Thursday, July 28, 2016

Exciting announcement coming!

Hey everyone!

Movie Minutes will be expanding to a new project beyond its current blog and YouTube channel! More details coming soon! Also, I know the Movie Minutes YouTube channel doesn't have tons of content yet. I've been busy so I apologize. However, expect more content much more frequently from here on out. Thank you for being patient and feel free to share the Movie Minutes blog, channel, or both with your movie-loving friends & family! I hope you will be joining us here at Movie Minutes as we continue to broaden our passions through to new mediums!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Unboxing the "It Follows" steelbook

"Nerve" review

There's a lot to like about Nerve, especially its two leads. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco carry the film with equally charming performances. It's fun spending time with them as they drive around New York performing outrageous dares for money and anonymous viewers on Nerve, an online truth or dare game without the truth. The players with the most viewers make it into the final round and earn a chance at winning Nerve.

It might sound crazy, but Nerve actually provides some relevant insight into the underworld of online stunt bating wherein online personalities perform stunts of varying insanity in order to amass followers and celebrity (Don't believe me? After seeing the film, I found this article: It's a popular occurrence that nobody ever talks about so it's nice to see it brought to light in a film.

In fact, Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost made a career out of shining the light on popular online occurrences that nobody talks about. Their film Catfish documents the phenomenon, now known as "Catfishing," where people create fake social media accounts in order to hook up with unsuspecting victims. This is so popular, in fact, that the film spawned a television series documenting similar incidences all across America.

Schulman and Joost also have experience crafting nail-biting thrillers. Their work on the third and fourth Paranormal Activity movies can be felt during a few tense scenes that will have you gripping the edge of your seat. One scene in particular involves a drunk girl, a ladder, and her misguided attempt to make it into the final round of Nerve.

Rob Simmonds' also deserves cred for his composition of the film's hypnotic electro-score. It perfectly melds with Michael Simmonds' beautiful cinematography of New York's neon night life to realize Nerve's spellbinding ambiance.

For as much as there is to like about all these things, Nerve has a lot of writing issues. The entire mythology behind the Nerve gameshow isn't much explained and leaves a lot of basic questions unanswered: Is this game based only in New York? Where does the money you win for completing dares come from? What do you actually earn for winning the entire game?

The truly bad writing rears its ugly head once the lousy third act hits. Any previous tension is immediately and laughably killed off for the sake of wrapping everything up in a nice bow. You're left feeling like an idiot as unexplained plotlines reveal themselves and you're simply supposed to accept them no questions asked. It's enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth about the rest of the film, especially if you don't reflect on it as a whole later.

After my own reflecting (and a lot more about this film than originally planned), I've realized I enjoyed this film; however, I cannot recommend it for the price of admission simply based on the tragic fall off at the end, but it's definitely worth a look once it hits VOD.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Lights Out" review

Originally I was not sold on Lights Out. Director David F. Sandberg's only previous work had been the Lights Out short and I was not sure how well that single scare was going to translate into a feature film. As well, seeing a big name latched on as a producer doesn't mean anything alone, even if it's James Wan. After seeing the film I am happy to report that I was dead wrong.

Like a catchy tune, any James Wan horror flick has a unforgettable hook. Insidious had the Lipstick-Face Demon, The Conjuring has the clapping hands, The Conjuring 2 has the evil nun, and even Saw has Billy the Puppet. Lights Out is no exception with Diana, the photosensitive spirit who appears and disappears with the flick of a switch. Also like any good James Wan horror flick, Sandberg has done a nice job constructing a solid story and mythos around his hook.

The best thing about Lights Out is that it plays more like a family melodrama with elements of horror rather than a straight up horror film, that is until it hits its supernaturally stuffed, predictable final act. It's truly a story about a fractured family learning to accept each member's sins despite their rock history together. It's a relatable premise and the solid performances all around make an investment in these characters and their story worthwhile.

Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) does nice work as Rebecca, the rebellious older sister who wants to movie her younger brother Martin (played convincingly by the young Gabriel Bateman) out of the house and away from the emotional wreck that is their mother (played by Maria Bello) after the recent death of their father. Of course Martin is being kept awake at night by the same supernatural experiences Rebecca had as a kid about a dark entity named Diana.

