2fer: Jurrasic World / Inside Out

Hi everyone! It’s summertime, and you know what that means! Time for some amazing cinematic adventures! Let’s take a look at two of the biggest films out right now!

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Let’s start with a true summer blockbuster, Jurassic World. Loyal readers know that many times, I’ve had to write that I haven’t seen the previous version of a film or other movies in a franchise, but in this case, I’ve been a loyal fan of these movies since I was a kid. I loved dinosaurs and was one of those kids who had dinosaur print PJs and bedsheets, lunch boxes and backpacks, everything. So when the first Jurassic Park film came out, I immediately begged my parents to let me go and watch it, and absolutely adored it, even though it terrified me at many points! I’ve watched every film in the franchise at least 3-4 times (yes, even the disappointing Jurassic Park III), and have enjoyed these films for many years. When word came out about Jurassic World, I was ecstatic and could not wait to see how they would resurrect this series so many years later!

Let me assure you, it was TOTALLY worth the wait!

Back in the early films in the series, Jurassic Park was portrayed as more of an interactive museum than anything else, and was still not really open to the general public. The potential was there to make it a fun and exciting place to be, but obviously they never got a chance to take it to that level. In Jurassic World, it finally lives up to that potential, and it’s incredibly fun and thrilling to see. Petting zoos with baby dinos, a Sea World-like aquatic show, a tour in a gyrosphere led by Jimmy Fallon (which obviously is reminiscent of Universal Studios), trams taking you on a scenic route around the park (which reminded me, as a San Diego native, of the SD Safari Park), kayaking past thirsty dinosaurs, and so much more; this is a true amusement park in every sense of the word, and it’s so exciting to see it in all of its glory! Especially as a fan of the series, this is exactly what I had been waiting for and hoping to see in the original films! Check out their website for a small taste of everything this amazing park has to offer!

But of course it wouldn’t be a Jurassic Park film without some sort of crazy catastrophe. That comes in the form of the genetically modified (by the same geneticist from the original film!) Indominus Rex, which is part T-Rex, part Velociraptor, and part other non-dino creatures that give it the ability to camouflage, among other things. This super smart and highly aggresive dinosaur cleverly finds a way to escape from its containment and wreak havoc on the park. She eventually kills other dinosaurs, sets others free, and finds a way to demolish nearly all of the park. This is where Jurassic World shines, balancing the wonder and awe of bringing dinosaurs to life with the sheer terror and danger that comes with that.

The acting in the film is great, with stellar performances by Chris Pratt as the awesome raptor whisperer Owen, Bryce Dallas Howard as the business-oriented and incredibly skilled high-heel runner Claire, Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus as the hilarious park operators Lowery and Vivian, and many more. The effects are gorgeous and bring the park to glorious life. The iconic Jurassic Park theme is back and still as moving as ever.  The humor balances out the incredible, heart-stopping action, and the final dinosaur fight is absolutely spectacular! I saw this film in IMAX 3D, and trust me when I say that is the BEST way to truly enjoy this film! Honestly I could talk about this film for hours, and definitely plan on watching it many more times in the future! :)

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

If you’re a fan of the previous films, you will absolutely love this film. If you love summer blockbusters, you will definitely enjoy this movie. It has a great balance of humor, drama, and action. While some aspects of the film don’t necessarily add a ton of value to the film, overall it’s a fantastic movie and a definite must-see in theaters; you won’t get the same thrill watching this at home!

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There’s been a recent viral image going around poking fun at what Disney Pixar films are all about, essentially saying that they all deal with feelings and emotions. If that is the case, then this is surely their magnum opus, with Inside Out focusing entirely on the little voices inside our head.

But before we talk about that film, let’s quickly talk about the short film that comes before it, Lava. My favorite Disney Pixar short to date has been Paperman, a beautiful love story told without any dialogue at all. It’s a tough short to beat in my opinion, but Lava comes pretty close. It’s a beautiful ode to nature (and although it never clearly states it’s about Hawaii, it is a ukulele based musical film), and continues to show how much progress Pixar has made with their animation (the scenic shots of the island are absolutely breathtaking) and how well they can craft a story, even without traditional dialogue (as stated earlier, this whole story is told in song). It’s a sweet little story that you don’t wanna miss, so make sure you get to the theater early enough to see it!

Anyway, back to the main film. Disney Pixar takes a brilliant concept and explores it to its full potential. As a psychology major, I was especially excited to see how they would explain the complex concept of emotions in an approachable and entertaining way, and they certainly did not disappoint. I was incredibly impressed at how they were able to make everything that Riley was going through seem completely normal and natural in the outside human world while still showing how that really does cause a lot of trouble and craziness within her head. Their portrayal of long term memory, the subconscious, and other fun little things we always think about (why can’t we get those catchy commercial jingles out of our heads?) was handled so cleverly and beautifully in true Pixar fashion.

