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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
I loved every minute of it!, 24 November 2014

'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1': Five Stars (Out of Five)

The third installment in the blockbuster film series, based on the bestselling young adult book trilogy by Suzanne Collins. This chapter is based on the first half of the final book (titled 'Mockingjay') and deals with Katniss Everdeen (once again played by Jennifer Lawrence) having to become a symbol for the rebellion, in their war against the ruthless Capitol. It was directed by Francis Lawrence (who also directed 'THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE') and written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Jena Malone and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman all reprise their roles from the other films and Julianne Moore joins the cast. I loved every minute of it and in many ways think it's an improvement over the previous two films!

The story picks up right where the last film left off; Katniss (Lawrence) has suffered a mental breakdown and is having a horrendous time adapting to life at District 13, with the other rebels. She also can't get over the fact that Peeta (Hutcherson) was taken by the Capitol and she'll do almost anything to get him back. Plutarch (Hoffman) introduces Katniss to the leader of the rebellion, President Coin (Moore), and they ask her to be their movement's symbol, in propaganda adds, to incite a rebellion. She reluctantly agrees under the condition that they rescue Peeta, and the other captives at the Capitol. The rest of the film deals with Katniss struggling to adapt to her new role, as the face of the revolution; 'The Mockingjay'.

There's been some criticism over the fact that the final book was split into two films and that there's not enough action in this installment to make it as worthwhile a filmgoing experience, as the other movies. I strongly disagree. I think this chapter is much better because of it. There's so much character development and believable human drama that any true fan of film should be thoroughly satisfied. We also get some great acting; Lawrence gives the best performance of the series here and it's arguably one of the best of her career. She also has a lot of help from multiple veteran actors, like Hoffman and Moore. Peeta doesn't have nearly as much screen time, as he did in the other movies, but he's always a strong and pivotal part of the plot. Gale (Hemsworth) is in a lot more scenes, this time around, but he's still just as underdeveloped (he has one powerful dialogue moment though; where he's at least given a chance to show some acting ability). The love triangle definitely doesn't feel necessary anymore, it's obvious that Katniss loves Peeta but the certainty of how Peeta's character will end up is certainly still up in the air. I also enjoyed how much more epic this film feels, over the last two, it really feels like the first half to the conclusion of a classic sci-fi trilogy. The directing, cinematography and music are all breathtaking to watch, as well, and we get to hear Jennifer Lawrence sing! Fans that only look forward to action are sure to be disappointed but everyone else should be more than pleased!

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Big Hero 6 (2014)
0 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
There was potential here, to make a really cool movie!, 21 November 2014

'BIG HERO 6': Three Stars (Out of Five)

Walt Disney Animation Studio's first adaptation of a Marvel comic book is this 3D computer-animated film about a team of superheroes, led by a 14-year-old robotics genius and his inflatable robot sidekick. It was directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams and written by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson and Jordan Roberts (based on the comic book series created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau). It stars the voice talents of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T. J. Miller, Génesis Rodríguez, Damon Wayans, Jr., Jamie Chung, James Cromwell, Maya Rudolph, Daniel Henney and Alan Tudyk. It's a huge hit at the Box Office and has gotten mostly positive reviews from critics and movie fans alike. As far as animated kids' movies go, I think it's a pretty good one but it's still too full of stupid kids' jokes.

The story takes place in a futuristic city called San Fransokyo. Hiro (Potter) is a 14-year-old genius, who specializes in robotics and already graduated from high school. He spends most of his time, and wastes most of his talent, competing in illegal robot fights. His older brother, Tadashi (Henney), takes him to see the robotics lab at his university; in hopes it will inspire him to do something more with his skills. Hiro is especially impressed by an inflatable robot, designed to assist people with health issues (his brother created) called Baymax (Adsit). He meets the professor in charge of the school, Robert Callahan (Cromwell), and asks to join the school. Hiro then amazes everyone at a science exhibition, with his microbots project (tiny robots that combine together in multiple different forms) and is accepted to the university. Then his brother and Callahan are killed in a school fire and Hiro wants to get to the bottom of what happened, He teams up with Baymax, and his brother's friends, to do so. The five young scientists, and robot, become a superhero team.

The film does feel a lot like an anime action movie and it's pretty different for a Disney film. It's great to see Walt Disney Pictures diversifying itself, and doing different things with their kids' films, but it's not different enough. While the action and visuals are cool it's still full of stupid jokes and is made to appeal mostly to grade-schoolers. It's too bad because there was potential here, to make a really cool movie, and I like the idea of Disney adapting obscure Marvel comic books (since they own the rights to them now). If they really want to make films that compare to the level that Pixar is putting out, they'll need to do a lot more though.

