Sunday, April 13, 2014

Oculus (2014) review

I’ll openly admit that I’m not the biggest fan of horror movies. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen a few of the really good horror films, like ‘Scream’ and ‘Evil Dead’, but for the most part they’re just not my thing. Also, it might have something to do with the recent trends that have been going on in horror films, like the numerous remakes of horror classics that, for the most part, end up being rather terrible or when these films favor gore and jump-scares over legitimately scary moments. However, if a film does get pretty good reviews from critics and if it looks interesting, then I might see it. ‘Oculus’ is a good example of that. This film is a feature adaptation of a short film, ‘Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with the Plan’, which was directed by Mike Flanagan, who returns to direct this adaptation of the story. Now, I haven’t seen that short film, but this film’s premise, as well as its solid reviews from critics, interested me… but in the end I think I would have been better off with the short film. That’s because while there are some good things in this film, for the most part I’m pretty meh on it.

Eleven years earlier, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) was sent to a mental hospital after an incident where he shot and killed his father Alan (Rory Cochrane) after witnessing him kill his mother Marie (Katee Sackhoff) but also for believing that the whole thing occurred because of a supposed supernatural entity that resided within an antique mirror in their house. After he is released from the institution, he reunites with his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) who has had to live on her own following the incident. While Tim looks to move on from all of this, Kaylie isn’t ready to leave the past behind. In the years since he was taken away, she has been investigating further into the matter and has discovered similar incidents have occurred to the previous owners of the mirror. With this in mind, she looks to prove that Tim and their father were innocent and that the mirror was responsible for the murders. However, this doesn’t turn out to be as easy as they think it will be, and they soon find themselves trying to figure out what is real and what’s not.

Now like I said, there are some good things in this movie. For one thing, it is well-acted from all who were involved. Gillan, Sackhoff, Thwaites, and Cochrane all did good jobs and I did find Gillan’s character to be a pretty interesting horror film female lead; someone who is a bit obsessed but nevertheless committed to the goal she wants to achieve. However, the biggest standouts of the cast are actually Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, who play the younger selves of Gillan and Thwaites’ characters. These two kids steal the show and in the end, the best thing about this whole film is its cast in general. There are some pretty creepy scenes throughout the film, particularly in the second half of the film. Without really giving anything away, it is at this point where the flashback scenes to when Kaylie and Tim were kids start to ‘merge’ with the present day and it makes the whole thing very interesting on a psychological level and I will admit that the ending did sort of catch me off guard.

But unfortunately, a lot of this film falls rather flat in many areas and many of the good aspects of the film that I just mentioned are part of a ‘double-edged sword’. I said that the best scenes in the film are towards the second half of the film, and that’s because the first half really drags on. It might just be a case of translating a short film into a feature-length film, but for the first hour or so, not much happens here. A certain scene in the trailer involving Sackhoff’s character and the mirror is the moment where the movie does get interesting. However at the same time, it also gets a bit confusing because the past and present start to blend together so closely that it comes to the point where it jumps between these two periods of time just seconds apart over and over again. It’s not too ridiculously complex but at the same time it means that the narrative structure for the film is a bit of a mess. And then we come to that ending… I did say I didn’t expect it but that’s because I haven’t seen a lot of horror films. I saw this with my friend Matt, who has seen more horror films than me, and I agreed with him in that the ending was kind of a cop-out and from what I’ve been hearing, it’s intended to set up for a potential sequel. Ehh…

I really want to like ‘Oculus’; it’s an interesting premise and it has a really good cast to back it up… but unfortunately it has a couple of noticeable flaws, and most of them actually do stem from some of the good aspects of the film. The film doesn’t get interesting until the second half and that is after a rather slow first half. There are some genuinely creepy moments in the film and it gets pretty interesting on a psychological level, but at times it also gets a bit confusing as the past and present start to come together at once, resulting in a pretty messy narrative. Finally, while the ending did catch me off guard, it also sort of feels like a cop-out with the purpose of continuing things through a sequel. I mean, if you do like horror films, then you’ll probably like this film. However, as someone who isn’t that big a fan of the genre, this one didn’t really do much for me and that’s a shame because I was actually sort of looking forward it but ultimately, it comes off as a bit of a disappointment.

Rating: 2.5/5

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: SPOILER POST


The following post contains spoilers for ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you have not yet seen the film, please refer to my ‘Spoiler-Free’ review of the film (link provided below) as I’ll be discussing the film’s key moments in detail here. You have been warned!!

