Maleficent (2014)

maleficent

Warning: Spoilers!

If there’s one thing I have learned from Maleficent, it’s that Disney has changed. I mean, Disney used to be kind of ruthless if you think about it. The villains were heartless villains and nothing more. No main characters ever had mothers, and if they did they were killed off (damn you, Bambi). Step-mothers were usually evil (oh, Cinderella). Women basically sold their souls to the devil for a man (wtf, Little Mermaid). Even the images from Fantasia were frightening as hell. But now, villains aren’t always just villains and “true love” isn’t always the conventional type you think of when you hear it.

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), despite being born with a name that means “evil,” is a charming young fairy at the beginning of the movie who watches over her kingdom. She forms a friendship with a young human boy named Stefan. She eventually falls in love with Stefan, but Stefan is a complete jerk who only cares about power. Years later, when the King is lying on his deathbed after failing to kill Maleficent, he promises the crown to whatever man can kill her. So, Stefan, being the ass that he is, tricks Maleficent and drugs her so she’ll sleep and then he cuts off her wings. When she realizes what happened, she promises revenge on Stefan, and she slips into a darkness and becomes angry, somewhat evil Maleficent. Then when Stefan, who is now King, has a baby girl named Aurora (Elle Fanning), Maleficent comes and curses her so that on her 16th birthday she’ll prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep-like death, only to be awakened by “true love’s kiss.” So the king sends her away for 16 years to live with the three stooges…I mean…the three good fairies who are so stupid they can’t take care of the child, and Maleficent ends up taking care of her in the shadows. When Aurora gets older and crosses paths with her, they become friends, which is odd. Then, Maleficent pretty much saves her life.

I have to say I have some complaints with this movie. Other people may like the differences in this story as opposed to the original Sleeping Beauty, but I’m not so much a fan of them. They more or less took the baddest, most famous villain in classic Disney history and turned her into a softy. I like villains. Villains drive the story, villains are what make heroes, and villains are just simply badass. When you take away the bad guys, the story falls flat. I understand wanting to make Maleficent into more than just a one-dimensional, purely evil character, but come on. She is too good in this movie. She might as well be a real fairy godmother, as Aurora calls her. Wait Maleficent, I think I hear Cinderella calling, you might as well go help her too, fairy godmother. Even the raven who is supposed to be an evil bird, Diaval (Sam Riley), is soft-hearted as well. He’s just a sweet bird-man-thing that ends up indebted to her because she saves his life. He is also the one who gets turned into a dragon, Maleficent doesn’t turn into one herself. Damn it. I will say that I like that Maleficent actually has a legitimate reason to curse Aurora, as opposed to just being “offended” that she didn’t get invited to the christening. I don’t have much a problem with her origin story, but more so with the fact that she is both the hero and the villain. It’s like the writers couldn’t make up their mind as to whether she will be good or bad. You can’t just put a curse on someone and then later be like, “I take it back!” That’s cheap, in my opinion.

I’ll admit I kind of like the way Disney is making up for all the sexism in their movie history and are bringing in a bit more feminism. Frozen, for example, established that “true love” didn’t have to mean romantic love between a man and woman, but sisterly love can pass for that as well. Now, it’s like they’re saying, “You don’t need man, just a good sister, or perhaps a good-turned-evil-turned-good-again fairy.” Alright, so I’m taking the lack of villainy thing a little too personally. Perhaps the feminism is a little too feminist. I mean, the reason for Maleficent turning evil is the betrayal by King Stefan. How does that quote go? “Behind every crazy bitch is a man who made her that way.” Yeah, that’s the one. That actually happens here. 

I must say that Angelina Jolie has found an iconic role in Maleficent. I couldn’t think of anyone else who could play the part better, and this is coming from someone who isn’t necessarily a Jolie fan. She carries a movie with an underdeveloped story that relies a little too much on special effects. I saw this in IMAX 3D, and I will admit that the effects are cool. Even Maleficent’s kingdom after she turns it all dark and thorny is beautiful. However, they act as only some of the few redeeming qualities. The problem with the amazing special effects filmmakers can pull off in movies these days is that they tend to act as a crutch and an excuse for bad storytelling. This movie was also a little bit short, running at 97 minutes, which is another factor contributing to the underdevelopment of the story and characters. So really, it’s not just the fact that Maleficent is no longer a true villain, but also that the story really didn’t have time to reveal itself fully. There was a lot of potential here that I feel just wasn’t reached.

