Sunday, January 18, 2015

American Sniper (2014) review

Chris Kyle is wearing desert fatigues army outfit, his wife Taya embraces him. They are standing in front of a tattered US flag.

I must say, 2014 has been a banner year for the biopic genre as this past year has given us some truly fantastic films that have shed the light on some fascinating true stories. In ‘The Theory of Everything’, we saw the touching romance between Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde who stood by each other through thick and thin. In ‘The Imitation Game’, we learned of the tragic fall from grace of Alan Turing despite his significant contributions to computing. And in ‘Selma’, we viewed the emotionally powerful tale of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. And now yet another excellent addition to 2014’s group of biopics comes in the form of  ‘American Sniper’, the second film of the year from director Clint Eastwood after last summer’s ‘Jersey Boys’ (which was also technically a ‘biopic’ but a primarily dramatized one that was based on the Broadway musical of the same name). This film is the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who became known as ‘The Legend’ having been credited with more than 160 kills, making him the deadliest marksman in the history of the U.S. Military. This film explores both Kyle’s career with the military while also his struggles to deal with life away from war while he’s back home with his family. Featuring superb performances from its two leads and excellent direction from Eastwood, ‘American Sniper’ is easily one of the best films of 2014 as it explores the life of this fascinating soldier who always served his country up until the very end (Kyle was tragically killed in February 2013).

Raised up in Texas on the moral code of ‘always being a sheepdog and protecting others’ by his father, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), after initially working as a rodeo cowboy, enlists into the U.S. Navy’s SEAL program following the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. After marrying Taya (Sienna Miller), who he meets at a bar while he is in training, Chris is quickly deployed to Iraq following the 9/11 attacks and immediately makes a name for himself as a master sniper as he makes numerous kills to the point where his fellow soldiers give him the nickname of ‘The Legend’. On the battlefield, Chris and his fellow SEALs seek to take down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a key commander of Al-Qaeda. But at the same time, the film also explores Kyle’s struggles to return back to his normal life whenever he returns home from a tour of duty. Despite all of his efforts to be both a loving husband to Taya and father to their two kids, Chris finds that he is unable to leave the war behind and as a result, he starts to become somewhat detached from his family as he ends up going through four tours of duty in Iraq despite Taya’s pleads for him to stay with their family due to him being away from them for so long.

I’m guessing that, because this film is titled ‘American Sniper’, some will be heading into this film thinking that it’s just going to be an action film centered on a badass sniper. And while it’s true that Kyle’s achievements as a sniper are undeniably fascinating (including a kill from over 2,100 yards away, which isn’t shown in the film for the record, though a similar long distance kill is shown), that’s not what this movie is all about. It’s more about Kyle as a person and with that said, he is a truly fascinating figure. He’s definitely likable as shown from how we see him when he’s with his family and when he’s bonding with his fellow soldiers. There are definitely times where, back home from war, he displays signs of PTSD like many other soldiers would due to all they went through during the war. The most interesting aspect of Kyle, however, is how patriotic he is. It is this patriotism that compels him to go on four tours despite the fact that he was spending more and more time away from his family. Whenever a terrible act is committed against America, he’s shown to be extremely pissed off about it (after all, it was an act of terrorism that got him into the military in the first place) and it’s also shown that he shows quite a lot of regret whenever one of his fellow soldiers is killed in battle. That’s ultimately why he kept going back into war because he wanted to help keep his fellow soldiers alive and overall the film does a great job at exploring all of these elements of Kyle’s life. And while I did say that the film does focus more on Kyle’s character than the action, the action sequences in the film are really good, especially the epic finale that takes place in the middle of a sandstorm.

Bradley Cooper easily gives not only one of the best performances of this past year (more than deserving of his recent Oscar nomination for Best Actor), but also arguably the best performance of his entire career to date as Chris Kyle. He bulked up to the point where he was quite unrecognizable in order for him to play the role and he does a perfect job in capturing Kyle’s patriotism, his composure in battle, and his emotional turmoil back home. But equally great here is Sienna Miller as Taya in what is also arguably her best performance to date. While the film does focus more on Chris than her, we do see how much of an impact that this war and Chris’ involvement in it is having on her. Obviously she must have been constantly worried about Chris while he was out on tour and was dreading the possibility of being told that he died in combat. And while he may not have died while away on tour, I’m certain that we’d all be going through what she went through if we were in her situation. Scenes like the ones where she loses contact with Chris when he suddenly gets into a firefight and when she pleads with him not to go out on a fourth tour of duty are extremely heartbreaking and just like how Cooper does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of Chris Kyle, Miller too does a fantastic job at conveying Taya’s emotions and the turmoil that she went through while waiting for Chris to come home. Plus, Cooper and Miller have exceptional romantic chemistry which makes Chris and Taya’s relationship all the more compelling.

I was immediately hooked by ‘American Sniper’ and was fully engaged from beginning to end as we got to explore the fascinating life of Chris Kyle as he went through four tours of duty becoming the most deadly marksman in U.S. Military history. Obviously his accomplishments in battle are impressive enough but then you also factor in how hard it must have been like for him to not be helping his fellow soldiers whenever he’s back home, showing that war will leave a major impact on you up until the very end. Not only that, but the film does a great job at showing how much this is affecting not just Chris, but also his wife Taya as we see her struggling to deal with having Chris being away for so long and in constant danger. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller do absolutely fantastic jobs as Chris and Taya Kyle, respectively, and the direction from Clint Eastwood is both focused and 100% respectful of Chris Kyle’s life story. This is easily Eastwood’s best film in recent years as a director as he shows that he is still a force to be reckoned with as a director even though he’s now 84 years old. In short, ‘American Sniper’ is both one of the best biopics of 2014 (a year that has seen plenty other great biopics as well) and one of the best films of 2014 as it does true justice to its main subject.

R.I.P. Chris Kyle: 1974-2013: I dedicate my review to him, ‘The Legend’


Rating: 5/5!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ant-Man: Get over Edgar Wright + Trailer Review


During the premiere of Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’ a few weeks ago, the first trailer debuted for Marvel Studios’ upcoming finale to Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘Ant-Man’, a film that’s had a fairly rough production primarily because of a crucial moment that happened during pre-production where its original director left the project. And because this director is so popular with a lot of people given his resume, pretty much almost everyone is now incredibly doubtful about this film. The Marvel character Ant-Man may not be the most popular comic book superhero in the world but a lot of people were very excited about the character’s film adaptation when it was first announced because it was going to be directed by Edgar Wright, the same man who brought us the modern comedy classics that form The Cornetto Trilogy; ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Hot Fuzz’, and ‘The World’s End’. But, as we all know, everything changed in May of last year when Wright suddenly left the project due to creative differences with Marvel over the screenplay. I tell you, folks, in all my years as a film fan, I have never seen a more drastic change in opinion towards a film than from what I saw from the aftermath of Wright’s departure with almost everyone now predicting that the film was going to be a major disappointment. Even now after the release of the first trailer for the film, there are still some people who are still mad about the whole Wright situation and I’m sorry, I hate to be rude here but people… GET THE F*** OVER IT ALREADY!!!! Seriously!


Yes, it sucks that Edgar Wright is no longer working on the film and it’s even sadder given the fact that he worked on this project for years (as far back as the early days of the MCU before the first ‘Iron Man’ film was even released) only to back out at the last minute because Marvel rewrote the screenplay behind his back. I’m certain that his take on the film would’ve been amazing because he is a great director as proven by the Cornetto Trilogy. But really, the whole idea of a director having an unrealized project has happened a lot in Hollywood over the years. The same can be said for Stanley Kubrick’s planned Napoleon film or Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote film (and yes I’m aware that that film is apparently back in production; I’m just highlighting the fact that Gilliam has had a hard time getting it made). And from what I can tell, the main reason why Marvel had to do rewrites is because Wright’s version of the story wouldn’t have gelled well with the official timeline of the MCU and if you ask me, it’s arguably extremely beneficial for the film as a whole because it keeps continuity in order. And besides, it’s not like Wright’s career is going to fade now because he left the film. He’s got that action crime comedy ‘Baby Driver’ in the works so he’s fine and if you ask me, it’s probably better for him to do a movie of his own where he has full creative control over it rather than working on a Marvel movie where he wouldn’t have as much control and while some may argue that this is always the case with the MCU films, ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ have proven that this isn’t always the case.


