Safe Haven

Safe Haven (PG-13) - Runtime: 115 minutes
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Colbie Smulders
Director: Lars Hallströ
Writer: Leslie Bohem, Dana Stevens

I am a Nicholas Sparks virgin. I have miraculously avoided all of his movies. Nicholas Sparks has turned into the James Patterson of schmaltz - every year there's a new book and a new movie adaptation of said book which always includes one character dying and two star-crossed lovers trying to make the best of sad situations. I really don't know how Safe Haven became a thing for Maggie, but she was super excited about it (I think Josh Duhamel is kind of a big deal to her). And you know what? The movie wasn't that bad. Except for the M. Night Shyamalan ending - I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. We'll get into the ending because IT AFFECTS EVERYTHING!


2013's Most Anticipated: A Good Day to Die Hard

21. A Good Day to Die Hard (R) - Runtime: 97 minutes
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch
Director: John Moore
Writer: Skip Woods

Although I missed five minutes of the movie and the subtitles didn't show up until twenty minutes into the movie, I at least got to enjoy (in a sense! I think most of the enjoyment was carry-over adrenaline from the previous four) most of the new Die Hard. To say I was excited was an understatement, after watching the previous four in a row, I was prepared to have some fun. And while A Good Day to Die Hard has it's moment (yes only one), it's the worst Die Hard movie and at best, a largely forgettable action movie.

To describe the plot of the new Die Hard would be a hard one to do. I certainly couldn't tell you what the Russians were talking about, not what happened exactly for 5 minutes during the opening half of the movie. But I can tell you it was pretty ho-hum. Nothing really stood out. At least there was a recognizable villain in Live Free or Die Hard. Here? I really forgot because everyone is Russian! And yeah, that's a bit racist, but not really because the movie doesn't try to hard to distinguish anyone from anyone. It's a mess of a plot and twists happen for the sake of twists!

And you know what? I couldn't care less about any of it! That's the biggest problem with this movie - I don't even care that much about John FRICKIN McClane! How bad is it? He's basically the main reason all hell breaks loose. Instead of hell breaking loose around him, McClane is the dumb middle-aged father who just happens to ruin covert CIA operations. And I could care even more less than his relationship with his son. It just seemed forced and lacking in any development.

Now for the action? It was fun, but I couldn't honestly tell you any particular scene. I remember a helicopter.... Anyway, it's an okay action film. I'm honestly really glad that the movie is bombing so bad at the box office - this movie should be a wake up call to the studio about how to not make a decent sequel.

I could go on and on about this movie, but it's pretty much laughable when compared to the original trilogy and a big step backwards for the franchise. A huge disappointment - I don't really think this is worth your time and money. It might be worth a free rental at best!

Rating: Not Worth Paying For!


Yippie Ki-Yay!

When I found out they were doing a Die Hard marathon with all 5 movies (including the new one!), I could not pass it up. Die Hard is simply one of the greatest action films of all time. For a while, it was the standard by which you measure all other action films - Speed? Oh, it's Die Hard on a bus. Air Force One? Die Hard on a plane. Paul Blart: Mall Cop? Die Hard in a mall. I will admit that I love the original Die Hard and its sequel, Die Hard 2. Most Die Hard fanatics will say Die Hard 2 wasn't that good, but I loved how they pretty much stuck to the formula from the first movie and placed it in an airport. I have only seen the third and fourth movies a couple of times - so it was nice to see those again, especially on the big screen. It was certainly an awesome day!


2013's Most Anticipated: Side Effects

23. Side Effects (R) - Runtime: 106 minutes
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns

I cannot believe Soderbergh is leaving us. He's had a string of very awesome movies lately (Magic Mike, Haywire) and he seems to be at the top of his game. I highly doubt he'll be completely retiring from the movie-making business, but for now Side Effects is his swan song. While not quite going out with a bang, Side Effects is still an awesome and taught thriller that everyone should see.

