Boyhood

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10/10

Richard Linklater has created something that tops his already impressive resume of film with his newest movie, Boyhood. It’s a never before done way of shooting a movie over a 12 year span. It’s a story through the lives of two children who live with their single mother and deal with the stresses and situations of such an age. Boyhood is seriously unlike anything i have ever seen in my life. It’s impressive to think that these actors signed up for a 12 year shooting schedule that takes them on a transformation much deeper than just character. The children are of course the biggest transformation as watching them grow is literally like watching family video tapes from a young age. It reflects the characterization in a way that makes you question if we are really watching actors playing characters or a legit team that became a family in 12 years of shooting. There is a scene towards the end of the film where the mother (played by Patricia Arquette) cries after her son finally moves out on his own. You feel her tears because this is literally like watching a real life child of hers move out on her. It’s that kind of chemistry that you won’t find in any other film ever. Think about it, what movie ever took twelve years to make while it’s constantly shooting scenes? The pacing is absolutely genius. It is such a coming of age story about growing up and the awkwardness and bittersweet moments that we go through on our journey of adolescence. The awkward scenes are great because usually in a movie you will get an awkward scene for it to go somewhere later in the film, but in Boyhood it’s done just to reflect the lives we once lived in that era. It’s not to set up any kind of storyline, and i really appreciate that. It keeps me on the edge of my seat when the movie is less predictable. The cast is perfectly crafted with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette being the only big time movie stars in the film. The children (Coltrane Ellar and Lorelai Linklater) don’t ever feel like actors, and maybe that is for the best. It’s really a gamble to know if these kids who become adults are going to be good actors when they get that age because they are cast as an 8 year old. So i appreciated even more that director Linklater took a chance on a film for twelve years because it epically paid off. One of the other unique aspects of the movie is that of the soundtrack. During the year it is in, the movie will play only hit songs from that year. It’s a musical scrapbook of songs from the last decade that will have you trying to pick the song from the tip of your tongue as you listen in the backseat with the children. I can also imagine that it probably cost a lot of money to not only license the songs, but license them from bands who are really among the biggest in the world. Linklater spared no expense on his baby of a film, and it’s clear to see why. It’s also pretty cool to see the gadgets like Nintendo 64 and older model cell phones being used for the respective year they were popular. I am curious to know if it really is product placement when the film they are showing these gadgets off is done many years after they have already been discontinued. I found myself laughing when the kids got to be teenagers and the boy talks about wanting to delete his Facebook page because of ongoing drama. It’s situations like this that makes Linklater a master of studying today’s youth. John Hughes used to get credit as knowing teenagers better than anyone, but i think Richard deserves equal the amount of respect for having to learn about real situations in three different decades for our young stars. The only slight problem i had with the movie was the transitioning scenes where the kids would age a year or two. It happens without warning, and some of the past is never fully explained with relationships or what happened to characters who played an important role five minutes ago. I know it’s not Linklater’s style, but i would’ve preferred to see some small text revealing to us how much time has passed before we see the character with a different look. I think this is done so that he can tell us that sometimes our own children grow before our very eyes. That’s the way i interpreted it anyway. That’s why i didn’t get too mad at the long critique i had for the film. For anyone who has seen Linklater’s earlier work, you know the man is a guru with dialogue dominated films. It doesn’t work better than it does in Boyhood because you already know that these kids will grow up and move on someday. That dialogue shows us the viewer in so many words the subtle nature of these characters. You know that Ethan Hawke is a good, but struggling father to relate to his kids because of the way he stutters to find out anything new in their lives. You know that one of Patricia Arquette’s boyfriends are an abusive alcoholic because of random trips to the liquor store between playing father of the year. It gives you subtle hints at these characters without beating you over the head with it. The running time is just shy of 3 hours long, but it never ever dragged for me. I was well invested in these characters because i felt i grew up with them as a viewer of their growth. I sat through the film in one sitting and it never ever felt like 3 hours to me. I would like to say so much more, but i feel i got into spoiler territory towards the end of this review, and i don’t want to ruin it for anyone. I abso-freaking lutely recommend this film to every single one of my readers. Linklater’s satire is monumental in technical direction, but breathtaking in character transition to the eye. Adjectives won’t ever do this film justice because Boyhood is a cinematic masterpiece 12 years in the making. Thank you Mr Linklater for inspiring me to believe in films in 2014.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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5.5/10

