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About me

No longer active here. Find me at Letterboxd! My Letterboxd Profile

I'm somewhat weird. No, I lied. I'm VERY weird. And I'm odd. But that sort of means the same thing....did I mention I'm weird? I also write kid movie reviews for The Movie Waffler.

I'm trying to get this video to 1 billion views! It's only four seconds long, so please watch, like, and share it with friends!---- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScZEP0SUX_M

Occupation: Writer, Critic, Music Composer


Lists

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Movies I've Seen in 2014 (so far) (69 items)
Movie list by Joshua "LF"
Published 2 years, 10 months ago 2 comments
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Movies I Saw in Theaters (83 items)
Movie list by Joshua "LF"
Published 3 years, 9 months ago
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Amazing Books (76 items)
Book list by Joshua "LF"
Published 3 years, 10 months ago
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Films That I Cried Or Almost Cried While Watching (55 items)
Movie list by Joshua "LF"
Published 3 years, 11 months ago 1 comment
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Film Score Highlights (129 items)
Movie list by Joshua "LF"
Published 3 years, 11 months ago



Recent reviews

All reviews - Movies (218) - TV Shows (1) - DVDs (1) - Games (1)

Review of The Wolverine

Posted : 2 years ago on 29 November 2014 06:34 (A review of The Wolverine)

When I reviewed X-Men Origins: Wolverine last month, I stated the following: "Wolverine isn't a particularly interesting character to begin with (and he became increasingly less interesting as the franchise continued). I have a lot of difficulty believing that an entire movie revolving around this fairly bland character was an appealing idea for anybody. At any rate, it certainly didn't make for an appealing movie." In regards to the sequel, The Wolverine, the sentiment has not changed a bit.

Creatively titled The Wolverine (note the sarcasm), this is the sixth installment in the X-Men franchise. On the X-Men time table, this film occurs an unspecified amount of time after X-Men: The Last Stand. Logan is living on his own again, but is brought Tokyo to honor a dying man Logan once saved. But it all turns out to be a wicked plot to take Logan's powers from him. And also there's another woman that Logan hooks up with. For no. Stinking. Reason.

Which brings me into my first issue with the film (but certainly not the most important one): there are way too many unnecessary characters. There are really only three or four characters that needed to be in this film. The excess of characters is especially problematic because they're all horribly boring. Wolverine - among the least interesting X-Men characters - seems lively and fully dimensional compared to the rest of the cardboard cast. The performances are weak, but they're largely hindered by lifeless characters.

The action scenes are neatly choreographed, but completely uninvolving (partially due to the equally uninvolving characters). They lack the excitement and campy fun of the better X-Men films. The exception here is a brilliantly fun fight sequence that takes place on a moving train. It's as ridiculous as it sounds, but it's extremely fun to watch. Unfortunately, it only lasts about four minutes. The other 122 minutes are mostly a snooze.

The plot is somewhat confusing, but the exposition is so tedious to listen to, I quickly gave up trying, which perhaps explains my confusion. The script is just so poorly written, lacking almost any kind of humor and certainly any memorable dialogue. It has its laughably stupid moments, but not enough to boost the overall entertainment value.

The cast provides competent performances, but the unmemorable characters they're portraying puts a very low ceiling on the effectiveness of each. Hugh Jackman is again for the sixth-ish time (his brief cameo in First Class included) to once again walk around with his shirt off for a large portion of the movie and lust for another man's woman. Tao Okamoto is that said woman, and she's about as interesting as a stationary tree. Most of the cast comfortably reflects this comparison as well, though perhaps excepting Svetlana Khodchenkova. Khodchenkova portrays one of the many underdeveloped villains in this film, and though she has not nearly enough screentime to make much of an impression, one gets the feeling that she would be an engaging villain with a better script.

Marco Beltrami's score is effective enough in film, but it lacks memorable material. The music is very mood-oriented, rarely making use of distinctive melodies, and instead, often using the shear colors of the Asian instruments in the mix to provide the atmosphere. The score's action material is as bombastic as possible, but doesn't leave much of a positive impression.

The film's Tokyo setting and great-looking visual effects makes this possibly the best looking X-Men film thus far. But the polish that has gone into the visuals is not evident in the script. In addition to being poorly written, The Wolverine is just an utter bore. Outside of the fun train sequence, there's hardly a moment of fun to be had. There's an outrageous amount of violence here (easily the most of any of the X-Men films), but even then, the experience is oddly unengaging. The Wolverine is messy, tedious, and largely forgettable. Thankfully, nothing of consequence to the overall franchise occurs in this film, making this an easy film to skip.


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Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Posted : 2 years ago on 23 November 2014 03:58 (A review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1)

Let me deflate any false hope by starting this review with the following sentence: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay does not need to be two movies. I left Mockingjay Part 1 with the expected interest in the final installment (due to be released next year around the same time), but fairly surprised at how little ground this penultimate chapter covers, despite its two hour length. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, despite my mixed to negative feelings on the films, certainly warranted two parts. Peter Jackson's 3 movie adaptions of the 300 page novel are the source of much controversy, but I feel there is effort to make the movies feel as complete and eventful as possible. No such effort was made with Mockingjay Part 1; an entertaining threequel, but ultimately, an almost completely inconsequential one.

