Friday, December 5, 2014

Reviews: Horror Edition

The Babadook
Man, I have found horror to be disappointing for the most part this year, but what a gem this turned out to be.  Filled with great atmosphere and a truly unique creature, this is the horror film I wanted with Oculus.

Following Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (Noah Wisemen) as they are haunted by a mysterious creature called the Babadook, the film explores depression, loss, and family with a deft hand and a great screenplay from first-time director Jennifer Kent.  Light on jump scares, and heavy on atmosphere and tone, the movie slowly builds, giving horror fans something they don't get very often:  Likeable, if flawed, characters to root for.  Special mention to Essie Davis for giving one of the best performances of the year in any genre.

The trailer is slightly misleading:  The Babadook itself appears very little in the movie, and it leans more toward a character study/psychological thriller than a creature feature.  Still, this is a great movie that I highly recommend to any horror fan.  9.0 out of 10.

Willow Creek
A found footage movie that follows a couple trying to prove that Bigfoot exists, this effort from writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait is a solid, if unspectacular.

One thing I appreciate is the slow build up:  You get to know the couple (Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson) and see a bit of their travels before getting to the meat of the movie.  Again, by creating characters that we care about, the stakes are raised in the latter part of the movie when the actual scares occur.

While both Gilmore and Johnson have onscreen chemistry and charisma, the film does drag in a few spots, most notably when interviewing locals and during the initial backpacking into the woods.  However, an extended sequence involving the couple waking up in the middle of the night is a great moment that the movie could have used more of.

Not the greatest horror film, but there are worse ways to spend your evening,  7.0 out of 10.

Annabelle
This was just a quick cash grab of a movie, and it shows quite a bit.  Following the creepy doll from The Conjuring, the movie could have been worse, but it definitely could have been better.

To give credit where it is due, the lead performance from Annabelle Wallis (yes, the main actress is the film also has the name Annabelle) is fairly strong, and there are two sequences that are exceptionally well done, but this is by-the-numbers horror cranked out to make a quick buck off the prior movie's great reception.

It's competent, but nothing extraordinary, which is a shame, because there was some good stuff to build off of.  6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2 Sentence Reviews (continued)

Maleficent
Great star turn from Angelina Jolie, though I wish they hadn't de-clawed the character so much.  There are worse ways to spend 2 hours though.  7.0 out of 10.

That Awkward Moment
I didn't hate this movie.  It's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I didn't hate it.  6.0 out of 10.

The Maze Runner
Better than the first Hunger Games, but not quite as good as the second one.  Great work on the claustrophobia of the maze and the sanctuary.  6.5 out of 10.

Transformers:  Age of Extinction
Why did I see another Transformers film?  Currently questioning life choices.  3.0 out of 10.

Tusk
Fuck this movie.  Fuck everything about it.  1.0 out of 10.

Under the Skin
Weird, off-putting, and not quite sure what I was watching.  But it sticks with you, and I would readily watch it again.  7.0 (?) out of 10.

X-Men:  Days of Future Past
Superhero movies have been pretty solid this year.  Wish they hadn't all but cut out the female characters though.  8.0 out of 10.

Catching Up: 2 Sentence Reviews

Let's get to it:

All Cheerleaders Die
This isn't great cinema, but it is entertaining cinema.  Horror comedy done right.  7.0 out of 10.

A Million Ways to Die in the West
More of a loving mockery of Old West films than anything else.  Has its moments, but underwhelming overall.  6.0 out of 10.

Bad Words
Entertaining, with a neat premise.  Ultimately forgettable though.  6.0 out of 10.

Big Bad Wolves
Well made, well acted, solid film with a very dark plot.  Didn't care for it, even if I did appreciate the craftsmanship.  7.5 out of 10

Blue Ruin
I wish more revenge movies were done like this.  The pain is real and the consequences more so.  9.0 out of 10.

