Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What If Review

Before going into this movie, I was planning on starting this review off by making some smart comment about Daniel Radcliffe and how he's always going to be stuck as Harry Potter no matter how hard he tries to rid himself of that and get people to see him as Daniel Radcliffe. But then something crazy happened as I was watching this movie. Daniel Radcliffe did such a good job that I actually saw him as Daniel Radcliffe and not Harry Potter. Kudos. Also, I was really nervous going into another romance movie because I am fairly harsh on them. However, even more kudos need to be dished out because I walked away feeling like this was perhaps the most realistic and relatable romance drama that I've seen in a long time. Sadly, the advertising on this movie was pretty much non-existent and thus this movie earned close to nothing in it's opening weekend in wide release, so you will probably have to do a bit of hardcore searching to find this movie, but you totally should because it's a movie that needs to be seen.

First off, let me explain why I am so harsh on romantic dramas. The major reason is that they are so formulaic and predictable. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Some sort of drama happens that causes tension in the romance. Drama is overcome and boy and girl seemingly live happily ever after. So many movies follow this formula to a "t" because so many people, specifically teenage girls, just eat this up time after time after time. To me it feels boring and cheap. Too easy. An unrealistic, plastic fairy tale. If I'm going to enjoy a romantic drama, the movie needs to do something more. Make me care. Break the formula. Include a message that makes the movie more than just romance. Something! And I'm really harsh because I know that well-made romantic dramas are out there. The Fault in Our Stars from earlier this year was one of them. And so is What If.

In What If, we have Daniel Radcliffe playing the role of a guy in his mid-20's who's struck out with romance in his life. He's pretty much given up on romance, but suddenly he's at this party and he meets a girl he actually feels a connection with. They talk casually and he walks her home. Before she goes in, he tries to get her number and she gives it to him, but then reveals that she has a boyfriend. When he goes home, he throws away the number and really doesn't even plan on trying any further. But fate, or simply coincidence, has them running into each other again and she professes that she really wants more friends in her life than just her boyfriend. And BOOM! Daniel Radcliffe is sucked into the super annoying, romantic black hole that is the illustrious FRIEND ZONE!!!

Yes, you are reading a review from a grumpy, old single man that has been friend-zoned about a thousand times. In fact, it has happened so many times that I often find myself in the place of the voice at the beginning of that Neil Diamond/The Monkees/Smash Mouth song "I'm a Believer." You know, the part where he says that he thought love was only true in fairy tales, meant for someone else but not for him because love was out to get him and disappointment haunted all his dreams? Yeah that's me. I haven't made it to the second part of that song yet in my life. And while I don't usually get personal in my reviews, I bring that up because this time because my current situation is why I loved this movie. It's real. It doesn't try to portray this magical fairy tale that teenage girls will eat up. The whole point of this is to show how complicated romance really is. Daniel decides to be this girl's friend and thus he gets himself in a really sticky situation because he finds he likes the girl a little more than he initially led her to believe. What do you do at that point? How do get out of the friend zone? Is it possible? There's one point where he's having a serious conversation with his cousin Adam Driver about it and Driver is trying to give him honest advice about all of his options, but then when Radcliffe repeats to him the advice in simple form, it sounds like a bunch of bad advice because there really is no easy way to go about it.

A lot of discussion can be brought up with all of this about dating in real life. I personally like the route of being friends first. If I'm going to marry someone, I plan on it lasting. And thus I don't want to just be romantically attached to a girl, but I want my wife to honestly be my best friend, because that will make it so much easier and better to live with for the rest of my life. With this in mind, is it appropriate to try to be a girl's friend before taking her on an official date or should I just go the route of trying to date her and becoming friends as I go? If I take the earlier route, at what point do I try to take things to the next level? What if I meet a girl, establish an instant connection, and find out that she is dating someone else? Do I completely back off and make no further contact? Or do I try to be her friend and perhaps wait for the moment when she breaks up? But if I did that, would that make me creepy or rude? What would the boyfriend think of this? Obviously he wouldn't approve, so I don't tell him, but does that make me dishonest? In the Mormon culture there is this idea of a girl waiting for her missionary. So many girls are dead-set on marrying their missionary and they are 100 percent sure that it will work out. But being perfectly honest, the majority of these girls end up not marrying their missionary, so what do you do? If a girl says she has a missionary do you scoff at that and try to date her as if she were lying about that or do you be respectful and back off? And then of course there is this question about if it's even possible to be "just friends." Is it? Girls think it is. But guys don't. So who's right?

I haven't even scratched the surface about all this because there are so many questions about dating and romance. And the beauty of this movie is that it truly dives into this realm of complication and thus was beautiful because of it. I really felt for Daniel Radcliffe because his character in this movie has gone through so much in his past and there are so many problems that he runs into as he tries to take this romance with this girl to the next level. I could dive deep into the specific issues that the movie brings up by bringing up a ton of examples of things that happen in this movie, but I'm going to leave all that a surprise and just say that I really enjoyed watching all the drama in the movie unfold because I felt it was real, human drama and not some crazy fairy tale like you usually see. And of course, in order to make this work, you need top notch performances from everyone around and that's what you got in this movie. This is also a legit romantic comedy. I use that terminology because this movie really made me laugh. The comedy didn't feel forced at all. It flowed naturally and that can be mainly attributed to Radcliffe and Driver. Daniel was perfect at all his dry, honest humor while Adam was perfect at being that goofy, awkward friend.

