Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel - 8 stars out of 10

The Grand Budapest Hotel - 8 stars out of 10

Wes Anderson’s signature style flourishes in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”  That is a polite and complimentary way of saying “This movie is very odd.”  The ensemble cast alone is reason to watch (since everybody is bound to have a favorite on the list), but the way that each actor is utilized makes it even better.  The list includes Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray, and that’s less than half of the list!  From F. Murray’s sophistication to Willem Dafoe’s cold-blooded intensity, you never know what type of character the next star will play.  My only complaint about the film is that I wish I could spend more time with each character.  The Russian Matryoshka Doll introduction of the story that quickly transports us from the present to 1985 to 1968 to 1932 seems a bit unnecessary but sets the tone for the entire film.  Anderson’s lighthearted approach to serious situations like death, prison, and war make for a viewing experience that I can only describe as “awkwardly enjoyable.”  It is amazing how much actually happens in the 100-minute runtime as characters fly in for a short chapter and then disappear for the rest.  I believe that this film will see some Oscar nominations, particularly for its screenplay and acting.  I wouldn’t consider it to be one of the best films that I’ve seen, but the unique style makes me anxious to revisit “The Grand Budapest Hotel” soon.

[Pictured: Wes Anderson's signature head-on shot. Can't get enough!]

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Freaky Friday (2003) - 8 stars out of 10

Freaky Friday (2003) - 8 stars out of 10

Disney really knows how to do family movies.  “Freaky Friday” is filled with comedy, strong family themes, and excellent acting that make this movie just as entertaining for the adults as it is for kids.  Maybe it is because I watched this film within 24 hours of “Good Burger” (and its painfully annoying humor), but it truly helped me to appreciate Disney’s ability to cater to the entire family.  While family films often go unnoticed by the critics, Jamie Lee Curtis’s portrayal of a teenager is Oscar-worthy.  She is so convincing that, in the moments that I forced myself to acknowledge that she was acting, I was blown away by her attention to body language, facial expressions, and vocal inflection.  Lindsay Lohan does the same, though I think that it’s easier for a kid to mimic an adult than vice-versa.  Of course, this is helped along by a well-written script that spins the perspective of the adult and kid worlds.  The Disney casting team did a great job of assembling a strong group of actors that turn this fiction into reality, which is no small task in a comedy with supernatural circumstances.  Even the sequence with Mr. Bates is perfect because Stephen Tobolowsky plays the character so well.  There are some really nice moments of sentimentality like the little brother’s letter and the toast, not to mention a pretty wicked guitar solo.  The comedy is constant from the Chinese restaurant owners to Evan (the paranoid patient) and the ironic circumstances that each main character encounters during the switch.  Jake is one of the funniest running gags ever.  I was losing it toward the end when he kept popping up.  I have long-resisted this film because I assumed that it was cheesy and kiddish, but there is a lot of legitimacy in the acting throughout this film.  I cannot wait to share “Freaky Friday” on family movie night someday.

[Pictured: Jamie Lee Curtis' performance is genius]

Monday, December 29, 2014

Good Burger - 2 stars out of 10

Good Burger - 2 stars out of 10
1150th review

Oh. My. Gosh.  This movie is terrible.  Is this what children's entertainment is actually like?  I now understand why my mom wouldn’t take me to see “Good Burger” in theaters.  Or rent it for us.  Or let us watch it on tv.  It is painful to accept that this used to be hilarious.  Some of the dialogue has a good Abbot and Costello feel, but most of it is just annoying.  The "I'm a dude" song will forever haunt my dreams and I imagine that Kel's voice is still raspy from speaking in that way for an entire movie.  I feel like the writers tried to make it funny with cameos, physical comedy, dressing in drag (actually one of the funniest moments of the film), and even an insane asylum dance sequence, but the entire thing is an eye roller.  Kenan and Kel were my favorite characters on “All That,” but now I’m scared to go back and see what it was really like.  I know that I shouldn’t expect much from a kid’s movie, but I can’t understand why they didn’t consider the adults that would have to watch this with their children.  Maybe my disappointment is a result of the expectation that I developed at age 12, but I feel like I’m not the only one who walked away from this yelling a big Kenan “Whyyyyyyy!?!?!?!?”


[Pictured: The movie is just as perplexing as this screenshot]

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Girl (1991) - 9 stars out of 10

My Girl (1991) - 9 stars out of 10

“My Girl” is a beautiful coming-of-age story that effectively captures the music and culture of 1972 through the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl.  The story is actually quite strange as the main characters reside in a funeral home, but it provides the necessary components for this young girl to learn about friendship, death, her single father, her changing body, and love.  The setting also creates the cruel irony that makes the story so memorable.  This film does everything right, but it works because Anna Chlumsky gives such an honest performance.  It is hard to believe that this was her feature film debut.  Her acting is so confident and refined, melding childhood innocence with tough life experience.  When she breaks down during the service, it is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in any movie.  Things like that really strike a chord when a great actor or actress puts their emotions out there, but the effect is so much deeper when it comes from an innocent child.  I can’t remember the last time that a movie was able to make me cry four different times, this may be the only one that has.  The film is well cast with veterans Dan Akroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis giving nice supporting performances.  Even though Macaulay Culkin’s acting pales in comparison to Chlumsky, he perfectly looked the role of Thomas J. and was a walking promotion for the film as it piggybacked off of the success of “Home Alone” a year earlier.  The critics had mixed feelings about it, but “My Girl” is a must-see coming-of-age story.

[Pictured: One of the best movie kisses of all time]

The Lion King II: Simba's Pride - 6 stars out of 10

The Lion King II: Simba's Pride - 6 stars out of 10

“The Lion King II” is the only direct-to-video Disney sequel that I believe is worth watching.  I am generally offended by the Disney Company’s exploitation of its classic animated tales (aka ruining them with new chapters that cheapen the original characters and themes).  “Simba’s Pride” is the exception, with an interesting story, great animation, and the original cast reprising their roles (minus Rowan Atkinson).  On a scale of 1-to-Frozen, I would only rate the film as average but it can hold its own with many of the theatrically released Disney classics.  The story does a good job of creating connections to the original, particularly by using Scar’s “legacy” to create a new conflict.  The two films flow together through shared characters, similar musical style, and the theme of pride.  Unfortunately, “The Lion King” makes “Simba’s Pride” look bad because it does everything a little bit better.  A prime example is the music.  While the music is good, it is hard to resist comparisons to the original.  The song selection seems to come from the same equation (song about the circle of life, song about murdering the protagonist, song that teaches a concept by using a Swahili word, a romantic love song), but none of the songs can match their equivalent in “The Lion King.”  The most important thing is that this film enhances the franchise instead of ruining it.  The writers don’t give flaws to the old characters, the new characters are complex and interesting, and the title contains an awesome double meaning.  “The Lion King” is one of the greatest Disney films and “Simba’s Pride” gives us an opportunity to enjoy our favorite characters in a new adventure about trust, forgiveness, and pride.


