Monday, April 14, 2014

God's Pocket trailer, what looks like another great performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman

As if we needed anymore proof that we lost a gift actor, all too soon in Philip Seymour Hoffman; in comes the trailer for God's Pocket.  The movie is directed by John Slattery of "Mad Men" fame.  The film stars John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks and of course, Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Check out the very interesting trailer below, and my thoughts after.  

The story looks very interesting.  But what's attracting me most to this movie is the cast.  Hoffman, with no effort, is the stand out here.  His death will certainly give the picture added attention; but his performance will do the talking.  His character seems so interesting.  There's more to him than we know.  Jenkins and Turturro look to have very interesting, if comedic roles in the film.  And I'm blown  away by Hendricks in this trailer.  Wow!  She looks like a tormented woman who can't make any sense of what's happening around her.  She's reunited with Slattery from their work on "Mad Men" and it looks like she's going to knock it out of the park with this film.  Very cool.  I am adding this to my must-see list.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Neighbors poster and red band trailer

Seth Rogen has been in a lot of great comedies the past decade, and Neighbors looks to be right up there with his best.  The film is directed by Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall); it stars Rogen and Zac Efron as two duelling neighbors.  Check out the trailer below and my thoughts after.

This looks hilarious!  I mean we've seen some great films featuring dueling neighbors, but this definitely takes it up a notch.  Rogen and Efron look set to go at it the entire film.  And I love the supporting cast as well.  Rose Byrne is quickly proving how versatile her acting is; and who doesn't love Dave Frnaco after his awesome role in 21 Jump Street.  Take my money, I'm in!

A Most Wanted Man trailer starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman

I was so sad to hear about Philip Seymour Hoffman's death a few weeks ago.  He was an incredible actor, and one whose work I often admired.  He could do anything.  He won an Oscar for his dramatic work in Capote, but could make you pee your pants in laughter with his comedic talent as well.  This movie appears to be another example of Hoffman's great work.  A Most Wanted Man is based on the novel by John le CarrĂ©.  The author is responsible for other great film adaptations like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener.  Watch the trailer below and read my thoughts after.

Yeah, Hoffman is going to be extremely missed.  Wow.  His presence in this film can be felt from miles away.  The cast is wonderful, I'm looking forward to seeing what all these great actors can bring to what looks like a compelling story.  The tone is dark and it actually FEELS like an espionage thriller.  Though the plot is not clearly stated, the trailer does a nice job of whetting the appetite without giving away the farm.  I have not seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I really enjoyed The Constant Gardener.  And just because the three films share the same author doesn't mean it will translate into a good film; but I think it's safe to say the movie will be worth watching, if just to see Hoffman on the big screen one more time.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Quickie: How to Train Your Dragon 2 trailer and poster

Check out the all new trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 2 below, and my thoughts after.

I was a huge fan of the first film and will definitely be in line for this one as well.  The animation is stunning and all the great voice talent seems to be back for the sequel.  The story looks to be much bigger in the sequel.  The new villain looks interesting and all the new creatures (dragon or otherwise) look very cool.  I'm really looking forward to this one.  Can't wait.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

12 Years a Slave DVD review; an unforgettable story

It's difficult to think about what slaves went through in the United States, in the early part of our country's history.  So many people, treated so terribly, because of the color of their skin.  While racism unfortunately still exists, we are in a time in history where we HOPE, that nothing like slavery could ever happen again in this country.  Sadly, different forms of slavery occur in other parts of the world til this day.  Imagine one of those slaves becoming free.  Living a happy, fulfilling life.  Only to have it ripped away and be forced to return to a life of slavery, all in the blink of an eye.  12 Years a Slave tells that exact story, in an unforgettable way.  Let's go.

What I liked about the film:
What. A. Story.
This is a sad, yet fascinating story about a man who never lost hope, in unimaginable circumstances.  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup in his Oscar nominated performance.  Northup was a free black man, with a family.  After a series of events, he finds himself a slave again.  How on Earth could this happen?  The man has legal documents that prove he's free.  But in a time in our country where there were no phones, no internet, no texting; how does Northup prove he is free?  How does Northup stay focused on returning to his family?  That is a story you're going to have to experience on your own; there are no words I can write that will do it justice.  Congratulations to John Ridley for Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay... it was beautiful.

The Cast
I mentioned Ejiofor earlier; and he does a magnificent job playing Northup.  He is a smart man, literate and fully capable of living of a successful and fulfilling life; only to be stripped down to nothing by the hands of a tyrant plantation owner.  Ejiofor plays Northup with a sense of confusion, a constant look of 'how did this happen to me?'; and it couldn't be more appropriate for what the character is going through.  I was already a fan of Ejiofor before this film, but now he is a must-watch actor in my book.

