Established May 2010.

Gordie: Do you think I'm weird?
Chris: Definitely.
Gordie: No man, seriously. Am I weird?
Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

Member of THE LAMB: The Large Association of Movie Blogs LAMB #1588

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Movie Review: FROZEN

Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Starring: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Ciarán Hinds, Alan Tudyk

As little girls, Princesses Anna and Elsa are as close as two sisters can be. Elsa has been graced with a special power to turn things to ice and snow with a simple touch. They love playing around their castle in Arendelle when Elsa creates a snowy play area for them to have with inside the castle. One day the playing gets out of hand when Anna accidentally gets hit with a blast of ice by Elsa. In order to protect both of them, their parents have Anna's memory erased of the incident. This also leads to Elsa being banished to a separate room of the castle so no one in the village has any knowledge of her power.

Years pass and the girls grow up being separated from each other. Elsa (Menzel) has grown to resent her power and is unable to fully control when it happens. She is the heir to the thrown and on her coronation day Elsa and Anna decide to open the doors of the castle to all of the villagers of Arendelle. After the ceremony, another incident occurs and Elsa's powers are exposed to the villagers. She feels so embarrassed and out of control that she runs away. As her frustration grows, the icy cold spreads over the village turning it into a snowy frozen land year round. She retreats to a mountain and tries to come to terms with her power. Anna (Bell) chases after Elsa and runs into the rugged Kristoff (Groff), his reindeer Sven, and an energetic snowman named Olaf (Gad) who help her along the way.

With so many animated movies released each year, it should come as no surprise that the annual Disney offering stands out as one of the best. Inspired by "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Anderson, Frozen hearkens back to the old classic princess stories set to singable score. The story uses that traditional model but puts a different twist on it as this is not about some helpless princess pining after her unattainable prince. Yes, there are two dapper men along the way, but this tale is all about the love and bond of sisterhood. Kristen Bell's Anna is scrappy, tough, and has the never-give-up attitude in her quest to find and save her sister. Idina Menzel has a huge belter voice who completely nails the powerful main theme song "Let It Go". It would have been easy to make Elsa the Snow Queen the evil villain, but I applaud the writing team for not going that route. What would a Disney movie be without the comedic fool. Josh Gad makes Olaf fun and hilarious without ever crossing the obnoxious line which can be tricky with these types of Disney characters.

The songs by husband/wife duo Robert Lopez (Broadway's "The Book of Mormon", "Avenue Q") and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Wreck-It Ralph) have written a Broadway-inspired score with "Let It Go" most likely to get stuck in your head. Long gone are the days where you would have two different actors doing the regular voice and singing voice of the character. All of the actors perform their own singing in Frozen. It also boasts four Broadway actors in the main cast including Menzel, Gad, Groff, and Fontana. The orchestral score by Christophe Beck should also be noted for using Norwegian music and instruments as inspiration. I could not help but envision this being turned into next big Disney Broadway musical some day.

The Walt Disney Animations Studios has hit it a resurgence lately with Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph. You can confidently add Frozen to that list. There were numerous trailers for upcoming children's movies and I think only one, maybe two of them, seemed to stand out and would be appealing for both young movie goers and their parents. The animation of the ice and snow is stunning and beautiful. The story has that traditional Disney feel but takes a different twist on the concepts. The characters are spunky, have determination, and represent good role models for the young girls who go see the movie. I remember for awhile in the '90s, some concerned parents took issue with Disney movies turning a bit too violent or scary with their villains. Rest assured here as Frozen is appropriate for all ages and can be enjoyed by moviegoers of all ages. It has a real wholesome and timeless quality about it that is missing from many of the animated family movies released each year.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, November 28, 2013



Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Dear Readers,

On this Thanksgiving Day, I would like to send my heartfelt gratitude and thanks to all of my devoted readers. I started this blog in 2010 and have seen it grow and gain new readers every month. I am thankful for all of the comments and discussions we have had about the movies we have watched over the years. Whether they are on Facebook, Twitter, in person, or here on the blog, I read every one of them and cherish the discussions we have had about the movies we have either loved, hated, or disagreed upon. I always feel inspired and challenged to write more and more with each passing day, and I could not do this without you. Thank you for being so loyal and allowing the movie geek in me to shine through in full force.

Thank you for everything,


Kevin Kline, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Joan Allen in The Ice Storm

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Lynn Cohen, Donald Sutherland

I have seen enough of these movies adapted from young adult books to know that the majority of them are crap. I love that The Hunger Games series has set a high bar which others in a post-Harry Potter era will have to compete with when it comes to gaining a wide audience base outside of screaming teen girls. The second film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, kicks it into high gear in every possible way. Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are back as District 12 victors Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Malark, respectively. Their joint victory of the 74th Annual Hunger Games have defied the odds and broken the rules according to President Snow (Sutherland), the ruler of The Capitol and all of Panem.