[Pictured: All of our favorites return for this new adventure]

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Journey of Natty Gann - 5 stars out of 10

The Journey of Natty Gann - 5 stars out of 10

“The Journey of Natty Gann” is a nice family film.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to read into that.  The story is interesting, the journey is epic, but the quality of acting and an awkward-looking, 19-year-old John Cusack make this feel more like a kid’s movie than something geared toward adults.  The best actor in the film is actually Jed, the wolf-dog who was featured in “The Thing” and would later go on to play White Fang.  I wasn’t impressed with Meredith Salenger as Natty, though her final scene makes the film worth the price of admission.  I love John Cusack, but this probably won't make your list of "Top 50 John Cusack Movies."  This scenic journey succeeds in displaying the various regions of our country and different aspects of Depression-era lifestyles.  I certainly wouldn’t count down the days until I get to watch “The Journey of Natty Gann” again, but it will make for a great adventure film to watch with my children someday.

[Pictured: Natty Gann, Jed the wolf-dog, and awkward-looking John Cusack]

Monday, December 15, 2014

Nature: Leave it to Beavers - 4 stars out of 10

Nature: Leave it to Beavers - 4 stars out of 10

“Leave it to Beavers” transports us into the often overlooked world of beavers.  These animals are often viewed as pests but this documentary will alter your perspective as we see how the intellect and hard work of beavers is being used by humans for practical purposes.  These have to be the cutest rodents alive, particularly the little ones who sound like babies.  It is amusing to see the accuracy with which beavers are portrayed in cartoons, typically as carpenters and diligent workers.  While the beavers are adorable, I was much more impressed with other documentaries in the Nature series (particularly “Raccoon Nation” and “Tall Blondes”).  “Leave it to Beavers” isn’t the best documentary that you’ll ever watch but is worth seeing to learn about the world’s busiest rodents.


[Pictured: The beavers are cute, but their story isn't as good as many others]

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Giver - 5 stars out of 10

The Giver - 5 stars out of 10

When you take an iconic book like “The Giver” and turn it into a movie, it has to enhance and perfectly portray the original or else it will immediately fall under harsh criticism.  Not only is “The Giver” an iconic book, but it is one that is on most middle school and high school reading lists which puts it under even more scrutiny as everybody is familiar with it.  I enjoyed the seeing the story onscreen but did not care for its execution.  I think that the biggest mistake was the casting.  Of course Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Katie Holmes were all smart choices and act as well as you would expect, but their performances are overshadowed by the blandness of the teenage actors.  The worst of these is Taylor Swift, who couldn’t even sing in tune during this performance.  There is so much magic in Lois Lowry’s book and it is pretty magical to see the director’s realization of the Community, but the poignant statements about government control and socialism are lost in this film.  I adore the original book and I adore dystopian films, but this rendition of “The Giver” needs to go to the same place as the lost memories of the Community.


[Pictured: The adults were great... but the kids were not]

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Begin Again (2014) - 9 stars out of 10

Begin Again (2014) - 9 stars out of 10

I have waited a long time for a movie that could recreate the magic of “Once.”  Seven years later, director John Carney has put a new spin on his two-strangers-meet-and-record-a-cd concept with the movie “Begin Again.”  Simply put, the story is amazing and this is a must-see.  While the plot is very reminiscent of “Once,” it focuses on the climate of today’s recording industry and the need for “true artists” instead of sell-outs.  The foundation of the film is built on incredible acting from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.  I appreciate that the actors in this film do their own singing and I had no clue that Knightley had such an enchanting voice.  It isn’t overly trained; instead, it has a bit of innocence that works perfectly for the character.  Ruffalo has a chance to express an array of emotions and effectively manages the balance between scumbag and hero.  Following the trend created by movies like “Once” and “Before Sunset,” the acting feels very candid as if the conversation-driven script is real life unfolding before our eyes.  The supporting performances by Catherine Keener and Mos Def enhance the realism of the film.  The highlight of “Begin Again” is the inclusion of full musical performances as a natural component of the story.  From Knightley’s first performance on stage, we build a connection to her character through music.  The film gets better with each musical recording sequence and the CD concept creates unique settings for each sequence.  I believe that “Lost Stars” could win the Oscar for Best Song and many of the other songs are just as deserving.  Unfortunately, an overabundance of unnecessary f-words and a poor acting performance by Adam Levine cheapen this otherwise incredible film.  Levine was okay but, when paired with veteran actors like Knightley and Ruffalo, his lack of experience became apparent.  As for the f-words, they really ruined a lot of this film for me.  Only one expletive seemed necessary (the one that occurs in the voicemail song recording), and the rest detract from an otherwise captivating series of conversations.  Still, even those moments could not keep me from loving every minute of the film.  “Begin Again” is a story of friendship, perseverance, and the unexpected turns of real life.  All of these things are centered around the performance of amazing music and its ability to transform people.  I can't wait to see what John Carney comes up with next.

[Pictured: The outdoor recording scenes are the best]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Citizen (2013) - 5 stars out of 10

The Citizen (2013) - 5 stars out of 10

"The Citizen" is an interesting story about the increased racism again Arab immigrants following the September 11th attacks.  The film makes some poignant statements through its likeable main character and a well-written script.  The writers do a good job of introducing seemingly insignificant characters and events that become important later in the film.  Khaled El Nabawy delivers a nice performance as he carries the film from start to finish.  I will admit, the line delivery is sometimes overly cheesy and the acting isn’t anything to write home about, but the film achieves its goal by bringing attention to the unfair discrimination against innocent Arabs.  The highlight of the film is Cary Elwes’ portrayal of the immigration lawyer as he delivers an impassioned monologue in defense of the main character.  While I wouldn’t rank this film above average, it is definitely worth watching for its important moral lesson.

