Thursday, August 28, 2014

'Calvary' review

Summer is usually filled with light, entertaining movies that satisfy for a moment, but end up being forgettable in the end. The month of August is usually especially packed with forgettable, mediocre fluff that no one will remember or care about a year from now. If you want anything more substantial, you're going to have to go to the art house theaters. And honestly, there are some really great choices out there right now. Jon Favreau's absolutely terrific Chef is hitting theaters again for Labor Day, Boyhood is still rocking screens across the country and there's also a little film called Calvary that is definitely worth your time. This dark, unforgettable drama has a lot to say about the nastiness and inherent despair of the human spirit and it is an uncompromising, disturbing experience. With beautiful cinematography, an intriguing plot and great performances, Calvary is a film that should be near the top of your must-see list.

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) sits down in his booth to give confession. The man who he is seeing comes in the other side. The man (who we only hear) tells the priest that he is going to kill him in seven days, because he was raped by a priest as a young boy. Due to church laws about the sacrament of Reconciliation, Father James cannot know who the man on the other side of the booth is. He'll just have to wait and see. Over the course of the next week, we see Father James devolve into madness as he attempts to improve the lives of the people around him before heading to an uncertain fate on the next Sunday. The villagers in his small Irish town are all very disturbed in some way and despite his best efforts, their lives are out of his control. 

Calvary has been billed as a dark comedy, mostly because director John Michael McDonagh last directed The Guard, which was a brutally dark comedy. However, while Calvary does have its share of pitch black humor, it is most certainly not a comedy. This is a pitch-black drama that may cause you to lose your faith in humanity at the end. You could say that it's a mystery flick, but I honestly feel that would shift the focus off of the film's themes. This is a film about a man's descent into madness and sadness, because the human condition is something that simply cannot be fixed. People will make mistakes and they will screw up their lives and sometimes, it's just beyond our control. 

Brendan Gleeson is the star of this film and he anchors this movie with a sadness and remorse that is really quite excellent. He is truly a good man who is continually pushed to the edge in the name of a sick moral game that is being played. Gleeson's emotional scenes have huge payoffs and the sense of huge Shakespearean tragedy is prevalent throughout, often thanks to Gleeson's performance. He's the center of the movie and he's plays a firm, good man who often lets his anger flow in not-so-good ways. His character must deal with a messed up community that pushes him to his limits at his darkest hour. There are glimmers of optimism and hope, but in the end, Father James has succumbed to a society that has fallen into darkness. It's a tragic thing to watch and it makes for brilliant cinema. 

The rest of the cast is good as well. It feels like a true ensemble cast, because there simply aren't many standouts. Everyone is just very, very good. Chris O'Dowd, Aiden Gillan, Kelly Reilly, Dylan Moran, Domnhall Gleeson, David Wilmot and Owen Sharpe round out the rest of the cast and all of them are good in their own way. Gillan delivers a monologue towards the end of the film that is simply terrific and Moran has some funny moments as well. All in all, it's a terrific cast that works together really well. 

Calvary is truly not a film that relies on its narrative. In fact, I would say that the film's mystery is completely inconsequential. There's a little bit of a sense of "Who's it going to be?" when Father James walks on the beach at the end, but this isn't a movie where you try to grab clues throughout the movie to try to find out who the potential murderer is. It's more of a character study. The man in the confession booth tells Father James that he needs to get his house in order in the next week and James does his best. However, as the day approaches, the darkness surrounds him and he realizes that there is simply no way out. The world is a sad, dark place that can't always be fixed. 

The script for this film is terrific, balancing dark comedy and human drama. McDonagh's writing is witty and funny, but also serious. It truly feels Shakespearean and that's what makes this movie so terrific. The humor never overwhelms the film and when the darker elements become more intense, the humor is less prevalent. McDonagh knows when to crack a joke and when to be serious. 

This is also a masterpiece of direction. Simply superb. The opening scene of this film features several startling lines and it's filmed in one solid take focusing on the face of Father James in the confession booth and it's a great way to kick off the film. McDonagh gives each scene time to develop and he knows how to capture his dialogue. The cinematography focuses on the lush mountains of Ireland and adds some majesty, which only elevates the tragedy in this film. The music also adds quite a bit to the film and it gets much more serious towards the end. All in all, this is a technically perfect film that works on almost every level. 

This movie does take a little bit of time to get going. That's really the only negative. Calvary's characters and stories aren't quite as interesting at the beginning, but they progressively get much more entertaining. Calvary takes place over the course of a single week and that's a very interesting set up. Father James is very involved in the lives of every one of his parishioners and he really wants to help them all. He just doesn't realize that they truly are messed up beyond repair. It's an interesting dynamic that really carries the film and it's very hard to put into writing. However, this is most certainly a film that provokes a discussion and the ending should certainly spark some great discussions. 

Calvary is a character study about a good man who can't overcome the darkness in the world. He starts out with a pure heart and loads of optimism about helping others, but eventually falls into depression and sadness thanks to the tragically horrible world that he lives in. Gleeson is terrific in the lead role and the technical aspects are all brilliant. McDonagh has done something truly interesting and special here. It may take a while to get going, but Calvary is a brave, funny and audaciously dark piece of cinema and it will most certainly be remembered for a long time. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (8.7/10)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

'The Expendables 3' review

Big cheesy action movies were definitely a thing of the 1980's, but honestly, I truly believe that we could use some cheese in our movie diets these days. All of the blockbusters are either self-serious, brooding affairs or dazzling, numbing CGI creations. There's nothing inherently wrong with either of those things, but we could probably use some stupid fun and some crazy stunt work every once in a while. That's exactly what The Expendables 3 offers and it delivers. If you're looking for character development or clever dialogue- go somewhere else. This is wall-to-wall action and general idiocy from start to finish, but it's just so much fun, which is more than I can say for a lot of the dull action blockbusters these days.

The Expendables 3 continues the adventures of Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his globe-trotting crew. This time, his band of mercenaries (Dolph Lundgren, Wesley Snipes, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and most prominently, Jason Statham) find their old nemesis, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who is selling weapons to wealthy buyers. After an Expendable is almost killed, Barney decides that his men are too old and goes out to find a new crew with the help of Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer). He find four new kids (Ronda Rousey, John Ortiz, Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell) who are some of the best in the world and head out to take down Stonebanks. Unfortunately, the new kids are captured and Barney must team up with his old pals and some additional friends (Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzanegger) to take down Stonebanks once and for all.

There have been better movies than Expendables 3 this summer. I am in no way calling this movie a masterpiece. But honestly, if you're looking for two hours of solid entertainment, you really can't go wrong with this movie. The action scenes are appropriately ludicrous and incredible and the acting actually isn't terrible. Mel Gibson is a great addition to the franchise, Wesley Snipes is occasionally electric and Schwarzanegger looks to be having fun tossing around one liners like "Get on da choppah!" and the like. All in all, it's not perfect, but it's a fun time at the theater and it's much better than most of the traditional August garbage.

Stallone always manages to attract an impressive cast for his movies and he gets his biggest one yet with this third installment. It's cool to see all of these guys on screen, but it is really obvious that some of these people are far too good to be in this movie. Mel Gibson adds an immense amount of interest to this film. His character is the only one fully developed and his deliciously evil performance is terrific. Snipes and Ford also do a pretty solid job in their limited roles. Antonio Banderas is also very funny and very annoying in this movie, but for the most part, it works. And even though Kelsey Grammer has nothing to do, he's still pretty good in this movie.

On the other hand, people like Stallone, Schwarzanegger, Couture, Lundgren and Statham aren't terrific actors. However, they're perfectly serviceable in this movie. Watching Statham shout at people and fire up a gun with Arnold shouting off cheesy dialogue, all while Stallone is fighting Mel Gibson is an absolute pleasure to watch and just what I want from this movie. It's not great acting, but it works and that's all that really matters in an Expendables movie.

The action in this movie is nonsensical, but brilliant. The closest comparison that I can think of is Fast and Furious 6, which also featured action that defied the laws of gravity. It's insanity from beginning to end, but it is so crazy good. The final fight scene at the end feels like something straight out of an 80's action, with only a few digital touch-ups. Helicopters, guns, knives- you name it, it's probably in the final battle of this movie. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

The biggest problem this movie runs into is that the characters are boring. In fact, they're not really characters. They're simply caricatures of the actors who play them. And because of that, when they aren't shooting and blowing up stuff, they're boring. The dialogue is either corny or bland and it just doesn't work. Director Patrick Hughes doesn't exactly do anything new or innovative and some shots are bizarrely awful. He has an eye for action and his recruitment montage scenes are good (unpopular opinion), yet he can't seem to make a simple conversation interesting. It just becomes tedious.

