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Category Archives: Movies

Olympus Has Fallen (2013) Review

Original review posted on IMDB, here.

If you’re looking for an action film straight out of the 90’s but stuck in the present day, you’ll arrive at Olympus Has Fallen. We’re initially led to believe that this might offer a story of personal redemption, when it’s in fact a rudimentary action flick with little purpose beyond entertaining the regular American viewer.

There’s nothing wrong with offering a film such as this, so long as its entertaining. And, thankfully, Olympus Has Fallen offers enough enjoyable and compelling moments to keep its viewers watching with some degree of interest. No, the characters are not compelling and far from fully developed, and that’s not necessarily the point. The point here is to keep the audience entertained and occupied, which is done sufficiently, if in an inconsistently effective manner.

Gerard Butler does what he has to, being the fairly routine action hero a la John McClane, which is a bit of a shame since the opening act alludes to so much more. But by the second half, just about all potential for actual exploration is cast aside. Aaron Eckhart is a likable actor in all of his performances, even in one as underplayed as this. There’s also a potentially strong predicament foreshadowed early on that could’ve been utilized to give the film a great edge, but it’s ultimately abandoned for the routine action movie wrap-up. Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite key player, Morgan Freeman, really seems bored in each scene, as if he’s only there to occupy the cameraman’s attention.

As you can probably guess, both the plot and characters are thin, with only implied potential separating the key players from even more routine movies (which isn’t saying much). The action and tension are where Olympus Has Fallen is left to shine, which it does during the time is plays. Looking back, however, it’s far easier to pick the movie apart. You’ll be entertained while watching it, but left banging your head shortly after leaving the theater.

Given the lackluster stream of movies released so far this year, Olympus Has Fallen is able to make enough room for itself. Taken into account with other action films, however, there’s little (if anything) to truly make it stand out. There’s a sense of identity crisis here, as the film is more or less lost in another time period and suggests more than it delivers. For my money, it’s decent popcorn entertainment, but not much else.

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Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) Review

Few films have enjoyed as much recognition and popularity throughout history as The Wizard of Oz.  Even with a notable group of naysayers, the 1939 release is still regarded as a classic and mandatory viewing for anybody.  Needless to say, any sort of follow-up would pretty much be set up for disappointment, and in 1985 the Return to Oz didn’t leave too much of an impact.  At least, not in the long run.  It’s probably even of less surprise then, that a prequel of sorts released this year will suffer the same fate.

Things start well enough with the eye-catching opening credits and a classic, black-and-white look as we’re introduced to James Franco’s Oz.  While it isn’t entirely clear at first, his Oz is actually a tough character to get behind.  We know from the trailers that he’s an everyday magician and essentially becomes a conman when he arrives in Oz.  The problem isn’t that he’s a liar, but that he oftentimes basks in his own ego, exudes a sort of snobbiness and a general lack of concern.  This isn’t just a concern in the opening act, it stretches throughout the entire film.  He almost comes off like an anti-hero, but this isn’t in-line with how his character is necessarily supposed to come off.  There’s just a lack of sympathy due to his general lack of sympathy (with a couple exceptions).

Another problem arises literally right when Oz lands in, well, Oz: Oz itself.  If you want to know the final word on how Oz looks and feels, it’s colorful but artificial.  If nothing else, Oz should be a bit of a visual spectacle, but it’s a little tough to feel brought in when so much is clearly CGI.  There are actual sets and everything isn’t as abused as, say, the Star Wars prequels, but throughout the movie I was saying “this is to The Wizard of Oz what the prequels are to Star Wars.”

Now, I’m not one who decries every little aspects of the Star Wars prequels.  Likewise, I wouldn’t say Oz the Great and Powerful is devoid of good points.  The first 20 minutes are a solid way to start the film; it’s nostalgic, a good touch base with the characters and again, we get nice opening credits.  One of the characters, a porcelain doll, is a clear highlight of the film and probably the closest it comes to actual emotion.  I mentioned above how Oz’s character left me with a cold shoulder save for a few parts; his interactions with the doll comprised most of those.