[Pictured: The movie is cheesy at times but offers some nice acting moments]

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Lady and the Tramp - 9 stars out of 10

Lady and the Tramp - 9 stars out of 10

“Lady and the Tramp” has everything that you’d expect from a Disney classic.  Cute characters, comedy, good voice acting, a memorable moment, and a happy ending.  But the details are what set this film apart from the others.  Long before Steven Spielberg had the idea to shoot “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” from a child’s viewpoint by lowering the height of the cameras, Walt Disney animated “Lady and the Tramp” from a dog’s perspective.  The animators created models of the house and took pictures from low angles to help transport us into the dog world.  Very little of the humans’ faces are shown to keep the film’s perspective within the canine community.  This film is Disney animal animation at its finest, highlighting the natural appearance of different dog breeds while characterizing them through their stereotypes (English bulldog, Chihuahua, and my favorite: Jock the Scottish terrier).  The stereotypes extend to the other animals, especially the Siamese cats and the beaver.  The zoo creates a perfect setting for a “Bambi sequence,” in which the animators have a chance to show off their skills through realistic animal movement, while the script ties the scene into the plot through Lady’s muzzle.  The film is very clever, using the shadows in the pound to make all of the dogs appear to be wearing stripes, and creating harmony in the songs through the barking and howling of the characters.  One thing that I love about this story is that it is very honest.  The opening scene where Darling receives Lady in a hat box was inspired by a gift exchange between Walt and his wife, and Walt uses his fond memory to remind us of our own sentimental experiences with dogs.  I also think that the love story is very pure as it is experienced by two dogs that do not have any ulterior motives.  That is why the spaghetti scene has become one of the most iconic love scenes in all of film – their love is completely innocent.  I also believe that this film speaks to adults who can relate to a dog becoming less of a priority once a child arrives, and the writers purposefully cue the adults in to what the change is between Jim Dear and Darling before it is made obvious to children.  The comic treatment of pregnancy is definitely memorable.  The voice acting is fantastic with Barabara Luddy (Kanga, Merryweather, Mother Rabbit in “Robin Hood”) as Lady, Bill Thompson (White Rabbit, Mr. Smee) in five different roles that required five different accents (Cockney, Irish, Scottish, German, and Italian), Verna Felton (Fairy Godmother, Queen of Hearts, Dumbo’s Mother) as Aunt Sarah, and Thurl Ravenscroft (singer in many Disney films) as the alligator.  I believe that a lot of the Disney magic from the 50’s through the 70’s comes from the various combinations of these refined voice actors.  It is also worth noting that Alan Reed (the voice of Fred Flintstone) voiced a character in this film 5 years prior to the release of “The Flintstones.”  While this film doesn’t have a lot of Disney’s most well-known musical hits, the songs are very beautiful.  From the opening sequence that places an original song overtop of Silent Night to the magical atmosphere created by Bella Note and the dog back-up singers in He’s A Tramp, I find this to be one of the most underrated Disney soundtracks.  When you compare this film to “Oliver and Company,” it is amazing how superior one dog film can be to another.  “Lady and the Tramp” is the complete package and should not be looked over when listing the Disney masterpieces.

[Pictured: How could I post any other picture with this review?]

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Spice World - 3 stars out of 10

Spice World - 3 stars out of 10

“Spice World” is far from a great film.  These girls aren’t actors and the story is a means to an end.  What “Spice World” DOES accomplish is the cultural preservation of the late 90’s Spice Girls phenomenon.  The film doesn’t really have a plot; in fact, it is more of an anti-plot as the random flashbacks and dream sequences try to create some semblance of a story but just make everything more disjointed than before.  The lack of action brings all of the attention to the personalities of the girls.  If you don’t have a favorite before watching this, you will after (or you will just despise them all, but they are actually pretty likable).  Despite the disdain of critics, this film was a box office smash.  While the Spice Girls have become a forgotten chapter in pop history, I appreciate that this film allows them to live on and serves as a reminder of how big they actually were.  If nothing else, “Spice World” will make you pull out your old Spice Girls cassettes and rock out to Wannabe like it’s 1996.

[Pictured: ...how did this look normal in the 90's?]

Monday, December 1, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - 10 stars out of 10

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - 10 stars out of 10

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” lives up to the high expectation set by “X-Men: First Class.”  This series, a prequel to the trilogy that was made from 2000-2006, explores the origins of the characters and the challenges faced at Charles Xavier's Institute for Gifted Youngsters.  However, it is clear that this is more than a stand-alone trilogy.  “Days of Future Past” has creatively connected the dots between the old trilogy and the new trilogy, something that I am not sure has ever been done.  Bryan Singer has somehow found a way to meld the young X-Men into a plot with their elder alter-egos, which could technically make this film a fourth installment in the original trilogy rather than a second installment in the prequel trilogy.  More importantly for X-men fans, this could even explain away the highly controversial main character killing spree in “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006).  I couldn’t help but walk away from this film thinking about how the connection between trilogies is genius (and how the confusing title is actually a perfect description of the film).  The story itself is really interesting too, using knowledge of future events to help Charles pull his life together and to show the duality of Magneto and Charles being friends and foes.  All of the acting is well executed from James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence to Patrick Stewart and Ellen Page.  I think that everybody will fall in love with Quicksilver’s powers as they provide comedy while being integral to the plot and really cool.  His orchestrated escape from the Pentagon is one of the greatest sequences of special effects that I have ever seen.  That will always be the iconic scene of this movie.  I also appreciate that all loose ends were taken care of, particularly the explanation that the altered history’s effects on the future aren’t applied until Wolverine wakes up, and the fact that Hugh Jackman is the only actor to cross over between trilogies since Wolverine ages at such a slow rate.  “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is basically flawless but will be very confusing if you do not have any knowledge of the original trilogy.

[Pictured: One of the best scenes from the entire X-Men franchise]

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Five Easy Pieces (1970) - 3 stars out of 10

Five Easy Pieces (1970) - 3 stars out of 10

“Five Easy Pieces” was a total disappointment.  Perhaps I had a false expectation after reading the synopsis, but that is no excuse to create a movie in which nothing really happens.  I had so much hope that the story would use classical music as a means of understanding the characters’ quirks or as redemption for one of them, but their musical fame had nothing to do with who they were or how the story play out.  They could have been professional bowlers or card players for all we care, and the story would’ve worked out the same way.  The biggest draw for this film is its interesting characters; unfortunately, they are unutilized.  The story is composed of uneventful travel, random sex, and sporadic yelling instead of interesting character transformations.  The performances of Jack Nicholson and Karen Black are impressive and their Oscar nominations are understandable, but I have a hard time rationalizing the nomination for Best Picture.  Perhaps I just need to go watch “Music of the Heart” to get my fix of sentimental music journeys, but “Five Easy Pieces” left me wanting more.



