Friday, September 26, 2014

The Boxtrolls Review

I'm just going to come right out and say that I have a ton of respect for stop-motion animation. It takes so much time and effort to even make one scene, let alone a whole movie. I'm no filmmaker, but I'd be willing to bet that it takes more time to make a stop-motion movie than any other genre of movie. And if I'm wrong, I'm sure it's at least up there towards the top. And if you don't believe me, just stay for the end credits of this movie. I don't feel bad talking about the scene because it really doesn't have anything to do with the actual story, but it shows how much time and effort is put into making this in a break-the-fourth-wall type of way and it's mind-blowing. So with that in mind, before one of these movies even comes out, you know that I am going to praise it. Even in scenarios where I'm not a huge fan of the story that's being told, I'm going to at least have a ton of respect for the movie because of the animation. So yeah, The Boxtrolls has been advertised for about year now and I've been excited for it ever since I saw the first trailer. Turns out it lived up to the hype. Not only is the animation top-notch, but I was actually really invested in the story. So it's an all around win.

The Boxtrolls comes to us via Laika studios, who were responsible for bringing us fellow stop-motion movies Coraline and ParaNorman. Don't tell anyone, but I actually haven't seen Coraline yet -- I have good reasons and I do plan on fixing that soon -- but I really liked ParaNorman. I'd consider it a classic Halloween movie that should be watched annually in the month of October. And while The Boxtrolls isn't really a Halloween movie and thus doesn't have that advantage, I actually found myself liking The Boxtrolls more. The movie is about this kid who was raised by boxtrolls. In the city this takes place, boxtrolls are seen as vicious monsters, but in fact they aren't. They are just adorable little underground creatures that come out at night to steal trash in order to build their inventions. The conflict arises when our villain decides that he is going to destroy all the boxtrolls in order to get more recognition with the cheese-obsessed leaders of the city. So now our main kid needs to find out a way to save the boxtrolls.

What really makes this movie work is the boxtrolls themselves. They don't speak much at all. All they do is make their little grunting noises, but they are just plain out adorable. I liked them in the same way that I liked the minions from Despicable Me. I felt bad that the boxtrolls were seen as monsters and I felt even worse when they started to get taken by our villain. And speaking of the villain, he's voiced by Ben Kingsley who completely knocks his performance out of the park. I didn't even realize it was Ben Kingsley until the end credits, which makes it even more impressive. While Kingsley was my favorite voice actor in this, really all of the voice actors do a good job in this. These performances include, but are not limited to Elle Fanning, Tracy Morgan, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. And not only are the voice actors good, but their corresponding characters are really interesting. There's a lot of character progression on a lot of different levels that made the story very good. Along with that, there was a lot of genuine humor, which is sometimes hard to find in a movie these days.

So yes, the best part of the movie is the animation. While not my favorite animated movie of the year (hard to compete with The LEGO Movie in that category), it certainly had the best animation of the year. When all is said and done and it's time for the Oscars, if the voters are looking strictly on the animation job when picking the best animated feature (which I feel is the case sometimes -- only way to explain Brave winning a couple of years back), The Boxtrolls should win. But the animation isn't the only thing this movie has going for it. It has great voice acting, lots of laughs, an engaging and sometimes dark story, great characters, and best of all a ton of adorable boxtrolls that I just fell in love with. I went into this movie with rather high expectations and I'm happy to say that this movie met them. Because of that, I am going to give The Boxtrolls a 9/10.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Maze Runner Review

Here we go again with yet another adaption of a young-adult novel. At this point, I wouldn't say I'm completely sick of these. If Hollywood gives us another strong series like The Hunger Games, then I am totally down. However, I have come to the point where I need them to bring something new or unique to the table because these have become very predictable and thus pretty boring. If we take the Dystopian angle, we are in a post-apocalyptic world where the government is in shambles and a new evil dictator-like figure is in command. Things are looking bleak until suddenly a chosen one comes onto the scene and gives everyone hope. Add a love story angle in there, usually a love triangle, and we've got ourselves a series! It's worked a few times. But now I'm ready for Hollywood to move on because it's gotten old. Divergent didn't work for me because of these reasons. The Giver, despite being an amazing book, didn't work for me because they changed it up to much to fit into the formula. The Maze Runner I wasn't looking really looking forward to because I feared it would suffer the same fate. A September release date gave me the impression that the studio didn't have much confidence in the movie, so that was another red flag. But I decided to give it a shot and as it turns out I was pleasantly surprised. For most of the movie. Then it crashed and burned in the end.

Like I said, if I'm going to enjoy these movies, they need to bring something new and unique to the table. The Maze Runner did just that. We start the movie by jumping right into the action. Our main character, who we find out shortly is named Thomas, is being lifted up into this big maze where there is a large number of other teenage boys. The middle section is their home-base per-se while the maze is on the outside edges. Their goal is to eventually get out of the maze, but the problem is that come nightfall these deadly creatures come into the maze and so at that point they need to stay at home base. Then every morning the maze changes. So when Thomas comes, they've been there for three years and haven't made a whole lot of progress. Now here's what made this interesting. When Thomas comes up, he knows nothing about himself or his past. He doesn't even know his name at first. And thus we as an audience don't know anything either. Thus a mystery element was added that I found fascinating. I love mystery movies. That and there's a lot of really intense maze sequences that made this movie a lot of fun.

