Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Big Eyes Review

I bet if you looked at the title of this movie, saw the poster, and then realized it was directed by Tim Burton, you might immediately assume that this is yet another one of his weird, crazy movies. And you'd probably make the assumption that the movie stars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. I mean, Big Eyes sounds like a creepy movie. And the poster is of a little girl with giant eyes. That looks a bit creepy. However, this is not what you would expect it to be. This doesn't star Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. It stars Chistoph Waltz and Amy Adams. And it's actually not creepy at all. This is a very normal movie. Yes, you heard me. Tim Burton has made a normal movie. Now personally I do enjoy a lot of Tim Burton's weird movies. But I'm also impressed when someone can go out of their comfort zone, so to speak, and give us something very different from what they usually do.

While Big Eyes sounds like a creepy title, it really is referencing the type of paintings that one Margaret Keane liked to paint. She painted people, typically children, with big eyes because it had a lot of meaning to her. Yes, Margaret Keane is a real person and this movie is essentially a biopic of her, focusing on the big legal issue with her and her husband Walter Keane. Shortly after they got married, Walter began a small white lie by telling someone that he painted wife's painting. That one little lie led to another little lie and before you know it, both of them were trapped in a huge lie that was hard to turn back on because he suddenly was becoming a huge painter. Margaret didn't like him taking credit for her paintings, but she didn't have the strong personality to stand up and stop him, especially since he was experiencing so much success that gave the both of them a lot of money. Adding to that is that he had a very outgoing, strong personality that made it more difficult for her to stand up against.

This leads to a very interesting story that I was completely invested in. At first you like Walter because he is a charming, fun guy. But then as he continues this lie, you like him less and less. And the whole time you are rooting for Margaret to somehow make it through this. What makes the story even more interesting is the very strong performances from both Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams. Christoph Waltz does overact a bit I think, but he still does a good job. Amy Adams is what makes this movie, though. The more I see of her, the more I am in love with her as an actress. And this performance here I think is her best performance. By now she is definitely an Oscar darling as she has been nominated for five Oscars in the last ten years. I think she deserves to get her sixth with this performance. And I say that because her performance felt very honest. Sometimes you'll see actors in Oscar-bait roles trying so hard to get that Oscar that it makes the performance feel less impressive. This is definitely not the case here. I felt Amy Adams was simply doing her best job to be the best Margaret Keane. It didn't seem like she was trying to act her best to finally get that win she deserves. Because of that, I think she deserves the nomination. The win? I don't know. I haven't seen all the performances yet, so I'll judge then.

In the end, I didn't quite know what to expect from this movie going in. I was hoping it would be good, but I wasn't crossing my fingers. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised as I just adored this movie. It was a great story with great acting that sucked me in completely. I was cheering out loud as good things happened and I was yelling at the screen with bad things happened. When you get me that invested in a movie, you know you did a good job. And don't worry, I didn't bother anyone around me in the process. I had the theater all to myself. So yes, Big Eyes is an excellent movie that you should definitely give a shot. I was really impressed with Tim Burton in doing this very normal film. And I was even more impressed with Amy Adams at how honest and real of a performance she pulled off in this. Give that woman her sixth Oscar nomination! My grade for Big Eyes is a 9/10.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Imitation Game Review

"Starring Benedict Cumberbatch" is all you need to tell me to get me excited for a movie. Ever since I watched Sherlock, the man has been one of my favorite current actors. Not only is he the perfect Sherlock Holmes in my opinion, but every movie I've seen him in he has done a great job. Even if the movie itself isn't that great, it's pretty much a guarantee that Benedict will do his best. Now if you take this to the next level and say that Benedict Cumberbatch is almost guaranteed to earn an Oscar nomination because of a certain role, that's a movie that I really want to see. And of course that's never actually happened until now because Benedict has not yet received on Oscar nomination. This will be his first. Yes, The Imitation Game has been a movie that I have been wanting to see for quite some time because it has received quite a bit of praise ever since it's film festival debut. After months of waiting, which included several weeks of it playing the limited release game, it finally showed up in theaters on Christmas and that was a very nice Christmas present for me. Like always, Benedict did an amazing job. Unfortunately, this was one of those movies that didn't quite captivate me. It was good. I won't deny that. But it didn't live up to all the hype.

If you haven't yet heard of it, The Imitation Game is a movie about the life of Alan Turing, which to be honest was someone who I had never heard of before this movie started to be advertised. I don't know if I just missed the boat when it came to this guy or if he is someone who is actually lesser known, but I was really glad that this movie brought him to my attention. Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician who lived in the early to mid 1900's. The biggest thing he accomplished, or one of the biggest anyways, was working to break the Enigma code during World War II. What does that mean? Hmmm... I was hoping you wouldn't ask me that. But that's what this movie was about. Basically the Nazi's were using some sort of secret code to hide their plans and Alan Turing was part of the group trying to decipher the code in order to help win the war. That's the basic skeleton anyways. If you want to know in better detail, google Enigma.

This is one of those instances where I was made aware of a part of history that I didn't know about. I like it when movies do that. However, Hollywood isn't the place to learn about history, so me being curious, I went to do a bit of research on the actual Alan Turing and what he did. I actually enjoyed the experience of learning about this man. Turns out this movie Hollywoodized his life quite a bit. But that didn't bother me that much. You can still make a good movie even if you don't have all the facts perfectly in order. Especially when there's themes in the movie you are trying to get across and of course that's the case here. I don't want to get into too much depth about everything that went on in the movie because I went into the movie having not really known much at all about it and I liked the experience of having a lot of the twists and turns be a surprise. So I'll let you experience those on your own. Needless to say, Alan Turing went through quite the ordeal in the movie and it brings up quite a few touchy subjects. If you've seen the movie, you'll know what the main theme is in the movie, and although I'm not going to say what it is, I will say the movie did a really good job of representing what it was like for that certain group back in the 1940's and that's sure to resonate very strongly with current members of that group.

Yes, that's a bit vague, I know. But I want you to experience this movie for yourself without me telling you much about it. Personally I had my expectations for the movie really high. With all the hype, I was hoping that this would be one of the best movies of the year. It's a good movie. But one of the best would not be how I would describe it. It's tense at times, but not really intense. It has some good emotion, but it didn't captivate me and move me like I was expecting it to. It's good. It's not great. I hope that makes sense. But despite the movie itself, Benedict Cumberbatch is great. He gives this movie 110 percent and he is just perfect. Based on his previous performances, I almost expect nothing less. Maybe that's harsh. But I'm continually impressed at how he always delivers. It's like if you were the coach of a basketball team and you expected your star player to go out and get you 30 points every single night without fail. That's a bit harsh. But it would be impressive if that player not only went out and got you 30 points every night, but he actually got you 40 each night without fail. That's how I feel about Benedict Cumberbatch. Loved this performance. So yes, I hope he does get nominated for the Oscar. But speaking of acting, I've done all this talking about Benedict Cumberbatch, but there is another individual who needs recognition. That's Keira Knightley. Someone once told me that she can't act to save her life. I don't know who that person is, but they are wrong. This girl can act. Twice this year I have seen her give it her all and do an amazing job. The first was Begin Again. The second is this. She's going to get an Oscar nomination and that is also very deserved.

So in the end, I went into The Imitation Game with very high expectations. Turns out my expectations were a bit too high because this isn't an amazing, mind-blowing movie. But it is a good one. It taught me about a man that I didn't know much about that concurrently taught me about an important aspect of World War II that I also had no knowledge of. And that was cool. But I didn't walk away from the movie thinking that I had just experienced one of the best movies of the year. This is good, not great. But despite that, the acting in this movie is the best part of the movie by a long shot. Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley both go out and give it their all. I like both of them and I think both of them are very deserving of the Oscar nomination that they are about to get. And I wouldn't be too upset if they won. I would be upset if the movie itself won best picture because it doesn't deserve that over movies like Birdman or Boyhood. My grade for The Imitation Game is an 8/10.

Movies of 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Maybe

Can you believe it's already time to look forward to the new year in movies? This past year just went by too fast. Each year at about this time I've done this yearly movie preview, but I did it differently each year. After much experimentation that way, I decided that I liked the way I did it last year, so I'm going to do it again this year. If you didn't read my post from last year, what I did is split the movies of the year into three categories: the movies I think look good, the movies I think look bad, and the movies that I'm on the fence about. This isn't an all inclusive list. A lot of my favorite movies from 2014 weren't even on my radar at this point last year. These are just a lot of the major titles that are on the radar that will give us a taste of what we can look forward to this year. I also won't go into too much depth. A few sentences is all. That way I can look at a lot more movies. The order in each category is done by release date. So without further ado, let's dive in and see what 2015 has to offer!

