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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Friday, February 28, 2014

Movie Rewind: THE SQUARE (2013)

Director: Jehane Noujaim
Starring:Khalid Abdalla,Ahmed Hassan,Magdy Ashour

I must say, I am really learning a lot about current events after watching some of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Documentary. First Dirty Wars and now The Square which brings us right into the forefront of what has been all over the headlines in the past few years. You’re supposed to learn about the news through movies, right? What a splendid idea as I am not up to date on what has been happening on CNN or what’s printed in my local paper. In 2011, a revolution was starting in Cairo, Egypt to overthrow President Mubarak from power. Local citizens flocked to Tahrir Square in the heart of the city for protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins for their voice to be heard. The people came together as one unit without any division of religion in order to obtain freedom from the regime. On February 11, 2011, fireworks went off as the people won their fight when President Mubarak stepped down as their leader.

Unfortunately for them, that was only the first step in a struggle spanning the years since Mubarak left. Despite leaving power, his regime was still in place and the Armed Forces took over without any chance of change occurring. The same revolutionaries marched back into Tahrir Square knowing their work was long from over. Thousands of protestors were arrested and put on trial. One woman states, “The army consistently lied, tortured us.” Even after President Morsi took power, the situation only grew worse. The number of citizens demanding change went from the first few hundreds in the Square at the beginning toward the millions that marched on the one year anniversary of President Morsi’s win.

Director Jehane Noujaim is an Egyptian American herself and brings an inside look at what is happening in the country where she was raised. She interviews six revolutionaries, including actor Khalid Abdalla (The Kite Runner, United 93), young storyteller Ahmed Hassan, and singer/songwriter Ramy Essam and follows their journeys and fights for freedom against Egyptian rule. Noujaim offers a frontline view taking the audience deep into the action as she shoots the majority of footage inside the middle of Tahrir Square. There are some horrific images as people are left injured and even dead after the their own police and army stepped in and turned it into a war. On the contrary, the aerial shots of the swarms of people gathered in the streets are jaw-dropping and inspiring to see that sort of drive, ambition, and sense of community. It should be noted that the majority of the film is in the native language of Egyptian Arabic with English subtitles shown below.

According to Ahmed, there was injustice and indignity and no hope for a better future. When you watch the cable news programs covering events like this, you don't always get that personal connection. You typically get an outsider's perspective looking in and reporting from afar. Noujaim's probing look and personal accounts with her subjects are thought provoking and insightful as you are in the middle of the action yourself. I would not consider this my favorite of the four nominees I have seen as 20 Feet from Stardom still holds that title. Each one has been enlightening and is a testimony to the strength of this genre. Sometimes you watch a documentary and you just feel pelted and beaten over the head with the same point being driven home over and over again. I'm looking at you, Food, Inc.. Luckily the four nominees I have covered so far offer us a variety of topics in an insightful manner with food for thought to ponder over for days to come afterward. Who knows, maybe I will start to pay more attention to the news to keep abreast of these situations. I should probably expand my focus past the pop culture section.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? YES.

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

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Movie Rewind: 20 FEET FROM STARDOM (2013)

Director: Morgan Neville
Starring: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Tata Vega, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Mick Jagger, Bette Midler

When you were watching a talk show or attending a recent concert, you may you have noticed the three or four singers standing in the background swaying or dancing along while singing the “oohs”, “aaahs”, or part of the vocal line. It may look easy, which is why it is unfortunate that most people probably take back-up singers for granted. When you start to think about it, some of the best songs ever recorded have background vocals. Sometimes they take a simple song and elevate it to a whole new level. In his new film 20 Feet from Stardom, documentarian Morgan Neville takes a look at the history and art of what it means to be a back-up singer.

The film follows the careers of Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Táta Vega, Lisa Fischer, The Waters Family, and Judith Hill who have all made their careers by lending their powerhouse voices to some of the greatest performers in the industry including Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Better Midler, just to name a few. It is great to see some of these well-known legends discuss the importance of background vocals to their work and how vital these artists are to the industry. It should come as no surprise that many of these artists come from a history of singing in their church when they were younger. A few of them mention being the pastor or minister’s daughter and learning how to blend and harmonize as part of the church choir. Bruce Springsteen states, “They bring a world with them.”