The heroes in a half shell are back with yet another origins story that comes full circle with a battle against their arch nemesis, The Shredder. Michael Bay’s producer credits in this felt more like a directorial shadow as many of his cliche’s are seen throughout the film. TMNT isn’t a perfect film by any means what so ever. It’s not even close to being the best of the Turtles series, but it’s far from being the worst as well. Considering the reviews that this film has been getting, it could’ve been a lot worse. The film stars Megan Fox (Michael Bay’s apparent #1 crush) as April O Neill as she exposes Shredder’s Foot Clan prompting the Turtles to rise from the sewers and into the public light. I absolutely hated the casting of Megan Fox in this film, and it is as bad as i thought it was going to be. Her terrible capturing for human emotion is what really weighs the film down. April is a character who is smart, but also knows how to handle herself. Megan Fox plays the character almost as a frightened child who is there only as eye candy for the audience. I personally would’ve cast Amy Adams as April, but that’s a discussion for another day. Another problem i had with the film was the origins story in general. After 5 Turtles films, i don’t think the world needs another origins story. They should’ve just went with a basic Turtles story without going through all of the basics that even the youngest fans already know from the TV show. The problem also with telling the origins story is that in this case it is so much different from anything we know about these characters from the comics, to the TV show, to the feature films. Many plot holes make this version scarce from anything else in the series that makes sense. The characters are played off well enough, but they seem to be trapped in a movie that has nothing to do with getting to know them closer. If the movie would just stop and slow down for a minute, it could build some great character chemistry. That’s one thing i loved about the 90’s films; they built the friendship between April and the turtles. In this film, it seems like they are put together for the common enemy. I also didn’t care too much about the voice acting most notably from Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shaloub. When you voice act, it’s best to try to use a voice that fans don’t recognize you with. Take for instance Bradley Cooper in Guardians of the Galaxy. In TMNT, these voices aren’t that of teenage boys, they are those of grown Hollywood actors who make no effort what so ever to earn the paychecks they are cashing. The look of the Shredder was pretty cool, but was i the only person under the impression that William Fichtner was playing him? He doesn’t, infact for those of you who like Batman Returns, Fichtner plays a character similar to that of Max Schreck. With all of this said, you may be asking what i liked about this movie to even give it a 5.5 out of 10. The movie is a fun sit with great comedic timing from Michaelangelo. You won’t be bored by watching this film, but you might not enjoy it at the same time. I also enjoyed some of the eye popping CGI that i felt improved on what was started in the TMNT animated movie in 2007. The turtles are a little big and overpowering at times, but i can accept that since this is a new telling of a childhood favorite. The fighting scenes are good, but the quick edits ruin this film like it did the latest Die Hard movie that was released last year. It’s all too quick to register who is fighting who and what is happening. Overall, i actually would recommend this film to Turtles fans who are even remotely curious about it. I think it’s the faithful fans who have to see it for themselves to make an opinion. What is mine you ask? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is far from the best movie in the Turtles series, but it’s far from the worst as well. It stays on the safe side of reboots and i can at least remotely appreciate that.

Step Up : All In

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5.5/10 (Or 7.5/10)

The next chapter of the longest dance series ever shows most of the stars returning from the previous Step Up movies to form a super team to compete for a 3 year show in Las Vegas. Step Up All In is only the 2nd film of the Step Up Franchise that i have actually seen, and i have to say that it at least did a good job of keeping me well entertained. The reason i gave this movie two ratings is because the first one is if you rank it as an overall movie, and the second one is to rate it as a dance movie only. As a dance film, it absolutely succeeds with the best dancing i have ever seen. The finale match between our protagonists known as Elementrix facing off against the antagonists, The Grim Reapers, makes for the best dance battle i have ever seen in a film. I did enjoy You Got Served a little more than this one, but a close second isn’t bad for a genre that i feel like i have seen too much in. The stages and sets are also very well done, and that has to do with the lights of Las Vegas being a beautiful setting for such a film. The storyline isn’t anything very different from what you see in other Step Up films and i think that is what really hurts it. If the next Step Up film could make a story different from a crew facing off against a villain crew for a prize, they could really take the whole series in a different direction. I know it seems hard to do this as there are only so many avenues you can go with the dance genre, but i think the most creative stories always come from that extra push. The acting isn’t anything amazing as you would expect it to be for this film. It’s really just a bunch of real life dancers playing themselves for the camera. The cliche moments of breaking out into dance in public places is laughable for all the wrong reasons. On top of it, you get the corniest dialogue that makes it sound like the two people competing are about to do a knife or gun fight. One credit i will give Channing Tatum is that he at least brought the feel of a superstar who brought some fraction of emotion to a ridiculous plot. Without Channing Tatum, the appeal of this faltering franchise fades, except for the dance sequences. That is something that the Step Up Franchise will always have. It’s kind of nice to see a series where the main characters return as most (Tatum included) usually run for the hills whenever they hit it big. The running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes was a little long for a plot that you can pretty much predict how it will roll in the first ten minutes. One thing that kept it interesting especially during the dragging second half was the steamy romantic chemistry between the two main stars, Ryan Guzman and Briana Evigan. Their powerful emotion on the dance floor but dry emotion in script reading show two things. The first is that these two are definitely world trained dancers, and that area is where they feel the most comfortable. They say so much in an up close face to face shot on the dance floor that they had trouble communicating during an awkward 105 minutes. I did not see the movie in 3D, and i don’t think there were enough cool shots by watching it to really think it mattered. There were some old school 3D in your face shots with sand and confetti, but i think they are few and far between for paying an extra $4. Overall, Step Up All In isn’t as horrible a film as i originally thought i was in for. It’s not a good film by any means, but it’s not a bad sit if you are in the theater for a date night. If you really have to see it, i recommend just waiting till dollar theater. The big screen is a good experience for this kind of film, but there is no need to drop a ten dollar bill to see the same movie you have seen four times already. You don’t go to a Step Up film to see Oscar winning performances. You go to see remarkable dance moves and beats that always keep your toes tapping. In that perspective, Step Up All In delivers time after time.

