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Movie Monday

by: 
Jen, Teen Contributor

Full disclosure: I did NOT want to see this movie from the beginning. This was one of those situations where I was overruled and had to take one for the team, so to speak. I enjoy zombie movies, don't get me wrong, but I am a huge Jane Austen fan and the thought of this zombie mash-up made me cringe. With that said, I have a few thoughts about this film. 

It is a loose retelling of the classic work by Jane Austen. The characters from different social classes are struggling their way through relationship woes...all while fighting the undead horde. There was a good amount of action and humor to keep me interested throughout the whole film. I wasn't rolling my eyes as much as I expected and though I am a litltle reluctant to admit it, I enjoyed this movie. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a zombie movie who doesn't want too much gore. Expect a B movie with a high production cost. I give it 3/5 stars. 

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

Be warned, this film is rated R.

There is not a more hated yet more profitable director than Michael Bay. Year after year, one hears endless bashing on his style, the numerous weaknesses of his plots, his possibly misogynistic viewpoints, and, of course, his endless explosions that litter every one of his films among other problems with his films. And all of the disdain for Baydem (Bay, Mayhem, combined) is undoubtable well founded. Yet, through all that hate, Bay’s films continue, every year, to make profit after profit. That’s why he is continually hired. Most people don’t want high concept things in the cinema, they don’t really want to think, or really to feel. Most people want to sit back, stop thinking for a while, and enjoy a cool looking movie (that’s my theory anyway). Well, if you want a cool movie, Bay is the best around, and delivers more of what we’ve come to expect in 13 Hours.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the most recent film by this master of the mindless Michael Bay, and the title is rather self-explanatory. It follows the real life soldiers, 6 men stationed at a secret base in Benghazi, fending off a terrorist attack provoked by a traveling senator.

Despite Bay (or actually perhaps aided by Bay but I’ll get to that in a bit), the story is interesting. It’s the perfect subject for a biographical movie to be made of, because most people have heard about the Benghazi affair if not entirely aware of what happened. The events are utterly fascinating and it really retains the audience in the story.

The acting is serviceable. There is nothing particularly special, but the actors do the best with what they have. Most characters are incredibly one dimensional, even John Krazinski’s Jack as the main character doesn’t have much depth. But, there are no noticeably bad performances, so I really can’t complain.

The action scenes are consistently and intensely annoying. Last year, the Revenant and Mad Max Fury Road both proved that it is indeed possible to make a good fight sequence and action sequence without a shaky camera, which makes the level of camera shake in this movie almost unbearable, particularly a car chase near the beginning (the whole movie of Mad Max was a car chase but it didn’t need to be unnecessarily confusing).

The writing is clunky at the best of times. The characters are more caricatures than characters, which did not give the actors any favors. It tells the story, but it could have been way more engaging, way more heartfelt, and just better all around.

The most fascinating thing about 13 Hours though is Bay himself, who seems like he is trying his hardest to make a good movie. It’s as if all of the bad word of mouth has finally got to him, and the film is his way of proving he is a good director. It is a noticeable effort, albeit on in vain. In the end, he can’t resist himself, numerous fireworks-like-explosions litter the screen, awkward humor that he is known so well for pokes through in a couple of scenes, and his love of America, specifically the American Flag, is well documented. But at least he’s trying.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a surprisingly passable film, featuring a Michael Bay who is trying. The worst thing I can say about it is that it is entirely forgettable, for after seeing it last week I am already having trouble remembering some things. I wouldn’t recommend paying money to see it, but I can’t blame you if you do. 6/10

For more reviews, visit my blog.

Image Credit: AJ L on Wikimedia Commons.

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

Be warned, this film is rated R.

Everything about the production of The Revenant is utterly fascinating and truly amazing. The choice to film only with natural light provided a small window of time every day, sometimes as small as an hour, to pull off certain shots. Filming in Canada as well as Argentina, in the wilderness and snow, was probably a challenge to say the least. The actors gave it their all, DiCaprio especially, who got sick twice and was forced to eat raw bison liver. He is a vegetarian. Tom Hardy also was committed, at one point choking out the director because they had an argument about the safety of certain stunts. One would think, with all of these production mishaps, the Revenant would have no chance of possessing quality. Surprisingly however, through all of the trouble filming it, The Revenant ended up a visceral and amazing film, well worth the tribulations of the team.

