Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The 86th Academy Awards: My Picks/Predictions

Each year I've done this a little differently. The last two years, I wrote a blog post after the Oscars were all said and done. This year I'm doing it before. The big reason for that is that this year is the first year I've set out to watch all the Oscar-nominated movies. Yes, there are a few of them that I skipped for various reasons, but for the most part I have seen enough of them to have an opinion about every category. So that is what I will give you at first. My pick as to who I would choose to give the award to if it was up to me. Then I will tell you who I think will actually win. Some categories I may just give one or the other if I don't have a strong opinion or if I have no idea who's favored to win. Also, a few of the smaller categories I may jump over, but I'll touch on all the major categories. Let's get started!

Best Picture

The nominees: American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyers Club; Gravity; Her; Nebraska; Philomena; 12 Years a Slave; The Wolf of Wall Street

My Pick: Gravity

Likely Winner: 12 Years a Slave

It's a very weird award season for me. My favorite album of the year, Random Access Memories, won best album at the Grammy's And now at the Oscars, my two favorite movies of the year are the two that are in contention for best picture. I will repeat, this rarely happens for me. But this year it has, so I'm enjoying it while it lasts. Yes, if you know me well enough, you'll know that Gravity is my favorite film of the year, so it's a no-brainer that I would pick it to win. As far as the actual race goes, the two are close, but historically the Oscar has gone to the historical movie, so I think 12 Years a Slave will win. American Hustle is a close third, but it would be a huge shock if it won.

Best Actor

The nominees: Christian Bale (American Hustle); Bruce Dern (Nebraska); Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street); Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave); Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

My Pick: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

Likely Winner: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

This category saddens me a bit. The performance that Chiwetel gave in 12 Years a Slave was one of the more memorable acting performances that I have witnessed. He's my personal pick, but McConaughey is going to walk away with it. He's been winning everything so far. Now I will say that I did like McConaughey's performance. The issue that Dallas Buyers Club brings up is a serious one. I just didn't think it was an award-winning performance. Personally, my runner up pick would be Bruce Dern.

Best Actress

The nominees: Amy Adams (American Hustle); Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine); Sandra Bullock (Gravity); Judi Dench (Philomena); Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

My Pick: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Likely Winner: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

This is the most loaded category in my opinion. All five of these actresses did a phenomenal job. Personally, I wasn't a fan of the movie Blue Jasmine, but I have to admit that Cate Blanchett did an amazing job and deserves the award that she is going to get. She was actually going to be my personal pick as well, but then I saw August: Osage County. And holy Meryl Streep! She is one of the greatest actresses of our day and I will say that her performance in August: Osage County is one of the best she has ever given. I don't exaggerate that ether.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips); Bradley Cooper (American Hustle); Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street); Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave); Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

My Pick: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

Likely Winner: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Just like Matthew McConaughey is going to win best actor, Jared Leto is going to follow him up with a best supporting actor win. Both are pretty much a done deal. I did mention that I didn't think McConaughey's performance was award-deserving. However, I will flip the tables on that for Leto. His performance was award-deserving, so I can't really argue with this. I just also think Michael Fassbender's performance was also award-deserving and perhaps slightly more so.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine); Julia Roberts (August: Osage County); Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave); Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle); June Squibb (Nebraska)

My Pick: Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)

Likely Winner: Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)

This is the category I am most emotionally invested in. Why? Because the match-up here is Jennifer Lawrence vs Lupita. I LOVE Jennifer Lawrence. But if I'm being perfectly honest, she didn't deserve the nomination here. She was good in American Hustle, but not Oscar-nomination good. I'll be crossing my fingers on this, but luckily signs are pointing towards Lupita getting the win. And by goodness does she deserve it. Her, Michael Fassbender, and Chiwetel Ejiofor all gave memorable performances. If all three of them get snubbed, I'll be very mad. I hope Lupita represents.

Best Director

The nominees: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity); Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave); David O. Russell (American Hustle); Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street); Alexander Payne (Nebraska)

My Pick: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)

Likely Winner: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)

It's easy to judge best movie or best actor/actress because because you are judging what you see. It's harder to judge directing because that's mostly behind the scenes work. But at the same time, if you watch enough of the same director, you will know his or her style and you can appreciate the work that they have done. Moral of the story is that I really am slightly more clueless in this category, but since I loved Gravity, I will give lots of credit to Cuaron. Usually this award goes to the winner of the best picture as well, but so far in the other awards it has gone opposite with 12 Years a Slave winning best picture with Cuaron getting best director. No reason to think this will be different.

Best Original Screenplay

The nominees: American Hustle; Blue Jasmine; Her; Nebraska; Dallas Buyers Club

My Pick: Her

Likely Winner: Her

The actual name for this award is a bit longer, but essentially it implies best writing. When looking at the nominees, I can't just pick my favorite movie of the five, I have to pick which one had the best writing. It was a tough choice, but I settled with Her because it is a beautifully written love story between a man and his futuristic artificially intelligent operating system. It barely edges Nebraska in the writing department in my opinion. The Academy won't be debating between those two, but it looks like they will be awarding Her as well.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The nominees: Before Midnight; Captain Phillips; 12 Years a Slave; The Wolf of Wall Street; Philomena

My Pick: Before Midnight

Likely Winner: 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is looking like it is getting the award for best writing for a screenplay based on material already published, and I certainly will be happy at that win, but I personally selected Before Midnight because that movie impressed me by how much I loved it when it was only people talking for two hours. That requires excellent writing to pull that off, so I will give it some love.

