Saturday, December 20, 2014

Penguins of Madagascar Review

I feel it's safe to say that I am a fan of Dreamworks Animation. No, they aren't as good as Pixar, Disney, or a few of the other animation studios, but they have put out a lot of solid movies over the years that I have really enjoyed. The problem with Dreamworks is that they are one company who is especially obsessed with the sequel idea. They actually make a lot of movies, usually at least two a year -- many years three, but when the come upon a movie that has a lot of success, you can almost count on a sequel. In fact, you can count on them squeezing every last penny out of these successful franchises until people are completely sick of them. This is what I feel is happening with the Madagascar franchise. I mean, we've already had three of them. And on top of this current Penguins of Madagascar spin-off, a Madagascar 4 is on the way. Apparently people are still liking these movies, which is why they keep coming. But I personally got tired of this franchise. I decided to give this spin-off a chance, though, because I do like the penguins. Bad decision. This movie is a complete pile of crap and I am glad that it is tanking hard in the box office right now.

Like I mentioned, Penguins of Madagascar comes from the popular penguin characters from the Madagascar franchise. These are characters that I enjoyed watching in the first movie, so I was down with this happening, especially since they do have their own TV show that is apparently well-liked. In this movie, the penguins decide to separate themselves from the Antarctica penguins and do their own thing. Pretty soon they form this secret agent group where they try to fight crime so to say. But despite all the talk, they are actually pretty bad at this job, which is funny because they end up combining forces with this professional group of secret agents that actually do know what they are doing. This leads to a movie that is just stuffed full of all sorts of gags throughout the movie that you would expect from the penguins.

Here's the problem. And it's very simple. This movie wasn't funny. At all. The purpose of this was to be a fun comedy and when you are trying to be a fun comedy, the number one rule is that you need to actually make people laugh. And I was waiting. I've loved these penguins. A lot of the gags in the first movie worked rather well and I was excited to see this gag-filled movie that I thought I was going to be laughing hysterically at. I chuckled a few times. But I didn't laugh. There literally wasn't a single moment in the entire movie where I busted out laughing. A few polite chuckles was it for me. Instead of laughing, I watched as gag after gag and joke after joke just completely missed the mark and pretty soon into this movie they got really dumb. And they kept getting dumber. Halfway through the movie all my patience with the movie was completely gone. I was waiting for the movie to turn around and do something respectable or funny, but it never happened. And to make matters worse, the end of the movie was almost an exact copy and paste of Despicable Me 2. Like almost to the "t." It's like Dreamworks watched that movie, saw how much money they made, and because they were desperate they said to themselves, "Hey let's make a movie that is the exact same thing as this movie, except with penguins instead of minions. Maybe that will finally be the trick that gets us out of this financial hole that we're in because our movies keep flopping." I'm serious. That's how I think this movie happened. The kids won't catch it. But I did.

I really don't have much more to say about this movie. It was a comedy that was supposed to make me laugh and all I did was chuckle politely a few times. Instead of laughing, I was just bored to tears and the theater started to feel like a prison because it just got worse and worse. Now in all fairness, this is a movie that was made for kids and there is a very good chance that the kids will love this. So if you are a parent with small kids who loved all three of the Madagascar movies and maybe even enjoy the TV show with the penguins, then this is probably a movie that you should take your kids to or buy when it comes to DVD to add it to your collection. Because of this, most will read this review and just brush my opinion to the side because "this movie just wasn't made for you." My retort is that I do think that you can make an animated movie that is good for kids AND adults. In fact, Dreamworks has done this many times. This is just one of those instances where it didn't work for me. This is a kids only movie in my opinion and it really disappointments me when one of the major animated studios gives a big nationwide release that is kids only because I like enjoying these, too. This one I thought was boring and stupid. My grade for Penguins of Madagascar is a 5/10.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Movie Preview: December 2014

The holiday season is upon us and while it didn't start with a whimper, November overall was a tad bit disappointing considering the titles that were released. Interstellar was supposed to be the huge movie in the beginning of the month while The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 was supposed to be the huge movie to end the month and thus on paper we were set for what looked like an epic month. Thus there weren't a whole lot of challengers. Interstellar started us out by not even being able to crack $50 million in its debut, being defeated in the box office by Disney's Big Hero 6. Meanwhile, Mockingjay did great business as it was the biggest opening weekend of the year, but it fell way short of the mark set by the first two movies in the franchise. And of course Big Hero 6 did great business, but it also proved that last year's Frozen was more of a fluke than a thing to expect from Disney Animation. So now we move to December. While box office totals will be hard to predict, the one thing that is certain is that there won't be a lack of options. Not only is it Christmas season, but it's also the last month for Oscar-hopefuls to jump in the game. So let's dive in and see what the month has in store.