The Good:
This year is a year in movies that I've been looking forward to for a while now. So many great movies to look forward to.

Blackhat- 1/16
This movie is about a cyber criminal that the government is trying to take down. And they turn to Thor for help. I mean, Chris Hemsworth. Given recent circumstances, this feels oddly relevant and looks rather intense.

Paddington- 1/16
This was supposed to come out on Christmas, but it wisely chickened out due to high competition. It did come out in the UK and they loved it. It just looks like a really fun family movie.

In the Heart of the Sea- 3/13
Here we have the Ron Howard directed movie that tells the true story that inspired the legend of Moby Dick. I knew nothing about this until the trailer showed up in the theaters and it also looks amazing. And it has my boy Chris Hemsworth on triple duty in the first half of this year.

Furious 7- 4/3
A dumb, but fun franchise turned extremely awesome when the fifth installment arrived. That doesn't happen very often. With the death of Paul Walker delaying this movie, this became a must see.

Avengers: Age of Ultron- 5/1
Oh heck yes! The Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to disappoint me and this sequel to one of the biggest box office hits ever as well as one of my favorite movies ever looks like it could be even bigger and badder than the first.

Jurassic World- 6/12
I really don't know why people in this Jurassic Park universe keep thinking that living with dinosaurs is a good idea, but they sure make for great movies! Or, um, most of them do. I try to forget that Jurassic Park III exists, but this one sure looks awesome!

Inside Out- 6/19
Pixar took the year off in 2014 due to a lot of production issues with the movie The Good Dinosaur. But they're back! After three lackluster movies (Cars 3, Brave, Monsters University), it looks like they are going to get back on track with this one. The teaser filled me with all kinds of nostalgia and the first trailer had me laughing hysterically.

Minions- 7/10
Millions of kids all over the world are ecstatic for this spin-off movie and I'm probably more excited then all of them! I love both Despicable Me movies and the minions made me laugh like crazy in both movies. Of course I can't wait for them to get their own movie.

Ant-Man- 7/17
After delivering Age of Ultron earlier in the Summer, Marvel now goes for their risky movie of the year. Ant-Man? Really? OF COURSE!!! Remember when Marvel tried to adapt this unknown comic book group that included a raccoon and a tree? That worked out really well, right? Now it's time for Marvel to blow us away again. The cast of this is amazing and the premise actually sounds really interesting.

Pixels- 7/24
1980's video game characters are attacking New York and the military turns to a bunch of video game experts to save the day? Haha! That premise sounds hilarious!

Everest- 9/18
The end of the year is drama time and as a part of that we are going to go with Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, Emily Watson, and Michael Kelly right up the tallest mountain on earth. I guess I don't know how many of those are hiking with us, but I'm ready!

The Jungle Book- 10/9
We were going to get two live action Jungle Book movies in two years. Both had amazing casts. But the second one wimped out and is coming in 2017 instead of 2016. But this first one is staying put. This adaption has Jon Favreau at the helm and stars Scarlett Johannson, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, and Lupita Nyong'o. I hope it's as epic as that cast.

The Peanuts Movie- 11/6
The first trailer for this movie came out early in 2014. That means by the time this movie actually comes out, Blue Sky will have been advertising it for almost two years. I don't know why they felt they needed to get the word out so early, but I'm totally down with a Peanuts movie.

Spectre- 11/6
That's a recently revealed title. If you didn't hear the news, this is the newest James Bond movie. And I guess they're allowed to have a very British title if they want. I thought Skyfall was great, so I'm way excited for this.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2- 11/20
The end is here. This franchise has hit a grand slam with all three previous movies so far and there's no reason to believe this will be any different. In fact, they've done so good that I know this finale will pull all my emotional strings and thus potentially be the best of the series.

The Martian- 11/25
The end of the year always throws out a bunch of Oscar contending movies that I usually don't hear of until the middle of the year. I'm not sure if this is one of those Oscar contenders, but this sounds interesting nonetheless. We have Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon, Sean Bean, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a Ridley Scott directed movie about an astronaut stuck on Mars.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens- 12/18
Oh my goodness. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I just did a movie preview where Star Wars: Episode VII was mentioned. And it doesn't even have "Episode VII" officially in the title, but who cares! STAR WARS IS COMING OUT THIS YEAR!!!!! WAHOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Mission Impossible 5- 12/18
And after Star Wars hits theaters, we'll end the year with another Mission Impossible movie. I loved Ghost Protocol, so I'm totally down for this one! I'm sure we'll also get a whole slew of Oscar contenders that I'll love, but I don't know what those are yet, so this is how I'm going to end this part of the list!

The Bad:
With all the good movies coming out, there's also a slew of movies coming out that I'm really wishing wouldn't come out. And a lot of them are in the beginning of the year, so we're getting a lot of crap before we hit the real gems.

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death- 1/2
Ok, the subtitle "Angel of Death" sounds cool I suppose. But did The Woman in Black really need a sequel? It doesn't even have Daniel Radcliffe in it, so what's the point?

Taken 3- 1/9
I'm usually down for brainless action movies and I am a huge fan of Liam Neeson. However, I thought Taken was a really stupid movie and Taken 3 makes me want to hunt Liam Neeson down and ask him what in the heck he was thinking.

The Boy Next Door- 1/23
The Boy Next Door. Really? Are you serious? Anything that has to do with the boy or girl next door just sounds like a dumb idea.

Mortdecai- 1/23
I'm usually one who defends Johnny Depp. He's a good actor that can actually perform good roles. But I got no defense for this one.

Strange Magic- 1/23
You would think an animated movie done by Lucasfilm would be a good idea, right? Or at least there was a point in time where Lucas' name on something was a good thing. Not anymore. And I'm not one to hate on a project just because it says Lucas or Lucasfilm, but go watch this trailer. One of the worst trailers I've seen in a long time. This movie looks downright awful.

Fifty Shades of Grey- 2/13
This risky Valentine's Day soon-to-be hit has lose/lose written all over it. If it's not NC-17 or a strong R, fans of the book will be mad. If it is, most everyone else will be mad. Given the content of the book, I don't understand the point of doing this if it is PG-13 and I have zero interest if it's not. Moral of the story is that I really don't think this should've ever been done.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension- 3/13
What happens when a horror movie that costs only a few thousand dollars to make earns nearly $200 million worldwide? The answer is you have a sixth one six years later. Everyone wants this franchise to die. But I don't think it ever will.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent- 3/20
Here's a controversial pick for this list. I thought Divergent was a complete rip-off of every other young adult book-to-movie adaption of it's kind. Zero originality. And the trailer for Insurgent looks like it's going to take a huge step down from that pile of garbage.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2- 4/17
Yup. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is getting a sequel this year. I guess if the kids like it, then fine. But I really question Kevin James' choices at this point.

Pitch Perfect 2- 5/15
Let the war cries begin. Get your torch and pitchfork everyone and head on over to Adam's place, because I know I'll lose friends over this one. I hated Pitch Perfect with a fiery passion. And the trailer for this sequel makes it look so bad that I can hardly stand to watch the two minute trailer when it shows up in the theater.

Terminator: Genisys- 7/1
I wasn't necessarily opposed to another Terminator movie. But then the trailer came out. And it looked terrible. Poor Arnold. He's tried so hard to make a comeback after his stint as Governator, but it's just failed.

Hotel Transylvania 2- 9/25
I like animated movies. I was looking forward to Hotel Transylvania leading up to it. But then I saw it and it was so bad that it wasn't funny. It had a lot of followers and it made a lot of money, so of course we have this. I'm sure a lot of people are excited for this. But I'm not.

Scouts vs. Zombies- 10/30
How 'bout this for a Halloween movie? No? Sounds too weird just by reading the title? Yeah, I can agree with you on that one.

Friday the 13th- 11/13
Why are we trying again with this franchise? The original is an 80's classic horror movie. I get it. But can't we leave certain franchises alone? I think fans were sick of this after only a few sequels. But we're in double digits now.

Alvin and the Chipmunks 4- 12/25
There are times to be excited when a franchise of movies makes a fourth movie. But those moments are few and far between. And this franchise is not one of them that deserves excitement. The chipmunks are fun. But stop it please.

The Maybe:
Now for the category where I am on the fence. These movies could be good. Or they could be terrible. I'm just not ready to make the call yet.

