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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
In A Moonage Daydream
Without getting too poetic, Guardians of the Galaxy is fantastic. Pure and simple. Guardians is just flat-out exactly what I wanted from another "group against badguys" action spectacle: a witty and snappy sense of humor, phenomenal writing, *gorgeous* special effects, well rounded and lovable characters and an overall story that weaves its way effortlessly into the Marvel movie mythos. It's one of those rare, jam-packed rides that makes me want to just go get right back in line and enjoy it all over again.
It stands right next to The Avengers as an incredibly entertaining piece of filmmaking while also offering plenty of its own style and humor to make it unique, while the Sci-Fi backdrop makes Guardians all the more enthralling and fresh. In a mere two hours the characters grow and surprise, which is incredible for 5 major characters never before introduced to the Marvel Movieverse.
The whole cast is phenomenal, but it's evident that Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals the show (I think the whole audience agreed on that one). Combine winning and hysterical performances with smart, snappy writing and you get an excellent, side splitting action comedy. Who knew? Chris Pratt is also *perfect* as StarLord, Saldana plays Gamora very well, Vin Diesel's winning performance of Groot is awesome, and Bautista's character is just plain funny.
Combine all the above with some great emotional notes, a few excellent and relevant themes, a fun and entertaining score (combining a memorable orchestral score with classic 70's tunes) all while exploring an enticing and incredible world makes Guardians of the Galaxy just so much fun. It may have some issues, but I had too much fun to care. Top of the line entertainment all around, and one of the best movies of the year.
A Chilling, Heart-Pounding, and Unbelievable ride
Score Disclaimer: I want to give this film a 10, but I will wait until I see it again for a second opinion.
Gravity is an incredible film. Absolutely incredible. Peerless in direction, Gravity features career defining performances from Bullock and Clooney, absolutely stunning, top-notch special effects and incredibly effective drama that brings this seemingly simplistic idea and narrative to life. But above all, Gravity is the most fantastic space movie ever made.
Gravity is filled with visual splendor, and packed with layers of metaphor and meaning (much of which I am still debating with colleagues on)! I haven't come out of a film for a long while equally blown away and perplexed, in a good way of course. I love films that are appreciable by both audiences: those looking for entertainment (Which they will receive in spades), and those looking for a film that transcends being a film in the sleekest of ways. Other elements of the film are peerless; the cinematography is beautiful, the minimalist score is effective, and the sound design is perfected.
It's hard to describe my feelings towards Gravity without abusing my "positive adjective" collection, but I'll just say the Gravity is pretty darned close to perfect. It's original, intense and very entertaining. It's also highly re-watchable with a purpose; it's packed with genius and beauty.
This is one perilous journey I personally want to experience over and over, deciphering it's layers and themes. It will forever stick in my memory. A one of a kind, incredibly exceptional experience.
Side note: 3D usage transcends Avatar and my personal favorite of the summer Pacific Rim. It's essential to the experience, and proves to be one of the finest in-theater experiences ever.
The Conjuring (2013)
Well acted and artfully crafted, The Conjuring is surprisingly fresh and totally works
Smartly crafted, truly convincing and surprisingly well crafted, this horror thriller is quite the success. The cast does a great job creating a believable story, especially Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson). Based on a true story, The Conjuring has the Warren couple facing their biggest challenge in a particular case with a family.
Despite the plot sounding rudimentary, it was surprisingly well told and was way more interesting than I had expected. It's the sub- plot of the Warrens that truly shines. It enables the audience to care for them, a character dynamic that usually is completely untouched in horror film. The rest of the cast is strong, creating something that finally isn't cheesy or cheap. There are barley any jump scares, which richened the experience. It was all tense build-up and the "fear of the unknown" that kept everything moving and my heart racing.
The film is also really well shot, and creatively done so too. The cinematography captures the nuance and subtlety that most horror films forget to included entirely, which was a pleasant surprise. The soundtrack fits the film well too, creating an intense experience. I really liked the multiple stylistic references to films such as the Exorcist and The Shining; they were smart and subtle and there purely for film junkies like me! There were a couple of cliché scenes and the special effects could have been better. Also, the characters introduced later in the film are pretty paper thin, and there are a couple of earnest comedic breaks that feel out of place.
