Saturday, February 28, 2015

RIP Leonard Nimoy

"Live Long and Prosper"

Those words became famous in my mind and in my household before I ever picked up an old-school "Star Trek" movie. You have to remember that I was born in 1989, I was a kid of the 1990's. So I missed the classic "Star Trek" era, and I had "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine." Those were my earliest memories of "Star Trek." It was that generation of movies that felt like "Star Trek" to me, getting to know Data and Jean Luc-Picard and the rest of that generation's crew was the team I felt assembled with. Yet, through it all, it seemed like I always knew who Spock was. Spock was like an out-of-this-world legend to me growing up. My parents and brother would talk about him like he was a reigning myth. I may not have got the chance to experience Spock growing up, like so many other Trekkies, but I always felt something special by the quote "Live Long and Prosper" and I have always tried to live by those words, like a guideline.

I hope that all Trekkies are united in celebration that even though Spock may not be with us anymore, at 83 years old, he lived long and he certainly prospered.

It maybe hard to think about Leonard Nimoy's career and not thinking of anything Star Trek related. Yes, Nimoy was a major Trekkie, he appeared in the 2009 reboot for crying out loud. That was Nimoy's bread and butter. But to think he didn't do anything else with his career is a bit blasphemous. Who can forget his voice work as Sentinel Prime in "Transformers: The Dark of the Moon." Or who remembers "The Pagemaster?" An old family film from 1994? Nimoy did the voice for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for that movie. He did television. He lent his voice for video games. I think the most crushing part of Nimoy's passing is that he really felt like one of his. He loved movies, and TV and video games just as much as the other nerd. The way he talked, the way he beamed in excitement by fans, he felt like he was one of us. He knew the character he created was larger than life, and it seemed like he would not have it any other way.

It definitely feels like anything "Star Trek" related will never feel the same again. We lost one of the all time greats. We lost somebody who helped define an entire counter culture of nerd. Without the help of Nimoy, I don't think "Star Trek" would have lasted as long as it did. He certainly helped me recapture the love I had for the television shows that felt like appointment TV growing up. I remember spending a good chunk of my childhood trying to master the iconic hand signal Spock would make right before delivering his legendary words. Now, that I have mastered the signal, I hope we all live long and prosper, because Nimoy would not have it any other way.



Da Sweet Blood of Jesus Review

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus Review
Spike Lee has always been a provocative filmmaker to me. I don't want to call him a racist, because I am not sure that this is one-hundred percent true. But Spike Lee has always been blisteringly angry and just as powerfully radical in his beliefs and feelings. While I always applaud an artist to conquer their feelings through art, it can sometimes be incorrigible to sit through. I have liked this recent surge of filmmaking from Spike Lee within the last couple of years, because it doesn't seem so radically charged. If "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" succeeds at anything, it that Lee has found a way not to smother his audience with his usual social agenda. That's not to say that they are not there, it just doesn't feel electrified to the point of desperation as per usual with Lee. The downside is, his ideas never feel fully explored this time out either.

I did not know this until later, but "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" is a quasi-remake of "Ganja and Hess" from the 1970's. If you read what "Ganja and Hess" tried to do, you would know that it would be something up Spike Lee's alley. "Ganja and Hess" was said to be a film that used vampirism as "a metaphor for black assimilation, white imperialism and the hypocrisies of organized religion." Or at least that is what Lee said in an interview prior to the release of "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus." I have no idea of how of "Ganja and Hess" represents "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus," but now I am curious to track down and check out "Ganja and Hess," just to see how the two movies are different.

Stephen Tyrone Williams plays Dr. Hess Greene, a brilliant collector and educator on African history. He has collected many relics of ancient African peoples and tribes, and one day at a museum, he is given an old sword from the ancient ashanti tribe, a group of people who was obsessed with blood. That night, Greene invites business partner Layfayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco) over to discuss their new endeavors, when Hightower goes crazy and attempts to kill Greene. Hightower stabs Greene with the ashanti sword...but Greene doesn't die. Not only does he not die, but he develops an unquenchable, undeniable thirst for blood. To further complicate matters, Hightower's wife, Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams) appears to find her husband, which leads to a twisted love story between the doctor and the widow.

As you can see, this is not the typical Spike Lee joint. In fact, it is completely unlike anything he has ever done before. There is a surreal vibe from the movie that I thought was engaging, and there is some brilliant energy to the film. While I would call this vampire movie, its not suppose to be a vampire movie, not really, but sort of. That is one of the most frustrating things is trying to find out what Spike Lee was trying to say. Despite some good scenes and good energy, it never seemed like "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" was really about anything. It felt like a string of incidents with no ending, a long-running joke with no punch line. There is something off about the movie from the start, the opening title sequence features a character doing some cool dance moves. But we never see or hear from this character again, so how is it at all connected? After Greene discovers his thirst for blood, it seems the entire first forty minutes of movie is one, long montage of Greene getting used to his new ability, which gets boring and tedious after a short while.

It also seems that whatever themes Lee wanted to incorporate from "Ganja and Hess," just didn't translate well in this movie. There are no examples of black assimilation or white imperialism. We see scenes from Greene's church, but we never know how much of a devoted Christian he is, and it never seems like religion is brought up in the movie as a theme. I can tell Lee had things to say about how addiction can hurt and perhaps even heal us, but the themes are so poorly explored, its almost surprising coming from someone like Spike Lee. It blows my mind that it felt like Lee had absolutely nothing to say.

I can say that I had never heard of Stephen Tyrone Williams before this, and now I can honestly say that I want to see more of him. He appears to lead a movie with ease, and it made it easy to identify with him as a person. I just wish he had a better script to work from. His chemistry with Zaraah Abrahams is equally eloquent and I think Abrahams does very good work too. I feel both actors do exactly what they were told to do, the thing is, they were never given much to do, which lies the problem with me.

I can also say that if Lee plans to tackle more material that is slightly out of his comfort zone, I would be all for it. I just hope with his next shot, he has something of substance to share with us. It seems Lee is either too radical or not radical enough. If he can find a happy medium, he might just give us another "25th Hour," and we'd all be richer for it.

FINAL GRADE: C+


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, and Idris Elba confirmed for "Avengers: Age of Ultron!"

There are always rumors circling movies, certain possibilities that will either come to light or come to nothing. You can never know what to trust until a studio comes forth and confirms it, especially for these big budget blockbusters. Which makes nights like tonight so special.

