Thursday, May 12, 2016

Screen Shots! - Captain America: Civil War

TITLE: Captain America: Civil War
RATED: PG-13, for RDJ-ness, also superhero violence
GENRE: Action, Adventure, Superhero
STARRING: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, and everybody you've ever seen in a Marvel movie (except Hulk and Thor, guess you can't get EVERYONE) 
NOTABLE CREW: Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; Screenwriters: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely; Writer of the Comic Book upon which this storyline is loosely based: Mark Millar
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Political interference, personal tradgedies, and a mysterious villain cause a rift between Captain America, Iron Man, and the rest of the Avengers that threatens to tear apart the Avengers as we know them.
WHAT I THINK: This movie shouldn't have worked. It juggled innumerable plotlines, relationships, characters, and themes, but, so help me, it DID work. It worked really well. The stories tied together. The relationships were believable. The dialouge was saturated with Marvel's now trademark wry humor. My favorite thing? This was the first non-cookie cutter villain in a MCU movie in years. Plus it was a lot of fun to watch, and the massive action scenes are a marvel of choreography that utilized the powers of every hero involved the way that they should be used. In other words, this is what 
Batman v Superman SHOULD have been.
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These movies have very much become series entertainment. If you haven't watched the previous movies, you will probably be confused. 
COOL FACTOIDS: This film coincides with the 75th anniversary of the character of Captain America. 2016 also marks the 10th anniversary of the original Civil War comic book and Black Panther's 50th anniversary.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Screen Shots! - The Jungle Book

 TITLE: The Jungle Book (2016)
RATED: PG, for animal on animal violence
GENRE: Family, Action, Adventure, Animation... kind of
STARRING: Neel Sethi (as the only human in the movie, you can't miss 'em) and an overworked visual effects team as: Bill Murray as Baloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Lupita Nyong'o as Raksha, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, and Christopher "Cow Bell" Walken as King Louie. (Yes, he sings.) 
NOTABLE CREW: Director: Jon Favreau, Writers: Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (book), Cinematographer: Bill Pope, and the amazing visual effects team, who are too numerous to name and whose credits are too confusing to be able to pin just one of them to hand the credit
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A young boy raised by a family of wolves and a panther is hunted by a vengeful tiger and must flee the jungle in search of his own kind.
WHAT I THINK: Much better than I expected it to be. (I tend to approach these Disney remakes with an air of skepticism.) The animal actors are fun and engaging, and young Neel Sethi deserves major props for interacting entirely with a blue screen during production. The real star of this movie is, of course, the amazing visuals. The animals are astoudingly realistic, and the 3D cinematography was utilized well. (Especially for the ending credits. Honestly, I could watch an entire movie like those ending credits. Can that be the sequel?)
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: The whole family. Your teeny tiny children may be frightened by the fierce tiger and the somewhat creepy King Louie, but otherwise it's good for kids, and there's lots of nostalgia-y moments that the adults will appreciate too.
COOL FACTOIDS: Mowgli has a scar on his chest in the shape of the letter "r" and another scar on his left shoulder in the shape of a "k". This is a nod to the original author, Rudyard Kipling.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Screen Shots! - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

TITLE: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
RATED: PG-13, for superhero violence and angst
GENRE: Action, Adventure, Superhero
STARRING: Ben "I can be Batman if I want to be Batman" Affleck, Henry Cavill as Superman's chin dimple, Amy Adams as the character that taught girls everywhere that almost dying is the only way to get your man's attention, and Jesse Eisenberg as the only character Jesse Eisenberg ever plays
NOTABLE CREW: Directed by Zack Snyder, you know, the guy who brought us the classic superhero hits: Shirtless Spartans Yell in Slow MotionDr. Manhattan's Enormous Blue Wang, and, who can forget, Sucker Punch
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel.... also Lex Luthor decides he hates Superman for no apparent reason and uses General Zod's old stuff to mess with him.... also Wonder Woman is there, you know, just hanging out.
WHAT I THINK: This could have been a very good set of movies. Unfortunately, instead of these stories being given the treatment they deserve by being broken up into at least three movies, they were all shoved into a bloated 2 hours and 31 minutes of what is clearly DC's impatient attempt to catch up with the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (current movie count: 12) in a single stroke. (Current DC universe movie count: 2). Also, I appreciated the nods to famous comic storylines, but that appreciation faded into resentment as I realized that those, better plotted, stories were not what I was going to see on the screen. Not that there weren't good parts. There were good parts. (Ben Affleck's Batman was the high point of the film.) But that was the problem, you see. It was good as parts. Not so much as a whole.
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: Fans of Man of Steel.
COOL FACTOIDS: This is the 10th time Batman has been portrayed since 1943. Superman has been portrayed 16 times since 1939.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Screen Shots! - Knight of Cups