Overall, I was truly surprised about how good The Conjuring was. I haven't seen a horror film in theaters...ever...and this was a good one to start with. The experience was rich with terror and scary without being cheap. I enjoyed The Conjuring, it's underlying messages, and the truly well done performances from that cast despite it being so large. A surprisingly solid horror film to truly bring some fresh perspective to the genre.
Pacific Rim (2013)
9/10 - Guillermo Del Toro Brings Life Back To The Summer Blockbuster
Enter Pacific Rim, a bold and fresh big summer blockbuster with completely original ideas and technologies, a unique and beautiful visual style, all featuring a time tested conflict and original characters. A bold promise, for sure. But Del Toro and the team have strung together what is quite possibly the best summer blockbuster in years, hands down without question.
What better aspect to talk about first than special effects? Oh man, are they absolutely splendid. The special effects are incredible, unreal at times. Jaegers are designed with intricate detail, glistening in the rain and snow and sleet that they fight in and are brought to life with incredible realism. Moments outside of the action are fantastic too, combining amazing sets and gorgeous backdrops to carry the neo-sci fi style throughout the film. The Kaiju are brought to life with ferocity and gruesome majesty; these big hulking meanies are awesome, ridiculously cool and fun to watch completely obliterate cities. Del Toro is known for his monsters, and Pacific Rim doesn't disappoint.
One of the other high points is the incredible level of detail seen throughout the film. Every fight scene is sensory overload, with a huge amount of detail from realistic physics applied to building chunks, cars, and other structures that give a sort of tangible weight that is missing from most films of the same genre. The remarkable visuals, produced by Industrial Light and Magic (a sub-division of LucasFilm) has done the impossible: they have brought movie magic to the screen, drenched in class and style unseen in just about every single summer blockbuster for the past few years.
And then there is the earth shattering, bone crushing, kaiju smashing action fight scenes. It's like Rock'em Sock'em robots on an unheard of scale, and it's perfectly balanced and respectively exciting to watch. I don't want to spoil anything, but the action scenes are just an absolute joy. An absolute, unadulterated, bring-out-your-inner-12- year-old JOY. And it proves that there can still be plenty of fun to be had in a gigantic summer blockbuster. And it simply never stops being a blast. Brining gigantic scale ideas to life is one thing, but putting that into motion, directing the action, the pacing, the character interaction so that it all combines into one incredible experience; Well, very rarely is that ever done well and here Guillermo struts his expertise and brings the fictional world of Pacific Rim to life.
But the action would fall flat and the pretty images would be filler if it weren't for a convincing human component and a little smarts, which Pacific Rim succeeds mostly to bring that dynamic to the screen. Is it convincing, well written, and well directed? I thought so, in that lovable cheesy summer B movie kind-of way.
The story follows Raleigh Beckett, a former Jaeger pilot out of luck after a major accident involving the kaiju. After some time to see how the other side works and lives, he's brought back to the jaeger team Gypsy Danger for one last crack attempt at stopping the Kaiju. The leading performances here are pretty good, most notably Idris Elba. His performance is strong, one that you can care for and is well written and acted. The rest of the cast, while there aren't any big name stars, is commendable on its diversity (one message that drives forward Pacific Rim), lovable cheesiness and well acted script. You can feel Guillermo's signature character writing style in every one. Despite how minor, they have a shining moment or two (and a laugh here and there!) Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philly) plays a hilarious comedic relief role but ends up being very important to the crux of the conflict. Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) does a swell job as the hero and Rinko Kikuichi (Babel, Sideways) is surprisingly strong and well acted as the heroine of the story. Plus, Ron Perlman plays a kaiju black market dealer and is hilarious; a caricature of modern businessmen. And Ellen McLain (Glados of the Portal Series) acts as the Jaeger AI and has a few portal jokes for fans.
