Horns Movie Review

Genre – Horror/Fantasy, Drama, Book to movie adaptation

Director – Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes)

Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Kelli Garner, Michael Adamthwaite

Alluring element – Daniel Radcliffe officially shaking off the remains of Harry Potter and turning into a devil, both literally and figuratively to avenge the murder of his girlfriend. I’m so in.

 

Scorecard:
Plot – 8
Acting – 10
Representation of Genre – 6
Cinematography – 9
Effects/Environment – 8
Captivity – 7
Logical consistency – 7
Originality/Creativity – 9
Soundtrack/Music – 8
Overall awesomeness – 8
 
 

I think the only fair way to start my review of Horns is with a disclaimer. Well, two disclaimers really. First, I read the book Horns and thoroughly enjoyed it, but because of that I spent a lot of time watching the movie waiting for elements of the book to appear, and then trying to figure out if I liked the book or the movie. Or both. Second, I love Daniel Radcliffe. LOVE HIM. To me, he can do no wrong. However, I worked really hard to separate myself from that so I can give Horns a fair review. So, with that being said, I’ll get to it.

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Horns is the story of Iggy Perish (Daniel Radcliffe) and his journey to find the person who killed the girl he loves. All the while he is the number one suspect and, for whatever reason, he woke up one morning with horns growing out of his head a la Satan. Of course the horns are not merely cosmetic, they cause the people Iggy comes in contact with to reveal their most horrible truths to him, as well as their darkest secrets and desires and then ask his permission to act on them. And naturally they give Ig the inclination to give in to his more evil urges as well which enables him to find his beloved’s killer all the more easily.

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Joe Hill’s Horns is honestly my type of love story, and I’m really not a fan of love stories. It’s dark, the love is overpowering and insecure, and the happy ending is definitely one side of a double edged sword. The story takes place in our universe, but with a fantastical twist. Granted, there is a strong basis of Christianity in the story, but as opposed to taking a side on religion, it merely uses its elements for fantasy’s sake. A cross necklace does play an important role, but so does the devil and frankly he’s portrayed in a pretty favorable light.

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The movie really tells a great story, but unfortunately it stutters in its flow and spends too much time on some less crucial elements which causes important plot points to suffer. A lot of energy was spent flashing back to the love story between Iggy and his dearly departed Merrin (Juno Temple), and while those scenes are beautifully shot and full of heart they may have sucked up too much time. Iggy is the only character in the movie who is really fully developed, everyone else has very little screen time and their introductions and explanations are rushed. This might not be a problem in a full on romance about the gooey love between just two people, but it does cause Horns to suffer a little because it’s a murder mystery. By the time the reveal of the real killer came around, it felt a little weak because as little as each of the side characters were shown it basically could have been anyone, as there was no motive or background given for anyone.

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At times, the dialogue feels unnatural and the actors have to say things it seems no person would ever say in real life, but other than those moments the movie is extremely well acted. I assure you it is not my bias talking when I say that Daniel Radcliffe was captivating. I love Harry Potter more than the next guy, but so far this is the best performance I’ve seen from Radcliffe. He’s vulnerable, angry, scared and downright wicked. Anything that the movie Horns itself may have lacked, he single-handedly made up for.

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Overall, Horns is absolutely worth seeing. It’s really beautifully shot and the scenery is just gorgeous. The love story is sweet and cruel, the fantasy and comedy elements hit hard and leave a lasting impression. I left the theater unsure about what to think about it but the movie stuck with me, which I think is a mark of what makes it good. I wasn’t sure at certain points while I was watching it, but I kept thinking about it and picturing it after it was over and it left me with one of those beautiful melancholy feelings. The more I relive it, the more I want to go and see it again.

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Genre – Comic Book, Sci-Fi/Action, Comedy

Director – James Gunn (Slither, Super)

Cast – Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, and so many more. 

Alluring element – Dave Bautista was one of my favorite parts and Vin Diesel almost made me cry. (Things that have never been said before.)