In the very early years, background singers merely sang what was written on the page. This idea shifted around the time of The Blossoms when singers like Darlene Love started adding guts and a playful attitude to the music. There is a fascinating story about how Phil Spector used Darlene and The Blossoms as lead vocals on a few songs like “He’s a Rebel”, but it was credited under The Crystals without any acknowledgment that it was Love’s voice that was front and center. She could only tolerate those “ghost recordings” for so long despite Spector’s demands. The film also highlights the fact that the music industry is not a fair or just business. Just because you have talent doesn’t mean you will automatically get a record deal or have huge success. Lisa Fischer was perfectly happy remaining a back-up singer. She has been working for decades and states, “Singing is about sharing, it’s not a competition.” She had a passion for singing and had no interest in becoming famous. Some of the other women have different opinions and envisioned their careers taking a different spin once they were offered a solo recording contract.

Even if you are not the biggest fan of this style of music, it would be hard not to acknowledge and appreciate the vital impact these singers have had on the music industry. The film serves as a celebration of music and shines a light by putting a name and face to so many voices we may have heard but did not know their story and history. It also charts the evolution of using background vocals in the music industry and where the need for that sound came from. As the film points out, it is a shame that this need started to die down in the ‘90s. As technology shifted, producers could mix and reshape the sound without needing to pay all of these vocalists for their work.

20 Feet from Stardom is one of the five nominees for Best Documentary for the 86th Academy Awards. This was the fourth film I watched, and by far my favorite. Some of the other nominees cover such heavy material, and this documentary proves that films in this genre don’t need to be these groundbreaking, earth shattering pieces trying to uncover some hidden truth or conspiracy. I am kicking myself that I never took the opportunity to see it in theaters. The music is so rich and vibrant that you can't help but start singing along when you recognize one of the classic tunes mentioned.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Yes. You will most likely find yourself singing along with these ladies.

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

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Monday, February 24, 2014



Here are the nominees for best original song from a motion picture.

"Happy" from DESPICABLE ME 2
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams
performed by: Pharrell

"Let It Go" from FROZEN
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
performed by: Idina Menzel

"The Moon Song" from HER
Music by Karen O
Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze
Performed by: Karen O

Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen
Lyric by Paul Hewson
performed by: U2

You may notice that this category is one nominee short of its usual five nominees. When the nominations were announced, heads turned in disbelief when "Alone Yet Not Alone" from the film of same name was nominated. Most people had never heard of this song or movie due to an extremely limited release, so how did it stand out and get nominated? The Academy decided to disqualify the song and pull the nomination after finding that composer Bruce Broughton, who is a current member of the music branch, emailed and promoted the song to voters outside of the rules and regulations regarding campaigning for a nomination.

Which one of these four great songs will win? My vote is going toward "Let It Go" from Frozen. The movie was a massive hit for Disney and the song has had just as big of an impact as the movie did. There are countless YouTube videos and Buzzfeed pages devoted to it with many young fans singing their versions of it. I am so happy to hear that powerhouse Idina Menzel will sing it live during the ceremony. I think the only song that could come in its way is "Ordinary Love" by U2. They are gaining a little momentum after their Golden Globe win and acoustic performance on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon".

Who would you like to win? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Friday, February 21, 2014



This weekend brings a few more releases that you may find a bit lackluster. I was not able to attending any screenings of 3 Days to Kill starring Kevin Costner or Pompeii starring "Game of Thrones" hunk Kit Harington, so I cannot report whether they are worth your time, effort, and hard earned money. The Oscars are less than 10 days away, so it is time to get scrambling if you are feeling behind. There are some documentaries and foreign films I still need to check out. Check back for reviews of those to come soon! If you are feeling behind, I would like to recommend the AMC Best Picture Showcase. I am in no way affiliated with AMC, so this is basically free marketing for them. I can only attest for the numerous times I have gone to the all day marathon.

