Saturday, February 28, 2015

Movie Review - "Kingsman: The Secret Service" (2015) - Manners Maketh Man

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It is hard for critics to admit it, but sometimes our outlooks on certain movies depend on our moods. If we are having a particularly crappy day, for one reason or another, and go see the new Marvel movie, our reviews might end up being pessimistic and more negative than they should be, due to our gloomy disposition.

However, sometimes the opposite can happen - You could be having a terrible day, only for that one film to come along that'll brighten up our day and make it all seem worth it.

I bring this up for two reasons, one is that "Kingsman: The Secret Service" did just that for me today - taking a day of headaches and stress and melting it all away with some smiles, action sequences and laughs. The other reason is that "Kingsman" reminds me of when I saw "Guardians Of The Galaxy," and was having a not so good day and only somewhat enjoyed the film.

I realize that my mood had something to do with my opinion that "Guardians Of The Galaxy" was just a good dumb popcorn film, when it still had a quirky story, beautiful color palette, some very unique characters and was the funniest film I watched in 2014. For that, I apologize.

With that being said, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" follows many of the same steps as "Guardians Of The Galaxy," from zany and over the top action sequences, to characters who want to rule over everything, to the type of story that encompasses many types of genres and almost feels like a tribute to the past. And of course, the sense of humor is top-notch.

Young Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is a British hoodlum who cannot seem to find his place in life, having quit the Marines and has never had a job. After he gets arrested, a mysterious tailor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), gets him out of jail and talks about Eggsy's late father, whom Harry knew and respected. Now he wants to induct Eggsy into that same life and show him the true measure of being a Kingsmen.

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I walked away from "Kingsman: The Secret Service" thinking it did everything in excess. There was no shortage of style, jokes and character throughout this film. At times, it was a bit too much, like a scene where Colin Firth's character has an extended action sequence in a church, but it was impossible to look away from this films' craziness.

It also seems like the film knows that it is a movie, and that it never takes itself too seriously. About halfway through the film two characters, including the villain (played by Samuel L. Jackson), have a discussion on spy movies and how both of them prefer the older James Bond movies with megalomania and extravagant plans to conquer the world over the newer Bond films that are far too realistic. "Kingsman" emulates that attitude throughout, with both the villain's plan and the many over the top action sequences that'll have you flabbergasted.

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Yet under the skin of a zany spy film lies a kind-hearted and well-mannered focal point. The Kingsmen practice manners above all else, as they consider themselves the modern-day knights - defenders of those who cannot defend themselves and must do so in a fashionable way. The villain and fights might be over the top, but our protagonists are down to earth without being snooty and uptight.

My favorite touch to the film is that Colin Firth's character has the front page of every local newspaper taped to his office wall of the day he succeeded in a mission, yet the newspaper is always a celebrity scandal or sporting event. It is a reminder that these men do not do this for the publicity or fame, but because it is the right thing to do.

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"Kingsman: The Secret Service" is a fun, over the top action film with a good heart that keeps the film from getting stale. The jokes usually hit the right notes, the characters range from crazy to understanding, and it acts as a nice tribute to spy films. The film goes a bit insane at times, but it only adds to the charm.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, February 23, 2015

Paul's 2015 Oscar Reactions

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Another year of the Academy Awards has come and gone. Congratulations to the winners, especially "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for walking away with four awards each. And congratulations to every nominee. To have the honor of even getting to a candidate for an Academy Award takes a lot of passion, hard work, dedication and a bit of luck. There were a lot of deserving films this year, with each category have several nominees that could have easily gotten these prestigious awards.

This was one of the hardest years to judge cinema in some time, since there were so many noteworthy and fascinating films to come out. "Boyhood," "American Sniper," "Nightcrawler" and "Wild" are some of the others that blew my expectations and made me forget that cinema is more than just a bunch of moving pictures.

Speaking of "Moving Pictures," let's talk about the Award show itself. Last year, I felt that the awards were decent, with the highlights being the acceptance speeches, the bad points being the award presenters and the strange being Ellen Degeneres as host, specifically her trying to balance her usual style of comedy and pleasing to a bigger audience.

But after watching this year's award show, I think my opinion of last year's has changed a bit, especially on Ellen. This was accomplished by looking at this year's host - Neil Patrick Harris. This man knows how to make an award show funny, energetic and something that you want to see. He's done that multiple times with the Tony Awards.

Yet, NPH often fell flat on the Oscars this year. Most of his jokes were stilted and awkward, where he just stared at the camera waiting for a response, followed by a weird smile. Sometimes he nailed it, like with the opening musical number, with NPH reenacting scenes from "Singing' In The Rain," "North By Northwest" and others, and even getting Anna Kendrick and Jack Black involved.