I'm not going to talk about the ending of this movie. But that's where this movie kind of unraveled a bit. Now I've heard a lot of reviews that said they completely hated the ending, but I won't go that far. I didn't hate the ending. It was just disappointing. The whole movie was really interesting because of the mystery element as well as the maze sequences, but then when it started to reveal what was actually going on, I was like, really? That's it? Lamesauce. The final sequences were still entertaining, but it was less intense and less interesting once the reveal happened. That said, there are a lot of strong performances from this young cast. First and foremost is our main character Thomas played by Dylan O'Brien from Teen Wolf. Then we have the girl that shows up halfway through named Teresa played by Kaya Scodelario who showed up in Clash of the Titans. Those two are our main protagonists and they do a great job of carrying the movie. And thankfully a romance between the two is completely avoided in at least this first movie, which I was actually appreciate of. A few other supporting characters need mentioning. Will Poulter, who played Eustace in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, plays Gally -- the bully of the group who never likes Thomas. He's actually my favorite performance. And finally, Aml Ameen from last year's Lee Daniels' The Butler is Alby and newcomer Blake Cooper is Chuck. Both of them were fun to watch.

So in the end, The Maze Runner isn't a complete waste of time like some other young-adult book adaptions that have happened recently. It has a lot of strong performances from the cast. The first two-thirds of the movie were very good because of the mystery element and the maze sequences. But unfortunately, the last third of the movie became very bland in ways that I won't reveal here. No, I have not read the books, so I can't give an honest comparison for those who have. I'm not much of a reader to begin with, but I'm always hoping I'll walk out of the theater with a desire to pick up the books and start reading. That's the point where I know the movie was a complete success. It happened with The Hunger Games. But it didn't happen here. And that's unfortunate. For the record, I did go to the movie with someone who had read and loved the books and from that I can say fans of the books should be pleased with this adaptation, but that's all I can say. I did enjoy this more than Divergent and The Giver, but not by a whole lot. My grade for The Maze Runner is a 7/10.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

DrogeMiester's Top 20 Most Anticipated Movies for the End of 2014

The summer season in movies ended several weeks ago now. While I honestly am sad that it is over because I do enjoy a lot of the big blockbusters just like everyone else, I've come to learn recently that the last four months of the year are equally as exciting, if not more so in some cases. Why? Well, not only do we have the big blockbusters that come out during the holiday season, but it's also Oscar season. And Oscar season is WAY fun! Lots of great movies that sometimes get overlooked by the casual moviegoer. Now that the slow weeks of September are behind us, I want to share with you my most anticipated movies for the rest of the year. Beware, this will be long as I came up with a list of 20 movies. And yes, this is in order. Although it's a fairly loose order because there are a lot of interesting movies coming out! After reading through this, let me know what your most anticipated movies are for the rest of the year.

20- The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (Sept 12) -- I normally wouldn't say I'm excited for romance dramas, but this one sounds super creative and I'm all for creativity. It's done in three movies. One from his prospective, one from her prospective and one from both of their prospectives. The latter, subtitled "Them" is already out, but only in a few theaters, so it's still an upcoming release for me. Eventually all three will reach theaters.
Click here to watch the trailer

19- Into the Woods (Dec 25) -- Yes, despite what some think, I am a big fan of musicals. I don't know a lot about Into the Woods, but I do know it's a well-liked play and that alone has me interested. Added to that, director Rob Marshall has good experience with musicals and the writers of this movie are the same writers from the original musical. Finally, the cast is amazing. It looks like Disney has a huge Christmas hit on their hands.
Click here to watch the trailer

18- Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Dec 19) -- I really liked the first Night at the Museum, and although I admit that I actually haven't seen the second one, I'm definitely tuning in for the third just because it will be one of the final performances from the late Robin Williams. And don't worry, I'll catch up on the second one sometime between now and December.
Click here to watch the trailer

17- Big Hero 6 (Nov 7) -- Can Disney animation match the success of their previous outing of Frozen with this? I doubt it. But being that this is an adaption of a Marvel comic, I might actually be more excited for this one than I was for Frozen. And no, there's no Big Hero 1-5.
Click here to watch the trailer

16- The Boxtrolls (Sept 26) -- You can call me a sucker for animated movies. This here would be my most anticipated animated movie from the rest of the year simply because it's stop motion. I have a lot of respect for that genre of animation because I know how long it takes to make one of those movies.
Click here to watch the trailer

15- Gone Girl (Oct 3) -- I've always been a sucker for crime dramas and that will be even more obvious as you continue this list because this is the first of several that I will mention. In this, Ben Affleck's wife has gone missing and suddenly he's the one being blamed for her disappearance. Out of all the crime dramas I will mention, this one has the most Oscar buzz surrounding it and should be another good addition to Affleck's resume that will help ease the minds of people still worried about him as Batman.
Click here to watch the trailer

14- St. Vincent (Oct 10) -- I love Bill Murray! When you watch the trailer for this movie, you get the feeling that this is a movie that is just made for him and it looks like it will be just adorable watching him and this kid get along. Word from Toronto International Film Festival is that Bill Murray's performance is so good that he should be one of the many names in contention for best actor.
Click here to watch the trailer

13- A Walk Among the Tombstones (Sept 19) -- Liam Neeson in an action thriller involving kidnapping. Sound similar to you? Liam Neeson is really good at these roles, so I'm not complaining. And actually, this movie is a lot more mystery than action and thus this would once again fall into the crime drama category. Last year at this time the movie Prisoners was released and I loved that movie. This one feels a lot like that one and I really hope it's as good.
Click here to watch the trailer

12- Nightcrawler (Oct 31) -- Another crime drama. But also this is a journalism related movie, so that's two reasons to be excited for this. Specifically, this deals with the dangers of going too far with freelance journalism, which is a pretty big issue right now. Also, Jake Gyllenhaal is a great actor, so this movie has a lot going for it in my eyes.
Click here to watch the trailer

