Review: “Inside Out” entertains and educates about emotions

June 19th, 2015 at 6:36 pm by under Entertainment
"Inside Out" poster courtesy Disney Pixar

“Inside Out” poster courtesy Disney Pixar

“Inside Out” (2015)
Rated: PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Runtime: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Genre: Animation/ Fantasy/ Comedy

My spoiler-free review:

In “Inside Out” we experience what goes on inside Riley’s head: her thoughts and feelings expressed through different clearly defined and memorable characters, its a movie that may help kids more easily explain their emotions.  Some of the concepts may go over the head of the youngest viewers, but even if little kids don’t connect the characters to emotions… its still an entertaining movie that the whole family can enjoy…. I give it 8.5 out of 10 … and can lead to some teachable moments down the road.

The main human emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger are the main characters.  They help form memories into different colored globes, then there are more significant memories called core memories… those core memories make up “islands of personality” –  different traits that determine who she is (friendship, family, hockey, honesty, etc.).  The movie tries to explain why we have memories and thoughts pop in and out of our mind.  These are concepts that are pretty easy for an adult understand, but a little more complex for the younger crowd.  But Pixar smartly repeats it enough that it should make sense by the end of the movie for most age groups.

Amy Poehler leads the cast as the voice of Joy, Phyllis Smith voices Sadness – the emotional star of the movie, Bill Hader plays Fear keeping Riley out of danger, while Lewis Black is Anger – ready to strike at any time, and Mindy Kaling perfectly plays Disgust – who hates bad fashion and broccoli.

Kids can learn from the main concepts of emotions and memories and how they shape your personality, but they can also learn from the characters themselves: as Joy is always being  positive among the other emotions when bad things happen or bad memories are recalled; Sadness causes problems but she can’t help it – unintentionally making more of an impact than Joy and it’s affecting Riley’s overall personality; the other emotions have to take over when joy and sadness are not there to “run” things.   We also get glimpses inside the brains of mom dad and others who have similar characteristics with the same five emotions just like Riley – it’s a lesson for kids that they have the same emotions as adults – but there is a constant competition in our heads over which emotion is in charge.

During the adventure we see long term memory, imagination land and dream productions studios, the subconscious and the train of thought which transports things around inside her brain, plus we learn how some memories are forgotten.  The movie evoked giggles and “wow” from 10-year-old girl watching the movie with me.

Anger gets some of the funnier lines like “congratulations San Francisco you’ve ruined pizza” or “here comes the mom bad news train pulling in”, but Sadness gets the most impactful line though: “obsessing over the weight of our problems”.

An adventure of teachable moments: Joy needs to learn that all the emotions are important he can’t just be one or the other… it’s the same thing filmmakers hope the audience learns as well!

MORE INFO (possible spoilers): (more…)

“The End of the Tour” trailer, poster, and release info

May 27th, 2015 at 7:09 pm by under Entertainment
"The End of the Tour" poster courtesy A24

“The End of the Tour” poster courtesy A24

“The End of the Tour” is about to begin in theaters

Several shots from the filming in West Michigan in 2014 can be seen in the new trailer for “The End of the Tour”.  The movie filmed for about 5 weeks in Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Grand Haven, and the the Muskegon County Airport Terminal in February and March 2014.   The production closed some streets during filming and even some lanes on 196 through Grand Rapids (see frames from trailer below).  At the time it was labeled “one of the biggest projects in 5 years”, as the limited projects drawn by the Michigan Film Incentives had mostly gone to the Detroit area.

The production spent about $2.1 million in Michigan, mostly in the greater Grand Rapids area.   The Michigan Film Office said that the movie was  approved for the state’s film incentive.  ”End of the Tour” was awarded a $495,380 incentive based on $2,105,652 of projected in-state expenditures.  Although that amount is far less than the $20 million that Eisenberg’s “30 Minutes or Less” spent in 2011, the last time he made a movie in Michigan.

