Oculus

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Jason Blum, producer for such indie horror hits as Paranormal Activity and Insidious, delivers another psychological thriller that leaves you feeling insane by the end.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a fan of horror movies that scare you by getting inside your own head, and not relying on gore or over-the-top special effects.  For that reason, I enjoyed this movie.  That’s also the reason why I lot of you may not like this movie.  I’ll admit, it’s a slow burn (with a lot of intentionally vague dialogue at first to keep you guessing), but once all the pieces start falling into place, it ramps up quickly and you get completely sucked in.  The way this movie gets you is by the clever (albeit admittedly confusing at times) editing that layers “flashbacks” with what’s currently going on.  I purposely used quotations because in all honesty, by the time the film gets to the end, the distinct lines between memories and reality become so entangled that it’s hard to tell what is going on and when it is all taking place.  On top of the editing, much like in The Conjuring I appreciated the interesting camera angles that were used at times to further add to the tension and insanity.

The acting, especially by the young actors, is great, and adds to the feel of the movie.  Karen Gillan (most notably from Doctor Who) plays Kaylie Russell and is great, and her intensity is convincing and compelling.  She carries the movie along well, and all her actions, as insane as they may appear, seem genuine.  Her chemistry with Brenton Thwaites, who plays Tim, is believable.  Also, both of them pull of their American accents pretty well here!  However, I think I was more impressed with the kid actors, in particular Annalise Basso, who definitely steals the show in my opinion.  Katee Sackhoff, who plays the mother, is also fantastic, and watching her downward spiral into insanity is fascinating and terrifying to watch.  I did think the acting from Rory Cochrane, who played her husband, was a little stale at times, but in a way that made the few moments where he did lose stand out that much more.

Without giving too much away, the story deals with a haunted mirror that can distort reality and bring out your inner demons, and has such intense control over its victims that it can even prevent itself from being harmed (which answers the easy question of “why didn’t they just smash it?”).  With that concept in mind, I think the film does a great job at distorting the reality that you think you’re seeing in the film.  That is also it’s one biggest hurdle however.  I know I will definitely have to see this film again in order to get a better understanding of it.  In this regard, I will admit that this movie isn’t as scary as some other movies I’ve seen where I had to cover my eyes and audibly gasped.  It was more eerie than it was straight up terrifying.  It did employ many of the standard horror movie cliches, like people suddenly appearing behind you or sudden loud noises, but that’s not where the true “horror” lies.  That lies in the confusion between reality and flashbacks and the tricks the mirror plays on its victims; there’s so many possibilities for why everything is happening, and all of them result in a fear of the unknown.  Many people have said the ending leaves it open to a sequel, and I suppose I can see the potential in that, and I would be curious to see what else they can add to the story and how much crazier they can make it.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 7/10

This movie will definitely not appeal to all horror movie fans, and it’s certainly not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but if you want to see a good psychological thriller, than I think you’ll enjoy this one.  It’s not as scary as it is creepy and unsettling.  If you do watch it, just be prepared to be a bit confused by the end!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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The Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand in awesome fashion with this thrilling sequel that packs a punch, combining the intrigue of a political thriller and the sci-fi, action-packed excitement that we’ve now all come to expect from Marvel films.

First of all, let me say I’m so happy to be back!  It sure has been awhile since my last review, and I really did honestly miss it!  Thank you to all my readers for sticking by me and for your patience!   I promise more reviews are on the way! :)

Now, to the reason you all are here, my review! :)  Now as you all know by now, I have to start by saying that I am not an avid comic book enthusiast, so I’m sure there are some key moments that I missed or didn’t fully comprehend.  But the good news is, you can still fully enjoy the movie and understand what is going on, provided you’ve at least seen the first movie of course (I know I did!)!

One of the greatest things about Marvel films is that they are so much more than just pure superhero movies.  This movie works as a political thriller as well, debating what is the best way to maintain order in society.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say this movie has plenty of twists and turns that keep you wondering up until the big reveal (though I have to say, once again not knowing anything about the comics, that I accurately predicted one of the big reveals, though that didn’t make that reveal any less exciting!).  I literally gasped multiple times throughout the film.  But beyond that, this is certainly one of the most intense action films I’ve seen in awhile.  The special effects, fight choreography, and (literally) explosive set pieces will keep you on the edge of you seat throughout the film! This is of course amped up by the sheer power of our heroes and villains in the movie.

The acting is great from everyone involved.  Chris Evans continues to play the titular role of Captain America with ease, and helps to make him the most intriguing Marvel hero since Iron Man.  It’s a complicated role to play, since he is dealing not only with a completely new body but a new time period (which is now populated with unbelievable forces of magic and power), and I think Evans handles all that well and portrays it well on screen.  Scarlett Johansson continues to give Black Widow a sexy yet sarcastic vibe that works perfectly for the character.  She not only is an incredibly capable fighter, but she is witty and fun as well, a perfect companion for the serious, by-the-books Captain America.  The new addition to the team is Anthony Mackie, who plays the awesome Falcon who gets his abilities from the most amazing jet-pack ever conceived.  While Johansson certainly is a fun character, I think Mackie is more of the comic relief in the film, and I’m excited to see where this character goes from here, joining forces with Cap.  Samuel L. Jackson continues to delight as the tough but lovable Nick Fury, and his character is particularly compelling in this film, as we find out a little more about him and his history.  While there are some other villains in the film that I can’t reveal without spoiling the film, the main villain is the titular Winter Soldier, who is just as powerful as Captain America.  With the help of his bionic metal arm and his incredible skill with various weapons, he certainly gives Cap and crew a run for their money!  Cameos by the incredible Robert Redford (perfect for his role in my opinion), Emily Vancamp (I love her in Revenge, and she has a brief but satisfying part that I hope will be further developed future films), and Cobie Smulders (I would have never guessed that the woman from How I Met Your Mother would actually seem right at home in this movie!) are also great!  And of course, it wouldn’t be a Marvel film without a Stan Lee cameo! :)