Scorecard:
Plot – 9
Acting – 9
Representation of Genre – 10
Cinematography – 10
Effects/Environment – 10
Captivity – 10
Logical consistency – 9
Originality/Creativity – 9 
Soundtrack/Music – 10
Overall awesomeness – 10 
 
What can I say about Guardians of the Galaxy? My expectations going in to this film were very high. I hadn’t heard a single negative thing about it going into the theater on that July evening. Normally, I would be very hesitant of a film with as much hype as Guardians has, but, this is one of those wonderfully rare occasions where it not only lived up to its hype, but exceeded it. It was a Sci-Fi movie that had a bit of everything. It was action packed, extremely funny, heart-warming, and badass all at the same time. So, please, if you’re resisting the urge to see this because you think your expectations are too high, or “There’s a character that only says ‘I am Groot?'” Let go of all your preconceived notions and go buy your ticket and enjoy what may truly be MARVEL’s best film yet.
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The film opens with a bit of backstory for our main hero, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) who prefers the name Star Lord – even if no one else seems to. Here is where we learn that Quill is an Earthling who has unfortunately suffered a great loss. He runs away and is picked up by and abducted by a spaceship. We then cut to 26 years later where Quill is a member of the Ravagers, a group of alien outlaws led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). He is landing on an alien planet to steal a mysterious orb about which he knows nothing except that it’s worth a lot of money. While attempting the robbery, he is ambushed by a group of soldiers but is fortunately able to make his escape. During his escape he is contacted by Yondu who is not too happy that Quill has absconded with the orb.
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Quill ends up on Xandar (home of Nova Corps) where he intends to sell the orb, but, unfortunately for him, everyone is out to get their hands on this thing, including the mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) who has lent his adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and his actual daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan) to Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Ronan sends Gamora to get the orb from Quill on Xandar. In the meantime, Yondu has put a hefty bounty on Quill’s head and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) want to collect. What follows is one of the more exceptional scenes in the film where our first four A-holes find themselves in an all out street brawl. But, as it always does, the law catches up to them and they find themselves in the worst prison in the galaxy where they meet the final member of the team, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who happens to have a bit of a vendetta against Gamora. Our five losers (“people who have lost things”) stage a prison break and find themselves unwillingly a team who has to keep this orb out of the hands of Ronan.
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Guardians is one of the more visually stunning films of the summer (I loved the way Dawn of the Planet of the Apes looked, as well). The opening credits scene is one of my favorites (I have a lot of those). From the very first alien planet we see, which is full of ancient ruins and strange rat…things that Quill uses as a makeshift microphone to Xander, a very Earth-like planet in a Star Trek era. Gunn really makes you feel like this is a large and heavily populated galaxy. There is very little CGI in this film’s characters, with the obvious exceptions being Rocket and Groot (and Nathan Fillions cameo). Most of your on screen aliens are make up and practical effects which I believe is wonderful (And, why I still have faith in Star Wars). There are a couple different members of the Ravagers who I particularly like. That’s not to put the CGI down however. Rocket is so real at times that I thought it was a real raccoon, not unlike certain moments in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
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The characters, and the performances of the actors are one of the best things about this film. Everyone has an adequate backstory that leaves a bit of room for mystery for future Guardians films. Cooper as Rocket was great, he was able to really make it something that was unique and not just Bradley Cooper doing voices. Diesel did an amazing job considering he only had to say 3 words, however, despite his limited vocabulary, he still nearly brought me to tears. The stand out performance for me was Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. I’ve been a Guardians for about 3 years now and I’ve never really thought twice about Drax (except in The Thanos Imperative book) but he nearly stole the show in this. His very literal interpretation of things leads to some interesting misunderstandings. All I have to say about Pratt as Star-Lord is, perfect. My one minor complaint here would be Rooker as Yondu. He was good, don’t get me wrong, but, he was Rooker…just less of an asshole as on The Walking Dead, but, not by much. He makes up for it by having a pretty sweet weapon.
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The soundtrack for this film is one of the best parts. Quill and his mother shared a love for music and she had given him a mix tape of her favorite songs which are a mix of some of the best songs of the ’70s. From Blue Swede to The Jackson 5 to Marvin Gaye, it helps you to remember Quill’s humanity but it also allows you to tap your foot and maybe sing along…if you’re brave enough, I did and you probably should too. Plus, it was all relevant to plot points – just perfect.
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Well, if you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this film. What am I saying, that’s an understatement. This was my favorite MARVEL film by far. It’s also one of my favorites of the year. Please, do yourself a favor, let your skepticism go (if you have any) and see this as soon as you can. Big screen a must, 3D not necessary, but fun.
For the love of Groot! Have you bought your ticket yet?!?!?
All photos belong to Marvel Comics

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Genre – Sci-Fi/Action

Director – Matt Reeves (Felicity, Let Me In, Cloverfield)

Cast – Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Kirk Acevedo (Miguel on OZ)

Alluring element – Apes riding horseback using machine guns. I mean, COME ON!