Also, can we stop giving Peyton Reed, Wright’s replacement for the film, such a bad rep about this whole situation? I’m serious, the poor guy has quite the shoes to fill when it comes to taking over this film and yet we’re still giving him s*** about it just because his film resume isn’t as renowned as Wright’s. No, I’m not saying that he’s as good as a director as Wright but you know what? The same could be said for the Russo brothers and James Gunn before they did their own Marvel films, and of course, look how they turned out. Ultimately, at this point, why are we even doubting Marvel Studios given all that they’ve done these past few years? This is the studio that made a superhero cinematic universe actually work. They managed to take characters like Thor and Iron Man that weren’t as popular as characters like Spider-Man or the X-Men and do them justice on the big screen to the point where they don’t even need those other characters to make great films. They made a movie where we cared a lot about a frigging raccoon and a tree creature. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; after seeing ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, I now have complete faith in Marvel Studios and whatever they do from now on because they’ve managed to prove their critics wrong time and time again. And while I’m not saying that ‘Ant-Man’ is probably going to be the absolute best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m confident that it will at least be better than what the cynics are putting it out to be.


Now that I got my necessary rant out of the way, let’s move onto the trailer itself. Now I’m not saying it’s an absolutely ‘perfect’ trailer but from what has been shown so far, it does look promising. One of the biggest things that I like about the trailer is that it shows that this film is doing something that we really haven’t seen from either the MCU or any major superhero film for that matter and that is exploring the concept of a superhero film primarily focusing on a superhero father. In this film, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a petty criminal who we see has a kid and, according to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), he now has the chance to prove that he’s the hero that his daughter already thinks he is. I really like this plot point as I feel that it’ll add some heart to the story a la ‘Guardians’. Sure, there might not be a lot of humor in the trailer (save for the excellent closing line where Scott asks ‘if it’s too late to change the name’), which I know many were expecting given Rudd’s background in comedy and the fact that the screenplay was co-written by Rudd’s ‘Anchorman’ director Adam McKay, but I’m certain that we’ll see more of the humor in future marketing. Marvel’s already had some fun with the marketing for this movie, including the first poster where Ant-Man is so tiny you can barely see him as well as an ‘ant-sized’ trailer teaser and I don’t ‘ant-sized’ in the fact that it’s a short teaser; I mean literally it’s a super tiny trailer that thankfully got a full-sized version the following day… though seriously, Hollywood, enough of these teasers for the trailer, okay? Anyway…


So in short, I’m still supportive of ‘Ant-Man’ even after all that has happened during its production and I feel that it’s about damn time that everyone stop giving the movie crap just because Edgar Wright’s no longer working on it. Again, it sucks but it’s clear that everyone’s moved on from it. Wright’s moved on and is developing a new film of his own while Marvel has also clearly moved on from the whole Wright controversy as the film has now been shot and is now being prepped for its July 15th release this year. Could it end up being the studio’s first critical failure (I’m 100% positive it won’t be a commercial failure given the success that Marvel Studios has had)? I’m not going to lie, it could still end up getting a mixed reaction from both critics and audiences. But at this point, it’s unfair and, if you ask me, incredibly biased to still be miffed at Marvel for this whole controversy surrounding Wright’s departure. The film isn’t even out yet so I suggest you all stop worrying about it and just wait and see how the final product turns out. And as someone who is highly supportive of Marvel Studios given all of the great films that they have made, I’m super excited to see this film, and for those who still can’t get over it, all I got to say is…



Don’t look at me, you made me do it!

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014) review


I’ll admit that overall I’ve been a fairly big fan of the ‘Night at the Museum’ movies, consisting of both the original 2006 film ‘Night at the Museum’, which was actually based off of a children’s book of the same name by Milan Trenc, and its 2009 sequel, ‘Battle of the Smithsonian’. Do I think that they’re perfect films? No not really, but at the same time I don’t think that they’re ‘that bad’ as some have probably put them out to be given these films’ mixed critical reception. That’s because at their heart they’re just fun light-hearted comedy-adventure films that the whole family can enjoy. Really, I just love the overall premise of this series in which museum exhibits come to life and both films are full of fun and colorful visuals and likable lead characters. And that is once again true when talking about the final film in this trilogy, ‘Secret of the Tomb’, once again directed by Shawn Levy serving as his second film of this past year following the more adult comedy ‘This is Where I Leave You’ back in September (which I also liked). Like the two films that came before it, ‘Secret of the Tomb’ may not be the most smartly written or well-made film out there but it’s still loads of fun with a lighthearted atmosphere, likable characters portrayed by a excellent ensemble cast, and zany visuals. And ultimately, this film does a great job at sending this series off on a high note.

For those who are unfamiliar with the franchise, it centers on Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), an average Joe from New York who, desperately looking for a job, is hired as the night guard at the Museum of Natural History. But on his first night on the job, he immediately learns the fascinating secret behind the museum in that due to the magical powers of an ancient Egyptian artifact, the tablet of pharaoh Akhmenrah (Rami Malek), all of the exhibits within the museum come to life at night and that he must keep everything in order because if one of the exhibits is outside when the sun comes up, they turn to dust. However, in this film, Larry learns that the power of the tablet has begun to fade, which has also resulted in the exhibits beginning to behave erratically. He learns from his old nemesis Cecil Fredericks (Dick Van Dyke), who had tried to steal the tablet in the first film, that this is due to the fact that, as a young boy in 1938, he, his father, and a group of archaeologists took the tablet from its original resting place and that as a result, the locals warned them that ‘the end will come’, which Larry realizes is referring to the magic of the tablet. Not wanting his friends to go back to their original state as lifeless museum displays, Larry and a bunch of the other exhibits, including President Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and miniature cowboy and Roman Soldier Jedediah and Octavius (Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, respectively) travel to London with the tablet in order to find Akhmenrah’s parents, who are located in the British Museum, to try and get them to help restore the tablet’s power before it’s too late.

As I noted before, this film may not necessarily be the most well-written or funniest film ever made but to its credit, it’s not trying to be something that it isn’t. It knows exactly what it is; a fun little family film that offers viewers a light-hearted adventure full of wacky visuals that really capitalize on this series’ entertaining premise. The idea of museum exhibits coming to life offers quite a lot of potential when it comes to visuals and these films have definitely delivered on that regard. Not only that, but each film has also taken the premise one step further with some of the things that happen in them, like in these last two films the characters learn that they can enter paintings, with this film in particular featuring a really cool sequence that takes place in a M.C. Escher painting. The film doesn’t try and take things too seriously and as a result, allows you to be swept into the adventure with these characters. And as the final film in this trilogy, I feel that this film ends the story on a solid note and I have to admit that I even got a little emotional at the end of this film in regards to how it all comes to a close. Now I won’t spoil what happens but I assure you that you’ll probably get a little emotional over the ending as well, especially if you’re a fan of this franchise like me having been following these characters since the very beginning.

