Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

xmen_days_of_future_past_ver6**Warning** This review is by a casual fan!  I’m not a comic book aficionado by any means

four and a half stars

Despite an incredibly stupid name (seriously, days of future past? What does that even mean) the newest X-Men release is crushing at the box office and killing with reviewers as well.

The plot is a little complex, and there are literally thousands of characters, so I am going to simplify as much as I can. In the future, the evil humans are at mutant hating again, and this time the have developed giant robots to keep the mutants in check. Of course, in any movie with robots, the robots go batty and wipe out half of humanity instead. So, they do what anyone would do. They send Hugh Jackman to the 1970s to stop the humans from using the robots in the first place.

Is anyone reminded of Terminator yet?

Anyway, the plot, while convoluted, still manages to come across cleanly. While it should be difficult to keep all the characters straight, each brings their own unique slant to their rolls, so it really isn’t that hard. Hugh Jackman is at his Wolverine best, arguing with people and sauntering around in a leather jacket. My biggest complaint about the characters was the significant lack of Storm time, which I find to be the best female character in the X-Men.

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Jennifer Lawrence as bad girl Mystique certainly makes up for it. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) was another great addition to the cast, and he easily has one of the best scenes in the movie.

Excellent special effects are to be expected in this rendition and you will not be disappointed. There is a lot of action, but it is all well choreographed and extremely entertaining. A few great scenes include the sudden stopping of time, Magneto’s prison break and pretty much any scene where Wolverine kicks someone’s ass.

This is not a disappointing addition to the franchise, not like the Origins movie or even worse The Last Stand. This was probably one of the best additions of the franchise, actually. Despite the fact that this could have gone horribly wrong, considering the cast of thousands and the convoluted plot, it didn’t.

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Instead, it’s an entertaining, utterly watchable thrill ride that gives some great new characters, while reuniting us with some of our old favorites. This was a stand out movie because it covered all the elements. Great direction, effects and stars make this movie memorable without making it too loud. I doubt this would have been done half as well if it weren’t for director Bryan Singer, who handled the first X-Men movie. Singer’s gift for pacing keeps the movie clear when it should be convoluted.

The theater has been packed with super heroes saving the world this spring, and sometimes it’s hard to find a standout in all that mess. But this newest edition of X-Men is a stand out movie. The script was well written, the dialog was cleaver and Wolverine is at his snappy deadpan best.

While it has a silly name, it kind of fits, once you watch the movie.  Watch the official trailer below;

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Movie Review: Black Out (2014)

black_out_2012_posterThe Hangover Improved..and with Subtitles

four and a half stars

Black Out is a bit like The Hangover, only with more at risk, some subtitles, and way more choreographed fight scenes.

The movie stars Raymond Thiry as Jos Vreeswijk, a retired criminal who wakes up on the morning of his wedding, next to a dead body, with no idea how he got there. He also learns that it is believed he stole 20 kilos of coke and the life of his fiancé might be in serious danger. The characters truly make this movie. Those characters include a gay, former ballet dancer crime lord, and a couple of little black dress wearing thugs. This unique movie is subtitled, so if you’re one of those who hates to read, then you won’t appreciate it.

But it is incredibly clever in that it doesn’t limit itself with being realistic. This is the Netherlands’ answer to the Hangover. Some of the gags are overdone, but still hilarious, including a 5 way Mexican standoff that ends with everyone dead.

It’s a stylish, cleaver movie with a lot of blood. But what really makes it is the cleverness of the characters, which is almost comic bookish, but real enough to not be ridiculous. This is a fun movie with a lot of edge and more than a few lol moments, like when a thug takes a cell phone call from his mom while getting his butt kicked.

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The direction was good and the atmosphere matched the dark crime comedy genre perfectly. It’s an energetic movie and it is filmed so the viewer can enjoy every over the top moment. There was a real sense of menace that was broken with perfect comedic timing.

The Black Out that will make you sit on the edge of your seat in suspense and laugh out loud at the same time. This is a limited release gem that it sure to be a cult hit when distribution reaches the states. This film plays a lot like a Tarantino film, along the lines of Pulp Fiction. Unique characters, quirky scenes, clever monologs and banter make this film more than watchable.

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Of course, the movie is subtitled, but the subtitles are well done and are easy to follow. The dialog translated very well to English unlike many Netherlands imports, where many of the jokes can be lost due to rushed translation.

The actors are likely no one any American audiences have heard of, but they are well known in the Netherlands. With a movie like this to their credit, I think most of them will be gaining a lot more international credit. The characters were over the top, but every single one of them was strangely believable.