This is the third Spoiler Post that I’ve done for a film on this site. The first was for ‘Iron Man 3’ in regards to the controversial Mandarin twist. The second was for ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, which revolved around the reveal of the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, Khan and then the moments in the film that mirrored the events of 1982’s ‘Wrath of Khan’. I didn’t do one of these posts for either ‘Man of Steel’ or ‘Thor: The Dark World’, mainly because I felt that there wasn’t really much to talk about in regards to spoilers for either of those films. I realize that I could’ve possibly done one for ‘Man of Steel’ giving the events that happen at the end of the film, but ultimately I decided not to do one. ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ on the other hand definitely requires one of these posts. Compared to those other two films, there is a lot to talk about in this film, much of which regarding the events in the movie that really set the stage for the future events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So let’s talk about them…

First, there’s what is perhaps the biggest plot point in the entire movie; S.H.I.E.L.D. gets overrun by HYDRA. Yes, the organization led by the Red Skull in ‘The First Avenger’ still exists and has worked its way through the roots of S.H.I.E.L.D. After Nick Fury is supposedly killed (emphasis on ‘supposedly’) by the Winter Soldier, Cap is branded a fugitive by Alexander Pierce for not sharing information that Fury had given him. This results in Cap and Black Widow having to go on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and try and figure out just what is going on. Around the midway point of the film, they go to an old military camp in New Jersey that just so happens to be the same location where Steve trained with the army in ‘The First Avenger’. There, they find an old S.H.I.E.L.D. underground base where they also find a supercomputer that preserved the consciousness of HYDRA scientist Armin Zola (Toby Jones, reprising his role from ‘The First Avenger’, albeit in computer form).

Through Zola, Cap and Black Widow learn that after Cap had captured him during World War II, Zola was recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. and while there, he began to plant the roots that would eventually lead to HYDRA taking over the organization many years later, with many members of S.H.I.E.L.D., including Pierce and the members of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s strike team (including Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo; Crossbones in the comics), who despite being critically injured at  the end of the film ultimately survives), being secret agents of HYDRA. Their goal here is to use the latest S.H.I.E.L.D. project, ‘Project Insight’ to their advantage, which revolves around three new Helicarriers that would be in the air 24/7 thanks to new engines suggested by Tony Stark (Remember that scene in Avengers where he fixed the engine but then got bounced around by it? Now you know why…). Anyway, these helicarriers are linked to satellites, and HYDRA’s plan is to use them to wipe out all of their enemies which in their case means millions upon millions of people that they view as ‘threats’. Of course, Cap, Black Widow, and their allies aren’t going to let that happen so during the climax of the film, they infiltrate the Helicarriers and override their controls to make them fire upon each other, destroying them before they attacked anyone else. At the same time, Black Widow exposes HYDRA’s plan to the world resulting in S.H.I.E.L.D. falling into disarray.

And that’s really the big thing here in regards to the role that S.H.I.E.L.D. will play in future movies. I mean, I have the feeling that they will be back even after all that happens in this movie, but they won’t be as involved as they were during ‘Phase One’. It’s also going to be interesting to see how ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will continue after the events of this film. For the record, at the time I’m writing this the 17th episode ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ hasn’t aired yet so we’ll have to see how it all turns out there. I also really liked how HYDRA was still around, even though they were seemingly defeated during World War II. It really played well into the political thriller aspects into the film’s story as well as the overall character and story arc for Steve Rogers, showing how he was finding himself at odds with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s actions because as it turns out, HYDRA was still around and considering one of the post-credits scenes (which I’ll get to in a bit), they’ll be playing a much bigger role in the next few MCU films. Needless to say, things are going to get interesting in the MCU.

Now let’s talk about the Winter Soldier and his role in the film. Of course, in my review, I mentioned who the Winter Soldier was because even if Marvel wanted to keep his identity a secret, I’m pretty sure most comic book fans knew who he was and even if you’re like me and you haven’t read any of the comics, this isn’t that much of a surprise if you see who’s playing him and reference the cast list for the ‘The First Avenger’; it’s Bucky. In my review, I said that I wished that he was in the film just a little bit more. For the record, I’m not saying he’s completely underused; it’s just that he’s ultimately not the main villain of the film (despite being in the film’s title) and more of a HYDRA henchman. Also, the relationship between him and Cap is only focused on during the second half of the film. However despite all that, the filmmakers did do a really good job at developing that relationship between these two (even in the amount of the time that they gave it) and how Cap was working to help Bucky regain his senses. I particularly love the line that Steve says to him while the Helicarrier they are in is falling into the river saying that no matter what, he will be with him ‘until the end’; that’s an excellent character moment between these two and I look forward to seeing where this story, and their relationship, will go in the next ‘Captain America’ film.

Now let’s discuss the two post-credits scenes for the film. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the post-credit sequences so far for Phase Two have been rather lackluster. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I will admit that the sequences for ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’ haven’t been amongst the studio’s best. The final scenes for these two films, while entertaining, are sort of just filler and don’t really add much to the story even though ‘Iron Man 3’s end credit scene did bring a close to the narrative structure of that film. The mid-credits scene for ‘Dark World’, on the other hand, did set the stage for what’s to come in the future, but perhaps more so for ‘Avengers 3’ considering the route they’re going for ‘Age of Ultron’. However, I wasn’t that big a fan of the visual look that they were using for this scene; a scene that, for the record, was directed by ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn and one that ‘Thor 2’ director Alan Taylor wasn’t too fond of using. Needless to say, it made me a little worried about what is now the next (and most risky) film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

However, the two post-credits scenes for ‘Winter Soldier’ are pretty darn good, both of which do a great job at setting up what’s to come in the next few MCU films. The first one specifically sets the stage for ‘Age of Ultron’ with the scene itself directed by Joss Whedon. It gives us our first look at three new characters; Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and his two ‘prisoners’, the Twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Also, while it is reported that Loki will not be appearing in ‘Age of Ultron’, we do see that Strucker possesses Loki’s scepter so who knows? Maybe Loki will make an appearance in the film in some shape or form (no pun intended) but as of now, I’m just speculating. Of course, this scene also raises speculation on how the MCU will handle the incoming ‘mystical’ elements of their universe, which have only really been explored through the ‘Thor’ movies. With the addition of Scarlet Witch and perhaps Dr. Strange down the road (Anyone else notice his name getting dropped by Agent Sitwell?), it’ll be interesting to see how this will connect with the MCU as a whole because as is, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still fairly grounded in reality. In fact, this movie as a whole is the most ‘grounded’ of all of the MCU films.

