Monday, May 26, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past review

To misquote Forrest Gump, the X-Men franchise is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. The most inconsistent franchise in Hollywood returns again this weekend with X-Men: Days of Future Past, the most epic and emotionally taxing installment in the franchise so far. After last year's disastrous The Wolverine, I wasn't sure about how this film would end up. Would Days of Future Past end up more like X3 or X-Men: First Class? I'm happy to say that Days of Future Past is one of the best installments in the series and one of the best movies of the year, a well-paced, well-written summer blockbuster with some stunning action and several great character moments.

X-Men: Days of Future Past drops you directly into the year 2023, where we learn that mutants are being hunted by giant robots called Sentinels. The Sentinels have managed to carry out a genocide against mutants and any humans who wish to help them. A ragtag group of mutants led by Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Bishop (Omar Sy) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) fight the Sentinels by using Kitty's time-travel powers to warn their younger selves about the impending attacks. Kitty and Iceman then proceed to meet up with Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to discuss a plan to send Wolverine into the past. Wolverine is immortal and indestructible, so he'll be sent by Kitty to 1973 so that he can stop an assassination that will have a destructive effect on the future.

Once Wolverine arrives in 1973, he meets a young, reclusive Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who has given up his powers so that he can walk. Charles and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) live in the now-defunct school and Charles is consistently over-dosing on the drug that allows him to walk. Wolverine tells Charles the reason why he's here and Xavier comes to believe him. After busting a young Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) out of prison with the help of Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Xavier and Magneto must overcome their differences to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from setting the course of history on a dangerous path.

And that's only scratching the surface. X-Men: Days of Future Past is a densely plotted film that has a strong focus on character and story instead of incessant world-building (looking at you, Amazing Spider-Man 2). The characters are the focus of the film and looking at what happened to the First Class mutants after the Cuban Missile Crisis event is very interesting. Xavier, Magneto and Mystique are all in very different places and Wolverine has to bring them together in a way that will save the future. That storyline makes for one of the most emotional superhero films ever and also one of the best. Days of Future Past is spectacular entertainment from Bryan Singer, a director who knows the material well and knows what he wants to do with it.

Singer starts the film off with a bang and then lets the story and the characters breathe, allowing a surprising amount of emotion to flow into the film. The film can feel a little slow at times, but when you realize what Singer is doing and what he is building to, you understand the slower, quieter moments of the film. He builds the plot and allows for a true character arc for McAvoy's younger Xavier. It's the rare blockbuster that has a dense story, an emotional core and eye-popping visuals that add up to one heck of a film.

While most of the characters are little more than a piece of the puzzle, most of them get their moments to shine. Quicksilver is hands down the highlight of the film. Evan Peters does a fantastic job as Quicksilver and has this cocky enthusiasm about him that makes the character irresistible. The prison break scene with Quicksilver is probably my favorite of the year so far. It's a feat of filmmaking and an extraordinary scene that brings about a "WOW" factor that is rare in films these days. The future band of mutants at the beginning of the film also have their moments, especially during the first and final battles of the film. Omar Sy does a good job as Bishop, Shawn Ashmore looks to be having fun as the more realistic looking Iceman and Blink (Fan Bingbing) has some cool powers.

However, without a doubt, this movie focuses more on the First Class mutants in the 1970's and they're the ones who steal the show. In the end, this movie belongs to the young Charles Xavier and James McAvoy just absolutely crushes it. His performance in this movie is so incredibly heartfelt and emotional that you'll probably start tearing up. Xavier has changed so much since First Class and McAvoy does a great job of showing that change and the transition that Xavier makes when Wolverine shows up. Fassbender once again proves to be a nice contradiction to McAvoy and turns in a solid performance. And finally, Jackman is kind of the glue that holds the whole movie together. He's the one constant in a film (and a film series) that is constantly changing. I hope he stays around for a few more movies after this stellar turn.

Simon Kinberg is the screenwriter for this film. He also wrote the much-derided X-Men: The Last Stand. He has grown so much since then. Kinberg has obviously learned a thing or two about storytelling, characters and emotion since he wrote The Last Stand. While I maintain that The Last Stand is not so much a bad movie as it is a messy one, it's obvious that it needed a tighter screenplay. Days of Future Past could have easily fallen into the same traps as The Last Stand, but it manages to hold everything together and the result is a film that makes so much sense. The time travel is so easily understood and the film's sci-fi concepts are never confusing. Aside from major continuity mistakes that are pretty much a staple of this franchise at this point, the script for Days of Future Past is concise and clear, moving at a sufficiently fast pace that only slows down for intense character moments.

The action in this film is incredible and it feels like the action has been earned. A lot of recent movies will just throw everything at you in the end and no emotional impact will be felt. Every film feels like it needs a big action climax since The Avengers came along, but in the end, it's just action and destruction for the sake of action and destruction. X-Men: Days of Future Past is not that film. Each action scene has a clear purpose and the epic finale is earned. The action scenes are not super long or super huge, but they manage to be some of the most impressive in recent memory. This movie proves that CGI eye candy isn't everything. Quicksilver's prison break scene features some of the best action in forever and while CGI is involved, Bryan Singer's vision is what makes the scene extraordinary.

One of the more interesting decisions this film makes is the choice to take its time with the plot. A lot of directors who get their hands on the material and try to fit in as much action as possible and move the film a break-neck pace. I applaud Singer and Kinberg for not doing that. I did feel like the film moved slow at times, but if Days of Future Past didn't have those character moments, it wouldn't be as good a film. Singer allows you to see all of these characters in their lowest state of desperation and then to see how you change. That's a nice change of pace from the superhero movies we've been seeing in recent years. This is a film that you can watch over and over. It takes itself seriously, but it has fun at the same time.

X-Men: Days of Future Past was one of my most anticipated movies of the summer and it lived up to the hype. Bryan Singer has constructed a film that might feel off at first (it's a little slow after the first action scene), but once you realize the plot he's building and the emotional story arc that is forming, you'll love every minute of this film. He's made a film that rights the wrongs of the franchise in the past and lays the groundwork for a new franchise that has the potential to be one of the most exciting in Hollywood. It's a great superhero movie and one of the best films in the X-Men series so far.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                               (8.9/10)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

'X-Men: Days of Future Past' dominates, 'Godzilla' takes a steep plunge and 'Blended' flops at weekend box office

It's Memorial Day weekend and that means that the movie business is raking in big bucks. There was no way that this year could top last year's double punch of Fast and Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III, but Wolverine and the X-Men still managed to have quite the debut. X-Men: Days of Future Past, the seventh film in the X-Men franchise debuted to a strong $90.7 million this weekend, which is the second highest debut ever for an X-Men film. Although it fell just shy of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Godzilla, Days of Future Past should finish the four-day Memorial Day weekend with around $110 million. Stellar reviews (91% on Rotten Tomatoes) and strong word of mouth (the film received an "A" Cinemascore) is certainly helping Days of Future Past. A total around $230 million is guaranteed. It's a fantastic film and I highly recommend checking it out. I plan on seeing it again before I write my review, but still, expect that up on the site within a day or two. Also, X-Men: Days of Future Past opened to $171.1 million overseas for a grand total of $261.7 million worldwide. That's a great opening and the film could end up making as much as $800 million.

