Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise KingdomTonight I went out with the local Indie Film Group and a friend to see Wes Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom. Anderson is known for making very quirky films including Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. The trailer for Moonrise Kingdom is quite enticing (added below) and with a great cast, I was looking forward to it.

Movie Synopsis: Director/co-writer Wes Anderson teams with screenwriter Roman Coppola for this period comedy-drama set in the 1960s, in which a pair of young lovers (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) from an island off the New England coast head for the hills and throw their small town into a frenzy. Bruce Willis co-stars with Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Frances McDormand.

Verdict: It was what I expected: a quirky, strange, unconventional dark comedy with great performances.

The cast is what sells this campy, 1965 era Romeo and Juliet style love story (without the tragic ending…well except for the dog…). Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Francis MCDormand and Bruce Willis (and a guest appearance by Harvey Keitel) pull off some truly unique characters, but the cast of kids are what make this film successful.

Bottom Line Rating: A-

This movie isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you love quirky indie films that are chuck full of off-beat humor and a unique story line with a great cast, check this one out. (For example, if you liked Fargo, this film has the same quirky comic qualities, without all the violence.)


Battle Royale vs. The Hunger Games: Who Wins?

The Plot: In the future, a dystopian society passes a law that requires tournaments where children fight to the death. Numbered pairs of boys and girls are taken to a isolated outdoor hunting ground where they are given a bag full of supplies and a variety of weapons and told to kill each other until only one person is left (and then they get to go home.) Carnage ensues with regular announcements of the deaths as they occur and in the end a young couple bucks the rules and both survive.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s the plot of Battle Royale, a Japanese movie directed by Kinji Fukasaku in 2000, based on the 1999 book written by Koushun Takami.

I never read the book The Hunger Games, but saw the movie with a group of friends when it came out. Almost immediately I starting hearing allegations that The Hunger Games was a direct rip off of Battle Royale.

So I decided to find out for myself and watch Battle Royale, which is now available streaming on Netflix.

Let’s start with a little more background. Battle Royale the movie was released in 2001, but was only shown in the US in two lesser known film festivals, was not released on DVD and faded into obscurity in the US. Then comes The Hunger Games. The book was published in 2008 (with the movie to follow in 2012) and resulted in the author claiming she had never heard of Battle Royale when she published The Hunger Games.

The Verdict:
I’m calling pants on fire. For so much of the plot line and story details to be practically identical and then try to say it is “coincidence”, I’m just not buying it.

Were there differences in the two movies? Sure, but only in minor plot details. Battle Royale had more “Friday the 13th” style gore, where The Hunger Games went a little more Twilight-ish. Battle Royale chose a 9th grade class to fight to the death, where Hunger had tributes. Hunger had Lenny Kravitz giving the heroine medication when she was hurt on the battlefield and Royale had Tarô Yamamoto. Battle was outdoors on a island. Hunger was in a domed outdoor world. You get the picture.

So my thoughts are, if you would like to see a Hollywood version of Battle Royale without subtitles, with Taylor Swift music versus classical music, go see The Hunger Games.

They also made a Battle Royale II in 2003 where the “winner” of the previous event was villainized by the government and has to go back and fight again. I wonder what Catching Fire will be about. I’m just saying…


Movie Reviews: 3 Summer Movie Write-Ups in 1

The summer season has begun with a flurry of new movie releases, so I decided to consolidate three quick reviews into one blog entry for your viewing pleasure.

Men In Black III

Men in Black 3

To be honest I am kind of sick of the “sequel” mania that Hollywood is currently going through, but trotting out Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones 15 years after their original debut as agents K and J, I just couldn’t resist. So I scheduled a group event on $5.00 movie day to go and see this with other some equally sentimental Geeks.

Verdict: It was cute and Josh Brolin was AWESOME!