The second post-credits scene appears to be intended to be a set up for the next Cap film. At the end of this film, it seems like Bucky regained some of his memory as he saves Steve from drowning after the Helicarriers are destroyed but he then disappears. This leads to Steve and Falcon planning to look for Bucky so that they can help him regain his memory. The final scene in the film returns to the Smithsonian, where Steve briefly went to near the beginning of the film and then later to ‘steal’ his old WWII costume back (the latter scenario also giving us another fun cameo from good old Stan Lee (Excelsior!)). The camera moves to the memorial exhibit for Bucky before turning around to reveal that Bucky himself is right there in what looks like the beginning of his journey to remember who he really is. Maybe in the next Cap film, he takes Steve’s place as Captain America, something that he does do in the comics at one point. There have been recent reports about how Chris Evans is looking to move into directing so maybe that’s exactly what’s going to happen for ‘Cap 3’ but again, this is all just speculation at the moment.

And that’s really all I have to say about ‘Winter Soldier’ for the moment. Like I said in my review, it’s an effective political thriller and also a very exciting superhero film. Based on what happens in this film, I’m eager to see where the MCU is heading next considering the possibility of a reduced role for S.H.I.E.L.D. and, at the same time, an increased role for HYDRA. Will Bucky get his memory back? May he eventually become the next Captain America around the time of the next ‘Captain America’ film? At this point, this is all up in the air but one thing’s for certain; things are definitely going to change because of what happens in this film. ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is one of my personal favorite entries in the entire MCU but ‘Winter Soldier’ might just be the better film. It’s not only one of the best sequels ever but also one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe period.

(Also, because a scene with Agent Sitwell and Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) has apparently led to the start of a new meme… well, I couldn’t resist doing my own take on it…)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) review

2011’s ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is one of my personal favorite films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I will admit that I may be a little biased about this seeing how I first saw the film the day after I watched the terrible ‘Captain America’ film from 1990 (the less said about that one, the better) but ‘First Avenger’ has stood out as one of the best films in the MCU. It is, in many ways, an old school summer blockbuster with the modern tricks, showcasing director Joe Johnston’s talents for period pieces in a film that was mostly set during WWII. Also, the film did an excellent job with the portrayal of the character of Captain America AKA Steve Rogers. While I may not have read any of the comics these films were based off of, I’ve heard many say how he’s one of the less interesting characters in the Marvel universe. That certainly wasn’t the case in the film, as it gave us a character that we could root for before he was subjected to the superhero serum but was someone that maintained his patriotic sense of duty and honor as well as a likable persona after he became Captain America. Of course, that was mostly thanks to Chris Evans’ terrific performance in the role.

Like his fellow Avengers, Cap would return for ‘The Avengers’ and while it wasn’t a major element of the film, it did give us our first look at how Steve was trying to adapt to the new world he now lives in, having been reawakened from an icy slumber to find that he had been asleep for more than 70 years. The journey of this ‘fish out of water’ continues in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ where a lot has certainly changed, not just from the time period in which the story takes place but also behind the camera. Taking over for Joe Johnston for this film are brothers Anthony and Joe Russo. Marvel has been known for making some bold decisions in regards to the directors they hire (including Joss Whedon and Shane Black, to name a few) but this is certainly one of the most interesting choices they’ve made so far. That is because this is pretty much the Russo brothers’ first major action film. They’ve mainly been known for their work on television, mostly for comedy shows; they’ve each directed (sometimes as a duo, other times by themselves) a handful of episodes for the cult hit series ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Community’. It may seem like an extremely ‘left-field’ choice for Marvel, but let me tell you, these two certainly delivered.

‘Winter Soldier’ takes place two years after the events of ‘The Avengers’. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) AKA Captain America has been living in Washington D.C., where he not only continues to work for the organization of S.H.I.E.L.D. but also tries to adapt to his new life in the modern world. The latter goal hasn’t really been that easy as he continuously finds that it has been harder to trust people now than back when he was living in the 1940’s. But he soon finds himself facing a brand new threat when S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is critically injured in an attack led by a mysterious assassin known only as the ‘Winter Soldier’ (Sebastian Stan). Now finding himself on the run from not only this powerful enemy but S.H.I.E.L.D. as well, Steve teams up with agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) AKA Black Widow and former Pararescueman/war veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) AKA ‘The Falcon’ in order to stop the Winter Soldier but in the process, they discover a much darker plan occurring within S.H.I.E.L.D. itself that spells doom for millions of people.

