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"A New Hope" for a New Generation
Ten years ago we never even dared to dream of finding another "Star Wars" movie hitting theaters after "Revenge of the Sith" ended. In fact, many probably hoped/prayed there would never be another opportunity to ruin "Star Wars" again. Then Disney bought Lucasfilm and a new age dawned.
Needless to say the anticipation (as well as anxiety) has been high. For the first time since 1983, there is an actual SEQUEL to the original "Star Wars" trilogy. However, the prequel trilogy left quite the bad taste in people's mouths. This meant it was top priority for Disney to make this movie one of the best they possibly could. Now if they just wanted to make money off of this then making a bad movie wouldn't have mattered much. This movie was gonna make money either way. But it is very clear they wanted this movie to kick-start a new franchise that will live on throughout the ages.
I will refrain from giving any of the plot away because that could detract from the experience of it. Going into this movie completely blind to what you'll find is one of it's many joys. I will say this movie gives us what "Star Wars" fans have been craving: a "Star Wars" movie with the joy, thrills, emotion, and (arguably the most important aspect) fun of the original trilogy.
I will speak very briefly (by briefly I mean a lot) on the huge mount of talent on screen: the entire cast is fantastic. There is not a single weak-link among this wonderful ensemble. The original cast bring a sense of nostalgia with them while the new cast represents the torch being passed down to them. Daisy Ridley is one of these new actors and she is perfect for the role of Rey. As soon as you meet Rey you can tell she is going to be a hero worth rooting for. She is the new Luke for this generation (young person longing for a life of amazement). Throughout the entire movie she gives you reasons of why you should love this character. A great new addition to the cast.
Of course John Boyega is also fantastic as Finn. His charm and humor makes him someone easy to cheer on as well. He is truly a great persona to have on-board. Of course there is Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie, Domnhall Gleeson, and Andy Serkis in great yet limited roles. Their characters are so interesting I cannot wait to learn more about them down the road.
However, out of the new villains introduced, Adam Driver steals the show as Kylo Ren. This villain is almost the exact opposite of Darth Vader in every way. In fact, as a character, you could say he's even stronger than Vader ever was. Driver is able to give Ren a sense of tragedy and pain that never shined through in Vader (mainly because Vader was always meant to be imposing to the very end). Even though Ren does terrible things, you cannot help but feel sympathy for him. However, he is still incredibly imposing, not as imposing as Andy Serkis' Supreme Leader Snoke though. You can tell this being is the big bad of the series now and he is a terrifying figure. Another intriguing character I cannot wait to learn more about.
However, if any character was the heart and soul of this movie it would have to be Han Solo. Harrison Ford is back and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was seeing him back in this iconic role. He brings a sense of weariness and scruffy charm Han never had before. He is the biggest tie to the original trilogy and it is wonderful seeing him again.
The action is also very impressive. JJ Abrams use of practical and CGI effects blends beautifully to create an intense and wonderful feeling throughout the movie. It feels like classic "Star Wars."
Overall, this is the movie we have been waiting for. Filled to the brim with intense action, emotion, humor, and heart. Also populated with fantastic characters both old and new (with great actors in these roles). "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" reminds us (while showing new viewers) why this series is so beloved while giving us greater hope for the future.
Inside Out (2015)
Pixar Has Returned!
For the past couples of years we have worried Pixar was losing it's luster. With the over-reliance of sequels it appeared Pixar was on a road to no longer producing gems but coal. However, "Inside Out" proved Pixar's "gem making business" is not over yet, not by a long shot.
The movie deals with a girl named Riley and her move from her hometown in Minnesota to San Francisco. However, the story is mainly told from the perspectives of her five emotions: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. They all work together to keep Riley normal and work even harder to do this once she moves. However, as is expected, something even worse happens leading to a huge adventure throughout Riley's mind.
Pixar has not just created another enticing adventure for us but also an engrossing coming-of-age story. Yes, it is brightly colored and filled with hijinks of epic proportions but in the end this is actually a very intimate story of a girl leaving childhood. We all remember those days when we realized our childhoods were ending, and those days were incredibly difficult.
As we grow older we find things changes, some small and others big. And the simple truth is change is scary. In fact, it can be pretty terrifying, and that is what Riley deals with in this movie. This is not some story of a girl being spoiled and throwing a temper tantrum, this is the story of a girl finding everything she ever believed in disappearing.
Watching this happen from inside her head makes the adventure all the more thrilling. Throughout the movie we watch as both Joy and Sadness work together to get back to Riley and save her from whatever catastrophe that lies ahead. To do this they find themselves in some very amazing locations such as Imagination Land and (a very inspired setting) Dream Productions.
These locations add even more layers to the story being told here. Slowly we watch as Riley goes from a happy girl to a child falling into depression. It is very dark, serious subject matter for a kids movie to deal with. In fact, if it was any other studio I doubt they would've had a chance to tell this story correctly.
Thankfully Pixar had this story and they knocked it out of the park. They tell the very simple, yet important, truth that it is important to feel all of our emotions. We watch as Riley numbs herself from the pain of what's happened and that takes her to places she would not have gone otherwise. It makes very complex notions easy enough for children to understand while still maintaining the complexity. A remarkable feat for any movie to do.
Of course the movie would not be half as enjoyable if it was not for the wonderful voice cast. Amy Poehler was born to play Joy. It would be very easy to make Joy incredibly annoying because of her perky attitude. However, Poehler finds the right balance to make her very charming. The entire cast was also fantastic. Phyllis Smith was perfect as the downer of the group, Sadness. Of course I cannot forget Mindy Kaling (Disgust), Bill Hader (Fear), Lewis Black (Anger), or Richard Kind (Bing Bong) who were all so wonderful.
"Inside Out" was the return to form everyone has been waiting for. Pixar has always been known for greatness so when they have a story that jumps out even more so than usual, people tend to take notice. This is no doubt one of Pixar's very best features and it will go down as an instant classic. With a wonderful message about feeling our emotions instead of numbing them, "Inside Out" goes beyond expectations to create an incredibly mature movie going experience for everyone. Yes, the movie deals with these five emotions, but upon leaving the main ones movie goers will feel will be joy and a little bit of sadness.
Fantastic Finale to a Fantastic Season!
This truly was the end of the beginning for "The Fosters". With the second season finale we close out one chapter for the Adams-Foster family and enter into another exciting part of their lives.
In the season finale the major stories of the season come together. We have the issue of Callie's adoption go into its climax. Jude and Connor (or as the fandom refers to them, Jonnor) have this part of their arc come to a close. Lena and Stef face hard times ahead. Brandon makes his definitive choice between the band or classical music. And Jesus, Mariana, and Ana find themselves at a critical point for there characters. Basically, this season finale was packed with huge, defining moments for everyone. And was it a doozy.
The issue that could plague shows like "The Fosters" is that all of the stories could come across as a jumbled mess. In my less than elegant description (as descriptive as I could be without giving anything away) above, it would seem pretty clear. Anyone of these "big, defining moments" would be enough to end a season of build up. Doing them all together at once, that is the tightrope trick they are performing.
Happily, I can report they do it with apparent ease. Not one time does each story overstay its welcome and it never feels jumbled. There is a flow to each story here. For example, as we move from Callie's story to Jude's, we can see the connection between them. Then we move on to Jesus and Mariana's story and so on and so forth. This flow works because there is a running theme in every story that connects them.
It is our decisions that define us and that is what happens here. Callie's decision about how to deal with Robert and Jude's decision about how to deal with Connor both have side effects that will change their characters from this point onward. The same can be said for every other character on the show (Lena, Stef, Jesus, and Mariana). These decisions change the way the family works together and even defines their relationships with each other. There is even a theme of control here. Every character is trying to take back control in hopeless situations and it leaves a lingering sting.
Whether it be Callie taking control from Robert or Jude taking control from Connor's dad, these stories illustrate how desperate we can be for control during hard times. However, there are times we all must deal with the fact we do not always have control and that can impact our decisions greatly. These are very powerful themes for the show to use and, happily, they do not hammer them home but instead let them flow with the story.
