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Phantom
(2013)

Finding Your Way...as a Phantom
Review by Matt:

What is a phantom really? Is it from the opera? Is it something that Ben Affleck has to fight? Or is it a superhero in a purple suit that punches criminals with a ring shaped like a skull? I mean, you could be right if you guessed any of these, however, there is a deeper meaning behind the word phantom. In the appropriately titled film "Phantom" from director Jonathan Soler, the question is asked; "Are we all phantoms of this world, and do we simply go by living without a trace to others around us?"

"Phantom" is the story of a Japanese couple having a late night conversation about life. Neither character has a name, which reinforces the "phantom" concept in the film. None of their conversation happens in dialogue, but rather in narration which deals with everything from not having enough money to pay rent, to moving back in with a parent to, yes, farting. Scenes seem to be played back in forms of flashbacks, done in a very art-house style.

There are numerous themes in "Phantom" namely loneliness, self-doubt, and the concept of relying on another person for support. Both characters are comfortable around each other and share doubts and fears, the female character more so than the male character. As their conversation escalates, more philosophical elements come into play.

The female character references the work of Fumiko Hayashi, namely her work "Hōrōki" a female coming-of-age story which was later adapted into the anime "Wandering Days." Would I call "Phantom" a feminist film, not really, but rather I think it deals with the theme that women have it harder in Japan, which is largely a society run by men with women acting in the subservient role. The male character is a little more oblivious to this concept as he tries to tell her that she can do anything, which shows his nativity to a women's plight in Japanese culture. Granted, it's much better for a women in Japan than it was 100 years ago, but it takes a while to break boundaries and taboos that women are equals in a male dominated society.

Another reference is made to "Kanikōsen" a book about the hardship of Japanese crabbers and their struggle against exploitation. With young people these days taking any job, which might be well below their education level, you can see how this book would have an effect on any young person who thinks they are being taken advantage of in hard economic times.

The other important element of "Phantom" is the conversation of being a ghost versus a phantom. When you think of ghosts, you think of people that have died, but continue to inhabit a material world. A ghost leaves it's mark and continues to live, at times interacting with the living, depending on who you speak to. A phantom, on the other hand, can be a spirit that still inhabits the living realm, but no one is aware of it's presence. This is the plight of our two central characters; they feel like they are being ignored from a societal perspective and are invisible to the world, and aren't leaving a mark. With a global economy still reeling, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle, and with more a more college graduates without jobs and burdened by debt, it's becoming harder to leave a mark. Sure, you can take out more loans to do what you really want to do (the female character mentions that she wants to open a bar), but it's a scary proposition to someone who lacks the self-confidence, and more importantly, money, to make their hopes and dreams come true.

Overall, "Phantom" is an interesting exercise. It's shot in a dream- like way with plenty of sub-text about the living poor and a disenfranchised youth that isn't limited to Japan. The two actors, Yuki Fujita and Masato Tsojioka, give convincing performances as two people who trust each other and are each other's support structure, but the acting looses something when all the dialogue is done as narration. It's interesting and reinforces the concept of being lost, but it becomes distracting throughout the entirety of the film.

Soler has a good eye for finding something out of nothing. His vision of Japan is interesting as it focuses on things that I'm sure many Japanese take for granted during their daily routine. The mundane if you will, that we often overlook. I'm not a Japanophile by any means, so I'm sure that many of the shots have more meaning, but at times it seems like art, for art's sake. Will "Phantom" start a revolution? Probably not, but looking at it from a Western perspective, I believe it captures universal angst for most young people who are trying to be heard in a world that has it's ears plugged.

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Toy Story of Terror
(2013)

A great edition to the Toy Story Universe
Review by Matt:

The one thing you can count on with Pixar is that you always get quality. Despite some of their weaker efforts ("Cars" "Cars 2" to a lesser extent, "Brave") there always seems to be a silver lining to anything Pixar creates. I may not like "Cars" but I can respect that it looks gorgeous. Sorry "Cars" fans, I just don't find fart jokes spun by a redneck comedian to be very funny.

While most Pixar fare is made for the big screen, and evokes such emotion and heart, its nice to see that Disney/Pixar (yes, I'll give Disney their due) created something for the Halloween season, and it very well might be the best thing you'll see this Fall. This of course is the devilishly clever "Toy Story of Terror" a spooky mini adventure starring all of your favorite "Toy Story" pals.

