Monday, October 28, 2013

The Movie Guru's Top 50 films- #50-41

In a brand new, end of the month feature on The Movie Guru's Blog, I'll be talking about some of my favorite films of all time. That's right: my temporarily definitive list will now be released (I know that the phrase "temporarily definitive" is a contradiction; just go with it). The list is an mixture of classics and new films and contains a wide variety of genres such as action films, animated movies, crime noirs, and even some romance films. Here are my top 50 films of all time, starting with #50.


The superhero extravaganza that we were all waiting for, this 2012 film was an absolute blast of fun from Marvel. It had action, comedy, suspense, drama; The Avengers was practically everything you could wish for in a fun summer blockbuster. The action scenes were big, the characters were witty, and the visual effects were top notch. Although I've had the problem of watching this film too many times, The Avengers will always remain a classic of action cinema. The ultimate superhero film. 


Humphrey Bogart is a flat out fantastic actor and this film contains what is his best performances, but not necessarily his best film. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre takes Bogart's traditional character and twists him into something even more frightening. For a film from the 1940's, this is intense stuff as Bogart and his band of treasure seekers face off against several threats, even themselves at some point. Like I said, this is Bogart's show and he leads it and all the scenes in it. It works as an entertaining action piece in this day and age, and it's a great, almost archetypal film that set up a lot of different stories in future years. A true Hollywood classic. 


The single greatest film trilogy of all time begins with a film that is grossly underrated. People get swept up in the epic scope of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, when this 2005 origin story from director Christopher Nolan is almost as good. This film establishes all of the elements for the success of The Dark Knight and it's sequel. The fantastic performance by Christian Bale, the dark tone, the origin of the Batcave and the Tumbler; it's all set up here. People call this film's plot silly at times, but it's far from it. This is a dark and gritty superhero film that plays out like a real Batman comic would. It's an excellent superhero gangster drama and it sets up all the right elements for the superior achievements of Nolan's sequels. Plus, this film establishes themes that come right back around in the sequels. What's not to love about that?


The World's End only came out this year, but it is an instant classic of mine. This is just a flat out great movie filled with humor and containing a unique blend of sci-fi, horror and comedy. But mostly comedy. Once I see this thing a few more times, I'm going to be quoting it like crazy. Simon Pegg is terrific, Nick Frost is terrific, but Edgar Wright, the director, really steals the show. His direction is flat out great, and I will surely campaign him for some awards attention at the end of the year. This is a great movie and one that I will cherish for years to come. 


It's really hard to pick one of these films over the other, so I'll just throw them all together into one film. Honestly, the Austin Powers films work as a whole. They're short enough that you could marathon all three and not be tired afterward. Anyways, Austin Powers will always remain a personal favorite of mine simply because it is ingenious comedy. The jokes are almost always sexual and inappropriate, but that's part of the charm. It's just flat out hilarious, constantly. In addition, you will get much more out of these films if you watch the Bond series as well. They work as companion pieces at times. Austin Powers may seem like low-brow humor to some, but it's the best lowbrow humor ever done, and it's a great spoof. I'm still holding out for a fourth one.  

#45- RUSH

Talk about an instant classic. I practically just saw this movie a month ago and I already know that it is going to be on my list for a while. Rush is a practically flawless film and it is a great one because it's so dynamic. Rush works as a classic, entertaining drama. Rush works as a sports movie. Rush even works as an action movie. It is full of rich period details and it is also full of great performances. Rush is incredibly fast paced, exceptionally directed and an overall fantastic film led by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl. Rush is one of the unforgettable cinematic experiences of 2013 and one that should be experienced by everyone. 


Another trilogy makes my list and it's another three films where you simply cannot pick one over the other. The Lord of the Rings is a film series that I resisted for the longest of times. I never really had any interest in it. And now, I'm putting it on my list of all time favorite films. The Lord of the Rings are simply great pieces of filmmaking from Peter Jackson. They have interesting characters, there are epic battles and there is a feeling of size and scope that few other films can attain, along with a great sense of adventure. The Lord of the Rings are true action classics. 


One of Billy Wilder's best movies is his 1944 film noir Double Indemnity. It would be his best, if not for a little Hollywood drama starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson. Anyways, Double Indemnity proves that Wilder was a masterclass director. He simply knew how to make a great movie. This film stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as two people who conspire to commit murder and the after-effects of that. Double Indemnity is pure noir and the ultimate example of the genre in Hollywood. This film is so artfully crafted, with two fantastic performances and a great, dialogue-driven plot, that you have to be crazy not to love it. 


Proof that good action movies can be made without excessive CGI, MI4 broke the mold in 2011 and showed audiences what an old school action flick looked and felt like. This is a great film, a diamond in the rough of the Mission Impossible series. Tom Cruise is great in the lead role, Simon Pegg provides great comic relief and the settings are stunning. Plus, the action always delivers. MI4 is proof that A) good action movies can still be made without CGI and B) Bad Robot is the best production studio around. Pure action film goodness. 


I haven't seen James Dean's other films, but based on how much I love this one, I probably should. For me, the 50's have little to offer in terms of great cinema beyond a few gems. Rebel without a Cause is one of them. The film is almost my bible when it comes to high school and growing up and life. Maybe that's why high school has felt so weird to me. I don't know, but this movie is fantastic. It's a true tragedy that Dean was taken so young because his performance in this film is stellar. The film is built around tough choices and hard subject matter, but it has this 1950's charm to it that makes you fall in love with it. It's a well-oiled, thoughtful teen drama and I always love every second of it. Hollywood at its finest. 

