Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Whiplash Review

Here's a review for another smaller indie/festival film that has finally made it around to debuting in theaters nationwide. If you are one who doesn't really follow the Oscar buzz, Whiplash may be a movie that is completely off your radar. On the other hand, if you are someone like me who spends more time than you would care to admit following the Oscar buzz, then Whiplash is a movie that you've been to dying to see. Despite all the buzz, Whiplash has struggled to gain a huge nationwide audience and thus is starting to slip a bit, which might mean that there will be a large group of people who will pay attention to the Oscar nominations in January and will be wondering what in the heck this Whiplash movie is. So let me attempt to remedy this for at least a few of you. If Whiplash is a movie that is not on your radar at all, you need to put it on your radar and figure out a way to see it because Whiplash is one of the most interesting films of the year that will make it even harder for me to make my end-of-year top movies of the year list.

What is Whiplash? Whiplash is actually the name of a piece of music. A jazz piece if we are being specific. Yes, this movie is a musical drama and very well done one at that. Being even more specific, Whiplash follows a young college kid named Andrew who has this goal to be one of the greatest drummers. He doesn't want to satisfy himself with decent or good. He wants great. And he plans on sacrificing whatever it takes in order to make it to that level. So he gets into this prestigious music school and makes it into this special Jazz band with quite the intense band director who has this philosophy of pushing his students past the breaking point with the end goal in mind of making them great and helping them discover the levels that they can reach if they have a huge drive to be successful. I don't know if that description sounds like the most interesting movie out there, but let me tell you this movie is really intense. First off, it did take me down memory lane a bit. I didn't ever take Jazz band, but I did take concert band throughout Junior High and High School and it was a lot of fun. So it was cool to see the practice sessions in the movie.

However, this is not your typical band class. And I've never actually taken any band class in college, so I guess I can't say this for sure, but I don't know if there's any band director that is actually as crazy as this one played by J.K. Simmons. The man is insane. You're sitting here in these practice sessions, playing a piece of music, when suddenly he detects that someone is out of tune and he stops everyone and starts yelling at them until someone admits they are the one that's one of tune. Then a bit later, a chair goes flying when our main character, played by Miles Teller, is either dragging or rushing on the drum set and he can't figure out each one. You can say this is a bit exaggerated, but it sure did make for an excellent movie. And holy cow, the acting in the movie is totally off the charts. J.K. Simmons has been the front-runner to win the best supporting actor award at the Oscars for some time now and that would be well deserved if it comes to fruition. What really shocked me, though, was how amazing Miles Teller was. I haven't seen very much of him outside of Divergent from earlier this year. He wasn't bad in that movie, but based on that performance, I wasn't expecting this from him at all. In a really intense best actor race, I don't expect him to get recognized, but I'd call this a break-out performance from him that definitely makes him deserving of more big roles in the future.

Outside the amazing acting in the movie, what really makes it work is the interesting debate it brings up. What are you willing to sacrifice for greatness? And it is worth it? Is it better to be 34 and dead while being remembered by the whole world or is it better to be 90 years old and less successful while only being remembered by your family and friends? I mean, if Miles Teller would stop and smell the roses, he'd realize that he has a lot of things going for him. His dad cares a lot about him. His extended family seems to be around frequently and they seem cool. He has this girl that likes him a lot despite the really awkward interactions they've had. He's been accepted to this school that seems like it's pretty prestigious. But for some reason, he can't recognize all this good around him and instead tries to push it all away in order to be great. Is it worth it? On the other side of things, J.K. Simmons has this honest desire to keep Jazz music relevant. And when he sits down and talks to the students individually, he's really a nice guy. But he just pushes his students so hard, you wonder if he has crossed a line. He doesn't believe in telling people that they've done a good job, because then they get complacent and won't push themselves harder. I mean, that's a legit point he has. And it works when it comes to competitions. But is it worth it? These are the types of questions this movie asks and what makes it better is that it ends in a way that leaves the questions open for interpretation.

I obviously don't want to talk much about the ending, but I will say it was a very effective ending in terms of the emotional punch that it gives. First off, it could've ended about five times, but kept going. Sometimes this is a complaint, but in this case it was effective. Each time I thought the movie was about to end, I was ready to be impressed with it. It brought up themes and questions that would've made the movie very interesting and relevant, but it kept going and each new potential ending added an additional deep layer to it so that by the time it actually ended, I was totally blown away. The movie is quite the thrill ride. I didn't know what to expect from this movie as I went in. All I knew was that it was a musical drama centered around a drummer. But after leaving the movie, I definitely understood what all the hype was about. This movie is fantastic! Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons knock it out of the park. And the questions that the movie poses are really interesting. So yes, if this movie is at a theater near you, definitely check it out. If it's not, then I would say it's a movie worth searching for. Find a way to watch this. I give Whiplash a 9.5/10.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Review

It's not very often that I get completely sucked into a series of books, but back in 2012 it happened with The Hunger Games. I saw the first movie before I read the books, but that movie was so good that I was an instant convert and shortly thereafter dove into the books and loved all three, even the controversial finale. In fact, after finishing Mockingjay, I sat down and wrote up a review, explaining why I loved the book. That review can be read right here, but beware of the spoilers if you haven't read the books. However, despite me loving the books, I did realize that the first half of Mockingjay was pretty slow, so splitting it into two movies had the potential of making for a very boring part 1 if they didn't do it right. Here's my exact words from that review about what I think the movie needed to do:

"let's go off on a quick tangent to talk about this Mockingjay movie. I'm interested to see what they plan on doing with this. First off they are splitting it into two movies. This could be extremely bad or it could be fantastic. It all depends on the point of view. If they decide to go strictly with the book and follow Katniss the whole time, the last half of the second Mockingjay movie will be good, but the first movie will be completely awful and boring. However, if they choose to not focus solely on Katniss, this could be great. The book can't show us all of the action that is happening around the land because it is confined to Katniss's head. But the movie can. It can veer away from Katniss while she is whining, complaining, and suffering underground in 13 and show us the war."