One quick note: I did watch this in IMAX 3D, and while the 3D wasn’t that spectacular, seeing all those action scenes on that enormous screen with that booming audio is definitely exciting, so I would still recommend viewing it in that medium if you can!  If not, a regular 2D screening will still be fun and thrilling!

In terms of special extra scenes, make sure you stay for a scene right after the animated credits; it’s a big chunk that (without spoiling too much) definitely hints at what will be happening in the next Avengers movie!  As we all know by now, Marvel has some big plans for the future, split up into various “phases” (we’re currently in Phase 2 I believe…).  I don’t know about you all, but with every new Marvel film, I get more and more excited to see where they’re going to go next!  There is also a very brief scene at the very end of all the credits, but in all honesty, I don’t think it’s as significant as the mid credits scene…  but that’s coming from someone who isn’t a huge comic book fan; if that is you, than maybe it will have more relevance for you.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

This is an exciting, captivating, thrilling film on multiple levels, and continues to show the awesome power and potential of superhero (and specifically Marvel) films!  It is definitely worth watching and lives up to the hype.  Superhero/comic book fan or not, this is certainly a film not-to-be-missed, though I would definitely recommend watching the first film before watching this one!

2fer: Her and The LEGO Movie

Hey everyone!

It’s once again been a busy time, so I haven’t stayed as up to date with this as I should have, so to save time and catch up, you’ll get two smaller reviews in this post, one for Spike Jones’s Her and another for The LEGO Movie!  Enjoy!

1.) Her

her-movie-posterIn this unconventional love story, Spike Jones cleverly toys at the idea of how connected we all have become to technology, and the cost it takes on actual human interactions (the biggest sign of this being the job of the main character Theodore’s job, working at a website that writes letters for your loved ones that he makes up on his own, using some general info provided by the customer).  If you go out to any restaurant or social gathering right now, you’ll probably find a majority of people on their smart phones, clicking or swiping away at the screens for one reason or another, even when they have another person right there in front of them (not to judge necessarily, because I’ve certainly done the same thing on occassion!).  While we have Siri and similar features on our phones and computers right now, Spike Jones takes it to the next level, giving us an OS (Operating System) that is custom tailored to you, and that speaks like a regular person, and learns and grows like one too.

Here is where we are introduced to Samantha (played expertly by Scarlett Johansson), the OS and love interest of Theodore Twombly (also played masterfully by Joaquin Phoenix).  While some may be a bit weirded out by this premise, I think this actually makes this one of the most genuine and real love stories I’ve seen.  Theodore isn’t falling in love with someone because of any superficial features; all he has is a voice and an accompanying personality.  He and Samantha laugh together, argue together, cry together, and even love together (which leads to one of the most awkward scenes in the movie with a “surrogate”).  It’s sweet and beautiful in its own bizarre way.

The scenery is fantastic, set in the not to distant future that certainly looks a bit different but still feels very familiar.  The fashion of the movie is definitely a bit odd, but somehow also feels right for the tone of the movie.  The rest of the cast is also great in this movie: Amy Adams is always a delight and provides a great supporting role in the film; Rooney Mara does an incredibly job in her role, especially considering that most of her story is told through silent flashbacks; even Olivia Wilde in her brief cameo does a fine job.  Overall, all the pieces come together nicely to give us an interesting look into what our future could be.  Spike Jones puts his trademark spin on it, which I loved, but if you’re not a fan of his films than this one probably won’t change your mind.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 8/10

2) The LEGO Movie

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This wonderfully nostalgic yet modern movie reminds us to embrace our inner child, imagination, and individuality.  Set in one of many “realms” of the LEGO universe, this movie tells the story of an average guy name Emmet who does everything that he is told to do to fit in and be happy in society; he simply follows the instructions that are given to him and all other LEGO city citizens by President Business, who demands perfection and conformity by dividing all of the LEGO realms.  Of course in such situations you will always find rebels, and we are treated to a delightful set of them here because of the extensive variety of LEGO: NBA players, Batman, wizards (including both Gandalf and Dumbledore), Michelangelo (the Renaissance Man and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle), pirates, and so much more!  Together with Emmet they fight to restore unity to the realms of the LEGO universe.