RATED: R, for boobies
GENRE: Drama, Arthouse
STARRING: Christian "Really though, Mr. Malick, what is this scene about?" Bale and 6 talented women (Blanchett, Portman, Pinto, Lucas, Palmer, Poots) as personified stages of his spiritual journey
NOTABLE CREW: Terrence Malick. Need I say more? Yes? Then try on a little oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT (written by the production, I kid you not): Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl, and fell into a deep sleep.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT (written by a viewer): A writer indulging in all that Los Angeles has to offer undertakes a search for love and self via a series of adventures with six different women.
WHAT I THINK: It's a visual poem packed full with thoughtful themes, metaphors, and mythological references. A modern poetic retelling of Pilgrim's Progress and, in some ways, the Prodigal Son. I liked it visually and for what it was trying to explore, but there were a few places where even I could have used some cleaner editing to understand what's happening on screen. It's hard to focus on your themes when I'm spending half the movie attempting to discern what/who I'm looking at. In short: Good, but not Tree of Life good.
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: Lovers of artistic cinema / Terrence Malick movies. Also, discerning Christian thinkers. (Must have a tolerence for sexual scenes which serve the greater theme.)
WHO SHOULD NOT WATCH IT: The guy who sat in the row behind us who, as the credits began, uttered the words "Um... what was that?" It was later revealed that he and his friends had seen the previews and expected it to be some sort of party movie. It... it's not a party movie.
COOL FACTOIDS: Christian Bale had no lines to learn for this movie and Terrence Malick only gave him the character description for each scene. He generally had no idea what the movie was about during production. He only understood his role after seeing the final cut.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Screen Shots! - Zootopia

TITLE: Zootopia
RATED: PG, because there's a few jump scares that might frighten a five year old, also, excessive animal nudity ;)
GENRE: Family, Animation, Adventure, Buddy-cop
STARRING: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
NOTABLE CREW: Directors - Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush; Writers - Jared Bush, Phil Johnston, and 7 other people, Exectutive Producer - John Lasseter; And a large team of very talented animators
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a fox con artist must work together to overcome predjudice and uncover a conspiracy.
WHAT I THINK: Though my expectations were set low by some disappointing advertising, was pleasantly surprised by a cast of likable, funny characters, a well-rendered world, a meaningful theme, and awesome in-jokes and movie references that (hopefully) only the adults in the audience will be able to get. Also, the texture animation was so good that I really wanted to reach into the screen and pet the bunnies.
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: The whole family. This is one of those rare movies that strikes the delicate balance of something that both the young children and the adults who bring them will be able to enjoy.
COOL FACTOIDS: This is the fourth consecutive Disney animated film featuring the voice talents of Alan Tudyk (who many of you might know as Wash from Firefly). He was also in Wreck-It RalphFrozen, and Big Hero 6. In Frozen he played "the Duke of Weselton" and in Zootopia he plays "Duke Weaselton". During the movie, Judy once mispronounces Duke's last name as "Weselton".

Monday, February 22, 2016

Screen Shots! - 2016 Academy Award Edition

The 2016 Academy Awards are coming soon. What better way to kick off my Screen Shots! blurbs than with the Best Picture nominees? There are eight total this year. Which one do you think will win?