Katniss Everdeen is now living in District 13, a place that was unknown to most before now. Katniss now must work with those in District 13 to fuel and lead a massive revolution against the Capitol. All the while, Katniss wonders what has become of Peeta, who has fallen into the hands of the Capitol, and is under taxing and mysterious circumstances.

The short review of Mockingjay Part 1 is this: The movie is entertaining. It moves along at an agreeable pace, gives us some snippets of what made the previous films so engrossing, and provides some excellent performances. Its flaws are numerous, but the movie works well enough to satisfy fans.

And that last point leads right into my longer review of the film. Mockingjay Part 1 will certainly please its loyal followers. But if you've failed to find yourself engaged, interested, or entertained by the events and characters from the previous films, you won't find any improvements here. Catching Fire (Mockingjay's predecessor) managed to convert the naysayers and unsatisfied moviegoers that were disappointed by the first Hunger Games movie (helmed by Gary Ross). Don't expect any such conversions to occur here.

One of Mockingjay's most surprising problems is its conflicting messages. When Peeta shows up on Capitol talk shows, telling District 13 to cease their revolution (not a spoiler, this is in the promotional material), Katniss defends Peeta by insisting that he's only saying and doing these things to stay alive. Yet, Katniss (and many others) have no problem shooting down Capitol soldiers with explosive arrows (witnessed quite prominently in the trailers).

Even more disturbing is the amount of attention that is given to Katniss' boyfriend situation. Will she choose to love Peeta or Gale? Not only are Katniss' intentions here ridiculously obvious, but the amount of time that's spent on this love triangle effectively trivializes the horror of what's going on in the Capitol. Was not the point and source of controversy surrounding the Hunger Games was how casually those in the Capitol accepted it? To them, it's just a TV show. A source of entertainment. By placing so much focus on the romance between Katniss and Peeta/Gale, is the movie then succumbing to the very same sense of morals that our audience is supposed to associate with the Capitol?

Even if the amount of screentime devoted to the love triangle was justified, it's still inept. It's uninteresting, and sometimes laughable. It isn't cringe-worthy to the same degree as the other Hunger Games films, but I still wish it had less screentime, if any at all. I question the need for a romantic interest in these films at all, but as long as it gets butts into seats, I suppose it can be considered necessary. If nothing else, one should give the Hunger Games series credit for attempting to address difficult questions and challenging substance, and presenting it to a teenage audience. While the love angle of this is obnoxious, it's a source of interest for many teenage girls. In the end, I'm glad that these movies can attract a mainstream audience, even if we do have to pay a hefty price in the form of poorly written "romance."

Many will point to Jennifer Lawrence as the strongest cast member. And indeed, she's great here, though she has much less to work with than before. But the real star is Donald Sutherland as President Snow. While his time on screen is a lot smaller than in the previous films, the scenes he has are fantastic. At times, Sutherland is absolutely chilling. The rest of the cast sparkles, excepting the expressionless Liam Hemsworth (though Josh Hutcherson has notably improved). Critics inevitably highlight Philip Seymour Hoffman's supporting role in this film due to his unfortunate death earlier this year, but his performance is good enough that it would deserve recognition regardless.

James Newton Howard's score here is actually weaker than his previous efforts (though there's not very much music in the picture). While some will appreciate the occasional moments of grandeur that was rarely achieved in the previous films, Newton Howard's work here lacks the memorable quality of the previous scores. One song that's featured very prominently in the film (and is sung by Lawrence's character in a mildly ghastly part of the film) feels surprisingly rock-oriented, and isn't as effective as one would hope or expect.

Mockingjay Part 1's biggest problem truly is its lack of events. Very little of the film advances the overall scheme of things. The film sustains interest, but there's no real sense of tension until the last hour (and no particularly important events until the last 30 minutes). The sparsely used moments of government oppression and abuse feel more like afterthoughts than impacting shock points. After two excellent movies, audiences have a right to expect a third entry of the same quality. However, Mockingjay Part 1 is hindered by its weak source material and its "placeholder" role in the franchise which prevents almost anything from happening. As a fan, I liked this film as much as I could. But as a movie goer, I was disappointed.


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Review of ParaNorman

Posted : 2 years ago on 19 November 2014 12:09 (A review of ParaNorman)

Discounting the crowd-dividing Brave, 2012 was indisputably one of the great years in animation. It represented a number of marvelous animated films including Wreck-It Ralph, Frankenweenie, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Rise of the Guardians. Among the great animated films released in 2012 was ParaNorman; stopmotion studio Laika's second film, after Coraline. And it's exactly what one would expect from the studio. Gorgeous animation, creepy story, refreshingly mature substance, and loads of entertainment.

Recalling 1999's The Sixth Sense, ParaNorman is about a boy named Norman who sees dead people. He talks with them all the time (much to the ridicule of his friends and family). But it turns out that Norman's abilities may be necessary in order to prevent his hometown from being destroyed by a resurrected witch with a curse that just won't die.