And of course it wouldn’t be a great Pixar film without some powerful emotional moments, and this film has plenty of them. Whether it’s in the real world or inside Riley’s head, there are some heavy topics that are talked about in this film that will definitely move you (in my case, I’m not ashamed to say I was moved to tears). The stakes seem a lot higher in this film than in others, since a girl’s emotional state is on the line. Additionally, it’s very easy to relate to Riley and her struggles. We’ve all been in a new and scary situation and not known how it was going to turn out. And it doesn’t just stop with Riley. We get a glance at the father’s head, mother’s head, and in a fun little compilation at the end we quickly see inside a lot of other characters’ heads, and they absolutely nail it for each of them!

The casting is brilliant, and every actor perfectly portrays his/her role. Amy Poehler embodies Joy completely, with her bubbly personality and sense of humor. Phyllis Smith (from The Office) is a wonderful representation of Sadness, with her apologetic and droopy voice. Bill Hader has always been a master of character work, and his interpretation of Fear is spot-on, with his paranoid yelling and obsessive worrying. Lewis Black’s entire comedic career has been built off of his hilarious anger and frustration, so he was a brilliant choice for Anger. Finally, Mindy Kaling has just the right amount of sass and attitude to play Disgust.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 10/10

Disney Pixar have done it again and created another beautiful, emotional, original masterpiece. No other film company knows how to connect to its audiences better. In my opinion, it’s their best film since Up. Their animation continues to just get better and better (the 3D also was pretty great in this film as well), and their stories continue to be easily accessible to kids and adults. This is an absolute must-see film, especially for any Disney Pixar fans!

Poltergeist (2015)

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Delivering a decent dose of creepy moments, this remake of a horror classic is a fine thriller, though it’s certainly not as scary as some other great films that have come out in the past few years.

Over the past few years, I’ve reviewed quite a lot of horror films, some that were better than others.  And even before I started writing my movie reviews, I’ve been a big horror movie buff for years.  I may not enjoy being scared in person (you won’t find me at a haunted house anytime soon), but there’s nothing quite like the adrenaline you get when watching a truly scary movie!

Unfortunately, this movie didn’t deliver that adrenaline for me…

That’s not to say that there aren’t some genuinely creepy scenes in the film.  But those scenes are few and far between, and honestly I’ve seen far creepier things on YouTube.

As a note, much like so many other films I’ve reviewed, I have not seen the original film, though I’ve certainly seen clips and know many of the references since it is a big part of popular culture, particularly in the horror genre.  Just keep that in mind while you read this review.  I definitely plan on watching the classic now though!

Anyway, let’s start with some of the positives.  The main little girl in the film is absolutely adorable, but also knows how to be scary; when she’s talking to the spirits, it’s definitely unsettling.  The little modern additions to the classic film are a nice touch: the cell phones acting up, the use of the droid to search for Maddie, etc.  Speaking of which, when the droid goes into the “other world,” it is pretty frightening, with the writhing blob of dead and angry spirits.  The final action scene of the movie is pretty impressive too; watching the house fall apart in such a spectacular fashion is very entertaining.  In general this movie certainly benefits from special effects, and the 3D is decent.

As for the negatives, I was honestly not a big fan of Sam Rockwell as the father in this film; he was a little too goofy and hard to take seriously.  To be honest, most of the cast is not fun to watch on screen; I was kind of rooting for them to be attacked by the ghosts.  Speaking of the ghost attacks, that’s where the movie mainly falls flat.  The scares are jumbled in too closely together, which kind of desensitizes you to it quickly.  The scariest scenes of the film are, as is sadly often the case, from the trailer.  Scenes that should have been scarier had me disappointed, wanting a bit more.  Like I said, it was pretty thrilling overall, but it wasn’t as terrifying as I wanted it to be.

Honestly, there’s not much more I can say!  Let’s just wrap it up!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 6/10

While there are a few redeeming qualities to this film, overall it’s the not the scary film it’s making itself out to be.  The pacing is off, the scares are mediocre, the casting leaves a lot to be desired, and while it does a few things to revamp the classic film, it doesn’t do enough to make it a new modern classic.  If you want to watch this film, wait to watch it on Netflix or Redbox, don’t spend money to see it in theaters.  If you want a scarier film, watch some of the horror films I’ve reviewed on this site :)

2fer: Pitch Perfect 2 / Mad Max: Fury Road

It’s time again for another 2fer, two movie reviews for the price of one!  2 very different movies, each with their own pros and cons!  Let’s get started with the funner of the two!