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It felt like the jokes which NPH improvised worked spectacularly, like the payoff to his predictions briefcase. But other times, when he had pre-planned jokes, it all fell apart before Neil could finish the joke. Just like Ellen did last year.

This has convinced me - Scripted comedy always sucks for the Oscars. Why do you think Billy Crystal was such a great host? Because he came up with his own material and was great improv comedy. James Franco and Anne Hathaway were terrible hosts because they didn't know much about stage comedy and how to work an active crowd.

So I apologize to Ellen Degeneres for my awkward criticisms of her hosting abilities last year. I was under the impression that you were in charge of most of your own jokes. But clearly, the production crew behind the Academy Awards had pre-planned jokes for you to make. Jokes that were not funny and that you were not behind, just like NPH was this year. Both Ellen and Neil are great comedians, but the Oscars is not the place for good comedy.

If there is a lesson here, it is this - Pick Oscar hosts who are great at improv comedy, and let them write every single joke. Maybe then you'll find a host that can match Billy Crystal.

Anyway, outside of that debacle, there were several parts that I adored this year. The previously mentioned opening musical number was the first, and it managed to encapsulate so many reasons why movies are a joy to watch. That they are more than just entertainment and a medium to make money, but a gateway to other worlds, to meet people we grow to love or despise. NPH was clearly having a blast with his own shadow, and so was I.

Like last year, most of the acceptance speeches were great, especially J.K. Simmons speech about talking to your parents and not texting them. Or the winner for "The Imitation Game"'s screenplay, who talked about the kids who don't feel like they belong because they're different, and to tell them they're not weird and to embrace what makes them different and unique.

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But the segment that I will remember for a long time is the performance for "Everything Is Awesome." From the visual style heavily relying on Legos, to Batman coming on stage and singing his hit song, this was everything that made "The Lego Movie" the great movie that it is. I especially liked the construction workers handing out lego-constructed Oscars to people in the audience, especially Oprah and Emma Stone, as if they knew neither of them were going to win an Oscar so they'll get this one instead.

Seriously, can I get one of those Lego Oscars? Please?

Finally, John Travolta got his vindication. A chance to apologize for butchering Idina Menzel's name last year, though after a bit more ridiculing. I loved that, because of that incident, neither of them will ever live it down. Travolta touched Menzel's face a bit too much during it, but that just seems to be how he rolls. Over-actor gonna over-act.

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However, aside from the scattered comedy throughout the show, there were still some points that I did not care for. In particular, the over abundance of political agendas by some of the winners like Patricia Arquette and John Legend/Common. Arquette used her time to talk about how women need more money in the work place, and John Legend mentioned that the U.S. has more African-Americans in jail now than there were slaves.

Look, I could not care less what your political stance is on either of those issues. Whether you think women should get paid more than men or that criminals should roam the streets just because they're African-American is not my concern. But that kind of stuff does not belong at the Academy Awards.
This is a celebration of everything cinema, showcasing the best that film has to offer in the last year. I don't want to see someone get up on their soap box to talk about their world issues when they just won an award for acting. Politics do not belong in an awards show celebrating film.

Also, what exactly was John Legend trying to say? That we should let lots of people out of jail because they're African-American? Because those people were put in jail for a reason. The majority of them were put in there for breaking the law, and putting them back out on the streets means that they could do it again, including murder, rape, abuse and burglary. That sounds like a smart idea.

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I'm not sure that's what he meant though. That's just what I got out of it, and it sounded stupid.

Overall, this was a fairly uneventful Academy Awards. The comedy was dull, though there were a few surprises every once in a while, the acceptance speeches ranged from poetic and heart-warming to preachy and confusing, and several musical numbers were the highlights of the night. Neil Patrick Harris clearly did the best that he could with what he had to work with, even if the production team behind the Academy Awards limited what he could do and say.

Not many big surprises for winners, aside from Richard Linklater not winning Best Director for "Boyhood." I felt that he had that one all wrapped up, only for "Birdman" to sweep most of the big awards. A nice evening was had though, with a few very nice and awesome moments thrown in.

And I can honestly say I did not expect some select songs from "The Sound Of Music" to ever be played by Lady Gaga. That came as a big surprise to me.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Paul's 2015 Academy Award Predictions

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For the first time, I have watched every single film nominated for Best Picture. For that reason, I feel confident in the majority of my predictions for the 2015 Academy Awards.

With these predictions coming out as close as possible to Oscar Sunday, I have given each of these categories much thought. Like last year, there aren't many stand out winners, other than a few technical awards. Many of the bigger ones are still up for grabs, so it is still anyone's game.

Like last year, I will be giving out who I want to win, who should win and who will win for every award. I will be skipping the Documentaries, Short Subjects and Foreign Film categories though, since my guesses would be about as good as randomly throwing a paper airplane at a board and hoping that it sticks.

And now, here are my picks for the 2015 Academy Awards.