All right everybody that's it for #'s 50-41, but come back tomorrow for 40-31. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

"Jack Ryan" moved back to January, "Monuments Men" to open in February, "Robocop" to February 12, "American Hustle" to December 18

After the massive news the other day confirming that Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street would be ready in time for Christmas day and the shocking news that The Monuments Men would not be hitting theaters this year, we're finally seeing the fallout. The most unsurprising of the news is that of Paramount's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The spy film, originally slated for Christmas Day had been a part of The Wolf of Wall Street shift from the very beginning. Now, it will officially open in IMAX on January 17. Not exactly Christmas Day, but various news outlets have been spinning it as good news, as the film will face little competition and Martin Luther King Jr. Day is that weekend. However, it still looks like a disappointment for the spy drama franchise starter. The film stars Chris Pine as the titular spy along with Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Costner, and Keira Knightley, with the former directing. Now it seems that the film might not be as good as we had hoped.

In addition, after being indefinitely delayed earlier this week, George Clooney's The Monuments Men, has officially been dated for February 7, 2014. Although I wish that the film was in a premiere spot (maybe March), it has very little competition. It currently faces The Lego Movie on the weekend of February 7 which is followed by Robocop on February 12 (more on that in a minute) and About Last Night, Endless Love, Three Days to Kill, Vampire Academy and Winter's Tale. It's the only adult entertainment of the month, but it is far from being on its own.

Also, there were a few slight changes to the release date calender as a result of The Monuments Men move. American Hustle, the new period piece from David O. Russell was previously set for a wide release on Christmas Day after a limited run on December 13. Now, the film will move its wide release up to December 18. This is a very smart move by Columbia, which will certainly attempt an Oscar campaign for this film. It gives the 1970's political dramedy some time to build word of mouth and Oscar buzz. Also, as a result of The Monuments Men being dated for February 7, Robocop has moved back to February 12. That's also a smart move, but I think Robocop is pretty safe wherever it's at.

For all of these films, with the exception of Jack Ryan, I believe that moving dates is the right way to go. Let's hope that they all turn out good.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"The Wolf of Wall Street" secures Christmas Day release, "Monuments Men" moves to 2014

Yesterday came two bombshells of casting news. The first, while not necessarily surprising, was a move that caused some ripples. Paramount officially confirmed that Martin Scorsese's new film, The Wolf of Wall Street, will open on Christmas Day. The film, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey, was originally slated for November 15. However, after Paramount execs watched the film, they realized that the 3 hour cut submitted by Scorsese was both too long, and too racy with material qualifying for an NC-17. The studio weighed its options, and have made Scorsese cut the film slightly. Now, it will open on Christmas Day, where it faces competition from films such as American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, Grudge Match, 47 Ronin, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and previously released films such as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

Previously, The Wolf of Wall Street faced even stronger competition. Up until last night, George Clooney's WWII caper, The Monuments Men was scheduled for release on December 18. Last night though, the story broke that the film would not make its scheduled date and was being delayed until the first quarter of 2014. That was quite the bombshell, as the film was expected to be a major Oscar player. However, Clooney says that the film was never intended as one, and that many options were weighed before the studio and him settled on the "Shutter Island" date as he calls it. For those who don't know, Shutter Island was originally slated for 2009, before Paramount delayed it until 2010, eliminating its Oscar chances. However, Shutter Island was a massive financial success. Clooney says in a Deadline article that he hopes the film will share some of the same success. He also notes that the film was considered for a November release, but the visual effects and score were not complete.

With The Monuments Men off the table, both the Oscar race and holiday season have one less competitor. However, I believe that it's worth mentioning the lack of prestige films in November. Here's the current release schedule for November: 

Ender's Game- November 1
Last Vegas- November 1
Free Birds- November 1
12 Years A Slave (expansion)- November 1
Dallas Buyers Club (limited)- November 1
About Time- November 8
Thor: The Dark World- November 8
The Book Thief (limited)- November 8
Nebraska (limited)- November 15
The Best Man Holiday- November 15
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire- November 22
Delivery Man- November 22
Frozen- November 27
Homefront- November 27
Black Nativity- November 27
OldBoy- November 27
Philomena- November 29
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (limited)- November 29

That's a lot of films, but several are either limited or blockbusters. The only Oscar pics really going wide in November are 12 Years A Slave and Philomena. Maybe with the lack of adult competition, someone will choose to go wider (The Book Thief or Nebraska). But for now, November, the premier month of Oscar prestige, is desolate from anything but big blockbusters. Now, we're just waiting for the next move. Could Jack Ryan move to November? What about Anchorman? Grudge Match? Who knows? We'll find out soon.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Gravity" has record hold, "Captain Phillips" is extremely strong, "Machete Kills" flops at weekend box office

The Fall movie season is off to a heck of a start from a critic's perspective. We had Rush (a fantastic film and the most severely underrated of the year), Gravity, and now Captain Phillips, three weeks consecutively and that made me very happy. All three are great or very good and I certainly intend on catching Gravity again in theaters. While critic's have been awarded finally after sitting through some truly terrible movies earlier this year, general audiences are also being awarded. Besides Rush (which has flopped stateside), audiences have embraced the adult fare that is finally being released. Nothing displays that better than Gravity. The spectacular sci-fi thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney grossed $44.2 million this weekend. That's a 20.7% drop from last weekend, a record for a film that opened above $55 million. Audiences are clearly embracing the well-constructed, visually stunning thrills of Gravity and I'm very happy about it. I'm disappointed that I didn't get to see it again this weekend, but I'll be sure to see it again before the film ends its theatrical run. Gravity has grossed $123.4 million so far, and if it keeps holding this well, there's no reason that it can't go as high as $250 million.