The rest of the elements that make up Pacific Rim are strong too. Ramin Djawadi's epic score is equal parts bombastic and musically memorable. What's cool is that Ramin's score matches up with the action at most points, so major brass drops and orchestra hits line up with the massive smashing punches of the Jaeger vs. Kaiju fights, further producing a cool and very Hanz- Zimmer-y effect. The sound design for the film is top notch too. Sure, it's loud, but there is a method to the madness. Every smash, crash, and subtle movement is in the mix. Dialogue is strong too, and you never have to strain to hear the humans inside the Jaegers. It's a subtle layer that most moviegoers don't even notice, but I greatly appreciate because it's kind of hard to care about your characters when you can't hear them!
Is there anything inherently wrong with Pacific Rim? Well, personally, I would've loved to have seen just one more epic fight scene stuck somewhere in the film. But that extra baggage could've pushed the film to the near 3 hour mark. Beggars can't be choosers, I guess! Like I stated before, the characters are a little broadly drawn but it's a more than excusable flaw when the special effects start flooding in.
As I'm flipping through notes and playing the movie back in my head, I can't say that there wasn't a moment where I wasn't entertained. Sure, it's a relatively simple plot, but the level of fun I had in this big monster smash-hit overshadowed any nit-picks I had with the film. It's pure unadulterated entertainment from start to finish, and I wouldn't have Pacific Rim any other way.
9/10 Golden Summer Award
The Losers (2010)
The most ho-hum action comedy of the all
The Losers is so run of the mill it hurts. Despite a talented cast (Chris Evans, Idris Elba) the movie never really takes off except for a couple of laughs and cool action sequences here and there. The script is pretty horrible, the action is uninspired and the plot is ridiculously predictable. There are one or two neat scenes of action that are creative as they are cool, but are either too short or too silly to be practical.
The whole film feels like a Hollywood action comedy blockbuster checklist, following the formula and never truly deriving from it to create something unique or entertaining.
Monsters University (2013)
9/10 - A Genuinely Funny, Entertaining, and Original Pixar Classic
Monsters University brings everything you expect from a Pixar film: well written and lovable characters, a great sense of humor, and an original and well told story filled with great messages and morals. Where MU differs from the rest of the pack is that it brings these elements all together in such a way the proves to he irresistibly charming and incredibly funny, I couldn't help but have a smile on my face throughout the entirety of the film.
With Monsters University, I can finally say that the Pixar drought is over!
MU tells a prequel story, one that didn't seem necessary at first glance. I was excited, but hesitantly so. Regardless of the reception, I knew that I was going to see it. After 2 years without a Pixar film (would not see cars 2 or brave), I couldn't stand it any longer. After all, Monsters Inc. is my favorite Pixar film! Afterwards, I was pleasantly surprised.
First off, I need to say one thing: Monsters University is the funniest Pixar film to date. I was rolling in my seat with laughter at points, but unlike most Pixar humor it wasn't only the slapstick or the funny facial expressions that struck my funny bone, it was the way that Pixar nailed the college experience on the head. Fresh off the college train, it was equal parts amusing and wonderfully nostalgic to see Pixar's "college movie", which was pleasantly free of vulgar language or overt sexuality; it was simply a purely funny and charming world and story the whole way through.
In some ways, MU had to have been the hardest film to make for Pixar. Since the genre relies so heavily on garbage humor, Pixar had to constantly think outside of the box to deliver both a funny and ingenious tale while avoiding everything that the genre has become known for in Hollywood, and Pixar brings its A game. Sure, a couple of jokes fall flat and are there purely for children's enjoyment, but just about every bit of humor is in here for people in college and beyond, and I applaud Monsters University for being so slyly mature and funny for an older audience.
But it's just not the humor that rocks in MU, the story is true and heartfelt. Mike is going to school to learn how to become a scarer, where he meets a young, inexperienced, and egotistical Sully. It's an interesting dynamic that totally works, one that I honestly didn't see coming. The characters are all well written and have great development, neither rushed or forced.
It's also relieving to see tons of brand new characters and how they develop Mike and Sully's relationship, all of whom are charming and unique. The story is filled with great messages for moviegoers of all ages, too. I also really felt for Mike and his striving towards academic success; his story resonated so much with me. My theater was cheering at points, and at others the tension was thick in the air. That's only happened in a select few other films, but not once in an animated film, which proves one thing: I wasn't the only one in love with these characters on the big screen! After an interesting and amusing series of events, Mike and Sully are forced to work together in the Scare Games to prove that they are more than just a pretty face.