The first thing you’ll notice is the incredible and wildly entertaining animation style.  A combination of CG and stop-motion animation, seeing the set-pieces being built, destroyed, and rebuilt is fantastic, and is made even more fun when you see other LEGO characters building them!  The 3D wasn’t overly impressive, but definitely made a bit of an impact on the film; let’s just say you won’t miss anything by seeing it without 3D.  The voice acting cast is also terrific!  Chris Pratt does a great job as the lead, and Will Ferrell is always amazing in this field!  Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and so many other surprise guests also do a fantastic job!  It’s also important to point out that is actually one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in awhile, for kids and adults!  I definitely want to watch it again to catch some of the more subtle background jokes!

I don’t want to give away a fun little twist about the movie, but suffice to say when it comes, it will make the whole movie remind you of another classic family film! :)  But basically, in the end, the movie reminds why I was such a LEGO fanatic in the first place, and my inner child was thoroughly satisfied by this film! :)

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

 

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

secret-life-of-walter-mitty-posterOne of the most beautifully filmed movies I’ve ever seen, Walter Mitty is a film bursting with life in every possible way, with a fun, relatable cast that adds to the fun and heart of the movie and makes you forget about the few issues it does have.

“To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed and to feel.  That is the purpose of Life.”  This is the motto of Life magazine, and in essence the motto of this film as well.  Based on a short story, this Ben Stiller-directed film tells the story of an ordinary nagative assets manager (deals with photos essentially) for Life magazine named Walter Mitty (played by Stiller as well).  Though he appreciate the motto, Mitty doesn’t truly live by it.  He is a shy, soft-spoken man who frequently daydreams about being more adventurous and bold.  This nervousness is most evident in his interactions (and daydreams) with co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig).  Though he works directly with her and can easily speak to her, he is too nervous to even speak to her online through eHarmony, which leads him to developing a fun relationship with customer service representative Todd (Patton Oswalt).  He also is providing for his family, which consists of his sister Odessa (played by Kathryn Hahn, one of those actresses whose name you might not recognize but when you see her you’ll immediately say “Oh that lady from ________!”), a struggling actress, and his widowed mother Edna (played by the wonderful Shirley MacLaine).  Reflecting what is happening to many magazines in recent years, we soon learn that Life magazine will be moving online, which means they’ll have to downsize and many people will lose their jobs.  In order to assist with the transition, the obnoxious Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) comes in and clearly doesn’t care at all about how the transition goes down or whose jobs are lost as a result.  Before the print magazine is eliminated, they are tasked with printing one final issue, and the photo of the mysterious but highly respected photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), deemed to be “the Quintessence of Life,” is going to be their pièce de résistance.  However, when it is not found in the package O’Connell sends to Mitty, whom he respects and admires, it sends Mitty on a journey to find him, and to find out what life is all about in the process.

The casting is just about perfect for the film.  Stiller and Wiig are very relatable, and have a great connection with each other.  There are some pretty silly scenes in the film, and they both have the comedic chops to make those scenes work.  But even when they’re not being silly, they do feel genuine and real.  Hahn and MacLaine are great supporting actresses and round out Stiller’s character.  The majority of Oswalt’s role is through phone conversations, but his voice acting is fun and, though I doubt any customer representative would ever get that attached to any of their clients, genuine; he seems to legitimately want the best for Mitty and calls him regularly as he tries to beef up his profile.  Scott plays a cartoonish villain, but again, given the context of the film, it fits well.  He and Stiller’s epic imaginary battle is so much fun to watch.  Penn seems the most out of place in the film, but he acts as well as he can in the role.

But the true joy of the film, at least for me, came in the excellent cinematography, done by Stuart Dryburgh, and the editing, done by Greg Hayden.  The opening montage is gorgeous, and throughout the film we are treated to some spectacular sights as Mitty travels around the world searching for O’Connell.  Every shot is very deliberate, and does a great job of emphasizing how little Mitty is in this big world.  In addition, the motto is integrated into many of the film scenes.  The transitions from the real world into Mitty’s wild imagination is often seamless.  What helps make these scenes even more beautiful is the smart choices in music.  It’s a perfectly fitting soundtrack that encapsulates the feel of the film very well.

Is it a perfect film?  Not by any means.  There are a few plot holes (how can Mitty afford to go on all these trips AND pay for his mom’s new apartment), and it can be sometimes difficult to tell when he is dreaming and when he isn’t (see the scene where Mitty is showing Cheryl’s son some crazy skateboard tricks).  Some of the scenes are overly silly and kind of ruin the flow of the film (see the scene where Mitty and Cheryl grow old together), and product placement is very overt in the film (PAPA JOHNS!!).  But if you’re willing to suspend some disbelief and go with the (overall) flow of the movie, there is some genuine beauty and heart in this film that deserves to be seen.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 8/10

While it may have a few issues that prevent it from being a true masterpiece, there are a lot of things that work and work well in this film, notably it’s gorgeous cinematography and it’s genuine acting from the cast.  It’s certainly a fun movie that looks awesome on the big screen, but with all the other great movies out there competing against it, it isn’t one that necessarily needs to be prioritized.  Definitely see this movie at some point though, even if it’s when it comes out on DVD.

Golden Globe Predictions!

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Hi everyone!

