having everything given to her by magic, she WAS the magic? With that said, what if she used that power to kill? That's what made "Carrie" so interesting to me. That and I think King did a great job tackling something like bullying in his novel and used to tell a great story. Its hard to write something personal into something as high concept as "Carrie" was, but I think he pulled it off. So far, there have been two movies made about the book that help out King on the map, as well as one mini-series. While I could have included the mini-series, I decided to let the movie interpretations compete with each other. So did Sissy Spacek do better or Chloe Moretz?
 
My Two Cents
I'm not trying to be too bias here, but I loved the first "Carrie" movie from the 70's and didn't much care for the remake last year. A big reason why one flick worked over the other was the casting. The casting is always important, whether your adapting a popular book or making an original idea off of a nothing budget. Casting can either torpedo your movie toward success or failure. Sissy Spacek gave me nightmares when I saw the first "Carrie," nightmares. Those eyes just freak me out every time, her style of playing an anti-social teenager was spot-on. I think it also says something that Spacek only starred in eight movies before nabbing the Carrie role, when Moretz actually had quite the career before Carrie. I think Moretz was completely wrong for the role. I don't want to sound desensitized, but Moretz is a little too pretty for the role of Carrie, and she just seemed to be such a flavor of the week that it came off odd as a casting choice. I feel Spacek was perfect in every way, thus my edge is for her.
 
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or email me at bloggershawn@gmail.com by next Wednesday. You will have this whole week to vote.
 
LAST WEEK: WHO PLAYED IT BEST? RAIDEN
Last week, I took a look at two actors who portrayed the god of thunder, and no I am not referencing Thor. Christopher Lambert and James Remar played Raiden in the 1990's "Mortal Kombat" movies and here is who won...
Christopher Lambert!
 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Still Alice Review

Still Alice Review
Alzheimer's is a sad disease. I have seen it firsthand in my own family. My grandma on my mother's side of the family had Alzheimer's. Not only was it tough to witness my grandma slowly coming down with the disease, but it was especially hard to watch my mom hurt because of it. There is nothing good about this disease, I can't imagine what it would be like to live with it.
 
Julianne Moore is an actress I have always loved. No matter what movie, no matter what character, and no matter what genre. It seems she is determined to deliver every single time she is in front of the camera. It doesn't seem to matter if the movie is good or bad, always one of the redeeming qualities of a Julianne Moore movie is Julianne Moore. Any year with a new movie featuring her is something that will peak my interest. In "Still Alice," the new movie where Moore plays a woman struggling with an early onset of Alzheimer's disease, Moore completely outdoes herself.
 
Alice Howland is a brilliant doctor, and has a wonderful family and an equally wonderful husband (Alec Baldwin). Dr. Howland can help but begin to notice that she seems to forget little things, here and there. Or she'll be giving a lecture at her university then all of sudden forget where she was going, totally blinking out over and over again. She soon learns that she has an early onset of Alzheimer's disease, and how she copes with this disease is the entire movie. As well as how it affects her job, children and husband. Like I said above, its a brilliant showcase for Julianne Moore. What really draws you into the movie is how effortlessly Moore forces us to feel her deterioration. How she slowly transitions to portraying a healthy mind to an ill mind is flawlessly handled. While I still think that Rosamund Pike should take home the Oscar for Lead Actress, Moore is definitely a high contender as well.
 
Alice's children are played by Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart, yes that Kristen Stewart. Between this and "Camp X-Ray," Stewart has had a superb year. She also further proves that just because your career begins on a terrible foot, doesn't mean you can't have a moment of redemption. She does piercing work as one of the children proactively being there for her mother. Bosworth and Parrish also portray strong work in the movie. I also have to say that we usually don't get such wounded work from Alec Baldwin, as he plays a man who digs his feet into the battlefield, doing everything he can for his wife. It is truly sincere work, and some of the best acting Baldwin has ever done.
 
"Still Alice" is a harrowing picture, a truly sad picture, which is anchored by wonderful performances. The performances are what elevate this movie from being bland to good. Looking at it from a script point of view, there is not much going on. We see Alice fall from grace, we see her take her life by the horns, we see how it affects everything around her, and then the movie is over. There is no real narrative moving this thing along, it just feels like scenes and then its over. I am sure that is part of the point from a stylistic point of view. If it were not for the great performances, there would not be much to recommend for this.
 
I think just for the acting alone, "Still Alice" is worth seeing, and perhaps it will help you forget what else doesn't work about the movie. Its hard to bet against Julianne Moore, and she proves that once again with an ailing performance.
 
FINAL GRADE: B
 



Cinderella International Trailer

I don't really know what my stance is on "Cinderella."

One idea is that I don't really understand the need for Disney to give their entire classic catalogue the live-action treatment. (Some of those titles are getting two live-action treatments.) I hate it when studios make a movie solely based on making money, because believe it or not, it shows. It shows in the script, and if a script is off, the performances and direction can be off. Another idea is that it could completely surprise me, and be a wondrous adaptation.

