Tuesday, March 31, 2015

'The Fast and the Furious' (2001-2013) Series Retrospective

Despite the tragic death of series star Paul Walker in a car crash back in November 2013, ‘Furious 7’, the seventh (yes, seventh) film in the ‘Fast and the Furious’ series hits theaters this week. Seriously, who would’ve ever thought that a film series that’s primarily about driving cars and ridiculous stunts would be successful enough to produce seven films? Most film franchises never get that far and even if they did, the films would really start to get bad after a while. But it’s surprisingly the opposite case with ‘The Fast and the Furious’ films; they’ve actually gotten better as the series has gone on. I’ll admit that I never really paid much attention to the franchise during its early years. The only major element of it that was I familiar with at the time was the multiple arcade game spin-offs, including the original ‘Fast and the Furious’ arcade game and its many follow-ups, including one for ‘Tokyo Drift’ and two ‘Super Bikes’ games that in hindsight don’t really connect to the series that much at all; hell, the second game doesn’t even carry the film series license. But anyway, I digress. I remember that it was after watching the Super Bowl commercial for the fourth film that I actually started to become interested in the franchise. I didn’t see the fourth film in theaters but I did watch it on HBO and since then… I have to admit I’ve actually become a fairly big fan of the franchise. So today, in honor of the seventh film’s release and in memory of Paul Walker, I’m looking back upon this beast of a franchise, from its humbler beginnings to its more recent bigger-scaled efforts. It’s time to ‘Ride or Die’ as we look at the ‘Fast and the Furious’ films.


As someone who was first introduced to the franchise through its later installments, I must say that it’s fairly interesting to see how far ‘Fast and Furious’ has come since it first started 14 years ago. Like with the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise, this is definitely a case where the series definitely got better over time. That isn’t to say that ‘The Fast and the Furious’ isn’t entertaining; it has a nice energetic pace that perfectly matches the, for lack of a better term, fast nature of the story and a lot of the car stunt sequences are pretty good. But with that said, you still have to admit that the film is a definite case of style over substance. Sure, this film’s not completely brain-less as there are some actual/legitimate bits of character development here, namely between the main characters, street racer/criminal Dominic Toretto and undercover cop Brian O’Connor, and Vin Diesel and Paul Walker work off each other really well. But suffice it to say this is not a movie that you go into expecting great writing. In fact, as many people have already pointed out, this is basically just the street racing clone of ‘Point Break’. Despite this, the first ‘Fast and the Furious’ film is still a fairly entertaining popcorn flick even if, in some cases, it’s become a little dated. Ultimately, though, it would take some time (about a decade to be specific) before this series really started to shine.

Rating: 3.5/5

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003)

First I’ll give you a few seconds to laugh at that hilariously ridiculous title… done? Okay, moving on… so now we come to the second film in the series, this one being directed by John Singleton, who had previously been nominated for two Oscars for his work on his 1991 film ‘Boyz n the Hood’. As for ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’, however, unfortunately it ends up being the weakest entry in the franchise. Now despite what I just said, that doesn’t mean the film isn’t entertaining, because it is. Once again, a lot of the car stunts are really cool, especially the first highway chase and the scene near the end involving a whole mob of cars coming out of one warehouse. Leads Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson have nice camaraderie with one another, with Gibson in particular being a real stand-out due to his great comedic ability which was put to even greater use in future films. Ultimately though, ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ suffers from some fairly mediocre writing. Now to be fair, these films have never been known for their writing anyway but here it ends up being rather dull and generic, with a mediocre anti-climax and a generic villain. Plus, something I didn’t mention in my review of the first film is that both of these films have some rather poor/obvious CGI used during some of the racing scenes, namely during close-up shots of the drivers. Thankfully, this was improved upon in future installments. ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’, ultimately, is my least favorite entry in the franchise. I don’t think it’s bad, but like I said earlier, we still haven’t gotten to the series’ best installments yet.

Rating: 3/5


Extra Large Movie Poster Image for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

After the first film which featured all four of the series’ main group of leads and the second film which only featured one of them, now we have ‘Tokyo Drift’, the only entry in the ‘Fast and Furious’ series not to have any of the main leads of the series appear in a major role, save for a pretty awesome cameo by Vin Diesel at the end. Because of this, ‘Tokyo Drift’ has basically been regarded as the most forgotten entry in the series, made even more evident by the fact that it’s the lowest-grossing entry of the series at the box office. But… it’s actually the most underrated of the series and, dare I say, I have to agree with my friend Augie in that I think this is even better than the first film. Sure, this film may not have Vin Diesel or Paul Walker but its cast gets through it pretty darn well without them. Plus, like with ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’, this film does give us another standout character that would later become a major character in future films, in this case Han (Sung Kang), despite the fact that he actually dies during the events of this film. So why does he come back in later films? Well that’s because, despite the fact that this was the third film released chronologically, it actually takes place after the events of the fourth, fifth, and sixth films, hence why Han appears in those films. ‘Furious 7’ will be the first film in the series set after the events of this film. Yeah… wrap your head around that one.

So what’s the main reason as to why this film works so well? It’s because of director Justin Lin, this being the first entry in the series that he directed. He gives the series a much needed boost in quality in terms of direction while also giving the series an edge that, in some cases, the last two films sort of lacked. This film also has the added benefit of being set in a cool locale, Tokyo, meaning that this film does manage to stand out even without the main leads in it thanks to its great visual look. The whole concept of ‘drifting’, which is pretty cool, really lends itself well to the fun action sequences that you’ve now come to expect from this franchise. So overall, ‘Tokyo Drift’ is the one entry in the series that really deserves more attention than it currently gets. If anything, you shouldn’t ignore this entry in the series just because Vin Diesel and Paul Walker aren’t in it. Sure, it may not necessarily be one of the series’ best, but it’s still really entertaining. This was the first entry of the series that really showed promise that the series could improve and you can thank Justin Lin for that as he managed to make an incredibly memorable ‘Fast and Furious’ film without any of the series’ main leads. But this would set the stage for those leads to make one heck of a return to the franchise they helped start in the first place.