With their victory, the two of them must go on a victory tour of the twelve districts of Panem to pay their respect to the fallen tributes that lost their lives in the Games. They are both sickened from killing innocent people as part of the Games and are now suffering night terrors. Their win came from a suicide pact between the two of them in an attempt to defy Snow and the Capitol. In an unannounced meeting, President Snow informs Katniss that the people of Panem are now rebelling just like their heroine has done. He threatens her that if the rebellion keeps up, he will harm her family and loved ones. She must convince the people and President Snow that their suicide pact was done as a romantic move between the two of them and that their love is "real" and all is well in the Capitol. Sounds like so many of the fake romances coming out of Hollywood. We all know that is not true as as Katniss' heart belongs to childhood friend Gale (Hemsworth). To add another wrinkle in their lives, Snow and new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) announce the Third Quarter Quell. The Quarter Quell happens every twenty five years and brings back the surviving winners of past Hunger Games for an all-star version that is more challenging than anything they experienced the first time. Katniss and Peeta are both thrown into the competition knowing full well that only one of them will come out alive.

I was a bit leery at first when it was reported that Francis Lawrence would be taking over the directorial duties after Gary Ross stepped down after the first one. His last film was Water for Elephants which I loathed. Call me converted as he delivers a fast-paced, high octane thrill ride. Even though the third book “Mockingjay” will be released into two movies The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has the tone and feel of what the middle part in a trilogy should feel like. Lawrence knows how to carry out the fact that author Suzanne Collins has upped the ante and raised the stakes not just for Katniss, but for all of our characters. The rebellion and conflict within the districts and within the Capitol rises as we approach the Quarter Quell and the impacts it will have on our two victors are even more life threatening. For a two and a half hour run time, Lawrence keeps the pace up and the action flowing without comprising on the story, dialogue, and character development. You cannot help but notice the production design is more grandiose then its predecessor. The lush rich costume design by Trish Summerville (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) spans the spectrum from the gorgeous gowns worn by Katniss to the sports wear and hard military design of the Peacekeepers. Many of Effie Trinket's designs are straight from the Alexander McQueen collection.

Credit should also be given to Oscar winners Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) who adapted the screenplay from the book by Collins, which many consider the best in the series. Both are new to the series but have penned a rich adaptation allowing the story to showcase not only Katniss and Peeta, but have given some more depth to the some of the supporting characters like Haymitch, Effie, and Caesar. Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci are all fantastic character actors who start to peel off the layers of these larger than life characters to make them more than simple cartoonish figures of the Capitol. Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, and Lynn Cohen are all newcomers to this world as they play the former victors who must compete again in the Quarter Quell. Malone brings the sass and attitude that she is known for playing before. The only newcomer to the cast that seems a bit out of place is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. We have seen him play evil characters before, so it seems a bit like he is phoning it in at times here.

The anchors of the story are Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Hutcherson brings his charm and cuteness to Peeta that really makes you question why Katniss is still pining after Gale. It should not be too hard to fake a romance with Peeta. As you can tell, I am clearly Team Peeta. What is not to love about Jennifer Lawrence. Her rich and complex portrayal of Katniss puts her leagues above say Kristen Stewart in those darn Twilight movies. Katniss' ferocious drive against the Capitol makes her one of the best action heroines since Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley slayed an alien or Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor battled a terminator. Her Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook was no fluke. I think her down to earth personality shines through in each role and makes them each a little bit more believable and realistic, no matter if they are in an action/sci-fi flick or a heavy drama like the upcoming American Hustle.

I have seen the film twice now and I can easily say it is better than the first one. The two and a half hours goes by swiftly and culminates into a pulsating cliffhanger of an ending. Another amazing thing is the fact this is shown in regular 2D. No crappy post-production 3D baloney here that costs us an extra few bucks, and it still rang in some serious change at the box office. What a concept! I think more action/sci-fi films should take note.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER--The 2013 Full Uncensored Actresses and Producers Roundtable

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER--The 2013 Full Uncensored Actresses and Producers Roundtable

The Hollywood Reporter continues their roundtable discussions with two more that have been released in the series. This time we have many of the actresses and producers that are making a splash this awards season. You may notice some of the same movies being discussed, but it is always interesting hearing about the process from different perspectives involved in the production. I have included links to all of my reviews thus far.