One of the biggest strengths of these movies has been Ben Stiller in the lead role of Larry Daley. He does a great job at making Larry such a likable lead character; he’s an everyman who has ended up in some amazing situations but through it all he maintains a relatable/down-to-earth personality. In this film, Stiller also plays another character, a caveman named Laa who was made in Larry’s image as a joke who believes that Larry is his ‘father’ and this results in some hilarious bits of banter between the two. All in all, the ensemble cast is as solid as they’ve been in the last two films while also adding in some notable new additions as well, with Dan Stevens from ‘Downtown Abbey’ in particular really standing out in the role of Sir Lancelot. Their great camaraderie with each other also helps make the ending as emotional as I noted earlier, especially in the final scene between Larry and Teddy, this being the final on-screen appearance of Robin Williams following his tragic death last August. I’ve heard some people express some disappointment that this had to be his last major on-screen performance but I assure you that this film is a fitting send-off to the comedic great, perhaps best exemplified by his final line (‘Smile, my boy… it’s sunrise’). Seriously, I dare you not to cry during this scene.

All in all, ‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’ is a fun adventure that may not be the absolute best film in its genre but still manages to be extremely entertaining thanks to the things that made the series so great in the first place. Zany visuals that have gotten more elaborate with each new film, a light-hearted atmosphere that engrosses you into the adventure without trying to take things seriously, which isn’t really possible in a film like this given its fantastical premise, and featuring a great ensemble cast portraying a group of incredibly likable characters. And seriously, at the end of this, it will be hard not to get emotional over how it all comes to an end, especially in regards to how this film properly sends off the late Robin Williams in his final on-screen role. I love this trilogy and while I do need to see this film again to see if it ends up being the best of the three, one thing’s for certain and that is that families will no doubt have loads of fun with this film and quite frankly this is one of the best ‘third films’ of any franchise which may not exactly be saying a lot given the usual quality of ‘threequels’ but in this case I say it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. And on that note, it’s good that this is the final film of this series and in short, it ended at the right place and time.


Rating: 4/5

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Selma (2014) review


(Disclaimer: The bulk of this review was written before today’s Oscar nominations were announced. Due to the controversy surrounding the snubs of actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay, I have made a professional decision to not reference this in the following review.)

Martin Luther King Jr. will always be remembered as one of the leading forces behind the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s. While some like Malcolm X believed that violence was the answer to the many problems that African-Americans faced during this time, King, a Baptist minister, was not like that at all as he promoted peace through nonviolence and even though his life was tragically cut short in 1968 at the age of 39, his legacy will always stay strong due to the great impact that he had on the world and today we now honor him with his own national holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. One of the most notable things that he did during the Civil Rights Movement was to help organize a series of marches made from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama in March of 1965, more than one and a half years after King also organized the March on Washington where he delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, in protest against the segregationist repression of African-Americans exercising their right to vote. These marches are the focus of ‘Selma’, directed by Ava DuVernay, which is notably the first major biopic based on Dr. King’s life. ‘Selma’ is an excellent film due to its extremely powerful story of inspiration as told from the perspective of one of the most iconic figures in American history, portrayed superbly in this film by David Oyelowo.

This film doesn’t shy away from showcasing a lot of the terrible things that African-Americans went through during this time, from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham (which is one of the very first things that happens in this movie) to what has become known as ‘Bloody Sunday’, the first of the Selma marches where Alabama State Troopers attacked 600 marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. DuVernay does a fantastic job at both capturing these hardships and for also showing the emotional strength that King and his supporters had as well and their determination to set things right. In other words, this film benefits from strong direction and a clear focus. And even though the events of this film happened more than half a century ago, recent events like Ferguson show that although racism and prejudice aren’t really as prevalent as they were back then, that doesn’t mean that either of them have completely gone away. I’m going to quote a statement made by YouTube movie critic Michael from Belated Media as I feel that it perfectly notes why this movie is so important in today’s society as it shows both how far we have come since the time of King but also how much further we are from fully embodying the ideals that King himself promoted.

Leading the charge is David Oyelowo’s fantastic performance as Martin Luther King Jr. First of all, he absolutely looks the part but at the same time he also captures the poise, emotional strength, and conviction that King had as well. And it’s not like the film tries to over-glorify him or anything. At the end of the day, King was just a man who had his own problems to deal with. Like in this movie, for example, we see how all of this is impacting King’s family, especially his wife Coretta (played excellently by Carmen Ejogo). And when some of his people end up being killed as a result of the continued prejudice/racism against them, we really do see how much this effects King personally, especially in the scene where he consoles the grandfather of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was killed during a voting rights march. Oyelowo also shines in the one-on-one scenes between him and President Lyndon B. Johnson. While I’m aware that this film may not have entirely been historically accurate in portraying Johnston’s stance on the whole situation, Tom Wilkinson is still superb in the role. In short, the whole cast is superb, from Tim Roth to Oprah Winfrey, and because of this, ‘Selma’ is easily one of the best films of 2014 as it really will hit you on an emotional level showcasing some of the darker parts of our history while also highlighting the strength of the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr and how we can all still stand strong against the prejudice and racism that unfortunately is still around today.


Rating: 5/5!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Muppets (1979-2014): Film Series Retrospective


So because there’s usually not a lot noteworthy films coming out this month, I decided to do a little film series retrospective for this blog instead; the subject of this retrospective, you ask? Why none other than everyone’s favorite group of performing puppets originally created by Jim Henson, The Muppets (YAAAYYYYY!!!!). Really, what more can be said about the Muppets? In my opinion, this is one of the best family-friendly franchises period and the fact that it’s been around since the 50’s shows just how grand and long-lasting of an appeal it has. Now I’ll admit that I’ve never watched ‘The Muppet Show’ as I wasn’t even born yet when it first aired on TV. Though I do remember watching one of the franchise’s spin-off series, ‘Muppet Babies’, when I was very, very young (like two or three). I’ll admit that before doing this, I’ve only seen each of the pre-2011 movies once or twice when I was younger. Really when I was a kid my familiarity with the franchise mostly stemmed from both the 3-D show ‘Muppet Vision 3-D’ at Disney parks and this old PS1 game ‘Muppet RaceMania’ that I remember being one of the very first video games that I’ve ever played. But today, I’ll be looking at all 8 of the theatrical Muppets films (I’m not counting any direct-to-video or made-for-TV specials here) that have been released since 1979. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen most of these movies (not counting the two most recent Muppets films) so I’m interested to see what I think about them now. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the theatrical Muppet films.

THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979)


For their first official movie, which was made between the third and fourth seasons of ‘The Muppet Show’, The Muppets went with something along the lines of a ‘biopic’ and it is presented as such in the style of a ‘movie-within-a-movie’ as it opens with the Muppets preparing to watch it. ‘The Muppet Movie’ revolves around Kermit and his initial journey to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming famous and, more importantly, making millions of people happy. Along the way, he comes across a bunch of characters who not only end up becoming some of his closest friends but also join him on his trip to Hollywood, including comedian Fozzie Bear, the Great Gonzo, and the woman who ended up becoming the love of Kermit’s life, Miss Piggy. ‘The Muppet Movie’ is a road trip movie and a very pleasant one at that. Really, what else do I need to say about it? It’s a road trip movie with the Muppets. It’s a pleasantly light-hearted film from beginning to end that is full of zany self-referential humor, a whole bunch of cameos from the likes of Dom DeLuise, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, and even Orson Welles, and many memorable musical numbers from the iconic ‘Rainbow Connection’ to the incredibly catchy and upbeat ‘Movin’ Right Along’. It’s just a very well-made film with excellent puppetry by Jim Henson and his team and strong writing that is full of both humor and charm. Bottom line; this is easily one of the best films of the entire franchise and one that the whole family can enjoy.

Rating: 5/5!

THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER (1981)


Here’s an interesting fact; ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ is the only Muppet film to ever be directed by the series’ creator, Jim Henson, who would later go on to direct cult classic films like ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘The Dark Crystal’. As for ‘The Great Muppet Caper’, it elects for a much zanier mystery-themed plotline compared to the more relaxed road trip story of the first film as Kermit and friends head to London to investigate into the crime of a bunch of thieves stealing the precious jewels of prominent fashion designer Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg). This movie also has far more self-referential humor than ‘The Muppet Movie’, with multiple ‘breaking the fourth wall’ jokes. This includes the opening credits sequence where Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo watch the opening credits while on a hot air balloon to certain lines of dialogue, from one character admitting that she’s mainly relaying exposition to Miss Piggy noting that one of the main characters had their voice dubbed for a musical number. This is by far one of the funniest entries in the entire film franchise, if not the funniest. True the plot may be a little over-complicated at times but then again it does make sense considering that this is a sequel, where every single aspect of the film is grander than the first film. And of course, the film itself still maintains the lighthearted mood and the right amount of charm that one would no doubt expect from this franchise. This may be the only ‘Muppets’ film that Jim Henson ever directed, but in the end it’s another one of the series’ best.

Rating: 4.5/5

THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN (1984)


This time, franchise regular Frank Oz (who was the puppeteer for multiple Muppet characters, most notably Miss Piggy and Fozzie, and of course many of you will recognize as the puppeteer and voice of Yoda in the ‘Star Wars’ films) was behind the camera for this film, the third in the series, ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’, in which Kermit and the gang head to New York to try and get their musical on Broadway. Unlike the previous two films, this entry doesn’t break the fourth wall at any point so there isn’t any instance in the film where the Muppets reference the fact that they’re in a movie… and unfortunately I think that’s one of the reasons why this film isn’t really as good as the last two films. Now for the record, I’m not saying that this is a bad movie. It’s a Muppet movie; it still has the charm and zaniness that you can expect from the franchise as well as all of your favorite characters and a bunch of solid musical numbers. There’s the excellent opening number ‘Together Again’, the undeniably cute ‘I’m Gonna Always Love You’ (which was notably the very first appearance of the Muppet Babies), and the actually fairly depressing ‘Saying Goodbye’ (seriously, I dare you not to get a little emotional over this song; it’s easily the saddest Muppet song ever). But I think that there are a few problems with this movie, namely in its writing.

Like I said, this one doesn’t break the fourth wall like the last two films so it instead goes for a much more traditional narrative and as such, I feel that the movie kind of loses quite a bit of the edge that the previous two films had and at times the film can be just a little bit predictable. The film admittedly also kind of drags at some points, and a key plot point near the end where Kermit is stricken with amnesia after getting hit by a car feels a little tacked on for the purpose of padding out the story. Now again let me be clear, I don’t ‘hate’ this movie, far from it in fact. I especially say this being aware that a lot of people are no doubt nostalgic towards this movie most likely because they were kids around the time this film came out. So if you like this movie more than I do, the more power to you. I just feel that this one is kind of a step down in terms of quality from the last two films. It’s still a pretty solid film on many accounts. It’s just that the writing isn’t really as up to snuff as the first two films, namely because the film doesn’t utilize the series’ trademark self-referential humor as it instead opts for a far more standard and in some cases rather predictable narrative. Again, I don’t think ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’ is a bad film and it’s one that I’m certain both kids and adults will love. It’s just that this one kind of has a much more ‘kid-friendly’ vibe compared to the last two films which were equally appealing to both kids and adults.

Rating: 3.5/5

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992)


Because I already talked about this movie a few weeks ago in my ‘Top 10 Christmas Movies’ post, I won’t go into too much detail again here seeing how I already did back in that post. Needless to say, ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ is an excellent adaptation of the classic story ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. Even with the addition of the Muppets, who obviously bring a more light-hearted feel to this sometimes fairly dark story, the film still captures the spirit, atmosphere, and emotions of the story incredibly well. The Muppets are perfectly cast in the famous roles of the story, including Kermit in the role Bob Cratchit and having Gonzo and Rizzo be the narrators, with Gonzo being Dickens himself. Michael Caine is also fantastic in the role of Scrooge, perfectly capturing both the initial viciousness of the character and his eventual redemption as a human being. My only real complaint about the film isn’t due to anything in the film itself, but instead the decision to cut a key song, ‘When Love is Gone’, sung by Belle in the scene where she leaves Scrooge’s life for good. The studio wanted it cut because they felt it would be ‘too sad’ but hey if ‘Muppets Take Manhattan’ can have that damn ‘Saying Goodbye’ song then I think kids can handle this one. Also, the song is really good and unfortunately because it was cut, it then results in a jarring edit as the shots before and after the song is supposed to play don’t match up very well. Still, ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ is a very charming take on this iconic story that has already been adapted to film numerous times. It may not be the most absolutely perfect take on the story, but really I do not mind that at all.

Rating: 5/5

MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (1996)


For the second film in a row, ‘Muppet Treasure Island’ also took inspiration from a classic novel; in this case, ‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. And I must say… this is easily the most underrated out of all of the Muppets films as I find that this one isn’t necessarily as liked as much as some of the other films. I mean, sure, I can’t really say it’s the absolute best in the series in terms of its writing, as the Muppets do sort of get pushed aside in favor of the human characters at times and this is definitely one of those cases of a 90’s film that has many pop cultural references to the point where you’ll either love them or hate them. Still, this film really benefits from its strong atmosphere and just an overall sense of fun and adventure that comes from the fact that it’s a pirate adventure. Plus, it’s still the Muppets so you’re still going to get their trademark charm and humor no matter what the scenario. And of course, you’ve got what is arguably the best element of the entire film; Tim Curry, in the role of Long John Silver. Whereas Michael Caine as Scrooge was more serious in execution given the story, Curry is obviously much more over the top and zany and here it just works perfectly, with Curry stealing the spotlight whenever he’s on screen. Bottom line, I’m not saying that ‘Muppet Treasure Island’ is the absolute best film in the series but I think it’s better than what some put it out to be. It’s just a fun lighthearted and very entertaining take on the classic novel ‘Treasure Island’ and as such I feel that it deserves a little more attention than what it has gotten.

Rating: 4/5

MUPPETS FROM SPACE (1999)


The last major Muppets film before the 2011 reboot, ‘Muppets From Space’ is generally considered by many to be the weakest of all of the Muppets films… and I’m not going to lie, I do agree with that notion. But with that said, I don’t think it’s necessarily ‘as bad’ as some say it is. Quite frankly, I don’t think that any of these Muppets films, even some of the weaker ones, are technically ‘bad’ as they’re all fun to watch even if some aren’t really as good as others. Ultimately in the case of ‘From Space’, it’s similar to ‘Muppets Take Manhattan’ in that it doesn’t do much in terms of satire (and from what I hear, that’s actually what a lot of people thought this movie was going to be) and that it takes things a bit too seriously in terms of its plot. It’s also the only Muppets film to not be a musical and it mainly focuses on Gonzo instead of Kermit, as this film revolves around Gonzo, who for years was referred to as a ‘whatever’, finally learning that he’s from outer space. I know a lot of Muppet fans weren’t too happy about this plot due to the fact that the whole point of Gonzo’s character was the fact that no one knew exactly what he was but I’m not really that bothered by it because A.) Gonzo’s one of my favorite Muppets and B.) I actually think it’s an interesting concept… but it would’ve benefitted much better from having the satirical writing that the Muppets were known for and as I said before, this film doesn’t really have that. Now, it’s not all bad, as the film does have some funny moments from time to time and again, it’s the Muppets so you know you’re in for a fun little film. But overall, this is a Muppets film that’s primarily for kids. Adults are less than likely to find much here for them, unlike some of the previous movies. Even so, I can’t really hate this movie that much even if it is easily the weakest Muppets film to date.

