Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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In what is easily one of the best sequels ever made, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which for simplicity’s sake will be referred to as Dawn for the rest of this review) serves as a testament to the amazing talent of motion capture (MoCap) actors, in particular Andy Serkis, and the huge strides that have been made in the field of CGI; this film revolves almost completely around the apes, and they look incredibly realistic at times!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes did the unthinkable: it successfully created a prequel for the Apes franchise, and was done so well that a complete reboot of the series was made possible.  The first film was thrilling and even a bit frightening at first, and it’s safe to say Dawn is just as exciting to watch, with even more action than the previous film!  It retains everything that made the first film so enjoyable, and expands and adds on to it.

For example, one of my favorite features of the first film was its cinematography.  The aerial shots in the first film showing the apes escaping and heading towards the city in huge numbers, the angles used to show the apes overlooking the soon-to-be-theirs city, and more are back here and more beautiful than ever.  The sheer number of apes has increased tenfold, making them even more intimidating to behold.  When Caesar brings his army to the human colony, it’s absolutely breathtaking.  Seeing them in droves flying through the trees is equally stunning.

Seeing Caesar slowly gain intelligence, and with it more power, was also fascinating to watch in the first film, and is even more compelling this time around.  This is where praise goes out to Andy Serkis.  Best known for bringing MoCap to the forefront through his protrayals of King Kong and Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, Andy Serkis has perfected the art, and is now the go-to example of how it should be done.  And this is for good reason.  When watching Caesar on the screen, it feels so real and so natural, which helps to connect to the character so much more.  Serkis does a great job of balancing the ape and human side of Caesar.  This time around, Serkis gets to speak as Caesar as well, and though his human words are few, they are unbelievably powerful!  Every word carries so much weight, from the softest whisper to the most terrifying scream.  But Serkis is just one half of the puzzle, the other half is the incredible CGI team.  There are moments when the camera zooms into the apes, and it seems so incredibly real.  Every hair seems natural, the texture of the skin looks lifelike; its almost like you’re at a very special zoo exhibit and just looking through the glass.  The film revolves around Caesar and the apes, and thanks to the amazing combination of both the talented acting of Serkis and the impressive work of the CGI team, this works incredibly well.

While we are on the subject, the main antagonist of the film, beyond the humans, is Koba, an ape who has always hated humans and doesn’t trust them at all.  While his intentions are to save the apes, he goes about it in the worst possible way.  I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say that his character is involved in one of the most incredible fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie.  Props go out to his MoCap actor, Toby Kebbell; just as the few words that Caesar use in the film are powerful, so are Koba’s.

The human actors in this film do a fine job as well.  Jason Clarke plays Malcolm the main human protagonist, a good man who wants to help humanity but also does not want to disturb the apes.  He and Caesar develop a great chemistry with each other throughout the film, throughout the ups and downs of their interactions.  The legendary Gary Oldman is in top form in this film playing Dreyfus, a character desperate to save humanity, no matter what the cost.  Keri Russell is always delightful to watch on screen, and the same applies this time with her character Ellie, a compassionate woman who has lost a lot but it has not dampened her spirits; she is a survivor.  Kirk Acevedo plays the bitter and impulsive human Carver who doesn’t trust the apes, and because of it he unwillingly sets the pieces in place for the inevitable war between the humans and the apes.

Once that war begins, hold on for an exciting ride!  The action scenes in this film are unbelievable, and impressive considering that one half of that army is completely CGI!  Seeing apes riding on horses, wielding guns, and screaming is terrifying and intimidating.  As stated before, there are so many apes, and seeing all of them rushing in from so many different angles is thrilling.  This is again where cinematography comes into play; some great angles and continuous shots show you a different perspective on the war that I haven’t seen in any other film.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 10/10

This is one of the most compelling, exciting films I’ve seen in a long time.  It took an already fascinating film and took it to the next level, creating one of the best sequels since The Dark Knight.  Andy Serkis and his MoCap acting, along with the incredible CGI, make this film about apes seem incredibly realistic, making the impact of the film that much more powerful.  If you enjoyed the first film, you will absolutely love this one.  Even if you haven’t seen the first one, this is definitely worth seeing in theaters, and you will follow along to the story pretty easily (thanks to a quick intro that briefly recaps the first film).

One note: the 3D was ok, but certainly not the most impressive I’ve ever seen.  You will not miss out by watching this movie in regular 2D, but definitely watch it in theaters!

