Monday, July 21, 2014
In addition to being a movie about redemption and new beginnings, this is also a movie about music. This really isn't a chick-flick or a romance drama at all. The comparison that was going through my mind the whole movie was Inside Llewyn Davis. For those of you who never saw Inside Llewyn Davis, it was a movie about a folk singer back in the 60's trying to make his way in the world. Personally I thought the plot was a bit lacking, but the strength of the movie was the music. There are a lot of folk songs that are sung throughout the movie and it is rather beautiful. It's even more impressive knowing that most of the music was performed and recorded live for the movie. As a side note, it also stars new Star Wars Episode VII cast members Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac for those of you wanting to know more about what they can do. But anywho, Begin Again is the same style where the music they perform throughout the movie is what makes this movie great. I don't know if it was performed live like in Inside Llewyn Davis, but from what I have been able to tell the vocal talent isn't doctored or auto-tuned. I believe it's Keira Knightley's legit singing voice, which gives her kudos.
Overall, this was a movie that I was very impressed with. Yes, I was thinking Inside Llewyn Davis the entire time, but that's not a bad thing. I love music dramas. And I actually would say that this movie is better than Inside Llewyn Davis because it had an interesting plot where drama and resolution actually happened. The acting was great. The story had a good message with interesting drama. And the music was fantastic. I was actually almost left unsatisfied with the ending because the end credits rolled before the story seemed to be resolved and I was about to be mad at then, but then the movie finished during the credits. That was a bit strange, but it worked. This movie isn't necessarily an epic movie going experience. It probably won't win any huge awards at the Oscars this year, but it was a very enjoyable couple of hours and is well worth your time. I give Begin Again a solid 8/10.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
This movie takes place just under ten years ago in June of 2005 and the setting is the Middle East. Yes, everything that has gone on there is super controversial, specifically our involvement, but regardless of your views on the war, you should appreciate this because in no way is this a political movie. This is simply the story of this group of Navy SEALs and I call them superheroes because their courage and bravery is practically super human. There is a lot of set up in the movie, but once it gets into the thick of things it is a crazy, emotional ride throughout. Their mission doesn't go at all as planned and once they start getting attacked is where I realized that no average human would've been able to do what they did. Early on they get backed into a corner and the only option they have is jumping off a cliff. I was thinking to myself that they were screwed. How are they going to get out of... HOLY COW! They all just jumped off that cliff. Wow! But that's only the beginning of things. The whole movie is loaded with scene after scene of this group doing crazy things like this. And why? Because they love their country and they are going to do their best to defend it. And they aren't going to leave any man behind, even if it means jumping off a cliff with a friend on your shoulders or climbing up the cliff to save a friend while bullets are flying left and right.
Mark Wahlberg plays the title character of Marcus Luttrell and in my opinion he gives one of the best performances of his career. Also starring along with Wahlberg is Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster. The four of them play our group of Navy SEALs and together they are what make this movie succeed. I'm sure Marcus Luttrell in watching this movie was pleased with how his group of friends were portrayed (but that of course is just a guess). This movie was nominated for two Oscars and honestly I think it should've gotten a few more because it is one of the best and most emotional war movies that I have seen in quite a while. If you are like me and never got around to seeing it, go Redbox right away. I give Lone Survivor a 9/10.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
In rebooting the franchise, Rise and Dawn have taken a completely different approach than the original and I think that is a big part of the reason why they have succeeded. Now I wasn't alive in 1968 for the premier of Charleton Heston's Planet of the Apes, but I imagine it was a pretty trippy experience. A group of people land on this foreign planet where apes rule and humans are the slaves. At the end of the movie they realize that it is in fact a post-apocalyptic Earth where apes have taken over. The next movie takes place after the first, but then in movie three through five, certain apes go back in time and then we are told the story of how Earth got to the point where it is. While Tim Burton's 2001 remake tried this same approach and failed, Rise of the Planet of the Apes started by actually going in chronological order. We don't start with an ape-ruled planet while telling the origin story later. We start with the origin story of how the apes took over. That was intriguing because we know how the story ends, but we don't know how they get to that point.
