Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Hey everyone! This week, we’ll take a look at the newest fixture in the reboot series of the original Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Directed by Matt Reeves and starring Gary Oldman, Andy Serkis, and Jason Clarke, it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

Following the events of the first film, a nation of intelligent apes led by Caeser (Serkis) grows as the human survivors of the devastating virus attempt to rebuild humanity. The humans, attempting to reach a dam to supply their city with energy, instead threaten the apes and are forced to form a fragile truce. However, once that peace is broken, both sides are forced to fight  to determine which species truly reigns superior on this new Earth.

9.5 out of 10

Andy Serkis is incredible.

I feel like The Academy has got to give him some sort of recognition for his work. From Gollum, to King Kong, to Caesar, he is the master of motion capture. I don’t want to discredit his ability to play human characters but his work in motion capture is justso incredible. It is so believable, which is the most crucial aspect of all these fantasy characters, one that Serkis nails every time. His outing as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is no different.

andy serkis motion capture

Caesar is a character who I cried for, cheered for, and cringed for. Andy Serkis played him with such realism (as realistic as you can get with a talking ape). As an audience, we really fell in love with Caesar. For that matter, we really fell in love with all the apes… Except for the “antagonist”, if this film really has one, Koba. But the same logic applies. We really HATE Koba. Through all his actions, we start to feel legitimate anger towards him. It’s a great feeling to be so invested in a film, which is a big part of this movie’s success.

Part of what contributed to that realism and investment is the incredible CGI. Excuse me if you disagree, but I think that is perhaps the best CGI I have ever seen. Excessive use of computer-generated imagery has been a problem of late in the film industry, but not in Apes. They were so f-ing realistic. How could they not have used real apes? Every single detail was nailed in it’s entirety. Fur, scars, the lines in their hands: everything was so well done. Major props to Matt Reeves and the entire visual effects department on this one. Not only did their work contribute to the entertainment value of this film, but also its realism. Please let this film a technical Oscar, pretty please.

However, I will say that the humans presented very little, especially when compared to the apes. Most of their characters were slightly boring and made their moments really unwanted. We always wanted to go back to the apes. They had more heart and character than the actual humans. I thought Jason Clarke was pretty solid, but apparently I’m one of the only people in that department. To be frank, they were just pretty boring, and it certainly did help to have to be compared to the apes, who were anything but boring.

The plot, while kind of reminding me of The Lion King, was pretty strong. It never really dragged and never stalled. It was always moving forward. There was always some sort of conflict in the film that allowed the movie to progress. However, if I were to have one complaint towards the plot, it would be that it was very repetitive. There were several occasions where the unease between the apes and humans was evident, and it seemingly took too long for war to break out. On the other hand, this could also be seen as a measure of Caesar’s patience, *SPOILER* a reason why Koba ends up betraying him, so it works both ways.

In the end, this is a must see. You may be tempted to skip this one because the initial concept of talking apes seems stupid, but once you see this movie you will realize how wrong you are.
~Vig

8 out of 10

Just who is the villain in this movie?As a moviegoer, it is exceptionally awesome when the antagonist is someone or something that is very different from the main character we’re presented with. They’re unrecognizable, we totally, don’t understand them, and we don’t get how they tick: it makes them very interesting to watch.Yet even more interesting, in my humble opinion, is having somebody who’s extremely similar to our protagonist. That way, the lines get blurred (Sans Robin Thicke), the character development is catalyzed and the morality of everyone is clutched and thrown straight into question thus drawing the audience in.

That’s always been the appeal of Planet of the Apes at least. Its primates are 60% the latter and a conclusive 40% of the former with just the right dash of CGI and motion cap. to bring them to life. In this instance, so much so that the filmmakers trust a solid twenty minute focus on just the lead ape, Caesar, and his family to draw us in. They also fill in a lot of the downtime of this movie with ape politics (Yes) and Caesar’s personal life….and goddangit was I invested.

Remember that question I asked, like, three paragraphs ago? I honestly don’t know the answer. There are more exclusively ape scenes than I have let on and many of the human-focused scenes are about or include apes. I went in to the movies looking to root for the home species but I ended up almost leaning toward the hairy primates. I had been had!

Yes, plenty of time is spent getting acquainted with the apes but what about our human leads? Don’t think I have forgotten them. Notice I just used the word “almost” . The human race in this movie have less but equally compelling characters. Without spoiling too much, a few bad apples ruin things for both sides.

This is straining my brain too much, let’s go over a simple conclusion now: the special effects are excellent. When you think about it, it’s very challenging to occasionally etch out that line between ape and human using expressions and fluid movement but then quickly draw it back with more animalistic faces and predatory gestures.

All of this really brings the conflict to life for me, the conflict that the last movie reeled me into so well. Well it’s actually several: what’s the real difference between humans at their worst and apes at their best? How much space would humans give if another species were to grow? How do societies crumble or get propped up just as easily?

poa opening

It’s all really hilarious that a bunch of CGI gorillas can be so thought provoking but maybe that’s that beauty of Planet of the Apes. Sci-fi is all about (Mostly about) exploring humanity’s reactions to the most outlandish of scenarios and, boy, does Apes embody that.