I like Kenneth Branagh. I think he is a great director. I thought his work on the first "Thor" movie was superb, and he really set the stage for the character and got his mythology on the right foot. "Dead Again" was a great movie from the 90's. Even when Branagh got his Shakespeare on with "Henry V," it came out well on the other end. If Branagh can tackle Marvel and Shakespeare in a masterful way, can he do the same with a classic fairy tale?

The trailers for the movie haven't done much for me. Especially since it feels like the trailers have given up all the footnotes already. If there is anybody who is different to all things "Cinderella," then there would be absolutely no need to see this movie. I don't know how this will play out, but as always, my mind is completely open.

Cinderella will open March 13

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Babadook Review

The Babadook
I have seen horror films that try to create a nightmare, I have seen horror movies that try to reinvent a nightmare, I have seen horror films that try to imitate a nightmare. I have seen very few horror films  that are literally nightmares. "The Babadook" is such a film.

From the moment the opening titles are over and the film is underway, something is immediately off about the film. The audience is instantly thrown into the middle of a bad dream. we focus on a woman as a car is crashing, and a blurred voice keeps yelling "mom" as this woman is being jerked around in the car. Its the most surreal and disturbing image I have seen all year, and as the woman woke up from her dream, this movie was just getting started.

The woman is named Amelia (Essie Davis), a widow her tends to her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Samuel is constantly getting in trouble at school and does not seem to get along with the other children at school. It seems that Amelia is having a tough time raising the boy. The dream sequence at the beginning of the film teaches us that Amelia's husband died in the car-crash in which he was taking Amelia to the hospital to give birth to Samuel. A piece of that traumatic event seems to live inside Amelia, and she can't allow herself to heal. All the while Samuel has a hard time growing up. One night, Samuel finds a mysterious book on his bookshelf called "Mister Babadook," a pop-up storybook which gives Samuel nightmares. It seems The Babadook wants in the house, but for what purpose? Samuel is deeply affected by the book, and Amelia is reluctant to give into her son's agony.

Until shit starts hitting the fan...

What makes "The Babadook" so fun is how simple the set up is. The entire movie is pretty much these two in the house with the most frightening looking ghoul to ever haunt film in awhile. I love that this is a movie based entirely on mood and atmosphere and not blood. I won't say that there is not any blood, but most of the scares come from the creepy setting this movie slowly but systematically pushes forward. There is so much tension that builds up over the course of the film that I found the terror unrelenting.

I also loved the film never once allows you to relax. There are so many surreal moments, so many creepy moments and so many unsure moments that you won't know whether or not you are going to be scared or not. The movie is constantly trying to keep you on your toes. It is constantly trying to keep your heart racing, keep you guessing to what is about to happen. Plus, the subject matter of a mom being unable to help her only son, heartbreaking material. When I wasn't being scared out of my mind, I just felt sad for this poor family.

The work done by Davis and Wiseman is absolutely tremendous. Davis' transition over the course of the film is the real reason to see it. How she changes over the film and how the events of the film begin to creep on her character is outstandingly handled. I also loved how Wiseman was not playing the ordinary scared kid. I love  that he is proactive about trying to stop The Babadook's plan and trying to keep his mother safe. I felt I could really relate to the characters and the subtle empathy was enriching.

This maybe a weird time of the year for this kind of film, but damn, I am glad I saw it.

FINAL GRADE: A
 
 


Knight of Cups Trailer

I really just don't get all the fuss over Terrance Malik.

He was once renounced as a God of filmmaking, after his films "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven," where released. I have not seen either of those films, but I plan to as soon as possible, just so I can discover what all the fuss is about.

I did see "Thin Red Line," a WWII movie that came out in 1998, I know "Saving Private Ryan" was the more commercial of the two movies, but both these WWII movies could not have been more different, in the best possible way too. I thought "The New World" was just okay, I could not, for the life of me, grasp what was so special about this guy.

Especially after viewing "The Tree of Life" in 2011 and then "To The Wonder" in 2013. Both movies are two 2-and-a-half hour plus movies of A-list actors standing around, whispering their dialogue at a volume that is hard to hear. Don't believe me, rent them both, but I must warn that it is agonizing to the millionth degree. How these films were ever able to get made is beyond my comprehension. Sure, Malik and his die-hard supporters will tell me that there is a deeper meaning to his both those pictures. But that doesn't resonate with me. Anybody can grab a camera, shoot a bunch of random scenes, and argue that those scenes have a "deeper meaning." I don't want it to sound like I am bashing experimental cinema, because I love that. I just know that the best of this little genre offers story, character and theme. Something I feel is completely missing from Malik's recent movies.

"Knight of Cups" looks like a typical Malik movie. A bunch of good actors are standing around, looking out windows, pondering to themselves. I really wonder how many of these talents will actually end up in the finished product, since Malik is notorious for cutting out footage belonging to entire characters. As usual, the cinematography is beautiful, just like with Malik's efforts from 2011 and 2013. But it's just getting hard for me to get excited. If all "Knight of Cups" adds up to is another muttered poetry slam, then I will officially be done with Malik forever.