AMC presents all nine best picture nominees shown over two Saturdays or, if you are up for it, a 24 hour marathon blitz. As you may recall from my reviews or my Oscar Watch 2014 page, I have already seen all nine nominees. You may be wondering why I would spend two full Saturdays hunkering into a plush movie theater seat for nine movies I have already seen. It should come as no surprise that I love watching movies over and over again. Truth be told, this will be my third time seeing Nebraska and American Hustle. When films are this good, there is usually something different I take away with each viewing. Maybe I watch a different actor or focus on the script or the cinematography. The idea behind seeing them back to back really let's you put them into perspective. Which film really does stand out as the Best Picture of the Year? If I had seen them before, which holds up on its second viewing? Which gets better with age? I have a feeling I will enjoy The Wolf of Wall Street even more this time around. If you are an AMC Stubs member, you get $5 Stubs bucks per day on your member card to use at the concession stand. Mini breaks are offered in between each movie with trivia and prizes and a longer dinner break occurs later in the day. Plus, you get a nifty collectible lanyard.

Here's the rundown of each day:

Saturday, February 22
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
12 Years a Slave

Saturday, March 1
Captain Phillips
American Hustle

I am thrilled to have a group of friends join us this year. I plan on live tweeting throughout so check my Twitter page for my random thoughts throughout the marathon. I should preface with the fact that it all depends on if Sprint and my iPhone will cooperate with me at the theater. The last time I was there, I could not get a darn internet connection to save my soul! FIRST WORLD PROBLEM, I KNOW!  Here's to a fun couple of Oscar filled Saturdays coming up!

Thanks for reading,

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Movie Review: ROBOCOP

Director: José Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earl Haley

Valentine's Day weekend brought us three remakes of '80s films. Three? Really? Yes, I kid you not.  Apparently we are void of any original love stories to be told for that special day. I vaguely recall seeing the original 1987 Paul Verhoeven flick edited for television many years ago when I was a kid flipping channels. Needless to say, I went in fresh without an ingrained memories of Peter Weller suited up taking on the criminals. Jump forward to 2028 and robots are being used by the US military to settle the violence in Tehran. OmniCorp, the parent company of these killing machines, is looking to bring the technology to the United States due to the success it has brought Tehran. The company's president Raymond Sellers (Keaton) plus a couple of employees from the marketing department  (Ehle, Baruchel) are having a hard time getting it approved by the US Senate. Apparently these robots are smart enough to kill the bad guys, but innocent civilians are getting killed on accident without any sort of emotional response from the robots.

Sellers comes up with the brilliant plan of adding a human to the robots in order to gain popularity for the project. His angle is that they will be able to show emotion and a thought process before killing any targets. He teams up with Dr. Dennett Horton (Oldman) to test potential candidates. Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) and his partner Jack Lewis (Williams) are members of the Detroit police force working on bringing down crime boss Antoine Vallon. Murphy is severely burned and paralyzed after his car explodes due to Vallon's hit on him. His wife Clara (Cornish) gives Sellers and Dr. Horton permission to use Murphy as their first test subject under the new RoboCop program. No matter how much they tinker around with Alex's emotional and cognitive recall, OmniCorp is not prepared for the aftermath of what happens next.

The idea behind RoboCop may have seemed fresh in the '80s after The Terminator was a huge success. This reboot feels a bit unnecessary as it doesn't feel innovative or ground breaking.  It feels like it is trying to capitalize on all the Marvel success where we take this damaged hero type figure and force science and technology into him only to end up with dangerous results. That's not to say that it was doomed from the beginning, but it seems to take itself so seriously that there is no fun or joy to be had. What makes movies like Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger work well is that they have a sense of humor about it. They acknowledge that this idea is a bit ridiculous, but they run with it and save the world at the same time.

I give screenwriter Joshua Zetumer some credit for making the family aspects to it stand out. You definitely get a sense that the family story with his wife and son and the effects Alex/RoboCop has on them is vital to the story.  Where he falls flat is that he tries to cover so much other ground on top of the family story. There is so much time and characters devoted to different aspects of the story that, while they have some merit, ultimately could be cut and trimmed down for the sake of the pacing. Take for instance the Samuel L. Jackson character. He plays this TV news reporter that reports on the OmniCorp technology that opens the movie. He then disappears for a good chunk of the movie and then comes back. There is also the whole political angle with more time and characters devoted to the Dreyfuss Act. Actor Zach Grenier (TV's "The Good Wife") is great as Senator Dreyfuss, but do we really need all of the courtroom scenes? I understand the point of his portion of the story, but too much time is spent there. This is on top of the actual story involving Alex Murphy, his family, his crew over at the Detroit police department, and all of the people involved with OmniCorp.