So in the end, what you see is what you get with The Expendables 3. A fun, delightful action throwback with a cliched script and terrific action. Some of the new actors add quite a lot to the cast and the movie is just plain entertaining. If you're looking for depth or character development, you won't find it here. But for a good time, you can't go wrong with The Expendables 3.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.3/10)

'Guardians of the Galaxy' reclaims top spot, while 'Sin City: A Dame To Kill For' flops hard at weekend box office

The end of the summer movie season is officially here and it did not end on a great note. The holdover Guardians of the Galaxy took the top spot this weekend after trailing Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for two weeks in a row. Guardians snagged $17.6 million this weekend, which was enough to make it the highest grossing film of the summer. The film has pulled in $251.8 million so far. Considering the fact that the Guardians of the Galaxy were practically unknown a year ago, this is a huge win for Disney and Marvel. In a few weeks, the film will top Captain America: The Winter Soldier to become the biggest film of 2014. Simply astonishing.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slipped to second after two weekends on top and pulled in $16.8 million. The family action hit has now grossed $145.6 million and is undoubtedly one of the summer's biggest surprises. Still, it's a bad movie. Warner Bros.' If I Stay ended up being the top new release of the week with a third place finish and $16.3 million. That pales in comparison to the $48 million The Fault in Our Stars grossed earlier this year, but isn't bad considering the film's $11 million production budget. Audiences gave the film an "A-" Cinemascore, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it hold well and top the box office next weekend.

Let's Be Cops dropped 38% to fourth place this weekend and made $11 million. The comedy, which cost $17 million to produce, has now made $45.2 million. Not bad at all. Sony's When the Game Stands Tall was a little bit farther behind in fifth place with $9 million. The lackluster football drama cost only $15 million to make, so obviously, this film will turn a profit. The movie also got an "A-" Cinemascore, which is not bad. I'm anticipating a strong hold over the Labor Day weekend, even though the movie isn't that great.

The Weinstein Company's The Giver took sixth place and made $6.7 million. That's a solid 45% drop from last weekend. The film has now banked $24.1 million, which is simply okay. The film only cost $25 million, so once again, TWC isn't going to be hurt too badly by this slight disappointment. In seventh place was Lionsgate's The Expendables 3, which plummeted 58% and made only $6.6 million. I really enjoyed this movie and it's worth your time. I'm sad to see that it's not doing well. So far, The Expendables 3 has made $27.5 million.

The big surprise of the weekend was that Sin City: A Dame To Kill For simply fell on its face and pulled in an astonishingly low $6.4 million. Mix that with the "B-" Cinemascore from audiences and you have a bona fide flop on your hands. It's an atrocious opening for a film that looked kind of cool, but I guess the audiences just weren't interested. It's a hard R film in a world where most successful movies are PG-13 so that could have been a contributing factor. The nine year gap between films didn't help either. Maybe director Robert Rodriguez should just stop making sequels for a while (Machete Kills flopped last year as well).

Disney's The Hundred-Foot Journey finished in ninth place and made a strong $5.5 million. The film has held very well and has now banked $32.7 million. And finally, Into the Storm rounded out the top ten with $3.8 million. The disaster flick has now made $38.3 million.

In the limited release world, Boyhood led again with $1.8 million. The film took a light 6.4% drop this weekend and has now grossed $16.5 million. Simply extraordinary. Also, Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight grossed $1.3 million, which raises its total to $6.8 million.

Next weekend sees the release of As Above, So Below and The November Man. Here are my predictions for the four-day weekend:

1. As Above, So Below- $28 million
2. The November Man- $16 million ($23 million 5-day total)
3. Guardians of the Galaxy- $12.3 million
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- $10.4 million
5. If I Stay- $10 million
6. Let's Be Cops- $6.9 million
7. When the Game Stands Tall- $6.8 million
8. The Hundred Foot Journey- $5.5 million
9. The Giver- $4.5 million
10. The Expendables 3- $3.7 million


Saturday, August 23, 2014

'When the Game Stands Tall' review

I am so ready for the Oscar season. Summer got off to a great start, but in the last month, I've seen enough insignificant, disposable films to last a lifetime. There have been a few good films (Guardians of the Galaxy, What If and Expendables 3) and one monumental, brilliant achievement (Boyhood), yet I've also seen a lot of mediocre movies that are instantly forgettable. When the Game Stands Tall is one of those movies. This is a prime example of how to not make a sports movie. The cliches come early and often and the dialogue is awful. Every character says essentially nothing but inspirational quotes and there's no real emotional investment in the people in this film. I couldn't help but smile at the last few scenes, but honestly, it's really hard to screw up football scenes. None of the positives overwhelm the fact that this is a generic, cliched Lifetime movie that is being put into theaters for whatever reason. It's just bad.


For a long time, De La Salle High School in Concord, California had the most esteemed football program in the nation. They won a grand total of 151 games in a row and several state championships along the way. A lot of that success came from Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who taught the boys about family, respect and honor. However, all good things must come to an end and for De La Salle, a lot of good things ended at once.

First, Coach Lad had a heart attack and ended up in the hospital for several months. After that, a popular graduate of De La Salle was killed in a tragic shooting and the team lost a lot of confidence. And finally, the team ended the streak, losing two games in a row. The team is lost and disheveled and Coach Lad must find a way to get them all to band together and he does that by stressing honor, brotherhood and other Christian values. The other subplot involves a star running back (Alexander Ludwig), who is on the verge of breaking a record, and his abusive father. In the end, all of these players must come together and stand tall to reclaim their glory.

I love good sports movies. Hoosiers, Miracle, Remember the Titans, Field of Dreams, Million Dollar Arm- all of those movies are really, really good. And I have no doubt in my mind that When the Game Stands Tall could have been a great movie. It's a solid enough story and it hits all the right beats. Unfortunately, this film practically bathes in cliches and the dialogue is so incredibly atrocious. It honestly felt like none of the screenwriters actually knew how real humans talked. It made the movie painful, repetitive and simply bland. In more talented hands, this could have been better, but for now, it's just boring Hallmark fluff.

The characters in this movie are all relatively boring and useless, except for a select few. Coach Lad is a likable fellow, but if he really speaks in real life like he does in the movie, I can't believe that he's gotten so many players to play for him. Every line of dialogue out of Coach Lad's mouth is like an over dramatic sermon and it gets annoying fast. Caviezel does what he can with the lackluster script, though he's still pretty bland. Laura Dern plays Ladouceur's wife and is also hurt by terrible dialogue. She either has one word sentences to shout out or long sermons to read and Dern is completely wasted.

On the other side of things, I was impressed by Michael Chiklis, who plays the main assistant coach. He brings an electric energy that this movie desperately needs and is pretty good. He manages to overcome the awful dialogue in a way that the others can't. Also, I was interested in the story of Chris Ryan, played by Alexander Ludwig and his insane dad, played by Clancy Brown. The two characters actually speak like human beings for a change and bring some real drama to the film. Both actors do a good job and the subplot keeps the movie afloat near the end.

I've mentioned it several times throughout this review, but I have to say it again: the script for this movie is awful. Aggressively bad. So bad I wanted to punch the screen. There is no realistic dialogue whatsoever. It's some of the worst movie dialogue I've ever heard. Cliched, over dramatized and just plain bad.

However, the football scenes are great. That's about the only good thing I can say about When the Game Stands Tall. The action is exciting and there is a little bit of that inspirational side that the producers were going for. All of the football scenes take place during the second half of the film, which makes that half much more exciting. If only the scenes where people are talking were just as good.

Honestly, this is a Lifetime movie posing as a movie worth seeing in theaters. The football scenes are solid, but beyond that, there's very little of interest in this movie. We've seen stories like this done much better before and it makes this movie an incredibly boring one to watch. When the Game Stands Tall had potential, but it just couldn't overcome its terrible script and ultimately uninteresting story.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                                (5/10)



Sunday, August 17, 2014

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' holds on to first place, while 'Expendables 3' tanks at weekend box office

After two recent smash hits, the box office was bound to slow down. And although this weekend was still up 6% when compared to last year, both new releases were pretty disappointing. One movie performed in line with modest expectations and the other one downright flopped. Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles finished in first place again this weekend with $28.4 million. Ninja Turtles dropped 57% from last weekend and has now banked $117.6 million, which is very strong. I hated the movie and I'm sad to see it doing well, but it's good for the box office, so whatever.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy took second place again and added $24.7 million. The sci-fi smash has now taken in $222.2 million and will definitely end up being the biggest movie of the summer. It will even pass Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the coming weeks, which is an extraordinary achievement. This is truly one of the biggest and best surprises of the year.

In third place was Fox's R-rated comedy Let's Be Cops. The buddy cop film grossed $17.7 million over the 3-day weekend and a total of $26.1 million over five days. Not bad for a film that cost a meager $17 million to make, although I imagine that the marketing costs were astronomical. The film only received a "B" Cinemascore, which isn't great, but Neighbors and Anchorman 2 ended up doing just fine with the same audience approval rating. However, Let's Be Cops is also sitting at 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. That's truly horrendous and I imagine that this film will disappear pretty quickly.