22 Jump Street

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The same characters, doing the same thing, with the same results: hilarity at its finest! :)

The best thing about 22 Jump Street is how self-aware it is, and unashamed it is to let you know it.  It knows it’s a sequel, it knows it’s doing the same thing, but it also knows that the first one worked, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  The writing in the first film was clever and witty, and that is even more true this time around.  Poking fun at the increased budget, the fact that they were lucky the first film was a success, the failure of sequels in general, the outrageousness of action films, and so much more will have you chuckling  and outright laughing throughout the film.  The action is just as exciting this time around; there is a particularly impressive fight scene on the beach!  But once again, the main selling point of this film is the undeniable chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

Hill and Tatum play off each other incredibly well and make a great team.  Hill remains a nerdy, awkward man who tries his best to be cool, while Tatum remains the lovable buff dummy, and when you put the two of them together, it just works.  Props to Tatum for his comedic chops and for keeping up with Hill!  Nick Offerman and Ice Cube return to deliver plenty of witty, over-the-top laughs like the ones mentioned earlier.  A great addition this time around are the Lucas Brothers, who play twins Keith and Kenny Yang.   Though they aren’t in the film very much, every moment that they appear on screen is hilarious and fun.  Amber Stevens also joins the cast and plays the sweet love interest of Hill, and has an interesting role in the film that may surprise you!  Wyatt Russell plays Zook, a character that complements Tatum’s nicely; they are a fun pair to watch on screen.  YouTube star Jimmy Tatro does a fantastic job in his role and also adds plenty of laughs early on in the film.  But definitely the best addition to this film is the always-funny Jillian Bell, best known for her role in the Comedy Central show Workaholics.  She has some of the funniest moments in the entire film, especially when paired with Hill.

This film has one of my favorite endings that I’ve ever seen in a comedy film, make sure you stick around for it!  Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller continue to poke fun at how ridiculous it was to make a sequel to this film by teasing the next 18 possible “Jump Street” films, complete with film clips and awesome posters, each getting progressively more ridiculous and hilarious, and including fake casting issues, crossovers, and toy/video game deals.  They know that if they wanted to, they could easily make a lot of money off of this franchise, but I think through this ending, they cleverly showed us that there is no real need for another film.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

I could honestly go on and on about this film and all of my favorite jokes and tongue-in-cheek moments, but that would ruin the fun of this film for you!  If you liked the first film, you will absolutely love this film, and will appreciate the true humor of it (it’s essentially a parody of itself, which is not easy to successfully pull off).  If you didn’t watch the first one, the directors conveniently provide the audience with a “Previously on 21 Jump Street” montage!  Phil Lord and Chris Miller are definitely a comedy duo to look out for; with these two Jump Street films and The Lego Movie, they have made some of my favorite films of the last 10 years (and I know many viewers and critics would agree with me).  This is not only one of the funniest, but also one of the smartest comedies I’ve ever seen, and it will definitely live on as excellent example of self-aware parody.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

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The charming and lovable cast returns from the first film in an equally stunning and practically perfect sequel that delves deeper into the magical world of Vikings and dragons.

With sequels popping up left and right, it’s always a bit of a challenge to see if they can live up to the hype of their predecessors.  Few films have done it right, but I think HTTYD2 is one of them (and surprisingly, the title still kind of fits in this new film as well!).  What the first film did right was make you feel an awesome, beautiful connection to these mythical and often feared beasts.  This movie takes that feeling and kicks it up a notch, introducing you to a whole new world of dragons, and in particular the “Alpha Dragon.”  As for how the title still kind of works, while everyone in the sequel has already trained their dragon, the main plot of this film deals in how to control a dragon; while it can be done through fear, it works better and is more effective when done through earning their trust and loyalty.  Props to the writers of the film for making this wordy title work on so many levels throughout both films!

In addition, the animation was gorgeous in the first film, and I’m thrilled to say that it’s just as incredible in this sequel. The 3D scenes were just as magnificent as the first film, and really do a great job of immersing you in the movie and making you feel like you’re flying! It’s the best movie I’ve watched in IMAX 3D so far this year (I’m thinking the next Transformers film might give challenge it, but we shall see).   There’s nothing quite like seeing two giant Alpha Dragons fighting on a HUGE screen in 3D, it’s breathtaking! The textures of the dragons, the landscapes, the flying scenes – everything looks absolutely stunning in this film, and is a testament to what animation can do.  This is definitely a film that is best experienced in a theater!