December 5th - 7th-

The first weekend of December is always one of the worst weekends of the year. In fact, it has such a bad reputation that the major studios tend to avoid it altogether. Which is a bit odd if you think about it. Is it a bad weekend because people just don't like going to the theaters in the beginning of December or is it a bad weekend because studios think it's a bad weekend and avoid it? Or both? I mean, people can't go out to the movies if there's no new movies to see. That's right. This year there was a grand total of ZERO new wide releases. The closest we came was the horror movie Pyramid, which is a confused movie because this isn't Halloween season. While it's not unheard of to release a horror movie during the Christmas season, it usually doesn't happen. Fox knowing that there wasn't much interest in this movie decided to only release it in 589 theaters. And they were right. The per-theater average was pretty bad, so perhaps they made the good decision to not spend the money booking theaters that weren't going to get used. If done right this could've been successful. I mean, exploring the pyramids isn't a bad premise for a horror movie.

On a platform release, the movie Wild hit 21 theaters this weekend, earning just over $600,000. This is another Oscar-hopeful that chronicles the life of Cheryl Strayed, who embarked on an 1,100 mile journey in the 1990's on the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself, despite no previous backpacking experience, after going through a lot of personal struggles. Strayed wrote a book about her experiences that became a best-seller and now has a movie adaption. Jean-Marc Vall√©e is the director here and he is coming off a lot of success from last year's Dallas Buyers Club, which got nominated for six Oscars, winning three of them. While there isn't as much buzz from Wild at the moment, star Reese Witherspoon should be right in the thick of the competitive best actress race.

December 12th - 14th-

After being ignored the first weekend of December, general audiences will finally get to dive into the Christmas movie season starting with Exodus: Gods and Kings. You could definitely say that it's been the year of the religious movie. In addition to several smaller, independently released Christian films breaking out this year, this is also the third time that a major studio has dove into the Bible for it's source material following Son of God and Noah. This time around we are telling the story of Moses, which has definitely been no stranger to Hollywood. Previous adaptations include Cecil B. DeMille's classic The Ten Commandments, which is the sixth highest grossing movie of all time when adjusted for ticket price inflation, as well as Dreamworks' late 90's animated version The Prince of Egypt. Director Ridley Scott has a lot of experience doing epics, so this is right in his ballpark. His work with Gladiator has been especially all over the marketing. Although some of been complaining at the all-white cast, that cast does boast some pretty big names such as Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, Ben Kingsley as Nun, and Aaron Paul as Joshua.

Also getting an official nationwide release is Chris Rock's Top Five. The famous comedian is pulling triple duty in this as director, writer, and star, which is his third time doing do. His previous stints include Head of State (2003) and I Think I Love My Wife (2007). In the movie, Chris Rock is playing a comedian who's trying to make it as a serious actor. Is the a reflection of his own personal life? Maybe. If Rock was trying to make it as a serious actor, it would fit very well, but it looks like this is all comedy here, which is what Rock is pretty good at.

On the platform front, this week's Oscar-hopeful is director Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice. Anderson has had plenty of luck with the award scene as he has had five nominations, most notably with There Will Be Blood in 2007, but he has yet to win any personal awards for his movies as There Will Be Blood only won in the acting and cinematography categories. He completely missed out with his most recent film The Master and is hoping to recover with this one. Inherent Vice is a crime drama based off the book by Thomas Pynchon that centers around a Los Angeles detective in the 1970's who is investigating the disappearance of a former girlfriend. It has quite the loaded cast led by Joaquin Phoenix, who is hoping for justice after being left out by Oscar last year, and also stars Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Maya Rudolph, Michael Kenneth Williams, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson, and Reese Witherspoon among others.