But even when talking about what worked well, it’s so easy to get back to what doesn’t work.  Both Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz feel like they were written off for silliness and, if not that, then the costume design, make up and effects accomplish just that.  There are also some sharp plot holes when taking The Wizard of Oz into account, ranging from details such as why the characters are written the way they are, to the actual existence of the story itself.  There’s potential to explain this in a sequel, but that’ll be a tough bridge to connect.

Oz the Great and Powerful has a few neat ideas in place, but ultimately stumbles with inconsistencies as abundant as its own color spectrum.  Even the potentially invigorating moments merely instill a sense of superficiality.  Oz has a small assortment of tricks up his sleeve, but only a couple of them are actually pulled off.

 
 

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85th Oscars: Re-cap

I originally planned to avoid most of the Oscars, only to tune in for the acceptance speeches and the performance of Skyfall.  But between one friend’s company and the fact the host was actually churning out some good jokes, I remained invested.  While the show did drag towards the end, I think it was an overall good watch–and certainly better than any episode of Family Guy.  Those who know me know that the fact I’m not condemning MacFarlane is a double-take-worthy surprise in and of itself.  Let’s just say the reason why is because the jokes had context, reason and place during the show.  But no one cares about that any more, what we care about are the awards handed out.  Here are my thoughts:

The show got off to a great start with Christoph Waltz winning Best Supporting Actor (again).

First upset of the night was Brave winning Best Animated Feature; seriously, does anyone even have to argue the fact that almost all of the other nominees were more deserving?

Life of Pi’s many wins were well deserved.  I’m especially glad that Ang Lee took home the Best Director award and am glad my concerns for John Williams snatching Best Score were misplaced.  It should’ve won Best Film Editing too, but I’m fine with Argo grabbing a couple small accolades.

Am I the only one who wasn’t that engaged with Adele’s performance?

The tie for Best Sound Editing was a surprise (thought it was a joke at first).

Lincoln winning Best Production Design was the second upset of the night for me.  Everything looked good and authentic, but The Hobbit was more imaginative and creative while Les Miserables was at least interesting to look at.

Best Foreign Film, Best Original Song, Best Supporting Actress and Best Lead Actor.  One word: Yawn.  I would’ve loved to see anyone besides Daniel Day-Lewis win just so everyone would be thrown off (and because it wasn’t the best performance from last year).

Bringing the film students out and not letting any of them speak I found pretty short-changing.  So much for “helping present the awards.”

Jennifer Lawrence winning Best Lead Actress made the night for me.  Also, Doug Walker (aka Nostalgia Critic) said he wanted Quavenzhane Wallis to win just so she could say “I’m the man!”  I got no argument against that.

The acceptance speeches from Daniel Day-Lewis and the crew of Argo were both great; the other acting acceptance speeches were short but good and earnest.

A couple upsets and boring choices aside, I think this was a great Academy Awards.  They might be expected, but upsets are upsets.  Would’ve liked the surprises to come in the form of awards that were actually deserved, but you can’t win them all.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Blog, Film, Movies

 

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85th Academy Awards: My Picks & Predictions

The Academy have their opinions, I have my own.  And though I do not intend to watch the Oscars in their entirety, due in large part to the host (so sue me), I can still anticipate what will unfold.  Some of the categories won’t be included here, as I haven’t seen or heard of enough of some of the movies to make a fair call.  Others I’ll simply list what I anticipate to win.  Anywho, let’s dive into the 85th Academy Awards, predictions versus my picks.