Rating: 3.5/5


After nearly a decade since the first film’s release back in 2001, the main four leads of the franchise; Diesel, Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster all reunited for a new film in the franchise, ‘Fast and Furious’, the second entry in the series to be directed by Justin Lin. But unlike the following two entries in this series, ‘Fast and Furious’ has been the least successful of the series in terms of critical response despite its commercial success at the box office. It only has a 27% score on Rotten Tomatoes… but overall I disagree with that rating. This is my third favorite entry in the series to date and I as noted in the intro, this was the first ‘Fast and Furious’ film that I ever saw, albeit on TV, not in theaters. This of course was after I had watched the Super Bowl commercial for the film, the first time that I really began to show interest in the franchise having initially not paid any attention towards it during its initial run. Overall I view it as being similar to the first film but with much stronger direction. Like I said before, Justin Lin gave the series new life and now with this fourth film, it has really started to shine thanks to the return of the main cast after they didn’t play a major part in the second and third films. So with that said, why then is this one not as liked by a lot of people? Well, from what I can tell, it’s because they feel the movie is ‘too serious’ for a ‘Fast and Furious’ film. And for the record I do see where they’re coming from.

The plot of this film revolves around Dom returning home to LA after learning that his girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez) has been ‘murdered’ (I use the term loosely because, well, you’ll see why when I start talking about the sixth film), looking for revenge against those who were responsible. This results in him crossing paths once again with Brian, who’s going after the same people for the FBI. Last year’s ‘Need for Speed’ was a similar situation, being more serious than both it needed to be and quite frankly what it was capable of being given its premise of street racing. But here, I didn’t mind too much when the film got serious because I do feel that there was some legitimate motivation for Dom and Brian to stop the villains unlike with previous villains in the franchise. Besides, there’s still a lot of awesome car stunts, from the opening tanker sequence in the Dominican Republic to the final chase scene taking place in the underground tunnels between Mexico and the U.S., though in the case of the latter, I am aware that there was definitely a lot of CGI used in that sequence, even though for the most part it at least looks a little better than it did in the first two films. Regardless, this is still a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie; it’s silly and over the top but still really fun to watch. Now that the main cast was back, it was time for the series to go off in a new direction which ended up taking us all very much by surprise.

Rating: 4/5

FAST FIVE (2011)

I think it’s safe to say that we were all surprised when we saw that this film, the fifth entry in a series that was more successful with audiences than it was with critics, was actually getting really great reviews from critics. It has a 77% rating on RT, way higher than any of the previous four films (which were rated 53%, 36% twice, and 27%, respectively). And suffice it to say… they’re right. At the time of its release, ‘Fast Five’ immediately made a name for itself as the best entry in the series. It achieved that by making the radical move of straying from the formula that had defined the series since the beginning though ultimately it ended up being the right move. Instead of its focus being on street racing, ‘Fast Five’ opts for a heist storyline a la ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and ‘The Italian Job’. Seriously, there’s only one ‘street race’ in this entire film and they don’t even show it happening; they cut away from it before it starts. The second major change is that, unlike the previous films which only centered around 2-4 characters at a time, this is the first in the series to have a true ensemble as the film reunites Dom and Brian with nearly all of their primary allies from the previous films; Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han, Gisele (Gal Gadot), Tej (Ludacris), etc… And third, and most importantly, there’s ‘The Rock’.

Yes folks, the addition of Dwayne Johnson in the role of DSS agent Luke Hobbs, who’s out to catch Dom and his crew, is quite frankly the best thing that could have ever happened to this series. Johnson really stands out amongst the members of the cast in what is simply a stand-out role. But with that said, this is probably the first entry in the series where the cast in general really shines. A key theme of the whole series has been ‘family’ and you really do see that with this cast as proven by their excellent camaraderie with each other. The action sequences are much more fluid than earlier films and of course, we got more fun and, in some cases, insane action sequences to enjoy. There’s the opening scene where Brian and Mia break Dom out of a prison bus, there’s the first fight between Dom and Hobbs, and who can forget the scene where Dom and Brian literally drag a frigging safe through the streets of Rio. And yes, at this point, the series has really begun to defy all sorts of physics but with Lin’s solid direction, a terrific cast, and most importantly a real sense of fun, ‘Fast Five’ easily stands out amongst the six ‘Fast and Furious’ films that have come out. Again, who would’ve ever thought that at the time of its release, the fifth film in this series would ultimately end up being the best up to that point?

Rating: 4.5/5


For my original review of the film posted on May 23, 2013, click the link provided below;

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that this series has now realized exactly what it is; it knows it’s silly and over-the-top and it doesn’t care. It just rolls with it and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. That’s the best way I can describe ‘Fast and Furious 6’; it’s ridiculous, fast-paced, and it keeps defying physics with every action sequence it does. Plus, this film pulls quite the heck of a retcon by having it be revealed that Letty survived the events of the fourth film, albeit being affected with amnesia in the process. But it’s still just so damn entertaining to watch. The same positives that I noted for ‘Fast Five’ are once again present here; a terrific ensemble cast that has terrific camaraderie, another batch of awesome action sequences (the tank chase, that fancy flip car, the whole finale on the world’s longest runway involving a crashing plane, etc…), and so on and so on. But at the same time, there are some things in this film that I feel actually do improve on the previous film. For one thing, this film has quite frankly the best villain of the series to date in the form of Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw. His whole philosophy of regarding the members of his crew as ‘expendable’ is a cool contrast to the ‘family’ dynamic of Dom’s crew. Another great addition to the cast is Gina Carano as Hobbs’ assistant Riley. Her fight scenes with Rodriguez are some of the most badass moments in the entire film. Because of ‘Fast Five’, this was the first entry in the series that I was really anticipating and sure enough it did not disappoint in the slightest. In fact, this in, is my opinion, the best ‘Fast and Furious’ film to date.

Rating: 4.5/5

Ranking time!

6. 2 Fast 2 Furious

5. The Fast and the Furious

4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

3. Fast and Furious

2. Fast Five

1. Fast and Furious 6

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Daredevil (2003) review

In preparation for Marvel Studios’ upcoming Netflix-released TV series ‘Daredevil’, I decided to take a look back upon the last major book-to-screen adaptation of the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen known as ‘The Man without Fear’; Matt Murdock AKA Daredevil. That was in the form of 2003’s ‘Daredevil’, which starred Ben Affleck in the title role 10 years before he would be cast in another superhero flick, this time as Batman in the upcoming ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’. But as for ‘Daredevil’, well, this is easily one of the most infamous entries of the modern pre-MCU era of superhero films. Early on, the reaction towards the film was mixed but in the years since its release the internet, being its usual ‘generally negative’ self, has been much harsher towards this film and Affleck has basically become the big scapegoat in regards to the general dislike of the film. This was the reason why the internet was so up in arms over him being cast of Batman, after all. Well, after re-watching his first foray into the superhero film genre, I’ll say this; Affleck is not the one to blame for this film’s shortcomings. Now let me be clear; I’m not saying that ‘Daredevil’ is one of the best superhero films ever; far from it, to be perfectly honest. Compared to many of its fellow superhero films, ‘Daredevil’ is a fairly average entry in the genre that definitely feels like it fell victim to a lot of studio mandates. But at the same time, this really isn’t as bad as the internet has put it out to be.