It has been confirmed today that Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell and Idris Elba have been confirmed for "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

Anthony Mackie played Same Wilson aka The Falcon in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." We have heard vague rumors for awhile that Mackie would appear in the post-credits scene involving Captain America creating a new team of Avengers. Is this claim true? Will Captain America be creating a new team of Avengers by the end of this movie, to lead into the Civil War? The official poster for "Age of Ultron" was released  today and features Mackie's name. Would they really put his name on a poster for a post-credit scene? They never have before, so why start now? I wonder if Mackie will have somewhat of a significant role in this sequel since his name is on the poster.

Hayley Atwell's name is on the poster as well, who is famous for playing Peggy Carter in the Captain America movies as well as the ABC show. We got a small glimpse from the "Age of Ultron" trailer in October of Captain America walking in his modern costume through what looks like 1940. I just recently read the comic version of "Age of Ultron" and trust me the comic version will have grave differences compared to the final film. But something that has been rumored as of late, which was featured in the comic book, is the idea of time travel. Will the Avengers travel through time? Or since we know Wanda Maximoff is joining the story, will she give the captain one wild vision? We shall see.

We have known for awhile now that Thor would be heading back to Asgard for "something" and that "Thor: Ragnarok" will take place directly after "Avengers: Age of Ultron." So featuring another Asgardian in this movie isn't that farfetched. I just wonder again how big of a role Elba will have in this sequel. Will he just appear to help Thor get back to Asgard? Or will he have something more pivotal to play?

The news today has given made me brainstorm some intriguing theories. Now, more than I ever thought I could be, I am ready for "Avengers: Age of Ultron. We are only about three months away now, and it feels good!

SOURCE:
http://comicbook.com/2015/02/24/anthony-mackie-hayley-atwell-idris-elba-confirmed-for-avengers-a/

TV REVIEW: Agemt Carter (The Season One Finale)

TV REVIEW
 
AGENT CARTER
 
THE SEASON FINALE
The season finale for "Agent Carter" has arrived. If this finale made me realize anything, it was that I am more than ready for the return of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Sure, I like Peggy Carter as a character, and I love Hayley Atwell. She has done a good job turning a supporting character into something much more. I applaud her for taking this mini-show on, and I feel she helped make it more than it could have been. But I think ultimately, this is my least favorite thing Marvel Studios has conjured so far. I think it was fun and I don't think it will come close to destroying what Marvel has built so far. Far from it. I just think that just because one character is cool or sticks out in a particular movie, that doesn't automatically mean we give him or her a television show.
 
Leviathan stealing weapons from Howard Stark? That seems like a cool idea. Using Howard Stark to try and destroy a portion of New York City? Yeah, its interesting and it sets up for a conflicting, engaging storyline. Yep, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) shows up to help Carter clear his name and shines some light for the SSR on who Dr. Ivchenko (Ralph Brown) was and why he helped build the group Leviathan. As careful as the SSR were, they couldn't stop Howard Stark from being kidnapped by the bad guys.
 
The problem? Well, we know that Howard Stark helps create S.H.I.E.L.D. We know he fathers a boy who will later become Iron Man. We know that he will die in a car accident with his wife. We have known this since "Iron Man" aired in 2008, so when Howard Stark gets kidnapped there really is no tension. We know Agent Carter is going to get him out of this one because the franchise needs it. The way the show laid it out, it felt like they tried to make this particular scenario feel desperate, but how much desperation can you milk out of something that we know will turn out okay in the end? As good as everyone tries to get this one, the foundation of the episode is unsurprising.
 
I will miss James D'Arcy's work as Edwin Jarvis, he continued to make each episode worthwhile. I also couldn't help but get a little excited within the final moments of the episode. When Dr. Ivchenko meets a certain cellmate and that certain someone recreates a horrid organization. I loved it, and now I am at least a little curious to find out if "Agent Carter" gets renewed. So I guess that by itself is something good about the finale.
 
What did you guys think?



Monday, February 23, 2015

Project Almanac Review

Project Almanac Review
I like time travel movies. They can be great fun in the hands of the right people. They can be mysterious and lead to some unforeseen pay-offs. They can be adventurous and take on unbelievable journeys. I have found over the years that if you don't much care for the characters in these time travel flicks, and if the characters can't help you buy into the premise, it is going to be a hard sit-through. I think Michael J. Fox did a great job getting the audience to buy into the adventures of Marty McFly for three whole movies, and even earlier this year with "Predestination," Ethan Hawke allowed us to buy into this world of agents going back in time to stop terrible events from occurring. There is a fragility to the fabric of time that can parallel the characters of the story, and that can be great in the right hands.

On the other hand, the found footage device is beginning to wear thin. It is something I can't get myself excited for these days. Rather, I just roll my eyes and keep reading about something else. I cringe at every knew found footage movie, wishing this lavish trend would go away for good. It was cool in the beginning, but with so much, Hollywood has sucked the life and wonder out of the device. I can't honestly say that "Project Almanac" uses the device to a good affect. While it is a little refreshing that this isn't another horror movie, "Project Almanac" doesn't use the device in any bold or revitalizing way. This movie is basically a gimmick from minute one, and that makes for a hard sit-through.

We meet David (Jonny Weston) who was recently accepted into MIT, sadly he can't go because he does not have the money to attend. He needs to find something, come up with something so outstanding that the college will give him a scholarship. David, along with a small cohort of peers, begin looking through his dad's old stuff and find mysterious blueprints. With these blueprints, David and his friends invent a time machine. While it takes sometime getting used to, David and his friends can successfully travel through time.

What do they do with this new device, might I ask? What any high school-age person would do, act crazy, stupid and wild. For an over-abundant amount of running time, we watch David and his friends do a lot of really dumb stuff just because they can. While its a fun daydream to imagine being able to go back in time and do whatever you want, not caring about getting caught. But the movie never takes the time to develop its characters that's its hard to root for them. I would list the other actors in the movie that make up David's clique, but honestly, what would the point be? Its your typical stock found footage actors, kids you've never heard of and will likely never see again. While the found footage device is devious for casting unknowns for the sole sake of making the movie come off "real," none of these guys can act, so its hard to really follow them through this story.

Once things start getting really bad for the characters, it is then hard to feel bad for them. Had the children used the time travel device for something worthwhile or something adventurous, I would probably feel bad for them. When Marty McFly went to the future, he was trying to save his family, and at the same time save himself. When Kyle Reese went back in time, it was to protect the woman who give birth to the master commander who would rid the world of the machines. When Gil goes back in time and experiences Paris through several eras, he initially wants to stay, but then he would have never been inspired by the works he read and so he learns a valuable life lesson. There is no world to save in "Project Almanac." There is no fable moral or life lesson presented in "Project Almanac." We follow these unlikable characters through this story because they have to right their screw-ups, which turns out to be not exciting at all.