Disagree? Let me know. Although I will warn that Malik's trailers are indeed, deceiving. This will be released sometime in 2015.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Essentials- Scrooged (1988)

The Essentials- #87
 
Scrooged
I always liked "A Christmas Carol" growing up.
 
I was always absorbed by the way a particularly bad person became a good person over the span of one night. I know it real life, it takes some real practice, but acknowledging that you are wrong is the easily the hardest step. I always thought that there was something spiritual about "A Christmas Carol." We grew up believing that if we were not good boys or girls, that Santa Claus would fill our trees with coal instead of presents. As I grew up, this tidbit made me fear for Santa, the idea that he knows when I'm sleeping and when I'm awake didn't help me either. Santa seemed like a challenging figure to me growing up and its almost crazy how Santa can somewhat parallel our religious icons we also celebrate this time of year.
 
But the thing that I learned about "A Christmas Carol," and what is delightfully reinforced through "Scrooged," is that its not too late to be the person you want to be. Yes, we are human beings and we make mistakes. Some of those mistakes can be short-term, but other times they can be long-term. Sometimes, we may not know we are even making them. Sometimes, we need reminders showing us what we have become, and what will happen if we don't force change. But the glory of all of this is that its not too late to change. I think that is partially what Christmas is all about. It is a hectic, anxiety-ridden part of the year, but it all leads up to the point when you are sitting with your loved ones, giving to each other. Perhaps giving a few bucks here and there to the Salvation Army, or just showing repeated reminders why the people in your life mean so much to you. Its never too late to show them. Through all the humor and craziness that makes up "Scrooged," the ideas of never being too late and always loving smack me in the face every time I watch it.
 
It can be easy to write off "Scrooged" as being a modern re-telling of "A Christmas Carol," and that's exactly what it is. If you've read or seen "A Christmas Carol," you know exactly how this is going to go. Instead replace Ebenezer Scrooge with Bill Murray playing a cold television executive, and you've got a modern day "Christmas Carol." The thing is, these stories survive through constant re-telling, so it doesn't bother me at all that we have had so many incarnations of this story. I also think that "Scrooged," reinterprets this classic tale in the most fresh and most fun of ways. It's laugh-out-loud funny thanks to the work by Murray. But I also enjoy the supporting work of Karen Allen and especially Bobcat Goldthwait. The work by Carol Kane and David Johansen as the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present are superb.
 
I also have to admit that when the reanimated corpse of Lew Hayward, played by John Forsythe, appears to warn Murray's character of three ghosts, that scene used to scare the crap out of me. Anybody react that way?
 
"Scrooged" is a movie that has it all, but what I love most is that how overwhelmingly positive it is. So please, put a little love in your heart.



Overlooked Film of the Week- Children of Men (2006)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#87
 
Children of Men
My Dad always loves to poke fun at the science fiction genre, particularly the dystopian movies. He loves that no matter what, the view of the future is always dark, and he's pretty much right. Besides "Futurama," "The Jetsons," and "Star Trek," how many other views of the future turn out happy? When was there another instance of a future where we didn't blow ourselves up? Where aliens didn't colonize us? Where something or another didn't reduce us down to an abysmal percent of population? Are those three examples the only examples in the history of popular culture? Could be, I won't pretend like I have seen everything. I think "Children of Men," is different on an entirely different level than the rest of the dystopian future flicks.

"Children of Men" maybe similar at first glance, but what hits me in the heart every time I watch the movie is its overwhelming optimism in the face of bleak darkness. This film presence a future premise that is as jet-black as all the rest. The idea of not being able to create life anymore is horrifically sad. The film paints a portrait of life that involves terrorism, economical turmoil and chemical warfare, all things we worry about today. Add to the fact that a man and a woman can no longer make babies, and you have a world nobody wants to live in. The film's opening sends shivers up and down my body every time. As a news castor tells a story of how the youngest person alive has died and new youngest has been found. It is a wonderful setup, no matter how bleak it all is.

Another thing I love about "Children of Men," is just how realistic the movie feels. At no point does this film feel like your typical, futuristic movie. Sure, there is some cool technology that clearly does not exist yet, but it constantly feels plausible. Sometimes it hurts my eyes when futuristic movies include spectacle for the sake of it, just so the audience knows that this movie takes place in the future. I love that everything about this movie feels like it spawned from something real. I love how grounded the look and tone of the entire movie. It is so hard for Hollywood to create realistic futures, but this film makes it all look tremendously easy.

Then there is the cast, the film is headlined by Clive Owen, who plays a man who is picked to protect a mother carrying the first child born in years. It turns into an unbelievable task, but an important task. Especially since its his ex-wife, played by Julianne Moore, who recruits him. Both Owen and Moore doe extraordinary work in this movie, and this particularly represents some of the best work by Owen ever. I also love the supporting cast, which includes Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Charlie Hunnam. They really bring this story to life.

What makes "Children of Men" worth watching this week is how subtle, yet profoundly the movie embraces the idea of the nativity story. This is not a movie that shoves religion down your throat. But if you analyze it, this is a movie about defining hope and that message crushes me every time. In the best possible way, of course.