Finally, I'm going to throw you a complete curveball and say that I can't leave this review without talking about Star Wars. Why, you ask? Well first off, do I really need a reason to talk about Star Wars. Can't I just talk about Star Wars whenever I want? Ok, you got me. It would be weird to randomly talk about Star Wars in the middle of a romantic comedy review when it's not warranted. But this time it is and that's because Adam Driver stars in this movie. If you haven't followed all the Star Wars Episode VII rumors, allow me to inform you that Adam Driver has been cast to play a part in Episode VII, and the big rumor with him is that he supposedly there to play a villain. And let me tell you, I am completely stoked at this. Most people will see this as a curious move because Adam Driver isn't a huge name, but I'm here to tell you that this man is a complete genius. Yes, he is in the TV series Girls. He also played a role in the movie Lincoln and also starred in some other lesser-known movies such as J Edgar, Frances Ha, and Bluebird, but I personally known him from this movie and the movie Inside Llewyn Davis. In both situations, he plays a weird, goofy character, but the thing I love is that both times he completely knocked his roles out of the park and both roles were completely different. This showed me some serious acting chops and as the more I see him, the more I am super impressed with his acting skills and thus the more I am excited to see him in whatever role he is given in Star Wars Episode VII. If that role is a villain, I'm super excited to see this goofy, comedic actor play a serious villain role because I think he will be great. Despite how excellent Daniel Radcliffe was in What If, Adam Driver almost completely stole the show away from him. Almost. Thus his role in this made me even more excited for Episode VII, so I couldn't leave that out. Star Wars fans should see this movie just to see how awesome Adam Driver is.

Wrapping up, What If was a movie that really surprised me. I was skeptic because it was another romantic drama, and more often than not I find those uninteresting. However, this movie was the most relatable romantic drama that I've seen in a long time because of how deep it dove into the subject of the friend zone and thus made the honest, true statement that love is complicated. I asked a lot of questions in this review, and while it would be interesting to hear people's thoughts on these questions, I will sum all them up by saying there probably is no right or wrong answer due to the fact that it really depends on the situation. Every individual is different and every couple is different. Love really has no formula behind it. What if you fall in love with someone who's friend-zoned you? Can it work? And how? That is the "What If" question that this movie attempts to ask by being called What If. I won't give you the answer to that specific question, but I will say it was beautifully answered. For being so personal and so relatable, while having fantastic performances throughout, I am going to award What If with a 9/10. Had I actually completed my review the night I saw the movie, I may have only given it an 8, but it stuck with me this whole week and I have a feeling that it's not going to go away, so I feel it deserves that high rating.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Saints and Soldiers: The Void Review

It's been just over ten years since Saints and Soldiers came to theaters. It was a fantastic movie that beautifully wove together themes of war and religion. Two years ago they made the very confusing move to make a second one, Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed. Given the subject matter and how the movie ends, this wasn't a movie that lent itself to a second movie, even with it being a prequel. I almost gave it a shot, but just never got around to it as the poor reaction made it so it wasn't high on my priority list. And now this year we have a third one. Really? Why? Oh but hold up. Matt Meese stars in this movie? Suddenly I became super intrigued with this idea. I thought about catching up and seeing Airborne Creed, but that never happened as I just decided to take the chance and see The Void without seeing Airborne Creed. That worked out because The Void has nothing to do with the other two. But unfortunately, my initial fears before learning about Matt Meese came true. A third Saints and Soldiers movie was just completely unnecessary and honestly wasn't very good.

Now this review is actually a hard one for me to write. Part of me wants to just pretend I never saw this and go about my day as normal. No one would know otherwise. But I'm going to do it anyways. Why do I say this is hard? Because I have been a fan of Matt Meese for a long time. While he was in school, he was part of BYU's Divine Comedy, a sketch comedy group at BYU. After graduating, he helped start Studio C, which is a sketch comedy TV series on BYUTV. I will proudly admit that I never missed a Divine Show that he was in while I was down at BYU and I have watched every single episode of Studio C. In fact, thanks to some lucky connections, I have actually been in three different Studio C skits and helped with their Stadium of Fire gig this year (you can see me in these Studio C skits: Cowboys, The Center for People that YouTube Made Infamous, and Deal Breaker [featuring Mates of State]). All this means that I wanted to love this movie so that I could write a raving review and share it with all my Studio C connections and thus have everyone from Studio C read my review about how awesome it was seeing Matt Meese in such a good movie. But as a movie reviewer, my number one rule is to be honest with myself. I will never write a review giving a false opinion just to get views. In my opinion, that's not fair to myself or my readers. So I have to be honest. While Matt did a fantastic job in the movie, he was in fact one of the only highlights of the movie. And if Matt or any other Studio C members happen to read this review, I hope they will at least appreciate my honesty.