Like Coraline, ParaNorman is not for young children. It's not as adult, nor as frightening as Coraline, but nonetheless, children are likely to be frightened by much of what occurs in ParaNorman. On top of that, there is some surprisingly adult content here. But all of this works as a summation of why Laika's films are so important and delightful. This is a studio that really understands what animation is as an art form, and they use it to create films that are often better for adults than their kids. The boundaries in Laika's films are pushed much farther than they are in even Pixar movies, which are ideal for adult viewing, but great for kids as well. Films like Coraline and ParaNorman would send most children running from the room with tears streaming down their face. Considering the subject matter related to these films, that's a sure sign the material is working.

Though in a way, it's almost a shame that ParaNorman wasn't more kid-friendly, because there are some great messages here. ParaNorman covers loss, bullying, individualism all in one entertaining package. As odd as it is to say about a zombie movie, ParaNorman is surprisingly wholesome.

ParaNorman skews older in its humor as well. There are gags that any kids in the audience will enjoy, but many of them are a bit more mature. Unfortunately, there's definitely some low brow humor that feels beneath the Laika standards (some of it is even more juvenile than that seen in Laika's The Boxtrolls), but there's not enough of that to really hurt the viewing experience.

The animation is beautiful, but we would expect nothing less. The character designs are really fun too, but the strength in their writing is what really brings them to life. Norman is another one of Laika's successful child protagonists. He's likable and believable as a character, but he has depth that goes beyond your typical animated protagonist. Norman's mother is another surprisingly well-written character.

Likewise, the voice cast is very accomplished in their performances here. Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jodelle Ferland, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kenderick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Tempesst Bledsoe, and John Goodman make up a fantastic ensemble of lively characters that engage and light up and the screen.

Jon Brion's score, while not nearly as inventive as the film it inhabits (nor other Laika scores by Bruno Coulais and Dario Marianelli), suffices in it's general spookiness and occasionally inspired instrumentation. It works for the film, though I really do question the frequent use of an electric bass which seems dreadfully out of place at times.

Filled with colorful characters and intelligent writing, ParaNorman is a delight on every level. It has many laughs and wacky visuals, but what really brings ParaNorman to the heights of its Laika siblings is its big heart. There are many meaningful scenes here (Norman's confrontation with the witch near the end is riveting), and these really do elevate the picture. I wouldn't suggest it for the young, but ParaNorman is superior entertainment for teens on up.


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Review of Non-Stop

Posted : 2 years ago on 10 November 2014 10:38 (A review of Non-Stop)

When it comes to stupid movies, you can't get much more stupid than Non-Stop. This addition to Liam Neeson's ever expanding repertoire of goofy action movies disappoints on every level. The first two-thirds are perfunctory, but the last act is among the most idiotic 30 minutes in movie history. Those coming for unintentional laughs will not be disappointed. But those hoping for anything more will be either bored or frustrated.

Liam Neeson is US Federal Air Marshal William Marks, and he's traveling on a plane. William Marks gets a mysterious text that orders Marks to put 150 million dollars into the texter's bank account. Every 20 minutes, someone on the plane will die until he receives the 150 million.

The potential here with the charmingly cheesy b-movie who-dunnit premise is undeniable. The problem is that Non-Stop fails to satisfy any of the expected demands of a film like this. It's not fun. It's not suspenseful. And it's not emotionally resonate. At least one of these requirements needed to be met. By not providing any of the fun, suspense or emotion one would hope for, Non-Stop becomes a fairly uninvolving and forgettable 106 minutes.

The first 70 or so minutes of the film are cliched and unremarkable, but they function well enough. It's mindlessly engaging, but never particularly memorable. Unfortunately, the last 30 minutes are outrageous (and not in a good way). Normally, when a film falls apart in the last act, the issue can be isolated into a single problem. Absurd coincident, bizarre character oversight, incompetent villain, plot contrivances, etc. In Non-Stop, it's all of those, and more. For sake of keeping this review spoiler-free, I can't be as specific as I might have liked. But the last 30 minutes of Non-Stop provides enough material for its own separate review would I have felt so inclined to write one.

What I can say about the ending is that the reveal of the antagonist is extremely unsatisfying. Because the film doesn't take the time to develop any of its characters, we don't care at all when we discover who's been behind everything. It's also worth pointing out the completely unnecessary political statements that the film tries to make in the last act. The first two thirds of Non-Stop are fairly sloppy, but they look polished and shiny compared to the disastrous finale.

The cast is made up of talented actors giving paycheck performances. Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore are fine in undemanding roles, and the other actors (in extremely small roles) are good enough to suffice.

John Ottman's score is perfunctory in its minimal requirement; to elevate suspense. But it's melodically moot, and by the last half-hour, it has turned into your run-of-the-mill electronics-loaded action score.