Scorecard:
Plot – 9
Acting – 10
Representation of Genre – 9
Cinematography – 9
Effects/Environment – 10
Captivity – 10
Logical consistency – 8
Originality/Creativity – 9
Soundtrack/Music – 9
Overall awesomeness – 10
 
 
Guns don’t kill people. Monkeys with guns kill people. The highly-anticipated sequel to the 2011 prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, takes place ten years after the events of the first film. Life has pretty much sucked for the humans since they created and successfully infected themselves with the Simian flu. The virus is a twist of irony, originally designed to cure terminal disease in humans. Civilized life as we know it now is pretty much dead and gone. If you’re seeing this film without watching Rise, you’ll be a little lost, but there aren’t any huge jumps in logic you need to make to understand Dawn. The introductory sequence of Dawn does a decent job of filling us in what happened logistically, but we really get no feeling of empathy for what happens to the humans because we come in ten years after the outbreak has occurred – something that we can probably assume was done on purpose.
Stupid humans.
Stupid humans.
The main difference between the films is that in Rise, you cheered for the apes the entire time. The evil humans tortured and experimented on the apes, and the apes wanted nothing but to be free and left alone. This isn’t like Deep Blue Sea, where the experimented sharks became expert-level human hunters. No, things are not so black and white in Dawn, which is what makes the film so great. The culmination of action is a slow-building process, comprised of bad decisions and miscommunications that make complete logical sense as they unfold, but still give you the gut-wrenching feeling as they happen. It only takes one bad seed to spoil a whole bunch, something that both sides become guilty of. Knowing the truth as a member of the audience and not being able to do anything about it is the toughest part of watching the film; you just want the good guys to win.
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Visually, Dawn is completely awing. We get a great look into the life that the apes have built for themselves. Their culture is thriving, there are litters of young ones roaming around, and there is a noticeable group dynamic between the community (and some straight-up frightening war paint). Dawn was filmed using a combination of live-action stunts, CGI and motion-capture suits, giving it a very realistic look. In fact, a lot of the stunts were overseen by former Cirque du Soleil gymnast, Terry Notary.
Just monkeyin around in the MoCap suits
Just monkeyin around in the MoCap suits
Caesar, the same leader from Rise, has unanimously been given the crown of, well, Caesar. Among him are his most trusted friends, Maurice the Orangoutang, Rocket (a bully turned second in command), and Koba (the ugliest, most jaded SOB in the land). The apes stick to their side of the Golden Gate bridge – which we can only assume is Oakland. Caesar has seen the good in humans and has a much more well-rounded understanding of them than apes who had been tortured their whole lives by scientists. This difference of opinion thereafter becomes the dividing line between the apes, and is ultimately what mucks everything up.
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Monkeys riding horses – a sure sign that you will lose.
What makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes such a compelling story is that it borrows elements from several other classic stories. There is an amazing parallel to the story of Julius Caesar, which was referenced briefly in the first film. The great commander was victim to the betrayal of his closest when blind ambition superseded the logic and strategy of the current leadership. He was struck down so that a new era could begin – the Roman Empire. Whether or not Caesar in the film fulfills the prophecy of the Ides of March, you’ll have to watch to find out. The archetypal story influence doesn’t end there, though. Dawn borrows elements from other classical animal stories, notably Animal Farm, The Lion King and The Fox and the Hound.
The Orwell is strong with you, my friends.
The Orwell is strong with you, my friends.
To keep the apes with the greatest amount of civility, Caesar creates basic rules to live by, the strongest rule being “Ape not kill ape,” which is strikingly familiar to Animal Farm’s “No animal shall kill any other animal.” Everybody is a fan of the life that Caesar’s spoils have wrought, but become sheep under the more ambitious and “passionate” apes who want to imprison and torture the humans. With deception and, really propaganda, the humans become the target, and the peaceful ways of Caesar (Snowball in Animal Farm) are only as strong as his position in leadership. There is, of course, more development in the book, but it looks like things could easily get to that point in the third film, set to premiere in two years with Reeves repeating as director. Let’s just say that the end of the movie is far from the harmonious ending we wish we had as a viewer (we do know that, in the end of either Dawn and Animal Farm , things don’t necessarily work out for us humans).
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The most emotion I felt during Dawn were the scenes that reminded me of how I felt watching Disney movies as a kid. The Lion King references are more visual than anything, but it’s certainly arguable that there are some plot similarities, too. There is a particular seen that made me scream “Scar!!” in the theater. For those that saw Rise, you will be getting those nostalgic pains that Fox and the Hound did. The whole time, I just wished that we could go back to the time when Caesar was causing havoc with James Franco, before the Simian flu, before the all out war between humans and primates. I miss the good old days. Or if I couldn’t have that, I just wanted to go back to the beginning so we could watch the apes in their own civilization. The entire movie could have done without humans altogether. Specifically Gary Oldman, who basically reprises his role of Commissioner Gordon, but a complete jerk, and his desperation causes more grief than it does solve problem.
Do you remember when Caesar just just a tyke??
Do you remember when Caesar just just a tyke??
Clocking in at just over two hours, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is briskly-paced and each event naturally progresses the story. There was never a time I had to wonder how much time was left, or how long it had been. This is a heavily under-appreciated quality in a movie, and if you just sat through the latest Transformers movie, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Dawn was able to keep me engaged throughout the film, and it was largely due to the great ambiance of a post-apocalyptic world where desperation leads to a series of realistic pitfalls. The tremendous acting by Caesar’s Andy Serkis and company sell what has been the greatest movie of the year thus far. In 2014, Apes rule, and I’m okay with that.