So that is a definite “Yes” on Apes. Although I kind of missed Harry Osborne in this one.
~Zach

IMDB: 7.8
Metacritic: 79
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

This week, we’ll take a look at the newest installment in the X-Men series, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Directed by Bryan Singer, it stars Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and Jennifer Lawrence. It is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, brief nudity and language.

In 2023, the world is in ruins, plagued by dangerous mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. These robots, hunting down both mutants and the humans that aid them, have the ability to adapt and counter all mutant powers, leaving Charles Xavier (Stewart),  Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (McKellen), and the rest of the X-Men powerless. Logan/Wolverine (Jackman), is sent back into the past 50 years, to prevent Mystique (Lawrence) from triggering a series of events that lead to the creation of Sentinels. Logan must then find and convince young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his quest.

9 out of 10

As I’ve established, I love superhero movies. The X-Men series, however, has always disappointed me. X2 and X-Men were both solid, but nothing to write home about. The Last Stand and the two Wolverine movies were a mess. X-Men: First Class was the first time I thoroughly enjoyed an X-Men film. Regardless, tt seemed like X-Men: Days of Future Past was destined to fail. It was a sequel that featured time travel. That never seems to work out well. Yet somehow, Bryan Singer pulled a rabbit out of his hat and produced the best film this series has seen.

The best thing about the movie is unarguably the scene that features Quicksilver. American Horror Story star Evan Peters was a perfect fit, portraying Quicksilver with a cocky, lovable charisma. The scene where he is running around a room, changing the deflection of all the bullets and messing around with the slow moving scene around him sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Charismatic, action packed, and pure fun. The movie carries this tone, but does not lack in the serious, dramatic moments that make it so great. Singer manages to find the balance between the hilarity and tension that allows you to take the comic book movie seriously while also having fun doing it.

quicksilver

The inclusion of seemingly millions of different mutants was pretty cool as well. The beginning featured present day Kitty Pryde, Iceman and Storm, while flashing back to the classic Beast, Magneto, and Professor X, all regulated by the consistency of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. In the same way First Class introduced various mutants, Days of Future Past brought many new mutants into the picture, while also bringing back many from the old movies, including Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Storm, with cameos from Rogue, Cyclops, and Jean Gray. Its a lot of fun to see all these different mutants to some extent, and Days of Future Past did a really good job of preventing it from getting muddled and excessive. WIth so many mutants, you gotta be able to control how you use them, and Days of Future Past did so.

The movie did a great job of controlling its plot as well. Somehow, I was able to see past the confusion that time travel presents. The movie had a very distinct narration that allowed the audience to understand what was happening. There are some questionable questionable details (JFK’s a mutant??) and some unexplained plot points (what ever happened to Havok), but overall, I could very clearly understand what was happening (at least compared to other time travel movies). The intriguing plot, mixed with engaging, fun action sequences, a very clear and balanced tone, stellar overall performances from the entire cast, and a noticeable lack of Halle Berry (jokes), push Days of Future Past into the upper echelon of superhero movies.

In the end, there are a lot of questions. Some that were left unanswered, some that have set up the future series, and some that I’m still trying to rack my head around. Though the abundance of questions is slightly irritating, they lead to  many possibilities for future films. The X-Men series has essentially been granted the ability to start fresh without actually eliminating the events of the first few movies. Singer got rid of all the messy continuity issues with a simple flick of the wrist. The future, especially X-Men: Apocalypse, is looking really bright.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

I love the X-Men. I love Wolverine. Love Professor X. And even (Despite my better judgement) Cyclops (Who happens to be my fave, yes).

What I don’t totally love is the X-Men movies.

Let me be clear, I love a good amount of them. A handful of them. Two of them. It breaks down as follows:

X-Men: Good. I like it. They got the characters spot on (Especially Wolverine, Magneto and Xavier). Its tough to say what I don’t enjoy about it but I think it comes down to this: it has less fuel than its tank can hold (In my eyes, you could say this about most of the films). X-Men is a pretty multifaceted series with a lot of ideas but this film kept it simple. Simple worked fine, though.

X2: Boom. Here’s the full tank. Ranks right up there with Spiderman 2 as one of the best pre-Dark Knight superhero endeavors. This one isn’t a step up from the first, its a goddang leap and then some. Cool and compact, this one was strong enough to carry all of the weighty ideas X-Men’s got.

X-Men 3: This one did not. Last Stand isn’t unwatchable, it’s just disappointing. It deflated the whole franchise. It siphoned 75% of the gas from that aforementioned metaphor-tank of our’s. And it’s mainly not disappointing because its bad at setting up all of the usual conflicts, it’s bad because it does but it just can’t deliver.

X-Men: First Class: This is the first X-Men movie I ever saw. Ho-lee God. I went because I saw historical figures and superheroes together in one film and I got all of that and so, so much more greatness. My brother and I (Two first X-Meners) were actually debating mutant politics at dinner after the showing. Need I say more?

So where does this one rank? Right up there with First Class.

Yeah, usually there’s a lot of buildup to a lukewarm or negative assessment in these things but, no joke, this was one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in three years or so and is definitely among the top superhero movies of the decade. Let’s review.

