Archive for the ‘ Movie Reviews ’ Category

Looper: A Review

Now in theaters

Looper is an example of how much I love smart trailers and movie marketing. The trailers have let you know what the premise of the film is, but they don’t give everything away in two minutes. Let’s just say that I was pretty pleasantly surprised by the parts of the film that they make sure you don’t see coming.

Looper is set in 2044 and 2074, when time travel is invented and instantly outlawed. It has also grown increasingly difficult (in 2074) to dispose of dead bodies that people don’t want found. Gangs, mobs, murderers, what have you, they all send people they want dead back to the past, hooded and packed with silver, where “loopers” wait for them in open fields, shoot them dead, and collect their payday. If these “loopers” are still alive in 30 years, they are sent back and killed, and this is called “closing the loop.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, one such “looper” in 2044, and Bruce Willis plays the older Joe in 2074. Joe knows that his loop will be closed soon, and he feels prepared for it, until his older self appears in the field without a hood. He hesitates, and older Joe escapes. Fast-forward a couple of chase scenes to both Joes sitting in a booth at a diner.

It is there that younger Joe learns that he eventually falls in love with a beautiful woman (Summer Qing) who “saves his life.” Unfortunately, she is killed by a figure known as The Rainmaker who is closing all the loops, and older Joe plans to find him in 2044 and kill him.

He makes a run for it, and younger Joe ends up stranded on a farm. There he meets tough and resilient Sara (Emily Blunt) and her five-year-old son Cid (Pierce Gagnon, who gives a haunting performance of a truly troubled child). He realizes that older Joe believes that Cid may grow up to become The Rainmaker, and that is where the predicament lies.

Gordon-Levitt and Willis are accompanied by great performances by Jeff Daniels as Abe, the mob boss in 2074 sent back in time to manage the “loopers,” Paul Dano as Seth, Joe’s best friend and fellow “looper” desperate to keep from closing his loop, and Noah Segan as Kid Blue, one of Abe’s “gat men” constantly seeking Abe’s approval.

The real star, though, is behind the scenes: writer and director Rian Johnson. He intelligently maneuvers the tricky, and often messy, concept of time travel and leaves the ending up to you. Usually, movies like this leave me frustrated (I’m talking to you, Inception), but Looper gives you enough to make an informed decision. I enjoyed it, even if I did miss Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s boyish good looks underneath the Bruce Willis-inspired prosthetics (see below).

Those are some mean eyebrows.

End of Watch: “Not A Typical Cop Movie”

Michael Pena (L) and Jake Gyllenhaal (R) star in End of Watch, in theaters tomorrow, September 21, 2012

When I walked out of the theater after End of Watch, I had that feeling I love, that feeling I go to the movies for and hope to experience every time I throw my bag of popcorn in the trash on the way out. I felt exhausted. Exhausted, because I was so invested in the characters and the plot that I rode the entire roller coaster of human emotions in just two hours.

End of Watch follows two L.A.P.D. cops, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), and their everyday lives patrolling a highly Mexican-American area of Los Angeles. They spent five months training together, going on ride-alongs, getting to know each other, and developing a partnership that is as real on-screen as off. They are smart-asses but still heroic.

Taylor and Zavala talking to an ICE officer

While so many cop movies showcase the dramatic and slightly unrealistic action sequences, End of Watch does best when it shows Taylor and Zavala in their patrol car, talking about things everyone talks about. Life, love, funny stories, etc. It is only possible to believe their heroics after you believe their characters, which you will. From rescuing children from a burning building when the fire department takes too long to arrive to finding children duct-taped in a closet when their crackhead mother calls them in missing, Taylor and Zavala are real and honest throughout.

I was worried about feeling nauseous when I learned it was shot documentary-style, but the filming was carried out really well. It begins with Taylor explaining that he is filming for a class he’s taking for a Pre-Law degree. There are cameras on his and Zavala’s uniforms, a hand-held he carries around, and cameras in the patrol car. It feels as though you are on a ride-along with Taylor and Zavala, so much so that I was scared walking to my car in the garage and driving home.

While Gyllenhaal and Zavala deliver amazing performances, the movie would not be as real as it was without a great ensemble behind them including bitter veteran Officer Van Hauser (David Harbour), their relentless “Sarge” (Frank Grillo), and the feisty female cop duo, Orozco (America Ferrera) and Davis (Cody Horn).

It would also not be as real a story or performance for Gyllenhaal and Pena had they not been supported by their on-screen significant others, Gabby Zavala (Natalie Martinez) and Janet Taylor (Anna Kendrick). Upon watching this film, you realize that cops are real people that have to go home after facing horrible things like murders and near-death experiences, and they would not be able to keep going back to work if they didn’t have unrelenting support when they decompress at home.