That review, which was published January 15, 2013, currently only has 36 views, but I am now convinced that two of those views come from Peter Craig and Danny Strong, the screenwriters for the movie, because my exact vision for what they needed to do with this movie was fulfilled. Thus the masterminds behind this franchise have once again blown me away.

If you haven't read the books yet, but have followed the movies, the first thing you really need to know is that this is definitely a part one of a two part series. What do I mean by that? I mean it's not a complete story. And in fact, much of it is a set-up for the grand finale. It moves slow and is full of political chess moves, so to speak. Also, there is no hunger games in this. The story goes in a completely different direction with the final book and I actually love the direction it goes. Moral of the story is that if you go into this movie expecting something big and grandiose like in Catching Fire, you're going to be a little let down because that's not what this movie is. Katniss is starting to be pretty messed up in the head after having to go through two straight hunger games, but yet she's needed as this Mockingjay symbol to spark or continue this rebellion against the capital. However, they can't just go out and attack the capital. Strategy and patience is needed, so we take it slow. Despite this, though, the movie actually does a great job with the pacing. This could've been a boring movie, but it wasn't. In the book there is a lot of down time because they are trying to protect Katniss. This is shown in this movie, but we didn't spend too much time sitting around and doing nothing. I was completely interested and focused the whole movie, without any signs of being bored, which is great considering that wasn't the case when I read Mockingjay.

What really makes this work is the same thing that made the first two work so well. The cast. Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss and she definitely proves once again how talented of an actress she is because she does a great job of being the Katniss that is messed up and crazy. But of course Jennifer isn't the only one that's great. Just like was the case with the first two movies, everyone just does a phenomenal job. Since I can't spend time praising every single person, there's a couple that I want to specifically highlight outside Jennifer. The first is Willow Shields as Prim. Willow didn't get a whole lot of screen time in the first two movies, but here role in this one is much larger and I thought she was simply amazing and adorable as the Katniss' younger sister as she gets the opportunity to help Katniss out and comfort her as she is going through her rough patches. While Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, and Stanley Tucci were all great, the other actor I want to talk about is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. His role in the last movie was pretty big, but it gets even bigger in this one and I couldn't help but be saddened every time I saw him. He does such a good job and I'm sad we lost such a great actor. May he rest in peace.

There isn't a whole ton of new players in this movie, but those that were new did a good job of seamlessly fitting in with everyone else as was the case last year with Catching Fire. Leading this crew of course is Julianne Moore as President Coin. Julianne Moore has had quite the prolific career that includes four Oscar nominations and a potential fifth one this year for the movie Still Alice, which could get her her first win. Her role as President Coin is yet another solid performance for her. But alas, moving on from the acting, I need to talk about the song from the movie. If you read the book, you'll know that there is a scene where they are sitting by the river and Katniss starts singing this song called "The Hanging Tree." If you are like me, you were very intrigued with the lyrics of the song as you read it and you may have spent a good deal of time analyzing the lyrics. And finally, if you are once again like me, you may have been very curious to see what the tune was going to be when they put this in the movie. As the scene came on, I became suddenly excited because I knew what was going to happen and oh my heck was this epic. It was one of the best scenes in the movie as the song was just beautiful. Jennifer Lawrence was the one actually singing and she did great with it. As a comparison, the first thing that I thought of was the "Misty Mountains" song from the first Hobbit movie. That, too, was a song written in the book that the movie put to music. It started out a cappella, then more joined in, and suddenly it became the main theme song of the movie that you couldn't stop singing. Yup. Same deal here.  

Overall, I was a bit nervous going into this movie because, despite loving the first two movies, splitting the finale into two movies was a risk that could lead to a boring first part. But they did such a good job with the material given that I was genuinely surprised and impressed with how amazing this turned out. The only thing I didn't like about the movie was when it ended because I was just ready to go all the way through the Mockingjay story. But that of course is a positive because they successfully got me pumped for what should be a pretty epic finale to this series next year. I know a lot of people hated how the books ended, but I loved it and if you want to know why, just go read that Mockingjay book review that I posted at the beginning of this review. It should be a very powerful, heart-wrenching finale that tugs at all my emotional strings and now that we have seen everything leading up to it, I'm officially ready for next November. As far as my grade for Mockingjay - Part 1, I actually gave the first two Hunger Games movies the same grade, that of a 9/10. That trend continues. I also give this movie a 9/10. I could rank all three from best to worst if you made me, but the fact of the matter is that I loved all three of them about equally. They are all great movies. Once we get the final chapter next year, I fully expect The Hunger Games franchise to be considered one of the best franchises ever made. It will be in my book, anyways.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To Review


I'm going to be honest here, I didn't grow up with Dumb and Dumber. For one reason or another, it just wasn't a movie that my household grew up watching and I didn't watch it with friends. Due to the extremely high popularity of the film, that's not a fact I usually reveal to others. In fact, when the movie came up in conversation I usually have just remained quiet or pretended I knew what I was talking about. It was always on my list of movies to watch one day, but I never got around to it. However, watching that movie became a much higher priority as the sequel loomed and now that the sequel is out, I can finally admit that I have now watched Dumb and Dumber. Originally I wasn't going to admit this. I was just going to watch the movie before I saw the sequel and then talk about the sequel as if I saw the original a while back, but I decided that I could take advantage of this opportunity to give a unique prospective and both Dumb and Dumber and Dumber and Dumber To. The prospective of one who doesn't have the nostalgia aspect attached to the movie and can take an honest, fresh look at it.