The big surprise of the weekend was the total under-performance of The Expendables 3. The PG-13 action thriller took in $16.2 million in 3,221 theaters in fourth place. That's the worst opening for an Expendables movie yet and a huge disappointment. The film received an "A-" Cinemascore, but that's probably not going to do much for the film. Some have blamed this disappointment on the fact that the film was leaked online weeks before it hit theaters, while others have said that the film's PG-13 rating betrayed its target audience. The word of mouth from the pirated copy was admittedly terrible and the 35% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes didn't show otherwise. This is definitely one of the biggest flops of the summer.

The Weinstein Company's The Giver finished in fifth place with $12.7 million. Not a terrible opening for the $25 million film, but it's not an overly impressive performance. The "B+" Cinemascore is solid, although critics have been much less kind (30% on Rotten Tomatoes is awful). I don't see The Giver finishing with more than $30 million, but in the end, that's not completely awful.

Into the Storm took a light 56% drop down to sixth place and ended up with $7.7 million. The decent tornado thriller has now made $31.3 million and will likely close with $45 million. The film cost nearly $50 million, which means that Warner Bros. will probably lose money, but it won't be a huge write-down. Disney's The Hundred-foot Journey was close behind in seventh place with $7.1 million. The light family drama has now grossed $23.6 million and has held very well so far. A finish around $40 million is definitely in the cards.

Universal's Lucy finished in eighth place this weekend and took in another $5.3 million. The R-rated thriller has now made $107.5 million and is considered to be one of the summer's biggest hits. Step Up All In fell 58% to ninth place and made $2.7 million. The dance flick has now grossed $11.8 million. And finally, the terrific Boyhood rounded out the top ten with $2.1 million. The IFC Films release has now made $13.8 million and is one of the studio's highest-grossing films.

In the limited release world, Magic in the Moonlight finished in fourteenth place with $1.8 million. Pundits weren't impressed by this opening and it's probably due to the mediocre response the film has received. It's a decent movie and nothing more. Also, CBS Films' What If grossed $829K in almost 800 theaters, which is pretty awful. It's a good movie that's worth seeking out. And finally, Calvary made $400K in 131 theaters. Very impressive. I can't wait to see that movie.

Next week sees the release of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, If I Stay and When the Game Stands Tall. Here are my predictions:

1. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For- $29 million
2. If I Stay- $21 million
3. When the Game Stands Tall- $16.5 million
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- $13.2 million
5. Guardians of the Galaxy- $12.9 million
6. Let's Be Cops- $7.9 million
7. The Expendables 3- $7.5 million
8. The Giver- $6.3 million
9. The Hundred-foot Journey- $5.5 million
10. Into the Storm- $4.9 million



Saturday, August 16, 2014

'Magic in the Moonlight' review

Woody Allen churns out a film a year and he's often very hit and miss. While I'm not overly familiar with his filmography (I've seen Annie Hall and Blue Jasmine), most critics seem to think of him as an inconsistent filmmaker, quality wise. Films like Blue Jasmine and Midnight Paris received praise recently, while To Rome With Love was lambasted (I couldn't stand Blue Jasmine, so I differ there). Magic in the Moonlight is Allen's newest feature and it's about what I expected. Not great, but simply decent. There are good performances and a pleasant, traditional style with a stellar soundtrack. It's just a film that runs out of ideas and it isn't comfortable in its own skin.

Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is a magician who travels across Europe under the name of Wei Ling Soo. He's just finished a tour when another magician friend named Howard Burken (Simon McBurney) arrives to invite him to the south of France, where a group of socialites are convinced that a woman (Emma Stone) is an actual spirit medium. Stanley heads to France, where stays with the Catledges family and learns about all of the ways that Sophie (the medium) has affected them. Brice (Hamish Linklater) is in love with her and Grace Catledge (Jackie Weaver) believes that Sophie has connected her with her dead husband. Stanley has debunked many fake mediums before, but he slowly becomes convinced. Could she be the first true spirit medium?

Magic in the Moonlight is often a simple romantic comedy about the relationship between Stanley and Sophie. And that's not a bad thing. Most of the time, Magic in the Moonlight is a beautiful film with lush scenery, a classic soundtrack and strong performances. However, it's so unsure of itself that it ends up trying to be more than that and that's when the film falls apart. Colin Firth and Emma Stone have great chemistry, but their romance seems incredibly forced thanks to some of the third act twists and turns. Magic in the Moonlight had the potential to be a great addition to the Allen collection, but it ends up being forgettable because of a flat ending with unnecessary twists and a message about spirituality that doesn't fit the tone of the film.

The acting is always very good in Allen's films. Whether or not I like the characters is a completely different story, but I'm always impressed by the performances. Cate Blanchett was stellar in Blue Jasmine, although I despised her character and it made me dislike the film. The same thing happens at times in Magic in the Moonlight. Colin Firth is a fine actor and does a great job as Stanley, but his character is so gratingly pessimistic and rude that he'll get on your nerves fast. Emma Stone is also very good as Sophie, although she overdoes the psychic vision aspect a little bit (it's on purpose, but still seems unnecessary). 

The supporting cast is rounded out by veteran actors and they all deliver solid performances. One of the better performances comes Hamish Linklater, who plays Brice, the boy who is in love with Sophie so deeply to the point that you want to punch him. Linklater had a bit part in last year's 42 and has a great screen presence. A long career in movies is ahead of him. Marcia Gay Harden shows up and does very little and although it's always great to see Silver Linings Playbook star Jacki Weaver in a new movie, she has nothing to do in this one. Eileen Atkins plays Aunt Vanessa and has one of the meatier parts in the film. Her banter with Firth and Stone is quite amusing at times and she does a good job. 

The production values on this film are terrific and it's a lovely movie to watch. The Southern French scenery is absolutely gorgeous and it really sucks you into the film. The wide, sun-filled shots perfectly capture the beauty of the location and I truly admired that. The soundtrack is also terrific, with a lot of 1920's ragtime music, which fits the setting perfectly. The music feels like it's straight out of The Sting. Definitely a good thing. 

Allen's Blue Jasmine was thematically a very heavy film. It dealt with real-life issues including stress, the stock market crash and the superficiality of the world around us. Magic in the Moonlight is not that movie. It's set up as a frothy romantic comedy with a heavy dose of Woody Allen thrown in. The problem is that once Magic in the Moonlight heads into its third act, it tries to be a thematically deep film. It wants to say stuff about the human condition and it wants to mix in some heavy themes about God and spirituality and the movie is just not suited for that. It's too much of a tonal shift. 

In addition to that, I found the film's romance to be incredibly thin and poorly written. There's nothing that really suggests that Firth and Stone's characters should be together, but for whatever reason, they are. It just feels forced. The two characters spend most of the film making fun of each other with witticisms and practical jokes, yet they end up loving each other in the end. It's just a forced ending. If the film had gone a different route with its third act, the romance angle might not feel so fake, but for now, we're stuck with this version of the film.

Magic in the Moonlight was enjoyable for a good chunk of its runtime, but its charm wears thin pretty quickly and the third act has major issues. It's a shame that Allen couldn't hold it all together, because he could have had something truly special. But for now, we're stuck with a film that will entertain you for 75% of its runtime, before completely falling apart to the point where you'll probably lose interest. The performances are great and the visuals are astounding, but the story just ends up being a mess towards the end. I enjoyed this film a lot at times, yet it's just not perfect. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.8/10)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' review

Michael Bay gets a lot of hate from people on the internet, but I've always been a strong supporter of his films. The Transformers films were part of my childhood and even today, I still like Bay's exciting, crazy style that he brings to each one of those films. And that's why I had some optimism for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While TMNT was not directed by Bay, it was produced by him and still is very much a Michael Bay movie. However, this isn't Transformers. Ninja Turtles is awful, poorly made garbage with a meaningless plot, ugly effects and non-stop shaky cam that will leave you with a headache. It's almost astonishing how terrible this film is.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is more about April O'Neil (Megan Fox) than the Turtles. The film portrays April as a real reporter who's been stuck doing light and fluffy stories for a news channel with her cameraman Vern (Will Arnett). She's sick of it and wants to do stories that truly matter, especially ones involving the Foot Clan, the gang of mercenaries who have been terrorizing New York for a long time. One day, April sees a Foot Clan attack that is prevented by some vigilante and she instantly becomes interesting in this story. Eventually, April realizes that there are four vigilantes and that they're actually giant turtles who do karate. There are all these different tie-ins to April's past and a plot involving scientist and philanthropist Erin Sacks (William Fichtner). It all culminates in a giant battle between the turtles and the evil Shredder.

Odds are that kids will like this film (for whatever reason). There were children in my theater who audibly shouted stuff like "Cool!" and "That's awesome!" during the movie. I have no idea why, but they were really into this movie. I, on the other hand, sat in the theater dumbfounded throughout this entire movie. I was just shocked how bland the film was, how anticlimactic the action was, how dumb the humor was. This is just a bad movie, plain and simple. The human interactions are dull and tiresome and the Turtles aren't even that entertaining. I was hoping for a decent movie, but instead, I got a flat out terrible one.