So all in all, the effects were nice, the costumes and make-up were awesome, Jolie was perfect, and I liked that they gave Maleficent a motive for being vengeful, but I didn’t like that she’s an iconic villain who isn’t really a villain. She’s just an angry fairy, until she has a few years to calm down and get over it–like any regular human being. But, I guess I can’t really hate on a movie too much just because it panders to children. I’m sure children and some adults will love it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

2/5

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Blazing Saddles (1974)

In lieu of the imminent release of Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West this weekend, I’m going to talk about a movie that many critics keep comparing it to–Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles. Since I haven’t seen the former yet, and don’t know when I’ll get around to it, I can’t really compare the two. All I can say is they both fall into the category of “Western spoofs.” 

Blazing Saddles, however, isn’t just a spoof about the West, it’s also a comedic critique of racism in America, specifically, in American Western movies. Anyone who is familiar with Mel Brooks’ work, knows that he doesn’t hold back when it comes to offensive jokes. Mel Brooks is also known for some other comedic films such as Young FrankensteinThe ProducersRobin Hood: Men in Tights, and Spaceballs.

In Blazing Saddles, it’s the whites who are portrayed as simple-minded buffoons, except for Gene Wilder’s character, Jim a.k.a. “The Waco Kid,” a skilled gunslinger who has “killed more men than Cecile B. DeMille” and is more evolved than the rest despite his heavy drinking. Cleavon Little plays Bart, a smart, sarcastic and likable black man, who becomes a pawn in Hedley Lamarr’s (Harvey Korman) game when Hedley makes him sheriff of a town called Rock Ridge for the sole purpose of driving people of out it to make room for a railroad. Bart beats Hedley at his own game by being a likable guy and winning over the racist townsfolk, including Mongo (Alex Karras)–a slow-minded but strong henchman–sent by Hedley to kill him, as well as Lili von Schtupp (Madeline Kahn), a German entertainer hired by Hedley to seduce Bart. After those methods fail, Hedley hires a bunch of stereotypical bad guys to help him destroy the town. A huge line which includes Nazis, KKK members, Western outlaws, Middle Eastern terrorists and others, forms to sign up. Long story short, they trick Hedley and his men by building a replica of Rock Ridge, which they end up destroying instead, and then the fight spills over, literally breaking through the “fourth wall” and into other studio productions nearby. Hedley escapes the fight, and ends up in a movie theater that is premiering Blazing Saddles and Bart finds him. It’s a nonsensical story for the most part, but that’s the point.

The comedy in this movie is timeless. Comedies these days are raunchy and often have to be in order to get a laugh out of people, but a lot of them don’t hold the same comedic value after you see them a few times. This movie, despite the fact that it is 40-years-old, is still funny every time I watch it. You’ve got the famous scene where a bunch of cowboys are sitting around the campfire eating beans and farting non-stop, and you’ve got Mel Brooks himself playing the sleazy, stupid governor. There’s also some pretty funny quotes in this movie. For example, Jim and Bart try to lure over a couple of KKK members by Bart jumping out and yelling, “Hey! Where the white women at?” It’s just random, sometimes subtle, lines that make the comedy flow.

It’s also vulgar and unforgiving. Brooks didn’t cut out any of his offensive scenes despite being confronted by Warner Bros. telling him to eliminate the “N” word from the film, as well as some other things, resulting in the film almost not being released at all. He and Richard Pryor–a black actor/writer/comedian who worked on the script–figured that the more the “rednecks” used the word, the more victorious Cleavon’s character would seem in the end.