All photos belong to 20th Century Fox

The Fault in Our Stars Movie Review

Genre – Drama/Romance

Director – Josh Boone

Cast – Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolf

Alluring element –  Based on the New York Times Best Selling novel by award winning author and noted nerd, John Green.

Scorecard:
Plot – 9
Acting – 8
Representation of Genre – 8
Cinematography – 7
Effects/Environment – 7
Captivity – 9
Logical consistency – 8
Originality/Creativity – 9
Soundtrack/Music – 9
Overall awesomeness – 9
 

I was lucky enough to see an advance screen of The Fault in Our Stars last week and I am still dizzy from the emotions it surfaced for me. I’ll admit that I am a bit biased when it comes to this movie. The Fault in Our Stars is my favorite book and it means a great deal to me, personally. Author John Green shares a YouTube Channel with his brother Hank called “The Vlogbrothers,” of which I am a massive fan. Their fans are called Nerdfighters (fighting for nerds, not against them) and they are some of the most passionate, intelligent, caring people you will ever meet. While writing the novel, John documented his progress as well as read the first two chapters to his fans via Livestream before the book was even published. The Nerdfighters were even able to catch a mistake in the book before it was printed. So when I say I’ve been with this story since the beginning, I mean the very beginning. Seeing this story finally hit the big screen feels like a triumph.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is an atypical teenager living with cancer, oxygen tank trailing forever behind her. While medication and frequent doctors visits have extended her life quite a bit, she is very much aware that she is dying. After being deemed depressed by both her mother and doctor, Hazel begins attending a cancer support group. It is here that she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a charismatic, sly, metaphoric loving cancer survivor determined to make his mark on the world. Together they find “a forever within the numbered days,” a love that transcends their illness, and an adventure that makes them both feel infinitely alive whilst on the border of death.

Lovers of the novel will be extremely satisfied with the adaptation. Countless scenes have dialogue directly pulled from the book. The casting could not be more perfect. I personally can not see anyone but Shailene Woodley playing Hazel and Ansel Elgort makes the perfect Augustus. While the movie was actually shot in Pittsburgh, set designers and cinematographers were able to make it feel very much like Indiana, scouring out every flat piece of land they could find and recreating the sculpture “Funky Bones”with such detail that the original curator Sarah Green couldn’t tell the difference. Watching the film felt like reading the book all over again. The few scenes they cut I didn’t even notice until later watching an interview with John Green. It is clear that the people behind the movie cared for the book just as much as it’s diehard fans.

While Augustus may be “on a roller coaster than only goes up,” this film takes its audience for an emotionally diverse ride, so much so that DFTBA.com sells a “TFIOS Preparedness Kit” – tissues included. Witty dialogue and ingenious timing create a laughable atmosphere throughout the movie, allowing the audience to believe everything is going to be okay just long enough that when things take a turn for the worse, it cuts all the deeper. However, despite how much the movie made me cry, I still wouldn’t classify it as a sad movie. The Fault in Our Stars is just as much about life as it is about sickness and death. The characters are joyful through much of the film. They are falling in love with each other and with life, despite how little time they have left. In fact, it may because of their mortality that they are able to do this so freely. One thing should be made clear; this is not a cancer story. Yes, it’s a love story about two kids with cancer. Yes, Hazel’s oxygen tank and Augustus’prosthetic leg makes it abundantly clear they’re ill. Still, The Fault in Our Stars is a story about people faced with their own mortality and the mortality of their loved ones. It’s about laying things clean and dry on the table to stop beating around the bush. It’s about two young adults realizing that this life is all they are going to get and that that’s just fine. Their lives are not perfect, in fact they’re far from, but they are still lives that demands to be lived to their fullest. This is a story about overcoming pain and finding joy despite it. This is not a cancer story.

