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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Prisoners (2013) - review

A Thanksgiving get together for a pair of families takes a sudden turn for the worst when their two young daughters disappear without a trace.  It is a uncomfortable premise and from that point onward the film only gets more grueling and dark, raising moral questions that are uncomfortable even considering.  The stellar cast lead by Hugh Jackman, who plays against character, as a father ofone of the missing girls that will do anything he can find his daughter.   The ever surprising, Jake Gyllenhaal, delivering one of his best performances, plays a young detective that is determined to solve the mystery by the book.

The film is full of intrigue and mystery that will keep you engaged as you try to piece it all together.  But, be warned it is a very tough film to sit through at times.  It sets a dark tone and you are not given a hint of a break- there is no humor, no light scenes, just grimness straight through.  The film delves into numerous religious themes that add even more weight to an already draining story.  This is masterfully handled in one scene that turns a recital of Our Father into an powerful moment of doubt and self-evaluation.  It is just one of many scenes that will have you trying to determine which way your moral compass would point in the face for such a horrific situation.

Although it is a great film full of stellar performances I recommend you proceed with caution before watching, it may be too much for some to handle.  Especially if you are a parent, it is may be too emotionally gut-wrenching for you to appreciate it.  Go hug your kids and watch something lighter instead.

8.5 out of 10

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Lego Movie (2014) - Review

When I first read about the plans for turning the classic building blocks toy into a feature film I suffered flashbacks of other such attempts to convert kids toys into movies.  G.I. Joe, Battleship, Transformers 1, 2, 3…. I shudder.   Before I could finish reading the headline I had written it off as another ill-conceived money grab.  12 month later, I saw the film's first trailer.   Not only was it not off-putting, it looked, uh, good.  How could this be?  After about five minutes into the film, I got the answer to that question.  The reason the movies is not just another toy based feature film bust is, actual writing.  Unlike so many films before it, this film has something to say.  Actually, it has a lot to say - perhaps too much to say for just one viewing.  And although the story is nothing groundbreaking, the way it is told is.  The film is a not only a tolerable 90-minute surprise, it is much more.  It is a clever, smart and hilarious - even touching at times.  This satisfying romp may even play better to adults than to the kids that dragged them to go see it.

The story focuses on Emmitt, an average yellow, plastic joe, that goes to works, buys overpriced coffee and does what any good person is supposed to do, fit in.  In order to not make waves he follows the instructions he was provided.  Until one day he breaks away from the routine and unexpectedly ends up in the middle of a rebellion to stop the Lord Business who plans to use his ultimate weapon, Kragle to take control of the universe.  The Emmitt is determined to be The Special - the supreme master builder that will find a way to save everyone.  Unfortunately, Emmit knows he is nothing more than ordinary.

The story is somewhat formulaic, but the surrounding madness is fresh enough to compensate for that.  Like most films, to get the most of the film, it is better to come into it with as little knowledge as possible and experience it organically.  For this reason I will reveal as little as possible.  There are some surprises though out, never-ending sight gags and wonderful cameos.  Some of the said surprises add a satisfying fullness to the film, preventing it from wearing out its welcome.

As I write this, so many of the clever moments pop up in my head - they are numerous - and I would love to discuss them, but would rather you enjoy them for yourselves and discuss them in the comments section.  As I previously stated, the film will probably take several viewings to catch all the jokes and pointed satire crammed into the 90 minutes.   The film is certainly not without fault - when I say crammed, it is like a suitcase that you have to sit on to zipper and after you get it shut you realize you still need fit your deodorant inside.   What feels like effortless humor comes so fast and furiously that before you can finish enjoying one laugh the next one may have already passed.  That is not to say this is a film of loosely strung together jokes - it is not.  This is not rambling buts of humor - the jokes serve a purpose.  I just wish they had more time to breath.

If you need another reason to see the film, here are two.  1) the visuals - simply amazing.  It looks so photo realistic that you will believe it actually shot with real Legos (maybe it was.)  Just incredible.  2) The acting - a great cast including Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett and about a dozen more, bring with them great comic timing that ties it all together.

Oh yeah, be prepared to being singing "Everything is Awesome" for at least a few days.

If you have seen this, please feel free to list some of the funniest moments in the comments.

8 out of 10

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Conjuring (2013) - Review

Have you ever been woken up by a dream that scared the living heck out of you?  You know, one of those dreams that no matter how old you are or how illogical it was, still scared you enough to prevent you from leaving the safe confines of your bed?  This film treads in that territory.  It sneaks past the adult defenses you gathered through the years and goes straight for those fears you thought you left behind with your youth.

Wether it is a doll that is not in the same position it was last time you saw it, a noise coming from what you thought was an empty room or a door that seems to shut on its own - an adult should be able to easily dismiss such things.  It is not that easy.  For some reason these things resurface the scared little kid inside all of us.  Director, James Wan, does not invent many new scares, he embraces old scare techniques and craftily uses them to do what they have done in the past, scare you.

The story is classic haunted horror tale - a family moves into a new house are realizes they may not be alone.  After a series of unexplained events they bring in paranormal experts to help determine just what is going on.  Thankfully, it avoids a major storytelling pitfall of so many recent films by forgoing CGI effects.  Sometimes a whisper in a dark room is much more effective than all the CGI in the world - this film proves that.

The film also benefits its surprisingly strong cast consisting of Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lilly Taylor and Patrick Wilson.  Honestly, off the top of my head, I can't think of a more skilled horror cast.  Combine their work with the atmospheric CGIless setting and you are already well ahead of the game.

Horror is very subjective.  I still get the chills just talking about the end of The Blair Witch Project.  Other people find it a complete waste of time.  Hopefully, you are like me and find this to be a chilliest.

8 out of 10