Project Almanac- 1/30
A time-travelling found footage movie? It sounded really interesting when the trailer first premiered. Then it got postponed for a year. Then they changed the name from Welcome to Yesterday to Project Almanac. All that made me nervous. And a January release date doesn't exude confidence from the studio.

Jupiter Ascending- 2/6
Another movie that I was excited for, but now I'm nervous because they postponed it and gave it an early February release date. This could be awesome. Or it could be a complete disaster. We'll found out soon!

Seventh Son- 2/6
A random fantasy movie in February? Ok, cool. The marketing on this has been like non-existent and I think it will come and go without people realizing it came out. But it kinda looks cool.

SpongeBob: Sponge out of Water- 2/6
I've never been a big fan of SpongeBob. I think it looks fun for little kids, but I've never understood how or why adults my age can love it so much. But I'm putting it on this list because I'm willing to give it a shot. Although I can't help but notice that some scenes in the trailer look inappropriate for kids, which is not good in a movie directed towards kids.

Kingsman: The Secret Service- 2/13
As you can tell already, January is a dumping ground and February is often not much better, but there's always a surprise or two from February which is why I've included so many titles from February on this list. I'm hoping this movie is that surprise, but I'm not going to bet on it.

McFarland, USA- 2/20
It's Kevin Costner doing what Kevin Costner does best. Starring in sports movies. But the question is this going to be a sports movie that stands out or is it going to be another generic, cliched sports movie? I'm not sure.

Cinderella- 3/13
If you haven't noticed, we've been on quite a fetish recently with creating live-action remakes of classic Disney movies. And it's not just Disney doing it. Several studios have joined the party. The odd thing, though, is that every time Disney has done it in the last few years, it's been a disaster. And this Cinderella adaption is Disney, so I'm not crossing my fingers.

Home- 3/20
It's Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory voicing an alien for Dreamworks. And no, I don't mean Jim Parsons. I mean Sheldon Cooper. Go watch the trailer. It could be fun. But Dreamworks has been hit and miss for me lately, so I'm not getting too excited for anything they do.

Mad Max: Fury Road- 3/27
Another Mad Max movie? I'm down! I think. I need to go catch up on my Mad Max before this hits theaters, though.

Tomorrowland- 5/22
This is going to sound really weird coming from me, but I know absolutely nothing about this. All I know is that the really vague teaser came out and suddenly half the world starting freaking out, making me feel like I've missed something. But hey, if everyone else is ecstatic, that means I can be ecstatic? Maybe?

San Andreas- 5/29
Movies about natural disasters have the potential to be really awesome. But some of them can be disasters in and of themselves. We'll see what happens here as we go back and revisit what this deadly fault has done to California in the past.

B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations- 6/5
Dreamworks is up again! And I don't know why they switched this from Halloween time to June, because this sounds like a good Halloween movie based on that title. But like I said above, I never know what to be excited for and nervous about when it comes to Dreamworks animation.

Pan- 7/24
Peter Pan is a character that we've adapted to film many, many times. This time around, Edgar Wright has gone where no one has gone before with Peter Pan. This is a MUCH different world than we're used to when it comes to Peter. On one hand, you can commend them for doing something different and not making the same movie over again. But on the other hand, you gotta wonder if they took things too far.

The Fantastic Four- 8/7
Why are we getting a Fantastic Four remake? I mean, the other movies aren't that old. Oh yeah. Fox needs to keep their rights. And with Marvel taking off, all the other studios are trying their best to keep up. Fox has done well with their X-Men franchise recently, but I don't know about this one.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials- 9/18
This is almost the same story as Divergent. Except I actually enjoyed the first two-thirds of The Maze Runner, even though the ending left something to be desired. I'm crossing my fingers that this sequel impresses me.

Victor Frankenstein- 10/2
Recently we've been trying to remake the old classic Halloween characters. Last year we got weird versions of Frankenstein and Dracula. Now we are going back to Frankenstein again by telling the original story from the point of the monster. I hope this is good. James McAvoy seems like a great choice for Victor Frankenstein, but I really don't know why Daniel Radcliffe is Igor. Seems like an odd choice.

The Good Dinosaur- 11/25
Pixar is making up for missing 2014 by having two titles in 2015, something that will become a trend for them in the next several years at least. Normally I'd be excited for a Pixar movie, but this specific one has gone through so many issues that I can't help but be a bit nervous.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Into the Woods Review

About two years ago, I reviewed a movie called Les Misérables. I think some of you may have heard of it? For me personally, it was a pretty miserable experience. Because I'm always honest in my reviews, I let people know that I wasn't a fan and boy did I get backlash on that one. I feel like all the Les Mis fans got together and jumped me, giving me quite the horrible beating that left me scarred for life. Ok, that's an exaggeration. What's not an exaggeration is that there were at least a few people that never trusted my reviews again and I was given the label by several others as someone who hated musicals. Now all the people disagreeing with my opinion on that movie didn't bother me that much. I'm an opinionated person and thus I'm used to people disagreeing with me. What did bother me was that label. Say what you want about my opinions, but at least get them right. I personally LOVE musicals. I just didn't like THAT musical, but no matter how many times I said that, I couldn't get rid of that label. So now fast-forwarding time to this year, when Disney had this major musical coming out, I got excited. Not just because I enjoy musicals, but I was happy to show the world that I do by giving one a huge amount of praise. I crossed my fingers that this plan would work out. Lucky for me it has. Into the Woods is not only a dang good musical, but it's also one of my favorite movies of 2014.

I'm going to go right out here and say that I don't know much about the Broadway musical this is based off of. So if you are wanting a review of here's what the play does vs. here's what the movie does with all the comparisons and contrasts that go with it, you're not going to get that. Because I know nothing about the original play. This review is strictly a judgment of what I saw on the screen. And when it comes to musicals, the most import thing to look at is the music itself. Now there's a few ways to do movie musicals. First, you can cast the actors that fit your role regardless of their musical talent and just auto-tune their voices to sound perfect. Second, you can cast the actors that fit your role regardless of their musical talent and use their natural, unaltered voices regardless of how good they are. Third, you can cast the actors that fit your role who also actually know how to sing. The first method is cheating and makes the musical actually sound bad. Yes, I'm looking at you 2014 Annie remake. The second method has it's support. People appreciate the natural, raw aspect of the terrible singers doing their best. But I'm sorry. It hurts my ears. Russell Crowe should never do another musical in his life. Every time he started singing in Les Mis, it made me want to punch him in the face. And then there were a few other singers in Les Mis who over-sang their parts. Not cool either. Into the Woods on the other hand took the third route. Everyone in that movie actually knew how to sing and they all did a dang good job. There was no Russell Crowe moment at all. All of the music was actually enjoyable.

Another reason why I loved the music in Into the Woods is that it followed the style of musical that I enjoy. They had talking moments. In other words, they talked, then they sang, then they talked, then they sang. You get my vibe. I'm sorry, I just don't like the opera-style of musical where 100 percent of the musical is singing. I've tried to appreciate it more. I went to a couple of operas in the last couple of years in order to become more acquainted with the style, and I guess it's not bad. It's just not as entertaining for me. And it's harder for me to follow the story and appreciate the story when all they do is sing. I appreciate the style of musical where they have normal, non-singing dialogue. Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and hundreds of other musicals that I actually enjoy all take this route. This is what Into the Woods does as well. This sounds like a silly complaint, but I felt like I needed to get that out. Finally, and probably most importantly, I loved the individual songs in Into the Woods. Sometimes when you are watching a musical, they start singing and you're listening to the music, but you aren't feeling inspired by the music or you're not getting into it. Those are boring moments that make for bad musicals. I promise I'm not taking a specific jab at any musical with that comment, but it's happened in my life before. You have to have great music in a musical or else the musical just sucks. Into the Woods had great music. I was not familiar with it before going in, but I enjoyed the heck out of it to the point where I want to go listen to it more and become more familiar with it. That's the sign of a great musical.