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest red flag for this movie was the fact that it existed. That sounds harsh, but there's no need for more Saints and Soldiers movies. The first one was excellent and ended in such a way that didn't lend itself to a sequel. And as I always say, I can be very picky with sequels and remakes. If they're going to exist, they better justify their existence. And yes, this has happened. There are plenty of times when I felt that a sequel was unnecessary, but it happened anyways and was in fact excellent. The Void doesn't accomplish this. In fact, this feels very forced. Being that the first doesn't lend itself to sequels, this one is forced to completely alienate itself from that movie in order to exist. No returning characters. No returning actors. Completely different premise. Outside the fact that it's a Word War II movie and has the same director, this really has nothing to do with the first one.

But hey, just because it has nothing to do with the first, doesn't mean it's bad, right? Yes, that's true. Problem is there is more to it than that in this case. First off, this movie is hard to watch in multiple ways. The dialogue in this movie is just plain awful. The movie spends a lot of time trying to develop these new characters, but the dialogue is just so poorly written that it's quite embarrassing. Add to that, Matt Meese is one of the few actors that does a good job. Outside him, the movie is riddled with a bunch of nobodies that can't act to save their life. It's like this movie had such a low budget that they didn't event want to try to get real actors so they hired a bunch of people off the street to act alongside Matt. Finally, here's what I had the biggest issue with. The movie was titled "SAINTS" and "SOLDIERS." The beauty of the first one was that it weaved in themes of war and religion. It got both parts. The Void totally forgot about the Saints part of things because outside one of the guys saying a prayer at one point, I saw no religious themes whatsoever. Sure, there were positive themes such as fighting for freedom and learning to accept people regardless of skin color, but that didn't cut it for me. They should've just named the movie Soldiers: The Void if they were going to completely cut out any religious themes.

So in the end I felt like this was just a dull and boring movie that wasn't worthy of the title Saints and Soldiers. Yes, Matt Meese did a great job. And no, I'm not just saying that to say that. Despite the movie around him being complete crap, it was great seeing him on the big screen. He is a very talented individual that deserves to get cast in more big roles like this. It was also commendable seeing him do such a good job in a serious role after being so used to him doing comedy for several years. But it's just sad that his debut film had to be in such a bad movie. Of course none of it is his fault. I'll put that blame on writer/director Ryan Little, who I do respect for movies such as Saints and Soldiers and Forever Strong. We'll just mark this up to a minor bump in the road for his directing career and hope he comes up with something better next time. My grade for Saints and Soldiers: The Void is a very disappointing 5/10. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight Review

Sometimes all I need to see to be excited about a movie is the words "starring Emma Stone." I really didn't know much of anything else besides that when I went into Magic in the Moonlight outside the fact that it was another Woody Allen movie and was getting poor reviews to go along with it's underachieving box office numbers. I don't even think I saw a trailer for the movie. But I didn't really care. It was Emma Stone in a lead role. That girl is absolutely amazing in like every way. And she's only 2 1/2 months my senior, so there's even that connection. Being perfectly honest, my history with loving Emma Stone dates back to The Amazing Spider-Man as her portrayal of Gwen Stacy was so good that I have officially dubbed her as the best superhero girlfriend ever. After seeing that movie, I made sure to familiarize myself with her other work and yes. She's the best. But unfortunately, Magic in the Moonlight taught me that not even Emma Stone can save a movie with poor writing and poor direction.

I will have to say that overall I'm super impressed with the body of work that Woody Allen has given us. The man has an endless bank of ideas as he has been consistently making movies since the late 60's. In fact, not a year has gone by since 1982 where we haven't had a Woody Allen movie released. That's impressive. Outside Alfred Hitchcock, how many directors can say they've accomplished such a feat? But that alone doesn't make him great. His movies for the most part have been well liked as he's been nominated for 24 Oscars, winning four of them. And that's not even counting all the Oscar nominations his movies have produced. That's only his personal nominations for his directing, writing and acting. Because of all this, he definitely has to be considered one of the best directors in movie history.

With that shout-out out of the way, every good director has occasional slip-up and when you make as many movies as Woody Allen has, that number will naturally be fairly high. This is just one of those Woody Allen movies that just doesn't work. I feel like he had a good idea with this one, but once he got past the beginning he realized that he really had nowhere to go with the idea. Yet he decided to move forward anyways because he has a movie quota he needed/wanted to fill. Because really, this movie doesn't have a lot of substance to it. It starts out in an excellent way, but then it starts to get boring and after about halfway through it begins to travel in odd directions.