[Pictured: One of the only interesting things to happen during this movie]

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Boyhood - 10 stars out of 10

Boyhood - 10 stars out of 10

"Boyhood" is one of the boldest and most fascinating film undertakings in cinema history.  Richard Linklater, the innovative director who conceptualized the "Before Sunrise" trilogy (whose characters and actors age nine years between each film) has used that idea to make a much bigger statement. I have always been blown away by the experience of watching his characters at three different stages of their lives and with "Boyhood," you have the opportunity to literally watch two children grow up on-screen.  It is like looking through a photo album of these children’s lives from first grade through graduation.  While watching these characters grow up, we also get to see the world progress around them. Everything from the music to the politics to the hair styles change with each new scene.  This is the story of our culture – not the Hollywood stereotype, but the culture of our everyday lives.  Beyond the conceptual genius of this film, the story is fascinating.  The script was adapted throughout the years, sometimes even on the night before shooting, to harness the emotions that Ellar Coltrane was experiencing in his life.  We don't always realize the impact of one small event on a child's life, but this story uses a mixture of significant and insignificant events as a window through which we see the child develop.  The candid dialogue creates a documentary feel but more importantly shows the evolution of the characters’ personalities, priorities, and aspirations.  The performances by Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Marco Perella are stunning, particularly Arquette’s emotional commentary on how quickly life passes by.  It is interesting to see how the parents rotate from being the good parent to the bad parent and back again throughout the years.  It really makes you consider how much selfishness and selflessness affect parenting.  There are certainly moments where the acting of the kids falls short of expectation but, since we have never watched a child play one role for twelve years, it is natural to expect stronger and weaker movements throughout the film.  It was actually pretty fun to see Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater’s acting chops mature throughout the movie.  The movie is a bit of a marathon since there isn’t much action in this 165-minute, conversation-driven story.  I wasn't terribly impressed with the first half hour, but then the full scope of the film started to set in. You can't help but continually say "Can you believe that this is the same kid from the beginning!?!?"  This film is destined to take home some Oscars, particularly Best Original Screenplay.  The sheer undertaking of this project and the final product are absolutely stunning.  When Linklater and these actors began this 12-year project in May 2002, there is no way that they could have anticipated the true magic of watching these characters age.  Some of the drug usage and strong language is unfortunate because I wish that this was a family-friendly film that everybody could experience; however, the ups and downs of “Boyhood” are what make it such a true telling of the formative years and I believe that it will forever remain a significant landmark in the history of film.


[Pictured: When this movie begins, you can’t imagine what this child will look like at age 18]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interstellar (2014) - 10 stars out of 10

Interstellar (2014) - 10 stars out of 10

“Interstellar” left me speechless.  Just a year after “Gravity” blew audiences away and took home seven Oscars, Christopher Nolan’s space epic has captivated audiences and become the must-see film of 2014.  Nolan is known for his thought-provoking stories (“Memento,” “The Prestige,” “Inception”), but all of the mind-blowing concepts in this film are entirely supported by physics.  It feels very sci-fi but the entire film is theoretically possible!  Wormholes, relativity, and fifth-dimensional portals become a part of our vocabulary through Jonathan Nolan’s script, which works as a subconscious textbook that explains and creates understanding of these challenging concepts.  While you expect to see a story about space travel, this is actually a story about the love of a father for his daughter.  Your mind will be processing a new perception of time and space as you walk out of the theater, but you will find yourself talking about Cooper and Murphy.  I believe that this is what makes this movie so appealing - regardless of your interest in space exploration and physics, every heart aches for this father to return to his daughter.  This incredible display of acting makes the story resonate with each of us, as if we are the ones saying goodbye.  When did Matthew McConaughey become such an amazing actor?  He has separated himself from his romantic comedy reputation through roles in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and now this emotional performance.  His chemistry with Mackenzie Foy drives the entire film, even though they only appear together for a small percentage of the story.  The goodbye scene will surely leave you in tears.  Once you add in the rest of this acting all-star team, which includes Jessica Chastain (wow.), John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, and Matt Damon, it is no surprise that we are emotionally engaged from start to finish.  The film has been criticized for its three-hour runtime, but so much happens that it never feels like three hours.  The story, which stretches from a small family on Earth to an isolated man in another dimension, is tied together through Hans Zimmer’s inspired musical score.  I have never heard a Zimmer score like this and you can tell that he tapped into his love for his own children to get to the heart of this story.  His use of organ is stunning.  He exploits the instrument’s ability to play without any dissipation of sound to create tension in the most important moments of the film.  The music becomes unrelenting in the goodbye scene as it continually builds without ever backing off.  Unlike the epic themes that we expect from Zimmer, this score creates an ambient background for space.  His unique instrumentation includes 4 pianos and a 60-voice choir facing away from the microphones.  Perhaps the only thing more breathtaking than the musical score is the contrasting silence of outer space when the music disappears.  This film takes us to places in the universe that have never been seen by human eyes.  The visual effects artists really hit a homerun with the spherical wormhole, giant tidal waves, ice clouds, and planet-like black hole.  The effects are so impressive and there is so much to see that it is easy to forget that TARS (the robot) isn't real.  This film is so much more than it seems, introducing us to new perspectives of time but also serving as a commentary on our misled societal priorities (overemphasis of wasteful spending and sports, under-appreciation of farmers and natural resources).  “Interstellar” may seem intimidating with its long running length and advanced physics principles, but the heart of this story leaves a lasting impression that you will want to take with you forever.


[Pictured: This is what Interstellar is actually about]

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Sword in the Stone - 4 stars out of 10