Pitch Perfect 2

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Pitch Perfect came out at a perfect time, when Glee was a hot show and a capella was seeing an unlikely resurgence of popularity.  Interestingly enough, despite this Pitch Perfect actually served as a parody to the medium while still respecting it, having fun with the silliness of glee clubs while also providing some incredible music, particularly with the mash-ups.  It became a cult hit, a fan favorite, and it made a capella fun and cool again.  Since then, shows like The Sing-Off launched the career of superstars Pentatonix (who just so happen to appear in this film!) and have furthered expanded the popularity of singing.  Honestly, this movie sat well on its own, and set the bar pretty high, so a sequel was a risky move.  On the one hand, who wouldn’t want more of that awesome cast and incredible music?  But on the other hand, it’s hard to get better than that first movie, especially now that the concept isn’t new and fresh anymore.

I’m happy to say that Pitch Perfect 2 is not only a fantastic sequel, but a fun stand-alone movie as well.  While you certainly don’t need to watch the first one to enjoy this one, it’s a lot more fun when you know some of the history and personality traits of these characters.  This movie is even funnier than the first, thanks in large part to its comedy heavy hitters and in particular it’s awesome cameos (I don’t wanna spoil it but trust me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the people who appear in this film!).  The protagonists of the film, the Barden Bellas, have a wonderful chemistry with each other that is fun to watch on screen, even through their rocky moments.  But the highlight of this film is once again the music, which is amped up even more this time around.  I obviously have a bias because I love singing and I love music, but honestly I felt chills with some of the music in the film, particularly the last song.  The German group in the movie and the antagonists, Das Sound Machine, as well as the protagonists of the film the Barden Bellas, are phenomenal singers and interpret the songs they cover in a unique and interesting way.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

A hilarious and fun movie with incredible music and a great cast (and even greater cameos), Pitch Perfect 2 continues to make a capella cool and hip.  If you loved the first film, you’ll absolutely love this one!

Mad Max: Fury Road

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As is the case with a lot of the films I review, I have to premise this by saying that I haven’t seen any other films in this franchise.  I don’t know if that would help or hinder enjoyment of this film, since I’ve heard this film is the first in a new trilogy, but what I do know is that the plot for this movie was a little complex, and it took me awhile to understand what was going on.  There are a lot of questions regarding the citizens of this dystopian future, how they ended up the way they did and why, what exactly led to this apocalypse, and so much more, but I’m sure that they will be answered in the upcoming sequels, which are rumored to be prequels.  Regardless, once you get past the initial confusion (again, coming from someone who hasn’t seen the other films) and comprehend the main plot of this film, it becomes a total thrill ride of a movie!

One thing that you notice immediately is that this is a gorgeously filmed movie.  The cinematography is absolutely stunning, which is surprising considering the film takes place entirely in a desert wasteland.  From the vast emptiness of the desert to the intimidating sandstorms to the rough terrain of the canyon, the scenery is absolutely beautiful.  In particular, the main location known as the Citadel is fascinating in how it’s organized.  The cages in which they lock up “blood bags” and the human-powered lifts are just some of the interesting features of this insane home.  Speaking of which, the unique cast of characters match this scenery, and the make-up and effects are used very effectively to show their state of desperation and disarray.  The pale skin, the warts and lesions and other physical abnormalities, the masks and armor used as protection from the harsh elements, and more all provide for a truly unforgettable cast of characters.  Another fun technique that adds to the madness is the occasionally shaky and almost stop-motion-like feel of some of the shots.  It’s jarring and a bit unnerving, but totally appropriate for the film and adds to the intensity of it!

But let’s get to the main reason why this movie is awesome: the non-stop action!  The film is appropriately subtitled “Fury Road” because this film has the most thrilling car and motorcycle battles you will ever see on the big screen.  The vehicles are all pimped out and designed specifically for battle (except for one bizarre but entertaining car that is purely designed for delivering the soundtrack to the battle, with a guitarist and drummers rocking out while the other cars duke it out).  The drivers are fearless and relentless, doing whatever it takes to get their target.  It’s incredibly fun and exciting to watch and definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 8/10

While the story may be a little difficult to follow at first since it throws you right into the middle of this crazy world, once you understand the main plot, you’re in for a fun and exciting treat.  It’s one of the most beautiful action movies I’ve seen in a quite awhile, and absolutely deserves the theater experience, especially in 3D to help you feel the magnitude of the film.  It’s getting high praise from critics and movie-goers alike for good reason!