11- Kill the Messenger (Oct 10) -- I could almost cut and paste from Nightcrawler as to why I'm excited for this. Journalism movie. Crime drama. Great lead actor (Jeremy Renner in this case). Different journalism subject, though. If you're a journalist and you have a story that you feel the public needs to know, but writing it could put your life at risk, what do you do?
Click here to watch the trailer

10- Fury (Oct 17) -- I love myself a good war movie. Lone Survivor from earlier this year is a great example of that. Turns out the Academy also loves a good war movie, so me and Oscar should be in agreement here with this movie. It also stars the great Brad Pitt and I'm a big fan of his.
Click here to watch the trailer

9- Birdman (Oct 17) -- No, this is not a superhero movie. This is a movie about a washed-up actor who used to play a superhero and is trying to make a comeback. Michael Keaton stars and is currently thought of as one of the front-runners for best actor and that makes me excited because I've always been a big fan of Michael Keaton. It'll be great to see him in the limelight. Also, this movie stars Emma Stone. And I love Emma Stone. She could get a nomination for best supporting actress and I'd also be totally down for that.
Click here to watch the trailer

8- Selma (Dec 25) -- This is a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights, with David Oyelowo playing MLK. Yes, I'm interested. If you don't know David Oyelowo, go watch the movie Jack Reacher. He's amazing and will be a great MLK.
(No trailer has been released yet)

7- Exodus: Gods and Kings (Dec 25) -- I was initially worried about this newest telling of the story of Moses, especially after the Noah disaster. Then the trailer came out. This looks epic. Christian Bale plays Moses. Joel Edgerton is Rhamses. We also have Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, John Torturo and several others scattered in. Director Ridley Scott is very good at doing epics, Gladiator being one of many great examples. At the very least, this will be visually entertaining.

6- The Theory of Everything (Nov 7) -- This is a movie about Stephen Hawking and word from Toront International Film Festival is that it's fantastic. Add Eddie Redmayne to your list of actors to get to know as he's also a top contender for best actor this year. On the female side of things, Felicity Jones could walk away with the best actress award as she plays Hawking's significant other.

5- The Imitation Game (Nov 21) -- This just won the top award at the Toronto International Film Festival and is now considered to be one of the front runners at the Oscars. I don't know much about Alan Turning's story in WWII, but who isn't excited to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role that could win him an Oscar?

4- Foxcatcher (Nov 14) -- A movie based on the true story of two Olympic wrestlers and their psychopath coach. And dang does Steve Carrell look insanely good and creepy in this! I love it when a comedy actor can completely switch gears and play a serious role. Also, look out for Channing Tatum. While Carrell is pretty much guaranteed to get an Oscar nomination, Tatum probably won't just because of the crowded field, but the fact that he's been in the conversations is impressive considering he's not usually seen as an actor who would get consideration.

3- Intersteller (Nov 7) -- I'm expecting big things from Christopher Nolan's next film. Something on the level of Inception that deals with interstellar travel. Am I expecting too much? I don't think so. Nolan is a genius. Also this movie stars Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Topher Grace, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo and more. Call me a Nolan fan boy if you want, but I'd be among the crowd that hopes the Academy finally gives him recognition with this. We'll see if it actually happens.

2- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (Nov 21) -- I'm a huge fan of the Hunger Games series and so far this series has been executed to perfection on the big screen. Even though I liked the final book, ever since I finished it, I've been saying they need to go beyond what's in the book and focus on the drama and rebellion that's happening around the districts instead of just staying with Katniss. Looks like they are doing exactly that.

1- Unbroken (Dec 25) -- I just finished this book a few weeks ago and it's amazing! It follows the heartbreaking and yet inspirational story of Louie Zamperini, who went from Olympic runner to Prisoner of War in Japan during World War II. If done right, this could be this decade's Schindler's List, because dang life was awful for those who were POW's in Japan. I know that's a high comparison, but the book was that good and thus is why I have it at the top of this list.

Monday, September 15, 2014

No Good Deed Review

"No good deed goes unpunished." Think about that statement. What does that mean? Like, really. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Is that saying that every time you do something good for someone else, you are going to get punished? That's not what my parents told me when I was growing up. They told me that if I do a good deed, I will get rewarded, not punished. But in this scenario, is it referring to the fact that if you do a good deed by letting a killer into your home then you will get punished? I can kinda see that. Although I don't know if I would call letting a killer into your home a good deed. That's more like a dumb deed. The phrase would make a lot more sense if it said that no bad deed goes unpunished. That would actually make more sense for this movie because it could refer to this killer and how his terrible deeds won't go unpunished. But alas, it is what it is. We have a movie called No Good Deed. And even though the title makes no sense, the movie itself is actually pretty entertaining.

No Good Deed is your typical home-invasion thriller. A man escapes from prison after having murdered several people. In the pouring rain, he goes up to this woman's house and gets himself inside. The rest of the movie is about the interactions between the two and it kinda makes you nervous because she takes a long time to figure things out and you are wondering when he is going to snap. Being perfectly honest, I'll fully admit that the writing in this movie is pretty bad. First off, how this guy escapes is really easy. Then him sneaking around town is way too easy. Then we have the world's dumbest lady who just lets him in and falls for all his tricks. Despite her claiming that she has worked a lot with homicide cases in her job, it is surprising clueless she is. When she does figure it out, her reaction is really stupid. She breaks all the rules of what not to do when you realize there is a killer in your home. I'm not going to spoil the second half of the movie, but this poor writing continues for the whole movie.