So what comes to mind when you hear the title Magic in the Moonlight? To me this sounded like a love story. However, the movie opened with a magic show. That threw me off a bit because I realized that the title was literal. This was a movie about magic. Or a magician rather. After we watch the opening act, we realize that this is a magician with a lot of anger issues. The fact that he is such a good magician in this case has led him to a life of self-centeredness and pessimism. He doesn't believe in a God. He doesn't believe in any sort of magic or psychic abilities. Anything that seems even close to being supernatural has to be fake and he prides himself in uncovering things like this. One of the things he loves doing is going around and proving all the psychics to be a fraud. This is the premise of our movie. Emma Stone plays a young psychic that becomes this magician's next victim and he is floored because he can't figure her out. Suddenly he starts to question everything that he has believed and it starts to make him happy.

Like I said, I liked the premise of this. Colin Firth plays the magician and he does great at being this grumpy magician. And for a while I thought this was going to be like last year's Blue Jasmine where Cate Blanchett won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance as this crazy lady the whole movie. I was excited about that. Colin Firth was great at being the angry, smart aleck magician and Emma Stone was equally as good as being the weird psychic. Together their back and forth banter was excellent and enjoyable to watch. But then once he started to become stumped is where the movie lost itself. Just like I said, it was as if Woody Allen didn't really know where to go with this movie after the excellent start so it began to drift and I also began to drift a bit. Then after drifting for a while, the movie turned into what I thought it was going to be when I walked in. A love story. And that's where everything crashed in my opinion.

Emma Stone and Colin Firth had a great platonic relationship and that type of chemistry was excellent. But they had zero romantic chemistry. And yes, most of that was due to the fact that Colin Firth is 28 years older than Emma Stone. Everything between them felt very awkward. Sure, things like this have worked before. Earlier this year Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt had a romantic relationship in Edge of Tomorrow and there's a 20 year gap there. But the difference is Tom Cruise looked the same age as Emily Blunt, so it worked. In this, Colin Firth definitely looks 28 years older and not only is that in the father to daughter age range, but if you take five years away from Emma Stone and add it onto Colin Firth, you'd be in the grandfather to granddaughter age range. The thing is, Emma Stone looks young. She made a believable high school student in The Amazing Spider-Man. And as far as Colin Firth goes, lets just say that I definitely believe that it was 20 years ago when he played Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. So nothing about this relationship was cute or romantic. It was just weird and creepy. And when the whole second half of the movie relied on this, it just didn't work for me at all.

So overall, Magic in the Moonlight started off really well. Colin Firth and Emma Stone totally knocked it out of the park, so the failures in this movie had nothing to do with their acting abilities at all. I even liked the old feel to the movie. It was set in the 1920's, I believe, and the style of the film as far as the opening and closing credits as well as the music, costume and scenery I thought was great. But unfortunately this is just a movie where Woody Allen slipped up. The problems in this movie had everything to do with the writing and that would fall 100 percent onto his platter. I still have a lot of respect for the man and I hope he forgets about this venture and does a good job with his project for next year, which also stars Emma Stone. She gets to team up with the very talented Joaquin Phoenix, so whatever it is, I'm excited for it. But Magic in the Moonlight gets a 6/10 from me. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Boyhood Review

Imagine for a second if you could go back and make a movie out of your life. Take all the experiences you've had and cram it into three hours. How would that feel? What would it be like? What would you include? Now imagine for a second that you have a friend who has done just that. Starting at the age of six, he filmed a little bit every year and now you are in college sitting down and watching the movie of his life. Wouldn't that be a really interesting experience? Well, I feel like this is what I have just experienced via Richard Linklater. The visionary director started a project 12 years ago where he cast a six-year-old boy and with him as the central character began to make a movie about the life of a fictional boy growing up. It only took about 45 days to shoot, but that 45 days was spread out over the course of 12 years and thus we get at least a scene or two of every year of the boy's life up to the point where he is 18 and is graduated from high school. When I first heard this premise, I immediately wanted to see this as it sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To my great frustration, it took the movie a long time to finally make it to my city, but now that it finally made it, seeing it became a huge priority. And by goodness this movie does not disappoint. In fact, it's easily the best movie I've seen so far this year.

If you think of the logistics of this of making this movie, the risks involved are super high. You cast a six-year-old boy. You have no idea what he's going to be like and look like in 12 years. And for what it's worth, you have no idea about any of the cast. What if something happened to one of them? What if one them decided to quit? They would definitely need to have an end goal in mind, an initial idea of what the film would look like. But at the same time, they would have to prepare for anything. Be ready to improvise on the fly. Have plenty of backup plans. All this would not only require a superb team of writers, but it would also require an excellent crew all around. All the stars would seemingly need to align for the whole 12 years. And this is exactly what has happened. The story of how this movie was made is amazing in and of itself. Even if the movie hadn't have been good, the dedication and perseverance of everyone involved would've still been applause worthy.