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The soundtrack alone could warrant a review. Ranging from big names like Ed Sheeran and Birdy to lesser known, but just as talented artists such as Afasi and Filthy, the album’s mood fluctuates similarly to the film but still manages to be cohesive. “Bomfelleralla,” a personal favorite of mine, may be the only song that doesn’t seem to quite fit until you see the film. It’s plucked directly out of a scene where Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) plays the song for Hazel and Augustus.

The Fault in Our Stars is an important story because it shows that cancer patients are not their illness and have lives outside it. It shows sickness in a light we rarely get to see. So often we look at someone with a cannula and all we see is their sickness. We visualize them as “the other”when they are very much just like us. The Fault in Our Stars breaks down this “otherness”with a story about two lovers who are like every other couple. They just happen to have cancer.

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The film comes out June 6th but if you hurry, you can see it early. Theaters all over the US are hosting “The Night Before the Stars”where audiences can see the film the day before it comes out as well as a following livestream including cast members Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff (who plays Issac) , Author John Green, Director Josh Boone, Producer Wyck Godfrey, and performances from Birdy and Nat and Alex Wolff. Attendees will also receive a commemorative charm bracelet and exclusive movie poster. Tickets are $25 and going fast.

Even if you haven’t read the book (though I sincerely recommend you do) The Fault in Our Stars is a film you will find yourself thinking about long after the credits roll. From the brilliant cast to the heart wrenching plot, this film is destined to be a Summer hit.

 
All photos belong to 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics

X-Men: Days of Future Past Movie Review

Genre – Comic Book/Action

Director – Bryan Singer

Cast – Hugh Jackson, Jennifer Lawrence James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, a bunch of other people that you never see

Alluring element – A classic X-Men story that tries to make up for The Last Stand

**check out our review of the graphic novel if you’re interested in reading it.

Scorecard:
Plot – 8
Acting – 9
Representation of Genre – 6
Cinematography – 7
Effects/Environment – 8
Captivity – 7
Logical consistency – 6
Originality/Creativity – 6
Soundtrack/Music – 7
Overall awesomeness – 7
 
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After the foul tail-end of the original X-Men trilogy, followed up with two more poorly-received Wolverine movies, Bryan Singer and company attempts to start all over with Days of Future Past. Do they succeed? Yes, but like its source material, it is not without its flaws.
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the X-Men in the 1960’s, the team was spawned from a reflection of the Civil Rights movement. Social commentary through badass super-powers became the norm. So when Chris Claremont progressed the subject into one of total annihilation with Days of Future Past, it was as much a nod to the mutually assured destruction of war as it was about saving the world from evil sentinels.
That’s not to say that I wanted the movie to be preachy, but at the heart of the X-Men concept is that of a team. The idea that everybody can have their own favorite X-Man, and they were all useful tools in the struggle, was one that appealed to me as a kid, watching the X-Men animated series. However, this movie was really boiled down to four main characters: Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine and Mystique. The movie was marketed as including a slew of side characters from the future, as well as a reunion of the original cast; instead, they showed up to be collateral – with their forced dramatic deaths failing to make me feel the gravity of the situation.
Meet the cannon-fodder, er, I mean crew
Meet the cannon-fodder, er, I mean “supporting cast”
 