Ex Machina

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Adding to our fear of AI, Ex Machina simply and beautifully tells a compelling and thrilling tale about the dangers of human-like androids.

There have been many films and shows over the course of history that have shown us that artificial intelligence is dangerous and can only lead to the downfall of humanity, regardless of restrictions and limitations we may try to put on robots.  While some may disagree, it’s easy to be skeptical and a little weary about where the future is headed.  Ex Machina plays on those fears effectively in a subtle but brilliant way.

The most compelling feature about this film is its simplicity.  Unlike the last movie I reviewed which had an overwhelming number of characters involved in a complicated plot with various subplots, Ex Machina relies on three main characters and takes place in one location.  It’s almost as if you’re watching a stage play.  It also adds to the feeling of being trapped or confined, which is one of the main themes of this movie.  Through simple yet deep conversations, we learn everything we need to know about our characters.  Domhnall Gleeson (whom you may recognize from many other films including About TimeHarry PotterUnbroken, and Anna Karenina which also features his co-star in this film, Alicia Vikander) plays Caleb, an intelligent coder who is still very relatable; he’s a smart guy but he could also be a guy that hangs out with you and your friends at a bar.  This is made very clear when he is paired with Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac (from many great films, but most notably Inside Llewyn Davis), a smart but self-centered inventor who seems to only thrive on his own, or with his creation, Ava, played by the previously mentioned Alicia Vikander.  Ava is a cute, clever robot, and is so realistic that it’s easy to forget she’s not human, especially when she dons clothes and a wig.  The three of them together make for a balanced cast, with each of them showing a side that you can agree with or at least understand, as well as a side that makes you question everything about them.

As for the location, it’s a fascinating and frightening place.  Like many things in this film, it’s a very deliberate choice.  In this beautiful, scenic landscape, untouched by man (but entirely owned by one man, Nathan), lies a high-tech, futuristic estate.  Throughout the film, Nathan and Caleb escape from the home to engage in conversations about Ava and about humanity, which I suppose makes sense, to talk about human nature out in actual nature.  As the plot thickens and the story starts to take a dark turn, the surrounding nature reacts accordingly; the wind rushes through, we see powerful roaring waterfalls, the clear skies start to cloud up.  Continuing to add to the sense of entrapment, the house feels more like a prison than a home, with access to rooms provided only by key cards, an intense security system with tons of cameras and microphones, and thick bulletproof glass separating Caleb and Ava whenever they speak.

The plot itself is filled with twists and turns, but the pacing is brilliant.  The tensions slowly but steadily builds and builds until it gets to the climactic conclusion.  But during that slow build, there’s no dull moments; it’s enthralling from start to finish.  While some reveals I was able to figure out pretty quickly (and you probably will too), other twists caught me completely off guard, and the ending, though not entirely surprising, still left my stunned and honestly pretty upset!  Let me know what you all think of the ending!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

A perfectly paced, beautifully simple thriller, this movie is definitely worth a watch, and adds to the complicated discussions about the pros and cons of artificial intelligence.  Great casting, deliberate and powerful shots, and engaging dialogue carry the viewers through the twists and turns of this compelling story.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Further solidifying themselves as the Kings of the Summer Blockbuster, Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is just as action-packed and humorous as what we’ve come to expect from Marvel, and further develops their remarkable roster of characters.

What is incredibly impressive about Marvel is that they’ve been able to convince and incentivize movie-goers into watching everything in their extensive repertoire of films and shows, known as the Marvel Universe.  In essence, this movie (and all of their films really) isn’t a sequel, but rather another chapter in a much larger story, and for those that have been following the other films in the series (and for those die-hard fans that have been following their shows as well), there’s a massive pay-off, as Marvel loves to not only make plenty of references but hide lots of easter eggs as well.  It’s amazing, and certainly not easy to pull off, but Marvel does it very well.

Having said that, this movie is fairly accessible to newbies of the Marvel Universe.  While you don’t have to watch every past film to make sense of this one, I would recommend at least watching the previous Avengers film, and for further clarity perhaps the Captain America and Thor films (or at least the sequels of each).  Again, it isn’t necessary, but will certainly make the story easier to understand!

Anyway, back to the review!  I’m not going to give away the plot, so don’t worry, no spoilers ahead!