December 19th - 21st-

It's the weekend before Christmas and before Hollywood loads the theaters with presents for movie-lovers on Christmas Day, there will be quite the load of early Christmas presents. Most notably is the final trip to Middle Earth (unless Peter Jackson decides he wants to take on The Silmarillion) with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which actually gets released on Wednesday the 17th. After getting nearly unanimous praise with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson hasn't quite had the same reaction to his Hobbit trilogy. Some have loved what he has done while others think Tolkien would be rolling over in his grave right now with what Jackson has done. The biggest criticism has been his decision to split one book into three separate movies. The title of this final chapter pretty much sums up what will happen here. Jackson will be looking to replicate the epic battle that was Helm's Deep. This chapter is not likely to convert those who haven't been a fan of the first two, but those who have been a fan are likely in for a treat.

Family audiences have been neglected a lot this year, but this weekend gives them two different options for the season. The first of which is a movie that been advertised for an amazingly long time now and that is the umpteenth version of the classic musical Annie. When casting rumors first came out, it almost appeared to some that this was going to be a politically correct version of Annie that featured an all-black cast. Not that this would've necessarily been a bad idea, but that turned out to be false. Instead, it appeared that they were just looking for the most talented young actress they could find and they did a pretty good job as the young Quvenzhan√© Wallis is not too far removed from being the youngest actress ever to get an Oscar nomination for best actress (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Wallis is joined in the movie by Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz, who also have had a good track record recently. Whether or not audiences will be enamored with this latest version of Annie is a different story, though.

The second option for family audiences is the third movie in the  Night at the Museum franchise, entitled Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb. The first Night at the Museum became a surprise hit back in 2006 sparking a sequel in 2009 that also played well, although with a significant dip-off from the first. Some people will certainly be wondering if a third Night at the Museum movie was really necessary and thus might decide to skip this one. But it could provide some good counter-programming if it can survive the battle between it and Annie. Another advantage the movie has is that it stars Robin Williams in what will be his final live action role. Those who were touched and inspired by this man, which is most people that lived through the 90's, may want to check this one to see legend perform one last time.

That's it for the nationwide releases, but we are not done as we have another pair of Oscar-hopefuls getting their start. The first of these two is The Gambler. Out of the two limited release films, this is the one that will probably go over better with general audiences, but might be the one that gets ignored by Oscar. It's a crime drama about, you guessed it, a gambler. Mark Wahlberg stars as he plays a character that gets himself sucked into quite the intense situation. If this gets any award nominations, it will be for Wahlberg's co-star in the movie, John Goodman. However, Goodman has had a habit recently of getting rumored to get nominated, but getting left out in the end. One of these days he might actually get the nomination, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The limited release that has a better chance of getting a nomination or two, but yet might not go over as well with general audiences is Mr. Turner. This movie dives into the life of famous British painter J.M.W. Turner who died in the year 1851. Timothy Spall plays the lead role of Mr. Turner in this movie and there's good reason to suggest that he'll at least get a long, serious look by the Academy when it comes to Oscar nominations. The reasoning for this is that he actually won the Best Actor award earlier this year in the Cannes Film Festival. Spall has had a long and successful career, but hasn't had a whole lot of opportunities to play a lead role like this. Even those who haven't liked the film have recognized that he does a good job in it. Those who don't recognize his name right of the bat will probably have a light bulb experience when I mention that he played Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies.

December 25th - 28th- 

Christmas Day brings a whole slew of new movies to the table. And if you think this is crowded upon reading over it, know that a couple of months ago it was even more crowded before Paddington and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 bailed on the date. Scaring Paddington away was most likely Disney's highly anticipated live-action musical Into the Woods. This is based off of a very popular musical of the same name and hopes to have the same reaction that Les Mis did a couple years back. It did run into a bit of controversy when it was announced that they were making a few key alterations to the original musical in order to get the family-friendly PG rating, but it's worth noting that the movie is in very good hands. It's directed by Rob Marshall, who won best picture when he directed the musical Chicago. Also, the original people who worked on the Into the Woods musical also worked on this movie. And it has quite the phenomenal cast in that includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Ana Kendrick, Chris Pine, and James Corden.

