Sunday, March 1, 2015

Focus Review

For the longest time now, Will Smith has been one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood and one of my personal favorites. In my opinion one thing that makes him so great is not just his fantastic performances, but his careful selection of his movies. In fact, for the longest time I was able to say that I hadn't seen Will Smith give a bad performance. Even if the movie itself wasn't that good, I was always able to say that at least Will Smith did a good job in it. That ended with After Earth. Being that After Earth was his most recent performance, unless of course you count his very brief appearance in last year's Winter's Tale, I was looking for him to bounce back in his next role. I actually hadn't heard of Focus until last month, but I immediately felt that he would indeed bounce back. I'm happy to announce that he has indeed bounced back as both him and co-star Margot Robbie are fantastic in this movie. The movie itself ironically suffers a bit from a lack of focus, but overall I am happy to report that the movie is actually fairly entertaining, despite what you might hear from critics.

Focus does have a bit of an Ocean's Eleven vibe to it in that the protagonists in the movie definitely aren't doing things that they are supposed to be doing, but you are rooting for them to succeed anyways. In Ocean's Eleven they are robbing casinos. In Focus, Will Smith is a con man. Him and his company/group that he works with earn their living stealing people's watches, wallets, credit cards, jewelry, etc. Of course we are rooting for them to succeed, even though in real life if someone tried to steal my wallet, I'd want to punch them in the face. Anywho, going in to the movie I actually had an episode of the TV show LOST on my mind. It's season 2, episode 13 -- "The Long Con." In it Sawyer attempts to do his usual con to a girl, but she doesn't bite and actually becomes his con partner and lover for a long time. Long story short, the whole thing is just a really long con that he is pulling on her. It's a rather fascinating episode that I was hoping that Focus would follow because if it did it would be an excellent movie. Does it? Well, I'm not going to tell you. There's a lot of conning that goes on and a lot of it is in fact quite interesting.

The movie is kind of a tale of two movies. In the first half there is a lot of set up. Margot Robbie attempts to con Will Smith, but fails epically because he is a much better con man and soon they form this bond where he is helping her become better at conning. The two of them carry this movie rather well as they have very good chemistry. As I said, I love Will Smith as an actor and he is back to his normal self. He has a lot of whit in this with perfect timing. He's a very likable and interesting character with quite a bit of depth to him. Margot Robbie is great as well. What I really like about her is that she proves that you can have super gorgeous actresses in your movies that have amazing acting abilities. You don't need to go hire swimsuit models or Victoria's Secret models in order to get really attractive females in your movies. In fact, I get really annoyed when movies do that. Just go find people like Margot Robbie. Admittedly I have not yet seen The Wolf of Wall Street, but I hear she was great in that and she's also great in Focus. I'm really excited for her future because I know it's very bright as she's already secured roles like Harley Quinn in DC's Suicide Squad and Jane in Warner Bros.' live action Tarzan

Where this movie went wrong was in the second half of it. After a first half that was full of a lot of fun cons, there's a point where the tone of the movie shifts and they do a few things that have you wondering where the heck they are taking this. As I said earlier, they lose focus a bit, which is of course ironic given the title of the movie. I won't spoil the movie of course, but there's a few things that I had in mind that they could've done to make this a great movie. What they did instead was a bit underwhelming. However, I'm not going to be as harsh on this as other people have, because when they finally tied everything together, I was actually impressed. The ending is pretty great I thought. It almost made forgive the movie completely, but alas I still think there are several things that they could've done to make this even better.

Overall, I found myself rather entertained by Focus. Looking back on Will Smith's career, this won't be a movie that he'll really be remembered for, but I'm glad he made a return to form after that atrocious After Earth. Him and Margot Robbie make a great duo in this and even though there is a lack of focus, the movie does keep you guessing and has enough twists and turns that make for a very fun ride. There are some things that they could've done to make this even better, but if you are looking for a good time at the movies, I would definitely recommend that you give Focus a shot, especially if you are a fan of Will Smith and/or Margot Robbie as both are excellent in this movie. My grade for Focus is a 7.5/10. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

McFarland, USA Review

It should be no secret that I am a big sports fan. Also being a big movie fan, it seems really logical that I would love my sports movies, right? If you were to make that assumption, you would definitely be right. However, I can actually be somewhat picky with my sports movies. Not every inspirational sports story needs to be turned into a movie, but sometimes Hollywood gets a little carried away and does so anyways. Thus sports movies can be extremely cliche at times. To please me, the movie needs to prove to me that they are justified in turning that specific sports story into a movie. It's also a plus if they don't butcher the actual story that the movie is based off of. I get the need to Hollywoodize things a bit, but getting too carried away can be frustrating. Thus when I go into a sports movie, I'm always cautiously optimistic, with emphasis on the word cautiously. Now if there's one person that knows how to do a sports movie, it's Kevin Costner. On top of that, Disney is usually pretty good at them, too. With those two aspects combined, I was actually pretty excited for McFarland, USA. As it turns out, my excitement was justified. This is a pretty darn good sports movie.

First off, I'm not sure why they felt the need to add the "USA" onto this title. This movie was originally scheduled for the end of last year before postponing it to this February. Before they postponed it, it was simply called McFarland. I think I would've liked that better. But oh well. Minor concern. In McFarland, USA Kevin Costner is a high school football coach that has had some serious problems keeping a job due to various circumstances of which includes him losing his temper at least once. Because of this, he is left with no choice but to take a job at McFarland High School in McFarland, California, a small, poor town with mainly just Hispanic people living there. He initially sees this as a temporary job until he finds something bigger and better that can support his family. His stint as football coach doesn't last long, but pretty soon he learns that the kids here can run, so he starts up a cross country team.

