Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

“Go see Oz,” they said. “It’ll be good,” they said. Well I’ll come out right off the bat and say that it wasn’t.

Starring James Franco and Mila Kunis, this prequel to the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” detailed the journey of the magical “wizard,” Oz, and his journey to the fabled city that bears his name.

The movie contained some dazzling visuals, bright colors and great use of the 3D feature, but other than the visuals and a few funny scenes between Franco and Zach Braff voicing Oz’s flying-monkey companion, Finley, that was all that was good.

The plotline was muddled with inconsistencies, there were some pretty corny scenes with the witches, Kunis was a terrible wicked witch and Franco honestly didn’t even seem like he wanted to be in the movie, almost like he didn’t even care about his character.

Overall, I was severely disappointed. I thought that Disney could have done so much with the story of Oz but they didn’t. They just made the movie PG.

Overall, I give this movie 4 out of 10 dolphins.

Dark Skies Movie Review

Illustration by: Matthew Martin

A family with financial problems sees their life go down into a rabbit hole when they begin to be visited by aliens. Yet, “Dark Skies” is not your average alien-invasion story. It has an interesting plot that builds up a sort of awkward tension with its audience until the very end.

Written and directed by Scott Stewart, who’s known for movies like “Priest” and “Legion,” “Dark Skies” was a derivative yet engaging affair that hit the spot and gave me an hour and a half of genuine chills and thrills. It did right by me by following the two simple rules that usually make for a solid horror experience. First, it introduces compelling characters and relationships that one can care about. This one hit the nail on the head. One can relate to a lot of what the family was going through and the acting by all was right on the money; hence I cared about their fate big time.

Kudos to Keri Russell (Lacy), Josh Hamilton (Daniel), Dakota Goyo (Jesse) and Kadan Rockett (Sam). They sold me and then some as individuals of a loving family. The flick even managed to squeeze in a “it’s hard being a teenager” subplot by way of Dakota Goyo’s character’s plight which added a sense of pathos and further realism to the story. And with that on its side it gunned out rule number two: to put some endearing and credible people in harms way.

As you can probably guess, there is a fair amount of special effects featured in “Dark Skies,” though it is often left in the shadows to very effective results.  As proven in the film “Mama,” what your imagination dreams up is often much scarier than what is actually onscreen.  The effects aren’t terrible, but they’re nothing to write home about either.  Where the film ultimately falls short is in its attempt to wrap everything up nicely.  The ideas on their own were good, however once they were mixed together it just did not make a lot of sense.

“Dark Skies” has a way of building up the tension until the very end, when all the ideas mixed together leave the audience confused and not in a good way. The film seems to talk down to them and leaves them with a very bizarre open-ended conclusion. The climax also requires one of the characters to make a very foolish move and a portion of it takes the film into odd territory that’s more surreal than sci-fi.

If “Dark Skies” ultimately doesn’t explore much fresh territory for its sub-genre, it’s also better than its unscreened-in-advance status might suggest. The production is slick while remaining grounded in the reality required to center the story, and Stewart and his cast convince us to care about the characters even as if we feel like we’ve seen the forces threatening them before. Never mind what’s happening in the skies; it’s the darkness that descends within the Barretts’ household that proves most intensified here.

“Dark Skies” gets  five out of 10 dolphins.

“The Hunger Games” Movie Review

Caught in the aftermath of political rebellion, two-dozen teenagers enter the competition, but only one may leave.

These are the rules that have defined the Hunger Games for the last 74 years.

Based on Suzanne Collins’s book by the same title, “The Hunger Games” movie follows the journey of Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, into the competition known as the Hunger Games.

For the few of you that haven’t read the grossly popular young-adult series, the story is based in a gloomy, futuristic society. The Hunger Games are a required competition for two young adults from each of the 12 districts to battle to the death.

The Games are not only a source of entertainment to those in the Capitol city but also a reminder to the districts of a failed rebellion and a warning to dissuade any future rebels from testing the Capitol’s power.

Accompanied by Peeta, a boy from her hometown played by Josh Hutcherson, Katniss travels to the Capitol to promote and train for the Games. They both make friends and enemies along the way and ultimately discover whom they can trust.