TITLE: The Revenant
NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Supporting Actor: Tom Hardy, Best Direction: Alejandro Inarritu, Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Best Editing: Stephen Mirrione, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design
RATED: R, for all kinds of violence
GENRE: Drama
LANGUAGE(S): English, Arikara (a Native American language), French
STARRING: Leonardo "How many bison livers do I have to eat to get an Oscar in this place?" DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, The red headed British guy who is suddenly in every movie this year (aka: Domhnall Gleeson), Smokey the Bear
NOTABLE CREW: See nomination list. There's a lot.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A frontiersman in the 1820s fights for his life after being mutilated by a bear, witnessing the murder of his son, and being left for dead in an unforgiving wilderness.
WHAT I THINK: 1) I'll never look at my teddy bear the same way again. 2) Leo has flippin' earned that Oscar. 3) So has Emmanuel Lubezki (the cinematographer).
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: People who value ponderously paced storytelling with an emphasis on visual poetry rather than a traditional narrative. The trailers made it look like a hard-core revenge/action flick. If that's what you're looking for, this movie isn't for you.
COOL FACTOIDS: Although you may already know about this film's reputation for the "hellish" conditions both actors and crew had to endure while shooting it in the name of realism, what was never really on set? The bear. That is a beautiful creation by the Visual Effects department. (Somebody got their nomination for a reason.) Apparently having a live grizzly bear on set would be "extremely dangerous" and "reckless" or something like that.

TITLE: The Martian
NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actor: Matt Damon, Best Adapted Screenplay: Drew Goddard, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design
RATED: PG-13, for Matt Damon cussing at a computer
GENRE: Drama, Adventure, Sci-Fi, and, despite what the Golden Globes may tell you, not really a comedy (but has funny moments)
STARRING: Matt "This is the last time, Matt. Next time, we're leaving your butt out there in space" Damon, and a whole lot of other people, just... a lot
NOTABLE CREW: Director: Ridley Scott, Writers: Drew Goddard (screenplay) & Andy Weir (book)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: When astronaut Mark Watney is accidently stranded alone on the surface of Mars, he must keeps his wits together as he attempts to survive the brutal landscape, while his crew and the NASA team back on earth make a daring attempt to rescue him.
WHAT I THINK: It's like Apollo 13 + Castaway - Tom Hanks + Matt Damon.... on Mars! Walked out of theater convinced I should be an astronaut when I grow up. Remembered I am already a grown up. Refused to believe it. Resolved to force any children I may have in the future to become astronauts. Must learn how to grow potatoes.
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: Gosh, just about anybody. Good family fun. Yes, there's a few curse words in there, but they really make sense in context. Who wouldn't release an expletitive or two if they found themselves stranded alone on Mars? If you don't want your children to hear certain words, you can just yell "Space!" as loud as you can in their ears whenever one comes up.
COOL FACTOIDS: Andy Weir, the author of the novel, originally published "The Martian" for free on his own blog. People asked him to make it downloadable, so he published on Kindle. A publishing contract and movie deal followed.

NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Directing: George Miller, Best Cinematography: John Seale, Best Film Editing: Margaret Sixel, Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan, Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design: Colin Gibson
RATED: R, because it's a Mad Max movie
GENRE: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
STARRING: Not Mel Gibson (Tom Hardy), Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa
NOTABLE CREW: Director: George Miller, Writers; George Miller & Brendan McCarthy & Nick Lathouris, and an insane Special Effects, Visual Effects, and Stunt department too numerous to list
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Mysterious post-apocalyptic desert drifter Max helps a woman rebelling against a tyrannical water-hoarder and her friends find their home.
WHAT I THINK: I've changed my mind. I want to be Furiosa when I grow up. Also flame-thrower freakin' guitar. I'm going to repeat that. FLAME-THROWER FREAKIN' GUITAR!
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: People who want to see flame-thrower freakin' guitars!
COOL FACTOIDS: George Miller insisted on using practical effects wherever possible, so all the car chase action, the guys swinging between vehicles on poles, the flame-thrower guitar... all real, thanks to an amazing stunt crew. Also, Austrailian artist/muscian Sean Hape (better known as Iota) was actually strapped to the front of a moving vehicle while playing an electric guitar that actually shot gas-powered flames out the end whenever he used the whammy bar.

