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Showing posts from 2013

Review - The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), R, 180 minutes - Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.  As far as I'm concerned, that's all you needed to tell me to get me into the theater to see The Wolf of Wall Street, negative reviews be damned.  Their track record together says it all: Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island.  You better believe I'd give them the benefit of the doubt.

DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, and we watch his meteoric rise to billionaire status thanks to some grooming from Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), a lot of smarts, and a fair share of questionable (morally and legally speaking) business tactics.  He's joined on his journey by Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who quits his job and offers to work for Belfort when he is shown a pay stub for a single month that clears seventy grand.  Belfort collects a handful of other friends that have the drive to make big money and behind his brains they launch their own firm.  Success goes hand in han…

Rental Review - The Devil's Backbone

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The Devil's Backbone (2001), R, 106 minutes - Guillermo del Toro has long been one of my favorite directors, and this, his third feature film (after 1993's Cronos and 1997's Mimic) had been his only feature length film that I had not seen.  Thanks to my wife adding the recent Criterion Collection blu-ray release to my movie vault as a Christmas gift, I am now able to cross it off of my 'to watch' list.

del Toro has said on a number of occasions that 2006's Pan's Labyrinth was meant to be a companion piece to The Devil's Backbone.  Having now seen both films (Pan's Labyrinth is one of my all-time favorites), not only is it easy to see that was his intention, but that he was also quite successful in his vision.

The Devil's Backbone takes place in 1939 at a remote, struggling, and supposedly haunted orphanage in Spain towards the end of their Civil War.  A young boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is left there by the man he calls his 'tutor&#…

Review - Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), PG-13, 119 minutes - Over the years, Will Ferrell's off the wall, over the top style of comedy has proven very popular.  One of his most successful films was 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and it was only a matter of time before a sequel came to fruition.  After a couple of years of speculation and then this past year of teasers and trailers, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was finally unleashed on the public last weekend.  In my opinion, it lived up to expectations...for the most part.

Anchorman 2 picks up after the events of The Legend of Ron Burgundy.  He and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) have gotten married and have a young son named Walter (Judah Nelson).  Veronica gets a very prestigious promotion at work becoming the first prime time female news anchor.  At the same time, Ron gets fired.  He's then asked to join a fledgling 24 hour news station as their late late night (or is that early early mo…

Review - American Hustle

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American Hustle (2013), R, 138 minutes - What do you get when you combine an Oscar nominated director, six Oscar nominated/winning actors and actresses, and a con-man story that takes place in the 1970's?  American Hustle, a David O. Russell film that juggles so many people conning one another that it's almost hard to believe the line that opens the film: 'Some of this actually happened.'

The framework for American Hustle's story is this: Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a con-man who owns a small chain of dry cleaners and deals some counterfeit art on the side.  He also runs a phony loan scheme.  Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) enters his life when they both attend the same party and connect over their mutual love of Duke Ellington.  Eventually Irving tells Sydney the truth and asks her to join in on his scheme.  To his surprise, she accepts his offer and creates the identity of a British woman with royal lineage and banking connections in London.  Together they sc…

Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), PG-13, 161 minutes - I'm generally pretty good at compartmentalizing things.  It's a trait that I'm proud of (although my wife would probably tell you that it makes me difficult to deal with sometimes).  Unfortunately, this ability often makes it hard for me to determine how I feel about a film like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Allow me to explain:

First off, I enjoyed the film.  Even the two and a half hour running time didn't cause me to look at my watch once.  As has become a staple of Peter Jackson's adaptations of Middle Earth, The Desolation of Smaug had a good blend of drama, action, and comedy.  He even slipped in a little fledgling romance for good measure.  And once again the cast was excellent.  A large portion of which returned from last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  I felt that Martin Freeman (Bilbo) was wonderful with what little he was asked to do.  Outside of one key, albeit lengt…

Rental Review - Europa Report

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Europa Report (2013), PG-13, 90 minutes - In this unofficial Year of the Sci-Fi Film, Europa Report may not be as flashy, well known, or widely distributed as other entries to the genre, but it is a top notch entry none-the-less.  I'm not even sure that Europa Report was released in my area earlier this summer when it first came out.  I was made aware of it when I heard it mentioned on two different podcasts within a couple of days of each other.  Being a sci-fi fan, my curiosity was peaked but I had to wait until I could rent it from NetFlix to check it out.  

Europa Report is a fictional story about a privately funded space mission to Jupiter's fourth largest moon (Europa) in search of signs of life.  It is presented in a documentary style splicing of interviews and 'found footage', and does so to great effect.  The cast is small, but works very well together.  Unlike many films revolving around space missions, no member of the crew goes crazy or tries to sabotage t…

Review - 12 Years a Slave

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12 Years a Slave (2013), R, 134 minutes - I saw this film a week ago and it has taken me a few days to figure out how I felt about it, and I'm still not sure.  Actually, that's a lie.  I know that it sickened me.  It sickened me on a number of levels.  Not because it isn't a well made film - it is, it's one of the best I've seen this year - but because the content it brings to life is just that appalling.