Oh, and massive props for a gay bad guy. How often do you really see a gay bad guy?

I really want to see this movie do well, as it was an extremely rare gem. This is no Hangover takeoff. It’s clever, it’s strange and it’s absolutely unforgettable. I will be following this screenwriter and director in the future.

Here is the official trailer sans the subtitles.

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

wolf_of_wall_street_ver2_xlgActors being Actors at their Best
four and a half stars
When it comes to the stock exchange, the very best time to pick a time period for a movie is in the 80s and 90s days of excess. And if you want to turn that movie into a black comedy crime filled with corruption and betrayal, you can’t go wrong with Martin Scorsese as a director.

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a man making a fortune on penny stocks…and spending it all on sex, drugs and excess. It shows Belfort making a fortune, at the expense of the little man, and getting off nearly scot free. It should be annoying, but it is just plain entertaining.

It’s always amazed me how baby faced DiCaprio can play such a great villain. In this movie, he is no less than perfect. He is smug, self righteous, arrogant and utterly without remorse. What makes this movie fantastic includes DiCaprio frequently shattering the forth wall and making corrections right at the audience.

Terence Winter, whose previous credits include Boardwalk Empire, wrote the screenplay based on Belfort’s biography, and he couldn’t have done a better job. The film makes no apologies. It’s not designed to be an indictment of corporate America. It’s designed to say one thing. [more…]

“Hey everyone, look how bad we’re being”

Martin Scorsese has not gotten worse with age. In fact, he just seems to keep getting better. The direction of the movie following the slick, fast paced dialog and over the top exuberance of DiCaprio. Visual jokes abound and the cinematic techniques could be used to teach a course in direction. Scorsese proves that he is now, and always will be, not just a director, but the director.

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Of course, this isn’t Goodfellas, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a movie about shocking excess and bad behavior. The stakes are not life or death. There are no stakes. Belfort made it clear in his biography that there was no one he was afraid to take from, and no amount of money was too much to take.

While some might call this movie hollow and shallow, keep in mind it’s designed to be hollow and shallow. It is a comedy of criminality, not flipping Schindler’s List.

My main problem with this film is the run time. In today’s world of instant gratification, 3 hours is a bit too long to expect to hold anyone’s attention, especially when the story has no true moral or comeuppance. This could have easily been covered in an hour and a half, and the massive 3 hour run time is something that should be reserved for epic fantasies, not fast paced black comedies.
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DiCaprio really managed to keep a loose, love to hate him attitude throughout the whole movie. As much as you want to hate him, you can’t. He’s just that charming.

I have to admit, I’m a little ashamed of enjoying this movie as much as I did, and I have to give Scorsese props for having the gonads to release this movie. In an economy where much of the poverty in this country is blamed on excess on Wall Street, it was truly a daring move to produce a movie that almost seems to be celebrating that same excess.

The Wolf of Wall Street is absolutely worth the watch…but get comfortable, because you’re going to be there for awhile.

Watch the Trailer below and if you’ve seen the film, Earn some Points and leave a Review!

Movie Review: The Selfish Giant (2013)

The Selfish Giant 3A Diamond in the Rough

four and a half stars

Every once in a while, I check out a limited release indie flick so I can find a hidden gem. For the most part, I find overdone dramas without panache, documentaries that look more like exploitation flicks, and heavy handed dramadies that don’t have enough laughs. But it’s all worth it when I find the one diamond in the pile of coal. The Selfish Giant was that diamond.

This is a type of coming of age movie with a fable mixed in. In it, 13 year old friends Arbor (Conner Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas) are general outcasts and looking to make some money on the side. Then, they meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), aka, the selfish giant and a local scrap dealer. The boys start collecting scrap metal for Kitten with a horse and cart. Swifty, being great with horses, handles the cart itself. Arbor, who looks up to Kitten, handles the business. As Arbor becomes increasingly infatuated with Kitten, tension builds between the two boys, eventually leading to a tragedy.

This is not an easy movie and it’s not comfortable to watch. Thick Yorkshire accents make the actors difficult to understand at times, but subtitles are provided for those needing an English to…English translation.[more…]

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Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is that the two boys playing the leads were not professionals, but actors pulled from Bradford’s council estates. Both boys manage to appear both innocent, but growing more hard edged as the rift between them grows. It was truly a remarkable interaction, especially for people with no formal training.

Sean Gilder’s Kitten is one part surrogate parent, and one part pure exploitative leader. He is simply wonderful as the catalyst between the two boys, but somehow his acting skills are overshadowed by a couple of inexperienced kids.

