2014 Summer Movie Preview: July

Two months down; two months to go. So far, this summer had some movies that met and exceeded my expectations. It also had its fair share of surprises and failures. I don’t think this July will have some great mainstream films, but I’m hoping it will be a memorable month for independent films. I’m quite upset Jupiter Ascending got pushed back from July 18th to February 6, 2015. Channing Tatum has literally improved as an actor, and I’m hoping it will be worth waiting to see him with his pointy ears, alongside Mila Kunis, in that nifty-looking visual extravaganza by the creators of The Matrix.

Probably this month will look good even though it got pushed back, not to mention a new one by Woody Allen and one that took 12 years in the making. Here are my thoughts on what has yet to come in the month of July.

July 4

Tammy

Tammy (opens July 2) – Kicking off the 4th of July weekend is the highly-anticipated comedy starring Melissa McCarthy. She plays the title role going on a road trip with her mother after getting fired from her job at a local fast-food joint. Known for being on the hit sitcom Mike & Molly, McCarthy redefines the means of making a comedy worthwhile. After having everyone in stitches in last year’s buddy comedy The Heat, she has a trick of delivering a punchline that is timed so perfectly. Also starring Susan Sarandon, Tammy looks like it will be good for a few laughs.

Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver Us From Evil (opens July 2) – I’m not a big fan of horror films. Even if they are based on a true story, the result would be too ridiculous to be true. Not to mention lacking tension and atmosphere, it would rather focus more on gimmicky blood and gore, characters we would care less about, and boring the hell out of the audience. Deliver Us From Evil looks far from the shtick we’ve been getting over the years. It may have a familiar concept involving a person being possessed by the devil, but it looks well-executed. I’ll wait and see if it will hold up to the true story it’s based on, not just making it dull and worthless.

Earth to Echo

Earth to Echo (opens July 2) – Looking like a cross between E.T. and Chronicle, Earth to Echo is the first in the found-footage sub-genre to be more family-oriented. We’re all familiar with the concept; a group of kids help an extraterrestrial to bring it back home. Super 8 had a familiar plot, but what mattered was the execution. J.J. Abrams did an astounding job with that, and also paying tribute to Steven Spielberg. On the other hand, despite the unoriginal concept, this looks quite standard in my opinion. I appreciate the filmmakers giving a purpose to audiences having a feeling of summer nostalgia. It might turn out good, it might turn out bad.

Begin Again

Begin Again (now playing in NY/LA, opens July 2) – After the success of Once, fans have been wondering why musicals should be small and independent rather than big and extraordinary. John Carney returns in the director’s chair to direct another low-budget musical. This time, he’s bringing it to America, featuring some modern musicians (Adam Levine from Maroon 5 and Cee Lo Green) and the charming Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. I have a feeling it would be delightful.

July 11

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – For someone who hasn’t seen the original Planet of the Apes movies, I was really pleased with the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It featured a compelling story about a scientist who successfully tests a breakthrough drug (that could cure Alzheimer’s disease) on a chimpanzee named Caesar. When Caesar is imprisoned in an ape sanctuary, he leads an uprising with his fellow apes. Not only James Franco did a really good job in the movie but I think the highlight is Andy Serkis. He captures the expressions and body language of Caesar so well that it looks like we’re connecting to an actual ape than the person behind it. The effects (notably the apes) are beyond excellent, and it contains one of the best climaxes of this decade.

I have a feeling the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, might be another one of those rare sequels that will surpass its predecessor. Featuring a great cast lead by Gary Oldman and a battle between humans and apes after a virus outbreak, I’m really looking forward to seeing this. I think it’s awesome that Caesar is going to talk more. He only had a couple of scenes of dialogue in the last film. Not to mention the moment where Caesar yells “NO!”

Boyhood

Boyhood – This is my most anticipated movie for the month of July. I’ve never seen a movie that looked as unique as Boyhood. Getting a lot of praise coming out of Sundance, Richard Linklater’s exploration of life seen through the eyes of a boy took 12 years to make. He would use the same cast (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater) to act in sequences where they naturally develop over the time-period. It’s a similar technique he did with the Before trilogy; casting Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy every nine years to see the characters naturally mature. Boyhood looks like a special movie-going experience.

