Saturday, April 19, 2014

Draft Day Review

As a huge fan of the NFL, one of my favorite days of the year is the day of the NFL draft. There are many reasons for me loving it, and I won't get into those reasons here, but I follow the upcoming draft all year long. February through April is especially fun because once the season is officially over, the NFL is purely focused on the draft. We have the scouting combine, pro days, individual workouts, and talk about the draft practically every day on ESPN. When the draft itself hits, I will be glued to my TV pretty much the whole time. Or at least during the first round that is. When I heard that they were doing a movie about draft day, it immediately had my attention. But not in the best way. I can actually be quite picky with my sports movies and Draft Day was attempting to find success by creating a fictional sports movie. This was confusing because with so many dramatic, real-life situations during the draft, why not pick one of them? Because of this, I went into the movie with a lot of questions. However, all my concerns were put to rest as I found that I really enjoyed this movie.

So yes, this is a fictional story about the draft. The team coaches and managers that are mentioned in the movie are fictional. The players getting drafted are fictional. The recent histories of the teams mentioned are fictional. It's all pure fiction. So how does this work? It works because the intention of this movie isn't to tell a true story about something that happened on a specific draft day, like say the drama between who the Colts should pick -- Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. The intention of this movie is to portray the atmosphere and drama that happens on any given draft day. And that is something that they do rather well. As a fan of the draft, I see all the drama that happens on the outside, and I love it, but I never see what happens on the inside. But yet as I watch the events unfold, I know that there is a ton of drama that happens behind the scenes. There are so many options for teams that opinions are most likely split. Arguments on who to pick will definitely happen. Tempers will be heated. Players may not be happy when certain picks happen. The phones will be off the hook all day as other teams are calling and figuring out options of potential trades. But yet, these are aspects of the game that the fans never see. Draft Day makes the attempt to show this drama on screen. While I of course don't know everything that happens, I feel that Draft Day does a good job of representing this and because of that I really enjoyed watching the movie unfold.

Getting to the actual movie now, Kevin Costner plays the role of a Cleveland Browns GM. Sonny Weaver Jr. is his name. The Seahawks have the number one pick, but apparently they don't want it, so they try to talk the Browns to get them to trade. After much talking, Sonny bites and gives up three number one picks for the top pick in the draft. This causes all kinds of reaction. Owner Anthony Molina is happy with Sonny because he finally made a splash. Coach Penn, the new head coach is upset because that means the Browns will most likely take Bo Callahan (quarterback) with that pick and Coach Penn really likes their current quarterback Brian Drew and hates rookie quarterbacks. Brian Drew is obviously mad because he is getting replaced. He did great as the starter the previous season, but got hurt a few games in. However, he had been working his butt off during the offseason and is in the best shape of his life. The fans are really happy because they will get a new franchise quarterback. However, draft prospects Vontae Mack (linebacker) and Ray Jennings (runningback) are upset because both of them wanted to play with the Browns. Added to all this drama is the story lines between Sonny and his girlfriend and his mom. His girlfriend is also an executive for the Browns and has told Sonny she is pregnant. With all the stress he's going through, Sonny didn't react to that very well. His mom also wants to make him show respect for his recently passed father by spreading his ashes on the practice field.

The writing in this movie is beautiful. Despite all these people being fictional, I got myself invested in the drama of the draft like I would in an actual draft. I was honestly interested in what was going to happen between to draft prospects Bo Callahan, Vontae Mack, and Ray Jennings. The NFL completely supported this movie and thus actual team names, logos, and even ESPN analysts were a part of the movie, thus making it feel realistic. Added to that, the movie was loaded with great actors. Kevin Costner is back doing what he does best -- sports movies. Jennifer Garner plays his girlfriend, Dennis Leary plays Coach Penn, Frank Langella plays Owner Anthony Molina, and Tom Welling plays current quarterback Brian Drew. All of them are fantastic as the main players in this movie. But in addition, I want to point out two more actors. The first is the actor for Vontae Mack and that is Chadwick Boseman. If you don't know that name, write it down right now. He was great as Jackie Robinson in 42, he was great in this, and it looks like he will also be great as James Brown in Get on Up. Also of note, Arian Foster plays runningback prospect Ray Jennings. Why is this cool? First off Arian does a great job in his acting debut. Also, though, this was a cool Easter egg for sports fans. Arian Foster is the starting runningback for the Houston Texans in real life and one of the best in the business. He had a great college career, but due to a poor senior year, he went undrafted. Had teams been able to see the future, he would've been a first round pick for sure. And now he gets to go back and get that experience of being drafted. Kinda. I thought that was cool. Finally, I did enjoy seeing Chris Berman, Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden, Deion Sanders, Mike Mayock, Roger Goodell, and Rich Eisen playing themselves in this movie and thus doing the things that they actually do in real life when draft time comes.