The Golden Globes are the first real award show of the year (sorry People’s Choice!), and (often but not always) a good predictor for the Oscars.  I’m going to take a look at the list (take a look at if for yourself: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2013/12/golden-globe-nominees-2014-the-complete-list/), and offer the following: my prediction about what I think will win, what I would like to win, and (if applicable), what was snubbed and deserves some recognition.  While this blog has mainly been used for movies, I have been keeping up with TV too and will offer predictions for that as well!  I’m excited to have Amy Poehler and Tina Fey co-host again, they did a great job last time and always have such great chemistry together!

First, let’s start with movies!

BEST DRAMA

Think will win12 Years a Slave is an awards show favorite, and rightly so.  It’s incredibly dramatic and emotionally powerful, and certainly deserves the recognition.

Want to winGravity is a film unlike any other, and it’s that originality that makes it so exciting.  The power of special effects and having only two actors made the film that much more intimate and thrilling, and made you root for the characters that much more.

SnubbedShort Term 12 was a phenomenal film that was definitely underrated, and is an emotional powerhouse of a film.  Fantastic acting, great chemistry between the actors, and a great, compelling story all make this film a must-watch!

BEST MUSICAL/COMEDY

Think will winAmerican Hustle has been getting a lot of buzz, and rightly so, due to it’s old-school feel and great acting.

Want to winThe Wolf of Wall Street is, in my opinion, the funniest film of the year.  Thanks to the over-the-top acting of DiCaprio and Hill, this wild true story is taking to new heights, and never comes back down!

SnubbedThe Way, Way Back was a fantastic comedy/drama that definitely slipped under the radar.  Fantastic acting by Steve Carrell and the rest of the cast made this a compelling film that nicely balanced comedy with drama.

BEST DIRECTOR

Think will win: Steve McQueen will probably take this one along with the Best Picture.

Want to win: Alfonso Cuarón deserves it for the masterful job he did with his film.

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

Think will win: Judi Dench has only won one Academy Award/Golden Globe in her illustrious career (though she’s been nominated for many), and the academy usually likes to give these awards to older actors/actresses before it’s too late.

Want to win: This is a tough one, because both Emma Thompson and Sandra Bullock did such phenomenal jobs in their respective films.  While I loved Emma Thompson though, I think I’ll lean toward Bullock, since she essentially carries her whole film.

Snubbed: Once again, I’m going to go with Brie Larson from Short Term 12, who wears her heart on her sleeve in the film and experiences just about every emotion you can go through in the film, from anger and depression to excitement and joy.

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA

Think will win: Chiwetel Ejiofor will probably also take this award for this film, though maybe due to the times, Idris Elba will sneak away with the win with his interpretation of Mandela.

Want to win: Matthew McConaughey found a way to make a cocky, stubborn, homophobic uber-cowboy into a likable character.

Snubbed: I know he’s already nominated, but I think McConaughey should have been nominated for his awesome role in Mud, which I thought was a much more compelling character.  But just to add variety, I believe Hugh Jackman’s role in Prisoners was incredible and completely ignored.

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL/COMEDY

Think will win: Christian Bale certainly does a great job in this role, and I think he will probably take it.

Want to win: DiCAPRIO!!  He absolutely DESERVES to win this award for his phenomenal job in this insane film!  However, I also believe Oscar Isaac did a fantastic job in his role as well (as both an actor and singer), and he certainly deserves some recognition for it.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL/COMEDY

Think will/want to win: To be honest, the only one I’ve seen in this list is Amy Adams, and she definitely did a great job.

Snubbed: I think it would have been awesome for the academy to think outside of the box and give the award to Scarlett Johansson for her voice acting in the film.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Think will/want to win: J-Law totally stole the show in her film, and is the funniest part about the whole movie.  She definitely deserves the win!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Think will win: Michael Fassbender played a totally despicable plantation owner, which is what made 12 Years a Slave such a powerful film, so he’ll probably win it.

Want to win: Jared Leto did an absolutely incredible job in his role, and completely stole the movie.  Funny, emotionally powerful, and absolutely compelling, he deserves the win!

BEST SCREENPLAY

Think will/want to win: Spike Jonze for Her. It’s an original, fresh love story that also smartly looks at our obsession with technology, specifically our smart phones.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Think will/want to win: Once again, I haven’t seen any of these films, but based on the buzz and reviews, I’m going to say Blue is the Warmest Color will probably take the award.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Think will/want to winFrozen is the best Disney film in years, and has a phenomenal soundtrack.  As cute as the minions are, there’s no competition for in this category in my opinion.

Snubbed: Regardless, I’m surprised Monsters U didn’t get nominated.  I guess there’s only room for one Disney movie! :)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Think will/want to win: “Let it Go” for Frozen is essentially the theme of the film, and fits it very well.  Sung incredibly by Idina Menzel, it’s worthy of the prize.

BEST SCORE

Think will win12 Years a Slave will probably take it for adding to the emotional powerhouse film.

Want to winGravity‘s score added so much tension to the film, which was already tense enough!  It was very powerful and deserves recognition.

Now on to TV!

BEST TV COMEDY/MUSICAL

Think will win: I don’t know how it continues to do so, but Modern Family seems to be unstoppable.  I’m guessing it will continue its reign of terror.

Want to winBrooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the funniest new shows of the year, and definitely deserves some recognition.

Snubbed: I’m surprised The Crazy Ones was not nominated; Robin Williams is back in top form in this show!