"Who is Diana?" and "Why is she here?" are a couple of the many questions you will ask yourself throughout the film that add to the eeriness of the mystery. The eeriness also translates into the atmosphere thanks to Sandberg's sure hand. Every frame is ripe with frightening potential which is sure to sweat the palms of brave moviegoers. When the scares do happen, they're typically clever as Sandberg sparsely uses his marketed hook. Of course there's the occasional jump in there for good measure.

If I wasn't sold on Lights Out before, I most definitely am now. Sure you can see the ending from a mile away, but you know what they say: it's the journey, not the destination. Lights Out is worth your time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Love & Friendship" review

Admittedly, I got giddy after my friend suggested we see Love & Friendship. The film had received positive buzz from critics and audiences alike, I loved the cast, and I'm a big fan of the Beach Boys (I'm sure some of you know where this is going). It wasn't until the concessioner handed me my ticket that I realized we were not seeing Love & Mercy, the acclaimed Beach Boys biopic; instead, we were seeing an adaption of a Jane Austen novel starring Kate Beckinsale.

To the disdain of many in my inner circle of friends, I, for whatever reason, am not fan of period dramas. It is not that I don't appreciate them and there are a few I enjoy. I'm just not generally moved by them in the same way so many people are. With that in mind and a chagrin on my face, I took my ticket and my seat. "At least it has Kate Beckinsale," I thought.

Once the lights came up after the 94 minute runtime, I felt as if I'd been in my seat for hours. I was put off watching Kate Beckinsale, who is quite good in the role, slither around trying to seduce a young, rich Englishman after the death of her late husband. If the main character isn't likeable then she must at least be interesting in order for the audience to establish an investment. Unfortunately, Lady Susan Vernon (as her character is called) is neither. She is merely a crude princess longing to maintain her uppity lifestyle at the expense of everyone around her, including her own daughter (played wonderfully by Morfydd Clark). She is an absolutely wretched woman.

Sure, the first half is pleasant enough. Director Whit Stillman establishes a light atmosphere where Kate Beckinsale and the rest of the quirky cast can flourish. The jokes are sharp-witted and landed often enough to keep my muse. However, the second half of the film is mostly void of humor and charm. Once the story started taking itself seriously, there was nobody to root for and I became disinterested.

I am afraid I must denounce Love & Friendship. It is not worth your time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: Central Intelligence

When I sat down for a movie starring Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and for the most part I was right. The vast majority of Central Intelligence plays out like a by-the-numbers spy comedy and that's okay because it's funny and heartfelt.

"The Rock" plays Bob Stone, a C.I.A. agent who twenty years ago was bullied in high school and is now on the run from his own agency after being suspected of treason. Kevin Hart is Calvin Joyner, an all-star student who peaked in high school and now regrets his unfulfilling life as an accountant with an inflatable gorilla outside his office. As fate would have it, Calvin was the only kid in high school who was ever nice to Bob so when Bob lands a mission and finds himself in need of accounting expertise, he returns home and recruits a reluctant Calvin. Entertaining espionage hijinks ensues.

There is no lack of comedic talent behind this film. Hart and Johnson do have tremendous chemistry together both do excellent work. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber also has a successful history with comedy, having directed the cult hit Dodgeball and the more recent family farce We're the Millers. Tag on a handful of brilliant cameos and timely pacing and it's no wonder this film kept me laughing wall to wall, even if I never busted a gut.

The jokes, however, are not what sets this film a part from the many like it. It's not even its resonating themes of appreciating what you've got and never being too late to be who you want to be. No. What sets this film a part, specifically, is the way it hits on the lasting consequences of bullying. Dwayne Johnson knocks it out of the park in one scene particularly where a ripped Bob Stone cannot physically bring himself to confront a high school bully simply because he's too hurt. I teared up because so many can relate. We've also never seen "The Rock" play such a vulnerable character and it's a refreshing career move.