This movie makes its first mistake early on when it decides to make April O'Neil the main character. She has more screentime than the Ninja Turtles and is supposed to hold the film together. And she's boring. There's nothing interesting about the character. Megan Fox is very pretty, but she's terribly miscast and not very good in this movie. The character of April O'Neil has way more weight than it should. I wish that the movie had just focused on the Turtles instead, because they're the only ones that are even remotely entertaining.

The rest of the human cast is rounded out by quality actors who end up doing rather mediocre work. Will Arnett, a comedian that I enjoy very much, is actually pretty decent as Vern. It's not a great performance, but he's good enough. Whoopi Goldberg makes a brief appearance as April's boss and adds nothing to the movie. William Fichtner is good as always. He's probably the standout of the cast, playing a very typical Bond villain type.

The Turtles, Splinter and Shredder are all CGI creations and the animators have varying degrees of success. The robo-Shredder armor is really, really awesome, but Shredder is a weak villain with absolutely no motivation whatsoever. The Turtles are strangely live-like and have personalities that are fully realized on screen. But whoever designed Master Splinter should never work in digital effects again. Splinter is a ghastly-looking creature that is incredibly hideous and tough to look at. He looks slimy, grimy and really nasty. It's just terrible.

Plenty of movies have so-so performances and mediocre CGI and still end up being entertaining. That's where TMNT fails. There is very little in this movie that is even remotely amusing and that's where it fails. The action is often briefly electric, but it is so poorly filmed that it makes you want to gouge your eyes out. Director Johnathan Liebesman just shakes the camera around a lot and it makes for an annoying experience. Plus, all of the action scenes are truly dull. There's no energy to them. It's just people that you don't care about fighting and you've seen all of this before.


That's truly the biggest problem that this movie runs into: it's incredibly, painfully, excruciatingly boring. This is a movie so dull and so bland that you will sit in your theater in shock. There's no energy, no personality, no excitement. It's just a brainless, tedious film from start to finish. There were little moments where I was entertained. For example, the first fifteen minutes hinted at a goofy, over-the-top version of The Dark Knight that never came to fruition. And towards the end of the film, there is a brief five minute period where the movie is actually entertaining. But other than that, this movie is just a slog from start to finish.

I have nothing else to say about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It's one of the worst films of 2014 and a shockingly bad misfire. I'm already dreading the release of Ninja Turtles 2. Unless the filmmakers decide to actually put some energy into the sequel, I can't see it being any better. This is pure trash and I'm saddened to see that it's making money. Nothing about TMNT is entertaining for adults and it shouldn't be entertaining for kids either. It's poorly made, weakly acted and not even close to being fascinating.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                              (4.4/10)


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lauren Bacall has died at the age of 89

The death of lovable comedian Robin Williams has still shaken movie fans to the core, but the passing of another major Hollywood legend has now broken hearts across the country. Yesterday, the Bogart Family Trust confirmed that the legendary actress Lauren Bacall had died at the age of 89. She passed away early Tuesday morning because of a stroke. Throughout her career, Bacall starred in films such as Key Largo, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not and Written on the Wind. She famously had a relationship with screen legend Humphrey Bogart before his death in 1956.


While I'm not that familiar with Bacall's career, her death hit me because my favorite film of all time is Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart starred in that film and it was one of his most well-known performances. If you haven't seen it, it's one of the greatest films of all time and the prime example of classic old Hollywood filmmaking. Bacall narrated the documentary on the DVD and I could tell that her love for Bogart was real. Bacall was one of the last true Old Hollywood legends. She represented an age that no longer exists and she will surely be missed. 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

'Into the Storm' review

Sometimes, it's really beneficial to have incredibly low expectations for a movie. The only reason I decided to see Into the Storm was because it was 89 minutes long and I needed to write a review of something. And in the end, I actually enjoyed myself. It's not a good movie and it overestimates how much the audience actually cares about the characters, but it has some energy and it's just a fun, passably entertaining movie. The effects are quite cool and it's very efficient. The dialogue isn't good and the shaky cam is occasionally frustrating, but like last month's Hercules, it's a quick, entertaining affair that's enjoyable, yet completely unmemorable. I can't recommend that you go see it in theaters, but it's worth at least a rental.

I liked Into the Storm, but I have to admit that it is chock-full of Hollywood cliches. The movie follows a group of various people who all converge together when this huge storm hits a small Oklahoma town. There's Gary (Richard Armitrage), the lackluster suburban dad who hasn't been involved in the lives of his two sons (Max Deacon and Nathan Kress) since his wife's death. Then there's the group of storm trackers, led by Pete (Matt Walsh), who will do absolutely anything to find and film tornadoes. And finally, there are a group of rednecks who run around all over the place for "comic relief." All of these characters end up fighting to survive together when the biggest storm in history demolishes Silverton, Oklahoma. 

Into the Storm is a simple movie, but it's an entertaining movie, one that has something to offer to the audience (unlike another movie that I saw this week). It's a thrilling B-movie and the story hooks you in. I can't say that I'll ever feel compelled to watch it again, but while I was watching Into the Storm, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The disaster sequences are vivid and frightening and actually pretty exciting. The use of shaky cam is often terrible, but I really wasn't bothered by it in this film as much as I have been in others. In the end, I won't remember Into the Storm a week from now, yet I still enjoyed it while I was in the theater.

Into the Storm is a fun movie on a pure spectacle level. The action is really exciting, the set up is very well-done and the storm effects are simply astounding at times. The first act of this movie builds tension very well and I was interested to see where the story would head next. The dialogue wasn't profound or well-written, but it was serviceable to start the film off. I also very much enjoyed the final act of this film. The big storm sequences are breathtaking and I liked the action a lot. However, this movie just hits a brick wall whenever it tries to be profound. The movie over-estimates how much the audience cares about the characters and it just falls apart at times. 

This movie is very much a cut-and-paste Hollywood thriller. It really feels like the studio executives got around a table and just combined a bunch of their assets that they had lying around and made a movie out of it. Throw in some relatively unknown actors, a director who has only directed one Final Destination movie and finally add some tornado effects and you've got a movie that will easily make money. Into the Storm is good when it's fun. It's not good when it tries to add a believable human element into the mix. There are some truly cringe-worthy scenes that I can't believe made it into the final cut.

There are two scenes in this movie that are especially bad. The first takes place about halfway through the movie. Two teens look like they're about to die and they have a camera with them (it's a found-footage film, of course they have a camera), so they decide to film a final message to their parents. And it is an awful scene. The movie wants to make you cry but you don't care that much about the characters and you know that they're going to live. 

The other incredibly awful scene comes at the end of the movie and made me so very very angry. Into the Storm's third act is really good. It's thrilling and I truly enjoyed myself. One of the main plot points of the movie involves Max Deacon's character creating a time capsule. At the beginning of the movie, he's shown filming various people and they all have these lofty goals in life or they have a really cynical viewpoint. At the end of the movie, we return to the characters and because of this massive storm system, their views on life have changed. They're all about enjoying life and taking it one day at a time. It was infuriating. This movie has freaking fire tornadoes and then it wants to suddenly make a statement on how sacred life is. It's frustrating and idiotic. 

What can I say about the characters? They're all cliches. I did feel some connection to the family, but it was an overdramatic and unnecessary angle that was just there to provide some sort of a human element to the film. The storm chasers are all pretty cool and I did enjoy Matt Walsh in the movie. However, there are two characters in this movie that I absolutely despised. There are these two redneck YouTubers who just run around doing stupid stuff the whole movie. They're the comic relief and they are insanely annoying. 

As much as this review has focused on the negative aspects of the film, I actually quite enjoyed this movie at times. It had its moments and the third act is especially impressive. If the filmmakers could have toned down the whole human element at times, I would have liked this movie a lot more. The tornado effects are great and the action is thrillingly realized. Anytime tornadoes were wreaking havoc, I was into this movie, but anytime there were humans on screen, I couldn't have cared less. Into the Storm is not a memorable film and it isn't a good one either, but it has enjoyable moments and for that, it gets a passing grade. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.1/10)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams has died at the age of 63

It's been a few hours since I first heard the news about the death of Robin Williams and I'm still having trouble processing it all. The comedic actor was found dead in his California home earlier today. He died of an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Oscar-winning actor starred in many films throughout his storied career including Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Night at the Museum and Mrs. Doubtfire. He won the Supporting Actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting in early 1998. Williams also starred in many TV shows over the years including Mork and Mindy, the show that launched his career. In addition to all of that, he was also a prominent voice actor who brought characters to life in films like Aladdin, Happy Feet and Robots. Robin Williams was one of Hollywood's most talented and influential comedians. There's no doubt about that.