The first thing to note about this film is that it is very much different from ‘The First Avenger’ in many areas, specifically its overall style. ‘The First Avenger’ was, of course, an old-school World War II action movie. This film is, as advertised, a political thriller and as such, it’s a pretty damn good one at that with a plot that is full of plenty twists and turns. That’s especially in regards to how this film really sets the stage for what’s to come down the road in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps even more so than any of the previous MCU films. It definitely leaves you wondering what’s going to happen now considering what happens in this film. This genre of film also blends well with the character arc of Captain America as he continues to discover how much things have changed in the 70+ years he’s been ‘asleep’; in other words, it’s a ‘fish out of water’ story both figuratively and literally. But even with the passage of time, Cap still retains his strong sense of honor and patriotism, which shines through just as it did in the last two films he was in. True, it may not mesh well with the current world he now lives in but to paraphrase a quote from Coulson in ‘Avengers’, sometimes we ‘might just need a little old-fashioned’.

I also have to give a lot of credit to the Russo brothers for their work on this film because for a duo who have mainly been known for working on comedic shows, the direction here is fantastic, especially in the action scenes. This film has some great action set pieces and some pretty good camera work as well. It’s interesting I say that because like how the whole movie is very much different than ‘First Avenger’, that can also be said for the cinematography during the action sequences. Upon rewatch, I find that ‘The First Avenger’ had some of the best action from not just any recent superhero film, but any of the action films to have come out in recent years, mainly because Johnston kept the camera steady during the majority of the action scenes allowing us to see most of the action. Here, the cinematography is more in line with the handheld camerawork style that has been really popular these last few years. However here, they do it well as it’s not to the point where the camera work is so shaky that we’re unable to see just what the heck is happening onscreen.

Now in his third appearance in the role of Captain America, Chris Evans gives probably his best performance in the role to date. He was already doing an excellent job in ‘The First Avenger’ and ‘The Avengers’ but he’s really at his best here now that he’s had two other movies to really fine tune his performance. The same can be said for Scarlett Johansson, who also makes her third appearance in the role of Black Widow in a MCU film. Evans and Johansson have excellent chemistry, the relationship between their characters is a really good one without really going the way of a ‘romantic’ connection, and after all of this, who doesn’t think Marvel should do a Black Widow movie? Come on Marvel, make it happen! The returning ‘vets’ from previous Marvel films, including Samuel L. Jackson in what is easily his most substantial role to date as Nick Fury, are excellent as well. As for the new additions to the cast, the biggest standout here would be Mackie as Falcon. Like with Black Widow, he has excellent camaraderie with Cap and the scenes of him in action are pretty damn cool. Robert Redford also does an excellent job here as Alexander Pierce, a senior leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. and friend of Nick Fury.

Finally, we come to the titular ‘Winter Soldier’ for whom this film is named after. I do sort of wish that he was in the film just a bit more (you know, because his name’s in the damn title) especially considering that he’s not really the main villain here. But for what it’s worth, they still do a really good job at handling his whole character arc/relationship with Captain America. Normally, I don’t spoil important plot points like this, but this is something that many comic book fans know about and for those who aren’t comic book fans like me it wasn’t exactly that big of a secret considering who’s playing him. For you see, the true identity of the Winter Soldier is that of James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, Steve’s best friend from his World War II days who had apparently died during the events of ‘The First Avenger’ but as soon as the title for this film was announced, many of us knew that this wasn’t the case. Again, I do wish the character was given more to do but Sebastian Stan does do a very good job with what he’s given and I’m hoping they’ll dive more into this storyline with ‘Captain America 3’.

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ was one of the best films of Marvel’s Phase One. ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is both one of the best films of Marvel’s Phase Two and one of the best MCU films period. For one thing this film, probably more so than any other MCU film, really sets the stage for the future path of the MCU. But on its own, ‘The Winter Soldier’ is an effective political thriller and a very exciting superhero film. You really have to give a lot of credit here to directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who proved that they could do an action movie (I have no argument against them directing ‘Captain America 3’ now), one that has great action sequences and cinematography but also one with excellent writing and performances. Is it the absolute best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even more so than ‘Avengers’? Well, I’ll have to watch this film again to see where it will ultimately stand compared to the other films in the MCU, but no matter what, it’s definitely going to end up being one of their best. DC, I’d take notes if I were you.

Rating: 5/5!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2014 Preview: April

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s year-long preview of the films set to come out during 2014. This is Part 3 of 11 (formerly 12) and today we’ll be looking at the lineup of films hitting theaters this April, including the first of four superhero films (all by Marvel, by the way) that are set for release this year.

APRIL 4- Marvel starts off the month with the sole release of the weekend.

*The Marvel Cinematic Universe returns with ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, the follow-up to both 2011’s ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ as well as ‘The Avengers’. This new film is directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who are mainly known for their work on the show ‘Community’. Chris Evans reprises his role as the titular Captain America who in this film teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, also reprising her role from previous MCU films) to deal with a new enemy- the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, and Hayley Atwell (among others) reprise their roles from previous MCU films alongside Evans and Johansson and are joined in this one by Anthony Mackie as ‘The Falcon’ and Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a senior leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.

APRIL 11- We got a trio of films this weekend; a sports film, a horror film, and an animated sequel.