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Best Visual Effects:
Who I want to win: "Guardians Of The Galaxy"
Who should win: "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes"
Who will win: "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes"

Bringing over 200 apes to life, each with their own individual movements and personalities, is not small feat. As great as "Guardians Of The Galaxy" looked, the effects in "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes" puts it to shame.

Best Sound Editing:
Who I want to win: "American Sniper"
Who should win: "Interstellar"
Who will win: "American Sniper"

The reason I have "American Sniper" winning this one is because most of the other four films don't have much sound to edit. "Interstellar" and "Birdman" were quiet movies when they needed to be, so I don't know why they would win this award. I did not see "Unbroken," so I cannot say anything on that. And "The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Fire Armies" was not that impressive when it came to sound. That leaves "American Sniper" to win this award.

Best Sound Mixing:
Who I want to win: "Whiplash"
Who should win: "Whiplash"
Who will win: "Whiplash"

The sound of "Whiplash" helped give the film its identity, so it should be winning all the sound categories.

Best Production Design:
Who I want to win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Who should win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Who will win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

One of the coolest looking films of 2014, as well as one of the more visually elaborate movies of the year. In categories like these, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" was them sealed up.

Best Original Song:
Who I want to win: "Everything Is Awesome" from "The Lego Movie"
Who should win: "I'm Not Going To Miss You" from "Glenn Campbell...I'll Be Me"
Who will win: "Glory" From "Selma"

Unfortunately, we don't have two songs that have taken over the world, like "Let It Go" and "Happy" did last year. "Everything Is Awesome" almost did at the beginning of 2014, but that fad has waned since then.

So, I'll go with the song that many people are praising and won the same award at the Golden Globes, "Glory." I wasn't all that impressed by it, much like I was with "Selma" in general, but seeing as this one of the two awards that "Selma" is nominated for, and I don't see it winning Best Picture, the Academy will give it to them here.

Best Original Score:
Who I want to win: "Intersellar"
Who should win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Who will win: "The Theory Of Everything"

I'm all over the board on this one. Two scores done by the same man, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "The Imitation Game" both being done by Alexandre Despalt, but there were key scenes in "The Theory Of Everything" that relied heavily on the score to carry the mood and tone. A hard task for a score to pull off, yet Johann Johannson did it masterfully. He should bring home the award for that reason.

Best Makeup And Hairstyling:
Who I want to win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Who should win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Who will win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Makeup and Hair so elaborate, that it would be a crime if "The Grand Budapest Hotel" didn't win this award.

Best Film Editing:
Who I want to win: "Whiplash"
Who should win: "American Sniper"
Who will win: "American Sniper"
The editing in "Whiplash" turned it from a decent film with a standout performance into a masterfully woven tail where music is more than just the backdrop.

However, the editing was just as impressive in many key scenes of "American Sniper." And since that is a story that more of the Academy can relate to, I see the war film winning this award.

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Best Costume Design:
Who I want to win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Who should win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Who will win: "Mr. Turner"

I'm going to go with an outside pick here. Even though I have not seen "Mr. Turner," based off the trailer, it looks as though it could win a couple awards, especially since it nominated for four awards this year. I see it winning at least one, and it could end up being this. As elaborate and well-thought out as the costumes were in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," I see "Mr. Turner" walking away in the best dressed attire.

Best Cinematography:
Who I want to win: "Birdman"
Who should win: "Birdman"
Who will win: "Birdman"

This is the no-brainer pick of this year. "Birdman" was the most visually impressive film of 2014.

Best Animated Film:
Who I want to win: "The Lego Movie"
Who should win: "How To Train Your Dragon 2"
Who will win: "How To Train Your Dragon 2"

Oh wait, "The Lego Movie" isn't nominated? Stupid Academy. Wouldn't know a good animated movie if it digitally bit them on the butt.

"The Tale Of Princess Kaguya" and "Song Of The Sea" are just happy to be there. Of "Big Hero 6," "The Boxtrolls" and "How To Train Your Dragon 2," the Dreamworks film stood out above the others with its vast landscape and ever-expanding roster of developed characters. The award will go to "How To Train Your Dragon 2."

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Who I want to win: "Whiplash"
Who should win: "American Sniper"
Who will win: "American Sniper"

I think this one is wide open for almost anyone to win. Some are saying "The Imitation Game," and others are saying "The Theory Of Everything" will win this award. My money is on "American Sniper," since the Academy might take pity on "American Sniper" for not winning some of the other bigger awards. Just a hunch that I have.

Best Original Screenplay:
Who I want to win: "Nightcrawler"
Who should win: "Birdman"
Who will win: "Birdman"

I would be eternally grateful to the Academy if they gave this award to "Nightcrawler." But since the majority of "Birdman" hinges on the dialouge and the script, and the Academy appears to be digging "Birdman." Another lock up for "Birdman."