The premise: something happens to Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent J (Will Smith) must go back in time to save him. There he meets a young K played by Josh Brolin who is brilliant. Brolin had Tommy Lee down to a “T” and is truly what makes the movie worth seeing (since the plot isn’t really much different from the original MIB.) But I was entertained and only paid $5.00, so it was worth an evening out with the friends.

Bottom Line Rating: B-
If you are looking for a fun movie to go and see this summer, this could be a good choice for a matinee.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I had been waiting for this movie to come out since I first saw a trailer last summer. Chuck full of some of the best senior British actors around, this movie gave me hope that maybe 2012 might be better than 2011 for worthwhile movies. So I scheduled a large group of Indie Film fans to go and see it.

Verdict: I was not disappointed. This movie is WONDERFUL!

If you were going to come up with a dream cast for a movie, this is probably it. Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith head-up this amazing group in a story about growing old and finding your place in the world. The showing I attended on a Tuesday night completely sold out and I was also one of the youngest people attending by a significant margin. But being one of the “babies” in the audience didn’t diminish how wonderful this movie was for me. The performances are fantastic, the script is excellent and throw in the cute kid from Slumdog Millionaire and you have a winner!

Bottom Line Rating: A
I would be shocked and disgusted if this movie isn’t nominated for Oscar along with multiple members of the cast. It puts a little faith in me that there is hope that movie making hasn’t gone completely to the dogs. Although the movie might go over the heads of young children, I recommend this movie for all adults looking for a great story, marvelous performances and 2 hours of excellent entertainment.

Prometheus

Prometheus

As I mentioned earlier, I am not a big fan of sequels and seeing a “prequel” to the original Alien movie wasn’t high on my list of “must sees” (especially based on the last couple of movies in that franchise). Sometimes things just need to die and stay dead. But when you hang out with Geeks, the idea of passing up a sci-fi flick with aliens is just not going to happen. So I scheduled a group event to go see this on opening night.

The saving grace was I am a big fan of Michael Fassbender (hubba hubba) so I figured staring at him on screen might be worth the admission price. I was also intrigued to see Noomi Repace in a new role after enjoying her performances so much in the original The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series (Swedish version).

Verdict: Let’s just say, thank goodness for Michael Fassbender. I was mildly entertained, but greatly annoyed that apparently we get significantly dumber in the future regarding the importance of following decontamination procedures.

This movie was a case of a strong cast with a weak script and characters you just don’t care about. Aliens were unfortunately not the focus in this movie, instead it really focused on man’s innate ability to screw things up, even in outer space.

Bottom Line Rating: C+
If you loved the previous Alien movies and can suspend your disbelief of obvious failures in the plot, this movie could be a somewhat entertaining day at the matinee or a Netflix/Redbox rental.

Now get off my lawn! 😀


Movie Review: Albert Nobbs

Albert NobbsI had heard about this Indie film when it was in the theaters and when all the award nominations were coming out, but never got a chance to see it. So when it hit Redbox, I took my promo code down and rented it for $.21.

Movie synopsis: “In 19th-century Ireland, painfully shy butler Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) hides an incredible secret: He is really a she. Terrified that someone will discover her identity, Albert keeps a very low profile, until the arrival of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) registers a sea change in Albert’s life. Hubert is also secretly a woman and has managed to find a partner who helps her maintain her masquerade. Hoping to find a similar arrangement, Albert begins wooing a hotel maid (Mia Wasikowska).”

Verdict: Holy Cow! Put down what you are doing and Netflix or Redbox this movie today! It is AWESOME!

It is hard to decide what I liked best about this movie. I think over all I liked the fact even though the movie is apparently not based on a real person, the plot elements are unique but conceivable for the late 1800’s. The script was well done, the characters were all engaging and the story kept me glued to my seat the entire time.

Glenn Close plays the character of a waiter, Albert Nobbs. In order to find a job when many were out of work in late 1800’s Ireland, Nobbs obtains a second-hand dinner suit and disguises herself as a man and lands a waiter’s job. That is what started her life living as a man. It was all about survival and constant fear of being found out.