July 18

The Purge - Anarchy

The Purge: Anarchy – Really? Do they have to make another one? The first film had one of the most absurd concepts I’ve ever heard. If you forgot the concept from the first film, it takes place in the not-too-distant future where the government sets a 12-hour period in which every illegal crime becomes legal. The sequel has the same exact concept, which is good enough for me to skip it.

Planes - Fire and Rescue

Planes: Fire & Rescue – I haven’t seen its predecessor because it looked like a big, cheap, lazy spin-off to Cars. It gives a good reason why I’m skipping this one.

Sex Tape

Sex Tape – The concept sounds more like a sitcom than a mainstream comedy. A couple makes a sex tape on their iPad one night. The next couple of days, they must find out who was responsible for posting their sex tape. Because it stars two funny actors (Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel) doesn’t mean it looks any good.

I Origins

I Origins – The movie follows a molecular biologist examining the evolution of the human eye. After meeting a woman, he realizes his research complicates his scientific and spiritual beliefs which leads him to travel around the world. I have to admit the movie has an undeniably clever idea, but, from watching the trailer, it seems like the movie is going go all over the place. First, it starts off as a straight-forward sci-fi picture, then it sort of transitions into a romantic drama. I might end up renting this one.

July 25

Hercules

Hercules– Boy, oh boy. Do I have to explain why this movie looks bad? It wouldn’t surprise me if Brett Ratner would make something that is worse than X-Men: The Last Stand. Dwayne Johnson sure does have a lot of muscles to play the titular role, but I don’t think his performance would do it justice. There is a scene in the trailer where Hercules is about to fight zombies. That pretty much sums that I would avoid the movie at all costs.

Lucy

Lucy – Now that’s what I’m talking about! It may have similar concept to Limitless, but who wants to see a movie starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman turning into a superhuman after discovering a drug is implanted in her body? It looks insane!

Magic in the Moonlight

Magic in the Moonlight – After making Annie Hall back in 1977, there would be a movie written and directed by Woody Allen every year. Up to this day, critics would believe that half of his movies turned out good, and the other half turned out bad. After last year’s Blue Jasmine, I wondered how someone who sexually abused his daughter would be such a gifted actor/filmmaker. He created a darkly funny and devastating character study featuring a performance that made Cate Blanchett win the Oscar.

His latest movie, Magic in the Moonlight, looks delightful. Woody Allen bringing the charm of “The Roaring Twenties” in France to life is like a dream come true. Movies set in France (notably Paris) make me want to go there so bad. Emma Stone and Colin Firth look terrific together. I’m looking forward to seeing this one.

Recap:

Most Anticipated: Boyhood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Lucy, Magic in the Moonlight

Least Anticipated: Hercules, Planes: Fire & Rescue, The Purge: Anarchy

I hope you enjoyed reading on what my thoughts are on the upcoming movies for the month of July. Tell me in the comments on what are your most anticipated movies and least anticipated movies for the month of July. Stay tuned for a movie preview for the month of August at the end of July.

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2014 Summer Movie Review: Jersey Boys

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit the stage in Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, "Jersey Boys"

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit the stage in Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Jersey Boys”

Clint Eastwood is a bizarre choice to direct a musical. He got his start in Westerns; mainly on the television show Rawhide and Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Over the years, Eastwood became capable of not only starring in movies but also produce and direct his own movies. Not to mention his well-deserved Oscar for his 1992 Western Unforgiven. After the successful Gran Torino, Eastwood has mostly been directing some minor hits (Changeling, Invictus, Hereafter). For someone who has never seen the musical, I have to admit seeing the movie version of Jersey Boys once was good enough. It’s not a bad movie, but it could have been a lot better.