Best Visual Effects

My Pick: Life of Pi
Prediction: Life of Pi

Best Sound Editing

My Pick: Skyfall
Prediction: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing

My Pick: Skyfall
Prediction: Argo

Best Original Song

My Pick: “Before My Time” by J. Ralph (from Chasing Ice)
Prediction: “Skyfall” by Adele (from Skyfall)

Best Original Score

My Pick: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
Prediction: John Williams, Lincoln

Best Makeup

My Pick: Les Miserables
Prediction: Les Miserables

Best Film Editing

My Pick: Life of Pi
Prediction: Life of Pi

Best Costume Design

My Pick: Les Miserables
Prediction: Les Miserables

Best Cinematography

My Pick: Life of Pi
Prediction: Life of Pi

Best Art Direction/Production Design

My Pick: Les Miserables
Prediction: Les Miserables

Best Animated Feature Film

My Pick: ParaNorman
Prediction: Wreck-It Ralph

Best Original Screenplay

My Pick: Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Prediction: Amour, Michael Haneke

Best Adapted Screenplay

My Pick: Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell
Prediction: Lincoln, Tony Kushner

Best Supporting Actress

My Pick: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Prediction: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Supporting Actor

My Pick: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Prediction: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Lead Actress

My Pick: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Prediction: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Lead Actor

My Pick: Denzel Washington, Flight
Prediction: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Director

My Pick: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Prediction: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Best Picture

My Pick: Silver Linings Playbook
Prediction: Lincoln

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Blog, Film, Movies

 

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Looking Forward To: 2013

2013 might already be 1/12 the way done, but if Gangster Squad is the best we’ve been treated to thus far, then the good has yet to come.  Okay, so the recent Star Wars announcement was pretty sweet and, in all honesty, I now have no reservations about it.

But whether we’re talking film-related stuff or not, there are some things which the current year has me trembling to get.  So here we go, some of the things I’m curious to see what 2013 holds.

Star Trek Into Darkness

I’m still kicking myself over not catching The Hobbit in IMAX so I could catch the Star Trek Into Darkness prologue.  At the very least, this ties for my most hotly anticipated film of 2013.  To my surprise, 2009’s Star Trek was something I instantly fell in love with, and the first two trailers for Into Darkness had no trouble selling me.  Like a kid who first saw Harry Potter, I’m driving myself mad wanting to see what this sequel will actually provide.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Some might say Limitless was Bradley Cooper’s initial attempt to be taken seriously, but it wasn’t after Silver Linings Playbook that he actually had me convinced.  Now we have The Place Beyond the Pines, where he shares the screen with Ryan Gosling, Ray Liotta and Eva Mendes.  After seeing the trailer, I really wish I had the chance to go to TIFF last year.  Thankfully, the film isn’t far away from its wide release and it’s already looking like a Top 5 contender for me.  Hopefully it will deliver a similar effect to something like Mystic River did in its accomplishment at giving your mentality a true cage beating.

Catching Fire

I (finally) read The Hunger Games around the turn of the new year, and in a nutshell, I though the first 310 pages were solid, but those last 60 pages…I felt strangled.  If there’s anything Suzanne Collins is an expert at, it’s leaving you wanting more.  The book ended in such a way that it rattles me apart to not pick up and read Catching Fire before the film comes out, much less the first teaser.  Unfortunately, I already know how the book ends (thanks a lot, Cracked and Amazon), but I’m also interested to see how this ending will be led up to.  And the pain of not (further) ruining the movie for myself proves tougher and tougher every day.

Evan Williams CInnamon Reserve

In the status update for my blog, I showed interest in covering and reviewing alcoholic beverages.  Specifically, I’d be talking about spirits and cordials.  One company that’s recently caught my attention is the generally affordable Evan Williams.  I’ve already tried their “spiced” eggnog, which felt a tad harsh was while still being tasty, as well as their Honey Reserve, which is a surprisingly decent option.  And wouldn’t you know it?  While browsing for recipes to use my bottle on, I found they’re releasing a Cinnamon Reserve variant, which will make for a trio of Reserves thanks to Cherry Reserve (that’s a lot of Reserves).

Saivon Lapsi by Eternal Tears of Sorrow

Set aside the name and Eternal Tears of Sorrow are a fairly conventional, yet enjoyable, group.  Though they’ve slipped since the excellent A Virgin and a Whore, there’s still some symphonic/melodic fun to be had with their sound.  The released music video for their new album is definitely more akin to their 2010 release which, though not bad, isn’t nearly as inspired as I’d like them to be.  Still, they tend to deliver some good material amidst less inspired parts, so hopefully Saivon Lapsi won’t skimp out too much.