One thing Marvel always does well is casting, and along with that, character development.  All of your favorite characters from the previous Avengers film are back, and this time we get to see a slightly different side of them.  While the first Avengers film focused on getting the team together and all the drama involved in that process, in this movie they are a well-oiled machine and work together spectacularly.  Watching them fight together and use each other to defeat their enemies is thrilling to watch!  But what I especially enjoyed in this film was having the opportunity to dig in a bit deeper to some of the lesser known characters, namely Black Widow and Hawkeye.  Again, no spoilers, but let’s just say this movie rounds them out as characters nicely.  We already know plenty about the other characters since they got their own movies, so it was nice to feel more connected to the rest of the team.  Additionally, the new characters we’re introduced to in this film (Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and the Vision) are very likable and fun to watch, and within the course of the movie they each have an interesting arc to their story.  Finally, James Spader is perfect for the role of Ultron, a sentient robot who is malicious but hilarious at the same time.  All the acting is great, and proves that superhero movies can be acted with class and style.

One minor complaint is the somewhat forced love story in the film between Black Widow and the Hulk, or more specifically Dr. Bruce Banner.  It’s interesting and sweet, sure, but it isn’t entirely necessary (the movie would have been just as entertaining and emotional without it).  I get that we need to see the vulnerabilities of the Hulk, and like I said I certainly don’t mind rounding out characters like Black Widow, but I think there were other ways that could’ve been done.

If I’m not mistaken, this movie holds the record for the most special effects in any movie made so far.  But the special effects are done so incredibly well, you sometimes forget you’re watching CGI.  Considering what CGI used to look like in films, you can’t help but be impressed by the realism of the effects in this film.  The action sequences are particularly impressive; they’re smooth and slick, and so much fun to watch!  My personal favorite (this is not spoiling anything as it is featured prominently in many of the trailers) is the battle between the Hulk and Iron Man in his “Hulkbuster” armor!  It’s exciting to see these two completely computer-animated entities duke it out in an epic battle!

Finally, the themes touched upon this movie are interesting and thought-provoking.  How much do we let our fears control us?  How far are we willing to go to defend what we believe in?  What is the true path to peace?  Truly, superhero movies are about so much more than just spandex-clad people punching each other, and Marvel knows this and masterfully weaves in such intriguing concepts into some of the most entertaining movies of the past few years!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

Marvel has once again made a nearly flawless movie, and added another enthralling entry into their ever-expanding universe!  Brilliantly casted actors bring these classic characters to life, with their awesome strengths as well as their crippling vulnerabilities.  This is the kind of the film that is absolutely meant to be experienced on the big screen, and whether you’re a die-hard fan or a newbie to superhero/comic book films, this movie is not to be missed!

Unfriended

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Just as It Follows is a terrifying warning against unprotected sex, Unfriended is a frightening look at the consequences of cyberbullying.  Taking place entirely on a computer screen, the film speaks to our modern generation in many ways and definitely adds a unique, innovative twist to the genre.

Let me start off by saying that I wouldn’t necessarily classify this film as a horror movie.  I think a better label for it would be “supernatural thriller.”  It has few slightly gory moments, and a few jump scares, but most of the time it keeps you on the edge of your seat through the psychological games being played by the villainous ghost.  Additionally, like most thrillers, there’s an overarching mystery taking place throughout the film.  In this case, we have 6 high school friends chatting online on the anniversary of the suicide of one of their classmates, Laura Barns.  Laura Barns’s ghost comes back to haunt them on this day, demanding to know who posted the video that led to her bullying and ultimately her suicide.  One by one, Laura reveals to us the true nature of these characters by exposing some of their secrets, showing us that these characters that we started off rooting for may not be the “good guys” after all.  Lastly, the anxiety is heightened throughout the film through the very realistic choppy quality of the Skype conversations.  They’re a little grainy at times, and freeze for a bit before coming back.  The director makes brilliant use of this feature by using those moments of uncertainty to mess with the viewers and catch them off guard.

The main selling point behind this film is its unique perspective.  Though the entire film takes place on one computer screen, it’s never boring, since as we all know, we can do so much on our computers nowadays!  The protagonist, Blaire, is like so many of us these days multitasking while on her computer.  She’s watching video clips, checking up on social media, looking up info online, listening to music, sending instant messages, and having video chats with our friends (which is the majority of the film).  One of my favorite aspects of the film is how we get an insight into the characters thoughts through these interactions.  Throughout the film, Blaire is confronted with moments where she has to message other characters, and like many of us do, she starts typing out something, thinks about it for a second, then deletes it and writes out something else, trying to convey the right message.  It’s a common struggle a lot of us have nowadays, so it was very relatable, but is also gives us a glimpse into her personality and her insecurities.