Director Clio Barnard manages to beautifully capture the grimy scenery of urban-rural fringe of Bradford, managing to pack despair and desperation into its shots. This unflinching look at poverty, in a seemingly innocent rural landscape provides a subtle parallel to the two main characters.

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Again, this isn’t an easy watch. It’s gloomy, harsh, unflinching and heart breaking. But it’s good. Between the excellent camera work and direction, to the superb acting of two untried leads, the movie manages to be heart wrenching and completely realistic.

Of course, the movie was loosely adapted from an Oscar Wild fairy tale of the same name. In it, the selfish giant has a beautiful garden, but he won’t allow any children to play in it. It’s a story about the redeeming power of innocence over adversity.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end so well in this movie. Tragedy plays out and it is expected to play out. Expect no levity. This is a hard movie to watch, but worth the experience.

Hopefully, this movie will lead to more work for the director and the two young leads, as they all clearly have excellent futures ahead of them. If you are looking for an indie gem, and the need for comedic relief is not a complete deal breaker, than this bleak but beautiful film is one to watch.

Watch the movie trailer below.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_ver15_xlg 5Nerdifyingly Satisfying!

four and a half stars

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second in line of the Hobbit trilogy, and it looks like this trilogy franchise is going to be just as good, if not better than its predecessor, the Lord of the Rings.

In movie 2, we are again following the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), as he journeys along with partner Gandalf (Ian McKellan), thirteen dwarves and Thorin (Richard Armitage) as they quest to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor.

Oh God, I just developed asthma and a desire to play “Magic; The Gathering” as I wrote that last paragraph. However, even though it sounds nerdy, it’s actually just plain awesome.

Let’s get started with the visual awesomeness, which probably could have carried the movie on its own, if the acting had been bad. Director Peter Jackson again gives us a world that is whimsical, without making it too over the top. Filmed in New Zealand, the scenery stays realistic, but keeps up the otherworldly feel necessary for a fantasy based movie. [more…]

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Onto the screenplay, which was a loose adaptation of the actual book. The screenplay was a bit more mature than the original slim novel, but that was necessary for the more adult movie going crowd. For example, when female elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is searching one of the characters after capturing them, they have the following exchange;

“Aren’t you going to search me?” Kili (Aidan Turner) asks. “I could have anything down my trousers.”

“Or nothing” Tauriel replies.

Elf/dwarf sexual tension aside, the movie features snappy dialog and just enough comic relief to ease the tension and keep the laughs coming.

Freeman shines again as the loveable hobbit Bilbo Baggins and I think it is safe to say we can’t expect anything less than brilliance from Ian McKellan. My only gripe was than Gandalf spent too much time off screen. Hopefully, he’ll be around for a lot more in the 3rd installment.

In case you were wondering about the title “The Desolation of Smaug”, “Smaug’ isn’t a town. It’s a dragon. A talking dragon, to be specific, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

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I also enjoyed the addition of a strong female character. Tauriel was never a part of the books and to be honest, most of Tolkien’s books were male-centered, with very few females taking any serious leads, aside from pining away, waiting for their man-folk to come home. I appreciated the fact that the writers were able to write a strong female character, and still make her fit the background of the story.

For those who were disappointed by the first version of The Hobbit, they can rest assured that number 2 in the series really ups its game. I think a big part of this comes from Jackson taking some major risks with the screenplay, which really paid off in the end.

A word of warning to those who aren’t familiar with the way these movies work, expect a mass groan from the audience at the end, as it does end in a pretty hefty cliffhanger. It’s the kind of cliffhanger that makes you want to tear your hair out. Instant gratification types should probably wait until the whole series is available on video.

Here’s the trailer below.  If you have seen the movie, leave a review and earn some points!!

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Hunger Games 2Just as Hungry as the First

four and a half stars

This is going to be less of a movie review and more of a long, stalkeresque love letter to Jennifer Lawrence. Ok, well I might talk about the movie a little bit at least. Let’s start with the premise.

Unless you live under a rock or are Amish (unsure of why Amish people would be using the internet), you know that Catching Fire is the 2nd installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, a wildly successful movie franchise modeled after the wildly successful novels. In this installment Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has just won the 74th installment of the Hunger Games and must go on a world wide victory tour with co-winner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Unfortunately, Katniss’ stunt at the Hunger Games peeved off the wrong people and if anything, her life gets more dangerous than it ever was while she was in the arena.

The movie stayed true to the book, which is very important to most fans. It was just as visually stunning, if not more so, as the original as well. Francis Lawrence takes the reins for directing this one and does a fantastic job with timing and scenes. The special effects struck the right balance between realistic and surreal. They were otherworldly, without being cartoony.

