Thursday, July 31, 2014

Movie Preview: August 2014

The Summer of 2014 has come whimpering to a close. While there have been plenty of crowd-pleasers such as X-Men: Days of Future Past and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (both those titles currently are 90%+ on rottentomatoes and hold a spot on IMDb's Top 250), no movie this summer has even crossed $250 million domestically (Captain America: The Winter Soldier has, but that was an April release). In comparison, every summer since 2002 has produced at least one movie that ended up crossing $300 million. The last time a summer didn't produce a $250 million movie was back in 2000. Looking strictly at July of 2014, the box office turned out to be especially weak as this was the lowest grossing July in over ten years. Now August is typically the lowest grossing movie month of the Summer as studios usually release their bigger titles earlier. But this August could actually be different. With how weak July was this year and an August schedule that includes titles such as Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy and Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there's a chance that this August could actually top this July. At the very least, these titles, along with a handful of wild cards, should be able to challenge the August record set last year. So let's dive in and see what the final summer month of 2014 has in store.

August 1st - 3rd- 

Starting off the month of August with a huge bang is the tenth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that of course is Guardians of the Galaxy. Usually Marvel waits till the big months to release their movies, but for whatever reason, this year was their experimental year as Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released in April while Guardians of the Galaxy is being released in August. Although Marvel is done experimenting with dates for a while (all their movies from 2015-2019 are in either May, July or November), this shows that release date isn't everything. Ever since it was announced, Guardians of the Galaxy has been seen as Marvel's riskiest movie yet. First off, very few people actually know about the Guardians of the Galaxy comics. Second, the tone of this one is completely different from any other Marvel movie. This could mean epic disaster for Marvel. However, the marketing for the movie has been genius and add that to the excellent reviews and it looks like that Marvel is once again going to score a home run. Disney is expecting $65 million for the weekend, which is exactly what Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger got. It looks like Guardians will top both of those, though, as Fandango is reporting that it is outselling both of them. Fandango also reports that it is becoming their best August pre-seller in company history, so it will likely top the August opening weekend record which belongs to The Bourne Ultimatum at $69 million.

Providing some counter programming to Guardians will be the James Brown biopic Get on Up. Oscar season doesn't get into full swing until around October, but August is the month where we usually start to see early contenders and Get on Up has been thought of as the movie that will be this year's contender from August. If you haven't heard the name Chadwick Boseman, now would be the time to start paying attention. Last year he starred as Jackie Robinson in the movie 42, so he's pretty good at these biopic roles. The very early word is that Boseman will at least be in the conversation when it comes to the best actor nominations from this year. Back in 2011, The Help took advantage of an August release date to get both critical and financial success that led to four Oscar nominations and one win. Get on Up is from the same director as The Help, so it will look to follow in its shoes.

Finally, the movie A Most Wanted Man opened up the weekend before, but will be getting a nationwide expansion this week. A Most Wanted Man is based off the book of the same title and is about a Chechen Muslim immigrant to Hamburg who gets caught up in the war on terror. The huge draw here is that this movie stars the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. No this isn't his last movie as he still has the last two Hunger Games movies that he'll be in, but fans of the actor are bound to eventually show up to this to watch him in his last movie as a lead actor.

August 8th - 10th-

The second weekend of August brings us one of the more controversial films of the year in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Michael Bay is technically not the director here, but he is the producer and has his name written all over this project, which is precisely the point of controversy. Fans of TMNT have been nervous about what Michael Bay has planned for their beloved franchise in this modern live-action reboot of the turtles. Megan Fox being cast as April O'Neil didn't and neither did the arrival of the trailers as the movie looked nothing more than a Transformers movie with Ninja Turtles. However, regardless of the response to the film, the financial outlook of the movie looks good, especially since controversy sparks curiosity. Also, Bay does have a big following that makes his movies critic-proof. Looking at Transforms: Age of Extinction as an example, that movie seemed to be collectively hated by critics and audiences (17% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.3 on IMDb), but yet has already hit $1 billion world wide, led mainly by a huge charge in China where the movie has become the highest grossing film of all time there, earning nearly $100 million more than it has in the United States.

We've already had a couple food-related movies this year with The Lunchbox and Chef, but we will be getting a third this weekend via The Hundred-Foot Journey. This movie is about an Indian family who moves to France and sets up a restaurant right across the street from another popular French restaurant owned by Madame Mallory, who is played by Helen Mirren. Very early word is that Helen Mirren could be a potential Oscar nominee for her role in this movie, but it's obviously too early to tell. Considering the neglect towards the family audience this summer, the PG rating for this movie could pique the interest families. Also going for the movie is the fact that it's produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, among others.

Next up is disaster movie Into the Storm. Advertising for this movie has sold this as a movie that tries to show audiences what it is like to get caught in a tornado. Immediately what comes to mind is the 1996 movie Twister  and thus it remains to be seen if audiences will be interested in what may seem like a rehashing of that movie. In order to separate itself, filmmakers have done this movie in found-footage style, which may not turn out for the better. Found-footage movies have done very well in the past, but it seems like the genre has worn off on audiences. One evidence of this is last month's Earth to Echo which was able to gain pretty no traction. In a crowded month, Into the Storm could be looked over by audiences.

Last off for this weekend is Step Up All In. This is the fifth installment in the Step Up franchise, each coming out in two year increments since 2006. Step Up All In brings in several dancers from the previous movies for one big dance-off movie. The first Step Up did good business financially and while the sequels haven't done poorly, each one has declined in in grosses, so it's not likely that this one is anything special, although Step Up fans are still bound to show up.

August 15th - 17th-

Speaking of controversy, The Expendables 3 has gained quite a bit of it recently following the news that this third installment will be getting a PG-13 rating instead of the typical R rating that the previous two have received. This could do one of two things. First option is that fans of the franchise get angry and skip this movie after accusing it of being watered down, thus leading this one to be the lowest-grossing of the three. Second option is that the PG-13 rating expands the audience to those who usually don't care for R-rated action films, but will show up for PG-13 action films. It's unknown which of these will happen at this point, but as far as the movie goes, much of the same should be expected. The ever growing cast of action stars in this franchise adds Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson to this third installment while keeping much of the same cast from the first two films.

Also coming to theaters this weekend is the movie adaption of the popular Lois Lowry novel The Giver. Ever since this was announced, fans of the book became excited because this seems like a novel that would work very well as a movie. However, excitement was diminished significantly at the reveal of the first trailer. Fans became upset that it seemed their book wouldn't be done right on the big screen. The next trailer healed some wounds, but not all. Now The Giver is stuck in a tough spot. It's trying to be the next big dystopian movie and thus hopes to gain some leftover summer movie excitement. At the same time, it's hoping that it can get some awards recognition by being released near Oscar season and heavily advertising the fact that it includes Oscar-winners Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. Unfortunately it may have shot itself in the foot with the marketing and thus it may end up getting lost in August and become the next failed dystopian movie.

Next up is the buddy comedy movie Let's Be Cops. So far this year was very good to both of the other buddy comedies that came out, that being Ride Along and 22 Jump Street. Also, in the last several years the summer season has been very good to R-rated comedies and this summer has been no different, minus a few exceptions. Last August saw We're the Millers break out and wind up as the biggest movie of the month. With the loaded August schedule, that definitely won't be the case here, but there is a good chance this does fairly well and supports what should be a fairly strong month. Advertisements has promised plenty of laughs for audiences, which is of course is the key for success.

August 22nd - 24th-

It's been almost ten years since since Frank Miller's Sin City came to theaters. A sequel has been in the works for a while now and finally in this weekend of August, fans of Sin City will be graced by Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Sin City of course was based the Sin City neo-noir comics (later turned graphic novels), which were written and drawn by none other than Frank Miller himself. The Sin City movie did decent business back in April 2005, but was extremely well-liked as it owns a place in the IMDb Top 250. This sequel is primarily based on Frank Miller's first comic in the series, also entitled A Dame to Kill For. Returning for the sequel will be Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, and Bruce Willis, while Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt will among the new cast members.