Warner Bros.' Godzilla fell hard this weekend, dropping 66% to second place with $31.4 million. With the direct competition in the form of X-Men, this result is unsurprising, but it's still an unusually large drop. Obviously word of mouth kicked in for Godzilla and people realized that it really isn't a must see (I just dropped my grade from a "B+" to a "B" after thinking about the film some more). Godzilla has now brought in $148.7 million in the US and a total of $315.3 million worldwide. Expect Godzilla to still hit $200 million in the US.

Warner Bros. continued to have a bad weekend as their Adam Sandler comedy, Blended, flopped hard at the box office. The PG-13 comedy took in a paltry $14.2 million in third place, which is one of the lowest openings for an Adam Sandler comedy in history. However, the film received an "A-" Cinemascore, which indicates that the people who saw the film, liked it. I still doubt that this will end up with more than $35 or $40 million. Blended only cost $40 million to make and will still likely turn a profit for Warner Bros. Not far behind Blended was Universal's Neighbors, which dropped 44% to fourth place. The raunchy comedy took in $13.9 million this weekend and has now brought in $113.6 million. The film will probably finish with around $140 million. Not bad for a movie that cost only $18 million.

Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finished in fifth place this weekend with $7.8 million. The comic book sequel has now taken in $184.9 million and will likely crawl its way to $200 million. Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a worldwide total of $673.9 million, which isn't terrible. Still, Sony is going to have to rethink their budget and their strategy for The Amazing Spider-Man 3. They have to make something more than just a generic, forgettable superhero film.

Disney's Million Dollar Arm was one of the big success stories of the weekend, dropping only 32% to sixth place. The film took in an additional $7 million and has now grossed $20.6 million. It's a very good film and one that I really enjoyed and I'm glad to see that it's doing well. With little dramatic competition, Million Dollar Arm could end up making a decent amount of money at the box office.

The Other Woman finished in seventh place this weekend, taking in $3.6 million. The rom-com has now grossed $77.7 million. Fox's Rio 2 finished in eighth place this weekend, grossing $2.5 million and raising its total to $121.5 million. Open Road's Chef had a great weekend, finishing in ninth place with $2.2 million. Jon Favreau's comedy has now grossed $3.5 million. And finally, Heaven is for Real rounded out the top ten, finishing with $1.9 million, which raised the film's total to $85.7 million.

Next weekend sees the release of Maleficent and A Million Ways to Die in the West. Here are my predictions.

1. Maleficent- $57.4 million
2. X-Men: Days of Future Past- $55.6 million
3. A Million Ways to Die in the West- $35.3 million
4. Godzilla- $14.4 million
5. Neighbors- $7.5 million
6. Blended- $6.9 million
7. Million Dollar Arm- $5.9 million
8. The Amazing Spider-Man 2- $5.6 million
9. The Other Woman- $2.9 million
10. Chef- $1.8 million

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Edgar Wright exits Marvel's 'Ant-Man', film will still hit theaters next summer

It's a sad weekend for Marvel Studios. Yesterday, the comic book film studio that has cranked out hit after hit for the last six years announced that acclaimed director Edgar Wright will no longer be directing Ant-Man, the superhero flick that is currently scheduled to hit theaters on July 17, 2015. The acclaimed director of The World's End, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World reportedly split with Marvel over "differences in their vision of the film," according to a joint statement by Marvel and Wright. The statement also states that the split was "amicable" and that "a new director will be announced shortly."

For me, this is some of the most infuriating news I've heard in a long time. After I saw Wright's The World's End in theaters last year, he instantly became one of my favorite directors and The World's End and Hot Fuzz became two of my favorite films. The idea of him directing a quirky Marvel movie had infinite appeal to me and the fact that he is no longer directing the film makes me incredibly mad. However, there may be more to this story and the split might no be as "amicable" as the press statement hinted at.

The guys over at Latino Review are citing recent script rewrites as the reason for Wright's sudden exit from the film. Originally, the screenplay was written by Wright and partner Joe Cornish. According to Latino Review's El Mayimbe, Marvel had some things that they felt needed to be in the film. Franchise characters were a necessity was just one of the ideas. El Mayimbe goes on to say that Wright and Cornish attempted to make the script fit their vision and yet, at the same time, have all the things that Marvel wanted. In the end, Marvel gave the script to another writer and it ended being "poorer, homogenized, and not at all Edgar's vision." Wright left the film shortly after.

Keep in mind that all of that is only rumor, but El Mayimbe is a pretty trusted source for many people in the film industry so I wouldn't doubt his take. Honestly, if Wright was going to be forced to direct a watered-down version of the film he wanted to make, I would rather he move on to a project where he can have free reign to do whatever he wants. This is a bittersweet exit for me. I really wanted to see how Wright's version of Ant-Man would turn out, but it just didn't work out in the end. Let's hope he moves on to a better, more exciting project.

A Million Ways to Die in the West review

Seth MacFarlane and his pop-culture referencing raunchy humor made Family Guy a smash success on the small screen for years. Back in 2012, MacFarlane finally decided to head to the big screen with his directorial debut, Ted. The R-rated comedy about a teddy bear that comes to life, only to end being a hard drinking, pot smoking bear years later was a smash success, taking in $549 million worldwide. Not too bad for a directorial debut. For his second outing, MacFarlane heads to the old west and ends up doing something extremely different with A Million Ways to Die in the West. Granted, MacFarlane's signature brand of humor is still in play: the film has a tonnage of jokes about sex, drugs and other bodily fluids. But the film's acidic wit and the way it so perfectly captures the spirit of classic westerns is what separates it from being just another raunchy comedy. A Million Ways to Die in the West has a heart, a dark sense of irony and humor and a great sense of fun that makes it a film not to miss.

Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer who really isn't good at his job. Not only that, but he's a bit of a coward who pretty much parodies the old west at all times. He thinks of the frontier in the late 1800's not as a place of joy and freedom, but as a place where your farts can kill you and the intelligence level of the people is that of a rat. After he backs down in a gunfight, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him and he goes into a deep depression. That all changes when Anna (Charlize Theron), a mysterious new stranger, comes into town and instantly sweeps him off his feet. The two bond over their hatred of the old west and they end up becoming even closer after Albert challenges a local jerk (Neil Patrick Harris) to a fight which leads to Anna training him how to use a gun. However, trouble is brewing when a nefarious outlaw (Liam Neeson) comes into town and threatens the lives of everyone involved.

A Million Ways to Die in the West really could have ended up being just another R-rated comedy. With certain Family Guy episodes, MacFarlane has proved that he can do lowbrow, disgusting humor that has absolutely no emotional core and is simply raunchy for the sake of being raunchy. They just feature people puking, farting and pooping and seem to find that funny. And it can be funny, to a certain extent. However, after a while, it just becomes disgusting. A Million Ways to Die in the West falls into that trap one or two times but it never becomes too overwhelming. Sure, there are plenty of visual gags and some really disgusting humor comes into play at times, but MacFarlane only crosses the line every once in a while. For the most part, MacFarlane keeps A Million Ways funny, fresh and entertaining with an interesting love story at its core and the feel of an authentic western. MacFarlane's love for this material is really strong and you can tell that he had a strong desire to make this movie and to make it be a great one.