The writers at Pixar have to be some of the best writers in the world. They know how to perfectly cater to fans of Disney while at the same time sneaking in little odes and jabs to other films and their appropriate genres and fans. They just get it, simple as that. "Terror" begins at some point after "Toy Story 3" ends. Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the crew are in the care of Bonnie as they head to some undisclosed location on a dark and stormy night. After a flat tire, Bonnie, her mother, and the toys settle into a roadside motel while they wait for the tow truck in the morning. Needless to say, hi-jinks and close-calls ensue and of course there is a happy ending. Like most Pixar films, its not the story that's always compelling, its the actual journey.

What I respect the most is that all the voices from the previous "Story" films return, including Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack, but there are also a few extra treats along the way, including Ken Marino, or as I like to refer to him as, Louie, the "I WANNA DIP BY BALLS IN IT" guy.

Along with Ken Marino, what would a "Toy Story" be without some new characters, and the best has to be Combat Carl, voiced by Carl Weathers. This character is so perfect and I love the subtle reference to "Predator" thrown in as Combat Carl is missing a hand. Those are the things that make me love Pixar. Who would throw in a "Predator" reference into a TV show made for children?

Timothy Dalton is also great as Mr. Pricklepants, who's essentially Randy from the "Scream" series. He calls out horror movie clichés at every turn and it's wonderful to see it done in a Shakespearean way. The more I think about "Terror" is that the animation is for the kids, while the dialogue is made for adults who love horror and action films. Maybe Shane Black ghostwrote this entire special?

Bottom line, "Toy Story of Terror" is a wonder to behold. The story is perfect for the time allotted, the introduction of new toys now looking for their owner adds a great side story to the entire "Toy Story" mythology, and Pixar and Disney spare no expense to create a standalone story that rivals anything in the Pixar catalog. Hopefully this tradition continues and becomes this generation's "Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin."

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Iron Man Three
(2013)

Iron Iron, Man Man
was watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and suddenly an Iron Man movie broke out. I'm sorry. That was rude. Okay, let me be clear. I love Iron Man. I love Robert Downey Jr.. I love Shane Black. And I've admitted many times that RDJ could spew out Black's dialogue in a film about recycling Coke bottles and I'd watch. It's just that Iron Man 3 does everything it can to test that loyalty. Is it as good as Avengers? Of course not. Is it the best film of the trilogy? Not in my opinion. Is it better than Iron Man 2? I'm not so sure I can say that. To be honest, Iron Man 3 is a different genre than Iron Man 2 and even Iron Man 1. And that is where my hesitance to tout it comes from. When I first heard that Shane Black was doing part 3, I was psyched. The man has made a living of making great action comedies for years. Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, and Long Kiss Goodnight, to name a few. However, the things I loved about those films is that despite the humor and comedic interactions, you could suddenly find yourself in a gritty, bloody, hardcore shootout. Humorous scenes suddenly turned on their ear by a visceral murder. A suicidal breakdown. Revenge at any cost. And Black could weave these things effortlessly. Even though those films had the help of an R rating, I had faith that Black could still come close to delivering a little taste of this in Iron Man 3. Especially with the threat of Tony Stark's biggest comic book nemesis, The Mandarin, looming over the storyline. The tone from the commercials also seemed to hint at the darkest plot we'd seen for the character. However, Iron Man 3 turns away from Martin Riggs, Charly Baltimore, and Joe Hallenbeck and leans more toward Gay Perry and Harry Lockhart. In other words, Iron Man 3 is not an action comedy. It is a comedy with action in it.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favorite films. However, the tone wouldn't be the first I'd use to fit this superhero film. Take for instance the handling of the film's villain. Director Shane Black does something with The Mandarin, that I won't spoil, which comic book fans will either love or absolutely despise. This...um...how should I put this...'reinvention' fits the tone of a Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but not any Marvel film we've seen thus far. Now, don't get me wrong. The jokes in Iron Man 3 are very funny. But they far outnumber any action you will see in it. I, for one, thought the balance of this action comedy franchise was preparing to shift. I was just misled as to which direction it was shifting. A direction I thought was reserved for Edgar Wright's Ant-Man or James Gunn's Guardians Of The Galaxy.