I’m sure there are some out there, but I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like this movie. It isn’t meant to be anything more than gag humor, making fun of what would otherwise be serious matters, a filmmaker making fun of films–it has crossed many boundaries for its time. I’m sure it was probably more shocking back in 1974 than it is now, but that doesn’t take away from its humor, in my opinion. Anyone who likes vulgar comedies, or “spoof comedies” such as this, should check it out if you haven’t already.

Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2013

Note: These may not be the best movies of 2013, just the ones I enjoyed the most and can watch more than once.

10. The Way Way Back 
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James, Sam Rockwell, AnnaSophia Robb

A coming-of-age tale of a boy named Duncan (Liam James), who goes on summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her jerk boyfriend (Steve Carell), and ends up working at a water park where he becomes good friends with the manager (Sam Rockwell), who is awesome and funny. I was surprised how much I actually enjoyed this movie. It hit home for me in a way. It’s also interesting to see Steve Carell play an asshole, since he’s usually the goofy nice guy. Sam Rockwell is just hilarious and I love him in this, and the kid does a great job too. It’s a simple story, but it has great characters and it’s executed incredibly well.

9. Mud
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon

Two young boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), find a fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living on a remote island across the Mississippi River, and promise to help him reunite with his love (Reese Witherspoon) and evade the law and the men looking to get revenge for his crime. I must love coming-of-age tales for some reason, because this is one of those as well, although a lot different from my #10. McConaughey made quite a few smart role choices last year, and this was one of them. I hadn’t really recognized his capacity for talent until I saw Mud. Tye Sheridan was amazing as well. I really enjoyed this movie. It’s an engaging drama with a great story about love and friendship, and has a lot of top notch talent.

8. The Place Beyond the Pines
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta

There are three acts to this movie. The first focuses on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt rider who begins robbing banks in order to provide for his love, Romina (Eva Mendes), and his newborn son. The second act focuses on a cop named Avery (Bradley Cooper) who is coping with some of his own actions as well as being mixed up in a corrupt police force. The third act focuses on two teenage boys, Luke’s son and Avery’s son. Without giving much of the plot away, these three acts are interwoven (obviously) to produce a well-written drama that deals with cause and effect. We see what type of people the boys grow into due to the actions of their fathers. The story builds slowly, but that’s because the characters develop in a very realistic way over time. I think that Dane DeHaan, who plays Luke’s son, is great in this movie and is quickly becoming one of the most talented young actors of our generation. This is one movie that I think was wrongfully overlooked.

7. Short Term 12
Director: Destin Cretton
Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Rami Malek, Kaitlyn Dever

Grace (Brie Larson), a young woman who works at a foster care facility for at-risk kids, struggles with helping young kids who are emotionally scarred, as well as dealing with her scars from her past, while being faced with a new tough life decision. I just have to put it out there that this movie made me cry. There’s a lot of raw emotion, and the acting by the kids is just amazing. It’s tough to see kids who have been hurt so much in their life. I think that’s why this is one of my favorites of 2013, any movie that can get a real emotional response out of me is worth seeing. Despite the fact that I’m a girl, it still takes a lot to really break me down, and this just hit me right in the damn heart.

6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are thrown back into the games after their victory strikes rebellions in Panem. I think this sequel was a big improvement from the first movie. It’s less corny, and more real. I mean, shit gets real after what went down in the first one. People are beaten and executed for supporting any rebellious behavior whatsoever. In the first one, you barely get a sense of the kind of inferior life some of the districts are living, besides the fact that the government takes their children and throws them into an arena to kill or be killed. Here, you really get a sense of what kind of dictatorship they’re living under when they send men into the districts to enforce the law and beat people up in order to do it. Besides that, I think they did a pretty good job of really making something substantial and entertaining out of a mediocre book. Sorry to book fans, but making your main character so naive and literally unconscious for 50% of the story is lazy writing–although this is more of an issue in the third one. Hopefully they will take many liberties for the next film.