Overall, as a fan of the NFL draft, I was thoroughly entertained by the events in the movie. Are there some things that bothered me? Sure. The main thing is that the Browns traded for the number one pick and then started doing their research on the guy that was the "sure-fire number one pick." In reality, if an NFL team were to give up so much to trade for the top pick, they would've already done all their research. Later things that happen were also a bit far-fetched, but I won't spoil it. Those things are fairly minor, though, and didn't take away from my enjoyment of this movie. Will you like this movie if you are not a fan of sports or of the NFL draft? I have no idea. I tried to put myself in those shoes, but it didn't work. So sorry. If you need that opinion, you will have to go to someone else to get it. But this NFL draft fan is going to give Draft Day a 9/10.   

Transcendence Review

It's the directorial debut for Wally Pfister. Who you ask? Wally Pfister is essentially the protege of the great Christopher Nolan being that he's done the cinematography for nearly every single one of Nolan's movies. And now Pfister is taking his shot as the big man on campus with his directorial debut. How did he fare? Well, let me use an NFL coaching analogy. Many times when looking for a new head coach, a team will dive into the pool of offensive/defensive coordinators. This pool is full of coaches that are amazing at what they do. But not all of them work out as a head coach. Some people are more fit for a smaller role with a team. Such is the case with any business. Not everyone succeeds at being president or manager or owner. With this case, making a movie requires a lot of different parts. All of these require excellent talent. But just because a cinematographer is excellent at what he does and has been working for one of the best directors of day for a long time doesn't mean he'll succeed at being a director. Transcendence is a movie that had a lot of potential. It had an interesting premise and great acting, but when all is said and done, it fell really flat. I am putting all the blame for this one on Wally Pfister.

Like I said, Transcendence had a really interesting premise. Dr. Will Caster, played by Johnny Depp, is the lead researcher of an Artificial Intelligence team. His goal is to create a computer that will be smarter than man. He calls it Transcendence. After giving a presentation, he gets shot by someone from a group of anti-technology people. The bullet doesn't kill him, but it has radiation poisoning that gives Caster just a month to live. In a moment of panic, his wife experiments with this idea of transcendence right before he dies by downloading his mind onto a certain super computer. Bad idea? Maybe. But can you blame her? Anyways, this works. But does it? Suddenly Dr. Caster is back in computer-form. But is it really him? He claims his mind has been set free and with the concept of Transcendence, he starts a plan with the help of his emotionally-driven wife. A plan that is quite evil. But is it?

See, these types of movies really interest me. They ask questions. They make me think. The movie honestly had me captivated for much of it. The acting was great. Johnny Depp plays the lead and does great. And let me put in a quick plug. Many say that Depp plays the same character in every movie. I strongly oppose that. In fact, I'm half convinced that the people that say that and honestly believe it have only seen him play in the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies where he actually does, because Johnny Depp is actually really different in most of his movies. But moving, the movie had other great actors like Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman. They were great. And the cinematography and visuals in the movie was brilliant.

So if the movie had a great premise, an interesting story, good acting and great visuals, what's the matter with it? Well, let me tell you. They tried to make this deep and thought-provoking. Wally Pfister being the protege of Nolan tried to make this the next Inception. It had a great start, but I feel that he had something so epic that he didn't know what to do with it when it came to ending the movie. I'm fairly positive if this was Nolan directing the movie, this would've been epic. But Pfister is not Nolan. And because Pfister didn't know how to end this movie in a Nolan-type way, it crashed and burned pretty hard. In an epic, thought-provoking movie, I often leave the theater with my mind blown. Lot's of times I have no idea what happened initially, but the more I think about it, the better it gets. Well, the opposite happened here. Transcendence asked a lot of questions. It tried to make you think. But it never really answered the questions. Sure this can sometimes work out. But this time it didn't. I didn't leave the theater with my mind blown. I left the theater confused. And the more I thought about it, the worse it got. Nothing really made much sense. Then you go back and think about the movie as a whole and you find a lot of plot holes and conveniences. And then you try to think about the motivations and messages behind the movie and it gets more confuzzled. Was it political? Was it religious? Why did this happen? What was the point?  Were they trying to create a fun movie? Were they trying to create a deep movie? And it just gets worse the more I think about, so I'm going to try to forget. We'll see how that works out.

Perhaps I should give Wally Pfister another shot. Perhaps it is unfair to immediately say that after this he should just give up directing and focus on his excellent work as a cinematographer. But those are the thoughts I have after watching this movie. This movie could've been epic if it was done by Christopher Nolan, but as is, the direction in this movie just was not good. In the end, the interesting premise, the good acting and the great visuals weren't enough overcompensate for the confused feeling that I got when the movie was over. It's a real shame, too, because this was one of the movies this year that was really looking forward to. It saddens me that I have to give Transcendence a 6/10. I hope Pfister learns from this and does better next time he tries, because I would love more movies in the mold of Christopher Nolan movies.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

God's Not Dead Review

It's true. He's not. I am not ashamed to admit that I am a devout Christian. In fact, I just recently spent 10 hours this past weekend listening to messages from modern apostles and prophets via the 184th annual General Conference from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'll put my unashamed plug for that. If you want to know what we as Mormons believe, go check at least a few of those messages out. You can find them on LDS.org. Moving on, a couple days later I was sitting in my apartment debating which movie to go see. Being that I was in a spiritual, Christian mood, I decided to check out the new Christian movie, God's Not Dead, which recently came out of nowhere to open in the top five of the Box Office. The movie is far from perfect and is definitely not for everyone, but I personally walked out uplifted and inspired. If you are a someone that has a faith in Christ, I recommend you give this movie a shot.