But I think the true brilliance of this film lies in its overall message: once you put something online, IT NEVER GOES AWAY!  People like to conveniently pretend that’s not true, but information is archived and kept on servers long after you think it’s been deleted!  Additionally, what you intend to show only to friends can easily be passed on to someone else and completely snowball out of control.  The ghost of Laura Barns knows this all too well and uses it to exact her revenge on the people who made her life miserable, the people who she thought were her friends.  Sadly, bullying has been taken to a completely different level these days, and thanks to the anonymity of the internet, bullies have gained a frightening level of confidence and have gone to great lengths to psychologically torture their victims (just watch ANY episode of MTV’s Catfish to see how crazy some of these people can be!).  The scariest part of this film is not the ghost of Laura Barns, but the sad and scary truth that teenagers like the ones portrayed in the film, teenagers that seem like fun and likable people, are capable of truly terrible things.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

While it may have been a bit overhyped in the trailers, Unfriended is a truly innovative and exciting supernatural thriller that uses its limitations wisely and very cleverly, making it a very relatable movie for all of us living in the Age of the Internet.  The story and the brilliant use of Skype’s technological flaws will keep you tense and guessing until the very end, and will make you want to immediately go home and clean up your browser history!

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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What?! Two movie posters?! Yeah, I couldn’t decide on just one, I liked both of these so much, so enjoy both! :)

A thrilling blend of the James BondKill Bill, and Kick-Ass films, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fast-paced, action-packed, hilarious homage to the classic spy films of the past.

I’m lucky enough to have been raised by a father who loved everyone’s favorite agent, 007.  We’ve seen just about every Bond film there is, from Connery to Craig.  So action and espionage films hold a special place in my heart.  When I first saw the trailer for this film, I was so excited to see it.  I was cautious though, because as I’ve mentioned in past posts, I have an unfortunate history of being disappointed by great trailers leading to mediocre movies; I hype myself up only to be let down.  I’m happy to say that was not the case this time!

Kingsman is written and directed by Matthew Vaughn, known for his other stellar films Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class.  That influence is clear in this film.  There’s a certain wonderful sense of humor to the movie paired with high-octane action sequences.  This is where the comparisons begin.  Let’s start with the awesome geeky gadgetry and the classy air of the Bond series.  I guess a lot of that is owed to the British influence of both films, and of course the fantastic acting of both Colin Firth (Harry Hart) and Michael Caine (Arthur).  One of the most charming aspects of the film is the cool tech hidden in stunning suits and dapper accessories, such as an umbrella that can block bullets and stun and a hand grenade hidden in a lighter.

The quirkiness of the characters reminds me of the crazy cast of Kill Bill.  Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of a misguided mad man (Valentine) is fantastic, and is one of the few characters who can make a lisp intimidating!  He has such violent ideas in mind for his idealistic future, yet he gets queasy at the sight of blood; it’s a delightful irony!  Sofia Boutella’s portrayal of Gazelle, with her deadly prosthetic legs, reminds me of Gogo from Kill Bill, with their youthful beauty disguising a frightening level of aggression.  The parkour moves of the main character Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and carefully choreograped action scenes reminds me of the kung-fu influence that is prominent in Kill-Bill.

While we’re talking about it, the cast of characters that are recruited for this service and the training they go through is also very reminiscent of X-Men: First Class, arguably the best film in the X-Men franchise.  These young, talented individuals go through hell to prove their worth, and rightfully so, as the job of being a Kingsman is no easy task!  They are funny, snarky, and enjoyable to watch on screen.

Finally, the films remind me of Kick-Ass because of some of the crazier moments of the film.  There’s one particularly epic scene towards the end of the film that had me laughing out loud and cringing at the same time!  Additionally, the camera work of the fight scenes is very comic book-esque, with lots of slow-mo and close-ups and plenty of awesome special effects, much like the fight scenes from Kick-Ass.

One of my favorite features of the film is the banter between Valentine and Harry and, later, Eggsy.  They have a few meta moments where they talk about their favorite spy films, and how things would play out if they were in such a film.  Vaughn is obviously a fan of the genre, and not only wrote a clever spy film with plenty of twists and turns and awesome action sequences, but paid respect to the films that came before him.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 10/10

If you like action or espionage movies, this is an absolute must-see.  Vaughn skillfully crafts a fun, exciting film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout its wild ride, with perfect casting and well-executed action sequences.  It’s going to go down as a cult-classic for sure, and is definitely one of my favorite action movies of all time.  I definitely hope to see more films in this series!

It Follows

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In what is easily one of the most terrifyingly effective advertisements for abstinence ever, It Follows is an artistic homage to the classic horror/suspense films that made us all fans of the genre in the first place.

I love horror movies and shows.  I’ve never loved being actually scared in real life, but something about watching a good horror movie has always been thrilling and fun for me, maybe because I can turn it off if it gets too intense!  Unfortunately, it’s been hard lately to find a good horror movie.  Too many focus on the gore or shock value, without any substance behind it.  And even with some of the better horror movies recently, the trailers usually give away all the best scares, so by the time you actually watch the movie, you see everything coming from a mile away.