The Actresses Roundtable

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' The Butler

“This is what I learned working with Meryl Streep. She works her ass off. It is not a magic trick. She does not just show up and be brilliant. You see the mechanics of it in way that I found such a comfort.” -Julia Roberts

The Producers Roundtable

Michael De Luca, Captain Phillips
Dede Gardner, 12 Years a Slave
David Heyman, Gravity
Charles Roven, American Hustle
Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor
Pam Williams, Lee Daniels' The Butler

In case you missed it,
-"The Actors Roundtable" can be found here
-"The Directors Roundtable" and "The Writers Roudtable" can be found here
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Thursday, November 21, 2013


Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Gardner, Denis O'Hare, Dallas Roberts, Steve Zahn, Deneen Tyler

Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) has already depleted a majority of his immune system by the copious amounts of drugs and alcohol he has ingested into his body. After a drug fueled trip to the hospital, he is diagnosed with HIV and given the standard 30 days to live. He is a racist and homophobe who recently learned of Rock Hudson's diagnosis with the disease and is quick to make it clear that he is not gay so there must be some mistake. Ron does some research on the disease and comes to the realization that his intravenous drug use and unprotected sex with other druggies are what caused it.

He learns of the recently FDA approved drug AZT being used in test trials and demands to be put on it. Dr. Eve Saks (Gardner) informs him there is no way of knowing if he would receive the drug or be a placebo patient. This uncertainty leads to smuggling the drug from the hospital. His supply is cut off, but he heads to a secret doctor (Griffin Dunne) in Mexico for a vitamin regimen that may be a healthier alternative. During another trip to the hospital, he meets Rayon (Leto), a transgender HIV patient with a severe drug problem. Ron sees an opportunity in Rayon who is making a profit off selling HIV medications to the gay community. It is illegal to sell the non-approved regimen, so they start up the Dallas Buyers Club where members can pay a monthly fee to be in the club and then receive the drugs for free.

Buzz about the film arose early on when set photos appeared showing a drastically thin McConaughey and Leto. They both excel at these transformative portrayals giving two career-defining performances. I mentioned in my review of Mud, there will always be a bit of McConaughey in his performances. While that glimmer still resides, Ron Woodroof is the furthest away he has gotten from that image he has given us in the last twenty years of his career. He has had a solid two years of fantastic performances in starring and supporting roles. His physicality and gruff attitude can be scary at times when the “old” Ron comes into play, but McConaughey finds the determination and humanity in him as he gradually opens up and finds something to fight for. Leto is no stranger to playing drug addicts after his performance in Requiem for a Dream. He perfectly embodies Rayon and lets the sweet, delicate, warm, and heartbreaking sides of her shine through. He never once crosses into caricature or does some sort of gimmicky impression of a drag queen or transgender person. Do not be surprised if he walks away with some gold come Oscar night. He will be the one to beat in the Supporting Actor category at every awards ceremony.

These two fine actors make the film recommendable despite the fact that the overall execution of the movie is quite choppy at times. Despite the fact the film tries to cover a lot of ground in the story, it feels a bit too rushed and lacks a specificity to it. I do not think director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriters Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten know what part of the story they want to tell. Is it about Ron's transformation from a homophobic cowboy to a caring individual? Was it about the growing clientele he helped and the impact of buyers clubs throughout the states? There is also the mini plot line about the war against the FDA. This is the first screenplay for Borten. Wallack previously penned the screenplays for Meet Bill and Mirror Mirror, which I detested. The script feels quite amateurish in the line of character development. In an attempt to tell various aspects of Ron's journey after being diagnosed and to keep it fast paced, they gloss over some needed introduction of numerous supporting characters who just pop up out of nowhere. Outside of Rayon, we never really learn about other members of the club. You see people walking in and out of the hotels to pick up their vitamins, but we never really get to know them. The characters of Denise (Tyler) and David Wayne (Roberts) just show up to start working for Ron, but we do not really know where they ever came from or what their stories are.

More importantly, it brings an awareness and attention to a very important part of history with the rise in the HIV/AIDS crisis. I was too young to know the history when it was going on, so films like this can be important teaching tools to shine a light on the impact and severity of the disease. It is a shame that the film has so much potential but does not quite know how to deliver it to its full impact. Luckily McConaughey and Leto are so moving that they draw us in and make us invested into these characters as they stand up for what they believe in.

RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Movie Rewind: FRANCES HA (2013)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Grace Gummer, Charlotte d'Amboise

I think it is safe to say that I love contemporary movies shot in black and white. With Much Ado About Nothing, Nebraska, and now Frances Ha, I want more and more films shot this way. Frances (Gerwig) and her best friend/roommate Sophie (Sumner) seem to do everything together: dance around the park, smoke out the window, play backgammon, etc… When her boyfriend Dan (Esper) suggests she live with him, she can’t seem to depart her Sophie. “Tell me the story of us”, Frances says to Sophie as they elaborately plot out their future in a whimsical dreamlike world. Everything seems to be great between them until Sophie drops the bomb that she wants to move out of their apartment and move to Tribecca where she has always wanted to live. Frances cannot afford it, so she feels stuck and betrayed.

Frances moves in with her new friend Lev (Driver) and his roommate Benji (Zegen) even though she can barely afford that rent. She is the definition of the young hipster artist who cannot seem to get their act together and has trouble coping with the fact the people around her are moving on and living their own lives. Everything always seems to be up in the air for her.