Given this introduction, if you have been a fan of Dumb and Dumber since it came out, you might be nervous that I will come out and rip the movie to shreds. Don't worry, I'm not. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it and thus I finished the movie disappointed with myself that I had missed out on this movie for my whole life. However, it's definitely the type of humor that you either love or hate. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground. Personally I've always loved Jim Carrey and him and Jeff Daniels just have this perfect comedic chemistry. There are so many scenes throughout the whole movie that just have you laughing uncontrollably. Admittedly, there are also plenty of scenes that are just disgusting in a very unfunny sort of way. There's also plenty of scenes that feel offensive, rude, and/or racist, but for some reason you find yourself laughing at them anyways because it's just Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels acting dumb and it's super funny. You kinda feel guilty that you laughed, but you did and you enjoyed it in a terrible sort of way.

With that out of they way, it's time to discuss this new sequel. Being honest, most of the movie is just a cut and paste from the original. Most of the gags and jokes are the same. But it's not just that. The story from this is strikingly similar to the first as well as a lot of the twists and turns. There's two ways you can critique this strategy. The first is to knock on the movie due to the lack of creativity. The second is to commend them for going with the philosophy that if it ain't broken, don't fix it. I'm kind of on the fence with this, but I actually lean more towards the second option. When I go into a comedy, my expectations are very simple. I want to laugh. If you give me an interesting story to go along with the laughs, then that's a bonus, but as long as you make me laugh, I'll be satisfied. I actually went into this movie feeling very stressed out for various reasons and in going in, I just wanted to forget about the world and be entertained by what I hoped was a funny movie. And it worked like a charm. I laughed. A lot! In fact, I walked out of the theater feeling happy and cheerful, so it was a perfect remedy to a bad day. Yes, just like the first, there were a lot of scenes that were just laugh-out-loud, roll-over-in-your-seat type of funny. Also like the first, there were plenty of scenes that were just disgusting and not funny as well as some scenes that may have been offensive or horrible, but you laugh anyways.

Nostalgia is an interesting thing. As a child who was born in the 80's and grew up in the 90's, I will fully admit that there are plenty of movies that really aren't very good movies, but I love anyways because as a child I wasn't a very harsh critic and thus I remember the enjoyment I got out of the movies, even if I realize now that the quality may not have been too high or the graphics may have been poor. There's also cases where the movie really is a good movie, but the nostalgia turns it from good to great. Not having the nostalgia factor for Dumb and Dumber, I'm going to say that in this case, this is definitely the second option and not the first. Dumb and Dumber IS a good movie. No, it's not my favorite comedy as I have laughed a lot harder in other comedies, but it's still a good movie that made me laugh. And it's the same thing with Dumb and Dumber To. It's a good movie that made me laugh. And actually, I think I may have laughed a bit more from Dumb and Dumber To and might just pick that as the better movie. And if this movie had come out two or three years after the first, I think that many of you would agree with me. But alas it didn't. It came out 20 years later and doesn't have the nostalgia aspect that the first does, so I wouldn't expect fans of the first to like the second one better or even the same. But I do think Dumb and Dumber fans will enjoy this.

So in the end, Dumb and Dumber is a movie that you either love or hate. The humor is such that it doesn't lend itself to middle ground. Based on the fact that Dumber and Dumber To is pretty much the same movie with the same style of humor, I think you already know if you'll like it or not, so no persuasion here needed. If you liked the first, you'll like the second. If you hated the first, you'll hate the second. It's as simple as that. If you weren't a fan of the first, this addition won't convert you. If you were a fan, I don't think you'll turn against the sequel. Although I don't have the nostalgia factor from the first movie, I still enjoyed it. And because I found that style of dumb humor to be funny, I enjoyed the second one. I had one simple expectation: make me laugh. And it did. So if you are itching for a comedy and loved Dumb and Dumber, this is a movie that I would call a must see. If you are in the minority like I was and haven't seen Dumb and Dumber, I would suggest watching that before you watch the sequel and then use that as a gauge to see if you would like the the sequel. It's not the greatest movie, but it does what it sets out to do and because of that, I am going to give Dumb and Dumber To an 8/10.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Preview: November 2014

Ok, I know this is called a movie preview, but at the time you are reading this, it is exactly halfway through the month of November. Well, first off let me say that we are just beginning November's second weekend and since not everyone rushes out to see the new movies as quick as possible, I still have three weekends that could still count as a preview. Second, everyone knew about the movies that came out in the first weekend anyways, so I wasn't going to inform you of anything new there, outside possibly the one huge limited release that came out that weekend, which probably hasn't made it to your theater by now anyways. Third, and most importantly, life has been really busy for the last several weeks and I just didn't get around to doing this when I wanted to. But hey, since this is a blog and not a professional site, I can get away with being a bit late, right? Anywho, I like doing these every month because it helps remind me of what's coming out and I hope there are a few of you who enjoy reading them. Without further ado, November is the first month that constitutes as the holiday season, so let's dive into what this month has to offer!