Joining A Dame to Kill For will be the film adaption of If I Stay. This is based off the popular young-adult novel written by Gayle Forman. In this story, 17-year-old Mia Hall gets in a car crash with her family, putting her in a coma. Mia has an out-of-body experience where she watches the doctors treat her and she is thus left with a big decision: does she decide to wake up and live a life that would be much harder than before or does she slip away and die? This isn't a Christian drama, but it was advertised in front all the big Christian movies that came out earlier this year and the life or death premise of the movie could be one that these audiences could buy into. The movie stars 17-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz as the title character of Mia, who has certainly had quite the career already for a 17-year-old as she has starred in movies such as the Kick-A-- movies as well as others like Let Me In, Hugo, and the Carrie remake. 

The final movie for this weekend is the sports drama When the Game Stands Tall. This movie is based on the true story of a high school football team that owned a record 151 game winning streak. The drama in the movie centers on what happens to the team and the overall city when the winning streak is finally broken. Thus everyone has to learn how to pick themselves back up and move forward. Sports movies usually have a limited ceiling financially and the fact that this is being released in the dead zone that starts in late August isn't a good sign. Also, this year hasn't been good to the two sports movies that have already came out as Draft Day and Million Dollar Arm both opened to around $10 million. However, if it ends up with good reviews, break-out sports movies do happen and the fact that this summer has been extremely lacking in family-friendly movies could play out in its favor. Jim Cavaziel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ is the big name in this one as he plays legendary head coach Bob Ladouceur.

August 29th - September 1st- 

Rounding out the month of August will be the infamous Labor Day weekend. Historically speaking, this is not the place you want to be if you want to make money as there have only been three movies in history that have opened up above $20 million for the four-day weekend. It doesn't look like this year will be any different, but there will be two movies that will try. The first of these two is The November Man, which is an action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Luke Bracey (G.I. Joe: Retaliation). Brosnan has had an excellent career, but this probably won't be one that he James Bond star will be bragging about as this looks like a fairly generic action movie coming out on a very poisonous weekend. This does open up on Wednesday the 27th in an attempt to get a head start on the weekend, which may or may not work out.

Also most likely set to fail on this weekend is As Above/So Below. This movie is a horror thriller set around two archaeologists searching for a lost treasure in the catacombs of Paris. This movie is directed by John Erik Dowdle, whose only other work is Devil and Quarantine, both of which opened in the low teen millions and ended around $30 million. That seems like a fair price tag to put on this one as well. No reason to believe it will be any higher.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lucy Review

Back in 2011, there was a movie called Limitless that was released. The basic premise was that a guy takes a pill that allows him to access 100 percent of his brain. Personally I thought the movie was dumb. Interesting premise, but poorly executed with a rather lame message that it left the audience with. While I'm not here to review that movie, I bring it up because I am almost certain that Luc Besson watched that movie and said to himself, "What if I were to make a movie that uses that exact same premise, but instead turn it into an insane and crazy action-thriller?" Because, seriously, that's exactly what Lucy is. Limitless on steroids. Turns out this worked out quite well. Not only is Lucy on pace to demolish Limitless in terms of box office numbers, but in my personal opinion, Lucy is a much better movie. Crazy, insane, and weird, yes. But I walked out with a positive feeling towards the movie as opposed to the negative feeling I got with Limitless.

As mentioned, the whole premise of this movie centers around the idea that humans can only achieve 10 percent of their brain capacity. Then we throw out the idea of what would happen if the full 100 percent could be achieved. Is this an accurate theory? Can humans only achieve 10 percent of their brain capacity? I don't know. In discussing this topic, I've talked to several people that will tell me this is completely false. But is it? I think of the capacity of my brain and I will fully admit that there are a lot of things my brain can't do. And not trying to make this a religious discussion, but if try to think of perfect capacity, I think of God's brain. There's definitely a huge difference between my brain and God's brain and I don't think anyone would argue with that. So whatever scientific term you want to use to explain that difference, that's what this movie touches on. Not that this is a religious movie. It's not. But that's what I thought of as Lucy slowly gained more and more brain capacity and thus gained more and more abilities.

But let's not kid ourselves here. Whatever stance you take on the brain capacity issue that I just talked about shouldn't really matter. This is not trying to be a realistic movie at all. This is a movie that is taking an interesting concept and turning it into a high octane thriller. And by goodness does this movie take you on quite the wild ride. And not all of it is good. In fact, the beginning of this movie was a bit much. First off, it was really odd. Right at the beginning Lucy gets thrown into this awful situation by her idiot boyfriend where she is being chased by a bunch of Chinese people trying to catch her because of this suitcase that her boyfriend handcuffed to her arm. While this is happening, we get parallel shots of a cheetah chasing down an impala. What? I mean, I understood the parallel perfectly, but I had no idea why it was happening. And this kept happening throughout the first part of the movie. In addition to that, this got really gross rather quickly. If you have a weak stomach, this may be a movie to skip.

Once we get through the crazy beginning, though, we get to the whole reason why I went to see this movie in the first place. Scarlett Johannson kicking trash. Scarlett Jo has been a favorite actress of mine for quite some time, but she climbed way up high on the awesome ladder after her epic performance as Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Just so happens that the timing of this movie is brilliant because I was totally ready for more epic Scarlett Jo after that and boom! This movie came along just a few short months after. And let me tell you, she is brilliant. She's good as normal Scarlett Jo, but then once her character Lucy gets drugged, she starts turning into Black Widow and becomes totally awesome. Then things escalate even more and she starts becoming not just Black Widow, but a combination of pretty much every Marvel character you can think of. When she's at this stage, a lot of crazy, weird, absurd things happen because she is able to do like anything she wants. This made things slightly less tense because you know that none of the crazy Chinese people chasing her has any shot of stopping her, but to me it was pretty fun to witness because, like I said, Scarlett Jo is a boss and watching her kick everyone's trash is pure entertainment.

I was nervous about the final act of this movie because Limitless crashed and died with the final act and I was afraid that this would do the same thing. But it didn't. In fact, when the end credits rolled around, I was in awe. Sure the conclusions of this movie were like the rest of this movie: completely absurd and ridiculous. This is Luc Besson. What'd you expect? But in my opinion it was also super epic. Of course I'm not going to even think about diving into specifics. I want to leave that a surprise. Just know that I enjoyed the ending and if you want to talk to me in person about it, I would be more than willing to oblige. So overall, Lucy was a super crazy and super weird movie. It was completely unrealistic and very absurd. But it was the type of crazy, weird, unrealistic and absurd that I found myself enjoying for some weird reason. I'll admit that it's not for everyone, especially because it gets overly gross and violent at times, but if you consider yourself a special type of crazy like myself, you might enjoy your time seeing it. I give Lucy an 8/10.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hercules Review

Hollywood often goes on these random mini-fetishes that almost makes no sense. For example, back in 2012 we had two Snow White movies come out within a few months of each other. It's awfully strange that two separate parties both came up with the idea of a live-action Snow White movie at practically the same time. This year the subject is Hercules. I don't know why we randomly got two Hercules movies in one year, but it happened. Miss the first go around of Hercules back in January? Good. Count yourself extremely lucky that you missed the outright disaster that was The Legend of Hercules. Despite all that has come our way, that movie still remains one of the worst of the year. I had hope that Dwayne Johnson's version would do Hercules justice. While the movie does have its fair share of issues, I am happy to report that Hercules is an entertaining movie that is in fact worth your time.

Hercules is advertised as the untold story of Hercules. Or the story you've never heard. Something like that. Point is they wanted to tell a story about Hercules that hasn't been done yet. I give them props for that. And if that was their goal, they succeeded. They created a Hercules world that we've never seen. The premise of this movie is that Hercules' past is pretty much unknown, outside the fact that he is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, making him a demigod. Eventually the movie teases a past that is potentially a bit shady, but all we really know is that it haunts Hercules, which gives him a bit of depth. Outside this, Hercules is essentially an outcast, but he's formed a group of outcast friends and together they form a sort of family. The bulk of this movie centers around this group being hired by the King of Thrace to train his men to be a great army that can defeat a strong enemy. Hercules' group never really cares about the why, the who, or the where of what they do, just as long as they get paid, so of course they take this job without thinking twice.