The found footage device doesn't even work that well for this movie because there are moments I really wanted to see, that one really can't fake with found footage. The great horror films within this device, the "Paranormal Activities" and "Blair Witch Projects" all knew when and when not to shoot a certain scene. I would go as far to say that "Project X," does a much superior job with the format. The camera in "Project Almanac" feels like it was held by schizophrenic, which makes the experience dour.

I have been in the corner of this type of movie while many bailed. I have returned, time and after time to see if anybody can do anything new, fresh, or innovative with the device. As of right now, that seems like a very shrill possibility and that breaks my heart.

FINAL GRADE: D


My Reaction to the 2015 Academy Awards

Last year, I created Oscar predictions for the Academy Awards and out of the twenty-four categories listed, I guessed twenty right. I hoped to do better this year than I did last year, but sadly that was not the case. I had a sinking suspicion that I would do worse this year, but I ended up breaking even. I thought for sure, I could go for the perfect ballot this year, but I ended up getting twenty correct predictions out of the twenty-four categories of the Academy Awards. Still, its not bad at all, and I guess I am going to keep working toward a perfect ballot, just not this year.

My predictions are all part of the point. I don't put much stock into the Oscars, and just in case I didn't say this last year, I don't need the Academy telling me what the best of this or the best of that was. While I was a little steamed that Michael Keaton did not get the recognition I believed he deserved, nor Rosamund Pike, nor Richard Linklater, nor "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" or the dozen other movies and actors I was rooting for didn't win. I already have a pretty good indicator of what I do and do not like, and since most of my favorites were awarded a LEGO Oscar statue, I am still feeling pretty good about last night's ceremony.

I do have to admit one thing. I was pretty excited for Neil Patrick Harris to host this year. I thought this year, and the two years before it, ABC had chosen some great hosts. I loved how left-field a choice Seth MacFarland was, and even if he seriously never does host again, I am just glad it happened and that I witnessed it. I love that there was a slight raunchiness to his hosting. Last year, I thought Ellen DeGeneres totally killed it last year, just killed it and I thought she produced one of my favorite ceremonies in a very long time. I was hoping the same for Neil Patrick Harris. I thought some of his jokes stuck. The Benedict Cumberbatch-Ben Affleck-John Travolta joke? Good one. Harris' reference to Farmer's Insurance after J.K. Simmons' win? Didn't catch it the first time. I also liked his "Birdman" bit, simply because I loved that movie so much. The rest of his act? Not as exciting as I would have hoped. Especially around the middle-half of the ceremony, Harris seemed to really drag his performance out, and lots of his material didn't land with me. His whole predictions joke was overdrawn and it didn't land the punch line and it dragged an already long ceremony. I found that to be a little disappointing to discover how bland he was overall as a host.

The things that made me happy
Once Alejandro G. Inarritu was called to the stage for Best Director, I knew "Birdman" had Best Picture in the bag. I knew this was going to be a year when director and picture were in perfect alignment. I think Inarritu deserves all the hype and praise that has been mounted on top of him. I give anybody credit who can say "balls" and "prick" on national television and make it come off endearing. While I was a little surprised that the movie also beat "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for Original Screenplay, I think "The Grand Budapest Hotel" deserved all the technical awards it got last night. That movie was the best movie to get lost in last year, and the bright colors and crude scenery made the experience better, and I can't wait to get the movie on blu-ray and experience it again. While I was kind of sad that "Life Itself" didn't get a Best Documentary nod, I am incredibly happy that "CitizenFour" got the win. I am glad I got to catch that right before the ceremony, and it was a real eye-opener. I was dreading Lady Gaga's performance of "The Sound of Music," but once she began, I was surprised how much she didn't suck.

I was not surprised that Eddie Redmayne or Julianne Moore got wins yesterday, but I feel that represents a certain bias the Academy carries. Sure, Redmayne and Moore did good work in their films and deserved nominations, but I think Redmayne starring in an ALS movie and Moore starring in a Alzheimer's movie helped their odds. The Academy loves voting for movies about social issues (take a look at last years ceremony for more examples.) My problem is I wish they would leave their biases at the door before voting. The same can be said about "Selma's" win for Original Song, and out of each song highlight in that category, "Glory" ran the longest and had the most thought-out choreography. That is one part of how it is easier to predict how the Academy will vote, but it also takes the fun out of the ceremony at the same time. I feel Michael Keaton REALLY deserved to win, much like Mickey Rourke in 2009, that was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for Keaton. But it got squandered because his movie came out the same year as an ALS movie. Seems unfair.

I also didn't find it surprising that J.K Simmons and Patricia Arquette won for supporting performances. I am glad they both won, but Patricia's speech rang a little odd to me.

The surprises
The live performance of "Everything is Awesome" was a shocking, bombastic ball of crazy. But you know what? I loved every possible moment of it. I love that the Academy allowed for a little craziness into the ceremony. I was also shell-shocked by the win for "Big Hero 6," and I beginning to wonder if Disney holds lots of sway (or any) with Oscar voters, they seem to be off and running each year in the Animated category, and two Disney-produced movies won in both Animated categories. My dog was sure happy that "Feast" won animated short though!

By and large, not a surprising ceremony last night for most categories. I hope next year they find somebody who is consistently funny as a host. Much of the last half of last night was flat to me and I hope the Academy can find someone who can keep the momentum going. But I will say this of Harris, at least he was not as bad as that Anne Hathaway/James Franco debacle a few years back...yeesh.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Essentials- "To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

The Essentials-#94
 
To Kill A Mockingbird
I remember the first time I saw "To Kill A Mockingbird," I was in fifth grade. It was for an enrichment program at my grade school, where we learning mock trials and mock debates. While we watched the entirety of the movie, we had to pay very close attention to the courtroom scenes near the end of the movie. I didn't have the love for all eras of cinema that I had at the time I saw this. I remember not being particularly excited to see it, but any day to watch a movie in class seemed like a good day. Then the movie started and I was positively lost in it. I had never felt what I was feeling due any movie of its kind in a long time. I felt my love for film reborn over the course of three or so class periods. I think it was this point when I started taking the history-wide, world-wide pantheon of film more seriously, and I am sure glad I did too.