November 7th - 9th- 

It what could be considered a mild upset, the top movie of the first weekend of the holiday season wasn't Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated movie, it was Disney's Big Hero 6. It's safe to say that Disney is on fire right now. There was a time when Disney was king of the animated movies, but ever since Toy Story debuted in 1995, becoming the first ever feature length animated movie done solely on the computer, Disney got left in the dust. In fact, after The Lion King became Disney's biggest hit ever in 1994, Disney could only muster one movie that topped $150 million from then until 2010's Tangled. 2012's Wreck-It Ralph proved that Tangled wasn't a fluke and then of course we have last year's Frozen, which is now the highest-grossing animated movie ever when you look at worldwide numbers (it's fourth in the US which is still good). With Big Hero 6, Disney dove into their Marvel collection to look for things that they could adapt and they found the Big Hero 6 comics. The movie has gone over very well and thus should continue to be a very popular option throughout the holidays.

It might be unfair to say that Interstellar disappointed at the box office. I mean, $47 million is nothing to cry over. But considering Christopher Nolan's very popular reputation, especially after The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, that total was on the lower end of expectations. However, as Nolan is pretty good at, the film has managed to get a lot of people talking and so it seems pretty likely that this is also going to be another popular choice throughout the holidays as people seem to want to get in on the conversation. Reviews are literally all over the map, which is actually quite impressive. Some are calling it the best movie of the year while some are calling it one of the worst and there's plenty of opinions on nearly every level in between. Moral of the story is don't trust anyone's opinions because yours might be completely different from whatever they say.

The strong limited-release debut that I was speaking of in my intro from this week was none other than The Theory of Everything. Having killed it in limited release ($208,000 in 5 theaters), it'll be expanding throughout the month and should be available to the public by the end of the month. The movie brings lesser-known actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones to center stage as both are practically guaranteed to get Oscar nominations. Now, Redmayne and Jones aren't completely unknown. Redmayne played Marius is Les Mis and Jones played Felicia Hardy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But they aren't what you would call household names.... yet. But that could change. However, regardless of the popularity of the actors, the characters they play certainly are very well known. This movie is a biopic of the famous physicist Stephen Hawking. And if for some reason that name doesn't immediately ring a bell, if I tell you he's the scientist in the wheelchair with the computer voice, then you'll know exactly who I'm talking about.

November 14th - 16th-

While this second weekend of November will surely bring strong holds from Big Hero 6 and Interstellar, new comedy Dumb and Dumber To enters the marketplace and will try to compete for that top spot. Dumb and Dumber is quite the comedy classic as it is beloved by a whole lot of people. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels' humor was legendary as Harry and Lloyd and now they're back after 20 years. Now sure, you might argue that it's been sooner since the characters have been in theaters as there was the prequel Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, but most fans of Dumb and Dumber pretend that that movie doesn't exist, especially because it had none of the same actors or directors as the first. This movie is obviously not for everyone, but those who loved the original movie and are excited to see Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels back together as these characters are sure to enjoy themselves this weekend.

Opening up in a moderate number of theaters is Beyond the Lights, a movie with some fun female names attached to it. Gina Prince-Bythewood directs and Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in this drama about a young superstar singer and a young cop trying to help her out. Prince-Bythewood's previous directing work includes Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees while Mbatha-Raw is known for playing the title character of Dido Elizabeth Belle in the movie Belle from earlier this year and is also set to star in next February's Jupiter Ascending, so you can say that she is an actress on the rise.

Opening up in 6 theaters this weekend is the highly anticipated movie Foxcatcher. I say highly anticipated because this was a movie that almost was released towards the end of last year and was thought to be a big awards player. Now after being pushed back to this November it has received great reception in a few festivals and will finally reach art house theaters before expanding nationwide throughout the month. Foxcatcher has the all-star trio of Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, all three of which are getting decent Oscar buzz surrounding them, although it's hard to imagine all three getting nominations. In the movie, Tatum and Ruffalo play two Olympic wrestlers who are brothers and Steve Carrell plays their psychopath coach. This is definitely newer territory for Carrell and Tatum especially, but both are getting praised for their roles, so it should be a good change of pace for the actors and their respective fan bases.

Not done yet for this weekend. There are a couple more limited releases to talk about. Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas will be playing in about 400 theaters this weekend. It is a Christian movie that is trying to remember people to put Christ back in Christmas. There's been a lot of good Christian dramas this year that have come out of no where to surprise audiences and being that this is coming out in the holiday season, this could potentially do decent business. Kirk Cameron is known for his other Christian drama Fireproof, so fans of that movie could show up to check out this one.

And finally opening up in just under 400 theaters is Rosewater. This movie is written and directed by Jon Stewart, who is the host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is based on the true story of journalist Maziar Bahari, who was blindfolded and interrogated for four months in an Iranian prison.

November 21st - 23rd-

For the longest time, this weekend has been marked on the calendars of millions of individuals as the time when The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. And smartly, other studios have completely avoided releasing any new movies to compete with it, so Mockingay gets the weekend all to itself and will also look to dominate throughout the Thanksgiving holiday. The Hunger Games was a huge surprise two years ago as it tried to be the next big young adult adaption after Harry Potter and Twilight. Turns out it was bigger than any of those movies at it made over $400 million in the US box office. And what was even more impressive is that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire not only matched that number, but improved on it. Needless to say, the first part of the finale should be huge. Historically speaking, the first part of the two part finales have taken a slight dip in the box office, but not by a whole lot. Now the first half of the book Mockingjay isn't filled with a whole ton of drama, so they are going to have to go outside Katniss' perspective in order to make this interesting and word on the street is they have done exactly that.