There is something odd and awkward about Frances, but you can’t take your eyes off of her. You are waiting for some sort of train wreck to happen. She is brought to life by the mesmerizing Greta Gerwig who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach. There is a vulnerability and care free openness that she brings to Frances. At times you want to be friends with her and have these whimsical dances with her. Other times you just wish she would get her act together because you want the most out of her. I think any artist could relate to her at times. As an apprentice in a dance company and teacher of children’s classes, she believes she is a shoo-in to make it as a full time company member. I know I have been in that position before where you think you have taken this great opportunity that will be the “in” you are looking for only to find out you are in a replaceable, bottom of the totem pole position.

The majority of the story takes place in New York, but there are a few scenes in Paris. These two days in Frances' life brought me right back to the time I was there on my honeymoon. We actually saw huge posters for the movie while we were there. These two cities are beautifully captured by cinematographer Sam Levy who treats them as characters themselves. There is a beauty, care, and attention that is brought to the story when the setting is pulled into focus like it is here. The story would not be as effective if it took place anywhere else. He shot the film digitally which was a first for director Noah Baumbach The black and white look brings out the classic romantic feel to New York and Paris which makes you slightly forget how dingy and dirty they can be. It also brings out a timeless feeling where it feels like the film could be set in any decade. The film has the tone and feel of the old Woody Allen movies who always loved to highlight the New York ambiance.

You can find Frances Ha available through Netflix Instant Streaming as well as on Criterion Collection in a dual blu-ray/DVD combo. Any film buff should already know the care and love the Criterion Collection has toward the movies they release. Frances Ha comes with a new high-definition digital master picture, approved by co-writer and director Noah Baumbach, with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The special features include conversations between Baumbach and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, Baumbach and Levy, and another one with Gerwig and filmmaker Sarah Polley. As someone involved in the arts my whole life, I have known many people that are like Frances or have had their Frances moments. Gerwig has given one of the best female performances of the year, and Frances is bound to stick with you awhile after your first viewing. Do not be surprised if you find yourself popping it in and watching it the next day. Guilty as charged.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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Movie Rewind: ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Tom Burke

Due to a very limited released and a busy schedule, I missed Only God Forgives when it was in theaters. I now realize that was a good thing. I saved myself the $10 or whatever it would have cost. A young sixteen year old prostitute is brutally raped and killed and left a bloody mess. Her father in turn kills the man (Burke) that killed her. When the police arrive, they take the father and head lieutenant Chang (Pansringarm) cuts his arm off for allowing her to stay in the world of prostitution. The rapist’s brother Julian (Gosling) learns of his brother’s death and is conflicted about what his next steps are. Their mother Crystal (Thomas) comes to Thailand to take matters into her own hands when Julian informs her he didn’t kill the man that killed his brother. This all takes place in and around a Bangkok boxing club run by Julian that is a front for massive drug smuggling and prostitution.

Crystal is a very different role for Thomas. She plays a dysfunctional, drug smuggling, vulgar, violent, somewhat slutty mother always with a long cigarette in her hand. She seems to be made up like one of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. There is also the weird relationship between her and Julian. She informs him that brother Billy was the one she loved. “And you’re right. I don’t understand you. And I never will,” she tells him. I hate to say it but Gosling seems a bit wasted here. Much of what he has to do is done in silence and done with such a stone cold face that I missed out on the Gosling that is so fantastic in so many other roles, like The Place Beyond the Pines that also came out this year.

You will notice early on that the Refn asks for a patient and attentive audience as there is very little dialogue throughout. The story is told through sharp imagery and sound effects. The sound of violence is prevalent with gunfire, the use of a samurai sword, knife work, and glass shattering taking over scenes instead of dialogue. Composer Cliff Martinez is back again to work with Refn after penning the score to Drive. That soundtrack still gets played on my iPod. His score here is one of the few highlights of the movie. Martinez notes that Refn wrote a full screenplay with dialogue and action, but instead chose to mute a majority of it making the score and sound effects drive the scenes.

When I first heard of the second collaboration between Refn and Gosling, I was really excited. Gosling also starred in Drive which was one of my favorite films of 2011. So much of the style and artistic vision which worked so well in Drive seems very pushed and shoved in your face here. There is this constant feeling of “Look how great this shot is” “Look how artistic we’re being” “Look at bloody and violent this film is”. There are many wide and long shots of hallways, hallways, and more hallways. When I feel like artistic choices are so blatant and obvious I wonder what the point the filmmaker is trying to say. There are so many choices that feel so contrived and pretentious just for the sake of it. I did not quite understand what Refn was trying to say or what point he was making. Was this an homage to Asian cinema? Was he just trying to make a violent shock fest? Yes, some of the shots and imagery are gorgeous. You will be compelled to watch various scenes as they can be quite intriguing and pick apart various frames that get stuck in your head. Other times you may just shake your head and roll your eyes.