The movie has had many positive reviews since its world premiere January 23rd at Sundance Film Festival.

The story:
The drama based on the true story of David Lipsky, the Rolling Stone reporter who interviewed the Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace for five days in 1996.  Jason Segel plays David Foster Wallace while Jesse Eisenberg portrays David Lipsky.  Based on the memoir “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” by Lipsky, the film follows his personal five-day interview with the author, 12 years before his suicide in 2008 at age 46.

“The End of the Tour” is Directed by James Ponsoldt – “The Spectacular Now” (2013) and “Smashed” (2012).
The cast includes: Eisenberg, Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Joan Cusack, and Ron Livingston.
The R rated drama runs 106 minutes and is scheduled for a July 31st release, that will at least begin in limited markets.

Scenes from the trailer, released today by distrubutor A24:
( Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?autoplay=1&v=fqUa5sYHC9s&app=desktop )

"The End of the Tour" courtesy A24

Jesse Eisenberg in “The End of the Tour” courtesy A24

"The End of the Tour" courtesy A24

Scene in GR in 2014 “The End of the Tour” courtesy A24

"The End of the Tour" courtesy A24

“The End of the Tour” courtesy A24

"The End of the Tour" courtesy A24

Jason Segel in “The End of the Tour” courtesy A24

"The End of the Tour" courtesy A24

“The End of the Tour” courtesy A24

"The End of the Tour" courtesy A24

“The End of the Tour” courtesy A24









































Past blog posts about “The End of the Tour”:
3/11/14: http://blogs.woodtv.com/2014/03/11/end-of-the-tour-spending-2-1-million-in-michigan/

3/5/14: http://blogs.woodtv.com/2014/03/05/movie-closing-lane-of-196-for-end-of-the-tour/

2/19/14: http://blogs.woodtv.com/2014/02/19/grand-rapids-will-be-segel-and-eisenbergs-end-of-the-road/

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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Laff at the Movies

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Laff’s Lists: http://blogs.woodtv.com/2008/09/27/laffs-lists/


Review: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the biggest superhero spectacle yet

April 30th, 2015 at 7:00 pm by under Entertainment
"Avengers: Age of Ultron" poster courtesy Disney-Marvel Studios

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” poster courtesy Disney-Marvel Studios

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments
Runtime: 2 hours, 21 minutes
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

My spoiler-free review:

This is the “Empire Strikes Back” (1980) of superhero movies… a blockbuster action sequel that holds its own with the original, our heroes are in peril, they are being tested like never before, facing a grave threat, the team and individuals are being tested while the team is being pulled apart.

I give it 9.5 out of 10 … putting it in a tie with the first team up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU): “The Avengers” (2012).

Warning for parents: there is a lot of action and some offensive language… which Captain America tries to discourage.

Super Team … the movie wastes no time getting into the action, picking up a story line that started in the Agents of SHIELD television show this week.  The opening scene showcases all 6 of the main Avengers roster doing what they do best: flying, smashing, shocking, shooting, jumping, throwing, etc.   They are the Avengers but the only time they’ve really acted like a team was during the Chitauri alien invasion on New York during the 2012 film…. now with an even more formidable foe, can they truly team up to protect Earth from destruction?   There is an undercurrent of disagreement between all of these alphas – they are heroes used to working alone and have a problem when someone else tries to lead or has a different opinion… but this friction is a battle for a future film.

The roster of main characters is huge: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, War Machine, Falcon, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill plus Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, The Vision, and some cameos from characters that appeared in previous MCU movies.

Not just action… In addition to the team up… the movie combines the action and humor we’ve come to enjoy from the Marvel cinematic universe, I think that Director/Writer Joss Whedon actually takes it up a notch with the humor and definitely has a lot more action.  Whedon also added a romantic entanglement, lots of questionable decision-making, concerns of legacy for some heroes, the ominous interstellar threats.   He was also able to showcase the plethora of characters in such a crowded film… and it works so well.  There’s plenty of Stark, Rogers, Banner, and Thor… more of Barton and Romanoff… other heroes that got less screentime in other movies get more facetime too.  And Stan Lee gets another cameo.