The movie has a lot of side stories that I will touch on briefly, but the main story we follow is a college student named Josh Wheaton. Josh is taking a philosophy class from Professor Radisson. On the first day of class, Professor Radisson gives a big lecture on why there is no God. He makes the whole class get out a piece of paper and write the words "God is dead" on the paper, sign their name, and turn it in. Josh can't do it because he is a Christian and thus has a strong belief in God. He feels if he does this, then he is betraying his God. So what does Professor Radisson do? For the next three class periods, Josh has to get up during the last 20 minutes and defend the idea that God's not dead. If he fails, the jury being his classmates, he will essentially fail the class. While this is going on, there are several side stories that show various people dealing with challenges of their own.

The big message of this movie is obviously that God's not dead. But diving deeper, the message that the movie sends to the world is one of standing up for what you believe it. All Josh had to do is write a few words on a piece of paper and sign it. He could've also just dropped the class. But he decided he needs to defend God. In doing this, his parents are against him, he loses his girlfriend, and his semester is in jeopardy as well his entire college career. Is this a perfectly realistic situation? I don't know. Probably not. But the principle stands true. If the whole world chooses to stand against you and asks you to deny your faith, what do you do? Do you give into the pressures of this world and make your life easier in the moment or do you risk your current situation in favor of a good standing in the eyes of God? I liked that. Stand up for what you believe. Don't give into the pressures of the world. Keep the faith and move forward even if it seems like the odds against you are impossible to overcome.

For a small budget movie, one thing I was surprised is how well the more technical aspects of the movie were. It was shot well. The music was great. The acting was even phenomenal across the board. I especially liked the performance of one of the side characters who gets diagnosed with cancer. There is a scene where she completely loses it and it is so emotional that it almost brought me to tears. But as I mentioned, this movie is far from perfect. First off, while I really liked the strong Christian message of the movie, there could've been a lot more thought put into the actual story of the movie. Yes, the message is great, but some of the things that happen just feel forced and unrealistic. Like I mentioned, the situation with Josh seems a bit far-fetched. How it resolves is also not done so well. I won't say what happens with Professor Radisson, but his story arch in the last part of the movie is disappointing. Also, the girl who gets diagnosed with cancer tells her boyfriend that she has cancer and what does he do? He breaks up with her. I mean, come on. I know they were trying to set something up where life just kept collapsing on this girl, but would anyone really be that insensitive? Absolutely not.

Also, I do have to point out that possibly the worst part of the movie is that I don't feel that they portray non-Christians accurately. During Josh's debate with Professor Radisson, the moral compass idea is brought up. Professor Radisson says that someone can be an atheist and still have a moral compass. Josh responds that if you don't believe in God, there is no point in having a moral compass and for some reason everyone took Josh's side on that. As a devout Christian, I take Professor Radisson's side on that. I do believe there is such thing as a moral atheist. Saying there can't be is offensive to those people. Also, they portrayed Muslims in a horrible light. There is a side story where a Muslim girl has converted to Christianity but is afraid to tell her dad because of what he will think. When the dad finally finds out, he drags her out of the house, throws her on the porch, and completely disowns her. This I feel is not fair to Muslims. I'm not an expert on their religion, but I do know they are a very misunderstood religion and I believe they are a lot more tolerant that this movie displayed.

Those things aside, I did walk out of this movie with a positive feeling towards the movie. Some reviews of the movie I have read say they don't like it because it is preachy and just Christian propaganda. Uhhh... of course. What did you think it was going to be? If you don't want to see a movie that will preach to you that God's not dead, don't go watch a movie called God's Not Dead. Overall, I've been comparing this movie to the type of movies that the Sherwood Baptist Church has put out, most notably Fireproof and Courageous. If you like those movies, I think you will like this one, because it has a similar feel. Yes, a lot of the story aspects could've been a lot more believable and the movie could've been more respectful to non-Christians, but the movie tries to teach a message that God's not dead and in that aspect it does what it sets out to do. If you are not a Christian, unfortunately this isn't the movie that will turn the tables for you, but if you are a Christian, I think you should give this movie a shot. I give God's Not Dead a 7.5/10

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Review: Tennis Shoes Adventure Series: Sorcerers and Seers