Being perfectly honest, this movie isn't very deep in plot. It's a somewhat shallow movie that is simply meant to entertain and that's exactly what it does. What really makes this work is the cast. First and foremost is Dwayne Johnson. You'll notice recently that I don't refer to him as "The Rock." Just Dwayne Johnson. This is because as of late, he has transformed himself from this crazy wrestler dude that doesn't know how to act, but is cast because of his size, into a legit actor who in fact DOES know how to act. And once again he proves this in this movie. He does a fantastic job as Hercules. Even though the movie itself doesn't have a whole lot of depth, Dwayne Johnson gives the character of Hercules a lot of depth. That and he looks and acts like you would think Hercules would. He's especially huge in this movie and because of that strength he is able to stand there in battle and just beat the living daylights out of anyone who tries to step in his way. Despite Dwayne Johnson being good in this, his small group of outcasts/mercenaries are all great in supporting Johnson. We have Ian McShane as the prophet Amphiaraus; Rufus Sewell as the thief Autolycus; Askel Hennie as the crazy, borderline morbid warrior; Ingrid Bolso Berdan as the awesome archer girl Atalanta; and the storyteller Iolaus. Together they make a very likable group that is very fun to watch.

In discussing a movie about Hercules, the Greek mythology of the character needs to be discussed. First, before we get any further, yes I know that Hercules is in fact Roman, the son of Jupiter and not Zeus. But do you know what, this is one of those instances where I ask who cares. Not me. And not this movie. Yes, Heracles is the son of Zeus, but do you know what, Disney is the one that botched all that up and because of that when we dive into Hercules, most people will know Hercules as the son of Zeus. And we all love that Disney movie, so it only makes sense that if we do a modern live-action version that we stick with what Disney gave us. If we made a movie called Heracles, not as many would know what the heck we were doing. And hey, perhaps Disney wasn't the first one to botch that up. I don't know. I actually don't know much about the mythology of Hercules, I just know that when I watched this movie it didn't seem like it was following any sort of accurate theology, but instead were making most if it up as they go. This is of course unverified. I was actually thinking to myself during the movie that maybe I should go look up the theology before I do my review. I like doing this. It makes me feel informed about the history of the character I just watched. But as the movie continued, I did something unique to me. I decided to heck with the theology. I'm just going to enjoy the movie and the characters they give me. And I did. I was entertained.

However, the biggest issue I did have was that I felt the movie could've done a lot more. No, I didn't care if they followed the theology of Hercules. Disney didn't. But I did feel that, despite me not knowing the theology, it does exist and if they are going to do a movie about Hercules it would be fun if they were to dive into the world of Hercules, even if it was their own interpretation. But all we did was follow Hercules and his band of outcasts as they performed this certain mission for this certain king. Yes, it's a bit more than that, but I don't want to give any plot away. What they did was entertaining. But it felt empty. This movie had a lot of potential to something big and amazing, but I felt that they didn't care to dive into that. But hey, it's Brett Ratner. The man isn't known for doing deep, profound movies. He just likes to entertain and that's what he does here. I suppose if you are one of the hardcore X-Men fans that have a personal vendetta against Ratner for what he did with X3 and are bound and determined to hate everything he makes, then I suppose there was nothing I could say to convince you anyways. But if you go in objectively and just try to be entertained by the well-acted, visual spectacle that is Dwayne Johnson's Hercules, you might find yourself being entertained by the movie, despite it being shallow in story. My grade for Hercules is a 7/10.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Fluffy Movie Review

"IT'S SO FLUFFY I'M GOING TO DIE!!!!!" Uhhhh.... no. Wrong Fluffy. Although that is a hilarious moment in one of the greatest animated movies, The Fluffy Movie has nothing to do with a giant stuffed unicorn at a theme park or anything of the sorts. Fluffy is the nickname of one of my personal favorite comedians, Gabriel Iglesias. While he has done comedy for a long time, The Fluffy Movie is his first attempt at a stand-up comedy movie. So yes, that's all this is. A stand-up comedy movie. As in Fluffy had one of his live shows recorded and had it thrown into theaters. Smart move if you think about it. That probably didn't cost much of anything and the result is a good chunk of money and increased publicity. Being that this is a stand-up comedy movie, this review will be a lot different in that I'm essentially reviewing a stand-up comedy routine and not a movie. It may not seem like there could be much said here, but I actually do have quite a bit to say because this was fantastic!

In reflecting on my favorite comedians, I have come up with a few aspects that make a good comedian. First and foremost, a good comedian has to make me laugh. And of course, the more I laugh the better. Second, the comedian's jokes should be memorable. If I totally forget about the jokes the next day, that's a problem. Third is creativity. One good joke or one good routine doesn't cut it. Neither does talking about the same subject over and over. Fourth, the best comedians are the ones who are naturally funny. It's easy to tell when a normally serious person is trying to force humor and it just doesn't work. Now obviously comedy is purely opinion based, just like movies, but in my opinion Gabriel Iglesias excels on all these fronts. Yes, he makes me laugh. A lot. That may seem like an obvious judgement, but there's actually a lot of comedians that I just don't find funny, so the fact that I am a huge fan of Iglesias should say a lot. In my opinion, the man is naturally funny. Comedy comes easy to him and thus he always has different things to talk about. Sure, he has reoccurring themes just like every comedian, but his routines are different enough and creative enough that it makes me look forward to his new stuff. And of course a lot of his stuff is memorable and usually very relatable.

Now that you know my general opinion of Fluffy, I of course want to talk about this specific routine. All I wanted from this was for him to make me laugh like he always does. I didn't need to walk out thinking that this was the best comedy routine ever or even that this was the best I've heard from Fluffy. I just wanted to laugh. However, I was surprised by how excellent this was. This wasn't just a typical Fluffly comedy routine, this was Fluffy at his best. I don't feel that he just woke up one day and decided to record his next comedy routine and put it in theaters. This one had a lot of thought put into it. He knew that this was going to be his Fluffy movie and he wanted to do something with it. He wanted to leave an impression. And that's what he did. How did he do it? He made it personal. He started by talking about some of his personal struggles. Recently he had a pretty bad scare where his doctor told him that if didn't make some changes, he'd only have two more years to live. Later on he talked about his wife, his son, and his parents in a very emotional way that was both touching and inspiring. The tribute in the end that ties into his final story is pretty awesome.

So in the end, I went into this just wanting to have a good time. I didn't expect perfection, I just wanted to laugh. And not only was I laughing hysterically the entire time, but I also felt touched and inspired in the end. This is truly the best of Fluffy. My recommendation here is simple and easy. If you like Fluffy, you are going to love this. If you aren't familiar with Fluffy, I would suggest familiarizing yourself with him the free and easy way before you spend the money for a movie. If you have a Netflix or Amazon Prime account, there's a good chance that you can find his well-known comedy routines there. If not, there's this beautiful website known as YouTube. Look him up. If you like what you see, go pay for The Fluffy Movie. It will be worth every penny you pay. I payed a little more than I usually do when I see movies simply because my options were limited, but I have no regrets. My grade for The Fluffy Movie? Well, I don't really have a grading system for comedies routines. It gets an A or a 9/10. Whatever you want to say. Simply put, if you like Fluffy, you'll love this. Go see it. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Belle Review

Belle is a movie that was released back in May in select theaters. It did gain some traction, but not much as its high point was only 525 theaters. Initially it didn't quite peak my interest as I heard almost nothing about it, but some strong recommendations from some friends gave me a desire to search it out. It took a while for me to find a theater that it was playing in, but I finally succeeded. Not only was Belle a very well-made movie, but in fact it was a historical drama about an event that I never knew about, so I walked out of the theater feeling educated. I suppose I had never been instructed much in my life about the history of slavery in England, so I appreciated the history lesson. My recommendation is that if you can find a way to watch this movie, you definitely should.

If you're like me and you've never heard of Dido Elizabeth Belle, let me do my best to educate you without spoiling this movie. Dido was the daughter of Maria Belle, a slave, and Captain John Lindsay, a British naval officer in the latter half of the 1700's. When Dido was young, her father Captain Lindsay took her to his uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, to be raised. William and his wife raised Dido as if she was their own. The controversy with this was that William was the Lord Chief Justice of England at the time and had some pretty big issues to rule on in regards to slavery, which of course gets complicated and emotional when raising an interracial girl as a daughter. The specific case that this movie centers around is the Zong Massacre, wherein a certain slave ship disposed of 142 slaves in order to get insurance compensation. This case proved vital in the eventual abolition of slavery in England.