Best Animated Feature

The nominees: The Croods; Despicable Me 2; Ernest & Celestine; Frozen; The Wind Rises

My Pick: The Croods

Likely Winner: Frozen

This pick might surprise some people. I've talked up Frozen a ton. I LOVED Frozen! So why am I not picking Frozen? You may have forgotten due to The Croods having come out nearly a year ago from today, but I talked up The Croods even more. In fact, I have gone to the point of calling it one of the best movies that Dreamworks has ever made. Unfortunately, enough people disagreed with me on that to make it so The Croods has no shot. Miyazaki's supposed swan song in The Wind Rises has been talked up a lot, but making a movie about the man who designed the Japanese WWII fighter planes is controversial enough to make it so Disney should easily grab their first win in this category.

Best Foreign Language Film

The nominees: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium); The Missing Picture (Cambodia); The Hunt (Denmark); The Great Beauty (Italy); Omar (Palestine)

My Pick: n/a

Likely Winner: The Great Beauty (Italy)

If you want a category that includes a bunch of excellent movies that you've probably never heard of, this is your category. Just make sure you are watching it with subtitles, because these aren't in English. I actually do think it would be cool to check these movies out, I just haven't done it yet, so I won't give a personal opinion. But Italy's The Great Beauty is the favorite here.

Best Cinematography

The nominees: Gravity; Inside Llewyn Davis; Nebraska; Prisoners; The Grandmaster

My Pick: Gravity

Likely Winner: Gravity

This category is usually fun to follow, but this year there's not going to be much of a race. It's fairly simple. Gravity is going to win every award that has to do with sound or visuals, which includes this one. Quite honestly, I think it deserves it.

Best Editing

The nominees: 12 Years a Slave; American Hustle; Gravity; Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyers Club

My Pick: n/a

Likely Winner: Gravity

I never watch a movie and come away thinking about the editing in the movie, so I'm not going to personally judge this one. But Gravity is looking like the winner here as well.

Best Production Design

The nominees: 12 Years a Slave; American Hustle; Gravity; The Great Gatsby; Her

My Pick: The Great Gatsby

Likely Winner: The Great Gatsby

I loved The Great Gatsby and I'm rather sad that there are a lot of people that didn't. However, I'm glad it snuck out a few Oscar nominations and I'm even more glad that it looks like the favorite to win in this. In terms of production design, The Great Gatsby was set in the 20's and they did a rather good job with that, so I'll pick it as my favorite here.

Best Costume Design

The nominees: American Hustle; The Great Gatsby; 12 Years a Slave; The Grandmaster; The Invisible Woman

My Pick: American Hustle

Likely Winner: American Hustle

In another nomination for The Great Gatsby, I would be happy if it grabbed its second win, but I'll be a little surprised if American Hustle loses this category, despite Gatsby actually winning the award in the BAFTA's. And I hate to also pick against it in my personal choice, but I can't deny the costume excellency of American Hustle. Personally I thought the movie itself was a little overrated, but the costumes were great. I mean, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper barely looked like themselves while Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence looked rather hip. I was impressed.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling 

The nominees: Dallas Buyers Club; Jacka-- Presents: Bad Grandpa; The Lone Ranger

My Pick: Jacka-- Presents: Bad Grandpa

Likely Winner: Jacka-- Presents: Bad Grandpa

Insert all jokes about Bad Grandpa being nominated for an Oscar here. I've heard hundreds of them. However, if you look at the actual award that Bad Grandpa got nominated for, you will realize it makes perfect sense. The grandpa in this movie is actually 43-year-old Johnny Knoxville with a bunch of makeup on, making him look like a grandpa. You better believe it deserves the makeup Oscar.

Best Original Score

The nominees: John Williams (The Book Thief); Steven Price (Gravity); Arcade Fire (Her); Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks); Alexandre Desplat (Philomena)

My Pick: Steven Price (Gravity)

Likely Winner: Steven Price (Gravity)

There are a lot of great scores here and as I went back and listened to all these, I was reminded about how much the music in Gravity made the experience what it was. It's such a good score! I'm happy to learn that the Academy is going to agree with me on this and give it the win. In second place, I would pick Arcade Fire's score for Her. That's also worth listening to if you haven't already.

Best Original Song

The nominees: "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (Despicable Me 2); "Let It Go" by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez (Frozen); "Ordinary Love" by U2 (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom); "The Moon Song" by Karen O (Her)

My Pick: "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (Despicable Me 2)

Likely Winner: "Let It Go" by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez (Frozen)

Now here's a controversial pick on my part. And I want to start by praising "Let It Go." It is such a good song that I will always think of as one of the better Disney songs. However, if you've been around me recently, you will know that I am absolutely addicted to the song "Happy." It just makes me so happy every time I listen to it. "The Moon Song" and "Ordinary Love" are good songs as well, but I just love "Happy." However, I am totally expecting "Let It Go" to win this one. U2's "Ordinary Love" did win the Golden Globe, but I don't think it will surprise again.