Now I keep coming back to Callie and Jude's stories, not because the other stories are small in comparison, but because they have some of the most poignant moments in the episode. Callie trying to hold onto her home while also having a relationship with Robert is powerful. Maia Mitchell plays the hurt, confusion, and even fear that Callie has with great skill. Her performance in the finale is fantastic. Callie is a character that has been to Hell and back and Hell again. This story is a nice way to close off one painful part of her past once and for all. The same can be said for Jude. In the beginning he was shy, confused, and even scared. His character has truly grown from a meek child too scared to stand up for himself against a bully, to a young man standing up to Connor's father demanding to see Connor. Hayden Byerly has done consistently great work throughout the show and here he is no exception. He portrays Jude's confidence and resilience in the face of adversity extremely well. These are two stories that have been two seasons in the making. Both outcomes feel earned and poignant, both stories have ended very important chapters for these two children and now they can start a new chapter in their lives.
Every story here brought something new to the table, and while everyone will be talking about the last few minutes of the episode, the entire finale brought some new possibilities to the table. It is without saying this finale has changed the landscape of the show, for better or for worse. However, whatever they decide to do with season three, it does not change how fantastic the season two finale was. It was dramatic, funny, heart-wrenching, and altogether fantastic. I will definitely be waiting for the third season premiere with bated breath.
There's so much more...
While Nickelodeon will forever be ingrained in my mind as "The Company That Tried Ruining Korra," that happily did not ruin the fantastic series finale for me. It is truly bittersweet to see Korra's journey end, but man has it been one heck of a ride.
With the fate of the world once again hanging in the balance, Korra and her friends must band together to save it. However, this battle might cost them everything.
This has always been (in my opinion) Nickelodeon's best show since "Avatar: The Last Airbender" ended. It has taken on even darker, more mature themes than its predecessor. Throughout the running of the show we are given deeper looks at issues concerning equality, spirituality, anarchy, and even dictatorships. This show has managed to combine very adult themes with a children's show in such a seamless fashion, you can't help but wonder why adult oriented shows can't do that.
This season has been a huge commentary on Democracy versus Dictatorship while also showing the gray areas with both sides. We can actually understand the viewpoint of the antagonist (even though we know what they're doing is wrong). It gives us a true look at the complexities of these themes and shows us how far anyone can fall from grace, no matter how well-intentioned they seem to be. This makes the overall theme of redemption all the more powerful. Redemption proves to be the key needed to end the conflict, however, the creators are still willing to show there are consequences to our actions. So if we want redemption, true redemption, we must be willing to face the consequences of our actions.
This finale put all of those themes on a collision course and they collided with true splendor. We find all of the main characters getting their moment to shine in some fantastic action sequences, along with some great characterization, including some truly shocking events. For me, personally, the last five minutes of the show are what truly got my emotions kicked into overdrive. I shall not spoil anything, but it is a great way to end the show.
Once again, "Korra" gives us an animated treat filled with intelligent political, social, and philosophical subtext. There are many shows that would collapse under such weighty themes, but "The Legend of Korra" held them up with true skill. This is all thanks to having a wonderful voice cast, fantastic hero and villain (with many similarities between the two of them), highly-skilled team of writers, and daring set of creators. This show will go down as one of the all-time best animated shows in history, and maybe even as one of the best shows in general. It truly is bittersweet to see it end, but it has been quite a ride.
The End of a Journey.
Those who know me also know how I tend to praise "Hannibal" a great deal. Before this episode I viewed it as one of the best shows on TV. However, the season two finale has cemented it (in my opinion) as the best show on TV PERIOD. Yes, there are great shows such as "The Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones" (both of which I adore) however, "Hannibal" is the perfect combination of terrifying and beauty to create a show unlike anything else on TV.
In the season two finale we find ourselves at the end of a journey. A journey that began in the first episode of season one and has been building itself to this moment. Here Will is on the brink of making the definitive choice to either follow or betray Hannibal. The choice he makes will reverberate throughout the rest of the series and change everything he has ever known.
Bryan Fuller pulls no punches with this epic of a season finale. In a age of network TV shows being painfully held back from their full potential, it is refreshing to see Bryan Fuller and crew be so daring with the second season of Hannibal. The already bigger than life feel of the show is brought in full force to remind us how powerful this show can be.
Of course, it is fantastically written drama. Once again the dialog forces viewers to pay attention otherwise they will become lost in the pure sophistication of the story. Instead, if we as normal people can keep up, we become lost in a completely different way. One where we are entranced by the story while scratching our heads.
They are able to deftly blend in themes of codependency (the dangers and healthiness of it) and forgiveness into one event; culminating with these themes completely exploding on one another. Codependency ends up destroying lives more than it creates them and forgiveness still leads to retribution. We see the downfalls of both themes and just how connected they both are. Instead of shoving these themes into our faces, as viewers, we are treated with more respect than that. They trust that we can dwell on the ideas, think on them more, till finally we come to our own conclusions. Expertly done all around.
These themes also come to us through the use of imagery. And on the season finale they make fine use of how they mix both beauty and horror into one thing to make something that is beautiful yet provoking in a startling way. This can be seen especially through the use of water in the episode. Water comes with many metaphors and the metaphors here are clear and beautiful to the eye. One metaphor deals with death (the idea of drowning, being lost in darkness) and the other is about being reborn (such as Christians being baptized, being cleansed of sins; leaving behind the pain and onto something more). Both of these metaphors are beautifully shown throughout the episode with some of the most amazing imagery the show has ever done. This is truly unique to TV and it is on the level of filmmaking quality.
Of course we get some of the best performances the actors have ever done on this show. Hugh Dancy takes the final steps towards Will's inevitable choice. Will appears to know what he'll do (and he does for the most part) but when the time calls for it, he doesn't seem sure anymore. Then this is matched with Mads Mikkelsen to create some of the best work the two do together. Mads Mikkelsen brings new faces to Hannibal Lecter by showcasing him as the evil monster he truly is but also allowing him to be vulnerable. He has found a friend in Will unlike anything he ever thought possible and now he is faced with the possibility he is being betrayed. Something he does not want to deal but must in the end.
Through the use of a ticking clock type soundtrack the intensity is constantly building throughout the episode. From the very first scene to the final after-credits epilogue (which must be seen). The suspense is never-ending and when it does end, it feels like you've become numb with disbelief.
This is excellent quality television to the highest degree. I have never been so awed by a TV season finale as I have been with this one. It is terrifying, beautiful, thought-provoking, wonderfully acted, and just all together amazingly put together. "Hannibal" really raised the bar with this game-changing finale that leaves everything in the air for next season. This is, in my opinion, the best season finale to ever be done for ANY TV show as of right now. I cannot wait for season three to start so I can find the madness again.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
"The Empire Strikes Back" for the "Dragon" Trilogy!
In a squeaky voice I hear Hiccup screaming to the top of his lungs "ARE YOU READY BUD?" and I end up replying in a soft whisper, "Not sure yet." The shivers of anticipation and fear trembled throughout my body. The fact is the first "How to Train Your Dragon" was so amazing (then again, that is opinion but mine stands) how can it possibly be topped?! Well I found the answer to that question and to Hiccup's question after walking out of the theater. Boy I wasn't ready for it but "How to Train Your Dragon 2" brought it big time. Needless to say, I was in awe with how fantastic this movie was.
We begin five years after the first movie ended. Hiccup and his friends are living the good life with dragons for pets being the new norm. However, this new paradise seems to disappear with the emergence of a vicious enemy who aims to create a dragon army for the sole-purpose of world domination. Then of course comes along a mysterious dragon rider causing all types of trouble (if you've seen the previews then this will not be a shock but I shall be kind just in case you have not). Hiccup ends up working with Toothless once again to bring down this enemy and in the process change everything they've ever known.