This might sound a bit weird, but the two movies that were going through my mind as I watched this were Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and the 197-hour long version of Pride & Prejudice -- you know, the TV mini-series from the 90's that ever girl loves? I say Lincoln because that movie is a historical drama about the abolition of slavery in the United States and this movie is a historical drama about the abolition of slavery in England. I say Pride & Prejudice because both movies are period-piece romance dramas, Pride & Prejudice being the 19th century with Belle being late 18th century. As far as that aspect goes, all the romantic drama actually really interested me. The fact that it wasn't the main point of the movie probably helped as well as the fact that it was rather short compared to Pride & Prejudice. We had Dido and her cousin Elizabeth living at the Mansfield home with the males in the movie being the Ashford brothers, Oliver and James, as well John Divinier. Out of the five of these actors, the only one I really recognized was Tom Felton, aka Malfoy, as James Ashford. As far as he goes, I found it amusing that once again he played the idiot. I'm sure Felton is a great guy in real life that has the ability of playing a nice character, but he sure is good at being an idiot and I have a hard time envisioning him as anything else. Back on track, all five of these actors did a great job at their respective roles in really selling all the romantic drama in the movie.

Stealing the show was of course Tom Wilkinson as Lord Mansfield. The political drama between him, Dido, and John Divinier was excellent. The fact that I didn't know the eventual outcome of these historical events made the movie really interesting and Wilkinson really hit a home run with his role. If anyone in this movie were to get an award, Wilkinson would definitely be my vote, although I doubt it will happen -- I don't even think the Academy will remember this movie exists by the time January rolls around. Speaking of Academy Awards, very rarely do I watch a movie and think as it's going that the movie should get nominated for best costume design at the Oscars, but that's what happened here. The 18th century costumes throughout the movie were excellent. Speaking of that period, the music for the movie was very appropriate as much of it came from Handel and Bach.

In the end, Belle is a movie that for whatever reason (advertising/distribution?) got overlooked by general audiences as it only made it into 525 theaters and earned just over $10 million in the box office. However, it deserves a lot more attention than it actually got, so my recommendation is that you find a way to watch this and give it a shot. It is a great period-piece romance/historical drama that is a well-written, well-acted movie that taught me a lesson in history that I didn't know about previously. I was very glad that I searched it out. My grade for Belle is an 8/10.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Begin Again Review

Last weekend the movie Begin Again showed up in my local theater. Now it may seem weird for some of you, but I actually didn't know a whole lot about the movie before it showed up. I could've done a bunch of research before seeing it to figure out where it came from, because it was one of those limited release movies that sometimes come out of nowhere to get a wide release, but I instead decided to do things the old-fashioned way and go into the movie without knowing anything about it. Sometimes that's fun. All I knew that it was a movie starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo and it was getting good reviews. That's about it. I suppose that can be a risky experience, but it's fun and I don't get to do that very often with how much I choose read up on movies, so I enjoyed the experience. And turns out it worked out quite well! Begin Again is a fabulous movie that you should go find in your local theater.

After seeing the movie is when I looked up more information on it. It turns out that the previous title was Can a Song Save Your Life? That actually rang a bell and suddenly I remember hearing about the title change, which I approve of. Begin Again is a better title. As both titles suggest, though, this movie is about redemption. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are both in awful situations and the moment where they meet is the moment where things start to change and they are given the opportunity to begin again. I did find it interesting how the movie begins with this moment, then goes back to tell both of their back stories individually up to that point. Ruffalo was a music producer who recently lost his job and had his wife of 18 years cheat on him. Meanwhile, Keira Knightley's boyfriend and music partner has found sudden fame and decides he needs to try his luck with another girl. After these events, Knightley and Ruffalo both end up in a bar. Knightley is pushed into performing a song almost against her will by another friend. This song catches the attention of Ruffalo and thus sparks this grand journey where they are out to create a new album of music together.

In addition to being a movie about redemption and new beginnings, this is also a movie about music. This really isn't a chick-flick or a romance drama at all. The comparison that was going through my mind the whole movie was Inside Llewyn Davis. For those of you who never saw Inside Llewyn Davis, it was a movie about a folk singer back in the 60's trying to make his way in the world. Personally I thought the plot was a bit lacking, but the strength of the movie was the music. There are a lot of folk songs that are sung throughout the movie and it is rather beautiful. It's even more impressive knowing that most of the music was performed and recorded live for the movie. As a side note, it also stars new Star Wars Episode VII cast members Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac for those of you wanting to know more about what they can do. But anywho, Begin Again is the same style where the music they perform throughout the movie is what makes this movie great. I don't know if it was performed live like in Inside Llewyn Davis, but from what I have been able to tell the vocal talent isn't doctored or auto-tuned. I believe it's Keira Knightley's legit singing voice, which gives her kudos.

The cast in this movie is really good. Mark Ruffalo did a fantastic job as always, but as I said Keira Knightley is the big star of this movie with her acting skills and her voice. In interviews Keira mentioned that she was never much of a singer, so this role was way out of her comfort zone and I really appreciate it when an actor is willing do such a thing. But not just that, I think she did a good job. It also has to be mentioned that Adam Levine is in this movie in his acting debut. I thought that was an interesting casting choice because, while he played a very appropriate role as a music star, the man's voice is very unique. Once again I'm going to turn to Inside Llewyn Davis as a comparison. That movie had Justin Timberlake as one of the characters who sang a few songs. I personally thought that was perfect because if you hadn't known that was Timberlake going in, you could've been fooled because he did a good job of disappearing into his role. Adam Levine tried to disappear into his role, and he actually did a great acting job, but his voice won't let him disappear into the role. Every time he sang, all I could think of was Maroon 5. And that was kinda silly. This must be an alternate universe where the world where the band Maroon 5 doesn't exist.

Overall, this was a movie that I was very impressed with. Yes, I was thinking Inside Llewyn Davis the entire time, but that's not a bad thing. I love music dramas. And I actually would say that this movie is better than Inside Llewyn Davis because it had an interesting plot where drama and resolution actually happened. The acting was great. The story had a good message with interesting drama. And the music was fantastic. I was actually almost left unsatisfied with the ending because the end credits rolled before the story seemed to be resolved and I was about to be mad at then, but then the movie finished during the credits. That was a bit strange, but it worked. This movie isn't necessarily an epic movie going experience. It probably won't win any huge awards at the Oscars this year, but it was a very enjoyable couple of hours and is well worth your time. I give Begin Again a solid 8/10.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lone Survivor Review

Sparked by the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the world is now exploding with superhero movies. Anyone sick of the movement is in for a rough time because it's not going to slow down for a long time, especially with DC trying to copy with The Justice League and Fox and Sony also trying to catch up to their Marvel counterparts. No, I'm not reviewing any Marvel or DC movie right now, but I bring this up because amidst all the superhero commotion, recently I had the pleasure of watching a movie about real superheroes -- a group of Navy SEALs. That of course is Lone Survivor. For one reason or another, I missed this movie in theaters. After watching it on Redbox, of which it was recently released to, I realized that I had made a mistake in not finding time to see it earlier, because this is one of the best war movies I've seen in quite some time.

The plot of Lone Survivor is no surprise. All you have to do is read the title of the movie and you know what's going to happen. If a friend happens to show you the movie and for some reason you miss the title, after about ten minutes you'll also know what's going to happen. There is a group of US Navy SEALs that go out on a mission and, well, there's only one survivor. However, the point of this movie is not to tell a story with a surprise ending. This is a movie that's all about the journey of these Navy SEALs. This is the true story of Marcus Luttrell, the surviving Navy SEAL. He wrote a book telling his story and this movie is based on his book.