MacFarlane keeps the script strong and directs the film well, but he also did a great job with casting the right actors in the right roles, including the decision to cast himself as Albert.  I can't really imagine anyone else anchoring this movie, since MacFarlane has such a clear vision for what he wants to do with it. His biting sense of humor comes through in his character and Albert ends up feeling like a modern-day man thrust into the west and I believe that's what MacFarlane intended.

It also helps that he has a superb cast of both hilarious comedians and esteemed actors to back him up. The supporting cast is truly stellar in this movie and most of them turn in great performances. Charlize Theron does a great job as Anna, one of the most interesting characters in the film. Theron's performance is funny, witty and she complements MacFarlane well. The two characters are similar and they fit together very well to create a love story that is believable, well executed and funny. Who would have guessed that the best love story of the year so far would come from Seth MacFarlane.

Although MacFarlane and Theron lead the film, they are helped out by Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and more. Harris plays Foy, a total jerk and the owner of a local mustache accessory shop. He ends up stealing almost every scene that he is in. His character has a great dance number, a funky accent and a swagger about him that amounts to a great performance by Harris. He really throws all his energy into this performance and it ends up being one of the highlights of the film. Silverman, Ribisi and Seyfried are all serviceable as characters who only show up every once in a while. Liam Neeson plays a tough-as-nails outlaw and ends up doing a decent job. He's not really stretching himself and he's honestly playing the kind of character that he would usually play, but he does a good job while he's at it.

What makes this movie great for me is MacFarlane's love for the subject material. He obviously loves the western genre and it shows. From the opening credits that are done in the style of a classic western from the 1950's to the great musical score by Joel McNeely to the great action setpieces at the end, MacFarlane pays homage to the western genre while also lampooning the crap out of it by pointing out all the ridiculously idiotic things that happened during that time. The film feels like a true passion project for MacFarlane and not just another job. It's the tone and the design of the film that make it special.

Like any good episode of Family Guy, A Million Ways to Die in the West is filled with great gags and an ironic sense of humor that often pays off, but sometimes goes a little too far. This film only does it once or twice, but the times that MacFarlane crosses the line are pretty glaring. For example, a scene with Neil Patrick Harris will have you laughing for about a minute, but once the scene keeps going, you'll start to be disgusted. It's little things like that that can sometimes take away from an otherwise well-crafted film.

If you're looking for a raunchy, R-rated comedy that has some substance to go with it, you can't go wrong with A Million Ways to Die in the West. MacFarlane's irreverent sense of humor translates well to this film and the film is pretty hilarious throughout (there are also a few great cameos, which I will talk about in an article after the film comes out). However, deep down inside, there's a heartfelt love story and a love for the western genre that makes A Million Ways to Die in the West really stand out.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                             (8.1/10)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

'Godzilla' director Gareth Edwards to helm 'Star Wars' spin-off; film will hit theaters December 16, 2016

For about fifteen minutes, Warner Bros.' Godzilla was the talk of Hollywood before everyone moved on to X-Men: Days of Future Past. The creature feature took in a massive $93.1 million on its opening weekend, has already crossed $110 million at the box office and will receive a sequel very soon. I personally really enjoyed the film and plan on seeing it at least one more time to get a better grasp of the scope and size of the movie. One thing that I really felt contributed to the overall success of the movie was the direction of Gareth Edwards, who was experimenting with his first blockbuster movie. I pretty much assumed that he would be at the helm of the Godzilla sequel, but with this breaking news, it would appear that Edwards will be heading over to Disney for a new adventure.

The Hollywood Reporter (THR for short) is breaking the story this evening that Edwards will be directing an upcoming Star Wars spin-off movie, which is now scheduled to hit theaters on December 16, 2016. THR is also reporting that Book of Eli screenwriter Gary Whitta will be penning the script. Edwards wrote in a statement that is "excited & honored to go on this mission with Lucasfilm." THR also writes that Edwards is still signed on for Godzilla 2 and 3, but I doubt that they will hit theaters anytime soon if that is the case.

Even though I didn't love Godzilla (read my "B+" review here), I still really enjoyed it and instantly recognized Edwards immense talent and fantastic directorial eye. While the subject of the spin-off isn't confirmed yet, I have a feeling that Edwards will have a lot of say in what the project ends up being and I'm confident that he'll pick a project that fits his style. This is another step in the right direction for the Star Wars franchise and I'm really happy that they're picking quality directors to helm these films. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

New trailer for Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' is absolutely amazing

Before some screenings of Godzilla this weekend, there's a new trailer for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. We previously saw a teaser for Interstellar before The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but it really was more of an announcement trailer. There was not a ton of real footage and it only teased the plot of the movie. However, this new trailer definitely shows some real footage and (sort of) reveals the true plot of the movie. Check out the trailer below:

Interstellar is by far my most anticipated movie of the year. It's a new film from director Christopher Nolan, who is one of my favorite directors of all time. He directed three of the best superhero films ever made (The Dark Knight trilogy) and a sci-fi/crime film that will be regarded as a masterpiece forever (Inception). And to be honest, it looks like Interstellar might be an even riskier endeavor. From what the trailer revealed, the plot will follow a group of scientists and engineers who go on an interstellar journey to find food and new life. 

This trailer really blew me away. This looks like a Nolan film through and through and the visuals look stunning. I have a feeling that Nolan really wants to make the reveal of what happens once the scientists go through the wormhole special and I doubt that it will be revealed until we actually watch the movie in November. I've heard also that Nolan has said that this movie was inspired by the blockbusters of his childhood, which makes me even more excited. I simply cannot wait for this movie. I know that Nolan will knock it out of the park. Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Matt Damon and Wes Bentley. It hits theaters on November 7, 2014. 

'Godzilla' opens with massive $93.2 million, 'Neighbors' falls to second place at weekend box office

The summer box office train continues to roll as Godzilla became the second straight surprise hit of the season. The monster movie took in a massive $93.2 million this weekend, which is the most for a disaster movie and the most for a monster movie in Hollywood history. Godzilla's $93.2 million opening weekend is also the fourth highest for Legendary Pictures, only behind Man of Steel, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. I was slightly disappointed by the film (even though I still really, really enjoyed it) and it appears that audiences were a little let down as well. Godzilla received a "B+" Cinemascore, which hints at solid, but unspectacular word of mouth. Despite all of Godzilla's success, the mixture of lukewarm audience reception and the release of Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past next weekend might prove fatal for the film. I'm betting on a finish around $220 million for the film.