The Revenant stars Leonardo Dicaprio as mountain man Hugh Glass. Taking place during the 1820’s in the wilderness of America, he is part of a trading company on the run from the Arikara Indians. While scouting for his fellow huntsmen, Glass is viciously attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead by members of his team, specifically the evil and cunning John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the need for revenge, Glass must limp, crawl, and squirm his way back to civilization, all alone.

A great set up for a film if ever there was any which only gets enhanced by the “based on a true story” aspect the film boasts. Every aspect of the film reflects the brutal and enticing premise, delivering excellence.

The acting is amazing, Leo grunting and screaming his way to another Oscar nomination (and maybe this year an Oscar win). Saying that he gave the movie his all is an understatement, his performance is more than committed if such a thing exists. Domhnall Gleason (whose face has been popping up a bunch this year with Brooklyn, Ex Machina, and Star Wars to name a few) gives one of the best performances of his career as Captain Andrew Henry, in charge of the whole trapping operation. The other supporting actors are great, helping create a real and brutal atmosphere, but the real standout is Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald. He steals every scene (even from DiCaprio), and is one of the best villains of the year.

The cinematography for the film is excellent, capturing the beauty of the wilderness as well as the brutality of the men, a jarring juxtaposition that is handled with evident skill. The Revenant is a beautiful movie if ever there was one, lovely shots all around. Emmanuel Lubezki appears to be jousting for his third cinematography Oscar in a row with this one (after winning for last year’s Birdman and the previous year’s Gravity), and I can think of no other person more deserving of the award.

The cinematography’s beauty is only possible through the masterful and experienced hand of Alejandro González Iñárritu. He crafts the film in such away that the suspense always intensifies, the shots are always astonishing, and the story is always engaging. Choosing to film in only natural light gives the movie weight, grounding it in reality. Many long shots are used throughout the film, specifically during intense moments of conflict, also contributing to the realism of it all.

The score is minimal, instead the sounds of the wilderness provide a background to the madness, but when it does come into play, it’s beautiful. 

At the end of the day, the film’s rocky production created an enticing and engaging film. It delivers on almost every level (perhaps it could have built an emotional connection to Glass’s son better, but that’s me nitpicking), and is one of the best movies in theaters right now and absolutely worth the price of the ticket. 9/10

Image Credit: Michael W. May on Flickr

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

Be warned: This film is rated R. 

The Scottish Play has gone through hundreds, if not thousands of incarnations since it was first written by that brilliant bard, William Shakespeare. While the stage lays claim to the majority of the Macbeth renditions, there have been seven Macbeth films made in the past hundred years, which all began with the original 1948 version. Seven films, all using the same dialogue, the same situations, the same characters. It is inarguable that the writing’s eloquence is unsurpassed, simply because no other work of performance fiction has so often been produced. No one, not even the biggest Star Wars fan on earth, would want to see the original Star Wars IV, A New Hope, made into 7 different movies over 75 years, each with the same script. That is not a good time at all, but rather an exercise in monotony.

So due to the timelessness of the bard, there seems to be a feature adaptation yearly. This year the newest version of Macbeth hit the silver screen (I say screen singularly because that’s how the distribution felt. No major theater chains picked it up for some reason. Ridiculous), and, dare I say, this is one of the best Shakespearean films yet.

First the actors must be acknowledged for their fabulous performances. Michael Fassbender perfectly embodied Macbeth, capturing his descent into madness. This film is the best performance of his career. Marion Cotillard furthers the acting superiority throughout the film, giving a commanding turn as Lady Macbeth. The choice to cast her, a French woman with a French accent, gives the character Lady Macbeth more depth. It makes her a more foreign presence among the Scottish community. Traditionally Lady Macbeth is played as Scottish, so subverting tradition worked heavily in the movies favor.

The supporting cast all give the film their all when on screen. Notably, the fourth witch, a little girl, added to the mystical element of the film more than anything. In the traditional Shakespeare play, there are three witches who tell Macbeth of his fate. The added fourth is a good choice, strengthening the piece as a whole.

As is fairly evident, the film strays from the source material a bit from scene to scene. And this is a consistent thing throughout the film. However, every choice that the filmmakers made strengthened the cinematic aspect of the movie, telling the same story slightly differently, taking advantage of all the tools films possess that plays don’t.

The scenery is beautiful and daunting, great Scottish landscape seems to constantly dwarf the characters in comparison. The costume design is also excellent, each garment feels authentic and necessary. The sets are the same way; they feel as tangible as the performances.

