MOVIE REVIEW: PHILOMENA (2013)

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Director: Stephen Frears

Happy New Year everyone! Here is my first movie of 2014, Philomena, and it was a great way to kick off my year.

Philomena tells the true story of Philomena Lee, who gave birth to a son during her teenage years in 1950s Ireland. Her family was ashamed and sent the young mother and baby to a convent, and from there the nuns took the baby and sold him into adoption in America. 50 years later Philomena teams up with a journalist to locate her son.

Philomena 2013 poster

The movie poster accurately describes the two main characters as ‘unlikely companions’. Philomena (Dench) is a good-natured woman and she is still deeply religious even after the nuns sold her child during her stay at the convent. Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), a brash, straight-forward journalist, joins Philomena in the search for her son Anthony. It turns out Martin is a very vocal atheist, and he spends a lot of time bashing the Catholic Church. There’s even a couple of scenes where he travels to the convent where Philomena lived and makes some rude comments to the nuns about their religious beliefs regarding fornication, sin, and punishment.

After watching this movie I learned Steve Coogan co-wrote the adapted screenplay. To be fair, I haven’t read the book by the real Martin Sixsmith so I’m not sure how he personally feels about Catholicism, but I felt Coogan inserted his own personal beliefs in this movie and took some of the power away from Philomena’s story. Sometimes I felt this movie was shown in two different viewpoints: Martin’s view of how people should act and treat others, and Philomena’s more tolerant view that people should live in a way that brings them peace.

Despite my gripe with Martin, I enjoyed this movie as a whole. The closeness that developed between Philomena and Martin was very believable, especially after watching them travel from their hometown of London, and then to Ireland where the convent is located, and finally to the U.S. where Anthony was raised.

Judi Dench gives an admirable performance as a woman who is inspiring rather than pitiful and weepy or angry and bitter. She portrays Philomena with multiple layers and a wide variety of emotions, which you would expect from a woman who enjoyed her teenage sexual encounter even though it led to her being an unwed mother. She is still religious even though the convent sold her child. And she still hopes to hug a son that she hasn’t seen in 50 years. Make sure you bring a tissue to use in the second half of the movie.

Did you see Philomena? Let me know what you thought about it!

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MOVIE REVIEW: THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)

Running time: 2 hours, 22 minutes
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Director: Baz Luhrmann

Ah, The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved book about millionaire Jay Gatsby is set in the Roaring Twenties, and this 2013 movie version aims to do it justice. Visually, this movie is stunning. The music had my hips moving.

The sets are beautiful. Colorful. Energetic.

Unfortunately, this energy doesn’t carryover to the storyline. It’s just…good grief, I was bored. It’s lovely to watch but it’s a chore to endure it, and that’s because the dialogue is lazy and the characters are dull and one-dimensional. Leo did his best with the role of Jay Gatsby, and for this reason I think the movie should be renamed as The Great DiCaprio.

The Great Gatsby poster 2013

Nick Carraway (Maguire), his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan), and her husband Tom (Edgerton) carries us through the beginning scenes of the movie, where Nick moves to West Egg in New York, and Daisy and Tom conveniently live across the bay in East Egg.  Here we set up the one dimensional characters. Tom is an angry bird who snaps at everyone, and he regularly cheats on Daisy. I was disappointed with Daisy because she only existed in terms of the people around her- she’s someone for Tom to cheat on, she’s someone for Gatsby to lust for, and she’s someone that Nick can pity, but she never had her own identity as her own person.

I’m not sure if Tobey Maguire was miscast as Nick, or maybe it was the script and/or director that diminished the importance of this character. Nick is very passive and he slowly fades into the background as more characters are introduced. He narrates the movie and he also shares the most scenes with Gatsby but I did not have a connection with him. It seems Nick was under-developed on purpose to make sure he doesn’t take away from The Great DiCaprio.

So. Let’s talk about Leo, as the flashy millionaire who earns Nick’s admiration and yearns for Daisy’s love. We first meet Gatsby at one of his lavish parties, and let me tell you – his introduction scene is MARVELOUS. I had to rewind and re-watch that scene twice. Love it. The music is thumping, there’s lights everywhere, all of the attendees are beautiful and then Leo flashes his dazzling smile- swoon!

But the more we see of Gatsby, the duller this movie becomes. One person cannot carry a movie, and Leo does his best to charm the audience and keep its attention. The problem is, Gatsby shines while the supporting characters are just sitting around watching him. He is the star while everyone else appears so he has people to talk at (not talk ‘to’) during the movie. I felt a huge disconnect between the in-depth character analysis of Gatsby compared to the predictability of the shallow supporting characters.

Final thoughts:

Read the book instead. I’m serious. It’s a good book.