With that in mind, is this movie a complete and utter waste? No. You'll remember that I started this off by saying this movie was entertaining. And it was. How did it pull it off? First off, you have to realize what genre this is. It's a thriller. The point of it is to provide thrills. And that's exactly what this did. Yes, the writing is bad, but Idris Elba plays our psychopath killer and he does a dang job. In fact he, does such a good job that, for the most part, I was able to overlook all of the bad writing. Early in the movie, they officially accused him of being a malignant narcissist. But really there was a lot of issues that this character had. Despite all these issues, he's a really smart man. He's a good liar. He's great at acting being chill and relaxed when he needs to. He has an end goal in mind and he does a good job of doing exactly what he needs to do in order to get there. And Idris Elba pulls all this off perfectly and thus makes this a fairly intense movie. You figure out his end goal towards the end of the movie, but for most of the movie, you have no idea. Thus you feel that at any moment he is going to snap and start going on this murderous rampage. The phrase "on the edge of my seat" actually applied in this because I was definitely not relaxed. And during the final half of the movie, there were times where I actually jumped pretty good.

No, this movie isn't perfect. As the year goes, there will be several more thrillers and crime dramas that will be released and I'm sure that a lot of them will be better than this is. The writing isn't great. There are a lot of unrealistic scenes. The movie was full of several cliches. Because of all this, the movie was panned by a lot of critics. I can totally see where these people are coming from. After reading this, if you tell me that you hated the movie, I will understand completely. I even went in with low expectations and was ready to pan it along with everyone else. However, when push comes to shove, the big thing you have to remember is that this movie is a thriller. Being a thriller, it did a great job at what it was trying to do. I personally experienced a lot of thrills. Thus I have to give the movie kudos. Idris Elba did a fantastic job in this movie as he single-handedly made this movie intense and worth the time. Because of this, I was able to overlook a lot of the flaws of the movie and enjoy my experience. My grade for No Good Deed is a 7/10.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dolphin Tale 2 Review

I've come a long way since I started this blog nearly three years ago. And if you want to compare the very beginning to now, then check out my review for Dolphin Tale right here. I published that review back in January of 2012, which was the end of the first month of this blog. Dolphin Tale was only my third movie review that I wrote here. I had written a handful more for a different blog, but this was the beginnings of this blog. Long story short with that review, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a fantastic, feel-good, family movie. However, when Dolphin Tale 2 was announced, I was immediately skeptical. Certain movies just don't lend themselves to sequels, especially not a based-on-a-true-story movie like Dolphin Tale. That said, I went into the movie hoping I would get all these warm fuzzies from this inspirational dolphin movie just like I did in the first one. Unfortunately my initial fears turned out to be justified. The world really didn't need a Dolphin Tale 2.

Think about all the best inspirational movies that have been based on a true story. Then think to yourself, would a sequel really work? And in most cases, the answer would probably be no. And that's why they aren't done that often. On the other hand, though, is there really ever a happily ever after in life? Does there come a point when you have overcome all the drama in your life and you find yourself living problem free? That's what I thought of when I was trying to talk myself into being excited for this movie. We've already told the story of Winter the dolphin. We've seen our main kid grow into someone who finds some meaning and purpose in life as he takes care of dolphins and other aquarium animals. But after that movie ended, the real life story continued and there was probably plenty of drama to overcome. That's also the case with a lot of these movies based off a true story. Things happen to these people after the story in the movie ends, and thus a sequel to a true story could work if that follow-up story is both movie-worthy and well executed. But sadly that's not the case here.

The biggest problem for me with Dolphin Tale 2 was that it seemed like they were trying to hard come up with an additional inspirational story that would last the whole two hours. Thus this seemed like a cash grab. The first movie was a big financial success. Why not try again? And to be honest, they had a decent idea. The movie was advertised as a story about Winter needing a new female companion or else they were going to lose him. Another dolphin that they name Hope is rescued and they hope that this will be the solution to the problem. Sounds good enough, right? Winter + Hope? And that aspect of the movie was decent, but I was surprised to learn that this wasn't just a Winter + Hope movie. In fact, that only took up a portion of the last half of the movie. This was a movie about Winter, Hope, Mandy and Panama the dolphins. It was also a movie about a sea turtle they rescue and an annoying pelican.

But mostly, if I'm being honest, this was a movie about Sawyer and Hazel, our two teenage protagonists. Sawyer is given this impressive offer to go off on a Sea Semester, fully paid. But he struggles with this because he doesn't want to leave Winter. Meanwhile, Hazel is the daughter of the owner and also works at the aquarium and we spend a lot of time with her relationship with her dad. And then we spend a lot of time with the friendship between Sawyer and Hazel, which almost leads you to believe this will turn into a teen romance movie. So really, they could've named this movie Teenager Tale, because that's what it was for most of it. And it was all fluff. Uninteresting, forced fluff that was just there because the actual story about the dolphins wasn't long enough to fill a whole movie.

Now I do have to give credit where credit is due. The cast in this movie is great as they bring back everyone from the first movie. Harry Connick Jr. is back as Dr. Clay Haskett, the owner of the aquarium. Ashley Judd is back as Sawyer's mother. Both of them do a fine job in this. Then we have Morgan Freeman back as the animal doctor. And let's be honest, Morgan Freeman could be in every movie and I wouldn't complain because he does a great job in every role he's given. And yes, sometimes it actually does feel that he shows up in every movie. This is the fourth movie I've seen him in this year, and I swear that happens every single year. But like I said, I'm not complaining. It's always good to see Morgan Freeman. In fact, he actually gives the best speech in the movie when he is sitting down talking to Sawyer. And finally, our two stars Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff also do a good job with what they were given. And I have to especially give it up for Cozi. As the end credits were rolling, I found myself enjoying the music that was playing, so I Shazamed it. Turns out the song I was listening to and enjoying was being sung by Cozi Zuehlsdorff, which was impressive. That girl has a bright future in front of her.