*One of two major sports films hitting theaters these next two months, ‘Draft Day’ is directed by Ivan Reitman (‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Twins’). Kevin Costner stars as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who looks to land the number one draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft in the hopes of turning the franchise’s luck around. The film also stars Jennifer Garner and Denis Leary.

*Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Insidious’ returns with their latest horror flick, ‘Oculus’. Karen Gillan (‘Doctor Who’) stars as a young woman who tries to prove that her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) wasn’t responsible for shooting their father, who in turn had killed their mother. Instead, they look to prove that these murders were caused by an evil entity that possesses an antique mirror that they own.

*2011’s ‘Rio’, from Blue Sky Studios, was a solid hit both critically and commercially when it first came out. This weekend, Blue Sky returns to this franchise with ‘Rio 2’. The majority of the cast from the original film (including Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, and George Lopez among others) return for this film, which sees the main characters Blu and Jewel (Eisenberg and Hathaway, respectively) leave Rio for the Amazon where they come across Jewel’s father Eduardo (Andy Garcia). Newcomers to the cast include Garcia, Bruno Mars, and Kristin Chenoweth.  

APRIL 18- The most crowded movie week of April sees four new releases, including a Disney documentary and the directorial debut of a long-time cinematographer.

*Since 2008, Disney has been producing a series of documentary films under their newly established ‘Disneynature’ banner. Their newest film, ‘Bears’, hits theaters this weekend. It will focus on two mother bears and their journeys with their young cubs. The film is narrated by John C. Reilly.

*Last year’s ‘A Haunted House’ performed solidly enough at the box office (on a low budget) despite very negative reviews from critics (including one from me; if you recall, this was my pick for the fifth worst film of 2013… but moving on.). It gets a sequel, ‘A Haunted House 2’, which again follows Marlon Wayans’ character Malcolm as he moves in with his new girlfriend and her family but again has to deal with paranormal occurrences, including the return of his possessed ex-girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins).

*The following film opens two days early on April 16th; ‘Heaven is for Real’ is an adaptation of the 2010 novel of the same name by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. It centers on the four-year-old son of Burpo (played in the film by Greg Kinnear), a pastor from Nebraska, who goes through a near-death experience but comes out of it saying that he had gone to Heaven.

*‘Transcendence’ marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, most known for being director Christopher Nolan’s go-to cinematographer, having done all of his films since 2000’s ‘Memento’ (excluding the upcoming ‘Interstellar’; Nolan is also an executive producer on this film). Johnny Depp stars as an A.I. researcher looking to create a machine that achieves technological singularity, a moment when artificial intelligence has become smarter than humans. When he is targeted by a group of extremists and is fatally injured, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) proceeds to upload his conscience into a computer, allowing him to continue working on his vision. The film also stars Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, and Kate Mara.

APRIL 25- The month closes out with two films; a romantic comedy and an action film starring the late Paul Walker.

*One of the last films to star Paul Walker before his untimely death this past November, ‘Brick Mansions’, produced by Luc Besson, centers on a cop who infiltrates a drug lord’s gang in an attempt to take him down. This film is a remake of the 2004 French film ‘District 13’ (also produced by Besson). The film also stars parkour founder David Belle (who also starred in ‘District 13’) and RZA.

*‘The Notebook’ director Nick Cassavetes’ newest film is ‘The Other Woman’, a romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz as a woman who learns that her boyfriend (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is cheating on her, but actually begins to befriend his new ‘lover’ (Leslie Mann). Then, the two of them find that they’re both being cheated on and team up with the third woman (Kate Upton) in order to get back at the man in their lives.

And those are the films that are coming out this April. Check back next week for Part 4 where we’ll be looking at the lineup of films hitting theaters in May AKA the first major summer blockbuster month of the year.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah (2014) review

One of the most controversial films of this past decade, if not of all time, was 2004’s ‘Passion of the Christ’, directed by Mel Gibson. The tale of the final 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life sparked much debate due to its extremely violent content; regardless, it was actually a big hit commercially as it grossed over 600 million worldwide. This year we have ourselves another religious-based film that has also caused some controversy; ‘Noah’, an adaptation of the ‘Noah’s Ark’ narrative from the Old Testament. This film has already been banned in a few countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia. However, in the case of ‘Noah’, the controversy is not on the violence, but on the ‘creative liberties’ that were taken by director Darren Aronofsky in regards to his vision of the story; bottom line, it is a very bold take on the story of Noah’s Ark but controversy aside, this is still a pretty damn good film that is not only visually stunning but one that also gives us a fascinating different take on the story. It may not be completely accurate when compared to the original story but it is much more character driven than what some people might expect.

The titular Noah (Russell Crowe), the descendent of Seth, one of Adam and Eve’s offspring, receives a prophetic vision that God (referred to in this film as ‘the Creator’) plans to destroy the world by way of a massive flood in order to rid the world of the many misdeeds that mankind has committed over the years since Earth was first created. Noah realizes that the Creator had chosen him specifically to be the one who would save those who were innocent and so, with the help of his family; his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), their three sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and their adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), Noah begins to build an ark in order for them to survive the storm. However, he soon finds himself dealing with his nemesis, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), the same man who killed Noah’s father years ago who poses a threat to the safety of both him and his family both before and after the flood begins.