But even when you ignore the back story behind this movie, the end result is an incredible movie. You can go in not having known anything about the production of the movie and still be impressed with the story you see. But combining the two together is what makes this truly an epic movie. They call the movie Boyhood. But yet it could've as easily been called Sisterhood, Motherhood or Fatherhood because this movie is about this whole family growing up and it is so awesome watching all of them grow up. And it's even more fascinating that you are not only watching the characters grow up, but you are watching the actors themselves grow up. The premise of this movie has been done before. It reminds me of Forrest Gump. But the fact that all the characters are the same actors throughout makes this special. At the end of the movie, you are watching the characters themselves go through their final moments of screen time and suddenly you reflect onto how they were at the beginning of the movie and it hits you. The beginning of this movie was 12 years ago for them. But it was only three hours for you. You just watched them grow up. Like literally. It was mind-blowing for me.

Now onto the movie itself. You ask for the story line? Well that's hard to pin down. It's about life. You could argue that there really isn't one solid over-arching plot. Instead, you have tons of smaller story lines all woven together into one giant movie because that's what life is. It's thousands of different experiences all tied together. And like I mentioned, despite the title of the movie, this doesn't just focus on the boy. It focuses on all of the characters in the boy's life. We start at the top with the mother and the father. Yes, they had two kids together but they slowly grow apart. The mom seems like a normal lady trying her best to raise her children, but the father is wild and reckless with his life and they divorce. It's fascinating seeing the direction that life takes each of them throughout the movie. And of course we have the two kids and it's equally as fascinating watching them grow up and deal with all the normal challenges that a teenage boy and girl would face. And then you have the multitude of side characters that are introduced throughout. Some stay for a while and other disappear quickly, but each character seems to have a realistic human depth to all of them.

In this movie, it's not just the characters that grow up. The world itself grows up. It's a lot of fun watching all the technological advances over the course of the 12 years. In the beginning you see him watching Dragon Ball Z and playing his Gameboy Advance. His sister is dancing to Britney Spears and the way they communicate to their friends is calling on the home phones and using email. Yellow by Coldplay is the opening song and early on his mom is reading the second Harry Potter book to him. Throughout the movie they constantly add in all these pop culture references as well as new technological advances. You see their phones transform from the huge brick home phones to flip phones to smart phones. You see them playing X-Box and the Wii. Communication with friends goes from email to facebook. They stand in line for the sixth Harry Potter book. One year he mentions The Dark Knight among his favorite movies of the summer. Towards the end, Somebody that I Used to Know by Gotye is playing in the background. We literally watch the world transform from the beginning of the movie to the end and it is both amazing and extremely nostalgic.

Of course what holds this together is the superb acting jobs all around. It all felt like it was happening very naturally and effortlessly. The characters felt human and real, almost like they were improvising everything or being filmed in their actual lives. Oftentimes with child actors you can tell they aren't very good at acting, but you forgive them because are so young. This was not the case. At six years old, Ellar Coltrane was acting just like a normal six year old. It wasn't forced. I didn't necessarily see the progression of his acting, rather I saw the progression of what felt like a normal human being. And this was the case for everyone. As mentioned, Ellar Coltrane played played our main star. Director's daughter Lorelei Linklater played his sister. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke played the mom and dad. I give applause all around and I hope there is much recognition for everyone during awards season. I especially give an applause to whoever made the decision to cast six-year-old Ellar Coltrane because 18-year-old Ellar actually could pass as Ethan Hawke's son and there's no way they could've known that at the beginning.

There's a lot more I could say about this movie, but I think I have sufficiently stated my mind, so I will leave the rest up to you to go experience and enjoy. Moral of the story is that I thoroughly enjoyed this cinematic experience of watching this family grow up right before my eyes. It was a great movie about life and left me pondering on all the themes in brought up and also made me reflect on my own life -- past, present and future. Please don't be scared off by the run-time of nearly three hours. It doesn't feel long at all. And even so, I was completely absorbed by every minute of this. By the end of the movie, I was ready to keep going for another 10 hours and watch the college and adult years of this boy's life. I was fully invested in him and his life after watching him grow-up from age six to age 18 in the course of just three hours. So yes, this movie is a once in a lifetime movie. I don't believe we will ever get another project quite like this and thus I can't praise this enough. Boyhood definitely gets a 10/10 from me. Easily the best movie of the year so far.

10 Movies Every Mormon Should See

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I realize that it can be difficult to find a movie these days that is not filled with bad language, sex, nudity, excessive violence or other questionable content. But these clean, family-friendly movies do exist. As one who sees a ton of movies every year, I wanted to point out a few of them that perhaps you may have skipped over that I think you should go see. This isn't a list of unknown movies, so perhaps you have seen many of them, but none of these were huge blockbusters. All movies on this list earned less than $130 million in the US box office. Also, I designated this list as 10 movies that every Mormon should see, but I want to be clear that this isn't a list of religious movies made by the church. This is a list of theatrically released movies from the last five years that I personally loved and that are family friendly. This isn't a top 10 list and it certainly isn't an all inclusive list. It's simply a list of 10 movies. The order I have put them in is purely chronological, not from best to worst. Given the subjective nature of movies, after reading this list I encourage you to add your opinion in the comments. Let everyone know your opinion of the movies here that you have seen or suggest other movies that you think should've been included. I am just one individual with my own personal opinions, but together as a community we can help each other out immensely.

