Tuesday, August 26, 2014
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
1- Rango (March 4, 2011)
(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)
Click here for my full review of Hugo
Click here to buy Hugo on Amazon
3- Arthur Christmas (November 23, 2011)
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.
Click here for my full review of ParaNorman
Click here to buy ParaNorman on Amazon
6- Life of Pi (November 21, 2012)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Click here for my full review of Belle
Click here to buy Belle on Amazon
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.
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
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.
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.