This movie takes place just under ten years ago in June of 2005 and the setting is the Middle East. Yes, everything that has gone on there is super controversial, specifically our involvement, but regardless of your views on the war, you should appreciate this because in no way is this a political movie. This is simply the story of this group of Navy SEALs and I call them superheroes because their courage and bravery is practically super human. There is a lot of set up in the movie, but once it gets into the thick of things it is a crazy, emotional ride throughout. Their mission doesn't go at all as planned and once they start getting attacked is where I realized that no average human would've been able to do what they did. Early on they get backed into a corner and the only option they have is jumping off a cliff. I was thinking to myself that they were screwed. How are they going to get out of... HOLY COW! They all just jumped off that cliff. Wow! But that's only the beginning of things. The whole movie is loaded with scene after scene of this group doing crazy things like this. And why? Because they love their country and they are going to do their best to defend it. And they aren't going to leave any man behind, even if it means jumping off a cliff with a friend on your shoulders or climbing up the cliff to save a friend while bullets are flying left and right.

Yes, this movie is intense. Yes, this movie is emotional. No, you shouldn't show it to younger kids. And no, you shouldn't watch it if you get squeamish easily because parts of this movie were very hard to watch. But as I watched, I developed a strong feeling of gratitude. Not just because of these men, though, but also because this instance also made me reflect on everyone who's sacrificed to fight for this country, past, present, and future. Our soldiers have sacrificed their time to go fight for our country. And in many cases, they have died for our country. Why? So they can protect our freedoms. They did this for me. And for you. And that is awesome. That is what a true hero is. That is what I'd call a superhero.

Mark Wahlberg plays the title character of Marcus Luttrell and in my opinion he gives one of the best performances of his career. Also starring along with Wahlberg is Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster. The four of them play our group of Navy SEALs and together they are what make this movie succeed. I'm sure Marcus Luttrell in watching this movie was pleased with how his group of friends were portrayed (but that of course is just a guess). This movie was nominated for two Oscars and honestly I think it should've gotten a few more because it is one of the best and most emotional war movies that I have seen in quite a while. If you are like me and never got around to seeing it, go Redbox right away. I give Lone Survivor a 9/10.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn of the Panet of the Apes Review

Back in 1968 Charleton Heston's Planet of the Apes was a major critical and financial success. The movie spawned four immediate sequels and two TV shows throughout the 70's and is still considered a classic, even though those sequels and TV shows didn't quite get the same reaction. In 2001 Tim Burton remade the movie and while it was a financial success, audiences didn't go for it and thus no sequels were made. Ten years later the series was up for reboot once again and with all the past failures outside the original movie it can be understood why there wasn't a whole lot of hype leading into Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  However, Rise took pretty much everyone by complete surprise by being an excellent movie. Going into it, I personally didn't know what to expect, but I was immediately blown away. In fact, Rise ended up as one of my favorite movies of 2011. Because of this, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was one of my most anticipated movies of this year. I became even more excited when the reviews came out calling the movie excellent. After seeing it, I am happy to add my voice to the many who have praised it. Dawn is a very worthy sequel to Rise and together they are forming one of the better movie franchises of this generation.

In rebooting the franchise, Rise and Dawn have taken a completely different approach than the original and I think that is a big part of the reason why they have succeeded. Now I wasn't alive in 1968 for the premier of Charleton Heston's Planet of the Apes, but I imagine it was a pretty trippy experience. A group of people land on this foreign planet where apes rule and humans are the slaves. At the end of the movie they realize that it is in fact a post-apocalyptic Earth where apes have taken over. The next movie takes place after the first, but then in movie three through five, certain apes go back in time and then we are told the story of how Earth got to the point where it is. While Tim Burton's 2001 remake tried this same approach and failed, Rise of the Planet of the Apes started by actually going in chronological order. We don't start with an ape-ruled planet while telling the origin story later. We start with the origin story of how the apes took over. That was intriguing because we know how the story ends, but we don't know how they get to that point.

In talking about the plot of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I'm going to say a lot less than I usually do when I do my reviews. I went into this movie thinking that the final trailer had given away a lot of the movie, but was pleasantly surprised when I learned it actually gave away very little. We know based off the end of Rise that the apes have run off to a secluded part of the woods to live by themselves. They want peace. We also know from trailer footage that there will be a war between the apes and the humans. I was ready for a simple plot with lots of epic ape battles, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot more to it than that. After refreshing myself on the original Planet of the Apes series, I did learn that there is actually a lot of similarities between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the fifth and final installment in the original series Battle for the Planet of the Apes, but I won't specify what. And I feel comfortable saying this because there are enough differences that you can't just go read the plot summary of that movie and know exactly what happens in Dawn simply because the origin story of the original series involved this odd paradox of apes from the future travelling to the past and creating their future. This time around it was a science experiment gone wrong. So yes, it's a lot different. But imagine taking Battle for the Planet of the Apes and using some interesting parts of that while refining the poor parts to make an overall epic Planet of the Apes movie. That's what you get with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Dawn has been called by some as the Empire Strikes Back of the Planet of the Apes movies. This is a comparison that I actually agree with, but allow me to explain why. First off, the makers know what they are doing with this series. This isn't a situation where they come up with a second one just because the first was successful. They had an end goal in mind. When you have an end goal in mind, there is an almost formulaic beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning, the world is set up. The middle part intensifies and is thus either more dark and grim or simply more action-packed. Then we have our grand finale. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two movie franchises that have done this to perfection. To save time, I will let you go through the specifics of those franchises. Now that you have done so, I am proclaiming that Planet of the Apes is also following this formula pretty dang good. Rise set the scene and thus is more story-based with some awesome ape action towards the end. Dawn has intensified and is thus more packed with epic ape battles while being less focused on story and development, because that development took place with Rise. Thus we can say that Dawn is the Empire Strikes Back of the Planet of the Apes movies because it follows the Empire Strikes Back formula. Or better yet, a comparison to The Two Towers might fit even more. When you think of The Fellowship of the Ring, you think of mainly this epic journey that has begun. When you think of The Two Towers, you think of the Battle at Helm's Deep. Such is Dawn. Now in using these comparisons, I'm not saying that it is as good as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. I'm just saying it follows the same formula and because of that it is pretty dang epic.

Now after all of that, I want to quickly dive into some specifics of what made this movie awesome. First off, just like Rise, this movie is visually brilliant. As Andy Serkis mentioned in an interview with Conan, they used a performance-capture technology to create the apes. I think this is the same thing as motion-capture, but correct me if I'm wrong. Point is, Andy Serkis and company learned how to act like apes and all the movement of the apes in the movie is all what the actors have done. This isn't just 100 percent CGI apes with voices provided by Andy Serkis. This is a legit man acting like an ape performance that rivals any performance you'll ever see. This is why Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar. He is one of the most talented men in the business and if the Academy completely overlooks him again, they should be ashamed of themselves. In addition to the visual effects and the dominate performance by Andy Serkis, the story is brilliant and moving. The ape action is completely epic. The music done by LOST composer Michael Giacchino is beautiful. Overall, this is a very well-done movie.

Now in giving my grade for this movie, this is where things get a bit complex. If I were judging this franchise as a whole (Rise + Dawn), I would give this super high marks. Here we have a franchise that knows where it's going. The first two movies added together paint a brilliant picture that make you confident when the franchise is complete will be one of the greatest movie franchises of this generation. Yes, there have been certain movies in franchises that are better than Rise and Dawn individually, but due to less than epic sequels, their franchise as a whole doesn't equal this new Planet of the Apes franchise. However, I am not judging this Planet of the Apes franchise as a whole in this review. I am only judging Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And I will be honest and say that there are movies this year that I have enjoyed more than Dawn in terms of pure entertainment and there have been movies that I would rank higher than Dawn because of an emotional response that I got from them. So no, this isn't my favorite movie of the year or even my favorite movie of the summer. But it is a dang good one that is right on par with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past and thus my grade for Dawn will be the same grade that I gave those four movies. Yes, Dawn gets a 9/10 from me.