Best Sound Mixing

The nominees: Gravity; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; Captain Phillips; Inside Llewyn Davis; Lone Survivor

My Pick: Gravity

Likely Winner: Gravity

Best sound mixing? Who cares? Well, normally I don't when it comes to this award, but the sound in Gravity was amazing. Especially the realistic space scenes where there was no sound and things were just exploding silently. I think I would call that great sound mixing. And yeah, this award is no contest. Gravity will win.

Best Sound Editing

The nominees: All is Lost; Captain Phillips; Gravity; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; Lone Survivor

My Pick: Gravity

Likely Winner: Gravity

You can essentially refer to my paragraph in sound mixing for this. Normally, I would ignore sound editing, but when you think of sound editing, you think of Gravity. It will win.

Best Visual Effects

The nominees: Gravity; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; Iron Man 3; The Lone Ranger; Star Trek Into Darkness

My Pick: Gravity

Likely Winner: Gravity

This is usually the one category in the Oscars where the Academy will honor the big blockbusters. Thus you see The Hobbit, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Lone Ranger. And yes, The Lone Ranger did just get nominated for an Oscar. And before you go on hating at this, realize that regardless of your opinion of the movie, the visuals were great. But none of that matters. All of these are just courtesy nominations. And no use getting mad over the snub of Pacific Rim. It wasn't going to win. And neither is anything else except for Gravity. And like I've been saying, it's deserved.

Best Documentary, Feature

The nominees: The Act of Killing; Cutie and the Boxer; Dirty Wars; The Square; 20 Feet from Stardum

My Pick: n/a

Likely Winner: The Act of Killing

I'll have to admit, I usually don't watch a ton of documentaries, which is why I don't have a personal pick. But if do decide to watch one in the next little bit, this is the pool I will dip from. Word on the street is that The Act of Killing is going to win.

Best Documentary, Short Subject

The nominees: Cavedigger; Facing Fear; Karama Has No Walls; The Lady in Number 6; Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

My Pick: n/a

Likely Winner: n/a

I have no idea who is going to win this and I haven't seen any of them, so I'll jump this category.

Best Animated Short

The nominees: Feral; Get a Horse!; Mr. Hublot; Possessions; Room on the Broom

My Pick: Get a Horse!

Likely Winner: n/a

Out of all these options, Get a Horse! is the only one I have seen and that's because it was at the beginning of Frozen. And it was so fantastic!!! Classic Disney Mickey Mouse short that had the early 1900's style animation. Usually the Oscars enjoy praising historical pieces, so I imagine this will win, but who knows. Also, I enjoy animated shorts, so even though I haven't seen all of these, I may actually decide to go watch them all before the Oscars.

Best Live Action Short

The nominees: That Wasn't Me; Just Before Losing Everything; Helium; Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?; The Voorman Problem

My Pick: n/a

Likely Winner: n/a

I haven't seen any of these and I have no idea who is going to win, so I have no comment on this, but just like with the previous category, I may actually go watch these before the Oscars just to entertain myself.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pompeii Review

In the year 79 AD, the city of Pompeii was destroyed by extremely dangerous volcano of Mount Vesuvius, causing one of the more destructive and memorable natural disasters in history. 1,935 years later, the entertainment industry has decided to commemorate that destruction. Not only has this movie Pompeii been made, but coincidentally the band Bastille has put out the song Pompeii that currently holds a spot in the Billboard Hot 100's top 10 songs. I'm not sure why this sudden fetish over Pompeii has happened, but I'll take it. It's an interesting piece of history to remember. The song Pompeii I thoroughly enjoy. I think it actually would've fit well in the movie, but alas the two are separate. The movie, however, was rather forgettable. It actually did have the potential to be a great movie, but sadly it turned out very sloppy and poorly done.

Director Paul WS Anderson, mostly known for his work on the Resident Evil franchise, has a pretty consistent track record of making awful movies, so his name alone on this should be a red flag. And this is no different. Of course you know the premise of this movie, so I can't really spoil anything. A volcano explodes and destroys Pompeii. If that's all you are coming for, then you might be entertained. Personally, though, the key to making a good disaster movie that I will enjoy comes with the story and the characters. If you have a fantastically-written story to go along with well-written characters played by great actors, then you have yourself one heck of a movie that will pull at all of your audience's emotional strings. That's where this movie failed. When I'm watching a disaster movie, it's a pretty bad sign when I'm actually rooting for the main characters to die. That's when you know you did something wrong.

Knowing who was making the movie, I didn't go in with high expectations. However, when the movie started, I found myself pleasantly surprised. The movie had great visual effects and a great score. Those two combined with a great opening scene actually made me believe that I was going to enjoy this movie. Then we started diving into the story. The story was a combination of Gladiator and Titanic. And no, not in a good way. It couldn't decide what movie it wanted to be. If the movie would've stuck with the Gladiator style, it could've been really awesome. If the movie would've stuck with the Titanic style, well... it would've been less good, but still interesting. Instead it jumped back and forth between the two and thus got more messy the further along it went, and it never recovered. The romance was extremely underdeveloped. Yes, it was Titanic-esque in the sense that a woman in a high social standing falls in love with a man in a lower social standing, but it was rushed and forced. Emily Browning and Kit Harington didn't do a bad job, they just had nothing to work with as far as the script and the writing. The Gladiator part didn't work because it was too cheesy. And by that I mean that our lead character was this sort of super-soldier, horse-whisperer slave. Multiple times in the movie he had 10-20 people rushing at him and without fail, he always prevailed with barely even a scratch.