Williams' passing hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw the breaking news on NBC and immediately uttered something that I'm not going to repeat here. Once I heard that it was suicide, I was even more devastated. Why would anyone so talented take their own life? It's simply one of the worst ways to die. I knew that Williams had suffered from depression and alcoholism, but I didn't know that it was still going on. It's just sad that he felt like he couldn't go to anyone for help this time, especially since he's been so open about discussing his issues in the past. If you ever feel like there's no way out, just remember the people who love you. Life is too beautiful to waste.

But in the end, just like with Philip Seymour Hoffman, I won't remember Williams for the way he died. I'll remember him for all the great movies he made and the way he made people across the globe laugh. Some of his great movies, I still need to watch. Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society are all on my immediate watchlist. I feel bad that I haven't seen them before this. But I have seen many of his films and they were definitely part of my childhood. Night at the Museum is still a very good movie and his performance as Teddy Roosevelt is great. He's also one of my favorite voice actors and he made the Genie the most memorable character in Aladdin.

I wish that Williams had known how much the world loved him. We certainly will miss him now. Rest in Peace, Robin Williams.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' surprises with $65 million, while 'Guardians' falls to second at weekend box office

Wouldn't it be weird if August ended up being the highest-grossing month of the summer? With two surprise hits so far, I wouldn't say that's out of reach. After Guardians of the Galaxy took in $94 million last weekend, Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opened to $65 million this weekend. That's another insanely strong result that's way above tracking. The Michael Bay-produced reboot cost $125 million to make and is likely going to go down as one of the surprise hits of the summer. The film did receive a "B" Cinemascore, but that will probably not hurt the film's grosses. Ninja Turtles will probably go on to make at least $170 million. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 has already been greenlit by Paramount for a June 3, 2016 release.

Michael Bay is able to attract audiences no matter what, so I'm not honestly surprised that Ninja Turtles did well. However, the fact that the film opened to $65 million is insane. Maybe it's the lack of kids films this summer or maybe the fact that July was a really weak month helped the film. I don't truly know, but it's a very impressive result for Paramount and the sequel will surely make a ton of money. Currently, it's set to face off against Sony's R-rated Sausage Party, so it pretty much has the weekend to itself.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy fell to second place this weekend and took in $41.5 million. The 56% drop is pretty steep for a film that so many people seem to love, but I think that at this point, we should just bet on big second weekend drops for superhero films. The drop for Guardians is very similar to the plunges that X-Men: Days of Future Past and Captain America: The Winter Soldier took. Through ten days, the film has grossed $175.9 million and is pacing ahead of every other major 2014 blockbuster. Pretty impressive.

Warner Bros.' disaster flick Into The Storm finished in third place this weekend and grossed a so-so $18 million. That's pretty much in line with the tracking for the film, but not a great opening considering the film's $50 million budget. Into The Storm also received a "B" Cinemascore, which is certainly not going to help the film. Look for this one to fade rather quickly. Fourth place belonged to The Hundred-foot Journey, which made $11.1 million this weekend. The light family drama received an "A" Cinemascore from audiences and will still strong throughout the rest of the month. A final total around $40 million is not out of reach.

In fifth place was Universal's Lucy, which took another steep plunge this weekend and brought in another $9.3 million. The Scarlett Johannson-starred actioner has grossed $97.3 million so far, which is impressive for a film that cost only $40 million to make. A final tally around $120 million is probable for Lucy. Step Up All In finished in sixth place this weekend with $6.5 million, which is downright terrible. This franchise has seen dwindling grosses with each new installment and this film saw the series' lowest tally yet. The "B+" Cinemascore is solid, but the film isn't going to do much after this. However, overseas grosses have been strong and another Step Up film can't be far away.

Paramount's Hercules, which actually is pretty decent, ended up in seventh place this weekend and took in $5.7 million. The $100 million film has grossed $63.4 million so far, but it's worldwide total is around $135 million. Not great, but Paramount might break even eventually. In eighth place was Get On Up, which fell nearly 63%, despite a stellar "A" Cinemascore. The musical biopic took in $5 million this weekend and will apparently burn out pretty quickly. I really disliked the film and I'm not surprised to see that it's doing poorly. Its current total stands at $22.9 million.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes took ninth place this weekend and added $4.4 million to its total. The epic blockbuster has now grossed $197.8 million and will probably pass $200 million in a few days. And finally, Planes: Fire and Rescue rounded out the top ten with $2.4 million. The animated sequel has now made $52.9 million. Also, Boyhood took in another $2 million this weekend, which is great. The IFC Films drama has now made $10.6 million. Very impressive.

Next week sees the release of The Expendables 3, Let's Be Cops and The Giver. Here are my predictions:

1. The Expendables 3- $33 million
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- $31 million
3. Let's Be Cops- $24 million ($38 million five-day)
4. Guardians of the Galaxy- $22.3 million
5. The Giver- $16.5 million
6. Into The Storm- $8.8 million
7. The Hundred-foot Journey- $8.4 million
8. Lucy- $4.5 million
9. Step Up All In- $3 million
10. Boyhood- $2.1 million


Saturday, August 9, 2014

'Boyhood' review

Over a decade ago, Richard Linklater set out to make a film unlike any other. His plan was to film the same actors for the next twelve years to tell one massive, epic coming-of-age tale about the life of Mason, a young boy in Texas. By some miracle, that film was completed and earlier this year, it premiered to much adoration at Sundance. Boyhood, Linklater's awe-inspiring, organic masterpiece is one of, if not the, best film to be released in theaters this year. Few films have captured the beauty of life as well as Boyhood does. It's a simple film, with little narrative flash and little drama, but the weight of this film is enormous. You come away from Boyhood feeling invigorated, realizing just how amazing and special life is. It's an epic achievement and one that will surely not be forgotten any time soon.

Boyhood is a film without much of a traditional narrative arc. There's no real drama and it really plays as a series of scenes and conversations that took place during this time period of twelve years. Life doesn't really have a narrative story and that honestly is what's depicted in this film. In Boyhood, we witness the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a young Texas kid. He starts as an innocent child and then grows up to be an intelligent, successful young man. Along the way, he fights with his sister (Lorelei Linklater), bonds with his Dad (Ethan Hawke) and survives the two drunken husbands that his Mom (Patricia Arquette) marries along the way. He also experiments with drugs and alcohol and has his first real girlfriend during the film. It's an epic journey that makes for one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. 

When I first heard about Boyhood, I was excited because of the pure audacity of the project. It's definitely easy to understand why doing this project over twelve years appealed to Linklater and I knew that would make for an awesome experience. And it most certainly does. Linklater's goal as a filmmaker obviously is to capture life as authentically as possible. He definitely accomplishes his goal with this film. It's incredibly real and none of it feels overdone. It doesn't feel like a movie, but it most certainly doesn't feel like a documentary. Boyhood really is unlike anything else, especially in this aspect. The dialogue is also crisp and clean and very interesting. This movie wouldn't accomplish Linklater's goal if the characters and their conversations seemed fake, but it also wouldn't work if they felt improvised. Boyhood finds that happy medium and stays there for most of the film. 

The scenes in this film are quietly beautiful. Only a few focus on the dramatic moments of life. The rest are just everyday conversations, but they're so filmed so well and so subtly by Linklater. A scene where Mason talks to a school friend of his is really inconsequential, but it's filmed in one long, beautiful take and it gives such a deep insight into his personality and his life. The scenes in Boyhood could have been truly tedious, but all of them end up being very interesting and I was glued to my seat for most of the film's 2hr and 45 minute runtime. 

A lot was riding on young Ellar Coltrane in this film. Linklater couldn't have known about Coltrane's acting abilities ten years in the future, so he took a gamble for sure. And it definitely paid off. Coltrane is a very solid actor who dabbles in greatness at times. He captures the angst and the happiness of Mason and is able to do so many things with the role. It's not a flashy or overwhelmingly great performance, but I cared about Mason and I would have gladly watched his life for another several hours. By the end of this film, I was ready for a break, but if Linklater could have put in an intermission, I would have gladly watched another two hours. This movie is that good and that's a testament to both Linklater and Coltrane. 

The supporting cast is less prominent, but it's led by two stellar actors who give great performances. Patricia Arquette is truly spectacular as Mason's mother (she's just listed as Mom on IMDb and if she had a name in the movie, I don't remember it) and she carries the film early on. Arquette's character goes through so much crap during this movie and it's a very challenging role. She has a great scene at the end that really reveals the film's message and although I initially was unsure about the placement of the scene, I can't help but think of it's power and sadness at this point. 

I would love to see Ethan Hawke get an Oscar nomination for this film. His character starts as the stereotypical immature father who just wants to have fun with his kids and nothing else. But eventually, he evolves into something more than that. He grows to be a loving and caring father who is able to finally settle down and be the mature man that he couldn't for years. He grows just as Mason does and it's a terrific performance by Hawke. He is able to capture both sides of Mason Sr. and has terrific chemistry with Coltrane. 