The film has a run time of just under two hours, yet I really felt like I was watching a three hour action saga. So many angles and elements of the story that get explored and discussed could potentially have been saved for future entries if this would become a franchise. The whole exposition and lead-up to when the RoboCop is ready for public display feels like one whole story. I actually thought they were going to end the movie at that point, but I realized he hadn't solved any crimes yet or killed any of the Detroit's most wanted. That wasn't the only time I thought the movie was ending. Whether it was the writing, slow pacing, or both, there were numerous false endings where it would have ended perfectly but it cut to another scene.

On paper this film may have flowed better. There are so many great actors working here, and I'm sure they all thought this could be a good film for easy money that could potentially build into a franchise. Gary Oldman is always a treat to watch no matter how good or bad the film turns out. It is nice to see Michael Keaton back on the big screen again. There is one scene that is classic Keaton style acting that was one of the better parts of the movie. Joel Kinnaman has a nice wholesome family man aspect to him that fits this Alex Murphy well. I have no idea how he compares to Peter Weller so I have no bias toward the original here. Kinnaman keeps the character grounded and maintains the human aspect about him without falling into any sort of robotic, two dimensional stereotype once he is assembled into the RoboCop. This is the first American film for Brazilian director José Padilha. He has some good elements working for him here as he has some high caliber actors that signed on for this. You also won't find a lot of cheesy dialogue or over-acting like you would find in a Michael Bay movie. Focus and tight storytelling are his biggest problems. There is far too much going on, especially for a remake.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? No. This remake takes itself far too seriously.

RATING: **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace, Benicio Del Toro, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close

Marvel has no plans of slowing down as they continue to crank out big screen adaptations of their comic book characters. Guardians of the Galaxy is their third entry in 2014 following Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past. This story follows Peter Quill (Pratt), an American pilot who is the subject of a manhunt led by the evil Ronan the Accuser (Pace) after he steals an orb Ronan has been eying. Quill learns the true powers of the orb and teams up with Rocky Raccoon (Cooper), Gamora (Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Bautista), and Groot (Diesel) to go up against Ronan who is threatening the universe.

I must say that I am pretty unfamiliar with the characters and world of Guardians of the Galaxy. I have been on board with Marvel so far after so many films, so I have full confidence this will be another hit for them. Feel free to sound off below in the comments with your thoughts on the trailer or anything else Marvel related.

RELEASE DATE: August 1, 2014

Here's the trailer:

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Director: Steve Pink
Starring: Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Adam Rodriguez, Paula Patton, Christopher McDonald, Joe Lo Truglio

Is the third time the charm in regards to my relationship, or lack thereof, with Kevin Hart? You may remember from my reviews of Grudge Match and Ride Along that I have not hopped on the Hart bandwagon despite him being a huge box office draw and bonafide laugh-a-minute star to other people. Could he finally star in something that I found funny or have I just given in to his self-deprecating type humor? Could Regina Hall be just the right costar for him?

Bernie (Hart) invites his coworker and best friend Danny (Ealy) on his date with Joan (Hall) while she invites her roommate Debbie (Bryant) along for the night out as well. Bernie and Joan are two loud-mouthed, wise ass individuals who seem perfect for each other. Maybe a little too perfect. They start tossing the drinks and shots back like they’re at some sort of frat party. Danny and Debbie sit back and take in the behavior while cautiously keeping an eye on the time. According to Bernie and Joan, those two are being boring due to the fact they have to work the next day. Debbie and Danny leave early and end up spending the night together.

Bernie and Danny recap the previous night’s activities at work the next day like any two friends would. Their take on the evening is a bit different than how Joan and Debbie recall it. As the months carry on, Danny and Debbie’s one night stand eventual leads to a budding romance. They move in and take those next big steps in a relationship and deal with everything that goes into that. Joan and Bernie do not have the same luck as their adventurous nights in the bedroom come to a screeching halt. This bad breakup leads to many hysterical verbal tirades whenever they have to see each other. Meanwhile, Danny and Debbie’s exes (Patton and Rodriguez) come back into the picture and prove that the strings from those past relationships may not have been completely detached.