Gone Girl
Why would anyone call this a 'perfect date movie' is beyond me.  Well made, with great performances from Rosamund Pike and Carrie Coon.  8.0 out of 10.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Relentlessly entertaining.  Looking forward to the sequel.  8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 More Songs I Love

Third Eye Blind - Jumper

Nickel Creek - The Lighthouse's Tale

Petula Clark - This is My Song

Matchbox 20 - Unwell

Mandy Moore - Love to Love Me Back

Saturday, September 6, 2014

10 Songs That I Love

In no particular order...

The Verve - Bitter Sweet Symphony

No Doubt - Don't Speak

En Vogue - Don't Let Go

Kelly Clarkson - Low

Patsy Cline - Walkin' After Midnight

Stone Temple Pilots - Sour Girl

Spice Girls - Wannabe

The Flamingos - I Only Have Eyes for You

Ricky Martin - Private Emotion

Carrie Underwood - Wasted

Monday, August 4, 2014

More Reviews

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
I feel that this movie got quite a bit more hate than it deserved.  Not that it is a great movie or anything, but it isn't nearly as bad as many of the reviews implied.  If anything, it is relentlessly average.  The chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is still a highlight, and the 3-D during the fights is particularly impressive.  However, there is a bit too much going on (we didn't really need three villains, even if one is more of a cameo) and 'just okay' is disappointing when compared to Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (the latter of which I still consider to be the pinnacle of comic book movies).

Dane DeHaan is proving himself to be a go-to actor for morally ambiguous characters, though this feels like a lesser version of his Chronicle performance.  Jamie Foxx is... there?  Nothing about the character really stood out (other than the nerd makeup, which went overboard to an amazing degree) but he wasn't terrible in any particular way.

The movie is an improvement over The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 3 (putting it squarely in the middle of the 5), but not a must-see in any way.  6.0 out of 10.

Knights of Badassdom
Here is a movie I absolutely enjoyed while also realizing (while watching it) that it was not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination.  Very much a guilty pleasure, the movie follows 3 friend at a LARPing event where things go horribly, horribly wrong.

What the movie does have going for it is solid performances (particularly from Peter Dinklage and Danny Pudi), surprising developments as far as character deaths go, and a great sense of camaraderie between the actors that really helps the comedy.

The effects could be better (they are obviously low budget) but I found the practical costume effects charming, especially given how out-and-out terrible some fully CGI'd characters have been in other, more expensive movies.  Again, the movie is not going to be overly impressive on any front, but it has charm to spare.  6.5 out of 10.

Lucy
I cannot remember the last time I walked out of a movie this confused about my feelings for it.  As a star turn, Scarlett Johansson more than proves her worth.  As an action movie, it is fun and builds rather well.  The basic premise of the movie?  Kind of ridiculous.  And the plot holes are aplenty, as are the incredibly inconsistent characters.

The basic premise (thanks to some new drug the titular character is forced to smuggle in her stomach - that starts leaking - Lucy gains the ability to use all of her brain's capacity which turns her into an action hero of sorts) is beyond stupid, and only the seriousness of Morgan Freeman's delivery makes it in any way forgiveable.  Once they get moving with the actual action movie this wants to be, things improve, but scattered throughout are images of the 'greater world' that try to add symbolism to a movie that, frankly, isn't intelligent enough to deserve it.

It's not bad, by any means, but this movie is brainless fluff that will likely be forgotten in a few years time.  5.5 out of 10.

Interior.  Leather Bar.
A short film about the recreation of the lost footage of the 1980 film Cruising, this is not a movie for everyone.  In fact, given the graphic (and I do mean graphic) sex scenes throughout the movie, I'd venture to say that a large majority of people have no business watching this odd little film from Travis Mathews and James Franco.

Now, this movie isn't a recreation of the lost footage from Cruising, but it is about the making of the recreation of the lost footage from Cruising.  If that doesn't confuse you, seeing the movie will explain that sentence plainly.  Meant to challenge our preconceptions of a what a movie is (as well as our thoughts and opinions on the nature of sex in film), this film features talks with agents, someone reading a script that is the action being filmed right in that moment, and lots of discussion of sex in film.

Cinephiles will enjoy this (or, at the very least, get what it is going for), but for most this will be a bit too much.  7.0 out of 10.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Occasionally I review movies....