I think I was affected by it because we view this world through the eyes of Scout (played by Mary Badham). The movie takes place during a time when children would play outside all day without much supervision, and they always got home safe. This takes place during a time when creepier neighbors only created striking urban legends and nothing more. The film's small town gives us a sense that everybody knows each other, and everybody knows each other's business. There is a simple sense of innocence with Scout, even as she is reacting to her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) or her father Atticus (the sensational Gregory Peck) and new friend Dill (John Megna). Through the movie I learned that sometimes, people grow up fast. "To Kill A Mockingbird" is definitely a story about losing innocence fast, about growing up at a rapid pace. Both Jem and Scout are exposed to racism very early in their lives, as well as the affects of poverty. It is a terrifying placement to put on children, and both Badham and Alford do great work bringing these young characters to life.

Atticus Finch is one of the greatest heroes ever created from popular culture and Gregory Peck does extraordinary work as the character. He is a loving father, but also a stern father. He allows his children to almost raise themselves, while also providing a helping hand when needed. When the children start asking the difficult questions of the movie, he always seems to know exactly what to say. We believe in everything Finch does and Peck is careful and confident to make sure we feel everything he does.

The courtroom scenes are some of the most gut-wrenching scenery of any movie from that time period. Full of classic scenes and classic dialogue. Its sad because as good as a lawyer Finch is, the game was fixed from the start. I learned that even when good people try, sometimes the outcome is bleak and dour. Sometimes the bad in this world still prevails. But in such a sad world, how do we adjust? How do we keep living happy lives and fighting the good fight? Through the strength of family, is what I felt this movie suggested and it is hopeful throughout all the darkness.

If by some reason you haven't had a chance to see this movie yet, or if you have read the book but still have not got around to seeing the movie. I hope you do soon.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

My 2015 Oscar Predictions

My 2015 Oscar Predictions
Tomorrow is Hollywood's biggest night, and I did everything I possibly could to prepare for it.

What I have now are my predictions for tomorrow. I have looked closely at every movie in each category, and I have made by best possible, educational guess of who will win what tomorrow night. I don't mean to sound conceited, but last year I guessed twenty correct winners out of twenty-four. Not too shabby if I say so myself. I don't know if it will be this year, but I am hoping to guess them all right one year.

The reason I feel that this year may not be my perfect prediction year is because 2014 was filled with great cinema. I feel if there is any year for a dramatic upset at the Oscars, it could be this year. I am hoping deeply that the stars are not fully aligned tomorrow night, and some of my most treasured experiences of last year get the big wins. I have always discussed how I like watching The Oscars, but I don't put much stock into The Oscars. This really isn't important to me, simply because I see right through it. The Academy is made up of a bunch of Hollywood people with their own opinions and their own agendas. It never seems like there is a neutral, unbiased person in the voting rooms for the Oscar winners, and if you watch enough of these ceremonies, you tend to find patterns. I am always curious to see who wins, so I can't help myself but watch. Plus, Neil Patrick Harris as the host should be good this year.

I base my predictions on my personal movie-going experience I had last year, as well as what some of the bigger film critics are saying. If there is a general consensus for a winner, it is usually spot-on, and most of the time, it is for good reason. But I don't want that to sound like I don't use my voice, because I do. These are definitely my predictions, and sometimes when a group of people are right, they are right.

Each category is listed below. I have labeled which nominee I think WILL WIN will be underlined. I have labeled which nominee I think SHOULD WIN in italics. If they double-dip, then they will be in both bold and italics. I will also list a darkhorse, a nominee which just upset the trends and take the win. We shall see how many darkhorses we have tomorrow night.

BEST PICTURE:
American Sniper
Birdman*
Boyhood*
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash
* I know I cheated putting two predictions here, but this is the tightest best picture race in years, and I just can't put my finger on who will win yet.

DARKHORSE: The Theory of Everything

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

DARKHORSE: Benedict Cumberbatch

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

DARKHORSE: Edward Norton

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

DARKHORSE: Reese Witherspoon

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into The Woods

DARKHORSE: Laura Dern

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

DARKHORSE: Big Hero 6

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
Unbroken

DARKHORSE: Unbroken

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into The Woods
Maleficent
Mr. Turner

DARKHORSE: Inherent Vice

BEST DIRECTING
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

DARKHORSE: Wes Anderson

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Citizenfour
Finding Vivan Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga

DARKHORSE: Last Days in Vietnam

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1*
Joanna
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth
*I have never seen nor do I even know how to get ahold of short films nominated for any awards. This prediction is based solely on what everyone else said.

BEST FILM EDITING
American Sniper
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Whiplash

DARKHORSE: Whiplash, American Sniper

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Ida, Poland
Leviathan, Russia
Tangerines, Estonia
Timbuktu, Mauritania
Wild Tales, Argentina

DARKHORSE: Wild Tales

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

DARKHORSE: Foxcatcher, (I wish I could say Guardians of the Galaxy has a chance)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

DARKHORSE: The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Everything is Awesome," The LEGO Movie
"Glory," Selma
"Grateful," Beyond The Limits
"I'm Not Going To Miss You," Glen Campbell...I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars" Begin Again

DARKHORSE: Should I put "Everything is Awesome" here?

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Into The Woods
Mr. Turner

DARKHORSE: Mr. Turner

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Feast
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Aya
Boogalo and Graham
Butter Lamp
Parvaneh
The Phone Call

BEST SOUND EDITING
American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

DARKHORSE: Unbroken

BEST SOUND MIXING
American Sniper
Birdman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash

DARKHORSE: American Sniper

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past

DARKHORSE: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

DARKHORSE: The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler

DARKHORSE: Birdman and Boyhood


Those are my predictions and I am sticking to them. What are your predictions? Let me know in the comment section below.


2014 Awards Circuit: Wild Review

2014 Awards Circuit: Wild Review
The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
 
I think as human beings, we push ourselves. We try to discover our best possible potential. That seems to be different for everybody. We have different goals, different fears, different lives with different upbringings. Sometimes there is some kind of event that opens an entire world for us, and we are able to do things we never knew we could. I never thought I'd ever write a personal blog, it was an idea that never entered my mind for all the years I have loved movies. I always loved to write, and I always loved movies, but both ideas never clashed. Then when Roger Ebert died, something awoke inside me, some kind of calling that now was the time to get serious about letting my voice be heard, no matter how small a group listens back. If this blog was only for two people, then I would have felt satisfied.