In the end, I went into the movie very skeptic about it's existence, but yet I hoped that it was leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside just like the first one did. And while the movie did have some touching moments and good performances by the whole cast, the story in this one was filled with a lot of unnecessary fluff that just made the movie fall flat. I wasn't inspired or touched at all. I was just bored. That said, if you are aching for a family-friendly movie due to the extreme lack of them for the last several months, this isn't a bad option. And if you are a dolphin lover and want to watch dolphins swim around, there will definitely be parts of this movie that you will love. But as it turns out, my personal opinion of the movie is exactly what I feared it would be. The world didn't need a Dolphin Tale 2. My grade for it is a 6.5/10

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Identical Review

Historically speaking, Labor Day weekend and the weekend after Labor Day are some of the lowest grossing weekends for the box office. Any movie that ends up opening in that spot is pretty much doomed. Thus was the case this past weekend for The Identical. And it didn't even seem like distributor Freestyle Releasing even cared as they didn't hardly advertise the movie at all. I mean, I'm someone who reads about all kinds of movies and even I had no idea of this movie's existence until a few weeks ago. The result was an opening weekend of only $1.5 million from just under 2,000 locations. That, added to the horrid reviews, almost led me to skip the movie, but for one reason or another I decided to give it a shot. And while I can't say I would've been totally missing out if I had skipped it, I will say that it's a lot better than some are making it out to be.

Given that the movie's advertising was pretty much non-existent and the advertising that did exist didn't clearly portray what this movie is about, allow me to explain. The advertising of the movie almost leads you to believe that this is a biopic of Elvis. It's not. But if not that, you might wonder if it's a biopic of an Elvis impersonator. It's not that, either. In fact, this is a complete work of fiction that's done in biopic form. A Christian drama? Eh. Kinda. But not really. The movie is about a young couple in the 1930's who give birth to twins. However, they can't afford to raise twins. So the father attends a church service wherein the preacher gives a sermon that it's better to give than receive. The preacher also tells the congregation that he and his wife just miscarried and asks the congregation to pray for them. After this experience, the man and his wife feel inspired to give one of their twins to the preacher and his wife. They cover it up by giving a fake funeral procession for the baby they just gave to the preacher. As the story goes, the twin the couple keeps grows up to be a rock 'n' roll star while the twin that grows up with the preacher is trying to find his place in life. His preacher dad wants him to join the ministry, but he wants to go into music. Most of the movie actually follows this twin as he goes through this struggle of finding the balance of doing what he wants while making his dad happy.

So if the movie is not about Elvis and is in fact a complete work of fiction, can we say the movie is at least inspired by the life of Elvis? This answer is a definite yes. Elvis had an identical twin brother that died at birth. This movie is based on idea of what if Elvis' twin actually survived without anyone knowing about it. But done in a weird way where the Elvis equivalent in the movie is the fictional rock star named Drexel Hemsley. The unknown twin of Drexel is Ryan Wade. To add to the confusion, Blake Rayne, who stars as both twins in the movie, is in fact a real life Elvis impersonator. No joke. The man looks and sounds exactly like Elvis and tours the country impersonating Elvis. And that's why he got this role. And that background is funny because Ryan Wade in the movie ends up touring the country impersonating Drexel Hemsley without realizing that they are twins. The songs in the movie are completely original songs. However, they are in the style of Elvis' songs. Confused yet? Yeah, my biggest thing against the movie is that confusion. I don't know why they didn't just do a biopic of Elvis or even a fictional story that proposes Elvis' twin brother survived. They went to great lengths to make this super confusing.

That aside, if you ignore all this confusing Elvis mumbo-jumbo, this really isn't that bad of a movie. Yes it has its flaws, but it's a watchable movie, which is a step above some movies I've seen recently. The acting by Blake Rayne is decent considering the fact that he's not an actor. The drama between him and his preacher dad is actually pretty interesting. I mentioned the fact that it's kind of a Christian drama, but really the only Christian element of it is his dad being a preacher and thus wanting him to follow in his footsteps. But he ultimately decides to follow his own dream instead. So it's really just a musical drama. And being a musical drama, it's not just the drama that succeeds. The music succeeds as well. Yes, it's fake Elvis music. But it's good fake Elvis music. And it's really impressive that they wrote all this good music that sounds as if Elvis could've sang it. And I learned just by watching this movie why Blake Rayne has succeeded as a Elvis impersonator. He's dang at acting like Elvis and just as good at singing like Elvis. It's entertaining to watch. And although this is his first time acting, any freshman acting struggles that he has are made up by excellent supporting cast that consists of Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano.

Given that this movie did so awful in the box office, it'll probably disappear from theaters rather quickly. Do I suggest that you rush out to see it before it leaves? Meh. You can. If you are bored out of your mind and want and want something new to see, you can definitely do a lot worse than this movie. But it's not something I would call a must see as soon as possible. I saw it because there was nothing else to see and since I went in with very low expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. But if you want to wait till Red Box or Netflix, that's perfectly acceptable in this instance. The movie has good acting, good drama and good music, but it's nothing too special and the whole Elvis thing is confusing. They should've just done an Elvis biopic starring Blake Rayne. That would've been so much better. My overall grade for the movie is 7/10.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Movie Preview: September 2014

The summer season in Hollywood officially over. August is usually the weakest month of the summer, but thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this August was actually the second best summer month of 2014 and it also became the first August ever to top $1 billion. However, the fact that the two previously mentioned movies were in the top two for their entire August runs shows that the rest of the August releases followed the typical August trends. And now moviegoers don't even need to look at the Calendar to know what month it is. September is historically the worst month for the movie box office and this September should be no different. There's no movie on the schedule that screams huge box office success. But that doesn't mean that there are no hidden gems. Sure, there may be no huge blockbusters, but there is still plenty to talk about, especially since this is the month where the Oscar-hopefuls start sneaking in. So let's jump right in!