Wish I Was Here

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6/10

Zach Braff directs, writes and stars in this heartfelt narrative about taking charge of our lives when we are called upon to do more. Wish I Was Here is definitely speaking an impactful message, but it’s presentation gets lost in the shuffle of recycling from Braff’s previous directing efforts in Garden State. There is a similar outlook and almost commentary views that comes from Braff’s writing. Braff stars as an unemployed actor who is trying to save his family from losing everything when he finds some tragic news out in the form of his father months away from dying. If the movie was simply just about taking charge, it would be a lot better of a film. Make no mistake, i enjoyed Wish i Was Here, but i feel like this film had the ability to be a top twenty film of 2014 for sure. One of the problems that takes away from this is some of the funny imagery that is used in between as meaningless fluff. One scene shows Braff portraying a video game character in his mind, and it comes across as almost laughable for all the wrong reasons when it is supposed to be dramatic. Another completely meaningless part is when Braff’s brother (Played by Josh Gad) is trying to hook up with his neighbor. We are introduced to this female character who hates him and then we hear nothing from her until the end of the movie when the two hook up. It’s just bad storytelling that is only topped by it’s terrible pacing issues and predictability. The pacing in question makes some scenes feel like they are out of order with the way the movie is being presented. It almost feels like a sitcom with some scenes not geling with others to make them feel like a series of segments. The things i did enjoy about the movie other than it’s inspiring message was a wonderful cast led by Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, and the ever improving young actress known as Joey King. King is that perfect mix of awkwardness and maturity in her role as Braff’s daughter. She has the moments in the film that give you the most goosebumps, and is more suited for a film like this than anything else she has done to this point. Hudson has more to do in this film, and that is good because there is a decent actress under there that can do more than just chick flicks. She is the glue that holds the family together when it feels like they are minutes from being ripped apart. The soundtrack is also arguably one of the best of 2014. New tracks from Coldplay, Bon Iver, and Radical Face highlight a score that is beautifully instrumental as well as sentimental to make us think of our own childhood memories. I must confess that The Shins song “So Now What” is my absolute favorite track in the film. There isn’t a song better suited for it’s film this year, and That is because The Shins wrote this song specifically for the movie. Another thing i enjoyed was that this film is a loveletter to Los Angeles without showcasing the typical cliches that you would normally see in any film about LA. Braff is clearly someone who loves his home city, and shows it in the small ways like the 60’s style homes with children chasing lightning bugs as the ice cream truck is jingling down the street. It’s all a painting of Los Angeles that casts it in light that it isn’t often given attention to. Wish I Was Here is a meager comedy that feels more like a vanity project than a profound examination of upper-middle class family dynamics. It’s a film that should be more dramatic and less punchline. Recommended, but can wait until DVD.

Planes : Fire and Rescue

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5/10

The sequel to last year’s Planes is an overall better movie than it’s predecessor, but the story is too weak, the characters are too many, and the time is too short for anyone to get any kind of good feeling from this film. Dusty Cropduster is back as the top Airplane racer in the world. When he suffers an injury that limits his performance on the track, he finds himself in the middle of a new dream that includes him becoming a firefighter of sorts. The convenient plot with the Fireman gimmick is that there is a fire every 5 minutes in the woods. Whether this is true or not, this is the thing that will bother you the least during the 73 minute run time. Yes, you heard that right. 73 MINUTES!!! What is the most amazing out of the run time is just how boring it is. Believe me when i say i don’t have a short attention span. The movie is terribly boring because we never get to really know the characters due to the short screen time we have to establish their backstories. It’s also boring because Planes is a movie that really didn’t need a sequel. It was one of the worst animated films i have seen of the 21st century, and that doesn’t set the bar high for this sequel. The story feels very rushed and that’s understandable considering they waited a whole 11 months to release Fire and Rescue. That’s bad for Paranormal Activity pacing. The comedy in this had me laughing a couple times, but one of the things i despise the most about kids movies are overdone puns. Kids movies are supposed to have these, but not every single line. One of the characters is named Boat Reynolds, and i have to admit that had me chuckling. I also enjoyed a spoof on the 70’s TV show CHIPS with a show called CHOPS. In fact, i would’ve been completely OK with that movie instead of the one we got. It certainly had a better storyline. As i said before, the amount of characters are outrageous. There are no fewer than 30 characters between the two films, and for anyone to remember four of their names at this point would be amazing. The new characters are nothing great. They are voiced by John Michael Higgins, Regina Hall, and Ed Harris along with many others. Ed’s character is decent, but we don’t get more than a minute of screen time with anyone else. This movie could’ve easily been another 15 minutes or so to build on the character development, and it would’ve done nothing but improved it. Among the things i liked about this film, the 3D is done beautifully with lots of fly by shots, as well as a beautiful ending scene that takes place with the entire forrest in a beautiful auburn blaze. The fire shots really pile on the eye candy of a beautiful 3D presentation. I wouldn’t say the 3D is completely worth it, but if there is a way for you to watch it on DVD in 3D, then by all means go for it. The regular animation is done a little better too with lots of wide angle scenic shots. Most of Planes was done up in the sky near the clouds, and it all got old fast. The score for this film was also noteworthy for a Disney film. AC/DC’s Thunderstruck plays during the first rescue mission, and it sets the heart pounding mission ablaze. There is also a song made just for the movie that is one of my favorite music numbers of the year for film. It’s called “Still i Fly” by Spencer Lee. It’s a beautiful mid 90’s motivational ballad that gives us a point of view from Dusty’s perspective. Kind of Kenny Wayne Sheppard meets Goo Goo Dolls. If Disney would’ve spent more time establishing their characters and building a plot that will keep a child from moving around in their seats, Planes Fire and Rescue could’ve really taken flight. As it remains, Planes Fire and Rescue is a mess of a film of an uninspired sequel to an already uninspired propeller-driven Cars spinoff. Planes is 0/2, and i hope it’s the end of Dusty and his personality-less friends.