The Sword in the Stone - 4 stars out of 10

“The Sword in the Stone” is an interesting chapter in the Disney Canon.  It has Disney’s entertaining characters and classic animation style, but the story did not transition well from the novel to the animated adaptation.  It is more like an episode of Tom and Jerry than a Disney Animated Classic.  Merlin’s transformation of Arthur into different animals to educate him seems perfect for Disney, but instead it compartmentalizes the story into different segments, each of which eventually includes a chase sequence between different animals.  This interrupts any flow of Arthur’s childhood journey.  The antagonists are barely even in the movie because the story is so often interrupted by extended educational lessons with Merlin.  These school-like sequences make the film seem overly kiddish, almost like Disney’s version of School House Rock.  The lack of consistency from beginning to end is also echoed in the characters who only appear for a brief amount of time or disappear from the story without much explanation.  A prime example is The Wolf, who chases Arthur in several early scenes and is never heard from again.  Another example is Madam Mim, who is one of the more interesting characters in the story but is only present for one sequence.  That being said, the Wizard’s Duel is probably the most creative part of the movie.  This is the moment where our Disney expectation is met as the animators take two character personalities and transform them into many different animals.  It is pretty random in the grand scheme of the story, but the writers set it up so that it fits perfectly.  This sequence, along with the main characters, are the reason to watch this film.  The comedic interpretation of Merlin is awesome.  His references to modern culture are too much at times (particularly the whole Bermuda thing), but his character gives us something to cling on to amidst the bland story.  I find Junius Matthews’ voicing of Archimedes to be the highlight of the film.  We have all known a curmudgeon in our life and that’s why we can relate to this owl’s negativity with so much whimsy.  One of the most bothersome parts of this film is that three different actors voiced Arthur.  You can literally hear his voice change from a kid to a teenager in puberty and back again, all in one scene!  I cannot understand why Disney thought that this would be okay because it is incredibly distracting.  However, my biggest issue with “The Sword in the Stone” is that the titular Sword in the Stone is introduced at the beginning of the film and then ignored until a quick resolution in the last five minutes.  They should have named this film “Sing-a-Long Lessons with Merlin” so that we wouldn’t expect the story to actually be about Arthur’s quest.  The film isn’t bad when viewed amidst the history of animated films (as evidenced by a positive critical response), but it does not live up to the Disney standard and it is not a surprise that most kids have never heard of “The Sword in the Stone.”

[Pictured: One of Disney's most iconic moments]

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Real Story: Indiana Jones - 5 stars out of 10

The Real Story: Indiana Jones - 5 stars out of 10

Indiana Jones is one of the coolest movie characters ever.  At times, he seems invincible.  Other times, he is completely human and his situation seems helpless.  How did George Lucas and Steven Spielberg come up with such a fascinating character?  The Smithsonian Channel investigates the real-life adventurers that inspired the 1930’s and 1940’s characters from whom Lucas and Spielberg’s vision developed.  The parallels to the character that we know are pretty convincing, to the events that caused one explorer to fear snakes to the Grail-hunter who had a run-in with the Nazis.  “The Real Story: Indiana Jones” cannot pinpoint precisely who inspired the Indiana Jones character, but it helps to explain why this fictional character seems so rooted in history.


[Pictured: Regardless of the inspiration behind the character, Harrison Ford was the perfect choice.]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Million Dollar Arm - 7 stars out of 10

Million Dollar Arm - 7 stars out of 10

Sports movies often follow a predictable roadmap in which an underdog team must overcome an impossible opponent, come together to show remarkable progress, face an unexpected problem, and then persevere in the end.  “Million Dollar Arm” is not one of those movies.  This film tells the tale of two individuals trying to prove themselves in a sport that they have never played.  While this is a “baseball movie,” you do not have to be a sports fan to enjoy it.  The story is told through the medium of baseball but the heart of this film lies in the cultural and language barriers faced by the protagonists.  As if this wasn’t a big enough “human element,” their materialistic manager must undergo a humbling transformation.  Pitobash Tripathy, Lake Bell, and Alan Arkin steal the spotlight with their character roles, but all of the acting is above average.  I really enjoyed the score by A. R. Rahman and the script is good, but I was most impressed with the director’s ability to bring this true story to life through the atmospheric shots of India.  The story hits close to home because the main characters were drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the Indian atmosphere emphasizes the culture shock faced by any foreign athletes when they first arrive in America.  I love all of the American sports movies, but “Million Dollar Arm” is a breath of fresh air.

[Pictured: Good performances all around, especially Pitobash Tripathy (on the right)]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Earth to Echo - 5 stars out of 10

Earth to Echo - 5 stars out of 10

"Earth to Echo" is an average family sci-fi film whose special effects and likeable alien friend make it an enjoyable watch for any age.  It is obvious that the films target audience is kids and young teens, but the producers created something unique by straying away from the equation that we so often see in stereotypical family films.  I can understand those who criticize the film for cheesy dialogue and way too many parallels to “E.T.” (particularly the film poster and the entire storyline), but its artistic approach to the story puts it a step above other family films.  It uses modern internet technology to support its found footage format and I hope that this creative approach will help to mold a more sophisticated generation of moviegoers and moviemakers.  The acting isn’t on par with movies like “Super 8” that are driven by child actors, but the film reminded me of “Chronicle” in its ability to make the supernatural believable through the melding of shaky camera and CGI.  “Earth to Echo” isn’t going to win any Oscars, but it successfully servers its purpose and I will definitely share it with my own children someday.

[Pictured: The owl-like Echo is so cute that you can't help but enjoy this film]

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow - 8 stars out of 10

Edge of Tomorrow - 8 stars out of 10

“Edge of Tomorrow” is surprisingly as good as its trailer.  It looked so fascinating that I was sure the concept would be a letdown, but it was very cool and had more depth than your average action flick.  Something that I DIDN’T expect was for this to be an alien movie, but this story is about the time loop and not about the enemy (even though the concept technically couldn’t exist without the aliens).  The acting of Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt is very good and the special effects are cool, but the script is what makes this film so special.  Each event is conceived with precision to develop the characters, explain the time loop, further the story (one small step at a time), and keep us on edge… even though we know that our main character technically can’t die.  The editors did a great job of manipulating the shots so that we get a different perspective of the exact same start to each day, and the consistency is actually necessary to complete the story later.  This doesn’t really make sense if you haven’t seen it, but the whole film has an impressive intelligent design.  This film combines all of the things that we love about action films and mindbenders.  “Edge of Tomorrow” is an impressive jigsaw puzzle that must be solved by its characters, even though there is only one character that remembers where the pieces must be placed in the future.

[Pictured: Blunt and Cruise have great chemistry... over and over again]

Monday, November 10, 2014

Snowpiercer - 9 stars out of 10

Snowpiercer - 9 stars out of 10

In a market that has been saturated with dystopian stories, “Snowpiercer” has one of the most unique concepts that I have seen in a while.  It is unlike any post-apocalyptic film ever made.  The set design, sociological statements, and vision for this film are amazing.  In fact, the only letdown was the ending (albeit one of the most important parts of the story).  Every great dystopian story has a warped organization of class systems.  We have seen characters classified by Districts, virtues, and the amount of time remaining in their lives, but something as simple as the characters’ seating on a train has proven to be incredibly effective.  Contained within a perpetually running train, this society is complete with propaganda, rule by intimidation, uprisings, and even a god (Wilford).  The journey of these characters into the unknown progressively reveals the events that have led them to this place.  The clever script is complimented by excellent acting by Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, and John Hurt.  The highlight, however, is Tilda Swinton.  I was never a fan of her, but now I’m on her bandwagon for a Best Supporting nomination for this role.  It was just something about the contrast between her emotional detachment in the first scene and her humanity later on.  She perfectly captures the approach of a power-hungry henchman with her first monologue and it’s all uphill from there.  If for no other reason, “Snowpiercer” is a must-see for Swinton’s performance.  The plot constantly builds momentum, angst, and frustration as the future of humanity is revealed.  Not to mention the amazing action sequences, inspired sets, and an amazing monologue that reveals everything that we need to know about Curtis and the beginnings of tail dwellers.  I’m not at piece with its ending, but I still look forward to revisiting “Snowpiercer” in the near future.