Through the years waiting tables, Nobbs has been saving all her money and dreaming of someday starting her own tobacco store. Then enters Mr. Page, brilliantly played by Janet McTeer. Mr. Page is also living as a man, which began after her husband died, and allows her to get work as a painter. And not only is she living as a man, but she is married to a woman. Since running a store with two people would be much easier, Albert sets off to woo one of the chamber maids at the hotel where she works.

All of the performances are well done, but Glenn Close and Janet McTeer are brilliant and were very deserving of their Oscar nominations. It is unfortunate that Glenn Close gave this performance in the same year as Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady, since I truly believe she deserved the best actress Oscar. But as we know, Meryl wins everything…. (Streep’s performance was good, but Close’s was better).

And for those of you who are familiar with Upstairs Downstairs, it was a delight to see Pauline Collins (Emily) as Mrs. Baker, the hotel proprietor.

Bottom Line Rating: A
If you are a lover of new and unique story lines and well acted Indie films, this is a must see. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now get off my lawn! 😀


Movie Review: People Like Us

People Like UsI had the opportunity to take a group to see People Like Us at a free sneak preview screening a month and a half before it is released in theaters. I had never even heard of the movie and generally when a movie is being previewed this early they are either still tweaking it and need feedback or are having a hard time figuring out how to market the movie.

The movie stars Elizabeth Banks, Chris Pine and Michelle Pfeiffer so I figured it had an OK shot at being good, so me and 7 of my friends ventured out to see it.

Here was the description we received before seeing the movie: “From DreamWorks Pictures comes “People Like Us,” a drama/comedy about family, inspired by true events, starring Chris Pine as Sam, a twenty-something, fast-talking salesman, whose latest deal collapses on the day that he learns his father has suddenly died. Against his wishes, Sam is called home, where he must put his father’s estate in order and reconnect with his estranged family. In the course of fulfilling his father’s last wishes, Sam uncovers a startling secret that turns his entire world upside down: He has a 30-year-old sister Frankie whom he never knew about. As their relationship develops, Sam is forced to rethink everything he thought he knew about his family — and re-examine his own life choices in the process.”

Verdict: I enjoyed it.

The key to why this is screening so early is the statement in the description “drama/comedy”, which leaves the studio in a bit of a quandary about how to properly market the movie.

The movie is a compelling, tear-jerking drama that does have some humorous moments, but is definately a drama. The story is well formed and explores the situation of how do you approach a sibling (you just found out you had) that has hated you for their whole life since your father left them for you, his “other family”. The performances are quite good and convincing and I especially appreciated the young actor that plays Elizabeth Banks son, Michael Hall D’Addario (we will be seeing a lot more from him I am sure). A little slow in spots, but that is made up for by the well-placed sprinkling of humor.

This is also one of the roles that is securing Michelle Pfeiffer as the go to actress to play the mom of adult children (and who wouldn’t want a mom that looks like her!)

Bottom Line Rating: B+
A well done movie. Oscar winner? No. Worth the price of admission and enjoyable? Yes.


Movie Review: The Raven

The Raven

Tonight I went with a group to see the movie The Raven starring John Cusack. The basic premise of the movie is that John Cusack is Edgar Allen Poe and a serial killer is going around killing people using methods outlined in his stories.

Now it is April and movies coming out in April generally, well, stink. But this was the best looking movie being released this month so my group took a chance. Needless to say, I had hopes, but not high hopes.

Verdict: Yeah….my hopes were dashed.

Although the movie was mildly entertaining, it failed to capitalize on what could have been a really interesting concept.

Poe is probably the one 19th century American writer that most kids actually enjoyed reading in school. So most folks, at least my age, have read his stories and are familiar with the details. We were also aware that there are a lot of really interesting murder concepts in his stories that would be interesting to see on screen.