Universal's Neighbors finished in second place this weekend, taking in $25.9 million. That's a relatively light 47% drop from last weekend, which indicates that Neighbors should end up staying strong in the coming weeks. The film has now taken in $91.5 million and will likely crawl its way to $150 million. Neighbors is currently ahead of The Hangover Part III, but way behind Ted and the original Hangover at the same time in their run.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also continued its slow fall this weekend, finishing in third place with $16.8 million. That's a nice 53% drop from last weekend and solidifies the fact that Sony really needs to rethink their plans for Spidey. TASM2 has now grossed $172.1 million in the US and will probably crawl its way to $200 million. The worldwide grosses are looking much better: at this point, the film stands at $633.1 million worldwide. Still, the film needs an additional $120 million worldwide to top the first Amazing Spider-Man film. Even then, Sony still needs to change the budget for the sequels.

Fourth place belonged to the weekend's other new release, Disney's Million Dollar Arm. The inspirational baseball movie, which I really enjoyed, took in a disappointing $10.5 million this weekend. That's about half of what Miracle opened to back in 2004 and a major letdown for Disney. Studio chief Alan Horn has bragged about the film's off the charts test scores, yet the film received only an "A-" Cinemascore from audiences. Strange stuff. The film also received a pretty expansive marketing campaign, but it just wasn't enough. Unless word of mouth is great, expect this one to fizzle out. Too bad. It's a pretty good movie.

The Other Woman continued its solid run, finishing in fifth place this weekend with $6.3 million. The rom-com has now grossed $71.6 million, which is very impressive given the strong competition that it has faced. Expect this film to climb its way to $85 million. Heaven is for Real also kept its momentum going at the box office, taking in $4.4 million in sixth place to raise its overall total to $82.2 million. Heaven is for Real has turned a solid profit so far and will probably end up with $90 million.

Fox's Rio 2 finally managed to top Captain America: The Winter Soldier this weekend (it has spent several weekends only one or two places behind Cap), finishing in seventh place with $3.8 million. The animated sequel has now grossed $118 million. Captain America: The Winter Soldier finished in eighth place this weekend with $3.7 million. The megahit has now grossed $250.6 million in the US and has a worldwide total of $703.4 million.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return finished in ninth place this weekend, taking in $1.9 million. The animated flop has now grossed a paltry $6.5 million. And finally, Mom's Night Out rounded out the top ten with $1.9 million. The comedy has now grossed $7.3 million.

Next weekend is Memorial Day weekend, one of the biggest weekends of the year and X-Men: Days of Future Past and Blended are the new releases. Here are my early predictions for the four-day weekend:

1. X-Men: Days of Future Past- $126.6 million
2. Godzilla- $53.2 million
3. Blended- $31.3 million
4. Neighbors- $18.6 million
5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2- $13.2 million
6. Million Dollar Arm- $7.2 million
7. The Other Woman- $4.8 million
8. Heaven is for Real- $3.4 million
9. Rio 2- $2.6 million
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- $2.5 million

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Godzilla review

The summer movie season prides itself on being big. Each summer, the major studios bring us new films that feature bigger disasters, bigger monsters and more destruction than ever seen before. However, since Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon exploded onto screens in 2011, it seems like the studios have started to try even harder to top each other. At this point, it feels like a giant contest in Hollywood to see who can create the most CGI destruction in their movies. This year, Warner Bros. starts off the season of mass chaos with our first big summer disaster flick: Godzilla. While a new Godzilla movie in 2014 might sound like a risky and ridiculous proposition, the marketing has made this new film look phenomenal. Ever since Warner Bros. premiered a teaser in December, excitement for this new film has been off the charts and fans have been trying to get every little bit of info that they could. In the end, Godzilla is a very good, almost great disaster film that is held back by some problems in the third act. Gareth Edwards comes close, but ultimately this film just gets a little too messy.

Godzilla is a reboot of the beloved Toho monster property and it really does start from scratch with brand new characters and a darker tone. After a Jurassic Park-esque opening scene that introduces us to Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), we head to a Japanese nuclear power plant, where Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) work. After a "natural disaster", Sandra is killed and Joe is left to deal with the aftermath. 

Fifteen years later, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the son of Sandra and Joe, is returning from military service when he receives a call from the Japanese police who tell him that his father has been arrested for trespassing on private property. Ford leaves his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) for Japan and bails his father out when he gets there. However, Joe sucks Ford into his world of conspiracy theories about what really could have caused his wife's death and they end up discovering something that could destroy our world completely. 

Godzilla was definitely one of my most anticipated movies of the year. The trailers for this movie were fantastic and the tone and scale looked breathtaking. The reviews started pouring in earlier this week and I became even more encouraged. Going into Godzilla, I was immensely excited and to say that it didn't quite live up to my sky-high expectations disappoints me a bit. I still really enjoyed the film, but something just didn't click at certain times, which is very interesting considering how well this film is set up. What's even more interesting is that the things I disliked about the movie were not the same as the majority of the critics out there. 

Many people have expressed their disdain for the characters in this movie. Although a lot of the characters are pretty typical of this kind of movie, I really didn't have a problem with any of them. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is pretty good in his role. I've never really liked him in anything before, but he shows some promise here. Bryan Cranston is also good and delivers a solid performance in a short amount of time. Ken Watanabe and David Strathairn are almost too serious for this movie at times and Watanabe's dead serious performance was a slight annoyance at times (he does get to say "Godzilla" with a Japanese accent though, which is cool). The females in the cast (Olsen, Hawkins, Binoche) are limited to about five minutes of screentime each and none of them have much to do. 

Summer blockbusters can often be made by "directors for hire"- filmmakers just looking for a job who will do whatever the studio tells them to do. And although there is definitely some studio influence towards the end of this movie, it's clear that Gareth Edwards wanted to direct this film and was going to do his best to put a personal flair onto it. His direction in this movie is phenomenal and even though this movie disappoints in some aspects, it proves that Edwards is a talent to watch. 

Edwards paces this film so well for pretty much the first hour and a half of this movie. From the Jurassic Park homage that kicks things off to the exciting sequence in Hawaii, Edwards builds suspense and does it well. His reveal of Godzilla is immensely exciting and the Spielberg-like build-up is great. The cinematography of this movie is great and the way that the first section of the film sets up the rest of the movie is a feat of filmmaking.  It's just too bad the monster fights couldn't have been a little bit better. 

As hinted at, my main problem with the movie lies in the third act. We've been building up to the Godzilla monster fights for an hour and a half and I want them to blow me away. I want epic destruction, I want Alexander Desplat's awesome score pounding through the massive speakers in my theater and I want to be amazed. Sadly, I wasn't amazed. The action lasts for about twenty minutes and it ends up focusing a little too much on Brody. 

By the time the action is set to begin, the city of San Francisco is a mess with black and red smoke throughout the city. The stage is set for one of the greatest action climaxes in movie history. Gareth Edwards has set up the final battle splendidly and he can put the final nail in the coffin and make Godzilla one of the best blockbusters in recent years with one final epic battle. Instead, he gives us ten minutes of on-and-off fighting between Godzilla and two MUTOs with a couple of epic shots that left me wanting more. I wanted a full on battle. I wanted it all. It pained me to watch the finale fall flat after Edwards had built up the suspense so well. The battle just felt too short and the pacing was off by a mile. It just felt like the producers said "Needs more destruction!" and they just forgot to make it exciting. I liked what Edwards put on the screen, but it just didn't feel like it fit. Something was off. 