Picture courtesy of yours truly. Yes, this is the exact copy that I read
It's not often that I do book reviews on this blog because it's not often I dive into books. However, there are some series' that do a great job a sucking me into them and one of those long-standing series' is the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series. The first book in the series, Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, came to the world in the same year that I did, so you can literally say that I grew up with this series. I first picked up the books when I was a young teenager (or maybe earlier) and now as an adult I still enjoy travelling back in time with these characters. They are characters that are so well written that I feel a true attachment to them as if they were my neighbors across the street growing up. The book at hand that I just finished is book 11 of the series called Sorcerers and Seers and it is just as good as any of the previous 10. In fact, the whole series feels like one long book and at the conclusion of Sorcerers and Seers, I became immediately excited for books 12 and 13 that Chris Heimerdinger will have coming up soon.

Haven't heard of the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series? Let me briefly explain. Jim Hawkins and Garth Plimpton were best friends growing up around Cody, Wyoming. Together with Jim's little sister Jenny, the three of them found a cave near their home and went exploring. This cave led them down a long path to a beautiful room that they called the Rainbow Room. This room miraculously worked as a time-travelling cave that led the three back to the time of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. Yes, this is a series of books directed towards an LDS audience. Can non-LDS people enjoy it? I suppose. But the great thing about these books is that it was a great way to learn about the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is an amazing book of scripture. Its focus is bringing the reader closer to Jesus Christ with the many inspirational teachings that it includes. And it will do just that. The Book of Mormon also claims that it's not a history book, but yet one can't help being fascinated with the many great stories included. The Tennis Shoes Adventures Series dives into these stories and it is done so well that upon reading them, I feel like I am going down to the land of the Nephites right along with the main characters.

The first book in the series is a very simple story. So is the second for that matter. Both books are their own story as well. Each additional book after, there are more characters added, especially as Garth and Jim grow older and have families of their own. Jim, Garth, and Jenny are still there, but the stories become more focused on their kids. Also the stories get more complex and intricate as it goes on, and even expands over to the other side of the world via the New Testament mainly. Heimerdinger also gets bolder with the paths he goes down and the creative liberties he takes. Is everything perfectly accurate? Well, that's impossible to know because the Book of Mormon is not a history book and thus is sometimes sparse on the details. So in creating a fictional story, in order to make it good, one has to include creative liberties. Perhaps when this world when our lives are over and we get to look back on everything, perhaps we might find out that certain things aren't quite the way it was written in the Tennis Shoes books, but who cares? It's a lot of fun. Plus, Heimerdinger gets kudos because he does a ton of research before he writes and usually will include his findings in chapter notes, explaining certain points and reminding us what points of fiction he created. Have the fun is reading those chapter notes and gaining that knowledge that he shares.

So onto the actual book at hand, Sorcerers and Seers. The specific story line covered is actually the fourth book of the specific adventure we are going on. A lot of ground is covered in the first three books of this adventure that I'm not going to spend time catching you up on. I'm also not going to talk much about the specific characters we are following and what they are going through. What I do want to bring up is the events that we are witnessing at this point, as this book dives into some pretty major parts of scripture.

The first time period is in Jerusalem during the last week of the Savior's life. These stories are common among all Christians and most non-Christians as well. But it is great experiencing it first-hand with these characters. One of the high points of this book series was back in book four when we were there with our characters in the land Bountiful when the Savior appeared to the Nephites. We got a glimpse of what it would be like living there at the time when the Savior came. And now we get to be on the other side of things. We spend time with the Savior before he dies. Specifically with this, we are with the family and friends of the Savior. We experience first-hand what that week was like. We watch the drama of that week begin to unfold as we learn more about people such as Judas Iscariot and Nicodemus. But we don't get too far into the week during this volume. Just the first couple of days. It's pretty awesome reading through this, but in terms of the focus of this novel, it actually gets the least amount of attention.

Getting a bit more attention in the novel is the second time period, the final battle in the Book of Mormon between the Lamanites and the Nephites on the Hill Cumorah. We're actually split into two parties with this one. The first party is with Mormon. Spending time with Mormon, we get a taste of what it was like for him right before the final battle. The Nephites are just plain awful people. Some of the scenes depicted are rather hard to read, but it's realistic to the time period and you just feel for Mormon. You also gain a ton of respect for Mormon as well as he handles things in the best and most humble way possible despite the circumstances. A lot of political intrigue in this aspect of the story. Also in this time period is where the majority of our characters are. But instead of being with Mormon they are on a journey towards Mormon and the Hill Cumorah. This is the most tense parts of the book as this gang is essentially sneaking their way through enemy territory towards their destination. Ambushes and attacks are waiting for them on every side at every step.