There's several things that really make this movie work. The first is the fact that it's cross country. As much as I like basketball, football, and baseball movies, they've all been done like a hundred times each at least, so if you are going to do that, you really need to make a concerted effort to make your movie stand out. Cross country is something that hasn't really been touched on much, so that's a huge plus right there. Also, while I'm personally not a runner, there is a lot of lessons and symbolism that can be taken from running a race that makes the subject rather beautiful. This movie takes advantage of that. There are a lot of themes that you can take from this movie at apply it to your life. One example of this is comes when the boys hit a hill for the first time. They're great at  running when it's flat, but when they hit  that hill, they really struggle because McFarland isn't a hilly place. Such is a metaphor for life. It's easy to be happy and upbeat when everything is just smooth sailing, but what are we going to do when suddenly we run into an uphill battle? As Kevin Costner tells his bunch, everyone goes through pain as they are running the race, but the people that are going to succeed are the ones that are tough enough to deal with it.

Another thing that really makes this movie work is that it's not just a cool story about a cross country  team that came out of nowhere to do really well in the late 1980's. I would contend that the main focus is actually on Kevin Costner and his family adjusting to life in this small, Hispanic town. Costner is searching for the typical American dream and thus he and his family really have a hard time adjusting to this new life and overcoming all these cultural barriers. If you yourself are Hispanic or you have ties to the Hispanic community, you are sure to love this movie because this movie hits home how amazing the Hispanic people are. They are a hard-working people with a lot of heart, have a lot of strong traditions, and are especially focused on family. They can easily be misunderstood and taken for gang-bangers that are violent and can't be trusted. For these reasons, Kevin Costner has a hard time adjusting to living in McFarland. But once he is able to see these people as the amazing people that they are, that's when he is really able to connect with his team and help them do great things. It's really touching.

And of course what puts it all together are the fantastic performances by everyone involved. Kevin Costner specifically was born to star in sports movies. Yes, he's good in whatever he does, but I feel he especially thrives in these sports roles. In fact, he does such a good job that he can single-handedly carry a movie that is otherwise very average. An example of that is last year's Draft Day. When you think about the logic and realism in that movie, there's a lot of things that don't quite make sense, but Kevin Costner does such a good job as this fictional GM of the Browns that it makes the whole movie really good and entertaining to watch, despite the flaws. That's the power of Kevin Costner. What's optimal, of course, is when he doesn't have to be the only one carrying the movie. That's the case here. This is a very well-written, well-shot movie with fantastic, emotionally-driven performances from everyone involved. I can't think of one character who I wasn't emotionally invested in because of the superb acting and writing. Add Kevin Costner to the mix and you have one dang good sports movie because you know Costner will be at the top of his game and of course he is.

In the end, McFarland, USA is a sports movie that I quickly fell in love with. Can you say it's a predictable movie? Sure, I suppose you can. But this is a genre where you don't need to be crazy and unpredictable. It's like performing the national anthem. Some singers try to get super fancy when they perform the national anthem at the beginning of a game and that actually bothers me. I just want them to sing the national anthem and sing it well. Same thing with sports movies. You have a formula that works really well. You don't need to get all crazy and weird with it. Just tell the story and tell it well. That's what McFarland, USA does. It's not fancy or unpredictable. It hits all the notes you would expect a sports movie to hit, but it hits them very well and that's why it works. It's an inspiring movie with a lot of powerful themes that will even be a tear-jerker at times with how well it's done. This definitely deserves to be added to the long list of great sports movies. My grade for McFarland, USA is a 9/10. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Still Alice Review

I don't know how it started, but last year everyone dumped a bucket of ice water on their heads in support of the terrible disease of ALS. This caused a whole ton of money to be raised for ALS which I think is rather fantastic. Later in the year, we then got a movie about a man named Stephen Hawking who suffers from that disease. That movie was called The Theory of Everything. I hope I don't sound insensitive towards Stephen Hawking or anyone who suffers from ALS, but I actually wasn't super impressed with the movie, mainly because I've always had mixed emotions about Stephen Hawking. His survival is an inspirational story, but outside that he's kind of a jerk. I bring this up because there's another movie that just got released that I find a lot of similarities to The Theory of Everything. As the title of this review revealed, that is Still Alice. We didn't dump buckets of ice water on our heads in support of Alzheimer's disease, but maybe we should do something like that because it is also a terrible disease. We did get a movie, though, which I think everyone should go see. While The Theory of Everything failed to connect with me emotionally, Still Alice actually hit home.

Perhaps part of the reason why Still Alice didn't get as much popularity is because it's not a biopic of a super famous scientist. Rather it's just based off a novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, who writes fictional novels about characters dealing with neurological disorders. In Still Alice we start with a very normal family. Alice, the mother of the family, is a professor of Linguistics at Columbia University. Her husband, John, is a successful businessman. They have three kids who are all grown up. Their oldest daughter and their son live fairly close. The oldest daughter, Anna, is married and pregnant with twins while their son, Tom, is happily dating a girl. The youngest daughter, Lydia, lives on the other side of the country and has a bit of a rocky relationship with her mother because she is pushing her hard to go to college while she instead wants to find success in theater. Things get really interesting as Alice visits her neurologist and gets diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. This changes the family dynamic as they all have to try to figure out how to properly deal with this new challenge.