...just not much lately.  Here's a brief rundown of what I have seen this year, and thoughts.

Captain America:  The Winter Soldier
Loved it.  I will be forever glad Fantastic Four tanked so that Chris Evans got to do this instead of being locked into that shitstorm.  Great expansion on the character and on Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, and the addition of Falcon is welcome.  Also didn't see Robert Redford being the de facto villain of the movie, so points for surprising me on that front.  This movie and Godzilla are battling for my favorite of the year.  9.0 out of 10.

(I realize I gave Godzilla an 8.5, but I said they are battling for my favorite.  I do feel that this is a better made movie.)

Noah
I'm still not entirely sure what to make of this movie, although I did enjoy it quite a bit.  Great visuals, and it expands the Noah section of the Bible into a decent movie, even if I didn't quite believe that he would be willing to murder his grandson (he doesn't, if you care).  Russell Crowe gives a solid performance, though I thought the movie's standout was Logan Lerman.  Also, the vegetarian thing was a bit much.  7.5 out of 10.

The Lego Movie
This movie was way better than it had any right to be as a quick cash-grab.  Hilarious voicework, great use of the Lego 'world' and a quick pace make this a very enjoyable animated feature.  Even the brief live action section fits the movie well, and it is hard to criticize something so guilelessly entertaining.  8.0 out of 10.

Oculus
This movie wanted to be good.  It tried really hard.  However, apparently it was decided that 'just okay' was all they really wanted to shoot for, and we are left with a disappointing collection of ideas surrounding a ridiculous premise that almost works.  I had misgivings about a killer mirror movie, but the script here sets up the MacGuffin quite well and plays around with how malleable memory can be, but ultimately disappoints and fails to explore this plotline as fully as it could.  Not only that, but they failed to shore up other issues in the script that ultimately hurt the movie (How does the main character track down the mirror?  Why would they incarcerate a child for 10 years for killing his father when the father had obviously just murdered their mother and tried to murder them?)  The movie ultimately fails, but it is an interesting failure.  5.0 out of 10.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Godzilla

Godzilla
When it comes to a movie I enjoy this much, I don't want to discuss it critically, I just want people to go see it.  This is what some would call a 'Thinking Man's Monster Movie' - not that it gets deep or metaphysical or anything.  The movie is a slow burn:  It doesn't just throw Godzilla into the action, it makes you wait.  You will get story, dammit!

This works beautifully.  The first full shot of Godzilla is one of those Movie Moments -  a magic of the cinema that causes you to sit up in your seat and experience movie nirvana.

Gareth Edwards, pulled from relative obscurity to direct, makes the smart decision to keep the cameras at human levels throughout the film.  While there are some wide shots of Godzilla and his battle with 2 other kaiju, most of it is shot from street level, adding a sense of awe to the sheer size of these creatures.  One hopes he gets to direct a sequel (please let there be a sequel!) since writer David Callahan (with screenplay credit going to Max Borenstein) does a wonderful job of setting up a 'larger world' for the film to take place in - there are people who knew about Godzilla and have researched the possibility of other kaiju .

It's hard to talk about the human characters without spoiling some key (and surprising) developments in the movie, so I will say that everyone did a good job, but several characters (namely, the female ones) get the short shift.  Why cast talent like Elizabeth Olson, Juliette Binoche, and Sally Hawkins if they are primarily supportive female types to their male counterparts?  (though I will say that Hawkins' screen partner Ken Watanabe felt shortshifted also)

The monster effects are well done, and while the 3D showing I watched was pleasant, I don't feel that the 3D added anything extra to the film as a whole.

A definite must-see blockbuster.  8.5 out of 10.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nightmare Night: Remake 2010


I read that the main reason for this remake was to reimagine Wes Craven's vision using updated technology.  While there are updated effects, it doesn't really add to Craven's original movie whatsoever.

That said, the acting is fairly strong (having the likes of Rooney Mara, Connie Britton, and Jackie Earle Haley will do that), and the film does manage to capture a dark, creepy tone that has been missing since... oh Dream Warriors?