As a kid growing up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) was taught by his father, former boxer Jack Murdock (David Keith), the importance of ‘doing good in school’ so that he could succeed in life. Matt does listen to his dad but one day, after witnessing his father act as an enforcer for a local mob boss (something he thought that his father had moved away from), he gets into an accident where he is blinded by toxic waste. But despite the loss of his vision, his other senses become enhanced. Matt uses his newfound abilities to train himself in martial arts while also helping his father get back into boxing. But soon after his father’s career gets back on track, he is murdered by the mob after refusing to throw a fixed fight. As a result, Matt vows to avenge his father’s death by helping those who have been wronged by others. Years later, Matt is now an accomplished lawyer, owning a firm that he runs along with his best friend Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau). At night, he becomes the vigilante crime-fighter Daredevil, going after criminals that haven’t properly given the payback they deserve. As Matt continues his campaign of justice against the criminals of New York, he soon meets Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), the daughter of a businessman who becomes a target of crime boss Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) AKA The Kingpin, and finds himself getting involved in this whole situation.

If Affleck isn’t the big scapegoat for this film’s problems, then director Mark Steven Johnson is, who would later go on to direct another much-maligned superhero film; 2007’s ‘Ghost Rider’. However, like Affleck, it’s not 100% his fault either for the problems of this film. I mean sure, they could’ve gone with a better writer than Johnson (who wrote the screenplay) but this is a clear case of a film that got changed around during post-production so that it could be marketed towards a wider audience. I may not be a big comic book reader but I can tell that Daredevil is meant to be one of the darker/more mature characters in the Marvel lineup. And as proven from the advertisements for the new ‘Daredevil’ series, that’s clearly the route that they are taking with that show. But as for the film version of ‘Daredevil’, it’s an obviously toned down PG-13 rated affair that can best be described as a ‘Hollywood’ film. By that I mean a film that has that ‘Hollywood popcorn flick’ aura about it that’s heavy on both the soundtrack and the melodrama, the latter of which is even more evident due to the fact that Stan Lee felt that the film was too ‘tragic’. Most of the action sequences feel rather generic and even the final fight between Daredevil and Kingpin is a little anti-climactic. I’m aware of this film’s ‘Director’s Cut’ which adds in a whole half hour of new footage, including a whole sub-plot with a character played by Coolio. From what I hear, this version is a definite improvement over the theatrical cut that’s both darker and much more in line with the character’s portrayal in the comics. However, at the time I am writing this, I have not yet seen that version of the film.

So with all of that said, why then do I not hate this film like most people on the internet? Well, because I did actually find the film to be fairly entertaining even if it wasn’t as strong in terms of execution compared to films like ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, or any of the MCU films. I was never really bored by it at any point even with all of the clichés in this film that come from the script. There are some generally cool things about this film, the biggest one being how they portray Daredevil’s powers. Being blind, Matt Murdock has this sonar sense that allows him to ‘see’ what’s around him through the use of sound. The visual effects/overall design for this element of the film is arguably the standout aspect of the film. And despite all of the overly-dramatic melodrama, there is one scene that I feel does work really well thanks to the use of this effect. It’s the scene where Matt and Elektra are on the roof before it starts to rain. Matt brought her up here because he knows that when it rains, each raindrop produces a sound when it comes into contact with a surface. Because of this, whenever it rains, it’s basically the closest that Matt will ever get to, in a way, be able to see again. This allows him to finally see Elektra for the first time. This was a really well-done scene, arguably the best scene in the entire film. And yes I know it’s quite derivative of the upside-down kiss scene from the first ‘Spider-Man’ but it’s still a well-handled scene that does a great job at showcasing how Matt is dealing with his disability.

So now let’s talk about the ol’ scapegoat, Ben Affleck… he’s actually not that bad in this film. Obviously I know plenty of you will disagree with me on that, but hear me out. Was he the best choice for the role at the time? Probably not, as Guy Pearce (who would later go on to be the villain in ‘Iron Man 3’) and Matt Damon (who declined the role as he didn’t have faith in either the script or the director (Ben probably should’ve listened to his pal Matt on that one)) were some of the other major candidates for the role. That and of course he doesn’t really have the best material to work off of either. But I do think that Affleck deserves credit for doing the best that he could with that material in what is pretty much a highly complicated role. Same goes for Jennifer Garner as Elektra. They both sort of get screwed over by the material but the two of them do have a pretty solid romantic chemistry (they are married in real life, after all). The two villains of the film do come off a little better in terms of their performances. Michael Clarke Duncan definitely has quite the presence in the role of the Kingpin. Obviously he’s not the ‘spitting image’ of the Kingpin from the comics given the fact that Kingpin is usually, well, white but I’m not going to go any further into this other than saying that Duncan was a good choice for the role regardless of the fact that he doesn’t necessarily resemble Kingpin. As for Colin Farrell as the extremely accurate assassin Bullseye, there is a fun layer of campiness that comes from his turn here. I’m not saying that it’s a ‘great’ performance but it looks like Farrell was at least having fun in the role.

‘Daredevil’ is not one of the best superhero films of all time. For the most part, it’s a fairly average entry in the genre that was toned down by the studio to appeal to a larger audience despite the fact that its main superhero is one of the darker characters of the Marvel Universe. And it’s basically the very definition of a ‘Hollywood’ film with its emphasis on its soundtrack and its various writing clichés that make the film far more ‘tragic’ then it needed to be. And yet, despite all of this, I still generally like it. It’s nowhere near as re-watchable as any of the MCU films but I never found it to be boring and despite what the internet may say about his performance, Ben Affleck isn’t that bad as Daredevil. I believe that, had the studio not been so picky about toning the film down and a better director/writer had been chosen to work on the film, this could’ve turned out much better and Affleck would’ve really shined here in the time before he really made it big through his directing work. Ultimately though, Affleck isn’t the one to blame for how this film turned out. You see, the thing about the internet when it comes to films is that it loves to target certain controversial aspects of films, even if they aren’t the primary problem of the film (see ‘Phantom Menace’ (Jar Jar Binks/Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker) and ‘Spider-Man 3’ (‘Emo Peter’) for further proof of that). Sure, as is, the first major ‘Daredevil’ film is only an average superhero film but it’s far from being the worst of the genre. Believe me folks, of the many superhero films that I’ve seen over the years, I’ve seen worse than this one.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cinderella (2015) Review (300th Post!!)