Now about this plot. If you are like me and you are unfamiliar with the Broadway musical, Into the Woods combines a bunch of classic fairy tales all into one. You have Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella all in one world happening at the exact same time. And on top of that, you have the story of the baker and his wife. A witch comes to them and says they will never have any children unless they collect Jack's cow, Rapunzel's hair, Red's cloak, and Cinderella's shoe in the next few days. She didn't use those words, but that's what I'm using because it's easier. This makes for quite the enjoyable, entertaining ride as you see all of these stories crossing over in quite a brilliant way. I loved every second of it. Then we get to the second half and things take quite the turn. This is where I've been hearing the most complaints. And I don't understand them at all because the second half of this movie turned a fun musical into an incredible musical. I'm not going to go into all the details of the plot, because I think it's better for you to discover that part on your own, but essentially what this does is dive into the question of what happens AFTER the happily ever after. Is life just all rainbows and butterflies for the rest of forever? No. And in diving into this, there are a whole ton of themes that are just inspiring. I was moved. I was touched. I was almost brought to tears. This is a very deep and powerful story that I just fell in love with.

What made all of this work was the amazing cast. Not only were they all talented singers, but they all pulled off amazing acting jobs as well. You have arguably the greatest actresses in Hollywood history holding the whole story together, that being the great Meryl Streep as the witch. At the very least, she's Oscar's favorite actress of all time as she's been nominated a mind-blowing 18 times. This performance will most likely get her nomination 19 and that will be well-deserved. Giving us a powerful trio of ladies in this movie to go along with Meryl is Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick, playing the baker's wife and Cinderella respectively. It's been a great year for Emily Blunt is she's now starred in two of my favorite movies of the year with this one and Edge of Tomorrow. And I am a big fan of Anna Kendrick. I think she's literally the only bright part of Pitch Perfect. And she's good in lots of other roles, too.

On the male side of things, James Corden is brilliant as the baker. I'd say he almost stole the whole show, but he didn't because everyone did a great job. What his performance did do is officially make me excited for him taking over Craig Ferguson's spot. Man, Stephen Colbert followed by James Corden? That's going to be great! Next up is something you better take notes on because you don't hear this very often, but I loved Chris Pine as Cinderella's prince. I don't usually like Chris Pine. In fact I hate him in the Star Trek movies. But I really love it when an actor I normally dislike turns around and surprises the heck out of me. It's great. Johnny Depp is also in this movie for a brief stint as the wolf. My only complaint on that front is that I wanted more of him. But oh well. He does great in the little time that he gets. Wrapping up the adult parts are probably the weakest characters in the movie. I wasn't a huge fan of Mackenzie Mauzy and Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel and her prince, but they did fine.

Last but not least might be my two favorite characters. The younger two. 13-year-old Lilla Crawford played Red Riding Hood and 15-year-old Daniel Huttlestone played Jack. Both are adorable and do an extremely good job in this. Daniel actually played Gavroche in Les Mis, which was one of the best parts of that movie in my opinion. So he's two for two in my book. And this was Lilla's film debut, so great job for her. Apparently she's done some great work on Broadway already, so that's cool. I wish both of them a very bright and successful future. It's not that often that I can spend this much time talking about the cast of a movie. But it needed it. This is one of the best ensembles that I've seen all year. Everyone did a great job.

So in the end, Into the Woods is a musical that just gets everything right. No, I have not seen the Broadway musical version that this is inspired by, but I hear that it's even better and more inspiring than the movie. If that's the case, then I really want to search that out so I can experience this for myself. Into the Woods has an extremely talented cast. Not only do all of them do a great job of singing, but they all pull off a great acting job as well. The story in this is very fun during the first half as you see all of these fairy tales interweave and very moving during the second half as you watch all the deep life lessons unfold. Finally, the music in this is amazing. All the songs are beautifully written both lyrically and musically. So yes, all this combined makes for one of the better musicals that I have seen in a long time and definitely one of the best movies of 2014. There were a lot of great movies in 2014 that are going to make it tough for me to make my top 10 best movies of the year list, so I'm not going to guarantee that this will show up. But at the very least it will get strong consideration for one of those spots, which is a big complement given how many movies I have seen this year. Into the Woods is definitely deserving of a strong 9/10 from me.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Unbroken Review

The story of Louis Zamperini is an absolutely amazing one. I've been hearing about the movie Unbroken for quite some time as it had awards bait written all over it for a really long time. I love following awards season and there are a few sites out there that I enjoy following that follow all the awards buzz all year round. This is how I was able to hear of Unbroken almost a year ago. Fast forward to August. I drove down to San Diego to visit my brother and before I went home, he downloaded the book Unbroken onto my phone for the ride home and in listening to that I was blown away. That book is such an amazing book. By this time, I believe the trailer had been out already and it looked good, but after reading that book, I realized what all the buzz was about. His story is such an amazing, inspirational, emotional story that will stick with me for a long time. Thus the movie instantly became my most anticipated movie of the year. I was a bit nervous when the rating came out. I'll get to that later. But I was still excited. However, after seeing this movie, I'm sad to report that it falls short. Big time. And I usually hate to be the one who gets all nit-picky with the book-to-movie conversion about it not being exactly the way the book was, but this is more than just nit-picking. There are some major, MAJOR sins that this movie commits that make it so it doesn't do the book justice. At all.

If you haven't read the book or heard of the story, Louis Zamperini was a man who had a pretty messed up childhood, but turned things around when he got into running. He got so good at running that he competed in the Olympics in the late 1930's and was planning to run in the next Olympics. Those got cancelled because of the war. So he enlisted. In war, he became a bombardier for the United States serving on the Japan side of the globe. While doing this, his plane crashed in the ocean and he and a couple others had to survive on a life boat for over a month. After he survived that, his situation was an out of the frying pan and into the fire sort of situation as he was rescued by the wrong side and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war in Japan. And by goodness were the Japanese terrible when it came to their prisoners of war, so he went through quite the ordeal. This aspect is all covered by the movie and they do a decent job. However, that's not what makes this story a unique one. There's thousands if not millions of soldiers in World War II that all went through a huge ordeal and in theory you could make a good movie about most of them. What makes his story a unique one is what happens to him after the war.

Yes, Louis survives. But that's not a spoiler. He lived to tell his story. That story got turned into a book. That book got turned into a movie. Obviously we knew that he was going to survive or else we wouldn't have had a movie. I guess you could argue that a heroic war story could be told through second-hand sources of those who did survive, but Louis Zamperini was also in the news this year as he passed away back in July at the age of 97. I don't know why I spent so much time justifying myself, but the point is this movie is all about the journey, which is the case for most war stories. And this specific journey continued long after the war was over. Louis was a pretty messed up man when he got home as he suffered from PTSD and what makes his story great is how he overcomes all of this. That I'm not going to divulge, but needless to say it's great. And what made this movie frustrating is that it almost completely ignored that aspect of the story. Their whole focus was what happened to him during the war. His early years are told in flashbacks and his later years are told in a few sentences afterwards. I realize that this was already a long movie and in order to do this complete justice, we needed to make a long movie longer. There is a good number of people that check out mentally when a movie goes over two hours, but in this instance, we needed that extra time to finish the story. Because when all is said and done, they only told the first two-thirds of Louis' story. And when the best part of the story is the last third of it, you CAN'T cut that out. If you are so worried about time and don't want to make a three hour movie, then cut down on the war part so you have time to tell the end. This was unforgivable. Just imagine if they adapted your favorite book into a movie, but ended right before the climax. That would be frustrating right? Right.

Now with that huge issue out of the way, it's time to discuss the secondary issues of the movie. I feel the whole movie that was there was holding back. The scenes with him as a bombardier, on the life raft, and in the prisoner of war camps were very brutal and intense. But the movie wasn't that intense. And I hate to jump on a ratings discussion, but I felt that they were holding back so that they could get the more family-friendly PG-13 rating. So instead of showing a lot of intense, brutal scenes, they showed a few scenes like that, but mostly showed us scenes of beating down, tired, suffering soldiers sitting or standing. And when we did get those scenes, it was like hit, hit, punch off screen, punch off screen, brief shot of bloody face, then a quick jump to a later moment where he is perfectly cleaned up. No blood. No bruise. No mark. No scar. It was like the Japanese let them go wash off after they beat them up. It took me out of the movie a bit. Getting into specifics, a lot of really intense things happen when they are on the raft with the sharks. Mostly glanced over. The first place they land is probably the most brutal part because there were no rules for the Japanese to follow. Mostly glanced over. Miyavi wasn't that intense and scary as "The Bird." Disappointing. I know movies like Schindler's List and 12 Years a Slave are brutal and hard to watch because of how intense they are, but those are the movies that stick with you. Unbroken won't stick with you. Thus it's just an average war story. There's a lot of much better war stories told. Lone Survivor, The Railway Man, and Fury are examples from off the top of my head from just this year that are much better.