1- Rango (March 4, 2011)
Rango is an outright hilarious movie. It's also one of the more ingenious animated movies made recently as it's a Western movie that is animated with a chameleon as the main protagonist. I don't think you'll ever see that combination again. But it works. Not only was I laughing out loud the entire movie, but it also has a good story to go with it. It didn't get as much attention in the box office because it wasn't Pixar or Dreamworks, but it did manage to take home best animated feature at the Oscars that year.

(Rango is the only movie here I don't have a review for in the archives -- the other nine I do and will post the link for you to read -- just keep in mind that some reviews are towards the beginning of my reviewing career, so be patient with those)

Click here to buy Rango on Amazon

2- Hugo (November 23, 2011)
Martin Scorsese is very well known for his sketchy movies (The Wolf of Wall Street just broke the record for number of f-words in a movie). However, he definitely shows his versatility in this one by making a completely family friendly film in Hugo. And by goodness did he do a good job. Hugo got nominated for 11 Oscars that year, part of which was because it was an homage to cinema but the other part is that it is an overall fantastic movie about a boy who lives in a train station in 1930's Paris. Stand-out performances overall by actors of all age including Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen and Christopher Lee.

Click here for my full review of Hugo

Click here to buy Hugo on Amazon

3- Arthur Christmas (November 23, 2011)
It's time to go festive with this choice. When you think of Christmas classics that should be watched every Christmas season, Arthur Christmas may not be one of the movies that you think of, but to be perfectly honest it should be. Once again, smaller animation company led to not as much attention, but I was just blown away by it, especially because I didn't expect much when I first went in. This could be a fun Christmas movie is what I said going in. Now I try to make it a Christmas tradition.

Click here for my full review of Arthur Christmas

Click here to buy Arthur Christmas on Amazon

4- We Bought a Zoo (December 23, 2011)
Now here's a movie that pulled on all my emotional strings. Matt Damon plays a man who's wife has recently passed away and he's having a tough time dealing with it. So what does he do? He goes and buys a zoo. Because, well, why not? This movie is so inspiration that in fact some of the quotes and messages from the movie are ones that I personally use to inspire me when I'm not doing so well. Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson blow it away with their performances and the music by Jonsi (from Sigur Ros) is the icing on the cake. Grab your box of tissues because you're going to need it.



5- ParaNorman (August 17, 2012)
Ok, I went festive for Arthur Christmas and now I'm going to go festive again, this time giving Halloween a chance to shine. ParaNorman is done stop-motion animation style and that is the main reason that I was super impressed with this movie. Stop-motion isn't popular in the box office but it's popular with me because I realize how much time and effort goes into making a movie all with clay. But not just that, though, the movie itself is a really good one, too. It has a perfect balance of good story, good characters and fun Halloween themes to make it a perfect family movie for your next Halloween.

Click here for my full review of ParaNorman

Click here to buy ParaNorman on Amazon

6- Life of Pi (November 21, 2012)
A movie about a boy on a boat with a tiger, trying to survive? How can this be an epic movie? Well, I won't give anything away, but the movie does actually have some religious undertones as it's about a man originally from India telling a story about his life that is intended on convincing this other guy to believe in God. Super insightful movie as it will leaving you pondering its message for quite some time. Just like the previously mentioned Hugo, this movie was also nominated for 11 Oscars and almost snuck away with best picture. It's also based on a book, so if you are a big reader, you should check that out as well.

Click here for my full review of Life of Pi

Click here to buy Life of Pi on Amazon

7- The Saratov Approach (October 9, 2013)
Ok, I'll be honest, this movie is really intense at times and thus not for the younger crowd at all, but I just couldn't make a list entitled "10 Movies Every Mormon Should See" without including the fantastic movie about two Mormon missionaries. This isn't church made and it was released in select nationwide theaters, so I feel it qualifies for this. Anywho, this is the true story of two missionaries back in the late 1990's who got kidnapped in Russia. Not only is this a great survival movie that even non-Mormon audiences were able to connect with, but attitude of the missionaries towards the end is so inspiring that, yes, I think this is one that is a must see among Mormon audiences.

Click here for my full review of The Saratov Approach

Click here to buy The Saratov Approach on Amazon

8- The Book Thief (November 8, 2013)
I personally am a person who is a big proponent of looking at the content in the movie rather than just the rating, which is why I feel comfortable putting this one and the last one on this list, despite the PG-13 rating. The Book Thief is what I would call a light PG-13 because of some war related elements in the movie, but it is otherwise still a clean, family-friendly movie. Out of all the movies I saw last year, I felt very comfortable putting this in my personal top 10 best movies of the year. It's a very unique perspective on World War II as it follows a little girl adopted into a family living in Natzi Germany during the war. It's a slow moving character piece that focuses on us getting attached to this girl, her family, and her friends. Thus the of family, friends, and other relationships is a strong focus as these people just try to survive the war so they can be together.