Look, Godzilla is flawed before the monster action begins. The script is a bit wooden, the serious tone is a bit off-putting and the characters are not all that interesting. However, I would have most certainly forgotten all about that if the film had a stunning conclusion. And there are stunning parts. A couple of the shots that show Godzilla fighting the MUTOs are great and there were a couple of "Wow" moments. There was even a scene towards the end that made me clap. It was just not enough. I was expecting more. 

In the end, I wanted a disaster movie masterpiece and I got a mash-up of Jurassic Park, Jaws, Pacific Rim and World War Z. It's still a very, very good film and even though I have spent a large chunk of this review expressing my disappointment in some aspects of this movie, I still believe that it's an interesting summer blockbuster and one that you should definitely check out. I loved Edwards' treatment of Godzilla and I loved the way that he created suspense for the arrival of Godzilla. I just wish that the ending had been a little bit better. Edwards is clearly a director to watch and I hope that he can make an even better Godzilla movie in the near future. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                                             (7.4/10)  


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Channing Tatum to star as Gambit in new "X-Men" stand-alone spin-off series

Today was a pretty great day to be a movie fan. Not only did we get a first look at Ben Affleck as Batman in Warner Bros.' Batman Vs. Superman and learn the release date of the studio's new Harry Potter trilogy, we also learned that 21 Jump Street star Channing Tatum will be starring as Gambit in an upcoming X-Men spin-off movie.

According to Variety, X-Men: Days of Future Past producer Lauren Shuler Donner said that Tatum will take on the role of Gambit at the premiere of that film. Donner said that she believes that Tatum will be a great Gambit and that she knows he can handle the action. According to the Variety post, Tatum will star as Gambit in a spin-off movie. It's unclear as to whether he will appear in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse.

After the critical disaster that was X-Men: Origins- Wolverine, it's clear that Fox is really trying to rejuvenate their X-Men franchise. And by recasting a major character, who was only previously used in an despised film (Taylor Kitsch played Gambit in Origins-Wolverine), with a big name star, it's clear that Fox wants to bring some more star power to this franchise. At this point, I'm pretty much done with the character of Wolverine on his own (I still enjoy Hugh Jackman's portrayal in ensemble pieces), but I'm intrigued to see where Fox goes with spin-offs of other characters. It's a promising idea.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Fifteen Movies that I'm looking forward to in Summer 2014

The summer movie season often brings some of the most entertaining films of the year. They never win Oscars, but sometimes they can become instant classics. This summer looks especially promising and it's off to a good start. Although some may have been disappointed by The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (it was about as good as I thought it would be), Seth Rogen's raucous comedy Neighbors is absolutely bonkers and a great way to start the summer. Million Dollar Arm is also very good counter-programming and a good film. Here are fifteen other movies that I'm looking forward to this summer.

CHEF- In theaters now

Jon Favreau is a captivating actor and a decent director for the most part, but his new film, Chef, looks to be especially great. As many have pointed out, Chef plays as sort of an autobiography for Favreau. The film chronicles the life of a LA chef (Favreau) who gets a bad review from an influential food critic (Oliver Platt) after being forced to cook the menu that his boss (Dustin Hoffman) gives him. Favreau's character ends up embarking on a journey with his family and friends to create a small food truck business that will help him find himself. Many have compared this story to Favreau's experience making Cowboys and Aliens and Iron Man 2 and I'm pretty sure that was intentional. This looks like a nice change of pace from the destruction-fests that we'll be seeing this summer. That's what makes this film extremely interesting.


In less than a day, I'll be seeing this movie. And I honestly could not be more excited. Godzilla has received solid early buzz from screenings and it seems to be the kind of traditionally made creature feature that I love. It doesn't hurt that the cast is full of rising stars and quality veterans. The CGI looks great, the action looks haunting and the film appears to be astonishing. Let's hope that Godzilla lives up to all of my expectations.


It's kind of disappointing for be that my two most anticipated movies of the summer come out within a week of each. But so it goes. X-Men: Days of Future Past is being praised by critics in early Twitter reactions and that has taken my excitement to another level. The third trailer was brilliant, First Class was the best X-Men movie so far and bringing both casts together for a time travel movie sounds awesome. In the end, I don't see how someone can't be excited for this movie. I just can't.


The latest red band trailer for A Million Ways to Die in the West had one or two funny jokes, but was peppered with so many sex, poop and fart jokes that I started to worry that one of the promising comedies of the year would end being no more than a lackluster Adam Sandler comedy. However, I still hold out hope for A Million Ways. MacFarlane's brand of comedy can often be very funny and a large-scale western with a great cast is a promising idea. I still have my hopes up for this one.


At first, Edge of Tomorrow looked like it would be very similar to Cruise's 2013 folly Oblivion. However, as the marketing campaign has continued, Edge of Tomorrow has looked more and more promising. The visual visual aesthetic of the film look stupendous and the action and direction appear to be stellar. This has slowly become one of my most anticipated movies of the summer and I hope that it ends up being as good as it could potentially be.

22 JUMP STREET- June 13

I didn't see 21 Jump Street, but I can say that 22 Jump Street looks hilarious. The red band trailer was energetic and funny and it made the film look like a great time. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are both charismatic stars and the idea of seeing them go on Spring Break and party is endlessly appealing. Look for this to be one of the summer's best comedies.


This is a film that feels like it should be released around Christmas, but nonetheless, Warner Bros. is opening Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys in the summer. And it looks fantastic. The trailer is well cut and the film appears to be very old-fashioned, but also slightly edgy. The acting looks solid, the story looks compelling, and Eastwood is still a good director. If it stays on the summer calender, expect Jersey Boys to be a solid hit with the adult crowd.


When I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in IMAX last week, I also saw the trailer for Transformers: Age of Extinction. The theater was literally shaking. You just can't get a feel for director Michael Bay's Transformers movies at home. I'm skeptical about Age of Extinction at this point, but I believe that it will deliver on its promise of explosions and non-stop action. That's really all that I'm expecting out of this movie.


Last summer's The Conjuring delivered on its promise of being a terrifying horror movie while also a good all-around movie. I'm hoping that Deliver Us From Evil can do the same thing. Eric Bana and Edgar Ramirez star in a dark cop drama that also doubles as a horror movie. The police stuff itself looks compelling, but the added supernatural element makes this a can't miss movie for me.


If you want a really good look at what Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be, watch the latest international trailer. It makes the film look really good. I'm really excited for this one, because I see the potential for a classic action movie. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a solid start, but I believe that Dawn can be even better. We can only hope. 

BOYHOOD- July 11

The trailer for Boyhood has to be one of the greatest trailers in film history. It perfectly captures what makes this film so exciting and appealing to me. I felt such a strong connection to the character of Mason while I was watching that trailer. After that, Boyhood instantly jumped to the top of my most anticipated list. With stellar reviews out of Sundance, my anticipation for Boyhood could not be any higher.