The real stand out here was the cast though. In this installment, Jennifer Lawrence still manages to play sullen, closed off Katniss in a way that also makes her appear sweet and idealistic. Josh Hutcherson reprised his role quite well. My personal favorite was the new addition, Jena Malone, playing Johanna. Whenever an actress is confident enough to handle her first scene, while stripping down to nothing in an elevator, all I can do is applaud. Johanna was one of my favorite characters in the book, so it was good to see a person cast who could do the roll justice. [more…]

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Of course, it’s no surprise that this movie is filled with tension.  Simon Beaufoy, award winning screen writer of Slumdog Millionaire, penned the script. If you’re looking for a fantastic balance between action and character driven plot, Beaufoy is the person to do it.

Catching Fire managed to encompass a wide range of genres without being confusing. There are no obnoxious subplots or unnecessary characters. Every single actor in this film clearly gave their all to the part, making this movie just as good as the original.

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As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the few films out there that actually earned its blockbuster status. People could have gotten lazy. They could have relied on the popularity of the books to get die hard fans into the theater. Instead, they turned this movie franchise into something that can be appreciated by people who have never read the books.

While some have complained about the lack of visual appeal, I have to say it was appropriate to tone it down a bit for this installment. This is a middle movie and as a result, it’s job is to actually be the link between the beginning and end. Traditionally, the link movie’s job is to build characters that conclude in the final installments.   With a cast like Catching Fire had, they certainly met that requirement.

Catching Fire is certainly worth a trip to the theater. Just keep in mind; you might have to wait in line.

Here’s the trailer below. If you have seen the movie – Rate, Review and Earn some points!!

Movie Review: The Best Man Holiday (2013)

the-best-man-holiday-movie-posterThe Best Man Holiday

four and a half stars

The Best Man Holiday is the unexpected sequel to the 1999 movie, The Best Man. In the Best Man Holiday, the all star cast returns to reprise their rolls and reunite after 14 years. While a bit of the movie was hard to swallow, for the most part, The Best Man Holiday did as well as the original.

Star football player Lance (Morris Chestnut), invites his friends to his home for a reunion. There we meet with Harper (Taye Diggs), who was a bestselling author for a bit, and now just wants to be a bestselling author again. There’s Jordan (Nia Long), a Manhattan businesswoman; trophy wife Shelby (Melissa De Sousa), Quentin (Terrence Howard); and Mia (Monica Calhoun), Lance’s wife. The super attractive cast all gathers together to squabble over stuff they should have gotten over 14 years ago, as well as reveal a few personal tragedies.

As this is a movie where I’m feeling half and half, i.e., I sort of liked it, but I sort of hated it too, let’s get started by breaking it into the good and the bad.

The good. The cast is just as good as they were 10 years ago. Diggs is capable as Harper, an intellectual who actually makes you forget how hot he is. Chestnut plays Lance’s seething resentment of Harper well. De Sousa is a fabulously obnoxious star of a ‘real housewives’ franchise and Calhoun is still the perfect girl next door. [more…]

The Best Man Holiday is a bit darker and more serious than the original. This makes sense as the characters are older and dealing with more grown up issues. This time around, the problems the characters are dealing with are life or death, as opposed to just embarrassing or petty. In short, the sequel, much like the actors, is much more mature than the original. As a semi-spoiler, one of the characters has a terminal illness.

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Now the bad. Have you ever had a friend who still talks about what happened to them in high school or college and you just wanted to scream ‘get over it!”? This movie will make you want to scream ‘get over it’ more than once. I mean, it’s been 14 years. If you can’t let infidelity go after 14 flippin’ years, just get a damn divorce.

Also, I found it a bit hard to swallow that everyone is a success. When was the last time you met up with your old college friends and learned that every single one of them had made a million dollars…especially after the 2008 recession and collapse of the housing market? I mean really.

The Best Man Holiday

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Finally, I know this is a common theme in Malcolm D. Lee movies, but the religion really got over the top. Eye-rolling over the top. ‘God’ might have been mentioned more than the word ‘motherfucker’ in this installment, and that’s saying something.

Of course, I still have to respect the maturity brought to the screen. I was a big fan of the original, so The Best Man Holiday was a surprising sequel pleasure. While a bit of it seems contrived, the characters have really grown up since their last movie. If you were a fan of The Best Man (or if you just like looking at Taye Diggs), The Best Man Holiday is a must see movie for you this Christmas.

If you’ve seen the movie – Rate it and Earn some Points!!  Here is he Movie Trailer below