Most people I read will agree with me that the first hour of the movie was pretty sloppy. However, many will also say that the last 40 minutes with the Volcano explosion was pretty good. Did I think that? Absolutely not. In fact, it got worse for me. Here I am watching them sloppy jump back and forth between Titanic and Gladiator, and suddenly with no warning and not enough character development, we see the volcano explode. Oh. We're ending the movie, I guess. Was the actual explosion scene done well? Sure. Like I mentioned, visually the movie was really impressive. But the second the volcano exploded was the second the already poorly written script took an even further turn south. Spread the cheese, give up on any sort of emotional climax, and have all the characters make stupid decisions as the whole city is dying. Like not running away when they should. It was so frustrating that I was actually cheering for the volcano to kill them all already so that I could go home.

In the end, Pompeii did have potential to be a really good movie. It was visually impressive, with a good score, and a historically tragic ending that could've made for a powerful and moving movie if they just had good characters and a good story to go with it. But they didn't. Now before I end, I do have to make one positive note. Easily the best part of the movie was Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Who? Yeah, I call him Mr. Eko, because of course he is the actor who played the great Mr. Eko in the TV series Lost. He did great. But that was the only positive in the movie. My grade for Pompeii is a very poor 6/10.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Monuments Men Review

Early on in 2013, The Monuments Men was thought to be one of the major Oscar contenders, being that it was a historical war story that had George Clooney on triple duty as writer, director, and lead actor. It was a fairly big shock when the movie was delayed from its original release date towards the end of 2013 to February of 2014. Essentially that meant they were giving up on getting any Oscar nominations since no February movie ever gets nominated. Yeah, the Oscars are a bit weird like that. It's as if they don't start paying attention to movies until about halfway through the year. Turns out this move was a good one for The Monuments Men. With how poor the reviews were, they weren't going get any nominations anyways. And on a financial basis, they were able to earn a lot more money then they would've otherwise. I went into this movie with an open mind, ignoring the awful reviews because it seemed really interesting. Turns out, though, it was a very mixed bag for me.

The Monuments Men is based on a true story of a World War II platoon out on a very important mission. This mission is one that was educational to me because I was unaware of this aspect of the war. According to the movie, Hitler had stolen millions of different works of art during the war with the intention of creating one huge art museum type of thing. Hitler had all these works of art hidden throughout Germany. The purpose of the Monuments Men was to search for these, steal them back, and give them to their original owners. After watching this movie, it was the type of movie where I wanted to immediately go learn the history behind this. So I did. And it is a great history, one that I'm glad I now have at least a bit of knowledge in. Turns out the movie actually has quite a bit of inaccuracies. An example is that there were actually 300 of them and not just seven. But they got the jist of things right, so historical inaccuracies didn't bother me.

What did bother me with this movie was the fact that it was so boring through most of it. I can't explain it too well, but the pacing was off somehow because I wasn't able to get invested in this movie until about halfway through. It started off really choppy and things just started happening without much explanation. They tried to spend time building up the characters so that the audience can get emotionally invested, but it just didn't work. Then on top of that, there were instances were they tried to throw in a bit of comedy and romance. I'm sure some soldiers had a sense of humor during war, but when they tried to be funny in this movie, it just didn't work and instead made the tone feel off. In terms of romance, from what I read, the actual people that Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett's characters were based off of made a really good duo. In the movie, they tried this awkward romance where Blanchett tried to make romantic moves on Damon, but Damon awkwardly turned her down because he was already married. Those sequences didn't need to happen at all.

Yes, this movie had a big cast. Like I mentioned, George Clooney wrote, directed, and starred. Starring along with him was Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and others and all of them did great. In the second half of the movie, the movie finally grabbed my full attention. And like I said, I felt this movie was educational in the fact that I had no idea about these Monuments Men. So the movie definitely had noble intentions as well as a lot of potential to be a really solid movie. In the end, I wasn't blown away at all and I was really disappointed because this movie could've been so much more, but it just ended up falling flat. I would recommend you give this movie a shot, but overall I wasn't extremely impressed. I give The Monuments Men a 6.5/10.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Philomena Review

When Philomena came to theaters for the first time towards the end of last year, I acknowledged its existence, but it didn't catch my attention enough for me to immediately go out and see it. However, I kept hearing more and more Oscar buzz for it, and when the Oscar nominations came out last month my immediate reaction was that I needed to see Philomena. It had just received four Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actress. Recently I repented of my sin of skipping this movie, and it's a good thing I did because this is quite the gem of a movie. And yes, the "repented of my sin" mention in the last sentence was indeed a play on one of the big themes in this movie.