Rooney Mara plays Emily, a woman who finds herself alone after her Wall Street fat cat husband, Martin (Tatum) gets sent to jail for insider trading. She's increasingly despondent and depressed - to the point that when Martin gets out, she seeks a therapist to help her ease back into normalcy. Jude Law plays the doctor who is pretty much a stand up psychiatrist. He soon becomes ensnared in a con perpetrated, he thinks, by Emily. There's several twists in this movie but it never gets too complicated or seem completely unrealistic how things unfold.

Soderbergh, I think, really knows how to cut a film and bring out the best acting in the cast and also provide the best shots. This movie wouldn't be as thrilling or enthralling if someone else was behind the lens. Although in the beginning the movie seemed like it was going to derail and go off on a "DRUGS ARE BAD" tangent. There was this shot of a pill bottle on the nightstand and the camera zooms in and lingers on that shot, when Maggie jokingly said "Pills are evil!" But the movie righted itself and began to focus more on Jude Law's life unraveling.

Rooney Mara is perfect in this movie - she plays Emily so well - with mood swings and slightly crazy. And the rest of the cast is fairly good too. Jude Law seems like he should be a psychiatrist in real life, so that worked out pretty well. And Tatum, while not getting a whole lot of screen time, does a decent job. Although it's very hard for me to believe he was some sort of suit on Wall Street. I will say Jude Law seemed to be pretty calm throughout the whole life unraveling - losing his practice, his wife and family. I don't think even a calm, rational person could endure such a sudden and abrupt change. But I've never been accused of being an accessory to murder along with losing my job and family. At least, not all at the same time.

Side Effects is good thriller - the movie is beautifully shot and acted and there's really not too much to complain about. Soderbergh will be missed, but at least he's leaving on a high note.

Rating: See It!


Oldie But Goodie: Step Up and Step Up 2: The Streets

When they announced that a fifth (yes a fifth!) Step Up movie was in the works that would pull a Fast Five - reuniting the cast from the previous four movies, well, my interest was piqued. I had never seen any of the Step Up movies and with Channing Tatum being, well, the new hotness - I thought it would be fun to delve back in time when people and movies were much simpler. I'm talking about 2006 - a time when a young Barack Obama was just a wee lad, desperate to make friends in Congress and when Pluto was still considered a planet. Maggie has come along for the ride and I'm not going to lie to you folks: I think I've got a new franchise to love!


2013's Most Anticpated: Warm Bodies

22. Warm Bodies (PG-13) - Runtime: 98 minutes
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Jonathan Levine

After putting this on my list for 2012, I immediately went out and read the book. And I loved it - it was a fun, tongue-in-cheek take on the zombie genre. And when they announced they were pushing this back to 2013, my heart sank a little bit. Was it not good enough? But it seems like this was more a good marketing ploy than anything - setting this movie up around Valentine's Day was genius. And it was a good date night for Maggie & I: we both really enjoyed the movie!

Warm Bodies is narrated by R - he can't remember his name - a zombie who shuffles around an airport along with a lot of other zombies. Although R's unique - he wishes he could be human again, but he can't quite figure out what to do about that. And he collects things - like old records and trinkets he finds. When he ventures out into the city to get some brains, he ends up killing Julie's boyfriend and eating his brain. Brains are kind of like cocaine for zombies - they're fueled by intense memories of the owner of the brain. And somehow R gets injected with love for Julie - so he captures her. It's a funny and heartwarming (literally!) love story that doesn't waste too much time explaining things.

The movie's good humor mostly comes from R's narration - he is a very self-aware zombie and much like R, the movie is very aware that it's another zombie movie. Which is why this "meta" (as the kids call it these days) take on the genre works so well. Without R's narration, the movie might have fallen a bit flat and be too confusing. But instead, there's a lot of great fun hearing R's thoughts as he takes Julie in as his hostage. She eventually realizes that she may have fallen in love with a zombie - but it's not gross, in fact the movie plays it out real sweet.

As for the performances, Nicholas Hoult is awesome (as he usually is!) and Teresa Palmer has quickly grown on me - I've enjoyed her in a lot of movies and I think she's due for a breakout hit sometime soon! And Rob Corddry was great as R's best zombie buddy. John Malkovich is the only weak spot (who knew!) in the movie - he just comes across as flat - and I think it's the performance more than the part!