Next up is the movie that most likely scared Hot Tub Time Machine 2 away and that is The Interview. This movie is a comedy wherein James Franco and Seth Rogen are recruited to go assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jung-un. The real life Kim Jung-un has not been shy about his feelings on this movie. In fact, he's gone as far as threatening to attack the United States if they end up releasing the movie. World War III started because of a movie that gets released on Christmas Day? Probably not. North Korea is pretty good at making threats that they don't follow up on. Plus that would be a really bad idea on North Korea's part to attack the United States. However, by issuing this threat, Kim Jung-un has done the movie a huge favor by raising awareness as most have just found this threat comedic and instead have become excited for this movie. Word is, though, that they may have done some post-production alterations in order to appease Kim Jung-un.

The third and final nationwide release is a movie that has had a whole ton of Oscar-buzz ever since it was announced. That is Unbroken. This tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, who was a U.S. Olympic runner back in the late 1930's. When the war broke out and the next Olympics were cancelled, he enlisted and was assigned to fight on the Japanese front. This movie is based on the book of the same title that dives into his experiences as a prisoner of war in Japan and thus goes into detail about what life was like on this front, which is something that isn't discussed as much as the German front is. The movie stars Jack O'Connell as Zamperini as well as Domnhall Gleeson as his friend in the war and Japanese rock star Miyavi as the character known as "The Bird," who causes him much mental and physical anguish. All three have received their fair share of awards buzz. Director and Oscar-darling Angelina Jolie has also received a lot of attention for her work on this. On top of all this, the movie is very timely as the real life Zamperini recently passed away.

That's it for the nationwide releases, but there's also a whole bunch of limited release movies coming out in order to get their Oscar-qualifying run in before they get their nationwide release in January. Recently entering the scene as not only a strong contender to get nominated, but to win best picture is the movie Selma. This, along with several others, will get it's nationwide release in January, so this is almost a brief preview of next month as well. But I include it here because this is the official release date and it's fun to talk about all the Oscar-hopefuls in one post. That said, Selma is a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, specifically focusing on all the marches that were influential in getting the Civil Rights Bill moving forward. Selma, Alabama could be seen as the climax of all this, hence the title. The King himself is played by David Oyelowo. Oyelowo was most recently seen in the movie Interstellar as the principal, but is probably best known for his role in 2012's Jack Reacher. Joining Oyelowo in the movie is Carmen Ojego as Coretta Scott King, Tim Roth as George Wallace, and Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B Johnson as well as appearances from Martin Sheen, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Oprah Winfrey.

Up next is a movie that is actually losing a bit of steam in the Oscar race due to a poor showing recently, but is still hoping to sneak in some nominations. That is American Sniper. This tells the story of Navy S.E.A.L. Chris Kyle who was one of the most famous snipers as he had over 150 confirmed kills. Bradley Cooper plays the title role and it's been quite the successful ride for Cooper. Not only has he had two straight Oscar nominations for his roles in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, but he also voiced the extremely popular Rocket Raccoon in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy earlier this year. But alas, a poor showing could cause him to break his streak of Oscar nominations due to the intense race this year. However, American Sniper should still play well for general audiences. A comparable title would be Lone Survivor, another war movie about the Navy S.E.A.L.S. that was mostly ignored by the Academy but went on to huge box office totals in January this past January. American Sniper will probably do the same as it gets its nationwide release on the third weekend of January.

This is not the extent of the Oscar-hopefuls that will officially get their qualifying run in at the end of the year, but it is the last one I will talk about in this post. This last movie is Tim Burton's Big Eyes. Now immediately when you hear the name Tim Burton, you will automatically assume that this will be a weird, crazy movie. That's a fair assumption considering Burton's past, but it would actually be wrong in this instance. This is actually a very normal movie. It's a movie about painter Margaret Keane who had great success in the 1950's, but struggled with legal difficulties as her husband started claiming all of her work as his own. This pair is played by Christof Waltz and Amy Adams. If Amy Adams gets a nomination this would make it her sixth nomination in the last ten years. Some would call her unlucky for getting nominated five times and losing every single time. Others would recognize that she could see it as quite the honor to get five nominees because many actors play out their whole career without a single nomination. Either way, it was initially thought that Oscar could finally award her for her efforts and give her a win. But now that's not the case as Julianne Moore is almost seen as a lock to win.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Theory of Everything Review