Other than the 'return to scary Freddy,' this movie's existence can't really be justified.  I suppose I should just be thankful Platinum Dunes didn't fuck it up on the same level as Friday the 13th.

Nightmare Night: Part 6: Freddy's Dead


Contrary to the poster's tagline, this was not the best (nor was it the last).

The reason I have never really warmed to this one has mostly to do with how mean-spirited it is.  I realize that is an odd complaint for a slasher flick, but setting a large chunk of this at a shelter for abused children really sets the film at odds with its quippy villain/jokey tone.  Maybe if it had a more serious tone, I'd appreciate it more.

The kills are clever, I suppose, but again, mean spirited since it relies on the fears of abused teenagers.  I always feel slightly dirty after watching it.

Nightmare Night: Part 5: The Dream Child


Yeesh, this movie.  I like the concept (Freddy uses the dreams of Alice's yet-to-be born child to get at her and her friends) but not so much the execution.  The child actor representing Jacob isn't very good, and while the kills have some originality to them, they aren't really well done.

On the plus side, it is nice that the black friend makes it to the end for a change (and make no mistake, Yvonne kicks quite a bit of ass) and I think by reducing the number of red shirts, we start to care a bit more when they die.

Otherwise, yeesh, this is hard to watch.  Not as hard as I imagine the next one will be, but man, this was not an enjoyable rewatch.

Nightmare Night: Part 4: The Dream Master


One thing I liked about the Elm Street series is how each movie built upon the 'lore' or the prior one, enhancing the rules and expanding what one can do in dreams.  Here, in addition to being able to pull one into dreams (like Kristen in Part 3), you have a Dream Master who can inherit the powers of other Dream Warriors.

It is, however, a step down from the prior.  It rather quickly disposes of the prior film's survivors, and we don't really have any build on any of the new characters aside from simple characterizations (one-note characters in a horror film?  I am shocked!)

This movie also broke the streak of past/future Oscar nominees appearing in the film (no more will appear until the remake with past nominee Jackie Earle Haley and future nominee Rooney Mara).  It is also what I consider to be the last 'good' movie in the main series (New Nightmare is only loosely a Nightmare film).

The kills, however, are the highlight of this film.  Turning someone into a roach then crushing them in a roach motel, sucking the breath out, dragging them into a water bed and drowning them - this movie pushes what Freddy can do to your body while sleeping.

Now onto the Dream Child.

Nightmare Night: Part 3: Dream Warriors


Where Wes Craven tries to save the series by ending it (he halfway succeeds)

Random Thoughts:
  • I love that it says Larry Fishburne instead of Laurence Fishburne in the opening credits.
  • Also:  While he wasn't nominated before appearing, Mr. Fishburne's appearance means that an Oscar nominee has appeared in the first 3 films (the others being Ronee Blakely/Johnny Depp in the first one and Hope Lange in the second).  No others will appear until the remake.
  • "This is where he takes us." - Further proof that Wes Craven's involvement dramatically improves the quality of any Freddy movie.
  • This movie is the one that introduces Hypnocil and Freddy's origin (the son of a hundred maniacs), making it particularly important to the canon.
  • I like Kristen's ability to pull people into her dreams, a nice twist to keep the series fresh.
  • Phillip's death has always been one of the hardest for me to watch.
  • I never understood why Nancy didn't have Kristen pull Dr. Simms and Dr. Gordon into the dream to, you know, prove they weren't crazy.
  • "Welcome to prime time, bitch!" - I don't hate witty Freddy as much as some, but this is the movie where it really started.  Also, nice cameo from Zsa Zsa Gabor.
  • The scene where they discover their dream powers is equal parts cool and cheesy.
  • The scene with the nurse is by far the most gratuitous of the series.  But someone was bound to have an adultish dream at some point, so I cannot complain too much about it.
  • I never understood the removal of Nancy and Neil from overseeing the teenagers.  One went into a coma, sure, but how many others have died beforehand?  Why do they care now?
  • Patricia Arquette sure has to scream alot during this movie.
  • I really liked Taryn, and hated seeing her die.
  • The fight with the skeleton is so deliciously cheesy.
  • Nancy!  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
  • Ah, if only they had ended the series here....
Number 4 up next.