5. Gravity
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

An astronaut (Sandra Bullock) struggles to survive, with some help from George Clooney, of course, being adrift in space after their shuttle is destroyed by debris. I’ll admit, I only enjoyed this movie for the effects and the cheap thrills. It really had me on the edge of my seat for 90% of it. This story is a bit ridiculous, though. Maybe not so ridiculous if you believe in Murphy’s law (anything that can go wrong will). I mean everything goes wrong for this woman. Think of a problem that can happen in space, and it happens. It’s really awful to watch in a way, because you start thinking, “Jesus, can’t this woman catch a break?” The point is, though, that it is entertaining as hell. I was actually stressed out watching it. Also, the cinematography and special effects were gorgeous, and seeing it in IMAX definitely helped.

4. Dallas Buyers Club
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn

Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. He works around the FDA to provide people with alternative drugs after he realizes his life had been prolonged with simple vitamins and protein drugs given to him by an unlicensed doctor in Mexico. He is assisted by Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual who also has the disease. Together they form the “Dallas Buyers Club.” Both McConaughey and Leto won Oscars for these two roles, and rightly so. They are fantastic is this movie. This movie really highlights the taboo behavior in the 80’s surrounding HIV and the idea that it was only a homosexual disease. Woodroof himself thought the same until he contracted it. It shows his growth as human being and newfound acceptance of homosexuals and his sympathy towards others with his disease. It’s a wonderfully told story of a big epidemic that scared people shitless back in the day. It also shows how much things have changed medically and behavior-wise when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

3. Rush
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara

A story about the rivalry between two Formula One drivers in the 1970’s, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). My theory is that if you watch a movie about a subject you know nothing about and end up liking it a lot, it is a well-made success. That is the case for me here. The only other thing I’ve ever watched having to do with Formula One racing was Senna, the documentary about Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna, which was also really well-made. Other than that, I’ve never watched a race. I don’t know how it works, I don’t know crap about it. Yet, this ended up being almost my favorite of the year. Although I think the movie probably exaggerates the rivalry between these two drivers, the way it is played out is still entertaining. They are both jerks, so it’s really hard to root for one or the other. The cinematography and the shots of the cars racing is superb. I think this movie was extremely underrated last year.

2. American Hustle
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Louis C.K., Jeremy Renner, Jack Huston

Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney (Amy Adams) are forced to work for FBI agent Richie DiMasso (Bradley Cooper) and end up mixed up in a world of politics and the mafia. Irving’s impulsive wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), has a big mouth that could cause their whole world to come crashing down. The way the script is written and the movie is filmed reminds me of Scorsese’s work–with the voice-over narration and the outrageous characters. Jennifer Lawrence was hilarious as the big-mouth Jersey housewife, although I think her Oscar nomination was a little much. I think she’s amazing and everything but she’s not the first, last, or even the best at playing a Jersey housewife in a movie. Amy Adams really stole the show, though. The costumes, set designs, and the soundtrack are amazing and really bring the audience back in time to the 70’s. This movie is just a lot of fun with enough humor, drama, and silly exaggerated caricatures screwing each other over and having a great time doing it.

1. The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, John Bernthal

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a wealthy stock-broker, ends up in a downward spiral involving crime, corruption, and some rather funny scenes with substance abuse. I may only be saying this because I am a huge Scorsese fan, but this movie had to be the best of the year. You have DiCaprio, who, despite never winning an Oscar (poor Leo), is one of the best actors out there playing this scummy, cocky, drug-addicted stock-broker who basically just steals from everyone, and every now and then he makes a very long, motivating speech. Jonah Hill, who is always hilarious, playing Belfort’s partner who marries his cousin, shows us his (prosthetic) penis, gets Leo to smoke crack, and acts as one of the best funny jerks you’ll see all year. Margot Robbie, who basically came out of nowhere as an Australian actress who nails the New York accent down perfectly, playing Belfort’s wife. Not to mention, she’s quite gorgeous. Then, you have some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen all last year. One, particularly, is when DiCaprio and Hill get high off some old Lemmon Quaaludes, and then DiCaprio discovers what he calls “the cerebral palsy stage,” while rolling down some steps and dragging himself into his car. I laughed so hard there were actual tears. Plus, Scorsese, director of amazing movies like Taxi DriverMean Streets, GoodfellasRaging Bull, and Casino. Need I say more?