Click here for my full review of The Book Thief

Click here to buy The Book Thief on Amazon

9- Heaven is for Real (April 16, 2014)
I'm sure every Mormon would agree with the title of this movie and as it suggests this is a Christian-themed movie. There has actually been a lot of those released in theaters this year and this one is the best as it follows the true story of a little boy who had a brush with death. Upon recovering he claims he visited Heaven and his simple, child-like statements to his family and others in the town give everyone a chance to reflect on their own faith and decide whether or not they believe his story. Yes, this is a positive, faith-building movie, but that's not the only reason I would suggest it Mormons. If you pay close attention to everything the boy says and ponder on it, you will realize that there are a lot of unique doctrines stated that completely agree with doctrine taught in the Church and thus this non-Mormon Christian-made movie should be especially fascinating to Mormons.

Click here for my full review of Heaven is For Real

Click here to buy Heaven is For Real on Amazon

10- Belle (May 2, 2014)
Last up is the movie that is the least known out of all these movies on this list. But despite being the least known, I would claim that it is a very important one to check out because it teaches what I think is a very important history lesson. Yes, it's a period piece romance drama that reminded me a bit of Pride & Prejudice, but more importantly it's the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle. If you've never heard of Dido, she is the daughter of a slave and a British Naval Officer who was raised by the Lord Chief Justice of England in the late 1700's. As is portrayed in this movie, she was a very influential person in the eventual abolition of slavery in England. This isn't really for younger people just because it may bore them, but at PG it's very appropriate for families and thus you should check it out and learn about this great part of history.

Click here for my full review of Belle

Click here to buy Belle on Amazon

The Giver Review

Throughout my years in grade school, there were plenty of books that I was assigned to read. Not all of these turned out to my enjoyment, but there's one that has always stood out. The Giver. My reading of it goes all the way back to the sixth grade, which for me is about 14 years ago. I've not read it since, but it's one of those books that instantly became a favorite of mine and thus I still remember it quite well even after so many years. Thus when the movie was announced I was immediately excited because it's the type of book that would make an excellent movie. Then the trailers were released. Suddenly I went from excitement to dread as it appeared that they weren't going to do the book justice. But yet, I decided to keep an open mind. After seeing it, I walked out of the theater frustrated. Not because it was a complete mess, but because they almost nailed it. They got so close. But alas, the magic from the book has been taken away. What a shame.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, the premise of the story focuses around this dystopian society where emotion has been completely removed. No love. No fear. No pain. No disappointment. No feeling at all. There's not even any color as everything is black and white. This has been done for "the greater good." People live in family units that they are assigned to, perform careers that they are assigned to, and follow the strict rules of the town to a t. Jonas is our main character and when it is time for him and his friends to be assigned careers, he is given the unique assignment as the receiver of memories. He is to learn from the one person in the town that possesses all the memories and emotion from the past. This person is known as the giver. As Jonas learns about the past, his perspective on everything slowly changes.

The book itself is slow-moving with lots of build-up and not a whole lot of action or drama. But the way in which it is done is completely mesmerizing and beautifully written. I would truly call it a masterpiece. Early on in the movie, though, there are quite a bit of red flags that made me really worried. The biggest one is the age. Jonas and his friends are 12 years old in the book. In the movie I think they are supposed to be 16, although Jonas himself is played by Brenton Thwaits who is 25. The ages of the characters lead to a love story that was completely fabricated by the movie. But before we get to that, the pacing is off. Instead of having a lot of build-up with the characters, we jump right in and before you know it Jonas has been assigned and is with the giver receiving his training. That and there's a lot more rule breaking than there should be.

But do you know what, I made the decision early on that I wasn't going to be that type of viewer. It often bothers me when a fan of a book made into movie complains at all the tiny little details in the movie that were wrong. So I accepted the things that were happening. Sure, they were different, but they weren't awful. The age of Jonas didn't even bother me. Thus for most of the movie I was actually able to enjoy what was going on. And to be honest, there was a whole lot of things that the movie did right. Despite jumping into things a bit fast, the tone of the movie was done right. As it should be, it was very emotional especially for Jonas as he is gaining new feelings and emotions that he has previously not experienced. Visually the movie was done very well and I especially liked how they transitioned back and forth from black and white to color depending on who the movie was focused. Also, all the acting was top notch. Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep give excellent performances, but I especially loved Bridges. He was perfect as the giver. I also did enjoy the performance of Brenton Thwaits as Jonas. Despite being older than he should be, he pulled off the emotional roller-coaster that is Jonas quite perfectly.

So yes, this movie was a good movie for most of it and thus I was finding myself quite pleased in what they had put together. Then the final act of the movie happened. And obviously I won't give away the ending. But let me say that in the book the style of how the story ends is fairly unique, at least to me, and thus quite genius. It's like a big puzzle where not all of the pieces are put in place, but there are enough of them to allow you to envision the rest on your own. This style makes the story very thought-provoking and the more you reflect on it, the more you realize how perfect everything is. And if you've read the book, you'll know exactly what I am talking about. It's quite magical. And unfortunately, this is where the movie crosses the line. There's a lot of things in the movie that I was able to forgive. Their approach on the ending was unforgivable. They didn't make any drastic changes, but what they did was essentially turn The Giver into what could've been titled The Giver for Dummies. They leave no room for questions. They leave no room for thought-provoking discussions. They just completely spell everything out. Now if one were to watch the movie without having read the book, I think one might be able to enjoy how it ended. But because I read the book I saw the potential in the movie and I knew that the movie could've been a whole lot more and thus I was frustrated with the overall result.