P.S.- In comparing Dawn to Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers, it's worth noting that I typically have found myself enjoying the third chapter of these franchises a bit more. Thus I hope that the third Planet of the Apes movie (untitled and scheduled for 2016), becomes my Return of the Jedi or Return of the King. Can't wait!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Movie Preview: July 2014

After a very healthy first third of the year, this Summer has taken a very negative toll on the movie business here in the states. After May saw several huge releases all self-destruct (three $90 million openings that all ended below $250 million), June came up rather empty. Out of the three major sequels in June (22 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Transformers: Age of Extinction) only 22 Jump Street will end up higher than its predecessor, while the other two will end up significantly lower (here in the states anyways -- Transformers is going crazy overseas). And with Transformers 4 only being in release for the last four days of June, May release Maleficent took the crown as highest-grossing movie of the month with 22 Jump Street being the highest June release. Looking forward, July is typically the biggest movie month of the year. Despite that trend, though, this July is looking like it will follow in the footsteps of the two previous months as there is really only one guaranteed hit in a month that is full of wildcards.

July 2nd - 6th-

Independence Day isn't typically a holiday where people rush out to the movies as fireworks and other celebrations take precedence. But even with that in mind, this Independence Day was still slower than usual. Despite falling over 60 percent in its second weekend, Transformers 4 still managed to easily take the weekend. As far as new movies, though, Tammy was the biggest newcomer. Melissa McCarthy has become one of the biggest comedy names in Hollywood today as was shown last year with Identity Thief and The Heat. She looked to follow that up this year by leading the road trip comedy Tammy to similar success. This didn't quite work out, though. Yes, McCarthy fans still showed up and led this movie to a decent success, but an uninteresting premise combined with reviews that were in the cellar (4.7 on IMDb; 24% on Rotten Tomatoes) ultimately held this back from breaking out.

Despite not breaking like like McCarthy's recent movies, Tammy was epic compared to the other releases this weekend. After scoring several home runs last year, the horror genre has failed to produce much this year. Early trailers from Deliver Us From Evil made people believe that it would be the first big horror hit of the year (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Devil's Due, Oculus, and The Quiet Ones all fell flat). This turned out to be wrong as Deliver Us From Evil fell short of $10 million in its 3-day opening weekend. While trailers provided plenty of scares for horror audiences, the movie itself turned out to be loaded with every horror cliche in the book, so horror fans elected to skip it while saving their money for The Purge: Anarchy later in the month.

Family audiences have been neglected this Summer pretty badly because outside a few major busts in May, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has been the only option thus far. Earth to Echo looked to bank on that neglect, but it failed in that goal as it was avoided by pretty much everyone. Problems included a lack of interest in the found footage style it used as well as an uninteresting story that looked too much like a rip-off of E.T. and The Goonies. It was evident that the filmmakers were wanting to introduce that type of movie to this generation, but audiences didn't buy in. Not only did few show up, but reviews show those who did weren't too entertained.

Finally, after a few days in limited release, Dinesh D'Souza's America arrived in a little over 1,000 theaters just in time for the Independence holiday. America is D'Souza's follow-up to 2016: Obama's America, which arrived just before election time in 2012. D'Souza's anti-Obama political documentary failed to make an effect in the election as Obama won re-election, but conservative crowds ate it up as it become one of the highest-grossing political documentaries ever. America most likely won't reach that level as not many showed up, but it did score an A+ cinemascore, which infers that at least a portion of those who loved 2016: Obama's America showed up for this one and were also impressed.

July 11th - 13th-

I mentioned earlier that this July does include one guaranteed hit and that would be Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Back in August 2011, no one expected anything from yet another Planet of the Apes movie, especially after Tim Burton's reboot just ten years earlier gave audiences a bitter taste in their mouths as far as those movies go. However, Rise of the Planet of the Apes took everyone by complete surprise by actually being an excellent, well-made film. Thus it became a surprise hit. Dawn is the sequel to Rise and due to the success of Rise, Dawn has been one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. With the bad luck that this summer has brought to movies, it's anyone's guess at this point to how exactly this movie performs. This summer has seen a record number of movies open above $90 million, but all of them have fallen like a rock in their second weekend, regardless of reviews, so Dawn's second weekend will be very telling. Early reviews are very promising as one top critic on Rotten Tomatoes claimed that Dawn is to Rise as Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars.

July 18th - 20th-

There are three newcomers this third weekend of July that all have decent potential. In theory, one of them could turn out to be a huge breakout hit and steal the top spot away from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But at this point it seems more likely that Dawn will rule for the second straight week and these three will be fighting it out for second place. I'm won't make any attempt to predict the exact order, but the first one that I will talk about is Planes: Fire and Rescue. Last year, Planes was originally planned as a straight to DVD. Almost last minute, though, Disney made the decision to throw the Cars spin-off into theaters. In August. After several animated movies have come that summer. What's more is that before it actually hit theaters, the sequel was planned for less than a year later. What in the world was Disney doing? Well, $219 million later (worldwide total -- $90 million in the USA) Disney definitely had the last laugh. These Planes movies may not be epic animated movies, but they are there for the smaller kids. And in that aspect, Planes: Fire and Rescue should do it's job just like the first did.

In talking about the failure of Deliver Us From Evil this month, I noted the horror genre is on a really bad streak this year. The Purge: Anarchy is going to try to buck that trend. Last summer when the horror genre was on a huge roll, an intriguing premise led The Purge to a $30 million opening weekend. What would happen if all crime, including murder, was made legal for a period of 12 hours? Even though The Purge tanked after its opening weekend due to poor reviews, making $64 million on a $3 million budget was a huge win and thus now we have a sequel just a year later. Horror franchises do have a tendency to be milked to death and The Purge is the latest to jump on that train due to the huge profit and the easy premise wherein a lot can be done. Look for many more Purge movies to come in the future.

Last, but yet the most likely winner of the three is the raunchy comedy Sex Tape. I really don't have a whole to say about this one. It is what it is and the title says enough. Those who go see this know what they are going to see. A married couple make a certain tape of themselves to spark their relationship and that tape gets into the wrong hands. Audiences will see a lot more of Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz than is typical, if you know what I mean. For better or for worse, Diaz especially seems to have become a lot more comfortable with herself as she has gotten older. Don't expect a review of this movie from yours truly because it won't happen.

July 25th - 27th-

If this July is going to save this summer, there needs to be at least one breakout hit to go along with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And while there's a small chance that the third weekend could produce a modest hit, it's really up to this final weekend to discover something as two of the biggest wildcards of the summer open up. The first of these two is another attempt this year at everyone's favorite demi-god via Dwayne Johnson's Hercules. If you are wondering what I'm referring to when I say another attempt at Hercules, let me remind you that in this past January, the movie The Legend of Hercules entered theaters as an attempt to bring Hercules to the big screen. It quickly was booted out of the theater as it's final total in the states was less than $20 million, which is pretty bad considering its $70 million budget. Its IMDb score of 4.2 shows that it's poor reception was at least part of that reason. This time around, Dwayne Johnson and company are going to try to make you forget about that adaption, if you even knew it existed in the first place. Trailers for this have shown a much more recognizable Hercules this time around, fighting monsters and large animals single-handedly. It seems like a perfect fit for Dwayne Johnson, who, despite his reputation, has actually played several decent roles recently. Director Brett Ratner is most well-known for angering pretty much every X-Men fan with X3, but his resume also features other likable projects such as the Rush Hour trilogy and the popular TV show Prison Break.

Challenging Hercules for this weekend will be Scarlett Johansson's Lucy. Not that a cross-over between these two will ever happen, but it would entertaining to watch Hercules vs. Lucy in an actual physical duel, and not just a fight for the box office title. Thanks mainly to Disney, we all know how powerful Hercules is, but the movie Lucy also features an unstoppable human with Scarlett Jo's title charater Lucy. The premise of the movie brings to mind 2011's Limitless as both movies toy with the idea of mankind finding a way to get human beings to access 100 percent of their brain while showing theoretical consequences of such a venture. And before one goes and picks apart this theory that humans can't access 100 percent of their brain, it's worth noting that Lucy doesn't appear to be really taking this seriously, but instead are just using that as a footstool to make an intense action movie. Scarlett Jo has had quite the illustrious career as she has played all kinds of different roles, but this role as an action star brings to mind her most notable role as Black Widow in Marvel's Cinematic Universe. Captain America: The Winter Soldier has most recently put her character front and center, so the timing of Lucy seems quite optimal as plenty of Black Widow fans will show up to watch Scarlett Jo kick butt again this year.