[Pictured: Tilda Swinton's performance is utterly stunning]

Saturday, November 8, 2014

House at the End of the Street - 8 stars out of 10

House at the End of the Street - 8 stars out of 10

“House at the End of the Street” is completely underrated.  I consider this not-too-scary horror film to be more of a psychological thriller, and I believe that the lack of scares is what left the critics wanting more.  While the film lacks jump-scenes and horrific imagery, I would take a creepy “who knows what skeletons are hiding in your neighbors’ closets” mind-bender over cheap scares any day.  The story is fresh and lingers beyond the closing credits to effectively leave you wondering how well you know your acquaintances.  It is hard to believe that Jennifer Lawrence played this role in the same year that she won the Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook,” but that is a testament to the quality of her acting.  She defies the bad-acting-in-horror-films stereotype and I could really empathize with her character.  I can confidently say that she is becoming the next great actor of this generation.  Max Thieriot rises to the challenge of acting opposite of Lawrence and the writers draw us into his world through the development of his character.  I cannot say the same for Elisabeth Shue, who delivered a bland performance and didn’t create a connection with the audience.  The story develops with a Hitchcockian suspense that reveals important information without us realizing it.  The twists are absolutely shocking, and yet, they are completely logical.  The clues are there and once the truth is revealed, we are surprised because it all adds up (instead of being surprised because of something unbelievable and far-fetched).  I enjoyed this story so much that I am pretty upset that I will never get to be surprised by the ending again.  I generally only feel this letdown after a great Hitchcock twist, so this is one of the greatest compliments that I can pay to this film.  The critics ripped it apart, but I have no problem saying that “House at the End of the Street” is a must-see thriller.

[Pictured: Jennifer Lawrence is becoming the next great actor of this generation]

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Carrie (2013) - 6 stars out of 10

Carrie (2013) - 6 stars out of 10

This new interpretation of Stephen King’s “Carrie” brings a lot of blood to the party but lacks the heart of the original.  In his 1976 production, Brian De Palma subscribed to the philosophy of “less is more,” focusing on the human elements of the story to give the supernatural finale a lot of punch.  This remake does the opposite, highlighting Carrie’s discovery of her powers throughout the film.  While the special effects are cool, the overuse of telekinesis in the first half of the film causes her iconic freakout to lose its element of surprise.  I think that the film plays well to this generation, incorporating cell phones and YouTube into the story while intensifying the shock value of the horrific imagery.  I was surprised by the casting of Julianne Moore as Carrie’s mother.  She demonstrates her seasoned acting chops through the mental abuse of Carrie, but the performance cannot live up to the high precedent set by Piper Laurie.  Chloë Grace Moretz was a great choice for the role of Carrie, using her body language to appear very uncomfortable in social situations.  She has been so active in Hollywood that it is easy to forget that she was only 16 when they shot this film.  Her transformation at the end is pretty terrifying and her transitions from evil to frightened are very effective.  The film is entertaining but Stephen King said it best: "The real question is why, when the original was so good?"  The 2013 remake of “Carrie” falls short of the original, but at least this interpretation has been enjoyed by more audiences than the failed Broadway musical.


[Pictured: The classic shot]

Friday, October 31, 2014

Godzilla (2014) - 7 stars out of 10

Godzilla (2014) - 7 stars out of 10

Gareth Edwards’ reboot of the famous monster franchise is surprisingly fresh and entertaining.  “Godzilla’s” special effects are astounding, but it is the perspective through which we see the monster that draws us into the film’s reality.  The biggest criticism of this film is that its human story is underdeveloped and, while I completely agree, it may be the key to making “Godzilla” a success.  The focus of the film is the titular monster, but any movie made directly about him requires an impractical suspension of disbelief.  A movie where a monster is the main character screams “Fiction!”  However, if you create a movie written about believable human characters and always show the monster through their lenses, it becomes much easier to believe.  This is why the movie “Cloverfield” is so effective.  It is farfetched to believe that this family could coincidentally witness monster attacks in Japan, Hawaii, and San Francisco over a two-day period and yet, it helps us to believe that we could see it for ourselves.  The director could have better utilized his best actors (Juliette Binoche and Sally Hawkins) if he wanted to impress us, but the acting is a means to an end (with the end being an epic battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs that you simply have to see).  I love that the writers wait an hour to finally give us a good view of Godzilla and wait even longer to reveal Godzilla as the hero of this film.  Any more information than that would turn into a spoiler, but trust me that they did a much better job than the writers of the 1998 version.  “Pacific Rim” and the “Transformers” franchise have made me skeptical of any film involving large creatures that fight... but I believe that “Godzilla” could be the film that inspires producers to revive the monster genre by CGI and motion-capture to show it in a way that we have never seen.

[Pictured: Godzilla.  That is all.]

Chef (2014) - 9 stars out of 10

Chef (2014) - 9 stars out of 10

“Chef” is a feel-good story about a man who has to lose everything to live his life the way that he wants.  The film certainly does not shy away from strong language but it doesn’t seem to interfere with the uplifting story.  I typically see Jon Favreau in small supporting roles but he handles this lead role (and writing… and directing…) with grace and finesse.  Apparently Favreau has a lot of Hollywood connections, casting all of the film’s small roles with huge stars like Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey, Jr., and Oliver Platt.  John Leguizamo makes a fantastic sidekick and Sofía Vergara really lights up the screen as this story takes advantage of the foodie craze and popularity of food trucks in America today.  The cooking has the legitimacy and interest of a great Food Network show and is perfectly paired with an underdog story.  Favrea even uses multiple cities as well as a contrast between gourmet and street food to avoid the monotony of cooking one style of food over and over again.  The use of social media in the story is very unique as it creates a false reality that will have you searching for the location of “El Jefe” by the end of the film.  There isn’t any major conflict or twist that leaves us feeling sad in the middle of the story because, let’s face it, this film is all about the food.  The plot is entirely unique and the characters are dynamic, which keeps us guessing from start to finish.  Add in a heartwarming father-son story and what's not to love?  Whether you are a foodie or not, “Chef” is a simple story whose cheesy ending is welcome as your tummy rumbles from the delicious food onscreen.