Zavala and his wife (R) and Taylor (L) at Zavala’s little sister’s Quinceanera

David Ayer certainly outdid himself finally finding and writing a “true cop story.” After Training Day, S.W.A.T., and The Fast and the Furious, Ayer said this is “not a typical cop movie,” and he wasn’t kidding. He fashioned Taylor and Zavala after two of his good friends who are cops, and it ended up being a great idea.

Anyway, End of Watch is the best movie I’ve seen all year and the best cop movie in years. It is incredibly visceral and real, so prepare to leave the theater exhausted but fulfilled.

Rock of Ages Review

Now in Theaters

Tom Cruise in a leather jacket, tattoos, long hair and a bandana, Alec Baldwin in a jean vest and tacky, gold jewelry, Paul Giamatti with a rat-tail and obnoxiously large cell phone, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a high-waisted pant suit. These are just a few of the true-to-the-80s looks you can expect from Rock of Ages. This film-adaptation of the highly successful Broadway musical is a whole lot of fun.

I won’t lie, the storyline is cliché and predictable, but you know what you’re getting yourself into when you buy a ticket to watch this movie. It is what it is! And it is entertaining. First of all, who doesn’t want to sing along to Bon Jovi, Poison, Journey and Whitesnake’s greatest hits?  With mash-ups as well as straight-up covers of classic 80s rock, you can’t help but regret not going to the movies in your leg warmers and mesh, fingerless gloves.

(L) Julianne Hough as Sherrie Christian (R) Diego Boneta as Drew Boley

Julianne Hough is cast well as the sweet and naive Oklahoma-native Sherrie Christian, and Diego Boneta does well as aspiring rock star Drew Boley. They do a good job of carrying the main, romantic storyline, but there are other relationships in the film that are far more entertaining. The teaming up of Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand was a great idea. They both have no shame and are always willing to do whatever it takes for a laugh. Bryan Cranston and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the philandering mayor of Los Angeles and his hidden agenda-driven wife also shine through every so often.

I have to say, though, it’s Tom Cruise as rock legend Stacee Jaxx who really steals the show. There’s some kind of crazy hidden in Tom Cruise, because he does so well playing these random, eccentric characters. If you have ever watched Tropic Thunder, it’s safe to say that Tom Cruise’s bit part, rude and greasy movie agent Les Grossman, was one of the most entertaining parts of that film. His take on Stacee Jaxx is just as funny but with several, complex emotional layers, a feat that only someone as complex in real life as Cruise could accomplish (like I know him personally…but you know what I mean).

Tom Cruise as rock legend Stacee Jaxx

The set design and wardrobe department really did their research and made it seem like you’re in the Bourbon Room in Los Angeles in 1987, and obviously the music was great. I’ve never seen the musical on Broadway, so I can’t really say if they kept it true to the stage version, but I liked it. I had fun watching it, so if you want to watch something that will put you in a good mood, Rock of Ages will definitely put a smile on your face this summer.

Moonrise Kingdom Review

(L) Kara Hayward as Suzy (R) Jared Gilman as Sam

Wes Anderson’s newest film follows the usual equation, and like his other films, is an acquired taste. Moonrise Kingdom takes place on a small island, called New Penzance, off the coast of New England in 1965. Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan and a Khaki Scout at Camp Ivanhoe, which is headed by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). Suzy (Kara Hayward) is a troubled and violent young girl who begins a pen-pal relationship with Sam after meeting him at a church pageant the summer before. They hatch a plan to run off together, and in doing so, they stir up trouble with the adults all around them while a storm of epic proportions approaches the shores of New Penzance.

Bill Murray shows up in yet another Wes Anderson film as lawyer Walt Bishop, Suzy’s father, while Frances McDormand plays his wife, Laura Bishop. Bruce Willis shines as the sort of sad and lonely Island Police officer Captain Sharp. His grandfather glasses and high-water policeman pants only add to the desperation he evokes as he longs for Laura. He teams up with the Bishops, Scout Master Ward and Social Services (Tilda Swinton) to find Sam and Suzy, and hi-jinks ensue.

(L-R) Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand as the adults searching for Sam and Suzy

Sam and Suzy’s relationship has some awkward moments, but what Wes Anderson film doesn’t have some of those? Sam wears glasses and a raccoon cap, while Suzy wears deep blue eye shadow and “Sunday school shoes.” Together, they encapsulate the adolescent insecurity every child grows up through. While the film focuses on their relationship, ironically it’s the scrambled mess between the adults that’s childish.

When Suzy goes missing, Captain Sharp’s relationship with Laura is revealed. While searching for Suzy with Captain Sharp, Walt begins to realize what’s going on. Back at Camp Ivanhoe, Scout Master Ward is punishing himself for losing one of his Khaki Scouts. As the storm grows near and intensifies, so does the search for Sam and Suzy as well as the tension between the adults.