November 26th - 30th-

Thanksgiving holiday has arrived! Unlike some holidays, catching a movie before or after turkey dinner is actually quite a popular idea and there will be plenty to choose from. Outside holdovers like Mockingjay, Dumb and Dumber To, Big Hero 6, and Interstellar, two new movies will be entering the field on Thanksgiving weekend, starting the day before Thanksgiving. The first of these two is Horrible Bosses 2. R-rated comedies are always hit and miss, but Horrible Bosses back in 2011 was definitely a surprise hit as it had an excellent cast and a relatable premise. This is a bit of a testing ground for Horrible Bosses 2 as R-rated comedies don't usually show up around Thanksgiving, but with a likable first movie and a returning cast for the second movie, this should be a fairly popular Thanksgiving option for the adult crowd.

While adults have their option during Thanksgiving, family audiences will also have another option to see as Dreamworks' Penguins of Madagascar hits theaters the day before Turkey Day. Dreamworks has had their fair share of duds recently, so they are really scrambling for a big hit and they hope that the popular penguin characters from their huge Madagascar franchise can do the trick. The problem is, Big Hero 6 will most likely still be a big player in the market at this time as families who missed it earlier in the month will be probably using the Thanksgiving holiday to catch up, so that will definitely hurt the penguins prospects. On the upside, though, families who have already seen Big Hero 6 might be looking for another option.

Not coming out before Thanksgiving, but rather waiting to come out the day after will be The Imitation Game. This strategy is of course due to the fact that it will only be playing a few theaters during this weekend before expanding. The Imitation Game brings the fourth of a our "big four" when it comes to the best actor race and that is Benedict Cumberbatch, the other three being Michael Keaton, Steve Carrell, and Eddie Redmayne. Whoever ends up getting that fifth spot is anyone's guess, but these four seem pretty safe. Although at this point, that really doesn't mean much because there are still a lot of candidates coming up. Anywho, getting back on focus, Cumberbatch has had quite the career as of late. After entering many people's favorite actor radar thanks to his role of Sherlock Holmes in BBC's popular series Sherlock, he seems to be everywhere including Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. He made a few unsuccessful attempts at the Oscar game last year and is trying his luck again this year with The Imitation Game, which is looking like a big success. In fact, he's the current front-runner to actually win the award as he plays Alan Turning, who helped crack the Enigma code during World War II. The movie got raving reviews out of festivals and is currently one of the highest reviewed films of the year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kill the Messenger Review

A couple of weeks back I went and saw the movie Nightcrawler. It was what I called a journalism thriller and man did it provide a whole heck of a lot of thrills. However, it was actually the second of two journalism-themed movies that came out in October and my initial plan was to actually see Nightcrawler second. My plan got thrown off balance when the first movie ended up only being released in a limited number of theaters and after a poor showing in limited release, it didn't expand very far. So I had to go a bit out of my way to find it. But I did. This movie of course is Kill the Messenger. After all that effort, I can honestly say that it was worth it. This is a movie that I think addresses a very serious issue and does a very good job of it. It might be difficult to track down, but if you can manage to find this movie, I would definitely recommend you give it a shot.

When you look at the title of Kill the Messenger, it immediately sounds like an action thriller, especially once you see that Jeremy Renner is the star. But no. This is no action movie. And in fact, it's really not a thriller either. This is simply a journalism drama that is based on the true story of Gary Webb. Jeremy Renner stars as Gary Webb, who is a journalist in the 1990's. Webb is just going about his daily business when suddenly someone comes to him with some really intriguing news. He takes that news and runs with, doing his own personal investigation on what ends up being a story about the CIA's involvement in a secret drug operation in Nicaragua. After getting himself in some pretty deep water, he is left with a choice. Does he do his job as a reporter and share this information with the public by publishing his story? Or does he protect his own life, the life of his family, and his own job by keeping the story to himself and sacrificing that journalist integrity? Well, by the title of the movie, you know what his decision is and following that decision, we get to see the sad events that transpire in consequence to his actions.

What I really liked about this movie was that it displayed what has always been a very hard dilemma for journalists throughout the history of journalism. The job of a journalist is to essentially be a watchdog. You protect your city by informing them of what is going on, whether it be good or bad. You tell them the honest truth. But are there situations where the truth is better left untold? Is that fair for the public? What if publishing the story will put you in harm's way or put your job in jeopardy? Journalists are human beings and as human beings, they don't always make the best decisions, but can you blame them for being human and trying to protect themselves and their job? But also, there are plenty of journalists who do take the bold step of putting everything on the line in order to inform the public of what is going on. These journalists deserve praise and recognition. Sometimes they get that praise and their work pays off big time, like in the Watergate scandal. But sadly some of them take that huge risk and it all blows up in their face. And it's very unfortunate when that happens. But that's life.