Boyhood is, at its simplest, a series of scenes that amounts to a cohesive whole. Although there are many deeply rooted messages about life and the beauty of this journey we all go through, that previous description is really what this movie is. But man, some of those scenes are truly impressive. An early scene when Mason moves for the first time perfectly captures his first loss of innocence. Some of the scenes involving a drunken husband are truly terrifying. There's a great scene at a Texas ranch. The scenes with Mason and his father are stunning. The post-graduation is amazing. Mason's conversation with his Dad at a show after he graduates is truly touching. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. There are some amazing scenes in this movie. 

The real draw of this film and what makes it truly special is watching Mason grow over twelve years. The world of film has never seen anything like this before. Coming-of-age films have existed forever, but always with different actors playing the same character at various ages. This is something completely different and it allows the audience to develop a very strong connection to Mason. We see almost every facet of his life and over the film's lengthy runtime, we as audience members can end up truly feeling like we know him. The film becomes more assured as it goes along and it's quite spectacular. It's an amazing experience and it all culminates at the film's terrific post-graduation scene. That was when I truly realized the weight of what I had just watched. I realized at that point that I had literally watched someone grow up and it almost drove me to tears. You really feel like you've watched the lives of these people for the last twelve years and that's simply awesome. 

Like all great cinematic epics, Boyhood's only small problem is that it doesn't quite know how to wrap up. I don't think that Linklater wanted to let go of these characters and I don't blame him. I really wished that the film had cut out a few scenes near the end, but I understand why they weren't cut. They're great scenes, but I was tired and the emotional payoff had already happened and some of those scenes just felt like extra unneeded fat. It was good fat, but it was still fat. I also wish that Linklater had ended the film with Mason arriving at college. Instead, it ends with him getting high and going to a canyon with some of his new roommates. It was a weird way to end the film and I feel like we really didn't need to delve that far into Mason's next chapter. It just didn't need to happen. Once again, it's a good scene, but it's just unnecessary. 

Nonetheless, Boyhood is a practically perfect film and an even more stunning movie-going experience. Watching Mason grow up is incredible and thankfully, the great filmmaking technique is supported by great actors and great dialogue. This is an unforgettable film that is just so spectacular in so many aspects. There's a simple, poetic feel to this film that makes it feel natural and unforced and that's one of the great things about this film. It is truly unique and I will remember this film for the rest of my life. Simply a masterpiece. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  A+                                           (9.8/10)

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Movie Guru's Top Ten Superhero films of all time

At this point, I think that it's safe to say that the most popular film genre in America is the superhero film. These movies have been raking in cash for years now and at this point, we've had a few superhero movies that were truly Oscar worthy. I've always wanted to compile this list, so here it is- my ten favorite superhero movies of all time.

10. SPIDER-MAN 2

Spider-Man 2 is without a doubt the best movie in that franchise so far. The Spider-Man brand is in tatters now, but back in 2004, Spider-Man was THE premiere superhero in America and Spider-Man 2 showed audiences and critics just how good superhero movies could be. In my mind, Tobey Maguire is and always will be Spider-Man and he gives a great performance in this film. This film also has the best Spider-Man villain- Alfred Molina's Doc Ock. It's a vulnerable, terrific performance. All in all, Spider-Man 2 is the definitive Spider-Man movie. It's the most clear and concise film in the series and it has an emotional storyline that's free from clutter. Spider-Man 2 is simply brilliant.

9. THE INCREDIBLES

The Incredibles might seem like an odd fit on a list that includes a lot of comic book films that feature characters from Marvel and DC. However, it features superheros and it's a perfect fit. Pixar has made many great films over the years, but none may be quite as awesome as The Incredibles. This movie has it all. Quotable lines, stellar action scenes and a sleek retro style. The voicework and the direction is brilliant and it tackles some pretty weighty themes. It's simply terrific and one of Pixar's finest achievements thus far.

8. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

X-Men: First Class is more a Bond film and less a superhero film. However, that doesn't prevent it from being one of the best films in the superhero genre. Like Batman Begins, X-Men: First Class sets up the next installment in the series expertly. The characters are interesting, the action is stellar and the pacing is terrific. Director Matthew Vaughn has a unique style and it really shows in this film (I can't wait for Kingsman, his next film). James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence make for a great trio and Kevin Bacon is the best villain in the X-Men franchise. Plus, you can't go wrong with a cameo from a profane Wolverine.

7. BATMAN BEGINS

Batman Begins isn't a perfect Christopher Nolan film, but that means that it's still better than 99% of the movies that come out each year. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are terrific, but people have a tendency to forget just how brilliant Batman Begins is. It lays the groundwork for the trilogy and works as a great starting point. Sure, it has some ludicrous aspects, but they still work in Nolan's grounded universe. Plus, the tone of this film is much more horror oriented, which is quite interesting. Batman Begins is one of the greatest superhero origin films of all time and it's a brilliant first act in what is undoubtedly the greatest trilogy of all time.

6. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

The X-Men franchise is incredibly inconsistent and I've noted that in every single review that I've written about the series. Some are good (X2), some are terrible (The Wolverine) and some fall in between (X-Men: The Last Stand). However, the creative talent behind X-Men band together occasionally to create something truly astonishing. It's only happened twice in the history of the franchise, but it happened this year with X-Men: Days of Future Past. It's a film that has to juggle many balls and still maintain a clear focus, which seems almost impossible. But thanks to James McAvoy's career-best performance as Charles Xavier and some awesome cameos (Quicksilver's slo-mo scene is still the best I've seen this year), Days of Future Past just works. It's the most emotional superhero movie of all time and it's also one of the best.

5. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

Captain America is the most retro hero in Marvel's catalog and director Joe Johnston conveys that in his terrific film Captain America: The First Avenger. This Saturday morning serial-esque romp is a patriotic good time and lays the groundwork for Marvel's best solo franchise. The WWII setting is perfect and the muddy visual style is great. It's the rare superhero film that pays homage to films like Raiders of the Lost Ark instead of Superman (1978). The performances are also stellar. Chris Evans is perfect and Tommy Lee Jones is great in his supporting role. I absolutely love this movie and at this point, I would say that the Captain America franchise is Marvel's best.

4. THE AVENGERS

At this point, I've watched The Avengers way too many times. Almost every party or school event I've been to for the last two years has featured The Avengers in some shape or form and I'm kind of sick of it. But that doesn't mean that it isn't a great movie. It most certainly is. The Avengers is the definition of a crowd-pleaser and I'll never forget the first time I saw this movie in theaters. People cheered and laughed their way through the whole movie and it culminated with thunderous applause when the Avengers finally unite to stop Loki in downtown New York. It was a pure adrenaline rush and the film is still great. It's a hilarious, rollicking good time and it's one that will be a classic for years to come.

3. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Marvel has produced some great films, but in my mind, most of them are the same. Either it's a simple origin story or it fits the template of hero lives life normally, then the villain appears and a minor character is killed or wounded. After that, the hero must rally to fight villain, and finally, a big battle occurs in a Metropolitan area where the villain dies. The End. It's a template that pervades through every Marvel film.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier still follows that basic storyline. However, The Winter Soldier is probably the darkest and most thematically interesting Marvel film so far. It's a conspiracy thriller and a very good one. It's tense from start to finish and yet, the hero remains as idealistic as ever. But you can't deny the differences between the America in the first Captain America film and the America in this one. It's quite compelling, but it's also quite thrilling. There are stakes, there are repercussions and there is darkness, but it still is quite humorous. It's a perfect Captain America film and I hope that Marvel can close out the trilogy well with the third installment in 2016.

2. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

I could not have been more excited for The Dark Knight Rises when it came out in 2012. I had been waiting years for this movie and it lived up to all of my expectations. Rises takes its time to set up the story, but after that, it's a thrill ride that doesn't stop. But it's also an emotional thrill ride that doesn't stop. From the inspiring moment in the pit to the final scenes, The Dark Knight Rises might be one of the few superhero movies that can make you cry. Christian Bale gives his best performance as Batman and Tom Hardy is a formidable villain as Bane. It's a brilliant end to the trilogy and a great film that will live on for years to come. I know that some fans give it hate because it's not as good as The Dark Knight, but too bad. This is still a masterpiece.

1. THE DARK KNIGHT

The Dark Knight is the best superhero film of all time. There is no question in my mind about that. It's one of my favorite films of all time and an absolute cinematic masterpiece. From Heath Ledger's delicious performance as the Joker to the non-stop thrills of the crime thriller plot, this movie is just terrific. The score by Hans Zimmer is brilliant and the plot is filled with social implications. This is one of the few blockbusters that deserves to be called one of the greatest films of all time. Awesome.

Also- some honorable mentions:

-SPIDER-MAN- This film represents the dawn of the modern superhero movie, but the effects are really dated.