The two youngsters team up with other characters such as Miss Manners Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the drunken disaster Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and the cool and crafty Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) on their melancholy yet slightly comical journey through the Games. There are moments when you want to cry, laugh or scream along with the characters.

Unfortunately for the plot, the visual relationship between Katniss and Peeta was not developed enough, most likely due to the lack of chemistry between Lawrence and Hutcherson. Hopefully, the actors can work on their on-screen presence for the sequel, which is due in theaters November 2013.

If you easily get motion sickness, I would suggest sitting in the back of the theater, as the camera work is shaky throughout the movie. It’s hard to keep track of everything happening in the scenes, even the ones that are not filled with action.

Setting records in its debut weekend, the film earned an estimated $155 million, marking it as the third-best debut in North American box office history according to an online CNN report. The two movies that beat out “The Hunger Games” were “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” and “The Dark Knight,” which were both sequels.

We should expect the next installments of “The Hunger Games” to continue breaking records.

The most disappointing part of the movie wasn’t about the actual movie at all, but rather the reaction toward casting decisions.

The novel described Rue as having “dark brown skin and eyes,” yet Twitter was ablaze with comments criticizing why Rue and two other characters were played by black actors, according to an article on Jezebel.com.

A shocking amount of racially-biased comments were written all over the Internet. Situations are no longer sad when the characters are of a darker complexion, according to one Twitter account member. Another expressed a refusal to see the movie because of the casting decisions.

Despite these hateful remarks, “The Hunger Games” has achieved and will continue its success breaking box office records.

If you have a chance this week, I would recommend grabbing a few friends and catching the next showing of “The Hunger Games.”

Iron Maiden Movie Review

On the surface, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher might not seem like a good subject for a biopic. She wasn’t flamboyant; there’s no romantic back story, and she was more known for her steel will than her diplomacy. In these politically charged times, however, “The Iron Lady” is surprisingly timely with its profile of the greengrocer’s daughter who fought her way through the British political ranks to become one of the most powerful women in the Western Hemisphere.

Meryl Streep is a towering presence as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” a time-hopping biopic that sees her reunite with “Mamma Mia!” director Phyllida Lloyd. The movie itself doesn’t live up to Streep’s magnificent turn, instead sweeping through the key moments in Thatcher’s life to assemble a surface-level portrait of one of Britain’s most divisive leaders.

The narrative roughly follows her personal history, starting with her school years and showing how she rose to become the first female Member of Parliament, then Prime Minister of Britain for 11 years, during which time she wrestled with the recession of the 1980s, the birth of the European Union, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, a massive miner’s strike, the Argentine fight over the Falkland Islands and rebellion of the Irish, including frequent bombings – emotionally portrayed in the film – from the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

As Thatcher, Meryl Streep is superb. From her makeup and wardrobe to her speech and the behaviors and mannerisms of a woman in her forties, fifties and older, Streep vanishes in her portrayal of the “iron lady,” and it’s a wonder to behold.

In addition to a fascinating and reasonably neutral political narrative that focused on Thatcher and the cost her family paid in her single-minded devotion to her service to Britain, “The Iron Lady” was surprisingly touching, and more than once I felt a wave of emotion sweep over me as her children fought for attention, a beloved advisor was killed in an IRA bombing, and her long-suffering husband, Denis, sat on the sidelines as he realized yet again he couldn’t compete with her passionate love of service.

Still, the best part of “The Iron Lady” is Streep’s performance. It’s truly that good. The film itself is a touching and engaging biopic, but will ultimately be of more interest to students of history and those who seek a sense of the battles she had to fight as the first woman Member of Parliament and the first female head of a Western Power. Well worth watching in this context, it’s a reminder of the power of cinema to let us peek into the life of a powerful, amazing woman.

Movie Review: Tower Heist

The slogan for the new crime comedy movie Tower Heist promises ordinary guys conducting an extraordinary robbery and the movie delivers just that.