Lupita Nyong'o plays a slave named Patsey, and just crushes the role.  Patsey is the object of the plantation owner's affection.  She is living the worst life imaginable; but Nyong'o plays the character with just a glimmer of hope.  She portrays this beaten woman with a sense of innocence.  Her eyes alone scream to the audience, 'why me?  What did I do to deserve this?'.  Those eyes are enough to have you sobbing, when you see what this character goes through.  Congratulations to Nyong'o on her Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year; she so obviously deserved it.

There are several primary white characters in the film.  Paul Giamatti, while only briefly in the film, steals the few scenes he's in.  He plays a man trafficking slaves.  Giamatti's character 'sells' (it pains me to even type that), he sells Northup to the Benedict Cumberbatch character.  I loved Cumberbatch in this film.  While he is a slave owner, he is portrayed as a compassionate man, who sympathizes with his slaves.  Paul Dano plays a plantation worker, who works for Cumberbatch's character.  Dano is so damn good at being bad.  You want to reach through the screen and wring the character's neck for the things he says and does.  And that is a true testament to Dano and his incredible talent as an actor.

Then, the villain of all villains; a man who doesn't see slaves as human beings, but as 'beasts' as he puts it. Michael Fassbender's character is one of the most evil characters I've ever seen in a film.  He is a plantation owner who 'buys' Northup from Cumberbatch.  And he's not evil because of what you might think.  Yes, he physically abuses his slaves; punishing them for not picking enough cotton in 110 degree heat.  But what's worse, is he emotionally abuses them until they are left soulless.  Taking away ones body is one thing, but stripping them of their dignity, their pride, their own thoughts, that is something else entirely.  Fassbender is so good, he made me uneasy watching him on screen.  While he did not win, he most certainly deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  Bravo Fassbender.

The Director
A director makes hundreds, if not thousands of decisions during the filmmaking process.  And director Steve McQueen made a lot of good ones in this film.  From his choice in casting, to location, to costume, to cinematography, to score, to editing; it all clicked.  I hadn't seen this film when the Oscars aired a few weeks ago, and I didn't understand how it could lose out on so many awards, but ultimately take home the Best Picture award.  Now I know why.  The stars aligned and the movie Gods wanted this story to be told, and in the right way.  Congrats to McQueen on winning a Producing Oscar, and hopefully we will see many more films from him in the future.

What I didn't like about the film:
What is Northup Thinking
Literally.  What is Northup thinking during his time as a slave.  We know he's motivated to get back to his family; but does he wonder if his wife remarried?  Does he wonder if his kids will remember him if he ever makes it back to them?  Does he plot murder attempts on the men who have abused him for so long?  None of Northup's psyche is explored during his time as a slave.  And I wanted into this man's head.  Is he angry?  Does a piece of him, in some sort of brainwashed way, accept his new life as a slave?  I don't know if it's necessarily a dislike so much as a wanting for more.

The Verdict:
Tough to Watch, Important to Remember
12 Years a Slave was a difficult movie to get through.  In 2014, in beautiful Southern California, there aren't many signs of the days when slavery was legal.  We, as a people, need reminders as to what these men and women went through, so we're absolutely sure we don't let it happen again.  And I know there are a fair share of cynical people out there ready to jump down my throat and say that slavery is still happening, even here in the U.S.  And I get that, but knowledge is power; and the more people learn about this ugly time in our history, the less likely we are to repeat it.  This movie will stick with me for a long, long time.

The DVD:
For a movie that is based on such an incredible true story, I was just a little disappointed in the special features of this Blu-Ray.  There is however, a featurette that's just over 40 minutes long, chronicling the making of the film.  It has some very interesting interviews that were enjoyable.  There is also a short featurette about the filmmaking team, as well as a behind the scenes look at the making of Hans Zimmer's stunning, yet simple score.  Overall, the blu-ray was just ok.  Go rent or buy this movie and be prepared to experience an unforgettable story.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trailer and posters

Can you believe it's been 24 years since the first live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was released?  The turtles in a half-shell are back, in an all new reboot.  This film is being directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans).  The film is being produced by mega-blockbuster director, Michael Bay.  Megan Fox, William Fichtner and Will Arnett fill in the human roles in the film.  Check out the trailer below, as well as my thoughts after.

