Friday, May 30, 2014

Maleficent Review

When you look at the history of the Walt Disney Company, you quickly realize why they are so huge. They are experts at always finding new ways to earn money. Now is not the time to dive into that long history, but I say that because Disney's recent kick is making live-action movies of their old classic animated movies. The guinea pig in this was 2010's Alice in Wonderland and that worked out super well financially as the movie earned over $1 billion worldwide. Of course this means more. Currently at hand is a treatment on Sleeping Beauty. Next year we will get a take on Cinderella early in the year and The Jungle Book later in the year. Since the success of Alice in Wonderland, other studios are joining the party. In 2012 we got two Snow White movies, one by Relativity and the other by Universal. Warner Bros. is bringing us Peter Pan next year and Tarzan the year after that. Financially this is all working out, but I'm not here to talk about money. In terms of movie quality, it's been 0 for 3 for me so far. Alice in Wonderland and Mirror Mirror were huge misses for me. Snow White and the Huntsman actually was enjoyable, but train-wrecked in the end. So this is a bad track record so far. I was hoping that Maleficent would turn things around, but unfortunately I am sad to report that Maleficent has also missed the mark.

What I really do appreciate is the fact that, at least in Disney's own live-action versions, they seem to be trying to do something different with the movies. Alice in Wonderland was essentially a sequel and Maleficent a complete retelling of the story. If Disney had just decided to do Sleeping Beauty all over again without any changes, that would've rehashed the whole remake discussion that we have constantly? Is it necessary? What's the point? Why do we need this again? The fact that we have Sleeping Beauty done in the perspective of the main villain makes this intriguing. In fact, when I first heard about this project, I was intrigued; when I saw the first teaser, I was excited. Diving into the psychology behind a main villain is something that I enjoy a lot. It gives the villain depth and character while making the movie as a whole more intense and emotional. This also looked like a dark re-telling of the story. With Sleeping Beauty especially, that sounded like an excellent idea.

After advertising itself as a dark movie, the first red flag for me came when the official rating came out. I normally don't have a problem with PG-rated movies, but in this case I did because I was nervous that this movie would try to be a dark fairy tale and kids movie at the same time. This fear turned out to be my biggest concern. The movie had an identity crisis. It tried to appeal to adults by being dark, gritty, emotional and action-packed. But it was too scared to go too far. It would start a cool action scene, then it would cut away before it went too far. It started to get dark and ominous, but then it would immediately cut to a happy scene. If you want to be a happy kids movie, then fine. I can enjoy those movies. If you want to be a dark adults movie, then fine. I can also enjoy those movies. But pick one. Don't try to be both, because what happens is you end up appealing to none. Seriously. I was asking myself the whole time, 'Who is this movie intended for?' The easy answer based on the rating is kids. I'm not a parent, but I do have many nieces and nephews. I wouldn't recommend my siblings take their kids to see this. But it's not an adults movie either.

This leads right into the next point in that the movie had horrible pacing issues. It started off really slow and throughout the movie, there were several scenes that just dragged on. Then things just started happening. The events didn't flow well. The writing was bad. The script wasn't great. Things just happened and you as a viewer were just forced to accept these things. Then scenes were thrown in there that just didn't make sense. It was forced. One second Maleficent bursts into the castle and we have a super awesome evil Maleficent scene where she curses Aurora. The next scene she feels bad that the three fairies aren't doing a great job at raising Aurora, so this evil villain starts taking care of Aurora. What? I don't get it. One second you doom the girl for the rest of her life potentially and now you feel bad that she isn't being raised right? Nope. I don't buy it. These things continue the whole movie and are especially bad at the end where the whole finale of the movie is forced and rushed. It especially disappointed me because this movie had so much potential that is just thrown away.

I will say that the cast in the movie is excellent. As the marketing has shoved in your face for months now, Angelina Jolie is Maleficent. And by goodness does that woman do a great job. I don't think they could've picked a better actress to portray the character in a live-action setting. The problem was they didn't write her character very well. I wanted her to be evil, especially during the scene where she curses Aurora. Holy cow that awesome. If they had kept that Maleficent, that would've been great, especially because they did a great job at building the character up to that point. Sad. Elle Fanning also did a good job as Aurora. I've actually been really happy with where her acting career is going. If you don't know her, yes she is Dakota's little sister. And yes, I think she is starting to outshine her older sister. This isn't my favorite role that's she's done, but she does well and I hope she continues to get good roles in the future.

Overall, this movie had a ton of potential that it just threw away. That said, I wouldn't consider it an awful movie. Sure, I had a lot of bad things to say about it, but I have seen a lot worse recently. I'm just very nit-picky with it because of how cool it could've been. I didn't like it as much as the somewhat disappointing Snow White and the Huntsman, but I did like it a lot more than Alice and Wonderland and Mirror Mirror, so it gets kudos there at least. It just didn't have the charm of Sleeping Beauty, spurred by the pacing issues, identity crisis and poor writing. I won't recommend you skip this movie because in my opinion that is an unfair recommendation. Different people have different opinions. But I will suggest to you to not pay full price for it if you do decide to see it. Find a matinee showing or a cheap theater. Or just wait and Redbox it. There are plenty of other good movies out right now that are more deserving of your time and money. My grade for Maleficent is a 6/10.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Blended Review

