Oculus


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Who’s the creepiest of them all

If you said Oculus, you’re half right, but the correct answer is Blumhouse Productions, who once again offer a strong installment to their expanding collection of low budget horror films (is there such a thing as a high budget horror film?). Oculus is more uncomfortable than horrific, a grimly patient burn of a movie that amounts to a horrifying blaze in the final act. Its unique brand of psychological scares is refreshing and (not counting a few ghoulish entities complete with CGI mirror eyeballs) completely original. Mike Flanagan’s excellent directing reflects well on this clever and original horror film.

Surprisingly, the film’s first half is almost completely devoid of significant scares, instead building up the story and characters. Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) is released from a mental hospital years after he murdered his father (Rory Cochrane) for killing his mother (Katee Sackhoff) as a child. He meets up with his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) who has spent years hunting down the Lasser Glass, an ancient, smudgy decoration she believes is responsible for the death of their parents. The mirror has a long history of killing its owners in gruesome ways, using brainwash manipulation to defend itself when people become aware of its powers (people who try to smash it always somehow miss or put the weapon down before they can even swing, etc.). Kaylie is determined to prove that her father didn’t murder her mother, and the glass is responsible.

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Divergent


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Choose your own path

The results of Divergent’s test are unclear. For one, it doesn’t fit perfectly in The Hunger Games faction, as the book’s events are not adapted to the screen with the careful style of this reigning Young Adult franchise. Fortunately for us, it is also mismatched with the Twilight faction, as the acting of stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James gives the film an actual pulse. So where does that leave Divergent? Much like Woodley’s character Tris, it can’t be grouped into one solid category. It’s somewhere in the realm of decent dystopia, not quite destined to achieve young adult greatness (yet), but so far away from the young adult flops it’s being unfairly grouped with. Divergent is worth a watch.

This only applies to the quality of the movie, however, as the plot is a Frankenstein of franchises past and present. In some weird version of future Chicago, everyone is sorted into one of five Hogwarts Houses: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peace), Candor (honest), Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (brave), and Gryffindor (brave also). Citizens take a test when they turn 16 to determine what faction best suits them; most remain in their birth faction with their families, but some of the city’s most daring switch factions, leaving their families behind.

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Need For Speed advanced screening


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Need a lift?

Before you freak out, the advanced screening I attended was apparently one of few that was not embargoed, so I am indeed allowed to talk about it.

Need For Speed pummels the screen fast and furiously, accelerating into theaters March 14 as your standard, just okay action filler. The Aaron Paul vehicle is based on the video game series published by Electronic Arts, because movies based on video games always turn out well. The movie is directed by Scott Waugh, who makes full-throttle, exciting action sequences but hits the brakes when it comes to script. But did we really expect anything else from a movie like this?

Paul plays Tobey Marshall, your typical, edgy, leather-coated grease monkey. He owns a garage downtown with his mechanic crew (played by Scott Mescudi, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, and Harrison Gilbertson, who grow to be a rather charming supporting cast). An old rivalry is revved back to life when Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) returns to offer Marshall a once-in-a-lifetime business deal: if his cars are actually the fastest in the world like he claims, then they’ll be bought on the spot for two million dollars.  However, tragedy strikes the day the deal is made, and Marshall ends up in prison for crimes he did not commit while Dino, the true criminal, wheels away freely.

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The LEGO Movie


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Everything is awesome

The LEGO Movie will one day be required viewing for every elementary public school nationwide, or at least it should be. The movie joins Wreck-It-Ralph as a movie enjoyable to children for its sweet insanity and adults for the nostalgia and unexpectedly deep messages. Building from a simple premise into a wildly creative and even emotional climax, the movie could stack up with some of the best animations aimed for kids 3 and up.

Emmett Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) loves being part of the team. His yellow head and plastic body match everyone else’s, and the two dots and curved line for his face is the most generic in the LEGO universe. He follows the same instructions as everyone else in his daily life as a construction worker (or, as we real life humans would call him, LEGO builder), but unfortunately he’s too plain to make any friends. This changes when he meets Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), an identity conflicted Master Builder who believes Emmett is the chosen one to save the LEGO world. As it turns out, LEGO president Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who, innocently enough, just so happens to own every LEGO company, business, TV show, and pretty much everything else.

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Ranking Fall 2013 – Winter 2014 movies


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Running a few weeks late, it is once again that special time of year where I rank the past however many movies I’ve seen. This list covers late August up until now I guess, so we’ll generalize it as fall-winter.

This list probably contains the overall best set of movies I’ve ranked so far, so ranking them was unusually painful. I want to emphasize that this list contains a huge variety of movies that probably shouldn’t be compared to one another and can’t really be compared fairly. We have the huge action blockbusters like Thor 2 and Catching Fire, the Oscar bait like American Hustle and Her, horror films like Carrie and Insidious 2, and a lot more competing side by side. The movies on this list do not harmonize and as such the rankings of the top 6 (maybe higher) onward are completely subjective, based on personal preference only.