In analyzing everything, I've decided that the big problem with the movie is that the makers of the movie tried so hard to be the next big young adult dystopian movie. Instead of trusting in the brilliance of the source-material, the motivation seemed to be financially motivated. They wanted this to be the next Hunger Games or the next Divergent. They wanted it so much that they altered the source material enough to make sure it felt like that style of movie. And in doing so, they took away all the magic of the book and left me disappointed. Had they trusted in the source material for the whole ride instead of just part of it, this could've been an epic movie. But it's not. Instead of going the way of The Hunger Games, this is more along the lines of Eragon. Failed potential. No, this isn't nearly as disastrous as Eragon was, but you get the point. My grade for The Giver is a 6/10.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey Review

August is often a very awkward month for movies to be released in. Typically your big Summer blockbusters happen earlier in the summer while your big Oscar-hopefuls don't start until October or November. Thus we get loaded with all kinds of movies, some being late blockbusters, some being early Oscar-hopefuls, and some being movies that studios just had nowhere else to put so they dumped them in August. This makes it an interesting challenge for me to try to rummage through the mass of movies to find the little gems that some would look over. Turns out I found one with The Hundred-Foot Journey. I also made the mistake of going into this movie hungry and thus my mouth was watering throughout as it is another food-related movie. So yeah, I would make sure to eat a good meal before seeing this because if you don't you're going end up at a restaurant against your will after the movie is over.

I don't really know why food-related movies are a thing this year, but this is the second one I've seen this summer, the first being Jon Favreau's Chef. While that one was a bore due to the poor writing, this one was quite excellent. The premise of the movie revolves around two rival restaurants across the street from each other in the countryside of France. The first is an already established French restaurant ran by Helen Mirren's character. The second is a brand new Indian restaurant set up by this Indian family who had recently suffered great tragedy in their home country and decided to start new in Europe. After their vehicle breaks down while on the road, they are helped by a few kind French people, and the father makes an executive decision against the will of all the children to settle right across the street from this other restaurant and start up their Indian restaurant again just like they had in their home country. And from here we are taken an a remarkable journey centering around family, friends and relationships with others.

What I really loved about this movie was that it was a calm, easy-going movie. It doesn't try to be big. It doesn't try to take the audience by surprise. There's no huge spins or overly-dramatic moments. It's just a relaxing and enjoyable movie that will definitely give you a breath of fresh air from all the huge blockbusters. Now yes, I am a huge fan of blockbusters and this summer has been especially excellent in those terms, but it's still nice to have a change of pace and forget about all the explosions and action sequences that have dominated your movie going experience for the last few months. Despite being relaxing and peaceful, this is definitely not boring. The story itself was very well-written and very relatable. It was great watching this family that had gone through tragedy pick themselves back up and move forward with life. I immediately became attached to this whole family as all the actors involved were fantastic. I also enjoyed watching the progression of our main French characters on the other side of the street. As would be expected, Helen Mirren is excellent in her role, but I also enjoyed the performance of the French Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon playing the love interest for our main character.

Yes, as we move peacefully along through the movie there are a few things that could've been done better. In trying to avoid huge drama, certain things felt a bit too easy. I feel like if someone were to randomly settle somewhere and try to start a restaurant, things would be a lot more difficult business-wise. Several of these challenges were actually brought up in the movie, but then they were more or less brushed over. What happened in the movie would've probably only happened in real life if all the stars perfectly aligned. Also, our main character, the son who was the best cook in the family, rises up through the ranks remarkably fast. By the time the end of the movie rolled around, I had the feeling that they had taken things a bit too far with his character. In fact, the whole final act in the movie felt unnecessary. There's a certain point in the movie where I thought it was going to end, but it kept going. I won't spoil the movie, but once you go see it you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. And yes, not only did I think it was going to end, but when all was said and done, I feel that the movie should've ended there. Not only did it feel a bit unnecessary, but it also made the movie feel a bit too long.

Despite this, though, the movie is really enjoyable. If you are looking for some counter-programming to all the summer blockbusters or you are simply looking for a well-made, family-friendly movie than this is the movie for you. It's not perfect, but the overall feel and message for the movie actually was very inspirational. It hit me in a very personal way that I can't describe in words and thus not only did I walk out of the theater feeling very happy, but I was actually a bit emotional, which I didn't expect at all. This movie obviously won't be for everyone, but I feel that those who decide to give it a shot in a really crowded August may find themselves pleasantly surprised at what this movie is able to offer. My grade for the movie is a 8/10.