The cast was wonderful in the first film and made it that much more fun to watch each of their journeys.  They all return in this film and are just as fun and enjoyable to watch this time around.  There are also a few new additions as well, including the long lost mother of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), played incredibly by Cate Blanchett.  I love the relationship she and Hiccup develop through their shared passion of dragons, and that she and her husband Stoick (Gerard Butler) still have 20 years later; it’s very moving.  The relationship between the dragon riders (comedy all-stars Jonah Hill, TJ Miller, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kristen Wiig) and their dragons, and of course in particular the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, is still so much fun to watch and so complementary to each of the characters.  Another new addition is Eret, played by Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington.  His character is fun to watch develop, and it happens naturally and organically.  You know where it’s going to end, but it’s still enjoyable watching him get there.

The one new character that takes this film down from a 10 to 9 for me is the villain, Drago (Djimon Hounsou).  This is at no fault to the actor, I just believe his character was flat, and never really seemed as threatening as everyone in the film made him out to be.  The fear that surrounded him came more from the dragons he was working with.  His story was not as compelling to me, and I never really connected with the character on any level.

The film retains its balance of heartwarming moments and humor, though this time they do hit a few dark, sad moments.  I will admit that while I did tear up in the first one, this one did not hit me quite as hard (though there are some admittedly heart-wrenching moments in this film).  The theme in this film is about discovering your purpose and how to be an effective leader, and it comes across nicely.  There’s also quite a bit more action in this film than in the first one; the battles on dragons are intense and thrilling to watch!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

This is the best animated and 3D movie of the year (HIGHLY recommended for IMAX 3D), and is a fantastic sequel to an incredible movie.  The awesome cast from the first film returns, and the plot is only hindered by a weak villain.  It will make you laugh and cry, and is perfect for young audiences and adults alike.

Maleficent

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In a completely alternate version of the story you think you know, Angelina Jolie shines as the complex and (according to this story) misunderstood titular character, Maleficent.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

 

In order to fully enjoy this movie, you have to accept the fact that this is NOT a live-action version of “Sleeping Beauty.”  This is the story of Maleficent, and as such it’s going to provide you with her side of the fairy tale.  Once you can do that, you’ll find that this is actually a very interesting story, and in the same vein as their other hit movie Frozen, challenges the classic fairy-tale concept of what true love really is.  Maleficent started off as an innocent and loving child, but when she was betrayed in a very painful way, she sought revenge by placing a curse on the daughter of the man who betrayed her.  However, after watching that daughter grow and developing a relationship with her, Maleficent found out that she truly loved her all along.  It is her kiss that actually breaks the curse that she put on her, and in the end, Maleficent essentially adopts Aurora as her own and has her live as a Queen in the Moors.  What adds to this interesting concept is that the whole time the movie is narrated by Sleeping Beauty herself, Aurora.  So it’s not like Maleficent was trying to redeem herself by telling her own story, we actually get a third perspective that tells us the truth behind the classic story.

 

SPOILERS DONE! :)

 

If you saw and enjoyed Oz: The Great and Powerful, then you’ll immediately recognize and love the world that Maleficent comes from, the Moors, where all sorts of magical creatures live.  Seeing a young Maleficent fly through this world and say hi to all of it’s denizens is beautiful.  It stands in stark contrast to the dark, gray world of humans.  The special effects in this movie are fantastic, and really add to the magical feel of the mythical Moors.  In addition, the make-up and costumes in this film are great as well: I don’t know how they did it, but they made Angelina Jolie’s face look just as angular as her animated counterpart, and her dress immediately reminded me of the animated movie (I especially love how we are introduced to this new look for Maleficent through her shadow, it’s creepy and beautiful).  For once, I did not see this film in 3D, but I can imagine that some of these scenes in the Moors must of looked gorgeous in 3D.

This film also has a bit of humor to it, embedded in many of the dark elements of the film, which gives it a nice balance and doesn’t make it overly depressing.  There are a lot of somber moments in the film, but that only makes the brighter moments of the movie stand out that much more.  The relationship that Maleficent develops with her sidekick Diaval (played perfectly by Sam Riley) and the silly antics of Aurora’s three guardian fairies are particularly hilarious.