Honorable Mentions:
12 Years a Slave for being a well-made, best picture-winning film, but not one that I would watch more than once or twice.
Her for making me think how cool it would actually be to have a smarter operating system than Siri.
Pacific Rim for being awesome with robots, monsters, and just pure entertainment.
The Act of Killing for being one of the most messed up documentaries I’ve seen in a while, with scary Indonesian gangsters re-enacting the ways they brutally murdered Communists in the 60’s.
*Update*
Prisoners, which I totally forgot about while making this list, for being the best thriller I’ve seen all year with amazing performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, and Paul Dano.

Netflix: Expiring Soon (5/31)

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Movies come and go on Netflix pretty often and it’s hard to keep track of which ones are coming and which ones are going. Now, Netflix only tells you when things are going to expire like a week before they do, and the only way to find out is to click the title and see if it has “available until…” underneath it. But who is going to go through all their instant queue titles on a regular basis, especially when it is filled with 100+ titles you’ll probably never even get around to watching, am I right? Thankfully, there are some websites out there where people will report what movies they’ve seen expiration dates on, and then they will compile a nice, comprehensive list. But often times, especially at the end of a month, that list is huge. So, here’s just a few of the movies I think are worth watching (if you ever have the time) before they expire at the end of this month.

All of these movies are expiring at 11:59 PM on May 31st.

220px-A_Fish_Called_Wanda_DVDA Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Director: Charles Crichton
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Tom Georgeson
Genre: Comedy

Two Americans, the con artist and seductress, Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Otto (Kevin Kline), the self-proclaimed intellectual, team up in London for a jewel heist with two Brits, George (Tom Georgeson), and stuttering, animal-loving Ken (Michael Palin). After the jewels are stolen, Wanda and Otto anonymously turn George in to the police in hopes they will be able to steal the jewels for themselves. However, George has moved them from the safe and remains the only person who knows their location. This sends Wanda and Otto on a conning, comedic trek to find the jewels. This journey entails Wanda seducing a lawyer named Archie (John Cleese), Otto consistently cussing people out and swallowing a whole tank of live fish, and Ken failing several times to kill an old woman, the only witness to George’s crime. This movie is a well-made comedy which exaggerates crime movie stereotypes. Everyone is in it for themselves, and they don’t think twice about double-crossing each other. It has a funny, talented cast. Overall, this movie is a good time and an easy watch.

 

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)220px-A_Fistful_of_Dollars_poster

Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volonté, Wolfgang Lukschy
Genre: Western

Clint Eastwood plays an anonymous wanderer who is skilled with a gun. He enters a small town on the Mexican border and finds out that there are two head families at war with each other, the Rojo’s and the Baxters. He decides to play both groups against each other in attempts to try to make money out of them both. In the meantime, he develops sympathy for a woman named Marisol (Marianne Koch), who was taken hostage by the Rojo’s. In order to try and reunite her with her family, he puts his own life at risk. This film became one of the first widely recognized “spaghetti westerns” to come out of the 1960s. I’ve always loved Clint Eastwood the most in his “man with no name” spaghetti western roles, mostly in Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Although For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are widely accepted as being better movies, this one shouldn’t be overlooked. Anyone who has enjoyed other work of Leone’s or is a fan of westerns in general should see this. It is a great western classic, in my opinion.

 

Lost in Translation (2003)220px-Lost_in_Translation_poster

Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris
Genre: Drama

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is visiting Tokyo because her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) is a photographer doing work there. She struggles to cope with boredom and insomnia as she doesn’t have much to do but stay in her hotel room and her husband is never there. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a washed up actor who is also visiting Tokyo to film some commercials. They end up crossing paths because they are staying in the same hotel. They become close, as two people who are totally bored with their lives might do. This is one of the few films of Sofia Coppola’s that I actually do like, and it was also nominated for a few Oscars including Best Picture. It is a heartfelt story between two people who seem lost in life and who act as guides and refuge for each other in a foreign world. Despite not understanding many of the things around them, they understand each other. They have an endearing and unique relationship that isn’t physical, but emotional in the ways that they can connect with one another doing simple activities. They also end up having some funny experiences due to cultural and language barriers with the Japanese. It’s a pretty enjoyable movie. Plus, who doesn’t love ScarJo and Bill Murray?