Like I've said, Alzheimer's disease is an awful disease in and of itself. However, what makes it worse is the fact that there is no cure. Slowly losing your memory and the ability to perform simple tasks is definitely a traumatic experience for those who have this disease. There was a time in my life when I regularly visited an Alzheimer's unit and it is truly sad to see these great individuals who have lived great lives suffer from this disease because they have lost the ability to function as a normal human being. It's also sad knowing that there is nothing that can be done to prevent or cure this disease. You just have to love and support these individuals. In my opinion, this movie did an excellent job of portraying how sad this is. It's really heart-wrenching as you watch this amazing woman played by Julianne Moore start to deteriorate mentally. It's also really hard to watch her family deal with this. Suddenly I put myself into their shoes. What if down the road I was diagnosed with this disease. How would I react? How would I feel? Also down the road, what if my wife was diagnosed with this disease? What would I do? How would I help her. Finally, what if either of my parents were diagnosed? How would I deal with this? Suddenly as I was thinking of all this while I was watching this movie, I was almost brought to tears because it effected me so heavily. I felt for these characters. More importantly, I started to feel for those in real life who have had to go through this. It was a very emotional experience for me.

What really makes this work are excellent performances by the whole cast. I want to focus on three of those individuals that played the biggest roles. First and foremost is Julianne Moore as Alice. She just won best actress at the Oscars and let me tell you that this was well deserved. I think this was really hard because she not only had to play one character who acted a certain way, but as her character continued to deteriorate, it was as if she was playing multiple characters that had different levels of this disease. Her transition through this process feels very natural and unforced, which made it beautiful. Without spoiling what happens, there is a point in the movie where Alice, still very normal, records a message for her future self. Towards the end when she has deteriorated quite a bit, she watches this message and this is the point where Julianne Moore's performance really hit home for me because in that scene you are able to see what Julianne Moore has pulled off in this movie. It's amazing! And Alec Baldwin as her husband also did a great job. His character is faced with a major dilemma and I didn't really like the choice he made in the end, but Baldwin pulled off an excellent performance. It's also interesting that he has now played the husband of the last two best actress winners at the Oscars. He should get some sort of award for that. Or at the very least, if he plays another husband this year, whoever is playing his wife should be excited because she might be up for an award.

Next up is a woman who is one of the most made fun of actresses. She has a reputation of being one of the worst actresses in the business. That's Kristen Stewart. I'm here to tell you that this woman does know how to act. I've felt for a long time now that her awful performance in Twilight can be attributed more to a poorly written character than anything else. Maybe she didn't care. Maybe she doesn't always give her best. But to always look at her as a horrible actress and use her as a forever punchline that will never do any good is unfair in my opinion. Because yes, she does a great job in this. She shows all kinds of different emotions that a daughter would normally when learning that her mother has Alzheimer's. Being that they didn't have the best relationship before the diagnosis, I actually enjoyed watching their relationship develop over the course of the movie. If I have one complaint, it's that there wasn't enough of Kristen Stewart because I really loved her character. When she was on the screen, she totally nailed her performance. She was good enough that I would've liked to see her get a best supporting actress nomination. Yes, you heard that right. And early word on her performance in Clouds of Sils Maria is strong. She was even the first American actress ever to win best supporting actress at the Cesar Awards in France just recently. An Oscar nomination this upcoming year?

In the end, Still Alice is a movie that I searched out so that I could see Julianne Moore's Oscar-winning performance and not only was I blown away by Moore's performance, but I was really emotionally touched. Still Alice is a great movie that deals with a very delicate subject in an excellent way. I felt for Julianne Moore's character as she had to deal with this revelation. I also felt for her whole family as they had to deal with their mother's diagnosis. This movie is very well written with a great direction and superb performances from the entire cast. Yes, Rosamund Pike was my favorite performance from an actress last year, but I'm not complaining at all with Julianne Moore's win. And yes, I think Kristen Stewart did a phenomenal job as well. People should really stop seeing her as the worst actress in Hollywood because she's not. My grade for Still Alice is a 9/10.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Seventh Son Review

Sometimes people wonder why I voluntarily go see what I think are going to be bad movies. Several reasons. Yes, I actually find it fun to write a bad review of a movie that I didn't like. That's one reason. Along those lines, it is really fun to make my list of top 10 worst movies of the year. In order to do that, I actually need to see a good sample of bad movies. That's another reason. And of course I have found that I enjoy the role of warning people about movies that aren't that good. Most importantly, though, is that there are actually a lot of times where I have gone into a movie thinking it would be bad and actually had a good time with it. Being surprised like that is actually one of the best movie-going sensations in my opinion. Thus I like giving all movies a chance because there's always the hope that I will actually enjoy the movie. Seventh Son is a great example of that. It currently has a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.7 on IMDb, so when I went into it, my expectations were very low. And guess? This movie isn't that bad. I mean, it's not the most epic thing you'll ever see, but I actually had fun with this.

Seventh Son is actually based off of the first book in The Wardstone Chronicles titled The Spook's Apprentice. This series is written by Joseph Delaney and is a fairly popular series that now has 13 different books in it. I have not read this series, but I have two friends who really enjoy it. One of them actually came with me to this and was also fairly impressed with the adaption. According to him, there are a lot of differences between the book and the movie, but they do keep the same general structure of the book and don't commit any huge sins like that of the movie adaption of Eragon. The book stars 12-year-old Thomas Gregory as the new apprentice to John Gregory. Gregory is what is called a Spook, someone who fights off all sorts of fantasy creatures like witches and boggarts. His previous apprentice was killed and Tom becomes his new apprentice because he is the seventh son of a seventh son. In the movie Tom is a lot older than 12. I can't remember how old the character in the movie is supposed to be, but Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian from The Chronicles of Narnia movies) is 33 years old. Or, well, he's that old right now. Since production on this started several years ago, he was probably 30 or 31 during the actual filming. But it's the same idea. He's recruited to be Jeff Bridges' new apprentice because he's the seventh son of a seventh son and together they are trying fight off the evil queen.