There are two other smaller movies also entering theaters this weekend. First of these two is The Fluffy Movie. People not familiar with comedian Gabriel Iglesias might glance at that title and think that this is a movie about bunnies and unicorns, but this is certainly not the case. Fans of Iglesias have been excited about this for quite some time now as this is indeed Iglesias' stand-up comedy movie. Stand-up comedy movies don't make a ton of money compared to other movies, but they don't need to. Fans of Iglesias will turn up to this as it's like he's doing a quick nationwide tour where he can be everywhere at once.

Last and probably least is the movie And So It Goes. Brand new distributor Clarius Entertainment struck out big time with their first ever movie earlier this year as Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return took in only $8 million total with a production budget of $70 million. Initially it doesn't look like Clarius will do much better with this second movie, but yet it does have the cast and crew that could make it a sleeper hit. It stars prolific actors Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton and is directed by Rob Reiner, who is responsible for movies such as The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally..., and A Few Good Men. The movie itself is a comedy about a man who is suddenly left in charge of the granddaughter he never knew he had.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ride Along Review

This past week I spent some time catching up on some movies that I had missed earlier in the year in theaters that are now on DVD. One such movie was Ride Along. Back in January, Ride Along became a huge surprise hit. Not only did it break the January opening weekend record, but it ruled a top the box office for an impressive three weeks before The LEGO Movie finally dethroned it. Despite this, I really didn't have a huge desire to see this one in theaters. It just didn't look that good. Now yes, I see movies all the time that I think are going to be bad just so I can get my review out, but this was one I decided to wait on since I had better things to do at the time. It finally came out on Redbox and I decided I would give it a shot in hopes that Kevin Hart would at least make me laugh enough to call it an enjoyable experience. Nope. This movie was just plain out bad and I am glad I didn't spend my money to see it in theaters.

Simply put, Ride Along is a buddy cop movie. And one that doesn't really make a ton of sense. Kevin Hart is in love with Ice Cube's sister and they want to get married. But in order to do so, he must get Ice Cube's blessing. I'm not sure why it's the brother's blessing he needs and not the father's, but whatever. The conflict here is Ice Cube hates Kevin Hart, so Kevin Hart needs to prove himself. The agreement is that Kevin Hart will join Ice Cube in a police patrol for 24 hours. Ice Cube is a top police officer and Kevin Hart is only a security guard. Yes, these two actors have actual names in the movie, but who cares.

The main issue here comes from Ice Cube. The man can't act to save his life. In every single thing he does he has the same angry, wooden acting style. In fact, every single time I've heard the man speak, movie or not movie, it's the same way. I don't think the man even knows how to talk in a happy or vary his tone of voice at all. He also looks angry at all times. I don't think I've seen him smile or look happy. That face and that voice is pretty much stuck on him at all times. I don't know why anyone would ever cast him in a movie because he can't be anything besides that. He can't be anything else except for Ice Cube. On a side note, I don't know why he calls himself Ice Cube. That's a dumb name. But I suppose it fits because he can't act any better than an actual ice cube. However, going into this movie, I knew Ice Cube was in it and I didn't expect anything but dumb and stupid from him. I did hope that Kevin Hart would would make me laugh, because that man is actually pretty funny. But he was the big disappointment in this because in my opinion he was super, super annoying. He made me chuckle a few times, but for the most part he was like an annoying fly that keeps buzzing around your head that won't go away.

When I go into a comedy, I think it's obvious that the most important part of the movie needs to be the humor. If the comedy makes me laugh, than the movie has succeeded. This movie didn't make me laugh. Yes, the story was dumb, but if the movie had humor, that could've been forgiven. It didn't. Instead one lead was boring and wooden while the other lead was super annoying. If you haven't seen Ride Along because you were like me and it just didn't seem to interest you, than let me do you a favor and tell you that it's not worth your time. Pick a different Redbox for your evening. I give Ride Along a 5/10.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Railway Man Review

I've often heard it said that in war there are no winners. This may be false when we look at things as a whole. In World War II when the United States bombed Japan, we definitely won that war. On a smaller scale, when one side is attempting to invade another side, but fails and survivors are taken prisoner, that may be seen as a victory. When those survivors are rescued, it also may be seen as a victory. But is it really? When we look at the individual and follow them for the rest of their lives, a different story is seen. If a soldier went through an awful experience during war, that experience may haunt that individual for the rest of their life, regardless of whether their side won or lost the war. In their mind, they may not have seen this as a victory because they are still fighting this inner war inside themselves that never seems to go away. The movie The Railway Man dives into these issues as it follows the life of one Eric Lomax, who was a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II.

The experiences of Eric Lomax are told in flashback style. We start with him later in his life as he is riding a train in England and meets a beautiful girl named Patti. We watch the two fall in love and start a relationship and throughout this story we flash back to Eric's past during the war. Certain unfortunate events lead to Eric becoming a prisoner of war. But not just that, he is constantly tortured by the Japanese in an effort for them to get information out of him. Yes, he survives, but throughout his life he is traumatized by these experiences. Jumping back to these future events with him and Patti, he learns of that his torturer is still alive and wants to contact him and he must decide what to do.

What I really liked about this movie is it made me think of an aspect of war that I often don't think about. And no, I'm not talking about an Eric Lomax-like experience. I've had many opportunities in life via movie, documentary, text book, or personal conversation where I've had to ponder on the experiences of a prisoner of war. And I can't even imagine going through what they did and it gives me a ton of respect for those who are brave enough to sign up in any branch of the military and go out to defend our country. What this movie did that was unique was make me reflect on the life of the ex-enemy. I'm trying to say this without giving a ton away, but I can't review this movie without discussing this aspect of the movie because it is a beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness. Have you ever thought about the torturer and what some of them had to live through after things were over? What if they weren't really that evil, but were just fighting for their own country and afterwards felt awful that they spent all that time torturing human beings? What if many years later, one of these torturers tried to approach one person that he tortured to apologize? Could that person be forgiven? Think of what you would do if one of your bitter enemies came to you to apologize. How would you react? Would you be able to forgive him or her? 

Jumping back to the movie, Colin Firth plays the older version of Eric while Jeremy Irvine plays the younger version of Eric. While both of them do a fantastic job, I really do have to spend a few moments praising Colin Firth. He's played a lot of excellent roles in his prestigious acting career, but despite that, this is one role that I personally think is one of his best. If we were to put on an award ceremony for the first half of 2014 and it were up to me to choose a best actor, Colin Firth in this movie would be my choice. He probably won't get any consideration when the actual Oscar awards happen early next year just because this movie came out so early, but he deserves it. Also Nicole Kidman is in this movie playing the role of Patti and she also does a great job. In fact, she manages to disappear into her role and make me forget it was actually her in the movie. I like it when actors or actresses can pull that off.

Overall, if you are tired of all the huge blockbusters this summer or you just want a change of pace, I highly encourage you to find a way to watch The Railway Man. If there is one major issue I do have, it would be that sometimes the movie suffers from pacing issues, but outside that it's a well-acted, inspirational, emotional movie that is going to stick with me for quite a long time. One fair warning is that the scenes of torture can be a bit graphic and disturbing, so be weary of that as you go in. If you are one that can't handle scenes like that, this may not be the movie for you. But as for me, I will give The Railway Man a 9/10.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Earth to Echo Review

The 1980's were a great time for movies. When you think of 80's movies, one of the first names you will think of is the great Steven Spielberg as he is responsible for multiple classics in that decade that he helped write, direct, and/or produce. Two of these classics include E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, of which he directed, and The Goonies, of which he wrote. Recently there was recently a group of people (Dave Green, Henry Gayden, Andrew Panay) that got together that decided that this upcoming generation needs their own E.T./Goonies movie to love. They apparently didn't want to do an original movie, so they needed to rip off one of these and they also apparently couldn't decide which one to rip off, so they ripped off both. I suppose this could've worked out if done right. It just doesn't.