The third act takes an interesting and creative turn, one that was equal parts surprising and conclusive. Even if MU lacks that freight train pacing and a "Boo" character to keep tensions high and the plot moving progressively forward, I think having that same dynamic would've made MU too safe and too similar. And that is what I found the most delightful about MU's story: it was original. It didn't rely on Monsters Inc. for cannon; the story totally works on its own, which is the most commendable quality of MU. Prequels usually fall into the same formula and rely on its brand to sell. MU can stand alone an apart from INC, or right alongside of it, and that's my biggest compliment for MU.
And once again Pixar Has utilized their beautiful RENDERMAN technology to bring the world of MU to life, with gorgeous CGI and believable characters. Presented in Sony Digital 4K, MU pops off the screen. The music by Randy Newman is quite fantastic; drum lines permeate an otherwise typical score, giving the music a unique feeling. I did miss the unique swing/jazz styles of INC, but it was good to see that some of the tunes from the original worked their way, respectively complementing the action on screen, as a nice little nod to the adventures to come within Monsters Inc.
So, am I a Monsters fan? You bet. And the premise of a prequel? I was hesitant. Not any longer.
Charming, hysterically funny, and most of all well told, well written and relatable, Monsters University could've been the most disappointing cash in of the summer. Thank Oozma Kappa it wasn't!
Final Score: 9/10
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
An Absolute Action Adventure Staple
It's a fast, funny, and enjoyable ride. Surely it is a Spielberg classic, featuring a great performance from Ford and company which ends up propelling the truly exciting tale forward. Classic scenes have prevailed through time, bits of humor shine brightly and the Williams/Spielberg dynamic is always charming. Despite a contrived script and some nonsensical moments, it truly started the "rip-roaring" adventure film and is one film in particular that has aged incredibly well. Special effects are still strong (for the most part), the action set-pieces are pretty realistic and well shot, but it's the lovable charm of Jones that truly takes the cake. It's a must see film for action adventure enthusiasts, and it's great to know that the next two entries improve upon the exciting formula.
Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
JJ Abrams Returns With An Epic Character Driven Dive "Into Darkness"
The Short: Featuring a strong and incredibly dynamic cast that is both well acted and written, a grandeur of delicious special effects and an incredible sense of pacing to match the first, JJ Abrams returns with "Into Darkness" only to (nearly) out-do himself. 9.25/10
Ah, the summer movie season. The time when we are blown away by grand demonstrations of digital artists, loud and booming explosions, and silly excuses for characters and story thrown into the mix. It's a summer movie cliché; one that is fun, yet unfulfilling. You could be easily skeptical of the sequel to one of 2009's best films, Star Trek, but have no fear...JJ Abrams is back in action.
Into Darkness has come early in the summer movie season, but I'm sure it is going to be a favorite pick for most movie goers and also Trek fans. For me, it's definitely going to be one of the 2013 summer blockbusters to judge all others, simply because it does nearly everything right.
Returning with a phenomenal cast, Into Darkness goes for a more character driven piece this time, which succeeds in almost every way. The whole cast, from Kirk to Spock (Pine and Quinto), Scotty to Chekov (Pegg and Yelchin), I could go on and on...the whole cast rocks. Dashes of great humor and stupendous writing are the strong points here, with each and every character having their shining "moment." Cumberbatch, our villain this time around, is also fantastic, featuring an intense and believable performance that doesn't feel cliché or silly. Above all else one of my favorites, Scotty, gets plenty of screen time and steals the show in nearly every scene. It's only some of the newer faces on the Enterprise are simply "there", but it's cool to see so many different characters get a chance in the limelight. The character driven story could've fallen apart, but gladly the characters are written even better this time around and are heroes you'll want to root for.
The story of Into Darkness is nothing "new", but it's far from boring and dull. Featuring some interesting twists and incredible action set pieces, the story told is one that could've easily been rudimentary but is instead smart and exciting. While the plot of the original is a little "thrown in there", the plot here is more essential to the experience, it's just a little less original. There are a couple of plot holes, mainly when getting closer to the ending, but it doesn't distract...it simply (and sadly) mars an incredible experience.