Cheryl Strayed was a woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, which spans from Mexico to Canada in 1995. She decides to do this for several reasons. The death of her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern) had a long-lasting effect on her. An effect that snowballed into her unsuccessful marriage to Paul (Thomas Sadoski). The terrible divorce then snowballed further into a wasteland of drugs and sex. She needed that outlet, that light at the end of the tunnel, some kind of dramatic salvation. She found it hiking through some of the last untouched land in all of the America's. What follows is an extraordinary tale of finding your potential.

The film is told through an unchronological format. We begin the film watching Reese Witherspoon pull out one of her toenails, apparently after some rather nasty hiking, and that leads us right to the beginning of the hike for Reese's character Cheryl. She seems a little wary of the trip, but deep down she knows she needs it. What was most interesting about the movie was its somewhat dreamlike quality. We experience Cheryl's memories through drifting moments and quick cuts. Do you guys experience memories as quick reminders of your past? I felt "Wild" really captured that. I was also interested how the movie played with expectations. There are several moments when Cheryl relies on hitchhiking and the help of strangers to make it through her hike. Right when you think something is going to happen to Cheryl, it turns out being okay. I thought that was interesting.

Do I think Reese Witherspoon deserved the Oscar nomination? Umm, yeah, I guess, kind of. What shocked me the most about "Wild" is how plastic and ordinary Witherspoon's work was in the film. There are never moments that were particularly exciting, and I am not sure she ever really came into her own. After seeing several actresses de-glamorize themselves, seeing them take on hard, difficult work, I was amazed how much Reese Witherspoon looked like herself here. She is suppose to be playing someone unafraid of getting hurt and she looks like she doesn't like to get hurt the whole film. Witherspoon's work isn't bad, its just not what I expected and bit on the disappointing side.

The movie really finds its second life through the work of Laura Dern. Her work as Cheryl's mother is what really carries the emotional weight of the movie. I have a feeling that if Laura Dern played Cheryl Strayed, it would have been a much more beneficial experience. She sells every bit of her backstory, she makes sure we feel every bit of her emotions and she really becomes her character. I have liked Laura Dern's work in the past, but she is still very good at what she does and she cements herself as one of the most talented actresses of her generation.

I have also been a long-time fan of the band Everclear. So I got a little grin when I saw that the lead singer, Art Alexakis shows up in a small cameo here. Good stuff.

There is lots to like about "Wild," but I feel it could have easily benefitted from a better picked lead. I think Witherspoon proved here that she is ready to become a titillating, important, relevant actress, but she might be a little too girly to take on roles like this. None of the emotions she was set to play came through for me, and it seemed the rest of the movie felt right on the money. If she shocks the Dolby theater tomorrow with a win, I will be shocked.

FINAL GRADE: B-


2014 Awards Circuit: Into The Woods Review

2014 Awards Circuit: Into The Woods Review
The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.

Before I begin, let me make one thing clear. I like musicals; I sang in the high school choir and before that I would partake in acting camps in grade school. I even auditioned for a musical when I was in grade school, but missed the cut. I have always had an appreciation for this stuff, and I liked some musical movies. I think “Rent” is good, not great. I love “Moulin Rouge!” and “Chicago” and “Sweeney Todd.” If Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt ever decide to make that “Guys and Dolls” movie that has been heavily rumored, I’d be there opening weekend. So before I before I say what I say, I hope you understand that my opinion is not from a biased or uncultured point of view. I approached this movie as I approach every movie, and I take pride in watching anything and giving everything a try.

I walked into “Into The Woods” ready to hate it. I knew it was based on a musical from 1987, but the idea of another “fairy tale characters interacting together” seemed more monetary then creative. I have had it with Meryl Streep and I didn’t think I needed another example of Johnny Depp’s one-trick pony of charisma. I didn’t know if there was going to be anything that would salvage the film for me. But I felt I needed to catch up with it to see how Meryl Streep’s performance measured up with the other Oscar nominees.

I was surprised how quickly I was taken into the movie. I was amazed the music drew me into the story. I was immediately drawn into The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) and how they can’t have a child because of a curse brought on by a Witch (Meryl Streep) because the Baker’s father stole from the Witch before the Baker was born. The Witch decides to allow The Baker a chance at redemption if he can retrieve five items for a The Witch. This brings the Baker into contact with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy). Like I said, I drawn into more than I thought. I think Corden and Blunt do very good work, and they bring an unlicensed life to their roles. I also think Anna Kendrick does extraordinary work as Cinderella. I was surprised to learn that Anna Kendrick came from Broadway background before making it as an actress, no wonder she sang so well in “Pitch Perfect.” Kendrick makes the most of every moment of her screen time. I think taken as a whole, this core cast here is the reason why the movie isn’t boring or tedium and quite frankly, saves the film.

I was once again amazed by the work done by Chris Pine. In this movie, he plays the Prince who will eventually marry Cinderella. I think 2014 was a pivotal year for Pine and I think he is showing a side of himself that we have never seen before. Pine kind of reminds me of Ryan Gosling in some weird ways. He has the look and talent of a movie star, but there is a hunger and a passion that I feel we don’t get from most of them. I’d love to see Pine indulge in more experimental craft, just to see what would come of it.

While I don’t think “Into The Woods” is a failure, I am not sure if director Rob Marshall was the guy for the job. There is a claustrophobic feeling to every seen in the movie and it’s hard to not ignore that the entire film feels like it was shot on a soundstage. I understand that “Into The Woods” came from musical roots and perhaps the stage aspect may seem normal to a director. But I felt that “Sweeney Todd,” “Moulin Rouge!” and even “Rent” felt more epic in visual effects and set design. To me, I felt “Into The Woods” looked and felt cheap. I never thought the costumes were the extravagant, feeling as if they came from a community theater back lot. Once again, this is the movie, so I guess I expected more from a Hollywood production. I really felt that there was a crowded quality to the movie and it personally rubbed me wrong.

I think Meryl Streep was fine as The Witch, but like much of her recent work, it wasn’t something to be nominated for. I wish someone would explain to me why the Academy continues to nominate her year after year. I definitely feel there were vastly superior performances by women in supporting roles that were much worthier for nomination over Streep. It is not a bad performance, and its not Streep being Streep, its just not something I’d nominate for Oscars. Johnny Depp is typical Johnny Depp as The Big Bad Wolf, but playing opposite of Lilla Crawford, he comes off more as a creep than a big, bad wolf. There is a song early in the movie when Red Riding Hood has her first encounter with The Wolf and the song he sings seems weird being sung to a girl so young. Sure, the Wolf is fantasizing about eating her, but there is a sensual mood to the way Depp sings the song and how the music plays, and it comes off very creepy. Other than that, this is just another listless Depp performance.