Dawn has been called by some as the Empire Strikes Back of the Planet of the Apes movies. This is a comparison that I actually agree with, but allow me to explain why. First off, the makers know what they are doing with this series. This isn't a situation where they come up with a second one just because the first was successful. They had an end goal in mind. When you have an end goal in mind, there is an almost formulaic beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning, the world is set up. The middle part intensifies and is thus either more dark and grim or simply more action-packed. Then we have our grand finale. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two movie franchises that have done this to perfection. To save time, I will let you go through the specifics of those franchises. Now that you have done so, I am proclaiming that Planet of the Apes is also following this formula pretty dang good. Rise set the scene and thus is more story-based with some awesome ape action towards the end. Dawn has intensified and is thus more packed with epic ape battles while being less focused on story and development, because that development took place with Rise. Thus we can say that Dawn is the Empire Strikes Back of the Planet of the Apes movies because it follows the Empire Strikes Back formula. Or better yet, a comparison to The Two Towers might fit even more. When you think of The Fellowship of the Ring, you think of mainly this epic journey that has begun. When you think of The Two Towers, you think of the Battle at Helm's Deep. Such is Dawn. Now in using these comparisons, I'm not saying that it is as good as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. I'm just saying it follows the same formula and because of that it is pretty dang epic.
Now in giving my grade for this movie, this is where things get a bit complex. If I were judging this franchise as a whole (Rise + Dawn), I would give this super high marks. Here we have a franchise that knows where it's going. The first two movies added together paint a brilliant picture that make you confident when the franchise is complete will be one of the greatest movie franchises of this generation. Yes, there have been certain movies in franchises that are better than Rise and Dawn individually, but due to less than epic sequels, their franchise as a whole doesn't equal this new Planet of the Apes franchise. However, I am not judging this Planet of the Apes franchise as a whole in this review. I am only judging Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And I will be honest and say that there are movies this year that I have enjoyed more than Dawn in terms of pure entertainment and there have been movies that I would rank higher than Dawn because of an emotional response that I got from them. So no, this isn't my favorite movie of the year or even my favorite movie of the summer. But it is a dang good one that is right on par with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past and thus my grade for Dawn will be the same grade that I gave those four movies. Yes, Dawn gets a 9/10 from me.
P.S.- In comparing Dawn to Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers, it's worth noting that I typically have found myself enjoying the third chapter of these franchises a bit more. Thus I hope that the third Planet of the Apes movie (untitled and scheduled for 2016), becomes my Return of the Jedi or Return of the King. Can't wait!!
Thursday, July 10, 2014
July 2nd - 6th-
Despite not breaking like like McCarthy's recent movies, Tammy was epic compared to the other releases this weekend. After scoring several home runs last year, the horror genre has failed to produce much this year. Early trailers from Deliver Us From Evil made people believe that it would be the first big horror hit of the year (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Devil's Due, Oculus, and The Quiet Ones all fell flat). This turned out to be wrong as Deliver Us From Evil fell short of $10 million in its 3-day opening weekend. While trailers provided plenty of scares for horror audiences, the movie itself turned out to be loaded with every horror cliche in the book, so horror fans elected to skip it while saving their money for The Purge: Anarchy later in the month.
Family audiences have been neglected this Summer pretty badly because outside a few major busts in May, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has been the only option thus far. Earth to Echo looked to bank on that neglect, but it failed in that goal as it was avoided by pretty much everyone. Problems included a lack of interest in the found footage style it used as well as an uninteresting story that looked too much like a rip-off of E.T. and The Goonies. It was evident that the filmmakers were wanting to introduce that type of movie to this generation, but audiences didn't buy in. Not only did few show up, but reviews show those who did weren't too entertained.
Finally, after a few days in limited release, Dinesh D'Souza's America arrived in a little over 1,000 theaters just in time for the Independence holiday. America is D'Souza's follow-up to 2016: Obama's America, which arrived just before election time in 2012. D'Souza's anti-Obama political documentary failed to make an effect in the election as Obama won re-election, but conservative crowds ate it up as it become one of the highest-grossing political documentaries ever. America most likely won't reach that level as not many showed up, but it did score an A+ cinemascore, which infers that at least a portion of those who loved 2016: Obama's America showed up for this one and were also impressed.