Either the Wachowskis signed a deal with WB after The Matrix that said they could make whatever big-budget movies they wanted for years after the film or they give the greatest sales pitches in the world. Because I simply don't understand how some of their movies get made. Not that Jupiter Ascending, their latest venture, doesn't look good. It looks like one of the gutsiest films of the summer and the kind of sci-fi movie that can become a classic. But with a $200 million budget, it's a risky proposition and one that I'm not sure will pan out for Warner Bros.


Guardians of the Galaxy is another one of the summer's riskiest propositions, but I've been convinced from the trailers. Marvel's been on a roll lately at the box office and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was fantastic. Guardians is still a risky film and one that could end up being too weird or too goofy, but it looks like a good time. That's all I'm expecting. 

GET ON UP- August 1

I wasn't a big fan of The Help or 42, but I can't help but be excited for director Tate Taylor's (The Help) latest film, Get On Up, which stars Chadwick Boseman (42) as James Brown. The trailer is great and the film looks extremely promising. This type of film excels in August and I can't wait to see how Get on Up turns out.

LUCY- August 8

Lucy had a great first trailer and it appears to be a stylish action thriller in the vein of Oldboy and some of Luc Besson's earlier stuff. That along with the fact that it stars Scarlett Johnannson and Morgan Freeman has me very excited. Lucy has the makings of an action classic if the execution is strong. I really can't wait to see how this one ends up.

I'm also excited to see Maleficent and How to Train Your Dragon 2, but those films ended up being too standard to make it on this list. These fifteen are the ones I simply can't wait for. 

'Million Dollar Arm' review

In the mid-2000's, the sports movie was one of the most bankable genres in the business. And nobody had a stronger monopoly over the sports movie genre than Disney. Movies like Remember the Titans, Miracle, The Rookie and more were produced by the studio and the films often brought in a solid profit. In recent years, the Disney sports movie hasn't been made quite as frequently. The last one that I remember was 2010's Secretariat, which was probably not one of their best. Disney is now back with Million Dollar Arm (in theaters May 16), a Jon Hamm-starred baseball feature that mixes Slumdog Millionaire and Moneyball together for a pretty enjoyable film.

JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent in California, struggling to bring in top-notch clients after starting his own business. Bernstein has the chance to snag a big NFL player, but loses him to a rival agency. Out of money and out of ideas, Bernstein decides to try to get the first MLB players from India after being inspired by watching cricket on TV. Bernstein travels to the country to set up the "Million Dollar Arm" competition, where two Indian men will get the chance to travel to America to train for baseball. When Bernstein gets to India, he teams up with an office manager (Darshan Jariwala), a local baseball fan (Pitobash) and an American baseball scout (Alan Arkin) to find these players.

After a difficult start to the competition, Bernstein eventually finds two potential players (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal) and takes them back to America for training. However, Bernstein learns that taking two kids from the middle of nowhere and turning them into baseball stars won't happen overnight. But through the help of Coach Tom House (Bill Paxton) and a neighbor (Lake Bell), Bernstein learns to help these kids achieve their dream and reach their full potential.

Inspirational sports movies rarely change their formula. The only real exception that I can think of in recent years is Bennett Miller's Moneyball, which focused on the business side of sports. Million Dollar Arm has a little bit of Moneyball in it, but for the most part, it's your typical Disney sports movie. It runs through all of the motions in a pretty standard way and never does something that's unconventional or unexpected. Formulas and cliches work for a reason though. Despite the fact that it's really nothing new, director Craig Gillespie infuses an energy into this film that makes it one of the better and more effortlessly enjoyable Disney sports movies that I've ever seen.

India and Los Angeles are the settings for this film and they make the film very energetic and very exciting. It seems like there's always something going on and the film is consistently entertaining for the two hour runtime. The film contrasts LA and India well, but both feel exciting in their own right. I really enjoyed the direction and editing of this film and thought that it made the film better, which is a massive compliment. Gillespie has a good eye for atmosphere and makes the geographic settings of the film very important.

The acting is pretty typical of these kinds of films. Nobody really ever stood out to me and some people really seemed like they were phoning in it. Jon Hamm is a solid choice for Bernstein and brings a little bit of charisma to the role. Alan Arkin is once again playing the same character that he did in Argo, Burt Wonderstone and Grudge Match, which was amusing and entertaining for a while, but has become a little tiresome and tedious at this point. Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal did a good job as Rinku and Dinesh, the two boys brought over to play baseball. The standout of the cast for me was Lake Bell who is really charming and charismatic in her role.

For me, the Disney sports movies often get caught up in their story and end up being a little long-winded. Secretariat's main flaw is that it's too long. Same with Miracle at times (although that movie is brilliant if you haven't seen it). Million Dollar Arm does fall into that trap at times as well. It's around two hours long and I feel like it could be shorter.

Despite being a rather typical sports movie, Million Dollar Arm is so enjoyable and is a crowd-pleasing film through and through. It's a movie that will entertain you from start to finish and it features a Bollywood soundtrack that really adds a lot of energy to the film. This is definitely one of the better sports movies that I've seen in recent years. It's not as daring as Moneyball or as inspirational as Miracle, but it's a movie that a lot of people will enjoy and one that will have you leave the theater with a smile on your face.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.9/10)

"Neighbors" tops "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" with $51.1 million at weekend box office

After last year's The Great Gatsby opened to $50 million on the second weekend in May, I started to think that weekend might end up being one in which the studios opened their big summer dramas and comedies. Neighbors has now confirmed that thought. The raunchy Universal comedy opened to $51.1 million, which is the third highest for an R-rated movie in history. The film is insanely funny, so I'm in no way surprised by its huge success. However, a $50 million+ opening is absolutely spectacular. The film only cost $18 million to make, so Universal has no worries about turning a profit. Although the film did receive a "B" Cinemascore, I believe that business will boom for this one throughout the month until Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West opens. A total around $150 million is to be expected.

In second place was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which took a 59% drop to $37.2 million for the weekend. That's a steep drop for the film, albeit an unsurprising one. Support is extremely low for the film and Neighbors likely took a huge chunk of Spidey's audience. The film has now grossed $147.9 million in the US. That's a relatively lackluster total (through ten days, The Amazing Spider-Man had already broken the $200 million mark), but the worldwide total of $550.9 million is pretty solid. However, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will take an even steeper drop next weekend upon the release of Warner Bros.' Godzilla. Expect TASM2 to finish with around $210 million. 

The Other Woman finished in third place this weekend and has managed to keep a decent amount of its audience. The film took in $9.2 million this weekend, which is only a 36% drop from last weekend. The female-driven comedy has now grossed $61.7 million. A final total around $75 million seems plausible at this point. In fourth place was TriStar's Heaven is for Real, which grossed $7 million for the weekend. The low-budget hit has now taken in $75.2 million, which is quite impressive. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier finished in fifth place this weekend with $5.6 million. The Winter Soldier has now made $244.9 million and will likely finish with around $260 million. Also, The Winter Soldier should pass $700 million worldwide in the near future. Rio 2 finished in sixth place this weekend and brought in another $5.1 million. The animated hit has now grossed $113.1 million and will ultimately finish with less than its predecessor. 