The way this film builds upon it's predecessor is by simply doing the one thing most sequels do not like doing; continuing the story in such a way that it could stand on its own as a stand-alone film. This film is not the first film, in fact it dives even deeper into the story and world the first film brought us.
A sequel, a great sequel knows how to broaden the story and mature it as it goes along. And that is exactly what they do here. We find Hiccup realizing that maybe he has been naive with certain ideals he carries, he realizes maybe it is time to grow up. Now-a-days coming of age stories are almost ubiquitous, but "Dragon 2" knows how to make it feel fresh. In the first one Hiccup was trying to find himself, he is still doing that here but it is more from a desire to find his place in a grown up world than to be accepted for who he is. The transition between the Hiccup we met in the first movie to the Hiccup of this movie is very well done and completely believable.
And just as Hiccup has grown, the story grows with him by becoming darker and more mature with it's themes. Here we deal with a new form of family discord not really seen in animated films. We find teen romance on the bloom. And the idea of diplomacy over war. This film deals with such complex issues that it can be easy to forget this is a kids film about dragons.
Which leads me to comment on the visuals of the movie. The animation is absolutely breathtaking. From the very first scene showcasing the dragons on Berk to the final epic fight sequence. This is a film of the highest caliber in regard to how animation should look. The clouds mixing with the red and orange of a setting sun, the mountains that touch the sky, and even the giant ice fortress that looks like something from a far away dream. This movie is huge on spectacle but it never forgets the heart of the story.
The characters are just as endearing as they were when we first met them. Some of them have grown up some considering the time-span but this is to be expected. Jay Baruchel is, as always, fantastic as Hiccup. This time he brings a maturity to the role while keeping him goofy and good-natured. The same can be said for the rest of the all-star voice cast. Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, and even new cast member such as Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) are all fantastic.
Amazingly, they manage to keep all of these different factors under control when it could have so easily gone wrong. Once again this films backbone (just like the first) is the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. This simple, yet vital, relationship could've been lost in the franticness of the plot and the wide range of characters. However, Director and Writer Dean DeBlois nimbly moves around these issues as if there was no problem at all. It is expert filmmaking to the highest degree.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" put my fears to rest by giving us a story that is darker and more mature than the first. They expanded on the world from the first movie and gave us even more wonderful character moments. Filled with great, sly humor and breathtaking visuals. This movie is filled with spectacle but it never forgets the quiet, tear-jerking moments that made the first movie such a hit. Since both movies are so great there is room to debate for either one. Both have valid points for being better than the other but I would have to say "Dragon 2" is better than the first (as hard as it is to believe). This is "The Empire Strikes Back" for the "Dragon" Trilogy and even (as of right now) the best animated movie of the year. Kids and adults will both be walking away saying one thing "Can we go see it again?" and I'm sure you will.
Best Marvel Movie Since "The Avengers" and "Iron Man"
Considering we are now several movies, one mega-sequel to them all, and some direct sequels into Marvel Phase 2; needless to say there was a great amount of hype attached to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". So did it deserve the hype? Did it live up to the high bar set by movies such as "The Avengers" and "Iron Man"? The only thing I can think of is wow! This movie lived up to them both and then some.
We find Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) two years after the battle of New York from "The Avengers" and he is working with SHIELD now. While on a mission with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) he discovers that some things are not quite right deep in the ranks of SHIELD. On the run, he must uncover the conspiracy going on within SHIELD and deal with his greatest adversary yet; the Winter Soldier.
While I enjoyed the first "Captain America" I have to say this movie went above and beyond what I was expecting. Not only do we get a deeper look at one of the greatest superheroes of our time but we get a look at the ideals that have shaped our country into what it is now, and even leaves us pondering if what we are is something good or not. This message is loud and clear especially when Steve Rogers begins questioning everything he ever stood for. One line in particular stood out to me from the movie. In a conversation with Nick Fury, Rogers states "We fought for freedom, this is fear" while discussing new weaponry being used by SHIELD, to which Fury replies "We do things for the world we live in, not the one we dream of." Most likely I messed up the wording in there somewhere but that is the gist of the conversation. This conversation really surprised me because it was showing that Marvel has no problem taking on deeper ideas when the time comes for it. I applaud them for it.
However, the ideals being used would mean nothing if it wasn't for the fantastic performances by the leading cast. Scarlett Johansson reminded us why we love Black Widow. She brought the right amount of flair, depth, and even humor to a character that proves women can be just as tough (even tougher) than men. But Chris Evans is the heart and soul of the film. His portrayal of Steve Rogers really showcased why he is the best person to be the leading man in this series. He took on Rogers patriotism, heroism, fears, and even questioning with elegance in every stride. He made us love a character even more when we already did.
This is without a doubt the best Marvel movie since "The Avengers" and "Iron Man". Instead of a regular superhero movie, we got a "Jason Bourne" type of espionage spy thriller with Captain America as the main character. Filled with intense, inspired action while also being a surprisingly intelligent film with fantastic performances; "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" soars above and beyond expectations with shocking twists that will be felt throughout the entire Marvel cinematic Universe. I am still in awe of it.
A macabre world filled with intelligent twists.
I have to say I am very impressed with how the spin-off series of Hannibal Lector has turned out. While I was a little worried at first after hearing the idea to create a series based on the most famous cannibal in the history of film, the series have placed my fears to rest.
The series follows Will Graham, a profiler for the FBI, and his journey into the minds of the darkest criminals. It is his daily job to think like the psychopaths they deal with and this has left a great toll on his mind. To protect what sanity he had left, he decided to leave. However, once he is manipulated into coming back to the FBI, he must learn new ways to protect himself from the dangerous profession he is involved in. So along comes Dr. Hannibal Lector, a psychiatrist who Will becomes close to. While Will confides in Dr. Lector his deepest, darkest secrets, he has no idea that the man he is speaking to is actually one of the greatest serial killers (and cannibals) the FBI has ever searched for.
With such a dark story leading the way for this show, the fear would be that NBC just isn't free enough to do the material justice. A show such as "Hannibal" would be more suitable for cable TV channels such as AMC or FX, that would be the thought at least. However, NBC proves naysayers otherwise by showing just how fearless they can be when the time calls for it. They truly dive deep into a world that is dark and macabre in ways that even match "American Horror Story" by creating an atmosphere that is chilling and disturbing. They especially do this with terrifyingly graphic imagery. Honestly, with how far the show seems to go at times I am amazed they didn't end up having to tone things down or risk getting booted. Happily though, the show is still going strong with its wonderfully macabre world still intact.
But it is the chemistry between the two leading actors that really sells the show. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen do fantastic work in the leads. Dancy shines as the poor Will Graham. You can really see the tragedy behind his eyes as he goes deeper and deeper into a dark world where he might never come back from. And that is what makes him very different from the team on CBS's "Criminal Minds." Throughout the series you can see him as a truly broken man and what little of him that's holding together is also crumbling. All the while it almost seems he is entirely alone through this situation. However, he does have someone and that is Dr. Lector. Mikkelsen does some truly fantastic work as Lector. He brings the charisma and cultured intelligence that is Hannibal Lector to new life on screen. Of course he comes into the picture in the shadow of the great Anthony Hopkins who made this character what he is today but Mikkelsen does a great job at making this character his own. Both of these actors do great jobs at giving fresh spins to two very well-known characters. Fantastic work by the both of them.
This is a great piece of television here. We find ourselves completely immersed into a world that is haunting on many levels and that is why this show works. The show succeeds by giving audiences an intelligent look into the mind of a man going slowly insane while giving us a look at one who has already gone insane.
The LEGO Movie (2014)
Funny, surprising, and absolutely charming.
I think it's safe to say that most movies based off of toys never really end well. So that brings up the question: does "The Lego Movie" fall into the same sad category such as the "Transformers" series and "Battleship" or does it break that problem that has plagued toy adaptations for years? The answer is, happily, the latter.