And finally, we have the part of the story that is focused on most. This part is actually super fascinating because we dive into one aspect of the Book of Mormon that is often over-looked. The main character in this one is Josh, the son of Garth. He's spent time as a commander in the Nephite armies, but when his dad Garth arrives, the two of them, plus another named Marcos get sent on a mission by Mormon to hide the sacred gold plates in the caves where Mormon keeps everything. But tragically, the plates get stolen by one of the most evil men in the Book of Mormon, that of Akish the Jaredite. And suddenly we dive right into the middle of the Jaredites. In Ether chapters 8-9 it tells of this very tense drama. Omer is the king at the time, but he gets the kingdom overthrown by his son Jared. Not happy with this, Jared's two brothers fight Jared, take the throne back, and give it to their father Omer again. Jared's daughter sees the sorrow of her father and comes up with a plan. She teams up with the wicked sorcerer Akish by dancing for him and thus giving him the desire to marry her. But in order to do so, killing Omer and giving her father Jared the throne back is required. So Akish sets out do so, but Omer is warned in a dream to get out, so he does. Jared gets the throne back. Omer is not dead, but apparently the daughter of Jared is satisfied, so her and Akish marry. But Akish isn't done. He and his followers were deeply into secret combinations of the devil and thus Aksih murders Jared on the throne and takes the throne for himself. After some time passes, Akish gets jealous of one of his sons and starves him to death. This doesn't sit well with Akish's other son and in turn that son goes and joins Omer. Pretty soon a huge civil war occurs over the space of many years between Akish and his sons that leads to the death of all but 30 Jaredites.

Yes, this is the story we dive into for most of the book. And it's fascinating. It fits very well with our other two time periods, the battle at Cumorah and the last week of the Savior's mortal ministry. Of course Chris Heimerdinger is so invested in all this that he has created a story that has essentially written itself. This is the sign that Heimerdinger is an expert story teller. He's created a world and characters that are so well written, that ending prematurely would not do it justice. It was once that that this series would end with book 11, but nevertheless book 12 and book 13 are on their way. I'm excited to see where this all goes. While we have dove into this epic parts of scripture, we have not yet hit the height of the conflict in either story. The betrayal and crucifixion are still a couple days away. The battle at Cumorah has not yet commenced. And the huge civil war that almost wipes out all the Jaredites has not yet happened. But they are about to. And it should be a fascinating ride when they do. What will our characters do? Will they escape the huge events? Or will they get caught up in these events and be forced to live through them? We will see!

Overall, if you are a fan of the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series, this is a book you will like. And perhaps since this book did come out in 2010, you have already read it. But if you are like me and for some reason, your life got so busy that you never made quite made it through the series, I suggest that you pick it back up. For me, the five year gap between book 10 and book 11 threw me off. When book 11 game out, I didn't immediately jump back in, thus it was close to 10 years of time where I went without reading a Tennis Shoes book. But there came a point where I told me self that it is time. Time to jump back in. I love myself for doing it because Sorcerers and Seers is an excellent addition in Chris Heimerdinger's epic Tennis Shoes Adventure Series. So yes, I would recommend you do the same as I did. Tell yourself that it is time to jump back in. You won't regret it. And if you've never given these books a chance, I suggest you pick them up because they are great reads. I don't give books a grade when I review them, but if I did, this book would get one of the higher grades.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has returned once again this weekend with it's ninth movie thus far and third in Avengers Phase II. That movie of course is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Before I jump into this one, I feel it appropriate to mention that while I liked Captain America: The First Avenger, I wasn't blown away by it. It necessary. It gave us the origin story of Captain America, introduced a pretty important weapon, and sent Captain America to the modern world to connect him with the Avengers. Outside that it was kind of a bore. It had a dumb villain and a less than spectacular story. Yes, it was better than Iron Man 2 in Phase I, but it was the worst origin story of Phase I. That said, I like the actual character of Captain America, especially in The Avengers, and I was excited to see this sequel because the movie looked way different. In fact, despite me thinking that The First Avenger was one of the worst in Phase I, I actually have thought for quite some time now that The Winter Soldier would end up as the best from Phase II. While we still have Guardians of the Galaxy to see before I can officially make that judgement call, so far I am correct. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best of Phase II up to this point.

Just like Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, the events of The Winter Soldier take place after The Avengers. With The Avengers, you were able to get away with not having seen all of the Phase I one movies and still having this movie make sense. However, the big question of the day is do you have to have seen Captain America: The First Avenger before seeing The Winter Soldier or is having seen The Avengers enough? My answer actually would be you do have to watch The First Avenger for The Winter Solider to make perfect sense. Can you be entertained without? Sure. But some sequences won't have the same emotional impact if you haven't because this movie does connect with Captain's past.