It's been a while since I've given an Adam Sandler comedy a shot, being that his recent movies include Grown Ups 2, That's My Boy and Jack and Jill. Yes, it's easy for people to hate on Adam Sandler and avoid all his movies, but there's been several Adam Sandler movies that I've enjoyed and I had reason to believe that Blended could be one of his better ones. First reason is that Adam Sandler teams up with Drew Barrymore for a third time. The other two times he did this were in The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. Second, the director of this movie is Frank Coraci, who directed The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy and Click. All of those movies are Adam Sandler movies that I have enjoyed. So despite the awful reviews, I decided that I needed to at least try this one out and see what I think. Turns out that while this movie has a lot of problems, it is better than some of given it credit for. Not Sandler's best work, but not his worst either.

The plot of the movie is pretty predictable. Adam Sandler has recently gone through the death of his wife while Drew Barrymore has gone through a divorce. The movie starts with them on a blind date that goes terrible. Despite wanting nothing to do with each other, one thing leads to another and they find themselves on a trip to Africa with each other with their corresponding children. Have an idea of how the story goes from there? Yup! You'd be right. But that's not the point here. The movie is a comedy. Usually the purpose of a comedy isn't too be deep or unpredictable. It's to be funny. And I can forgive a predictable story if a comedy does a good job and makes me laugh. Did this movie do that? Yes, actually. I was nervous that I would walk out of this movie not having laughed once, but I got some good laughs. The problem was that I didn't get enough of them. For the most part, the movie was your typical Adam Sandler movie humor. Forced humor that wasn't funny. On-going gags that were drawn out throughout the whole movie. Unfunny dirty humor that was awkwardly placed at the wrong moments. A successful comedy is one where the humor flows naturally, and for the most part this movie failed at that.

Looking at Adam Sandler movies, most of them have this same style of stupid humor that I just roll my eyes at. And I expect that type of humor every time I watch one. I don't like it, but I expect it to be there. However, the good Adam Sandler movies are the ones that go beyond this. They don't just drive the stupid humor to the ground the whole time, they add some heart and emotion into it. Yes, the stupid humor is still there, but it's not overbearing to the point where I think the movie is complete trash. Examples of this are Click, 50 First Dates, Happy Gilmore and The Longest Yard. I was hoping that Blended would follow the formula for these movies by adding some heart and emotion that I bought into. And it almost happened. About halfway through, there begins to be times in the movie where the two families start bonding and there are many potentially great moments. But then they get ruined by attempted comedy. The African band keeps showing up. Adam Sandler makes a dumb one-liner. A joke is made about Sandler's oldest daughter looking like a man. And those moments totally killed the scene. It was as if the movie was worried that it was being too much of a drama, so it forced comedy into and thus self-destructed.

I know it wouldn't break your heart if I spoiled this movie, but I'm not going to. I will say, though, there finally comes a time in this movie where the stupid comedy is mostly dropped and the movie lets itself become a drama. The big problem here was that drama didn't flow as well as it could have. The movie was coming to a close and the movie knew that things needed to happen, so they just started happening and it wasn't believable. It tried to take us through a few twists and turns before it resolved itself but it didn't succeed. Finally, the final ten or so minutes of the movie was actually good. It added the heart and emotion that makes for good Adam Sandler movies and left the audience on a happy note. Good chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore helped the cause, but at this point it was too little, too late. Sure, I felt all happy inside, but ten minutes of happy didn't make up for the rest of the movie's antics.

Overall, I would say that if you like Adam Sandler's type of humor, you probably will enjoy this movie. Like I mentioned, I myself did have a few good laughs as well as a few moments where I felt happy inside. Because of this I hold to my statement that I have seen much worse from an Adam Sandler movie and thus the reviews from all around I feel are a little too harsh. At the same time, though, the movie shot itself in the foot too many times, thus preventing it from being as good as other Adam Sandler movies. So no, I can't give this movie a good grade, but you also won't see this on my worst movies of 2014 list because I have already seen plenty that are worse. In a crowded summer, I wouldn't recommend you put this high on your priority list, but if you've enjoyed Adam Sandler movies in the past, it may be worth a shot when it's cheaper and there's not much else to go see. I will give Blended a 6.5/10.

Friday, May 23, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

My personal history with the X-Men movies is an interesting one. If you have read my reviews, you will know that I am no stranger to controversy and the X-Men movies have sparked a lot of that over the years. I think the first one is boring. X2 was significantly better. X3 was the best of the trilogy. Then the Origins Wolverine happened and I actually loved that movie. First Class followed shortly after and I thought that one was a bit dull. Last year The Wolverine happened and that was super entertaining but completely useless in the grand scheme of things. So yes, it's a bit of a unique opinion on X-Men. So what does this mean for Days of Future Past? Well, you could try going based off this trend and predict that I would not like this one because everyone else is loving it. However, if you were to do this, in this instance you would be dead wrong. In my opinion, X-Men: Days of Future Past easily trumps all X-Men movies to become the best of the series.