So if you've never heard of Philomena (pronounced phil-oh-mee-nuh), the first question you'll have is what in the world is a Philomena? The answer to that is that it's not a what, she's a who. Philomena Lee to be exact. And she's not just a fictional character in a movie, she's an actual person that this movie is based on. I don't know her real story, but in the movie Philomena has a son out of wedlock as a teenager. Living in a nun-house in Ireland, the nuns were upset at Philomena for this serious sin she had committed. As part of her punishment, she was forced by the nuns to put her son up for adoption. She kept this part of her life secret for a very long time, not even telling her children. Finally after 50 years, she reveals this secret and her story is immediately picked up by journalist Martin Sixsmith. Together they go on a journey to find more information about her lost son. Whatever the actual events were, Martin Sixsmith ended up turning this story into a book published in 2009. And no, that's not spoiling the movie. That book is what this movie is based off of.

What makes this film a real interesting film is the many different themes and issues it brings up. On top of that is the classic moral dilemma of right vs wrong. Philomena is heavily criticized by the nuns by her having a child out of wedlock, so they punish her harshly and essentially take away her son. Philomena is ashamed by this for a long time, so she keeps it a secret. But then she begins to think that keeping it a secret is a great sin. After Martin gets involved and learns about all this, he begins to believe that Philomena was greatly wronged by the nuns and the Catholic church. He even question whether or not her initial sin was even wrong at all. Then with this comes the religious themes in the movie. Philomena believes in God. Martin does not. The two of them get into this discussion several times during the movie. And of course with this theme comes the perception of the Catholic church in the movie, which is an unfavorable view to say the least. And of course, there are discussions that arise when they find information about the son, but I won't get into those. Lots of things to think about with this movie.

Judi Dench plays Philomena in the movie and her performance is excellent. Dench is no stranger to the Academy Awards as this nomination brings her total to seven nominations in 17 years, her first Oscar nomination coming in 1998 with the movie Mrs. Brown. This is a rather impressive resume she has built up. Out of the seven nominations she has only one once. Although her performance won't be good enough for her second win, the nomination is definitely deserved in my opinion. Alongside Dench, Steve Coogan deserves praise for this as a played a triple role in the film's production as writer, producer, and co-star of Judi Dench, playing the journalist Martin Sixsmith. Another part of the movie that I really enjoyed was the music. Alexandre Desplat did the score of the movie and it is rather excellent. This excellence in music has been acknowledged by the Academy as Desplat has earned his sixth Oscar nomination in eight years.

Overall, I would say that Philomena is a very enjoyable film with interesting themes and excellent performances by Dench and Coogan. Is it good enough to win any of the four nominations it was given? Unless it picks up the best adapted screenplay, probably not. It's not one of the best movies nominated for best picture, but I won't complain at its nomination. It was a very enjoyable film that I highly recommend you give a shot. I give the movie an 8.5/10.

Friday, February 14, 2014

RoboCop Review

The present day in Hollywood is a day of remakes. Yes, I will argue that there are plenty of original films made today and plenty of remakes done in past decades, but nevertheless the number of remakes done today are much greater than in the past. Usually, I am the first one to complain about remakes. If the original is good, why make it again? Occasionally, though, I find myself eating my words after enjoying a remake.  The remakes that make me go through this often are remakes that attempt to do something interesting and unique with the movie instead of making an exact replica of the old one. Thus they justify their existence. With RoboCop, I wasn't expecting much, but I found myself rather surprised with how much I enjoyed it. So yes, the RoboCop remake has justified its existence.

The two RoboCop movies are actually quite different with different intended audiences, so for the most part I am going to focus completely on the new one. What I will say is that the old RoboCop is famous for it's over-the-top graphic violence. Some consider it one of the most violent movies ever made. Thus the intended audience is those people who love strong bloody violence in their movies. The new RoboCop is trying to appeal to more broad audience. It takes away all the over-the-top graphic violence and delivers a solid action movie that focuses more on the story than the action. It's more of a philosophical and emotional version of RoboCop.

The story takes place in Detroit in the year 2028. Most countries around the world have implemented a robot police force except for the United States. Congress has decided that they want real people with emotion as their police force and not robots. So of course the comprise that the company OmniCorp comes up with is a half-robot, half-human. Officer Alex Murphy becomes the perfect candidate when he nearly dies in an explosion intended to kill him. Initially this seems like a perfect plan for OmniCorp, but things quickly become complicated for all parties stemming from the fact that, despite the strings that OmniCorp tries to pull, Alex has not lost his memory and begins to fight against his programming.

RoboCop/Alex Murphy is played Joel Kinnaman and he does a fantastic job at carrying this movie. While he himself isn't a very well known actor, he is surrounded by an excellent, star-studded cast. Michael Keaton plays the President of OmniCorp, Gary Oldman plays the lead doctor that works on RoboCop, Abbie Cornish plays RoboCop's wife, and Samuel L Jackson plays the passionate newscaster. Also scattered throughout the movie is Jay Baruchel from How to Train Your Dragon, Michael K Williams, and Jackie Earle Haley. Everyone combined makes up for a very good cast, all of whom do a great job in the movie. I actually really liked the story in this movie. Surprisingly we don't get a whole ton of action in the first half of the movie, but I really enjoyed the development of the story and the characters. And when we did get action in the second half of the movie, it was quite awesome. Not bloody and over-the-top, but well done and entertaining.