RATING: * 1/2 (1.5 out of 5 stars)

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Friday, November 15, 2013


Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård

Is it wrong that after three movies I still think of Vincent D'Onofrio when it comes to Thor? Other Adventures in Babysitting fans and I are still waiting for him to make a cameo in one of these. Chances are slim to none that it will ever happen but we can still hope for it. We do have the brutish Chris Hemsworth back to wear the red cape and throw that hammer around. Many moons ago a war broke out between the Asgardians and the Dark Elves whose ruler Malekith (Eccleston) sought to destroy the universe with a red liquid known as the aether. The Asgardians won and killed the Dark Elves, but unbeknownst to them, Malekith and some of his men survive and disappear into another realm. The aether was cast to Earth to stay hidden for centuries.

In present day Earth, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Portman) and her colleague Darcy (Dennings) investigate a bizarre finding in a warehouse when the dormant aether attaches itself to Jane causing her to disappear into another realm. Thor is informed of her disappearance and heads back down to rescue her. She reappears five hours later only to be scooped up by Thor and taken back up to Asgard. Thor’s father Odin (Hopkins) recognizes the aether and knows it is only time before Malekith returns. Thor must make the decision if he will turn to his imprisoned and deceitful brother Loki (Hiddleston) for help against Malekith.

With action happening on Earth, Asgard, as well as some other realms, there is a lot going on with the story. I applaud the production design and special effects teams for giving Asgard some actual dimension, depth, and culture behind it. There seems to be a bit of a Star Wars and Lord of the Rings feel to the look of it without it feeling overly CGI with a green screen behind the actors. At one point we see a burial ceremony after a battle sequence that was quite beautiful and touching. It took me by surprise as I was not quite expecting it nor was it even fully needed. I am glad director Alan Taylor kept the scene in as it gives some culture and reality to this world.

If you are up-to-date with your Marvel movies, you may know we are now into Phase 2. Along with Iron Man 3, the film follows the events in Marvel’s The Avengers. The writers know these characters a bit better, so there able to have a little more fun this time around. Now that we are done setting the stage and history, some of the smaller characters are utilized more. Dennings and Skarsgard are scene stealers at times given the comedic angles of their characters. Skarsgard spends the majority of the film without his pants on. He must have been prepping for his next movie, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Even Rene Russo as Thor’s mom is given a fight scene this time around instead of standing in the background behind Anthony Hopkins. Even though Thor is the title character and the hero, the film really belongs to Tom Hiddleston and his return to the diabolical Loki. Loki is such a juicy character that teeters back and forth on how villainous he wants to be and if you can trust him or not. It is apparent that Hiddleston is having loads of fun here as he toys with our trust. Any great villain with the right actor should make you feel that way towards him.

What is great about these Avengers characters is that they all come from different times in history and from very different worlds. Iron Man is very much set in the technological now, Captain America is more of the historical World War II era, and Thor is from the old Norse mythology on a different planet. One may appeal to you more than others. Thor is a bit tricky as he is not all that interesting as a character nor does he have an alternate personality like Tony Stark. I am not a big reader of mythology, so he does not really appeal to me like say Tony Stark/Iron Man or the X-Men. Loki is the better character in this series. Many people found the first film a bit iffy, and I know where they are coming from. I have grown to like it and these characters more with each viewing. Like I previously mentioned, Loki is a big factor in that. The film is definitely action packed, but not so drawn out like Man of Steel. There are references and jokes to both the first film and Marvel’s The Avengers, but you shouldn't feel too lost going into this if you have not seen them. The film is naturally showing in 3D like everything else in theaters. Feel free to skip it and save the $3. Do NOT skip out on the mid-credit sequence AND make sure to stay after the very end of the credits for another brief scene. You should already know this if you have seen any of the other Marvel films.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER--The 2013 Full Uncensored Directors and Writers Roundtable

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER--The 2013 Full Uncensored Directors and Writers Roundtable

Earlier this month, I posted "The Actors Roundtable" from The Hollywood Reporter and now two more have been released in this series, "The Directors Roundtable" and "The Writers Roundtable". I love watching them discuss various aspects of their careers and how they got to where they are at in the industry. It is interesting hearing what motivates them and scares them.

Don’t forget to check back in as I will continue to post these roundtables as they are released.  I have also provided link to my reviews of the films I have seen so far.