I feel “Into The Woods” would have been much better in the hands of another director. I think a different director could have made this feel more like a movie than a convoluted stage play. I think a different director could have made this movie feel more epic and given the film a visual inspiration that Marshall could not. The film is filled with great songs, great performances and great moments, but they don’t add up, not quite. I think even a different director could have helped Depp and Streep out more. The movie isn’t a total mess, which is an achievement in my eyes.

FINAL GRADE: B-

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Starry Eyes" (2014)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #94
 
Starry Eyes
After twenty or so years of being a movie fan, and loving every genre equally. I have found that no filmmaker creeps me out the most than David Lynch. I have discussed his movies on this blog in the past, plenty of times. I am sure I will in the future as well. He's a guy that doesn't play the hype game, and the way he avoids is just as creepy as the films themselves. He is not about getting you with a boo scare, and intentionally tries to scar you for life, which has made his movies so horrifying.
 
"Starry Eyes" plays like 1980's style David Lynch movie. A "Exorcist" style film, right down to its font and opening credit stylization, for the psychological horror fan. It is a movie that also seems to have a lot on its mind. It is a movie that digs deep into the world of fantasy, and digs even deeper into the reasons why we put so much anxiety on ourselves for the need of success. This movie also made me think of "Black Swan" which came out back in 2010. I am not sure that whether or not you can put so much anxiety on yourself that you begin to hallucinate, but that does not really matter to me, that is a movie that gets under my skin every time. "Starry Eyes" plays with the same ideas of wanting to be successful, about chasing down your dreams, and the harsh stress that can put on an individual.
 
Alexandra Essoe plays Sarah, a twenty-something woman who is aspiring to be an actress. She goes on an audition every now and again, but mostly works at her fast food job and spends time wasting away with her friends who also want to get famous. A big audition comes up and she is so nervous that she doesn't think it goes well. She goes to the bathroom afterward and has the most disturbing breakdown when she is interrupted by one of the casting directors. Seems the casting director liked her little bathroom tantrum and wanted her to go back to the audition room for more time. Sarah gets called back for a second audition, where she is told to undress, while hesitant she agrees. Eventually the audience comes to realize that this isn't an audition at all, but something much more similar.
 
The film kind of plays like a mixture between David Lynch's "Inland Empire," "Black Swan," "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Fly." It reminds me of "Inland Empire" because the movie plunges us in a darker side of Los Angeles, and shows a much sinister side of the making of movies. It reminds me of "Black Swan" because the movie re-enforces the idea of how the desire for success can cripple us and turn us into people we don't recognize when we look in the mirror. It reminds me of "Rosemary's Baby" because all of the horror aspects of the movie are surreal, disorienting and it all revolves around this freaky, demonic cult. It finally reminds me of "The Fly" because Essoe's Sarah deteriorates severely throughout the running time and its amazing that Essoe was game to do the things she does in this movie. Its remarkable how one actress can go from shockingly good-looking to shockingly terrifying within an hour and thirty-five minutes. What's worse is that Essoe is so talented that we feel every bit of her deterioration and it is quite frightening.
 
"Starry Eyes" is a movie that plays up its mood and atmosphere. Some parts may not make the most logical sense, but sometimes, the best horror films work because they trigger something primal inside all of us, not because of their mesmerizing logic. I can tell you that Maria Olsen (who plays the casting director) and Louis Dezersan (the "producer" of the movie Sarah is auditioning for) were cast simply because of how creepy they look. The film never once tries to shake you with the classic "boo" scare. Everything about this movie is trying to affect your emotions, your feelings and your humanity. There is no easy road in this movie, which is why its so scary.
 
Definitely check this one out horror fans, you surely won't regret it.
 



Who Played It Best? Robert Neville

WHO PLAYED IT BEST? ROBERT NEVILLE
 
A few weeks ago, we talked about this one. I also discussed the very long road it took to get the most recent version of "I Am Legend" to the big screen. "I Am Legend" is regarded by me for many reasons. First and foremost, Richard Matheson was the author who inspired Stephen King, MY favorite author. So anybody who helped get King's voice out there is an ace in my book. Second, even though this is a vampire movie (and even though some of the movies do not emphasize on this), "I Am Legend" gave birth to the modern zombie genre. Surviving in an apocalyptic world filled with monsters was a vastly unheard of idea until Matheson put pen to paper in the 1950's. I am not sure what the zombie landscape of storytelling would look like today if it wasn't for the work by Matheson. The book has been so popular that it got remade not once, not twice but three times. Vincent Price, the lord of horror films in the 1960's was the first to play Robert Neville (lead character) in "The Last Man On Earth" in 1964. He was followed by Charlton Heston in 1971 in "The Omega Man." Then in 2007, Will Smith played the part. My question tonight is who played it best?

My Two Cents
All three of these movies are interesting because the main focus of all of them is one actor. All three films did a very good job of adapting the idea of one person alone in the entire world and each performance by each of these wonderful actors is what drives the movies. I am no fan of Will Smith, mainly because of how arrogant he is in so many of his performances. I feel his ego spills into his movies and it makes it difficult to focus on anything else. With that being said, I believe Will Smith did the finest job for this particular character. He was able to ground his performance better because he did not have other actors to bounce off of (for the most part.) I feel like this also helped him emotionally to push the movie forward. As much as I am a Vincent Price fan, Price always had a knack for being the villains in these types of movies. I mean that voice alone makes it hard to believe that he is a hero trying to survive in a world gone mad. And Heston? Well, he does what he can with the role, but I felt "The Omega Man" was so over-acted and so over-the-top that it was hard to focus on much at all. For me, the competition dissolves down to Will Smith and Vincent Price, and while both actors do extraordinary work, I will give the edge to Smith.

Agree? Disagree? Fire off in the comment section or email me your votes. My email address is bloggershawn@gmail.com. You will have until next Wednesday to vote.

LAST WEEK: WHO PLAYED IT BEST? LISBETH SALANDER
Last week a foreign film went up against a domestic film. The results for Lisbeth Salander from "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" are in and here is how the vote shook out.
Noomi Rapace wins. It seems the foreign market can't be beat!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2014 Awards Circuit: Virunga Review

2014 Awards Circuit: Virunga Review
The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
 
It is really sad that Africa is such a turbulent place, because it is breaming with beauty.
 