July 11th - 13th-
July 18th - 20th-
In talking about the failure of Deliver Us From Evil this month, I noted the horror genre is on a really bad streak this year. The Purge: Anarchy is going to try to buck that trend. Last summer when the horror genre was on a huge roll, an intriguing premise led The Purge to a $30 million opening weekend. What would happen if all crime, including murder, was made legal for a period of 12 hours? Even though The Purge tanked after its opening weekend due to poor reviews, making $64 million on a $3 million budget was a huge win and thus now we have a sequel just a year later. Horror franchises do have a tendency to be milked to death and The Purge is the latest to jump on that train due to the huge profit and the easy premise wherein a lot can be done. Look for many more Purge movies to come in the future.
Last, but yet the most likely winner of the three is the raunchy comedy Sex Tape. I really don't have a whole to say about this one. It is what it is and the title says enough. Those who go see this know what they are going to see. A married couple make a certain tape of themselves to spark their relationship and that tape gets into the wrong hands. Audiences will see a lot more of Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz than is typical, if you know what I mean. For better or for worse, Diaz especially seems to have become a lot more comfortable with herself as she has gotten older. Don't expect a review of this movie from yours truly because it won't happen.
July 25th - 27th-
Challenging Hercules for this weekend will be Scarlett Johansson's Lucy. Not that a cross-over between these two will ever happen, but it would entertaining to watch Hercules vs. Lucy in an actual physical duel, and not just a fight for the box office title. Thanks mainly to Disney, we all know how powerful Hercules is, but the movie Lucy also features an unstoppable human with Scarlett Jo's title charater Lucy. The premise of the movie brings to mind 2011's Limitless as both movies toy with the idea of mankind finding a way to get human beings to access 100 percent of their brain while showing theoretical consequences of such a venture. And before one goes and picks apart this theory that humans can't access 100 percent of their brain, it's worth noting that Lucy doesn't appear to be really taking this seriously, but instead are just using that as a footstool to make an intense action movie. Scarlett Jo has had quite the illustrious career as she has played all kinds of different roles, but this role as an action star brings to mind her most notable role as Black Widow in Marvel's Cinematic Universe. Captain America: The Winter Soldier has most recently put her character front and center, so the timing of Lucy seems quite optimal as plenty of Black Widow fans will show up to watch Scarlett Jo kick butt again this year.
There are two other smaller movies also entering theaters this weekend. First of these two is The Fluffy Movie. People not familiar with comedian Gabriel Iglesias might glance at that title and think that this is a movie about bunnies and unicorns, but this is certainly not the case. Fans of Iglesias have been excited about this for quite some time now as this is indeed Iglesias' stand-up comedy movie. Stand-up comedy movies don't make a ton of money compared to other movies, but they don't need to. Fans of Iglesias will turn up to this as it's like he's doing a quick nationwide tour where he can be everywhere at once.
Last and probably least is the movie And So It Goes. Brand new distributor Clarius Entertainment struck out big time with their first ever movie earlier this year as Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return took in only $8 million total with a production budget of $70 million. Initially it doesn't look like Clarius will do much better with this second movie, but yet it does have the cast and crew that could make it a sleeper hit. It stars prolific actors Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton and is directed by Rob Reiner, who is responsible for movies such as The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally..., and A Few Good Men. The movie itself is a comedy about a man who is suddenly left in charge of the granddaughter he never knew he had.
Monday, July 7, 2014
Simply put, Ride Along is a buddy cop movie. And one that doesn't really make a ton of sense. Kevin Hart is in love with Ice Cube's sister and they want to get married. But in order to do so, he must get Ice Cube's blessing. I'm not sure why it's the brother's blessing he needs and not the father's, but whatever. The conflict here is Ice Cube hates Kevin Hart, so Kevin Hart needs to prove himself. The agreement is that Kevin Hart will join Ice Cube in a police patrol for 24 hours. Ice Cube is a top police officer and Kevin Hart is only a security guard. Yes, these two actors have actual names in the movie, but who cares.