The visual effects wizards that Abrams commands are also back, with some incredibly delicious results. Ships look gorgeous, phasers and guns look vibrant and cool, and the action sequences are FANTASTIC. Abrams trademark style shines here too, with some sequences that are pretty simple but are shot in such fantastically cool ways that it's impossible not to be glued to your seat. There are also some simply gorgeous shots, from great use of rack focusing and quick zooms to create a sense of realism in even the most CGI enhanced scenes.
The soundtrack (composed by the wonderful Michael Giacchino) is perfect. The theme is incredible, Khan's theme is excellent, and the booming percussion will get your blood pumping. The sound effects are loud and in your face, but you also never lose the intimacy of an important dialogue moment. It's edited to perfection (in theaters).
It's only a couple of plot holes and the lack of "freshness" that made the original so incredible that keeps Into Darkness just shy of greatness. It's the characters and thrilling story that keeps you glued to your chair, which arguably is more important and thus makes Into Darkness the superior entry in the series.
As for now, Into Darkness is a truly spectacular 2nd act for the Enterprise and crew, one that takes their relationships to the breaking point and truly tests both the cast and Abrams once again to return and try top themselves once again. Into Darkness doesn't boldly go where no film has gone before, but it is surely one of the most solid sequels that Hollywood has dished out in recent memory.
But I'll stand by this: What a fantastic way to begin the summer movie season.
One of the worst films ever made.
This is yet again another trashy adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Emma. It features downright stupid performances and writing featuring a story that is, even with its "clever" spin on it, cliché and downright 90's. It's incredible how terrible this film has aged, as there is purely not one thing that made me laugh, care, or interested.
Actually, Clueless is just that. It is an emotionless smorgasbord of annoying ideas and teen angst that would be better left never considered and crafted into a film. A film is where we can explore the imagination of the director, experience convincing emotional reward from the cast, and be transported to a different world.
Clueless is completely the opposite. The characters are stupid, contrived, silly, and downright unlikeable. There's no artistic value in any of the shots, as it is stuck in that weird 90's limbo of "hey, the 90's are great, let's include everything that we think is great about the 90's in this film." Yeah, that will work, but nearly 20 years later and this film is just plain ugly and gross to look at. Plus, all of the drug and teen partying content is nasty. The last thing we want are girls growing up and watching this and saying "hey, going to parties, getting drunk, smoking weed (among other things) is a perfect way to become popular and find my soul mate!" Really. REALLY? People actually enjoy this dribble?
But I digress, just never ever see this film. While nothing is graphic or done strongly, the morals and messages that this film conveys are entirely too stupid to be believable, and I don't care if she changes her heart or becomes a better person or whatever.
Only a simpleton would live like Cher, much less like this film. It belongs in the 1990's garbage bin.
A tedious test of patience
This film just does not end. I know this film doesn't appeal to my tastes, but I've seen other dramas that set out to be historical fiction that are far more entertaining and far less cliché than this.
The performances are incredibly dull and wooden, and I don't care if Paltrow is the leading lady. She is an unlikeable character, who is most meddlesome and a simpleton. The rest of the supporting cast is cliché and poorly written as well, earning no high remarks. Even Ewan McGregor fails to impress. Oh, and the script. It makes me cringe. The story and plot is essentially nonexistent, and each scene is entirely too predictable. Even the soundtrack (which was nominated for an Academy Award) is so uninspired and is nothing simple regal score that grows more boring as the film progresses. The only plus are the sets; they are all fairly fantastic and filled with a lot of detail. With such great sets you would think that they would have better cinematography, but this film looks like it was shot by students straight out of film school.
So aside from looking past the characters, "plot", and writing to appreciate the scenery, I can't stand this film. It's too cliché, too regal, and too predictable to be entertaining or interesting. I may be stepping on some people's toes, so I apologize. But for me this film just doesn't cut it and is, simply, a lazy effort and an annoying adaptation of a famed novel.