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Best Supporting Actress:
Who I want to win: Emma Stone from "Birdman"
Who should win: Patricia Arquette from "Boyhood"
Who will win: Patricia Arquette from "Boyhood"

As good as Emma Stone was in "Birdman," Patricia Arquette gave the most level-headed and emotional performance of the year in "Boyhood." Arquette pretty much has this one wrapped up.

Best Supporting Actor:
Who I want to win: Edward Norton from "Birdman"
Who should win: J.K. Simmons from "Whiplash"
Who will win: Edward Norton from "Birdman"

This was a hard one.

Edward Norton added charm and elegance to "Birdman," and when Keaton was not on-screen, I wanted to see what Norton was up to. That being said, J.K. Simmons was the best part about "Whiplash" so I believe he is just as deserving of the award as Norton is. I think the Academy will give it to Norton, with Ethan Hawke in "Boyhood" being a dark horse candidate.

Best Director:
Who I want to win: Richard Linklater for "Boyhood"
Who should win: Richard Linklater for "Boyhood"
Who will win: Richard Linklater for "Boyhood"

Last year, Best Director went to Alfonso Curoan for "Gravity" and Best Picture went to "12 Years A Slave," the two most deserving films of those awards. I think the Academy wanted to give both films that award, but couldn't, so they gave Director to one and Best Picture to the other. Gravity got Best Director due to it being done by the determination and passion of Curoan. I believe the same will happen this year between "Boyhood" and "Birdman."

Much like "Gravity," "Boyhood" is driven by the tenacity and love of cinema of Richard Linklater. If Linklater does not get this award, then "Birdman"'s director will, and "Boyhood" will probably walk away with Best Picture.

Best Actress:
Who I want to win: Resse Witherspoon from "Wild"
Who should win:  Resse Witherspoon from "Wild"
Who will win: Julianne Moore from "Still Alice"

I want to say that Resse Witherspoon has this award locked up, but the Academy loves to give awards to actors and actresses playing people with mental or physical diseases. Julianne Moore is playing a woman with Alzheimer's, and whether she actually gives a good performance beyond that is pretty much irrelevant.

In any case, it will be either Moore or Witherspoon that walks away with this award, and I would love it if Resse managed to pull it out. I just don't see that happening though.

Best Actor:
Who I want to win: Michael Keaton from "Birdman"
Who should win: Eddie Redmayne from "The Theory Of Everything"
Who will win: Michael Keaton from "Birdman"

Again, the Academy loves the handicapped actors, which is why Eddie Redmayne is getting as much discussion as he is. That, and he is playing a well-known person in reality, to the point that even Stephen Hawking was convinced that it was him on the screen.

From a single performance perspective, Michael Keaton was the best actor in 2014. Grounded, heartfelt and emotional, he was the reason that "Birdman" was so good. Hopefully the Academy will see that and give him the award. Could go to either Redmayne or Keaton.

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Best Picture:
Who I want to win: "Birdman"
Who should win: "Boyhood"
Who will win: "Birdman"

And so we come to the last and biggest award of the evening. One that is still being debated about who deserves it. Like with "Gravity" and "12 Years A Slave" last year, this one comes down to two films - "Birdman" and "Boyhood."

"The Theory Of Everything" and "The Imitation Game" are quite similar, in that they are both a biopic about two famous British people who changed the world with their inventions and intelligence, but both also faced difficult personal barriers to overcome. I don't see either of them winning this award.

"Whiplash," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "American Sniper" are just happy to be here. Each will win other categories, but none of them are going to be winning this one. They're either too controversial or too under the radar.

"Selma" not being nominated for more awards and the possibility of it not winning Best Picture have caused more controversy this year than anything in the past. To those, I say this - Was it really the best film of 2014? Or do you just respect it for its subject material? Because there is a big difference. The winner of the Best Picture award should go to the film that is clearly the most well put together, tells a story that resonates with the audience and will still be an excellent film years from now. I do not think this is "Selma." There is a possibility "Selma" could win, but it is small compared to the last two films on the list.

I'd like to point out some of the films in the last few years that have won Best Picture - In particular, "Argo" in 2012 and "The Artist" in 2011. Both films have a similar theme - they talk about the film industry and how it is not a perfect or caring system. To me, this says that the Academy adores films that talk about the film industry and how bad it can be at times. How it takes a caring and passionate soul, and turns him into a greedy, self-absorbed man.

"Birdman" is that film.

I could just be overanalyzing it, but from a technical and personal perspective, "Birdman" is a superior film to "Boyhood." I certainly respect "Boyhood" more than "Birdman," for being able to take a twelve year journey through one boy's life and have it resonate with so many people. However, "Birdman" excels ahead of "Boyhood" in acting, cinematography and writing. If the trend of movies about movies does not give "Birdman" the win, those categories will.