 

Planet of the Apes (1968)220px-PlanetoftheapesPoster

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, Linda Harrison
Genre: Sci-Fi

A crew of astronauts travel 2,000 years into deep space and land on an unknown planet where apes are the dominant race, and humans are dumb, mute slaves. What is there not to love about this movie? Taylor (Charlton Heston) is a cocky dude, who, at first sight of these primitive humans, thinks he can rule the world until a bunch of apes on horseback whoop his ass and take him captive. If anyone hasn’t seen this movie but has seen the awful 2001 remake of this movie with Mark Wahlberg, then you pretty much have a responsibility to watch this. Now, I love me some Marky Mark any time of the day, but I don’t love me some bad remakes. Plus, if you’re a fan of the new rebooting of the franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and are planning on seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes come July 11th, then it doesn’t hurt to see where it all started…well…ended.

 

The Piano (1993)220px-The-piano-poster

Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin
Genre: Drama

Ada (Holly Hunter) leaves her home in Scotland with her young daughter (Anna Paquin) and her piano, in order to be married off to a man named Alisdair (Sam Neill) who lives in New Zealand. Ada is mute, as in she wasn’t born that way, she just chooses not to speak. Instead, she expresses herself through music which she plays beautifully through her beloved piano. Alisdair’s friend and neighbor, George (Harvey Keitel), convinces him to let him have the piano and to have Ada give him “lessons.” His meaning of “lessons” really means, “Let me watch you play while I grope you.” It’s an odd movie, and as much as it sounds like it, it’s not as creepy as you would think. It’s actually quite an interesting story, and an emotional film. Holly Hunter won an Oscar for best actress and it was a non-speaking role. She really was amazing in this. Anna Paquin, who is only 11-years-old in this movie, won her first Oscar for it. It’s well worth the watch.

 

Roman Holiday (1953)220px-Roman_holiday

Director: William Wyler
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert
Genre: Romantic Comedy

Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) is bored with her sheltered life, so one night she sneaks out onto the streets of Rome and meets Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American newsman who sees her as his ticket to make $5,000. He wines and dines her and shows her a good time, all with the intentions of exposing her in an article for money. But then guess what happens? You’ll never guess. He falls for her, obviously. This movie is probably more geared towards women. Being a woman myself, I love this movie. It’s fun and charming. I love Audrey Hepburn, and I love classic rom-coms. So if you like the same things I do, check this one out.

 

There Will Be Blood (2007)220px-There_Will_Be_Blood_Poster

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano
Genre: Drama

The movie takes place over a long period of time. In the beginning, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a prospector who has accidentally struck oil. Thus begins his obsession and greed in the oil business. A man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) eventually visits Daniel and sells him information about his family’s land which he claims has oil lying underneath it. It is at this time when his story intersects with the character who will become his enemy–Paul’s twin brother, Eli the preacher. It goes without saying that Daniel Day-Lewis is basically one of the most talented actors to have ever graced the big screen. Not surprisingly, he also won an Oscar for this role. Paul Dano is also fantastic, in my opinion. You really hate him in this movie, a lot. Between him and Day-Lewis, this movie is overloaded with talent. There really is no “hero” here, as both characters are unlikable in their own ways. Greed really unravels these characters. This movie sticks with you and I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing. It’s more like watching a train wreck, but it’s just too hard to look away.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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Director Bryan Singer has made X-Men: Days of Future Past into a smart, entertaining, action-packed, and emotional ride that focuses on the amazing talent of the new cast, while also bringing back some of the old cast we’ve come to know and love for over a decade’s worth of films. Seven X-Men movies later, and I’ve finally found my favorite of the bunch.