September 5th - 7th-

It's impressive to note that in it's sixth weekend of release, Guardians of the Galaxy will once again be taking home the box office crown. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles celebrated at top for two weeks, but after that, the crown went straight back to Guardians and now this first weekend of September will be its fourth title. What was considered one of Marvel's most riskiest projects for several reasons has payed out huge dividends. Not only is it the highest grossing movie of the year so far and one of Marvel's highest reviewed movies, but it also has the chance to end up as Marvel's highest grossing non-sequel (excluding The Avengers) in their Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that is why Marvel rules the superhero movie business right now. Oh yes, there is a movie actually coming out this weekend. It's called The Identical and if you haven't heard of it that's because the marketing for the movie has been almost non-existent. Adding to that, early reviews are at rock bottom (8% on Rotten Tomatoes and 4.7 on IMDb), so there's a good chance that this will enter and leave theaters without most people realizing it ever existed. The movie itself is a Christian musical drama about two identical twins that were separated at birth during the great depression. And no, despite what it looks like, this is not a biopic of Elvis. It just looks like it.

September 12th - 14th-

Finally after over a month at the top two spots, the tandem of Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be finally be dethroned this weekend. Although admittedly, the fact that they have ruled for so long has less to do with their dominance and more to do with the fact that the competition has been completely non-existent. Movies like The Expendables 3 and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For should've ruled, but fell flat on their faces. The culprit that will finally take over? A movie about dolphins. Yep, Dolphin Tale 2. This is a curious sequel actually. Dolphin Tale was a surprise hit back in September of 2011. It was the inspirational true story of Winter the dolphin whose life was saved by a young teenage boy. These types of movies usually don't lend themselves to sequels, but they found a way. This is the next part of the true story. The aquarium is in trouble of losing Winter if he is not paired with a female dolphin within 30 days. The original cast is back and that of course includes the ever so popular Morgan Freeman.

Challenging the family-affair dolphin movie will be the first of quite a few thrillers throughout September and October, and that is No Good Deed. In this, Idris Elba plays an escaped convict who pays a visit to a young mother simply asking to use her phone. She of course falls for this and pretty soon is fighting for her life. Moral of the story: don't let crazy, strange men into your home when it's dark and rainy outside. Now last September the movie Prisoners came out of nowhere to be one of the best reviewed films of the year. In theory, this movie could turn out like that. Or it might just be ignored.

I mentioned that September is the month that Oscar hopefuls start sneaking into theaters. The first of these that I will mention is The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. This is a very unique style of movie because it is actually three movies. This is a love story where the first movie is told from her prospective and the second is told from his prospective. The third combines the two movies into a movie that shows both perspectives. That third movie is the one getting a limited release on this weekend, while the other two will come later. Keep tabs on Jessica Chastain from this movie who is one of the strong early contenders for a best actress nomination. James McAvoy could be in the conversation on the best actor side of things, but that will be so competitive that he will probably be forgotten about.

The other limited release of the weekend also getting strong early buzz is The Skeleton Twins. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader will both have their names in the Oscar conversations because of this movie. They play twins who are reunited after ten years of not speaking to each other. They come to learn that they key to fixing their lives just might be to fix their relationship.

September 19th - 21st-

The young adult book adaptations are definitely a dime a dozen these days. Hollywood keeps looking for the next book series that will score huge on the big screen, the most recent success coming with Divergent. However, for every Divergent or Hunger Games, there seems to be at least two or three failed attempts. Movies like The Giver from just a few weeks ago; Vampire Academy from earlier this year; or Mortal Instruments, The Host and Beautiful Creatures from last year are examples of these failed attempts. The Maze Runner is Hollywood's next attempt at a big young adult book adaptation and the fact that it is being released in the middle of September doesn't exude a whole bunch of confidence in this attempt and so it is more likely to fall among the later failures rather than shine like Divergent or The Hunger Games. However, it may not fall as hard as some because the premise seems unique and interesting enough to attract at least some sort of crowd. In this you have a boy who gets his memory erased and is deposited in a Maze with a bunch of other boys where they have to team up to escape. These seems more like an I Am Number Four type of success to me. Not an utter failure, but an adaption that has average success in a low-grossing month.

Liam Neeson in an action movie that involves a kidnapping? Most people will take one glance at A Walk Among the Tombstones and immediately think of Taken. That's probably not the best comparison, though. In this, Liam Neeson plays a private investigator who is hired by a man to figure out who kidnapped and murdered his wife. If a Liam Neeson movie comparison needs to be made, this seems much more like this year's Non-Stop because it is more mystery oriented and less action oriented. However, I'm going to pull away from both and say that it sounds more like last year's Prisoners. Both movies are crime dramas released on the third weekend of September that have to do with a kidnapping. Just like I said earlier with No Good Deed, I don't know if the reaction to this will be as strong as Prisoners, but the comparison seems logical. If anything, A Walk Among the Tombstones seems like the more likely of the two to break out due to the star power of Liam Neeson. The man has done a pretty good job of transitioning into an action star later in his career and is also still popular due to his roles in huge movies such as Batman Begins and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.

The previous weekend I talked about four movies. However, two of them were limited release movies. This weekend I will also talk about four movies, but this time all four are wide releases, making this the busiest weekend of the month in terms of number of wide releases. Movie number three is the upcoming comedy This is Where I Leave You. It has quite the cast as it stars Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrn, Cory Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Conne Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard and Jane Fonda. The movie is about a family who gets reunited with the death of their father. The four adult siblings are forced by their mom to live under the same roof for a whole week along with all their spouses and others. This could provide some decent counter-programming for those who would rather see a comedy than another young adult film adaption or a Liam Neeson crime drama.