MOVIE REVIEW: THE CONJURING (2013)

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Director: James Wan

The Conjuring is based on actual events. In 1971, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called to the Perron family’s farmhouse to look into some recent ghostly shenanigans. In 1976, years after their work with the Perron farmhouse was completed, the Warrens became involved in their most famous case- the Amityville haunting.

Back to this movie. It’s pretty darn creepy, and the movie constantly amps up your anxiety level as it prepares you for the thrills. It’s probably not the best idea to watch it alone, so grab a friend.

Take a close look at the poster below and you’ll see a treat.

The Conjuring 2013

Picture it.

1971. Harrisville, Rhode Island. Roger and Carolyn Perron (Livingston and Taylor, respectively) move into a huge and creaky old home with their 5 daughters and their dog Sadie. Sadie wants no part of this house, but of course no one listens to a dog.

There’s the smell of rotting flesh that drifts between the rooms of the house, there’s a hidden stairwell that the family accidentally stumbles across, and Mom and a couple of the daughters have their own face to face experiences with whatever is haunting their home.

And that’s just the beginning. It gets even better (or worse, for all of you scaredy cats) from there.

Slow and steady wins the race.

There’s no gore or cheap thrills in this movie. Director James Wan deliberately takes his time setting up the pieces of the puzzle, and he does this primarily through Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga respectively). Ed is a self described demonologist and Lorraine is a clairvoyant, and Wan uses these characters to amp up the anxiety levels and keep you gripping the armrests until the end of the movie.

Have you seen this before?

Some critics have slammed the movie because they believe it’s reminiscent of The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and The Amityville Horror. I’ll admit this movie isn’t incredibly original and it hasn’t added anything new to the horror genre. However, it is a fresh departure from the gore-fests that studios are pumping out now. This is a solid movie, and I recommend it to all fans of the genre.

Should you go see it?

If you avoid scary movies go ahead and skip this one. Otherwise feel free to catch this at the theater! Gotta watch this one on the big screen!


MOVIE REVIEW: THE CALL (2013)

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Michael Ecklund, Morris Chestnut, David Otunga
Director: Brad Anderson

I was iffy about watching this movie. A 911 operator who decides to take the law into her hands? It just didn’t make sense to me.

The Call 2013

Quick summary:

Jordan (Berry) is a seasoned 911 operator who takes a frantic call from a young teen named Casey (Breslin). She’s been kidnapped by a psychotic loser named Michael Foster (Ecklund), and Jordan decides to do whatever is needed to save Casey.

Strong beginning

I’d say the first hour of the movie is pretty damn good. The storyline is a bit thin and easy to digest, but Berry makes a strong effort to create a character that is likeable and has some depth. There are plenty of chances to over-act, and I think alot of actresses would have wild eyes and shrill voices as the Jordan character tries to help the kidnapped teen. Berry did a good job of matching the intensity of the storyline without going overboard.

Aren’t you supposed to hate the bad guy?

Michael Foster is such a hapless idiot that I started to feel sorry for him. I’ve never kidnapped someone before, but I wanted to pull him to the side and give him some pointers so he wouldn’t look so stupid. If you have a girl in your trunk you’re supposed to act cool about it. Don’t visibly freak out or raise your voice in an unnatural way any time someone  innocently glances your way.

The last half hour of the movie decides to focus on Foster and this is where the movie instantly tanks. We learn some backstory about him and his life of crime, but after seeing him make so many dumb mistakes throughout the movie I really didn’t care about ‘how’ and ‘why’ he has become a kidnapper.

Final verdict

Since the last act of the movie is so terrible I’d suggest skipping this one. Trust me, no one will ever say to you, “What? You haven’t seen The Call?! It’s such a good movie!”

If you saw The Call, did you regret it? Let me know!


MOVIE REVIEW: FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013)

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano, Tyrese Gibson
Director: Justin Lin

This movie should be called Fun, Fast, & Furious because I had a blast watching it. I rarely see a movie twice at the movie theater, but I’m hoping I can see this one more time before it heads to DVD (which I plan to buy).

Fast and Furious 6 movie poster

Quick note:

There’s a short scene after the credits so make sure you stay for it. It’s great and I squealed.

A fast plot summary:

Following the money heist in Fast Five, Dom Toretto (Diesel) and his team split up. They are fugitives now, but they’re also super rich. Dobbs (The Rock, er Dwayne Johnson) asks the team to take down a dangerous criminal named Owen Shaw and he provides evidence that Dom’s ex, Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez) is still alive. Dobbs agrees to drop the criminal charges against the team if they help deliver Shaw.

Some things never change

This is Justin Lin’s 4th time directing a Fast movie. They might want to keep him. Vin Diesel’s acting is still horrendous. Good grief, man.

The characters endure a lot of physical punishment yet they always walk away with minor scrapes. No broken bones, not even a concussion.