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August: Osage County


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Over the top County

John Wells’ August: Osage County is adapted from a stage play, which explains why every character obscenely overreacts to every minor event that happens, but does not explain why anyone thought it was a good idea to adapt the exhausting story onto the flat screen. A lot of good actors are involved here, prominently Academy Award darling Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, but no matter how much they scream and flail, they can’t stop the story from being boring to the point of suffocation. The film provides no evidence as to why we in the audience should devote a calorie of energy to caring about these characters.

Streep’s character Violet Weston has mouth cancer, and takes out her aggression on her three daughters and their spouses, and especially her husband Beverly (Sam Shephard), who promptly commits suicide. Her daughters Barbara, Ivy, and Karen (Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis) arrive in the unnaturally hot Osage County for the funeral with their dysfunctional significant others in tow. At one fateful dinner, Violet goes around the table insulting her descendants’ life choices one by one in a scene that must take up a quarter of the entire movie, and after that, everyone hates each other.

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Her


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I believe her

Spike Jonze’s Her, more frequently referred to as that weird computer-dating movie that’s winning a bunch of awards, is immediately made distinct by its premise, forward-thinking and not entirely outside the realm of eventual reality. Following through on its promise, Her presents a fascinating love story between human and human imitation, made all the more powerful with its effortless acting and dreamlike cinematography. Jonze creates a world where dating an Operating System seems to be generally accepted, and implies the possibility that this future isn’t so far off.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) writes lovely poetic letters for people who can’t express their feelings to others. He is postponing signing his divorce papers with Catharine (Rooney Mara) and has fallen into an introverted depression, preferring to spend his time playing lifelike video games. He buys a self-evolving, artificial intelligence operating system, something that in real life would be a massive technological breakthrough, in the movie marketed like an average Apple device. Theodore’s operating system selects the name Samantha, and immediately begins to develop a personality based on her observations, her discoveries voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson.

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The Wolf of Wall Street


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More movie than we know what to do with

For making a movie about the wrongdoings of overindulging and excessiveness, Martin Scorsese certainly didn’t take his own advice. Running just one minute short of three hours, there’s a lot of good movie here – excellent at parts, even. But there’s also a lot of sluggish middle part to slosh through. Scorsese is world-renowned for his direction, and his fifth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio certainly resulted in yet another strong performance from the actor – though, probably not strong enough to break his dry spell at the Oscars. Wolf won’t be the wolf everyone expected it to be during awards season, though that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of greatness here.

Those expecting a delightful tale of an animated wolf lost in the big city like me will be sorely disappointed. Kind of but not really based on the story of conman Jordan Belfort, portrayed by DiCaprio, the story follows his entrance onto Wall Street, in which Matthew McConaughey makes more of a cameo than an actual acting appearance as his stock broker mentor. He teaches Belfort about the primal world of stocks, which mainly consists of convincing people to invest more than they should, and surviving that stressful job with drugs and hookers. But just like that, in the only thing about the movie that can be described as ‘brief,’ the company crashes, and Belfort is out of a job.

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Frozen


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Warmin Up

Written by guest writer Queen Bee

Frozen, the new animated movie produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios is claimed to be the best Disney animated musical movie in years. The idea of the movie Frozen was originally conceived back when Walt Disney was alive, around the same time when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937. It was loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen. I learned this when I went to Disney where I actually drew the snowman Olaf in Disney’s Animation Studios in Hollywood Studios. Also, the characters in the movie were never hand drawn; they were automatically made animated by a computer.

The story line of the movie I thought was great. It is about two sisters, one normal and one with icy powers. Elsa, the one with the powers, accidently struck her sister Princess Anna in the head with her powers when they were younger, so their parents take Anna to trolls for help. The trolls say the only way to fix her is to erase her memory of her sister’s power. After the incident, the King and Queen decide to lock themselves away in their castle and Elsa spends most of the time in her room and never comes out because she is afraid she might hurt someone since she doesn’t know how to control her powers yet. 

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Saving Mr. Banks


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Super-califragilistic

Movies about making other movies. What could easily be mistaken as a dead end in the movie-making labyrinth is actually a fantastic concept if the result is films like Saving Mr. Banks. The dramedy breaks away from typical Disney films and gets dangerously close to becoming a deep psychological study of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers, but sprinkles enough Disney magic and humor to keep the author’s light-hearted and fun. I haven’t watched Mary Poppins for as long as my memory can account for, but this movie is as compelling an argument as any to crack out the old VHS.

Based on true events, though undoubtedly dramatized just a tad, Travers (Emma Thompson) is a grumpy, seemingly English lady who flies out to Los Angeles (the place where even the rain is supposed to be happy) to negotiate Mary Poppins film adaption rights with Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks). Travers is unwilling to easily sign away the rights, as she is familiar with Disney’s tendency to make everything jolly and animated, and wishes for her character Ms. Poppins to remain as dark as she is on the page. After rampaging her hotel room filled with oversized stuffed animal Mickey Mouses and Goofys, Travers gives Disney a shot, though it’s immediately clear their creative differences will be a problem.

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