Earth To Echo

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5.5/10

Three friends find a mysterious object in the Nevada desert that gives them the adventure of a lifetime before they move and split up forever. There are many problems i had with this movie, and i will get to them later in the review, but this film was nowhere near the mess i was worried about. First of all, the film does have it’s comparisons to E.T. Most notably by adult viewers who will be taking their children to see this film. I definitely think this film works better for the 12 and under crowd but there is enough in the movie to keep adults semi interested. What i loved about this movie is that it’s more about friendship underneath the surface of this story about a robot crashing. These are three boys with a lot of charisma, especially that of a boy named Reginald. He is probably the best written child character that i have seen in a long time. Hollywood seems to think that people shouldn’t care about child characters as long as it’s a fun enough story. That is not the case in Earth To Echo as these three boys each play an important role in the history of their friendship. Sadly, this is one of the only good things about this movie. There are some nice effects when it comes to the look of the robot, and the cinematography was good enough to warrant a passing grade. However, the CGI effects look terrible, especially when they are slowed down for the audience to fully enjoy. If you look close enough, you can almost perfectly see the green screens behind the action in question. The big problem suffering in Earth To Echo is the robot story itself. It’s totally not necessary. Yes, i understand that is the main premise of the movie, but i feel that there is enough of a storyline between the kids being forced out of their homes from the construction of a freeway that i don’t feel Echo was ever needed. The chemistry and passion of the boys would’ve been enough to carry this into a friendship film along the likes of Stand By Me. The point of my rambling is that this movie suffers the most when it’s slowed down during those robot moments. The robot doesn’t talk and barely makes any communication with his handlers. The parts that did have any kind of momentum with the robot was too similar to 2011’s Super 8. The movie just felt completely unoriginal when it didn’t have to be. Another big problem with this movie is the ongoing awful phase of “shot on video” style. It’s totally useless and not needed at all. One will argue that the main boy named Tuck is filming his whole life for his Youtube channel, but it’s just not necessary. The camera angles are too close from people who obviously don’t know how to hold or use a camera, and they action is too quick for a style like this. There were many times when i had trouble understanding what was going on because someone wasn’t told to zoom out when they zoom in. I am more curious in the children who watch this movie, and what they took away from it. E.T was one of my favorite childhood movies, so it’s tough for me to watch a movie that gives you that kind of return to memory lane, but the things that were there before are now torn down. The film could’ve warranted a 6 or possible 7 out of 10 if they made it a little longer (85 minutes only) or focusing more on what these boys need to do to stay together. Earth To Echo shows a lot of sparks, but never fully gives the audience enough to be inspired. It’s a worn out cliche of post 2000 kids adventure movies and never finds it’s own voice to make the audience care. Skip it.