12 Years a Slave is based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man in a pre-Civil War United States who was abducted from his home and family in upstate New York and sold into slavery.  Just hearing a story like that is disturbing enough, but then you see the circumstances in which it occurred it is that much more sickening.  Solomon wasn't taken from his home in the middle of the night, he was conned.  An able musician, he thought that he was entering into a business arrangement with two men, Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran …

Review - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), PG-13, 146 minutes - Followers of my blog know how much I enjoyed the books and the first film in The Hunger Games franchise (those who don't can catch up here).  They also know that I try to be relatively spoiler free but as one could probably guess, that can be hard with sequels.  Especially when they are clearly planned as a multi-installment story.  If you haven't either seen last year's The Hunger Games or read the books, not only do I highly recommend that you do, but I also warn you against reading further as there are just some things that I won't be able to avoid.  Ok, now that that's out of the way...

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up almost a year after Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) were declared co-victors of The Hunger Games.  They are about to embark on a Victor's Tour leading up to the next Hunger Games when President Snow (Donald Sutherland) pays Katniss a visit.  He not-so-kindly r…

Trailer Talk - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Captain America is my second favorite comic book character (behind only Daredevil), so my excitement for a Cap sequel really shouldn't surprise anyone.  Especially not after how much I loved 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger.  I couldn't have known that it would come to fruition so soon, but I've been hoping for this story line to make it to the big screen since before The First Avenger even finished.  Those familiar with the comic books can probably pick out the scene I'm speaking of, but for those that aren't, I won't spoil anything by getting too specific.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is inspired by one of my all-time favorite story arcs: The Winter Soldier written by Ed Brubaker.  I have no doubt that this film will differ a bit from the source material so that Marvel can fit it into their current cinematic universe continuity, but the fact that they are adapting such a great story is a good sign.  The Winter Soldier tells a very personal…

Review - Thor: The Dark World

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Thor: The Dark World (2014), PG-13, 120 minutes - I've stated at differing times in the past that both Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) were my favorite films from Marvel's 'Phase One' of their cinematic universe.  Apparently it depends on what day it is as to which is my favorite (sue me).  I may be a little wishy washy on that, but there's no floundering in this statement: Thor: The Dark World has been the film that I've enjoyed the most in 2013 to this point.

The Dark World picks up after the events of both Thor and last year's billion dollar smash The Avengers.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is fighting battles across the Nine Realms to bring about peace in the wake of Loki's (Tom Hiddleston) attempts to overtake Earth (Midgard) in The Avengers.  Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) continues her research on Earth in efforts to find Thor.  After all, he had promised to return for her, but it has been two years and she's only seen his…

Review - Ender's Game

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Ender's Game (2013), PG-13, 114 minutes - This year has been the year of the sci-fi film in Hollywood, and the latest entry to the genre is Ender's Game.

Based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, it takes place on a future Earth in a time after humanity barely survived an alien invasion.  The surviving population of Earth has implemented a development program that takes young boys and girls and molds them into the soldiers of the future in hopes of discovering the next great leader who will neutralize the alien threat for good.

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is the youngest of three children.  The other two of which have already been dismissed from the leadership school.  Older brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) is too violent, and middle sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) is considered too compassionate.  The students are run through various battle scenarios in a programmable, zero G environment - did I mention the 'school' is in space? (think the dange…

Rental Review - The Way Way Back

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The Way Way Back (2013), PG-13, 103 minutes - I saw the trailer for this film earlier this year but missed it once it was released.  I was able to catch it on the plane on the flight back from our honeymoon and it made two hours of the nine hour flight quite entertaining.

The Way Way Back is a 'coming of age' story, but it manages to do so without seeming run of the mill.  It uses the same formula that made Little Miss Sunshine the darling of a film that it was: a great cast, funny dialogue (despite some very serious moments), and a strange family dynamic.  Bear in mind, these components make it difficult to mix correctly, but The Way Way Back gets it right.

Duncan (Liam James) is on a summer 'family' trip with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).  He's a shy kid and is completely out of place.  He doesn't trust or like Trent and feels increasingly outcast in this home away from home.  The girl …

Trailer Talk - Divergent (2014)

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Divergent is based on the young adult novel of the same name by author Veronica Roth.  It is the first segment of a trilogy that just ended with the release of Allegiant a couple of weeks ago (the middle segment is called Insurgent).  A former co-worker of mine first mentioned it to me a year or so ago and with a little motivation from this initial trailer, I finally read it a couple of weeks ago.