The movie stars Ben Stiller as a building manager of a high-end apartment building called The Tower. When the entire staff falls victim to a Ponzi scheme, Stiller’s character brings together an odd group of people to get back at the manipulative multi-millionaire Arthur Shaw.

Tower Heist does not offer the most believable plot and for some reason seems to be revolving around a chess move that does not make much sense. The plan Stiller and his extremely nervous group of accomplices devise can be described in one word, wacky. No robbery ever goes according to plan and what I enjoyed throughout the movie were all the twists and turns that the characters had to fight through.

Perhaps screenwriters Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson were thinking from the perspective of an ordinary man, not a genius when writing down exactly how the robbery would go down. The credit here goes to the actors, all of whom did an amazing job with their individual parts and made it seem partially realistic.

Eddie Murphy does exactly what he is good at, acting and making his audience laugh. It will come as no surprise though that six-time Emmy winner and former MASH star, Alan Alda, was the most impressive with his acting. Alda portrayed his character with the utmost condescension. He literally becomes the villainous New York businessman mad about his money and willing to do anything to protect it. Ben Stiller fits perfectly into the good caring guy persona he has played before, in case you remember Night at the Museum.

Director Brett Ratner, from the “Rush Hour” trilogy, is no stranger to coordinating frenetic exploits. He stages a doozy involving a vintage Ferrari, an elevator shaft and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, complete with its giant inflatable Snoopy and Shrek.

The movie relates to real-life situations of several New Yorkers though who have lost their finances and property at the hands of Wall Street businessmen. The timing of the movie seemed right especially with the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Overall, Tower Heist does what a comedy is supposed to do, entertain and make you laugh and at certain times keeps you on the edge of your seat. If you are looking for a relaxed time with friends then Tower Heist is good pick. If you have too high of an expectation though, I would pop in next door to Puss In Boots.

Once Again “The Thing” Released

Picking up where the 1982 classic let off, director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. puts a modern spin on the scientific thriller serving as a prequel to John Carpenter’s original.

The newest version of the film, released Oct. 14, does not stray from the original. American paleontologist Kate Lloyd, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is requested to join a team of Norwegian scientists to research a mysterious aircraft discovered under the ice of Antarctica.

While the team attempt to dissect what they have discovered they stumble upon yet another unknown specimen that appears as though it was once living. Little does the team know, it is still alive.

Hell breaks loose from the ice when the unknown life form attacks one of the team members, taking over the cells and tissues of the human.  The creature morphs into a complete replica of any life form that it comes in contact with.

Surviving team members struggle to stay alive and protect themselves from the extraterrestrial demon while suspicions run high about each other; any one of them could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or in this case a monstrous alien disguised as a familiar face.

One by one the team members are engulfed and duplicated by the “Thing” that is terrorizing their small, icy cabin shelter. The only way to completely eliminate the creature is to burn anyone that it has had contact with and destroy the off brand version of the human body it has taken over.

Our heroine, Kate, is faced with the task of ruling out what’s real and what is fake, and even at the end of the film she still has to live by the creed of trusting no one in order to solidify her own protection and survival.

Overall this film is a bone-chilling thriller, filled with gore and a substantial amount of action. The special effects are believable and audiences will be surprised at the graphic images that seem to literally gush and splatter across the screen.

Though the dialogue is a bit basic and mundane, it sufficed for the plot of the film. A largely engaging element of the film is the foreshadowing provided from scene to scene; much like a mystery, it will keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Collectively the director and cast were able to breathe new life into John Carpenter’s cult classic with an edgier approach that will rip across movie screens. After seeing this film you may find yourself looking out the corner of your eye and wondering who’s who.

What’s Your Number?

The number of sexual partners a person possesses has never been so comical as shown in “What’s Your Number?”,  a movie starring Anna Faris and Chris Evans. This movie was released on Friday, Sept. 30 in theaters across the country.

Ally Darling (Faris) reads a magazine article about the nation’s average sexual partners. According to the article, women who exceed twenty partners have a slim chance of getting married. Finding that her number is almost twice the norm, Ally goes searching for her ex-boyfriends in hopes of still being marriage material.

Along her journey, Ally is joined in her search by her philandering neighbor Colin Shea (Evans) and her seemingly perfect sister Daisy Darling (played by Ari Graynor). Colin, who was raised in a family of policemen, has a talent of researching people’s lives that helps him locate Ally’s exes.

Ally has charismatically given her ex-boyfriends nicknames such as “Disgusting Donald” or “The Puppeteer.” Despite these charming monikers, she still wants to give them all a second chance.

Through her trips down memory lane, Ally realizes that she continuously focuses on others’ pursuit of happiness instead of her own. Shea had to tell Ally her flaw in the course of the film, as if the audience didn’t catch on when Ally visibly changed herself around each ex.

The movie has all the classifications of a romantic comedy – a light-hearted, funny movie where two people overcome all obstacles to become united. In true rom com fashion, Ally spends the film trying to conquer her personality flaws in hopes of ending up married.

With a predictable storyline, the movie caters to a female audience. They are drawn in by the sexually based jokes and Chris Evans’ often semi-nude scenes. It was the perfect combination of romance and vulgarity.

Faris, who often plays the unintelligent ditz, sufficiently played a well-educated, unemployed, artistic marketing personnel. Despite being handed roles beneath her acting abilities, Faris is finally in a role in which her character can be taken seriously.

The movie is rated R for its sexual content, language, violence, and nudity. I don’t know about you, but those are all the things I look for when seeing Chris Evans on the big screen.

Contagion Deserves the Hype

Make sure you wash your hands.

“Contagion,” released September 9, 2011 is a film that everyone is talking about. Its gritty film style coupled with the nerve-wracking subject matter will definitely stay with you.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Contagion” tells the story of how easily a disease can turn into an epidemic.  It also follows the lives of six central characters, all somehow fitting in to the development of the disease.

A team of doctors, affiliated with the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control, try to deal with the destruction of this disease, which is transmitted simply by contact. An ambitious blogger, played impressively by Jude Law, also has a part to play in the overall effect and spread of the disease, which does not fully expose itself until close to the end of the film.

All in all, this film is great. It is directed well and the script is to the point. The fact that “Contagion” does not stray away from the main plot with pointless romances or violence, makes this film very real. It goes from fact to fact, population to population, and illness to illness.

Richard Heiden, a junior Aerospace Engineering student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, agrees of the “realness” in the film.

“It almost seemed like a documentary about the spread of an epidemic. It was uncomfortable to think how possible and easy it could actually happen,” he said.

Easy is right! The disease starts so simply that it is horrifying to think of how conceivable a situation like this could be. For the sake of spoiling the film, the source of the disease will not be revealed in this review.

All of the characters played a vital role in the film and had unique, believable performances; however, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Laurence Fishburne stole the movie. Each of these actors played their parts so effortlessly, that it was easy to feel that we actually knew them.  One of these characters does not see the end of the film, and their death is one of the more haunting moments in “Contagion,” which is more proof of how much their performance helped the film.

Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Marion Cotillard rounded out the principal cast with wonderful performances, too…just not quite as noticeable as the others. Their roles seemed to be sometimes forgotten, lost in the more immediate plot. However, all of the characters still work together, keeping the film and plot consistent.

Carolina Conte, the assistant professor of film here at Jacksonville University, agrees with the way the movie is put together.

“It has different stories that intertwine, creating a very interesting plot. Soderbergh is really good in making this work in film,” she said.

While “Contagion” wasted no time getting to the point and telling a story (which is refreshing-since films tend to beat around the main point), it also used great aesthetics.

Almost all the time, “Contagion” maintained an ashy and gray feel to it, certainly highlighted by the almost constant gloomy weather. The sun rarely makes an appearance in the film, and when it does, it is beautiful. The seemingly dull and dark shots in the film help to maintain the bleak subject matter of the film, which was super effective.

The shots were intelligently done as well. So many close-ups focused on objects, hands, and touching (which obviously is what spreads the disease). It makes the viewer expectant, sure, but also incredibly nervous and aware of how quickly an outbreak like this could become reality.

To sum it up, “Contagion” is smart. The script is sharp and undeviating, which definitely keeps the viewer intrigued and on the edge of their seat. If you are looking for a love story, or action adventure, go see something else, but if you want to prepare yourself for an epidemic, you could probably learn a thing or two. Remember, wash those hands.

Thrills And Pills: Limitless Movie Review

The saying goes, “a person can only use around twenty percent of their brain.” If this is indeed the case, then what if someone was able to use all of his or her brainpower? Would they become successful or crash and fail? Well, you can explore all the possibilities in director Neil Burger’s latest techno-thriller “Limitless.”

Bradley Cooper plays aspiring author Eddie Morra who is suffering from a serious case of writer’s block. He was recently dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) and resorts to drinking during all hours of the day to make the time pass quicker. His ex-brother-in-law then introduces him to NZT, a drug that sparks up all the synapses in the brain making a person intelligent, focused and on the fast track to success. Morra finds himself with a large amount of money in a short amount of time and is soon employed by powerful New York businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro) who needs an important contract signed. There is a downside for Morra however, for every pill has its side effects.

Limitless” is a new type of thriller. It takes you far into the fantasy world of what-ifs and keeps you guessing at the edge of your seat. It is a film that offers thrills and twists around every corner. The overall story line may be a little weak but watching the movie itself will keep you interested till the very end.  The pill lasts only a few hours, but addiction causes grotesque side effects. Burger cleverly uses the movie to question what if a person suddenly became intelligent to his full capacity. Cooper’s eccentric character responds with a simple ‘make myself rich.’

The movie even begins with a sketchy scene that has the audience wondering until the very end. However, some loose ends were evident. At the end of the movie try not bothering yourself with questions of why and how the pill actually works. There is little indication that Leslie Dixon gave it much thought when penning the screenplay. All the audience knows is that it works; it’s a sort of magic pill. The acting was decent, and as always DeNiro is a delight added to the cast of the movie.

The movie runs around an hour and forty-five minutes and that really is how long a person can hold on to complete fantasy tale that leaves people feeling smarter in their seats. The special effects weren’t completely distracting, but rather woven into the right scenes. As the movie closes in on the climax, it has the entire audience shrieking in disbelief and horror proving itself a proper thriller.

Limitlessis fresh in the sense that it turns a person’s intelligence into his superpower and curse at the same time. The movie will probably not gross as high as expected but all in all is a good watch. It is flashy, flawed and highly entertaining. As absurd as the plot may seem, the movie holds all the answers, except anything about the pill, to the very end when it signs off with another big question mark.

With movies like “Limitless” all that really matters is that people leave entertained and get their money’s worth.

JU’s Weekend Movie Reviews

Due Date

February 4 – 6
Due Date follows the adventures of two men with two completely different personalities, father-to-be Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) and an aspirant actor Ethan (Zack Galifianakis), as they take a cross- country road trip to witness the birth of Peter’s child. The movie is at times a laugh-out-loud comedy and at other times simply an “awww” moment.

Megamind

February 11 – 16
Metrocity’s infamous villain has finally defeated his biggest rival. Now lonely, and without a purpose, Megamind is ready for another superhero to come his way. Megamind does an excellent job making its audiences laugh and relate to the characters at the same time.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)

February 18 – 20
The first half of the seventh and last installment of the Potter series. Deathly Hallows is fun, full of action and complete with brilliant story telling. Judging from the first part, the Potter series is on its way to a wonderful send-off.

For Colored Girls

February 25 – 27
Tyler Perry has done it again and this time without any help from his beloved Madea. Based on the play, the actresses do a wonderful job portraying their characters. However, like all of Perry’s movies some exaggeration is expected. The plot is laid out so thick that one wonders if it is even real at times.

Tangled

March 4 – 6
Tangled shows the story of Rapunzel with a twist that entertains to the fullest. From the beginning to the end the movie keeps its audiences interested and laughing. As with most Disney flicks, a light tragedy is forthcoming.

Show times for the movies are:
Friday: 6:00 & 8:30pm
Saturday: 3:30, 6:00 & 8:30pm
Sunday: 2:00 & 4:30pm

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