While Central Intelligence largely feels familiar, its talented cast and crew have delivered a solid popcorn flick with a handful of resonating themes and performances. It's worth your time.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

"The Secret Life of Pets" review

Every imagine what your pets do when you're not home? Of course you have. We all have and now Illumination Entertainment (the studio that brought us the Despicable Me films and their spinoff, Minions) aims to capitalize on our imaginations with The Secret Life of Pets.

Comedian Louis C.K. plays Max, a clingy dog who's obsessed with his owner. After years of just the two of them together, Max's owner brings home a stray named Duke and the two new brothers begin hashing it out for their owner's attention. After their antics land them both out on the street without their collars, the two dogs embark (ha ha, embark, get it?) on a crazy adventure home that can only be described as Toy Story meets Homeward Bound.

This movie's like Homeward Bound in that it's about domesticated animals trying to find their way back, well... home. The property of human beings acting differently when their owners aren't around is obviously the Toy Story part; however, also like Toy Story, The Secret Life of Pets takes some unexpectedly dark turns for a film that's marketed as "family friendly."

Kevin Hart lends his voice and charisma to a villainous rabbit who wants to wipe out the human race. That's right: a rabbit who wants to wipe out the human race. Despite his fur-raising motives, Kevin Hart's fluff ball actually steals the show and earns the most laughs from what is otherwise a stacked roster, including: Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks, and Dana Carvey among others.

Each actor brings a wildly different personality to their respected character which makes for a wild ride. It's fun getting to know each quirky pet during the first two acts. Unfortunately, everything goes off the bridge (literally) once the third act hits. The ridiculousness gets dialed up to eleven, things that are established earlier on never pay off, and established character motivations get completely overlooked.

Still, The Secret Life of Pets is worth your time. It's a fun, often funny adventure with a host of likeable characters and performances. Despite an unfocused third act, there is still plenty to enjoy about this film.

Friday, July 15, 2016

"The Infiltrator" review

The year is 1985. Coca-Cola has done away with its classic formula, introducing the world to New Coke; Nintendo is taking America by storm with the NES; and President Ronald Reagan, now in his second term, is pursuing the so-called "War on Drugs."

One method of fighting this war was using undercover cops to infiltrate the underground cartels. The Infiltrator tells the story of one such cop named Robert Mazur (portrayed by Bryan Cranston), a U.S. Customs Agent who nudged his way into the money laundering business of the largest drug cartel in the world, spearheaded by none other than Pablo Escobar.

It's a fascinating true story that makes for a riveting film; however, Director Brad Furman's film has been catching some criticism for not delivering the edginess promised by its trailers. While your palms will sweat during a few scenes, that's not the focus here. What separates The Infiltrator from other undercover cop films is its attention to the themes of loyalty, trust, family, and the emotional weight Mazur bears while building genuine relationships with the very people he's trying to bring down.

Bryan Cranston gives his best performance since Breaking Bad. With nothing more than a subtle look here and there he is able to portray the pride of Mazur's accomplishments as well as the pain of perfidy as he falls deeper down the rabbit hole. Cranston is magnetic in this movie and it's easy to get caught up in everything his character is doing. The rest of the cast also does great work, including John Leguizamo and Diane Krueger as his partners and Benjamin Bratt as a cartel higher-up who befriends Mazur.

The Infiltrator is worth your time.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Imagine walking through a cemetery during the dead of night. Your flashlight illuminates the names of each headstone as you pass by when one suddenly catches your eye. It reads "Here Lies Paul Feig's Ghostbusters Reboot." You could have sworn the film hadn't even been released and yet here it lies, buried before its time beneath the soils of sour speculation.

Your knees plunge into the mud as you belt out "How did this happen?" Instantly you're hit with flashbacks to a trashy marketing campaign highlighted by the most disliked movie trailer in YouTube history. "Oh, right" you murmur under your breath.

Just then the ground trembles and, like a specter from its grave, Feig's film defies all expectations and rises from the blackest depths of Reddit hell. Your jaw drops and your eyes flare. You can't believe what's happening. Then it hits you. This isn't anything spectacular.