Hmm.  It certainly has Michael Bay written all over it doesn't it?  And that's not always a good thing.  It's all cg, and it's obvious.  The trailer is only a minute and a half long and still manages to sport a 'hero pose' from Leonardo, the leader of the group.  These turtles are not martial artists in suits this time around, and I think that takes away from the film.  There was a certain charm to seeing the turtles be able to touch and interact with other actors on screen, and their environments.  That charm will most certainly be lost here.

The turtles also have a new origin story in this film, compared to previous incarnations on screen and in the comics.  That point irked a lot of fans, but not me.  I'm ok with filmmakers taking a few liberties when making their films.  Again, I'm not completely sold on this movie yet.  But I should also be honest with myself and admit it may be because of my love for the 1990 film.  Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing more from this film.  It's slated for release August 8th.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier review

When Captain America: The First Avenger was released in 2011, it did well at the box-office.  I reviewed the film and liked it very much, and liked the direction Marvel was taking the character.  Here we are a few years later, and the sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been released.  The new film takes place after the events of The Avengers film, keeping the continuity built by Marvel studios.  All the stars return, include the Captain himself, Chris Evans.  But new to the party are the directors, Anthony and Joe Russo.  Let's get right into it.

What I liked about the film:
The Cast
The cast is comprised of some terrific actors, starting with Chris Evans of course.  Again he plays Steve Rodgers with a sincerity you can't help but fall in love with.  It's like watching a film hero from generations ago.  He's charming, has a sense of humor, and knows how to treat people.  There's an element to Rodgers' psyche that was only touched on in The Avengers; he's in a world he doesn't know or understand.  So much has changed in 70 years, it would be difficult for anyone to adapt.  And I loved that the character carried a notepad where he writes down culturally significant things to catch up (like Steve Jobs and Nirvana).  Great stuff here.

The rest of the cast compliments the Captain nicely here.  Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow, with a much bigger role than in either of her two previous Marvel films.  I love where the writer's went with her character.  She's a spy that has had to pretend to be so many other people than herself, she's not sure WHO she is anymore.  Samuel L. Jackson keeps us guessing about Nick Fury, Director of SHEILD.  Is he good, is he bad?  Jackson plays it so well, you just don't know.  Robert Redford is a newly introduced character and fits very nicely into the film's universe.  Other supporting actors include Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie; who are both wonderful additions to the franchise.  

The Tone
This may be my favorite aspect of the film.  Most Marvel films are just an action-comedy, basically.  'The Winter Soldier' doesn't necessarily fit that mold.  It does have action though, A LOT of great action; something I felt was lacking in the first film.  The action is new, fresh and inventive.  Captain's hand to hand combat is awesome, as well as his many creative ways to use his shield.  There's some great humor in the film as well.  But the movie is really a thriller.  As the plot unfolds, we're continually guessing 'who done it'.  And I really enjoy movies that can pull that off.

The Pacing
The film is non-stop fun.  The action is swift and direct; yet the moments where the film slows down are just as fulfilling.  We learn a lot about these people, and I love that.  We learn about their motivations, their personalities, their past, without being pulled out of the film.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Story
As I mentioned above, the movie plays out like a political thriller, and that aspect of the story is a good thing.  But what I couldn't get over were the absurd aspects of the plot.  No spoilers here, I promise... but there's THAT many people involved in this evil plot?  And no one knew about it?  Suspension of disbelief is expected when going to see a film about a man who was injected with a super-soldier serum, but this is just ridiculous.  The story was gripping until the major plot twist is revealed and they lost me.  Not enough for me to dislike the movie, just enough to bother me, a lot.

Captain America Can't Carry His Own Film
I thought about this point for a long time.  Why can't Captain America carry his own film?  Marvel brought in Black Widow, Falcon (played by Mackie), and gave Nick Fury a huge role, because unfortunately Captain America can't carry a film on his own.  A similar thing happened in the first film.  In that film, the Captain recruits the Howling Commandos, who fill in the supporting roles of that film.  I hate to say it, but I agree with Marvel's strategy, and don't think the character is strong enough to carry his own film.  I'm sure comic-book enthusiasts have hundreds of stories and characters they'd like to see play out on the big screen, but I don't know.  What do you think?  Can the Captain carry his own film?

The Verdict:
One of Marvel's Best
Now just because I thought certain story elements were ridiculous, and that the character is not strong enough to carry his own film, doesn't mean I didn't love this movie.  Because I did.  It's exponentially better than the first Captain America film, and definitely up there with the best Marvel has produced to date.  The director brothers did so many things right and kept the audience so engaged, it's difficult not to love this movie.  Stick around until the very end of the credits for some cool stuff Marvel is working on that sets up The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Good stuff!