Great action scenes

It seemed like the action scenes were planned out very well, and there are two that really stick out to me: the bridge and the runway. Even though the characters are moving at very high speeds you always knew where each person was, and you could clearly see each movement as people jumped to different cars, spun out, delivered a right hook to someone’s jaw, etc.

The hand to hand combat was nice too

This movie delivered more than car chases. We also saw people get some good, old fashioned ass whippings. Gina Carano, a former MMA fighter, had an awesome fight scene with Michelle Rodriguez, and the other characters had their own individual fight scenes that were really good as well.

Final thought

I could write a super long post about why I loved this movie, but I think it’d be better if everyone heads to the theater to see it.

If you saw Fast 6 did you love it as much as I did?!


MOVIE REVIEW: THE PURGE (2013)

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane
Director: James DeMonaco

Producer Jason Blum received tons of praise for The Purge‘s opening weekend box office tally: $36.4 million for a film that cost $3 million to make. He has experience with producing low budget movies that yield a high box office return. See Paranormal Activity 1-4, Insidious, and Sinister. Let’s see if Blum’s latest movie lives up to the hype…

The Purge 2013 poser

Picture it:

America. 2022. Crime and unemployment rates are at an all time low. The government gives credit to the “Annual Purge” which allows a 12 hour period where all criminal acts are legalized. From 7 pm until 7 am the next day you can steal, harm, and kill with no threat of punishment. You also can’t call the police, hospital, fire stations, etc. for help.

The Sandin family, James, Mary, Zoey, and Henry, lock down their home for the annual purge but they are quickly faced with threats from outside AND inside their home. Yikes!

Hi Ethan!

I like Ethan Hawke. He does a wonderful job of portraying the everyday family man. I’ve seen enough movies where I think “This dad/husband sucks.” I never get that with Ethan. Also, when he appears in a thriller he never overacts to express his feelings. In this movie he kicks ass to save his family, and that leads us into a sub plot that the movie tried to explore…

Is it every man for himself during the Annual Purge?

Of course we see the characters struggle with the morality of the Purge. Some people want to grab a gun and fire off a few rounds while other people want to be above the violence, even if it leads to their death. I think this movie tried to set up a situation where the Sandin family has to make a tough, moral decision, but it lost impact once the violence started up.

Love/hate

I enjoy home invasion movies but sometimes it seems like a double edged sword. You don’t always know where someone is hiding inside or outside the home, and that’s the fun. But, that means someone can appear at the right moment to make a kill or to save the day, and sometimes it seems too convenient. This happened alot in The Purge and it took away from the suspense because I could predict it.

Final thoughts

I like the premise of the movie and it was entertaining enough, but if you haven’t seen Fast 6, Iron Man 3, or Star Trek into Darkness go see those first. The Purge will probably serve best as a Redbox rental on a lazy weekend.


MOVIE REVIEW: GANGSTER SQUAD (2013)

Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Emma Stone
Director: Ruben Fleischer

Gangster Squad boasts an A-List cast and Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer, but apparently that’s not enough to make a great movie. I felt this movie was over the top at times, a little cheesy, and way too heavy handed with the gun violence. Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, and Sean Penn are definitely worth watching and I think they saved this movie from being plain bad.

Gangster Squad 2013 poster

Picture it:

1949. Los Angeles. Gangster Mickey Cohen (Penn) is terrorizing the city and Sgt. O’Mara (Brolin) leads a secret police unit tasked with driving Cohen out of town. Sgt. Wooters (Gosling) is the last cop to join the unit, and he’s also having an affair with Mickey’s girlfriend, Grace (Stone). Now, get yer guns ready!

Um, what kind of movie is this?

I couldn’t tell if this movie meant to be a spoof, or if there was just some bad acting and writing in certain spots. One scene that comes to mind: Gracie is at a club wearing THE red dress that you see in the poster, and she makes immediate eye contact with Wooters. Gracie speaks in a slow, drawling, breathy tone reminiscent of the 1940s leading ladies of Hollywood, and Wooters had an awful Bogart-esque, too cool for school tone. I almost laughed. But then I started thinking it was supposed to be serious.

Shoot ’em up!

I think ‘Guns’ should have top billing alongside Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling. Seriously, I tuned out during the numerous shooting scenes, and I thought it was a bit excessive.

Good cast…but two people didn’t mesh well.

Josh Brolin carried this movie as the earnest do-gooder O’Mara. We got a sense of his family life with his pregnant wife Connie, who is scared for his life as he hunts down Cohen. Sean Penn really hammed it up as the bad guy and he was fun to watch. I cringed through some of the scenes with Gosling and Stone though. On a scale of 1 to 10 their chemistry level was a 0, which surprised me because so many critics praised their chemistry in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. 

Final thought.

This movie was frustrating at times, because I felt some parts of the plot were rushed forward and other parts were only partially explored. However, I didn’t regret watching this movie because the actors were so damn good with the material they were given.

If you watched Gangster Squad let me know what you thought about it!