In order to most accurately describe my feelings towards this movie, I first need to dive into the controversial X3. In most cases, this is the most strongly hated X-Men movie. It threw a lot of twists and turns at the audience, most of these included killing main characters or taking away powers of others. This angered most fans. I, however, was unphased. There is an end credit scene where it it sounds like we hear Xavier's voice. Also there is the scene with Magneto and the chess set where it appears that he moves a piece. To me this said that Xavier is not actually dead and Magneto has not lost his powers. And if this is the case, then it is also possible that others could be brought back from the dead or given their powers back. I was confident that a movie that did this would be made. Turns out, this is exactly what Days of Future Past does. Thus we can say this was the movie that I have been expecting for a long time and it delivers.

How does Days of Future Past pull this off? Time travel and alternate dimensions of course. However, it doesn't make a huge effort to connect to X3 or any of the original three for that matter. At the end of last year's The Wolverine, Xavier and Magneto show up to Wolverine, which confirmed my theory that they would be back. I did think this movie would spend time telling us how they came back. This didn't happen. In fact, it's almost as if we start the movie off in an alternate dimension without explaining at all how we got there. All we know is that Mystique in the past made a real bad decision that caused the sentinels to be created that end up wiping out a lot of mutants and humans. We start this movie in the midst of this disaster as if we are picking up where a previous movie left off. But there is no previous movie. I could've complained at this, but instead I just went with it and decided to see where it would take me. The ride I went on was rather exhilarating.

Like always, Wolverine is our central character. He gets sent back in time with the mission of stopping the initial event that created the huge mess that is present at the beginning of the movie. This time period is shortly after the events of First Class and thus the movie feels like a sequel to First Class. The fact that the original trilogy is mainly avoided also makes this feel like a rebooted version of X-Men. Wolverine has to confront young versions of Xavier, Magneto, Mystique and Beast, played by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult. Yes, there are a lot of the original cast, but they play fairly minor roles and thus I feel this crew is our new X-Men. And they are fantastic. We have the duel between Xavier and Magneto still, played by McAvoy and Fassbender, both of whom are fantastic. Magneto is a piece of work, like always, and Fassbender pulls it off fantstically. Xavier in this is going through a phase where he is trying to figure himself out and I love the rollercoaster of emotions that McAvoy pulls off perfectly. Nicolas Hoult does a great Beast. Jennifer Lawrence once again shows the world why everyone loves her. Her portrayal of Mystique is totally awesome. And Hugh Jackman is great as always. He's been doing this Wolverine character for a long time and it feels like he hasn't aged a bit, which is great because his character also doesn't age, so it's perfect. Stealing the show, however, is the new character of Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters. He wasn't in the movie a ton, but when he was he got a huge round of applause from me. The Avengers: Age of Ultron has a lot to live up to when they show off their version of Quicksilver next year.

Overall, in watching this movie I was successfully able to ignore the original trilogy right along with this movie. Because yes, this is the X-Men movie that kicks the original trilogy right in the groin and establishes the X-Men story that everyone should care about with the characters and actors that everyone should care about. The acting by everyone was spot on. Newcomers were perfectly cast. The story was well thought out. The action in the movie was a ton of fun. Yes, this is the movie I was waiting for ever since I finished X3. And I couldn't have imagined a more perfect way of pulling it off. And based on reaction from everyone else, it's safe to say that this is also the X-Men movie that everyone has been waiting for. I feel very confident in saying that this is the best X-Men movie that has ever been made and thus adds to a summer of 2014 that has been on fire recently. Lets keep this going! I give X-Men: Days of Future Past a 9/10.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla Review

When it was first announced that there was going to be another Godzilla remake, my first reaction was not a positive one. Another Godzilla movie? Another remake? This won't go well. However, that all changed instantly the second I saw the trailer. Holy cow! This looked awesome! Suddenly I didn't care that Godzilla had been done a hundred times. I wanted to see it! And as more trailers came out, the desire to see it increased exponentially. Yes, studios should take notes on the advertising techniques of Godzilla. That was done to perfection. All this means that, going into this movie, my expectations were through the roof. I am happy to report that, yes, Godzilla is as awesome as the trailers made it out to be.

Plot of this movie? OH HECK NO!!! You ain't getting that out of me. I mean, it's not like it's super complicated, deep and mysterious. It's just that I didn't know anything about the plot going in and that was a huge part of the experience. In a day where nearly every movie gives away the whole plot in the trailer, I loved how the Godzilla trailers made me super excited for the movie without giving away any of the plot. So I'm not going to ruin that experience for my readers. There's Godzilla. There's tragedy. That's all I'm telling you. What I will say is that this movie is true to the character of Godzilla. I'm fairly positive that if you are a fan of all the Godzilla material out there, you will be pleased with what they have done in this. Also, it's a good homage to old disaster movies. I'm not an expert on older movies, but a friend I went with is and this friend was raving at how awesome Godzilla was because of that. So kudos there.