Wolverine has to go to the past to save the future mutants from extermination (Inter-franchise crossover, ahoy!) so he rounds up Prof. X and Beast and springs Magneto (Why? It’s loosely explained but Fassbender’s performance lets me buy it) with the help of a beautifully played Quicksilver. Nevermind that that past sentence alone could carry a two hour movie, that’s just the premise.

magneto

What follows, I can assure you, is pure X-Men, unleaded. This movie doesn’t dilute any of the serious topics with cheesy throwaways but it doesn’t lose any of its fun. It moves pretty briskly but never stops building up. And seeing these characters from two different era interact is every bit as rewarding as the Disney Marvel characters crossover in The Avengers.

No single character carries the movie because, mainly, there is no one under focus. Sure, we follow Wolverine but you’d be surprised how much focus isn’t on him,as much as we love him. It’s on the X-Men, plain and simple. Moreover, it’s on the mutants.

By the end, the continuity’s messed up but the mutants are all together and (With Apocalypse coming) I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.1
Metacritic: 74
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Godzilla

As we continue to roll through summer blockbusters, we encounter the newest, most dynamic version of Godzilla yet, directed by Gareth Edwards. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence, it stars Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, and Bryan Cranston.

Godzilla follows the discovery of two dangerous monsters who threaten the Earth’s well-being, largely thanks to scientific arrogance. In order to restore Earth’s natural balance, the titular character reawakens to counter these forces, resulting in a destructive battle that captures the world’s attention.

6 out of 10

My 6/10 rating may seem low. Okay, it doesn’t seem low, it is low. But oh man, could this movie have been great. Like really great. When Godzilla was on the screen, boy was it amazing. Too bad he didn’t show up till halfway in. And even after his first appearance, he’s only in the movie for like 15-20 minutes the rest of the way through. Shouldn’t a movie called Godzilla have more… Godzilla? It sounds like a stupid reason to give a movie a 6/10, but that’s the reality of it. The rest of it just wasn’t good enough.

I can split this movie into three parts. Part 1: Boring. Part 2: Insanely boring. Part 3: Pretty badass. Part 1, also known as the part with Bryan Cranston, does not feature much action whatsoever. Fine, I guess it’s unfair of me to be expecting all 2 hours of this movie to be action. And there was a little bit with Bryan Cranston running around in an exploding nuclear factory. But come on, the first third of the film did not feature any giant green monster. I would have liked to see a little bit, to prevent me from getting antsy. Instead, I was irritated before the movie really got itself started. *SPOILER ALERT* On top of that, they just had to go and write off Cranston, who ultimately proved to be one of the better human characters in the movie. He was one of the primary reasons I came to see the movie! His death didn’t even have a noticeable effect on Aaron-Taylor Johnson’s character, Cranston’s son. Blatantly unnecessary.

bryan cranston

Then there was part 2, aka the part with Aaron-Taylor Johnson. Aka, the boring part. Aka the part where nothing happens. I guess this section of the movie is supposed to detail Ford Brody’s (Johnson’s character) journey back home, with the obvious obstacle of the monsters in his path. But Brody is an insanely boring character to put it simply. He has no personality. Nothing he does is genuine. This isn’t a knock on Aaron-Taylor Johnson’s acting skills (okay, maybe it is a little), but the character has no reaction to anything that is going on around him. *SPOILER ALERT* Your dad just died, you’re away from your wife and child, and giant monsters are threatening your existence. Show some damn emotion.

On top of that, the entirety of part 2 was just build up. Build up, build up, build up. Build up. A whole lot of traveling, an unnecessary story line involving an Asian kid lost from his parents, and again, TOO LITTLE GODZILLA!!!! At least we actually got to see him. His introduction in the airport in Hawaii was pretty sick, so there is a silver lining.

 I will admit that the last third is pretty great. Godzilla is a magnificent visual creation, and the final scene where he’s going at it with the other monsters is pretty stunning to watch. Great visual effects that are really entertaining to watch. My jaw literally dropped at the final sequence, where Godzilla… well, I won’t spoil anything. It’s just something you have to see for yourself.

Being completely honest, I was pretty disappointed in the end. The final third of the film couldn’t make up for the disappointing, boring, poorly paced beginning and middle. However, I will say that this is something you should watch in theaters (or a 70 inch, HD TV), if you’re going to watch it at all. Godzilla, both the monster and the movie (but mainly the monster), is a visual spectacle. Unfortunately, it’s pacing (and lack of Godzilla, if I haven’t already mentioned that) really screws it over in the end, which is why I’d say hold off on this one unless you’re a big ‘Zilla fan. 

8 out of 10

Can I just start off by saying I was really sad by how little I got of Mr.Cranston/LBJ/Mr. White? He really gives every performance his all and I hate the fact that these sentences aren’t that much of a spoiler. Still, he has a lot of impact so I can be grateful. Now let’s dive in to Godzilla:

The first apocalyptic-monster film I ever saw was Cloverfield. It was a shaky-cam movie in which a giant monster takes a destructive stroll through New York City and it was also my first J.J. Abrams movie. I can’t quite say whether it still holds up but I remember it being very effective by using one very specific tool: there’s very little monster.