This was a hard year to judge the Academy Awards on, since this the first year where I had seen almost every single nominee, especially all the Best Picture candidates. We'll find out in just a bit if my predictions are correct.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Movie Review - "Project Almanac" (2015) - Bring A Barf Bag

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Found Footage movies 101 - Expect to get nauseous. If you can't handle that, do not watch them, or you will get sick.

This is what I walked away from "Project Almanac" learning. Not that you shouldn't try to rewrite history, or force people to change just to fit your needs, or that time travel is dangerous. But that is almost guaranteed you are going to get motion sickness after watching a film like this.

The strange part is that I've watched several found footage films like "Project Almanac" before, like "Chronicle," "Cloverfield" and "The Troll Hunter" but never have I watched a film that made me so physically ill. It was hard to watch this one because of all the constant camera movement and blurry colors, not helping by the effect of time travel being shown by the film footage skipping and degrading.

David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is a brilliant high school student who has just been accepted into MIT, but has very little scholarship money and his mother is forced to sell the house just to pay for his tuition. As David is cleaning out the attic though, he finds his father's old camera, with footage of his seventh birthday part and a flash of David's seventeen year-old self. David and his friends try to put the pieces together that eventually lead them to find a long forgotten project in his father's basement and just might involve time travel.

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Right from the beginning of the film, I had one question on my mind - Why does this movie need to be filmed like this? Why make it like a found footage film? In "Chronicle" they had a reason to do it like that - the main character wanted to document how terrible his life was. In "The Troll Hunter," they were literally making a documentary that turned into a story about them as much as the man they were following. But in "Project Almanac"? David's sister just likes to film, and that's the best explanation we get.

It made sense for the opening scene, since that was the footage David was sending to MIT and showcase his first project - a toy helicopter that he could control the altitude of with his fingers. But everything after that point makes no sense, especially when David and the gang break into the school to steal hydrogen capsules to make their experiment work, and she is filming everything.

That's like posting a selfie of yourself right after you rob a bank and say "Come and get me coppers!" on Facebook. You don't film yourself while committing a crime. You are incriminating yourself.

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"Project Almanac" also violates the one camera perspective many times, as there are several points where it seems like the camera is moving on its own or will cut away to another camera that we did not know existed. This is especially the case during the worst scene in the film, when David and crew travel to Lollapalooza from the previous year. The film will sometimes randomly cut away to different cameras in the crowd, or David's sister will weasel her way in to get the best angle of David making the moves on a woman, without anyone else noticing her.

Not to mention, the camera is at its most shaky and blurriness while at Lollapalooza. I had to look away several times because the cameraman was bouncing up and down, only to cut away to blurry fireworks.

However, if anything good came out of "Project Almanac" it was David's two best friends, who are self-absorbed and a bit annoying, but they're teenagers and these actors nail that teenage personality perfectly. They think about all the things they could do with time travel, including winning the lottery and going back to meet famous people, David says that would be selfish, and then they end up winning $1.8 Million in the lottery anyway.

Bad writing for David, but fun to watch his friends exploit these powers.

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Overall though, it was hard to get through "Project Almanac." Not just because of getting sick from the constant shaky cam, but it makes no sense that this film should be found footage and doesn't even stick to it at times. The characters are poorly written, the plot makes very little sense and the time travel gets old fast. David's friends save the film a bit, but not enough to make this a good film.

If you go see "Project Almanac," bring a carbonated beverage to drink to keep the gas out of your stomach. It always helped me on long car rides and I could have used it with this one too.

Final Grade: D+

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mini-Reviews #4

Mini Movie Reviews

Previously, on "Mini-Reviews"...The massive threat of watching 25 new films in less than 45 days almost proved to be overwhelming for our young film critic. Can he continue his streak of movie reviews and save the princess in the process?

All will be answered...right now, actually. And what princess? I haven't seen any princess around here.

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"Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil" (2010)

Sometimes the simplest comedy is the most effective kind.

"Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil" is one of the most compelling horror comedies I have seen in a long time. It is a simple cast of judging people before you know them, and these judgmental people getting their comeupings in the most horrifying and gruesome ways. It's not that Tucker and Dale, who are hillbillies, want to harm these teenagers, but are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Much like "Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman," this one is bare bones as it gets, and it excels at slapstick comedy and telling the simple story of two guys just trying to enjoy their lake cabin, only to have death fall upon their house.

Final Grade: B+

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"Inherit The Wind" (1960)

I wanted to see this one because it one of the very few roles that Gene Kelly performed and did not sing and/or dance. That and it was made by the same guy who directed "Judgment At Nuremberg" and "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

I'm going to put this out there - I am not a religious man, but I respect people's choice to practice any religion and lifestyle that they want. But I despise it when anyone or anything forces religion down my throat, as if that is the only way to run your life and if you don't accept it then you are a terrible person. "Inherit The Wind" forces the bible and all of its teachings on the audience, followed by the science to prove it wrong, and tries to say that both are right and need to work together.