I must end with the direction because it was astonishingly good. The fights were staged beautifully, with blows connecting in every level of the frame. Almost every frame could be frozen and hung on the wall, a truly beautiful film if ever there was one. Justin Kurzel clearly knew what he was doing, which makes his future projects all the more exciting.

Macbeth (2015)  is one of the best adaptations of any Shakespeare play. It delivers the story and language that the Bard is known for while creating a cinematic, engrossing experience. It is powerful, beautiful, and if there was any justice in the world, it would be nominated for almost every Oscar available. 10/10

For more reviews, visit my blog.

Check out other film adaptations of Macbeth at the library

Image credit: Dario on Flickr.

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

It seems like it’s been ages since a heartfelt decent romance came out. Oh sure, scores of Nicholas Sparks films have been released (of course no one in their right mind could say they are objectively good), but even they all seem bittersweet, more concerned with tales of sadness than tales of love. Sparks wants to make the audience cry more than he wants to tell a decent story. Luckily for fans of the genre, romance just came back with a bang in the form of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn begins in the early 1950’s and  tells the story of a young woman named Elias (Saoirse Ronan). She realizes that there is nothing more for her in her hometown in Ireland, as does her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), so Rose enlists the help of a generous priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) to send Elias to America. Elias arrives in New York, where she stays in a boarding house, goes to night school for bookkeeping, and works at a grocery store. Her life really begins when she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an honest and kind Italian fellow who wants nothing more than for them to be together. Their relationship progresses, until a member of Elias’s family dies, forcing her to go back to Ireland for a time. In Ireland, where no one has heard of Tony, Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) tries to woo her, a kind and soft spoken man. Not only is he trying to be with her, but everyone else seems to be trying to keep Elias in Ireland. And so the decision is up to her. Elias has to choose Ireland and Jim, or Brooklyn and Tony.

The love story between Elias and Tony is one of the cutest and just altogether best things I have seen all year. Cohen and Ronan have unbelievably great chemistry and amazing acting talent. Every time their relationship progresses, it does so with ease and believability. They are so perfect together, I can’t imagine anyone who would root against them. This is really the star of the film.

The film, adapted from the popular novel by Colm Tóibín, is written splendidly. Nick Hornby, who wrote the adaptation, infuses every scene with heartfelt grounded dialogue. The situations come alive because of him; he gives the actors a lot to work with. Which is really to be expected from Hornby, author of numerous great novels and screenplays like About a Boy. There is a reason why his name is featured on every poster for Brooklyn, he is responsible for the film working so well.

All of the actors take Hornby’s words and enhance them further, all giving grounded and entertaining performances. Jim may be an antagonist in some ways, unwittingly  trying to take Elias away from Tony, but he is in no way a bad guy. Gleeson gives him so much character and meaning, you can’t help but like him, if only a little bit. Another notable performance is James Digiacomo as Tony’s 8 year old brother Frankie. Every time he’s on screen, he steals the scene with his hilarious antics. This film is an acting powerhouse.

The direction is nothing to ignore. John Crowley directs every scene with patience and grace, allowing the story to fully showcase itself. He sets up every frame as only a master can, and composes the picture wonderfully.

The art direction and costume direction are also great in this film. Elias’s gradually increasing bright colored outfits, mirroring her becoming a New Yorker, is done marvelously. The costumes and sets transport the viewer to a happier, more idyllic time.

A classic romance and period piece at the same time, Brooklyn is a fabulous picture. The acting, directing, writing, all come together to deliver a heartfelt love story. This is not a film to miss. 9/10

Check out more titles by Nicholas Sparks here.

Image Credit: Wally Gobetz on Flickr

 

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

Standing in line opening night for the new Star Wars movie was a dynamic experience. The excitement in the air was tangibly present, fueled by hushed speculation about different plot points and loads of avid cosplayers decked out in full costume. Everyone waited with mounds of anticipation.

It had been 10 years since the last Star Wars movie, 32 since the last undeniably good one. Everyone was hoping, pleading silently, that Disney wouldn’t mess it up, that they would deliver a good Star Wars film.

Everyone took their seats. The lights went down. The film played, then the credits ended. A triumphant cheer came from the whole crowd. Disney did it, Disney brought back Star Wars.

Episode VII is a fun, good film that captures what classically people loved about the original trilogy. The characters, action, stakes, all are incredibly true to the heart of Star Wars (a little too true in my opinion, but I’ll get to that later). Anyone who loves Star Wars is going to love the new one. Everyone else is still gonna have a good time with it, but may get bogged down in the film’s weaknesses.