The performances by the returning cast are solid once again. They are the one constant of the franchise. As I've said before, Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark. He captures the essence of that character better than any actor has any comic book character ever. Though, this is the lightest lifting Downey Jr. has had to do performance wise. They touch on Tony's post traumatic stress disorder brought on from his experiences in The Avengers. Unfortunately, it is not fully explored and eventually brushed away through jokes way faster than Stark's self destructive tendencies were in Iron Man 2. This film is probably the funniest Tony Stark has ever been. However, the best performance Robert Downey Jr. has given as the character is still, ironically, in Avengers. Even though Paltrow is disliked in her public persona, she is adored as Pepper Potts. Keeping serve opposite an actor such as Downey Jr., in four films now, is something she deserves enormous credit for. Cheadle, though almost an afterthought in this film, also has proved that he can hold his own against Downey Jr. in a scene. More so than Terrence Howard did in Iron Man 1. I just wish these two could get more screen time together. Because when they do interact, the relationship of Tony and Rhodey just sings.

I had high hopes for Kingsley as The Mandarin. Sexy Beast proved to me how much of a badass he can be. However, Black's risky reinvention of his character limited what Kingsley was allowed to do. Speaking of missed opportunities, Guy Pearce's abilities were also minimally tapped in this. His flippancy, though amusing, didn't really seem to present a viable danger to our hero. Even through the climax. Love or hate Iron Man 2, there was no question as to the danger and threat that Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko gave Tony. The villains in Iron Man 3 don't scare you as much as Vanko, Stane, or even Hammer did.

After all that, you'd think I hated the film. I don't. Iron Man 3 is not a step backwards for the franchise or for Marvel. It, to me, is just a risky step sideways. A step in a different direction. A direction, as the Mandarin warned, I didn't see coming.

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Hannibal
(2013)

Polarizing.....but give it time
Review by Matt: When trying to adapt a specific character from another medium, say literature or film, to television, its always a tricky proposition. Since the character is already established in said mediums you have to know the audience that already recognizes the character and make them believe the transition is seamless, while still exposing the character to a new market, fans, critics, etc. One of the most recognizable characters in modern crime novels is Hannibal Lecter; the psychiatrist/cannibal that haunted our dreams through the words of Thomas Harris. Even if you're a "lament" you've heard of Lecter in some way, shape, or form. Now we get to see Dr. Lecter on the small screen as he assists criminal profiler, Will Graham, from the novel "Red Dragon" to try and track down serial killers. While the premiere episode of "Hannibal" was bumpy, at best, I'll still give it a mulligan for what its trying to accomplish, at least for a few more episodes. If you've seen, or read, "Red Dragon" or "Silence of the Lambs," you pretty much know the deal. There is a killer on the loose, in this case a killer impaling young girls on antlers, and on occasion one or more of their organs missing (see where I'm going with this). Will Graham is on the case, commissioned by Special Agent Jack Crawford, played by Laurence Fishburne, to find the killer. Crawford brings in another consultant, Hannibal Lecter, a respected psychiatrist from the Baltimore-area. Graham and Lecter seem an unlikely duo at first with each one trying to outwit the other, but Lecter sense a kindred spirit in Graham with his ability to empathize with the killers he hunts. Despite my misgivings about this show, the more I think about it, the more I want to see where it goes. You know the end of the journey for both Will and Hannibal, but now its the journey of how they both got there. It's the cat-and-mouse game that will guide the show onward, which isn't that bad when you think about it. With so much fervor on origin stories about mythological characters (just look at every Marvel Studios Phase 1 film) "Hannibal" has a chance to succeed with an audience that wants to know; Why? and How? While I've talked myself off the ledge about the storyline of "Hannibal" my main concern is the casting; namely Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter. For starters, I like Mads, I think he is a solid actor who knows how to play a villain and steal scenes on occasion. But I just feel that he is wrong as Lecter. For starters, he LOOKS like a killer. The thing about Anthony Hopkins playing Lecter, or even Brian Cox for that matter, was that he didn't look the part of a psychopathic, narcissistic, cannibal. He was a posh doctor with a penchant for opera, fine dining, and drawing. Hopkins was the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. Mikkelsen, on the other hand, is a wolf in wolf's clothing. If I saw him walking down the street I would run the other way because I knew I was only a remark away from being served with a nice Chianti. I also found myself struggling to understand Lecter when he spoke. Since Mads has a pretty thick Danish accent, not all the dialogue came through clearly which isn't great when you are trying to hang on to everything Lecter is saying to get deeper into his character and motives. With that being said, I don't blame the casting either. If the creators are basing this version of Lecter on the novel "Hannibal Rising" it makes sense. Lecter, by birth, was Eastern European, not British as some of us might assume. While aristocratic, Eastern Europe, namely Lithuania, is vastly different than the British Isles. Can Mikkelsen outshine Hopkins as a Hannibal Lecter for a new generation? Well, we'll have to see about that. From a literary standpoint, the show sticks pretty close to the source material of "Red Dragon," which is good in my opinion. It sheds more light on Will Graham and his special gift for empathy, but it comes off as kind of a second rate Sherlock Holmes, more so the Benedict Cumberbatch version than the Robert Downey Jr. version. Bottom line, I'm giving this show a mulligan. I can't judge a show that I have reasonably high hopes for by just one episode. Sure, there are kinks to work out, and the show suffers from "a style over substance" problem, and if another network had the rights to Harris' work, namely an FX or dare I say, HBO, maybe the show could push the envelope a bit more, but that's not really the issue. I think the biggest thing people are having a hard time wrapping their heads around are the casting choices and the overall mood. We fear change, and we've been spoiled by the Hopkins' Lecter for over 20 years so when this new, "exotic" Lecter comes along our first inclination is to bash him, and I fully understand why, but before we jump to conclusions, divorce yourself from preconceived notions of who Lecter was, and let this new incarnation do it's own thing.