When I go into a comedy, I think it's obvious that the most important part of the movie needs to be the humor. If the comedy makes me laugh, than the movie has succeeded. This movie didn't make me laugh. Yes, the story was dumb, but if the movie had humor, that could've been forgiven. It didn't. Instead one lead was boring and wooden while the other lead was super annoying. If you haven't seen Ride Along because you were like me and it just didn't seem to interest you, than let me do you a favor and tell you that it's not worth your time. Pick a different Redbox for your evening. I give Ride Along a 5/10.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
The experiences of Eric Lomax are told in flashback style. We start with him later in his life as he is riding a train in England and meets a beautiful girl named Patti. We watch the two fall in love and start a relationship and throughout this story we flash back to Eric's past during the war. Certain unfortunate events lead to Eric becoming a prisoner of war. But not just that, he is constantly tortured by the Japanese in an effort for them to get information out of him. Yes, he survives, but throughout his life he is traumatized by these experiences. Jumping back to these future events with him and Patti, he learns of that his torturer is still alive and wants to contact him and he must decide what to do.
What I really liked about this movie is it made me think of an aspect of war that I often don't think about. And no, I'm not talking about an Eric Lomax-like experience. I've had many opportunities in life via movie, documentary, text book, or personal conversation where I've had to ponder on the experiences of a prisoner of war. And I can't even imagine going through what they did and it gives me a ton of respect for those who are brave enough to sign up in any branch of the military and go out to defend our country. What this movie did that was unique was make me reflect on the life of the ex-enemy. I'm trying to say this without giving a ton away, but I can't review this movie without discussing this aspect of the movie because it is a beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness. Have you ever thought about the torturer and what some of them had to live through after things were over? What if they weren't really that evil, but were just fighting for their own country and afterwards felt awful that they spent all that time torturing human beings? What if many years later, one of these torturers tried to approach one person that he tortured to apologize? Could that person be forgiven? Think of what you would do if one of your bitter enemies came to you to apologize. How would you react? Would you be able to forgive him or her?
Jumping back to the movie, Colin Firth plays the older version of Eric while Jeremy Irvine plays the younger version of Eric. While both of them do a fantastic job, I really do have to spend a few moments praising Colin Firth. He's played a lot of excellent roles in his prestigious acting career, but despite that, this is one role that I personally think is one of his best. If we were to put on an award ceremony for the first half of 2014 and it were up to me to choose a best actor, Colin Firth in this movie would be my choice. He probably won't get any consideration when the actual Oscar awards happen early next year just because this movie came out so early, but he deserves it. Also Nicole Kidman is in this movie playing the role of Patti and she also does a great job. In fact, she manages to disappear into her role and make me forget it was actually her in the movie. I like it when actors or actresses can pull that off.
Overall, if you are tired of all the huge blockbusters this summer or you just want a change of pace, I highly encourage you to find a way to watch The Railway Man. If there is one major issue I do have, it would be that sometimes the movie suffers from pacing issues, but outside that it's a well-acted, inspirational, emotional movie that is going to stick with me for quite a long time. One fair warning is that the scenes of torture can be a bit graphic and disturbing, so be weary of that as you go in. If you are one that can't handle scenes like that, this may not be the movie for you. But as for me, I will give The Railway Man a 9/10.
Saturday, July 5, 2014
As I said, though, this could've worked out. A couple years back there was this movie called Super 8 that did work out. I've gained a reputation as one who hates Super 8, but I really don't. I don't like ending of the movie for various reasons, but the rest was enjoyable. It was about a group of kids on an adventure just like The Goonies. First off, Super 8 worked because it was Steven Spielberg himself that helped work on it. But also, it was an homage to the 80's movies that it emulated and not a complete rip-off. It felt fresh and original. Earth to Echo was done by a no-name director and written by no-name writers and it didn't seem like they had any idea of what they were actually doing and as you are watching, you aren't praising it because it's an homage and you don't feel like it's refreshing. Instead, you are just wondering what in the heck they are doing.
Overall, I suppose that since I am no longer in the 8-12 year old range, I can't be the best judge of this movie for that age range. Perhaps they will like it. But I just get this feeling that they would find this movie boring. And it's certainly not a movie I would recommend for the smaller kids. If you're looking for a movie to take your kids to, take them to How to Train Your Dragon 2 instead if you haven't already. If you've already seen that, then find a DVD to rent for them. Earth to Echo isn't worth your time. It tries to be the next E.T. or the next Goonies, but it fails. My grade for it is a 6/10.