Now, I’m going to immediately state that I am not completely enamored with the original Star Wars trilogy. Sure, I watched them when I was little, but I was never completely obsessed or convinced that they were some of the greatest films ever made. I enjoyed them, but did not love them. So this review is going to be a bit more objective than a wholly devoted fan’s review would be.

Also, talking of this particular film is particularly difficult without spoiling anything, mainly due to the fact about everything is a spoiler. This problem stems the way Disney decided to market it. For most every film that comes out, trailers and promotional material tell you the premise, the first act and inciting incident of the film, in order to convince you to pay money and see it. Episode VII doesn’t do this at all, with trailers vague and mysterious, trusting that people will still come see it by the millions  just because it’s Star Wars.

This makes every detail about the plot, characters, anything at all, technically a spoiler. So I am going to talk about this film as if is a normal movie. Discuss the premise, some plot points, characters, and everything that would be common knowledge if it were marketed in a normal way. If you really don’t want to know anything about the new film stop reading now.

 

 

Alright, so here’s the deal. Luke Skywalker is missing. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has acquired a map that leads directly to where Luke is. He needs to get it back to General Leia (Carrie Fisher), leader of the Resistance-new name for the good guys-so they can get to Luke and get his help.

However the sinister First Order-new version of the Empire from previous films-also wants to find Luke, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleason). They find Poe, but before he is captured, he gives the map to his droid BB 8 on the desert planet of Jakku.

BB 8 finds Ray (Daisy Ridley), a desert scavenger, who wants to help the droid. In addition they meet Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who abandons the First Order, disgusted by the senseless killing.

The actors are all wonderful in their various roles. Adam Driver specifically shines as Kylo Ren, giving scary but surprisingly human depth to the role. Oscar Isaac has always been a great actor, this film makes him look like a perfect movie star. Everyone in the film does great with what they have.

The film also looks great, cinematography miles beyond anything George Lucas ever pulled off. Each fight scene and chase sequence is paced well and engaging.

If there is one problem with the main components of Episode VII, it’s the writing, specifically the dialogue (although I’ll get to the plot problems in a moment). A lot of attempts at comedy are made, a lot fall flat due to needless repetition or the joke getting extended a bit too long.. Director JJ Abrams is so afraid of alienating any audience member that he spoon feeds us plot points, comedy, events, and most other things just to make sure no one gets left behind or confused. If simply a little more faith was given to the audience, the dialogue would work much better.

The plot is not bad as much as it is overly familiar. It is basically the exact same as Star Wars IV A New Hope. I can’t talk much about the similarities without getting into spoilers, but it’s clear from the beginning. A New Hope opened with a droid escaping the evil Empire, carrying a secret message, getting left on a desert planet, and finding a helpful scavenger. The Force Awakens opens with a droid escaping the evil First Order, carrying a secret message getting left on a desert planet, and finding a helpful scavenger.

Abrams and crew seem so afraid of alienating any Star Wars fans that they didn’t even attempt to do anything unique. They went back, analyzed the original Star Wars components, updated them, changed a few things around, and assembled The Force Awakens out of all the parts. Star Wars is a great universe, where possibilities are almost endless for different adventures. It disappoints me that the filmmakers decided to just tell the same story a second time.

If The Force Awakens is essentially a reboot of A New Hope, at least it’s better than the original movie. It’s fun, fast paced, and frantic. Everything you love about Star Wars is probably in the film, just waiting to be discovered. Unoriginality does not make a bad movie, it just tainted the experience for me a little bit. What the film really does well though is point to Episode VIII probably being an even better, bigger, narratively and thematically rich film that continues the intriguing story of The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, we have to wait two years. 7/10

 

For more film reviews, visit my blog.

 

Image Credit: Rooners Toy Photography on Flickr

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

Warning: This film is rated R.

Seth Rogen vehicles have been an almost annual event since 2013, and every year they seem to decline in quality just a little bit. This is the End was widely regarded to be great, Neighbors was thought to be good, and the Interview is just kinda bad. His contribution to cinema this year is a christmas movie called The Night Before, which serves to subvert the current Seth Rogen movie trend. It is hilarious, enjoyable, and surprisingly heartfelt.

The Night Before follows three best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) as they spend the night before christmas together, per tradition, with the ultimate goal to attend the greatest party ever, the nutcracker ball. The tradition started years before, when Ethan’s parents died in a car crash leaving him alone on Christmas Eve, until Chris and Isaac came and cheered him up. This year, however, is the last year for the tradition; both Chris and Isaac have moved on and have different things to worry about, one with a family and the other with a sports career.