S’right. You heard me. Without spoiling too much, our friend/Japanese national treasure Godzilla (Who, in fact, inspired the movie mentioned above) clocks in about fifteen minutes in this flick. But, man, does he make all fifteen of those minutes count.

Still, I found the moments that were most effective in Godzilla were the human ones. The moments where you just put regular people in tense scenarios. Filmmakers tend to forget how much having genuinely endearing characters really helps. All I really needed besides that was a distant roar from the title character and few rumblings to get me hooked on a scene.

For instance, about 90% of the scenes where the monsters strike do not take place in a sprawling urban setting (Tempting as that may be) but instead take us to cramped vehicles where we just have all of the real panic to keep us interested. Making Godzilla a mysterious entity is also a cool decision as it makes his loud moments far more special.

Those loud moments, by the way, will most likely make up for all the closed-in scenes for those who didn’t care for them. For lack of any better phrasings: Godzilla kicks ass. He just does here. That’s all there is to say. I was somewhat thrown off by a decision made to elicit some support for him from the audience but I think it actually works upon evaluation.

I also did enjoy how they broke away from the usual “Godzilla attacks!” plot. I had mentally prepared myself for it but was pleasantly blindsided by some excellent monster vs. monster fights (Thank God for Toho!). I think this had a fair amount of people surprised (Especially the kid in front of me who exclaimed “THAT’S NOT GODZILLA!” upon seeing the first monster)/

All of that being said, the main characters are, well, monster movie main characters. There’s not a lot going on with the core cast and the actors aren’t given a heck of a lot of material to work with. Each one sucumbs to the general formula but that is to be expected with Godzilla. In fact, there are skips between the protagonists’ stories that do seem a bit long.

godzilla

So, if you came to see Godzilla, you’re gonna see Godzilla. Just not all of the time. And, in this case, that’s the best way. It makes the climax stand out all the more once we see him do what Godzilla does best. And what he does isn’t very nice.

IMDB: 6.6
Metacritic: 62
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

Transcendence

Hey all, this week we’ll be looking at cinematographer Wally Pfister’s feature film Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, and Morgan Freeman. It is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, bloody images, strong language, and sensuality.

Transcendence follows Dr. Will Caster (Depp) and his wife Evelyn (Hall) as they create a machine that is all-knowing, while combining it with the full range of human emotions. His experiment, a very controversial one, makes him the target of many anti-technology terrorist groups. In their attempt stop Caster, they instead motivate him to become a participant in his own experiment. Will slowly develops an unhealthy desire for power and knowledge that makes it seemingly impossible to stop him.

4.5 out of 10

Reviews of this have been mostly negative, and I can understand why. We’ve all seen those extremely complex movies that are just too much for us to comprehend, and Transcendence was actually looking like it would avoid being one of those movies. The concept is so great in theory. If anything, it’s extremely original and let’s be honest, Hollywood has lacked in that area of recent. The originality, along with Johnny Depp’s capabilities led us to believe this was something real special. Not to mention it was directed by Wally Pfister, the main cinematographer for Christopher Nolan. Damn, this movie had so much potential. And I think that’s the reason the reviews were so negative; It just could have been so much better.

The cinematography was beautiful, and there was an abundance of fantastic visual sequences. There were some fantastic shots, no doubt the work of an experienced cinematographer. However, the struggle was with the purpose of these shots. Pfister kind of threw in random shots of plants and stuff just to show off his ability to work with a camera. It was visually stunning, but completely unnecessary. Didn’t really help with moving the film forward at all. It was all just for effect, and while that was really appealing, it was kind of just random and showboaty. 

The screenplay was mediocre at best. The characters, like this movie, had so much potential. Depp’s character in particular had the opportunity to be so much more interesting that he actually was. Most of the time he was just there, not really doing or saying much that added to his character. There was so much more to explore with Caster. Depp did the best he could with such a poorly written character, so i guess that’s a positive. Morgan Freeman was just Morgan Freeman, as always. Rebecca Hall wasn’t bad either, her character wasn’t overly exciting as well. She was kind of just a pawn from beginning to end, and she really could have been so much more. I guess that seems to be the theme of this review.

I was really waiting for something super intense to happen, but it never happened. The whole movie was building action that just turned out to be bland. Nothing exciting or memorable ever happened that changed the mood or the direction of the film. It was all too gradual for the sci-fi thriller that it was supposed to be. Though it was supposed to be a thought provoking, mind enthralling thriller, it could have used a moment of intense action and extreme emotion, but there really wasn’t. It was all pretty lame to be honest. I guess that’s the whole reason the movie felt pretty boring to me.

This movie was no doubt supposed to make you think, and for a minute there, it did. I was honestly forced to think about what this movie had to say, but the only problem was, it didn’t last. I didn’t really feel enthusiastic about it enough to care for more than five minutes. The message was way too clear-cut. It was obvious what they were trying to do. They were obviously trying to question technology and its benefit, or lack thereof, on society. I’m pretty sure they asked it, in those exact words. Be more discrete!

This movie had so much potential which is why it is so disappointing. It fell short in so many categories. It was just so mediocre. Even the cinematography some how fell up short, in a way. The more and more I think about this movie, the more and more I realize how dumb it is. Poor Johnny Depp.
~Vig

5.5 out of 10

Science fiction is a hell of a genre.