While Disney’s recent live-action fantasy films have gotten a generally mixed reception from critics, they’ve definitely been much more successful with audiences which if you ask me is what matters the most at the end of the day. I for one have generally liked them. I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but on the other hand I absolutely loved ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’, to the point where I even listed it as my favorite film of that year. Last year gave us ‘Maleficent’, a retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ from the perspective of its main antagonist. While some may have issues with the fact that the film portrays her more as the protagonist, I did still enjoy it, mainly for Angelina Jolie’s outstanding performance in the role of Maleficent. And now Disney returns with their latest re-imagining, this time revisiting one of the most iconic films in their lineup, ‘Cinderella’. Unlike the previous three major fantasy films, which were a sequel, prequel, and re-telling, respectively, this new ‘Cinderella’, directed by Kenneth Branagh (‘Thor’), instead opts to basically just tell the same story as its animated predecessor. Some may find this to be unnecessary but ultimately this new ‘Cinderella’ does end up being an excellent adaptation of this classic story. That is thanks to not only beautiful production design, classy direction, and a top-notch cast, but also a clear sense of appreciation for the original film while in some ways also updating it for a new generation.

After the death of her mother (Hayley Atwell), young Ella’s (Lily James) father (Ben Chaplin) remarries to Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), who also has been recently widowed after the death of her husband, who was an old friend of Ella’s father. Unfortunately, not long after this, he dies while on a business trip, leaving Ella in the care of her new stepmother, who ends up revealing her true wicked nature as Ella becomes a horribly mistreated servant to both her stepmother and stepsisters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera), who nickname her ‘Cinderella’ due to the fact that her face was covered in soot one morning after sleeping by the fireplace. One day, while riding in the woods, Ella comes across a nice young man (Richard Madden) named ‘Kit’ who claims to be an apprentice living in the nearby kingdom. In reality, however, he is actually the Prince, who’s being pressured by his dying father (Derek Jacobi) to find a bride, specifically a princess, at an upcoming ball. But because ‘Kit’ is so entranced by Ella, he convinces his father to allow every maiden in the kingdom to attend in the hopes of seeing her again. On the night of the ball, Ella is eager to go but is forbidden by her stepmother to do so because she doesn’t want her to ‘disgrace’ her and her daughters. But with the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), Ella’s fortunes soon begin to change.

This basically is the same general story as the original ‘Cinderella’, save for a few differences that actually do kind of improve on certain elements of that film. For one thing, Cinderella and the Prince do meet before the ball so it isn’t as ‘rushed’ of a romance as it was in the original film. We see Ella with her original parents more than we did in the original and while we don’t get the full details of it all, we even get a little more insight into Lady Tremaine’s back-story, giving us an idea as to why she acts the way she does towards Cinderella. Ultimately though, this film really benefits from just having an overall positive tone. After all, the film begins with Cinderella’s mother giving her the advice to ‘have courage and be kind’ and let’s be honest folks, in the cynical world that we live in today, that is some genuinely good advice to follow. From a technical standpoint, this film is an absolute visual delight thanks to the terrific production design, from the incredible costume design by Sandy Powell to the visually splendid set design. But at the same time, this film also has quite a lot of heart to it as well due to the aforementioned feel-good atmosphere. Branagh’s solid direction shows nothing but respect to the original film while also doing just enough to make it so that it isn’t just a ‘carbon copy’ of the original, which admittedly hasn’t aged very well in some aspects, namely in regards to the main character.

I mean I think it’s safe to say that Cinderella is a rather controversial member of the Disney Princess lineup. This is mainly due to the fact that in the original film, she is viewed by some people as being a rather passive protagonist who doesn’t really do much until she’s rescued in the end by the Prince. However, at the same time, she should be also given a lot of credit for her inner strength, positive attitude and perhaps most of all her ability to put up with all of the s*** that she’s put through by her Stepmother and Stepsister. This new film in some ways may follow the same route as the original but I don’t think that this Cinderella is passive at all. Her kindness really shines through the toughest of times and at one point she even tells Lady Tremaine that she’ll do whatever she can to ‘protect’ the prince, even if it comes at her expense. This results in, in my opinion, a very strong female heroine who is defined not by her actions but because of her overall character and Lily James does a phenomenal job in conveying Ella’s charm, likability, and most importantly, her inner strength and beauty. Because the relationship between Ella and the Prince is expanded upon here, their chemistry feels very genuine and Richard Madden definitely brings the right amount of, for lack of a better term, charm to the role. And of course, Cate Blanchett absolutely owns the role of Lady Tremaine, who’s definitely one of the greatest Disney villains of all time due to how she manages to gain so much control over Cinderella’s life without any special powers, while Helena Bonham Carter is a definite scene-stealer as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

‘Cinderella’ may be one of the most iconic Disney films of all time but at the same time it may not exactly be the most ‘pro-feminist’ story out there. And while the same could be argued about this new version of the story as well in certain areas, I don’t think that it’s as prevalent here as it may have been in the original film. The Cinderella in this is not just some damsel in distress who doesn’t do much. This one is more involved in determining her own fate and even if she may still not be the most proactive female protagonist ever, her likability and sweet persona more than make up for it. All in all, director Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Cinderella’ really stands out amongst Disney’s recent fantasy re-imaginings, even if it’s not doing much different when compared to the original animated film. The production design is worth the ticket price alone but the film also succeeds in terms of its heart, showing much appreciation towards its animated predecessor while also maintaining an overall ‘feel-good’ atmosphere even with all that Cinderella goes through while living with her stepfamily. And really, as someone who’s finding that he’s really starting to favor films like this over ones that are much bleaker in tone, I really believe that this film is a must-see, especially if you’re someone who is looking to cheer themselves up. I guarantee you that this film really will put a genuine smile on your face by the end of it. There’s no better way of saying it; this film is pure cinematic magic (pun totally intended) that is absolutely gorgeous both inside and out.

Rating: 5/5!