Being a journalism student right now, this is a movie that hit home. I don't know where my life or career will take me, but as a student I've done a lot of journalism work and thus I really felt for Jeremy Renner's character. And man, Renner really knocks it out of the park with this. I'll be perfectly honest, sometimes the pacing of the movie isn't always done right, but Renner's performance definitely makes up for it. Renner hasn't always been on my radar, but that definitely changed when he nailed the role of Hawkeye in The Avengers and followed that up with another great performance as Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy. Even though that movie wasn't perfect, Renner still made it entertaining and I can't wait to see him reprise that role in 2016's The Bourne Betrayal, especially if we get Matt Damon to come back and join him like has been the word recently. Moral of the story is Jeremy Renner has become one of my favorite actors and he does another great job in Kill the Messenger and it makes me want to go back and catch up on some of his older work that I have missed.

So overall, I think Kill the Messenger was a fantastic film and even though it didn't get a whole lot of attention, which is a bit of a sad irony considering what the purpose of the movie was, I am glad that I found it and I would strongly recommend that you find a way to check this out, even if that means waiting for it to show up in Redbox, which is should do eventually. That would be a very well spent dollar and change. The movie touches on a very important and sad reality in the journalism world that I think everyone should be informed of. Gary Webb may not have had a very happy life, be a lot can be learned from his story and Jeremy Renner really nails this performance in his portrayal of Gary Webb. My grade for Kill the Messenger is a 9/10.

Monday, November 10, 2014

SPOILER REVIEW: Interstellar

Now that I've given all of you plenty of time to go see the movie Interstellar, it's time to get more of my thoughts about the movie out on my blog. Because like I said in my spoiler-free review, there's a lot to talk about in this movie and most of it requires discussing plot points that would ruin the movie-going experience for you. That movie-going experience is one that I respect a lot, so I avoided most of the thoughts I had like the plague in that first review and decided to pretty much only talk about the acting, the visuals, and the sound. All of which were excellent. But there is a lot more to talk about here, so let's dive right in. But before we begin, I repeat. THE FOLLOWING REVIEW INCLUDES MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN INTERSTELLAR.

First of all, we have a few red flags that go up right as the movie begins. The first red flag is that we see Earth in a pretty depressing state without any explanation as to what happened to cause this. And of course the only solution is to travel to another far away galaxy to find a planet that is livable. Despite having no resources, apparently NASA has enough money to fund multiple trips to this faraway galaxy which includes building the spacecraft that can travel at these high speeds. No point in using that money to fix our problems on Earth? And no use trying to colonize Mars, one of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, or another terrestrial object from our own solar system? And of course, the only available option in terms of a pilot to fly this ship is Matthew McConaughey's character, right? No use trying to find someone who doesn't have two young kids, right?  I mean, where would the conflict be? And it was really easy to convince McConaughey to leave his family, especially given the fact that his wife has passed away and he is the lone parent trying to raise two kids. Catching my vibe here? Immediately what we are told from the introduction of this movie is that this is completely unrealistic and implausible. We just needed an excuse to do a movie about interstellar travel. That means there is no use trying to figure out if the rest of the science works out, because Nolan and company probably didn't do much research. They just wanted to make a fun movie about space. Ok. Mildly disappointing considering how brilliant Nolan is, but I didn't mind that much. I'm actually pretty good at throwing realism out the door if it means watching an awesome movie. And this is a pretty awesome movie for most of it, so it sold me.

However, a bigger red flag in the beginning is that during a dust storm, McConaughey's daughter notices a message in her room that she determines has come from a ghost. She thinks this mysterious messenger has left a message in morse code. McConaughey "corrects" her by saying it has to be binary. McConaughey then interprets this as coordinates which conveniently leads him right to the secret NASA base where they try recruit him to fly their ship. Thus he feels he has been called to go on this mission by a mysterious group of individuals that he just refers to as "they." However, his daughter interprets this morse code message into the word "stay." She then tries to get her dad to stay, but he leaves. PAUSE. When this happened, my immediate thoughts were that the message was actually coming from McConaughey. He has gone on this mission and something has gone terribly wrong. But somehow he found a way to travel back in time to try to get himself to never go on the mission in the first place. Yes, I see a lot of movies. However, it may surprise you that I am not actually that good at predicting movies. I love it when a movie takes a few crazy twists and turns that make it so I don't see what is coming and that actually happens a lot. Nolan has done this to me on more than one occasion, so I fully expected him to do so here. I didn't think that this was going to be predictable. Something crazy was going to happen that was going to leave my mind blown, right? We'll come back to this point.

So now what happens is that McConaughey has been convinced by Michael Caine to go on this voyage with his daughter Anne Hathaway and a few other random individuals. They stop at Saturn after two years. Does it only take two years to get to Saturn? I don't know. Who cares. At this point we have thrown realism out the door. We're just on this epic journey through space and I'm enjoying it. We find a wormhole at Saturn that is supposed to shoot them to this other galaxy and one of our passengers attempts to explain the science behind everything. Is it accurate? Meh. Who cares. Let's just go through this wormhole! And we do! And it is successful in bringing us to our destination where there are three different planets that need to be explored. Our little team does there best job in trying to pick the right planet first because at this point they are travelling so fast that one hour of their time seven hours back on Earth and they can't waste any time. And since the movie is three hours long, you know that they are going to explore all three planets and that the last one they try is going to be the one they needed to go to in the first place. Ok, I'm fine with that. Space exploration! The more we explore, the cooler this movie is going to be! And I know some people have complained about the three hour running time and would prefer to cut out some of these stops, but that's one aspect that I had no complaints about. I don't mind three hour movies if the pacing is done right and in my opinion, the pacing here is just fine.