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Feast (2014)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Nice to see a love story, about humans, told through the eyes of a dog!, 21 November 2014

'FEAST': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

A 6 minute Disney animated short film; which played in theaters (including 3D ones) before the feature length Disney animated hit 'BIG HERO 6'. It's both hand-drawn and computer animated and tells the story a dog, that loves to eat, who's spoiled by his owner, with all kinds of human junk food. The dog's owner falls for a waitress, that works at a restaurant nearby, and we witness their relationship through the eyes of the dog. The dog's diet also changes, for the bad in his mind, because the waitress is a vegan. It was directed and co-written (with Nicole Mitchell and Raymond S. Persi) by animator, turned first time filmmaker, Patrick Osborne. The visuals are beautiful to watch (of course) and it's nice to see a love story, about humans, told through the eyes of a dog. I'm an animal lover and too often we see films told through the eyes of humans, and can only guess what any animals (in the film) might be feeling or thinking. This short is brilliantly told from the opposite perspective. Given the cool subject matter it could have been a tad more touching and emotional though.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The dumb jokes have gotten even dumber!, 20 November 2014

'DUMB AND DUMBER TO': Three Stars (Out of Five)

20 years after the original hit comedy film 'DUMB & DUMBER', Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reunite for this sequel (which completely ignores the 2003 prequel, 'DUMB AND DUMBERER: WHEN HARRY MET LLOYD', ever happened). Like the original film, this installment was once again directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly. It was also written by the Farrelly brothers (once again) as well as Sean Anders, John Morris, Bennett Yellin and Mike Cerrone. It costars Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden, Steve Tom, Rachel Melvin, Brady Bluhm, Kathleen Turner and Bill Murray. For a sequel, 2 decades later, it's not that bad.

The film picks up 20 years after the events of the original movie, with Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) in a mental institute; it appears he went mad after his dream romance with Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly, in the original movie) never worked out. His best friend Harry Dune (Daniels) has been visiting him there, every week since. When Harry tells Lloyd he can no longer go see him, due to a serious medical condition he recently discovered he has, Lloyd lets him in on the fact that he's been faking his illness, for the past 2 decades, as a prank. The two then return home to their old house, from the original film, where Harry tells Lloyd he needs a new kidney. The two then go to Harry's parents house, to ask them for a kidney, when Harry discovers he has a grown daughter he never knew about (Melvin). The two then set out to find her and ask her for a kidney.

Carrey, Daniels and the Farrelly brothers are all getting old, really old, so you have to admire the effort and energy put forward here. They definitely get the look, feel and familiarity of the characters and comedy style right. It's just that it's not nearly as consistently funny as the original. There are some really good laughs, here and there, but the dumb jokes have gotten even dumber (and more consistently dumb). The original film is a beloved slapstick comedy classic, that has inspired many fans. Including Jennifer Lawrence; who filmed a cameo as a young Kathleen Turner but then asked to have it removed (out of embarrassment). The filmmakers could have never hoped to even come close to matching the quantity, or quality, of laughs that the original film still puts out. They still gave it their best shot though; which they deserve a lot of credit for.

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This movie gets everything wrong., 19 November 2014

'GOD'S NOT DEAD': Zero Stars (Out of Five)

Christian propaganda movie about an extremely religious college student who takes on the challenge of debating his atheist philosophy professor, whether God exists or not, in front of his class. The film was directed by Harold Cronk and written by Cary Solomon, Chuck Konzelman and Hunter Dennis. It stars Kevin Sorbo (of TV's 'HERCULES' fame), Shane Harper, David A. R. White, Trisha LaFache, Cory Oliver, Hadeel Sittu, Benjamin Alfred Onyango and Dean Cain (of TV's 'LOIS & CLARK' fame); it also features cameos by the Christian rock band Newsboys and Willie and Korie Robertson (of TV's 'DUCK DYNASTY' fame). The filmmakers only intent here is to convert non-Christians and they go about it in a pretty despicable way.

Josh Wheaton (Harper) is a Christian freshman, enrolling in a philosophy class taught by Professor Jeffrey Radisson (Sorbo). He soon learns that Radisson is an atheist, who doesn't want to waste time going over religion in his class, so he asks all of his students to sign a statement proclaiming that God is dead (in exchange for a passing grade, for that portion of the course). Josh refuses to do this, so Radisson challenges him to debate the topic with him (in front of the class) and allow the class to decide who has the winning argument. Josh feels his faith insists he accept the challenge. The movie also deals with several other characters, in side plots, dealing with their own religious struggles.