The Directors Roundtable

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Lee Daniels, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Writers Roundtable

George Clooney, The Monuments Men
Jonas Cuarón, Gravity
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Grant Heslov, The Monuments Men
Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Danny Strong, Lee Daniels’ The Butler

In case you missed it, "The Actors Roundtable" can be found here

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Movie Review: ABOUT TIME

Director: Richard Curtis
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander, Richard Griffiths

It is safe to say that both Richard Curtis and Rachel McAdams are known for the rom-coms. He has written Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. She has made audiences weep in The Notebook, The Vow, and The Time Traveler's Wife. Why has it taken this long for the two of them to work together? On his 21st birthday, Tim (Gleeson) learns an old family secret from his dad (Nighy) that the men in the family have the ability to travel back in time. They can only travel back to some point in their own lifetime. There is no going back to the medieval times nor can they go party with the Beatles. Tim is highly skeptical until he goes into his wardrobe, clenches his fists, and finds himself back at the New Year’s Eve party where he musters the courage to actually kiss the girl at midnight.

Tim is a bit dorky and realizes he can’t just travel back in time to make any random girl fall in love with him. If the girl seems interested in him to begin with, that is another story. While in London working as a lawyer he meets Mary (McAdams) one night in a “dark” themed restaurant. There seems to be a mutual connection between the two of them but she has to leave before they can really spend the night together. Tim’s playwright roommate (Hollander) informs him of the wretched opening night of his newest play that will inevitable ruin his career. Tim goes back in time to make sure the play goes off without a hitch. Unfortunately, that changes the events leading up to how he met Mary. He learns the hard way after showing up at a photography exhibit where she has no idea who he is. As you can tell by the trailer, he takes a few different trips back in time to learn more about her to place him at just the right moment where she will be enamored by him and they can live happily ever after. That’s not really a huge spoiler as Tim learns when and how he will use this power to “rumble, stumble, and tumble” his way through time, love, and life.

When you have a film about time travel, you have to just suspend your belief in reality for a bit and just go with it. If you can’t do that, there is no way to enjoy a story like this. Rachel McAdams must love the whimsical feel films like these have as this is her third movie involving time travel after The Time Traveler’s Wife and Midnight in Paris, yet she never gets to do any of the time traveling herself. Curtis uses this special ability as a story enhancer but does not make the film all about time travel. No one is going back to win the lottery, kill Hitler, or prevent a crime. The film is more about the love stories between Tim and Mary and Tim and his dad and how he can make the most out of his time with both of them. He learns early on that there are consequences and that this ability comes with a price. There is a simple everyday romance between Tim and Mary without some tragedy that gets in their own. Yes, there are obstacles and roadblocks but it doesn’t have that unrealistic feeling that can come with something like a Nicholas Sparks story.

McAdams and Gleeson have a really sweet, infectiously charming chemistry to them. She has been partnered up with at least five leading men now in romantic stories, but there can be something missing in the chemistry. I’m thinking of Eric Bana and Owen Wilson in particular. Both their characters of Tim and Mary fit so well together that you can buy into their relationship even if the time travel throws you off. It is not just about two gorgeous people falling in love with each other. There is a dorkable and normal quality that each of them have. What is not to love about Bill Nighy?!? He is another one of those British actors where I love everything about them. The father/son relationship is so strong and integral to this movie, and it may even appeal to you more than say the Tim and Mary relationship. He always carries with him these sweet, charming, funny, and kind qualities which in this case anchors and elevates this story to something more than just your average rom-com. In his last screen appearance, wonderful character Richard Griffiths has a brief cameo playing an actor in the play written by Hollander's character. You may also remember that Gleeson, Nighy, and Griffiths all have appearances in the Harry Potter series!

Curtis has yet again gathered another endearing cast who is fully equipped to bring out the charm, wit, and quirks in his script. He is also known for his distinct choice of music used throughout. Like Love Actually, there are particular songs that define certain scenes featuring the likes of Ben Folds and Jimmy Fontana to name a few. On these chilly fall nights, sometimes a feel good romance can be just what you need to feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Movie Rewind: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Reed Diamond, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion

Buffy. Angel. The Avengers. Shakespeare? Of course! I do not think many people expected a Shakespeare adaptation as Whedon’s follow-up to Marvel’s The Avengers. Maybe the die-hard Whedonites who track his every move were aware of his love of Shakespeare. Preparations are in order for a masquerade that evening at the house of Leonato (Gregg). Upon the arrival of Benedick (Denisof), Beatrice (Acker) seems to be the only one less than enthused by his visit. A sharp throw of words between the two ensues. His friend Claudio (Kranz) seems to have an eye for Leonato’s daughter Hero (Morgese) but assumes Benedick would throw himself at her. He reminds them that he is forever the bachelor. The jabs Beatrice throws at Benedick continue that night at the party. He vows to get revenge on her for judging him so poorly and calling him “The Prince’s Jester”.