"The Lego Movie" is about the journey of one tiny Lego figure named Emmet. In an ancient prophecy it was foreshadowed that a mighty hero would come and save the Lego Universe from a terrible villain who planned on gluing the entire universe together.
Just like the toy that inspired it, this movie was brimming with imagination from top to bottom. From the Lego city that Emmet lives in to oceans of the Lego Universe this was imaginative all the way through. And honestly, that alone is worthy of praise. Many films now are mainly just recycled ideas without any true inspiration put into them. However, this was not the case with "The Lego Movie". Watching this movie you can tell the filmmakers had an absolute blast going into such an imaginative world. The possibilities were endless and that is really what made the difference.
On top of imagination, this film is also filled with an intelligent (and even satirical) look at everyday life and a look at the role of the government (and our roles included). Just having a look at Emmet's life in the city you could tell this made fun of ordinary life, not in a mean way but an honest way. We wake up everyday and go throughout our daily lives greeting people, working at our jobs (whatever they may be), going home to relax for the next day alone or with people we care about, and getting up the next day. This sequence was exquisitely done, from the first scene of the President giving a vague, yet threatening, message to his people being undermined by the plain brainwashing of his people to the overall idea of being who we truly are. Wonderfully done.
A lot of this is due to the excellent work by its A-list voice cast. Chris Pratt did wonderful work as Emmet, with him portraying the poor naivety of the Lego piece and his transition to someone willing to think for himself. The same can be said of Elizabeth Banks (hilarious as Wyldstyle), Will Ferrell as the villain, and Will Arnett (as Batman who ironically enough became the funniest character in the movie). Thanks to the great cast these characters will definitely be remembered for a very long time.
So adults, I just want to remind you that this is a movie that you will enjoy, maybe even more than your children will. Not only is it a smart satirical look at government and everyday life but it also has a self-aware humor mixed with pop culture references that will have you rolling on the floor laughing. A prime example of this is Batman and the wonderful way they play to his cynicism. In the movies and comics we know Batman as the cynic he is but in such a colorful world there is just so much material to play off of it would've been a miscarriage of justice to ignore it. Well done Lego.
In the end, this is a wonderful way to start off animation for 2014. Already at a stronger place than animation was this time last year, "The Lego Movie" has definitely raised the bar where toy adaptations (and maybe even animated movies in general) are concerned. Wonderful storytelling mixed with great characters, beautiful visuals, plenty of humor to spare, and a great message about finding the hero in all of us; "The Lego Movie" has proved that there is life for toy adaptations after all.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
An Epic Love Story on the Same Level as Titanic
Every generation has that defining forbidden love story. For Shakespeare's time it was "Romeo and Juliet," a story about two teenagers from different families but from the same world. "Titanic" is from the 90's and is also about two young people falling in love except this time they're both from very different worlds. "Brokeback Mountain" is the forbidden love story of our generation and this time both lovers are from the same world, sadly, that is the problem.
The film focuses on two young cowboys in 1964, Ennis and Jack, who are working together for a summer herding sheep. During their time together they become close, so close they fall in love. Instead of living together they go their separate ways to live their own lives. They both get married, have children, and have decent jobs. However, they never forget each other and every chance they get, they get together on Brokeback Mountain to spend time together in anyway possible.
I am one to openly state that I do not like western movies. I personally feel that the characters are unrelatable and stiff in western movies. And this is not just from watching one western, I have tried watching more than one an they all feel the same. However, I was completely engrossed in "Brokeback Mountain." This was a movie filled with fascinating characters and a story that made them as relatable as any real person. We have all been to a point in our lives where we fall for the person we know we can't have. The bad boy or the good girl, vice versa, and that is how they treat the characters in this film. Both of these men love each other wholeheartedly and there is a sense of melancholy surrounding their relationship because you know it will not end well for them. Watching them made me feel like I was watching "Titanic" again and that I was looking at this generation's Jack and Rose.
Of course, this would not have been possible if it was not for the fantastic performances of the leading cast. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal gave some of the best performances of their careers in this movie. Heath Ledger was heartbreaking as the obviously distant and maybe even hollow Ennis. A man who detached himself so much it was as if he was not even alive. That is until he was around Jack (played wonderfully by Jake Gyllenhaal), then he would light up with such a joy you would believe this man had never experienced joy like this before. And of course Jake Gyllenhaal also gave an equally powerful performance as Jack. A man who was willing to give up everything for Ennis, risk his life and future because he was madly in love with him. Yet, this also makes him equally as tragic. A man who cannot hide his feelings as well as Ennis and ends up trying to be himself while holding onto the life he has now. This movie would not have been what it was without these two amazing actors. Such fascinating characters.
In fact, I was so utterly fixated on their characters I (even though tragic love stories have taught me differently) was hoping that they would find a way to be together in the end. That they would find the happy-ending they deserved. And that is why it works. If a tragic love story does not make you hope the best for the couple in question then it is not doing it's job. Even though I've watched "Titanic" a hundred times, I root for Jack and Rose, I want them to find their happy ending because I am that invested in the main characters and their love story.
I keep going back to "Titanic" because I feel that "Brokeback Mountain" is our generations "Titanic." We have ourselves one of the most beautifully told love stories in years that makes us root for them even though we know it will not end well. That is the beauty of this film. It makes us believe in true love while showing us that sometimes it isn't enough. Sometimes people need to change for love to live on.
Also, I cannot forget the magnificent performances of the supporting cast. Michelle Williams gave a fantastic performance as the wife of Ennis. A woman who is definitely in love with Ennis but heartbroken by the truth of their relationship. The same can be said of Anne Hathaway and her riveting performance. She starts out as young woman in love with Jack but soon she realizes just how distant he really is from her. It is powerful to see her go from a young woman full of life to an older woman filled with bitterness. Both women are fascinating. And the filmmakers show us that it is not entirely anyone's fault when things fall apart. It's the fault of the fear of what's different, fear deep in a society.
This is the type of movie that will open people's eyes to the truth about love: it is universal. It doesn't matter if the relationship is heterosexual or homosexual, love is the driving force in relationships. However, it is a reminder that society is the main force that can tear relationships apart. Whether it be because of social class, feuding families, or even whether it be of the same-sex. As a society, we must learn to accept love for what it is.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who wants to find a great romantic film to watch. "Brokeback Mountain" gives one of the most honest portrayals of a homosexual relationship to ever hit the screen. With such an honest view it made the issue all the more universal and relatable. On that note alone I commend the fantastic team behind this wonderful movie. With wonderful performances, sensitive direction, and a beautifully written script; "Brokeback Mountain" soars to it's proper place among classics such as "Titanic." Bravo.
I am not one to do reviews of single episodes but this one deserves the time. Was the conclusion (?) to the William Lewis storyline everything it was promised to be? That's the question and my answer is a resounding yes.
In this episode Olivia is forced to see her attacker again, this time for his trial. Throughout the trial she must gather up the courage to face William Lewis in order to put him away for the rest of his life. However, she must do all of this while holding onto her sanity which seems to be the last thing Lewis wants to take from her before he says goodbye.
This is SVU at its finest. We get ourselves some intense courtroom drama, that has been missing for quite some time now, with a personal touch. Watching one of the best cops on TV go through her toughest battle yet. Now while it can be hard to believe that the system can be messed up to the extent that allowed Lewis to walk on several trials, I can see it happening. Justice is such a hard thing to be consistent in our judicial system. Especially when the law needs catching up to do so. However, that only made this episode even better.
But what really sold the episode were the performances of Pablo Schreiber and Mariska Hargitay. Schreiber sold the pure evil and depravity of Lewis. Throughout the entire episode he could easily make your skin crawl. I was blown away by how he so easily got into character to fool the jury, innocent victim in the situation, and then could turn back into a predator who would rip Olivia apart if he had the chance. Schreiber was amazing. However, it was Hargitay who really delivered. She gave what was probably her best performance as Olivia. A woman who is not used to being vulnerable was completely exposed in this episode. Her fears of Lewis walking, the court learning of her deception, and even the fears of seeing him in court. These things kept pushing Olivia over the edge so much she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But Hargitay's strength and determination really showed through Olivia. She was a woman who was not letting him take the last bit of strength she had. It was inspiring. Honestly if these two actors are not awarded some kind of acting nominations at the next Primetime Emmy Awards then there is some serious problem.