(P.S. This film is paired in its theatrical release with the short film ‘Frozen Fever’, a follow-up to Disney’s hit animated film ‘Frozen’. Because it’s just a short film, I’m not going to go into too much detail about it. However, what I will say is that if you are a fan of ‘Frozen’ (I know I am), then you’re definitely going to love this short as it brings back all of your favorite characters as well as yet another catchy song a la ‘Let it Go’ in the form of ‘Making Today a Perfect Day’.)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chappie (2015) review

South African director Neill Blomkamp made quite a first impression with his feature-length directorial debut, 2009’s ‘District 9’. What was at first just a $30 million sci-fi film with a relatively unknown cast ended up becoming the ‘sleeper hit’ of that year, grossing over $200 million worldwide and earning four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. This effectively made Blomkamp, who had previously been chosen by Peter Jackson to direct a ‘Halo’ film that sadly never came to fruition, one of the hottest new directors at the time. However his immediate follow-up, 2013’s ‘Elysium’, ended up being a bit of a disappointment for most point, to the point where even Blomkamp himself has recently admitted that he sort of ‘f****d it up’. Now he’s back with his third film, ‘Chappie’ which, like ‘District 9’, is inspired by one of Blomkamp’s previous short films, in this case 2003’s ‘Tetra Vaal’. But considering the current consensus towards this film (30% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time I’m writing this), it’s looking like some people are now going to wonder if Blomkamp was just a ‘one-hit wonder’ director. Well, after seeing the film I actually have to disagree with that notion. As someone who hasn’t yet seen ‘District 9’, I was mildly entertained by ‘Elysium’ despite the fact that there wasn’t much about it that really stood out. ‘Chappie’, on the other hand, is actually quite entertaining. It may have some flaws in regards to the story but surprisingly it was actually a really engaging sci-fi film. If anything, I think it’s better than ‘Elysium’.

In the year 2016, the government of South Africa deploys a series of semi-A.I. programmed attack robots to use as a police force in order to deal with the city of Johannesburg’s overly high crime rate. While the robots do prove to be a success, their creator Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), an employee at the weapons manufacturing company that builds them, creates a new A.I. program that is able to think and feel. Despite resistance from both his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) and rival engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), the latter of whom has developed a different robot design controlled by humans instead of A.I., Deon steals one of the police robots so that he could test out his new software. However, he is then almost immediately kidnapped by a group of gangsters, Ninja and Yolandi (played by Watkin Tudor Jones (‘Ninja’) and Yolandi Visser from Die Antwoord), who want to use the robot to assist them in a heist so that they can pay off a debt to another gangster. Deon ends up installing his new program for them, resulting in a new A.I. system for the robot (portrayed through motion-capture by Sharlto Copley), who Yolandi names ‘Chappie’. As time goes on, Chappie does begin to develop human intelligence and emotions, all the while Ninja tries to toughen him up so that he can help them on their planned heist. But soon they all have to deal with the consequences that occur as a result of Deon’s actions against his company.

It’s clear that Blomkamp is a director that really does bring some unique concepts to his sci-fi films. In the case of ‘Chappie’, it’s all based around the idea of smart A.I. and the possibilities, good and bad, which can come from it. While it’s not really a social commentary like either ‘District 9’ or ‘Elysium’ were, it still offers an interesting take on this whole concept. Now with that said, the writing can be a bit of a mess at times, sometimes favoring action over story and character development. I mean at the end of the day, Chappie is really the only major character in this who gets any major development; everyone else is either flat or under-developed. However, I was actually surprised to find that I was really invested in the film. Both the visuals and the action sequences are pretty good and the film is backed by a really solid score from Hans Zimmer. Story-wise, despite the occasional shortcoming in regards to the writing, I still found the film to be very engaging, mainly because of the character of Chappie. I thought it was a pretty cool idea to have a more adult version of ‘Short Circuit’ but one where the main robot character actually learns about the world from bad influences while still maintaining a pretty likable persona that stems from his child-like innocence.

Clearly taking some inspiration from Andy Serkis, Sharlto Copley’s motion-capture work here as Chappie is quite phenomenal. Not only that, but he does a fantastic job in capturing Chappie’s initial innocence and naivety and then subsequent evolution into a ‘gangsta’. A key scene early on where Chappie gets into a troubling situation in a bad neighborhood actually resulted in me feeling legitimately sorry for him. As for the rest of the cast, while they don’t get as much to work with as Copley, a lot of them still do fine enough work here. Dev Patel is good in the role of Chappie’s ‘maker’ as is Hugh Jackman, as usual, even though his role as the film’s ‘villain’ is rather underdeveloped. As for Sigourney Weaver, she also does a good job though she really needs to find roles that don’t have her only appearing in a few scenes that results in her character contributing little to the actual plot, just like what happened last year with her role in ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’. Oh yeah, and Die Antwoord is also in this as well. Now I had never really known anything about them before seeing this movie and with that said, it is rather weird to be watching these two appear in this movie, in which they basically play themselves. Quite frankly it’s the strangest ‘cross-promotion’ I’ve ever seen. I won’t really say that their work in this is ‘good’, heck early on Ninja comes off as being a major a-hole (and I’ve heard that apparently he was a pain in the ass for Blomkamp to work with on set), but they do serviceable enough jobs here. Still, I think it would’ve been better to get other actors to play these roles.

I was legitimately surprised by how much I actually did like ‘Chappie’, especially given the fact that I’ve never seen ‘District 9’, admittedly wasn’t the biggest fan of ‘Elysium’, and went into this not knowing what to expect given the mediocre reviews it has been getting. But in the end, if anything, it seriously isn’t as bad as some people are putting it out to be. It’s clear that Blomkamp is a great visual director who does bring unique ideas to the films that he makes. Both of these qualities are definitely on display here. His only problem at the moment, though, is that he really does need to work on his writing because ‘Chappie’ does fall flat at times, mainly due to some lackluster character development for any character that is not named Chappie. But at the same time, Chappie is a fairly compelling main character and Sharlto Copley’s mo-cap performance here is superb. In short, the film was actually pretty dang entertaining and I did like it more than ‘Elysium’. I don’t believe that Blomkamp is a ‘one-hit wonder’ as I’m sure a lot of people will begin to think following this film (again, haven’t seen ‘District 9’). I’m excited to see what he brings to that ‘Alien’ film he’s working on next, which he got as a result of sharing some of the concept art he made for it. Heck, maybe now Sigourney Weaver can actually get a role where she’s not only in the film for a few scenes. Though as evident from his last two films, I think it’s safe to say that he should bring in another writer who can help him strengthen up his writing.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Agent Carter (2015): Season 1 Review

We all know that in terms of the current ‘Marvel-DC’ debate, Marvel currently, and to be honest probably will always have, the edge when it comes to films thanks to the massive critical and commercial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, in terms of TV shows, that edge definitely belongs to DC at the moment. Sure, Marvel has had done quite a few shows before, but most of them have been animated whereas the majority of their live-action shows were made more than 3-4 decades ago. Nowadays, DC currently has two of the most well-regarded comic book shows on TV right now in form of the CW’s ‘Arrow’ and its recent spin-off, ‘The Flash’. Marvel, on the other hand, is slowly but surely starting to take a stab at the world of TV. Their first major live-action show since the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, debuted in September 2013. And while I will always defend the show’s initial run as being better than what the internet put it out to be, unfortunately it didn’t really gel well with audiences early on due to overly high and unfair expectations. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long as the big HYDRA reveal in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ carried over into ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and gave the series new life, now allowing it to stand toe-to-toe with ‘Arrow’ and ‘The Flash’. And really, the fact that the show is connected to the MCU means that it has an advantage that clearly ‘Arrow’ and ‘Flash’ won’t ever have in that it’s able to play off of key moments from the MCU films.