Despite what you may think - this is a good date movie. There's a lot of great moments and romantic scenes in the movie and mixing up these two genres is actually quite awesome! It's also very funny and seems to hit all the right notes.

Rating: See It!

2013's Most Anticipated: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

40. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (R) - Runtime: 88 minutes
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writer: Tommy Wirkola

I had this movie higher on my list for 2012, but when the movie got bumped back into the wasteland of January releases I couldn't push this any higher than 40. Especially after the ho-hum trailer was released. But you know what? I had a really fun time at the movies with Hansel & Gretel. It's a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously and has a lot of good action scenes.

The opening scene is one we're all familiar with: Hansel and Gretel are taken into the woods by their father and left to fend for themselves. They stumble upon the witch's house and kill her. Instead of finding their way back home, they decide to strike out on their own. And as the opening credits roll past, we see their fame start to rise as they become known throughout the world as celebrity brother and sister witch hunters. They find themselves in a town where children are kidnapped frequently and soon find out that there's more at stake than just kids dying. It's not a hard plot to follow, nor is it vastly deep. But what the movie lacks in the script, it makes up for in character and setting. I really dug the steam-punk type vibe Wirkola has created. Hansel uses a collapsible shotgun and Gretel uses this crazy mechanical bow. They have machine guns and other sorts of useful weapons - and yes, this is all taking place in a medieval-type Europe!

The characters are fun, too - Gretel is the no-questions asked kind of woman - she gets shit done. She's easily the one who wears the pants in their relationship. Hansel is a bit more subdued - but he has a nice story arc that involves a good witch (yes there are good witches in this world as well). There's a bit of a revelation that you could see coming a mile away, but the movie doesn't treat it any more special than the action breaking loose every 15 minutes. And the action is fun and a blast - the pacing is just right in this movie where nothing wears out its welcome.

And I have to mention the care taken to another character - the troll. Usually most of the time these movies just CGI in the character, but Wirkola used actual puppeteers. The troll is a giant monster and his character felt straight out of an 80s fantasy flick - and this was a good thing. I'm pretty sure they used CGI for some action scenes, but for the most part, the troll was a real thing and it was awesome!

If you're looking for a deep and smart action flick, this is not it. Instead you get a fun and over-the-top fantasy action flick that feels at times like it belongs in the 80s. A fast-paced movie and some great R-rated action (and nudity!) help to make this a fun time at the theater.

Rating: See It!


2013's Most Anticipated: Broken City

48. Broken City (R) - Runtime: 109 minutes
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Cathering Zeta-Jones
Director: Allen Hughes
Writer: Brian Tucker

It's not very often that the Hughes Brothers make a movie (their last two efforts were 2010's The Book of Eli and 2001's From Hell. It's even rarer that one of the brother strikes out on his own (in fact, it's never happened!). And if you're a fan of the Hughes brothers, you may find yourself let down for Allen Hughes first solo directing gig. As much as I tried to enjoy the movie, there were too many problems - from editing to the acting to just the general plot that had me cringing throughout.

The movie starts off with a bang - literally - and we see a unkempt and unshaven Billy Taggert (Wahlberg) breathing heavily after gunning down an unarmed black kid. After being acquitted in the court, his career as a cop is over and cut to nine years later - he's a private investigator living month to month. Russell Crowe plays the mayor of New York City who hires Billy to investigate his wife. Nothing is as it seems and the plot soon unravels into much bigger problems than infidelity. The set up to the story is pretty good and I thought there would be some thrills and chills - but as the movie wore on, there were none of these things to be had. Instead, the plot is slow to develop and you just want things to get done instead of meandering about with side-plots.

Along with the slow-burn of a plot,  Broken City suffers from bad editing. Or at least I assume - there are several narratives that seem to be missing from the movie. At one point the movie brings up the sexual nature of the mayor's opponent (it's an election year), but is subsequently dropped in the next scene. It seems like there were some missing scenes that could have clarified certain situations (and possibly have helped with the pacing). On top of that, the whole film is just dreary - I don't remember a scene where the sun was shining. It practically rained throughout the entire movie. And I understand the implications of the dreary weather as a metaphor for the film, but the rest of the movie is just as dour and unappealing. I don't mind depressing movies, but there's not many positive and uplifting moments in this movie.