The movie actually started off really interesting. We see Jeff Bridges and his old apprentice fighting this queen, but failing as the apprentice is killed and Jeff Bridges escapes. Being that the reviews were so bad, I was waiting for this to take a serious dip with the story, the acting, the quality of the movie, or something like that. But it never did. They did throw in a love story with Ben Barnes and a new witch that is somewhat distracting because it just happens with very little build up. Also, Ben Barnes towards the end of the movie suddenly becomes an amazing fighter overnight after a speech by his mother, which felt a bit odd. There were a few other things like that that weren't done that well, but overall it's actually a really fun fantasy adventure. The most unique and original fantasy movie ever? Probably not. But the visual effects are actually really good. The soundtrack for the movie is great. The acting by Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, and others is really great. There was a lot of chemistry between the whole cast that made this work. When the battles happened, they were really fun to watch.

There were a whole lot of production issues with this movie. It was supposed to come out initially in February of 2013, two years ago. But it got pushed back multiple times and even switch distributors, I believe. The marketing for the movie wasn't done very well at all and Universal decided to release the movie on the same day as Jupiter Ascending and a week before Kingsman: The Secret Service. It's as if they gave up on the movie some time ago and didn't care for success. But in the grand scheme of things, productions issues don't matter. Or they shouldn't at least. But I feel that a lot of people went in to the movie with the idea that this was a problematic movie that earned nothing in the box office and thus wanted to be good. I don't want to see people had written their reviews before they saw it, but I do think they went in with the idea in mind that they were going to hate it and just decided to find everything wrong with it to justify themselves. Because who wants to be the only one to actually like a movie? Better to go with the flow, right? In my opinion this is wrong, but it's the only thing I can think of as to why this movie is hated so much because it really doesn't deserve all the hate that it's getting.

So in the end, I went into Seventh Son with low expectations, but I found myself surprisingly enjoying the movie. It's a well-shot, well-acted fantasy adventure that I had a lot of fun with. It's not on the level of Lord of the Rings in terms of a fantasy movie, but I'm glad that I decided to give this movie a shot because it's worth your time. If you are one of the people that decided to completely ignore this movie because of all the bad reviews, I would honestly suggest that you actually give this is a shot. Because who knows, maybe you'll be like me and actually enjoy this movie. I highly doubt we're getting more of these movies because of how poorly received it was. I mean, it's actually made a small profit due to a high showing overseas, but I don't know if that's good enough to justify more. However, I am actually now interested in checking out this book series sometime in the future when I actually have time to read. When a movie based on a book gives me that desire, that's a good thing because it doesn't happen that often. My grade for Seventh Son is an 8/10.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The 87th Academy Awards: Predictions

The Academy Awards are being presented tomorrow night, so it's time to have a bit of fun! I'm going with the simple subtitle here by just calling this predictions, but in reality this post is four-fold. First, I'll give you the nominees. Second, I'm going to predict who is most likely going to win. Third, I'm going to give you my pick of which of the nominees should win if it were completely up to me. Fourth, I'm going to throw in some names/movies that I think should've been nominated. Before doing this, I made sure to see as many of the nominees as possible so that I could be a good judge. I'll admit that in some of the smaller categories I have not seen every nominee, but I can say that I've seen most of the movies that got major nominees. My main motivation for doing this? I'm no expert in the Academy Awards, but I do love following them and by doing this you'll know exactly what I'm expecting and hoping going into tomorrow. So without further ado, let's get started!

Best Picture:

Nominees: American Sniper; Birdman; Boyhood; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Selma; The Theory of Everything; Wiplash
Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Boyhood
Should've Been Nominated: Gone Girl; Nightcrawler

Come on Academy, nominate ten films! Why only eight? There were so many deserving nominees this year, that you might as well just make this an even ten. I actually think Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler would be the other two in when you look at the other major categories, but I would've been down for Gone Girl getting in instead of Foxcatcher. Regardless, this year it's a battle between Birdman and Boyhood and I really don't know who's coming out on top because they've split all the precursors and people who have been predicting and following for longer than I have also are torn on who they think will win. So I'm taking a shot in the dark by saying Birdman will win and that's mostly because I've been on team Boyhood ever since I first saw it in July and the Academy usually goes against what I want. But hey, Birdman is my #2 movie of the year, so I won't be too disappointed.

Best Actor:

Nominees: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher); Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game); Bradley Cooper (American Sniper); Michael Keaton (Birdman); Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Will Win: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Should Win: Michael Keaton (Birman)
Should've Been Nominated: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler); David Oyelowo (Selma); Tom Hardy (Locke)

Yup, if it was up to me, I would've nominated Gyllenhaal, Oyelowo, and Hardy along with Keaton and Cumberbatch. The other three were good, but in a year that's this competitive I don't think they should've gotten the nomination. My easy, runaway favorite to win the award was Jake Gyllenhaal, with Oyelowo as a distant second, which is why I was furious that neither made it in. So given the current nominees, I will definitely be cheering for Keaton to walk away with it. From what I hear, it's going to be a very close race, but I think voters will be more drawn to Eddie Redmayne's performance as Stephen Hawking because they seem to like those true story performances, but I hope I'm wrong.

Best Actress:

Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night); Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything); Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl); Julianne Moore (Still Alice); Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Will Win: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Should Win: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Should've Been Nominated: Amy Adams (Big Eyes)

Still Alice is actually the most recent movie I've seen in theaters and Julianne Moore was excellent in that movie as portraying someone who is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. This is a category that is pretty much set in stone. Julianne Moore is winning. There's no question. And I'll be fine with it. However, if it were up to me, I would actually go with Rosamund Pike because she gave what I consider a legendary performance in Gone Girl. I will remember that performance for a very long time. Unfortunately it was probably too dark for the old geezers in the Academy. Oh well. And yes, I do think Amy Adams should've been here because she gave a performance in Big Eyes that was my personal favorite from her simply because it was so honest and real. I would've picked her to win over Julianne Moore as well and had it not been for Rosamund Pike, she'd be my favorite.