It has to be mentioned that Anderson and Roman Coppola‘s screenplay offers the Khaki Scouts at Camp Ivanhoe plenty of opportunities to steal the show, and they do. The testosterone-driven gang of boys that is at first repulsed by Sam and then eventually teams up to rescue him provides the quirky comic relief Anderson is famous for. Jason Schwartzmann also makes an appearance with his usual sharp wit and snarky dialogue as Cousin Ben, a Scout Master at a neighboring camp.

(Center) Jason Schwartzmann as Cousin Ben with a group of Khaki Scouts

All in all, Moonrise Kingdom delivers as yet another distinct Wes Anderson film. Each frame could be frozen and pass as a picture all on its own, and the obscure soundtrack in the background sets up the unconventional world Wes Anderson always creates specifically for his films. His attention to detail in filming, costume, set design and music as well as a talented cast makes Moonrise Kingdom a great summer movie.

You can catch Moonrise Kingdom in Houston theaters this Friday, June 15th. Click here for other city release dates.

The Muppets now on BluRay and DVD

Walter, Mary (Amy Adams) and Gary (Jason Segel) travel to Los Angeles.

It’s been 10 years since The Muppets were in theaters. This past year, they returned to the hearts of the now grown-up children who learned to love them decades ago. After its triumphant return to the big screen on Thanksgiving last year, The Muppets is now on BluRay and DVD Wocka Wocka Value Pack.

Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall; I Love You, Man) and Nicholas Stoller decided it was time for The Muppets to make a comeback. Keeping with the sly, tongue-in-cheek humor that first made them famous in the 1970s, Segel and Stoller brought the Muppets back in full force.

The Wocka Wocka BluRay and DVD combo pack includes special bonus features such as “The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History).” It also comes with a code to download the soundtrack, put together by Bret MacKenzie (Flight of the Conchords), which features the Academy Award-Winning Song, “Man or Muppet.”

Brothers Walter and Gary

Gary, played by Segel, and his brother Walter grew up watching The Muppets, so when Gary decides to take his girlfriend Mary, played by Amy Adams (Enchanted, Doubt), to Los Angeles, he invites Walter to join them and visit the Muppet Studios.

When they reach Muppet Studios, they find it dilapidated and decrepit. That’s when Walter overhears evil oil baron Tex Richman, played by Chris Cooper (Remember Me, The Town), planning to destroy Muppet Studios for the oil that can be found underneath it. This will happen unless the Muppets can raise $10 million to re-build the studio.

Walter journeys through LA to find his hero, Kermit the Frog, to warn him of Richman’s plan. Together, they gather up the old Muppet gang which includes Fozzie Bear who plays with a Muppet tribute band called “The Moopets,” Gonzo who is now the richest plumbing magnate in America, and Animal who is going through an anger management program.

The Muppets put together a reunion telethon in order to raise the money to save the Muppets Studio. With surprise celebrity cameos and the same silly, slapstick humor that made the Muppets famous in the first place, The Muppets may just be the best Muppet movie yet.

Now on BluRay and DVD

Amy Adams was the perfect choice as Mary. Her theatrical acting and singing boded well for the movie, and she’s one of those gorgeous actresses who’s not afraid to look silly for a laugh. Jason Segel somehow exudes Muppet characteristics, becoming as cuddly, huggable and innocent as Kermit himself. Bret MacKenzie arranged the music wonderfully, keeping with the literal and dippy lyrics The Muppets perform so well while incorporating his Flight of the Conchords-style beats and humor.

Kermit’s leading man bravado, Miss Piggy’s abrasive attitude, Fozzie’s horrible jokes, Gonzo’s affection for chickens and danger, Stadler and Waldorf’s teasing of the Muppets, and the Swedish Chef’s incomprehensible dialogue reminds us all why we grew up loving the Muppets. In a new age where Rated R comedies dominate the big screen and the box office, The Muppets remind us that it’s still okay to laugh at things that don’t involve four-letter words, allusion to drugs or are so gross it makes us want to puke after we’re done laughing.

It’s only fitting that the telethon audience is all adults in their mid-30s and beyond, because it’s those people who grew up with the Muppets from back in the days with guest hosts such as Steve Martin, Julie Andrews and President Carter. Segel and Stoller have brought the Muppets back for a new audience, children from today that will be just as captivated by this movie as their parents were when the Muppets premiered on television in 1976.

HOP bounces onto BluRay and DVD in time for Easter

Just in time for the holiday the movie bases itself on, HOP makes its way onto BluRay and DVD on March 27th.