That's right. This new Ghostbusters film is not as bad as it previously looked. Those unfunny jokes in the trailers are actually quite funny within the context of the film. I actually laughed a lot more than I expected but not as much as the film wants you to. That's because about half the film's jokes fall flat. Most of the jokes that do work are the ones that make the film feel more like a Paul Feig movie (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy) and less like a Ghostbusters one.

That isn't a discredit to the cast, mostly. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig do fine work and I enjoyed Leslie Jones' performance more than I thought I would. They're chemistry is the highlight of the entire film. Even Chris Hemsworth gets a bunch of laughs, at least initially. What about Kate McKinnon you ask? Her character feels out of place in this movie. She is not a grounded character like the other three Ghostbusters but more of a hyperactive cartoon. She just did not mesh.

While the other girls' chemistry highlights the film, there are a bunch of lowlights. Aside from a sad joke ratio, the film lacks a good villain. In fact, the villain is a plot device. There is no development to his character at all so when the action-packed third act hits, I could not invest in anything that was going on. If a film is only as strong as its villain, then Ghostbusters is laughably weak.

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the film is its unwavering commitment to honoring the greatness of the original Ghostbusters. As soon as there seems to be any build up in momentum, the film completely derails itself to focus on a cameo or some reference to the original. In particular the cameos of the original cast serve no purpose to the story whatsoever and usually results in extended sequences of nothingness. The worst part is after a while you may begin to wonder why you didn't just pop the original film in instead.

Is the new Ghostbusters worth your time? I would say wait for the DVD rental. However, if you must see it in the theater, I highly recommend seeing it in 3D. I hear it's one of the better 3D movies to date.

Monday, July 11, 2016

"Clown" review

I'm petrified of clowns to no end and yet I was never scared of Clown. That being said, Director Jon Watts has crafted an eerily atmospheric film and sprinkled it throughout with enough creativity to warrant a solid recommendation.

The best thing about Clown is its basic premise: a loving, committed father is punished only for wanting to make his young son happy by dressing as a clown for his birthday. It's simple and tragic, as a good horror premise should be. What's disappointing is that the film establishes so little of a relationship between father and son before the clown makes an appearance, so when the slow transformation from man to monster occurs, the investment in that particular relationship isn't as strong as it could be.

Outside that particular relationship, there isn't much to dislike about Clown, given the correct expectations. This isn't your typical scare-a-minute studio flick; rather, it's an intense slow burn with a consistently dreadful atmosphere. The film also rears its dark sense of humor through a handful of clever gags and scares.

As long as you go into this film with the right set of expectations, you will enjoy yourself.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Best Movies of 2016 (so far)

Now that 2016 is more than half way through, there's no better time to reflect back on my favorite films of the year so far and movies I highly recommend checking out. In no particular order, may I present to you:

FOX's unlikely superhero has turned out to be quite the little engine that could, as it went on to become the highest grossing R-rated movie ever. Of course it helps that this little engine has a huge personality, which is the reason for its longevity and box office success. Ryan Reynolds headlines this hysterical superhero send-up that (un?) surprisingly packs just as much heart as it does punch.

The Neon Demon
I recently reviewed this Nicholas Winding Refn film, so if you'd like to get my beefier take, feel free to check out my review. This horror film is rich with subtext and arresting in visual style. Add to that a hauntingly afflicting climax and you've got a recipe for one of the best films of 2016.

Disney has pretty much owned the box office this year, from Marvel's Captain America: Civil War to Pixar's Finding Dory, which broke the record for highest grossing animated movie ever; to this unsuspecting fur ball hit, which had legs of its own thanks to some highly positive word of mouth and rightfully so. Zootopia is a fun tail (pun intended) of breaking from expectations to accomplish greatness. An inspiring message combines with some cute critters and a sense of human spanning many ages to reproduce one of the most profitable and most delightful films of the year.

The Lobster
The Lobster is a quiet masterpiece from Greek Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. It's an obvious but clever metaphor for the social stigma of being single. It's brimming with smart, subtle humor of the dark sort and great performances from Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and star Collin Farrell. If you get a chance to see The Lobster, I highly recommend taking that up. It's a highly unique film and should be applauded for its creativity and originality.