Transformers : Age of Extinction

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5/10

What can you say about a series of films in which i have disliked every film. Then, director Michael Bay makes his latest effort a 2 hour and 40 minute epic of a film that ruins anything good about this film to begin with. There isn’t going to be any great analysis in this review. The reason this movie is bad mainly centers around the amazingly unnecessary length in time.There is absolutely no reason that a Transformers film ever has to be over 2 hours period. The movie had a decent first hour that was making this the closest i have ever enjoyed a Transformers film. Then it screwed it up with convenient scenarios and a dragging war scene that makes us feel exhausted by the time it reaches the credits. Transformers : Age of Extinction stars Mark Wahlberg taking the leading reigns from Shia Lebouf as a Texas father who finds Optimus Prime and is immediatly hunted down by the government. Wahlberg is one of few welcome breaths of fresh air as a father who is just trying to provide better for his ever growing daughter. Wahlberg works mainly because he is ACTUALLY an action star as opposed to the loud and obnoxious Shia Lebouf. One of the major problems with the other three films is that they don’t create any characters for you to cheer for or hope for their health. Age of Distinction has a few of these and some are surprising because they are bad people. Stanley Tucci is brilliant as Joshua Joyce, the leader of a robot maker who is out to end the autobots once and for all. Tucci glides across the exceeding entertaining point by giving us hilarious lines in the form of panic from the horrors he has created. TJ Miller is decent in the film, but is only in it for a matter of 30 minutes. The film overall has a darker tone with more gruesome imagery than the previous films. Some death scenes are done in a way that show you that Age of Extinction is treading on territory we haven’t seen before. The usual favorites are there that will make you laugh as always. Michael Bay clearly still has no idea how to write real people with real conversations. The boyfriend character of the daughter’s in particular really makes you hate the guy no matter how honorable they try to make him. With lines like “I need this mouthwash when i’m making out with your daughter” and “She has the best hands for my clutch”, it makes you wonder if Bay himself is an autobot who has never actually been around humans. The action to the film is excellent as usual because if there is one thing Michael Bay does is take the same building that has fallen in three previous movies and knock it over again. The final war scene goes on for the last hour of the movie, and this is long by Saving Private Ryan standards. Many fans and non fans of the series will be reaching for their watches by about the 90 minute point of this film. One thing that made me laugh in particular about this film as opposed to the others is that there is no branch of army anywhere to be found. SERIOUSLY. Remember when Josh Duhamel and Tyreese were soldiers who were fighting for mankind? Well, apparently soldiers in Age of Extinction just let everything get torn to hell and assume the autobots will save us even though every news channel is calling them terrorists. The ending leaves the door open for a sequel of course, and even two more films have already been confirmed. I know the fans of Transformers are going to like this movie because they have to, but how many times can you watch the exact same movie? That is exactly what this is, the exact same movie. You don’t really learn anything new to go with the previous three films which makes me even more angry when it comes to the fact that this film was nearly 3 hours. The Wolf of Wall Street was 3 hours long and do you know why? It had amazing performances to match a story that every single bit had to be seen to be believed from the memoirs of Jordan Belfort. The Transformers movies are like a big advertisement for the toys and Chevy vehicles. I can not recommend this movie to anyone except fans of the series. They are going to read my review and say they loved it, and to that i say i am happy that someone enjoyed it. Mark Wahlberg’s daughter said a line in the movie that i wanted to share with everyone because i think it would be the perfect ending to this review. “You can’t keep spending money on junk to make new junk”. Well put Tessa, but you clearly don’t understand what it means to be in a Michael Bay film.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

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8.5/10

One of the best all around animated films that i have ever seen. This might come off as a boring review because i simply have nothing bad to say about the film. Beautifully animated, powefully in depth characters, and war scenes that remind me of Lord of the Rings. I will explain more within the review. How To Train Your Dragon 2 picks up where the 2010 original left off with dragons and humans living in perfect harmony. Hiccup (Voiced by Jay Baruchel) and Toothless are best friends flying through the land side by side when the dragon population is threatened by Drago (Possibly the best voice casting of DJimon Hounsou), a vicious ship master who befriends the Alpha Dragon who commands the other dragons telepathically. Drago is absolutely the most menacing villain that i have ever seen in a Dreamworks film. His actions are never limited, and he shows no fear what so ever when dealing with his enemies. He is the perfect villain to go toe to toe with the viking community. It’s not often where you get a villain who you can’t wait to see them get what they deserve, but Drago takes us back to the characters that terrorized our childhoods. The rest of the voicing is casted perfectly with performances by Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, and the newest addition, Cate Blanchett as Hiccup’s mother, Valka. It was perfect to introduce a character like Valka because it showed us more of the backstory from our main character, but also introduced us to a romance that is so beautifully written between her and Stoick that it will make romance genre films in 2014 weak by comparison. I never thought i would be talking about chemistry in a voiced only film, but the magic between Butler and Blanchett carries the movie into a war scene that carries the pace perfectly. In those war scenes, the camera shots are dominated by artfully colored dragons that stretch as far as the eye can see. However, it’s the little things that amazed me the most about Dreamworks latest masterpiece in the world of animation. The things like the volume of a characters beard, movement of water, and distinguishing marks on a characters skin. It’s impressive to see how far we have come from the days of Shrek. I can only imagine the future of Dreamworks in 5 years. I mentioned before how i don’t have much negatively to say about this film and that is because everything clicks on all cylinders. It’s clear to see that they didn’t make a movie too quick (Planes, Cars) and actually took 4 long years before making a sequel that could live up to the great original. In my opinion, not only does this film live up to the original, but it soars a lot higher. It’s no secret that i am not a big fan of animated sequels, but this film actually has a great chance to match up against Toy Story for the best animated trilogy of all time. It’s that good, and director Dean Deblois is the perfect person for the job if there was a 3rd film. Besides the Dragon films, he made Mulan which is one of my all time favorite Disney films. Dean’s masterpiece (in my opinion) comes in the form of Dragon 2 though. He has taken animated characters and dragons that rarely ever say anything and made them relatable. It shows movies like Cars and Planes that you don’t have to make these material things human for people to relate to them. Rely on emotion and the crowd will come to the theater in dozens. The last three weeks have been amazing for movies. It’s rare that we have a time where 80% of the films out are at least good or better. This really is a good time to get to the movies, and if you have a family then this is the film for you. It’s got something that even the adults will find well produced. I hope the kids will enjoy it because for once they aren’t treated like idiots. They are getting a look at real characters that we meet in our everyday lives, and that is what pays off the most for How to Train Your Dragon 2. A very inspiring piece of escapism that is among the year’s best not only in animated, but in film in general.