The villain… I was worried about a CGI villain…. if the character struggles, the movie crumbles, but James Spader’s performance as Ultron is on par with a live-action villain like Loki.  Loki had some good still in him, but Spader’s Ultron is a maniacal robot bent on destruction – he’s menacing enough to warrant assembling of these great heroes.  The one flaw is that it was difficult to separate his very recognizable voice from the character – a little distracting for my age group who know Spader from his multitude of roles in TV and movies.

Lots of references: for the die hard Marvel fans there are references throughout to things that have happened and are going to happen, and there’s also ties to Disney’s Pinocchio (clever), the original Ultron from comics, Jane Foster, Pepper Potts, Asgard, Wakanda (Black Panther), and four of the six Infinity stones.

Stick around for the mid-credits scene that pushes ahead to future movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe… so be sure to stick around for it… it is a quick extra teasing the increasingly imminent threat of another alien attack.  (There was not an end credits scene in our screening, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a Shwarma-like scene at the end of this theaterical release.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):  (more…)

Coming soon….

April 24th, 2015 at 5:42 pm by under Entertainment

Coming soon….

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” 

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" poster courtesy Disney-Marvel Studios

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” poster courtesy Disney-Marvel Studios

Rental Pick: “Moon” (2009) 8.9/10

September 5th, 2014 at 9:13 am by under Entertainment

(Originally posted 1/5/2010)

Review: ‘Moon’ is a Rockwell showcase

If you haven’t enjoyed a movie with Sam Rockwell as a supporting or minor character before – “Frost/Nixon” (2008), “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy” (2005), “Matchstick Men” (2003) – this is your chance to see the actor excel – all by himself.

This is one of the best performances of the year – that won’t receive an award nomination.  This is also the 3rd best sci-fi movie of the year!!

"Moon" poster courtesy Sony Pictures

“Moon” poster courtesy Sony Pictures

(My spoiler-free review)

Rockwell is Sam Bell, a man assigned to mining energy deposits on the moon… other than a computer, he is alone and as he nears the end of his 3 years of service … he starts to lose it… but tries to hold on to his sanity.

Rockwell is brillant as a man determined to finish his job all by himself – without going crazy or being killed on his dangerous, but monotonous job – so he can return to earth and see his wife and daughter again.  The movie even puts the audience in the position of Sam so you learn Sam’s problems as he goes through them.

Rockwell easily conveys the emotions of what most of us would do if put in these positions – first all out determination to perservere, then doubt that he’ll actually be able to make it through the job.

This movie is best enjoyed when you don’t know anymore than this… other reviews and even online descriptions give away one of the twists… but there are several so don’t worry if you already heard more than I’ve told you here.  If you haven’t – don’t read any other descriptions – not even the DVD box – you’ll want to enjoy this for the terrific storyline that lies ahead.

Kevin Spacey is the only other actor with any significant lines in the movie – but its just his voice as the space station’s computer – and that helps the audience stay focused on Sam’s solo story and discussions with himself.


Rockwell is great in this role … giving it credibility and depth… I give it 8.9 out of 10 … too bad he will be forgotten come award season.  This is probably my 3rd favorite sci-fi movie of the year behind “District 9″ and “Star Trek”… and yes ahead of “Avatar”. (more…)

RIP: Robin Williams – his best characters, in my opinion

August 12th, 2014 at 1:24 pm by under Entertainment
Robin Williams 2013 photo

Robin Williams 2013 photo

Robin Williams was one of the first comedians to catch my attention as a kid….. he was full throttle funny and made us laugh for decades… he will be remembered for dozens of roles, despite the box office/ratings or critical success of each film/TV show.