X-Men has always been a team concept, and this movie turned it into an excuse to flaunt their biggest stars. We get it; Huge Jacked Man and the glory of Jennifer Lawrence’s Bloobs are hard to pass up, and the McAvoy/Fassbender chemistry feels just as authentic as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen do. However, if you’re going to sell this as X-Men movie, can we get some more X-Men in there? Not every team movie needs to be The Avengers (thanks Joss, for setting the bar impossibly high), but the camaraderie here doesn’t even hold a candle to the original X-Men, or even First Class.
"I thought you liked my bloobs..."
“I thought you liked my bloobs…”
All of a sudden, having an all-star cast is more important than a well-rounded cast – a sentiment I’d be fine with on almost anything that wasn’t the X-Men. They do a decent round-about way of making Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine the centerpiece over Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde, until you realize that Kitty Pryde never had the ability to send anybody else’s consciousness back in time. It’s not that I’m that upset Singer’s Kitty Pryde didn’t get the main role, since Bishop filled in the role quite well in the animated series. There were a ton of other logical brain-farts we saw throughout that seem to be credited to tying in the horrible Last Stand in order to make the whole saga canon – a valiant effort, but still a sham.
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One place DOFP absolutely succeeds is in the portrayal of Quicksilver, who helps the team break into the Pentagon and free Magneto from imprisonment. Played by American Horror Story‘s Evan Peters, Peter (Singer felt his comic book name, Pietro, isn’t a realistic name for a teenager) Maximoff is self-indulgent and hilarious, but is intrigued by the challenge of the prison break. There’s a particular sequence where Quicksilver shows off his skills that gave me the butterflies like a superhero movie is supposed to (something I definitely did not feel throughout the rest of the movie), and was around just long enough to make me want more.
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Mystique also takes center stage here, and she kicks ass. Jennifer Lawrence absolutely owes it to her stunt double. Lawrence herself is not believable as Mystique, often coming across as a rebellious teenager. There’s just something about her face that doesn’t fit the look (we debated on whether it was the chin, cheeks or her large forehead that we didn’t like), but the fight scenes were incredible. She isn’t the only character that falls flat with me; Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, who had one of the most amazing displays in First Class turns into nothing more than a caricature of himself here. It’s a shame to see a character so complex turned into a one-dimensional bad guy.
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For being a movie based off a two-issue comic book, Days of Future Past does a good job of spacing the story out over its 2 hr 11 min runtime. There are a handful of awkward stares off into the distance I could have done without, and there’s a Magneto scene involving a entire stadium off the ground that feels forced and anti-climatic, but that’s neither here nor there. The sentinels looked spectacular (both past and future), and Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask was a great addition to the movie. In the comics, he is the creator of the sentinel program, and his role is practically a seamless swap for Senator Robert Kelly (the target in the books).
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Cleverly enough, the DNA swipe of Mystique, which is used to create the chameleon-esque sentinels of the future, isn’t impossible to believe. The genetic engineering process as we know it, “the direct transfer of DNA from one organism to another,” was invented in 1973, the same year the past events take place. The snippets of 70’s style reel film to capture the mutant attacks were also a nice touch. Some of it didn’t really work for me. Weeks after the new Godzilla film blamed Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Godzilla himself, Magneto takes the fall for the assassination of JFK. Nice try, guys. What’s next? Did Aquaman knock over the levees in New Orleans, too?
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This was supposed to be the resurgence of the X-Men franchise. To be fair, a lot of the complaints I had about the movie were fanboy-driven, but I feel like this formula is really starting to wear on me. The need to make this an “epic,” detracts from the point of the story, and clutters it with a bunch of nothing. I mean, when the half-hour animated episode does a better job at telling a story than the $200 million budgeted film, I can’t help but leave disappointed.
The magic of Days of Future Past comes from Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask and Evan Peters as Quicksilver.  Those aside, its been over a decade later and we’re still relying on special effects to sell creativity, forcing dramatic stare-offs to make people feel like important scenes are unfolding, and using Scott Summers to cock-block Wolverine. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And that’s the problem…

All photos belong to 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics

Godzilla 2014 Review

Genre – Sci-Fi/Monsters

Director – Gareth Edwards

Cast – Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Wantanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins

Alluring element – Giant monsters, classic homage, family story

Scorecard:
Plot – 8
Acting – 9
Representation of Genre – 9
Cinematography – 9
Effects/Environment – 10
Captivity – 8
Logical consistency – 7
Originality/Creativity – 7
Soundtrack/Music – 8
Overall awesomeness – 9
 
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I went to the movie theater this past Saturday expecting to see giant monsters destroying cities and each other. I was not disappointed in with that aspect. What I didn’t expect was the family story that made Godzilla more than just another kaiju smashfest. It’s a monster movie with heart. It actually takes close to an hour to even properly see the giant lizard.

Admittedly, during some parts of the movie, I found myself saying “Enough with this! Bring me giant monsters!” By the end of the movie, I realized that I was wrong with this sentiment. Godzilla is brought to us very much from the point of view of someone on the ground. We’re not meant to just sit back and watch terrible beasts duke it out in a random cityscape. The director, Gareth Edwards, wants to put you in San Francisco and makes you understand the real consequence of what’s going on. If you’re looking for Pacific Rim, which is awesome in its own right, you’re not going to find it here. This is more of a movie with monsters, rather than a monster movie. Gareth Edwards has done this very well before with Monsters; go rent it if you haven’t seen it.