In the end, we have ourselves an absolutely enthralling episode. With fantastic writing, intense courtroom drama, and two fantastic performances (probably Hargitay's best yet) that are both Emmy worthy. This was one of the best episodes of Law and Order SVU yet and I can't wait to see what happens next.
Charming Addition to the Disney Movie Canon
The questions have been far and wide concerning the highly anticipated "Frozen." Is it just an icy version of "Tangled?" Does it live up to the hype? Is it the best movie since "The Lion King?" Well the answers are in order as so: no, yes, and debatable.
"Frozen" is the story of a young princess named Anna. She has spent most her days in the seclusion of her castle for the sole purpose of keeping her safe from the terrifying secret of her sister, Elsa. Elsa has the power to create snow out of nothing. Once her secret comes out there is no stopping her power. So when Elsa runs away Anna goes off to find her along with some new allies. All in the hope of making things right again.
This is a completely different story from "Tangled" and it proves this with some very nice twists in the whole fairy-tale scheme of things. And it also does a great job of living up to the incredible amount of hype set for the movie (fantastic songs, great voice-cast, beautiful animation, and great writing). However, the statement that it is the "best movie since 'The Lion King'" is a very bold one at that. "The Lion King" is a classic film that very few films in general can match in caliber. Though I will say "Frozen" is a classic in it's own right.
The songs for the movie have a deep sense of nostalgia, going all the way back to the Disney Renaissance Era. There were several numbers where I felt transported back to classic musical numbers such as show-stopping numbers like "Be Our Guest" and triumphant, powerful songs like "Circle of Life." While watching this movie you will definitely feel the intent for this movie to become a Broadway musical. For those who live in New York, be on the look out because this should be one great time at the theatre.
Of course the movie would have fallen flat if was not for the wonderful talent of the leading cast (pretty much the entire cast are Broadway vets, hint anybody?). The wonderful innocence, naivety of Anna was portrayed so well by Kristen Bell. When she spoke there was a sweet charm about her and her singing felt more angelic, light. This was a great contrast with the powerful, belting vocals of Idina Menzel as Elsa. Her role as the conflicted queen was perfect for her (also her background with roles like this in "Wicked" made her the perfect choice). She brought a certain maturity to conflict Anna's innocence while giving us show-stopping numbers ("Let It Go" was probably one of the best songs of the year). Their chemistry was great.
The rest of the supporting cast did fantastic jobs as well. Jonathan Groff was great as Kristoff (still angry they didn't let him sing much at all). So was Santino Fontana as Hans, but it was Josh Gad as Olaf out of these three who had the best scene-stealing moments. Even though I loved seeing Anna and Kristoff banter back and forth, I felt myself smile even wider whenever Olaf was on screen. He was charming, funny, and just too adorable to ignore. Though I couldn't help but feel bad for laughing while he sang "In Summer," a song about how he'd be doing what a snowman does during summer (dark humor in a Disney movie, love it).
All-in-all, this was a great addition to the Disney movie canon. We got ourselves some original and fantastic songs, tons of memorable characters, a wonderfully written script, and some nice (much-needed) twists on the fairy-tale ideas. Even though it is hard to match up to "The Lion King" this is still a great Disney movie that the whole family will enjoy and I will not be surprised if it wins the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
The Sound of Music Live! (2013)
The Hills Are Still Alive
There has been much speculation, anticipation, and even trepidation since NBC announced their plans for a live event of "The Sound of Music." These questions grew when it was announced Carrie Underwood would play the role of Maria, made iconic by the great Julie Andrews. So, does the event meet expectations? I would have to say yes.
The legendary musical is loosely based off of the real life Von Trapp family during World War II. Maria had just recently become the governess for the Von Trapp family where she falls in love with the father of the children. While helping them rebuild the family they must also deal with the Nazi occupation happening all around them.
One thing I must get straight is that this is not a remake of the movie (whoever dares messing with that gem will need many prayers indeed). This is a televised event of the Broadway version. And you can tell this version has a very theatrical feel to it. All the way from the fake set of the mountains to the (admittedly) impressive Von Trapp home. While some may be too unaware to understand how a stage musical works to enjoy the setting, I personally loved how the setting was done. This gave the event a truly theatrical feeling to it that made it more authentic to an actual Broadway show than other musical shows on TV. It was very fun to see.
However, the biggest question is concerning Carrie Underwood. Did she do a good job? Yes, she did a very good job with Maria. While Carrie is new to acting, she shows she has the chops (and potential to grow) needed for an actress. Of course, since she is new I was willing to give her some breathing room. That was my opinion going in but that changed by the time it was over. She shined with the pure innocence and even naivety that is Maria. Now she will never out-shine Julie Andrews (who can!) but she knew that so instead of trying to be something she's not, she made the role her own. That is a very important thing to do (and not many actors are smart enough to realize that) especially with iconic roles such as Maria. I believe Carrie Underwood has a bright future with acting, as long as she continues noticing her weaknesses and grows from them.
Then there is the rest of the cast, which most are very experienced in the world of Broadway and acting. Stephen Moyer was fantastic as the Captain Von Trapp. He brought a certain sadness (and even unlikeable attitude) that made him the perfect contrast to the innocence and sweetness of Maria. The children were fantastic as well, all of them relatively newcomers to the world of acting. They all brought their best selves and proved how mature they were by performing live on national television. That was impressive. However, there were some supporting work from the likes of Laura Benanti (Elsa), Christian Borle (Max), and Audra McDonald (Mother Abbess). All of them did great jobs and stole the scene every time one of them were on camera (though McDonald's version of "Climb Every Mountain" stole the entire show).
All-in-all, this was a great onetime event that we will not get again. The entire cast did great jobs, wonderful performers, great direction, and wonderfully authentic Broadway feel. I really do hope live musicals become a new tradition for Holiday seasons to come.
One of the Best Movies of the Year!
In a society where the success of media is determined by how much money is gotten from the overuse of 3D, it can be very refreshing to find a movie that has 3D but does not let it take over. This is probably one of the greatest strengths of "Gravity."
"Gravity" takes place in (you guessed it) space and it surrounds the experiences of two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney). When disaster strikes they find themselves stranded in the middle of space and must find a way back to Earth.
Sounds like a simple idea, but that is the genius of it. There is nothing complicated about the story, doesn't try adding some deep message about politics, society, or anything like that. No, the message is skillfully present in the movie without feeling forced because the filmmakers let the story play out. I am sure there was a great temptation to make the moral of the story as obvious as the sun in the middle of the day but they didn't. That alone is worthy of praise.
Another thing worthy of praise must go straight to Alfonso Cuaron. He is without a doubt one of the best directors of our time. He masterfully created a film with spellbinding beauty mixed with awe-inspiring terror. All the while he didn't lose focus of what this story is really about, the will of the human spirit.
Yet much of the credit must go to the leading actors: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Both did fantastic jobs but it is Bullock who should get most of the praise. This was definitely her best performance to date. She portrayed the vulnerability, strength, and pure terror of a woman trapped in a situation where hope is gone. Such a role demands an actress in the highest of standards and Bullock proved she was deserving of the role. At this point she is a deadlock for the nomination for best leading actress and I will not be surprised if she wins. She was absolutely phenomenal.
Yet there is one aspect that this film is almost guaranteed to win at the Oscars: special effects. Watching this movie made me feel like I was truly in space and experiencing every feeling these characters were feeling. Rarely have I ever been absolutely star struck by just the visuals of a film. The last time I felt this immersed in a film was when "Avatar" came out but I didn't see that in 3D. I am one who views 3D as nothing but a gimmick. However, when I saw "Gravity" in 3D I knew there was still hope for it. This was one of those rare times where 3D added to the experience of seeing a movie and not detract from it. Absolutely gorgeous movie on every scale.