TITLE: Spotlight
NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo, Best Supporting Actress: Rachel McAdams, Best Directing: Tom McCarthy, Best Original Screenplay: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy, Best Editing: Tom McArdle
RATED: R, for heavy use of Boston accents
GENRE: Drama, History
STARRING: Everbody... plus Michael "I am Batman!" Keaton
NOTABLE CREW: Director: Tom McCarthy; Writers: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy; Editor: Tom McArdle; Cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.
WHAT I THINK: A heart-breaking story and a subtly superb cast. The subject matter is handled with tact and respect. I don't have any jokes here. Just, kudos.
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: Anyone of a mature enough age to be able to talk about the subject matter. ESPECIALLY recommended to those who either aren't aware of or don't know many of the facts about the real life scandal. (Yes, I know the movie has fictionalized elements, but the facts are real, and this is a good introduction to them.) Truth is important. Hard truth, doubly so. 
COOL FACTOIDS: The real Walter Robinson said about Michael Keaton's portrayal of him, "It is like watching yourself in a mirror, yet having no control of the mirror image."

NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress: Brie Larson, Best Directing: Lenny Abrahamson, Best Adapted Screenplay: Emma Donoghue
RATED: R, for language and implications of awfulness happening offscreen
GENRE: Drama
STARRING: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Matt Gordon
NOTABLE CREW: Director: Lenny Abrahamson, Writer: Emma Donoghue (also author of novel)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: After Jack, a five-year-old boy, and his mother escape his mother's kidnapper and the room they've been trapped in for Jack's entire life, he and his mother learn how to live in the outside world again.
WHAT I THINK: Phew! Speaking of hard subjects! This movie is surprisingly inspirational and life-affirming, showing love enduring even through incredibly tough circumstances without ever being unrealistic about the subject matter. Depicting the story from the viewpoint of a five year old child is brilliant and makes me want to read the book. All the performances were wonderful. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay (the little boy) were particularly amazing in their roles.
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: See my "Spotlight" answer (above). The main diffence here being that 'Room' is a fictionalized story inspired by true, but admittedly rare, events. The depiction of post-traumatic stress, however, is a thing many can relate to.
COOL FACTOIDS: Upon winning a Critic's Choice Award for his performance, young Jacob Tremblay announced he was going to display his award next to his model Millinium Falcon. Look it up. It's adorable.

TITLE: Brooklyn
NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Best Adapted Screenplay: Nick Hornby
RATED: PG-13, for excessive Irishness
GENRE: Drama, Romance
STARRING: Soorees? Sayersee? Sheersha?... Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson again? Isn't this like the fourth major movie he's been in this year?
NOTABLE CREW: Director: John Crowley, Writers: Nick Hornby (screenplay), Colm Toibin (novel)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A young Irish immigrant moves to 1950's Brooklyn, where she soon falls into a new romance with a local and must decide where her heart truly calls home.
WHAT I THINK: A best picture nominee I can actually recommend to ALL of my friends? What?! Bonus: In addition to being safe content for all, there is a beautifully told and acted story about the meaning of "home".
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: You should. I don't know who you are, but.... yeah, I'm getting some vibes that you'll like it. It'll give you the warm fuzzies.
COOL FACTOIDS: A noted Irish actress, Saoirse Ronan was actually born in The Bronx, but raised to Irish parents. This marks her first time using her natural Irish accent in a film.

NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, Best Original Screenplay: Matt Charman and Joel&Ethan Coen, Best Musical Score: Thomas Newman, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design
RATED: PG-13, because Steven Spielberg is the king of PG-13
GENRE: Biography, Drama, Thriller
LANGUAGE(S): English with smatterings of German and Russian
STARRING: Mr. Hanks Goes to Washington, Mark Rylance as the old guy I would really enjoy sitting silently next to on a park bench while he painted
NOTABLE CREW: Director: Steven Spielberg, Writers: Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen, Composer: Thomas Newman
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: During the cold war, an American lawyer is hired to defend a Soviet spy in court and must contend with prejudices and international intrigue as he fights for justice for all.
WHAT I THINK: Well acted and well shot with thought provoking subject matter. However, it felt like two different movies, and both of those movies were soaked in an oppressively "inspirational" score and script that seemed to be screaming at the audience, "You should feel something here! Feel it! FEEL IT!"
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: Cold war history buffs. 
COOL FACTOIDS: This movie was almost made in 1965. It would have starred Alec Guinness as Abel and Gregory Peck (probably reviving his 'To Kill a Mockingbird' persona) as Donovan. It never got made because Cold War tensions were still too high at the time.