As you may recall, About Last Night is a remake of the 1986 film of the same name with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore in the roles played here by Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant. James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins had the supporting characters that Kevin Hart and Regina Hall play. Both films are based off the stage play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet. I have not seen the original film, but I did read the play back in college which was at least a decade ago now. Have no fear as I will not be comparing the two movies. It should be noted that the location has changed to Los Angeles. If you are familiar with those previous incarnations, you will get a kick out of the fact that there is a scene between Ealy and Bryant as they watch the 1986 film and one of the characters talks about the “sexual perversity in Los Angeles”.

I mentioned my lack of appreciation for Kevin Hart above and while that easily could have stopped me from seeing this, the trailers looked promising and I thought if they stuck close to the original source material, I could get on board. Color me surprised as I actually found Hart to be really enjoyable here. In his past films, I feel like he has just playing Kevin Hart and the script always seemed written for him or he improvised his way through many scenes. The script by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) seems pretty genuine and untouched here. That’s not to say that I believe every scene was shot the way it was written on the page, but the rapid fire dialogue between all four characters is evident and doesn’t seem like it needed any help from Hart or Regina Hall (Scary Movie). Hall and Hart are dynamite here as their antics and verbal sparring toward each other keep the laughs steady throughout the whole movie. Some may find it exhausting as they can be loud, abrasive, and slightly obnoxious, but their chemistry and timing balance that out. As the main couple, Joy Bryant ("Parenthood") and Michael Ealy (Think Like a Man, "The Good Wife") work really well together making their relationship very believable and plausible. Yes, it does get a bit predictable as you expect his character to make some bonehead moves along the way. That does happen in real life, but don't you just want the couple in a romantic comedy to just do the right things the whole way through?

Director Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine) has a strong enough cast that makes the movie work and keeps you cheering for Danny and Debbie. He and Leslye Headland have updated it to the modern era as discussions about Facebook statuses and the use of the "ignore" button on their phones come into play.  I am sure fans of the original 1986 film will be skeptical, and I have a feeling David Mamet will just ignore this one. Is it groundbreaking in the world of romantic comedies? Not really, but it certainly is better than a majority of them out there.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Yes.  Kevin Hart is actually funny here.

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

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Monday, February 17, 2014



The countdown to the Oscars continue as the winners of The BAFTAs were announced Sunday night. There were not too many surprises here, but the equal love for 12 Years a Slave and Gravity still makes your Oscar ballot a bit tricky to fill out.  Despite the win for Jennifer Lawrence, I still think Lupita Nyong'o will take home the Oscar.

 Let's take a take at the BAFTA winners...

12 Years a Slave


Kieran Evans (Director/Writer) Kelly + Victor

The Great Beauty

The Act of Killing


Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity

Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Steven Price, Gravity

Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity

Dan Hanley and Mike Hill, Rush

Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn, The Great Gatsby

Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby

Evelyne Noraz and Lori McCoy-Bell, American Hustle

Glenn Freemantle, Skip Lievsay, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri, and Chris Munro, Gravity

Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, and Nikki Penny, Gravity

Sleeping with the Fishes

Room 8

THE EE RISING STAR AWARD (voted for by the public)
Will Poulter

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Friday, February 14, 2014

My Criterion Collection: HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)

Director: Hal Ashby
Starring: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Pickles

Harold: Oh, I don’t drink.
Maude: That’s okay. It’s organic.

Age is but a number when it comes to this quirky and special relationship. We know that when we see Harold (Cort) hanging himself at the beginning of the movie, he will survive or else we wouldn’t have the rest of the movie. His hanging is part of a series where he likes to stage his bloody suicide scenes. It is slightly disturbing, yet funny at the same time. His mother (Pickles) describes him as a “delicate child”. She is overbearing and completely out of touch with her son. She is always trying to get him to join the military and brings home potential girlfriends for him.