Even the performances weren't spectacular - although Crowe does a good job at playing the creepy and menacing mayor. Wahlberg is always good for playing a cop -but he didn't seem to have much depth other than "I've got to get some money!" And Jeffrey Wright seemed poorly utilized! It seemed like all the actors didn't put too much effort into this movie.

Broken City isn't necessarily a bad movie, it's just not a particularly good one, either! The plot is slow and convoluted to the point where you'll be scratching your head more than once. The characters make some odd choices and are annoyingly vague when it comes to answering questions. I'd say this is one you ought to skip entirely!

Rating: Not Worth Paying For!


2013's Most Anticipated: Gangster Squad

18. Gangster Squad (R) - Runtime: 113 minutes
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer: Will Beall

I'm not a huge fan of gangster films - but once in a while, they'll charm the pants off me. L.A. Confidential is a movie I thought deserved the Best Picture win over Titanic and Public Enemies I thought was completely underrated. So I wasn't surprised that Gangster Squad landed in my top 20 list. It has a lot going for it: 1) a great cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Peña; 2) a solid director - Ruben Fleischer - the man behind Zombieland; and 3) it's based off of Paul Lieberman's seminal book Gangster Squad. All of these elements are brought together for a vastly entertaining and fun movie.

This is the story about a rogue band of L.A. police officers who find themselves going to war against the biggest mob boss in L.A. - Mickey Cohen. The movie doesn't waste your time - you're sucked right into the action when Josh Brolin rescues a damsel in distress from a life of prostitution. After that brouhaha - he's assigned to assemble a team to work outside the law to take down Cohen and his thugs - using whatever means necessary. Gangster Squad moves along at a nice pace - there's plenty of action to break up the somewhat tedious story. Not that there's anything wrong with the story - but it's nice to know that the movie knows its own strengths. Which is the super violent and highly stylized action. There's an awesome car chase scene and an amazing last stand at the Park Plaza Hotel with Sean Penn duking it out with Josh Brolin that got pretty intense (surprising because A) Sean Penn is old and B) it's Sean Penn, c'mon!)

Even if you're not all that into action and cops and guns and cars - there's always the femme fatale story line in these movies and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have good chemistry together that they make an otherwise ho-hum b-story a nice breather from the action. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well - Sean Penn delivers a very over-the top, but still quite menacing performance as the West Coast's biggest mobster and Josh Brolin is the black and white do-gooder cop who seeks justice with the end of his barrel.

All of this is set against a beautiful and slick-looking 1940s-era Los Angeles. A lot of the movie utilizes CG effects, but it never became distracting or too cartoonish. I loved the sweeping cameras around the action and I never once lost track of who was who during the whole movie. As far as I'm concertned - Fleischer is 2 for 2 in the director's chair. He's got a nice visual flair and both of his movies are very savvy in how they employ camerawork with special effects.

This was a very fun and fast-paced action movie that deserves a lot more credit for what it does right than what it does wrong. I highly recommend this if you're pining for some action!

Rating: See it!


2012: For Your Consideration, Part 3

For Your Consideration: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

This is really my area of expertise

To hell with an intro! I tried writing some sort of eloquent piece on movie making and the direction Hollywood is going. Well, that was a boring and crappy intro, so I decided to write about the actual movie-going experience and how I prefer to watch movies in the theater because I can't get distracted by my phone or the internet. But I hated that as well. So here I am - my top three movies this year. One of them was for sure going to be a favorite of mine when I made last year's list, but the other two I really was surprised at how much they affected me. On to the list!