TITLE: The Big Short
NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, Best Directing: Adam McKay, Best Adapted Screenplay: Charles Rudolph & Adam McKay, Best Film Editing: Hank Corwin
RATED: R, for language
GENRE: Drama, Biography
STARRING: Steve "Shoulda got an Oscar nod for this one too" Carrell and the pretty boy trifecta: Bale, Gosling, and Pitt
NOTABLE CREW: Director: Adam McKay, Writer: Charles Rudolph & Adam McKay (screenplay), Michael Lewis (book), Editor: Hank Corwin
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Several men from the world of high-finance attempt to exploit the greed of the banks after discovering the fatal flaw in the mortgage industry of 2008. (I promise it's more interesting than it sounds.)
WHAT I THINK: I know absolutely nothing about economics and the mortage industry. When the terms are thrown at me, my eyes glaze over like you're speaking Chinese. (Strike that. Chinese would be easier.) Thankfully, this movie employed some clever and funny fourth wall breaking moments just to explain the mortgage crisis in words scatter-brains like me can understand. Now that I feel more informed, I can say, Shame on you, banking industry of 2008 (and, let's face it, probably beyond)!
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: Anyone thinking of buying a house. Seriously, just say no to adjustable rate mortgages.
COOL FACTOIDS: Christian Bale, who portrayed Dr. Michael Burry in the film, burrowed Dr. Burry's actual cargo shorts and T-shirt and wore those in the film. Also, apparently he needed no effects for the glass eye. Christian Bale can rest one eye and move the other one around on command.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Screen Shots! - Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!
RATED: PG-13 for fast talking swagger
GENRE: Comedy 
STARRING: Josh Brolin, The Honorable George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tap-dancing Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Another Tilda Swinton, and the Godhead (not pictured)
NOTABLE CREW: Writers & Directors - Joel and Ethan Coen, Cinematographer - Roger Deakins
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A 1950's Hollywood "fixer" (aka: production manager) struggles to find meaning in his job as he works to keep the studio's stars in line. Also George Clooney gets kidnapped.
WHAT I THINK: First of all, horray for making a movie in praise of the production manager, one of the hardest working but underappreciated roles in filmmaking! Now that that's out of the way, I thought the movie was funny, beautifully shot, and thoughtful. It's a love note to the golden age of cinema. It's not the fast-paced slapstick that modern viewers might expect from modern comedies, but instead approaches its subject with an offbeat humor that had at least me laughing every minute whenever I joyfully understood the references. It also explores a running theme of the relationship between spirituality and art in some interesting ways that I'm still mulling over. Example from the movie: A bit actor in a Ben Hur-esqe epic is playing Christ on the cross. A production assistant walks up to him and asks him if he's a principal actor or an extra. The actor on the cross says, "Um.... I THINK I'm a principal." That scene pretty much sums up the biting humor behind this story.
WHO SHOULD WATCH IT: Cinemaphiles. You'll need to have watched AND enjoyed films from early days of cinema (including but not limited to biblical epics, spaghetti westerns, Gene Kelly musicals) to get half the jokes. 
COOL FACTOIDS: George Clooney was actually slapped by Josh Brolin in several takes. His reactions in the scene are genuine.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Coming Soon: Screen Shots!

You know how I love movies? You don't? Well, I love movies. They're like books... with pictures... that talk... and sometimes explode. But who has time to write eloquent yet scathing reviews about the latest explody-camera-books (aka: movies) when there are novels that are begging for my attention? 

That's why I invented Screen Shots!, very short movie reviews for those who, like me, have very short attention spans. They'll be coming at you soon to a glowing screen near you.