-BATMAN- Tim Burton's kooky take on Batman is awesome, yet completely over-shadowed by Nolan's brilliant trilogy.

-SUPERMAN II- It's certainly the best Superman film ever put on film, but it still drags at times.

-IRON MAN- Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic universe in style and Robert Downey Jr. is terrific. However, it suffers from a lack of scale and a certain blandness that it simply can't shake.

-IRON MAN 3- It's a colorful and crazy sequel filled with great action and Ben Kingsley is terrific, which is enough to overshadow the fact that the first act is dreadfully boring and that the PTSD subplot is overdone.


With over forty superhero films coming out in the next few years, this list is sure for change. But for now, these are the ten best that have ever graced the silver screen.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

'Guardians of the Galaxy' review

When it was first announced that Marvel Studios was going to tackle the off-beat comic series Guardians of the Galaxy, many were skeptical. The characters were complete unknowns and quite weird. Would audiences not buy into a film with a talking tree and a profane, machine-gun firing raccoon? But some how, some way, Marvel convinced audiences to buy into this film and Guardians of the Galaxy became one of the most anticipated and talked-about movies of the summer. It also became one of the most critically acclaimed films of the summer. Critics have praised the film for it's oddball characters and colorful humor, deeming it Marvel's most unpredictable and different movie yet. But is there anything in this movie that really changes the Marvel formula? Not really. It's essentially The Avengers in space with a cool soundtrack thrown in. However, is that really a bad thing? This movie is flat-out awesome most of the time and it's a movie that people will be having fun with for a long time.

Guardians of the Galaxy is set in the cosmos and is an expansion of the Marvel universe. It focuses on Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an outlaw who was abducted from Earth as a young boy by the Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker). Quill finds his way into a cave on a remote planet and recovers an orb, which will supposedly get him a lot of money on the black market. After a narrow escape from Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Quill heads to Nova and tries to sell the orb. However, when the buyer realizes that Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) is involved with this orb, he declines and Quill leaves.

After that, Quill meets Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned assassin who steals the orb from him and tries to run. But soon enough, she runs into Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper), who are after her for a bounty. All four get arrested and end up in prison, where they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the fifth member of their motley crew. After a daring prison escape, these five loners must unite to stop a force that's out of their control.

Marvel has a formula and most of the time, they stick to that formula. And as much as people have raved about how unique this movie is, it really is just another Marvel origin movie. It's the same story as The Avengers. They've just tweaked the situations and the characters are alien criminals, not dysfunctional superhumans. But it's a formula for a reason. It works and it works every single time. Marvel hasn't made a bad film yet and Guardians of the Galaxy is no different. It's a rollicking space ride with a sick soundtrack, beautiful effects and some of the funniest characters in the Marvel universe. It's one of the more purely enjoyable films of the year.

The Marvel Studios films have always emphasized character development and always make sure that we care for their characters. They do a lot of world-building as well, but it's so effortless and it blends in with the terrific storytelling. Guardians is no different. These characters are some of Marvel's best and they make better than your usual Marvel flick.

Peter Quill is the leader of the group and he's played with a rocking swagger by Chris Pratt, who is destined to be one of the biggest superstars on the planet. I've already heard people call Platt "a male Jennifer Lawrence" and I really do think that's an apt comparison. He's terrific in the movie and will likely own Hollywood for a long time to come. After that, the screentime is shared pretty evenly between the Guardians. Bradley Cooper plays Rocket, the Han Solo of the group, and absolutely owns the role. The profane, machine gun-toting raccoon is often a scene-stealer, but he has genuine emotions as well. It's a terrific and deep character that could have ended up being relegated to comic relief in a lesser film.

Groot is the weirdest character of the bunch- he's a giant tree who says nothing but "I am Groot." Diesel does a good job in the role, I guess. There really isn't that much to do, but you care about Groot and he's one of the more likable characters in the movie. Dave Bautista was actually the standout for me. He plays Drax, a hulking alien on a search for vengeance. Bautista brings such a dry and uproarious humor to the role that you can't help but love him. Like Rocket, Drax has his own traumas, but he's also a very funny dude. Zoe Saldana is the weakest link in the cast by a mile. It's great to have strong female characters, but Gamora has nothing to do. She's a brutal assassin who's not all that likable and the romance angle with the womanizing Quill is forced. She has her moments, but in the end, she's not great.

The supporting cast is jam-packed with characters who we will probably see again in the future. There's Yondu, The Collector (Benicio del Toro), Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly), Korath, Nebula (Karen Gillan), Ronan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), Nova Prime (Glenn Close) and even a cameo from freaking Howard the Duck. That's a lot to pack into one film and it becomes almost overwhelming at times. This film is a sensory overload and at one point during the middle of the film, it became so insane that I wasn't exactly sure what was going on. It's just a lot to pack into one film and the pure joy that this movie packs in as well makes for a crazy experience. It's a small negative because it takes you out of the film, but the fact that the filmmakers put so much energy into this movie is most certainly not a bad thing.

One of the most awesome things about this film is its soundtrack. Holy wow. This soundtrack is probably the best in ages. No wonder it's already topped the charts on iTunes. The collection of classic 70's and 80's hits perfectly supplement the wacky space action and it makes sense when it comes to the plot of the film. It's an addictive soundtrack and, believe it or not, I'm listening to it as I write this review. From Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling" to "Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways, this is a soundtrack that is purely amazing.

The action in this film is also pretty fantastic. It's high energy and absolutely insane. The special effects are beautiful, and although I wish that there were a few more practical stunts, I can't honestly complain. The final forty minutes of this film after the Guardians finally band together is absolutely incredible. I just loved the action along with the look and feel of this film. Director James Gunn did a fantastic job.

And finally, for a film that is so action-oriented, this is a surprisingly heartfelt movie. You care about the characters. They're all loners and they've all experienced some kind of trauma (except for Groot- he's just a cute tree). Gunn does a great job of expressing this and you really root for the Guardians. That's a tough feat, but the filmmakers accomplished it.

As much as I really liked this film, I can't say that it's perfect. It takes a little while to find its footing and when it does, it's a really energetic and almost numbing experience. It's the rare film that moves too fast. The plot is pretty standard Marvel and the use of the MacGuffin in flicks from the studio is getting a little annoying. Ronan is a completely inconsequential villain and his motives are clear, but bland. Plus, at the end of the movie, a main hero is killed and then magically comes back to life. This is the fifth straight movie where Marvel has done this. It's getting annoying.

Nonetheless, this is an incredibly awesome and enjoyable film that people will have a ton of fun with. I know that I did and I believe that, unlike other Marvel films, it will have very good replay value. Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista give star-making turns and the special effects are incredible. The soundtrack adds a lot to the movie and the plot expands the Marvel universe in ways that most people probably thought were impossible a few years ago. It's not the best Marvel film, but it's hilarious, heartfelt and slickly cool. Simply terrific.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.5/10)

'Batman v Superman' to hit theaters in March 2016, Warner Bros. sets dates for nine new DC films

A few months ago, fanboys across America got really excited when Marvel announced that Captain America 3 would be hitting theaters on May 6, 2016, which happened to be the same date that DC had set Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for. Everyone got pumped while fans were worried that the films would beat each other up resulting in two flops. However, most sensible people saw this for what it was: a huge game of chicken between the two biggest comic book film studios in Hollywood. And now, we have a winner. Warner Bros. announced yesterday that Batman v Superman will hit theaters on March 25, 2016. That decision moves the film away from Cap 3 and into the much less crowded month of March, where it will face off against Warcraft and Beverly Hills Cop. Marvel clearly won this battle, but the DC/Marvel feud war only heated up yesterday, when Warner Bros. announced that a whopping nine new DC films will hit theaters between now and 2020.


Marvel recently made waves when they revealed the release dates for six upcoming movies in addition to the four that were already announced. That's certainly an ambitious plan, but Marvel has proved recently that they can turn almost anything into a hit (Guardians of the Galaxy), so everyone in Hollywood has confidence in the studio. DC, on the other hand, is a pretty risky bet. The Dark Knight trilogy was a massive success and Man of Steel took in a lot of money last year, but the studio has paled in comparison to Marvel. However, DC seems eager to change that and they turned the momentum slightly when they announced nine new release dates. Here they are: 

-Untitled DC Film- 8/5/16
-Untitled DC Film- 6/23/17
-Untitled DC Film- 11/17/17
-Untitled DC Film- 3/23/18
-Untitled DC Film- 7/27/18
-Untitled DC Film- 4/5/19
-Untitled DC Film- 6/14/19
-Untitled DC Film- 4/3/20
-Untitled DC Film- 6/19/20

That's a very intriguing schedule and the speculation about what these films might possibly be has already begun. We've all heard the rumors about Dwayne Johnson playing Shazam, so I would expect that film to be in the pipeline. The August 2016 release seems very reasonable. Justice League is coming as well, and I know that Warner Bros. wants a prime release for the film. A June 2017 release is probable. After that, who really knows? Could we see another attempt at Green Lantern? Flash? A stand-alone Wonder Woman film? Nikki Finke had a report about all of this a few months back, but with these recent developments, I'm not sure if it's trust-worthy. For now, we're just going to have to wait and see. 