So now for the casting: Angelina Jolie does a wonderful job as Maleficent.  Her character serves as both hero and villain, with truly frightening moments of evil and other heartwarming moments of love and affection.  All the while, the movie finds ways to make you sympathize with Maleficent.  You know she’s doing wrong, but at the same time you understand why she does what she does.  It’s not an easy character to play, but if anyone can handle the challenge, it’s Jolie.  Elle Fanning does a fine job as Sleeping Beauty, aka Aurora.  She was “cursed” by Maleficent to be loved by all, and Fanning is definitely charming and adorable throughout the film, which makes her few moments of sadness and anger that much more powerful.  Sharlto Copley has been doing very well since District 9, and has truly shown his acting range.  This character is also a bit complex, starting off as a man who is driven to do anything to be king, and watching him slowly descend into madness and paranoia after Maleficent places the curse on his daughter.  As mentioned earlier, Sam Riley does an excellent job as Maleficent’s right-hand man Diaval, a crow that thanks to her powers can become a man and all sorts of other creatures, all while maintaining the feel of a crow (once again, great job in special effects)!  The other supporting cast is great as well, particularly the fairies.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

Disney once again does a fairy tale right, but this time completely twists one of their classic stories and villains.  It’s an interesting take on the story, and is bolstered by the fine acting of its cast and the beautiful special effects that can be both magical and frightening.  It is a complex story filled with complex characters, but is a fun ride to see how they all come to be.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

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In one of the most clever ways they could have rebooted this series, X-Men: DOFP takes the best of the first two films and X-Men: First Class and sets the stage for X-Men to continue on a much better path with the cast we got to know and love, and does so through an exciting, well-written, thoroughly entertaining film.

Briefly, this film opens in an apocalyptic wasteland where a program known as the Sentinel program has slowly and steadily wiped out mutants, people who have the potential to become mutants, and all their human allies.  Suffice to say, it’s not a pretty picture.  The enemy in this film, the Sentinels, is practically impossible to defeat, because it uses the incredible DNA of Raven/Mystique, the mutant who is capable of transforming her physical appearance.  This puts the X-Men in real danger, and seeing them struggle against the Sentinels is terrifying.  The only way to possibly defeat them and restore order is to go back in time and destroy the Sentinel program before it even began.  Wolverine is the only person capable of surviving this process, so he goes back to the ’70s to try to convince young Professor Xavier and Magneto to work together and save their future.  While this may sound like a complex or convoluted plot, I think director Bryan Singer does a great job of making it all flow well.  The interweaving of the past and present and the tension and danger that lies in each time period almost feels like Inception.  The story is compelling and will have you on the edge of your seat throughout the film.  The common conflicting themes from this franchise of mutant and human coexistence and mutant domination once again arise in this film, but are heightened by the new threat of Trask and the Sentinel program.  That’s not to say that this movie is completely serious; there are much needed moments of levity that balance out the film nicely.  But where the movie really shines is in the cast.

One of the most exciting things about the X-Men is that there are so many different characters to explore.  While there are plenty of mutants that are on display in this film, it never becomes overwhelming, it only adds to the action and excitement.  This film brought back a few characters from X-Men: First Class: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy); Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Hank, a.k.a Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).  All three actors bring back what made them so great in the other film: they’re young, fresh, and captivating, and all play their roles so genuinely.  In the past, we are also introduced to Peter Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver (played by Evan Peters), who is hilarious and so much fun to watch on screen.  Honestly, these characters (along with Wolverine, played a 6th time now by Hugh Jackman) would have been perfect in a movie all on their own.  But on top of that, add the excellent pairing of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart once again as Professor X and Magneto (respectively) and all of your favorite characters from the past films (Halle Berry as Storm, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, and so many more), and you have an all-star cast of what has made this franchise so enjoyable for comic book fans and casual moviegoers alike.   Newcomer Peter Dinklage, who is a fantastic actor in just about everything he’s done, also shines as the “villain” of the film Dr. Bolivar Trask.

I saw this film in 3D, and have to say it was… ok.  There were a few scenes that looked stunning in 3D, but not enough to justify watching the whole movie in that format.  The action scenes were incredibly well-choreographed, and the cinematography was gorgeous.  The special effects were phenomenal, and really made the mutants and their epic fight scenes that much more exciting to see on the big screen.  The pacing was excellent, and the 2+ hours flew by, in my opinion.  Don’t forget to stay for a post-credits scene, though you may need to seek explanation about what it means (as a non-comic reader, I definitely needed some help in deciphering it).