Best Supporting Actor:

Nominees: Robert Duvall (The Judge); Ethan Hawke (Boyhood); Edward Norton (Birdman); Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher); J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Will Win: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Should Win: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Should've Been Nominated: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher); Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

This category is also a done deal. Probably even more of a done deal than Julianne Moore for best actress. Quite honestly, this is one that I completely agree with 100 percent. Everyone who has seen Whiplash also agrees. If you haven't seen Whiplash, go fix that as soon as possible and then you'll see why everyone is in agreement with this win. As far as my should've been nominated, why am I putting Steve Carell here? Yes, I know he got a best actor nomination, but I think he should've gotten the supporting actor nomination instead. That would've cleared up some space in the very crowded best actor category. And for crying out loud Academy, GIVE THE MOST TALENTED MAN IN HOLLYWOOD SOME RECOGNITION FOR ONCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes I'm talking about Andy Serkis. That man can do everything and yet he still has nothing from the Academy. It's a shame.

Best Supporting Actress:

Nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood); Laura Dern (Wild); Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game); Emma Stone (Birdman); Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)
Will Win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Should Win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Should've Been Nominated: Kristen Stewart (Still Alice); Jessica Chastain (pick a movie)

Yes, you read that right. I think Kristen Stewart should've gotten an Oscar nomination. She was great in Still Alice. In fact, she's had several movies this year where she was praised for her acting abilities, so people really should stop seeing her as the worst actress in the business just because of that Twilight thing because those who do are starting to be the ones who look bad. Anywho, as far as this category goes, this is the third straight acting category that is a done deal. Talk about lack of anticipation. But I'm really glad that Patricia Arquette is getting this win and I hope she's not the only representation for Boyhood. And yes, should've been here. I put that "pick a movie" statement in parentheses because she's done a lot this year and was excellent in everything she did. I was hoping that she'd get in for something, but unfortunately she got completely blanked. Sad day.  

Best Director:

Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel); Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman); Richard Linklater (Boyhood); Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher); Morton Tyldum (The Imitation Game)
Will Win: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Should Win: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Should've Been Nominated: Ava DuVernay (Selma)

Unlike our previous three categories, this category is a complete mystery. What is for sure is that it is once again Birdman vs. Boyhood. In the past, the best picture winner also took home best directing honors, but recently that hasn't been the case and I think it's going to be a split yet again. Because I put Birdman in as best picture that means Boyhood goes here, giving Linklater the much deserved win. This was a 12-year project and in order to make it work, there had to be some serious directing talent. That's why this worked in my opinion, so yes Linklater deserves the win. Finally, the lack of love for Selma in terms of nominations had me disappointed. Ava DuVernay would've been the first black woman of color nominated for best director. Way to miss out on that Academy.

Best Original Screenplay:

Nominees: Boyhood; Birdman; Foxcatcher; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Nightcrawler
Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Birdman
Should've Been Nominated: The LEGO Movie; Selma

In terms of screenplay, despite me being on team Boyhood, I will admit that Birdman is the more deserving win. There's a lot of beautifully woven in themes in that movie. From what I'm reading, Birdman is probably going to win, but the big spoiler here actually looks like The Grand Budapest Hotel, which would also be deserving. What a hilariously creative project that was! For my should've been nominated picks, Selma did an amazing job at giving us an honest, human look at Martin Luther King, Jr. while still telling us an amazing, inspirational story. And the writing by Phil Lord and Chris Miller for The LEGO Movie was beyond perfect in my opinion.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Nominees: American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The  Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Will Win: The Imitation Game
Should Win: Whiplash
Should've Been Nominated: Gone Girl

It looks like The Imitation Game is going to be the movie this year with a whole ton of nominations that gets mostly ignored in terms of wins because of superiority by fellow nominees, so the Academy will probably choose this category to give it the win. I would really like to see Whiplash win this category, though, but there's probably no chance. And why was Gone Girl not given the love it deserved? Too dark for the Academy? Shame.

Best Animated Feature: 
Nominees: The Boxtrolls; Big Hero 6; How to Train Your Dragon 2; Song of the Sea; The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Should Win: The Boxtrolls
Should've Been Nominated: The LEGO Movie

WHY WAS THE LEGO MOVIE NOT NOMINATED?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Biggest snub in Oscar history? I don't know. I haven't been alive for 87 years. But in all my years of watching the awards it is. Forever stain on the Academy because of this snub? For me, yes. I won't forgive this. That said, without The LEGO Movie in place, I'm totally down for the Academy giving love to the stop motion animation genre because of how much time and effort goes into making those movies. I know the genre has been given love in terms of surprise nominations, but it'd be nice to see a win. But it looks like that won't be the case. Oh well.

Best Foreign Language Film:

Nominees: Ida, Leviathan; Tangerines; Timbuktu; Wild Tales
Will Win: Ida
Should Win: ?????
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

I honestly have not seen any of these films. But I should because foreign films are good things. However, if I'm picking a winner, I'll say that Ida will get the win because it got other nominations outside this category, which makes me think the Academy likes it.