Rating: 3/5 (just keep in mind that this is mostly from a kid’s perspective)

THE MUPPETS (2011)


After more than a decade away from film following the less than stellar reaction towards ‘Muppets from Space’, The Muppets finally returned to the big screen in 2011’s aptly titled ‘The Muppets’, which was co-written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. This film centers on the Muppet-like character Walter, who along with his brother Gary (Segel) has been a big fan of the Muppets ever since they were young. One day, the two of them, along with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), travel to Los Angeles for Gary and Mary’s tenth anniversary while Walter gets a chance to tour Muppet Studios. But, when they get there, they discover that the studio has been out of business for quite some time and that it is about to be sold to a rich oil industrialist named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) who plans to have it demolished. Not wanting it to be destroyed, the trio set out to reunite all of the Muppets so that they can put on a big telethon at their old theater in order to raise enough money to buy back the whole property from Richman. However, they find that it’s going to be very hard to do that given the fact that the Muppets haven’t worked together in quite some time and they also have to deal with the fact that they’re not as popular as they once were.

Now despite the fact that this film received rave reviews from critics when it was first released, I find that a lot of audiences weren’t actually as big on it as the critics were. From what I can tell, the big reason for this was because many felt that the Muppets were being downplayed in their own film while the new Muppet Walter and the two human leads Gary and Mary were focused on more. Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t, but there’s a different reason why I think this is one of the best Muppets movies period. It’s because this film wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s clear that this film was intended to be a love letter from Segel and Stoller to the franchise and it really shows focusing on their legacy and charm while also managing to make this franchise relevant again after so many years. Even if they arguably do get more attention than the Muppets, I think Segel and Adams both do a good job and Chris Cooper is an absolute scene-stealer in the role of Tex Richman, from his repeated saying of ‘Maniacal Laugh’ whenever his character is supposed to, of course, laugh manically to his completely out of nowhere rap number. The direction from James Bobin, in his feature length directorial debut, is solid and the musical numbers are excellent, especially the one that won an Oscar, ‘Man or Muppet’. Bottom line, ‘The Muppets’ is a welcome return for one of the best family franchises of all time with the heart and charm that have defined this franchise from the very beginning.

Rating: 5/5!

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014)


For my original review of ‘Muppets Most Wanted’, click the link provided here:


Doug Walker (AKA The Nostalgia Critic) made a very good point about these last two Muppets films in that they have a lot in common with the first two Muppets films in regards to how they’re executed. Whereas ‘The Muppets’ and ‘The Muppet Movie’ were primarily focused on their heartwarming storylines, ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ and ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ place more emphasis on the humor. And because ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ is more focused on the humor than the first film, I’m finding that many do prefer ‘Most Wanted’ over ‘The Muppets’. However, I’m the other way around. Now for the record, I’m not saying that ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ is a bad film, far from it in fact. It’s yet another charming entry in this series and it has the right amount of zany humor and cameos galore that you would expect from a Muppets movie. However, I feel that this film kind of lacks a bit of the heart that the first film had. I’m not saying it isn’t there in this movie but not really as much as the first film, which of course was mainly due to the fact that it was an open love letter to the franchise.

I guess you can say my favorite Muppet films are the ones that have a lot of heart and I feel that for the most part, ‘Most Wanted’ just goes through the basic beats of your typical sequel. It’s not that there’s really anything wrong with that, per se, but I would’ve liked if this film had a little more heart to it in terms of its story. Still, the direction from James Bobin is solid once again as are the musical numbers. It’s also clear that the human members of the cast are clearly having a lot of fun in their respective roles, including Tina Fey as the main guard of the prison that Kermit winds up in when he’s mistaken for the infamous criminal Constantine (who’s a really fun villain), Ricky Gervais as Constantine’s accomplice (who’s frequently remind of that fact (“my name first, then spacebar, spacebar, spacebar… your name”)), and Ty Burrell, who is probably the biggest standout of the three leads thanks to his camaraderie with Sam the Eagle (especially in the scene where they’re comparing their badges). All in all, ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ is a genuinely good movie that the whole family can enjoy. But as for me, I would’ve liked it to be on par with the first movie in terms of its heart. I know that some like these movies to be really funny and I’m guessing that because this focuses more on the Muppets than the last film did that’s probably why many prefer this one over that one but in the end I still prefer ‘The Muppets’, though ‘Most Wanted’ is still a very fun entry in this series.

Rating: 4/5

And to close this post off, here’s how I rank all of these films.

8. Muppets From Space

7. Muppets Take Manhattan

6. Muppet Treasure Island

5. Muppets Most Wanted

4. The Great Muppet Caper

3. The Muppet Christmas Carol

2. The Muppet Movie

1. The Muppets

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Unbroken (2014) review


Of course we all know who Angelina Jolie is, from her work in acting to her highly publicized relationship with Brad Pitt. But, according to recent comments that she made, it looks like she might soon be retiring from acting and is planning to switch into directing films instead. She made her official directorial debut back in 2011 with ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’, a romance film set during the Bosnian War. However, that film did not get much attention either critically or commercially. But it’s safe to say that her newest directorial effort, ‘Unbroken’, is no doubt getting much more attention than her directorial debut, given the fact that it’s based on a true story. ‘Unbroken’, based on the book of the same name by Laura Hillenbrand, is the story of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic athlete and member of the Air Forces who was primarily known for his time spent as a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II after spending more than a month lost at sea when the plane he was on crashed into the ocean. It’s been made clear that this project means a lot to Jolie due to the fact that she became good friends with Zamperini, who had been her neighbor for years up until his death this past July. And as such, ‘Unbroken’ is certainly a well-meaning biopic that aims to do its subject justice. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a ‘perfect’ film, and that it can also be very emotionally draining at times, but it’s still a pretty solid biopic highlighting a story of endurance, resiliency, and the strength of the human spirit.

When he was a young boy whose family had just immigrated to the United States from Italy, Louis ‘Louie’ Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) constantly got into trouble with both the law and other kids. One day, when he notices that Louis can run really fast, his brother Pete (Alex Russell) starts training him to be a runner, telling him that otherwise he’d end up ‘a bum on the streets’ the way he was going. Soon, Louis starts to become well-known as an accomplished distance runner and eventually ends up competing in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, where he sets a new speed record for a single lap in the 5000 meter run. Louis then enlists in the Air Forces but while he is on a search and rescue mission one day, his plane ends up crash landing in the middle of the ocean when its engines fail, leaving Louis and two other survivors, Francis ‘Mac’ McNamara (Finn Wittrock) and Russell ‘Phil’ Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson), stranded at sea. After more than 47 days at sea, they are finally rescued… but by Japanese forces, who immediately take them prisoner. Louis ultimately ends up in a prisoner camp in Tokyo run by corporal Mutshiro ‘The Bird’ Watanabe (Miyavi), who constantly targets Louis due to his status as an Olympic athlete. Now facing constant abuse from ‘The Bird’, Louis struggles to survive in the hopes of one day being set free.

‘Unbroken’ is, to put it quite bluntly, a very hard-hitting film in terms of how emotionally draining it can get at times, specifically when Louis is in prison in Tokyo and constantly getting abused by ‘The Bird’. And from what I hear, unlike a lot of biopics that dramatize certain aspects of this story, apparently this film really didn’t ‘BS’ a lot of the facts so a lot of this really happened, which is just crazy. At the same time, this story is truly fascinating in regards to seeing Zamperini endure all of this, from having to spend more than a month at sea to years facing all sorts of hell from ‘The Bird’ in prison. Jolie’s direction is solid and the film benefits from excellent cinematography from the great Roger Deakins and a solid score from Alexandre Desplat. The only major complaint I have about the film is that it kind of skimps over some of the earlier parts of Zamperini’s life, namely his childhood and his time as a runner, in favor of his time lost at sea and as a prisoner of war. Now obviously, all of the war stuff does make up the bulk of the story so it does actually make sense that the film focuses on that more. Still, the scenes of Zamperini’s life before the war are fairly brief and are just flashbacks that occur right at the beginning of the film so it would’ve been nice to see a bit more of Zamperini’s early life because I bet there was some legitimately interesting stuff that happened to him then (Disclaimer: I’ve not read the book).