In fact, it’s probably the strongest sub-category of drama one can hope for. The average sci-fi movie, with just the right amount of characters and a myriad of CGI (Maybe too much in some cases) could tell us a lot about our relationship with science in a very negative (See any time-travel movie) or positive (See…Matrix, maybe?) way. Most often, it lands neatly between with the perils and problems balanced by the endless possibilities.

Transcendence is an….interesting film about robotics and AI. We watch a scientist named Will slowly become accustomed to a new robot body but, you guessed it, things get sour when the limitations of artificial-intelligence are dramatically pushed to the edge by experimentation and so on and so on and so on.

In that respect, Transcendence’s story is pretty standard. Nothing bad, nothing good. It’s a typical sci-fi story if you boil it down. But part of me thinks that Transcendence lost a lot of interesting things in its leap from page to screen. Its the kind of premise that somebody like Isaac Asimov would have cradled but Hollywood suffocated to a point.

Start with the good stuff, shall we? Transcendence DOES have a lot of interesting things going on. It’s been done a good amount of times but plots where humans are somehow rebuilt as computers and how other humans related to those compersons are interesting. There are a lot of questions there: is that computer a person if they feel? Are those emotions genuine? Are our emotions genuine or are they the product of a bunch of patterns that can easily be repeated?

So Transcendence’s story has a lot of weight to it but does it have the right tools? Yes, yes it does. Poor Johnny Depp continually tries hard but never gets the right stage. And you never can go wrong with Morgan Freeman among others (Morgan Freeman has really embraced the Morgan Freeman Effect). The score, as many a IMDB reviewer has remarked, is moving.

freeman transcends

Yet Transcendence has some squirming flaw that took me a while to name exactly: it’s a smorgasbord. A heap of filtered sci-fi tropes of the past couple of years. Aside from that, there’s trouble with whether its an encouraging piece for technology or not. I’m not asking for a straight answer but the film can’t quite balance the positives and negatives of science as much as it wants to (It alternates between showing the merits of AI Will’s plans along with its more sinister elements with noticeable unease). Meanwhile, the characters are…eh. There’s not too much to say. Most of them are cogs that gear the story further. A character in a sci-fi film could be more than a cog but, here, they’re just kind of going through the story.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otm4RusESNU. And that disappoints me. With some proper balance, more character development and execution this could have worked very well. But those holes are huge, gaping holes. Enough to make its solid grounding unsteady.
~Zach

IMDB: 6.3
Metacritic: 42
Rotten Tomatoes: 19%

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

This week we’ll be tackling the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest feature, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson, it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gun-play and action.

The next installment in the Marvel Universe involves Captain America (Evans) and Black Widow (Johansson) carrying out an array of missions for SHIELD with the help of the Captain Nick Fury (Jackson). However, as the movie carries on, it becomes apparent that something isn’t right with the organization. Old enemies return, alliances are tested and the captain must survive with constantly shifting circumstances, with the mysterious force of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) breathing down his neck.

9.5 out of 10

Marvel’s most recent fixture is bigger and badder than anything we’ve seen to this point. It’s a 2 hour, 15 minute roller coaster ride that keeps you engaged and on the edge of your seat the entire time.

Captain America: The First Avenger was pretty terrible. It was boring, the action was cheesy, and overall, the connection to Captain America he is known so well for having was missing. Steve Rogers is a character we’re all supposed to be able to empathize with and the first one failed to make his story captivating enough for us. The second one, despite him no longer being a scrawny, regular man, makes it easier for us to enjoy his story. It isn’t ruined by poor pacing and a fruitless plot. Everyone has been in a place where they don’t belong; we can empathize with his struggles of trying to fit in with a completely new time period. We can’t quite say we can understand, but we feel bad for him. And that’s what makes this movie so good. We want Captain America to win, and we feel great everytime he succeeds, and we’re scared everytime he gets knocked down. He’s an extremely likeable character, unlike Thor and Iron Man with their cockiness.

That’s enough with all the analytical, meaningful bullcrap; the real fun in this movie is in its action and integration with the Marvel Universe. Like I said earlier, this movie is a fast-paced ride from beginning to end. The action sequences are well-choreographed, and as a result, a lot of fun to watch. The car chase scene with Nick Fury is extremely badass. The character of the Winter Soldier? Badass. Black Widow? Badass, if used in the right context. The whole movie is a lot of badassness if you ask me. The comedy is not excessive either. It wasn’t forced or overused like it was in Thor 2, nor was it radically underused like the first Captain America. The above average writing mixed with the immensely enjoyable action is what made this movie so good.

One of the arising worries many are experiencing about the Marvel Universe is the introduction of so many excessive characters that it just becomes too overwhelming. That could have easily become a problem with the debut of two dynamic characters in Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). However, the characters are so nicely constructed that it’s not a problem. The Winter Soldier was undoubtedly my favorite character in the film. He was dark and vicious, yet still showed signs of humanity throughout, which kept him relevant. Not to mention, Black Widow actually wasn’t a boring, irrelevant character just there for her sex appeal in this one. She was actually pretty freaking cool. I applaud you, producers!