Now speaking of tragedy, what I really liked about this movie was the human aspect of it. There's a lot of movies out there that have epic battles in them and yet all they focus on is those epic battles. They don't focus at all on what's happening to the people around them. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Movies like this are enjoyable. But in Godzilla it's the other way around. The main focus of the movie here isn't on Godzilla himself. It's on the people around him. Thus this becomes less of a monster movie and more of a disaster movie. That I loved. And what made that work so well was the cast. There's a lot of big names in this movie, but the main focus in this movie is on two up and coming stars -- Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will know these two who have been as the twins Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in the upcoming movie event Avengers: Age of Ultron. Taylor-Johnson is known by some as the star of the Kick-A-- movies while Olsen is indeed the younger sister of the Olsen Twins Mary Kate and Ashley. I've been very impressed with Elizabeth. She is a great actress who is starting to overshadow her sisters. Her and Taylor-Johnson play husband and wife in this movie and both of them give knock-out performances that make me excited for their roles in Age of Ultron.

Some have complained that Godzilla focuses too much on these human aspects and not enough on Godzilla himself. They will say that Godzilla is barely in the movie. To that I say that they should just go watch Pacific Rim again and there they will get the movie that focuses mostly on the monsters. I loved how Godzilla went about things. And in comparison, this aspect means that this movie is lot more like World War Z instead of Pacific Rim. But that said, I don't get the complaint that Godzilla is barely in the movie. He gets plenty of screen-time. Especially in the later part of the movie. And when he does, HOLY COW!!!!!!!!!!!! Not only is he just so totally awesome, but visually Godzilla is breathtaking. The CGI for Godzilla is some of the best CGI I have ever seen. If this movie doesn't get nominated for best visual effects in the Oscars, I will think there is something completely wrong with the Academy. And right along with this, all the other technical aspects of the movie were also brilliant. I'm talking about cinematography, lighting, music, etc. Very well made movie even if you were to put aside the great plot and great acting.

Overall, I am very pleased with how the summer of 2014 is turning out. And of course I am cheating a bit by adding Captain America: The Winter Soldier to this tally, even though it is an April release. Going into this summer, I was super excited about the line-up and so far it has been 3/3 with Cap 2, Spider-Man 2 and Godzilla. Let's keep this going! Yes, Godzilla is a movie I was super excited for. Yes, Godzilla has earned great reviews thus far. Yes, Godzilla lives up to the hype with both the trailers and the early reviews. Yes, Godzilla is one of the best monster/disaster movies I have ever seen. I am labeling Godzilla as a must-see movie that will certainly be one of the movies that will stand out when we reflect on this year in movies. I am awarding Godzilla a very strong 9/10. And that almost feels too low, but that's what I'm going with. Go see it! Now!!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Million Dollar Arm Review

Million Dollar Arm officially gets released on Friday May 16th. However, Disney released the movie early for an evening on Saturday the 10th, so I was able to sneak in and see it. Now I feel super fancy because I am writing a review for a movie that has not yet been released. Bwa ha ha!! Moving on, as most of you know, I am a pretty big sports fan. Despite this, though, I can be fairly picky with my sports movies. A few general questions that I always ask. First, why was this movie made? There are a ton of great moments that happen in sports, but not all of them deserve movies to made of them. And along with that, sometimes an ordinary event is glorified in the movie, which causes you to raise an eyebrow when you learn the actual events. Next, how faithful is this to the actual events? Yes, I know this is Hollywood and they are going to change things. But if they change things too much, it can be a problem. For example, if the actual person portrayed in the movie doesn't like what Hollywood did with them, that is a problem. Finally, sports movies can be really cliche and predictable because there are only really two options for the ending -- the team/player succeeds in their goal or the team/player fails, but a lesson is learned. So what else do you bring to the table that will give your movie substance and avoid being just a cliche sports movie? 

Going into Million Dollar Arm, I was actually really excited because Disney had been raving about this movie for quite some time. I'm happy to report that it passes this test with flying colors. First off, yes this is a movie that deserved to be made. And no, it's not just an ordinary event that was glorified. And while I'm at it, it seems pretty accurate to the actual events. This is a movie about a sports agent named JB Bernstein. He's in a pretty dire situation and needs to make a huge splash or else business-wise he is in a lot of trouble. Using Yao Ming's situation as inspiration, he decides to go on a quest to get the first Major League Baseball player from India. Just like all of China followed Yao Ming's journey in the NBA (he made the all-star team even when he didn't play most of the season because of fan voting in China), an MLB player from India would be equally as huge with how many people live there. With this idea in mind, Bernstein sets up the competition called the Million Dollar Arm, which is essentially a try-out where the top two throwers would get to come to America with the opportunity of trying out for an MLB team.

Is this a predictable sports movie? Of course. The events of this movie took place just a few years back and a quick wikipedia search can tell you all about these two players. But the point here isn't to throw a curveball at audiences. The main focus isn't even on telling the world about an extraordinary event that happened less than a decade ago. It's all about relationships. Bernstein is a single man that is all business at first. What he seems to have missed is that he's brought two human beings halfway across the world just to make a successful business move. These two Indian boys are still teenagers that have never been away from home, at least not so far away from home. They are scared, nervous, alone, and don't even know the language at first. This is an emotional roller-coaster for everyone involved and watching it unfold is touching and beautiful.