10 Cloverfield Lane
This film quite literally came out of nowhere. A trailer dropped and a month later it was in theaters across the world. A secret project from Producer J. J. Abrams, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a "blood relative" to the original Cloverfield but stands on its own completely. Where the first film chronicled an alien invasion via found footage, this quasi-sequel plays more like a traditional narrative but one as equally gripping. This intense thriller takes place almost entirely in one location so it is up to the cast to deliver the goods and they do. Special honors go to John Goodman for perfectly playing the line of this mysterious story.

Swiss Army Man
I also recently reviewed this flick, so if you're interested in my bigger picture ideas, feel free to hit up my review. My more condensed thoughts are this: Swiss Army Man is one of the most unique and creative films I have ever seen. It's dramatic, consistently funny, and for a movie co-starring a corpse, surprisingly heartfelt. It masterfully touches on universal ideas of acceptance, not just of others but of the self. Its two leads, Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, play perfectly off one another and nicely tie this quirky film together.

The Jungle Book 
Like Disney's other films mentioned earlier, The Jungle Book is printing money and rightfully so. Director Jon Favreau has put to film one of the most visually impressive worlds to date and filled it with beloved personalities from the Disney lore. From Bill Murray as Baloo, Christopher Walken as King Louie, and Idris Elba as the terrifying Shere Khan, everyone gives a great performance and nobody steps on Neel Sethi, the centerpiece. The Jungle Book is entrenching from start to finish.

Krisha is a film I had the honor of seeing once and if I should be so fortunate in the future, I never have to see it again. Don't get me wrong it's a one of the year's best films, it also just happens to be one of the year's most depressing. First-time Filmmaker Trey Edward Shults zeroes in on some fresh albeit unsettling certainties of familial relations using a deceptively simple story. I could easily picture a world where Krisha Fairchild is nominated for her engrossing performance in this dark drama.

Captain America: Civil War
The Russo Brothers somehow improve upon their work in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to simultaneously give us the best 'Avengers' film and 'Captain America' film yet. The Russos have mastered the art of filling their movies with lots of lovable, unique characters and giving everybody their respected dues. They've also mastered the art of storytelling on massive scale. Though 'Civil War' is arguably Marvel's darkest film to date, it's also one of their funniest. The matchmaking between hard-hitting, emotional drama and levity has been insanely fine-tuned with this entry. There is also the added bonus of having such talent in front of the screen. Captain America: Civil War even finds a way to make its predecessor, Avengers: Age of Ultron, a better film. This film truly is a marvel.

Eye in the Sky
It is a shame Eye in the Sky didn't see a wider release. It's a gripping film that boasts an impressive ensemble, including Helen Mirren; Aaron Paul; and the last screen performance from the late, great Allan Rickman. Each plays a different role in the joint assassination attempt of one of the world's most wanted terrorists and each brings his or her baggage to the mission as well. Whether it be the clashing political ideologies between experienced vets or opposing moral views on the potential collateral damage, Director Gavin Hood never eases up on the conflicts that make Eye in the Sky such a potent and timely moral examination of wartime politics.

Well there it is. My favorite films of the year so far. What do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know your thoughts and feel free to follow me on Twitter or Instagram @MuppetyMan or on YouTube at Movie Minutes. Just click the follow button at the front page of my blog and thanks for reading!

Friday, July 8, 2016

"The Neon Demon" review

It's difficult to talk about The Neon Demon without spoiling anything. The best things about the film are its themes and how Director Nicholas Winding Refn explores topical subjects through the female lens, like how destructive it can be to try to live up to society's standards of physical beauty as well as the various psychological consequences of internalized misogyny. I'll just say that this film is layered with rich subtext that demand multiple screenings.

One thing I can talk about is the cinematography, since you get a taste of it in the trailers. This film is absolutely gorgeous. Each frame is gushing with a hyper-stylized, surreal ambience that immensely adds to the unnervingly dark tone of the film. It's akin to Refn's Drive.