It should probably come as no surprise for someone that is fascinated with death that he likes to attend funerals and burials. At one particular burial, he sees Maude (Gordon) lurking by a tree in the background. They meet again at another funeral where introductions are made and their lives are forever changed. They naturally don’t know the deceased at either funeral. Maude is this seventy-nine year old earthy, eccentric artist living in an old train car that she has filled with her art projects and memorabilia. She also likes to steal people’s cars. A friendship and bond between Harold and Maude ensues leading to an eventual romance. Their antics and adventures are downright hysterical especially their encounters with members of the police.

From the beginning when we see Harold’s staged hanging, you immediately get the tone of the film that is set in place. There is a dark and twisted sense of humor that resides over Harold. Is it him seeking attention from his mother? Is it a rebellion to the proper and sophisticated lifestyle he is brought up in? Screenwriter Colin Higgins and director Hal Ashby have taken this idea of Harold’s and executed it perfectly. While at first sight they are somewhat shocking, the nonchalant reaction shots from his mother make them quite funny. There are eight suicide scenes for Harold throughout the movie and each one of them is priceless, especially when one of his potential girlfriends is an actress and plays along with it thinking he is staging a bit from “Romeo and Juliet”. He may have an obsession of death, but the film never feels morose or depressing.

As a juxtaposition to that is Maude, who at the age of seventy-nine, lives life to the fullest. On the outside, one could easily think of her as some crazy old lady that has lost it. She is quite the opposite of that. Maude knows perfectly well that she is evading the cops or living in a train car and doesn’t care. She will beat to her own drum however she sees fit. She lives this carefree life full of art, music, and nature. Opposites do attract as she opens Harold up to a whole different way of looking at life. There is something so sweet and genuine about the evolution of their friendship that it never feels unrealistic or creepy that this young man starts falling for someone that could be his grandmother. Maude is brought to life by the brilliant Ruth Gordon, who had recently won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Rosemary’s Baby. That film will be featured later in my Criterion series. She brings forth a vitality and effervescence to Maude that you fall in love with as well.

It is hard to not soak in all of the rich 1970s elements captured by cinematographer John Alonzo. Between the costumes and Cat Stevens music, the film is definitely a snapshot from that fabulous decade of cinema. In one of the special features, Cat Stevens discusses how some of the songs that were used were only demos at the time and weren’t fully produced or finished until they wanted to release a soundtrack. Despite the fact it is very much a product of its time, there is a timeless quality to it. It never feels dated or past its prime.

Harold and Maude has had a lasting impression on movie going audiences. It has had numerous midnight screenings over the years and definitely has a cult following. The prestigious American Film Institute has recognized it four times in their 100 Years lists, including being #45 on 100 Laughs, #69 on 100 Passions, and #89 on 100 Cheers. The film was released on Criterion Collection Blu-Ray and DVD in 2012 with a variety of special features including: a new digital restoration and uncompressed monaural soundtrack, new commentary by Hal Ashby biographer Nick Dawson and producer Charles B. Mulvehill, audio excerpts with Ashby and Colin Higgins, a new interview with Cat Stevens, and a booklet with interview excerpts with Bud Cort and cinematographer John Alonzo, and an essay with film critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Compared to other Criterion releases, the special features are a bit sparse and most of them are taken from when the film was released.

These two are one of favorite screen couples of all time thanks to the witty script by Colin Higgins and the sublime performances by Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. They are an unconventional couple to say the least, but it never feels disturbing. The film has a whole takes its time to let this relationship unfold. Movie audiences of today may find the film slow as there isn't a lot of action or fast paced scenes to keep up with the short attention spans of today. This film, along with many other films from the '70s, are all about the evolution of the characters. Here, we go on these little adventures Maude takes Harold on and see him open up in a whole new light. It is sweet, delicate, odd, and timeless. I first saw it years ago and just watched it again for the first time since then. I couldn't help but think that it would be a perfect movie for a rainy day or when you are sick at home and need something to lift your spirits.

“Harold, you make me feel like a school girl.”