Like I said, there definitely are some creative liberties taken in telling this story. Probably the most notable aspect of these liberties is the portrayal of this group of characters known as ‘Watchers’ who help Noah and his family (these characters have been absent from the marketing). But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this adaptation of the story is how it is much more character driven than what one might expect. I mean, religious or not, we all know the story of Noah; he builds an ark, two of each kind of animal get on it, then Noah, his family, and the animals spend 40 days and 40 nights on the boat before the waters recede. But there’s much more to the story in this version, like how much burden is placed on Noah to perform this deed that the Creator has given to him or how sometimes he doubts whether or not he and his family are worth keeping alive. The latter dilemma especially becomes relevant during the final half hour of the film. I won’t spoil what the scenario is, but it does involve another ‘task’ that the Creator wants Noah to do and a pretty damn dark one at that. That’s another thing about this movie; it may be PG-13 but it can get pretty brutal at times. Regardless, it’s a fascinating character study showing how no one’s perfect and that there is darkness in all of us.

Religious aspects aside, this movie is very visually stunning and that’s mainly for two reasons; both the visual effects done by Industrial Light and Magic and the cinematography by Matthew Libatique. This film also benefits from a strong cast from top to bottom. Russell Crowe gives one of the best performances of his career as Noah, really capturing the personal struggles and sometimes anguish that the character goes through. Just like how the movie itself can get dark, this is not the Noah that some might expect but even with that in mind, Crowe is fantastic here. Equally terrific here is Emma Watson who, like Crowe, also gives one of the best performances of her career here, as she provides quite a bit of the emotion that arises during the final half of the film. Everyone is very good as well; Jennifer Connelly, despite sort of being stuck in a role that just has her stand around, works well alongside Crowe and Ray Winstone is quite intimidating at Tubal-Cain, a role that is actually a bit more substantial than what one might expect from watching the trailer.   

‘Noah’ is no doubt going to be one of the most controversial films of the year, but I get the feeling it won’t just be for the religious aspects of the film. For many, this will not be the Noah that they are familiar with. In fact, the trailers aren’t really conveying the real nature of the film at all. At times, this film can be very dark mainly in regards to some of the moral dilemmas that Noah faces during the course of this film, particularly the one he struggles to deal with right at the end of the film. But at the same time, these darker moments in the story make it a fascinating character study of how one man dealt with the monumental task of protecting the innocent while also questioning whether or not he is among those worthy to live. This is sort of a hard film to recommend because if you are a very religious person, you may find yourself not liking the way this story is told here. However, from a film perspective, ‘Noah’ is visually beautiful, well-acted, and well-directed. Again though, it won't be for everyone.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pixar: Sequel or Not?

In recent news, Pixar announced two sequels that were in development; one was the long-awaited sequel to 2004’s ‘The Incredibles’, with Brad Bird returning to write the film (no confirmation yet on whether or not he’ll direct it). The other sequel was ‘Cars 3’… which, simply put, was not as anticipated given the negative critical reaction to its immediate predecessor. This has all raised a few questions, and some worries, about the path that Pixar is currently taking with their animated movies. They do have two original films coming out next year in ‘The Good Dinosaur’ and ‘Inside Out’. However, after that, they have not only a ‘Cars’ and ‘Incredibles’ sequel in the works, but a ‘Finding Nemo’ sequel as well. Now, I’m not that worried about Pixar when it comes to them announcing ‘sequels’. But this did get me thinking about whether or not the films in Pixar’s filmography could possibly get a sequel because many of them have a real sense of finality, meaning that there’s really no need to continue the story through another film. But there are some possibilities here and there.

This was something I was going to do some time ago most likely around the time ‘Monsters University’ was released. Ultimately though I never published it on here, so with this recent news in mind, I decided to finally finish it. This is what I like to call ‘Pixar: Sequel or Not?’


Possible Sequel: It’s possible, but I don’t want it to happen

This has been somewhat of a developing rumor in regards to the possibility of Pixar doing a ‘Toy Story 4’, which might even lead into a whole new trilogy. Overall, I think it could be done seeing how at the end of ‘Toy Story 3’ Woody, Buzz, and the gang were left in the care of a new owner, Bonnie, meaning that there can possibly be some new stories for this franchise to explore. However, I really don’t want a ‘Toy Story 4’, or new trilogy for that matter, to happen. Why? Well, it’s quite simple… why should Pixar even attempt to follow up on one of the greatest film trilogies of all time; one where every film in the trilogy is fantastic. I don’t want to see the legacy of this franchise tarnished if this supposed fourth film doesn’t turn out to be that good. Quite frankly, I’m more of a fan of what Pixar is currently doing with the franchise right now in regards to the short films that they have been making. This currently includes ‘Hawaiian Vacation’, ‘Small Fry’, and ‘Partysaurus Rex’. There’s also the half-hour long special that they released this past Halloween, ‘Toy Story of Terror!’, and there’s another one coming out this winter, ‘Toy Story that Time Forgot’. I think that this is a nice simple way of keeping this franchise relevant without having to do another movie. Like I said, it could happen but that doesn’t mean I would want Pixar to do another ‘Toy Story’ film. Just leave the film franchise where it is.