Seventh place belonged to Mom's Night Out, a low-budget release from TriStar. The film took in $4.2 million, which isn't terrible considering the film's $5 million budget. The film only played in 1,044 theaters this weekend, so expect Mom's Night Out to expand just a little bit more in the future. Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return finished in eighth place with $3.7 million. The awful-looking kids film received a stellar "A" Cinemascore, but reportedly cost $70 million to make. Obviously that money didn't make it to the screen. 

Divergent has continued to hang around as it finished in ninth place this weekend with $1.7 million. The film has now grossed $145 million. And finally, Brick Mansions rounded out the top ten with $1.4 million, which raises the film's total to $18.3 million.

On a few side notes, The Grand Budapest Hotel became Wes Anderson's highest grossing film this weekend, taking in $1.4 million to raise its total to $53.7 million and pass The Royal Tenenbaums. Also, Chef opened in six theaters and made $204,000. The film, directed by Jon Favreau, will expand in the coming weeks. 

Next weekend sees the release of Godzilla and Million Dollar Arm. Here are my predictions:

1. Godzilla- $86.7 million
2. Neighbors- $31.3 million
3. Million Dollar Arm- $19.6 million
4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2- $16.5 million
5. The Other Woman- $5.1 million
6. Heaven is for Real- $4.9 million
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- $3.9 million
8. Mom's Night Out- $3.5 million
9. Rio 2- $3.4 million
10. Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return- $2.6 million

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Neighbors review

NOTE: This review was originally posted on April 17, 2014 after I saw Neighbors at an advance screening.

Over the last few years, there hasn't been a more powerful comedic force in Hollywood than Seth Rogen. After starting his career with small roles in Judd Apatow productions like Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin, Rogen eventually became a star in his own right, headlining films like Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet while also writing Superbad and directing This is the End with partner Evan Goldberg. Over the years, Rogen and friends Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, and writer Nicholas Stoller have expanded their horizons a bit. They're tackled animated comedies, The Muppets and Hill has even picked up some Oscar nominations along the way. However, Rogen's latest film, Neighbors (out on May 9), definitely takes them back to R-rated territory. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors plays as both a raunchy modern version of Animal House and a war movie where a suburban family and a fraternity do their best to destroy each other. With stellar performances from Zac Efron, Rose Byrne and Dave Franco, Neighbors is undoubtedly one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It's hilarious from beginning to end and one of the best comedies in recent years.

Neighbors focuses on Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne), a nice suburban family who are trying to adjust to life with their new baby. They miss their old days of partying, but they seem content at the same time. However, when a fraternity moves in next door, Mac and Kelly see an opportunity to prove their coolness to the frat. They go over and introduce themselves to Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) and end up partying with them all night long. The party ends and the couple goes home, but then Teddy and Pete throw another giant party the next night. Mac ends up calling the cops and a war between the fraternity and Mac's family begins. Madness, drinking, partying and mass chaos ensues.

Neighbors is very much a Seth Rogen comedy. It's raunchy, there's a lot of marijuana use and the profanity is extremely consistent. However, Rogen and director Nicholas Stoller definitely stepped up their game here delivering a movie that feels out of control, yet meticulously mapped out at the same time. Just like the frat classic Animal House, Neighbors is a bit too messy and mostly plays out as a series of parties and pranks. But you can tell that Rogen didn't want to just do that. As many critics have already said, there are some really interesting themes in here about moving on past your young life and so on. However, you'll probably miss some of those underlying themes just from laughing so hard. By far, the best part about this movie is that it's funny and that's really all that matters. The characters and story are extremely interesting and funny and Rogen and Stoller do everything they can to make you laugh out loud at every scene. Neighbors is an absolute blast.

Comedy never works if the performers aren't up to the task. In Neighbors, all of the actors play an integral part in making this film so hilarious. Rogen is good as usual, but he definitely has moments of pure genius. Rose Byrne is really funny as well and does a great job of playing a character who is really evil at times. Efron was the stand out for me. He fits in really well with this style of comedy and is a great fit for the part. The supporting cast is also unusually strong. Dave Franco does a pretty good job, but I don't remember a ton of funny moments with him. Ike Barinholtz does a great job as Mac and Kelly's friend Jimmy. His character has some great moments.

The plot is pretty thin in terms of story, but the characters do change over the course of the film. All of these characters grow up a little bit because of what they do in this film. Plot-wise, this film is essentially a war movie between a group of immature fraternity brothers and a group of immature adults. However, just like Animal House, an elaborate plot isn't really integral to the film. Neighbors contains a bunch of small subplots that take place during this "war" that the film depicts. All of the subplots are either interesting or absolutely hilarious and they make the film better.

The script for Neighbors was written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien. Neither one has ever written a script before. Heck, Cohen and O'Brien's most prominent credit is that they were co-producers on Funny People and assistant producers on The 40 Year Old Virgin. That's very little experience, but they kill it with this script. You can definitely feel Rogen and Stoller's touch on the script, but credit is due to Cohen and O'Brien as well. The characters are well-developed and their motivations are clear. But most importantly, this script never ceases to amaze with more and more outrageous jokes and features so much non-stop hilarity, that you'll probably be tired by the end of this movie.

Nicholas Stoller directed Forgetting Sarah Marshll, Get Him To The Greek and The Five Year Engagement before directing Neighbors. He also wrote the fantastic reboot The Muppets and its awful sequel Muppets Most Wanted. All in all, Stoller has had a mixed track record critically, but the energy his direction brings to this film is amazing. This film never slows down and Stoller has crafted some of the most elaborately outlandish and hilariously insane party sequences ever. This film almost never stops and Stoller captures everything so well.

When it comes to comedies, the thing that I consider to be most important is how much I laughed. I practically couldn't stop laughing in Neighbors. There are so many funny jokes sprinkled throughout this movie and the manic energy makes it all the more enjoyable. I seriously think that this is one of the funniest movies that I've ever seen. Whether it was Rogen and Efron dance fighting or the absolutely insane party at the end or the airbag scenes, this movie was making me laugh.

Neighbors is exactly what you'd expect from Rogen and his team: vulgar, crude and insanely funny. Do Stoller and Rogen take a couple jokes too far every once in a while? Definitely. Is the story a little weak at times and does the movie have a few scenes that just don't quite fit? Yes, also. However, none of that will matter to you when you're watching this movie and laughing your butt off. It's pure comic insanity from beginning to end and a great start to what is sure to be one of the best summers for R-rated comedies in recent memory.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                  (9/10)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 review

The summer movie season has kicked off with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and what an interesting way to kick things off. The sequel to 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man has been hotly debated thus far with some fans saying that it's a brilliant film, some saying that it's a failure on the level of Batman and Robin and others falling somewhere in the middle. That puts The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the same category as Man of Steel and Iron Man 3 as both of those movies were debated by fanboys everywhere. Personally, I thought that Man of Steel was a mess and I find that Iron Man 3 doesn't hold up on repeated viewings. Having seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2 now, I probably fall somewhere in the middle. It's an solid, entertaining film with some great action scenes and a fantastic opener, but it falls short in the villain department and is terribly paced. This is far from a bad movie, but it certainly has some terrible parts.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as he becomes more and more accustomed to his life as Spider-Man. After dealing with a Russian mobster (Paul Giamatti), Peter graduates from high school with his love Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and decides to move on with his life. However, Peter must soon deal with a new foe: Max Dillon aka Electro (Jamie Foxx). Dillon falls in to a container of electric eels and ends up becoming an all-powerful, energy-consuming monster.