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

If you like the X-Men films, you absolutely MUST see this film.  It’s one of (if not THE) best films in the franchise.  If you like comic book/Marvel films, than you definitely don’t want to miss this one!  If you’ve never seen an X-Men film, I’d recommend at least watching the first X-Men film and X-Men: First Class before watching this one (if not all of them, minus the Wolverine films, they’re not as essential to this story).  It’s one of the best action films of the year, and next to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is the best superhero/comic book film of the year so far.

Godzilla (2014)

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A modern retake on the quintessential movie monster, Godzilla has moments of gorgeous cinematography and pays respect to the classic idea of Godzilla, but unfortunately wastes a great cast and not only doesn’t show it’s titular character as often as it should, but adds confusion to its origins as well.

Let’s start with the positives.  There are some genuine moments that are filmed beautifully in this film, many of which are shown in the trailers.  They show the grand scale of what we are dealing with in this film, both in terms of the size of the monsters (yes, with an ‘s,’ as in there is more than one beast in this film… more on that in a second) in the film and the destruction caused by their battles.  Alas, these moments are few and far between, but will get more into that in a second.

Godzilla, in the classic films, is indeed a monster, but in a sense is a benevolent beast that comes to protect the world from other creatures that mean to destroy the world.  This idea is resurfaced in the film, but it comes at the expense of a confusion origin story.  Most of us who even have a cursory knowledge of how Godzilla came to be, and that’s because of nuclear testing and radiation that mutated a lizard into the giant monster known as Godzilla (and had similar affects on some of Godzilla’s adversaries).  However, in this film, the nuclear bombs were used to try and kill Godzilla, who apparently has been around for millions of years, since the time of the dinosaurs, and was simply awakened by nuclear subs.  Godzilla, and other beasts, apparently feed of the nuclear energy, which brings us to the fact that another pair of beasts are in this film, simply known as MUTOs (“Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects”), which look like a giant spider/bat hybrid (one is a male and has wings, the other is a much larger female with a glowing sac of eggs).  This definitely confuses the origin of Godzilla, but in the end, he is the only one who can defeat the MUTOs, and when he does, he is heralded as the possible “savior of the city,” before he retreats back to the ocean, definitely setting things up for a sequel.

Speaking of epic battles, I was fully expecting to see Godzilla engage in incredible, larger than life battles throughout the movie, but in all honesty, in this 2 hour + film, Godzilla is in it for maybe 45 minutes total, and if you count the MUTOs as well, then you maybe have an hour, but an hour and 15 minutes total, of monsters.  Honestly, for the type of action I was expecting, you’re better off watching the far more entertaining Pacific Rim.  That was definitely one of the more disappointing parts of the film.  But hey, at least there’s a good cast to fill in the rest of that time right?  Let’s get to that, but before we do…

WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD!

Ok, so one of the most gripping parts of the trailer was hearing Bryan Cranston freaking out.  He is a phenomenal actor and I was looking forward to having him in the film, a far more compelling actor in this role than Matthew Broderick in the last Godzilla back in 1998.  And in the parts of the film that he is in are riveting.  Unfortunately, this is all short-lived, as Cranston’s character dies early on in the film as a result of the MUTO.

SPOILERS OVER!

Another fantastic actor, Ken Watanabe, also starts off as an interesting character with a lot of potential, but he ends up looking like a crackpot by the end of the film, almost like a conspiracy theorist.  Regardless, he is also not seen as often in the movie as I believe he should have been.

So this leaves us with two great young actors, Aaron-Taylor Johnson (most well-known for the Kick-Ass films and the upcoming Avengers sequel) and Elizabeth Olsen (known for her starring role in Martha Marcy May Marlene and also playing alongside Johnson in the upcoming Avengers sequel), who are essentially the stars of the film, but unfortunately play some pretty dull characters (I know they are far better actors than these roles allow them to be).  So while we barely see the potentially most exciting part of the movie, the monsters, we are stuck with two pretty boring characters who make the movie drag on.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 6/10

While there are some great moments in the film, they are sprinkled in-between long, boring moments.  Godzilla isn’t featured in the movie as much as he should be, and some great actors are not used to their full potential in the film.  In addition, the IMAX 3D was underwhelming; if you do decide to see this in films, you’ll be fine seeing it on a regular screen.  If you are a fan of the classic Godzilla films, there are some redeeming moments in the film, but overall this was a disappointing film, in my opinion.