However, despite the big story of the weekend being Gravity's hold, another film shined in its first weekend. That film was Captain Phillips. The true story of a 2009 Somali pirate hijacking, starring Tom Hanks, grossed $26 million in its debut frame, which is higher than the comparable Argo from last year, which opened at around $19 million. That's a strong debut for the $55 million Columbia Pictures drama. The film also received an "A" Cinemascore from audiences. That strong support from audiences, along with critical support and Oscar talk could certainly carry Captain Phillips to $100 million. Despite the sure to be strong word of mouth, don't expect a Gravity-like hold. This is a much tougher watch.

Third place this weekend belonged to Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2, the animated comedy from Columbia Pictures. The film grossed a strong $14.2 million this weekend, which was enough to raise its total to $78 million. That's a good total for the film and with no animated competition for the next two weekends, Cloudy 2 should have no trouble crossing $100 million.

Besides those three films, there's a reason that the box office was down 10% from last year. Machete Kills, the other wide release this weekend, flopped with $3.797 million in fourth place. That's an absolutely terrible opening for the grindhouse picture. To show a comparison, the original Machete opened in 2010 to $11.4 million. The film also received a "B-" Cinemascore, which hints at audience rejection. Looks like we won't be seeing Machete Kills Again.....In Space anytime soon. In fifth place was Runner Runner, which did not see a second week improvement. The film grossed a lackluster $3.725 million, which raises its total to a pathetic $14.1 million.

Prisoners placed in sixth place this weekend with $3.6 million. While Prisoners had solid word of mouth and has grossed $53.6 million so far, it's clear that Gravity, Captain Phillips and dark subject matter kept this film from being the word of mouth machine that Warner Bros. thought it would be. Insidious Chapter 2 placed in seventh this weekend with $2.65 million, which was enough to raise its total to $78.4 million. Rush placed in eighth with $2.36 million, which was enough to raise its total to $22.2 million. Such a disappointment. This film deserves much better.

And rounding out the top ten was Don Jon with $2.34 million in ninth place, enough to raise its total to $20.1 million and Baggage Claim, which grossed $2 million in tenth to raise its total to $20.1 million.

Next week sees the limited release of All is Lost and 12 Years A Slave and the wide release of Carrie, Escape Plan, and The Fifth Estate. Here are my predictions:

1. Gravity- $35.1 million
2. Carrie- $21.3 million
3. Captain Phillips- $17.3 million
4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2- $8.1 million
5. Escape Plan- $7 million
6. The Fifth Estate- $4.5 million
7. Runner Runner- $2.2 million
8. Prisoners- $2.1 million
9. Machete Kills- $1.7 million
10. Rush- $1.1 million

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Captain Phillips review

Every once in a while, a news story pops up that seems destined for the Hollywood treatment. The 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somalian pirates, and the heroic exploits of its captain, Richard Phillips, was one of those stories. The hijacking, which evolved into a kidnapping, was heavily publicized and its explosive finale captivated the nation. Now, director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum and United 93) and Tom Hanks are giving the story of Captain Phillips the Hollywood treatment. And while it isn't quite as perfect as Rush or Gravity, the big screen treatment of the hijacking is a harrowing, intense, violent ride that gives you a whirlwind of emotions. There are loads of great performances and some truly stunning suspense sequences. It's a movie that got my heart pounding, and by the end my nerves were fried and my emotions in a mess. Captain Phillips is definitely one of the most intense big screen experiences I've ever had, but it's so brilliantly entertaining as well. This is certainly a major Oscar contender.

In 2009, Captain Richard Phillips, a sea captain for the Maersk cargo line, received directions for a sea trip from Oman to Mumbasa, Kenya. Phillips is dropped off by his wife (Catherine Keener) at the airport and departs for Oman. Phillips is warned of pirates in the area and becomes nervous, performing lockdown drills and making sure his men are prepared for any pirate attacks from Somalia. Then, one failed attempt later, pirates board his ship, the Maersk Alabama. The pirates are led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and their main goal in hijacking the ship is a ransom upwards of $10 million dollars. What ensues is a kidnapping, a hostage situation, a military intervention and an explosion of violence.

Of all the big "Oscar" movies released so far, Captain Phillips is the most imperfect. It has several pacing issues, a few problems with its villains and is a little misdirected in some of its choices. But it is still miles ahead of most of 2013's films. It's an extraordinary piece of filmmaking and doesn't fall into the same pitfalls that Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty did last year. Captain Phillips plays on the emotions, is smartly written and is an intense, visceral experience, yet it maintains the viewer's attention throughout. My eyes, and the eyes of the audience at my packed screening were fixated on the screen.

The power of the film mostly lies in the direction of Greengrass, the mostly fast paced script by Billy Ray, and the acting power of Tom Hanks. A lot of conversation lies around the Somali newcomers who play the pirates. They were good, but while most people are talking about Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse, I was actually most impressed with Barkhad Abdirahman. He plays the youngest of the pirates and he has a barrage of emotions throughout the movie. Abdi does a good job portraying a man who seems to want more than the life he has, but he isn't extraordinary. The other two actors succeed in acting insane, violent and frightening, almost constantly.