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

You can find others in My Criterion Collection series: here

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Movie Review: THE LEGO MOVIE

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Alison Brie, Will Forte, Jonah Hill, Dave Franco

Yes, it is true. The Lego Movie is AWESOME. Eyes may have rolled when it was first announced that there would be a movie based on Legos. The trailers looked pretty funny, so I had hope that it would actually exceed the low expectations that were originally set in place. Boy, did it ever. Emmet (Pratt) wakes up every day as excited as he can be. Everything is awesome in life. He is just your ordinary Lego figurine that goes about his everyday life according to the set of instructions he has been given. He is a bit naïve and innocent and does not quite understand the fact that the other construction workers don’t really like him.

At the construction site one day after work, he is taken aback by the fierce and creative Wyldstyle (Banks) who he finds digging around on the grounds searching for “The Piece of Resistance”. It is not long before he falls down a deep mysterious hole and is captured by Bad Cop (Neeson). Bad Cop is working for the evil Lord Business (Ferrell) who is planning on taking over the entire Lego universe by using the “Kragle” to freeze everything in place the way he wants it to be. Wyldstyle rescues Emmet and informs him that he must be the one known simply as the “Special”. Many ages ago, the wizard Vitruvius (Freeman) told of a prophecy where the Special would use The Piece of Resistance to put a stop toward Lord Business and save the Lego world.

Off the bat, this is not the most unique premise in the entire universe. We have seen these types of underdog stories before where the main character is this ordinary, average person who in turn is told they will save the universe even though they do not possess any sort of special power or creative nature about them. I am a sucker for that whole concept of believing in yourself when no one else has any faith in you. What makes The Lego Movie so special is the journey and wildly imaginative universe the creative team came up with to make this animated film step out as one of best in the genre from recent years. Like Toy Story and Wreck-It Ralph before it, it takes something from our childhood that we have a connection with and elevates it to a whole other dimension. I do not remember playing with Legos a whole lot as a child as I was more into my Power Rangers/Batman/He-Man action figures. Even though I don’t have a past connection or memories of Lego worlds I created, it didn’t stop me from connecting to this story and laughing throughout. There are plenty of laughs for the adults taking their children to the movie, or if you are like me, who went solo to this without a child attached at the hip.

The animation is top-notch and astonishing as you realize that  the team of animators took extra care into making sure that every aspect of the design is Lego based including the water, fire, car exhaust, and waves for examples. All of the characters move in accordance to how an actually Lego piece is able to move. Lego pieces have to walk and turn their heads a certain way, and parts of them can detach. The effort to keep them true to that is noticeable and noteworthy. They never take them out of the confines of their natural construction.

When you listen to the voice-over actors do their work of bringing these characters to life, you can tell they are all having a blast. One of the highlights is Will Arnett as Batman. He is clearly doing his best Christian Bale impression. It's practically like having the cast of The Dark Knight Trilogy here with Neeson and Freeman also lending their voices to characters very similar to the images we know them as from other roles.  Freeman has played God and the president numerous times, so it's no surprise he would play the all mighty wizard here. There are plenty of  other surprise cameo voices that come out once Emmet, Wyldstyle, and Batman call in the troops for additional help against Lord Business.

I think some people may have questioned why I went to The Lego Movie. It may have seemed odd that I was alone with my pretzel bites at the theater surrounded by a bunch of other parents and their kids. I feel like if this was a Pixar film, adults would be more apt to flock to it. You expect this type of creativity and imagination from their canon. Frankly, this is better than the last two offerings from Pixar. I think word of mouth will spread about how enjoyable the film is for all ages. The ending came as a surprise, and completely elevates it to the next level. If you have seen it, you know what I'm talking about. This will surely become a new franchise, so get out while you can to catch this Lego tale. Don't be surprised if you get the main song, "Everything is Awesome", gets stuck in your head.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? YES! No matter what age you are, you will enjoy it!

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

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Movie Review: LABOR DAY

Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Tom Lipinski, James Van der Beek, J.K. Simmons, Brooke Smith

I don’t know if I have ever really expressed my love of Kate Winslet. She is simply one of the greatest actresses working today. I have been known on multiple occasions to go back and rewatch her Best Actress Oscar speech for The Reader. When the trailer for Labor Day was released, I was excited for a new Winslet movie but was perplexed and cautious at the same time. It seemed like an unusual premise that I could not quite wrap by brain around. I trusted it could be good with Winslet in it. Even though it was in limited release in time for Oscar consideration, the wide release was pushed to late January which can never be a good sign.