[Pictured: Who knew that Jon Favreau could carry a movie so effortlessly?]

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rebecca (1940) - 8 stars out of 10

Rebecca (1940) - 8 stars out of 10

“Rebecca” is a guidebook to the power of suggestion.  As the story progresses, Alfred Hitchcock paints a vivid portrait of Rebecca, the titular character who we never even see.  She is absent from the film due to her death prior to the beginning of the story, but her presence is very real.  We continually learn about Rebecca through her widower, Maxim de Winter, as he brings home a new wife and the memory of Rebecca creates an unwelcoming atmosphere.  The film contains a twisted love triangle in a husband-loves-new wife-and-loves-dead ex-wife sort of way.  One of the most fascinating things about this story is that we never learn the name of Maxim’s new wife.  She is the main character, and yet the audience knows Rebecca’s name instead of the new Mrs. De Winter.  Hitch enhances Rebecca’s presence by de-emphasizing [anonymous].  As if this isn’t clever enough, this film has a twist that really turns the entire film on its head.  I can’t place this film ahead of “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “Dial M For Murder,” and many other Hitchcock classics, but is still a masterpiece.  The first 45 minutes of the film move pretty slow but is redeemed by the acting of Florence Bates.  She is hysterical as Mrs. Van Hopper and may even be my favorite character in this story.  Judith Anderson also offers an incredible performance as Mrs. Danvers but you have to watch the film to see why.  The real driving force of this classic comes from the shock that you will experience from the twist and the chemistry between Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, as well as Fontaine’s increasingly fragile disposition.  “Rebecca” was Hitchcock’s only Oscar-winner for Best Picture Oscar-winner and, while it isn’t his finest, it is a must-see.


[Pictured: Fontaine and Olivier are great together, but you'll never see Rebecca...]

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fault In Our Stars - 10 stars out of 10

The Fault in Our Stars - 10 stars out of 10

“The Fault in Our Stars” is the best love story of the year.  It is unlike any other, placing endearing characters into an inevitable tragedy.  But these characters do not fade into oblivion; instead, they are preserved through the lasting impression that makes their audience value each day of life a little bit more.  The hopeless perspective of these characters offers a poignant view of life and the power of love to bring joy to the saddest moments of life.  They are well written as Hazel Grace shows perseverance through the will to keep living and Augustus becomes the selfless support that puts love ahead of pain.  The dialogue feels natural, the comic relief is effective but doesn't get in the way of the deep emotional moments, and the story has some impacting twists.  While the script and characters are well-written, the acting is what makes this story so three-dimensional.  It feels like real life and will have you questioning whether it is fact or fiction.  Shailene Woodley is going to be the next big thing in Hollywood.  While she has become popular among teenagers through roles in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “Divergent,” she showed her true acting chops in “The Descendents” and has established her ability to portray intense moments of emotion and pain with the role of Hazel.  She reminds me a lot of Jennifer Lawrence, who had a breakthrough with “Winter’s Bone,” gained the teen following with “The Hunger Games,” and won an Oscar with “Silver Linings Playbook” at the age of 22.  Ansel Elgort doesn't get a chance to show his emotions with the same extremity, but he plays Augustus very well.  But the most impressive acting actually comes from Laura Dern.  I would have not expected a supporting role to have such an impact but she is incredible.  I would nominate her for an Academy Award for the emotion that she brings to Hazel Grace’s mother.  I think that she struck a particular chord with me because I could immediately empathize with her character.  My emotional attachment to the film began when she made me see Hazel as my own daughter.  Willem Dafoe is another unexpected surprise.  We hate him so much, but that’s what makes his performance so good.  The film does have a sex scene and a few brief moments of strong language, but it is all done tastefully.  I really liked the artistic approach to displaying the texting conversations on the screen and the eulogy sequence is magic.  “The Fault in Our Stars” is the love story that will become the symbol of a generation, like “A Walk to Remember” before it, and “Dirty Dancing” before that.

[Pictured: Amazing chemistry.  Simply amazing.]

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Croupier - 6 stars out of 10

Croupier - 6 stars out of 10

“Croupier” is an atmospheric piece that captures the reality of casino life.  While there is nothing mind-blowing about the plot, the film shines through the interior monologues that expose the dark emotions of its characters.  Clive Owen’s unique voice is perfect for these monologues.  It isn’t his best film, but I can see how he gained notoriety in the film world with this performance.  The setting is different than most gambling movies.  We aren’t used to seeing casinos without the glam and lights of Vegas, but it focuses the attention on this character being sucked into the underworld of casinos.  I was excited to see that this film had a heist in it but was disappointed that we didn’t get to see any of the details; instead, the heist is just an event that happens without much pomp and circumstance.  There is a minor twist at the end that is executed without much surprise, but that is not surprising since the focus of this film is not the plot.  If I’m going to watch “Croupier” again,” it will be for the atmosphere and not for the gambling.

[Pictured: Clive Owen's internal monologues steal the show.]

Monday, October 13, 2014

Crocodile Dundee - 6 stars out of 10

Crocodile Dundee - 6 stars out of 10

“Crocodile Dundee” is an iconic 80’s film that isn’t anything special but still manages to be irresistible to every audience.  I think it is the fact that Paul Hogan’s titular character is so cool that you can’t help but like him.  His outback grit is perfectly contrasted by his big city naïvety, and he never does anything that would give us reason dislike him.  Films like “George of the Jungle” and “Jungle 2 Jungle” have mimicked this concept with good-hearted, naïve natives, but the rough edges of Mick Dundee help him to be realistic in an uncomfortable situation instead of comically clueless.  The setting also sets this film apart from most other films, exploring the tribes and creatures of the Outback and then transporting a piece of the Outback into our own backyard.  The film definitely has some cheesy 80’s moments, but Hogan’s chemistry with Linda Kozlowski, funny interactions with girls on the “corner,” and the great one-liner below make this a classic.

[Pictured: "That's not a knife.  THAT'S a knife!"]