The movie starts off in 1951 in Belleville, New Jersey. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) tells the audience he’s willing to go for the real story. He meets up with his friend Frank Castelluccio – later, Frankie Valli – (John Lloyd Young) at a barbershop. Frankie’s mother is not appreciating the friends he’s hanging out with, because they like to get into a ton of trouble especially for breaking and entering. One night at a nightclub, DeVito asks Valli to be the singer of his band. A lot of people are blown away by his falsetto voice, and hoping he will become famous one day

“I’m going to be big as [Frank] Sinatra,” says Valli as he talks to his future wife.

Once DeVito forms a quartet featuring Valli as the lead singer, they show their support, especially by mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). As they head into the 1960s as the well-known Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, they continue to show their fame despite the rough times they had as a group.

There are solid performances by the Four Seasons, notably John Lloyd Young who perfectly captures the spirit of Frankie Valli with his powerful voice and strong heart. However, he – along with Christopher Walken as the mob boss – can’t hold much drama to make the Jersey Boys‘ sluggish pace faster. Throughout the 134-minute running time, I almost fell asleep once and begged for the movie to move on. Probably there is something wrong with the film’s cinematography, or maybe Clint Eastwood is following the footsteps of Martin Scorsese.

As the music comes into play, Eastwood speeds the pace up with its vibrant colors and energy to have the audience tapping their feet along with the Four Seasons. The finale is all-around fabulous, giving me a reminder on how great music used to be back in the day. With modern music becoming repetitive, it’s always refreshing to hear the classics we know and love. Coming from a fan of music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, I never knew who the Four Seasons were before I heard about Jersey Boys. After seeing the movie last night, I immediately listened to their songs on Spotify. I am happy but sad I went to see the movie. Seeing the Broadway version might be expensive, but hell, I assume $70 to see a play is more worthwhile than $10 to see a film adaptation.

2.5/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless are back to protect the peace of Berk in "How to Train Your Dragon 2"

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless are back to protect the peace of Berk in “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Three months before Toy Story 3, Dreamworks released an animated film called How to Train Your Dragon. It follows a teenage Viking named Hiccup (an admittedly odd name) becoming friends with a dragon. The movie set new grounds in computer animation. In an era where hand-drawn animation is being replaced by CGI animation, there wouldn’t be one from Dreamworks that is as gorgeous, imaginative and heartfelt as How to Train Your Dragon. There was an emotional depth that I didn’t expect at all. During the sequences where Hiccup flies with Toothless, it made me have the same feeling when I saw Avatar in 3D. It made me feel like I was flying on Toothless with Hiccup. I think it’s the best animated movie that Dreamworks has ever done since the first Shrek movie. It’s rare for a sequel to be better than its predecessor.

With How to Train Your Dragon 2, continues the pattern of having the perfect blend of comedy and drama, gorgeous animation, likeable characters, and thrilling action sequences. However, I think it takes that advantage of being bigger and better than the first movie.

Five years after the events of the first film, the Isle of Berk has made peace with the dragons. Dragons are now living as companions to the villagers and taking part in sporting events. For Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless, they decide to spend time exploring new worlds. One of their adventures leads to an ice cave where he learns about an evil dragon hunter named Drago Bludvist (voiced by Djimon Honsou, a great addition to the franchise) starting a war on Berk to capture every dragon.

Later, Hiccup discovers a dragon rider who is his long lost mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett, another great addition to the franchise) who lives in a haven that is home to hundreds of dragons. Together, they must protect the peace of Berk by Drago in one of the absolute best action sequences of the year.

You can tell how much the characters have changed since the last film, especially the main character Hiccup. Although being pressed by his father Stoick (even though he begins to pay attention to his son), he’s at an age where he has what it takes to be brave as a dragon rider and chief of Berk. I appreciated the emotional relationship between Hiccup and his parents. When Hiccup meets his mother, he wonders why she left the family a long time ago. He’s also at a point where he can marry Astrid, and live a wonderful life. Their love doesn’t consist of appearance, but rather than the gifted respect they have for one another. I guess it makes sense that earning enough respect would help save the day.