Unfortunately the movie got caught up in itself and missed the opportunity to exploit some really wonderful details that Poe had offered them and instead came up with a muddled story line that as an aside, occasionally referred to some of Poe’s work in obscure ways.

I also found it quite annoying that the only hint to the killer’s identity was so obscure that no one would have ever figured out what it meant. I mean would you have known that printing ink in 1849 was magnetic?

Bottom Line Rating: C
Although this movie was mildly entertaining, the fact that they wasted a good premise with poor dialog, mediocre acting and a boring story line was clearly why this was released in the movie dead zone of April.


Movie Review: The Avengers

I was very fortunate to receive 10 free passes to see a sneak preview of Marvel’s The Avengers in 3-D IMAX. I had already planned to see the movie in May, but when you get a chance to see it early, for free, in 3-D IMAX, with 9 of your friends, you generally decide to reschedule.

I am not a big comic book fan, but have seen the 4 movies in the series leading up to this movie (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America) and enjoyed them, but was wondering if The Avengers would live up to all the hype.

Verdict: AWESOME. It lived up to all the hype and then some.

To start, selecting Joss Whedon to write the screenplay and direct was brilliant. His touches were all over the movie, which is what made the difference between this just being a good movie and this being a GREAT movie. The characters were well crafted, the script was well written and the movie was chuck full of action. But what set this movie apart the most was the humor. It was exceptionally well placed and in many cases unexpected. There is a scene with The Hulk and Loki that may go down in history as one of my favorite scenes ever!

The casting was also exceptional. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury was perfect and of course Robert Downey Jr. as the billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist Stark has always been a match made in Heaven. But I do have to say the addition of Mark Ruffalo as the subdued and sensitively sexy Bruce Banner (The Hulk’s alter ego) was unexpected and a nice balance to Stark’s character. Also having Lou Ferrigno do the voice of The Hulk was a nice nostalgic touch.

Bottom Line: A
This was a truly fun cinema experience. Even at 2 hours and 15 minutes it kept me engaged the entire time with a great story, action and humor. I am not sure that the 3-D added that much to the movie (a.k.a. save your money), but it is definately worth seeing on the big screen.

Now Get Off My Lawn!
Julie :D


Movie Review: Anonymous – The Film I Can’t Keep a Secret!

Anonymous

Having the first name of “Juliet” makes me predisposed to be a bit of Shakespeare enthusiast and makes movies about Shakespeare pique my interest. I had heard about the film Anonymous when it was released in theaters, but didn’t get a chance to see it until it came out on DVD (mostly because when you say to your friends, “Hey, let’s go see a film about Shakespeare!” they suddenly have other things more pressing to do.)

Conspiracy theorists and many literary scholars have asserted for centuries that Shakespeare’s plays couldn’t have been written by Shakespeare himself, due to his lack of education and poor upbringing. They claim he didn’t have the skill needed to do something like write an entire play in iambic pentameter. (For those of you now wishing you had paid more attention in high school, see this article.) Most skeptics generally believe that the works of Shakespeare were either written by a well educated noble or a coalition of notable writers of that time.

Anonymous proposes that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was in fact the genius behind the plays of the Bard and unfolds an alternative version of history to examine as a part of this claim.

Verdict: Fantastic film. One of the most under rated and overlooked films of the year.

Director Roland Emmerich does a nice job of laying out an alternative to traditionally accepted Elizabethan history. It starts by asserting that the 17th Earl of Oxford was a gifted writer and forced to hide his work due to his station and the political forces of the age. This led him to find a stand-in to take credit for his work in order for them to be seen by the public. And the film didn’t stop with the conspiracies surrounding Shakespeare, but intertwined other popular theories such as Elizabeth I actually gave birth to multiple children.