Moving forward, the story line of this movie is focused heavily around S.H.I.E.L.D. In fact, that is pretty much the whole movie. While Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk have all gone their separate ways, Captain America has decided to stay and work with S.H.I.E.L.D. He has really nothing better to do because he doesn't have a home to go back to. While with S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain starts off struggling a bit with his exact role as he tries to fit into the modern society. Quickly, though, that begins to matter less because as it turns out S.H.I.E.L.D. gets compromised and we thus begin this surprisingly intricate story that is of course centered around this mysterious character called the Winter Soldier. Yes, there are a ton of different characters in this movie, but for most of the movie, our trio of heroes is Captain America, Black Widow, and newcomer Falcon.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this movie and I really enjoyed following it. It made it different than your typical superhero movie. However, if there was anything about this movie that I would be a bit nit-picky with it is the fact that along with these many twists and turns, the movie tried to surprise its audience several times. And while I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I was not surprised at all. I was kinda hoping that it would at least throw a minor curveball. But oh well. No tears shed here. I was entertained from start to finish. What really made it all work was the chemistry between are lead trio. Captain, Black Widow, and Falcon were just plain perfect. All three were funny at the right times. While this wasn't a comedy, there were a lot of one-liners thrown in perfectly that just had me cracking up. When the movie got serious, all three were also completely boss. And of course, they worked perfectly as a team.

The acting in the movie was great. The action in the movie was a ton of fun. The characters and the story were well-written. The interaction between Captain America and the Winter Soldier was perfect. Overall this was just a fantastic movie from start to finish. Before I end, I want to mention three things/people that I think stole the show. The first is Captain America's shield. In the first two movies with Captain America, the shield was a cool weapon. But in this, oh my goodness. Captain did so many things with that shield and it made the shield possibly the best superhero weapon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The second is Scarlett Johansson. I liked Black Widow before and I certainly have always liked Scarlett in whatever she does, but in this movie she took Black Widow to the next level. Before this movie, Black Widow was just an interesting side character. Now she has become one of my favorite characters in the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, if not my actual favorite. And third and final is Robert Redford. I'm not going to tell you his role in the movie because it's supposed to be a bit of a surprise. But I will say that Robert Redford is easily one of the best actors of all time and Marvel bringing him in for this movie was an excellent decision.

Now if I'm going to quickly rank all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe without including this movie, it would be as follows: 1- The Avengers; 2- Iron Man; 3- Iron Man 3; 4- Thor; 5- The Incredible Hulk; 6- Thor: The Dark World; 7- Captain America: The First Avenger; 8- Iron Man 2. How does Captain America: The Winter Soldier fit into all this? Of course this ranking could change with time. But for now, I will boldly put it right into second place. No, it's not as good as The Avengers, but I will say that it is the best of Phase II thus far and the best solo movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My official grade for the movie is a 9/10.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Movie Preview: April 2014

This past March managed to rake in just over $800 million at the box office. That's not a bad total, but with no Hunger Games type of movie, it fell short of any record. In fact, it also fell short of last 2010 and 2013 in addition to 2012's record-setting March, so it's nothing to write home about. April is usually the month where the box office dies down again before summer in Hollywood officially begins, but this April should be different. Studios are beginning to realize that there are more than five or six months (May, June, July, November, December, and recently March). Recently, The Lego Movie did huge business in February while Lone Survivor and Ride Along had great success in January. Most notably this month, Marvel made the decision to throw Captain America: The Winter Soldier into the beginning of April. That added with several other potential hits should make this April a surprisingly big month compared to previous Aprils.

April 4th - 6th-

After slightly mixed reviews to both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, Avengers Phase II continues on with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Early reviews out suggest that this could be the best movie of Phase II. No, it won't beat Iron Man 3's box office total, but it should get a huge bump up from the first Captain America, which ended up with $176 million here in the US, which was the second lowest among the Phase I movies, ahead of only The Incredible Hulk. It seems a bit odd for this movie to be opening up in the beginning of April being that Marvel has always released their Avengers movies in the big movie months, but as referenced earlier, studios are learning that there are in fact 12 months in a year and movies can do well in any month. Marvel seems to be experimenting with that a bit this year as Winter Soldier comes out in April and Guardians of the Galaxy is set for an August release. While April rarely has big movies like this, it's not new grounds for the month. Recently, the Fast and Furious franchise has learned that April can bring success as Fast and Furious and Fast Five both raked in the cash with an April release. The latter of those two currently holds the opening weekend record for April at $86.2 million. Winter Soldier is currently poised to break that, but not by a huge margin. With solid reviews and no real competition until The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hits theaters at the start of May, Winter Soldier should be able to completely dominate April while making Marvel look brilliant by taking a chance in April.

April 11th - 13th- 

Yes, there is more than just Winter Soldier coming out this month, despite what some may think. Opening up in the shadow of a huge Marvel movie is always a scary thing, but there are three movies that are taking on the challenge and all of them are different enough that Winter Soldier shouldn't effect them too much. The movie with the biggest chance of stealing the crown from Winter Soldier is Rio 2. Blue Sky has an incredible track record at the box office as all eight of their movies have topped $100 million in the US, while their Ice Age movies are some of the biggest animated movies ever overseas. Rio was also huge overseas and Rio 2 should be even bigger, so it's US gross shouldn't mean much. That said, Rio was a fairly well received, so Rio 2 could do decent business. The musical bird movie already had a loaded cast, and they are upping the antics in this one by bringing back the original cast and adding a few big names like Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae.