"Virunga" is documentary that explores the intense world of Congo. As the film opens we briefly touch up on the somber history of the country before delving into its current situation. The country of Congo is in the transition of a political and economic shift when the documentary opens. There is a rebellion led by a group called M23 that wants to overthrow the old government. In the midst of this chaos there is a sanctuary called Virunga National Park. Within the confines of this park, live the last group of mountain gorillas in the Congo. The personnel of this park are dedicated to protecting these remaining mountain gorillas from all threats, whether they are poachers or the rebels or huge companies trying to capitalize on the possible oil hidden under the terrain of the park.
 
The documentary explores the stories of four different people. First, we learn about the gorilla carer Andre Bauma, who exhibits great knowledge of the gorillas and reminds us why it is so precious to protect them. We also meet head park ranger Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo and watch how difficult protecting a park can be. We meet chief warden of Virunga Emmanuel de Moerode who also protects the park. Finally, we also meet French journalist Melaine Gouby as she dives into the politics of the civil war raging in Congo and why the possible oil is so important and who exactly it is important to. We learn that there maybe some sort of alliance between M23 and SOCO a major company interested in the oil and which complicates matters for the national park. Not only does this park guarantee the safety of the last remaining mountain gorillas, the revenue of tourism helps the economy of the country. Which is why the park is sacred to the rangers and personnel working at the national park.
 
The works as a somewhat thrilling look into the bitter economics and politics of a country under siege of rebellion and social change. The rivalries that Gouby uncovers would have made the film nominated for Best Documentary all by itself, and it is quite riveting how things in the movie shake out. I also loved how easy it was sympathize with the gorilla personnel and rangers who are so desperately trying to protect life there. There is also a rich beauty to how director Orlando von Einsiedel captures the beauty of the country itself, the cinematography lush and the imagery surreal.
 
Overall, "Virunga" is a visually and emotionally stunning journey. It is vastly engaging on a variety of levels. There are tender moments as well as moments of great tension. There is scene near the end of the movie, lasting a good ten minutes, when the M23 rebels get very close to closing in on the national park and the  way the scene is shot and edited is breath-taking. The year 2014 was a solid year for documentaries and it will be interesting to see how this one does in the race on Sunday.
 
FINAL GRADE: A 


TV REVIEW "Agent Carter (Episode 6, Season 1)

TV REVIEW
 
 
AGENT CARTER
 
EPISODE 6, SEASON 1- "SNAFU"
Tonight's episode was kind of so-so in my book. It featured some great performances once again from the cast. The story itself is starting to get interesting and the biggest shocker for me was the death of Chief Dooley. Shea Whigham is one of the most underrated actors of his generation, and he has always been one of the grandest highlights of this show. Whigham has always believed in everything he does and he has brought unrelenting and inspiring charm to the character of Chief Dooley. On tonight's episode, Leviathan has begun to execute their plans. Dr. Ivchenko (Ralph Brown) stole a certain weapon invented by Howard Stark. Leviathan retrieves the weapon and detonates it in the middle of a movie theater auditorium.

After the events of last week, I figured Peggy Carter, played gracefully by Hayley Atwell, would be under the ringer for parts of the episode. The SSR believes her to be a traitor, and rightfully so, they do not understand what has been going on and who the real enemy is in their midst's. The thing I didn't expect was for the interrogations and "I don't believe you's" to last nearly the entire episode. In the grand scheme of things, this was a pretty boring episode. Despite the big shock moment at the end, nothing much else happened. I took nearly the entire episode for Carter's co-workers to believe that she is telling the truth. Then we only got a few minutes of real action and tension. Sure, there were a couple of funny moments between Peggy and Edwin Jarvis. I have liked D'Arcy's work as Jarvis all season long, and he certainly contains good energy between cast members. I also liked that we learned a little bit more about Dr. Ivchenko, even though it was not too much. Still, to my knowledge, he is not based off of anyone in the comic books. Despite some interesting scenes, there was not much to tonight's episode.

I also had a little bit of a problem with the weapon Leviathan stole in tonight's episode. If you had a chance to see "Kingsman: The Secret Service" this weekend, you may agree with me to a degree. Samuel L. Jackson's big weapon in that movie is drive people nuts to the point that they kill each other. The gas Leviathan steals from SSR is some kind of gas that apparently drives people nuts to the point that they kill each other. This arrives a little odd since the airing of this episode coincides with the release of that movie. I couldn't help but spot these similarities and find them so weird.

Overall, I am expecting big things for the season finale next week. All the pieces are set and now I hope we get a good finish to this first series. It has been rocky, but that doesn't mean it can't close out in style.

What did everyone else think?
 


Monday, February 16, 2015

2014 Awards Circuit: Citizenfour Review

2014 Awards Circuit: Citizenfour Review
The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
 
After 9/11 the world changed.
 
There is no sense in even arguing that.
 
The world seemed to shift, and it seemed our country lost a bit of its innocence. For the first time I could remember in my life, my country was headed to war. I was in 6th grade, and I was sitting in Social Studies class. I think it was at that point that I knew that I wanted to be a historical educator, which is what I studied in college. But for the first time in awhile, somebody struck American soil, something that is deemed forbidden by us, something that never happens to us. What was bizarre about post-9/11 and what still gives the War on Terror debate a slippery slope is the enemy. The War on Terror is like WWII, where it was clear that Nazi Germany was the enemy. The terrorists are country-less, unknown, hard to find, which has made this war a challenge.
 
Soon after 9/11, our government passes The PATRIOT Act, which partially gives our government agencies more freedom to find terrorists worldwide. That means tapping into cell phones, the internet and other means of digital media and communication. Some believe it to be important towards the fight against terrorism, others believe we as a country gave up some of our freedom for more security. No matter which part of the political spectrum you fall under, I think its safe to say that both the right and the left have used and possibly benefitted from The PATRIOT Act. The thing is, is this act really the right course to take in the future, especially when we are spying on our own citizens? Or are we really spying on our own citizens? I can't name how many times I have called a business and been told that my call could be recorded. In a world where anybody could be an enemy of the state, can we really be too careful?
 
This is kind of what "Citizenfour" is about, examining counter-surveillance of our nation and trying to find out if we are loosing civil liberties because of it. Documentarian Laura Poitras has been investigating our country's work since that fateful day in September 2001, and she eventually came across an e-mail written by the mysterious Citizenfour, saying they had very valuable information regarding our country's counter-surveillance. They agree to meet in Hong Kong to discuss this issue, and it is revealed that Citizenfour is Edward Snowden. Snowden was a computer professional who worked for the CIA, and he leaked classified information from the NSA to the mainstream media in 2013.
 