The next morning Claudio gets the nerve to profess his love to Hero. Their other friend Don Pedro conceives of a plan to bring Benedick and Beatrice together in affection with the help of Leonato, Hero, and Claudio. When Benedick overhears Leonato, Claudio, and Don Pedro discussing Beatrice’s “true” feelings for him, he is befuddled at the news. It is not long when Beatrice hears Hero and the maid Ursula converse about his “true” feelings for her. “What fire is in my ears?” asks Beatrice after hearing this news. At the wedding of Claudio and Hero, the work of the sinister Don John threatens all four of our lovers.

Whedon and some of his frequent actors sat around on Sundays doing readings of Shakespeare’s plays. After doing “Much Ado About Nothing” with Acker and Denisof, he knew that if they were to make a movie out of any of them it would be that play with these two actors. At first I was apprehensive toward Denisof. He seemed a bit stale and one noted in the first few scenes. He completely won me over once he receives news that Beatrice “loves” him. His comedic abilities come out as he fumbles around outside trying to stay unnoticed. Acker and Denisof are a fantastic dueling pair with the infamous Benedick/Beatrice jabs. The majority of the cast are frequent Whedon collaborators and I think that familiarity and comfortable setting helps them feel a bit more at ease with the language and characters. The contemporary setting and design play a factor in that as well. Clark Gregg feels right at home with the language and character as Leonato. Nathan Fillion is another standout as Dogberry, an over-the-top boss of the night watch crew assigned to the evening's events.

I always love when contemporary films are shown in black and white. It works well with the chic look and design of the parties seen throughout. There is an eloquent and timeless feel it adds to the story. Cinematographer Jay Hunter shoots a majority of the film on hand held cameras and has stated his inspiration came from the French new wave films of Goddard and Truffaut. Whedon and his wife/producer Kai Cole filmed the whole movie in twelve days at their home in California. It is a beautiful property which serves as a nice backdrop for the wedding scene.

Maybe it's the actor in me, but I have a soft spot for Shakespeare. There is a bit of trepidation whenever directors try to take a different twist to one of his classics or try to set it in a contemporary setting. I still think the "Othello" inspired O with Julia Stiles and Josh Hartnett from 2001 was one of the worst adaptations I have seen on the big screen. For their first attempt at Shakespeare, Whedon and his talented cast have hit it out of the ballpark with the simple, yet effective, contemporary take on one of the Bard's best comedies. Truth be told, I haven't read "Much Ado About Nothing" nor seen the staged version in many years so I was able to go in pretty fresh. I would love to see Whedon and his cast take on more iambic pentameter with another adaptation. I don't think they would all work in this setting and style, but I would be curious to see which one they tackle next.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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Friday, November 8, 2013



A few days ago, Blockbuster Video announced they would be closing the doors at its remaining 300 stores and end it's mail service that is similar to Netflix. Many stern film buffs may have hated its corporate feel, their lack of hard to find titles, small selection of foreign titles, or even the fact they refused to carry NC-17 titles. I, on the other hand, have many fond memories of my local Blockbuster Video. Shockingly enough, I never worked at one. I ended up working at Big 10 Video in Mounds View, MN which was one of those independently owned stores that had the infamous back room. The closing of Blockbuster Video really feels like the final nail in the coffin to the concept of video stores which saddens me. Yes, there are still some small mom and pop stores out there with a great selection, but they are few and far between. I was going to write a little tribute to Blockbuster Video and all of my memories of spending my Friday nights going up and down the stacks as I could never make a selection. After reading my husband's Facebook status the other day, his eloquent words encapsulate what I had been thinking. For the first time on "Paul's Trip to the Movies", I am honored to have Ryan McGuire Grimes as my first guest contributor.

I have conflicting feelings on the news that the final Blockbuster Video stores are closing because I worked at Blockbuster Rosedale (long since closed) for about a year or so in college. My time there was before Netflix even existed, where a family trip to the video store on a Friday or Saturday night was still a thing, and we had lines curling back into the store waiting to check out, especially if a new release was cleared off three tiers of shelves in a matter of a few hours. There was something dorkily exciting about being a part of that.

I’ve been reading several commentaries about Blockbuster’s close, but was most intrigued by one that detailed how the rise of Blockbuster marked the decline of small, local video stores. Personally, I was ecstatic when Blockbuster opened in Cedar Falls because the Stars & Stripes Video on Main Street only carried about three copies of the biggest new releases and our family never made it in time to be one of the proud renters. We'd have to just peruse a bunch of old movies, and I wasn't interested. The odds of watching the newest release were much better when you went to Blockbuster and they had 80 copies.

As I grew older, though, and met actual film buffs (I considered myself one until I met people who actually were), I'd always get, "Oh, you haven't seen that? You need to rent it right now!" and I quickly came to realize that Blockbuster wouldn't be helping me out with that. And, frankly, Amazon was hitting its peak at that time and you could just buy a permanent copy of the movie for super cheap much more often than you could find a Blockbuster location that carried it for rent. (Although it seemed in the early 2000s that there was a Blockbuster on every Minneapolis corner...but I digress...)