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My biggest gripe with the king of monsters is the severe under-utilization of Brian Cranston. For what you do see of his performance it is intense and heart felt. Instead of Cranston, the story follows Aaron Taylor-Johnson, best known for playing Dave Lizewski from Kick-Ass. Johnson plays Cranston’s son, who is trying to get back home to his wife and son after bailing his father out of jail in Tokyo. I’m not typically a fan of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, but I have to say he did well. I pulled for him to get back to his family.

 

Ken Wantanabe was solid, as usual. He gives the characters a little bit of a terrible monster history lesson. Oh yeah Godzilla, and similar creatures, have been known about since the 1940’s. He plays a very stoic and soft-spoken scientist who has been studying these types of creatures for decades. Like Cranston, Wantanabe does not receive much screen type but still delivers a strong performance. His character is fairly forgettable though.

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Now to the big guy. Yes, Godzilla appears to have been preparing for hibernation and has put on a few pounds. When you first see his elephant like foot come down it’s comical and exciting at the same time. It looks a little goofy but you realize quickly that you’re finally going to get the big reveal, and it’s not disappointing. I’m also very happy they stayed with tradition and kept Godzilla as the good guy in this movie. When he goes claw-to-claw with the other creatures, it’s a blast, and when you see the energy slowly build up starting in the tip of his tail the anticipation for giant laser/blue fire is palpable.

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The FX team behind Godzilla did an excellent job at giving real emotion to the creatures. At certain points I really felt bad for the creatures designed as the villains. Godzilla is probably not the movie most people were expecting, and that’s a good thing. It’s deeper than what moviegoers were looking for, at least more than I was looking for. The length that the story goes to pleasantly surprised me. There were times I felt like they were just teasing me with the taste of a couple 300 foot monsters about to tear each other limb from limb; but once I realized what was going on I was satisfied with everything I got. Godzilla fights with serious brutality.

All photos belong to Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review

Genre – Action, Comic Book, Superhero

Director – The Russo Brothers (You, Me and Dupree, Captain America 3)

Cast – Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Robert Redford

Alluring element – Captain America kicking asses, taking names, and then kicking those asses, too

Scorecard:
Plot – 8
Acting – 9
Representation of genre/Identity – 9
Cinematography – 9
Effects/Environment – 10
Captivity – 8
Logical consistency – 7
Originality/Creativity – 9
Soundtrack/Ambiance – 8
Overall awesomeness – 9
 

“I can do everything he does… only slower” – how we feel about big shot blog sites who get their movie reviews in a week early because of special privileges

Oh Captain, my Captain! Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers in his first solo film since Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011. He is not alone, though, as S.H.IE.L.D. director Nick Fury and mistress of espionage, Black Widow, join him in his mission to take down the Winter Soldier. There is a lot of back-story in this movie found in the comic books (Captain America: Winter Soldier review coming soon), and some of them might be considered light spoilers for casual fans of Captain America’s character, but fans who don’t know might be a little confused without those spoilers. It is never actually mentioned that Natasha Romanoff (check out our article on her here) is the Black Widow, and there are a lot of other details that sort of don’t really make sense unless you’ve seen The First AvengerAvengers or read the associate comic books. While some might consider it poor story-telling, I look at it as not getting rewarded for doing your homework. Now that Marvel has hooked in the masses, it seems to be setting a new precedent by making viewers delve deeper to understand the whole story.

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From the get-go, we can see that this is not your father’s Captain America. The naive young man who stood for truth, justice and the American way has opened his eyes to how the world really works. He still holds a moral standard that makes his colleagues roll their eyes, but is definitely going to throw down in the line of duty. In the strictest sense of it, he is no longer a champion of the American government, but the spirit of America. I feel like a good majority of Avengers showed Rogers being poked fun at for not knowing the various pop culture and historical references and making fun of his theological ideals and sense of and morality. Thankfully, this has been laid to rest and Cap now has a little notepad in which he lists all the things he has to catch up on, most recently added being Marvin Gaye’s soundtrack to TroublemanNote: this list is actually different, depending on the country you see the film in. It’s a quick way to see how the character has grown, and to avoid beating a dead horse.

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What really piqued my interest was Captain America’s level of brutality. Sure, he killed a bunch of Nazis in WWII, but that was war. I expected Captain America to have the same sort of moral compass as a Spider-Man or a Batman, where every life is sacred and not even the most vile are to die. That theory’s thrown out the window here as Cap stabs, smashes and explodes his way to put the bad guys down – most notably in the first ten minutes of espionage-filled action. Have we just evolved our super-hero standards to fit the modern day, or is this a darker, jaded Captain America that we’re seeing here?