BEST TV DRAMA

Think will win: Though I’ve never seen the show, I know many people say Breaking Bad is one of the best TV shows of all time, and that it had a particularly strong final season.  I think the academy will bid it farewell with an award.

Want to win: Again, though I’ve never seen the show, I think it would be interesting to have the academy nominate a Netflix show.  If  House of Cards wins, it could really signal a shift in the power of TV shows that aren’t necessarily on TV.

Snubbed: That being said, I’m surprised Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black were left out of the running (they are nominated for other categories after all).  Once again, I guess there’s only room for one Netflix/internet TV show.

BEST ACTRESS IN A TV DRAMA

Think will win: I’ve never seen the show, but I know Julianna Marguiles has garnered consistent praise for the show, so I have a feeling she’ll win it.

Want to win: For the same reasons listed earlier, I would love to have Taylor Schilling or Tatiana Maslany win for their internet/Netflix shows!

BEST ACTRESS IN A TV COMEDY

Think will win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus will probably get an award, for the same reason Judi Dench will probably win; she’s been nominated many times and is due for a win.

Want to win: It would be awesome if Poehler won, a) because she’s hosting and b) because Parks and Recreation is probably coming to an end soon, and it would be a fitting send off.

BEST ACTOR IN A TV DRAMA

Think will win: For the same reason I think the show will win, I think Bryan Cranston will take the award, and rightly so.

Want to win: Again, for similar reasons listed above, I think it would be interesting for Kevin Spacey to win.  Also, James Spader has done a great job on The Blacklist, and is essentially the only real reason to watch that show.

BEST ACTOR IN A TV COMEDY/MUSICAL

Think will win: Much like Modern Family, Jim Parsons seems to be unstoppable in these awards, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he took home the win.

Want to win: Andy Samberg is hilarious in his show, and deserves some recognition.  But it would also be great if Michael J. Fox got an award for his great TV return.

Snubbed: Comedy legend Robin Williams is the star and redeeming factor of his show, and it’s a shame he didn’t get recognized for it.

It’s hard to judge the rest of the categories because I haven’t seen many of the nominated shows.  But I will say I think American Horror Story is doing an interesting thing in terms of having the same ensemble cast and putting them in different roles/scenarios each season, so Ryan Murphy and that show should get some recognition!  I also think Parenthood doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, it’s a great drama with an excellent cast to back it up!

Anyway, that’s all for now, what do you think? :)  We’ll find out soon enough how close I was!

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

paranormal_activity_the_marked_ones_ver2_xlgEssentially the 5th film in the “Paranormal Activity” series, which kind of serves chronologically as 1.5, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a fresh twist on a series that desperately needed it.

Before I begin, I will say that I am fan of the series, and have seen all but the 4th (and most recent before this one) film.  If you are not a fan of the series, this movie will probably not change your mind.  However, as a fan of the series, it’s great and, while it can stand on its own, does a nice job of tying in to the previous films (specifically the first and third one) and opens up some interesting doors for the series.  Suffice to say, THERE MAY BE A FEW SPOILERS FROM THE SERIES IN THE FOLLOWING REVIEW!  YOU’VE BEEN WARNED! :)

The most notable difference in the film is the casting, and tying along with that, the location.  The film revolves around a Mexican teenager and his family and friends in Oxnard, California.  Obviously, as a Mexican, I could easily relate to the characters of the film, and I appreciated that; it’s not too often that Mexicans are the sole focus of a major US motion picture.  This dynamic, in addition to the fact that the “marked one” is just a teenager, also adds a bit of humor to the film as well that has been missing from the series.  We see a drunk abuela (grandma) singing and dancing, we see in a Chronicle-like way the newly “marked” Jesse (played by Andrew Jacobs) testing out his “powers” and putting them on YouTube (only to be plagued by YouTube commenters), a possessed Simon Says board (a fun twist on the traditional Ouija board), and, in what is a truly bizarre and disturbing scene with a young woman, the teenage boys only focus on the naked woman, and underplay the odd ritual taking place in front of them.  In addition, Oakland is a neighborhood burdened by gang activity, which is also shown in the film, to their surprise once Jesse gains his abilities.  But what I like about the focus on the Mexican family is that Latinos do legitimately believe in the devil and in demons, so they take these activities seriously.  I know I have been taught many prayers to keep my soul protected at night, and have been told to never mess with any “dark magic” type stuff at all, because that’s just an invitation to letting bad things into your life.  So when these weird, frightening things begin happening, the abuela immediately knows where to go and what to do, and even gang members know what to do and what is happening.