Adele (Winslet) is now living as a single mother to her son, Henry (Griffith). They have a pretty close relationship that some may find a bit too close. He is going through puberty and feels the pressure to grow up faster than he should in order to take care of her. Adele is in a fragile, damaged place after her husband/Henry’s father (Gregg) left them for his secretary. The local townies feel the need to step on eggshells around her and always ask how she’s doing.

While out shopping, Henry is approached by Frank (Brolin) who is bleeding. He quietly takes them hostage and forces them to take him back to their place. Frank is a known criminal as he escaped prison while at the hospital for appendicitis. He has been serving time for murdering his wife. Back at their place Frank acts calm and non-violent. He doesn’t want to cause them any danger as he contemplates his next move. He acts like a gentleman by fixing their car, doing home repairs, and teaches them how to bake. Adele and Henry must save face anytime a neighbor stops by or when the cops patrol the neighborhood. The atmosphere in the house changes as a vulnerable Adele starts to fall for Frank and sexual tension is added into the mix.

The film plays out as part mystery and part romance. This idea of the hostage feeling compassion, empathy, and romantic feelings toward their captor is known as Stockholm syndrome. It is a perplexing situation that is hard to understand, which makes this story a bit of a conundrum. It seems odd to imagine having romantic feelings toward the same person that kidnapped you and is putting your life in danger. Even though he doesn’t necessarily do anything to harm them, you just never know if he may snap at any moment. Winslet is such a strong talented actress that is so good at playing the dimensions, I spent the majority of the film wondering if she was just submitting herself to him just to gain his trust so she could then pull the upper hand and attack him. Unfortunately, Adele is a bit too damaged and vulnerable to be playing those mind games of thinking ahead of her attacker. I was reading more into the character knowing it was Winslet playing her than I probably would have if it was someone else. I have a hard time understanding this idea of Stockholm syndrome, so I could never buy into the romance. I found the chores and repair work he does very odd. The pie making scene to bring the family together was slightly bizarre even though it did provide some good tips on how to make a big peach pie. I will say that the pie did look pretty delicious.

Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Young Adult, Juno) adapted the screenplay from the novel by Joyce Maynard. He seems to be more successful with the mystery portions of the story. There is suspense and a buildup of tension that really works well whenever the neighbors (Simmons, Smith) stop over to check on Adele or whenever the police start questioning her and Henry. You wonder if at any moment one or both of them might crack and let on that they have been kidnapped. You hope the police read into their nervous energy. The musical score has that slight build and drive keeping the suspense alive in these scenes. It makes the environment more believable and palpable that help is near and ready if they are willing to use it. The story would be way less successful and tolerable if it was just a pure romance story without any underlining hope for them to get out of it. The real question comes into play with Adele and if she wants out of it. There are flashback scenes of a young Frank (Lipinski) that lead up to the incident with his wife. I have not read the novel, but I am assuming that those scenes are part of Maynard's novel. I understand why they are a part of the story, but I question the structure of how it is used in the screenplay. Thank God Lipinski looks just like a young Brolin or I would have been completely lost. It always seems so out of place when the film cuts to these flashback moments. I do not want to give away as to why they are included, but it may have served better if approached and handled differently.

Reitman's latest has been receiving fairly negative reviews compared to his previous films. I do not believe it is anywhere near as bad as certain critics want you to believe. Winslet is a powerhouse actress that is perfect for this type of character. Brolin frequently plays these types of untrustworthy, damaged characters. If it wasn't for those two breathing life and dimension into these characters, I would have given up early on. Gattlin Griffith stands out as a sharp young actor who seems to be the smartest of these main characters. Tobey Maguire provides narration throughout as the adult Henry looking back at his childhood and how this one weekend forever changed his and his mother's lives. He only appears on screen during the very ending. That coda adds to the frustration of the film as a whole. With such a perplexing topic at hand that is hard to grasp, Reitman could done a better job at the balance and structure of how this Labor Day weekend of events unfolds. If you can give over to the romantic nature of the film early on, you may be able to enjoy it better. If you try to make sense of it all, you might be scratching your head at times.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Yes, but I would wait and watch it at home.

RATING: *** (3 out of 5 stars)

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