So first planet is the water planet. Nothing goes right here. The planet is one huge ocean as far as we can see. They start exploring a bit, but they need to save time and suddenly a huge wave is coming that kills one of their team members and almost destroys the ship. They escape, though, and head out. We are led to believe that this planet is unlivable and we just accept that despite not really exploring it at all. No time to explore. Now we're back in space and we have to make a decision. Based on previous data from the mission before, McConaughey thinks they should go to one planet. The explorer that landed is alive and said that this planet is great. But Hathaway thinks that they should go to the other one. The explorer said things were great, but now no one's heard from him, so he's presumed dead or missing. Why does Hathaway want to go there? Well, she was in love with guy that landed there. McConaughey essentially says that her feelings are getting in the way, so off to McConaughey's planet we go. PAUSE. Once again, I'm not the best at predicting things. But when this was happening, I had the feeling that Hathaway was right. Her planet was livable and something bad was about to happen on McConaughey's planet.

Ha! Of course I was right. This planet is the ice planet. But hey, up to this point I was still loving the movie, especially when it was revealed who was on the planet. MATT DAMON!!!! I've been following this movie for a long time, but I totally missed the part where Matt Damon was supposed to be in this movie. That man is definitely one of my favorite actors and was a major pleasant surprise when one of my favorite actors randomly showed up in a movie that I didn't know he was a part of. And I actually loved his character. Then we get further on the ice planet and a huge plot point is revealed which pits Matt Damon and Michael Caine as the antagonists in the film. But were they? McConaughey and Hathaway were focused on finding a planet that was livable and coming back as soon as possible to save their individual families. Damon and Caine were focused on saving the human race as a whole. It was never part of Caine's plan for McConaughey to return home, but Caine didn't tell McConaughey this because he know he wouldn't agree to it. Meanwhile, Damon had been sending false signals that this planet was livable when it never was and once McConaughey gets here, he attempts to kill him to fulfill this secret plan because he knows McConaughey will never accept it. As an audience, of course you are rooting for McConaughey, but then you start to think about Damon and Caine's point of view and you realize they have a lot of great points.

Before moving on, this situation also brings to mind another interesting part of the movie that being the relationship between McConaughey and his two kids. While only a short time has passed for McConaughey, both his kids are now fully grown, and are played by Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck. In the course of only a few minutes, McConaughey watches them grow up and react to his being gone because he suddenly gets all their messages at once. This is actually a really emotional scene where all three of them, McConaughey, Chastain, and Affleck do an amazing job. Then we start following Chastain and Affleck's point of view and that is done really well. Major props to both of them.

This was all leading up to what could've been an absolutely amazing ending that would be on par with the ending of Inception. However, instead of going bold and mind-blowing, Christopher Nolan instead goes very safe with how this movie ending, which is disappointing because I know how amazing Nolan is and what he has the potential to create. Where it all started to unfold was the fight between McConaughey and Damon. Damon tries to kill McConaughey and he almost succeeds. But McConaughey gets rescued by Hathaway and then moments later Damon makes some dumb moves that get him killed off. Had Nolan been bold enough to kill off McConaughey and then even more bold to keep Damon alive and follow him for the rest of the movie, allowing him to complete his secret plot, this movie would've been amazing. That type of ending would've been a twist that no one saw coming and would've sparked a whole lot of discussion on several different levels.

But alas it didn't happen. Nolan goes with the story book ending, saving McConaughey and killing off Damon soon after he comes onto the scene. But then things got weird. McConaughey pulls off a secret stunt of his own where he sends Hathaway off to the other planet and he himself goes straight into the black hole. I don't even know how to describe what happens. It was bizarre and weird, leading to some sort of space-time continuum that went right over my head. But long story short, McConaughey ends up back in time, stuck behind the shelf in his daughter's room. Remember back at the beginning of this review when I mentioned that a theory came to my mind that the secret messages from the beginning were from McConaughey himself, trying to persuade himself to not go on this mission? Yup. That's exactly what happened. McConaughey, when he gets stuck in this weird dimension behind his daughter's shelf, starts sending messages to get his past self not to go on the mission. Up to this point, despite the flaws, I had accepted everything that had gone on. But this is where my heart sank. This was no badge of honor that I predicted the whole movie. I wanted to be surprised. I wanted to be blown away. But I wasn't. I was entertained. But overall, I was left disappointed because of how safe Nolan took this movie when he could've done so much more.

The actual end is whatever. Chastain figures out the message eventually and long story short, McConaughey ends up reunited with the human race on a ginormous space ship that is transporting everyone to this new planet. McConaughey is pretty much the same age, but to humankind he is 124, meaning his daughter is 101. He reunites with her while on her deathbed, but soon after she tells him to leave because a parent isn't supposed to watch their child die. He asks her where he should go. She says to Hathaway as if the two have this established romantic relationship, which they didn't. But he sneaks off the ship on this other little ship anyways, which means he will just arrive a bit early. I don't know what the rush was. Stay back and get to know your family. But oh well. It's whatever. Meh.