Sloppy, poorly directed, and surprisingly uninteresting, Non-Stop is a mess. Lacking enough suspense for the audience to overlook its story and character details, the entire affair is completely laughable, when it's not frustratingly pedestrian. Non-Stop isn't as bad as it easily could have been, but the potential here for something better is unshakable.


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Review of Big Hero 6

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 8 November 2014 01:37 (A review of Big Hero 6)

This isn't inherently a bad thing, but I feel it should be said: Big Hero 6 is the weakest Disney animated film since 2010's Tangled. Disney's recent output has been surprisingly great. 2011's Winnie the Pooh, 2012's Wreck-It Ralph, and last year's absurdly popular Frozen have been marvelous and enchanting additions to the Disney canon. And while Big Hero 6 is a solid enough entry for Walt's expansive library of films, it's more generic and predictable than we've come to expect from Disney the last few years. This isn't a fall, so much as a small descent.

Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, Big Hero 6 is about a boy genius named Hiro Hamada who, because of a series of plot details that are best experienced in film, assembles a team of scientists to apprehend a dangerous villain.

Big Hero 6 is what you would expect if you had only seen the trailers, and had been unaware of Disney's involvement. The characters are bouncy and loud, the animation is gorgeous, and the whole family can watch it and have a good time. But because Disney made this film, expectations are understandably higher. The film is surprisingly simplistic, and clearly aiming for a younger audience than Wreck-It Ralph or even Frozen.

The biggest problem with Big Hero 6 is its basic nature. Outside of two areas (which I'll discuss in a moment), Big Hero 6 doesn't excel, but rather, performs solidly. It's a workmanlike production. Traditional three-act structure, basic character arcs, easy-to-follow storyline, etc. There aren't any surprises.

Carryover features from Marvel includes a disappointing "death cheat," and a Stan Lee cameo that makes for an initially amusing sight gag, but is later translated into an odd after-credits-scene.

There are two things that Big Hero 6 accomplishes especially well. The first is the animation, which is predictably beautiful. Every time I watch a new animated film, I think "this is it! We've reached the high point! It can't look any better than this!" And somehow, I'm always proved wrong. Big Hero 6 is no exception. The opening shot of San Fransokyo (the primary location of the film) is breathtaking, and there are two flight sequences in this film that are among the best I've seen in any film.

The other especially well-accomplished part of this film is the supporting character Baymax. Baymax is a marshmallow-like robot that is in charge of taking care of Hiro. He's funny, but never overbearing; the ultimate goal for a supporting character. Scott Adsit's delivery of Baymax's dialogue is brilliant. And while we're talking about voices, Ryan Potter, TJ Miller, and Maya Rudolph all lend notable performances. Alan Tudyk also contributes in his third Disney film in a row (following King Candy in Wreck-It Ralph and the Duke of Weselton in Frozen), though unfortunately, it's for a fairly boring character.

Henry Jackman's score is solid, but not what you might be expecting. Considering Big Hero 6's roots in Asian culture, one would've expected a score suited to that. Traditional Asian anime tends to feature fairly flamboyant music, and that isn't present here. Instead, we get left-overs from Jackman's score from Wreck-It Ralph. It's an entertaining score, but it's not what one might have hoped for.

Call it what you like; "Wreck-It Ralph Lite," "The Incredibles Plush," "Lilo & Stitch with less Elvis," etc. Big Hero 6 has no shortage of problems. It's predictable, the supporting crew is fairly underdeveloped, and the villain is too (even though he looks really cool). The last 20 or so minutes drag a little bit in an unremarkable showdown between the Big Hero 6 crew, and the nasty villain. And it's occasionally derivative qualities tend to hurt the overall picture. Despite all of this, Big Hero 6 is solidly entertaining. There are enough big laughs and sincerity running throughout to make this worth a look. But if you're beyond the double-digit age range, you might come out of the movie saying little more than, "well that was cute."

Note: Big Hero 6 is preceded by a short film that's actually significantly more charming than the film itself. Titled, Feast, the short film is about a dog and his owner, and their story as interpreted through food. It boasts an animation style very similar to that of 2012's Paperman (but in color), and it's both funny and poignant. It's the best of Disney's theatrical short films, and could go head-to-head with almost any of Pixar's short films as well. Get to the theater in time so you don't miss it!


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Review of Interstellar

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 8 November 2014 12:46 (A review of Interstellar)

Director Christopher Nolan and the cast have taken great lengths to insure complete secrecy for one of the year's most anticipated films; Interstellar. I feel that it is only fair to respect this by writing a non-traditional review. There aren't any spoilers to be had here, this is simply a summary of how and what to prepare for when seeing this film. Because even though this film will not appeal to everyone, it remains a must-see.

Interstellar is set in an unknown amount of time in the future. Earth is becoming increasingly unlivable as food supplies are low, and ferocious dust storms commonly occur. Our main protagonist, Cooper, who has two kids he cares deeply for, is sent into space (along with three other astronauts) to find a planet that might sustain life, in order for the human population to evacuate earth.