The Fault In Our Stars

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7.5/10

Every once in a while there will come a film in the romance department that a man and a woman can equally enjoy and it not be a one sided occasion. The Fault in Our Stars is that film for this decade. It stars Shailene Woodley as a cancer patient struggling for a reason to live. She meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Egort) who becomes romantically interested in the girl, and gives her life for the first time in a long time. On the surface, Stars is one of those films that is just another romantic teenager movie about self loathing and love being the only key to happiness. But it takes a deeper look into the 2 hour film to understand that this film is about living for today because tomorrow might not be there. I really enjoyed this film for it’s superior acting, brilliant soundtrack and it’s heartbreaking attitudes without resorting to too much exploitation of the genre. I am happy to say that i did successfully predict the ending of the film, but that didn’t take too much away from it. Stars has something that everyone can enjoy, and a lot of that resorts to Egort who is absolutely fantastic as Augustus. He gives the film the charm and the life it needs from what would otherwise be a depressing teenage tale. This is only the first film i have seen him in, but i think he is a young actor with a bright future. Some actors can just give you a look to make you smile back at the screen, and Egort is one of those lucky few. This review would be pointless if i didn’t talk about how good Woodley is in it as well. I kind of didn’t have an opinion on her before this movie. I liked Divergent, but didn’t think she needed to be a strong actor to play that part. She was good in The Spectacular Now, but was outshined by Miles Teller. Stars is finally her movie. She proves that she can provide the viewer a scope of a character that they can hope the best for without 100% feeling sorry for her. She is very witty as Hazel Lancaster, and speaks and acts in a way that all teenage and young adult females can relate to. Examples even as small as waiting for the boy you like to call you early on in the relationship, or not having that confidence in yourself until someone else makes you see it. Woodley captures superbly the awkwardness of being a teenager and the never say die attitude in being a cancer patient. The only slight problem i had with the acting was Laura Dern as Hazel’s mother. Most people will watch the film and think i was nitpicking, but i just didn’t feel she was cast right for the role. I have never been a fan of Dern’s and i don’t feel this movie did her any favors as well. Her scenes feel so fake whenever she delivers a very important role. It slows down the movie and makes us remember that we are just a viewer in a story and not actually there with the characters. The only other problem i had with the movie was it’s pacing. The first hour is one of the best opening hours in film in 2014 because there is so much packed into that hour. Once we get to the halfway point, we feel like we have been watching the movie for 90 minutes, but that is where the movie starts to show some of it’s problems. The second hour is good, but by that point you know where the film is heading, so it’s hard to stay as excited for a movie that already has a set direction. If the first hour of the film could’ve withheld some of those events and saved them for the early part of the 2nd hour, i think it would’ve made for a smooth transistion into the tearjerking 2nd hour. Speaking of tears, the ladies were absolutely bawling during my showing. I heard several sniffs during the emotional scenes, and plenty of reaches for the tissues. It’s in that area where Stars delivers at it’s best. You know you are coming into a sad movie, and this one never fails to deliver on that promise. I mentioned before that the soundtrack was something very noteworthy. It’s hip, but gives a different kind of feel for everyone from electro pop to indie rock to beautifully constructed piano backgrounds that greatly compliment the struggles that our characters go through. The Fault in Our Stars is one of the biggest surprises of the year for your favorite film critic. The thing i liked the most about it is that it shows that you don’t always need vampires and factions to show teens in all of their angst driven journeys that cultivate into hopeful glory. Well recommended for a good date night. It’s nice to see a weekend that comes out with two can’t miss choices in this and Edge of Tomorrow.