So there we go. You now have all my thoughts about the movie Interstellar that I felt I needed to share. Give yourself a pat on the back if you made all the way through it. Overall, I seem very negative in this specific review, but I still consider this a good movie. It's worth seeing. And go see it in IMAX if that is a possibility for you. The acting is amazing by everyone. I really hope one of the big five (McConaughey, Hathaway, Caine, Damon, Chastain) gets an Oscar nomination to represent this fine crew. Also, this movie is a visual treat with a great score. And while the story is obviously unrealistic, it's engaging and fun for the first two acts. I just really think that Nolan could've done a lot better with that final act. He could've made it big, bold, and thought-provoking, but instead he goes with the cliche, storybook ending that I saw coming from a mile away. And considering that this is the great Christopher Nolan that we are talking about, that is really disappointing. I stay firm with my 8/10 ranking, even after getting all these negative thoughts out. But a score of 8 is disappointing when I was expecting/hoping this would be a 9.5 or 10 quality movie. It just wasn't. Anywho, I would be interested in your thoughts of the movie, and especially your reaction to this review, but please keep those thoughts hidden from the public and comment below instead of in the comment section of facebook or twitter. Let's respect the movie-going experience for those who haven't yet seen the movie. Thanks!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review

For years Disney was the king of animation. No one really even came close. That reign continued all the way up into the early 90's when Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994) dominated. Then in 1995, a movie called Toy Story was released and the animation game was changed forever. Disney still put out respectable movies, but those movies didn't dominate the box office and for a while, Disney was left in the dust while studios like Pixar and Dreamworks ruled. In fact, from 1995 to 2009, only one of Disney's movies even broke $150 million, and that was 1999's Tarzan with $171 million. Then in 2010, Disney started a resurgence with Tangled. While Tangled was only third that year in the animated box office, behind Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me, for the first time since The Lion King in 1994, a Disney movie had topped $200 million. With the continued success of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, it's safe to say that Disney is back in the game.

Big Hero 6 follows the historical run of last year's Frozen, which is now the highest grossing animated movie of all time when you look at worldwide totals (it's behind Shrek 2, The Lion King, and Toy Story 3 here in the U.S.). While it may be unfair to expect similar totals from Big Hero 6, I personally can say that I like Big Hero 6 more than Frozen. And keep in mind, I didn't join the recent movement where it became cool to hate Frozen. I still love that movie. So me saying I enjoy Big Hero 6 more is saying something. In fact, I would say that this is Disney's best animated movie in quite some years. A big part of this reason is that it's really the first time that Disney Animation Studios has put out a superhero movie, which is in no coincidence to the fact that Disney now owns Marvel. After acquiring the rights to Marvel, they looked through the Marvel's property to see what they could adapt and they found this obscure Marvel comic called Big Hero 6. Doing what Disney does best, they took the idea and Disney-fied it to the point where it's only very loosely based on the actual Big Hero 6 comics.

What really makes Big Hero 6 work so well is that it has a little bit of everything. First off, it has a good story with great characters. No, it's nothing deep or unpredictable. I mean, this is Disney here. They have a target audience which includes more than just adults. Disney makes movies that family audiences, especially parents with young kids, can enjoy. And this is just that. Kids will love this movie. It's a simple superhero story where a group of nerds create superhero outfits that they can use to stop a super villain. But it has a whole lot of heart to it. You quickly grow to love this team of six, five humans and one robot. First and foremost is Baymax the lovable, hugable, Marshmallow-like robot. Disney is really good at creating great sidekicks in their movies and Baymax will definitely rival for the best sidekick they've ever done. He's adorable. He's funny. He's brilliant. Most of this is because of his innocent robot-like mannerisms. I definitely would love to have Baymax with me at all times. But Baymax isn't the only good character. The main kid is Hiro and you really feel for him because he is going through quite the rough time. His four friends come to help him out and each of them has a very distinct personality and are very lovable and awesome in their own unique way. Together they make a great team.

Other things that make Big Hero 6 work are the varied emotions in the movie. You know by the most recent trailer that something really sad happens. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, I won't go into details outside saying that the movie is very emotional. After what happens, Hiro is just a teenage kid and he has a hard time dealing with this. This makes for several scenes where you may need your box of tissues if you get emotional during movies. In additional to be an emotional movie, this is a very hilarious movie. Many laughs are courtesy of Baymax, but he's not the only one that provides laughs. Really everyone on this team provides a lot of laughs. And it wasn't just mild chuckles throughout. I was genuinely laughing out loud throughout the whole movie. There was even a few jokes that made me laugh almost uncontrollably. Like I couldn't stop even when the scene was over and we were onto the next scene. I love it when a movie makes me laugh that much because it doesn't happen that often. Finally, in addition to being emotional and hilarious, the movie is also a lot of fun. This is a superhero movie and that means you know you are going to get some action sequences. When they happen, it is just a blast to watch them as this team at first is experimenting with their new suits, but then become quite good as they get more practice with their suits. As a superhero origin story, this movie does a very good job at keeping your interest.

Overall, with Disney's track record, especially of late, I went into Big Hero 6 expecting it to be a good, fun movie. What I didn't expect was how excellent it would be. It had a great story, with great characters that made for an emotional, hilarious, and outright entertaining movie. When you look at the specific list of theatrically released movies from Disney Animation Studios you actually don't see a whole lot of sequels. They're very good at coming up with original ideas. And by original, I do realize that many of their movies are adaptations of sorts, but they change it up enough so that it becomes original. Most of the Disney sequels that you see are done by DisneyToon Studios, most of which are are direct-to-video releases. However, this is a scenario where I want Disney to do a sequel and I want it to be their main branch, not their DisneyToon branch. And when I leave a movie begging for a sequel, you know you did something right. Had not The LEGO Movie come out this year, I would've also called this the best animated movie of the year, but alas it has to settle with second place. However, Big Hero 6 definitely deserves a 9/10.