Overall, if you are here to watch a RoboCop movie that focuses solely on bloody, over-the-top action throughout, you are going to be rather disappointed because that's not what this movie is. This movie is a well-acted, well-thought action movie that is more focused on the intriguing and emotional story than the action. I really liked that about the movie. Do I think it's better or worse than the original? I'm not going to make that call. They are two very different movies. Of course there are going to be plenty of haters towards this movie that will try to tell you it's a watered-down pathetic remake of a classic. My advise is to not listen to them. Haters will hate. The RobocCop remake is worth your time and money. I give it an 8/10.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Movie Preview: February 2014

January is typically seen as a dumping ground for movies. If you look at reviews for the new movies that came out in the month, you will see that this was the case. Despite this, a few of those movies managed to attract audiences anyways and combined with some 2013 hold-overs, January 2014 ended up as the best January financially since Avatar was still dominating theaters back in 2010. Lone Survivor, technically a 2013 release, won the month. Ride Along and The Nut Job were the winners out of the official January newcomers. The other 2013 hold-overs that were key in January's success were Frozen, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Looking forward to February, we are in another month where the Box Office is historically a low month. Although this February won't have the power of the hold-overs to carry it forward as those movies are dying down, the advantage it does have is a lot of interesting new titles that could make this one of the bigger February histories if enough of them break out. We're already one weekend in, but there is still plenty to talk about, so let's dive in!

February 7th - 9th- 

The weekend of January 31st to February 2nd I included in my January preview, even though it included more February days. That's why this February preview starts a bit later in the month than is typical. While the first six days of February were really quiet for movies, day seven came with a bang as The LEGO Movie blew up the Box Office for the second highest opening weekend ever in February, behind only 2004's The Passion of the Christ. Usually animated movies aiming for big success avoid the month of February. Gnomeo and Juliet hold the February animated movie record with a final total just shy of $100 million. The LEGO Movie has gone in unphased, though. Telling a full story in LEGOs has worked out quite well because of the strong branding that LEGOs have among all ages. Add to that the insanely high reviews from critic and casual movie-goer alike as the movie holds a 97 percent on RottenTomatoes and a 8.8 on IMDb. These high reviews also mean that word of mouth will be rather strong and thus The LEGO Movie will play out very well for the rest of February. The animation slate for 2014 is looking pretty good, but I'd put out an early prediction that we are looking at our winner for best animated feature in 2014 with this.

Also making a decent opening this week is The Monuments Men. Initially scheduled for the end of 2013, The Monuments Men was considered to be a major threat at the Oscars this season, which made it surprising when it rescheduled to February, one of the many months that the Academy seems to completely ignore when it comes to awards. It turned out to be a good decision, though, because with how poorly reviews have been, it wouldn't have been nominated for anything. And now it will be able to have a much better box office run than it would've in the crowded, end-of-year market. The Monuments Men is directed and written by George Clooney and is the second war-themed movie in as many months. Clooney also stars in this movie alongside Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin.

Finally, the latest failed attempt at a successful young adult book-to-movie franchise is Vampire Academy. Ever since the major success of Harry Potter and Twilight, movie makers have worked frantically to find the next big success along those lines. The Hunger Games was a huge success in 2012, but 2013 was full of duds as Beautiful Creatures, The Host, and Mortal Instruments: City of Bones fell flat on their faces. The Vampire Academy seems like an odd mix of Twilight and Harry Potter with Vampires going to a Vampire Academy. Audiences didn't bite as Vampire Academy has opened up to less than $5 million.

February 14th - 16th-

Valentine's Day this year falls right on a Friday, which should mean decent business for the box office, especially since this Valentine's Day introduces three new romantic-themed movies for couples to choose from for their dates. Before I jump into those movies, though, I want to talk about the most controversial movie of the weekend, that being Robocop. In theory it should provide some good counter-programming to those guys who don't want to want to go see a romance movie on Valentine's Day. Also, it opens up on Wednesday the 12th, so it'll get a head start on the other three. The issue here is that Robocop is a really popular movie franchise from the late 80's and early 90's and fans of the Robocop movies have been crying blasphemy almost since the movie was announced, but especially since it landed a PG-13 rating. The original Robocop is considered one of the more violent movies ever made and thus has a very strong R-rating. And that's why the Robocop fans love it. With this remake, they feel it is a watered-down version of the movie they love. Making such a violent movie, though, limits the audience for obvious reasons, so the attempt with this remake is to appeal to a broader audience. However, the last time a Paul Verhoeven movie got a PG-13 remake, it didn't fare so well. That of course was 2012's Total Recall.

Now onto the romance movies. Out of the three of them, the one that seems to your most typical Valentine's Day chick-flick is Endless Love. The story here is nothing new. Hot guy falls in love with hot girl. After the initial falling in love takes place, some sort of drama happens that threatens to end their romance. Then for the remainder of the movie, they have to figure out how to make things work out. Hot guy in this movie is Alex Pettyfer while hot girl is Gabriella Wilde. The conflict? We go completely original with this. Forbidden love. Because of course that hasn't been done before.

Next up is About Last Night. If January taught us anything it is that actor/comedian Kevin Hart is great at drawing crowds. With Ride Along last month, Kevin Hart almost single-handedly brought that movie to the top of the box office three weeks in a row and now the movie has just crossed the $100 million mark. Now he will try his luck again, this time with a stronger R-rated romantic comedy. R-rated comedies have done well in recently in the early months. As an example, last year's Identity Thief  won the month of February, so there's a good chance that those who enjoy this type of comedy might combine with the Kevin Hart fanbase to turn this into a hit.