What makes this movie work is the performances from all the actors. It's a grand slam performance. Starting from the top, Jon Hamm plays JB Bernstein and if this movie came out in the fall, I'd say he'd be a good contender for Best Actor at the Oscars. It'd be a deserving nomination. Lake Bell plays the neighbor/love interest for JB. She does a fantastic job as the mediator between JB and the boys, helping JB come down to earth to treat the boys right. Finally, our two Indian players, Rinku and Dinesh are played by Indian actors Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal. These two are the stars of the show. From the very beginning, you become emotionally invested in them and their journey. You want them succeed. You cheer for them when they perform well. You are devastated when they slip up. You scream inside at Jon Hamm when he treats them poorly. You fall in love with Lake Bell when she takes them in. Sharma and Mittal are fairly new in the acted business; however, they are not unrecognizable. Sharma plays the lead role of Pi Patel in Life of Pi and Mittal shows up in Slumdog Millionaire. There's also other great performances in this movie from the likes of Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton and Tzi Ma, but this will suffice.

Overall, Million Dollar Arm is a movie that is a must see in my opinion. Yes, there are a ton of huge summer blockbusters in the next month or two that will all fight for your attention, but don't let this movie slip past you. If for some reason you find yourself tired of all the huge blockbusters, then this is definitely a movie that you should check out, because it will be a breath of fresh air. Even if you are not a sports fan, I think this is a movie that you will love, because like I said, it's all about the relationships in the movie as opposed to the historical sporting event that is portrayed. If this movie were to come out at the end of the year, I would think it would be the type of movie that contends for an Oscar nomination or two. It's that good. It will certainly join the ranks of all the great sports movies. My grade for Million Dollar Arm is a 9/10.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return Review

This is a moment that for a while I never thought would actually come. But it has. Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return has finally made it to theaters. It was either in early in 2011 or 2012 when I was randomly browsing IMDb and stumbled on a new animated Oz movie that was coming out. "Hey that's a cool idea," was my initial thinking. And I've been following it ever since. It was supposed to come out a lot earlier than it did, so my journey in following it became much longer than expected, and there was a point where I thought the movie had been scrapped. Then Oz the Great and Powerful was announced and that movie beat this one to the punch of being the first Oz movie in quite some time. Now I felt bad because I knew that this meant everyone was going to accuse this movie of copying that one, when in fact it was probably the other way around. Then when actual trailers came out, it was apparent that no one was going to give it a shot because they all thought it looked dumb. But not me. I had invested so much time into following this movie that I knew I was going to see it opening weekend regardless. That weekend has come and I was true to my word. I saw the movie. And I am actually rather glad that I did because I actually enjoyed this movie. It's a charming and fun little animated movie that I think is great for family audiences.

Oz is a land that is thick and rich with story. L Frank Baum himself wrote 14 Oz books and that was followed by a plethora of additional books written by various artists. So before you open your mouth to complain about more Oz movies being made, you need to just keep it closed because there is a ton of material that could be used for all kinds of different movies. Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return actually is based off a later book written by L Frank Baum's great grandson Roger S Baum. That book is called Dorothy of Oz, which was actually the initial title of the movie when I discovered this before they decided to switch over to the franchise-confident title of Legends of Oz. The initial tagline of the movie, which was also changed, described the plot very well. "You've waited 70 years to learn what happened the next day." That was changed for multiple reasons, but the point is the story of this movie takes place the day after the classic Wizard of Oz story that you all know from the 1930's movie.

It's only been a day for Dorothy, but time lapse being different in Oz means it's been longer in Oz and Oz is in trouble. With Dorothy killing the two wicked witches, the field has become wide open for the latter witch's brother, the Jester, to take control of Oz. The Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man send a message to Dorothy that Oz is in trouble and transport her back. Before they can reunite, the three of them get kidnapped by the Jester, just like others such as Glinda. So now it is up to Dorothy to save her old friends, as well as all of Oz, from the Jester. Along the way she explores through new lands such as Candy Land and China Land and makes some new friends to tag along with her, which include Wiser the Owl, Marshal Mallow, the China Princess and Tugg the old tree (he lets them turn him into a boat).

First off it's important to know that this definitely has a targeted audience, that being younger kids. This wasn't necessarily meant for adults to flock to. Thus complaints such as poor animation and cheesy dialogue are things that I looked over a bit because I knew that the target audience wouldn't care. My little nieces and nephews are going to comment on the animation style of the movie. That said, I didn't think the animation was that bad. Sure, it wasn't Dreamworks or Pixar level, but it didn't bother me. It was unique and I quickly got used to it. I liked all the characters in the movie. Marshal Mellow, Wiser, the China Princess and Tugg were all charming and adorable. Hugh Dancy voiced Marshal Mellow, Oliver Platt voiced Wiser, Megan Hilty voiced the China Princess and Patrick Stewart voiced Tugg. They were joined by a great main cast of Lea Michelle (Dorothy), Dan Aykroyd (Scarecrow), James Belushi (Lion), Kelsy Grammar (Tin Man), Bernadette Peters (Glinda) and Martin Short (Jester). So this was quite the voice cast. It was also a fun story to follow as Dorothy journeyed through Oz to save her friends.  

Finally, the best part of this movie was what Oz the Great and Powerful completely missed out on. The classic Wizard of Oz was a musical. I can't remember if Oz the Great and Powerful had any musical-type songs with it, but if it did, they were forgettable, because I forgot about them. But Legends of Oz capitalizes on the musical aspect of the original and provides some very memorable songs. If you decide to continue to ignore this movie despite my recommendations, at the very least you should check out the soundtrack of this movie. Not every song was a runaway hit for me, but there were several that were very good and had me singing as I left the theater.