An effective message, if it were not for both sides coming at the audience with the force of an eighteen-wheeler hauling steam rollers. There is no subtleties in this film and it really gets annoying that the film cannot make its mind. Good performances all around, but goddamn this one was hard to watch at times.

Final Grade: C+

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"Zodiac" (2007)

This one stays as close as possible to true events. From police reports to autobiographies to eye-witness accounts, this film does its best to recap every major point of the Zodiac Killer that started in 1969 all the way through 2002.

For that reason, I respect "Zodiac" and it was enjoyable to watch at times. But other times, scenes just dragged on way longer than they needed to and served no purpose other than to be accurate to how it happened. Some characters drop off the face of the Earth and don't pop up again, like Robert Downey Jr.'s character once the film is half over.

Still, "Zodiac" has wonderful atmosphere and is still a gripping mystery based off of real events. Possibly even the best film to adapt a real life serial killer.

Final Grade: B

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"Top Hat" (1935)

From a gritty mystery to screwball musicals.

I don't know if I've said this before, but I don't care for musicals. Very rarely the dancing and singing has anything to do with the story and characters and is just an excuse to have dancers do their thing. "Top Hat" is an example of that, but still taking the time to develop characters that you either care about or want to see screw up.

This is one of the first Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies I've seen, and these two do light up the screen. Whether they are ripping each other apart with their fake stories or dancing the night away, the two excel in class and appeal. Their dance sequences are simple yet so long that you can't help but appreciate them.

But the real winner of "Top Hat" is the character of Alberto Beddini, who is uproariously protective and full of himself that when he is on-screen I cracked up. From his pencil thin mustache to how is eyes light up when he wants to kill a man for a woman, Beddini steals the show.

"Top Hat" had a lot of great points, but it did drag on longer than it needed to, especially since the gimmick of mistaken identity gets old very fast in this film. Good dance numbers, Beddini is great and so are Astaire and Rogers. Good times.

Final Grade: C+

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"King Kong Vs. Godzilla" (Japanese) (1962)

Fun fact - The American version of "King Kong vs. Godzilla" is the first film that I have a memory of watching. And it is only now that I've decided to watch the film the way the Japanese filmmakers intended it to be shown. And you know what? The Japanese version is a better film.

Granted, there are many similarities and plot points between the two, but the story in the Japanese version is much more clear and relatable. The television studio that funds the trip to find King Kong has visual evidence to support that their shows are "dull and boring" thus the need to get a giant ape to be on your shows. The leader of the studio, Tako, has many more comedic moments in the Japanese version, to the point that his mannerisms become jokes on their own.

One point that I will never get use to though is the musical theme they have for Godzilla in this version. It has many of the same notes as the classic Godzilla theme, but the tempo is way off and many sections go off to different places than what I'm use to. The theme in this film predates the classic theme, which was introduced in "Mothra vs. Godzilla" in 1964, so I consider this theme a warm-up.

Though the American version of "King Kong vs. Godzilla" will always hold a special place in my heart, I can say that the Japanese version is the better movie. Which version would I want to watch again? Probably the American version due to nostalgia, but I would not mind watching this one again soon.

Final Grade: B+

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"The Interview" (2014)

Ugh.

So I decided to watch this one just to say that I saw the most controversial film of 2014. Now I wish I hadn't seen it. This one was painful to watch at times. If the comedy was not being dull or insipid, it was unbelievably crude, disrespectful and illogical.

To top things off, the plot of "The Interview" is inconsistent, devoid of character development and comes across like it was devised during one of James Franco and Seth Rogan's late night pot sessions.

Sometimes James Franco's character is intelligent, supposedly during interview segments, but most of the time he is incompetent and cannot separate life from his own fantasies, like when he keeps asking for a bulletproof vest and doesn't get it. He'll whine and complain until he gets his way, like a spoiled child, which I suppose we are meant to relate to. By the end, I wanted to slap him.

"The Interview" is garbage. Unfunny, far too crude for its own good, terribly written and acting that made me wince. Unless you wanted to watch it because North Korea hated it so much, like I did, stay away from this one.

Final Grade: F+

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"The Odd Couple" (1968)

Throughout most of this film, I was left asking the same question, "Was I supposed to laugh at that?"

My problem with "The Odd Couple" with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau is how unpleasant and unappealing the film was. For the majority of the film, Lemmon's character is suicidal. They hardly joke about it, or at least it did not feel like they joked about it, and he rarely gets better, only to become more obnoxious with his constant need to keep everything abnormally clean. Matthau's character tries to help, but would rather spend his time hitting on the neighboring women.