The Neon Demon starts out as a psychological thriller but slowly unravels to closer resemble a horror film. From the start you can tell something isn't quite right with Elle Fanning's Jesse, a young woman who moves out to L.A. in hopes of kickstarting a modeling career. She meets up with a cast of equally mysterious men and women who all have their own intentions for her. Jena Malone stands out as a makeup artist who befriends Jesse and acts as a mentor. As things become clear, that initial unnerving sense of tension builds to a jaw-dropping head that you won't soon forget.

The Neon Demon is most definitely worth your time.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

"Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" review

In preparation for reviewing 'Mike and Dave,' I did some research on the director, Jake Szymanski, because I was not familiar with his work. I had a good laugh when I found out why. Aside from a critically successful sports comedy called 7 Days in Hell, he hasn't done a lot. The biggest project on his resume was Step Brothers, the film starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, for which Szymanski catered. I don't mean to put down catering; it's too important a role on a film set. It was funny simply because it caught me off guard. But Szymanski must have picked up a thing or two on set because, in a similar way, I was caught off guard by how much I genuinely enjoyed 'Mike and Dave.'

I was the most caught off guard by how invested I found myself in the almost toon-like characters, despite the formulaic and uneven premise of Mike and Dave needing nice girls for their sister's wedding who can "keep them in check."

This is due to the devoted roster. Zac Efron and Adam DeVine have a finely tuned chemistry. The way they play off each other and zip lines back and forth is reminiscent of Ferrell and Reilly. Likewise, there is a lively spark between Audrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick that would give Tina Fey and Amy Poehler déjà vu. It's hard to resist the quirky charm of this talented, young cast.

My investment in these characters, however, was not easily won. The first act is a bit clunky. The setup feels rushed in a too eager attempt at bringing these four grown children together. To its credit though, the filmmakers know that these actors bring the laughs and they want their audience to spend the most time with them as possible. One can hardly blame them. The raunchiest and wackiest gags come later in the film, which is also when we start to feel the unexpected heartbeat.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a fun, unexpectedly heartfelt summer comedy that's worth your time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"The Shallows" review

The unfortunate fate awaiting any movie post 1975 daring to be about a shark is ultimately being compared to Steven Spielberg's Jaws. To be fair, it's a terrific flick. One could easily argue it's one of the best pieces of cinema, period. It's also fair to say that not every shark movie tries to accomplish what Jaws did and not every shark movie needs to in order to be successful. Case in point: The Shallows.

The Shallows swims more like a cheesy psychological thriller than a true horror film. It bites away the fleshier story chunks of Jaws
such as the vengeful fisherman and political scandal subplots. It simply pits Blake Lively against a hungry shark and it's better for it.

This film knows what it is and isn't afraid to tease you with its fin just before lunging towards you and taking you by surprise. It's an intense, slow-burn survivalist movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. It knows the boxes it needs to check and it checks them: a small window into the history of Blake Lively's medical student character? Check. A few disposable doofuses to kill off? Check. Lots of talking to seagulls and trying to outswim a very hungry shark? Check.

Like I said, The Shallows does not attempt to accomplish what Jaws did. It doesn't have to. It's a stripped down, bare bones, summer thriller and that's all it needs to be.

Is The Shallows worth your time? I say yes, but comment below with your own thoughts. Did you like it? Was it awful? And feel free to follow me on Twitter or Instagram @MuppetyMan or on YouTube at Movie Minutes. Just click the follow button at the front page of my blog and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Finding Dory" review

Admittedly, after the critical impounding of the unnecessary Cars 2 by critics and audiences alike, I was worried about the idea of another Pixar sequel centered on a popular side character. Thanks to Finding Dory, I can make like the titular fish herself and forget about it. 

Finding Dory is a natural successor to Finding Nemo. Unlike Mater (the genial tow truck from Cars), Dory's past lends itself well to a feature-length exploration since she has forgotten most of it due to her short-term memory loss, which is well-established but not droned over in Finding Nemo

Along the way, Dory, Marlin and Nemo meet almost an entirely new slate of silly sea life that further populate the wacky waters of the Pixar Cinematic Ocean-verse. As with Finding Nemo, every urchin is a joy to spend time with. 

Also like its predecessor, Finding Dory has a huge heart. It has nice messages about the importance of family and accepting personal shortcomings that will no doubt kick-start the waterworks in adults and attentive children alike. 