Despite how good the Somali actors are, the real star of the show is Tom Hanks. He gives an extraordinary performance that is certainly the best male performance I've seen this year so far. He conveys so many emotions during the course of the film and performs like a human would in his situation. And finally, as everyone has said, the best part of Hanks' performance is the final ten minutes. After the climax, Hanks and Greengrass finally convey the emotions of someone who was just in a traumatic event perfectly. Instead of acting like the hero and walking away with a smile on his face, Hanks portrays Phillips as being completely dazed, shocked and confused. It's a perfect ending to a harrowing film.

Like I said in an earlier paragraph, Captain Phillips has problems. It falls into the pitfall that I despise the most: a slow second act. Once the pirates board the ship and take over, it becomes tense in a way, but never to the extent that it is in the beginning or end. It's also a little sluggish during scenes with the pirates on the lifeboat that Phillips is a prisoner on. But, honestly, when the third act comes in, you won't know what hit you. But still, pacing is slightly uneven in this film.

Also, the film's attempt to sympathize with the pirates failed. It honestly did. I felt for the kid, I felt a little bit for Muse, but the other two were just violent, deplorable human beings. The film makes Phillips care about the kid a little bit and maybe slightly Muse, but in the end, the final minutes show what Phillips really thinks about the pirates. Greengrass throws in a bit about Muse longing for America, but it never really works.

The film also makes a weird choice or two towards the beginning of the film. First off, there's the fact that Catherine Keener is wasted. She literally appears for about two minutes of the movie. A waste there. Then there's the fact that the movie pulls a bait and switch on you within the first half hour. You see the pirates and they get really close to the Alabama. But then their boat breaks. We have a couple minutes of down time and then it's right back at it and the ship is hijacked. An interesting choice there, and one that I didn't particularly like. I'm sure that it is based on fact, but you know, lots of fact based movies have cut things out before. In some ways, having the false alarm hijacking takes away the tension of the other. I thought it was a poor choice on Greengrass' fault and he should have done something to make the following sequence more effective.

Captain Phillips has problems. It's not a flawless movie, but it also does a lot of things right. It manages to use shaky-cam in a way that works, which is quite an achievement. I've always thought that Greengrass' Bourne films, while fantastic, overdid it on the shaky-cam. Here, Greengrass' camera motions are shaky yet fluid in a way, so that you still understand what's going on. It benefited from that. Also, Greengrass made a smart choice by focusing on Phillips and the pirates instead of on the crew members or the military. He puts just enough military tension/action into the film so that you are kept engaged during the slower parts of the film.

Despite all the great things that Greengrass does in this movie, nothing tops the third act. Not since The Impossible have I been so rattled and shaken by a film. It is incredibly intense film, but unlike The Impossible, Captain Phillips fries your nerves and makes you shake with terror while still entertaining you (adding on to the intensity was the fact that I was starving). Most people will know the end of this film going in. I actually didn't. That only added to the intensity. However, I knew it was coming and I won't spoil it here, but all the screaming, yelling and nerve-frying tension leads up to a climax so shocking, you'll be rattled.

Captain Phillips is PG-13. I don't quite know how. Sometimes I just don't understand the MPAA. Why are things like Argo and Silver Linings Playbook, both relatively mild films, rated R, while very intense films like Captain Phillips and The Impossible, are PG-13. Captain Phillips is actually not all that bad. It's just an intense film that features a very violent scene towards the end. It's probably fine for most teens, but it is a visceral and sometimes graphic film.

Captain Phillips is a great film, by some definitions. It's an extremely intriguing, exciting, tense, emotionally affecting thriller. I haven't been this emotionally affected by a film in a long time. Greengrass and his team succeeded big time. However, it falls short of greatness for me because of a little thing called the re-watch factor. Captain Phillips is definitely something that I will buy at some point, but it isn't something that I am dying to see again. I know that some people will disagree with that, and that's fine by me. It's my grading system and the way that I look at films. Still, a little quibble should not stop you from seeing this extraordinary film in theaters and experiencing all the emotion of Captain Phillips for yourself.

Note: This was a very difficult film to grade as it teeters on the edge of B+/A-. It was so hard for me to decide. I'll stick with an A- for now, as it is a great film, but know that it does have problems.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                           (8.6/10)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Phenomonal new "American Hustle" trailer takes us deeper into the 1970's

Last week, I saw one of my most anticipated movies of the fall movie season with Gravity. The week before that, I saw another one of my most anticipated fall movies with Rush. Both were fantastic pieces of filmmaking that I will surely remember for a long time to come. But the season is far from over. In addition to this weekend's Captain Phillips, October also features All is Lost and 12 Years A Slave. November has Ender's Game, Thor: The Dark World, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Nebraska, Frozen and some smaller films like Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club, both of which received stunning reviews out of Toronto.

Despite all the great cinematic action coming in October and November, the heavy-hitters come out in December. That's when we'll get our chance to finally see films like Inside Llewyn Davis, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Saving Mr. Banks, Anchorman 2, The Monuments Men, The Wolf of Wall Street, 47 Ronin, Grudge Match and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But without a doubt my most anticipated film out of all of those great-looking movies is the new film from director David O. Russell, American Hustle.