Last and probably least is the horror movie Tusk. From writer, director and podcaster Kevin Smith, we get a story of a man who is captured by a crazy man and is physically and mentally tortured into becoming a... wait for it... walrus! Yup, you heard that right. A horror film where a man is being forced to become a walrus. Now horror fans often will show in up droves to horror movies that some thought were going to be ignored, so it's hard to predict horror movies, but it seems like horror fans will choose to wait until October to show up where there are several options that seem perfect for Halloween. But you never know.

September 26th - 28th-

Just like Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington has had quite the prolific and successful career that has seen him transition into him being quite the popular action star. Also like Neeson, Denzel has been quite the box office draw as in the last ten years, only one of his movies has opened below $20 million. Both these trends should continue this weekend with The Equalizer. It's a Denzel Washington action movie that should have no problem being the most popular movie choice of the weekend. As the title suggest, Denzel considers himself the equalizer, meaning this is essentially a vigilante movie. He has retired from his former life as a black ops commando and intends on living a quiet life when he decides to come out of retirement to save a young girl, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, and soon finds himself face to face with some Russian gangsters. In addition to the typical Denzel fan club, those interested in a high-powered action thriller are sure to show up.

Finally we have yet another Oscar contender as our final movie of September. This one comes in the form of animation with The Boxtrolls. Back in 2012 Academy Awards, the world was surprised when not one, not two, but three stop motion animation movies got best animated feature nominations. ParaNorman and Frankenweenie were thought to get nominations, but no one expected The Pirates! Band of Misfits to also get a nomination. This showed that the Academy has a lot of respect for the stop motion brand of animation and thus The Boxtrolls has been an early favorite to get a nomination for quite some time. The first trailer for this movie actually came out quite some time ago and focused specifically on showing the immense level of talent and time that it takes to make a full feature length movie all from clay figures. Further trailers have shown an actual story, which is about an orphan boy that was raised by these boxtrolls. Laika is the animation studio doing this movie and they have a pretty good track record as the other stop motion movies they have done are Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Coraline, and the previously mentioned ParaNorman.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

If I Stay Review

Earlier this year this was a run of Christian movies that were released. In front of almost all of them was the trailer for If I Stay. Having known absolutely nothing about the movie, and not even knowing it was a book, it almost looked like another Christian movie to me. Because, you know, it was about life and death. A girl got in a car crash and had an out of body experience where it she had to decide if she was going to stay or move on. Given that it was advertised in front of Christian movies, this seemed like a legit assumption. Nope. Shortly after seeing the trailer for the first time, I actually learned that it was just another teen romance movie. Dang. But hey, I've enjoyed romance dramas before. Just look at my reviews for The Fault in Our Stars and What If as recent examples. I went in to the movie with some hope of enjoyment based on the fact that it still had the life and death themes. But holy cow! Little did I know I was walking into a prison. I forced myself to watch the whole movie and it was a difficult experience. I was so relieved when the credits finally rolled because it meant I could finally escape. So yes, unless you are a teenage girl, I would stay far away from this movie.

While the movie heavily advertises the fact that this is a movie about a girl who gets in a car crash that kills the rest of her family, leaving her to decide if she should stay or go, that's really not what this movie is about. This is a full-fledged romance movie. Sure, you have scattered moments throughout the movie where it takes place in the hospital, but most of the movie is told in flashbacks. And yes, you guessed it, those flashbacks tell the story of this girl who is obsessed with the cello her life and meets this guy in high school who is obsessed with his newly found fame as a rock star. And we get this incredibly detailed story about how they met, how they started dating, how they fall in love, how things get complicated when he's always gone performing and she's contemplating college in New York, and so on and so forth. And I didn't care one bit about any of it. I just wanted the movie to stay in the present at the hospital. But it didn't. The flashback story just kept going and going and going and going and going and going. It didn't stop. I was almost crying. Not because it was sad and emotional, but because it was so boring and I felt trapped. I wanted out!! So why didn't I just leave? I was tempted. But no, I don't leave movies. Especially not if I'm planning on writing a review about it. I can't write a review of a movie that I only partially saw. That's dumb. So I stayed. And I suffered. And I did that for my readers so that you don't have to go through the same experience. Or if you decide to, I can at least tell you that I told you so when you end up hating the movie, too.

The one hope I had throughout the movie was that when it did focus on the hospital scenes that it would actually be interesting. The good thing is that it was at least watchable when it focused on that. At first. But it quickly got rather confusing and thus pretty lame as well. Maybe it's just me, but I would think that if you had an out of body experience, you wouldn't be confined to the laws of physics. And I don't know if she actually was, but it seemed like it. She had to hurry to jump on the ambulance in the first place. She never opened doors or moved the curtains. If she wanted to get into a room, she had to wait for someone to open the door so she could sneak in. It was weird. Usually ghosts or spirits in movies have the ability to walks through walls or be wherever they need to without much effort.

But that wasn't the only problem. There is a lot of drama behind whether or not she will stay. I mean, it's in the title. And the whole premise was centered around the fact that it was her choice. But was it? For most of the movie, her spirit self didn't seem in control of the situation at all. There were even times where she was encouraging her dying self as if it was a separate person. But then it seemed like she was in control. And then wasn't again. And then was? I think? I don't even know how the final decision was made. It was confusing.

But yet again, that wasn't even all. The hospital workers were the rudest hospital workers that I've ever seen realistically portrayed. Usually hospital workers tell non-family members they can't visit, but the visitors persist and are allowed in. Not this time. The boyfriend just wanted to be with his dying girlfriend and the hospital workers called security on him when he rebelled and then he got dragged out. I mean, what the heck?  It should be like the scene in Remember the Titans when the nurse tells Gary only family can visit and he was like, "He is family. Can't you tell the family resemblance." Or something like that. And she let him in. The boyfriend in If I Stay had to sneak in to see her and the manner in which they got the security officers away was probably the cheesiest and most fake part of the movie.