Ethera by VIsions of Atlantis

Congratulations, Visions of Atlantis, you’re finally getting a second album out with the same lead singer!  When I brought up this group to the heavy metal club at my college, our president immediately compared them to Lacuna Coil.  I see a bit more Nightwish, but hey, to each their own.  Either way, the band gives us some very cheesy stuff; though to be fair, that’s to be expected with power and symphonic acts.  I thought Trinity and Delta were both fun works in spite of these inherit shortcomings, so hopefully we’ll get plenty of the energy much of Delta offered up.

Circle by Amorphis

I seem to fall back on bands who, though I definitely like, have trouble releasing truly great material as of recent.  Amorphis slipped after the excellent Silent Waters on Skyforger, and The Beginning of Times left little to no lasting impression.  The band’s core sound does still work, but it seems like many of the times they experiment it produces very mixed and forced results, at best.  Hopefully Circle will harken back to Silent Waters and maybe a bit of Eclipse, which I’d compare to Dream Theater’s Images and Words.  Why?  Because it’s metal while being relaxing, two things that normally shouldn’t go hand-in-hand, but somehow both groups pulled it off.

Bioshock Infinite

The last time I could really game passionately was my first two years of college, back when financial stability was some sort of a reality for me.  But between game prices, an all around overemphasis on (online) multiplayer and generally stagnant progress, gaming has essentially been kept on my back-burner.  But Bioshock Infinite just might be the next new release I purchase, the last one being Halo 4.  I’m a huge fan of the first Bioshock and the second, though I haven’t finished and not as good for what I’ve played, is still solid.  The previews for Infinite look terrific and hopefully the elevated location won’t compromise a lack of linearity for eye candy.

Grand Theft Auto V

Just going to come out and say it: I’m not a GTA fan.  I really like Saints Row, but GTA has never honestly struck that chord I wish it would.  The GTA games have always been games more of curiosity than complete and utter enjoyment to me.  So yes, the trailers and announcements for GTA V have me interested, but I want to know just how FUN the game will actually be.  GTA IV played and handled so sluggishly that it made entertainment more scarce than it needed to be.  I honestly got more fun out of seeing my character fly out of vehicles and get splatter than I did actually playing any of the missions.  Hopefully GTA V will have a more refined feel as opposed to being, well, GTA IV.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2013 in Alcohol, Blog, Film, Movies, Music, videogames

 

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The Pixar Retrospective: A Bug’s Life

Toy Story didn’t just take the world by storm, it was the storm.  Even though we always get movies meant for little more than marketing, Toy Story had the substance to make many of us forget that.  So when the insect-focused follow-up, A Bug’s Life, took to the big screen, similar quality was expected.  And while this is another quality release, it ranks quite low on my ordering of Pixar films.

The story is essentially one of outcasts; Flik is the creative oddball, Dot is the somewhat rebellious child hoping fly, the princess is facing the pressure of one day leading the colony, the circus bugs are working out of their familiar yet unsuccessful environment, etc.

Our villains are a group of grasshoppers, led by Kevin Spacey, trying to keep the ants in their place.  Like the ant colony, only a couple or so of the grasshoppers stand out, since a decent chunk of the movie is saved for the circus bugs.  These characters are really what made the film for me, since the rest of the characters just felt too conventional and left very little impression on me.  And when you miss out on that, the film loses a lot of its impact.  Yes, the story works and there’s nothing necessarily “wrong” with the characters, it just isn’t very fascinating, a few visual moments aside.

In a way the circus bugs are the film’s saving grace and precisely why I’d come back to watch it again.  My favorite would probably have to be the ladybug, partly because he’s given more time and has so many memorable scenes.  And while I can recall almost every moment from the film, this is more out of how many times I had to watch it as a kid, as opposed to its actual memorability.  If I’d only seen it a couple times, the circus bug scenes would probably be 95% of what I’d recall.