With an incredible cast led by Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis CK, Robert De Niro, Michael Pena and Jack Huston, American Hustle is a film that is right up my alley. It's a prestige awards picture that looks to mix the traditional Russell elements (good story, characters and dialogue) with a popcorn munching good time. American Hustle looked fantastic from the moment that I saw the first trailer. Now, we have a second trailer. Check it out now if you haven't already:

Looks great, doesn't it. I think that we're looking at acting awards all around, along with the possibility of best director and best picture. This has a chance to be that film that takes away all the momentum that any other film had. And it seems to be a lot more fun that last year's latecomer, Zero Dark Thirty. Christian Bale looks absolutely phenomenal, Bradley Cooper looks very good, Amy Adams looks great, Jeremy Renner could pick up a nod, and Jennifer Lawrence looks exemplary. This is going to be a great movie and I hope it doesn't disappointment. Buzz from early test screenings is that it doesn't. Could Bale win a second Oscar? Could Russell get the attention that he deserves? We'll find out soon.

Interesting theory on "Gravity" ending (Spoilers)

Gravity is now the #1 movie in the world. I've seen it. Many of my friends have seen it and have given it mixed reviews. But the internet is exploding with buzz. There's Oscar talk, scientific accuracy controversy and the fact that the film has a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, there's one aspect of the film that received a bit of attention in The Wrap the other day. The ending. What seems like a fairly standard story of rebirth and survival may be slightly deeper than it seems. SPOILERS FROM HERE. 

To quote The Wrap, here's their take on the ending: 
"In Alfonso Cuaron's dazzling 3D survival tale, a burst of third-act diversions leaves open the possibility-to this viewer, at least- that Ryan never actually made it to the beach of some remote paradise.

Not in her Earthbound form, anyway. 

There's just enough ambiguity to suggest that Ryan perished somewhere along the way, most likely in the airlock of the Russian Soyuz capsule, moments after she shut down the oxygen supply to hasten what seemed at the time like her inevitable demise. 

Or perhaps her final undoing ocmes when the astronaut who floats up to the airlock window (he's not recognizable at first, certainly not as Matt Kowalski) pops the hatch; Ryan is freaking out as he spins the crank, realizing that he's about to eject her into the void. A sleight-of-hand edit even suggests that's exactly what happens.

And here's where it gets squishy. 

The events that take place afterward- Ryan's otherworldly encounter with Matt, her newfound resolve to carry on, her speech on the way down and that lucky-as-hell landing- play out like an absolution. If Ryan's soul has in fact detached and drifted early in the third act, it certainly spends the rest of the movie acting out the way things should have gone."

That is an incredibly interesting theory: and it's wrong. The problem with The Wrap (or The Wrap's source)'s theory is that Gravity is a story of rebirth. Sandra Bullock's character is being reborn in this film. She was lost, but by going through this life-changing experience, she has found life. So she certainly did not die in the airlock of the Russian Soyuz. Also, after her fateful scene with Kowalski, she seems to wake up, almost sealing the deal that Stone did not die in that scene and move on to a higher place of spirituality. I do however find some credibility in the fact that she might have died during the landing. Maybe she's landing in some spiritual heaven?

Still, despite there being a possibility of that happening, I still will say that Gravity is a simple tale of survival and a deep tale of rebirth. The alternate theories on the ending are possible, but not entirely plausible for the story that Cuaron was telling.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Gravity" dominates with $55.5 million for #1 October opening; "Runner Runner" flops

The Oscar season has its first smash hit. Gravity, Warner Bros. new sci-fi film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney opened to a stunning $55.5 million this weekend. That topped every other original sci-fi opening this year including Pacific Rim, Oblivion, The Purge, Elysium and After Earth. Gravity was only $7 million behind Inception's 2010 intake. In addition, Gravity's 3D shares were massive. 80% of the film's tickets sold were for 3D and IMAX accounted for $11.23 million of the weekend gross. Gravity also received an "A-" Cinemascore from audiences. That indicates that it will have very strong word of mouth in the coming weeks. Gravity is certainly one of the better films of the year, and even though my first viewing wasn't in IMAX or 3D, I certainly intend on checking it out in that format next weekend. Safe to say that if word of mouth is strong and Oscar buzz continues, Gravity will hit $200 million.

In second place this weekend was Sony's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. The animated sequel dropped 37% to $21.5 million, enough for a $60.5 million total. That was a solid drop for the animated film, as it practically mirrored last year's Hotel Transylvania. With several weeks until the next children's film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 should have strong enough legs for $100 million.

The big flop of the weekend was Fox's gambling drama Runner Runner. The film, which starred Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck, grossed $7.6 million this weekend along with a "C" Cinemascore. Runner Runner never appeared to be good and it also received dismal reviews from critics. In addition to the R-rating and the overperformance of Gravity, there's no surprise that Runner Runner flopped.

When you look beyond those three films, it's not hard to see why this weekend was down a whopping 13% from last year. Prisoners placed in fourth with $5.7 million, enough for a $47.8 million total. The kidnapping drama received strong reviews but never broke out. It's subject matter just always appeared to be too dark for mainstream audiences. However, Ron Howard's Rush is a whole different story. The racing drama placed in fifth this weekend with $4.4 million. That's enough for a total of $18 million. Rush is the best film of the year, and it's terribly sad to see that an appealing film with action and dramatic leads can't get play in Hollywood anymore. At least we have movies like Gravity and Argo to keep our spirits up.