The second movie of this weekend brings Kevin Costner back to his glory days as a sports-movie star. I'm specifically thinking of Field of Dreams by saying this. Interestingly enough, Costner has two sports movies this year. Later in the year he will star in the movie McFarland, but right now he will take on the role of an NFL manager in Draft Day. The NFL Draft isn't until May, but draft season is completely underway with the combine behind us and pro-days currently happening. Draft Day takes a bit of a unique approach as it is not based on a true story, as most sports movies are. However, with Costner on-board and all the actual ESPN analysts acting in the movie as if this was the real deal, this could work. It appears that instead of trying to tell an actual story that happened, they are trying to convey the types of things that go on behind the scenes on draft day, so NFL fans who are super invested in the draft will most likely be curious enough to check this out as it is perfectly timed because all of them have their minds on the draft right now.

Last but not least is the wild-card of the week in Oculus. Oculus is a horror movie, and horror movies are always hit or miss. In fact, it is rarely in between that. This year, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Devil's Due were big misses, but last year the horror genre was on a huge role with Mama, Evil Dead, The Conjuring, and Insidious Chapter 2 all hitting at least $50 million. So a well done horror movie has proven to draw out the horror crowd in masses, but predicting exactly how each movie plays is nearly impossible. Early reviews have Oculus as very strong, so it could play out like last April's Evil Dead, but who knows for certain.

April 18th - 20th- 

The third weekend of April is the most crowded one. In addition to all the previously-mentioned movies having potential to still be playing well, four new movies get added to the market as they all will be fighting to get box office attention before they all die in May when huge hits like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past hit the theaters. The most interesting of the bunch is Transcendence. Wally Pfister is essentially the protege of big-time director Christopher Nolan. Pfister has done the cinematography work for every Nolan-directed movie except for Nolan's first movie Following, of which Nolan did the cinematography work himself. Now after working under Nolan for nearly 15 years, Pfister makes his directorial debut with Transcendence. Transcendence is a sci-fi movie wherein a terminally-ill scientist downloads his mind into a computer and soon becomes unstoppable. Johnny Depp stars as said scientist Will Caster. Depp is joined by Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman. With an interesting premise and a good cast, Pfister could have himself a hit with his directorial debut.

Next up this weekend is Marlon Wayans returning with A Haunted House 2. Nearly 15 years ago, the Wayans brothers were fairly revolutionary with their movie Scary Movie. It was a comedy horror spoof movie and audiences ate it up. The Wayans left that after the second movie and the movies went downhill from there. However, Marlon Wayans came back last year with a very similar movie in A Haunted House. This was also a comedy horror spoof movie, but it was focused specifically on spoofing the found footage horror movies of late, specifically the Paranormal Activity movies. The movie became a surprise hit by opening up to $18 million on it's way to a final total of $40 million. Being that the movie only cost $2.5 million, this was a huge success. And just like the Paranormal movies, this huge profit means that this year we have a sequel. With Marlon Wayans again leading this one, it could enjoy similar success.

This year has been a very religious year for Hollywood. There has already been Son of God, Noah, and surprise hit God's Not Dead. Hoping that religious audiences aren't burned out by now is Heaven is for Real. The movie is based on a true story of a young boy who nearly died, and upon coming back claimed that he visited Heaven. This is supported by the fact that this boy now knows things that would be impossible for him to know of otherwise, including facts about things that happened before he was born. The movie is based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book of the same title, but in a crowded market in the month of April, the movie has the chance of being lost in the crowd.

After taking a 2013 off, Disneynature is back this April with Bears. This follows Earth, Oceans, African Cats, and Chimpanzee, all opening on around Earth Day in consecutive years starting in 2009. These aren't meant to be huge hits, but all things considered, these nature documentaries have done fairly well. Those wanting to learn a bit about bears can go watch this and Disneynature will donate part of the income to the National Parks in the US.

April 25th - 27th-

The final weekend of April is typically the riskiest weekend of the month as new releases face the challenge of opening in the shadow of the big summer opener, this case being The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Three movies are taking on this challenge. The first of which is Brick Mansions. Brick Mansions is a remake of French action film District B13 from about ten years ago. Both Brick Mansions and District B13 are from producer Luc Besson, famous for the Taken movies. It's a PG-13-rated action film that feels fairly generic. Normally I'd say a generic action film coming out in April right before a huge blockbuster is a recipe for a dud, but this one is different. Why? It's starring Paul Walker. A few months back, the world was shocked by the news that Paul Walker had been killed in a car accident. While not known as the best actor in history, he was well-liked. Brick Mansions is one of the last movies he completed before dying and will be the first nationwide release starring him since he died. Subject-matter aside, fans of Paul Walker will most likely show up to see him on the big screen one more time before Fast and Furious 7 comes out next year.