However, Peter now not only has to deal with Dillon, he has to deal with his old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) as well. Harry's father Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) has now died and Harry is inheriting the company and his father's disease. Suddenly, Harry is on a quest to get the magic spider venom that could possibly save his life and only Peter stands in his way. Also, Peter must decide if he really wants to be with Gwen because she wants a steady relationship and he's still haunted by the promise he made to her father that he would stay away from her. Basically, this movie takes a bunch of plot points from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 and throws them together into one big movie.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a movie that has split fans and casual moviegoers across the country. And it's easy to understand why. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an entertaining film. I was interested and entertained throughout this movie. Despite that, I can honestly say that it's not a very good movie. There's way too much going on, all of the villains are disappointing in one way or another and the film just feels like a rehash, which is really disappointing.

Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man felt like something fresh in the world of superhero cinema. While The Avengers and Batman were busy destroying cities, Spider-Man felt like a character that you could relate to more. There was an interesting dynamic between Garfield and Stone and the story was engaging on a personal level. My major problem with Webb's first Spider-Man movie was the action and he certainly fixes that problem here. The action in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is stunning and feels fresh and inventive at the same time. It felt like Webb was trying to do something new with the setpieces in this movie and that was something that I truly appreciated. I felt like this movie had a nice balance of action and character building. The only problem is that it's exceedingly ignorant and ridiculous at times, which makes this film slightly disappointing.

Throughout the Spider-Man franchise, villains have consistently been a problem. Raimi's first two Spider-Man films did an excellent job of using villains that were human and real, but Spider-Man 3 took a complete turn, taking three underdeveloped villains and pushing them into one film. Sandman or New Goblin would have been enough on their own, but Venom was forced to join the mix as well. The Amazing Spider-Man had a flat-out bad villain in the Lizard that took all the momentum out of an otherwise very good film.

Webb's sequel essentially combines both of those problems and amplifies them to a whole new level. The villain situation in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is probably the worst there's ever been in a Spider-Man movie. Jamie Foxx's overcooked, hilariously goofy performance as Max Dillon/Electro is only part of the problem (although I would argue that Electro is one of the worst villains in movie history). Not only is Foxx's performance terrible, the handling of the character is stunningly awful. During any action scenes with Electro, there's this weird music in the background that to get you into the character's state of mind, but ends up just being plain dumb.

The villain problems are not even limited to Electro. Paul Giamatti does his best impression of Gru from Despicable Me during his limited screentime as the Rhino and it ends up being a total disaster. Giamatti just embarrasses himself in this movie. I believe that Dane DeHaan is one of the most promising actors of his generation. And while his performance as Harry Osborn is far from the worst in the film, DeHaan is still shortchanged. The Green Goblin is just a terribly handled villain.

In general, there's just way too much going on in this movie. Peter's trying to find out about his father, Peter's trying to save his relationship with Gwen, Harry needs Spider-Man blood, Max needs love from Spider-Man, the Rhino's running around the city, OsCorp is building an empire and more. Three of those plots would have made for a sufficient film. However, Webb and co. decided to throw everything in there and it just makes the film a mess.

Maybe if Webb knew how to pace a film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 might not be as much of a mess. Sadly, that's not the case. This film just has a bunch of scenes that don't really fit together and subplots that add too much extra fat. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 just flips and flops between plots too frequently and it ends up amounting to a film that is all over the place.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is trying to do way too many things in the hopes of setting up more Spider-Man movies in the future. There are so many throw-away scenes and characters that serve no other purpose than to set up future characters. I was entertained throughout this movie, but if you step back a bit, you're probably going to recognize that this movie is a narrative mess that rehashes old plotlines and tries to do way too much. However, the action is very good, the relationships are strong and the visuals are pretty solid. It's just an entertaining film that just ends up being too much.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                              (6.8/10)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" leads with $92 million, "The Other Woman" remains strong at weekend box office

While some have said that Captain America: The Winter Soldier kicked off the summer movie season in early April, according to most outlets, the first weekend in May is the start of the season and by that definition, Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 truly kicked off the summer movie season. After a decent showing with The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, the sequel was bound to do just a little bit better. However, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a slight disappointment this weekend, grossing only $92 million. The film has received mixed reviews from critics and the "B+" Cinemascore isn't going to help word of mouth (I'm planning on seeing it Wednesday, so stay tuned). At this point, Spider-Man 2 will likely finish with around $230 million if the word of mouth isn't terrible. All in all, this is a shaky start to the summer movie season. Hopefully some of the other May films can really turn the box office around.

In second place with The Other Woman, which stayed very strong for Fox this weekend with $14.2 million. The film, which received a decent Cinemascore last weekend, has now grossed $47.3 million and will likely finish with around $75 million. The film, which is budgeted at $40 million, should break even. Heaven is for Real finished in third place this weekend with $8.7 million, which is another strong hold for the faith-based film. Heaven is for Real has now grossed $65.6 million. It should finish with around $80 million. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier took a small dip this weekend with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opening, finishing in fourth place with $7.7 million. The film has now grossed $237.1 million domestically and $679.8 million worldwide. The Winter Soldier will probably finish with around $800 million worldwide. In fifth place was Rio 2, which grossed $7.6 million. Rio 2 passed $100 million this weekend and is now sitting at $106.4 million. 

Brick Mansions took a steep dive this weekend, finishing in sixth place with $3.5 million. The action bust has now grossed $15.4 million. In seventh place was Divergent, which grossed $2.1 million to raise its total to $142.6 million. The Quiet Ones (which pretty much sums up the rest of the movies in the top ten) finished in eighth place with $2 million, raising its total to $6.7 million. God's Not Dead finished in ninth place this weekend with $1.7 million, which raises the film's total to $55.5 million. And finally, The Grand Budapest Hotel rounded out the top ten, finishing with $1.7 million to raise its total to $51.5 million. 

Next weekend sees the release of Neighbors and Mom's Night Out. Here are my predictions: 

1. Neighbors- $43.4 million
2. The Amazing Spider-Man 2- $40.2 million\
3. The Other Woman- $7.3 million
4. Mom's Night Out- $5.6 million
5. Heaven is For Real- $5.4 million
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- $5 million
7. Rio 2- $4.8 million
8. Brick Mansions- $1.9 million
9. Divergent- $1.5 million
10. God's Not Dead- $800,000