Was the acting good? Yes. Jack O'Connell was great as Louis. He's a fairly new actor and I'm excited to see where his career is going to go. Domnhall Gleeson was also great as Phil. Domnhall has been in a couple movies recently where I've been very impressed with his performance. An example of that is About Time. And if you don't know him yet, you're about to become very acquainted with him as he has been cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Miyavi did do a good job with what he was given. Wasn't his fault that his character wasn't written is sadistic and scary as in real life. Was the movie shot well? Of course it was. Roger Deakins was the cinematographer. And even though some might call him cursed for not winning an Oscar, I take the other route and say you can call him one of the best cinematographers out there based on the fact that he has been nominated 11 times. Everything he does looks perfect. Is this his year he finally wins? Probably not. He'll most likely lose out to Emmanuel Lubezki from Birdman. But oh well. So with all this good stuff, I have to point the finger of blame at Angelina Jolie. She a great actress, but a very inexperienced director. I just wonder what this movie could've been if we had a director in place that was experienced in doing wartime dramas. The Coen brothers helped out with the script. Don't know what went wrong there. They're usually excellent.

Overall, I can't claim that Unbroken is a terrible movie that will make it onto my top ten worst movies of 2014 list. It won't. Because it's not horribly awful. However, I can claim that it is one of the most disappointing movies of the year. I love book and I love Louis Zamperini's story. If done right, this could've been one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite movie of the year. It could've been this decade's Schindler's List or this year's 12 Years a Slave. But it's not. If you've never read the book, I suppose you might go into this movie and walk out having been entertained. But I beg of you. Go read the book. Or do what I did and listen to the audio book. This is an amazing story that's worth your time. But you won't get the full story by watching this movie. All you'll get is an average wartime drama that held back a lot in order to get the PG-13 rating. And it could've been so much more. My grade for Unbroken is a 6/10.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Interview Review

Can you think of a movie that could be called more controversial than The Interview? Did you ever imagine that a dictator from another country would threaten the United States with terrorist attacks if they released a movie into theaters? This is unprecedented. I think this would've actually been less of a big deal if everyone just ignored North Korea in the first place. I mean seriously, what can North Korea actually do to us? The threat they gave was that they were going to attack every theater that showed this movie. Really? Really?!?!?! How many theaters are there in the United States that were planning on showing this movie? Somewhere around 3,000? This attack would not have been possible. All the theater chains should've done nothing. They should've let the move come and people should've gone to the theaters unphased. But no. All theaters chicken out, causing Sony to make the weird decision to pull the movie. Criticism ensued by lots of people, including the President Obama. Rightfully so. That was a stupid decision because it gave North Korea the idea in mind that they had won. And what message would that give to other terrorists? That they can just threaten the United States with ridiculously absurd threats that would be impossible to realistically implement and we'll just give in? Smart move Sony. Luckily they manned up and put it back in theaters. Kinda. Only 331 theaters took it. Once again, stupid. But Sony made the smart move and came up with agreements to release the movie on Google Play, YouTube, and VOD for about the price of a matinee ticket so that everyone could have access. 

What does all these mean? Well, when all is said and done, Sony should be ecstatic. You can't buy this type of attention. They originally had an average at best comedy on their hands that has suddenly become a must see for many. I'll admit, I got sucked into this. The Interview is the type of movie that I usually avoid. I mean, I see a lot of movies, but one genre you will almost never see on my blog is a raunchy comedy. I just don't find this type of humor clever, creative, unique, or funny at all. But because of all this fuss, I rented this movie on Google Play to give it a watch. Even though it's not my type of movie, I guess you can say I watched it to make a statement. A statement that says I'm afraid of stupid threats from North Korea. I was also legitimately curious to see how the movie actually turned out. After seeing the movie, I can say that this whole situation is even more ridiculous. This is the movie that sparked all this controversy? Really? Kim Jong-un is an idiot. Why? Well, there's many responses to that. But in this case, he is an idiot for even throwing a fuss about this movie coming out. This is just a stupid movie with a stupid premise made by stupid people.

In case you haven't heard anything about The Interview, or you are reading this in the distant future wanting to know what all the fuss was about, The Interview is a movie directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen and stars Seth Rogen and James Franco. Franco plays the host of a celebrity news program while Seth Rogen is his main producer. The two come to learn that Kim Jong-un is a huge fan of the show, so they set out to have him on the show so they can interview him. After Rogen calls them up, North Korea agrees to an interview in North Korea, so the two set out to go to North Korea to do this interview. Before they head out, the CIA contacts them and sets up this plan for Rogen and Franco to assassinate Kim Jong-un. One of the things that I found especially interesting about this movie is the fact that this isn't just a jab at North Korea and their crazy leader. This movie takes a huge jab at the media in the United States. All the tabloids in the grocery store check-out aisles are full of ridiculous, pointless news that for some reason we as a country are fascinated with. And not just there, but just go look on the internet and see the trending stories on whatever social media or search engine you please. On facebook this morning, there was a story on the trending section about how Dustin Diamond, the former Saved by the Bell star, was arrested in Wisconsin for having a switchblade. Who the heck cares? The other day, the big story was how Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter split. Sometimes the things we consider "news" is ridiculous and this movie assaults that front hardcore. But that's not all, in addition to attacking North Korea and the news media, it also attacks the CIA in similar ways.

So yeah, all things considered, this whole controversy is just stupid because this isn't just a movie attacking North Korea. Now if I'm ignoring the whole controversy, the overall point of a comedy is such that it is supposed to make me laugh. Did it? Yes, actually. In a few parts. But if I'm watching a comedy, I do expect to laugh a whole lot more than I did in this movie. Most of it is stupid comedy that I don't find funny. Some might though. The personality of Franco and Rogen's characters make a dynamic that should be entertaining for some. Franco plays the bonehead while Rogen plays the serious one. They have their moments. I've never really been a fan of Rogen personally. Occasionally he shows up in various movies and does a decent job, but when he's in his comfort zone doing things he enjoys, I really don't think he's that great. Franco on the other hand is a mixed bag. He does do a lot of stupid roles like in this, but he also has a lot of serious roles where he does do a great job. So he's hit and miss.

Overall, this whole situation is just ridiculous. First off, the world would've been better off if this movie just was not made. I don't know why the makers of this movie thought that this was a good idea. But oh well. It's here and there's nothing I can do about. Nor would I want to do anything about it because I appreciate the fact that people can make whatever movie they want. I wish that North Korea would've just shut up about the whole thing and spared us all this drama. But since they did, I don't regret my decision to spend money on this movie because I felt like I sent my message that I'm not afraid of some stupid North Korea threat. If you feel like doing the same thing, I'm not going to stop you. Go ahead. Just know that this movie is a really stupid movie. If you are the one that decides you just want to ignore the whole situation, you'll probably be the one that gets rewarded by not having to watch a stupid movie. However, if you are a fan of this type of comedy and you really love Seth Rogen and James Franco, controversy aside, you might actually enjoy this. My grade for The Interview is a 5/10.  

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb Review

Did the world really need a third Night at the Museum movie? This is definitely a question that I asked when I heard that this movie was announced and when you look at the box office totals, it's evident that most of the world said no to this question and didn't even give it a shot. After the first one was a surprise box office hit in 2006 and the sequel followed with lower, but decent results, this third one is going to fall well short of $100 million at the US box office, which is not good for the franchise considering that the production budget is listed at $127 million. However, there is one huge thing for me personally that put this as a must see. One of my all time favorite actors passed away this year and this is his final live action role. Of course you know that I'm talking about Robin Williams. And since I actually missed the second Night at the Museum movie, I made sure to make it a bit of a marathon by watching the second and third back to back. I remember enjoying the first one and as I was watching the second and third, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed both of them. I suppose the Night of the Museum movies aren't for everyone, but if you liked the first two, you should go check this one out

In the first Night at the Museum, we learned the secret of the Museum of Natural History in that all the wax figurines came alive at night due to a certain Egyptian tablet. In Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, our beloved wax characters are transferred to the Smithsonian, wherein quite the epic battle/rescue mission takes place. In this latest installment, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, the tablet starts to corrode, causing Ben Stiller and company to travel to the British Museum of Natural History to figure out the secret of the tablet so that they can stop the corroding and bring things back to normal. What makes this such a fun movie is what makes the first two fun movies. You have a cast of characters that look like they are just having a lot of fun. But not just that, they are all playing historical figures that have come to life. And it's just fun to see the clash of the historical figures. Like in the previous movies, we have Teddy Roosevelt, Jedediah the cowboy, Octavius the Roman general, Attila the Hun, Sacajawea, and Dexter that Capuchin monkey. Added to this one are various other characters led by Laaa the Neaderthal and Sir Lancelot.