Nightmare Night: Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge


The gayest horror film ever made?  I won't dissect the gay subtext (that's been done enough), but I definitely feel that you can't discuss this movie without at least a passing mention.

Random Thoughts:
  • The opening sequence with the bus would have been better if the people on the bus had been the teens that are killed throughout the movie.  But that might have been too obvious.
  • For all the shit horror gets for its constantly-naked women, I appreciate that the Nightmare films gratuitousness towards men (underwear shot of Nick Corri in the first film, more underwear plus some butt shots in this one).  As long as both sexes are getting objectified, I am all for it.
  • I find it so weird that Hope Lange is in this.  Clu Gulager is also.  Weird.
  • Man, they sure make you wait for the first kill (the bird doesn't count).
  • It's so odd that a scene takes place in an actual gay bar in the film.  I realize, subtext and whatever, but it's still weird that the main character in a mainstream horror film from the 80's goes to one.
  • Bad editing strikes again:  When the coach continually gets hit by rat tail towel whips, it goes back and forth on whether or not he is wearing pants.
  • This movie is boring.  Halfway through and we've barely seen any of Freddy, with only 1 death.  I don't expect buckets of blood or anything, but if you aren't going to kill anyone, at least make the 'investigation' interesting.
  • "Yeah, and she's female, and she's waiting for you in the cabana.  And you wanna sleep with me."  I said I wouldn't discuss it, but damn, this movie is so gay.
  • All things considered, Freddy cutting himself out of Jesse's body is pretty well done.
  • If they wanted to keep the Freddy murdering through Jesse angle, they really shouldn't have had all the random shit happening at the party without Jesse being there.
  • I realize they were trying to give an otherworldliness to Freddy's appearances, but the whale song was incredibly distracting.
  • Counting the deaths at the party, only 4 people visibly die, although an argument could be made for another four during the party sequence.  Not terribly memorable deaths at that.
  • The dogs with people faces should be scary, but don't really work that well.
  • Overcoming Freddy with love has got to be the lamest of his defeats throughout the series.


On to the third!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Nightmare Night: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)


The original Nightmare.  If you are not a fan of the series, this is just another run-of-the-mill slasher with a slightly different premise.  To fans, this is the one that started it all.  This is before Freddy Kruger became wise-cracking, when he was still menacing.

One thing I love about this movie is how well Wes Craven does the dream sequences.  People walk through doors and find themselves in entirely different locations, odd objects appear, all sorts of things that happen in actual dreams.

Craven also does a fine job with the kills.  These are the bed-and-butter of slasher flicks, and the original has several of the series' best.  Tina's falling across the walls/ceiling as cuts appear all over her, Glen's fountain of blood.  There are few actual kills in this movie (4 in total, rather low for this genre of horror), so he makes them as impactful as possible.

While the acting isn't superb, you do have some quality performances from Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon as Nancy and her father, plus the iconic performance of Freddy Kruger by Robert Englund.  Not to mention the debut of Johnny Depp.

Plotwise, it does have a few holes, but nothing totally unforgivable:  This movie is all about the premise, and it works well.

Random Thoughts:
  • I love the reaction shots of Nancy's parents when she first describes her mystery assailant.  They know exactly who she is describing but refuse to believe it.
  • The sequence at the sleep institute (or whatever you want to call it) is pretty well done:  Gives some exposition and sets some ground rules for the series as a whole.
  • The tale of Freddy's death is a great moment, even if I don't think much of Ronee Blakely's performance in this,
  • "Nancy, you are gonna get some sleep tonight if it kills me" is a hilariously macabre line if you know how the movies ends.
  • Nancy is a fine name for the lead character, but it really should be Cassandra, given how correct she is and how little everyone believes her.
  • I like how unhinged Nancy gets (progressively) as she avoids sleep to try and stay alive.
  • I also like the 'Nancy sets traps' montage.  Girl isn't going without a fight.
  • I remember thinking the crucifix Nancy had was going to play a bigger part in defeating him.
  • Bad job editor!  We totally see the mattress that Englund falls on to once he is pulled out of the dream.
  • I bet Freddy doesn't appreciate the irony of burning to death twice.
  • I really wish they had let Craven keep his original ending, as the one they do have seems tacked on and is definitely lower quality than the rest of the film.
Well, there you have it.  1 down, 6 more to go.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oscar Predictions

My predictions for the Oscars.  Because I might as well put it on the Internet where the world can see how badly I do.