This is a pleasant film and a worthy successor to one of Pixar’s greatest triumphs. Is it worth your time? Absolutely. Moviegoers of all ages will find something to enjoy in this film. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Declaration of (Favorite) Independents

July 4th obviously marks America's Independence Day. To celebrate the occasion, I would like to share with you my four favorite independent movies. Enjoy!

4.) Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal gives his best performance to date in this creepy, stylistic thriller. He plays Louis Bloom, a motivated sociopath who takes up guerilla journalism inside the L.A. crime scene. Louis later becomes a little too involved in his own work as he strives to build a television news empire. Nightcrawler is a dark, captivating character study that takes you deep into the black heart of its protagonist and examines the morally grey underbelly of modern news and human relations. This movie will suck you in and stay with you long after it's over.
3.) Drive
Drive is another stylistic thriller set in the backdrop of the L.A. crime scene. Instead of journalism, however, Director Nicolas Winding Refn examines the neon nightlife of organized crime and male brutality. Ryan Gosling leads a stellar cast as a quiet stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. Driver (as he's named in the credits) finds himself mixed in with a mobster after saving the lives of his neighbors. Bryan Cranston, Ron Pearlman, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, and Carey Mulligan also star in this intense masterpiece. It also boasts some of the most memorizing cinematography in movie history.

2.) Ex Machina
Far from the crime-riddled streets of Los Angeles, within the confines of a secluded mountainous retreat, a young programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a groundbreaking study that examines the human-like qualities of an unprecedented artificial intelligence called Ava. Oscar Winner Alicia Vikander is enchanting as Ava, who may or may not be the victim of a domestic abuse by her mysterious creator, played by the tremendously talented Oscar Isaac. This drama begs the question "What is it to be human?" and will likely become even more relevant as we progress towards walking, talking robots. Ex Machina is the most enthralling science fiction films in years and will keep you guessing through each and every dark twist.

1.) (500) Days of Summer
My favorite indies list ends back in L.A. but on a lighter note with what is coincidentally my all-time favorite movie. (500) Days of Summer is the feature film debut for music video Director Marc Web (The Amazing Spider-Man films) and chronicles the fleeting romance between Tom and Summer, portrayed by the equally delightful Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel respectfully. It is the undeniably viable chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel (who are good friends off screen as well) that highlights this film. They feel like two very real people going through a very real relationship. This makes it easy to invest in them as the two continue to mismanage their feelings and expectations going forward. In the end, (500) Days of Summer does not settle for being your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy; rather, it aspires to reflect the realistic struggles of grounding a long-lasting romance. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will hit all the other feels in between.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts and to follow me on Twitter! Just hit the button on the front page. Happy fourth!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review: Swiss Army Man

I truly mean it when I say that I have never quite seen anything like Swiss Army Man. Sure, it possess familiar elements, but it is a wholly unique experience and a welcomed departure from the stale, corporate Hollywood scene.

The talented Paul Dano plays Hank, a hopeless young man who is saved from the brink of suicide by the gassy, magical corpse of Daniel Radcliffe (yep, you read that correctly). Things only get weirder from there as a reinvigorated Hank sets out to find the girl of his dreams, aided by the multipurpose cadaver.

The writer/director duo, known on screen simply as Daniels, communicate everything, from our heroes' backstories to the many personal themes of the film, through what is mostly s subdued script. Nothing is too in your face which allows for the rich chemistry between Dano and Radcliffe to flourish. The two work well together, knowing exactly when to step back and when to shine. It's like listening to a beautiful duet.

Swiss Army Man is a heartfelt dramedy brimming with personality and quirky humor that hits hard with moments of true inspiration and honest self-reflection. It's an experience you won't find in any other film.

Is Swiss Army Man worth your time? Absolutely. Go have a good time and support the talented filmmakers behind such original work.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Review: Independence Day: Resurgence

While Will Smith is hoping to revitalize his career with next month's Suicide Squad, FOX is hoping to revitalize the franchise that gave him his start with Independence Day: Resurgence. Many cried out in disapproval when it was announced Smith would not be returning for the alien sequel, but after seeing the movie for myself, I understand Smith's refusal. One of these two hopefuls actually has a shot at making a comeback and after reading my review, I'll let you decide which that is (hint: It's not the Independence Day movies).