So in the end, "Gravity" takes a simple idea and shows how sometimes the simplest idea is the better way to go. This was all thanks to masterful direction, fantastic acting, beautiful visuals, and wonderful writing. A great testament to the will of the human spirit; I will not be surprised if it wins Best Picture.
A worthy middle chapter in a surprisingly mature teen franchise.
It is has been over a year now since the first "The Hunger Games" took the box office (and audiences) by storm. Now after much anticipation, well marketed hype, and a year of below par sequels (mostly); "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is finally here. So is the verdict. And the verdict is very glowing indeed.
"Catching Fire" is all about the consequences of Katniss' victory in the last Hunger Games. She tricked the Capitol and President Snow wants revenge. So while she tries to appease President Snow she must also deal with the fact that she is the reluctant symbol of a rebellion beginning to emerge in the Districts. Things get even worse for her as she must decide how she will keep her loved ones safe as the next Hunger Games come closer, and these Games will have a twist that will change things forever.
The sequel does a fantastic job of diving deeper into the thought-provoking ideas of the books. We find deeper themes concerning totalitarian government, the one percent versus the ninety-nine percent, violence in our media, and beginnings of war. It is based off of a young adult novel but it is much smarter than your average teen story.
All of this is mainly due to the wonderful new direction the film was taken into by Francis Lawrence (new director). While I did enjoy the controversial shaky-camera of "The Hunger Games" I will admit there is something refreshing to get a clear look at the action this time around. However, Lawrence was smart because he kept the dark tone set by Gary Ross in the original and he even expanded upon it. Usually there is fear of a change in directors so suddenly can lead to jarring tonal shifts with films in a series. However, Lawrence did an excellent job of making the film his own while building off of the world we had seen in the first movie.
While Lawrence did add something new and exciting to the series, the fact is "Catching Fire" would fail if it was not for the fantastic actress that was placed in the lead. At this point it is cliché to say that Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic but it is very true. From the very first shot of the film she has you trapped in her gaze. Her down-to-earth persona makes Katniss very relatable. Also, Jennifer made the smart move to show the thing in Katniss that makes her relatable to almost everybody, the desire to protect her family and loved ones. They could not have found a better actress to portray the endearment, strength, love, and vulnerability that is Katniss Everdeen.
Of course the rest of the cast do fantastic jobs as well. Josh Hutcherson portrays Peeta's broken heart with finesse as well as the strength (and even pain) he has gained from being in the Hunger Games before. Liam Hemsworth gets more screen time this time around and he does a great job with it. We know Gale loves Katniss (but also confused on how to deal with this situation) and this time that is explored more in depth which is a nice focus. Then of course there is Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravits, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, and new cast members; Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, and Philip Seymour Hoffman who all do fantastic jobs. It is hard to find such a reliable cast in a brand new movie series.
One final note concerns the love story in the film. While the love story is not the primary focus of the series I am happy to see it get more time to expand in this movie. The chemistry between Lawrence/Hutcherson and Lawrence/Hemsworth is clearly much more distinguishable in this movie. We see a teenage girl who is in the middle of a revolution while dealing with normal teenage girl problems in her home. And I am happy that the filmmakers were careful in their portrayal of the love story and did not make it feel forced or cheesy. The chemistry and the story itself did all the work.
All-in-all, this is a very fine addition to what is probably one of the smartest franchises to come out in a long time. With fantastic performances, great direction and writing, intense action sequences, and a deeper sense of the thought-provoking themes from the novel; "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" soars above and beyond expectations to set the stage for the two-part final act to come.
Toy Story of Terror (2013)
The toys are back for one more adventure!
As a child who grew up on Toy Story, there is a special place for the toys in my heart. To this day I still consider the Toy Story trilogy some of my favorite movies. However, I stand by my original belief that there should not be another Toy Story movie mainly because I felt the movie series had the perfect ending with Toy Story 3. But who am I to turn down a nice 30-minute Halloween special with the toys especially one as good as this?
In this adventure, the toys find themselves in their own little horror movie. As Bonnie and her mom are on a trip they find themselves stopping at a motel to get car repairs. Once there the toys realize that something is making them disappear, one-by-one. In the end, it is up to Jesse to figure out what must be done to save her friends before it is too late.
This was definitely a nice way to see the toys again. After 18 years with the series, this TV special is a nice reminder that there are still plenty of stories for this wonderful world to tell.
I especially loved the focus of the special on Jesse. She has always been one of my favorite characters and she really has a chance to shine in this TV special. We get a deeper look at her fear of enclosed spaces as well as the opportunity for her to overcome her fears. It was very nice to see.
If I had any complaint it would be that it was too short. They could've very easily expanded this story into an hour long TV special and make it just right. Since it was so short, I felt a little robbed of very precious time with the toys. While a movie would be too long and feel unnecessary for this story, an hour long special would be just perfect without feeling unnecessary. If it was longer they would've been able to explore the horror themes a little bit longer as well as make the climax (as wonderful as it was) even more exciting.
However, these couple of complaints pale in comparison to the wonderful reunion viewers are given with the toys. The whole point of this special is to remind you why you fell in love with the toys in the first place (and remind you Jesse is the best cowgirl toy around). It does all of this while playing around with some of the best known horror movie tropes in cinema. It is great fun.
It succeeds on every level by creating a fun, beautifully animated, wonderfully written Halloween special that everybody in the family will enjoy. Toy Story might not feel right for future movies but it definitely feels right for future TV specials. Toy Story is still alive and I'm so happy for it.
Very Clever Series with Great Potential.
In the ever-growing (and confusing) world of "Once" we now take a prolonged trip to Wonderland in this stylish spin-off to the big hit "Once Upon a Time."
"Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" is the story of Alice, a young girl who travels to the wondrous world, where she meets exciting and even terrifying people. However, when she returns home she tells her father of her amazing adventures but he doesn't believe her. To prove her sanity she spends many years of her life searching for proof for her father. Then she meets a genie named Cyrus. The two of them go on new adventures and fall in love. However, the Red Queen tracks them down and apparently kills Cyrus in front of Alice. In her world she is about to go through a terrible procedure to forget about Cyrus and her adventures. Just in time, the Knave of Hearts along with the White Rabbit save her and tell her Cyrus is alive. Now the three of them go to Wonderland to save Cyrus and liberate Wonderland from the hold of the Red Queen and Jafar.
To make an original series and make it feel fresh is hard to do. To make a spin-off series and make it feel fresh is nearly impossible to do. However, this show does feel fresh and full of energy. The world introduced here is full of vibrant characters and a fantastic cast with much depth put into their roles.
While the entire cast is wonderful it is Sophie Lowe as Alice that makes this such a delightful show to watch. For so many years Alice has been a damsel in distress yet, the tables are turned in this enchanting series. Lowe brings much personality and depth to a role that could've very easily been stereotyped. Alice is clever, witty, kind, and even tough as nails. She might be interested in finding her true love but she isn't willing to wait around for him to save her. It is really refreshing to see.
Just like the parent series "Wonderland" has many twists and surprises around the corner to lead up to an interesting climax. With interesting characters, great chemistry between the cast, fun and intriguing villains, and a wonderful love story that does not feel forced "Wonderland" is a truly enchanting story that will hopefully live up to its promise.
Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
Great sequel, even if it doesn't completely live up to the first one.
While the first "Insidious" took a much more chilling and slow way to get the scares, the sequel is a tad bit different in that sense. Don't get me wrong, "Insidious: Chapter 2" is great horror movie fare. I just feel it could've been scarier.