4/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: 22 Jump Street

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill bring back the bromance in "22 Jump Street"

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill bring back the bromance in “22 Jump Street”

“One particle of unobtainium has a nuclear reaction with a flux capacitor. Carry the two, changing its atomic isotoner into a radioactive spider. F*** you, science!”

That quote above, said by Greg Jenko from 21 Jump Street, has to be one of the funniest quotes in recent memory. That scene, alone, made me appreciate Channing Tatum as an actor. After the atrocity known as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I had no idea if his acting career would lead to anywhere. To my surprise, he got enough laughs from the audience – as well from co-star Jonah Hill – in one of the biggest surprises from 2012. Last time, we saw Jenko and Schmidt (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) go undercover as high school students.

In 22 Jump Street, the Korean church community recently bought the church on 21 Jump St. Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman, Parks & Recreation) assigns the duo to go across the street to a Catholic Church (owned by the Vietnamese) on 22 Jump St. Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) assigns them to go undercover as college students to track down the supplier of the drug “WHYPHY” (WiFi). Then, hilarity ensues.

The sequel does have the same concept as its predecessor. Who cares if it’s that way? Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie) are aware that they are using the same concept. That’s the beauty of what makes 22 Jump Street work. Unlike The Hangover: Part II, this movie brings enough energy to give the audience what they want. It literally blows every horrible sequel out of the water.

The movie makes fun of everything including action movies, television shows, college life, sequels, and the list goes on and on. The screening I went to consisted of about 100 people. There are plenty of scenes that had everybody rolling in the aisles from laughing so hard. The jokes are nonstop and timed perfectly. When I think about the movie, I can’t help but smile about the film’s most hilarious scenes.

Like with the first film, there are only very few issues. Particularly Ice Cube’s performance as the profane police captain Dickson. I’m not here to be racist, but he is funny in the beginning. By the end, his humor kind of dies down a little. Good thing Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are there.

3.5/4

Trailer Review: Dumb and Dumber To

Last night, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels were guests on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. They had the pleasure to premiere the first long-awaited trailer for Dumb and Dumber To, the sequel to one of the stupidest yet funniest comedies of all-time. Carrey and Daniels reprise their roles as the two moronic friends reuniting twenty years after their adventure cross-country. After Lloyd tricks on Harry, they embark on another adventure – or misadventure – to search for Harry’s daughter who was given up for adoption. Let the stupidity commence.

Dumb and Dumber is one of those rare comedies where it made me laugh so hard from beginning to end. It truly defined a new sub-genre in comedy: “gross-out humor”. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels perform Harry and Lloyd with so much charm that it’s hilarious. If it wasn’t for these two actors, that movie wouldn’t be called Dumb and Dumber. Possibly, there wouldn’t be a sequel. I’m glad they are back to make every audience laugh until tears come out of their eyes.

I’m hoping Jim Carrey would get out from under the radar after starring in those two flops from last year – The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Kick-Ass 2. It seems like Carrey would bring back his physical comedic charm that made him so funny to begin with. Jeff Daniels hasn’t starred in anything famous for a while, so this would be an interesting return to form here. My fingers are crossed hoping for a funny sequel to a downright funny comedy.

In the meantime, here’s the trailer for your viewing pleasure.

Dumb and Dumber To comes out November 14th.

2014 Summer Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise goes through a time-loop in "Edge of Tomorrow"

Tom Cruise goes through a time-loop in “Edge of Tomorrow”

Edge of Tomorrow made it to the silver screen on June 6th. In this case marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which is very fitting. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) captures the year’s most gripping action set piece as a metaphor for the attack on Normandy. Both of them taking place on a beach with enemies on different sides, and fighting until one is left standing. That’s only the beginning about this year’s best action film.

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need is Kill, the movie takes place in the not-too-distant future where aliens (known as Mimics) are at war against humanity. Every military unit has been trying to fight them off for five years. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is summoned to London to meet up with General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). Brigham forces him to be with the military unit after showing him a map in which the Mimics are invading Europe.