As always, Lemmon and Matthau do a great job with their parts, but the script and supporting actors give them very little to work with. There were a few points that made me laugh, like the poker game near the beginning of the film, but I left "The Odd Couple" feeling depressed and unhappy about the product.

Final Grade: C-

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"Father Of The Bride" (1950)

If there was ever an actor to play an overprotective aging father figure, it is Spencer Tracy.

"Father Of The Bride" is all about taking a little thing like a wedding and showing the chaos and anarchy behind it, especially from the perspective of the father. Meeting the groom, making sure her little girl is going to be loved, losing the girl that he has loved all his life, planning the wedding, throwing rehearsal dinners and parties that he only ends up mixing drinks at, dealing with the emotional family. And that's all before the day of the wedding.

Tracy's narration as he describes the events unfolding helps to sell just how this molehill turned into Mt. Everest, at least in his eyes. He never thought a wedding was such a big deal, but as he learns, times have changed and so has his family.

Final Grade: B

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"Philadelphia" (1993)

This is what I wanted out of "Selma" - A period piece about a dark time in U.S. history that gives us some insight into the people behind this event, and not just their beliefs and drive.

This is due in large part to the performances of Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, with Hanks never letting go of his love for his family and lover, and Washington starting out with a hate for homosexuals and turning that into an undying respect for their courage and bravery to their lifestyle choices.

Though ultimately, "Philadelphia" is a courtroom drama and it does get sucked into the same dull and long-winded judicial speeches as most other courtroom dramas do. There were several points where I drifted off and felt like I missed nothing, but that seems to be the nature of the courtroom.

"Philadelphia" is an inspiring story of a paranoid time in America, driven by two wonderful performances. It does drag at points, but it does hit many emotional notes that will hit anyone who has been oppressed.

Final Grade: B-

At the right I am going, I'll have another batch of mini-reviews in a few weeks. But stay tuned, because in the next few days, several Academy Award-related posts will be out, including my predictions for the winners.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mini-Reviews #3

Mini Movie Reviews

Oh boy, it has been a long time since I have done a group of mini-reviews. When I finished the last set of reviews for this section of the blog, I watched a few movies and then stopped for a very long time. Nearly a month, in fact.

That was at the end of 2014. But when the new year began, I made a resolution to watch a hundred new movies before the end of 2015. This includes movies in theaters as well as ones on DVD, Netflix, TCM or any place online. So long as it is new to me, it counts as a new film.

I am happy to say that, as of this blog post on February 16, I am now at 26 new films. I have posted reviews of many of these films already, including "The Theory Of Everything," "Whiplash" and "Jupiter Ascending," but have not had a chance to do anything related to the non-theatrical films I watched.

It is time to fix that.

At my last count, there are 18 films that I need to do mini-reviews of, so these are going to be broken up into two separate blog posts. With that said, let's take a look at the first nine films I watched.

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"Woman Of The Year" (1942)

An actor you will see popping up in these reviews is Spencer Tracy. Not by design, its just that TCM is showing lots of movies with him in it which I had never seen before.

This one was a nice time occupier. Nothing truly stood out about the relationship between Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in this one, since they felt like they belonged on opposite sides of the planet. One is a sportswriter set in his ways, and the other is a political advocate who at first wants to suspend baseball until the end of WWII. Eventually, these two fall in love but can't seem to find the time for one another. These two have very little in common, so their relationship is forced and comes off as unnecessary. It does lead to a great bit at the end when Hepburn attempts (and fails) to make Tracy breakfast, but even that goes a bit longer than it needs to.

Nothing necessarily wrong or off-putting about this one, but it doesn't do a great job at getting my attention in the first place.

Final Grade: C

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"Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987)

I saw this one because I missed Robin Williams. It only made me miss him more.

The sole reason to watch "Good Morning, Vietnam" is to watch the great improve skills of Robin Williams, while he hones his talent at being the clown with a heart of gold. Robin Williams, more than almost any other actor, understood the strife and pain that people go through, especially in war, and that talking about it does not make the problem go away, building relationships and memories can. And what better way to do that than through comedy? To people like Williams, laughter is the best medicine. It can heal wounds that the eye cannot see, mend broken hearts and revitalize the soul.

A good movie to watch, just to remind us of the impact and scope of Robin Williams.

Final Grade: B

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"Shadow Of The Vampire" (2000)

This one is a creepy and other worldly love letter to silent horror films.

While it is shot and acted like a documentary chronicling the story of how F.W. Murnau's classic "Nosferatu" was created, it does add possible fictional twist - What if the actor Murnau hired to play Nosferatu, Max Schreck, actually was a vampire?

I say possible twist, because the movie never directly says that he is a creƤture of the night, but does imply it. It could just be that Schreck is one of the greatest method actors of all time, and saw the chance to play a vampire as a challenge to his acting abilities. This guy grows his fingernails to absurd lengths, only acts at night, feasts on blood and desires to make others see his way.