Despite the amateur filmmaking, bad acting, ludicrous scenarios and lack of character depth, this film represents everything non-Christians despise about Christians. It's extremely bigoted in it's portrayal of atheists and just about anyone else, that's not a Christian. Atheists are shown as hateful and vengeful people; and followers of other (non-Christian) faiths are displayed as misguided individuals. The Christians in this movie are also shown as pretty self righteous individuals, that care more about being right than doing what's right. The message here seems to be solely that you have to accept Christ as your savior and not actually follow what he teaches. I grew up a Catholic and I'm still an extremely spiritual person; I also know a lot of Catholics and other Christians. This movie gets everything wrong.

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Birdman (2014)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not quite as good as all of it's hype., 19 November 2014


Critically acclaimed indie black comedy flick starring Michael Keaton as a has-been movie star, who puts everything he has into a Broadway play; in hopes of recapturing his past glory. The film costars Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan. It was directed, produced and co- written (with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo) by Alejandro González Iñárritu. The movie is a Oscar hopeful in many categories; likely including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (for Michael Keaton). I found it to be a really interesting and well made film but not quite as good as all of it's hype.

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) was once a huge movie star that starred in three blockbuster superhero movies (as the popular character Birdman). He hasn't made a hit movie in the 20 years since and hungers for that fame, and relevance, again. So he's writing, directing and starring in a play adaptation of Raymond Carver's classic short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". He's invested all of his money in the production; including refinancing a house he promised to his daughter Sam (Stone), who's also a production assistant on the play. While trying to make the upcoming premier a success, Riggan struggles to get along with the cast and crew; especially Sam, his girlfriend Laura (Riseborough) and a self absorbed actor named Mike Shiner (Norton). He also hallucinates that he has telekinetic abilities and often talks to himself in the voice of his former character Birdman.

The movie is pretty funny, it's also a great psychological character study and fascinating look at showbiz. The directing is always interesting to watch and it's pretty cool how Iñárritu manipulates the camera-work, and editing, to make the movie feel like it's all one continuous shot. The score, that's highlighted largely by drumming, works very well at setting the tone and mood for the film as well. The acting is all excellent too; especially Keaton. Experts say he'll likely win the Oscar this year because (like the play is for his character) this movie is redemption for him (having starred in two blockbuster 'BATMAN' films, just over 20 years ago, and not having made a hit movie since). I like and admire the film quite a bit, but it's not one of the best movies of the year.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
It could be a Christmas movie classic (for some people)., 17 November 2014

'A MERRY FRIGGIN' Christmas': Four Stars (Out of Five)

Dark comedy Christmas movie featuring Robin Williams in one of his last completed film roles. The movie also stars Joel McHale, Lauren Graham, Clark Duke, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tim Heidecker, Candice Bergen and Oliver Platt. It was directed by Tristram Shapeero; a TV director, most well known for directing several episode of 'COMMUNITY' (also starring McHale). The screenplay was written by first time film writer Michael Brown and tells the story of a father trying to make an eight- hour round trip, to get forgotten presents for his son, by Christmas morning. I found the movie to be very TV formulaic but also boldly funny (hilarious in places).

Boyd Mitchler (McHale) had his illusions of Santa Claus shattered for him, by his drunken father Mitch (Williams), at a very young age. He doesn't want that magical childhood belief, in Santa, to be ruined for his son, Douglas (Pierce Gagnon), by anyone. Boyd hates his father, for an upbringing of abuse, and hasn't spoken to him in years. So when his younger brother, Nelson (Duke), asks him to come to his new son's baptism, in the town they grew up in, it's a nightmare for Boyd. Especially when he realizes he forgot his son's Christmas presents, late Christmas Eve, and decides to make an eight-hour round trip to get them (before morning). His dad comes along to help out.

The film feels just like a TV movie, and for that reason I couldn't get into it at first, but the more I watched it the more I realized how funny it really is. The performances are all great (especially Williams, Duke and Heidecker) and the screenplay is brilliant; it's that funny. The TV style directing and poor production values do bring the overall feel of the film down a bit but I still think it could be a Christmas movie classic (for some people). I wouldn't mind seeing it again, at least a few more times. It's a really good film for Williams to exit cinema with as well (although it's not his last). He hadn't made anything this funny in years!

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Whiplash (2014)
One of the most epic showdowns in cinematic history!, 17 November 2014

'WHIPLASH': Five Stars (Out of Five) A critically acclaimed (and Oscar hopeful) jazz musician character study that plays more like a psychological thriller than a heartwarming drama. It was written and directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons. The film tells the story of a young jazz drummer studying to become great at an acclaimed music school, under the obsessive guidance of an abusive instructor. It also features Melissa Benoist and Paul Reiser, in supporting roles. I found it to be nothing short of great and a true masterpiece.