It's of note that this movie does have a target audience, that being younger kids. In the specific showing I went to, several of my nieces and nephews were there with me, and from what I could tell, they were all enjoying themselves. In my opinion, if a movie succeeds in entertaining it's target audience, then that is really all that matters. However, you have heard me preach recently that it's very possible for a movie to not only entertain its target audience, but others as well. When it comes to a kids movie, if the movie can entertain both kids and adults, then it gets more kudos. In my opinion, this is a movie that successfully does both. At the very least, it entertained me. But I suppose you can just call me a kid at heart because I tend to be a lot nicer to these kids movies than many others are.

Like in the previous two movies, this chapter does have a lot of big name actors. Of note, I think Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Dan Stevens, Patrick Gallagher, Rami Malek, Ben Kingsley, Dick Van Dyke, and the late Mickey Rooney all look like they are having a fun time with this, whether their roles are big or small. In addition to those people, there are a few that need additional mention. First off, Rebel Wilson is in this. If you know me well enough, you know that for some reason I just don't get that woman's humor. I thought she was unbearably annoying in both Pitch Perfect and Pain & Gain. And she is about equally annoying in this one, although she is tamed a bit with her script because this is a family movie. I didn't like her at all. But that's really the only acting complaint I have. Ben Stiller is one that sparks a bit of controversy in terms of his acting abilities. Some are really bored with his bland acting style, but I think it works in this. I can't call him my favorite actor, but he's not one that bothers me, either. And I do have to give him more kudos in this one because he does play a double role. In addition to being the lead role as the security guard, he also plays the Neanderthal Laaa, and that's a fun character. Last but not least is Robin Williams. As I said, he's the reason why I considered this movie a must see and it was certainly great to see him go at it one last time. While I'm not going to spoil the ending, I do have to mention the fact that during the end of the film, Robin Williams' character is saying farewell to Ben Stiller's character one final time. This was definitely unintentional when the script was written, but it turns out to be beautiful because Robin Williams gives a great and emotional farewell speech. That almost had me in tears because as he was saying farewell, suddenly all these great memories of Robin Williams just flooded through my mind all at the same time. I have a lot of fond memories with his movies. He'll certainly be missed.

In the end, if you are a fan of the first two Night at the Museum movies, this is definitely a movie to check out. Of all the Holiday family films that have come out recently, I'd actually say this is the one that is most worth seeing. It has a great cast playing fun characters that just have a good time. It's a movie that's geared towards a younger audience and that audience will love this, so I'd especially recommend this to parents with younger kids. Also, I do think that this is a movie that works for both kids and adults, as I enjoyed the ride the whole movie. Finally, if you are a fan of Robin Williams, this movie is a great and emotional send-off to that amazing man. So it's also worth seeing for that aspect of it. Is this an epic movie? Is this one of the best of the year? No. But that doesn't matter. It's not trying to be. It's just trying to be a fun movie that is good for kids and it succeeds. I personally think that this has turned into quite the fun trilogy, so I'm going  to give Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb an 8/10.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Annie Review

Did we need another adaption of the musical Annie? That's the exact question that I asked myself when this movie was first announced. I mean, when a movie has been done several times already, there comes a point where I think that movie should just be put on the shelf and Hollywood should just go in different directions with their ideas. I decided that this was probably one of these situations, but yet since I do love the musical Annie, I was willing to give it a shot. If you look at reviews, you'll initially see the 4.5 on IMDb and the 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and will decide immediately that this is a movie worth skipping. However, I'm here to tell you that that would be wrong. First and foremost, this does have a specific target audience, that audience being younger kids. Those kids aren't going to be the ones voting on IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes. I saw this in a theater full of kids and they were having the time of their lives. Second, this movie really isn't that bad. A lot of problems? Yes. Horrible, wretched, and not worth a second of your time? Heck to the no!

If you don't know the storyline of the musical Annie, the basic skeleton is that you have this orphan girl named Annie who lives in a pretty awful orphanage in the 1930's that is under the direction of one Miss Hannigan. All she wants is for her parents to come get her, so she can live a better life. Pretty soon her fortunes start to change as she is able to spend a short time with a wealthy man named Daddy Warbucks and his secretary Grace and together they start to search for Annie's real parents. This version is a bit different, but it still follows that same skeleton. Instead of being in the 1930's, we are in the modern day, but Annie is still an orphan girl who lives under the direction of Miss Hannigan. However, we have a mayoral candidate named Will Stacks (I don't know why we changed his name from Daddy Warbucks to Will Stacks, but oh well) who saves Annie from getting hit by a truck. When the city sees this footage, his points shoot up and so based on the advice of his VP, Grace, and his campaign advisor, Guy, he takes in Annie in order to help his shots at winning mayor increase even more. But pretty soon this shallow motivation of taking Annie becomes meaningful as he starts to realize he actually cares for Annie and wants her to find her parents and be happy.

Typically the character of Annie is a red-headed white girl. One of the more interesting things about this movie is that the first character you see is actually a red-headed white girl named Annie giving a presentation in a class. When she is done, the teachers says she can sit down and calls up the other Annie in the class to go next. This is our main character of Annie and it is a young black girl. It's as if the movie was saying, "Hey look what we're NOT doing. We DIDN'T cast the typically Annie, but instead cast a black girl to play her." At first I thought this was going to be a politically correct version of Annie, but that didn't bother me at all simply because that black girl is Quvenzhané Wallis, who was the youngest nominee for best actress at the Oscars for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild. And by goodness is she an adorable and talented young actress. She is absolutely amazing as Annie. And for that matter, Jamie Foxx is our black Daddy Warbucks -- or Will Stacks -- and he also does an amazing job. The chemistry between the two of those throughout the movie is just perfect. And for that matter, Grace, as played by Rose Byrne -- a white actress, adds to that making for a great trio of main stars. And it's a good story, too.

However, what really is the worst part of the movie is the actual music, which is disappointing because the music part of a musical really should be the best. Before going into the movie, I actually defended the music. It's obviously auto-tuned, but I think people severely over-react to the idea of auto-tune as if it's inherently bad. It's not. In fact, this severe condemnation gets so out of hand that many times actual singers with actual talent get accused of using auto-tune just because they sang in tune. And often electronic music is also confused with auto-tune. So I am convinced that there are a huge chunk of people in this world that don't even know what auto-tune actually is and thus go around condemning every talented musician as one who uses auto-tune. It's stupid. That said, I will fully admit that this music is poorly done. The problem isn't necessarily that it is auto-tuned and lip-synced. The problem is that it looks lip-synced and sounds unnatural. When you have a group of young girls that have 100 percent perfect pitch as if they were professional singers, it doesn't sound that good. And when you are watching a musical and it's super obvious that they aren't actually singing, that's bad. And this is the case with every single song and THAT got frustrating. So yeah, the music in this movie sucks.

The other horrible part of this movie was a lady by the name of Cameron Diaz who does an absolutely wretched job as Miss Hannigan. She is so over-the-top and so fake that it is probably one of the worst performances of her career. While I really loved Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, and Rose Byrne, I hated Cameron Diaz and it was so bad that she almost single-handedly ruined the entire movie. Also, there were a lot of gags that I just didn't find funny. However, countering that point, every time that I was watching the movie and thought to myself that the gag they just did wasn't funny, the whole theater of kids started bursting out in laughter. Ok. So there were certain parts of the movie that didn't work for me specifically, but did work rather well for the target audience. I can respect that. Also, in terms of the acting and the auto-tune, a little kid isn't going to notice. And they didn't. I tried to observe the reaction of the kids as they left the theater and they all seemed very pleased at what they just saw. I think that is definitely worth noting.

Overall, Annie is far from perfect. The music sucks. Cameron Diaz is terrible. And there were a lot of gags that I didn't find funny. However, there is a target audience that are much more lenient when it comes to judging things like this, so my recommendation to you is that if you are a parent with small kids who have seen these previews (the movie has been advertised for over a year now) and are excited for the movie, then take them. Despite terrible reviews, the movie received a cinemascore of A-, meaning the people who were excited for the movie went to the movie and loved it. Also, that side of things aside, I really didn't find this a terrible movie. They storyline is decent because it does follow the skeleton of the excellent Annie musical and the acting by Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, and Rose Byrne are just amazing and the three of them have such great chemistry that it's just fun to watch their story, as long as they aren't singing. All that in mind, my grade for Annie is a 7/10.