So is he a vampire or an actor dedicated to his role? I'm still not sure. That is the beauty of "Shadow Of The Vampire."

Final Grade: A-

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"Beauty And The Beast" (1946)

No no. Not the Disney version. Believe it or not, Disney was not the first to adapt this story to the screen. In fact, some argue that Disney is not even the best adaptation. This black-and-white version was made in France, under Nazi occupation, and was done on a shoe-string budget.

You might be asking how they were able to make an actor into the beast and have everything in his castle come to life. Extensive makeup that took hours to put on, lots of extras, careful cinematography and expansive sets. That's how.

For that reason alone "Beauty And The Beast" immediately gets my respect. To be able to do so much, creating such a captivating fantasy with many other worldly scenarios like a wall of arms which hold the candles and the moving statues, all while being pursued by the Nazis and without the best equipment, this is a masterpiece.

Final Grade: A+

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"Harvey" (1950)

In case you were not aware, one of my favorite actors of all time is James Stewart. So to have taken so long to see one of his best performances comes as a shock, even to me. But now I do see why I took so long - his performance and life philosophy is the only good part about the movie.

Everyone around Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart) is either insensitive, incompetent or both. They don't seem to understand that maybe the giant rabbit that Dowd talks about constantly is real, or that it is none of their business and Dowd is not hurting anyone so they should just let him think whatever he wants.

That being said, Stewart, as always, is the kindest soul imaginable and would give his right leg if it meant helping out a stranger. Like with "Shadow Of A Vampire," you're not too sure if he best friend the massive rabbit is imaginary or not, but by the end it doesn't really matter. The existence of Harvey makes Dowd a better man who would rather be pleasant than smart any day.

Final Grade: B+

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"Election" (1999)

This one was a fun ride through its framing device alone. The way in which the story is told, as each important character in a scene will give a narration explaining their actions, gives insight into an event that would normally be dull and boring - a high school class president election.

From the perky yet snobby brat who always wants to get her way (Resse Witherspoon), to the sexually deprived teacher who just wants to do his job (Matthew Broderick), to the quarterback with the broken leg who just wants other people to be happy, "Election" gives some great insight into the minds of these characters, making each of their actions logical, relatable and hilarious.

Final Grade: A-

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"Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman" (1958)

I could see this movie being featured on an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000." But the difference between this movie and others featured on that show is that "Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman" is a good movie.

Granted, it is an incredibly simple premise - A woman gets visited by aliens, she tries to explain what happened, no one can find any proof, her husband cheats on her, she gets attacked by the aliens, she grows to giant size and tries to kill her husband. But the film then spends the rest of the time making that story logical and serious. "Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman" never relies on camp or unnecessary comedy. In fact, the only comedy comes from the deputy sheriff that takes bribes and hits on women (even though he is married).

A very simple movie, yet an effective one. It does not try too hard, but it doesn't need to.

Final Grade: B+

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"War Of The Worlds" (1953)

On the opposite end of "Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman," we have "War Of The Worlds" which tries way too hard to be sophisticated and intelligent.

While I do think the effects in this film are impressive, especially for their time, that is not enough to hold up the film. Especially when there are so few scenes of the aliens in the film. Much like the chase scene in "Bullitt," that is basically the only thing people talk about with this film.

My main problem with the 1953 version of "War Of The Worlds" is that it forces religion down our throats in nearly every scene. Religion that, by the way, is a human ideal. The humans in this film seem to think that the Martians would know all about Christianity and God, even though they've probably never seen a bible before, or would understand how to read it.

They are from another planet, they do not have the same ideals or thoughts as us. These are creatures that can smell color and are harmed by the simplest of bacteria. I don't think they know about Jesus, or care to learn about him.

It's like trying to teach a goldfish how to fix a car engine. Something just aren't going to happen.

Final Grade: C

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"The Way We Were" (1973)

This one is built entirely around the growing relationship between Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford. From the time they meet in college and grow to respect one another, to needing some company in a time of loneliness, to always wanting to be around the other, these two go through a long and complicated romance.

It reminds me of "When Harry Met Sally..." but instead of letting the characters grow naturally and letting their surroundings make them realize that they do love each other, "The Way We Were" shows how their surroundings made them grow further apart from each other. The film moves quickly from one scene to the next and gives very little time to let their relationship reach its full potential, so the movie suffers for that.

Overall though, "The Way We Were" certainly wasn't bad, but like most romance movies, it does not do anything for me. Great acting from Streisand and Redford, but that's about it.

Final Grade: C+

Join me in the next few days, as I'll post another batch of mini-reviews of the other nine films I watched recently. With more Spencer Tracy, bad comedies and serial killers than you can shake a stick at.