Next up is the movie this weekend that probably has the biggest chance of falling flat and that is R-rated comedy The Other Woman. Starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton, and Leslie Mann, The Other Woman is a comedy where these women team up to get revenge on the guy appears to be in a relationship with all of them. Now Cameron Diaz has recently starred in the big hit Bad Teacher, so her leading another R-rated comedy could mean success, but it instead feels a lot like last April's The Big Wedding. That was another R-rated comedy with a loaded cast that completely bombed when it opened up in the final weekend of April. Comedy fans are more likely to wait for May's Neighbors.

Last and possibly least is horror movie The Quiet Ones. Like I mentioned with Oculus, horror movies are a hit or miss. Some are huge. Some are dead on arrival. Usually not in between. And it's hard to predict which ones are which. However, if I am making a complete guess, I will say that Oculus will be a hit while The Quiet Ones becomes a miss, because I have heard a lot more buzz about Oculus. But who knows, maybe it will be the other way around. Maybe both will be big. Or maybe horror fans will take the month off and show up to neither. Who knows. Your guess is as good as mine. 


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted Review

The Muppets... again! Er, um... no. That was the old title of this movie. They changed it to Muppets Most Wanted, which is probably a better title. But seriously! It's the Muppets again! It's always a good time when we get a new Muppets movie. Muppets Most Wanted is a sequel to the 2011 reboot of the Muppets. That one was simple called The Muppets. I actually wrote a review for that movie. But you won't find it on my blog. That was back during my month-long stint with Blue Box that got me to start this blog. Check that out right here. And while you're at it, check out more of Jeremiah's stuff on Blue Box. The man knows his stuff when it comes to movies. But anywho, I digress. We're here to talk about a new Muppets movie! So let's begin!

Muppets Most Wanted picks up right where The Muppets leaves off. Like almost exactly. The last scene in that movie is the practically the first scene in this one. Then they have this whole sequence on sequels. What are we going to do next? We're back now, what should we do? If you remember, that reboot was all about the return of the Muppets. Not only was it literally the return of the Muppets in this actual world, but the story line of that movie was all about them returning. The whole movie essentially broke the fourth wall. It was great. Muppets Most Wanted starts out the same way. After deliberating what they should do, they break out into a song about sequels. It was one of the best songs of the entire movie, actually. Oddly enough, they joked around about sequels never being as good as the first. I don't think they really did this intentionally, but this sequel wasn't quite as good as the 2011 reboot.

Like I mentioned, The Muppets was an excellent film in terms of story. The return of the Muppets story was genius. Muppets Most Wanted tries really hard to have a fun, clever story to keep the newly found Muppets momentum, but it's fairly sub-par compared to the story of the first. After the amazing introduction, it kinda gets lost. After becoming a huge success, The Muppets get duped by Dominic Badguy (played by Ricky Gervais). He convinces them to go on a world tour. The only one really opposed to this is Kermit, but shortly after getting started, Kermit gets replaced by criminal mastermind Constatine, a Kermit look-a-like. Constatine escapes from prison, frames Kermit, and the police throw Kermit in Prison in his place, thinking he is Constatine. Meanwhile, Constatine and Dominic put into play a sinister plot during this Muppets tour.

Yes, this is fun. And the kids especially should love it. But it's just not epic. And it didn't make me laugh as much as the previous one did. But hey! I'm being too harsh. This is a Muppets movie that I enjoyed. And it did have plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Just not as many. One thing I will say, though, is that the human actors were a lot better. With The Muppets, the story was great and the movie made me laugh, but I really didn't like the main human cast. Jason Segal and Amy Adams just didn't seem all that invested in the movie. The main human cast here consists of Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey. All three of them looked like they were having a ton of fun interacting with the Muppets in the movie. And they did a great job. And as is typically the case with the Muppets, there were plenty of cameos. While not used as epically as say Jim Parsons and Jack Black in the previous one, there were a lot of huge names. Part of the fun is letting these cameos surprise you, so I won't spoil anything, but there was one specific cameo that made me laugh out loud. If you've seen the movie, talk to me in private so we can discuss these cameos. Finally, Muppets Most Wanted is an all-out musical. And it is a great musical. I don't know if they have any songs as strong as "Man or Muppet" from the previous movie that are strong enough to win best song, but as a complete body of work, the music was excellent.

Overall, if you are not a Muppets fan, this movie isn't going to convert you to Muppetism. Muppets are one of those things that you just have to have grown up with to enjoy. That's the case for me. I've always liked the Muppets. And thus I liked this movie. But if that is not the case for you, then I wouldn't give a strong recommendation for this movie. However, if you are a Muppets fan, than this movie is a must see. You may not walk out of the theaters with a new favorite Muppets movie. You may not even like it as much as the previous one. But you will have a lot of fun it. Why? Because it's the Muppets. And the Muppets are great. My grade for Muppets Most Wanted is an 8/10.