The film centers around E.B., the rambunctious son of the legendary Easter Bunny. E.B., voiced by Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek), dreams of becoming a rock star drummer rather than inheriting the Easter Bunny powers his father so desperately wants him to take on.

After the Easter Bunny tells E.B. that he has no choice but to become the next Easter Bunny, he escapes Easter Island and heads to Hollywood. There, he meets Fred O’Hare, played by James Marsden (X-Men, The Notebook). His father also disapproves of his lifestyle, and they become unlikely friends.

Carlos, voiced by Hank Azaria (The Simpsons, Mystery Men), is an Easter chick and the Bunny’s right-hand man. He takes advantage of E.B.’s absence and arranges a hostile takeover. He thinks that it’s time for the chicks to be in charge of Easter instead of bunnies.

Meanwhile, E.B. is trying to find a way to become a famous drummer and Fred is trying to find a job. Together, they survive several adventures in Hollywood before eventually being dragged back to Easter Island where they find Carlos in the midst of his coup d’etat.

Does Carlos take over and become the first Easter chick? Will E.B. take his rightful place as the next Easter Bunny? Will Fred find the job he’s been searching for his whole life? The HOP BluRay and DVD combo pack not only contains the answers to these questions but some very special bonus features. These features include “Phil’s Dance Party,” “The World of HOP,” and “All Access with Cody Simpson.”

While I wasn’t entirely impressed by HOP’s attempts to be hip and funny at the same time, I could see my niece enjoying it on Easter every year. It’s cliche and predictable at best, but it’s inventive as well, taking a holiday there aren’t many movies about and making it into one the kids can enjoy before the hunt for Easter eggs.

New BluRay & DVD Releases This Week

DreamWorks Studios’ Real Steel makes its way to BluRay & DVD on Tuesday January 24th. If you love adventure films, movies with heart and stunning visual effects, this movie is for you.

Hugh Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Van Helsing) stars as Charlie Kenton, an out-of-commission boxer who makes his living fighting boxing robots. Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hurt Locker) plays the owner of the gym the robots are trained and built at. Charlie is unwillingly reunited with his son, Max, and together, they rebuild a “trash bot” named Atom.

A story about relationships, familial and romantic, not going down without a fight, and beating the odds, Real Steel has got the heart of Rocky and the special effects of Star Trek.

I wasn’t expecting too much from this movie, because honestly, when you hear, “it’s a movie about boxing robots,” you really just don’t expect much! I was pleasantly surprised, though.

One of the bonus features was a look into the building of the bots, and it shows Mr. Steven Spielberg himself drop by the set to give advice. He tells them that CGI has to be used, but building actual, physical robots was a necessity. I was so happy he told them that, because I still think Jurassic Park was one of the best CGI/animatron movies of all time. I hate when movies are completely CGI, because you can tell it’s really fake. Combining CGI and animatronics in Jurassic Park makes the dinosaurs seem so real. They touched and were attacked by actual, moving dinosaurs most of the time.

This advice made Real Steel so much better. I couldn’t help but feel like Atom was real, a true underdog. Also, watching Hugh Jackman in jeans and fitted tees for a couple of hours wasn’t bad either!

This BluRay & DVD combo pack includes special bonus features giving a look behind the scenes and into the making of Metal Valley, Robo Alley and the building of the robots.

Back in 2009, a little-known documentary-style horror film named Paranormal Activity was released in theaters. The small budget movie achieved a cult following and loyal fan base. The third installment in the series, Paranormal Activity 3, will now be released on BluRay & DVD on Tuesday January 24th.

This third chapter in the series travels back to the beginning. In 2009, we learned that Katie had some sort of spirit following her around since childhood. Paranormal Activity 3 goes back to 1988 and tells the story of how that evil began to terrorize Katie and her sister Kristie.

When I received this movie to review, I had nightmares about it the night before I even watched it. I was expecting the bone-chilling home-video style clips from the first Paranormal Activity, and I was thoroughly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it still scared me from time to time, but it seemed like all the same tactics.

It kind of relates to what I talked about with Real Steel. The CGI effects in this one were just too fake sometimes. There were also just too many. What was so scary about the first one, for me at least, were all the sudden noises in the silence. The “demon” never showed itself but wreaked havoc in small, scary ways.

It was that “bump in the night” paranoia the first one created that I expected from this one, but it just wasn’t there. It’s still kind of a thrill, but don’t expect what you got in the original Paranormal Activity.

The special features include an unrated version of the film as well as “Lost Tapes” that can only be found on the BluRay & DVD combo pack. My only problem with this is that the “Lost Tapes” are only on the BluRay disc, and I don’t have BluRay, so I didn’t get to watch them. The same goes for anyone else who doesn’t have BluRay. Either way, look for it in stores Tuesday January 24th!