Don Jon surprisingly held better than Rush with a sixth place finish and a $4.1 million weekend. The romantic comedy about porn has grossed $16 million so far. Baggage Claim also dropped significantly with a seventh place finish and a $4.125 million weekend. The romantic comedy has grossed $15.1 million so far. And in eighth place was Insidious Chapter 2, which grossed $3.8 million this weekend, for a total of $74.7 million.

Finally, in ninth and tenth place were Pulling Strings and Enough Said, respectively. Pulling Strings, a Spanish-language comedy from Lionsgate grossed $2.5 million and Enough Said grossed another $2.1 million.

Next weekend sees the release of Captain Phillips and Machete Kills. Check out my predictions:

1. Gravity- $31.5 million
2. Captain Phillips- $26.4 million
3. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2- $13.5 million
4. Machete Kills- $12 million
5. Prisoners- $4.1 million
6. Runner Runner- $3.6 million
7. Rush- $2.8 million
8. Pulling Strings- $2.4 million
9. Don Jon- $2 million
10. Baggage Claim- $1.9 million

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Quentin Tarantino's favorite films of 2013 so far; check out my list as well

Quentin Tarantino is known as one of the most prolific directors in Hollywood. He's also one of the most respected cinephiles in the world, due to his extensive and almost random knowledge of obscure films. So when he says that he likes a movie, people notice. That's why I found it interesting that Tarantino came out with a list of his ten favorite films of the year so far today. It's a very interesting list, mixing heavily panned blockbusters, critical smashes and obscure indies. Check it out (the list is in alphabetical order):

-Afternoon Delight- directed by Jill Soloway- R
-Before Midnight- directed by Richard Linklater- R
-Blue Jasmine- directed by Woody Allen- PG-13
-The Conjuring- directed by James Wan- R
-Drinking Buddies- directed by Joe Swanberg- R
-Frances Ha- directed by Noah Baumbach- R
-Gravity- directed by Alfonso Cuaron- PG-13
-Kick-Ass 2- directed by Jeff Wadlow- R
-The Lone Ranger- directed by Gore Verbinski- PG-13
-This is the End- directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg- R

It's certainly an odd list. But for every Kick-Ass 2, there's a Gravity. So it all evens out and I'm really happy that Tarantino knows what he likes, and I wish that I could be so sure in my opinions as he is in his. I've only seen Gravity off the list but I know that I'll make an effort to see The Conjuring, Blue Jasmine and Frances Ha, along with potentially seeing This is the End and The Lone Ranger. However, the main reason that I posted this was that I wanted to share my list. I figured that we're in the calm before the fall storm right now, and I really want to get some of my opinions on the year in film so far out there. Here's my list:

1. RUSH- directed by Ron Howard- R

Rush is a fantastic action/drama mixing thrilling action sequences, good old-fashioned tension, a strong script, two great performances, fantastic pacing and a cool factor that hasn't been matched by a movie in a long while, Rush will entertain and delight whatever audiences find it for years to come.

2. GRAVITY- directed by Alfonso Cuaron- PG-13

Gravity has its share of problems, led by a couple of lags in the story, a runtime that's a bit too short and a slightly subpar performance by George Clooney, but once it gets going, it's some of the best cinema in recent history. There are so many great moments and Sandra Bullock is spectacular. I'm going to make sure to see this again in theaters, just to see the 3D so I can say that I got the full experience.

3. THE WORLD'S END- directed by Edgar Wright- R

The World's End is without a doubt the funniest movie of the year. It's also possibly the most entertaining. One of those comedies that you can pop in any time, but also works as a film in its own right, The World's End is infinitely quotable, immeasurably cool and was a great way to end the summer.

4. FAST AND FURIOUS 6- directed by Justin Lin- PG-13

The best popcorn blockbuster of the summer, Fast and Furious 6 is a blast of popcorn entertainment that really got me in the summer spirit. It starts out with a bang and is filled with some of the best choreographed action scenes in recent history. Not to say that it isn't full of humor and heart too, because it is. It's a really fun action film. 

5. LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER- directed by Lee Daniels- PG-13

The Butler is a historic drama that is very entertaining, emotional and raw, and it is filled with great performances. Oprah actually does a great job and David Oyelowo is the standout. It slips up in a way that had a big impact on me, but The Butler was still a very effective and entertaining film that is perfect for what it was trying to do.

6. ELYSIUM- directed by Neill Blomkamp- R

A science fiction epic that is filled with grimy futuristic detail and a darkly violent vision, Blomkamp's Elysium gets bogged down in places but never enough that it overshadows its greatness. It has an incredibly likable protagonist along with a spectacular supporting turn from Wagner Moura. Elysium isn't quite visionary, but it comes close in several ways.

7. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS- directed by JJ Abrams- PG-13

Star Trek Into Darkness is a film that I was initially disappointed by, but in a way, have come to love. If you go in expecting The Dark Knight with Star Trek, you won't get it. If you think of it as this generation's Indiana Jones or even the original Star Wars trilogy, you won't be disappointed. STID is filled with great action, beautiful special effects, and a well written take on the characters.

8. PACIFIC RIM- directed by Guillermo del Toro- PG-13

I think that I just really want to see this movie again, but Pacific Rim has grown on me with time. It's so visually delightful and so packed with detail that you can't help but love it. It's got a weak story, but the supporting actors keep it afloat and it ends up being a really great homage to the monster genre.