Andrew (Teller) is 19-years-old and just started school at the Shaffer Conservatory, which is widely known as the best music school in the country. He really wants to be one of the great jazz drummers and to do so he'll need to gain the approval of a highly respected conductor, at the school, named Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Fletcher is determined to find the next great musician and his tactics for bringing out the best in students are highly questionable, and border on psychological abuse (and torture). Andrew is just as determined to become a great musician though, and the two engage in a battle that turns into one of the most epic showdowns in cinematic history.

Simmons is great in the movie (and he's now seen as the Best Supporting Actor frontrunner, at this year's upcoming Academy Awards). I've been a fan of his, as a character actor, for years and it's great to see him taking on a lead role that he's this powerful and memorable in (it showcases all of his best talents). Teller is just as good as the main character though, he's a new actor but he's already shown an amazing gift for acting. The two very flawed but inspired characters, these actors bring to life in this film, are classic. It's a great story but what's even more impressive is how visceral a film going experience it is; Chazelle's directing is always breathtaking and beautiful to watch. I don't think a character study could possibly be more intense and thoroughly involving than this (and it does feel like a thriller or fast paced sports drama). It's one of the best movie experiences I've had this year!

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Autómata (2014)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A lot like a redo of 'BLADE RUNNER'!, 14 November 2014

'AUTOMATA': Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

A Spanish sci-fi thriller (filmed in English, in Bulgaria) directed by Gabe Ibáñez and starring Antonio Banderas. It was written by Ibáñez, Igor Legarreta and Javier Sánchez Donate and costars Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Tim McInnerny, Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster, Melanie Griffith and the voice of Javier Bardem. It tells the story of a dystopian future where robots live in servitude to, and as defense of, mankind; until they decide to live their own lives. Banderas plays an insurance agent investigating why the robots are malfunctioning. The film isn't the most original futurist sci-fi tale but it is still a blast to watch, thanks largely to Ibáñez's beautifully stylized directing.

The story takes place in 2044; after most of the earth's surface has become radioactive, due to solar flares, and a large part of the human population has died off (because of it). Robots were created to help make the planet livable again but failed to do so and now they work for humans as servants. They're built to obey two protocols; to protect human lives and to never modify themselves. When multiple robots start behaving strangely, an insurance agent (Banderas) investigates why. He soon learns that the robots are more than just machines.

The story is a lot like a redo of 'BLADE RUNNER' but it seems really fresh and cool, from a visual perspective. It's a little too melodramatic in places and maybe a tad too overly philosophical but it's always entertaining. It's never not beautiful to look at (the special effects are bizarrely cool) and it's pretty interesting as well. It also has a really memorable and unique score, from Zacarias M. de la Riva, and Banderas is great in the lead too. I loved every minute of it and I can't wait to see what Ibáñez does next. Science fiction lovers should be more than pleased!

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A mumblecore comedy drama flick, set at Christmas time!, 13 November 2014

'HAPPY Christmas': Four Stars (Out of Five)

Another mumblecore comedy drama flick, set at Christmas time, from writer/director/producer/actor (and much more) Joe Swanberg. Swanberg costars in the movie with Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber and Lena Dunham. It tells the story of a 20-something 'party girl' who moves in with her filmmaker brother and his writer wife (as well as their two-year-old son), in Chicago, after a break up. Like most mumblecore movies, the dialogue is entirely improvised and the story is near nonexistent. It's a good example of the genre and Swanberg is talented, at this type of film (although it's not as good as his critically acclaimed hit 'DRINKING BUDDIES', from 2013),

Kendrick plays Jenny, a 20-something woman who just broke up with her boyfriend. She moves in with her older brother Jeff (Swanberg), and his wife Kelly (Lynskey), to get a new start on things. Jeff is a filmmaker and Kelly is a novelist; and the couple have a two-year- old son together, named Jude (Jude Swanberg). Jenny wants to mature and move on with her life but instead she goes right back to her partying ways; of heavy drinking, often with her friend Carson (Dunham). Her irresponsibleness scares Kelly, as Kelly worries about her baby. Jenny also starts a relationship with Kevin (Webber), a friend of Jeff and Kelly's, and attempts to inspire Kelly, in new directions with her writing, as well.

I think the acting is all more than decent and natural and Kendrick is especially adorable. The characters do seem like real people and their situations and predicaments seem true to life too. These are all things a mumblecore movie should do well (to be memorable in the genre). It is a little boring and uninvolving at times, but that's to be expected. The Christmas music is a nice fitting touch and I do like the overall message, about how weed is good and alcohol is bad; whenever Jenny drinks in the film she gets in trouble and whenever she smokes pot she does good helpful things. It does feel a little heavy-handed but that's true to life as well. It's definitely a very sweet and likable film.

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