Best Cinematography:

Nominees: Birdman; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Ida; Mr. Turner; Unbroken
Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Birdman
Should've Been Nominated: Interstellar

There was a lot of editing and cinematography magic in Birdman that made it one of the most brilliant movies ever in terms of all the technical categories. I mean, the whole movie appeared as if it was done in one shot. So yes, it definitely deserves the win here and I think it's going to get it. However, if Roger Deakins were to finally get his win, I wouldn't be complaining too much, although I do think it would be a lifetime achievement award and I'm not really a fan of those. And why was Interstellar not included in cinematography? I may have not liked the movie's ending, but it did deserve at least a nomination in all the technical and sound categories.

Best Editing:

Nominees: American Sniper; Boyhood; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Whiplash
Will Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Boyhood
Should've Been Nominated: Birdman

Speaking of what I said in the cinematography category, Birdman had a lot of editing and cinematography magic that made it brilliant. So why did it not get nominated here? That would've been my pick to win. But oh well. I suppose that means I'll go with the 12 years of footage edited into one three-hour movie. That seems deserving of an Oscar, right? Although if you go watch Whiplash again and pay attention to all the individual cuts, that's also some brilliant editing work there.

Best Production Design:

Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Interstellar; Into the Woods; Mr. Turner
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

The Grand Budapest Hotel got a lot of surprise nominations and because of that, I have a feeling that it might run the table in a lot of the smaller categories and I won't be arguing, especially when you think of production design.

Best Costume Design:

Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Inherent Vice; Into the Woods; Maleficent; Mr. Turner
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Into the Woods
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

Like I said, Budapest is probably going to win a lot of these smaller categories. Costume design? They did have a lot of great costumes and outfits for their characters, so I won't argue with this win either. However, I would like to see Into the Woods take the win in this category. Great costumes for everyone involved in this musical.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Nominees: Foxcatcher; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Guardians of the Galaxy
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

Steve Carell should be very appreciative of the makeup and hairstyling people from Foxcatcher. I mean, half the reason why he was so creepy in that movie was because of all the makeup they put on him everyday. But come on Academy. Give this to Guardians. Just look at Gamora and Drax!

Best Original Score: 

Nominees: The Imitation Game; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Interstellar; Mr. Turner; The Theory of Everything
Will Win: The Theory of Everything
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should've Been Nominated: Birdman, Whiplash

This is one of my favorite categories to judge because I love music and it's really fun going back and re-listening to all of the scores that were nominated. They're all good. Alexandre Desplat got a double nomination for Imitation Game and Budapest. That's fun for him. Had Unbroken been nominated that would've been three for him. As far as the favorite goes, I really do love the epic score from Hans Zimmer in Interstellar, but I love the random awesomeness from Desplat's Budapest score even more. It looks Johans Johannson is taking the cake with The Theory of Everything, though. And were was the awesome Jazz score from Whiplash or the awesome drum score from Birdman? Not eligible? That's dumb.

Best Original Song:

Nominees: "Everything is Awesome" (The LEGO Movie); "Glory" (Selma); "Grateful" (Beyond the Lights); "I'm Not Going to Miss You" (Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me); "Lost Stars" (Begin Again)
Will Win: "Glory" (Selma)
Should Win: "Glory" (Selma)
Should've Been Nominated: "Yellow Flicker Beat" (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1)

Once again, music. I love music. Part of me wants the Academy to make up for their stupidity in snubbing The LEGO Movie from the animated feature category by awarding it here. But I have to be honest and objective. Out of these five songs, "Glory" by Common featuring John Legend is the best of the five. Thankfully it looks like it's the front-runner. However, I am saddened by the fact that Lorde's "Yellow Flicker Beat" from Mockingjay - Part 1 was left out. That's a great song that did get a Globe nomination, so I was hoping for an Oscar as well.

Best Sound Mixing:

Nominees: American Sniper; Birdman; Interstellar; Unbroken; Whiplash
Will Win: American Sniper
Should Win: ?????
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

I don't have of an opinion on sound mixing, but I have a feeling that this is where the Academy awards American Sniper.

Best Sound Editing:

Nominees: American Sniper; Birdman; The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; Interstellar; Unbroken
Will Win: American Sniper
Should Win: ?????
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

Fans of the Hobbit finale are probably upset that this is the only nomination their movie got. But this is the same as the previous category. I don't have an opinion, but I think its going to American Sniper.

Best Visual Effects:

Nominees: Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; Guardians of the Galaxy; Interstellar; X-Men: Days of Future Past
Will Win: Interstellar
Should Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Should've Been Nominated: Godzilla

And here we have the one category that the Academy sets aside for big blockbusters of the year. Thankfully we don't have a random best picture nominee to steal the thunder this year. Personally I wouldn't mind Marvel to grab a win here. I'm always down for that. However, the motion capture technology from Andy Serkis and company added to some of the best visual effects in recent memory makes me really hope that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes this home. But I feel the Academy is going to take this moment to award Interstellar, which I wouldn't complain too much. The visual effects in that were good. It was a pleasant surprise to see Days of Future Past included here. It's about time the X-Men franchise get an Oscar nomination. However, if I'm being honest, I think Godzilla was more deserving. Thankfully there was no Transformers or Hobbit this time around. That made me happy.

Best Documentary, Feature:

Nominees: Citizenfour; Finding Vivian Maier; Last Days in Vietnam; The Salt of the Earth; Virunga
Will Win: Citizenfour
Should Win: ?????
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

Add these movies to my list of movies to watch. I like documentaries. I just don't usually search them out or try to see them in theaters. For the record, though, Citizenfour has been the front-runner here for a long time, so I would be surprised if it loses.

Best Documentary, Short Subject:

Nominees: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Joanna, Our Curse, The Reaper, White Earth
Will Win: ?????
Should Win: ?????
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

I'm even more lost when it comes to these. Sorry.