Anyway, those are the notable differences that make this film stand out in the series and what I appreciated as a fan of the series.  But what made this film rewarding for any fan were the connections to the previous films in the series.  The most notable connection is to the third film, where we learned about “The Coven,” the witches who are behind all of these bizarre activities.  While we still don’t really learn much more about why they are doing what their doing (marking children), there are definitely more clues in this film.   One bizarre revelation that is made that is a bit confusing but also can open explain a lot of situations from the series is that apparently, once you’ve been marked, you have the ability to travel between space and time (this would explain why Katie and Jesse can all of a sudden just appear in front of you), and apparently you can take others with you (which is why the baby in the 4th film, which I haven’t seen but I’m going to speculate, can just appear as well).  Anyway, with that being said, another big notable connection is the connection to Katie from the first film.  If you recall at the end of the first film, Katie screams for Micah and another eerie voice is heard, causing Micah to run down the stairs only to be killed by Katie.  Well it turns out that the reason Katie screamed was because Jesse’s friend Hector (played by Jorge Diaz), who was running away from Jesse, was somehow warped over to Katie’s house in the process.  We hear Katie scream, Micah run down stairs, Katie stab him, and then Jesse appears to kill Hector.  Afterwards, Katie looks at the camera before turning it off.  It was an awesome, exciting scene that was a huge pay-off for any fan of the series.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 8/10

At this point in the series, the films are certainly not as scary as they once were; the novelty of found-footage horror has worn out.  It has become more of a mystery thriller, which is fine with me.  This film serves as a great addition to the series by adding a fresh cast of characters and new concepts and clues to the overall mystery of the “paranormal activity” taking place throughout these films.  Any fan of the series will definitely enjoy this film, and any haters of the series will not be swayed by this film.  I personally enjoyed it, and would recommend it to any fan of the series.  If you’re a newcomer who is curious about this film, I would recommend watching 1 and 3 first to give you a good background for the series.

Saving Mr. Banks

movies_saving-mr-banks-posterEmma Thompson delivers some of the best acting of the year, joined by the always charming Tom Hanks in role he was practically born to play, in a film that reminds you about the magical joy of movies, particularly Disney movies.

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of the notoriously difficult time Disney had in adapting P.L. Travers’s novel Mary Poppins into a film.  All of this takes place in 1961, and the film does a great job of transporting the audience to that time (something I’ve noted previously that I always enjoy and appreciate).  It has been years since I’ve seen the classic Disney logo, and I have to admit it a refreshing wave of nostalgia watched over me as soon as the movie began because of it.  In addition, seeing classic Disney characters/toys pleased my inner child.  I was also impressed at how they were able to recreate Disneyland itself as it would have looked in the ’60s.  But as stated earlier, all of this revolves around the classic Disney film Mary Poppins, and a lot of the nostalgia comes from that.  I remember loving this film as a child, though I did, even as a kid, notice some dark moments and themes in it (though they were always overshadowed by “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious” and Dick Van Dyke dancing with animated penguins).

Speaking of which, the music is classic and still memorable to this day, and hearing it being created and discussed and almost shot down, was great to hear.  Also, geniusly, the soundtrack has some alternate arrangements of classic Disney songs, not just from Mary Poppins either.  Seeing actual storyboards and sketches for the film was also mesmerizing, and certainly added authenticity to the film.  In addition, be sure to stick around a bit after the credits to hear the actual tapes from the meetings Travers had with the Disney crew, it’s pretty awesome (and shows you how well the actors did in recreating those moments).

The film also smartly interweaves the tragic back story of P. L. Travers with the troublesome production meetings for the film.  After seeing everything that Travers went through, it makes you appreciate the film that came out of those struggles so much more; I’ll never see the film the same way again!

But where this film truly shines is in it’s incredible cast and the phenomenal acting they provide for the film.  Emma Thompson does an absolutely incredible job bringing the bitter, angry, jaded P. L. Travers to life.  Every sour look and every nasty remark was both painful yet funny to watch on screen.  And there’s no better joy than watching her slowly crack into the saccharine magic of Disney, and to finally realize at the end how beautiful her story can be when put in the right hands.  This brings me to the wonderful job done by both B.J. Novak (yes, the guy from The Office) and Jason Schwartzman as the musical geniuses behind the film, the Sherman brothers.  They have such a great chemistry with each other and actually seem like blood brothers.  The way they sing with such enthusiasm, despite Travers obvious disapproval, is inspiring and fun to watch.  They, along with Don DaGradi (played very well by Bradley Whitford), make a great team, doing simply what Disney asked them to do in a room with a woman who despises just about all of those ideas.  Seeing them struggle to keep their cool in front of such an unruly woman is a delight to watch.  Which brings us to Disney himself, played remarkably by Tom Hanks.  Hanks does a great job showing us a side of Disney we never really saw, a frustrated and very assertive side that occasionally smokes and drinks to calm down.  But of course, we also see the side of Disney we all know and love, a man who simply wants to show everyone the magic he sees in things.  Seeing him interact with Travers is an interesting love/hate relationship that is so much fun to watch on screen.

Props also have to be given to Paul Giamatti, who plays Travers’s driver Ralph.  Though his role is fairly minimal, he has a big impact on the film the few times he is on.  His character is so genuine and sweet, and having that once again paired with such a sour woman, is jarring at first, but makes the evolution of their relationship that much more fun to watch.  Finally, Colin Farrell does a sensational job as Travers Goff, father of P. L. Travers.  His character is complex, a wonderful caring father who has his own demons that he deals with in unwise ways.  Seeing him essentially play two characters, and play them so well, made the back story of P. L. Travers so powerful and emotionally-charged.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

This is certainly one of the best movies of the year thanks to it’s incredible cast who all act superbly.  It shows another side of a Disney classic, and in doing so reminds us what made that movie, and what makes all movies (particularly Disney films) so magical and powerful. Don’t be surprised to see some Oscar buzz at the very least for Emma Thompson, if not for some of the other great acting in the film.  If you love Mary Poppins, Disney, or filmmaking in general, you absolutely must see this film!