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While The First Avenger let people believe in the symbol, The Winter Soldier had more of an origin story identity than the actual origin story did. We get to see Steve Rogers become a super-soldier, take down Red Skull and find the courage to defeat an army – but Winter Soldier really embodies the hero that we associate the character Captain America as. A lot of it has to do with the acting; Chris Evans plays the perfect Captain America. Even with an all-star cast at his side, there was never a moment that it didn’t feel like it was his story. The “supporting cast” absolutely makes the movie. I haven’t seen Samuel L. Jackson this bad-ass since he was chopping off heads with a purple lightsaber. I mean, he’s no David Hasselhoff, thank God, but he’s as Nick Fury as you’re ever going to get; he’s the leading agent of a super-spy program for a reason, and Sam Jackson played it to a T. Note: Sadly, there are no exclamations of “Mother-f***er” in this film. Meanwhile, the talented ScarJo plays Black Widow extremely well. She’s sexy without being objectified – a role model for women and a poster model for men, truly the best of both worlds. However, it’s Anthony Mackie’s portrayal of Sam Wilson AKA Falcon that really stole the show. From Mackie’s acting to the way the his costume was designed, Falcon was bad-ass – and from the looks of it, this won’t be the only movie he will be in.

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What makes Winter Soldier so great is it’s reflection of current society. Much the way The Dark Knight showed us our fear of terrorism and the symbol of how that is dealt with, Captain America: The Winter Soldier showed us our addiction to using government enforcement. Ah, the plot thickens. Everything is not what it seems though, as the whole shebang has been a conspiracy, an infection that has swept the whole system. Iconic movies like V for Vendetta have portrayed similar messages, but not quite as plainly as Winter Soldier showed it, and especially not as relate-able as to U.S. drone strikes taking down its own citizens. Surprisingly to some, this isn’t the first time Steve Rogers has taken on the entire U.S. government in the name of its people, so who is really the enemy here? I’ve seen the movie and I still don’t know; these are the questions that keep a good movie in the minds of its viewers.

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So, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about Captain America, but what about the Winter Soldier? He is in half the title, after all. When the book that the film is based off of (review of that coming soon as well) was released almost a decade ago, the big reveal was that Bucky Barnes – friend and partner of Steve Rogers before his heroic and untimely death in The First Avenger – was actually the Winter Soldier, and it floored readers. Thanks to IMDb and the rest of the internet, we all knew this coming in. The reveal wasn’t quite as built-up as I would have liked, and I feel the whole portrayal of Bucky was really rushed; there was maybe 15-20 minutes devoted to him – and that is a shame because the Winter Soldier (both before and after the events of the movie) is one of the most ruthless killers in the Marvel universe. We do get some superb action sequences with Bucky and Captain America, each blow giving off waves of power, reminiscent of an epic anime fight. While on-screen, they do the Winter Soldier justice – but in the same way that Bucky was a pawn for the Russians, he is also just a pawn for the deeper storyline of the movie.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier also did not shy away from fanboy moments. The Amazing Stan Lee made his usual cameo (honestly one of his funniest), but it was another guest star that made us gush aloud in the theater. I won’t spoil it, but the Russo Brothers, who direct the movie, also are executive producers for a television show we can’t seem to get enough of – we’ll let you guess. We also get a taste of other not so super villains too, with Baltroc and Crossbones getting some screen time (they’re not in their traditional costumes, so see if you can find them). The use of the vibranium shield was spot on and a clear ode to the books; every fight sequence begins or ends with Rogers bouncing this thing off walls, even at one point destroying a S.H.I.E.L.D. fighter plane with it. Captain America was also a monster in combat. Exponentially quicker and stronger than his opponents, he put the hurt on a lot of people in spectacular fashion. Every punch, grapple and shield bash looked just as one from a super-soldier should.

To bastardize a line from The Dark KnightCaptain America: The Winter Soldier is the movie that we deserve, and the one we need. In a time where we are getting dangerously close to superhero super-saturation, it’s great to see a comic book film that favors character development over plot development. There are, of course, the explosions, fight scenes and witty one-liners that set a high standard at Marvel Studios, but what really makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier worth your money is the front-row seat to watching one of the finest characters in comic books saving the world from itself. Although the actual Winter Soldier (or Agent 13, for that matter) wasn’t in it for very long, The Winter Soldier drove home it’s sociopolitical points while still looking like one of the best comic book movies to come out.

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Other Stuff:

Easter Eggs!

An explanation of the post-credit scene.

Review of Captain America (vol 5): Winter Soldier graphic novel

All media credited to Marvel Studios