Because this film is nearly 3 hours long (at 169 minutes), make sure to bring snacks to insure that distracting hunger is not an issue. Bring beverages if you must, but nothing carbonated. Slurping soda may result in bathroom breaks, which I advise highly against. Interstellar both requires and deserves your full attention. Distractions of any kind should not be tolerated.

Do not despair if the first 40 minutes are too slow for your liking. I can assure you that the preceding 130 minutes are thrilling and wondrous. But the first 40 minutes (representing Cooper's time on Earth before the mission) is essential. In addition to suggesting the premise and getting the plot in motion, it constructs the emotional backbone of the story that is pivotal to the experience. Cooper's relationship with his daughter, Murphy (and to a significantly lesser extent, his relationship with his son, Tom) is the heart and soul of this picture. Without it, the entire picture would collapse. Your ability to believe and absorb the story, especially at its most preposterous moments, will rely almost entirely on your investments in Cooper and Murphy's relationship.

Thankfully, these two characters are intricately written, and their relationship is believable and touching. There is a temptation for screenwriters to mistake an actor's youth as personality, thus manipulating the audience with unearned emotion from bland child characters. But Christopher Nolan (and brother, Johnathon Nolan) do not take this easy route. Their friendship and love is painstakingly developed during those 40 minutes, and then expanded throughout the picture. One particular scene that occurs within the first 40 minutes, involves Cooper saying goodbye to Murphy as he prepares to go to space. This scene is stunningly emotional, discarding the sappiness and cliches that would have been so easy to insert here, instead portraying a very real sounding conversation between the two, and subtly suggesting the expanse of poignancy that will overtake this emotionally-charged thrill ride.

Once we get into space, the entire film ascends to incredible heights (literally and metaphorically, of course). The visual effects enter to dazzle and bewilder. These visuals are nothing short of breathtaking. It's been a long time since I've actually watched a film with my mouth agape in wonder, but it happened here many times. The special effects are accented with the emotion and connection with our main character, as well as stunning, poignant silence. The silence in particular could have been mere space gimmickry, but its applications are frequently astounding.

When the film isn't overtaken with silence, Hans Zimmer's score comes in to elevate the picture even further. The organ plays a big part in the music, suggesting grandness, menace, and spectacle all at once. But it's not all "loud noises." Zimmer manages to insert soft, minimalist piano pieces throughout the picture, but it never feels like an obvious cliche. It's an achievement in judgement. For even the most simple and quiet of piano music here manages to suggest scale and enormity in a way that even the loudest of modern blockbuster scores can't manage. Its entertainment on its own merit could be potentially disappointing. But paired with picture, I don't have any hesitation with naming Interstellar as one of the rare perfectly scored films, joining rankings with E.T., Up, Hugo, and Edward Scissorhands. If this sounds absurd, I urge you to watch the film. Hans Zimmer has purposely delayed the album release by two weeks, so that audiences will be forced to watch the film before owning the music. This isn't a gimmick, it's a service to the both the picture and the music.

The cast gives it their all in one of the best ensemble performances I've seen. Matthew McConaughey is our protagonist, and he brings both subtly and intensity to this nuanced and beautiful performance. McCounaughey won't win an Oscar for this (his win last year for Dallas Buyer's Club and Intertsellar's less then excellent reception are speed-bumps to big overcome), but he deserves one. The rest of the cast is no less impressive. Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, McKenzie Foy, and several others shine and enchant. Billy Irwin voices a comedic robot that is not the annoying supporting character you may have been expecting. His presence is minimal, but constant, and his humorous contributions are funny without being overbearing. The result is seemless integration of 5% comedy with 95% drama.

The last hour of the film is where many have been turned off. It has split a lot of audiences right down the middle. It worked for me (though with quibbles here and there), but some have found the last act to be a deal breaker. I offer no advice here, except to say that this is "pure" science fiction, and those unaccustomed to such may find themselves dissatisfied.

In many respects, Interstellar is Christopher Nolan's "statement" project. After consistent critical and box office success time and time again, the studios and producers have backed off. The movie is 3 hours long, and it's only that long because of Nolan's current status. Nolan also got to say "no" to 3D, and instead, promote IMAX screenings (which were open two days before the film's official release). Interstellar was shot entirely in film (as opposed to being shot digitally), a fact that the end credits proudly trumpet. So it's a little sad that Interstellar has been received with such mixed reactions. The complaints don't necessarily match up. Detractors of this film hate the ending. They despise the length. They question the subtly of the themes. For some, the film simply works, and that's all there is too it. Such is the case for me.

I acknowledge the film's many flaws. The science-y gobbly-gook that occasionally overtakes the picture is sometimes lazily used to explain or justify plot points. Context for several scenes are sometimes a bit unclear. And there's some poorly disguised exposition at the beginning of the film. Interstellar is not a perfect film; it has problems to be certain. Though I would argue that length is not one of them. Many would disagree, but I don't think Interstellar could have been as effective if its run time was any shorter. On the contrary, I wouldn't have minded terribly if the film was a little longer. There are so many ideas and themes that are suggested, but never fully developed, and it's a shame that there wasn't time for all of them. As is, the 169 minutes we spend in Nolan's galactic vision are wonderful. But the most compelling element here, is the very earthly connection between Cooper and Murphy. That is the secret to this film's success. That is the key to its brilliance and effectiveness. Not a masterpiece, but it transcends the term "film" and meets the qualifications of an "experience."