Wild Review

Wild. Because, you know, when life gets you down, the most logical thing to do is to go on an 1,100 mile hike, right? No? Well, that's what Cheryl Strayed thought back in the 1990's and she didn't even have any previous hiking experience. And if you think that's a stupid idea, just keep in mind that she now has a movie made based on her life and you don't. So who has the last laugh, now? I thought so. So get started on your life so that you can write your book and perhaps we might get a movie about your life 20 years down the road. And if you're cool enough, maybe you can have someone as boss as Reese Witherspoon play you. Unless you're a guy. That would be awkward. What you could do instead is go travel in the wilderness without telling anyone where you are going, then get your arm stuck under a rock, cut it off, and in no time you can have someone as awesome as James Franco play you. Deal? Deal.

Yes, as you may have inferred from that paragraph, Wild is a movie about Cheryl Strayed, a lady who had quite the messed up life. Of course that aspect of her life wasn't what was unique enough to make a movie about. Everyone has crap going on in their life that is similar to what Cheryl experienced. What made Cheryl's story unique is that, without having had much hiking experience at all, she decided to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail, an 1,100 mile hike. Then she wrote a book about her experience that became a best-seller and is now a movie directed by Jean Marc-Vallée, the director of last year's Dallas Buyers Club, which was the winner of three Oscars. Wild is a movie that doesn't go in chronological order the whole time. We start the movie with Cheryl's hike, then we go back and dive into her personal life before the hike. Then we keep jumping back and forth between those two times and are thus presented with the hike she's going on as a metaphor for her life and that I really enjoyed. Hiking in general is a great life metaphor. I remember going on a 50-mile hike over the course of 2 1/2 days when I was younger and was one of the hardest things that I've done. But I looked back on that hike and concluded that despite the difficulty of the adventure, I could do hard things. It just required the motivation to keep moving forward one step at a time. Thus is the case with life in general. Life sucks. Crap happens. But we can get over it. We can move past it. And better yet, we can learn from it to better our lives moving forward.

That there was the exact theme of the movie and I loved that theme. This movie was all about realizing that life is difficult and in the process we will make a lot of mistakes. But as good ole Rafiki said in The Lion King, we can either run from the past, or we can learn from the past. We might not all have to go on an 1,100 mile hike to learn this, but each of us has our own individual moment or series of moments where we reflect on our life and make the decision to be something different or be something better. That's what this movie was all about. However, it wasn't all rainbows and butterflies with this. Despite this great theme that the movie taught, this movie had it's fair share of issues. The biggest one being that it dragged on quite a bit. I mean, I appreciated the message and the metaphor, but there came a time in the movie where it felt I was going on this hike with Cheryl. I didn't want to go on a hike. I wanted to sit in the soft theater seats and enjoy a movie. And while that was what physically happened to me, mentally it was quite the work out. I walked out of the movie theater quite relieved that the long hike was over. I don't know exactly how this could've been fixed. At 115 minutes, this wasn't a terribly long movie. But perhaps that was one of those instances where we only needed 90 or 100 minutes to tell our story. That might've made this a lot more enjoyable.

Overall, my recommendation for this movie is that it is a movie worth seeing. However, it definitely isn't a movie for everyone. I would say that if you saw and enjoyed last year's Dallas Buyers Club, then this is a movie you that you might consider checking out. It's not as good as that movie, but you can definitely tell that it's a similar style. It does have some very interesting themes that go with it and those themes are helped out by an incredible performance by Reese Witherspoon, who quite literally went all out in order to give the audience the best and most raw, realistic Cheryl Strayed impression that she could give. And it works. Her name is almost guaranteed at this point to come up when the Oscar nominations for best actress are revealed and I think she's a worthy candidate. However, there does come a point where I was ready for the movie to wrap up and it just kept going and thus I got really bored and tired during the last leg of the movie and that effected my thoughts of the movie quite a bit. So overall, I will give Wild a 7/10.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review

Anyone else thing this title has too many the's? I mean, THE Hobbit: THE Battle... doesn't flow off my tongue very well. I think The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies would've been better. Best would've been just to keep the title The Hobbit: There and Back Again, because that's the traditional title from the book of the last part of this story. I guess they just wanted people to know what's actually going to happen in the movie. "Hey look! Remember the final battle in the book? Yeah, we're going to include that in the movie. In fact, that'll be the whole movie because we decided to split this into three movies for some weird reason, so we'll just make that the title!" I suppose There and Back Again doesn't fit quite as well with the three movie thing, so I understand the change. Although they REALLY should've just kept this to two movies and then they could've just used both of the traditional titles of An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again. Or perhaps instead of Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies, they should've named this The Hobbit: My Name is Peter Jackson and I Went from Being a Filmmaker to a Greedy Cash Cow So I Turned this 300 Page Book Into Three Movies Because It Means I Get to Make More Money Off of It and I'm Using the B.S. Excuse of Fulfilling Tolkien's Dream to Justify Myself. You know... Part 1 and Part 2, or something like that. Because you know it's true. Don't deny it.

Moving on. As I initially told a friend of mine that I hated this final movie, I got a response back that was very disturbing to me. So disturbing that I am including his quote right here so I can clear things up with everyone. Here it is:

"Of course you did. You hated the second and this is like that and as I recall you're not a fan of the books or reading so not the middle earth fan this film was aimed for. If you disliked the first film and the second why would you like the third? They were made all at the same time in the same style after all."

I was floored by that. And just in case more of you have this idea in your mind that I am not a Middle Earth fan, let me make things very, VERY clear. I LOVE Lord of the Rings. I am a proud owner of... uhhh... The Two Towers and The Return of the King books (I don't know why I don't own The Fellowship of the Ring or The Hobbit books -- but it's my birthday coming up, so if you want a gift idea...). Those may be hard books to get through because of Tolkien's style, but I still love the books. They may be the best novels ever written in my opinion. And yes, I do love reading. I just don't do it as often as others because I'm a slow reader and so it's a huge time commitment for me. Also, the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is my favorite trilogy of all time. Yes, it edges out Star Wars by the slightest of hairs. So to say that I am not the Middle Earth fan this film was aimed for couldn't be more wrong. If any of you have the idea in your head that I'm not a Middle Earth fan because I complained about the first two Hobbit movies, please erase that from your head right now. It's not true. I don't care if people disagree with me on things, but it bugs the crap out of me when people have my opinions all backwards. Hate my opinions if you want. But just make sure you are hating the right opinions. And I didn't even hate the first two Hobbit movies. My adjusted score for the first after further viewings is an 8.5 and my score for the second one is a 7.5. Those aren't bad scores. If you think I hated those movies, go re-read my reviews. I had a lot of good things to say about both movies in addition to my complaints.

So with that rant out of the way, thus giving you an accurate description of my thoughts of the previous Middle Earth adventures, let's dive into this "final" installment. I put final in quotations marks because I have a friend who wisely says to never believe Hollywood when they say they are done for good. They'll find a way to come back. The Silmarillion movie trilogy anyone? Anywho, the best way for me to describe this final Hobbit movie is unfocused. We spend way too much time on ridiculous things that we should've glanced over or just skipped altogether and we don't spend enough time on things that actually do matter. Thus this movie quickly turned into a huge trainwreck and it wasn't pretty. Desperation screamed loudly as I was watching. It's like Peter Jackson committed himself to the three movie shindig, but then realized that he really didn't have enough content for three movies and so this final movie was all over the place.

Let's give a few examples of things that I think show this. The first thing is Smaug. As you recall from the second movie, we end with Smaug flying towards Lake-town as he is about to scorch it. I suppose I won't spoil the cliffhanger if by chance you haven't read the book, but we really only have a couple minutes left of this storyline. And so Smaug only gets a bit of screen time before he's gone and thus you feel gypped. There's a lot of ways they could've fixed this, but as is it felt off. Next up is the Sauron scene. The first two movies build up to this pretty darn good and you think you're going to get an epic scene showing how Sauron came to be. Well you do. But it's not epic. It just comes and goes as if it were an afterthought, thus wasting every moment in the trilogy with Sauron, Saruman, and everything else related to that storyline.