2fer: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 & Neighbors

Hey everyone!  It’s time for a double review!  :)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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Let’s start with the latest installment in the Spider-Man reboot.  The first movie in the series promised to show us the hidden story behind Peter Parker’s dad, but we didn’t really too much.  This installment definitely does a better job of providing more back story, complicating Peter Parker’s life as well as his relationship with Harry Osborn and Oscorp.  That’s just one of many layers of this movie; there’s a lot going on here (it is a 2-hour + film), and I think for the casual moviegoer it might be easy to miss a lot of things or get overwhelmed trying to find everything.  I, however, thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and definitely would not mind watching it again just to try and gather more information.

Let’s quickly cover some highlights.  Andrew Garfield has grown into the role of Spider-Man very well.  He has the young energy associated with our young superhero.  He’s funny, charming, and incredibly likeable.  While I will always have a fondness for the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, I can’t deny that Garfield is a much better Spidey than Toby Maguire, both with and without the costume.  Additionally, Emma Stone is a fantastic Gwen Stacy and a much better counterpart to Spider-Man than Mary Jane.  Not only is she also funny and charming, but she isn’t afraid to get involved Spidey’s life and battles.  Also, Stone and Garfield have a palpable chemistry between them, and they play off each other very well, and I enjoyed every minute of their screen time together.  Jamie Foxx does a phenomenal job in his role, which is very complex.  Max Dillon is a character who is both someone you feel pity for but are also creeped out by.  He’s a lonely, depressed man who is obsessed by Spider-Man.  After a horrendous accident on his birthday, he becomes a being made entirely of electricity.  With that power, Dillon becomes Electro, the main villain of the film, and a very entertaining one at that.  Lastly, we have one of my favorite new actors, Dane DeHaan, who does a fantastic job as Harry Osborn, and is far more intimidating than James Franco.  I also love Webb’s version of the Green Goblin in this film, it’s also far more frightening than in the Raimi triology.  So overall, I would say the casting was great.

I’ll wrap up this brief review by saying that this film definitely paved the way for the reported “Sinister Six” movie in the works, which for those of who don’t know is 6 of Spider-Man’s craziest villains teaming up against him.  The last few scenes (and the entire credits scene) pointed in that direction.  But beyond that, I think the story of Spidey and Electro was entertaining and action-packed, with some spectacular fight scenes, and is especially great in IMAX 3D!  If you liked the previous Spider-Man movie, and are curious to see where they’re going with the franchise, it’s definitely worth a watch.  It will probably be a bit overwhelming for the casual moviegoer who hasn’t yet seen a Spider-Man film, but for any comic book or super hero enthusiast, it’s a fun ride!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 8/10

Neighbors

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Next, let’s take a look at the comedy Neighbors.  One of my favorite raunchy and insane comedies of last year was This Is The End, so when I saw that the same people were behind this new movie, I couldn’t help but be excited!  One of my favorite things to tell people is when the trailer does NOT ruin the film (because unfortunately that happens far too often nowadays)!  I still laughed at some of those trailer moments, but was pleasantly surprised to be laughing throughout the rest of the film as well.

Let’s talk about the casting: this is a comedy hodgepodge of up-and-coming and veteran comedians.  Seth Rogen plays an interesting role in this film, probably only rivaled by his role in Knocked Up.  His character is a family man, a father/husband who loves his wife and kid but still acts like the lovable goof we expect him to be.  He and Rose Byrne have a great chemistry with each other, and both are equally dumb and hilarious.  Their relationship is a fun one to watch, as they try to be young and hip while still trying to be good parents.  Zac Efron, who isn’t necessarily known for being a raunchy comedian, does a great job in this role, and is both likable and despicable at the same time.  James Franco’s younger brother Dave works well alongside Efron, and together they play believable frat brothers.  In addition to them, you have a bunch of awesome comedy cameos (I won’t ruin the surprise, but they are fun little scenes!) that add to the laughs in this film.

You can of course expect some pretty raunchy scenes, but of course there’s always a bit of heart behind these films as well.  The ultimate message behind these films is about what it means to grow up and be an adult, and the film does a nice job of hitting it from both the younger and older perspectives.  If you don’t mind a few jokes about genitals, drug-use and a healthy dose of f-bombs, than you will definitely enjoy this film, it’s definitely one of the funniest films of the year!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

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