Williams won 1 Oscar – Best Supporting Actor for “Good Will Hunting” (1997), he was nominated for 3 roles – Best Actor for “The Fisher King” (1991), Best Actor for “Dead Poets Society’ (1989), Best Actor for “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987).

He was also a 5 time Golden Globe winner:
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical – “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)
Special Award – “Aladdin” (1992) for his vocal work
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical – “The Fisher King” (1991)
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical – “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987)
Best TV Actor – Musical/Comedy – ‘Mork & Mindy” (1979)
He was also nominated for 6  Golden Globes: “Patch Adams” (1998), “Good Will Hunting” (1997), “Awakenings” (1990), “Dead Poets Society” (1989), “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984), Mork & Mindy (1980).

Williams has more than 100 acting credits to his name on IMDB… he’ll be on the big screen again in “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”, scheduled for a December 19, 2014 release, playing Teddy Roosevelt for the 3rd time.  There are also 2 more movies that are in post-production that do not yet have release dates: “Absolutely Anything” (Dennis the Dog (voice)) and “Merry Friggin’ Christmas” (Mitch).

Lists are always debatable and I know this one will bebut at the end of the list are some movies that didn’t make my list because I either haven’t seen the whole movie, or the movie at all.

With that said, here we go, my list of my favorite Robin Williams’ characters…..

Robin Williams (1978) in "Mork and Mindy" courtesy ABC

Robin Williams (1978) in “Mork and Mindy” courtesy ABC

1. Mork – “Mork & Mindy” (TV Series) (1978-1982)
2. Mrs. Doubtfire/Daniel Hillard – “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)
3. Sean Maguire – “Good Will Hunting” (1997)
4. Genie – “Aladdin” (1992)
5. Adrian Cronauer – “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987)
6. John Keating – “Dead Poets Society’ (1989)
7. Alan Parrish – “Jumanji” (1995)
8. Patch Adams – “Patch Adams” (1998)
9. Jack Powell – “Jack” (1996)
10. Peter Banning – “Hook” (1991)
11. Tom Dobbs – “Man of the Year” (2006)
12. Teddy Roosevelt – “Night at the Museum” (2006)
13. Andrew Martin – “Bicentennial Man” (1999)
14. Maxwell ‘Wizard’ Wallace – “August Rush” (2007)
15. Dr. Kosevich – “Nine Months” (1995)
16. Chris Nielsen – “What Dreams May Come” (1998)

17. Bob Munro – “RV” (2006)
18. Leslie Zevo – “Toys” (1992)
19. Dr. Malcolm Sayer – “Awakenings” (1990)
20. Popeye – “Popeye” (1980)
21. Professor Philip Brainard – “Flubber” (1997)
22. Dwight D. Eisenhower – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (2013)
23. Alan Hakman – “The Final Cut” (2004)
24. Dan – “Old Dogs” (2009)
25. Garp – “The World According to Garp” (1982)

The following movies I did not see movie/entire movie:
“The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” (2014)
“Boulevard” (2014)
“The Face of Love” (2013)
“The Big Wedding” (2013)
“Happy Feet Two” (2011)
“World’s Greatest Dad” (2009)
“Happy Feet” (2006)
“Insomnia” (2002)
“Death to Smoochy” (2002)
“One Hour Photo” (2002)
“The Birdcage” (1996)
“Moscow on the Hudson” (1984)

We also have a photomojo slideshow on woodtv.com for more on Robin Williams

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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Laff’s Lists: http://blogs.woodtv.com/2008/09/27/laffs-lists/

Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a blast of action, comedy, and pop

July 31st, 2014 at 9:35 pm by under Entertainment
"Guardians of the Galaxy" poster courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Guardians of the Galaxy” poster courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Runtime: 2 hours, 1 minute
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

My spoiler-free review:

No Iron Man, no Captain America, no Thor, no Hulkno problem!!!  Starting a new comic book movie series with unknown characters (for most of the world)… there’s a huge risk  involved.  But writer/director James Gunn was up for the challenge… and he nailed it.  The source material was there, but the script, the look of the movie, and the performances of the actors made for a wonderful trip to the movies… and a chance to escape for two hours into the Marvel universe… I give it 8.5 out of 10 … if you love “Star Wars” you’ll like this movie.