This story did something Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 could not do; it moved the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward. Its plot was fresh and relevant, allowing it to be a good film even without the superhero part attached to it. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t say anything further, but it was a huge risk taken that will really pay out in the long run for MCU, setting up new villains, new heros, and new plot lines that can be explored and utilized in many future Marvel movies.

Overall, this movie is probably my favorite Marvel film so far. It is fun, relevant, action-packed and accomplishes an overarching goal that makes the Marvel universe more interesting than ever before. God Bless You Captain America 2.

9 out of 10

A couple of months ago (While talking Thor 2), I talked about my fear over the fact that the Marvel Universe could very well be spending these next few years spinning its wheels until we get to Avengers 2. Phase I played out more like a solid drum roll while Phase II is just running the clock with very cool, but unsubstantial, stuff to keep us occupied until Joss Whedon finishes, well, whatever he’s doing in Seoul.

But The Winter Soldier really killed it here. It became the best movie of Phase II by leaps and bounds and managed to occupy a spot (Probably fourth or so) on the top five Marvel movies ever (Not just the Disney ones). It moved the universe forward, built up more suspense, yet also managed to satisfy and keep me excited for the time being in the best way possible.

Let’s start with Cap. and the rest of the gang. Cap. has it bad when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Not as bad as Hawkeye. Wherever he was during this, though.). He was probably the least fleshed out of the Avengers members and doesn’t get a lot of good material since his only plight is, as Tony Stark put it so eloquently, being a “Capcicle”. The Winter Soldier knows full well that Cap. is a boy scout and builds the story around it. In fact, he’s less of a boy scout and more of a regulator and a judge, somebody who has to involve himself in SHIELD’s clandestine activities while also trying not to become Nick Fury Jr.

captain america

Captain America (Chris Evans)

That is, after all, what makes The Winter Soldier so great. It has a lot underlying political stuff without being heavy handed. Cap’s struggle against whether surveillance is right may be relevant but its not entirely topical which puts it a tier below The Dark Knight which dealt with similar issues.

The surveillance stuff doesn’t just work on a thematic level but also on a story level. Without giving too much away, the fear that the characters are being under constant watch gives this a sort of claustrophobia and grants the story with a sense that our heroes are being gradually cornered. As Vig brought up to me a while back, the Marvel Universe seems to be giving us a ton of villains while slowly killing off or retiring the good ol’ good guys. I hardly think it’ll be anything that sinister but, if it’s handled well, it could definitely lead to a universal plot point that could trump all plot points.

The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)

The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)

The Winter Soldier pulls a lot of big big moves off smoothly while keeping all of the action pretty small scale. No cities are really torn through, just a couple of SHIELD bases yet this managed to excite me for the next Marvel Installment more than any of the previous ones. As always, keep it coming, Marvel, I (Along with DC) would love to see if you could keep this up.

IMDB: 7.8
Metacritic: 70
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Her

The 4th Best picture nominee that we’ll be taking a look at is Spike Jonze’s Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson, this sci-fi romance is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her explores the life of depressed, recently divorced writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) who decides to buy the new ‘OS1’; an operating system with a conscious. Theodore slowly finds himself falling in love with Samantha (Johansson), his operating system. Samantha struggles with all these new emotions she has never experienced before, while also trying to come to terms with being nothing more than a computer. On the other hand, Theodore finds himself both joyful and doubtful with himself and his relationship with an OS.

9 out of 10

As I’ve displayed before, I have the tendency to get excited by movies based on the trailers alone, and Her is a prime example of this. And more often than not, I tend to be disappointed by the movie. Thank goodness Her was not one of these movies.

I’ll get the more literal aspects of the film out of the way first. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a tremendous performance as the conflicted Theodore Twombly, and could have easily earned a Best Actor nominee if the race wasn’t so stacked this year and if he hadn’t… Completely trashed the Academy Awards a year ago. Likewise, leading lady Scarlett Johansson was phenomenal in her voice only role as Samantha. Even though we can’t see her, we can feel and understand her struggle. It’s real. The screenwriting has been heralded and with good reason. The story is innovative and creative, and the dialogue is beautifully written, yet human.

joaquin

It’s really hard to describe the beauty of this film. The direction, specifically the artistic direction, is absolutely stunning and I’m honestly kind of disappointed that Spike Jonze didn’t get a Best Director nod for this. Visibly, the film is gorgeous. Yes, the brilliant color scheme filled with oranges, reds, and yellow did have a purpose. It contributed to the warm mood of the entire movie. When the colors changed and became darker and more drained, so did the tone. Jonze uses the colors for the purpose of setting a tone, which is extremely important in a film such as this one, as it relies on emotions, both characters’ and audience’s, in order to succeed.

That’s another thing this movie does so well with; evoking emotions. It’s such a deep film, and somehow something we can all connect to, whether you’re older and in love, or younger and ignorant. Being a teenage boy, I can proudly say my only love has been with my phone and my Playstation, but I still manage to connect with this film. In this new future that Jonze has wonderfully created, technology is so important. Theodore Twombly relies on Samantha to check his email, schedule meetings, and later on, forget about his loneliness. In today’s world, where people are so enamored with technology, it’s not hard to actually make a connection with this movie, even if you are a teenager like me.