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mogambo - 2 stars out of 10

Mogambo - 2 stars out of 10

“Mogambo” is significantly less exciting that the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  I approached this film with high expectations due to its three shining Hollywood stars, two Oscar nominations in acting, and being Grace Kelly’s first film.  …I should have done more research.  While the critics loved its star power, I found the film to be boring (as evidenced by my falling asleep within the first half-hour on both nights that I attempted to watch it).  Most of the dialogue is unnecessary to the furthering of the plot and it seemed like film should be about a gorilla hunt or a love triangle, not both.  The nature footage is quite stunning, particularly the apes, but this footage would've fared better as a nature documentary.  It is painfully obvious that the apes and actors were filmed in completely different places, but that doesn't really matter since it has very little to do with the love story anyways.  A mid-afternoon third attempt at watching the film allowed me to finish it.  Barely.  I’m glad that I finished it just so that I could get to the climactic scene but, other than those five minutes of movie magic, I don’t see any point in enduring “Mogambo.”

[Pictured: Not as good as you would think.]

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Phone Booth - 7 stars out of 10

Phone Booth - 7 stars out of 10

“Phone Booth” is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that unravels in real time.  The concept is fantastic – a manipulative liar enters a phone booth to partake in his daily infidelity when a sniper contacts him and forces him to confess his sins at distant gunpoint.  While you might be thinking “How much could possibly happen if the entire thing takes place in a phone booth?”, the script is written in a way that constantly builds momentum and introduces characters into the story throughout.  It begins a little slow, but that is necessary so that the situation can begin subtly and then escalate.  The reason that this film works is the acting.  Colin Farrell plays his character in a way that we hate him and then pity him.  His emotions drive the plot and create a shift in our emotions (the way that he talks to his assistant, the mean things that he has to say to the police captain, his heartfelt confession to his wife).  Forest Whitaker is the other key to this story, allowing us to differentiate between the information that the characters know and the information that the audience knows.  And probably the most important part of the film is Kiefer Sutherland’s voice.  The way that he delivers the sniper’s dialogue makes us see him with disgust without ever seeing him.  Add in an amazing twist at the end and this strange concept becomes a worthwhile cinematic experience.  Could it have been done better?  Probably.  But “Phone Booth” is good enough that they don’t need to try.  Next time, just trap them on a ski lift or buried in the ground.

[Pictured: It is amazing how much action can occur in one phone booth.]

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

True Women - 7 stars out of 10

True Women - 7 stars out of 10

“True Women” is really impressive for a miniseries.  The acting of Dana Delany alone makes the three hours worthwhile.  She breathes life into Sara McClure, the strong-willed redhead that keeps her family strong throughout the many trials and heartaches of this story.  The script, based on the novel of the same name by Janice Woods Windle, is a clever web that intertwines three women’s lives around five decades of southern US history.  The characters are very well written as each possesses different beliefs and backgrounds that create conflict at times and unite them at other times.  I cannot say enough about the intelligent design behind the childhood friendship, slave ownership, and Native American blood.  From the Texas Revolution to the Civil War and Reconstruction, every event is made more significant through these characters’ attributes.  Everything is introduced early on with its significance being revealed far into the story.  The acting is very effective, creating strong emotions of anger toward Native Americans at some points, northerners at other points, and even our own government.  Annabeth Gish plays Euphemia with a lot of heart and, while this is Angelina Jolie’s best role (see “Girl, Interrupted” if you want to know what she really can do), she does a good job of portraying the bratty and mature sides of Georgia.  The downfall of this movie is its final few scenes.  I know that the filmmakers can’t exactly change the ending of the book, but there are a few overly-cheesy, not-believable moments that take away from the realism that makes this miniseries so good.  “True Women” exceeded my expectations.  It has amazing acting, a very poignant story, and several moments that will make you sit back and say “Wow, THAT is a true woman.”


[Pictured: Dana Delany, definitely the highlight of this film]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Breaking and Entering (2010) - 5 stars out of 10

Breaking and Entering (2010) - 5 stars out of 10

“Breaking and Entering” is an interesting chronicle of several everyday people in their pursuit to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.   Some of the records, such as the World’s Largest Hula Hoop, do not require any sort of skill.  Other records require training and a life-long commitment.  The format of the documentary takes us alongside a joggler, a stationary cyclist, and a grape catcher as they plan, prepare, and execute their record-breaking attempts.  Their stories are interspersed with other record holders who reflect on their own experiences.  At first, it seems unlikely that these characters could become heroes and the subject matter does not seem to be very dramatic; however, as the film unfolds, you will find yourself cheering for these everyday people and the surprising twists that appear in their stories.  George Hood is the most amazing of the featured men as he rides a stationary bike for 111 hours without sleep.  His sheer willpower as he fights through the pain is incredible.  Michal Kapral brings a different perspective of record-setting as he duels against another joggler in pursuit of the world record.  Since you probably don’t know, joggling is juggling three balls while running a marathon.  Ridiculous.  The most impressive part is that these guys are amongst the top finishers of each marathon even though they are juggling!  The Grape Guy brings unintended comic relief as he is reminiscent of a character in a Christopher Guest mockumentary.  You wouldn’t expect it, but “Breaking and Entering” is full of comedy, drama, and flat-out impressive record holders.


[Pictured: Joggler Michal Kapral can outrun all of us... while juggling]

Monday, September 29, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted - 4 stars out of 10

Muppets Most Wanted - 4 stars out of 10

After an amazing return to the big screen with “The Muppets” in 2011, the latest installment is a letdown.  Something about Kermit the Frog in the Hannibal Lecter mask just isn't appealing.  The bar was set really high with the last film by recreating scenes from the old days, but I guess that you can’t do that every time.  The plot was pretty original but it was a little dark for Jim Henson's characters.  The songs weren't as fun or catchy, and some of the jokes missed their mark.  That being said, this film had its bright moments.  Tina Fay was an awesome choice to compliment the zany muppets and she may have been the best part of the film.  The whole Gulag 38B variety show aspect of the film was clever and the fact that Constantine’s voice is nothing like Kermit is funny from start to finish.  Not to mention the mole gags and interactions between Ty Burrell and Sam Eagle.  One of my disappointments was the cameos, which seemed way too forced and unimaginative.  Except for Usher.  That may be the funniest cameo that I have ever seen.  Oh yeah, and Josh Groban was equally hilarious but I won’t spoil it.  It is just genius when you recognized who the voice belonged to.  Okay, so maybe some of the cameos were imaginative.  But this film just didn't have the pizzazz of the last one.  I didn't walk away singing the songs or telling others that they should see it.  In spite of my rating, I still think that this is an important film that we should all support.  The next generation is blessed to have an opportunity to experience the muppets the way that we have.  It may not be the best film in the series, but its release, positive critical reception, and profit should result in another muppet feature that will hopefully eclipse this one.

[Pictured: Amazing how nobody recognized Kermit once he has that mole...]