Maleficent

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7/10

Angelina Jolie has given the performance of her life as the title character in a re-imagining of Disney’s 1959 animated feature, Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent is narrated by the sleeping beauty in question, Aurora. It is from that point of view that kind of makes me question some things. The first is how she knew about everything that went down before she was born and even when she was a baby. How does she know these things? The common answer is that she was told them by other people, and to that i ask if we know that even this story can be true. That is one thing that is a blessing and a curse with these two films; you never really know which one to believe. It’s nice to leave it completely up to interpretation, but for my money i think Sleeping Beauty is the better and more logical film. As a film by itself, Maleficent is a solid film that has a lot going for it. Lets get it out of the way first, Jolie is was and will always be the best person to play the queen of Disney villains. She gives us a performance that makes us yearn for her whenever she isn’t on screen, and gives us some great one liners with her sinister smile to compliment. God forbid, when Jolie leaves this mortal coil, this will be the film that people will remember her for the most. It’s easily her best performance since 1998’s Gia. The direction of the film is also done well by first time director Roger Stromberg. Stromberg shows a lot of promise considering he has never stood behind the camera. The characters are all pretty well written by Linda Woolverton, and she has a lot of room to stretch these characters beyond their original means because this is a re-imagining. The CGI is something that i loved and hated. I loved it for reasons like the scenary and long shots of the beautiful enchanted forrest. The colors of fairies and lightning bugs give many shots of the characters a beautiful glow that particularly brings out the green in the eyes of Maleficent. The one thing i didn’t like about the CGI is when it’s pointless. You have many CGI animals in the form of a raven and a pack of wolves that could’ve easily been real. Wolves are hard to train, and i undertstand that, but i feel that too much CGI will take a viewer out of the movie and make the humans in the film feel like the only real effect of the movie. I also wasn’t fond of shrinking actresses down to play the three fairies that watch over Aurora. It’s a similar effect that they did in the 2006 bomb Alice In Wonderland. What makes little sense to me is that the ferries can also be full human size. The three are good in their roles when they play it in human form, but look almost too wooden like to be taken seriously as the ferries. I get that it’s a Disney movie, but the ferries look like dolls when they are small but normal human beings when they are big. It didn’t ruin the experience for me, but i wouldn’t be opposed to more creativity when it comes to the look of the film. The movie is nearly perfectly casted with lots of noteworthy performances. Sharlto Coplay plays King Stefan drunk with power and a touch of fear for everything Maleficent opposes him with. Of any character, this is definitely the biggest 360 turn in direction. Sam Riley plays Maleficent’s sidekick Diaval with loyalty to his commander. There is nothing he won’t do for the person who saved him, and i can’t wait to see more from Riley as i feel he has a bright future. Elle Fanning as Aurora was probably the only slight problem i had with the casting. It’s not that she did a terrible job with the character, but the writers of the film did her no favors in getting her across as lovable to the crowd. She did about the best that she could have with the material written for her character, but i would’ve liked to have seen Jaimie King step into the role. She is an actress with a little more emotional depth to bring to a character who learns that her world falls around her at the mercy of a curse. The idea of having the movie shown from the perspective of the villain is something that i would like to see a lot more of from other Disney villains. When i compare it to Sleeping Beauty, i think i appreciate Maleficent more as the villain because of her actions and the personality that she shows. Even in this movie, she was still a very ruthless character when it came to disliking babies, smacking ferries and silencing anyone who gets on her nerves. I give a lot of respect to the writing of the plot with the only scene being similar to Sleeping Beauty was the cursed cristening. They literally wrote a completely new film that deserves a lot more respect than being called a remake. With some tightening of characters, and a little less CGI work, the film could be one of Disney’s best live action features of the 21st century. I would recommend the movie even for Jolie’s performance alone. If you have seen the actress at her worst, it’s time you see her at her best. Maleficient is a story about the mistakes that people make and the guilt that plagues them after those mistakes. Recommended for a matinee showing, but i don’t think it’s worth a full $11 showing.

Chef

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8.5/10

A deliciously welcome addition to the world of comedy. Chef’s charming cast and sharp, funny script add enough spice to make this feel-good comedy a flavorful treat. Jon Favreau dives in again as the star and director of this story about a chef who has a passion to cook who loses his job after getting canned by a food critic (Oliver Platt). Chef is a lot deeper than a story about food. It is just table dressing for the main course with Favreau being a less than stellar father to his child. Infact, it’s in the 2nd half of the film that the movie takes a more serious turn with our lead going out on the road with his best friend (John Leguizamo) and son (Emjay Anthony). He finds himself finally getting the relationship with his son that he never had all of these years. The cast is totally a work of art when you think about how many a-listers they packed into this movie. Besides Favreau, Leguizamo and Platt, there is Scarlett Johansson as receptionist and Favreau’s girlfriend, Sofia Vergara as Favreau’s ex-wife, Robert Downey JR as a business associate, and Dustin Hoffman as a jerk of a boss who fires Favreau. All of these characters are mixed together to create a delicious stew of feel good moments. Ok, i promise that is the final food reference i make in this review I will say that this is not the movie to go into if you are hungry. This movie is like pornography for your stomach with the way it presents the delicious trays of food that he places right in front of the camera. The only minor problem i had with this movie is that it is about 15 minutes too long. There are a couple of scenes that didn’t necessarily need cut, but rather shortened. The chemistry is definitely there with the characters, so i understand why there are long takes in the editing. It’s just something i felt could only hurt the film. I will say that there is nothing wrong with the ending, but the movie did end just as the movie was starting to lose some of it’s steam with the predictable direction it was heading. With everything said, Chef is definitely one of the best feel good movies of the year. It’s one of those movies that just puts you in a good reason every time you watch it. It’s in that aspect why i feel Favreau is a terrific film maker. You can always relate to the characters he plays, but i would like to see more of what he could offer as the man behind the scenes. I am sure people would be surprised to realize how many good films Favreau has directed. The first two Iron Man’s, Elf, Made and Chef show that this is a guy with a reputable past, and i look forward to seeing more from him. The setting of California and Miami were two great choices for the film. It’s in those atmospheres where food thrives with mostly cuban dishes. The soundtrack was also something that was fun and trivial at times. Every song featured in the film is given kind of a cuban spice to it, so it’s not always recognizable. When the lyrics finally hit, it’s fun to see the crowd say “Hey, that’s Sexual Healing”. It compliments the scenary of the movie well, and takes our characters across the country with some of the best moments of the movie. Leguizamo has always been one of my favorite actors, so it was nice to see him at the top of his game again. Too many of his films lately haven’t let him shine as the diamond actor he is. Chef is a movie that will give you no choice but to put you in a great mood. I can also predict that many people will eat within an hour of the credits hitting the screen. Well recommended.