Taking place in Chicago sometime in the future, society is now split into five factions (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite).  Every citizen fits into one of these factions, determined by their aptitude for the traits each faction holds dear.  Divergent follows Tris Prior, a teenage girl who is about to make the biggest decision of her life (whether she will devote her life to her born faction - Abnegation - or attempt to pass the trials to become part of another faction).   If a citizen chooses to switch factions and does not pass the initiation, they become 'factionles…

Rental Review - Silent House

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Silent House (2011), R, 86 minutes - This will be fairly short and quick as I wasn't a big fan of this flick.  I did think that Elizabeth Olsen was surprisingly good for a movie of this genre.  Not too often does an actor/actress really portray absolute terror, but she does the job well in Silent House.  So well that even though I didn't necessarily buy into the plot, there were a couple of points where her character was so beside herself that she could barely breath and that feeling got to me as well.

Olsen plays Sarah, a teenage girl who is helping her father and uncle clean up their family's old lake house so that it can be sold.  The house is old, cluttered, and creepy but are the events she's experiencing real or in her head?  Silent House is not one of the better thriller/horror movies that I've seen, but Olsen's portrayal of fear and paranoia make it worth a look.  The disturbing back story that comes to light towards the end helps to make up for some a…

Rental Review - Warm Bodies

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Warm Bodies (2013), PG-13, 98 minutes - This is not your typical zombie flick and the easiest way to describe it is probably by borrowing the tagline from Shaun of the Dead - a romantic comedy with zombies.  It tells the story of R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie in a post outbreak world.  He's a relatively new zombie who still has some brain function and humanity intact.  In the Warm Bodies world, the virus is degenerative and he knows that one day he'll become a 'bonie' a zombie with no humanity left that will prey on anything it can get it's hands on.

One day the group of zombies he is roaming with crosses paths with a group of humans that are making a provisions run.  During the altercation he sees Julie (Teresa Palmer) and is instantaneously smitten.  He saves her from the zombie horde and provides her with shelter (he has taken up residence in a plan at the deserted airport).  She turns out to be the daughter of the leader of the area's human population, a ma…

Rental Review - Insidious

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Insidious (2010), PG-13, 103 minutes - My fiance and I had both heard how creepy Insidious was for a while when we bought it about a year ago.  We picked it up in hopes of having a scary movie night around Halloween.  Unfortunately, our six month old puppy (at the time) didn't agree with the idea of there being quiet time in the house.  Last week we realized that Insidious: Chapter 2 was being released this weekend.  So we figured we should finally make some time to sit down and see what the Insidious was all about.

A couple of years back when Insidious first came out, I had absolutely no desire to see it.  I recognize now that is almost entirely because the trailer and movie posters hailed it as being directed by James Wan, the director of Saw.  As soon as I saw the connection with Saw, I tuned out.  As many who know me could tell you, I'm not big on horror of the slasher/gore variety.  So before anyone else jumps to the same conclusion while reading this, let me tell you now…

Review - The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013), PG-13, 130 minutes - The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on the young adult fantasy novel of the same name written by Cassandra Clare. It follows teenager Clary Fray as she is exposed to a world of Shadowhunters and Demons, a world that she has much stronger ties to than even she realizes.

Clary (Lily Collins), like her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) is an artist. One day she doodles a symbol while talking on the phone. She then starts seeing the same symbol out around town, leading to her talking her way into a club along with her friend Simon (Robert Sheehan).  While in the club, Clary witnesses a murder that no one else sees. She's mortified that she was the only one to see what happened and wonders if she's going crazy. She's even more anxious the next morning when she wakes to a room full of drawings of the symbol that she continued to unconsciously draw over night. She tries to make sense of things with Simon…

Review - The World's End

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The World's End (2013), R, 109 minutes - It took me a couple of tries but I was finally able to see the third installment in what has become known as the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy this past Friday night.  Many who are not already familiar with writer/director Edgar Wright's work and his previous collaborations with actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost may wonder what on Earth the 'Cornetto Trilogy' even is.  This is a trilogy in the loosest sense of the term.  It isn't tied together by any direct continuity or character carry over, but it is connected in that all three films (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End) are directed by Wright, co-written by Pegg and Wright, star Pegg and Frost, and feature, for even the briefest of moments, a Cornetto ice cream snack.  They are all also tied together by similar themes.  I've absolutely loved everything I have seen from these three guys, especially their collaborations so I've been looking forward to …

Review - Kick-Ass 2

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Kick-Ass 2 (2013), R, 103 minutes - I'm a few days later with this review than I had originally planned, but after seeing Kick-Ass 2 I felt the need to go back and read the the two comic mini-series that it adapts (2010's Kick-Ass 2 and 2012's Hit-Girl - both by Kick-Ass creators Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.).  I thoroughly enjoyed the adaptation of Kick-Ass in 2010 (my review can be seen here), but for some reason this sequel wasn't really on my radar.  Perhaps this is because I had yet to read the source material, or maybe because there have been other films this summer that I was anticipating much more.  In either case, I was pleased with the outcome in general.

Kick-Ass 2 picks up not too long after the end of the first film.  Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz), also known as Hit-Girl is trying to adjust to a normal teenage life now that she is living with her adoptive father Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut) and his non-vigilante rules.  On the side…