Cage is sent to the base where he will deploy the following morning. With absolutely no combat experience, Cage must follow  to follow orders by Sgt. Farell (Bill Paxton). When he lands on beach, he gets killed within minutes. He wakes up at the same place, the same day, and the same time. Realizing he is caught in a time-loop, Cage gets help from Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a Special Forces warrior, to increase his combat skills and therefore saving humanity for good.

Even though it has a similar concept to Groundhog Day, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie uses it in a different approach. Thus, making Edge of Tomorrow complex, smart, action-packed, and surprisingly funny at times. Of course, it might sound like the perfect concept for a video game; not to mention the movie’s tagline (“Live. Die. Repeat”). I forgive McQuarrie because that’s what makes the movie fun. With a complex story featuring impressive effects (i.e. the Mimics), it’s fair to pay full attention to what’s going on while Cage is in a time-loop. Even how Liman sums the story up is quite satisfying.

Almost hitting the age of 52, Tom Cruise can succeed in portraying just about anybody. In his career, he has played a vampire, a secret agent, a rock star, and a man with an older autistic brother. There is one gifted talent that he can do that most actors cannot; that is to perform his own stunts. Whether if it’s rock climbing in Utah or climbing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Cruise can literally push the boundaries. In Edge of Tomorrow, he never seems to run out of breath with co-stars Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton (up to par with R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket), and Brendan Gleeson. This is one of 2014’s best films.

4/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

Seth MacFarlane makes fun of the Western genre in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"

Seth MacFarlane makes fun of the Western genre in “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

In 1974, director Mel Brooks made a movie called Blazing Saddles. It truly set a new ground for the Western genre by making fun of it. From its outrageous use of the n-word, to a horse getting knocked out by one single punch, to cowboys passing gas while eating baked beans around a campfire, the movie is, and will always be, one of the funniest movies of all-time. Forty years later, Seth MacFarlane decided to direct his own Western spoof. Instead, making the comedy much darker, the violence much more graphic, the running time a lot longer, and the cameos unneeded. Seth MacFarlane should be ashamed of himself for having Christopher Lloyd to be a part of this mess.

Being a straight contender for one of the worst movies of 2014, A Million Ways to Die in the West is the latest from Seth MacFarlane, the same idiot who brought us Family Guy, American Dad, and Ted. He was also the host for the 2012 Oscars. It still baffles my mind how the Academy allowed MacFarlane to do something like that. His jokes can be pretty funny, but for the most part, they can be unbelievably crude, vulgar and tiresome. To sum it up, I am not a fan of Seth MacFarlane or Family Guy at all.

Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer living in Arizona in 1882. He can’t get over the fact on how nasty and dangerous the Old West can be. He describes the various ways on how people die:

Diseases, outlaws, ravenous wild animals, and so on.

After withdrawing himself from a gunfight, Albert’s girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) decides to break up with him. A depressed Albert loses all of his hope and courage when he sees her with the mustachioed Foy (Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother). One day, he sets his eyes on a beautiful woman (Charlize Theron), who just came into the town. She shows him how to fire a gun (the only laugh-out-loud funny scene in the movie), eat a marijuana cookie, and having a good time. However, her outlaw husband (Liam Neeson) hates this, and decides to come into the town to kill Albert. This is up to Albert to maintain his courage.

A Million Ways to Die in the West feels like it was written by a teenager trapped in Seth MacFarlane’s body. There are jokes in the movie that are used over and over again. It’s like a reminder if anyone in the audience didn’t get the joke before, they will get it again. There is a scene in which a man dies at a saloon from one of his own farts; you thought that scene gets old? Oh no, it gets better when Albert’s father talks about his bowel movements. If you’re not tired of that, it gets EVEN better when Neil Patrick Harris takes a person’s hat to take a dump before a gunfight.

With an ensemble cast, the movie doesn’t make up for its limited character development that it focuses more on the jokes. The jokes are a character within themselves; repetitive, vulgar, childish, and immature.

Unfortunately, Liam Neeson’s bad-assery is nowhere to be found during the two-hour running time. I rather watch Blazing Saddles than having to watch this piece of garbage again.

0.5/4