Best Animated Short:

Nominees: The Bigger Picture; The Dam Keeper; Feast; Me and My Moulton; A Single Life
Will Win: ?????
Should Win: ?????
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

Well I have seen Feast since that was Disney's short film that showed in front of Big Hero 6. That was adorable. But I haven't seen the others. These I really do want to find and watch because they are really fun. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Best Live Action Short: 

Nominees: Aya; Boogaloo and Graham; Butter Lamp; Parvaneh; The Phone Call
Will Win: ?????
Should Win: ?????
Should've Been Nominated: ?????

Sorry to draw a complete blank on these last few categories. I at least wanted to share with you the nominations so that you know what they are.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Strange Magic Review

So a few weeks ago I saw this movie called Strange Magic. Now generally I like being on top of things with my movie reviews. However, sometimes life gets in the way and I get behind. I feel bad when that happens. I really do. But yeah, no one saw this movie. No one cared about this movie. Quite honestly, I didn't make it a priority to write my review because there was more interesting things to write about. As you can tell, I have written plenty of movie reviews recently of movies that I saw after Strange Magic. But do you know what, I decided that it was time to finally sit down and write this movie review. Then I realized that I have almost forgotten what this movie was about. Sure, you can blame my memory for that. But in my defense, this movie is so darn forgettable that you really can't blame me for this one. In fact, when I went to Wikipedia to look up the plot to remind me of what I had seen, Wikipedia was even confused. "Strange Magic? You mean the song by Electric Light Orchestra?" No, Wikipedia. I mean the movie that was released a month ago. See what I mean? Wikipedia even forgot this movie existed.

So I read the plot summary. Oh yes. That's what happened here. And do you know what, I usually don't do this, but I'm going to let Wikipedia introduce this movie for you. I won't post the whole plot summary. But here's the first of three paragraphs:

"The realm is divided between a land of fairies and light, and a land of bog creatures living in the dark forest; Primrose flowers, which are a crucial ingredient to love potions marks the border between the lands. Marianne; a fairy and heir to the throne of the Fairy Kingdom is engaged to be married to Roland; a handsome warrior who breaks her heart when she discovers him kissing another fairy on their Weeding Day. Scorned, Marianne vows to never fall in love again. Sometime later; her sister Dawn, who frequently says she is in love is distraught over the upcoming Spring Ball over which boy she could meet there. Her best friend Sunny, an elf who has a crush on Dawn tries to cheer her up with a song, but they are nearly devoured by a giant lizard before a hardened Marianne rescues them. Sunny, having fallen through the border of the dark forest finds a Primrose petal, which he subsequently hides when fleeing the forest." 

Yup. That's our movie. And if you think that's hard to follow, try watching this whole movie. My goodness, it was a chore. This here sounds like it was at least half of the movie with everything that happened, right? HA! This was like the first 15 minutes. They tried to shove so much into this movie that it ended up being rushed, choppy, incoherent, and convoluted. If you want to get an idea of the tone and feel of the movie, just go watch the trailer. By goodness that was honestly one of the worst trailers I have ever seen. I didn't even have a clue what the movie was going to be about outside the fact that there were a bunch of goblins and fairies and a whole bunch of confusing nonsense going on. Ok, I thought. I've seen horrendous trailers for good movies before and I've also seen amazing trailers for movies that were complete and utter crap. Perhaps this movie will be good despite the trailer. Nope. The movie is about as confusing and off-the-wall as the trailer.

"From the mind of George Lucas."

Once upon a time that used to be a good sign for a movie. I mean, the man is the creator of Star Wars. STAR WARS!!!! One of the greatest trilogies of all time, if not the greatest. I mean no disrespect for the man. I will always have a special place in my heart for George Lucas. I mean that in the most normal way possible because the man created Star Wars. I want to love everything he does. But something is off. I know I'm the last one to jump on this bandwagon. Shortly after Star Wars, he started doing weird things like Howard the Duck. The he re-released Star Wars into theaters having made a lot of changes. He got so obsessed with making changes that every subsequent release on DVD and bluray and whatnot also included a whole bunch of changes. I'm not one to really complain about that, but I know a lot of Star Wars fans I can point you to if you want to hear a few good rants. Then there's this thing called the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Once again, I'm not one to really complain about them because I like them a lot more than many people, but I do admit that they are a HUGE step down from the original trilogy. I mean, the special effects are breathtaking and the lightsaber duels are totally epic. The basic structure of the story is also just fine. But man, the acting, the script, and the dialogue are honestly putrid throughout. Those are the types of things that you can point to the director as being the problem.

Getting my vibe? George Lucas became the most respected and loved filmmaker of all time after creating possible the greatest movie universe ever. Then over the course of the next 20 or so years, he went and burnt down all his bridges, alienating most of his fan base in the process. Everyone still loves Star Wars. But George Lucas himself has become a laughing stock and a punchline. Once again, I am usually one to defend him, but did you see that Red Tails movie he did a few years ago. Horrible. And this? Strange Magic? Ouch. I can't defend him anymore when he consistently has proven that he is not a very good filmmaker anymore. Technically, he did not write, direct, or produce this movie. He was merely an executive producer. But this is his story. He'd been wanting this to get done for like 15 years. It was his passion project. I don't get it, George. Why? Why did you think this was a good idea? What trip has your mind been on these last 15 years? This is a mess. A complete and utter mess.