Obviously the role of Zamperini requires a lot of endurance and emotional strength given all that he had gone through. And with that said, Jack O’Connell more than proves that he was absolutely the perfect choice for the role. While the film probably won’t be getting much awards buzz given its generally mixed critical reception, O’Connell is easily the best part of the film, giving a very strong and emotionally powerful performance while also giving off a very likable and sympathetic persona. That persona is effectively balanced against Japanese pop star Miyavi’s equally excellent turn as ‘The Bird’ who, quite simply, is quite the scumbag and Miyavi does a really good job at capturing how much of an a-hole he really was, making that iconic scene from the trailer where Zamperini lifts a giant piece of wood when ‘The Bird’ threatens to have him shot one of the most satisfying moments of any film from this past year. Because they’re the main character in the story, everyone else, including Wittrock, Gleeson and Garrett Hedlund, the latter of whom plays a fellow prisoner of Zamperini’s, doesn’t have as much to work with but overall the film is well-acted from all involved. The whole sequence with Zamperini, Mac, and Phil on the raft at sea does do a great job of showcasing the fairly strong camaraderie between O’Connell, Wittrock, and Gleeson.

While ‘Unbroken’ is only Angelina Jolie’s second film as a director, she definitely shows that she does have potential in directing as shown in this very well-directed film. True it may be very hard to watch at times given the brutality that Zamperini had to deal with while as a prisoner of war in Japan, but at the same time it’s also a fascinating look into the life of a man who went through hell but managed to get through it all thanks to his resiliency and perseverance. Admittedly, the movie could’ve benefitted from spending a little more time focusing on the earlier parts of Zamperini’s life, namely everything before he joins the Air Forces, but then again the main part of Zamperini’s story does consist of both his time spent lost at sea for 47 days and then his time (just a little over two years) as a prisoner of war in Japan so it actually does make sense for the film to maintain the main focus of the story on those two parts of Zamperini’s life. Regardless, it’s clear that Jolie’s main intentions to do the life story of a good friend of hers justice are no doubt present in how this film is made. It’s a very well-made, well-directed, and well-acted biopic that may be hard hitting at times but will also invoke a sense of spirit in you while watching it.


Rating: 4/5

Monday, January 5, 2015

BEST FILMS OF 2014: TOP 3

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s end-of-the-year Top 12 ‘Favorite Films of 2014’ list. We’ve come to the final part of this 4-part special and today I’m listing my Top 3 favorite films of this past year and my number 1 might surprise you but not in the way you think. So let’s get back to the list…

My favorite ‘biopic’ of the year takes the spot at Number 3 as it tells the story of a man who for years never got the recognition that he truly deserved… until recently…

3. THE IMITATION GAME


Whereas ‘The Theory of Everything’ was a sad but fairly uplifting biopic, ‘The Imitation Game’ is a much more heartbreaking story. It’s the true story of computer scientist Alan Turing who, during World War II, developed a device known as the bombe in order to decrypt the German Enigma Code. It was a success and as some predict, not only did it save countless lives but it also shortened the war by about two years. And yet, for the longest time, no one ever knew anything about it because it was kept secret and in 1952, Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency, all because he was a homosexual which at the time was illegal in the U.K. and even today, not every state in the U.S. has legalized same-sex marriage. And it wasn’t until last year (technically two years ago since it happened in 2013) when his work was finally revealed to the public and was given the proper recognition that he deserved that he unfortunately never got when he was still alive as he died just two years after his arrest as a result of suicide. This story truly hits you on an emotional level as you really sympathize with this man who was unjustly prosecuted just for being gay, which quite frankly makes it one of the most important films to come out this year. But at the same time, it’s also a great World War II ‘political’ thriller.

It covers all aspects of Turing’s life, from his early days as a young lad when he both constantly got bullied by his peers and also had a friendship with another boy named Christopher that unfortunately didn’t last as a result of Christopher’s early death to his tenure with MI5 and his development of the bombe to his final years and his arrest and the film balances all of this really well. And at times it’s also a very thrilling race against time as we see Turing and his team trying to break the Enigma Code because they only have a certain amount of time each day to crack it before the code changes at the end of each day. One of my favorite scenes of this year comes during the scene where the bombe finally works because despite the fact that they can now figure out all of the secret messages that Germany is sending out, they can’t really do much about it. At first, they look to help out a bunch of civilian ships that are about to be attacked by German U-Boats but Turing points out that they can’t because otherwise the Germans will figure out that they cracked the code and would resort to a new method of keeping their messages secret meaning that this whole operation would end up being entirely worthless and despite the pleads from one of Turing’s co-workers, who has a brother on one of the targeted ships, the others soon realize Turing is right. It’s a very hard-hitting scene where the characters realize that even though they broke new boundaries, it comes at a cost and I guess you can say that’s probably the reason why Turing’s work was kept hidden for so many years.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives one of the best performances of the year in the role of Turing. As I noted before in my original review of the film, there’s a similar aspect of Cumberbatch’s performance as Turing to his turn as Sherlock Holmes in, well, ‘Sherlock’ in that both characters have this awkwardness to them. But whereas Sherlock is more confident in himself and his awkwardness comes from how he acts amongst other people, Turing is much more awkward in the sense that obviously he’s hiding a big secret from everyone, that being his homosexuality. There’s a scene in which Turing learns that one of his co-workers is secretly a Soviet spy but learns that if he reveals this to anyone, then the spy, being the only one that Turing has shared his secret with at this point in time, will then spill the beans about him being gay. Again, it’s all a case of Turing being in an incredibly tough and unfair situation in a time when people like him were looked down upon by everyone around them. It’s unclear whether or not Cumberbatch will actually win any major awards for his performance here giving how many other great performances we’ve gotten this year but it’s still one of the best performances of the year and the highlight of a very well-directed and well-acted biopic that will hopefully help continue to highlight the truly groundbreaking work that Turing did in his life and the fact that he sadly got prosecuted just for being homosexual is something that unfortunately is still fairly common today in certain ways.

My Number 2 pick is the latest, and more importantly, the best entry in the franchise to date. Who would’ve thought that a series that started to go into decline with its third installment would rise from the ashes to deliver another superb superhero film?

2. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST


As we all know, in 2006 the X-Men film franchise started to go into a rapid decline after ‘X-Men’ and ‘X2’ director Bryan Singer decided not to come back to direct the third film. While admittedly I don’t think ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ is ‘as bad’ as some have put it out to be, it was still a major disappointment that didn’t do its famous comic storyline ‘Dark Phoenix’ justice. Things got even worse with the series’ first spin-off, ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, which was just a mediocre superhero film in pretty much every single aspect. It wasn’t until 2011 when the series finally started to get back on track with ‘X-Men: First Class’ and one of the key reasons for the success of ‘First Class’ was the return of Bryan Singer to the franchise. He may not have directed the film, but he did co-write/produce it as X-Men: First Class, with its badass James Bond-esque 60’s atmosphere and terrific cast highlighted by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto, respectively, was easily one of the best superhero films of the last few years. Wolverine also got a much better spin-off two years later with ‘The Wolverine’. And this year, Singer, for the first time in more than a decade, returns to the position of director with ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, which is easily the best film in the series to date and his return to the series that he helped start in the first place is more than welcome.