Overall, it was a long journey for this movie to come out and by the early box office numbers it appears that it will be a financial disaster. This really saddens me because it deserves to at least be a minor hit among family audiences. Yes, this is directed mainly towards kids, so if you do have younger kids in your household, I would call this movie a must-see at some point. But I also think that it is one of those kids movies that adults can enjoy as well. You may not walk out of the theater thinking that this is the best thing since the original Wizard of Oz, but you might just surprise yourself by enjoying it. I did. So ignore the critics, ignore the box office numbers that seem to be supporting the critics and give this movie a shot. It deserves your support. I give the movie an 8/10. And yes, I did like this better than last year's Oz the Great and Powerful.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

SPOILER REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

It's a rare occasion that I do a spoiler review for a movie. Usually I like to avoid any chance of me spoiling a movie for someone else, so I just revert to talking to someone in person when I want to talk about the ending. In fact, I've only done two spoiler reviews on this blog -- one for last year's Iron Man 3 and one for this year's Noah. Right when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ending, I knew that a spoiler review was going to happen because the majority of why I liked the movie so much was because of what happened in the end. And these were points that I couldn't just keep to myself. I needed to get them out in a blog post. I chose, however, to wait for a few more days to write this as to give everyone time to go see the movie if they want to. Now that this time has past, it's time to jump in and dissect this movie. Moving on to the next paragraph means that either you have already seen the movie and want to see what I thought about the ending or you simply don't care if the movie is spoiled for you. If it's the latter, you've officially been warned and thus the responsibility of the movie being spoiled is removed from my shoulders and given to you 100 percent.

One of the things that I have appreciated about The Amazing Spider-Man franchise is that it seems more true to the comics in my opinion. Sure, there's the argument that comics often have many different writers, stories, versions, etc., so is there really a set canon? Is it possible to be "more true" to the comics when often the comics aren't even true to themselves? It's a valid point and I'm not going to just skip over it, but generally speaking it seems that Sam Raimi with his Spider-Man trilogy grabbed a bunch of popular Spider-Man characters and did whatever the heck he wanted with it. Compared to the comics, it was very blended. Does that still give it a pass? Well, sure. If an adaption of something is done well, I can still enjoy it despite the changes made. While Spider-Man 3 crashed and burned in a disgustingly awful mess, the first two I still think are good movies. But when The Amazing Spider-Man came out it just enlightened my mind. It felt a lot more like the Spider-Man that I loved as a kid. And it's not that Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 suddenly became awful movies. They just became inferior, much like Edward Norton's version of the Hulk. I liked it. But when Mark Ruffalo took over, suddenly I forgot that Edward Norton's Hulk existed. It became inferior. Same here.

Point I'm trying to make with this? Now that I've fluffed this up enough, I feel it's safe to say. The Amazing Spider-Man went true to the generally accepted comic book version of Spider-Man. At least one of them. The one where Peter Parker dates Gwen Stacy before he dates Mary Jane. As goes the comics, in the midst of a duel between Spider-Man and Green Goblin, Gwen Stacy gets killed. This made me nervous. Why? Because The Amazing Spider-Man cast Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. That movie made me fall in love with Emma Stone. And yet I knew that if they were going to stay true to this comic book, they were going to have to kill her. I did not want this to happen. But I knew it had to. And I was pretty certain that it was going to happen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, especially when Mary Jane was cast in the movie. However, shortly after casting Mary Jane, they cut her out of the movie. This caused me to let my guard down. We have one more movie before Gwen gets killed, I thought. Or perhaps they have seen how popular Emma Stone's character has become that they have decided to just keep her. Hopefully?

Jumping into the movie, a lot of the movie is relationship drama between Peter and Gwen. Sometimes I hate it when a movie spends too much time with relationship drama. Thus was the case with Peter Parker and Mary Jane in the Sam Raimi trilogy. This time, though, I liked it. Why? Throughout the movie, Peter keeps getting haunted by Gwen's father. At the end of the first, her father's dying wish to Peter was for Peter to keep Gwen out of this. He struggled with this at the end of the movie, but decided to go ahead with it anyways. Some would've preferred this to be the end of the drama and for everything to be hunky-dory. To me this is unrealistic. If something like this happened in real life, it would be normal for things to be constantly going up and down. It was especially important here because we all knew that Gwen was supposed to be killed off. Thus the drama to me was interesting. Is Peter going to risk Gwen's life so he can be with her? Or is he going to cut ties with her for good in order to potentially save her life? Not knowing the end from the beginning, this may be a bit cliche and boring, but knowing the end makes this intense. As Gwen is going off to London, you are sad because they are splitting up but happy because it means she may survive for longer. But then Peter made the decision to stay with her and you jump for joy because they are together, but you freak out because you know this means she is in trouble. Thus all the romantic drama kept my undivided attention.