The movie starts out with an exciting scene where some of the remaining mutants are fighting the Sentinels, an army of mutant-killing robots who can change form and adapt to survive any mutant ability that is thrown at them. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), who now seems to have gained a new ability other than walking through walls, sends the mind of Bishop (Omar Sy) back in time a short ways to warn themselves of the incoming Sentinels. Apparently, this has become a routine of theirs, and time travel seems to be the only way the mutants can survive now. The present time is more of a dystopian future. Most of the mutants are dead, as well as the humans. It is a classic case of robots-gone-bat-shit-crazy syndrome and the result is the destruction of the world as we know it.

The mutants figure the only way they can save the world and themselves is to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973, the year when the man responsible for the creation of the Sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), is assassinated by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). If they can stop her from doing so, then the humans won’t see mutants as a dangerous threat, and the Sentinel program will be scrapped.

This X-Men movie lived up to my expectations in so many ways. It doesn’t get bogged down by special effects and characters with no substance like so many superhero movies do. It has just the right amount of humor to balance out the serious aspects of the story, and it has actors who are top notch playing superhero characters who are fighting an everyday battle within themselves. The younger X-Men are premature. They don’t know who they are yet or what they’re capable of. Basically, a mutant from the future comes out of nowhere and tries to tell them who they’re going to be. You can see their struggle with the truth about their future selves, since all they really know is how they see themselves in the present. There is also an emotional moment when young Xavier (James McAvoy) and future Xavier (Patrick Stewart) connect and speak with each other through a link in Wolverine’s mind. Young Xavier has lost his way and lost faith in himself. His future self, acting almost like a wise father figure, convinces him of what he can and will be. It is a heartfelt moment between two amazing actors who are playing the same character.

I am a huge fan of X-Men: First Class, and this has surpassed that. My only complaint is that, because there are so many characters involved between the past and present timelines, some of the interesting characters didn’t get enough screen time. Quicksilver (Evan Peters), for example, stole the show in the couple of scenes that he had. I also wish that young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) had more screen time as well, mainly because Fassbender is such a great actor and pretty much knocks every part he plays right out of the park. I can’t say enough about the great cast in these movies–Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Ian McKellan being some of my favorites here. On the other hand, I was happy they didn’t bring back some of the horrible actors and characters, like Emma Frost (January Jones). I’m sorry, but looking past the pretty face, January Jones is probably the most horrible actress I’ve ever had to suffer through in a movie before. I hated her, and therefore, I hated Emma Frost.

Fans of the X-Men franchise should appreciate this movie and the way the franchise has redeemed itself from the mediocre X-Men: The Last Stand. Of course, there is a lot of confusion about the continuity between all the films, like the fact that Professor X dies in X-Men: The Last Stand and yet, he is alive in this one. Although the post credit scene in the third movie shows Professor X inhabiting the mind of a coma patient, it is never fully explained how Professor X has managed to be fully alive again and in his own body. Or, perhaps I missed something? Either way, it doesn’t matter. Instead of trying to make perfect sense of a superhero movie, you’re better off just enjoying what’s in front of you. X-Men: Days of Future Past is a well-made, entertaining, visually appealing addition to the X-Men franchise and superhero movies in general. Plus, the ending is rather satisfying. It is well worth the money to see in theaters. So go see it!

5/5

Seven Samurai (1954)

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Since I sure as hell don’t like posting old pictures of myself on Instagram for “Throwback Thursday,” I’m going to use this day every week as one to talk about older movies that I recommend to see for anyone who loves movies.

I’m starting this piece off with one of my favorites, director Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, one of the best films to ever come out of Japan. For anyone interested in the classics and overall great filmmaking, Kurosawa’s work is one to become familiar with, and, in my opinion, Seven Samurai is one of his best–if not the best—of Kurosawa’s films. His work has long been admired by filmmakers and he has become a strong influence for other known directors such as John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven), Sergio Leone (For a Fistful of Dollars), and George Lucas (Star Wars), among others.

The story is about a village of farmers who hire seven samurai to protect them from bandits who plan to come back and raid the village once the crops are ripe. The first half of the movie follows Kambei (Takashi Shimura), a wandering ronin who has agreed to protect the village, and his attempts to gather six more samurai to help him. This is a challenge for him, seeing as how the villagers can only offer three meals a day as payment, and not all samurai are willing to risk their lives for such little reward. The second half focuses on the samurai becoming assimilated into a farming village, where they try to teach the villagers how to defend themselves, and we are given the rundown of exactly how Kambei and the other samurai intend to protect the village.