9. ROOM 237- directed by Rodney Ascher- NR

Room 237 is a movie that I had almost forgotten about when I was compiling this list, but when I compared it to other films I considered for this slot, it blew almost all of them out of the water. Room 237 is a documentary that is so compelling, so intriguing, so filled with somewhat plausible detail that you just can't help but be drawn in. It's a great work of documentary filmmaking.

10. IRON MAN 3- directed by Shane Black- PG-13

Iron Man 3 feels slightly more like a Disney film than The Avengers did and it has its share of flaws. But you can't help but overlook the flaws and really enjoy this movie. It's got a great plot twist, some great action scenes and works well as a superhero mystery. It's a really good addition to The Avengers canon.

So that's my list and also Tarantino's. Sound off below. A few of these movies have almost guaranteed spots on my final list at the end of the year, and others are just having their moment in the sun today. I'll see you for the final list in December.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity review

In space, no one can hear you scream. Those immortal words accompany the poster of one of the greatest space movies of all time, Ridley Scott's Alien. The new picture from Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity, takes that to the highest level possible. Gravity is a highly experimental science fiction film that attempts to see if a film can be carried simply be two strong performances and nothing else. Granted, Gravity does feature a third astronaut and the voice of mission control, but for the most part, it's just Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating in space. And while the film certainly has a rough patch or two, it's an extraordinary piece of film-making, carried by the best performance of the year from Sandra Bullock. It's a film so subtle, so thrilling, so dazzlingly made, that you just can't help but overlook its flaws and love it. Gravity is awesome.

Gravity tells the story of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Kowalski is a veteran astronaut, who has gone on several space walks and enjoys the heck out of it. Stone is a jittery rookie scientist, who is just there to implement her knew technology on the Hubble telescope. The first fifteen minutes of the film are a look at what the astronauts are doing and then the message comes from Houston: "Mission Abort". Stone and Kowalski are left floating in space after a debris field destroys their ship. With only so little oxygen, and so little time, Stone and Kowalski have to race against time to save their lives.

Now, if you've followed any movie news in the last two months, you know that Gravity premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It received rave reviews, and then it went on to receive more praise at Telluride and Toronto. With all the hype calling it "the most groundbreaking film ever" and "the cinema of the future", there's almost no way that it can live up to the hype. And for a while, it didn't. The first fifteen minutes are breathtakingly done in one shot, but the following ten minutes feel slightly off. I had a brief panic attack. I was almost certain that I had let expectations get in the way again. But then a certain spoiler plot point happened, and suddenly the movie got a whole lot better. Not that it wasn't good before, it was just a lot better after a certain something happened.

The special effects in this film are fantastic. Technically, Gravity is a true marvel. I'm completely against visually driven films. Completely against them; they serve no purpose in the cinematic world. However, Gravity succeeds because it has a strong foundation to back it up. It knows the story it wants to tell. It's clear in its purpose. And it never falters in that aspect. However, this movie wouldn't work quite as well without the terrific special effects. They put you right in the movie. You would never guess that you're on a soundstage. Tons of props to Cuaron and his team.

Gravity is a fully realized film experience. Cuaron's direction is superb. The visual effects are almost seamless. But the film would not work without the subtle performance of Sandra Bullock, which ends up being the highlight of the film for me. Without her and Cuaron's masterful direction, Gravity is just a lot of groundbreaking special effects and a fun action movie. It's another Avatar in that case. But with Bullock's performance, Gravity is elevated to a whole different level. At first, her character comes across as weak. But you eventually come to understand her and she grows throughout the entire film. It's a magnificent character study and one that is certainly fun to watch.

Cuaron's direction is masterful. The movie starts out with a few sentences about life in space leading up to a musical crescendo. It is immediately followed by what I believe is a fifteen minute opening scene without a single cut. It's obviously drawn from Kubrick's masterwork 2001: A Space Odyssey and it's beautiful to look at. Cuaron also avoids the shaky-cam problem, but uses POV's to his advantage. They provide the audience with the feeling of truly being there, and there was one shot in which I thought my heart had stopped.

The progression of the narrative is also strong. It effectively tells the story of a character, and it does it in a way that will certainly dazzle and amaze. It shows the evolution of Dr. Stone from scene one to the final scene in a way that makes you truly appreciate all that has been done by Cuaron and his son, Jonas. They have put together a film with heart, soul and emotion that also works as an effective thrill ride. The ending is slightly (and I really do mean slightly) ambiguous, but it doesn't matter. Cuaron has ended the story of his character and doesn't need to go any further.

Now, there are some negatives. George Clooney's performance is rather lackluster. There isn't much that I found exciting or new with him, but there are a few decent things about him. His character just lacked the emotional depth of Bullock's. Also, there is a ten minute lag after the initial crash sequence which is slightly boring. A perfect movie should not be boring, even for a second. That's the only slip-up Gravity makes. Really, that is it. Other than that, it is the full and complete package. An awesome science film.

Gravity is a cinematic wonder. I will certainly be seeing it again in the theaters. Despite it's minor flaws, Gravity is a wholly enjoyable scientific thriller and one that will be remembered for years to come. It works as a drama, a thriller and a character study, all put together in one. Now, I've significantly debated what to give this movie. Because it wasn't exactly like I loved every minute of it. There were a few parts that were less than perfect. However, most of the time, Gravity is spectacular cinema, and even when it isn't great, it's still spectacular.