But thankfully It Follows came and restored my faith in horror films!  Let’s start with the awesome trailer!  I usually avoid trailers, and even more rarely do I recommend viewing them, but this one is too good to miss!

Pretty great right?!  I especially love the tagline at the end!  But yes, a great taste of what to expect from the film without giving too much away, just enough to get you hooked!

Anyway, in the spirit of that trailer, let’s get to this film without giving too much away!

Let’s start with the artistic feel of this film.  One of the great things about this film is it’s beautiful shots.  We get a lot of great wide/continuous shots that both show the vastness of the world around the characters while also seeming to confine them to their position, which seems to be a theme of the film: there is a great big world around you, but no matter where you go, it follows, so you are never really alone!  There are a lot of close-ups, adding to the claustrophobic feel of the film.  I’m going to include music in this section as well.  Some of the best classic horror films had great soundtracks that added to the tension, and this film is no exception to that.  A synthy soundtrack gives this film (and its young cast) a nostalgic vibe to it, while also having moments of intense fear behind it.  While we’re on the subject, the film feels distinctly 80s (the phones all have cords, the TVs all have antennas, the cars are junky, the fashion matches that decade), but the one thing that throws this all of is a device that one of the characters has in the film: a clamshell that seems to be an e-reader of sorts.  They could all just be hipster kids I suppose, but honestly it doesn’t detract from the film.

Now for the story itself.  The film plays on a fear that we’ve all had while walking down the streets late at night: is there someone or something behind me?  Add to this the classic theme of the dangers of sex that many horror films play with, and you have a new hit in the making.  The villain of this film is what I like to call an STD, a Sexually Transmitted Demon, that latches onto people after you have sex with them.  It then follows them around to kill them, and once it has done that, it goes to the last person who had the curse and keeps going down the chain.  So even after “passing on” the demon, you’re never really free.  Terrified yet?  Wait, it gets better: this demon can look like anyone, a random stranger or maybe even someone you know.  This is where the brilliance of the film comes through.  It puts the viewer on the edge of their seats, constantly scanning the background, looking for a potential threat.  You never feel at ease throughout the whole film, because there are so many people that could be the potential monster!

The actors also help to give this film it’s vibe.  All of the best horror films have a cast of young people stumbling through life and breaking some rules.  They are charming and they are relatable; we’ve all either been or known someone who acted like each of these characters in the film.  The pretty popular girl, the nerd, the older jock, the awkward guy stuck in the friend zone, all classic characters in a horror film (just ask Cabin in the Woods).  They all play the roles well, without making the film predictable.  I’ve also found the best horror films take risks by casting a bunch of unknowns.  I’m sure these young actors have a bright future ahead of them!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

If you’re a fan of horror movies, you absolutely must see this film.  It’s a new modern classic that uses nostalgia, tension, and artistry to create a story that is both creepy and captivating, beautiful and bone-chilling.

Let’s Be Cops

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While there is no doubt that actors Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson have a great chemistry with each other (as is evident in New Girl), even they cannot save this mediocre, derivative film.

This is another example of a film where the best parts are in the trailer.  When I saw the trailer for this film, I was so excited to see it.  I laughed along with everyone in the theater!  While the film itself did have a few extra funny parts, overall I was disappointed.  Some attempted jokes fell flat on me, as well as the rest of the audience.  I really did want to laugh more; the film had all the right ingredients for a great action/comedy: great leading cast, awesome supporting characters (Keegan-Michael Key and Rob Riggle usually never disappoint), and a fun concept.  But unfortunately, the pieces don’t always fit well together, and some parts of the film just feel out of place or unnecessary (I love Natasha Leggero, but her small cameo in the film was completely pointless).  There were some decent actions scenes as well, and some interesting twists in the story, but none that you haven’t seen before or that couldn’t be predicted.

As for the main story, it revolves around two lovable losers who mistakenly attend a masquerade party in cop costumes.  After leaving the party in humiliation, they discover that people actually believe they are real cops.  As you can predict, things start off fun and silly but quickly escalate as they get in way over their heads.  Friendships are tested, lives are put at risk, and the truth eventually comes out.  Like I said, you’ve seen versions of this movie before.