Finally, we have the odd romance movie that may end up being the odd one out. That is Winter's Tale. This movie combines more fantasy elements in with the romance genre. The trailer advertises a man who falls in love with a dying woman back in the past and then shows us the same man in the future with his memory seemingly wiped. The movie is based on the novel of the same title by Mark Helprin. The book is a well-reviewed book and the movie adaption has a great cast with Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Will Smith, and Jennifer Connelly. But whether or not it will have power to attract audiences away from the other three movies of the weekend is a different story.

February 21st - 23rd-

After introducing one action movie and three romance movies the previous weekend, the third weekend of February evens the score by adding two additional action movies. First of is the second sword-and-sandal movie of the year with Pompeii. Hollywood is full of interesting coincidences. I guess it just seemed like a good idea to do these movies this year as we had Legend of Hercules last month, Pompeii this month, and 300: Rise of an Empire next month. Adding to that will be a second Hercules movie in August. I don't know why sword-and-sandal movies are suddenly popular, but they are this year, just like end of the world movies were popular last year. In addition to that, I suppose it was just destined for us all to remember Pompeii. Not only do we have the movie Pompeii coming out, but Bastille's song Pompeii is currently riding high on the Billboard Hot 100. I half expect the song to show up in the movie, but it's not going to. Just another one of Hollywood's coincidences.

Opening with Pompeii is Kevin Costner's 3 Days to Kill. This movie kinda reminds me of taken in that it's a daddy/daughter action movie. Kevin Costner's character, a Secret Service agent, is dying and has three days to live. However, there is an experimental drug that could save his life and he can get it if he completes a certain mission. During this, he is trying to spend more time with his family and is specifically charged by his wife to watch over his daughter. Starring with Costner is Hailee Steinfeld and Amber Heard. It's been a busy time for Costner recently. After appearing in Man of Steel last year, Costner was in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit in January. After 3 Days to Kill, he will have three more movies before 2014 ends.

February 28th - March 2nd- 

The last weekend of February was going to add three more movies to the market, but with the last minute delay of Welcome to Yesterday, the weekend is now less crowded. One of the two movies that comes out brings Jesus Christ back to the big screen in Son of God. It's been 10 years since Jesus was last on the big screen with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. In fact, that movie also opened up on the last weekend of February and buoyed off quite a bit of controversy to become the highest grossing R-rated movie ever. This version is only a PG-13 and won't carry all the controversy with it, but the process this movie has gone through is very unique and thus raises eyebrows in a different way. Last year, the History Channel aired a TV mini-series called The Bible. That became so popular that they decided to take the parts of that mini-series that go over the life of Christ and turn it into a full length movie. So essentially if you watched The Bible mini-series, you have already seen this movie. Christian audiences should turn out for this movie, especially if they never saw The Bible. The big question on this is whether or not those who already watched The Bible will turn out again for Son of God.

Finally our last movie of the month brings Liam Neeson back to the theaters for the second time in February and third time in 2014 total. Although the other two were in animated roles, so this is his first live action movie this year. The movie is Non-Stop. Neeson has had quite the decorated career as his roles range from Qui-Gon Jinn (Star Wars) to Aslan (Chronicles of Narnia) to Zeus (Clash of the Titans) to Ra'sAl Ghul (Batman Begins) and many more. Non-Stop puts him back into his action star role like he's done in movies such as Taken. Neeson in this is an air marshal who gets threatened and framed while on a plane via text message. The mysterious texter threatens to kill passengers if Neeson doesn't transfer a large sum of money into a certain account. The movie has a whodoneit type of vibe and reminds me a lot of the movie Source Code. Non-Stop won't be a huge blockbuster, but it should be able to attract a decent-sized audience.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The LEGO Movie Review

After suffering through the rather painful month of January in terms of movie selection, February looked much more hopeful. Especially since first up on the docket was a movie that I was completely sold on from the very first time I saw the trailer. LEGOs!!!! Many hours of my life have been spent putting those amazing little blocks together. And even now if you put a package of LEGOs in front of me, I will be perfectly happy sitting down and spending my evening putting them together. No shame at all. Thus the idea of having a full feature length film of LEGOs was like the greatest idea ever in my opinion. I was completely sold the second I saw the trailer for the first time. Each additional piece of footage that came out made me even more excited. And finally my level of excitement hit an all-time high as reviews came in extraordinarily high (it currently holds a 96 percent on RottenTomatoes and a 8.9 on IMDb). I am happy to report to you that my extremely lofty expectations for this movie were met and even exceeded.

So what is The LEGO Movie about? How can they make such a good movie based on LEGOs that has a good plot? Well, unfortunately I'm going to mainly leave that up to you to find out. I will say that the basic story is about a LEGO construction worker named Emmet who lives life by the book. Literally. He carries around a LEGO instruction book that he follows to the t. One day, though, Emmet gets sucked into a high-powered adventure that turns him from being an unnoticeable construction worker to being the chosen one who is supposed to save the world from the evil President Business. Seem like a generic and cliche plot? It's not. It's actually a plot that is smart, moving, and full of nostalgia. The ending of the movie was a complete shock to me and actually blew my mind. I have a lot more that I could say about the story, but I'm not going to. I'm going to let you discover it for yourself.