There’ll be a few more MCU-set TV series coming out over the next few years, primarily in the form of a group of shows based around ‘The Defenders’ which will be featured on Netflix, with the first of these shows, ‘Daredevil’, set to debut this April. But amidst the mid-season break of Season 2 of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, Marvel brings out their newest show in the form of ‘Agent Carter’, centered on arguably the best non-superhero female lead of the MCU films, Agent Peggy Carter. Originally debuting in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, Peggy Carter proved to be one hell of a female lead, primarily thanks to both the brilliant performance by Hayley Atwell in the role and the solid romantic chemistry between her and Chris Evans (Captain America). That great chemistry was the main reason why the finale of ‘First Avenger’ was emotional as it was. But that wasn’t the end for Miss Atwell in the MCU. Two years later, she got the chance to prove that she could hold her own as a main character through the Marvel One-Shot short film, ‘Agent Carter’, which debuted as a special feature for the Blu-Ray of ‘Iron Man 3’. That of course led to the creation of an ‘Agent Carter’ TV series and because of Atwell’s terrific performance in the role, along with really strong writing that offers a very cool retro spin on the MCU, ‘Agent Carter’ immediately makes a great impression as a top-notch comic book-themed TV series.

The series takes place after the events of ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, following Captain America’s heroic ‘sacrifice’ when he crashed the plane he was on into the Arctic. Of course, we all know what ‘really’ happened but at the time, he was believed to be dead. One year after the end of World War II, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), still mourning Steve’s loss, now finds herself stuck having to do routine office work for the SSR while also having to deal with being in the male-dominated workforce of the 40’s. However, when Peggy’s old ally, inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), is framed for allegedly supplying weapons to enemies of the U.S., he enlists Peggy’s help in order to prove his innocence. With the assistance of Stark’s personal butler Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), Peggy begins to search for Stark’s missing inventions, and her investigation eventually has her going up against a mysterious organization known as Leviathan. But because Peggy is doing this behind the backs of her SSR co-workers, she frequently runs the risk of being discovered by them as they too investigate into the case, namely to try and find Stark.

One of the reasons why I loved ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ from the get-go was that it was a comic book show that wasn’t primarily about superhero main characters; it was instead from the perspective of non-superhero characters and I felt that it helped give the show a nice down-to-earth tone even though it was a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The same can definitely be said with ‘Agent Carter’ and while there have definitely been plenty of great emotional moments in ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ over its current 1 and a half season run, ‘Agent Carter’ admittedly has done a much better job early on in terms of offering a very grounded perspective on the MCU while also giving us some effectively emotional moments. Yes, Peggy Carter is quite the badass when it comes to combat but that doesn’t mean she’s just a straight-up ‘action heroine’. She’s still just a regular human being and the show has done a great job at showing how she handles the lifestyle she goes by and how it impacts those around her. In the very first episode, her roommate, who had nothing to do with Peggy’s situation, is murdered by an assassin who was hunting for her. Two episodes later, one of her SSR co-workers ends up getting killed and we see how this tragedy really affects everyone at the SSR, even Peggy despite the fact that the agent never treated her that well. I guess you could say Peggy is probably the better example of a relatable character in this world of heroes compared to the team on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

The production design for the show is spot on, capturing the feel of the 40’s quite well in regards to set and costume design. Plus, the fact that the show is set in the 40’s really helps distinguish it from most of the shows currently on TV today, just like how ‘The First Avenger’ definitely felt different from the rest of the MCU films for also being set during the ‘World War II’ era. Visuals, action sequences, and the overall direction are also solid too and the overall tone of the show is a good mix of light-hearted fun and serious drama, which in my opinion is Marvel’s greatest advantage over DC at the moment. Sure the show hits the right notes emotionally when it needs to but it’s not all dark and gloomy, like the route DC is apparently taking with their Cinematic Universe. But on that note, ‘Agent Carter’, despite being a part of the MCU, doesn’t do ‘too much’ in terms of staying connected to it. But in most people’s eyes that’s actually a good thing. Because that was one of the biggest problem a lot of people apparently had with ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’; it referenced the MCU ‘too much’. While I never had a problem with that, because otherwise it wouldn’t seem like the show as connected to the MCU at all, ‘Agent Carter’ probably fares much better because it isn’t as reliant on referencing the films. But of course the references are still there, like the introduction of the program that trained Black Widow, represented here via one of the main villains of the season, a seemingly innocent girl named Dottie who initially befriends Peggy before revealing her true colors.

As I already noted, the best part of the whole show is Hayley Atwell as Peggy, as she’s the one that really gives the character both her emotional strength and composure, especially in scenes where the odds are against her. A key element of the show is the ‘buddy cop’-esque relationship between Peggy and Jarvis. Atwell and James D’Arcy (the latter of whom, according to my friend Matt, ‘reminded him of Benedict Cumberbatch’ which, I’m not going to lie, is a pretty accurate comparison) have solid camaraderie and D’Arcy is definitely a stand-out amongst this cast being quite frankly the literal example of an ‘average joe’ that is caught up in a crazy situation; in other words, a lot of the best comedic moments in the series come from him as a result of how he handles some of the situations that he and Peggy get into. Because a lot of time is spent with them, early on some of the other main members of the cast, specifically SSR agents Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) and SSR Chief Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham) were rather indistinguishable from one another. Thankfully, as the series went on, they each had their own moment to shine, like in Episode 5, ‘The Iron Ceiling’, when Thompson tells Carter about a mistake he made during the war and in the penultimate episode, ‘Snafu’, where it is revealed that Chief Dooley has a bit of a troubled family life along with a key heroic action he does that I won’t spoil here for anyone who hasn’t seen the show. 