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Review of The Hunt for Red October

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 3 November 2014 10:02 (A review of The Hunt for Red October)

Age is a funny thing. A movie can receive dozens of accolades and audience approval in the 80's, but audiences might reject the film 20 years later. Sometimes (such as with Groundhog Day), a film can be met lukewarmly upon release, only to slowly accumulate significant popularity over time. Unfortunately, The Hunt for Red October seems to fit more with the latter, as a film that contains many of the staples of old-fashioned cinema, but without the charm one might hope for. Stick it on the shelf with Rear Window and Wizard of Oz as universally acclaimed films that have been greatly hurt by age.

This is one of those films in which the plot is expressed in the title. The Red October is a nuclear sub controlled by Soviet commander Marko Ramius. Despite its massive size, it is able to pass undetected by solar devices. The U.S. feel threatened by this submarine, but CIA analyst Jack Ryan isn't so sure that the intents by the Soviets are hostile.

The Hunt for Red October is a surprisingly tedious viewing. There are numerous things that are to blame here. The biggest issue seems to be the characters, who are generally, unengaging. Jack Ryan is your typical protagonist with a crazy theory no one will believe. Alec Baldwin's performance is solid, but he's not given much to work with. Sean Connery is the kind of actor who can elevate a weak script, and he does just that here as Marko Ramius. Even though his character is the most intricately written in the film, it isn't strong enough for us to invest in, so Connery has an especially difficult task here. Thankfully, he's ripe for the challenge. His commanding screen presence is the highlight of the film.

Executive Vasily Borodin might have been an interesting character (a loyal mate to Ramius, despite his personal doubts of Ramius' decisions), had Sam Neil's performance not insisted on spoon-feeding every emotion to the audience. Tim Curry is completely underutilized in a fairly anonymous performance as a minor side character. James Earl Jones and Joss Ackland are notable in small, supporting roles.

Some of the underwater visuals of the submarines are wonderful, and even majestic. The cinematography is unusual, but constantly interesting. And Basil Poledouris' score, while largely generic ambiance and suspense cues, is punctuated with striking choral writing. The Hunt for Red October is too well-made to dismiss entirely. But it's inability to interest outside of its technical achievements is an important issue.

I mentioned in my opening that age is partly at blame here for the weakness of the picture. The story represents a hot topic that has since cooled down. The Cold War doesn't ignite the imagination like it once did. That's not necessarily a problem with the film itself; it was made for yesterday's audiences, with no necessary intentions of functioning today. Alas, the mark of a great film is its ability to entertain as years pass. The Hunt for Red October is hardly a timeless film. Though at 135 minutes, it does possess an uncanny illusion of making time go slower. Alas, that's not quite the same thing.


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Review of The Italian Job

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 1 November 2014 11:48 (A review of The Italian Job)

One phrase that is always certain to stir up at least a little bit of discussion in the movie-watching world is "turn off your brain." It is considered the secret to enjoying films like Pirates of the Caribbean and most mainstream comedies. Some would argue that a film that requires you to do as much probably hasn't even earned its right to request this favor. Alas, the phrase will always be a popular one because of films like the 2003 remake, The Italian Job. If you think about any of the individual scenes or plot points for any time at all, you're sure to dissatisfied. But as a throwaway heist movie, you could do worse.

Charlie Croker and his team have put together a plan to take revenge on a man who double-crossed them in the past. This is no ordinary heist job (well, yes it is, but the movie wants you to think otherwise); blood has been drawn, and Charlie and his gang want to get even.

The Italian Job opens with its best strongest material. A stylish title sequence, a sincere over-the-phone conversation between one older character and his daughter, and a fun and ridiculous boat chase scene through the canals of Venice. Wally Pfister's cinematography is especially pleasing during these scenes. These first 20 minutes are breezy and fun, but the phone call between dad and daughter adds a thin layer of depth.

After this, all subtly is thrown out the window in favor of character banter, flashy heist-talk, and an extensive car chase at the end. Every heist genre cliche is here, and at 110 minutes, the film is at least 20 minutes too long. There's nothing remarkable here, but it's perfunctory. A minor disappointment after a promising start, but The Italian Job is never less than watchable.

The biggest problem is with our "heroes." Like most heist films, our protagonists are moral-less thieves who live to steal (or vice versa). The issue here is that the characters aren't likable enough for us to overlook their (lack of) moral compass. Some especially reckless behavior in the last act of the film is completely unforgivable. When they've essentially stooped down to the same level as the antagonist, why do we want to root for them?

The cast is fine, but not particularly notable. Donald Sutherland and Charlize Theron stand out the most (though the former isn't in the film much). Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham, and Mos Def are forgettable. Seth Green is downright obnoxious. Edward Norton as the antagonist is predictably slimy and little else.