The number of people either satisfied or disappointed by A Bug’s Life seem to be about equal.  It’s sort of fallen out of most people’s memories, and that’s not without reason.  Compared to Toy Story and especially many other Pixar films, this one doesn’t have much to help it stand out.  Don’t get me wrong, this is far from a bad movie, it’s just a very conventional one.  Some people think the film deserves a sequel, and while I’m open to the idea, the movie wraps up in a way that we don’t need a revisiting.  Then again, I’d say the same thing about most Pixar films, except for The Incredibles, so that shows where my word goes.

 
 

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A Movie a Day Catch-Up (Part I)

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit lazy on my New Year’s Resolution to watch a movie per day.  Work, friends and family don’t exactly offer several opportunities, but I still try to keep to it and watch as much as I can, which has made for a little over a dozen viewings thus far.  To keep things more spaced out than my 2012 recap, I’ll aim for about five movies per post.  I’ll gradually get more of these to you, so here you go, hopefully the first of many updates.

The Road

This film was torture.  What could’ve (and should’ve) been a poignant, engaging piece turned out to be little more than a dragged out, downright agonizing experience.  If the filmmakers wanted to make us feel as miserable as the characters in the film, then job well done.  Except it felt that awful for all the wrong reasons; a lack of sympathy, awkward and annoying characters, no real story or plot, and numbing boredom.

The Prince of Egypt

Better than much of the material Disney was rolling out around the time, The Prince of Egypt made Dreamworks seem like a serious contender for the next supplier of (near) classic animated features…then we got the Madagascar and Shrek sequels.  Regardless, The Prince of Egypt did exactly what any animated feature should, it told a story while taking full advantage of technology and visuals.  There’s a surprising amount of heart and development to both the story and especially the characters too, much more than what several live action films afford us (see above).

Sideways

As an introvert, I found Sideways a very self-reflective piece.  I swear I saw myself as Paul Giamatti’s character, and it still scares me.  It might be odd to use that word when describing a dramedy, but I think it adds all the more humanity and strength to the film.  Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are a wonderful combination; they’re authentically fleshed out as people who generally don’t get along, but still like and even need each other.  And when you’ve got something as strongly forged as that, the rest of the material essentially writes itself.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Even though The Hobbit is a 2012 release, I didn’t catch it until the new year.  For the longest time I thought I’d just catch the HFR 3D IMAX showing (look at all those caps), if only for the Star Trek Into Darkness prologue.  But the trip and reception didn’t mix well enough for me, so I caught a standard 2D showing.  My thoughts?  It’s good, just not Lord of the Rings good.  What’s odd is that a lot of the things people didn’t like are things that didn’t bother me.  I didn’t mind the opening in the Shire too much, the dwarfs obnoxious behavior aside; Radaghast I honestly found amusing and a decent overall character; and even though the sets are clearly CGI most of the time, it’s still a beauty to look at.  Plus, I kind of think that’s the point, given the book is seen more as a kind of childhood story for some.  The Lord of the Rings is more real and dark, hence the real sets.  My problems do come with the length and an apparent misuse of development, especially given the fact we have to wait for two more parts.  And while it was great to see Smeagol again, I actually found the whole riddles sequence a bit overrated.  Also, none of the main villainous characters really did anything for me.  I still enjoyed the film and would watch it again if I could set aside the time, but it didn’t leave me suspended like The Lord of the Rings did.

Inglourious Basterds

One of my co-workers lent this movie to me, essentially saying that if I loved Django Unchained, I’ll love this.  I still remembered seeing previews for Inglourious Basterds and feeling like it wouldn’t be my cup of tea.  Still, I took and watched it and, to be honest, my early impressions weren’t far off.  So far the Quentin Tarantino movies I’ve seen have been pretty easy for me to pinpoint my opinion on before I even see it.  The only surprises were Pulp Fiction, which I thought I’d hate and wound up loving, and Django which I figured I’d enjoy, but ended up loving the hell out of it.  Inglourious Basterds managed to accomplish what I thought no Tarantino movie could or should: bore me.  Other than the opening with Christoph Waltz and the “sticky situation”, I couldn’t wait for the movie to end.  Even Reservoir Dogs, a film almost devoid of laughs for me, maintained my interest.  This just did absolutely nothing for me.

 
 

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