This entry was based off of arguably the most famous ‘X-Men’ comics storyline to date, ‘Days of Future Past’, though technically it does stray quite a bit from the source material as shown from various changes like having Wolverine go back in time instead of Kitty Pryde, among other things. But that’s okay because the film is still very well-written. True, this series has been known (and not 100% in a good way) for emphasizing more on Wolverine than any other of the many mutant characters but here, Wolverine isn’t the main character in this entry. Instead, it focuses more on the younger versions of Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique. And sure, that still means that all of the other roles in this film are much smaller by comparison but everyone does their job in their various bits of screen-time. Whereas previous X-Men movies have had one weak link in their casts (like January Jones in ‘First Class’ or Svetlana Khodchenkova in ‘The Wolverine’), ‘Days of Future Past’ has the best ensemble cast of any film in the entire series with everyone doing an excellent job. This film, more than previous X-Men films, also is the first to really showcase the ‘team’ element of the series in the action sequences so really, this film is probably the closest in spirit to the comics.

In ‘First Class’, the biggest standout of the cast was Michael Fassbender as Magneto, which makes sense considering that ‘First Class’ is pretty much Magneto’s story. In ‘Days of Future Past’, though, it’s the other way around and the biggest standout is James McAvoy as Xavier in what is easily Xavier’s story. The first time he appears, we see that he’s become a shell of his former self after the whole incident with Magneto in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in ‘First Class’, which ended up with him both losing his legs and his ‘adoptive’ sister Mystique, who ended up going with Magneto. It’s fascinating to see Xavier at such an all-time low to the point where, with Beast’s help, he frequently takes an antidote that gives him the ability to walk again but at the same time also blocks his telepathic ability, which he’s completely fine with because he could no longer deal with the voices in his head. It’s only until Wolverine comes along to help guide him back to being the man that he once was, with a little help from his future self as well (on that note, it’s awesome to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen reprise their roles as Professor X and Magneto one last time and they go out on a high note; not only that, but the scene between young and old Xavier is one of the best scenes in the film). Of course, Michael Fassbender is once again excellent as young Magneto as well and Jennifer Lawrence, who was already excellent as young Mystique in ‘First Class’, is even better here.

Finally, let’s talk about the ending of the film, which of course did one crucial thing that altered the entire film franchise. After Wolverine’s journey back in time is complete, he returns to the future but now finds himself in an alternate reality where both Cyclops and Jean Grey are alive, thereby erasing the continuity of ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’. Not only that, but at the end we see that Wolverine in the past was picked up by Mystique posing as General Stryker; in other words, it looks like ‘Origins: Wolverine’ was erased as well. Some aren’t as big on this ending as it ‘messes up’ the entire continuity of the franchise but I don’t see why that’s such a big problem if it means we can now forget about the two weakest entries in the entire series. It’s clear that this is what the filmmakers were looking to do; fix the wrongs of the previous entries and quite frankly they succeed in doing so. After two straight duds as far as superhero films go, the ‘X-Men’ film franchise is now back on track and now ‘Days of Future Past’ stands tall as the best ‘X-Men’ film to date and a welcome return to the franchise for director Bryan Singer, who was sorely missed by all ‘X-Men’ fans. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next with this franchise when ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ hits theaters in 2016, apparently set to be the end of this ‘reboot trilogy’ of X-Men films that began back in 2011 with ‘First Class’.

And finally, we come to my Number 1 pick; my absolute favorite film of the year. My Number 1 pick is…


Yes, that’s right folks, for the first time ever, it’s a tie as I have not one but two films taking the Number 1 spot on this list. I couldn’t possibly pick one over the other as I loved them both equally and for their own unique reasons. The first of these two films was the most fun movie theater experience I’ve had this year.

1A. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY


Comic-Con 2012; Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige announces that ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is in production for a 2014 release. Like many people, my first reaction was similar to what Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou) says when Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) tells him his ‘other’ name; Star-Lord… “Who?” I had absolutely no idea who the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ were and from what I can tell, not even many comic book fans knew either. I have to admit for a while I was actually questioning Marvel’s judgment for going with a relatively obscure series (a ‘d-list’ bunch of heroes as some might say) as the basis of one of their major ‘Cinematic Universe’ film... cut to today, where I’m so glad that I was wrong to question Marvel to the point where I now have complete faith in anything they do. That’s because ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ ended up being not only the best superhero film of 2014 but also the best film in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Yes, that’s right, I think that this film is even better than ‘The Avengers’, which definitely speaks big words to how great a film ‘Guardians’ was. Now don’t get me wrong, ‘Avengers’ is still a great film, but I feel that there are a few reasons as to why ‘Guardians’ is the better movie.

First of all, I think it’s much funnier than ‘Avengers’, which admittedly didn’t start getting into the humor up until Iron Man first appeared on screen. ‘Guardians’ is more consistent with the humor from beginning to end and also a bit more daring in its humor. I still can’t believe that a MCU movie under the Disney banner could get away with not only a joke about how Star-Lord’s ship would look like a Jackson Pollack painting if they had a black-light (which I’ll admit I did not get until a while after seeing the film twice) but also the line ‘they got my dick message’. But while ‘Guardians’ does have a lot of comedic dialogue/moments, that doesn’t mean that it’s 100% a comedy. It still gives time for some serious moments (more on that in a sec). ‘Avengers’ admittedly also has a rather simple story; Loki tries to take over the world with help from the Chitauri and the Avengers team up to stop him. There’s nothing wrong with that, for the record, but ‘Guardians’ has a much more complex story… and yes, I’m aware that some people criticized the movie for having a complicated story but really, I never noticed.

Finally, the biggest reason why ‘Guardians’ is better than ‘Avengers’ is because of its emotional resonance. This movie starts off not with a funny scene but a really damn sad scene where Peter Quill’s mom dies right in front of him. Definitely not your typical opener to a superhero film. But then after Quill is abducted by Yondu and his Ravagers and the Marvel Studios logo runs, it cuts to Quill dancing to ‘Come and Get your Love’ during the opening credits, a perfect way to showcase what kind of adventure we’re in for while also highlighting one of the best elements of the entire film; its soundtrack. It’s an adventure in which we care about the main characters, who may be, to quote one of the Nova Corps members, a ‘bunch of a-holes’, but in reality they’re just looking for a place where they belong and that place is with each other. True, this may be a light-hearted superhero adventure in the veins of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Serenity’ but it also takes time for effectively emotional moments, from Quill seemingly sacrificing himself to save Gamora when she’s left floating in space to Groot sacrificing himself to save the others when Ronan’s ship crash-lands into Xandar. That scene where Rocket tries to stop Groot from doing it and Groot comforts Rocket by placing one of his twigs on his face… gets me every time, let me tell you.

Even though the film focuses on a five-person group as its heroes, it does an excellent job at balancing out their roles in the film and all five roles are perfectly cast. As soon as the first trailer hit for the film, it was immediately proven that Chris Pratt was perfectly cast in the role of the charming yet cocky Star-Lord. Zoe Saldana is also superb in the role of Gamora, who because she’s the most serious member of the group doesn’t get as many funny bits of dialogue but she still has a few great lines here and there, like when she laments about how she’s going to die surrounding by the biggest idiots in the galaxy or when she tells Star-Lord she won’t fall for his ‘pelvic sorcery’. The biggest surprise, though, is easily Dave Bautista as Drax. Like Gamora, Drax is also a very serious character but in his case this results in quite a lot of hilarity due to the fact that metaphors go over his head (even though he claims that nothing goes over his head as his reflexes are fast enough to catch it). It’s even more impressive considering that from what I read online before seeing the film, it seemed like Drax would be the least memorable of the group and yet it’s arguably the other way around. And of course, as everyone predicted beforehand, Groot and Rocket are easily the biggest standouts of the film with both Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, respectively, doing phenomenal jobs in the roles.