Like the film itself, John Powell's score hits all of the genre cliches, but it has its charms. The music is featured in its most palatable state during the title sequence, and remains serviceable after that. The score inevitably gives way to too many electronics and not enough melody at times, but you get what you would expect.

The Italian Job feels like the ideal made-for-TV movie. And I'm not saying that in terms of how it looks onscreen, but rather, the audience it will appeal to. This is made for a disengaged viewing. It's on in the background while you're playing cards with friends. You're waiting for your 8:00 program, and you've got 15 minutes to kill. You're channel-surfing on a Sunday afternoon and you zip in and out of this one. In every sense of the word, The Italian Job is a time waster. It's no Ocean's Eleven, but it's certainly no Ocean's Twelve.


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Review of X-Men: First Class

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 27 October 2014 10:01 (A review of X-Men: First Class)

The previous installment in the X-Men franchise was the appalling, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was reviled by franchise fans and critics alike. The title and placement of the colon in said title suggests that perhaps there was an intention to create an entire spin-off franchise revolving around the origins of various X-Men characters. And while the extremely negative reaction to X-Men Origins: Wolverine seemed to have stopped any plans for future "X-Men Origin" films, X-Men: First Class plays out very much like an origin movie. We witness the beginnings of Charles Xavier, Mystique and Megneto in this film (among other mutants), and thankfully, the results are much better this time than the last.

The plot is fairly simple. Set in the 1960's (not that you would be able to tell thanks to clearly non-researched fashion choices), X-Men: First Class reunites several of the X-Men from the previous films (though they are much younger due to the time period), as well as introduce a few new mutants. They all must work together to stop an evil villain bent on world domination. And though you probably think you've seen this before (and you likely have), there's more to it underneath the surface.

X-Men: First Class is an interesting film in that it feels like it has been directed by two completely different people. The first half of the film is remarkably entertaining with a smartly written script and engaging characters. Unfortunately, the second half of the film contains script contrivances and idiocy to the same degree of the previous X-Men films and ends with a fairly standard (and lengthy) CGI-filled action sequence. The only director credited is Matthew Vaughn, so despite the differences in the two separate halves of the film, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that Vaughn was responsible for both parts of the film. But this doesn't make my job here any easier, as this will require me to talk about the two halves individually as though they were different films.

The first half of X-Men: First Class is, in a word, smashing. It's a spectacular collage of well-written character scenes and stylish action sequences. There's some drama, a bit of comedy, and a real human touch that is so often neglected in these kinds of films. The writing is sharp. While the previous X-Men films (even at their best) were often laughably stupid, the first half of X-Men: First Class is the exact opposite. It's intelligently written and directed, and richly developed. At times, it even goes as far as to explain previously raised questions from the last films (though it does so in non-obvious ways, thankfully minimizing exposition). The first half of this film is perhaps the best we've seen from the X-Men franchise.

Seeing the younger versions of these likable characters from the previous films provides some interesting dynamics. We see characters like Charles Xavier as a more fun-loving young man (and with a full head of hair!), and we witness Mystique in a more innocent phase (making her exit in X-Men: The Last Stand all the more unsatisfying). This concept could have been gimmicky and cutesy, but the writing is so sharp that everything manages to work exceedingly well.

And then, we must unfortunately talk about the second half of the film, which lacks the majority of the first half's considerably strengths. The problems here are numerous (and not unlike those that plagued all the preceding X-Men chapters): poor writing, boring action, bland characters, and others. The darker tone expressed in the film's first half is jarringly changed to a more light and comedic one. And one particular romance that develops between Mystique and another X-Men results in some of the film's weakest writing.

Several new characters are introduced in the second half, and none of them are interesting or have personality traits. They're almost completely interchangeable. The writing steps down several notches for the other characters too, which is incredibly disappointing because they were so smartly written in the first half of the film.

Those looking for the kind of plots holes or undefined powers that have become a series trademark will enjoy the second half more than others. The abundance of them here is as expansive as in any other X-Men film. And the very ending itself leaves a number of questions (and potentially contradictions with the previous films). There are continuity problems as well, though they thankfully aren't as blatant as they were in X-Men Origins.

One other recurring problem that is present both halves is the film's tendency to provide "humorous" winks and self-referential humor pointing towards the previous X-Men films. These tend to be more obnoxious than funny. The exception is a surprisingly well-handled encounter with an X-Men from the preceding films. This short scene may very well be the comedic highlight of the series so far, and is hilarious enough that one can forgive the continuity issues this scene causes.

The acting is as strong as it's ever been. The new cast members keep the integrity of the originals, but they put their own fresh spin on each character. Charles Xavier is now portrayed by James McAvoy, who actually manages to match the skill of Patrick Stewart's own performance of the same character. Less successful (and incredibly overrated) is Michael Fassbender as Young Magneto. His performance is solid, but little else. Part of this can be blamed on the weakness in his character's writing (the only character in the first half who is given little development or personality), but part of the skill of Ian McKellan's performance as the same character was being able to elevate material that wasn't always so great. Fassbender fails to do so.