I don't really blame Chloe Grace Moretz for this. Or the rest of the cast for that matter. Everyone did a good job with what they were given. The problem was that this was just such a boring movie that decent acting couldn't save anything. I suppose the zero chemistry between Chloe and the guy who played her boyfriend could be put on their shoulders, but I still attribute that mostly to bad writing. I guess this movie does have its target crowd and I guess that the target crowd has enjoyed it for reasons that I don't understand. I'm not a part of that target crowd, so that's probably a good portion of the problem. If you know you are a part of this target crowd, I suppose this review is pretty much useless and nothing I said was going to stop you from seeing this anyways. But if you are like me and you aren't a part of this movie's target crowd but you are thinking of seeing it anyways because the trailers did a good advertising job, please listen to me. This movie is not worth your time. At the very least, wait for Redbox, Netflix or something like that so you can turn the movie off easily without much financial consequence when you realize that I'm right. Because this movie is bad. I'd rather go watch that awful Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles again. I give If I Stay a 4/10.

Monday, September 1, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall Review

If you know me well enough, you'll know that I am a huge sports fan. I even used to devote half my blog to sports posts before making the decision to devote most of my time on this blog to movies. Based on this, you may conclude that I would just eat up any sports movie made, but this isn't the case. I can actually be fairly picky with my sports movies. First off, is the event portrayed worthy of being turned into a movie? If so, does the movie stay true to the inspiring events it's portraying without Hollywood-izing it too much? These two things are actually a big problem in sports movies and it bothers me. And of course, you have to have all your technical aspects done right -- acting, story, script, etc. Despite being ripped apart by most other critics, When the Game Stands Tall actually passes my tests for the most part. The longest winning-streak in football history is definitely worthy of a movie and it's true enough to the actual story to not bother me. My problems with the movie have more to do with the technical aspect of things. And that weighs it down enough that this won't come close to being considered one of the great sports movies. But it's decent enough.

Bob Ladouceur should definitely be considered one of the greatest coaches in history. He became the head coach of the De La Salle High School in 1979 and coached all the way until 2012. His record as head coach was an unbelievable 399-25-3. During his tenure, there was a period of 12 years from 1992 to 2004 where the school went completely undefeated. Naturally, when you have that impressive of a win streak, winning becomes expected and thus the fans and players become really spoiled. After becoming this spoiled, you could just imagine what would happen when the team finally lost. Everyone around would become completely devastated. How do you pick yourself back up? Based on the movie's marketing, this is what I thought this movie was going to dive into and thus I was excited because it seemed like a premise that was super intriguing and would definitely make a great movie.

The biggest problem is that the movie actually has a much different focus than what the marketing made me believe. I thought the winning streak was going to get broken towards the beginning of the movie and we would spend most of the movie watching this team and this community try to recover. That would've been interesting to watch. However, the movie focused a ton on the events that led up to the streak ending. In fact, I don't know the specific timing, but it felt like the streak didn't end until at least halfway through the movie, maybe later. And that whole introduction was drawn out way too long to the point where I was bored. Also, there were a lot of emotional scenes in that first half that completely missed the mark. I think I was supposed to be emotionally affected, but I really wasn't. I think part of that reason was that all these emotional scenes were advertised heavily in every single trailer. Except it was backwards. Trailer shows the streak ending and then shows all the emotional scenes. Poor advertising. In fact, the streak almost felt like a spoiler. Not quite, but almost.

So after the boring first half, we finally get to the point where the streak ends and that's where this movie starts to pick up. You could argue that it is loaded with all sorts of sports clichés, and I will agree with that to a point. I mean, there's not a whole lot you can do with a sports movie that hasn't already been done, so you definitely know what's going to happen. But as long as the execution and the chemistry is done well, I can overlook some clichés. Earlier this year, the movie Million Dollar Arm was panned for similar reasons, but I enjoyed. Same with the second half of this movie. There's a lot of great character progression on this team. They start as these cocky players that just expect to win every single game and when they don't, they hit the harsh brick wall that is reality. Slowly they learn to actually grow up and bond together as a team. At the end, they've learned that there is a lot more to life than just football and because of this, they are finally able to enjoy the success that previous teams from this high school did.

There comes a point in the last half of the movie that I thought was a bit odd. In every football movie there comes a point where the movie follows a certain game in depth. Most of the time this is the finale of the movie and everything else that happens is just to wrap things up. This happens towards the end of this movie and that's where I think the movie is going to end. But it kept going. It was a fake ending that threw me off. I was initially going to criticize this, but the actual final story line that the movie followed in my opinion was the most interesting one. In the movie, there is the star running back who is close to breaking the school's all time rushing touchdown record. While he does want the record, his dad wants him to get the record more and this leads to some very emotional drama. Alexander Ludwig, Cato from The Hunger Games, plays this running back and he does a fantastic job in the movie. Also, Coach Bob Ladoucer is played by Jim Caviezel, Jesus from The Passion of the Christ. He also does a great job in this.

So in the end, When the Game Stands Tall had the potential to be a really good movie. The initial premise of the movie sounded really interesting and when they actually got to that premise in the last half of the movie, the movie was actually really enjoyable, even though you definitely knew what was going to happen. The problem was I can't just forget that the first half of the movie happened. Had the movie been polished up a bit, it could've been great, but alas it comes nowhere near the classic sports movies like Remember the Titans. But that said, if you're looking for a movie to see and you've already seen all the big blockbusters from this Summer, you could do a lot worse. I give When the Game Stands Tall a 7.5/10.