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 and 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!

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.