What we did get was a whole heck of a lot of Legolas and Tauriel instead. There's a lot of cool things that Legolas did in the movie, but there's also a whole heck of a lot of outright laughable things he does. As in he becomes this crazy, gravity-defying, super ninja elf. I like Legolas. But after what I saw of him, he didn't need to be in this at all. And neither did his lady elf friend Tauriel that Peter Jackson just completely made up. Now I love Evangeline Lilly. LOST is my favorite TV show of all time and I'm so glad to see her getting big movie roles. But her character was just so poorly written that I got excited when an orc started beating the crap out of her because I thought it meant that they would kill her off and I wouldn't have to deal with her or the horribly awkward and poorly done love story between her on the dwarf. I mean, I thought that love story was bad in the second one. Oh my goodness. Take those awful moments and multiply it by at least ten and you have what it was in this movie. One of the worst and most painful-to-watch love stories that I have seen in a long time.

And that's just the beginning of the issues that I have. The whole movie is full of these weird, unfocused decisions. Thus it was hard for me to be entertained when I was getting increasingly frustrated at what was happening. I thought it would pick up. It didn't. After we glanced over Smaug and Sauron, the movie was pretty boring until the battle started. I guess the battle had it's entertaining moments. But it was clearly trying to be as epic as one of the Lord of the Rings battles. It wasn't. In fact, it didn't even come close to even shining a candle on Helm's Deep. And where was my epic battle music? Non-existent. In fact, the soundtrack as a whole was disappointing. It's not a terrible soundtrack by any means. It's just not memorable. In fact, there's no theme at all in this movie that I could sing back to you. Lord of the Rings I could sing on command without even thinking about. And in fact, Misty Mountains in the first Hobbit is like that as well. I even went back and listened to this soundtrack on YouTube. Nope. Didn't do it for me. In fact, I got bored of it, so I quickly turned it to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack to make me happy. On top of all this, the end of the movie felt very unresolved. I'm not going to explain why, but it puzzled me specifically because this is the shortest movie by a long shot. It's only 144 minutes. The other five movies are 178, 179, 201, 169, and 161 minutes respectively. So it's not like they didn't have time to wrap a few things up. They're waiting for the extended edition? Uhhh... I hope not. That would lame.

Was there anything good about this movie? Sure. Martin Freeman. Everything that man did and said as Bilbo was spot on. Also, I saw this movie in the high frame rate in 3D and that made it visually impressive actually. Did it completely fix the terrible CGI? Absolutely not. I still hated every time the orcs came on the screen because they were just so terribly done, it was embarrassing to watch. Is this worth seeing in 3D? No. I payed $12 to see this movie and that was a bad mistake. So save your money and just see this in 2D. It's impressive, but not worth the extra price. Also if I'm thinking of things done good in the movie, all the original actors from the Lord of the Rings movies that were in this one did a great job. And even our dwarf crew did great. So I can't complain about the acting at all.

When all is said and done, my initial fears about this trilogy ended up being what did this movie in. When I heard that Peter Jackson was doing the Hobbit, I was ecstatic. When it was announced that it was going to be two movies, I was perfectly fine with that. But when it was announced that they were going to do three movies instead of two, I became nervous. Two movies sounded completely justifiable given the content of the book. Three just sounded like a Peter Jackson cash grab. And that's what much of this trilogy was. Drawn-out, unfocused, unnecessary fluff to make three movies. Had they cut out all the crap and turned this into two really focused movies, added some epic music, and did a good CGI job, we would've had two amazing Hobbit movies and you would've seen me praising Peter Jackson once again. But alas that didn't happen and instead I'm saying that Peter Jackson failed this time around. I'll stand by scores of the first two. An Unexpected Journey gets an 8.5 from me and The Desolation of Smaug gets an 7.5. But this final chapter is just a trainwreck and this I am giving The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies a 5/10. As far as the trilogy as a whole now that we are finished? Forgettable.

P.S.- Anyone want to explain to me what the fifth army was? We had the dwarves, the elves, the Lake-town people, the orcs, and the... what? The second dwarf army? The bats? A second orc army? The army that came in at the end that I won't spoil? It really didn't seem clear to me. And I know that may be a dumb question to ask, but it will at least test who actually read this whole review.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

It's been quite the religious awakening in Hollywood this year. Religious-themed movies are definitely not uncommon in Hollywood, but this year there just seems to be an unusually large amount of them that have all came out at the same time. We started off by diving into the life of Christ once again. Then we told a weird version of the story of Noah. After that we proved that God's not dead as well as Heaven being for real. Later in the year we met some Mormons and now we are finishing it off by recounting the story of Moses. There's been other smaller ones, like Kirk Cameron believing Christmas needs saving, but those ones I mentioned were the major ones of the year. I'm not really sure why Ridley Scott felt like he needed to tell the story of Moses again, but he did. To be honest, I don't think it was a very good telling of the epic story, so my recommendation is that if you want to watch a movie about Moses, just put in Cecil B DeMille's The Ten Commandments.

Now I want to make something clear right off the bat. I did not find this movie offensive or blasphemous at all. That was Noah. This movie was just dumb in many ways, but compared to Noah, it's pretty much a masterpiece. Yes, I'm a Christian. But I do try to be fair and I don't mind it if someone takes one of my beloved Bible stories and does something different with it, so long as they do a good job. But there comes a point where if you get too carried away with the changes that you make, it does actually detract from the story. And that's exactly what happens here. Even if you aren't a religious person, you can readily admit that the story of Moses is quite the amazing one, which is why it has been adapted by Hollywood several times. I was actually excited for a modern version of Moses because we have the technology to pull off amazing visuals in the movie that wasn't available back when the previous versions were made. But the story itself doesn't need much changing because it is quite epic. Stay true to the story and you will have a great movie that will stand out because of the visual effects.

The first part of the problem was that the beginning of this movie was really slow and boring. I went in with not much sleep, which is always a risky decision with any movie, and it was extremely hard to stay awake because of how empty and dull the first part of the movie was. Then when it picked up, it just got weird. My example comes from the scene where Moses goes up to the mountain to talk to God. Technically this is a spoiler that I'm about to give, but I don't really feel bad because you should know the story of Moses already. In the biblical story, Moses has quite the experience as he walks onto the hill and speaks with God. He comes down ready and determined to free his people from the Egyptians. In this one, he walks up the hill, gets caught in a mudslide, and is up to his head in mud when he sees a glowing bush in the distance and sees a young kid walk up to him, who is essentially speaking for God. What?!?!?! I'm honestly trying to figure out what in the heck was going through Ridley's Scott's head at this point because that was ridiculous and quite laughable. And then there's really no confrontation between Moses and Ramses at all. Instead of Moses begging Ramses to let his people go in between each plague, in this one all the plagues happen all at once without Moses even being in the city. Once again, I wonder what the heck was going through Ridley Scott's head that made him think this was a good idea.

That said, even though there was no confrontation between plagues that would've made the movie epic, the plagues themselves were actually really amazing. Ridley Scott tried to make them as realistic and graphic as possible and this idea actually worked. An example of this that I will give is the Nile River turning into blood. Instead of just magically turning into blood, we had thousands of crocodiles show up and attack everyone and everything, themselves included and that's why the river turned to blood. Then we have all the flies and the frogs showing up and it was both disgusting and incredible at the same time. It almost made the whole movie worth watching just for that. In addition to the plagues, the parting of the red sea followed by them crossing with Ramses people chasing them was also quite epic. And all the acting and costumes were great. Some people have complained about the all-white cast, but that didn't bother me. We had a cast full of amazing actors that all did a great job, even when they weren't given much to work with. I mean, Christian Bale had some horribly cheesy lines in the movie and he did his best to make them work. Also, people like Joel Edgerton and Aaron Paul are completely unrecognizable in their roles, which I thought was really cool. So props to the costume people in this.

Overall, despite the story of Moses not really needing to be told again, this movie actually had quite a bit of potential. It was helmed by a director that has done a great job in the past and had an amazing cast to go along with it. It also had some breathtaking visual effects when it came to the plagues and the parting of the red sea. The problem was the rest of the movie just sucked. The beginning was incredibly boring. The dialogue was actually pretty bad in certain places. Weird decisions were made as far as the story of this goes. So despite the plagues and the parting of the red sea being amazing, the fact that there is no redeemable quality of the film to go along with those events leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth as you walk out of the theater. It's wasted potential. Like I said in the beginning of the movie, if you feel like watching the story of Moses, just do yourself a favor and throw in The Ten Commandments instead. Or you can choose to watch The Prince of Egypt. That'd be also a great choice. But Exodus: Gods and Kings is sadly not worth your time. My grade for the movie is a 6.5/10.