In addition to a surprisingly good plot, there are many things that led to the awesomeness of the movie. And I will try to move briefly through them so that you aren't here reading a blog post for the next year because there are so many things that make this movie great. First off is the brilliant voice cast. And there is a ton of amazing voices. In fact because there are so many, I'm going to let you go to IMDb to figure out all of them yourself. Our main gang consists of our hero Emmet (Chris Pratt), the main girl Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), the Unikitty (Alison Brie), Benny the 1980 something space guy (Charlie Day), and the wise old man Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). Our team of villains is headed by President Business (Will Ferrell) and his main pawn Bad Cop (Liam Neeson). All these characters, along with all the minor characters, mesh together perfectly to make one of the best voice casts for an animated movie I've seen. Along with that, the humor is excellent. I was laughing my face off the for the entire movie because of all the different gags and jokes in the movie.

The next thing I will bring up is the animation. All the trailers actually led me to believe that they did this stop-motion style with actual LEGOs that they were zooming in on for the movie. Turns out I learned before going in that it is actually mostly pure computer animation. Knowing this doesn't make me think any less of the movie, though. In fact, it makes it super impressive. The animation is so good that you wouldn't even know that it's animation. It looks like actual LEGOs. I don't know if I've ever seen an animated movie where the animation was so good that I couldn't actually tell it was animation. 

And finally, talking about the animation leads to possibly the best part of the movie for me. It's what I have decided to call LEGOisms. And of course I mean all the attention to detail. Detail that perfectly encompasses the whole LEGO culture and is rather brilliant. Emmet takes a shower. Water falling on him is little blue LEGO circles. Emmet bends all the way backward right around his waste, right where the LEGO people always bend and in a way that we all bent them. Emmet takes off his hair and puts a wheel on his head. Emmet rides a LEGO horse, one that I swear was taken from my LEGO set back home. Said horse moves in the way I would've moved that horse. When Bad Cop knocks over Emmet's cup of water, a little blue LEGO circle falls on the ground representing the water. And of course everything is done with LEGOs, including but not limited to explosions, laser beams, water, scene introductions, etc. LEGOisms. And these LEGOisms were all over the place in every scene of the movie. I loved it.

In wrapping up, The LEGO Movie was everything that I was hoping for. Brilliant story, brilliant voice acting, lots of humor, lots of LEGOisms, and of course nostalgia through the roof that was reminiscent of the Toy Story movies. The movie is creative, groundbreaking, and original. Yes, it deserves to be mentioned right up in the conversation with Toy Story. It is that good and that nostalgic. The LEGO Movie is sure to be a future classic, one that I will own and watch many times over throughout my life. Because of all this, I am giving The LEGO Movie my prestigious grade of 10 out of 10.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Labor Day Review

January was a mean month for movie fans. Every time I wanted to watch a movie, there was nothing appealing out of the new releases. And when I did check out the new releases, they ended up being not so good. Yes, January is typically a dumping ground for movies, but this year especially seemed to be the case. Fortunately, though, I kept myself entertained by all the Oscar-nominated films, so it wasn't a complete loss. However, I've been waiting longingly for the first good movie of 2014. I have finally found it in a movie that came out on the very last day of January. Although, technically Labor Day was a 2013 release, but that was only for the last week of December in a few theaters in order to officially qualify for Oscar nominations. But meh, semantics.

My first thought when I heard about this movie was that it should've come out around Labor Day, not right before Valentines Day and President's Day. But I guess the filmmakers didn't want to be cheesy like that, because the movie doesn't really have much to do with Labor Day, outside the story taking place on Labor Day weekend of course. The movie is based on the book of the same title written by Joyce Maynard. I have not read the book, so I have nothing to compare to. The movie is a romantic drama starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Frank (Brolin) is a recently escaped prisoner who comes up to Adele (Winslet) and her son and essentially forces his way into their lives. Quickly, both find out that Frank is not the man they think he is. He is in fact a great family man who treats both of them with a ton of respect and claims that the story the police and media tell about him isn't the full story.

Is this a chick flick? Well, I suppose it kinda is, but I like the term romantic drama a lot more to describe this. Usually chick flicks are boring, cheesy, and predictable, all following the same exact plot structure. This is none of those. Brolin and Winslet do an excellent acting job. Winslet does well at playing a mentally scarred woman after her previous marriage ended rather tragically. Brolin does well at playing a man that is just super awesome and helpful in every way. Then the movie is actually fairly tense because you keep being reminded that Brolin is a fugitive, and so every time a police officer drives by or a neighbor knocks on the door, your heart nearly stops. Also making the movie even better is the son, played by Gattlin Griffith. In addition to following the story between Winslet and Brolin, we dive into the life this 12-year-old boy and all the stuff he is going through.

Yes, there may be a few logistic of the movie that one would question if one needed a perfectly realistic movie, but overall this is a great story. On top of that, it is also a beautiful movie in terms of cinematography and music. Overall, I walked out of the movie very pleased and would highly recommend this movie to both male and female. See it on Valentine's Day. See it on President's Day. Heck, you can even watch it when Labor Day actually rolls around. But give it a shot. I give Labor Day a very strong 8 out of 10.