Possible Sequel: Can’t see it

It has been almost two decades since ‘A Bug’s Life’ was released in 1998… so I doubt if Pixar currently has, or ever will have, plans to do a sequel to this film. Nothing really screams ‘sequel’ with this one anyway.


Possible Sequel: Unnecessary

Pixar, you’ve already done a prequel and despite my, and many others’, initial hesitation towards it, ‘Monsters University’ turned out to be really good… in fact, considering how it was not nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, apparently now kind of underrated. I mean sure, it still wasn’t up to par with Pixar’s best films but it was still a very entertaining, heartwarming, and well-made prequel to ‘Monsters’ Inc.’, which has actually sort of become one of my all-time favorites from Pixar. But in regards to this franchise, the only step now would be to do a sequel and I don’t really see a possibility here for a follow-up to the first film. There is the whole scenario about the Monsters switching from scare energy to laugh energy but I can’t really see them doing another film just based around that. The only way I can see them continuing this franchise is by going the ‘Toy Story’ route and do short films instead. They just released a new short, ‘Party Central’, which ran in front of ‘Muppets Most Wanted’, and that one was pretty good.


Possible Sequel: Confirmed- We’ll see where it goes

This was the first of the upcoming three sequels to be confirmed; ‘Finding Dory’. Currently set for a 2016 release date, this film will follow the amnesiac Dory (once again voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) as she reunites with her family… this one could go either way. There is the chance that it could be a very solid follow-up. Andrew Stanton returns to direct this film and they do have a few of the other members of ‘Finding Nemo’s cast returning, including Albert Brooks and Willem Dafoe. However, I’m fearing that this one could potentially go the route of films like ‘Taken 2’ or ‘Hangover 2’ and just do a retread of the first film’s plot. I mean, it doesn’t actually look like it will be that way, but regardless of that I’m going to be rather cautious about this one.


Possible Sequel: Confirmed- Finally!

Out of all of Pixar’s films that have come out as of now, ‘The Incredibles’ is the only film in their filmography that truly demands a sequel; I mean, the film ended by basically setting up a potential future film. Thankfully, we are getting one, and Brad Bird will be back to write it. However, there’s no word yet on whether or not he’ll direct it. Also, it will probably be a few years for this film to come out seeing how Bird is currently busy with 2015’s ‘Tomorrowland’. I hope that Bird will be back in full capacity; not just as a writer, but as its director as well. Regardless, I’m very much psyched to hear this news and eagerly await this long-awaited sequel.


Possible Sequel: Confirmed- But does anyone really want it?

‘Cars 3’ has been announced to be in development alongside ‘The Incredibles but the question here is… does anyone really want to see it? The first ‘Cars’ film did not exactly get the same amount of critical acclaim as previous Pixar films but it still got solid reviews from critics. ‘Cars 2’ on the other hand, while a success at the box office, got slammed by critics. I’ve only seen ‘Cars 2’ once and at the time, I didn’t think it was that bad but at the same time it wasn’t a ‘great’ film either. It had a solid idea for a ‘Cars’ sequel being that it followed the characters of Lightning McQueen and Mater on a world tour but the execution of it was where things went wrong; namely for focusing too much on Mater to the point where Lightning became a side character. So if they are doing a ‘Cars’ sequel, they should make sure that give these two equal roles in the film. I’m not entirely looking forward to ‘Cars 3’, but at the same time I’m not dreading it either.


Possible Sequel: Not really

Just like ‘A Bug’s Life’, nothing about ‘Ratatouille’ screams sequel to me. I mean, the only way I can possibly see a sequel to this would require the filmmakers to have to revert back to square one seeing how at the end of the film, Remy the rat had become a successful cook in his own right. There’s nothing they can do to follow up on that.


Possible Sequel: I can kind of see it happening

Now here’s a Pixar film that could potentially be followed up on. After all, the plot of ‘Wall-E’ revolved around us humans leaving the Earth after it had become so polluted due to mass consumerism. At the end of the film, the humans began to return to the planet and that’s where there could be a sequel to this; we could see how they attempt to inhabit the Earth again and try to return it back to the way it once was. I have no idea how the characters of Wall-E and EVE would fit into this story, but as a whole, a sequel to ‘Wall-E’ is possible.


Possible Sequel: Nah, not really…

While this film was based around the idea of adventuring to new places, I’m not sure how they can follow up to 2009’s ‘Up’. I mean even if they did, it’s unlikely that the character of Carl would be in it seeing how he’s, well, old. Besides, his relationship with Ellie, along with his future relationship to his new friend Russell, was the heart of the film. I hate to say it, but if they do decide to do a sequel to ‘Up’, which would probably take place a few years after the events of the film, it’s rather likely Carl would be dead by this point meaning that we would lose one of the great characters from its predecessor. Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s worth it to do an ‘Up 2’ for that exact reason.


Possible Sequel: If so, please do it better...

‘Brave’ was a rather disappointing effort from Pixar. I’m not saying that it was a bad film by any means; it’s just that the film starts off with an incredible first half before veering into ‘Kids film territory’ for the rest of the film and these two halves of the film didn’t particularly mix well. I’m not even sure that there’s potential for a sequel. I wouldn’t be too bothered if they did do a ‘Brave 2’ but if they did, I hope that it will turn out better than the first one.