Now let’s talk about the villains, because like with almost every other MCU film that does not feature Loki, they’re regarded as the weakest parts of the movie. But I heavily disagree with that; in fact, I assure you that if I didn’t like this film’s villains then ‘Guardians’ wouldn’t have been this high up on the list and I wouldn’t have said that it was better than ‘Avengers’. I think Ronan’s a bad-ass villain for a few reasons. First of all, he does have a clear motive; he wants to eliminate his race’s mortal enemies, the Xandarians. If anything, that’s better than him just being evil. Second, he doesn’t go down so easily during the final battle. It actually takes the Guardians three tries just to defeat him and they do so in one of my favorite (and one of the most hilarious) finales to any superhero film that I’ve seen when Star-Lord distracts the big turd-blossom with a dance-off. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, HE DEFIES THANOS! We never saw Loki do that so if you ask me, Ronan and Nebula get major props in my book for actually having the guts to say ‘screw you’ to frigging Thanos. As for Nebula, in the first half of the film she unfortunately gets screwed by not getting much to do but if anything they make up for it in the second half of the film. Plus, unlike Ronan, she does survive the final battle so hopefully she’ll be back in the future and I know that in the comics she’s also an adversary of the Avengers and plays a part in the ‘Infinity War’ storyline so if you’re reading this Russo brothers… hint hint…

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is perhaps the most important superhero film yet in this current era of superhero films because it shows that Marvel is not afraid to go outside their comfort zone. Heck, this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe itself was a major gamble as nothing like it had ever been done before and now in 2014 Marvel Studios has established one heck of a cinematic universe. But ‘Guardians’ also shows that they’re willing to make a film even if the characters that well known. While DC has still not yet done any superhero film that didn’t primarily star Batman or Superman, Marvel Studios has done films for supposedly B-list characters like Iron Man and Thor, made two excellent movies featuring the supposedly bland Captain America, and of course, made a movie in which we cared so much about a frigging talking raccoon and a walking tree creature that could only say ‘I Am Groot’ in that order. Kudos to you Marvel for yet another excellent entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and one that expands upon the universe more than any other film in the franchise without even doing that much to connect it to the other MCU movies other than using Thanos (now played by Josh Brolin who despite being on screen for barely 3 minutes immediately makes quite the intimidating impression)… and that’s perfectly okay in my book. These ‘a-holes’ who are not ‘100% dicks’ managed to prove everyone wrong and now stand as part of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date.

As for my second Number 1 pick, this film just blew me away from beginning to end and really, would you ever expect anything less… from Christopher Nolan?

1B. INTERSTELLAR


If I haven’t already mentioned this before in a previous post, I’m a huge fan of ‘old-school’ blockbusters. By that, I mean when a big-budget film, in its execution, feels like a classic blockbuster from way back when, even with all of the modern film tricks, that is an absolute must-see in the theater, which is especially relevant now considering that the advancements in technology and services like Redbox and Netflix have led to some debate about the concept of going to the movie theaters possibly becoming ‘obsolete’, which I must say I would absolutely hate to see if it really happened. Some recent examples of this include ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ and ‘Super 8’ and that is also the case with ‘Interstellar’. Hopefully you got the chance to see this film in theaters, especially if you got to see in both IMAX and in 70 mm projection. I unfortunately never got the chance to see Nolan’s last two Batman films in IMAX so I made a big effort to see this film in IMAX the first time and I was even luckier to have the chance to see it in 70 mm projection. I literally have no idea how long it has been since I’ve seen a movie projected in that way giving how most theaters have switched to digital projection and I must say, it actually looks much better when projected in this fashion. You could actually hear the projector running during some of the quiet parts of the movie. This is the very definition of pure cinematic nostalgia. I saw this movie twice in theaters and while I didn’t see it in IMAX the second time, I got the chance to see it in 35 mm at my local theater and it was just as awesome as it was the first time.

This film is a visual masterpiece with some truly amazing visuals and like in his ‘Dark Knight’ movies, Nolan made an effort to use as many practical effects as possible. The dust storms on Earth were real, the visuals in space were done beforehand and used during filming so that the actors didn’t have to do it in front of a green screen, and all of the new worlds that the characters travel to were all filmed in practical locations, which I did like as while the looks of the planets may have been very simple compared to worlds in other sci-fi films it still maintained that sense of realism that Nolan has such a knack for, and yes I say this even though it’s a sci-fi movie. Sometimes the simplest visuals yield the best results. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is superb (the absence of Wally Pfister is not that big of a loss) as is the score by Hans Zimmer… oh my god, the score was absolutely superb, especially in the scenes where Cooper leaves home as Murph runs out too late to say goodbye (‘Stay’) and of course as many people have already mentioned, the scene where Cooper and Brand try to dock with their ship after the incident with Dr. Mann resulted in it getting damaged (‘No Time for Caution’), which is easily one of the best scenes in the entire film. Some say that the music was too overpowering but I wouldn’t say that’s the problem. As noted before, it’s in the sound design which sometimes is overpowering to the point where it’s hard to hear any dialogue at times.

But at the same time, this movie also benefits from a lot of genuinely emotional resonance, which some feel Nolan’s work usually lacks. As I said in my Spoiler Post for the film, I don’t entirely agree on that because I feel that there is emotional depth in his movies, it’s just that it’s always reserved for the main character (like Dom in ‘Inception’, just to name an example). Technically that’s the case here too but here it’s done perfectly in terms of the relationship between Cooper and Murph. It’s a heartbreaking situation to see both of them having to deal with him being forced to leave her and her brother behind to go off on this mission and we see both of them struggle to deal with this on an emotional level. There were two scenes that really hit me on an emotional level. The first is when Cooper talks to Murph before leaving and, as noted earlier, he leaves off as Murph rushes out unfortunately unable to say goodbye as he leaves. The other is after Cooper has already spent many years away from home due to him and the other members of his crew spending too long on Planet Miller. He watches all of the video logs made by Tom as he grows up, marries, and has a kid and of course gets very emotional about it (in one of the most powerful scenes of the movie consisting of just a single shot of Cooper reacting to everything) and then Murph makes one video log (this being the first appearance of Jessica Chastain in the film) telling him that she’s now as old as he was when he left and she wishes he was home by now. Matthew McConaughey, Chastain, and Mackenzie Foy all do fantastic jobs in the roles of Cooper and older and young Murph, respectively. I also want to highlight Bill Irwin for his great turn as the robot TARS, who provides some very funny quips of dialogue in his back and forth with Cooper. Of course, as with any Nolan movie, the cast is superb from top to bottom including Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Wes Bentley, and David Gyasi. And yes, I liked the whole subplot with Matt Damon’s character, Dr. Mann. Did it detour from the main story? Yes, but at the same time I also found it very fascinating to have a character like Mann who becomes so dis-enchanted with trying to find a new home for the people of Earth that he cowardly tries to get back home, even if it means that he messing everything up for Cooper’s crew.

In short, ‘Interstellar’ was a movie I was anticipating ever since Nolan was hired to direct because as I’ve said before, Nolan in my opinion has yet to make a bad film. And I’m sure some of you are going to accuse me of being a Nolan fan boy and, sure enough, there have been plenty of comments made by these fan-boys attacking anyone who dared not to like this film just like what happened when ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ got released back in 2012. But like I said before, I’m not that stupid. I recognize that this film was very polarizing and it has its critics. But me personally, this film really impacted me on an emotional level and was truly a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. Some say the idea of going to the cinema has become old-fashioned due to services like Redbox and Netflix but I’m not one of those people. I still enjoy going to the theater to see a new film and films like ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ showcase why I love doing this. In the case of ‘Guardians’, it shows that I go the cinema to have fun (you starting to understand why this list was predominantly blockbusters now?) and in the case of ‘Interstellar’, it’s even better when a film is truly a must-see event in theaters, especially if you get the chance to see it on a big screen like IMAX and see it in the old-fashioned 70mm projection. Nolan’s a man of film and this is his love letter to it and that is why ‘Interstellar’ is one of my absolute favorite films of the year.


So that’s it folks, my Top 12 (or I guess you can say 13) favorite films of 2014. Thanks for reading and it’s time to start up a whole new year of movies.