Though I loved the movie, it still had it flaws. At around 90 minutes, I admittedly found myself a little bored at the 90 minute mark, and that’s because the movie doesn’t really have a concrete structure (meaning it doesn’t have a set introduction, climax, conclusion, etc). It’s more allegorical, as it’s one of those films meant to inspire and send a message rather than present a compelling story. This is not a movie that will appeal to everyone (even though I said everyone can connect to it), and it’s not unlikely that you could get bored by the movie. It does tend to repeat itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this movie pointless—it’s not—it’s just trying to get a different type of point across.

The relevance of this movie to you is based on how much you can individually connect to it. If you aren’t fond of the emotional, heart-gripping stuff, I’m not so sure this movie is for you. I would still recommend you check it out, because it is a fresh new perspective of love and the technologically oriented 21st century, told in a beautiful, eye opening fashion.
~Vig

7 out of 10

(NOTE: Some parts of this review may seem harsh but, at this point of the year, I’ll be grading it in comparison with its fellow nominees. AKA. The score is weighted.)

Last week, I joked at the end of the review about having not seen “the movie about that guy who falls in love with Siri”. Cruel as that description may sound, I’m also 100% sure that that exact sentiment went through your head when you first saw the trailer for this. Whether it remained there permanently or shifted over time is your own choice. You know that. I know that.

But, most shockingly, the Spike Jonze and his entire crew understood that. And he usually pinpoints the exact moments where it should be joked about perfectly. Thank God for self-awareness. I could easily see this film fading into oblivion at any random, pretentious film-fest.

Here, though, the self-awareness swiftly saves it from that but that doesn’t necessarily excuse some of the other shortcomings of the movie. Let’s start with the positive then ease into the negative (I love a good flatlining just as much as any amateur critic).

First off, it’s a beautiful film. Shot in a mix of Shanghai and Los Angeles, it occupies a unique backdrop while remaining self contained (Just like any other provoking movie should). It’s muted colors and use of shades often reinforce the feelings of emptiness and isolation. Yet, as the love story develops, it unloads a barrage of colorful shots while also managing to mix some natural settings beside its urban habitat.

We also get some great work between Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix here. Joaquin has to do plenty of scenes alone, in complete silence but actually says more than any lines written in could. Johansson faces a similar situation; she has to utilize only her voice for this and she still has a presence. Even in scenes where she isn’t involved, Siri (It’s actually Samantha but this my review darnit!) has a positive attitude that influences Joaquin’s character so much that it still weighs over every scene he’s in alone.

But, as great as those great things are, it still managed to offset me somehow. I didn’t leave this movie thinking “Wow! That HAS to win!” but I also didn’t quite leave it profoundly impacted either and part of that is that the movie opens up a can of worms that it really didn’t need to.

Her would’ve done an impeccable job if it had stuck to an analyzation of either modern relationships (Like 500 Days of Summer) or of how technology gives us a false comfort (Even in a somewhat dystopian fashion). I have no doubt it could do both and it tries to, but also piles on an existential layer that really seemed off to me. Hollow in that fill-in-the-blank, do-it-yourself great movie way.

Yes, Siri’s search for humanity felt somewhat misplaced to me. Joaquin’s character should have taken up way more time, development and exertion than that plot. Instead, we get a repetitive cycle of fights between him and Siri.

And because it spends so much time with those weaker more out of place scenes, I didn’t quite get the impact that I wanted in the final quarter or so and that confined the movie to being lukewarm rather than red hot. No matter how good a first lap can be, all it takes is a couple of seconds to lose the lead.

But should you not see it? No. It’s very worth seeing, it just might not be as great of an experience as its factors set it up for.

I really wish I could place my feelings about it more but I’m still developing over it, even now. Who knows? Maybe it may click and all make sense for me at a random moment. But, for now, its trailing a bit in the Best Picture race.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 90 
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Gravity

Get pumped, because the most exciting time of the year is here! OSCAR SEASON! With the nominations just being announced, the two of us will get you reviews on several of the nominated films every week up until the big night. This week we’re taking a look at the visual spectacle that is Gravity. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It is rated PG-13 for  perilous sequences, disturbing images and strong language.

Sandra Bullock stars as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on a shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). However, while on a spacewalk, a Russian missile strike leads to a cloud of debris that strikes the shuttle and kills the entire crew except for Kowalsky and Stone. Facing a lack of oxygen, dangerous miscellaneous space objects, and the cold, loneliness of space, Gravity follows Stone on her miraculous attempt at a seemingly impossible task; surviving.

9.5 out of 10

I’ve had quite a number of arguments with my peers (16 year olds) about this film and somehow, they all hated it. And their argument was as simple as one or more of the following; the plot sucked, Sandra Bullock sucked, there was no build up, or even that the movie wasn’t scientifically accurate. To this I say… Nope.