The Wolf of Wall Street

wolf-of-wall-streetScorsese delivers a fantastic and wickedly funny film displaying the ridiculous lengths people will go to to get wealthy, and the insane things people do with such absurd wealth, all led by the phenomenal acting of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill.

DiCaprio plays the devilishly charming Jordan Belfort, a man who was corrupted by Wall Street, and particularly by the evil ways of his first boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) [I told you he was having a great year!].  He came into the business a naive, hopeful young man who wanted to help other people make money, and slowly realized that Wall Street has very different intentions.  But it’s not until after the devastating effects of Black Monday force him to take a small job at an “Investment Center” and he learns about penny stocks that his rise to infamy begins.  With the help of neighbor Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a few other shady stockbrokers, he starts his own fraudulent business that he calls Stratton Oakmont.  Using their skills of manipulation and deceit, they soon make millions, and that’s when the insanity begins.  Using his newly acquired wealth, Belfort buys lavish homes, cars, and a beautiful yacht, as well as an obscene amount of every type of drug you can imagine, and numerous prostitutes.  Though he eventually marries model Naomi Lapaglia (played by the gorgeous Margot Robbie), after divorcing his previous wife, that doesn’t prevent him from continuing to abuse drugs and hire prostitutes at every available opportunity.  Of course, his activities attract the attention of the FBI, who promptly begin to investigate him.  Belfort hires a shady lawyer (Jon Favreau) to cover his illegal activities and tries to hide his money in offshore accounts in Switzerland (where we meet Jean Jacque Saurel, played by Jean Dujardin).  However, he eventually gets caught, and in a deal to lessen his jail time decides to rat out everyone who was involved in his illegal activities.

DiCaprio is in top form for this film, and it’s one of his best roles in years.  I sincerely hope he gets some sort of recognition for this film because he absolutely deserves it.  He narrates much of the film, and even when just his voice is on screen, the voice acting is phenomenal, and read with such intensity that you can practically see him yelling at you.  DiCaprio plays one of the worst types of villains imaginable: a charming one.  Even when he’s yelling and clearly acting insane, his crew (and even we in the audience) hangs on to every word he says.  Because of the pervasive drug use, DiCaprio is forced to show off his physical comedy acting as well, and it is hilarious to watch.  He is indeed a wolf, and his company is full of animals as well; seeing the madness in his company is frightening and compelling.  It also goes to show you how crazy people get to earn money and how much crazier they can become once they have it; midget tosses are discussed in board meetings as if they are a serious matter, prostitution costs are talked about as if they are a cost that can be legitimately explained, and so on.  It’s so insane that you can’t believe it’s based on true events!  Jonah Hill does a great job as well as the equally insane co-founder of Stratton Oakmont, for many of the same reasons that DiCaprio is great: intense acting, hilarious dialogue, and a charming persona.  He is even more brash and cocky at times than DiCaprio, which doesn’t seem possible, but Hill manages to do so with ease.  The two of them have a great chemistry on screen, and it makes their insane actions that much more fun to watch.

Another thing that needs to be said is that Scorsese does a perfect job with the pacing of this film.  It is one minute shy of a 3 hour film, which is daunting to think about.  But the film had such a great rhythm to it that it didn’t feel that long at all.  Plus this film is definitely one of the funniest films of the year, so that keeps you engaged throughout the whole experience.  This is dark comedy at it’s finest.  It’s like a car crash on the highway: you know it’s not going to be a pretty sight, but you can’t help but look at it.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 10/10

Scorsese delivers one of the craziest, most intense films I’ve ever seen (I can see now why it was nearly rated NC-17), and also one of the funniest movies of the year.  DiCaprio and Hill make a 3 hour movie fly by, and I would not be surprised if this film got plenty of award nominations (and hopefully some wins).  Definitely worth watching on screen; a movie this big and bombastic shouldn’t be seen any other way!

Inside Llewyn Davis

LlewynDavisThe Coen Brothers deliver another classic film, this time taking a look at the life of a struggling musician who was simply ahead of his time.

If there’s one thing the Coen Brothers do well, it’s create a great story with compelling characters (who are also superbly cast).  Taking place during the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961, Oscar Isaac plays the titular character Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who used to be part of a semi-successful duo.  After unfortunately losing his partner, he has been trying to make a living as a solo act, with little luck.  He is a talented singer, but just can’t seem to catch a break.  He is forced to go couch-surfing just to have a roof over his head, playing little gigs here and there.  He stays with friends Jean (Carey Mulligan) and Jim (Justin Timberlake).  Jean is understandably upset with Llewyn, and sick and tired of him.  It’s odd to see Mulligan in such an aggressive,  volatile role, but she plays it very well.  Jim is a good man who does what he can to support his friend Llewyn. Timberlake is charming and fun to watch on screen; it would have been nice to see more of him to be honest.  She and Jim are also great folk singers, and the harmonies they have are tight and beautiful.  John Goodman has a minor role as the abrasive, rude Roland Turner, who shows us the nasty side of bitter musicians.