Warning for parents: “Guardians” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language

The recipe for successful movies in the Sci-Fi or Comic Book movie genre seems to be simple, but its often not executed…. in “Guardians of the Galaxy” we have a space-based superhero team that starts with a motley crew of outcasts, all unique in their own special way and they are brought together to fight for a common cause… and that journey turns them into the universe’s latest band of heroes.  Making those characters different enough to be very memorable but not weird, adding in the now-expected Marvel comic relief, lots of action, and a pop classics soundtrack… and Mr. Gunn has a hit on his hands.  And the studio knows it too… they’ve already announced a sequel.  As a mostly unknown comic property to the general audience it works as a fun new franchise and for the die hard fans it works and I’m told it’s stays mostly true to the original series of comics.

“Avengers” + “Star Wars” and pop culture –  ”Guardians of the Galaxy” is “The Avengers” (2012)  meets “Star Wars”… its a little darker and grittier, but we get an infectious group of rogues… that on their own may just be considered good… but when they finally put aside their differences/egos/agendas they are great together.  There’s plenty of character depth… even though they are basically characters most of us had never heard of until the last few months – it quickly feels like we’ve known these characters for a long time.   Director Gunn also adds another element for the older crowd: pop culture references abound and a soundtrack of hits from the 1960s and 1970s.  The movie starts in 1988, there are references like “ninja turtle”, “Ark of the covenant”, “Maltese falcon”, “Ranger Rick”, “John Stamos”, “Footloose”, “Kevin Bacon”, and a very brief cameo from “Howard the Duck” (in the background at “The Collector”).  The songs are ones many in the audience have heard before… but they aren’t just background music… they are incorporated into the movie and the background of the main character. See Peter’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 1″ below.

Hilarious band of outcasts on a mission to save the Galaxy (see photo below):

"Guardians of the Galaxy" lineup courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Guardians of the Galaxy” lineup courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a green skinned, highly trained assassin with a dark history and questionable reasons for joining the effort, but played with depth and vulnerability that makes the character likeable

Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) is a thief who likes to listen and dance to pop music of the late 1960s and 1970s (comedically showing off his moves in the second scene … setting the tone for the movie)  He is more of a free spirit mercenary – he’s a young and confident strategist, good natured and loves to listen to his cassette tape (see below), basically he’s an everyman that you can root for

Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is a marvel of animation, character development, script, and voice work – he’s a racoon that is smart with computers and weapons, who can turn junk into valuable equipment, he’s also the wise-cracking realist of the group that thinks they’re in over their heads… and steals just about every scene he’s in

Drax (Dave Bautista) is a man out for revenge after his family was killed by villains, he’s a warrior, but has a very literal personality that works perfectly for the inexperienced actor

Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) is a tree-humanoid and Rocket’s best friend, despite his mostly three word vocabulary, he’s a memorable character as a bodyguard with a big heart

Its their first step into a larger world: there are a lot of sci-fi things going on that we are introduced to, an entire world that many of us have ever heard of before: The Collector, Ronan, The Kree, Xandar, The Nova Corps, Infinity Stones, Knowhere, Nebula, and of course Thanos… unless you’ve been paying attention to those post credit scenes and Disney/Marvel cartoons.   But fans of the comic book series will recognize these things and understand that this movie ties in with “The Avengers” (2012), “Thor” (2011), “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011), and others as part of the larger Marvel universe carefully being pieced together for years to come… but “Guardians of the Galaxy” is also strong enough to stand alone as its own unique movie.