On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence manages to make the dialogue work, even when it falters in the second half of the film. Kevin Bacon portrays a boring villain with as much character as he could probably get out it. Child actors Laurence Belcher and Morgan Lily are lovely in a single short scene at the beginning.

Henry Jackman's score, while more pronounced than the other X-Men scores, is fairly problematic. The biggest issue is his handling of the Magneto character, which is surprisingly misguided. We have come to know Magento as a conflicted and intricate villain (even if this film doesn't always manage to get that across). But his theme suggests a stereotypical bad-to-the-bone antagonist. One especially poorly scored scene is when Magneto brutally murders three men in a pub. Jackman's score here seems to actually glorify this course of action (the electric guitar doesn't help at all), rather than focus on the horror, or even the sadness that has lead to these murders. At other moments, the score crosses into self-parody moment (especially during the final action sequence).

While the first half is slick, stylish and loads of fun, X-Men: First Class hurts itself significantly in the second half. A lot of the second half is slow and comparatively uninteresting, and that works against the film. During this time, you begin to remember all the things you loved so much about the previous X-Men films that aren't present here (namely Ian McKellan). And because you're less engaged, the plot holes and continuity issues seem so much more obvious. That's not to say the second half of X-Men First Class is bad. It's perfunctory and entertaining enough. But it just feels so uninvolving after the riveting first half. X-Men: First Class is still arguably the best X-Men film so far, but not by as a wide a margin as one would initially expect.


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Review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 24 October 2014 07:54 (A review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

I'm not sure if there was ever much demand for a Wolverine origins story. After X-Men: The Last Stand disappointed so many people, I doubt many were interested in returning to the X-Men franchise. What's more, Wolverine isn't a particularly interesting character to begin with (and he became increasingly less interesting as the franchise continued). I have a lot of difficulty believing that an entire movie revolving around this fairly bland character was an appealing idea for anybody. At any rate, it certainly didn't make for an appealing movie.

Taking place X amount of years before the first X-Men film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens with the unexpected murder of several individuals related to a boy named James. James and his older brother Victor run away from home. Both of them are mutants. James later changes his name to Logan, and of course, he is the Wolverine. Both of them are later recruited as part of a special forces team, but Logan abandons the group because he disapproves of their violent acts. Years later, Logan discovers that Victor has been murdering members of the group, and it is suspected that Logan might be killed next. There's some talk of revenge, some tragedy, and then we inevitably get to the part where Logan becomes Wolverine.

To put it mildly, X-Men Origins is a messy movie. The plot doesn't make much sense, the motives of the characters are usually confusing or vaguely explained, and of course, there are loads of undefined mutant powers. And yet, the film is really nothing more than a typical run-of-the-mill, turn-off-your-brain, blockbuster action movie.

Like the previous X-Men films, X-Men Origins has a plethora of plot contrivances, plot holes, power-related oversights, and just general idiocy. Even by X-Men standards, this is a stupid movie. The first two X-Men films found a balance between stupidity and the self-aware. X-Men: The Last Stand struggled with this, and X-Men Origins is even more deterred by it.

While the other X-Men films had their share of interesting characters, X-Men Origins lacks any. Wolverine is the wise-cracking protagonist, though he's unlikable and boring. The primary antagonist, Victor is also completely uninteresting. Most other characters get about 5 minutes of screentime or less, and almost all of them are completely unnecessary. Director Gavin Hood seems so intent on providing fan service and comic references that he forgets the importance of making a tight, entertaining film. As a result, we get unnecessary characters like Gambit and Fred J. Dukes that only serve to bloat the run time (which is admittedly fairly modest at 107 minutes).

The CGI looks fine, but it's fairly unconvincing at times. The action sequences are generic and forgettable. The script is atrocious, the ending is a mess, and character development is nil. On top of all that, X-Men Origins has some massive continuity issues. It would be bad enough if they were restricted to continuity problems within the film. But X-Men Origins seems to go out of its way to contradict events and plot points from the previous X-Men films as well.

The performances are mediocre. Hugh Jackman is just going through the motions as Logan / Wolverine, while everyone else seems to be on auto-pilot as well. Performances range from forgettable, to annoying. Liev Schreiber and Dannu Huston fit the former. Ryan Reynolds and Taylor Kitsch fit the latter.

Harry Gregson-William's score is forgettable and at times, intrusive. The opening of the film is in the 1800's, but if you had only heard Gregson-William's score for that scene, you never would have known. It clashes with the film, and does nothing to help itself or the picture.

As I was watching this X-Men Origins, I was constantly reminded of all the things that the previous X-Men films did right. Interesting characters, good performances, fun action scenes, etc. None of that is evident here. Even X-Men: The Last Stand had a few of those elements. X-Men Origins is just unengaging and forgettable. It's not quite unwatchable, or even painful, but it lacks notable qualities or memorable scenes. The whole affair is bland and uninteresting. The only thing I took away from X-Men Origins was just how much better X-Men: The Last Stand is than this. And if that's not an indicator of a bad movie, I don't know what is.


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I recommend you watch A Hard Day's Night

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