For the record, I’m not trying to say that Pixar should absolutely do sequels to their film because as I’ve pointed out, many of these films have a great finality to them. There’s not much of a need to follow up on some of these stories, like ‘Ratatouille’ or ‘Up’ because they end at the right time. There is some potential for future stories with films like ‘Toy Story’ or ‘Wall-E’ but overall, ‘The Incredibles’ is the only Pixar film right now that deserves a sequel and thankfully, we will be getting one. I’m not saying that I want to see some of these films to get sequels but I wouldn’t mind if they did. However I hope that Pixar will continue to make more original films like the upcoming ‘Good Dinosaur’ or ‘Inside Out’. After all, that’s exactly how they became the company we all know and love today; through their original stories.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted (2014) review

One of the most pleasant surprises of 2011 was Disney’s reboot of ‘The Muppets’, the first ‘Muppets’ film to be released theatrically in more than a decade. It was clear that with this film, writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller had a lot of respect for the franchise, and that really showed in the final product. It was a film that was not only both charming and funny, but also one that had a lot of heart to it as well, resulting in what was definitely one of the best films of that year. Now, the Muppets are back again with ‘Muppets Most Wanted’. Most of the members of the previous film’s behind-the-scenes crew return for this one, including director James Bobin, writer Nicholas Stoller, and songwriter/music supervisor Bret McKenzie. This one, however, features a new cast of leads (not counting any of its cameos) in place of Jason Segel (who also does not return as one of the writers) and Amy Adams. How does this one hold up? Well, it may not exactly have the same amount of heart as its predecessor, but it’s still a very fun and zany film, one that pretty much captures the essence of why the Muppets are as memorable as they are.

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ literally opens right at the end of the last film, as the Muppets now look ahead wondering what to do for a ‘sequel’ now that they are famous again. A new opportunity arises when ‘tour manager’ Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) suggests that they go on a world tour. Despite Kermit’s hesitations, the Muppets agree to go on this world tour. What they don’t know is that this is actually a ruse set up by Dominic and his partner Constantine, the world’s number one criminal, who plan to steal the Crown Jewels of Britain and frame the Muppets for the crime. Constantine just so happens to be a dead ringer for Kermit, so part of the plan consists of Constantine taking Kermit’s place in the group while Kermit is sent to jail. Constantine manages to fool most of the other Muppets, including Miss Piggy, into believing that he is Kermit. However, Walter, Fozzie, and Animal figure out he isn’t and try to help Kermit get out of jail before Dominic and Constantine can succeed with their plan.

While this film is just as charming as its 2011 predecessor, it doesn’t really have the same heart that ‘The Muppets’ had. That film was, in every sense of the term, an open love letter to the franchise with the intent of making the franchise prominent again, which it did. As for this one, though, it’s basically just your average sequel. It goes through most of the motions that most sequels go through when they get made. However, that’s not really a bad film in regards to the film itself. This is really more of a case of the way that the film is executed. This is, as advertised, an international road trip/farce that’s more in line with a film like ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ or ‘Muppets Take Manhattan’. This is an old school ‘Muppets’ film and it’s a pretty solid representation of the franchise in general. There still are a few good morals and touching moments in this film, but I can’t say it’s as heartwarming as the previous film, a film that appealed to both the young newcomers to the franchise and those who grew up with it to begin with. This one is still a solid family film, though it kind of feels like this one is just a little bit more geared to kids.

With that said though, this is still a very fun movie full of pop culture references, zany humor, and cameos galore. And I do mean ‘cameos galore’ because there are a ton of them in here, probably even more so than in the original. There are appearances from people like Tom Hiddleston, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, and Lady Gaga just to name a few. All of them seem to be having a lot of fun doing this film keeping in line with the film’s silly atmosphere. The same can be said for the 3 three main leads; Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, who plays a Russian guard at the prison Kermit gets locked up in, and Ty Burrell, who plays an Interpol inspector who works with Sam the Eagle as the two investigate the robberies being committed by Dominic and Constantine. If I had to choose a standout from the three, it would have to be Burrell. He and Sam the Eagle work off each other really well and a lot of the film’s funniest lines come from those two, like the one that has been shown in the trailer where they show off their badges, trying to one up each other in regards to how big their badges are.

All in all, ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ is a pretty solid representation of the Muppets franchise as a whole; fun, zany, but also charming at the same time. However, I can’t quite say that this one was as heartwarming as its predecessor. That’s not entirely a problem here because in execution, this is very much a farce and as such, it’s still a very entertaining family film in that regard. It’s clear that everyone involved had a lot of fun making this film and it does show in the final product. Overall, if you really liked 2011’s ‘The Muppets’, than you will probably enjoy this film; if you didn’t, then you probably won’t like this one either. In the end though, I do think that ‘The Muppets’ was the better film because, from the bottom up, it was an open love letter to the franchise and as a result was a lot more heartwarming and sweet because of this. This film on the other hand, while still a charming and goofy family film, doesn’t really have that same benefit. Still, it’s a fun film that the whole family can enjoy; that includes both general newcomers and long-time fans.

Rating: 4/5