The music: Peter’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 1″ track list:

"Guardians of the Galaxy" Awesome Mix Vol. 1 image courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Guardians of the Galaxy” Awesome Mix Vol. 1 image courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

1. “Hooked on a Feeling” (1968) – Blue Swede
2. “Go All the Way” (1972) – Raspberries
*3. “Spirit in the Sky” (1969) – Norman Greenbaum*
4. “Moonage Daydream” (1971) – David Bowie
5. “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (1975) – Elvin Bishop
6. “I’m Not in Love” (1975) – 10cc
7. “I Want You Back” (1969) – Jackson 5
8. “Come and Get Your Love” (1974) – Redbone
9. “Cherry Bomb” (1976) – The Runaways
10. “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” (1979) – Rupert Holmes
11. “O-o-h Child” (1970) – The Five Stairsteps
12. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (1966) – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

*Not in the film

Credits? Our screening had a scene at the beginning of the credits involving two of the Guardians, but did not have an end of credits scene, as we’ve become accustomed to with Marvel, however, my sources tell me that it just was not attached with the advanced screening but it does involve a Lucasfilm character and one of the Guardians

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):  (more…)

Review: “Snowpiercer” is revolutionary both in style and substance

July 11th, 2014 at 7:52 am by under Entertainment
"Snowpiercer" poster courtesy The Weinstein Company

“Snowpiercer” poster courtesy The Weinstein Company

“Snowpiercer” (2014)
Rated: R for violence, language and drug content
Runtime: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Genre: Action / Thriller /Sci-Fi

My spoiler-free review:

“Snowpiercer” is a great post-apocalyptic thriller with action, drama, memorable visuals plus its claustrophobic setting, crazy characters, and high concept.  But in a bleak futuristic setting, it also  focuses on what humanity is left in these characters.
It’s an immersive sci-fi actioner and it’s an post-apocalyptic dystopian movie like you’ve never seen before!!!  I give it 8.0 out of 10… ”Snowpiercer” restores our faith that action movies can be less about big budgets and computer graphics and more about the story!

Warning to parents: this is not for kids, the movie is rated R for some very violent scenes, although not overtly graphic plus  language and drug content but also the emotional impact of life and death situations.

In the not-to-distant future of 2014 scientists are trying to reverse global warming with a chemical sprayed by planes in the upper atmosphere designed to cool the world’s temperatures.  Wisely, South Korean writer/director Joon-ho Bong doesn’t spend a lot of time on the science of the backstory, just presents it to us and quickly gets us to the story onboard the train, called “The Snowpiercer” 17 years later in 2031 where the only surviving humans are protected from the bitter cold outside.   We start in the back, and like the train itself, the story literally moves forward as the 3rd class passengers make the push from the tail towards the engine.

The train may have many cars, but its passengers are divided into two parts: a few cars at the tail with cramped conditions for more than one hundred 3rd class passengers… and the more spacious 2nd and 1st class accommodations towards the front.  While there is clearly a division along class lines, this is more than just who gets the better service on the train and the more spacious living conditions: this is about control.  Tilda Swinton’s ‘Mason’ and he boss wants to keep the residents of the tail where they are… in dirty squalor where all they eat are brown gelatinous protein bars.  ’Mason’  is a bonkers over-the-top character that preaches order to those crammed in the tail of the train.   The wardrobe of her and her ensemble of officials is clean, crisp, and colorful – in stark contrast to the drab and dirty look of the tail residents.  She preaches “know your place” to the group, but the message they’ve likely heard many times before is only stirring the pot than calming things down.   Swinton’s delivery and mannerisms make her authority questionable… she’s awkward in look and speak with her exaggerated overbite… but as we see, her methods are not … her brand of discipline for defiance is brutal.  The security force carrying out her orders are brutal.  They rip kids away from parents for clearly fake medical checks, they beat people, and severely punish anyone who questions authority.  They are not residents on the train, its like they are prisoners at a concentration camp that those in power are trying to control with fear.