In Earth to Echo, there is a small group of young friends that are about to be split up because several in the neighborhood are being forced to move for a certain reason. They decide that they need one final adventure together. Several of their phones start going berserk and on one of them they discover this strange static message is actually a map. So they decide that their adventure will be following this map and it leads them right to this adorable little robotic alien that they name Echo. And yes, you guessed it, Echo wants to go home. So these friends go on a fun and sometimes intense adventure trying to help Echo get home. Sound familiar? Yup, this movie is a complete rip-off of E.T. and The Goonies.

As I said, though, this could've worked out. A couple years back there was this movie called Super 8 that did work out. I've gained a reputation as one who hates Super 8, but I really don't. I don't like ending of the movie for various reasons, but the rest was enjoyable. It was about a group of kids on an adventure just like The Goonies. First off, Super 8 worked because it was Steven Spielberg himself that helped work on it. But also, it was an homage to the 80's movies that it emulated and not a complete rip-off. It felt fresh and original. Earth to Echo was done by a no-name director and written by no-name writers and it didn't seem like they had any idea of what they were actually doing and as you are watching, you aren't praising it because it's an homage and you don't feel like it's refreshing. Instead, you are just wondering what in the heck they are doing.

Despite my complaints about this movie being a complete rip-off, there is actually one aspect of this movie that I think is worse. That's the fact that this is done in found footage style. I do want to make it clear that I'm not a hater of the found footage style. If done appropriately, I think it's brilliant. Cloverfield and Chronicle are two movies that are done in that style and both are amazing movies partially because of that style. In fact, if those movies weren't done in found footage, they wouldn't have been as good. Earth to Echo didn't need found footage, though. And when a movie doesn't need to be done in found footage, but is done that way anyways, it completely ruins the movie. This is a classic example. Yes, Earth to Echo was a rip-off of E.T. and The Goonies, and that was disappointing. However, had they shot it normally, it could've been a decently fun movie that was good for kids. It wouldn't have been epic, but it would've been better. As is, though, the found footage made this movie just feel ridiculous.

Overall, I suppose that since I am no longer in the 8-12 year old range, I can't be the best judge of this movie for that age range. Perhaps they will like it. But I just get this feeling that they would find this movie boring. And it's certainly not a movie I would recommend for the smaller kids. If you're looking for a movie to take your kids to, take them to How to Train Your Dragon 2 instead if you haven't already. If you've already seen that, then find a DVD to rent for them. Earth to Echo isn't worth your time. It tries to be the next E.T. or the next Goonies, but it fails. My grade for it is a 6/10.

America Review

MURICA!!! I hope you all had a happy Independence Day! I love the United States of America. We live in a fantastic country. But no, I'm actually not here to write a review on our country. This week a movie entitled America was released and being that I had no plans for the morning or afternoon of Independence Day, I figured that would be a fitting movie to go see. All I knew about it was that it was by Dinesh D'Souza, who recently did 2016: Obama's America, and that IMDb described the movie as "a story that imagines that the United States lost the Revolutionary War and therefore never existed." I figured that meant this was going to be a documentary describing what the world would be like without the United States and thus instill within the audience a strong sense of patriotism towards our country. Nope. This is just D'Souza's follow-up to 2016: Obama's America.

This movie is labeled as a documentary, and it's done in documentary style, but what it really is is a political commentary by D'Souza. With that in mind, my review will be a different type of review because what I will be doing is responding to the points he makes. I guess this means I will be spoiling the movie, so that's a fair warning to everyone, but given the style of the movie, I don't really feel that this is a spoilable movie. This is more like if I were to write a blog post responding to a presidential address or a political debate.

First off, I actually did find IMDb's description intriguing. And that's how this movie starts. We are viewing the revolutionary war and suddenly General Washington gets shot and killed. Whoa! Then we play the what if game and various historical events and that's an interesting thought. What if we lost the Revolutionary War? What if the Civil War divided the USA into many different countries? What if Hitler prevailed in World War II? These alternate realities can be interesting/scary to think about and if we were to dive into this more, we could see the awful consequences. I was hoping that this movie would do that and take it full circle by making me feel very grateful for what actually happened. Nope. Right after this introduction, that whole premise is completely dropped and instead we jump into political commentary mostly about Obama. Disappointing.

To begin this political discussion, D'Souza spends a bit of time recapping his previous movie 2016: Obama's America. I personally thought that was a laughable movie for various reasons. I'm not going to jump into those reasons here, but D'Souza tells us his predictions from that movie and then essentially tells us that all his predictions were right and thus he fears for the current state of our country. That made me raise an eyebrow. First off, it's a little arrogant for him to start his discussion by tooting his own horn. A bigger issue, though, is that I really think he was quite off and thus I don't know how he can honestly state that he was right, because he really wasn't. So this was a bad start.

Then we get into the portion of the movie where he spends the most time. This is actually a discussion about the United States. Specifically, D'Souza tells us that there are U.S. Citizens living here that don't like the country. His discussion from this is split into five different reasons: the treatment of Native Americans, the obtaining of Mexico, slavery, foreign policy, and capitalism. In each of these categories, he presents the problem and then justifies the United States on this, obviously trying to persuade those who feel that way why they shouldn't hate the United States. I will briefly tackle each of these subjects.

First, the treatment of Native Americans. He talks about people, mainly Native Americans, who don't like the United States because we intruded on their land, killed their people, and stole their country. Justified in their anger? Yeah. I like this country, but unlike D'Souza I will openly admit that there were dark times in our history. The treatment of Native Americans was one of them. Yes, he's right that a part of the problem with the wipe out of the Native Americans was because of disease and that wasn't intentional. But D'Souza justifies our other actions by saying that the different Native American tribes spent a long time conquering each other and history is riddled with examples of fair conquest. So our conquest of them is completely fair and justified. Eek! I don't know if I agree with that. We could've handled things a lot better with them.

Next point, Mexico. He gave the example of people in Mexico or even Mexicans living in America that think we stole their land and that one day they think they deserve to have it back. I really had no idea those people existed. His response to that was a discussion on the Mexican/Texas/American war. I'm shady on that history, but I think he was right in saying this was fair conquest. But don't quote me on that. His next point was pretty alarming, though. He referred the fact that millions of Mexicans illegally immigrate to the USA every year so they shouldn't be complaining that we took their land because ours is better. He also mentioned that many Mexicans probably wish that we would've kept all of Mexico after we won the war instead of giving them half of their country back. These comments felt very racist to me.

Third point is slavery. Slavery is another one of those aspects of our early history that I will honestly admit was a very dark time. The fact that we supported slavery was an awful thing. No excuses. In justifying this, D'Souza comes up with an argument that I think is just really weird. According to him, when we look back on the slavery era, we should see it as a positive thing because lots of countries and nations in the past have implemented slavery, but we are the country that abolished it. Well, yes it's good that we abolished it, but just because many nations and countries have had slavery doesn't make it less awful. It was bad that we had slaves in this country and there is no way to justify it.

The last two points he made were about foreign policy and capitalism. I'm not going to dive too deeply into those because I am not educated enough on them, but he noted that our foreign policy was good because we have helped a lot of countries and with capitalism he noted that we aren't a greedy country. These points didn't seem awful to me, but it also felt like things were a lot more complicated that he made them out to be, although I don't know enough to make an official judgement call.

After going through all that discussion, D'Souza's third and final section of this commentary is his most ridiculous section. His whole point in that middle section was to show that, despite criticisms, the United States is a great country that has done nothing wrong. His point in this final section is to tell us how awful our current state is due to what Obama has done. Every he discusses Obama, this ominous music is playing in the background. This portrays Obama as an evil man in the bane of someone like Hitler and the whole time I was thinking that it was the stupidest thing ever. But it wasn't just Obama, he also spent time talking about Hillary Clinton and Saul Alinksy and that same music played for them as well. I don't really know much about Saul Alinsky, but he was one who D'Souza specifically made seem like one of the most evil men to ever walk the earth.

In the end, D'Souza spent this whole movie trying to convince me that the current state of our country is awful and we need to go back to the good old days. Yet all he did was convince me that he himself was a crazy man with crazy political views that can't be trusted one bit. His arguments weren't convincing or thought-provoking at all and all his historical arguments were messed up and racist towards Mexicans and Native Americans. I suppose if you are one who does think Obama is just about as evil as Hitler, you may like this. Otherwise this is just a complete waste of time. My grade for America is a 4/10.