Oh but I'm not done quite yet. This movie is a musical. As I hope I've proven to you, I absolutely adore a well-made musical. I'm a musical person. I was in band throughout grade school. I like to sing. I like listening to music. I love music. Always have. Always will. But there is almost nothing worse than an atrociously done musical and this is a prime example of that. Every single scene they break out into song. None of it's original. Most of it is current pop music. Some of it I think comes from A Midsummer Night's Dream. That's what I've been told and read, anyways. I'm not exactly familiar with that specific Shakespeare play. The actual singing in the movie isn't bad. The problem every single song is poorly timed and grossly out of place. This did not need to be a musical. I don't know why it was. I got 15 minutes into the movie and was just sick of the music and every subsequent song after just made me cringe. But it kept going for the whole movie. In fact, they unnecessarily broke out into song during every single. Every. Single. Freaking. Scene.

I don't know if any of you actually wanted to see this movie in theaters. If you did, it's gone. As a sign of how no one cared about this movie, during opening weekend, it was booked in over 3,000 theaters. It kept those theaters in its second weekend. Weekend three it lost over half of those screens as it was down to just 1,300 theaters. This past weekend, weekend number four, it lost most of that 1,300 and thus only played in 175 theaters. That's embarrassing. So in order to see this, you're going to have to wait until it comes out on DVD. But really, I hope I've convinced you that this isn't worth your time. It's a mess in just about every way. I mean, the animation itself is actually good, but that's it. If anything, this is the type of movie that might be a decent option if it comes to Netflix and you need something to distract your three-year old kids for a few minutes. But overall, this is just embarrassing for George Lucas, Lucasfilm Animation Studios, and everyone else involved. I'm giving Strange Magic a 3/10.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

It's Valentine's Day today, which means if you're heading out to the theaters, you have a choice between the romance movie and the action movie. Speaking of the romance movie this year, Fifty Shades of Grey, if you were anticipating my review of it, I'm just going to inform you right now that that review won't happen. Usually I'm good at seeing all kinds of movies, but that is one that I am choosing to not see. Sorry. However, if you want to know about how I would've felt about the movie, I encourage you to check out Chris Stuckmann's review right here. He's a YouTube reviewer that I have grown to trust and his review is both informative and hilarious. Now I really hope that you made the decision to go with the action movie this time around because Kingsman: The Secret Service is really good. If you didn't see a movie this weekend, but you were planning on a President's Day trip to the theaters, I highly recommend you give this movie a shot.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is actually based on a comic book. Being that I'm not actually into comic books, especially ones that aren't Marvel or DC, this was actually news to me a couple of weeks ago. The movie is an action spy thriller that you can compare to the James Bond movies. In fact, the movie itself compares itself to James Bond, which is kinda fun. There's even references to Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, so this definitely knows what type of movie it's trying to be. And by goodness does this take you on quite the wild ride. Colin Firth, Michael Caine, and Mark Strong are our trio of goodies in this that belong to a secret spy organization known as the Kingsman. They dress up like gentlemen in nice suits and are hidden in a tailor shop. But underneath they have all sorts of fancy gadgets to go along with their intense training that combined make them kick some serious butt. Newcomers Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson are brought in as two of the young people competing for a spot on the Kingsman while techie genius played by Samuel L. Jackson comes up with a crazy, sinister plot that the Kingsman need to stop.

I should mention that this is a very intense action movie with a lot of over-the-top action sequences that get quite violent at times. If that's not your type of movie, then I would suggest something a bit softer for you. But if you do like high-powered action movies, then buckle up and prepare for quite the ride. While this is very intense, it's not your dark and serious type of action movie. It's actually rather light-hearted and comedic. I was busting up with laughter for most of the movie. The fact that it's way over-the-top makes it very entertaining. On our Kingsman crew, Michael Caine and Mark Strong are mostly our behind-the-scenes people while it's Colin Firth that's our major action star. I've seen a lot of Colin Firth movies and I really like him as an actor. However, I don't think I've ever seen him in a role like this. He usually sticks to his dramas and romances, which makes him very impressive in this because he goes about this movie as if he is a seasoned veteran in the action business and he does a dang good job. The other impressive performance on the side of the Kingsman is newcomer Taron Egerton who is actually our main character. During the second half of the movie, he's the main one out there kicking trash and he also does a dang good job. This is his first big role and I hope it leads to other big roles because I saw a lot of potential with this young actor.

On the villainous side of this, Samuel L. Jackson is the season veteran in movies like this. You know he's going to do a great job because he always does a great job and of course he delivers. The only weird thing about his performance was that he has this lisp that he talks with which took a bit of getting used to at first, but overall it didn't bother me. On Samuel L. Jackson's side is his sidekick, a female known as Gazelle, played by Sofia Boutella. Her character has these prosthetic legs that remind me of the South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, you know the guy who was such an inspiration to most before he shot and killed his girlfriend (perhaps on accident?). Anywho, I saw her character in the trailers and was really excited to see her in the movie. Holy cow does she not mess around. She's not just casually fighting with her legs that double as swords. She's out there cutting limbs and heads off with those legs. She even chops a guy in half vertically with one swipe. Yup. Like I said, she doesn't mess around. Also like I said, this movie is very violent and thus not for everyone.

Finally, what I want to mention in closing is that not only is this a well-acted, hilarious, entertaining action movie. It's also very smart and surprisingly unpredictable. In movies like this, I can be good at turning my brain in order to have a good time. I don't need super elaborate, unpredictable action movies to entertain me. But I'm very impressed when action movies go that way. Like, there's a point in this where our main characters do a break-the-fourth-wall type of thing and talk about what a typical, yet entertaining old action movie would do in the end and then say, "that's not this movie." Suddenly it takes you for several turns that you do not expect at all. That earned it major points in my book. So yes, if you are looking for a movie that will entertain the heck out of you and you love intense action movies, then Kingsman is the movie for you. I loved it and I really hope that it does well enough for us to get more Kingsman movies. My grade is a 9/10.