As you all should know, I am a big fan of Oscar season. While some people scoff at the Oscars for rarely nominating the big blockbusters, I'm personally a fan because a lot of the movies that do get nominated are in fact excellent movies. As a fan of movies, I just like watching a good movie regardless of how much money it makes or how many awards it gets, so I choose not to take sides in that war. What I do get frustrated with is this tactic of releasing these award-contending movies in as few theaters as possible and slowly expanding outwards. I mean, I understand the tactic. I just don't like having to wait a long time for the movie to finally get to my town after reading or watching reviews saying how awesome it is by the privileged people who got to see it really early. First world problems, right? Anywho, this is the reason why oftentimes I get more excited when the small movies finally get to me as opposed to the larger movies that come exactly when they say they will. Long story short, The Theory of Everything finally came to a theater near me after several weeks and months of anticipation. And now you're getting my review of it.

If you haven't yet heard about The Theory of Everything, it's a biopic of world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. If you're not in tune at all to the science world and don't recognize that name right when I say it, a light bulb should come on when I tell you that he is the guy in the wheelchair with the computerized voice. He got put in that wheelchair with that computer as his voice because he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease.What's motor neuron disease? Well, that's a general category in which belongs the disease ALS, which you all know about because everyone in the world dumped buckets of ice water on their heads to raise awareness for this disease this summer. It was shortly after his 21st birthday when Stephen was diagnosed and given two years to live. Well, you know how that ended because he's still alive right now at the age of 72. This movie is about his journey and struggles with that disease and trying to figure out how to balance his love life and career. And as we see in the trailer, his wife is going to be there with him as they fight the disease and work things out.

Perfect recipe for this super emotional, touching, and inspiring movie that you make you leave the theaters wishing you had brought your tissue box with you, right? Meh. Kinda. My biggest problem with this movie is that I wasn't actually sure what emotion I was supposed to be feeling as I finished the movie. Not that what happens in the movie is a huge secret because you can look up what happens to Stephen in his life with a quick google search, but nevertheless I'm not going to go into a whole ton of detail. However, I will say that this is not exactly your cookie-cutter inspirational story. Yes I think the fact that Stephen has lived for 50 years when he was supposed to only live two is very inspirational. I feel bad that he's had to suffer like this his whole life with ALS, but there's a few things that happen in his personal life that make you raise your eyebrow a bit. But he's not the only guilty party. His wife also does things that make you not a big fan of her. I guess you can call this life. Life is not always a fairy tale. But still. As a movie there were a lot of things that didn't sit too well with me and thus is why I had a whole ton of mixed emotions as I left the theater.

That said, I can't deny the fact that the acting in this is pretty dang good. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are two names that you may have never heard before. They aren't unknown names. Redmayne played Marius in the recent Les Mis movie, while Jones played Felicia in the most recent Spider-Man movie. But outside those roles, there's not a whole ton on their resume that would be considered extremely recognizable. However, they have now earned the right for you to remember their names as I'm sure this movie will be a springboard to a whole bunch of new roles for both of them. Both are to be considered near locks to get Oscar nominations. That I'm a bit split on. While they definitely do an amazing job, is it an Oscar-worthy performance? Specifically looking at Redmayne, he does great as Stephen Hawking. But I can name a handful of people that I would rather see get the nomination for best actor over him. Bill Murray and Jake Gyllenhaal top that list right now of actors that deserve a nomination but will be left out because the Academy chose Redmayne instead. That might make me upset. Just warning you. On the other hand, I was totally in love with Felicity in this movie as an actress. I wasn't a huge fan of what her character did, but she was great nonetheless. I definitely want to see more of her. In fact, I may be fine with her being Spider-Man's new girlfriend if everything doesn't collapse on Sony.

I feel I've been very negative with this review. However, this isn't a bad movie. It's just not quite what I was expecting. For one reason or another, I've never been a huge fan of Stephen Hawking. I was hoping this movie would shine more light on him for me, but it really didn't. I'm still not a huge fan of Stephen Hawking. However, if you are curious to know more of this story, I'd recommend you give this a shot. Stephen Hawking himself watched the movie and actually cried while watching it, referring to it as "generally true." He then gave them the right to use his voice in the movie. I personally piece that all together and call it an accurate representation of his life. It's also very well acted, which is a must for a good biopic. Not my favorite movie of the year. But if it shows up in your local theater and you have nothing else to see, I'd recommend you give it a shot. My grade for The Theory of Everything is a 7.5/10.

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.