Speaking of musicians, the music in this film is sublime and refreshing.  Isaac particularly sings with great passion, making it that much harder to watch him struggle as a musician in the movie.  Every word he sings is sung with great meaning.  Even the sillier songs of the film are so fun and innocent and remind you about the joys music can bring.  I’m not necessarily a fan of folk music, but I enjoyed all the songs in the film.

Anyway, back to the story.  Like a typical Coen Brothers film, it’s very depressing but oddly captivating.  Though it takes place in the 1961, the story can be applied to musicians at any time.  It’s a difficult business, and is unfortunately very unstable and dependent on the ever-changing interests of the public.  It also shows how a passionate hobby can be turned into a “parlor trick,” where you’re asked to perform on a whim even when you don’t want to.  Money is hard to come by, and you basically have to live gig to gig.  Many miles are traveled in hopes of getting a big break, with often unfortunate results.  In addition, Davis is constantly reminded about the loss of his former music partner, who obviously had a great impact on all the lives he touched, including Davis’s.  But the worst part of this whole story is that Llewyn Davis was simply an artist who arrived on the scene too early.  Towards the end of the movie, we see a young Bob Dylan appear on screen, performing right after Davis.  Dylan would go on to popularize folk music and take it to another level.  Had Davis simply performed his music a few months later, he probably would have experienced great success.  But alas he was toward the end of his career at the beginning of the folk scene.  What doesn’t help any of this is that Davis isn’t the most likable character; he’s been jaded so many times and told so many times that he’s a loser and not good enough that he is just a bitter, angry man.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

The Coen Brothers create another emotional, powerful film with captivating characters and a beautiful soundtrack.  It is certainly worthy of the praise it is receiving, and is worth watching on the big screen.

 

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman_2-_The_Legend_Continues83984Ron Burgundy and the rest of San Diego’s wackiest news team return to the screen to bring you the shenanigans and quote-worthy moments that made the first film a cult classic.

Let’s be completely honest first of all: Anchorman did not need a sequel.  It ended and wrapped everything up nicely, letting us know the fate of all members of the news team.  With that being said, I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t looking forward to this film, albeit warily.  I’m happy to report that this film does not disappoint.  I’m also pleased to say that the trailers (and the overwhelming saturation of Ron Burgundy on TV) did not spoil the movie; it’s safe to say the DVD will have plenty of deleted scenes and bloopers.

Back to the review!  Will Ferrell is just as insanely funny as he was in the first film.  His brashness and ignorance still makes him oddly charming, and there’s no doubt he’s the star of the film; as great as the supporting cast is for this film, it could still be pretty funny without them.  David Koechner returns as the offensive sports caster who knows nothing about sports, Champ Kind.  His love for Ron Burgundy is as uncontrollably strong as ever, and his (not so subtle) attempts to express his emotions continue to be funny to watch.  Paul Rudd is back as the sex-crazed Brian Fantana.  The closest we have to the “straight man” of the group, he’s rational when he needs to be but also isn’t afraid to dive right into the most insane moments of this film.  And of course, Steve Carell makes a return as the lovable idiot Brick Tamland.  He’s as sweet and clueless as ever, which in my opinion makes him the second funniest character of the film.  I will say that a lot of this due to the brilliant casting of Kristen Wiig as his love interest, the equally idiotic and clueless Chani.  Their simple-mindedness makes their love story that much more pure and fun to watch.  Christina Applegate reprises her role of Veronica Corningstone, and she does fine in her role but is definitely the weakest member of the returning cast this time around.

James Marston adds to the cast as the arrogant hot head Jack Lime, whose competition with Ron Burgundy is fun to watch.  He fits into the universe of crazy news casters just fine.  Greg Kinnear is hilarious as the psychologist Gary, who is more powerful than you might think!  In addition to that, this film has so many crazy cameos that will both delight and confuse you!  I don’t want to spoil any of them, but trust me when I tell you that in one of the last scenes of the film, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by who appears on screen!

As for the story, as I stated earlier, this film is not afraid to just go completely insane.  The last scene of the film (the one I previously mentioned) is just straight-up bonkers, though it is incredibly fun to watch!  The first film had maybe one or two weird moments, but this film takes it to a whole other level.  As for the more realistic side, I think the story does a fine job of parodying what news has become, particularly 24 hour news networks that are struggling not to provide news, but to provide ratings, and about the corruption that comes with wealthy people owning these news networks.  However, I do find it ironic for Ron to want to return to the “real news” he used to report, not the frivolous entertainment or cute animal stories he and his crew started to report to gain ratings; wasn’t the big news story that he and his crew covered at the end of the first movie about the birth of a baby Panda?  So while it may be a bit heavy-handed and coming from the people you would least expect to report it, I did appreciate the message.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 8/10

All of your favorite characters are back and just as funny as ever in a movie that goes to levels of crazy that are odd but certainly fun to watch.  A good message about the state of “news” today is delivered by the people you would least expect, and cameos galore make the film a surprising delight to watch from beginning to end.  Though not as great as the first one, it’s certainly not any worse and definitely has its moments that will make this a cult classic as well.  If you’re looking for a good comedy, you’ll definitely can’t go wrong here.