Blended

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5/10

Adam Sandler’s latest off screen vacation shows him making a movie in the setting of Africa. Sandler stars as a widowed father to three girls while trying to step back into the dating world. Drew Barrymore is his first date, and she carries two boys of her own. When you get past the obvious Brady Bunch kind of storyline that this film has to it, there is a lot of positives and negatives to talk about. After coming out of it, i have to say that i didn’t hate the movie as much as i thought i would. With that said, it’s still not a good film at all. It just has a lot to appreciate. One of those things is that it’s not as terrible as three of his latest efforts in Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy and the painfully awful Jack and Jill. Blended is a two headed dragon that is trying to be two kinds of films at once and only succeeding at one. It fails as a comedy for a lot of the typical reasons Sandler films do these days. It’s childish, slapstick, and loses any kind of moral compass by the opening frame in a toilet (appropriate eh?), or the scene an hour in when rhino’s are having sex. There are many convenient openings for jokes that will make the clear headed viewer roll their eyes. One scene in particular has a character named Dick dating Drew Barrymore’s best friend, Jen (Wendy Mclendon-Covey). Adam Sandler comes across an online rumor of Barrymore and Covey being lesbian lovers, and the joke comes when Jen tells Barrymore “I am done with dick”. Get it? it’s funny because Sandler just called her a lesbian two minutes ago.Every joke just feels like it was written in a board room with the most juvenile setup. I also don’t understand how Sandler and Barrymore are able to take their family of 7 on Sandler’s bosses trip to Africa when his reservation was only for 6 total people. A Sandler fan will say “Well it’s easy to make those reservations change”. And while that may be true for a plane ride, the WHOLE TRIP has already been planned. I am talking hotel, activities and even chairs at the dinner table. I laughed about 5 times total throughout the whole movie and those were light chuckles. Most of the laughs come from Terry Crewes as the entertainer in Africa who follows the families everywhere they go on the trip blending his african music with comedic lyrics. Other than Crewes who is always electric, the kids of the families provide the other laughs. It’s cute little kid laughs that add to the second head of this beast. More on that later. The one part that gave me a legit laugh was a cameo by Allen Covert as Ten Second Tom. For those of you who remember 50 First Dates, that character makes a funny cameo that sort of draws the two films worlds together.. That second head that i referred to is the one that succeeds as a family movie. I knew the film was rated PG-13 coming into my screening, but i was very surprised with how tame this movie was considering all of the crude parts were used for the trailer. Underneath the crude, there is a genuine heart felt story just dying to be told. Barrymore carries the load for this genre as she has a deep bonding with Sandler’s kids. Even Sandler’s backstory with his wife’s passing puts the pieces in place for you to root for these two characters to get together by the end. There are two things that ruin this. One is that Sandler is still a jerk as he is in all of his movies. He once again insults family, friends and anyone else in order to be the hip guy of the film. It makes the viewer wonder why someone as great as Barrymore would ever get with him. The second problem is the chemistry of Sandler and Barrymore. Plenty of Sandler-holics will tell me that the chemistry of the two leads are still there and it was just as good as 50 First Dates and The Wedding Singer. To that, i say they are correct……kind of. The chemistry is definitely there, but it feels like more of a friendship chemistry than a romantic one. I understand that these characters don’t really like each other when they go on the trip, but they don’t even kiss till the final 10 seconds of the movie. Drew is leagues above Adam in the romantic family genre, and if she had a leading man who could give her the performance that makes that relationship believable, then Blended would be a 6 or a 6.5. I promise you that i am not being picky about this movie at all. I go into every film with open eyes even if i don’t want to see it. I expected the world out of Godzilla and that kind of disappointed me. This is kind of the opposite. I expected the absolute worst out of Blended, but it actually was a lot better than i thought. As it stands, it’s nowhere close to my 20 worst films of the year. Blended is a film that any Sandler fan will think is a great movie. If you don’t mind tasting the same food for 15 years in a row, then it will always taste the way it did on day one. But if you go into Blended with a clear mind, you will think it’s an easily forgettable movie, and that is kind of sad. It’s sad that movies like Jack and Jill will be remembered more because of how bad they are ,and Blended with all of it’s heartfelt family sentiments will be forgotten because it’s only in the middle of Sandler’s filmography. Blended is two styles of movie that can never really fully commit one way or the other. recommended for Sandler fans, but everyone else can wait for DVD.