So, by the time Netflix hit its stride...well, the writing was really on the wall. Like the sentiment of many who have written about Blockbuster's demise, it really is actually shocking how much longer the remaining Blockbuster locations have stayed open. Which brought back memories of my latest (and now last) experience at Blockbuster.

Paul and I went to the location on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown, which I recently learned is not the only remaining Twin Cities location, but rather one of four. We wanted to see RED 2 and hadn't yet seen the first one and it wasn't available on Netflix streaming, HuluPlus, AmazonPrime, or Xfinity OnDemand. I'm not saying we actually have all of those options in our home (we do, of course, I’m just a bit ashamed to have to admit it), just that I happen to know RED wasn't available through any of them. So, we went to Blockbuster Uptown, the only video store still open anywhere near our house after that sad Hopkins joint down Excelsior Boulevard went belly-up last year. They had RED, which is as happy as this story ends. The store itself was depressing, the employees disheveled, and even though it was a Saturday night, where, in my day, it would have been packed, the uninterested employees seemed almost resentful there were any people in the store at all (it was us and just one other couple that were obviously just bored and wanted to find something to have on in the background while they made out).

I'm not sure what my point is anymore, except that there certainly will be nowhere left to find a Bruce Willis action movie with an impending sequel. At least near our house.

Ooh, look, twenty dollars.
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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Movie Review: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard, Lupita Nyong'o, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt

Not since Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List has a film so vividly captured a horrifying chapter in history. Steve McQueen’s (Shame, Hunger) latest film is an adaptation of the memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup. In 1841, Solomon (Ejiofor) was a free black man with a wife and two children. Being an accomplished violinist, he is targeted by two men (Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam) posing as artists offering him a chance to be a part of a touring music gig. He is bound and kidnapped after he passes out after a night of heavy libations.

He is sold into slavery and given the new name “Platt”. For twelve years, he is sold off to various plantations. His first owner, William Ford (Cumberbatch) is a preacher and seems to treat him a bit better than future owner Edwin Epps (Fassbender). Solomon and fellow slave Patsey (Nyong’o) spend the majority of their time under the cruel and vicious hands of Epps and his mistress (Paulson). He holds onto enough hope that someday he will be rescued.

The film is getting a lot of buzz about how brutal the depiction of slavery is. I have even read some articles stating that movies goers, even members of the Academy, are walking out or cannot take too much of it due to the violence and graphic nature. I would like to know what these people were expecting. A light walk in the park? This is a tragic period of American history and I applaud director Steve McQueen for going all in by depicting the violence, hatred, and brutality that went into it. I do not feel like we see enough directors that are willing to tackle such dark and horrific moments in history. If they do, they end up sugar coating the truth or adding in some sort of love story or fictitious subplot to lighten the tone.

The story gets right into the nitty gritty early on as Solomon is sold into slavery within the first fifteen minutes. For the next two hours, you may feel a tight wad of anxiety and intensity inside of you as it never lets up. It compels you to watch Solomon’s journey that hopefully challenges you as an individual and demands your attention. There are numerous moments where I could hear the others around me squirm and writhe in their seats.

McQueen has assembled a big cast of heavy hitters, many of whom have very small parts. Pitt and Cumberbatch appear for about fifteen minutes or so. Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, and Bryan Batt are all on screen for about five minutes each. Paul Dano gives another strong performance this year after his turn in Prisoners. Fassbender’s character is truly heinous in every possible way. There are very few redeeming qualities about him. At times I wanted more out of him than just a monster. As Patsey, Nyong’o is a revelation who is vulnerable and heartbreaking in every way. I expect an Oscar nomination to come her way. We now come to Chiwetel Ejiofor who is the heart and core of this film. He carries so much weight and determination in his eyes the whole film. You just look into his eyes and see layers behind them. You never see Solomon give up. Ejiofor conveys so much emotion and range without it being a flashy or showy performance. The simple yet effective cinematography by frequent McQueen collaborator Sean Bobbitt oftentimes is a still shot focusing on Ejiofor hoping, praying, and waiting for help to come his way. In so many movies these days, the camera is zipping by so fast that it can be hard to keep up. The exact opposite is happening here it where keeping the camera still gets these images and actions ingrained in your head.

How do you walk away saying this is great film when it is about such horrific events? You are not left with that feel good type feeling like you do after say The Way Way Back. Instead, you are left with this pit in your stomach. You have to go back and judge it off how well did McQueen do his job as a storyteller. Did it affect you in another way? Did it teach you something? Does it leave you in deep discussion afterwards? Did it shake something inside of you? McQueen has created a film that is sure to be talked about for quite some time. There are certain scenes and images that I cannot stop thinking about that I would love to discuss here, but it is better to just experience them firsthand without me spoiling them.

RATING: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

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