The Short Categories:
(aka Who the fuck knows?)

Best Live Action Short:  Helium - Sounds the saddest in a heartbreaking way (as opposed to That Wasn't Me which is sad in a harrowing way) so I would think this would win.  However, anyone can vote in these categories now, with no required proof of viewing, so it's one of those two or The Voorman Problem since it has a well known actor in it.

Best Animated Short:  Buy a Horse - Crazy as it sounds, Mickey has never won the Animated Short category, and I expect the voting changes (plus the fact that this played before super-hit Frozen) to change that fact this year.

Best Documentary Short:  The Lady in Number 6 - A documentary about the oldest living Holocaust survivor (who died during voting, sadly).  While the subject matter isn't a guaranteed win, it is a genre that they like to reward, so I expect it to take the win.

The Ghetto Categories:
(aka We are too snobby/lazy to nominate these for Best Picture so we'll throw them a bone here)

Best Animated Feature:  Frozen - Disney has also never won this category during its short life (the category, not Disney) and the massive success of this movie should push it over the already-reward Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises.  Bonus points for "Let It Go" and being Disney's best film since The Lion King.

Best Documentary Feature:  20 Feat From Stardom - It's between this and The Act of Killing.  I think the Academy will go for the more feel-good documentary that follows backup singers to famous stars over the more troubling documentary that has mass murderers re-staging their kills with actors.  But it could easily go the other way.

Best Foreign Film:  The Great Beauty is favored, but I'm going to pick The Broken Circle Breakdown in a surprise since more and more people started talking about it once voting started.

The Aural Categories:
(no mean other-name for these, I guess)

Best Sound Mixing:  My gut tells me Gravity is gonna somewhat mini-sweep the technicals, but I also think they might try to reward Captain Phillips somewhere.  Plus songs that feature people singing have extra work here (Inside Llewyn Davis).  I'll go with Gravity, somewhat uncormfortably.

Best Sound Editing:  Again, probably Gravity.  But All is Lost has the least to work with and apparently knocks it out of the park (haven't seen that one yet), but sometimes this category goes to the loudest nominee, so maybe The Hobbit could sneak in a win here.  But my guess is Gravity.

Best Original Score:  Gravity is again expected to win here, but I don't really equate the music with the overall success of the film (it's not the first element I think of, anyway).  Saving Mr. Banks has too much non-original music to win and Frozen was criminally left out of this category, so I'm going to predict Her for the win here since the music was a much more a part of that movie.  Although Alexandre Desplat is becoming a perennial nominee and hasn't won yet, so maybe this is where they reward Philomena?

Best Original Song:  "Let It Go" from Frozen - The Academy has a bad record when it comes to giving the win to songs that will stand the test of time (they passed over Stayin' Alive, to give an example), so this win isn't the guarantee it should be.  I just don't know which of the other three they will rally behind, so that should help "Let It Go" get the win it deserves.

The Visual Categories:
(again, no mean name)

Best Makeup & HairstylingAmerican Hustle!  Wait, that wasn't nominated.  12 Years a Slave!  Wait, neither was that.  What was nominated?  The Lone Ranger, Bad Grandpa and Dallas Buyers Club?  Are they trying to break my heart?  Dallas Buyers Club, I guess.  What is wrong with this branch?

Best Visual Effects:  Gravity.  I mean, come on, what else even stands a chance?

Best Costume Design:  Very much an 'anyone-can-win' category.  I'm going to go with American Hustle since it has to win somewhere and the work on the costumes was almost as inspired as the makeup and hairstyling (seriously, what is wrong with that branch?).