2012: For Your Consideration, Part 2

For Your Consideration: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Your average Academy member
I just don't understand the Academy lately. I get the decision to open up the Best Picture category. But to not do the same with Best Director? Those two categories are intrinsically tied together more than any other two categories. So you know that whoever wins director is going to win Best Picture 90% of the time. It's only happened 7 times in the past 63 years. This takes all the excitement out of the buildup from the nominations announcement to the actual show. Right now you can eliminate four of the contenders for Best Picture. Part of this also has to do with the actual number of nominees: 9 pictures is just too much. They need to make the threshold a tiny bit smaller. I'd go with 7 nominees for Best Picture and Director - that way you can still acknowledge big time movies like Django Unchained while still not losing all credibility by nominating a movie like Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Plus I don't just get their nominations these past three to four years - they're all over the place. But that's another long post which I won't bore you with (at least, not now).


2012: For Your Consideration, Part 1

For Your Consideration: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

 2012 was an amazing year for movies. There were so many great movies that I had a hard time coming up with just 10. In fact, there a couple dozen movies I consider worthy of watching at least once if you haven't already. So instead of doling out a top 10, I'm offering up 9 Best Picture nominees (like the 9 nominated this year) that the Academy didn't and probably wouldn't even consider because they're all a bunch of grumpy old men. I'll then compile an actual top ten list that will include some Best Picture nominees that I thought were amazing. I figured this was the best way to compile all the great movies I've seen that came out last year!


Lincoln (PG-13) - Runtime: 150 minutes
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner

I only had one reason that I wanted to watch this movie: it was nominated for best picture. Every year I try to watch all the best picture nominees because I want to know why these specific movies got chosen. Plus I can actually make valid complaints about the ones chosen without feeling guilty that I didn't watch a movie. With that in mind, I am not looking forward to watching Les Miserables. But back to the movie at hand. I wasn't expecting much from Lincoln. I was worried that I'd be bored to tears and gag over the pretentiousness of the movie. Well, Lincoln did nothing to quell those fears.

The story begins with an intense battle which I got super excited! Sweet, this movie is not going to be afraid to get dirty! Then is cuts to a couple of soldiers meeting Lincoln at base camp where they are so excited! They're meeting a real-life celebrity and begin to recite the Gettysburg address. They couldn't remember all of it and a black soldier starts to finish the quote. It's extremely pretentious - it's in the movie just to show you what Lincoln does to inspire people, but it comes off as manipulative. The film spends the next two-plus hours traipsing about trying to get Congress to pass the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. And it is BORING. I wouldn't have minded this movie if there was a compelling narrative, but the way the movie plays out is tedious and a lot of scenes seem unnecessary. For example - there were way too many "Lincoln tells a story" scenes. This happened about every fifteen-twenty minutes in the movie where Lincoln will provide an anecdotal story as an answer to some character's question or problem. It was okay the first time, but it became annoying throughout. In fact, the movie acknowledges this because one character shouts "I can't stand one more story!" and stomps out of the room. So even the filmmakers knew how awful the screenplay was!

And the acting! Oh the acting! Everyone has been raving about the acting in the movie, but aside from Daniel Day-Lewis, I really don't understand all the panty-dropping for the acting in this movie. There were way too many recognizable faces - and I mean that in a bad way. It felt like Tommy Lee Jones was playing Tommy Lee Jones (now with wig!). And Sally Field seemed like Sally Field just in a corset. In this case, the movie felt more like a stage play than anything else. There was much too embellishing and exaggerated acting from most of the cast.

I don't understand the love for this movie. It was way, way too long (seriously, the movie could have used some extensive cuts) and the acting was just okay, not phenomenal. There were a few side stories like Lincoln's son Robert wanting to serve in the army which could have been expanded because it felt short-handed. And there's a really odd reveal near the end of the movie. Tommy Lee, the man who was essential to the amendment's passage, comes home after the victory and there's a black woman taking his coat and hat. He sinks into bed and the camera pans out and *record scratch* the black woman is his wife! (or living partner!), like it's some sort of revelation. Here's the man who is probably more liberal than Hillary Clinton and we're supposed to be shocked that he has a black wife???? Maybe that scene was to show something else but the way it was shot seemed to suggest otherwise.

Lincoln will more than likely end up as an answer to a really hard trivia question 10 years from now because this film is largely forgettable. But I'm in the minority on this one and it will probably win at least 5 or 6 Oscars this year. Harrumph.

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague!