Begin Again

Delightfully charming

Begin Again

My rating: 4 1/2 reels out of 5

 A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.

Going into this movie, I knew who directed and starred in it and that was enough for me to want to see it. Begin Again was directed by John Carney, who directed the modern day musical Once, a movie which contains one of my all-time favorite scenes in movie history. Begin Again has Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, one of my favorite actresses and actors. I wanted to watch it earlier but my friend thought it sounded like a romantic comedy (would’ve taken our bro-date to another level I suppose, haha). We went to another movie instead and I saw Begin Again later in the week. My friend’s suspicions were true, it was a romantic comedy but it’s not the conventional kind. Between Carney’s Once and Begin Again, the two movies contain themes of second chances, romance, and the bond of friendship. Begin Again is a wonderfully delightful movie that brought nothing but a smile to my face.

Just like Once, Carney incorporates music into Begin Again. Unlike Once though, it doesn’t play like a musical, it’s more like a regular film with music in it. To prepare for her role, Keira Knightley learned to play guitar and sing. Playing the rockstar that dumps her is Maroon 5 singer, Adam Levine. I honestly didn’t who Levine was until this movie. He has a high singing voice which I’m not a fan of but he played his role well. To round out the musical cast, we also have Mos Def, playing a music executive, and CeeLo Green, playing a musician named Troublegum. Playing the disgraced music-business executive is Mark Ruffalo. As daughter and wife of Mark Ruffalo’s character, we have oscar nominees, Hailee Steinfeld and Catherine Keener. Even though the music doesn’t quite stick with you, it is great. Aesthetically pleasing and fits the overall mood of the movie superbly. Great moments that you’ve never seen before. Music is a character itself in this movie but the soul of this movie is the relationship between the main characters, Gretta (Knightley) and Dan (Ruffalo).

Playing around with flashbacks, the first act of our story is admirably edited, it builds the backstory of Gretta and Dan before they first meet. Lost souls who manage to find each other.  You may reach a point in your life where everything seems hopeless. You may reach a point in your life where you have no idea what direction to go. The people around you can help you through the darkest of times. Sometimes it’s a person you’ve known your whole life or it could be a complete stranger. Begin Again is about second chances. It’s about the passions that can bring us together, such as music. It’s about a friendship that can change your life. You can probably guess how the story will go in this movie but it just may surprise you. I hope Begin Again can make you smile like it did for me.

My expectations: I was expecting a funny and an inspiring film. It’s what I got and more. Expectations exceeded.

Re-watch value: I can easily watch this movie again.

Recommendation: I can recommend this film to most anyone.

Memorable: Great memories created with this movie.

Get On Up


Get On Up

My rating: 3 reels out of 5

A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history.

Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of James Brown is phenomenal, really bringing the funk and the soul of James Brown. When you have a movie about a musician, you have to have musical performances of their songs. When songs were performed, they were really well done. Good costume designing, cinematography, and sound design. The filmmakers really did their research and emulated James Brown wonderfully. The parts between those performances, were dull at times.

Why I didn’t enjoy the film? I’m not a huge music buff. I hear James Brown’s music more in passing than I do listening to it on my own accord. Perhaps it just felt like a story that I’ve seen before, musicians just seem to have trouble with money, drugs, or love. I can’t help but think of previous biographical movies such as Ray and Walk The Line. It seemed like the filmmakers tried to vary from those films as much as possible. One of the ways they attempted to do this was through editing. We jump through times in James’ life, it is highlighted by the year and some phrase to describe the chapter in that life. However, the part that would annoy me is that they would grab my attention with something but then they wouldn’t come back to it until later in the film. Attention grabbers is an effective strategy when starting a movie but when it happens a couple times in the middle of a movie, then it gets distracting.

There’s no way a movie can fully cover the life of anyone, especially James Brown. Some aspects of his life were not mentioned or were barely touched upon. Nevertheless, the movie will give you a new way to look at the Godfather of Soul. Get On Up is a well made film but it’s just not the kind of film that appealed to me. Don’t let my opinion stop you from going though because the two friends I went with enjoyed it.

My expectations: Low expectations. I wasn’t too excited to begin with. And the movie was pretty much what I expected. I found myself wondering when the film was going to end and I even had to check what time it was.

Recommendation: Recommended to those who love music, especially the funk. If you’re not interested, you may or not be surprised about it.

Re-watch value: None

Memorable: Forgettable for me.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Ooga ooga ooga chaka…ooga ooga ooga chaka

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My rating: 5 reels out of 5

In the far reaches of space, a human from Earth, Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.

Out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comes Guardians of the Galaxy. A movie that is as advertised, a fun and enjoyable ride. Most everyone is familiar with the bigger super heroes of the Marvel world: Ironman, Thor, the Hulk, etc. If there is anyone that is like me, then they are not too familiar with this comic book story. I felt the movie does well in explaining our characters for a general audience and I could not help but love every single one of our heroes. They each have their quirks and insecurities, and the relationship between them all is volatile and at times, highly amusing. The movie is very different from what you might expect from a comic book movie. They aren’t the traditional super heroes. They don’t have super powers. They are misfits. They are outlaws.

One of the aspects that makes Guardians fun is the awesome soundtrack, part of Peter Quill’s awesome mix, a keepsake and a reminder he has of Earth. If you’re wondering how this human is in the middle of deep space, it’s  explained a little in the beginning of the movie with a rather emotional opening scene. Guardians is a formulaic movie but I loved every second of this movie. Great chemistry between everyone. Loved Chris Pratt’s performance as Peter Quill aka Starlord (who?!), also really enjoyed Dave Bautista’s portrayal of Drax the Destroyer. Arguably the best movie that will come out of the summer season. There’s not much else to say, so I’ll just say it, go check out this movie! Ok, one more thing, I AM GROOT!

My expectations: Expecting another puzzle piece in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, did not expect to get such an amusing movie. One of my favorite space opera type movies now. Expectations exceeded.

Recommendation: Most everyone will enjoy this one.

Re-watch value: High, I can’t wait to see it again.

Memorable: Lots of great lines this movie. Missed some lines in this movie because the audience was laughing so hard.

Bonus, movie going experience: If you have read some of my previous posts, you’d know I’m not a huge fan of 3D movies. I didn’t know my screening would be 3D until my ticket was torn and I was handed glasses but I’m not going to argue when I’m seeing the movie in advance. I have found another reason to hate 3D movies. Earlier in the day I was suffering from a headache. I had taken some ibuprofen. By the time the movie rolled around, my headache was gone. However it slowly crept back during the movie and it was back by the end. So I do believe 3D can do bad stuff to your brain.

Update, August 6th: I’ve upgraded my rating to a perfect rating. I can’t get enough of this movie. Seen it 3 times so far.

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Lucy

Lucy…you got some ‘splaining to do…

Lucy

My rating: 2 reels out of 5

A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

In the first five minutes of Lucy, I knew in my mind, this is going to be a rough ride. Flashback scenes were used to try to explain who our characters were but ended up just raising further questions. The editing was jarring and disruptive. A couple scenes later, the use of animal stock footage was thrown in as a metaphor for a prey being stalked by a predator. It was very redundant and very distracting from the scene. The story starts to smooth out and gets a little bit more coherent after this point but you’re just holding onto a glimmer of hope that the movie is going to get slightly better. It’s advertised that Lucy is learning to access the full capacity of the brain. That’s really the only thing that kept me going because I wanted to know what happens when she reaches a 100%.

When I wasn’t sitting mindlessly through uninspiring action sequences, I kept thinking of other movies or shows that Lucy reminded me of. Amusingly, I thought of Scarlett Johansson’s previous sci-fi movies, Her and Under The Skin. An episode of Futurama popped in my head. And finally Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life popped into my mind. For a movie about accessing the depths of the human brain, it doesn’t offer any eye-opening ideas. It’s an interesting premise but it is lost in a thoughtless summer action flick. The bright side of Lucy is the short run time, I didn’t have the desire to look at my watch. Once it’s all over though, you have to wonder, could I have spent my time and money on something else?

Expectations: Not sure what I was expecting on this one, went in with an open mind but was obviously disappointed.

Recommendation: I can’t recommend this to anyone. Avoid this one.

Re-watch value: None

Memorable: No, I can easily forget this one.

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

My rating: 4 1/2 reels out of 5

Snowpiercer is the kind of movie that will resonate in your mind for days. It is a smart, thought-provoking, and an entertaining film from director Joon-ho Bong (best known for his film, The Host, no not the one based on that Stephanie Meyer book). Joon-ho creates a very detailed world about a failed global-warming experiment that forces the last people on Earth onto the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the world. On this train, a class system evolves that suppresses those who live at the tail of the train, which leads to an uprising lead by Curtis (Chris Evans).

The characters in the film are richly deep. Every single character had depth and a story behind their eyes. Some of the villains you just want to hate and they don’t even say a word. One of my favorite characters was Grey (Luke Pasqaulino), a hero who didn’t say much in the film but he kicked all kinds of ass. Among the cast is also Tilda Swinton, always embodying the roles she plays, she delivers as an awkward government official. The always great, John Hurt, playing Gilliam, a mentor to Curtis. But the scene stealer for me is Chris Evans, you think you have Curtis figured out but his choices he makes later in the film really defines the kind of person he is.

Snowpiercer moves very smoothly. There is one scene where the film went to a strange and weird place. I suppose that scene just felt uncomfortable for me but the scene was necessary for the overall premise of the story. Like most post-apocalyptic stories, the focus is on humanity and usually it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of what we’re capable of. We are violent animals who are willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Snowpiercer deals with themes of fate, destiny, and religion. Everyone has their place in the world. There has to be balance in order to survive. Being a savior to people requires sacrifice.

Snowpiercer is a rare blend of smarts and action. Aesthetically pleasing. It will surprise you when you least expect it to. Take a break from mindless blockbusters and go watch this movie!

My expectations: Was expecting just a run of the mill post-apocalyptic movie but I definitely got more out of it than I expected.

Re-watch value: I could easily watch this again.

Recommendation: I can recommend this film. It is a bit on the violent side, so if you don’t like those kind of films, might be best to stay away (you wuss!).

Memorable: Snowpiercer is the kind of film that will stay with you forever.

300: Rise of an Empire

Eva Green steals the show but can’t save regurgitated script.

300

My rating: 2 1/2 reels out of 5

300: Rise of an Empire contains some typical Hollywood mistakes you can make with a sequel. The first mistake was taking a good part of a decade to make a follow-up. The first 300 movie was 8 years ago. I can’t really think of a sequel that exceeded its predecessor that took more than 3 years to make after the initial movie (at least not any off the top of my head, feel free to provide examples). As an unwritten rule, if it has been more than 3 years since the previous movie than maybe a sequel wasn’t the best idea to begin with.  The second mistake was basically rehashing the story of the first movie from a different perspective. I saw this movie a long time ago, except it was about the Spartans, now we are seeing the movie from the Athenian perspective. I was hoping for a united Greece versus the Persian army and the actual war but that’s not what we get. And the third mistake is taking what worked well in the first movie and beating  our heads with it. Dramatic elements of the first movie are reused and slow-motion shots were really cool in the first movie, but it could’ve been used more sparingly. You get tired of slo-mo shots after the first five minutes. This movie could’ve been so much more but ultimately was disappointing.

When we last left ancient Greece in the first 300 movie, we were seeing a united Greece army marching to war against the Persians. If you were hoping to see such a battle, be prepared to be disappointed. The events in Rise of an Empire take place during the events of the first 300 movie, but from the Athenian perspective. Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) must hold off the Persian navy commanded by the vengeful Artemisia (Eva Green). There are some plus sides to this movie and Eva Green was one of them, and not just because we see some revealing body parts of her. Her character had the most character development and depth. She was a villain that you could empathize for. The rest of the cast does a pretty good jobs themselves. The biggest part of this movie that suffers the most is the story.

The story suffers because it was something we had already seen, a small group of Greeks trying to hold off a large persian force. I personally wanted to see what took place after the Persian army marched into Greece. Maybe the filmmakers really wanted to focus on Artemisia, being the most interesting character in the movie. They did develop Xerxes a little bit more in this movie but it was to help develop Artemisia more as well.

The way I see it is an example of Hollywood not taking risks and feeding us what they think people would like to see. They seem to just take into account the newer movie goers rather than pleasing regular movie goers. It’s the reason why older films getting remade, and it’s the reason why sequels get made. With how well Rise of an Empire is doing in the box office, we could probably expect a sequel. Let’s hope it doesn’t take more than 8 years to make and let’s hope it’s not the same movie from another perspective. Rise of an Empire could’ve been a better movie, but instead we get more Hollywood regurgitation.

My expectations: Regular expectations that were not met.

Re-watch value: There’s probably only one part that anyone who loves Eva Green would watch again *wink wink*.

Recommendation: Go watch the first 300 movie instead.

Memorable: I’ll remember how much I was disappointed with this movie.

Sundance Review – Whiplash

Winner of U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Whiplash

J.K. Simmons fiercely instructing Miles Teller

My rating: 5 reels out of 5

Ever had a dream of being a great football player? A great dancer? A great singer? A great musician? Our protagonist has a dream of being a great drummer, a drummer that will be remembered forever. Maybe you are still fighting for your dream. Maybe you have given up on greatness. Greatness doesn’t come easily, you need to practice at it. Andrew practices until his hands bleed.

Andrew (Miles Teller) is 19-year old student at a music conservatory in Manhattan. Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is a teacher at the conservatory with a ruthlessly brutal teaching style. After picking Andrew to play in the school band, he pushes  Andrew to his limits in order to realize his full potential, at the risk of his humanity.

I had a billiards teacher at one point in my life, who was close to becoming a pro in his craft but a grease fire accident changed all that. His perspective changed, to paraphrase, he realized he was becoming an asshole. He became a teacher of pool instead of becoming a pro player. Through him, I can understand what Terrence Fletcher was trying to instill into Andrew. My teacher would push me a little bit. When he gave me opportunities to show him up, “run the table now,” he would tell me, I failed. It’s embarrassing when that happens but it’s also a learning tool because more work needs to be done. You can’t get by on talent alone but it certainly helps. On the other side of it, I saw a little bit of my teacher in Andrew. Losing who you are to perfect something you love. Good thing my teacher realized before it was too late.

I lost myself in the story. It had something to say about not settling and asking more of yourself. Two fantastic performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Perhaps it will push you to maybe pick up that guitar again, put on your ballet shoes, or hit the gym to bulk up. Whiplash is an incredibly powerful film. And after the final shot cuts to black, the film will stick with you for days.

My expectations: Medium. I did not expect the film to be so powerful for me. Expectations exceeded.

Recommendation: Cinema lovers and casual movie goers, I believe will enjoy this film.

Re-watch value: I can watch this film again and I actually can’t wait until it hits distribution.

Memorable: I am still thinking about this film.