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

'Kingsman: The Secret Service' moves to 2015, 'Poltergeist' moves to July

Today was a crazy and hectic day for release date changes and two of the smaller, yet equally interesting swaps were made over at Fox. I recently put Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service at #7 on my "Most Anticipated for the Rest of 2014" list. Well, we can scratch that now. Fox has moved Kingsman from its original October 24, 2014 release date to February 13, 2015. Honestly, either date works fine for the movie. I'm just mad that I have to wait another four months to see it, because it looks awesome. However, Kingsman will have to compete in an extremely packed February that includes Fifty Shades of Grey, The Spongebob Movie, Jupiter Ascending, Mortdecai, Seventh Son and Hitman: Agent 47. Tough competition, but then again, there isn't anything quite like Kingsman in that market. It should do just fine.


Meanwhile, Fox also moved their remake of Poltergeist from its original February 13 slot to July 24, 2015, making it one of the premiere horror films of the summer. Gil Kenan, director of Monster House and City of Ember, is set to helm the film, and I can't say I'm excited for this one. Monster House is a really cool movie, but I just don't see the need for a remake of this film. Sam Raimi is producing, which is a good thing, but I will be very surprised if this ends up being even somewhat good.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Movie Guru's Fifteen Most Anticipated Movies for the rest of 2014

The first half of 2014 has come and gone and we've already been treated to some great films. This is definitely the best year that I've seen so far in my years as a film critic. I'm a little late creating this list, but with only five months left in 2014, we've still got a ton of great-looking films left in store. Here are the fifteen films that I'm looking forward to the most.

15. THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES- December 17

The Hobbit franchise has been subjected to a lot of hate over the years, mostly because director Peter Jackson decided to turn a simple 300 page fantasy book into a three movie epic. The first film was dreadfully slow and long, but the second film is a very thrilling fantasy flick. Therefore, I'm actually really excited for The Battle of the Five Armies. The first trailer was appropriately epic and I have a feeling that this film will be more like a Lord of the Rings film. I know that it's going to be stretched out to three hours again, but I don't care. I'm very excited to see this trilogy wrap up.

14. BIG EYES- December 25 (limited release)

Big Eyes is the rare Tim Burton film that is actually considered an Oscar contender. It's the story of Margaret Keane and Walter Keane (Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz), two famous artists in the 1950's. Adams and Waltz are two of the best actors working today and it's always interesting when Burton does a drama. The story and the period visuals will probably be spectacular. It's definitely a front-runner for many Oscar categories already and it's one of my most anticipated for the rest of the year.

13. UNBROKEN- December 25

I've heard nothing but good things about the book off of which Unbroken is based on and the movie looks stunning. The only reason it isn't higher on this list is because I'm not sure how different it's going to be. Is Unbroken just going to be another inspirational biopic? My hope for that lies in the fact that Angelina Jolie directed and that the Coens wrote the script. That definitely gives me a lot of hope for this film, but even if it is a standard inspirational film, it still will be a good movie. Jack O'Connell is an early Best Actor favorite in my book.

12. FURY- November 14

With the exception of the poorly reviewed Sabotage, David Ayer's wheelhouse seems to be quality emotional films with a hard, gritty edge. End of Watch was considered by many to be one of the best films of 2012 and one of the best cop dramas ever and I think that Ayer's new film, Fury, can be a classic film as well. The last time Brad Pitt was in a World War II movie, it was called Inglourious Basterds. That's one of my favorite films and although Fury definitely looks different, I'm still excited to see Brad Pitt playing a soldier again. Not to mention the eclectic supporting cast led by Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal and Logan Lerman. I'm hoping for this to be a great war film and from what I've seen so far, it will be.

11. EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS- December 12

Ridley Scott seems to specialize in old-fashioned epics (he directed Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven) and Exodus: Gods and Kings looks like another great addition to that category. Granted, the title is terrible and the whitewashed cast is somewhat troublesome, but this film simply looks epic. The first trailer highlighted the visual scope of the film and it looks terrific. Not to mention that Christian Bale is probably one of the best actors alive and can do almost anything with a role. This is definitely one to watch.

10. FOXCATCHER- November 14 (limited)

Moneyball was one of the most unique sports films ever made and I have a feeling that director Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher can be unique as well. The trailers have painted the film as a psychological sports drama and if you know the full story, then you know that this movie isn't going to end well. However, the actors are the biggest reason to get excited about this movie. Steve Carell is already an Oscar front-runner and Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo looks great as well. The buzz out of Cannes was deafening and I simply can't wait until I finally see it.

9. INHERENT VICE- December 12 (limited), January 9 (nationwide)

I've tried reading the book Inherent Vice before, but it's simply too weird and too different for me. However, I'm still really looking forward to the movie. Paul Thomas Anderson has directed some great films before and the cast he's assembled for this one is amazing. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect for the lead role and Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin fit their supporting roles perfectly. The 1960's Los Angeles setting is infinitely appealing and I just can't help but think that this is going to be an awesome movie. It's playing at the New York Film Festival as the centerpiece as well, so that's a great sign.

8. BIG HERO 6- November 7

Disney is once again the top animation studio in Hollywood and their last two films (Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen) were both on my top ten list for 2012 and 2013, respectively. So why would I not be excited for Big Hero 6, the studio's next film? The trailer was awesome and it's their first true team-up with Marvel, so there's even more to get excited about. I love the animation style and Baymax, the large white blob thingy, looks hilarious. This movie looks awesome.

7. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE- October 24

I recently caught a little bit of Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass on FX and I loved what I saw. I definitely intend on finishing the movie at some point. And I do consider Vaughn's X-Men: First Class to be one of the best films of that series and one of the ten best superhero films ever (hint: there's a post like this coming). So I have to say that I'm super excited for his new film Kingsman. It looks like a cross between Edgar Wright, James Bond and the brutal stylized violence of Vaughn and if that doesn't get you excited, I don't know what will. Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and Mark Strong round out the cast. Count me in.

6. THE INTERVIEW- October 10

Seth Rogen and Nicholas Stoller's Neighbors is one of the best films of the year so far and I couldn't be more excited for Rogen's next directorial effort, The Interview. Rogen has evolved as a comedic artist over time and The Interview looks like his most stylized and interesting effort yet. Plus, the story is infinitely appealing. Rogen and James Franco go to North Korea and assassinate Kim Jong-un? This looks hilarious and entertaining and I absolutely can't wait to see it.

5. KILL THE MESSENGER- October 10

Argo was and still is my favorite film of 2012 and although Kill the Messenger involves nobody from that film, its style appears to be almost identical. And that's only part of the reason why I'm excited for this film. The big reason is because the trailer was magnificent, highlighting the great-looking performance of Jeremy Renner and the exciting detective story involving cocaine, drug smuggling and the US government. This looks awesome and it looks to be the kind of movie that I love.

4. NIGHTCRAWLER- October 17

Nightcrawler is a dark thriller set in the underground world of LA crime journalism that stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Seriously, what's not to like. The trailers have been cryptic and hypnotic. Gyllenhaal looks appropriately insane. And the cinematography looks stunning. After seeing the brilliant Prisoners last year, Gyllenhaal is among my favorite actors and I really think that he can pull this role off. Nightcrawler looks like the kind of noir that Hollywood just doesn't make anymore.

3. GONE GIRL- October 3

David Fincher is one of Hollywood's premier directors. He never fails to deliver a unique and thrilling vision. Fight Club is still one of the most amazing films that I've ever seen and The Social Network is probably one of the most interesting biopics in history. The pulp novel Gone Girl might not seem like great material for Fincher, but from the look of the trailers, it will fit him perfectly. The film looks dark and gritty and also very engaging. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are great actors and I have no doubt that this will be one of the year's best films.

2. BIRDMAN- October 17 (limited)

Birdman is one of the early favorites for Best Picture and Best Actor and it's one of my most anticipated of the year. Why? For one, it looks awesome. A film with Michael Keaton as a washed-up superhero who tries to put on a Broadway play is an amazing idea. Plus, the rumors that the film was edited to look like it was filmed in one take make the film sound only more enticing. Finally, the cast includes Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis and Naomi Watts. Seriously, what's not to like?

1. INTERSTELLAR- November 7

Christopher Nolan is the best mainstream director alive. He might just be the best director period. And that's why Interstellar is my most anticipated film for the rest of the year. It was my most anticipated at the beginning of the year and it still is now. Nolan's new film looks amazing. The space epic looks like a traditional Nolan film with mix of Spielberg and Kubrick thrown in. The visuals look awesome, the cast is amazing and this looks like Nolan's most relatable and heartfelt film next. November 7 can't come soon enough.