And now we move to the final battle. Electro. Peter has made the decision to stay with Gwen and follow her to London when suddenly all the power goes out. Electro has been freed by Harry Osborn (we'll get to him in a bit) and now Peter must stop him. But he doesn't know how. And this is where Gwen once again proves that she is the best superhero girlfriend ever. She is the one that helps Peter figure out a way to stop Electro. That is boss. Sure, Peter was the one who jumped in the Spider-Man outfit and defeated Electron, but Gwen was the brains behind the whole thing. And actually, at the end of the battle, Gwen's direct actions is what made Electro explode. She beat Electro. You don't get that very often. And that is why I love her. Quickly on Electro before I continue with more important things, is he the most important character in this movie? No. Could he have been completely cut out? Absolutely not. I loved his character arch. I loved Jaime Foxx' acting. I thought he was a really awesome villain, both in terms of how looked and how he fought. Him versus Spider-Man was fun to watch and the movie would've been empty without him because you know that Green Goblin is more of a teaser for future movies.

Moving on, up to this point I still was fully convinced that Gwen's time was not up. Her and Peter had just teamed up to beat Electro and I thought perhaps that's where they were going to end. Harry had messed himself up pretty badly, but I still felt he was going to come into play later. Then all of sudden he showed up in between both of them all decked out as Green Goblin. This is where I froze in terror. I was not ready for this to happen, but yet I knew it was going to happen. Gwen was going to die. Suddenly I shriveled up in my seat and the rest of the movie was like a horror movie for me.

But let's pause. I need to talk about Harry Osborn. We'll continue this in a bit.

The Harry Osborn in this is a very different Harry Osborn than the Sam Raimi Harry played by James Franco. He's a troubled Harry with a dark past. You can tell he's had this built up emotions from an awful relationship with his father Norman. To make matters worse, right before Norman dies of this terrible disease, he tells Harry that he has the same disease because it is hereditary. Throughout the movie you see matters go from bad to worse and he breaks when Spider-Man refuses to help him. Harry had believed Spider-Man's blood could cure him, but Peter didn't want to take that risk. To me it's a much more believable transformation to the Green Goblin than in the Sam Raimi films. Not only is it written well, but Dane DeHaan blew the performance out of the park. James Franco did a good job as the Green Goblin in those older films, but how it was written felt a bit forced. It hinged on Franco being butt-hurt that Spider-Man killed his dad. He didn't even allow an explanation. Then suddenly after a long time with a good past and good history, he's a villain. But only for like part of the third movie before he comes back again on Peter's side. It didn't work for me.

Now back to the point where Green Goblin shows up between Gwen and Peter. I loved his reaction. When James Franco learned that Peter was Spider-Man, he was blind-sided and didn't know what to do because he didn't want to hurt his best friend but he wanted his revenge on Spider-Man. This time around, the reaction was opposite. When Harry made the connection, he didn't feel remorse. All he felt was extreme hatred and betrayal. And he acted immediately by killing Gwen. I think that was very well written and not only made for an extremely tense ending, but it also sets up for a great rivalry in the next couple of films. I hear a lot of people complaining that he was "shoe-horned" into the movie just like Venom in Spider-Man 3. I don't understand this at all. They spent half the movie building up Harry's story line. And while there wasn't much face-to-face combat time between him and Peter, we all know that he as the villain is going to play a huge role in the next couple of films. Poor comparison.

Now to the death of Gwen. Like I mentioned, I knew this was going to happen in this movie, but then I talked myself out of it. I didn't even catch the build-up, so when Harry showed up it was a complete shock to me. I was planning on preparing myself emotionally and mentally for this time, but when it did happen suddenly, I wasn't prepared. Thus I feel I had a huge part of me ripped out with no warning. It was devastating. I feel I still am trying to recover from this. I fell in love with this girl when Spider-Man fell in love with her and now that she is gone, I feel just as broken up as he did. It was an emotional ending for me as Peter stood at Gwen's grave and listened to her speech again. When a movie pulls at all my emotional strings like this, it deserves a ton of credit. Yes, I liked Electro. Yes, I liked Harry's story. Yes, there were a lot of things in the movie that I loved. But all of that pales in comparison to Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. A lot of people hated this movie and we call argue all the Spider-Man semantics in this movie all day long, but when push comes to shove, none of that matters. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone did so good and had such great chemistry that they could've single-handedly carried this movie on their shoulders and I would've still loved it. That's how well they did. And because of them alone and the emotional rollercoaster that I went on as she slipped through Peter's fingers and died is why I consider this the best Spider-Man movie yet. And I don't think the others are going to top it. Why? No Gwen.

This leads to my final point. I think the writers of this did the right thing. They made the perfect Spider-Man movie. But it's an odd paradox. Because they did it so well, I am nervous about the future of this franchise. Why? They have to replace the best superhero girlfriend in movie history. Mary Jane has to come into the picture now. Can they equal the perfect chemistry that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had? They are going to have to go about this very carefully. I'm also nervous that they might bring Shailene Woodley back. She was cast as Mary Jane before they cut Mary Jane out. Shailene Woodley is not Emma Stone. Shailene Woodley will never be Emma Stone. I don't believe that Shainele Woodley can pull off what this franchise needs Mary Jane to pull off to make me happy. Now Sony already has a third and a fourth movie on the schedule, so they have two movies to get this right. First, they need to cast someone besides Shailene Woodley. Second, they need that person to be the perfect Mary Jane -- someone who has equal chemistry with Andrew Garfield. Third, since they do have two movies to get it right, they need to avoid the romance in the third movie and just establish a friendship. I hope they can do it. But I am really nervous.