Despite all of the comparisons that I made between ‘Agent Carter’ and ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ in this post, the latter is still my favorite show on TV right now. But ‘Agent Carter’, another Grade A effort from Marvel Studios in terms of giving us a comic-book inspired TV show that wasn’t primarily centered on a superhero, is arguably even better, especially from the get-go whereas ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ did take a little while to really get going. It’s not just because of excellent production design and solid direction that makes this series great. It’s really thanks to Hayley Atwell’s brilliant work in the role of Peggy and excellent writing that gives us a fantastic female lead that, to quote the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, is ‘a person first and an action hero second’. DC may be the ones who’ll end up releasing the first major female-led superhero film of the modern superhero film era, but Marvel Studios has already given us a bunch of fantastic female characters these past few years, from Black Widow to the ladies of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, despite the fact that they’ve yet to do a female-led superhero film (though they will soon enough with ‘Captain Marvel’). In just a brief season run of 8 episodes, ‘Agent Carter’ definitely made quite the first impression and hopefully we’ll get to see more of Peggy Carter’s adventures down the road.

Season Rating: 4.5/5

2015 Preview: March

Nearly a quarter of a way through the year now. Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s year-long preview of the films that are set to come out in 2015. This is Part 3 of 12 and today we’ll be looking at the films that’ll be hitting theaters this March. It looks to be a pretty simple month with only two new major releases a week. Still, there are quite some promising films coming out this month. So let’s not waste any more time and get started as we look into the films of March 2015.

MARCH 6- The month begins with two films; the latest from the director of ‘District 9’ and a Vince Vaughn comedy.

*After his second film ‘Elysium’ ended up receiving a rather polarizing reaction from both critics and audiences back in 2013, ‘District 9’ director Neill Blomkamp brings us his third feature film, ‘Chappie’, which is actually based off of a 2004 short film he did called ‘Tetra Vaal’. Taking place in the future, where a mechanized police force patrols crime, the film centers around the titular Chappie, one of these police robots who is given new programming that gives him the ability to think and feel for himself. Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley portrays Chappie via motion capture and the film also stars Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, and the members of the South African rap group Die Antwoord.

*In ‘Unfinished Business’, Vince Vaughn stars as a small-time business owner who travels to Europe with his two associates (played by Dave Franco and Tom Wilkinson) in order to close out an important business deal. The film also stars Sienna Miller and Nick Frost.

MARCH 13- Disney brings us their latest live-action fantasy flick, which opens alongside a new Liam Neeson film.

File:Cinderella 2015 20.jpg

*Director Kenneth Branagh helms the new live-action adaptation of ‘Cinderella’, inspired by the classic Disney animated film of the same name from 1950. Similar in plot to that film, it follows a young girl named Cinderella (Lily James) who is put into the care of her wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), who along with her two daughters mistreats her day in and day out, following the death of her father. The film’s cast also includes Richard Madden as Prince Charming and Helena Botham Carter as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

(Note: The film will be paired in theaters with the short film ‘Frozen Fever’, a mini-sequel to the hit animated film ‘Frozen’)

*Liam Neeson reunites once again with director Jaume Collet-Serra (‘Unknown’, ‘Non-Stop’) for ‘Run All Night’. He stars as an aging hit man who must protect his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) and his family from his old boss (Ed Harris).

MARCH 20- Sean Penn takes on the action genre while the ‘Divergent’ series continues with its second installment.

*After his film ‘Taken’ made Liam Neeson a major action star, director Pierre Morel looks to do the same thing for Sean Penn with ‘The Gunman’, based on the book ‘The Prone Gunman’ by Jean-Patrick Manchette. Penn stars as a former soldier who goes on the run from his organization when he intends to settle down with the love of his life. The film also stars Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, and Javier Bardem.

*Robert Schwentke takes over directing duties from Neil Burger for ‘Insurgent’, the second film in the ‘Divergent’ film series based on the popular book series of the same name by Veronica Roth. In this film, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) find themselves on the run after the uprising amongst the factions of their dystopian future. The majority of the cast from the previous film, including Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, and Ansel Elgort (among others) reprise their roles from the last film and are joined here by Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer.

MARCH 27- Finally to close out the month, a Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart comedy and the latest DreamWorks Animation film.

*Screenwriter Etan Cohen makes his directorial debut with ‘Get Hard’. Will Ferrell stars as a businessman who gets wrongly convicted for tax evasion as he enlists his best friend (played by Kevin Hart) to help him prepare for his prison sentence.

*Finally we have the only DreamWorks Animation release of the year (following a recent change of release dates for some of their other upcoming films in response to recent financial problems), ‘Home’, based on the book ‘The True Meaning of Smekday’ by Adam Rex. Jim Parson stars as Oh, a misfit alien who befriends a young girl named Tip (Rihanna) on Earth when he finds himself being hunted by his own race. The film’s voice cast also includes Steve Martin and Jennifer Lopez.

And those are the films that are hitting theaters this March. Check back next month for Part 4 where we’ll be looking at the April lineup.

Monday, February 23, 2015

87th Academy Awards: Results



BEST COSTUME DESIGN: The Grand Budapest Hotel



BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: The Grand Budapest Hotel




BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: The Grand Budapest Hotel



BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1






BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Patricia Arquette- Boyhood


BEST ACTRESS: Julianne Moore- Still Alice

BEST ACTOR: Eddie Redmayne- The Theory of Everything

BEST DIRECTOR: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu



Looks like a lot of you may disagree with me in regards to what I thought about Neil Patrick Harris’ turn as host this year. The guy has proven himself in the past to be quite the talented comedian and has hosted pretty much every other major award show from the Emmys to the Tony’s. In terms of his Oscars gig, he did a ‘solid’ job. By that I mean that he did have his fair share of funny jokes, including a great jab at John Travolta’s infamous ‘Adele Dazeem’ moment last year by saying that he would probably call Ben Affleck ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’ and the bit where he parodies the scene in ‘Birdman’ where Riggan Thomson has to get back to the theater in his underwear when he gets locked out (complete with a cameo from Miles Teller on the drums, who STILL wasn’t at the right tempo). Admittedly, some of the jokes did fall flat, most infamously the running gag involving a locked box containing Harris’ ‘Oscar Predictions’. Sure, the final pay-off where he lists all of the big moments from the night was fine but the problem was that they kept going back to it again and again with the same bit of Harris putting Octavia Spencer in charge of keeping an eye on it and that did get old pretty fast. But hey give him some credit, he at least pointed out all of the controversies surrounding this year’s nominees, namely the snubs for ‘Selma’ (On David Oyelowo: “Oh sure, now you all like him”) and the ‘all-white’ acting nominees (“Best and Whitest… I mean Brightest!”). In short, I think Harris actually did a fine enough job; obviously it could’ve been better but it’s far from being ‘the worst’.