But as stated at the beginning of the film, the saving grace of this movie (and the only thing that makes it worth watching at all) is the great chemistry of Wayans Jr. and Johnson.  They play off each other well, and just make sense as a comedy team.  Johnson is charming and delightful as the goofball and Wayans Jr. plays a great straight-man (which make the times he does act silly funnier).  They are much funnier when they are together on screen than when they are apart.  I just hope they get a second chance at a feature-length film to truly show off what they are capable of.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 5/10

There is some great potential in this film, especially with the comedy team of Wayans Jr. and Johnson, and some genuine laughs (at least if you haven’t seen the trailer), but overall this unoriginal, lackluster film falls short, in both the comedy and the action.  If you do want to see this film, rent it, but don’t waste your hard earned money to see it in theaters.  Spend that money on Guardians of the Galaxy instead! :)

2fer: The Purge: Anarchy / Guardians of the Galaxy

Hi everyone!  I started a new job recently which has taken up a lot of my free time, so my apologies for the delays!  We’ll compromise once again with another 2fer!

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Let’s begin with The Purge: Anarchy.  I never saw the first film, but I was intrigued by the concept and know the general gist of it, and to be honest, you can watch this film without having to have seen or even heard of the first movie.  Briefly, the film takes place in a dystopian not-too-distant future in which society is doing pretty well, due to the fact that once a year, all crime is completely legal.  In this film, we see what happens in the streets during this time of year (the first film just focused on one house).  In concept, this is once again an interesting idea.  Unfortunately, in reality the film fails to live up to that concept.

For one thing, the acting is sub-par.  I was actually rooting against some of the actors because they were annoyingly stubborn and stupid/reckless.  One could argue that perhaps that makes them more realistic, but I would gladly sacrifice realism for more entertaining and compelling actors.  The decisions these actors made were oftentimes infuriating, and led to predictable results.

Additionally, the film is titled The Purge: Anarchy, and while anarchy is hinted at throughout the film and briefly shown towards the end, I feel like it should have been more of the main focus.  Throughout the film, we get a brief hints at who created the Purge and why, and about a rebellion group trying to shut it down.  Honestly, I was very intrigued by these parts of the film, and was sorely disappointed when they were shoved off to the side to focus on the other, less interesting characters.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 5/10

While there are some legitimately exciting moments of action and suspense, overall it is not enough to save this mediocre film.  I don’t doubt that they will try to make another film, and I can only hope that if they do, they fully explore the more interesting political concepts of this idea.

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Now let’s talk about Guardians of the Galaxy.  One of Marvel’s most ambitious projects, Guardians is an exciting, action-packed, sci-fi space adventure filled with fantastic characters that are so much fun to watch!

Unlike The Purge: Anarchy, I was rooting whole-heartedly for this rag-tag team of misfits!  Chris Pratt is actually brilliant in his role, bringing his trademark humor to the character Starlord while still keeping the character tough and intimidating.  Zoe Saldaña is awesome as Gamora, who plays the reasonable character of the team, trying to keep everyone in check.  Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are a fun team as the voices of Rocket and Groot (respectively).  Cooper brings a sincerity to the character that made the little creature so incredibly likable, and Diesel deserves props for bringing so much life to the only 3 words he ever utters throughout the film: “I am Groot.”  But honestly, my favorite character of the bunch was Dave Bautista’s Draxx the Destroyer, a fierce character who takes everything literally.  His Shakespearean dialogue combined with his intimidating look makes for a great character.

While there are plenty of exciting battle and fight scenes in the film, as always Marvel finds a great way to balance it with legitimate humor.  I was genuinely laughing at parts of the film that I didn’t expect to be laughing at!  Combined with the fearsome villain (though I would have liked to see more of Thanos) and pulse-pounding action, this is certainly one of the greatest space adventure movies I have ever seen.

But what is most impressive to me is that while there is a LOT of information being thrown at the audience, combined with multiple characters to be invested in, Marvel still finds a way to make it approachable and understandable.  Why it’s certainly a much more enjoyable and fulfilling experience if you’ve seen all the Marvel films (and of course their post-credit scenes and easter eggs) and know what’s it going in the ever-expanding “Marvel universe,” you can certainly still watch this movie without having seen anything else and enjoy it just fine (though I’m certain a second or third viewing would be helpful to catch everything!).

But a review of this movie would be incomplete without mentioning the AWESOME soundtrack!  Classic 80s jams add a nostalgic and fun element to the film, and are also quite meaningful to the story.  They also help in adding to the humor of the film.  This, combined with nods to classic adventure films like Indiana Jones, bring a nice balance of old and new to the film.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 9/10

This film could easily be overwhelming with so much information and so many great characters, but Marvel knows what it’s doing and masterfully crafts an exciting, fun space adventure film.  As stated before, it helps to know at least a little bit about the Marvel universe to fully enjoy the film, but it’s still a perfectly exciting to film to watch all on its own, particularly in IMAX 3D!