Fortunately, the tail residents have ‘Gilliam’ and ‘Curtis’… John Hurt plays the wise old ‘Gillam’ who became the leader of the group years ago, as we find out later.  He makes the plans and dispatches wisdom and compassion to his people.  While his personality can certainly stand up to ‘Mason’ and the security thugs, its ‘Curtis’ who will physically lead his people towards the front of the train to takeover and reorganize life on the sophisticated locomotive.  ’Curtis’ (Chris Evans) is a different kind of hero, a reluctant hero who’s fighting for humanity and equality on the train, but he also wants to make sure he’s got it all figured out before making a push to front of train… as we learn later it’s because others have tried but failed before.  They are supported by Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Luke Pasqualino, Kang-ho Song, and Ah-sung Ko.  The cast of main characters are solid and because of the really good performances from them, we get a lot of character development in a short period of time… we know most of their names and who they are quickly: a close friend, a desperate mother, a ruthless protector, a man on a mission, and a daughter with special gifts.

The revolution is coming: In the buildup to the eventual violent action-packed revolt we meet key players, get some backstory, and character development BUT once the action begins, it barely stops to take a breath, only stopping long enough to examine the damage before we move to the next car.  During the push forward we get to see what is in the other cars closer to the front and a few looks outside, which is a relief after we’ve been cooped up in the tail for awhile.  We also learn that the train’s engineer is more than just the driver: he’s a leader who is deified with his followers practically worshiping him… it’s like his own special cult… everyone taught one way of thinking one way of acting… they are controlled by fear that if that train stops they will all die…. they seem brainwashed with rhetoric referring to those who think different as “old world”.

The movie is full of themes of humanity, morality, warnings about environment, science, government, and control plus ‘Curtis’ dealing with the cost of the revolution.  Its an apocalyptic story that puts the human condition under the microscope, showcasing different traits at their very basic level in different characters.  The class struggle drama mixed with the feel of a Nazi concentration camp breakout action thriller set in the science fiction genre of an apocalytpic future with as many twists and turns as the train’s circuitous route around the world.  ”Snowpiercer” is unpredictable … it goes places you might not expect and dispatches twists to keep you off balance… like recent genre changing movies “The Matrix” and “District 9″ before it, “Snowpiercer” is a revolutionary movie that sci-fi fans have to see… at least once!!!

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Review: “How To Train Your Dragon 2″ is even better than the first!

June 19th, 2014 at 11:49 pm by under Entertainment
"How To Train Your Dragon 2" poster courtesy DreamWorks Animation

“How To Train Your Dragon 2″ poster courtesy DreamWorks Animation

“How To Train Your Dragon 2” (2014)
Rated: PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
Runtime: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Genre: Animation/Action/Adventure

My spoiler-free review:

The story about a boy and his companion (a dragon) has grown up into something bigger and better – the story about a young man and his best friend (the dragon) and their quest to learn more about themselves.  Not only does the animation look amazing, the high quality 3D, the story, and the characters make “How To Train Your Dragon” worth every dollar you spend… I give it 9.0 out of 10!  It is one of the best movies of 2014 so far!

Warning for little kids: the movie is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor, but take note that there are some scary images and sadness that may be too much for the younger audiences

Five years after “How To Train Your Dragon” (2010), the adorable dragons have moved into Berk… and the main cast has named their dragons.  Everyone has their own dragon including our main character ‘Hiccup’ (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon ‘Toothless” and his friend ‘Astrid’ (America Ferrera) and her dragon “Stormfly”.  We soon learn that the the Vikings world gets much bigger since starting to ride the dragons.   Toothless and Hiccup’s play and their chemistry is  like a boy and his pet.