First and foremost, a comedy ought to be funny, otherwise it’s pretty pointless. This premise leaves a lot of room for hilarity, and delivers fairly well on that promise. Most every scene is funny and had me laughing heartily.

The actors all do well in their roles, delivering their lines with great comic timing. The group’s pot dealer, Mr. Green (Michael Shannon), is a surprisingly wonderful character. He’s unexpectedly funny and welcomely relatable.

Funny movies are not uncommon, released it seems almost every week. Neither are comedies with good actors. Christmas movies are also numerous, it seems ten or twenty are released every year. The Night Before isn’t just like all of these other movies though. It is better than most, unique and defined in an oversaturated field.  What elevates it and truly cements it as an annual Christmas movie, a movie that friends will watch together for years to come, is the heart behind it.

More than a stupid stoner comedy, or a throwaway Christmas movie, The Night Before is a  story about friendship. The pain Ethan feels throughout the movie is real and tangible. The emotions are legitimately affecting. It’s a movie about moving on while still maintaining a connection. There were moments that I started to tear up (although it might be because I’m a bit soft). People will go see it for the jokes, and see it again for the heart.

Are there better Christmas movies? Of course. Not everything works in the film, but all of the problems fade away next to the great moments and great jokes scattered around it. I suspect it will quickly become a Christmas classic.

Check out more Seth Rogan films here!

Image Credit: Taminator on Flickr

by: 
Jeremiah, Teen Contributor

Warning: This film is rated R. 

Last year a small film called The Cobbler was released to the public. I say it is small not because of the budget, a respectable 10 million, but because of the gross, a humiliating $24,000. Most people haven’t heard of it, let alone seen it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was one of the few to see it. The Adam Sandler and Dustin Hoffman led film was an absolute mess, one of the worst movies of 2014. This trainwreck was the product of one Tom McCarthy, who wrote and directed the picture. Basically, The Cobbler was all his fault. But fear not, for McCarthy's new film Spotlight just hit screens, and it serves to redeem last year’s blunder.

Spotlight tells the true story of the Boston Globe newspaper uncovering the scandal of child molestation within the Catholic church, and the cover up by various Church officials. A new editor Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber) shakes things up at the Globe, suggesting a long term investigation be conducted on the Catholic church. The Spotlight team takes up the case, a secretive 4 person outfit whose very purpose is to thoroughly investigate and uncover scandal. Members Walter (Michael Keaton),  Matt (Brian d'Arcy James), Mike (Mark Ruffalo), and Sacha (Rachel McAdams) dive deeper and deeper into the conspiracy, each revelation exciting and horrifying in equal measure.

The acting in the film is resoundingly wonderful. Several Oscar nods are definitely in store for the cast, who all are excellent. A standout is Mark Ruffalo, who fully embodies his character and gives one of the most dedicated performances I’ve seen all year. Liev Schreiber is also notably excellent, portraying a particularly complex character with unequaled warmth and depth.

The screenplay is beautifully written, intensifying the situation with every scene, revealing new information at a methodical pace. It’s not afraid to take it’s time, wallowing in the struggle of it’s characters, and delivers comic relief at the exact right moments.

The directing, courtesy of our good friend Tom McCarthy, is top notch (unlike his previously mentioned film). The pacing is well executed, as is the minimalistic style. He made a picture that digs deep into the viewer’s skull and refuses to leave even after the credits role.

And that’s how simple it is to make a great film. Great actors coupled with a great script under a great director. It’s really astounding that McCarthy made a film of this caliber after the Cobbler, but it’s a welcome surprise. The story is what really drives the film forward, everything else in service to it. Spotlight is highly recommended for anyone looking for a haunting and cerebral experience, as opposed to just the usual explosions and such. 9/10 

Find more work by Tom McCarthy here!

Image Credit: Steven Saccomanno on Flickr

by: 
Arra, Teen Services Coordinator

"City of Bones" will be released this week on Wednesday!  Author Cassandra Clare was very active in the process of making this movie, including attending auditions.  Clare's grandfather was a movie producer so she has an insider view on how movies make it from book to production.  Filming for the second movie "City of Ashes" is set to begin this fall.

by: 
Arra, Teen Services Coordinator

Have you seen the new Percy Jackson movie?  Is it as good as the book?  Check out the preview online!

 

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