The sequel keeps the promise of it's title (something many movies in our time fail to even do). The movie starts off right at the end of the first one and it continues the story of the Lambert family. Things seem to be calm now, life is finally back to normal for them. However, things get weird when the noises start up again along with some violent outbursts from some unfriendly guests. Yet this isn't even the worst of their problems. One certain family member seems to be losing his mind as he mutters to himself while acting completely out of character. Is something wrong with dad?
One of the few things I had mixed feelings about in the first movie was the place called "The Further." It was definitely something of a new element compared to other recent haunted house movies, however, I just felt they didn't expand on the idea as much as they could've in the original. Happily though, they fix that in this movie. "The Further" is made as a much bigger part in this movie and the potential it has was finally used. You get to see some very interesting things (makeshift breadcrumbs for being lost, finding a world among the dead never seen before, and even answering questions you never realized you had). All in all, I was very happy with the much better use of "The Further."
Also the acting was fantastic. The actors were definitely pushed to take their characters to new places. The father becoming insane (almost "Shining" like), the wife becoming a fighter, and the son (comatose for most of the first movie) becoming the kind of "man of the house" while his father is losing it. So having great acting was definitely a nice plus. After all, how many horror movies can say they had actors who could hold your attention without any sex scenes?
Sadly, there are some negatives. Maybe I'm just biased in favor of the original in this circumstance but I feel this movie was not as chilling as the first one. The first movie was very chilling so the standards were already high but I can't help but feel disappointed. However, there were some nice scare scenes that you would not see coming as well as an intense climax that will take your breath away.
Over all, this is a very fine addition to the inevitable franchise that is to come. Usually sequels to horror movies are terrible but this one actually did very well. It might not have been as scary as the first but it made up for that with great acting, nicely written script, nice atmosphere and intense climax. Enjoy this movie while it lasts (after all, it won't be long before we have "Insidious: Book 4 Chapter 6" along with "Paranormal Activity 20").
The Conjuring (2013)
Reminds you that a creaky door can still be scary.
It has been a long time since a truly terrifying film has come out. While I do think "Insidious" is a nice scary treat for haunted house stories, "The Conjuring" blew me away.
"The Conjuring" is based on the true story (then again, Hollywood would say a movie about talking toys is based on a true story if it sold more tickets) of a family haunted by some unknown entity in the new home they got. The film is based off an old case-file investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life married couple who investigated the Amityville Horror. However, unlike other films based off their exploits, we get a film where they're actually main characters. So now it is up to the Warrens to help save the day for this family of seven.
Something else that is very surprising about this film is that it actually makes you CARE about the characters. Most of the time in horror movies you have to deal some dumb kids having sex before Jason Myers or Michael Voorhees comes along and puts an end to our misery. However, that isn't the case with "The Conjuring." Vera Farmiga gives a fantastic performance as Lorraine Warren, a woman who won't let anything get in the way of protecting her family or doing what is right. Patrick Wilson also gives a great performance as Ed Warren, a man who would do anything to protect his wife. Lili Taylor also gives a fantastic performance as a mother trying to protect her family. Basically what I'm trying to say is this is a horror movie with great acting! I know, I was shocked too.
Now James Wan has truly grown since his days directing "Saw." There is little to no gore in this movie, just pure terror. Wan makes you care about the characters before beginning the truly scary stuff. After all, Wan is under the insane notion that things could be scarier if we actually care about what happens to the people in this movie. I wonder where he got that idea?
No matter how much you prepare yourself, however, you will never be ready for the mounting dread that will haunt you from the beginning of the film. From the very first shot to the last moment you will be on the edge of your seat wanting to yell at the screen "Hurry up I can't take the tension anymore!" But you will take the tension because that is what this movie does. It builds the tension to the absolute highest and scares you to the point of screaming way out loud. There may be a couple jump scares here and there but the true money is when James Wan decides to show you what real fear is. Sure it might not bring anything new to the genre but it does remind you why classic horror is always the way to go. Wan proves that not all the blood in the world can outmatch a good olé fashioned creaky door in the middle of the night.
In the end, "The Conjuring" is an extremely well done film with a great cast, fantastic direction, and clever script. You will be jumping out of your seat one scene after another. Just pray that the creaky door at night is just because it needs to be oiled.
The Fosters (2013)
Best New Family-Drama of the Year
I am one to be very cautious when watching a teen-drama on ABC Family. After all "Pretty Little Liars" isn't the most enthralling teen murder-mystery show and "Secret Life" just wasn't sophisticated enough to be smart TV fare. However, ABC Family has blown me away with it's brand-new television series "The Fosters." The show starts off telling the story of Callie, a girl in foster care, she's just getting out of juvie and is now sent (her younger brother Jude will join her) to live with another foster family but this one is a little bit different from her other homes. The house is made-up of three other teenagers: Brandon, the biological son of his mom from a previous marriage; Mariana and her brother Jesus, twin Latino teenagers who were adopted when they were children; and we round it up with Lena and Stef, a bi-racial lesbian couple raising the children together. Stef is Brandon's biological mother but that doesn't stop him from referring to Lena as mom too. So now Callie is in this whole new situation that is something she never even considered possible until now. Now the insane weekday mornings getting ready for school and work can begin.
In the very first episode it is as plain as day that this family isn't the definition of what is considered a "traditional family" but that doesn't matter, people are too busy getting breakfast ready and skateboards out of the kitchen to really care. The show has done an immensely wonderful job at describing how much the definition of family has changed throughout the years. When you think of the perfect family you think of "The Brady Bunch" but as Stef elegantly put it during a conversation with Lena "We're not the Brady Bunch." Instead of being "perfect" they're real which is very refreshing for family drama.
The maturity in this show is also very surprising considering it is a teen drama from ABC Family, which (except in the case of Switched at Birth) usually always ends up being a soap-opera. The writers obviously take their time in crafting convincing characters that we will love and absolutely relate to. But this would definitely end up being a stereotypical, cheesy show if it wasn't for the amazing cast assembled on the screen. Even in it's most melodramatic moments the cast finds a way to keep it one of the most grounded shows on television.
But probably the main reasons to keep watching are because of three women: Maia Mitchell (Callie), Sherri Saum (Lena), and Teri Polo (Stef). Teri Polo and Sherri Saum have natural chemistry that easily transitions on screen with their performances. Both women are equally convincing in their roles as caring mothers raising the five teenagers under one roof and as a loving, married couple who would do anything for each other. To see that kind of affection is inspiring. However, it is Maia Mitchell who steals the show as the reserved and tough Callie. Maia Mitchell brings a subtlety to the role that makes her performance all the more powerful. Maia breaks the stereotype that all foster children are delinquents bent on destroying everything in their path and showing that not all foster kids are like that. She shows that Callie has a wisdom beyond her years because of her experiences in foster care and that she is a capable young woman with true issues from her past. Such honesty is something rarely seen in any young performer these days and to find it in an hour show every week is a dream come true. She definitely has a bright future ahead of her.
In the end, "The Fosters" proves to be a wonderful family-drama about love, trust, and just living life. There was much potential for this to go wrong but also just as much potential for this to go right. And I am pleased to announce that this has gone right indeed. With wonderful performances, smartly written script, and sensitive direction "The Fosters" sores beyond the usual expectations of family-dramas. And yes, Stef was right when she said "We're definitely not the Brady Bunch" and thank God for that.
The Hunger Games (2012)
May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor. And they certainly are!
The odds are definitely in The Hunger Games favor in terms of box office and reception. I am a huge fan of the book and when I heard about the movie I just got excited as anyone could possibly get. Of course I still had some doubt. Every time I heard someone say it would be the "next Twilight" my heart would drop because Twilight is by far not anywhere close to the standard set by The Hunger Games. However, I went into the movie with an open mind and was absolutely blown away.