It doesn’t take long for the filmmakers to establish that this is much more than a mere continuing of the 2010 story with the dragons becoming companions and part of the Viking community.  No this is about ‘Hiccup’ searching for his identity… then learning  (possible spoiler) (more…)

Review: “Edge of Tomorrow” is worth repeat viewings

June 19th, 2014 at 11:09 pm by under Entertainment
"Edge of Tomorrow" poster courtesy Warner Bros

“Edge of Tomorrow” poster courtesy Warner Bros

“Edge of Tomorrow” (2014)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material
Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi

My spoiler-free review:

In the opening minutes of “Edge of Tomorrow” we get the premise familiar to many alien invasion or disaster movies… where news media and a montague of characters are introduced to show us that something big has happened and now the world is trying to deal with it.  Those themes immediately start to set some expectations about what to expect the rest of the way.  Luckily this movie quickly shows us that its not typical… surpassing most entries in those genres by expertly combining elements of “Groundhog Day” (1993), “Source Code” (2011), the D-Day scene from “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), and many popular video games… I give it 8.5 out of 10.

Warning for parents: this movie is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material… and many of the battlefield scenes are pretty intense… plus the main character has to deal with his mortality over and over

He’s not even supposed to be here…. Major Cage (Tom Cruise) is not a soldier… he’s a PR guy working for the military by promoting their exo-suits that are supposed to help the world defense forces fight the alien invaders that crash landed to earth five years earlier.  But where Cruise shines isn’t the fish out of water part of his character, its the smart, confident, suave, action hero that he does well at… and while the alien ‘mimics’ are his toughest challenge, he’s also got to deal with the stubborn General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), the hard-nosed Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), and the cruel Sergeant (Terence Maynard) that he wakes up to over and over again.

Over and over… as the tag line of poster (“Live. Die. Repeat.’) implies, we’re going to relive the plot a couple times.  So the way that the story is presented to us as both familiar and new is very well conceived and executed, something that could keep even the biggest movie know-it-all guessing what will happen next.  Reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day”… he relives the same day a couple times before he starts to figure out how to try to change and learn from it.  The first day (loop) is longest, the second we get repeated lines, characters, and scenes.  I liked that at a certain point ‘Cage’ goes ahead in the loop and ahead of the audience on the storyline…. something that we don’t see…. but he knows what will happen if he completes the mission.

Like any good sci-fi movie: the movie sets up some basic rules for the “loop” that we can understand but there are also more complicated reasons of why this is happening that we can start to put together as the movie goes on (like why he’s reliving the day).   The look of the aliens is kept from us for awhile which was a good move, and we meet some characters that understand what he’s going through, and there are other characters just meant for helping our main character move along on the hero’s journey.  The action is immersive it feels like your in the action at times.  The solid supporting cast is mostly unknowns except for Gleeson, Paxton, and Emily Blunt as the super soldier heroine ‘Rita’.  Blunt turns in another great performance despite being a little out of her element in the action genre, she pulls it off well.

Stronger premise wins… unlike the aforementioned “Source Code” and “Oblivion”, which I mention later – this movie gets stronger as time goes on.  Often a movie’s first third is the tightest crafted and most compelling part, but this movie’s middle and final acts are stronger and support everything we’ve seen up to this point… not just headed for some twist that leaves us scratching our heads and unsatisfied.  ”Edge of Tomorrow” has an intriguing storyline that keeps us wondering what will happen next!

But … there are some moments where the CG that Cruise is put in just doesn’t look real enough… and its hard to think of the 51 year old as a spry soldier running and jumping around the battlefield.

For all his credits, Cruise has only really done 4 science fiction movies.  While the sci-fi thriller “Minority Report” (2002) is still my favorite for the actor in this genre, “Edge of Tomorrow” has become my second favorite, ahead of the remake “War of the Worlds” (2005) and far better than Cruise’s last science-fiction movie “Oblivion” (2013).  I can’t wait to rewatch this one at home for the little continuity details I may have missed the first time… and try to figure out if scenes were shot with multiple cameras or if the same scene was re-shot multiple times to give the appearance of going back to the same place… over and and over… and over… again.  Something I’ll be doing when I buy this movie: watching over and over again.

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