Originally, Kurosawa had planned for there to only be six samurai, but decided it would be more interesting to add a seventh, which would end up being my favorite character in the film, the comical and impulsive show-off, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune). When we are first introduced to him, he is following Kambei around after Kambei had just heroically saved a young boy who was taken hostage by a thief. Kikuchiyo walks around with a certain bravado, with his samurai sword over his shoulder, and it becomes obvious that he is overcompensating for something. We later on learn a bit of his emotional backstory and what drives him to be the kind of person that he is. This is just one example of the way the film really takes its time to let you get to know the characters.

Kurosawa managed to make a groundbreaking film with enough emotion, action, skilled storytelling and memorable, multi-dimensional characters to make 3½ hours only feel like 2. It doesn’t bore or drag, instead, it moves at a steady pace and engages its audience. It has a way of making you truly care about these wonderful, humanly flawed characters. It is a movie that highlights 17th century societal boundaries and pitfalls, as well as the emotional and inevitable result of an alliance between farmers and samurai, two groups of people who do not fully understand one another.

Sixty years after its release, Seven Samurai remains as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t had the chance to see this masterpiece.

Godzilla (2014)

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As a movie that fits into the “summer blockbuster” genre, Godzilla did not disappoint. Director Gareth Edwards has daringly taken on the task of rebooting a franchise that is widely known and loved, with promises of taking it back to its roots. In my opinion, he did that in a lot of ways.

The plot is shown from a human point of view, which is why some of the monster action happens off screen. Some people were saying we hardly see Godzilla at all, but this is not true. He doesn’t show up right away, but we see plenty of him later on. Much like the 1954 original, the presence of Godzilla is teased before we see the colossus full on in all his CGI glory. The absence of Godzilla is filled with a strong presence of the MUTOS, whose sole intention seems to be breeding and wrecking stuff.

With the way this movie is presented, it kind of seems like Godzilla is just this chill guy who doesn’t bother anyone until some mega monster comes out and threatens to destroy the balance. You can either love or hate the fact that he’s shown more in a hero light than he was in the original, but I liked that take on him. He has more of a purpose than he does by being a monster who comes to destroy things just for the sake of destroying. I think he avoids becoming too “cute” by having some badass scenes showing off his monstrous size, iconic roar, whipping tail, and radioactive breath.

The humans play their super important part, which is basically just being in the way of everything. There is this one particular scene where Godzilla is moving through the water, chasing his prey, then he comes to a bridge and stops. The humans have their boats and tanks just planted there, ready to attack at will. If Godzilla could talk I imagined he would’ve been saying something like, “Hey guys, I’m just trying to get through, you know, to chase these monsters, I’m kinda large and you’re in my damn way. Can you move? Oh screw it, I’ll just go under you…oops, sorry I tipped over your boat — oh, now you’re shooting at me? F this, I’m outta here.” The humans also spend a lot of their time thinking about how they can solve the problem, and of course, what is the solution to any problem? Weapons of mass destruction! OK, so the human stories were not the best, and I must say that the real talent was a bit wasted here since Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen were very underused. Instead, the plot focused around Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who–despite being nice to look at–doesn’t really carry the film acting-wise. I enjoyed the part of Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), though, especially because he is the first one to introduce the famous monster by calling him by his original and better Japanese name (in my opinion), Gojira!

Despite all the mixed emotions surrounding it, I believe it’s an entertaining movie. Is it a masterpiece? No. Unless you compare it to the horrendous 1998 version, then maybe. What Edwards has brought to the screen is nothing short of a visually stunning treat for movie-goers. I think anyone walking into a Godzilla movie expecting it to be anything more than a monster movie with fun action and cool special effects has unreasonably high hopes. I understand that’s not an excuse for the story to be absolutely terrible (which is the case with a lot of blockbusters) but this was far from that. Also, Godzilla is just incredibly cool looking.

3/5