This documentary is about that leakage. The documentarians spend a week in Hong Kong with Snowden. Snowden discusses what he has found, why he chose to come forward with what he found and the fallout of leaking such information. No matter how I have described the events of this movie, it isn't something that is trying to sell you an agenda. I know it seems unbelievable, but it is the truth. This is a movie where we literally get to see history unfold, that barely happens. Even in the richest of documentaries do we actually get the opportunity to watch history unfold.
 
No matter how you vote every few years, I think you will find "Citizenfour" to be quite the eye-opener. I believe in the mission of our country to find the terrorists responsible for 9/11 and prevent another catastrophe in the future. At the same time, I have always been a very private person. The government being able to tap into my life without my permission bothers me. Sometimes I wonder about what our founding fathers would think of some of our decision making if they had the opportunity to travel through time. I am very laissez-faire when it comes to government, I don't think we should give them an over-abundance of power, and if "Citizenfour" is any indicator, there could a lot going on that they are not telling us, and lots of spying on all of us that we are unaware of.
 
I think whether or not you believe in this or not, I think "Citizenfour" is thought-provoking and quite thrilling for a documentary. I think it stands a pretty decent chance of winning Best Documentary on Sunday. I usually never get political on this blog, and I apologize for doing so tonight, I just love being pulverized by a film. "Citizenfour" will definitely have you thinking about it afterward, and I think that was the point all along.
 
 
FINAL GRADE: A

Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

Kingsman: The Secret Service Review
Does the name Mark Millar ring any bells? If not, it probably should and probably will within a year or two, or sooner than that based on what you read. Mark Millar is one of the finest writers in modern comics, deconstructing the industry while also putting a unique skill to the worlds of Marvel and DC. Millar’s work usually consists of an individual, prone to amorality; finding out the world isn’t what he thought it was. Millar wrote the comic version of “Wanted,” which was not at all what the movie turned out to be. All the Weavers of Fate nonsense was not in the comic book, and what Millar did was much more fun. Millar wrote the comic version of “Kick-Ass” which turned into a good movie, if you ask me. Now, another screened adaptation of one of his works hit theaters this weekend, “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”
Director Matthew Vaughn must be a mighty Millar fan, because he has adapted two of his graphic novels to the screen. Vaughn directed the first “Kick-Ass” movie, which was the best so far. Then in 2011, Vaughn proved he had a flair for other mainstream comics characters as he breathed a new life in the “X-Men” franchise with “X-Men: First Class.” This year, Vaughn proved he is a voice to be reckoned with in the business of comic book adapting, as he brought “Kingsman: The Secret Service” to life, with a bang and thunder.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” feels like a Millar comic. It features slight popular culture references. It is full of fun and bombast. There are moments of shocking violence and just as many moments of shocking comedy. I cannot stress the shock of the violence enough, in the “Kick-Ass,” “Wanted” and even “Wolverine: Old Man Logan” comics, the violence was so over-the-top, you could not help but get sucked into the story. At the same time, Millar was always good creating empathy for his characters, no matter how amoral they were and he always put together an engaging story. Just as with “Kick-Ass,” Matthew Vaughn seems to understand the essence of the comics, while also putting a unique signature of his own on the material. He also picks a strong cast of actors to bring this story to life.
The film follows Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a British boy who is growing up in a somewhat broken home. His mother is seeing a man who doesn’t treat her well after his biological father mysteriously died when Eggsy was young. He still has a flare for life, even if he does get in trouble with the law. After a night of grand theft auto, Eggsy is abruptly released from prison by “Galahad” (Colin Firth), a man who knew Eggsy’s father and who works for an independent espionage agency known as The Kingsman. Galahad feels bad for how Eggsy’s father died, and he wishes to help the boy create a better life for himself. So he recruits him to the training program for The Kingsman. There, Eggsy meets Arthur (Michael Caine), Merlin (Mark Strong) and is on his way to a better life, if he can pass the program.
Taron Egerton is quite the discovery here, and whatever you think makes the film work for you, Egerton is definitely part of that equation. I have not seen any other movies with Egerton nor have I heard of him until now, but I can say that after this, he will start showing up in several movies starting now. He will be the go-to guy starting now, just as Mark Strong was several years before. There is irreplaceable about his talent, it feels as if he has been doing this his whole life. I can’t imagine another actor his age you could possibly match him. When he’s onscreen, it’s hard to focus on anything else. He has a charm and determination onscreen that I feel is matchless compared to anyone else his age. Forget Logan Lerman, forget Dylan O’Brien, I want Egerton to play Spider-Man for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I never would have guessed that Colin Firth would be so badass; he always carried a dramatic presence in all of his other filmography. He never rugged himself up, he was always that nice guy. Here, he still has that gentlemen charm, but with a slight malice to it. This is a secret agent who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and we feel every emotion Firth presents to the audience. Mark Strong and Michael Caine are perfection as always. What I loved most about the movie is how it played with the expectations of the spy genre while also twisting them as well. There is a twist involving Caine’s character that I just did not see coming based on the characters he usually plays and that reversal was one of the highlights of the film.
Then there is Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Mr. Valentine, the film’s villain. Who is Mr. Valentine? Well, he’s basically a lisp-voiced, African American Ra’s al-Ghul. A philanthropist who has a secret plot that challenges the world. Samuel L. Jackson could play this role in his sleep and its funny to me how much more talented he’s become as he has got older. I love that his villain isn’t the cut-and-dry baddie we usually get in these movies. He has a plot we can relate to, but he goes about it in a bad way.
And of course, what would a spy movie be without any lovely ladies. Sofia Boutella as Gazelle, Valentine’s henchman who is a beautiful as she is deadly. She does not have a lot of dialogue in the movie, but she’s the Big Bad’s Big bad. That one henchman that takes our hero longest to defeat. Sophie Cookson plays Roxy, a girl who is also recruited to the Kingsman and trains alongside Eggsy. In the movie Roxy and Eggsy become close, but it’s never a romantic relationship, which I liked a lot about the film. I think Cookson is a very good actress, and she does really good work here.
I love how the film plays with the conventions of the spy movie, there are crazy gadgets in the movie that would make James Bond jealous. There is henchman for Mr. Valentine who has swords for feet and a secret underground lair that is cool and modern. But this is not some parody of those movies; “Kingsman” becomes its own thing. The movie doesn’t illuminate the “bad-boy-discovers-his-potential” movie in any new way. But the film is so confident, so fun and so entertaining that it is hard not to be won over by it.
 
FINAL GRADE: A