Best Production Design:  Of the movies I've seen, I'd go with Her in a New York minute, but it doesn't really stand a chance, so instead I will go with 12 Years a Slave which looks to have great sets in all of the stills I have seen.  But The Great Gatsby and Gravity are legitimate threats.

Best Film Editing:  This often goes to the eventual Best Picture winner, so my guess is going to be 12 Years a Slave.  If you are picking American Hustle or Gravity, you will want to switch to those.

Best Cinematography:  Gravity has swept this category all year, so I expect it to take the Oscar.  The only was it doesn't is if there was a sudden groundswell of support for the legendary Roger Deakins' work on Prisoners.

The Majors (Behind the Scenes Division):

Best Adapted Screenplay:  12 Years a Slave - I mean, they just added the book it was based on to high school curriculums across the country.  I don't see anything else spoiling this.

Best Original Screenplay:  Going with Her on this one.  American Hustle could easily sneak in and take it, but the screenplay for Her is almost universally praised, so I think it will take it.

Best Director:  Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity.  He's won everything it feels like.  The only challenger is Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave.  Either way, only the second non-white director ever is going to win the category (the first being Ang Lee).

The Majors (Out in Front Division):

Best Supporting Actor:  This is going to Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club.  He doesn't deserve, it is one of my most hated performances of the year, but he is winning this category.  I hope to get this one wrong (I won't.)

Best Supporting Actress:  It's a close race between Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle and Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave, but I am going with Lupita Nyong'o since Lawrence did just win last year.

Best Actor:  We are in the middle of the McConaissance, so expect Matthew McConaughey to win for Dallas Buyers Club.  The only one who could conceivably upset is Leonardo DiCaprio for Wolf of Wall Street, but I don't like his chances.

Best Actress:  This has been Cate Blanchett's to lose since Blue Jasmine opened.  Amy Adams is the spoiler, but lock this one up for Cate - she's winning it.

The Big One:

Best Picture:  This has been a three-way race between 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity.  I'm going with 12 Years a Slave, but it could go to the other two just as easily.  It's rare that the category is undecided at this point, and I'm loving how open it is.  Good luck to everyone else making their predictions, and hope you enjoy the show!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2014 Movie List

The Movies:
3)  Guardians of the Galaxy
4)  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
5)  The Lego Movie
6)  The Hobbit:  The Battle of Five Armies
7)  Transformers: Age of Extinction
8)  Maleficent
9)  X-Men:  Days of Future Past
10)  Big Hero 6
12)  The Amazing Spider-Man 2
13)  Godzilla
16)  Interstellar
18)  Gone Girl
23)  Into the Woods
24)  Lucy
30)  The Maze Runner
32)  Noah
36)  The Imitation Game
41)  Annabelle
61)  Selma
62)  Muppets Most Wanted
69)  Into the Storm
71)  Jersey Boys
76)  A Million Ways to Die in the West
77)  John Wick
83)  Wild
88)  Paranormal Activity:  The Marked Ones
89)  Nightcrawler
96)  Oculus
99)  That Awkward Moment
139)  Bad Words
173)  Under the Skin
190)  Tusk
206)  The Rover
217)  The Babadook
302)  Blue Ruin
351)  Knights of Badassdom
452)  Interior.  Leather Bar.
472)  Big Bad Wolves
530)  Journey to the West
All Cheerleaders Die
Willow Creek
Mine Games
The Town That Dreaded Sundown

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies
Captain America:  The Winter Soldier
Godzilla
Nighcrawler
The Babadook (winner)
Blue Ruin
HM: Selma, The Rover

Best Actress:
Angelina Jolie, Maleficent
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
Essie Davis, The Babadook (winner)
HM:  Jessica Chastain, Interstellar, Charlize Theron, A Million Ways to Die in the West

Best Actor:
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
David Oyolewo, Selma
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Guy Pearce, The Rover
Macon Blair, Blue Ruin (winner)
HM:  Chris Evans, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Russell Crowe, Noah

Best Supporting Actress:
Anne Hathaway, Interstellar
Carrie Coon, Gone Girl (winner)
Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods
Keira Knightly, The Imitation Game
Carmen Ejogo, Selma
Rene Russo, Nightcrawler
HM:  Emily Blunt, Into the Woods, Emma Watson, Noah

Best Supporting Actor:
Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy
Evan Peters, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Chris Pine, Into the Woods
Logan Lerman, Noah
Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler
Robert Pattinson, The Rover (winner)
HM:  Robert Redford, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Bryan Cranston, Godzilla

Reviews: The Croods, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

The Croods
A decidedly average animated movie.