In terms of the winners, the only one that I have any real issue with is Best Score, which went to Alexandre Desplat’s work on ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. Nothing against the score for that film but I was a bigger fan of Desplat’s work on ‘The Imitation Game’ and of course as you recall my main pick was actually ‘Interstellar’. Other than that, the biggest upset of the night easily came when ‘Big Hero 6’ beat the heavy favorite ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ for Best Animated Film. But because I didn’t see ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ (whose title, according to NPH, shows that apparently they didn’t really teach you anything that important in regards to training dragons in the first film), I can’t really complain about it. Also, now it’s official; Disney is now in their second animated renaissance as proven by the critical, commercial, and Oscar-winning success of ‘Frozen’ and ‘Big Hero 6’. ‘Birdman’ definitely must have been a shocker for some people who were expecting the critically acclaimed ‘Boyhood’ to win. It wasn’t my absolute #1 pick to win Best Picture but at the same time ‘Boyhood’ admittedly was my least favorite of the Best Picture nominees. Though for the record, as I said before, I would’ve been perfectly fine with any of these eight nominees winning Best Picture. As you know, my personal pick was ‘American Sniper’ and while it didn’t end up winning Best Picture, I’m happy that it at least won one award for Best Sound Editing.

And now, here are my personal ‘Best’ and ‘Worst’ in regards to the most memorable, or in some cases infamous, moments from this year’s show.

BEST: Opening Musical Number

NPH has definitely done a lot of musical numbers in the past so obviously he was going to do one for the Oscars. This one just so happened to include a cameo from Anna Kendrick and a pretty awesome moment where Jack Black interrupts the number. All in all, a nice little intro to the show and unlike in 2013 when Seth MacFarlane hosted, the opening monologue didn’t go for too long.

IN THE MIDDLE: ‘Oprah-American Sniper’ Comparison

It’s safe to say that this gag didn’t go as well as the writers had hoped. Basically, this joke was in reference to the fact that ‘American Sniper’ was the most commercially successful Best Picture nominee. NPH then put that in perspective by comparing the film’s success to the audience saying that most of the audience represented the 7 other nominees while Oprah represented ‘American Sniper’ because ‘she’s rich’. Now part of me does think that the joke was actually kind of funny. I mean I did get what he was getting across in terms of the box-office performance of the Best Picture nominees. But overall I list this moment as ‘in the middle’ because it really needed to be handled better in terms of delivery because as is, NPH made it sound like Oprah was actually the titular ‘American Sniper’ when of course she wasn’t and her confused reaction to that line sums up the awkwardness of the moment.

WORST: The ‘Predictions’ Running Gag

With the only exception being the time that NPH asked Robert Duvall to make sure that Octavia Spencer was keeping an eye on the box (and then asking Eddie Redmayne to occasionally check on Robert Duvall to make sure that he was awake), this bit shouldn’t have repeated as often as it did. If only Brad Pitt could come out and ask NPH ‘WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!’

BEST: Great Speeches

There were quite a lot of great speeches from this year’s winners. There’s Eddie Redmayne’s utter of ‘wow’ in his speech, Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality, and J.K. Simmons telling us all to call our folks, just to name a few.

BEST: ‘Everything is Awesome’

While I wouldn’t say it’s the absolute ‘best’ performance of the night, the performance of the catchy-as-hell song ‘Everything is Awesome’ from ‘The LEGO Movie’ was definitely a highlight, especially considering the controversy surrounding the film’s snub for Best Animated Film. It started off with a cool little LEGO opening before returning to the actual performance, which included performers giving out LEGO Oscar statues and even a performance of Batman’s song from the film performed by ‘Batman’ himself, Will Arnett.

BEST: Some Winners beat the ‘wrap it up’ music

I remember back in 2013 when the orchestra performed the ‘Jaws’ theme whenever they did the thing where they ‘told’ the award winners to ‘wrap up’ their speeches. So it was pretty neat to see some of the winners, first Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski and then The Phone Call directors Matt Kirby and James Lucas, boldly refusing to let the music stop them.

BEST: Performance of ‘Glory’ and Best Original Song Win

But really, you cannot deny that the best performance of the night came from John Legend and Common’s performance of the powerful and emotionally rousing song ‘Glory’ from Selma. I got chills watching that performance, which got a well-earned standing ovation at the end from the audience. And of course, it ended up winning the Oscar for Best Song, another well-deserved victory. And finally to top it all off, John Legend had one of the best figurative ‘drop the mic’ moments of all time when he referred to some unfortunate truths about the current racial issues in America. ‘Selma’ may not have won Best Picture, but it arguably was responsible for the best Oscar moment of the night.

In Memoriam

As usual, the ‘In Memoriam’ part of the show was well handled from the memorial video to Jennifer Hudson’s performance of ‘I Can’t Let Go’. I must say that this year really did suck in terms of all of the great people of film we lost this year, from Robin Williams (admit it, you got a little teary-eyed when his name popped up) to no more than 3 former Bond villains. And yes, I’m aware of the omissions that usually come with every year’s event, most notably Joan Rivers this year.

IN THE MIDDLE: Idina Menzel/John Travolta

There was both good and bad things about this callback to last year’s ‘Adele Dazeem’ incident. On the bright side, Idina Menzel stuck it to John Travolta by pulling her own (this time intentional) name flub when she introduced him as ‘Glam Gazingo’, which Travolta responded to by saying ‘he deserved it’. But despite that, and Travolta managing to get her name right this time, this moment was then ruined by Travolta acting really creepy by lovingly ‘embracing’ her. What could’ve been a moment of redemption for Travolta ended up backfiring resulting in another awkward Oscar moment; at least the Adele Dazeem bit was just a flub and not… creepy.

IN THE MIDDLE: Lady Gaga performs ‘The Sound of Music’

Performance-wise, I have nothing bad to say about Lady Gaga’s performance of the music from ‘The Sound of Music’. Gaga definitely did a phenomenal job and to top it all off, the original Maria herself Julie Andrews came out at the end to congratulate her. Definitely a memorable moment, as NPH himself predicted beforehand. The only problem really was that this was near the end of the show. We all know the Oscars tend to be rather long so at this point I think it’s safe to say that we were all just wanting the show to be over. Again, nothing wrong with the performance but I think it would’ve been better to have this done earlier.

So that’s it for now in regards to the Oscars. I’d like to thank all of you who were following my live-tweeting of the show on Twitter and of course I’ll be back next year to do it all again.