So what's all the fuss with Independence Day: Resurgence? To be frank, it's boring; like, offensively boring. It lacks the goofy one-liners and exuberant spirit that made the original so much fun. Sure, it's maintained the inflated sci-fi action, but none of the soul.

'Resurgence' is a much darker film right out of the gate. Almost all the characters that helped make the original a dopy classic have suffered ill fates. Will Smith's character has been killed off, Former President Bill Pullman suffers from intense paranoia, and Jeff Goldblum just doesn't seem to enjoy his job anymore (among others). In fact, it rarely feels like Director Roland Emmerich or any of the cast are having any fun. I must make an exception for Liam Hemsworth, however, as the apparent heir to the franchise throne. The young actor strikes the perfect balance between the hard drama of an apocalyptic alien invasion and the ironic silliness of the same situation. He would have fit right in in the original movie.

The same cannot be said for the rest of the new cast of characters. They're painfully uninteresting and each of the actors portraying them should never have been cast in a feature film, especially one such as drawn out as 'Resurgence.' They're just not that talented.

Lastly, 'Resurgence' commits the Cardinal Sin of making the original film a lesser experience simply because the two films are so intertwined into the new mythology that the sequel attempts to establish, giving extra explanation to the aliens' motives for attacking Earth originally (because in 2016, we need to explain everything). So what kind of cool 21st century sci-fi motives do these extraterrestrials have? They want to mine our planet's molten core for energy. Of course they do.

So is Independence Day: Resurgence worth your time? No. Not at all. Not even worth the rent in a couple of months because you may never watch the original the same way again. Just leave this one alone.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: The Legend of Tarzan

I've been weary of movies slapping "The Legend of" in front of classic public domain characters since last year's abomination The Legend of Hercules. However, considering the talent behind this latest live-action adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic jungle book  (Director David Yates, Alexander Skarsgard as Tarzan, Margot Robbie as Jane, Christoph Waltz as the villain, and even Samuel L. Jackson as a grizzled Civil War vet), I was timidly optimistic heading into The Legend of Tarzan. While the film is nowhere near the monstrosity that the last Hercules venture was, I'm still not looking forward to seeing "The Legend of" Robin Hood, Dracula, or Paul Bunyan anytime soon.

The biggest disappointment with The Legend of Tarzan is that it takes Tarzan out of the jungle. The story follows our heroic man-ape as he returns to the jungle eight years after he's been domesticated to the uptight British colonial lifestyle. It feels like Warner Bros. avoided Tarzan's origin in the same way they avoided Batman's. The difference is, we haven't been bombarded with Tarzan origin stories over the last half-century so a modern take might have been appropriate for the character, especially since the flashbacks to said origin are the most interesting parts of the movie.

Another disappointment is that the characters are barely characters. Tarzan mopes around for most of the film while Margot Robbie does her best to impersonate the Disney version of Jane from the animated Tarzan (with unimpressive results). The two barely even get four scenes together so their chemistry never even comes to light. Christoph Waltz has become a one-trick pony when it comes to playing the villain and Samuel L. Jackson feels out of place, playing a character who seems like he'd fit in better in the 21st century than in the 1800's.

The CGI in this film is also an issue. The apes, lions, and other wildlife look too much like CGI. In a world where movie technology is advancing so quickly, it's important to keep up to audiences' perpetually higher standards. Warner Bros. dropped the ball on the special effects.

As hinted at earlier, I am a fan of David Yates and to his credit he does his best to establish each character by giving them each little moments of clarity into their backstory and while there is a spark of chemistry between Skarsgard and Jackson come the third act, the writing just isn't up to par with Yates' attention to detail. He does, however, manage to throw together a couple entertaining fight scenes, one in particular between Tarzan and his ape-brother highlights the film.

Is The Legend of Tarzan worth your time? I would suggest saving your money or waiting to rent it on VOD or DVD if you're at all interested.