As you know, last week I gave my first A+ grade of the year to Ron Howard's Rush. Going into Gravity, I had that film on my mind. All in all, I didn't quite like Gravity as much as I liked Rush. So Gravity is going to get an A. It has flaws, but it is still a massive achievement and one of the very best films of the year. It is truly a unique and highly memorable cinematic experience. I remember every detail. It's a film that you experience as much as you watch and it is anchored by a spectacular performance. Gravity is something that you will remember for years to come, a true cinematic spectacle.

An A+ and an A. This Oscar season is off to a heck of a start.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                            (9.3/10)

Oscar Update: 10/4/13

The Oscar race could be changed today. In case you've been living under a rock, today is the release date of Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron's groundbreaking new space thriller. I'm not going to call it science fiction because it really isn't. It's been receiving rave reviews from critics (98% on RT) and bloggers who have seen the film are praising it as one of the greatest film experiences in the history of cinema. Pretty high appraisal. I saw the film today, and I'll have my review up soon. For now, I want to talk about the crazy, insane state of the Oscar race.

Gravity is released today. Movies like Rush, Before Midnight, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Fruitvale Station, Prisoners and Blue Jasmine have already been released. Next week sees the release of Captain Phillips, with sneak screenings this Saturday. The following week sees the release of 12 Years a Slave and All is Lost. And we haven't even mentioned The Counselor, Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, The Book Thief, Mandela, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Philomena, Her, The Monuments Men, Labor Day or Lone Survivor.

The truth is plain and simple: If you thought last year's Oscar race was crazy, you need to reevaluate your definition of crazy. This year is plain and simple insanity. At this point last year, we had pretty much rattled it down to two or three possible winners: Argo, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook. Some people might have thought that Lincoln or Django Unchained had a shot. This year, at the same point, I can see Gravity, Captain Phillips, 12 Years A Slave, Her, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks or The Wolf of Wall Street taking the prize. That's unbelievable.

Now that we've actually heard responses on most of the films, I can give a much clearer picture of who I think will be taking the cake in March.


1. Gravity
2. American Hustle
3. 12 Years A Slave
4. Captain Phillips
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. Her
7. Saving Mr. Banks
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
9. Nebraska
10. Rush

It was a massive struggle to cut it down to ten films. But I did it. Some people might think that having Rush included is foolish and believe that there is little chance for it to be nominated. However, I'm holding out that it will, since it's a fantastic film. At this point in the race, Gravity is the front-runner. It mixes popularity and artistry in a way that no film has in a while. It's something that is going to be talked about for a long time.


1. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
2. Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
3. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
4. Christian Bale, American Hustle
5. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

Ejiofor has almost locked this one up. He's one of the main talking points about the film and everyone says that his performance is something special. If the academy doesn't hand out the best picture to 12 Years a Slave, then they'll certainly give Ejiofor the best actor award.


1. Judi Dench, Philomena
2. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
3. Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
4. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
5. Amy Adams, American Hustle

Remember back in July when Blue Jasmine premiered and everybody instantly said that Cate Blanchett would win Best Actress? Look how the tides have turned. While Blanchett's performance will almost certainly be nominated, several more performances have come around. Dench is my current leader since her career is winding down and Philomena is something right in the Academy's wheelhouse.


1. Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
2. Jeremy Renner, American Hustle
3. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
4. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
5. George Clooney, Gravity

While I think that George Clooney could be nominated on his clout alone, I wasn't particularly impressed with his performance in the otherwise stunning Gravity. I'm seeing Captain Phillips tomorrow and will see how Barkhad Abdi performs, but right now everyone is talking about him. And I'm pretty sure that Fassbender and someone from American Hustle are locks. However, at this point, I'm going with Tom Hanks. Saving Mr. Banks has received good buzz and his performance looks great.


1. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
2. Lupita Nyong'o- 12 Years a Slave
3. Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' The Butler
4. June Squibb, Nebraska
5. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Oprah's gonna be tough to fight off, but if anyone can do it, it's J-Law. The girl on fire, who just won best actress for a different David O. Russell movie last year (Silver Linings Playbook) could do it again this year for what looks to be a powerhouse performance. Look for newcomer Lupita Nyong'o and Oprah to give her a run for her money though.


1. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
2. Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
3. David O. Russell, American Hustle
4. Spike Jonze, Her
5. Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis

Right now, it is impossible for me to see anyone but Cuaron taking that trophy home on Oscar night. His film is so ground-breaking, so technically smooth that I just can't see the academy not honoring him. McQueen could also receive high marks for his stark and brutal take on slavery.


1. David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle
2. Spike Jonze, Her
3. Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron, Gravity
5. Bob Nelson, Nebraska

Even though American Hustle is based on the true story of a 1970's political crisis, American Hustle is considered an original screenplay. And if that's the case, I'm almost positive it will win. Spike Jonze's Her could give it a run for its money if it ends up being a great film.


1. John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
2. Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
3. George Clooney and Grant Heslov, The Monuments Men
4. Peter Morgan, Rush
5. Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years A Slave is in a tough battle with Captain Phillips for this one right now, but I don't see anyone coming out on time besides 12 Years a Slave. It's the most talked about film of the season thus far and it's script is supposedly fantastic. So I'll take 12 Years A Slave for now.


1. Roger Deakins, Prisoners
2. Anthony Dod Mantle, Rush
3. Linus Sandgren, American Hustle
4. Hoyte Van Hoytema, Her
5. Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska


1. Rush
2. Gravity
3. 12 Years a Slave
4. American Hustle
5. Inside Llewyn Davis


1. Frozen
2. Despicable Me 2
3. Monsters University
4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
5. The Croods