The movie is enjoyable enough, it moves along at a good pace, the jokes are fine for the most part, and the animators did go wild with the prehistoric animals - the single most creative part of the movie.  However, it is quite lazy in the writing:  Of course the father is stubborn and resistant to the new ideas.  And of course he hates his mother-in-law (though why he hates her is never established - just because she is the mother-in-law I guess).  Every familial trope possible is thrown into the movie with the expectation that the audience will go with it just because they are so familiar.

Again, the movie isn't bad - several of jokes work quite well - it is just lazy in many aspects.  The creation of the various prehistoric creatures is the only truly inspired (if scientifically inaccurate) part of the movie.  What's more, they put realistic movements into the animals, so they seem quite believable as far as creatures go.  Sadly, we get very little of the animals compared to the journey the Croods make to find a new place to live, so they often feel like an afterthought.

The voice work is fine across the board, though I expected more from Emma Stone and Cloris Leachman.  The best vocal work probably goes to Ryan Reynolds as the new caveman who shakes up the status quo:  It''s his most charming performance in years.

It will entertain the kids, though it lacks rewatch value.  6.0 out of 10.

Oz the Great and Powerful
Another mostly average movie, but one that had a lot more potential.

A prequel to the much-beloved The Wizard of Oz that focuses on the titular Oz (James Franco) as he arrives in the magical world that bears his name, it doesn't quite fall to the level of overt busy-ness that Alice in Wonderland did when Tim Burton directed that movie, but it relies too much on CGI much like its predecessor.  The China Doll (creatively named The China Girl) is the worst of this, with several scenes where it is obvious that Oz isn't holding anything and the CGI creation superimposed into the shot.

One place where the CGI doesn't fail is the magic of the 3 witches:  Glinda (Michelle Williams), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Theodora (Mila Kunis).  The spells cast throughout the movie are top-notch, and much better than anything the Harry Potter movies managed during their run.  However, the performances are where it becomes spotty here.  Weisz is best-in-show with her cold, calculating performance of Evanora, Williams is merely adequate as overly-supportive love interest, and Kunis is downright bad at the start of the movie, managing to improve slightly once she is turned into the Wicked Witch of the West.

With better casting (Kristen Bell as Glinda?  Emma Stone or Emma Roberts as Theodora?) and less reliance on CGI for all special effects, this movie could have been great.  Instead it settles for merely good.  6.5 out of 10.

Paranormal Activity:  The Marked Ones
A much needed bit of world-building, this companion piece to the Paranormal Activity movies is much better than one would expect 6 movies into the series.

This iteration follows Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his friends Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) as creepy things start happening to and around Jesse when their downstairs neighbor, a rumored bruja, dies at the hands of a classmate.

One of the best parts of this movie (and the reason I am willing to check out the other (unofficial) companion movie, Tokyo Night) is the change of location via the focus on a Hispanic family as opposed to a well-off white family.  Without giving too much away, the magic explored briefly in Paranormal Activity 2 through Martine is expanded upon here to great effect.  We also see a few familiar faces that move the plot forward for the series as a whole and expand upon the Coven that made its appearance in Paranormal Activity 3 and 4.

The film does rely on jump scares a bit too much, especially compared to the other movies in the series, but damn if they are not effective, particularly the last one.  This is forgivable though, as the extra plot more than makes up for the lack of artistry in the scares.

The acting is so-so, with no one being outright terrible, though no one is great either.  The writing is solid in that it doesn't repeatedly have the characters do stupid things throughout, but it doesn't have that slow build that has become a hallmark of the series.

Fans of the Paranormal Activity series will definitely want to see this, though horror fans in general might find it to be average.  7.0 out of 10.