The other thing I liked about the movie is it expanded upon what many of us learned in studying the works of Shakespeare: that many plays had political implications that either flattered or villainized public figures of the time. It put actors and situations around those characters in the movie, which helped drive home the point of why someone of the Earl of Oxford’s status could not have made himself known if he was indeed the writer of the plays and made the scenario of Shakespeare’s adoption more plausible.

And although the film was a bit melodramatic in spots and a bit farfetched in others, I give the writer and director credit in telling a complex and compelling story that kept me spellbound for 2 hours. The ending paid fitting reverence to the style of Shakespeare’s own historical tragedies (whoever he was), and would have made Sophocles proud and may make Oliver Stone call for an investigation.

But the most touching part of the film for me, had to be the choice of Derek Jacobi to delivery the opening and closing soliloquies, since in my mind he will always epitomize the greatness of Shakespearean acting.

Bottom Line: A

If you have an appreciation for Shakespeare, this is a must see movie. It is like watching a long lost Shakespearean tragedy (but the women actually get to play women in this one.) Anonymous takes a new spin on the Shakespeare conspiracy idea in an entertaining way that could make believers of us all.

Now Get Off My Lawn!
Julie :D


Movie Review: This Means War

This Means War

I recently received free passes to see the movie This Means War, starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy. I had seen the trailer for this “Spy vs. Spy competing for the affections for the same woman” flick and thought it looked “cute”, but I wasn’t still wasn’t willing to shell out money to see it. But with free passes in hand, my friend and I decided to take a chance on it.

Verdict: It is “cute”.

The basic premise of the movie is two spies are taken off active duty and essentially decide to get a love life in their time off. Enter Reese Witherspoon who works in a Consumer Reports lab and is also lonely and looking for love. Then enter Reese’s best friend who posts her profile online, after which both men fall for her and comedy ensues.

I think most people would agree that a movie with three nice looking people in the lead is a good start for any film. This action infused romantic comedy does keep your attention throughout the entire movie with some laugh out loud moments. The characters were likable and the addition of Chelsea Handler as Reese’s best friend was brilliant (in many cases she stole the show).

So overall this somewhat predictable, but still entertaining film made for a fun evening out. Although, I would be a bit concerned if these two guys were actually spies, considering their boss, Angela Bassett, had to do things like remind them that their mission was covert….

Bottom Line: B If you are looking for a cute Valentine’s Day movie to go and see that will keep your boyfriend awake, this might due the trick with a few added laughs as a bonus.

Now Get Off My Lawn!
Julie :D


Movie Review: The Artist

With great anticipation I organized an event to see the film The Artist. I am a HUGE silent film fan, with my favorite film being Fritz Lang’s silent classic Metropolis. So the idea of making a silent film today was completely intriguing to me. And with Oscar nominations and Golden Globe wins, I had high hopes that 2011 might have actually produced a winner.

Verdict: It was FABULOUS!

Where to begin. The whole premise of making a silent film with today’s actors was original and wonderful. It truly took you back to a time when acting and films were completely different than they are today. The lead actor, Jean Dujardin, and actress, Bérénice Bejo, truly captured the style of acting seen in traditional silent films and were brilliant in their roles. And even John Goodman provided some nice laughs and never had to say a word.

The writer and director of the film, Michel Hazanavicius, showed pure genius for every little touch and nuance and camera angle that was added. He made you laugh and cry and brought you to the edge of your seat and it all seemed very effortless.

And you couldn’t help but see the parallels to another great film, Sunset Boulevard. The story and sentiment of what it was like for huge stars of the silent age to be cast aside when “talkies” took over, simply because many of them had accents or voices that just didn’t translate well to sound.

And the dog….Uggie: The cutest thing since The Thin Man’s Asta (who I have always wanted to be my dog!)

Bottom Line: A+ After having to slog through a field of lack luster films in 2011, this was truly a pleasant and welcome surprise. Worth every Best Picture nomination and win it has received!

Now Get Off My Lawn!
Julie 😀