Oh yeah. Sinister Six. They are totally setting up for that. It's not even a secret anymore. Wondering why Rhino happened? Sinister Six. We have Green Goblin and the man who I think is Mysterio organizing it at the end of this. We have Doc Oc and Vulture suits shown. Rhino starts it out. Lizard will be back. Despite getting killed off, the actor for Norman Osborn signed on for two more movies. Maybe Electro gets brought back? Who knows. But this is happening. And I want to be excited. But none of it really matters if they get Mary Jane wrong. No pressure...

What's up with them showing a clip from X-Men: Days of Future Past in the credits? It was cool, but I'm confused. I've never seen a different movie franchise advertised in the end credits of a movie. I know they are both Marvel, but X-Men is Fox and Spider-Man is Sony. Are they teasing a potential cross-over between X-Men and Spider-Man? Is Sony and Fox actually working this out? And if this happens, does that mean Wolverine and Spider-Man can finally be a part of the Avengers? What's the deal? Thoughts to this would be greatly appreciated because I have no idea why that scene happened.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

As a teenager, I remember going to the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie back in 2002 and being really entertained. I grew up with Spider-Man and seeing him on the big screen was a real treat. Looking back, I still have a lot of respect for that movie because it, along with the X-Men movies, started this huge surge of superhero movies that has produced countless of awesome movies. Yes, I also liked Spider-Man 2. I thought it was the best of the original trilogy. Spider-Man 3, though, was a complete and utter mess. Looking back, I guess I can be grateful that it was so bad because that sparked Sony to scrap everything and start over instead of doing Spider-Man 4. Initially I was super worried about The Amazing Spider-Man because a reboot so early sounded like a bad idea. However, that movie was done so well that it made me completely forget that the Sam Raimi trilogy existed. No reason to go back and watch those movies again. THIS is Spider-Man. And I'm happy to report to you that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the brilliance of this newer franchise. For reasons that I can't say here, I am splitting this review into two. This review is the non-spoiler version, so if you haven't seen the movie, feel free to read away.

The first thing that has jumped into people's minds when they have seen the trailer is the fact that there is three villains in this movie: Rhino, Electro and the Green Goblin. Red flags coming up all over the place? That's fair I suppose being that Spider-Man 3 is still fresh on people's minds. They had three villains and it was a complete disaster. However, my counter is that three villains CAN work. The problem with Spider-Man 3 wasn't the fact that there was three villains. The problem was that it was poorly written and poorly executed. On the other hand, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was beautifully written and perfectly executed. First off, I have to note that Rhino is a very small sub-plot. So yes, technically there are three villains, but really there is only two. And really, narrowing this down even more, this is just a movie about Harry Osborn and Peter Parker. Harry Osborn has inherited his father's company, but has the same disease that his father had and thus is trying to get Spider-Man's blood to fix his disease. Electro is essentially used as Harry Osborn's pawn. On Peter's side, in addition to struggling with what to do with his friend Harry Osborn, he has to deal with his relationship with Gwen. Yes, he's decided to go forward with the relationship, but his promise to Gwen's dying father in the last one is still haunting him.

The beauty of this movie is the same beauty of the first one, the fact that it is purely character driven. This is what sets this Amazing Spider-Man franchise apart from other recent superhero movies. Let's be honest, there are a lot of superhero movies where the main focus is the battle between the superhero and the villain. Yes, I like that because movies like that are pure entertainment and thus fun to watch. But having a superhero movie that is purely character driven is a good breath of fresh air. It's not about Spider-Man vs Electro or Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin. It's about Peter and Gwen. It's about Harry trying to stop himself from dying. It's about Max Dillon (Electro) trying to get some recognition. This style of movie, like always, requires top-notch performances from the leading cast and all of them deliver a home run. Andrew Garfield was born to be Spider-Man. I've grown up with Spider-Man and I can say that Garfield does it perfectly. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is the best superhero girlfriend in superhero movie history. I love her to pieces. In addition to that, our two villains played by Dane DeHaan and Jamie Foxx are also brilliant. My favorite performance from the Sam Raimi trilogy was James Franco's performance as Harry Osborn, so I was nervous about Harry Osborn coming back in this, but Dane DeHaan is so good in this role that it made me forget about James Franco. And honestly, I think his character is written better. Finally, you don't see Jamie Foxx in serious roles too often, but he pulls off a great Max Dillon/Electro. I love it when comedians can buckle down and do something completely serious and pull it off well.

I have a lot more to say about this movie, but talking about all that requires me to throw out spoilers. Normally I'd just say for you to come talk to me about the ending, but this instance is one of those rare ones where I need to get my thoughts out in a blog post. However, like I said earlier, this specific blog post is one that I deem spoiler-free, so I am going to end this right here. Once you have seen the movie and want to hear my thoughts on the ending then stay tuned for my spoiler review for this movie. So with this post, I will leave by saying that I thought The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a beautifully written, beautifully executed and beautifully acted movie. I loved The Amazing Spider-Man as it was one of my favorite movies from 2012, but I think that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ups the ante and is thus a notch above the first. I give it a 9/10.

For my spoiler review of this movie, click here