The cast that were chosen for the film was perfect. Jennifer Lawrence played Katniss with exceptional strength and even grace that made me completely buy her as being Katniss and could not imagine anyone else as the strong heroine. Woody Harrelson portrayed Haymitch with a respect for the character in terms of how the character truly feels about the Capitol and showing him as a man made bitter by his life, which in my opinion was pretty much what Haymitch was. And Donald Sutherland as the vicious President Snow was absolutely terrifying in the role. He brought on the same aura of malice and hatred that the character was easily able to create in the books. This is just the first movie and I cannot wait to see what else he brings to the table in future installments. Now I could go on and on about how superb the cast was because it is true. Everyone brought something great to the table but it was Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Katniss that held the movie very high up. The action and violence was also pretty gruesome and done just right so that it didn't go overboard but was faithful enough to the book that the violence wasn't undermined. The outcome of having Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games) work with director Gary Ross to write the script for the film version was probably one of the best things to happen for this film. It is superb filmmaking at it's finest.
In closing, The Hunger Games is a faithful film adaptation to a great book that is superbly written, performed, and directed to create what will probably be one of the best films of the year. The action and suspense will have you on the edge of your seat throughout the film as well as surprise those of you who have read the books. This film is about two-and-a-half hours long but the pacing matches that of the book so that when it's over you'll feel like its only been an hour-and-a-half. It never drags on but is always on the move to something more exciting than the one before. This film will stay with you for years to come and will make you think a little more about what direction our society is going in.
Excellent Edition to a Great New Series.
So far the series has taken us from how Snow White and Prince Charming met to Cinderella's transformation from maid to princess. This time however we go deeper into the unknown tale of Jiminy Cricket and his quest to find himself.
In this episodes lives begin changing and this change shows greater when old mines in the town suddenly blow up. Henry believes this to be related to his theory that the town is made-up of fairy-tale characters. As he tries to convince others of his theory Regina pushes Archie to try and get Henry to end his crusade. After Archie tells Henry he's delusional Henry decides to dare the dangers of the crumbling mines to find proof that he's not crazy. Things then get dangerous when Regina and Emma must put there feelings aside if they want to save Henry from the mines.
This is another great edition in one of the most unexpected success' of the 2011-2012 television season. Once again we find ourselves learning more about another famous fairy-tale character and the unexpected twist in his story just like Cinderella and The Evil Queen. This is probably the most engaging episode yet as we dive deeper into the towns history as well as the relationship between Mary and John Doe. A must see for fans of the show.
Once Upon a Time (2011)
The previews sparked my interest and the pilot just hooked me.
Once Upon a Time already shows much potential with a great pilot episode. It really got to the point without giving everything away. It basically tells the background information behind the story seen in the shows fictional town of Storybrooke. It does this in just the right way so that the viewer won't get confused or bored from just hearing the talk of fairy-tales from the side of a little boy.
It's simply about Emma Swan and the destiny she's unaware of. Before she was born a prophecy was foretold that an evil curse would befall all of the inhabitants a fairy-tale kingdom sending them to a world where they no longer remember who they are or the happiness they once knew. In the prophecy it is foretold that Emma would be the one to return and save them from the dreaded curse.
Now while there are many other characters in the story it is meant to revolve around Emma and the issues she must face in order to overcome the curse. The story shows much promise already and with no doubt it is sure to progress as the show continues. Morrison (Emma), Goodwin (Snow White), and Parrilla (Evil Queen) have already hit all of the right notes in just the first episode, Parrilla I loved mainly because she makes a very worthy villain in the show.
Even though it has only begun there is great room for success and progress. I think this could be the show of the fall/winter TV season to watch. If any one decides to watch just one show this fall then let it be Once Upon a Time.
May I present the next addition to the Second Disney Renaissance Era.
While some may not be familiar with the name "Disney Renaissance", it was a sort of Disney Golden Age starting with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and ending with Tarzan in 1999. The last ten years has mostly been nothing short of the type of animation you would find on Disney Channel or Toon Disney (now DisneyXD). Disney, for some strange reason, had lost it's creative ability but now these last few years has set the pace for Disney's redemption. Pixar is what has saved Disney's film industry but now thanks to the new Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, who also worked closely on many Pixar movies, Disney is finding themselves making movies that in a few years time will rival Pixar. Now The Princess and the Frog began this new Renaissance Era and it seems to continue with Tangled.
Now this is also a different rendition of the classic fairy-tale. In Tangled Rapunzel is kidnapped as a baby and hidden in this tower by an evil woman. Her hair actually has some kind of special power that makes her so coveted. Now Rapunzel is growing up and doesn't want to stay in the tower any more. When a thief hides in the tower she knocks him out and hides his prize. She makes him promise to take her out of the tower for a day and then she'll give him back what he wants. Of course something will happen between the two and there is always this climatic battle between good and evil. But I was surprised at how much I liked it. I found the characters real and charming. The songs were definitely catchy and I can still hear them in my head to this day.
There has been much controversy over how the film was made. At first I was skeptical about leaving behind the use of animated drawing but the use of computer animation was maybe the better idea. They make the animation come to life and it pulls you into the movie and that's without the story or characters.
Now as for the story that was, once again, another controversy proved to be a good idea. The filmmakers take the story to new heights and even asks questions only a Pixar film would dare to ask using animation. Mandy Moore (Rapunzel) and Zachary Levi (Flynn Rider) are perfect as the leading characters. They bring humor as well as wit to roles in the most unexpected ways.
Tangled isn't just another animated fairy-tale, it is a statement that Disney is back on there long-awaited top form. The title might be Tangled but Disney's return is as straight-forward as it gets. They've made their statement "we're back and that is that." And I can't wait to see what else they bring to the table.
We have just witnessed that horror isn't dead.
Now I think everyone can agree that the last decade of horror movies has just been one remake and gross-out after another. Nothing has lived up to the expectations of the originals as well as nothing original has come out. It's usually something we've always seen before, however it really isn't the fault of the use of dilapidated old houses or mansions every now and then. It's more from the clichés and no feelings for any characters because the filmmakers have been mostly trying to gross us out instead of trying to make time to create people we care about as well as to do what horror movies should do, and that is to scare us. Yet it was in 2007 when Paranormal Activity came out I caught a glimpse of the future of horror. It replaces Saw as the Halloween movie to see and now we are at last getting something good from these places called "film studios." Drag Me to Hell definitely kept things going in the right direction in 2009 and now we have Insidious. Horror movies are finally (as well as unbelievably) getting better. And Insidious is just another reason why we shouldn't give up horror movies.
The story is pretty straight-forward. A family moves into this old house then strange things start happening as well as their son falling into coma. Of course you would think the haunting has something to do with it but you never know with these movies sometimes. At first it looks like the same old kind of horror story you find from the Masters of Horror series but it progresses from that into a full blown horror movie that made me jump, squirm, and even almost scream. Even though I didn't scream I still said "Oh my God!" maybe a hundred times. This definitely went beyond my expectations.
But it's hard to find the perfect movie for its genre and there are a few minor problems. One being that the strength of the film kinda lightens up in the last act but still maintains some of the eeriness of the rest of it. My last complaint is that when the last act starts coming to an end you can pretty much guess how it's going to end. Now with any other movie these would be the problems that could possibly destroy it. And actually those rules don't apply to Insidious. The film is held up by its eerie atmosphere that grabs you from the very beginning and the talented actors to relate to you by being normal people.
The film is actually a collaboration from the creator of Paranormal Activity and the creators of Saw, you would think that such a collaboration would be disastrous but it actually was probably one of the smartest collaborations since Wes Craven worked with Kevin Williamson on the Scream movies (first two and the fourth). There is no gore (which surprised me considering the Saw creators were in on it) or even any blood at all. The movie does what scary movies should do and that is to scare and not gross-out. So while there are some problems, Insidious is probably one of the scariest movies of the year and helps create something original out of the so frequently used ghost stories with haunted, old houses. And that's what is so good about Insidious. It shows that most of the time it's not the setting or the story that makes horror movies bad, it can be the filmmakers and no inspiration put into it. So I just hope that this can be a model for other horror movies and show that there is originality in what was once an almost dead genre.