I’ll address each of these issues one by one. First off, let me talk about the story. Everyone says this story was terrible or boring. It had nothing going on. It was basically Sandra Bullock breathing. If this is what you got from this movie, then clearly your head was in a different place. I got an epic, traumatic struggle for survival from a damaged, struggling women who has no motivation for survival but still wants to. So no, the story didn’t suck. It was not cookie cutter. It was inspirational, thrilling and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. You’d probably be lying if you said you were bored throughout. This movie does an excellent job of preventing that from happening (largely thanks to the special effects & cinematography).

But fine, I understand that maybe it is tough to stay focused on just one actress for so long, especially if that one actress is Sandra Bullock. Despite this, I didn’t feel at a loss. I didn’t feel like there was anything more that they could have done. People have told me that Bullock was terrible, citing solely the fact that she is Sandra Bullock. Admittedly, Sandra is not my favorite actress by any stretch, but I thought she was excellent. She had a sense of desperation and will that is hard to grasp in film. All in all, a really great (and underrated) performance by her.

Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock

Next I’ll discuss the build up, or lack thereof. Okay, so there were only like 10 minutes or so before we got directly into the action, but there’s a couple things that allow this to slide. 1)The movie is short. Since it’s running only 90 minutes long, how much build up can you actually get: 2) There are basically only two characters, Kowalsky and Stone. You learn everything you need to know about them in the first ten minutes, specifically and most importantly that Stone basically has nothing back home on Earth. She doesn’t have anything to live for. That’s the most important thing to know about this film and about her character. She doesn’t have much to live for, yet somehow wants to survive. This is where the film gets into it its deeper implications about human nature, something else that makes the film great. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, but it’s not just about space and meteors and dying: it’s about surviving and motivation and will. I know I’ve already mentioned this a number of times, but that’s really such an integral part of making this film as great as it is.

And here’s my last counter argument: If you’re going to the movies to see a film for it’s scientific accuracy, then you’re not seeing a film for the right reasons. Since when has a movie EVER needed to be scientifically accurate to be good. Film is supposed to test boundaries and break down the realm of possibility. Maybe people like movies if they’re realistic, because they like feeling a connection to the film. But seriously, if you find yourself hating on a film because of scientific inaccuracies, you’re not enjoying cinema.

Gravity is indefinitely the best film we have reviewed (so far) in my opinion. I didn’t even have to mention the dazzling, groundbreaking effects and cinematography, or even Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful job directing. To keep it short, this movie is quite the spectacle.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

To the normal viewer, space is an endless, dark, vapid setting with not a whole lot to offer as far as adventure if no aliens, airlocks or Enterprises are involved.

But to the trained, Hollywood eye, space has developed into an excellent backdrop for evolution, creation, discovery and a whole slew of other things that films like 2001: A Space Odyssey were able to cram in.

Gravity, the Best Picture nominee that it is, takes these two perspectives and sandwiches them together in a satisfying way that did not get too lost in its own action or ideas. So let’s dive into it:

Firstly, I really, deeply wish that I had seen this in IMAX. Space, as wide as it may be, is actually a very cramped setting to work with especially considering what this film demands. Had it been filmed or plotted out in a very unexciting way, this could have turned into a repetitive journey about two astronauts who keep falling into a deep green-screen effect but thankfully it isn’t. Nope, space is as wide of a setting as any other and, though it may seem tranquil, is always on the brink of playing host to something catastrophic.

Here, deep space is no different than the ocean as a setting for a survivor story. In other words, none of this gets lost in the novelty that it takes place beyond earth but it realizes the gravity (Hahaha.) of the setting it’s chosen and its very tough for me to describe the feeling the dark backdrop gives as our two main characters dangle above earth.

And, as great as everything around them is, Clooney and Bullock definitely hold the movie together as a mostly two-man show about making sacrifices in order to stay alive. I don’t think this movie is about plot so much as it is about them and the endurance they have to survive. Through them we are able to reach the film’s main point: the conflict between acceptance and change.

Kowalski, Clooney’s character, often has to call the shots about where the two go next and how to move forward. He only accepts a negative situation when it means saving somebody else. Otherwise he has only one policy and that is to evolve and survive. If I had to guess what the point (If any) there is to the movie, I would say that adaptation is always necessary to survive a situation. Once can never resign to a perilous fate.

George Clooney

George Clooney

Change and progress are everywhere in Gravity. It is rooted in a science that promotes exploration and its final shots are a nod to evolution as Bullock slowly rises from primordial waters, her step finally steady and unplagued by the levity of space.

There’s a lot of criticism out there that Gravity is somewhat ridiculous as far as physical science but I have never been much of a nitpicker. I feel like its becoming increasingly popular to pull apart small points in a movie to seem somewhat edgy while I don’t usually unless its blaring. This is mainly because I didn’t go to the theatre to watch The Discovery Channel, I went to see a Sci-Fi movie. Yes, Gravity has its ridiculous moments (That fire extinguisher stuff was out of Wall-E!) that I’d love to pull apart at a science convention but here, a site focused on film, I’ll just suspend disbelief.

Gravity just may have my vote for Best Picture but I still have to see the one about the guy who falls in love with Siri. Until then, Gravity will do as a thrilling, beautiful movie that has some brains (And Danny Ocean!) to back it up.
~Zach

Bonus Video: Take a look at some of the supervisors discussing the CGI sequences in the film.

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 96
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%