Evil Dead
(2013)

Good remake, or clever pseudo-sequel?
Review by Matt:

I'm not one for April Fool's pranks. I find them annoying, stupid, and most of the time, ridiculous. But there are times when one happens, and its wonderful. It's even better when you are going to see one of the most classic horror films of all time, 1981's "The Evil Dead" with Bruce Campbell in the audience introducing the film and conducting a Q&A after it's conclusion. It's even better when the film starts, gets about a minute in, and the film breaks, revealing the trick, which I had a sneaking suspicion was coming. April Fool's, you're not here to watch "The Evil Dead" '81, you're here to watch "Evil Dead" 2013. Truly, truly awesome, and now I'm lucky enough to bring you kids a review of the as-of-yet- unreleased "Evil Dead" remake, which is an ode to everything wonderful and right with horror remakes.

Everything you've heard about "Evil Dead" is warranted; it's a brutal, bloody, gory, sick, twisted, squirm-inducing nightmare; in the best way possible. While, as a rule, horror remakes are usually unnecessary, I really thought "The Evil Dead" was in need of a tune-up. Coming out three years after "Halloween" and merely a year after the genre game- changer "Friday the 13th," "Dead" made it's mark as The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror. It was low-budget, gritty, and a new take on the slasher genre. It had the demonic spirit of "The Exorcist" but the wink-wink-nod-nod of "Friday the 13th" and even some old Herschel Gordon Lewis films. However, if you look at "Dead" now, it seems dated. You can tell that it only took them about $300,000.00 to make the film. Still, I believe in keeping a classic, a classic, and not messing with a good thing. Come some 30 years and two sequels later, a new vision of "Evil Dead" is about to be unleashed nationwide, and with the blessing of Sam Raimi and Mr. Bruce Campbell, I can honestly say we got a winner.

While keeping with the spirit of the original film, we follow five teens who have decided to head out to the middle of nowhere to a cabin in the woods. The added twist this time around is that they are there for an intervention for Mia, played by Jane Levy, who could be America's newest Scream Queen, a heroin-addict who just suffered an overdose. I liked the fact that the teens are in the woods for a reason, because in films like these you always get a lot of red herrings, namely the Necronomicon, which is unnamed in this version, but you should know what the Necronomicon is at this point, where you have to suspend disbelief nearly the entire film, and don't worry, you'll have to do it anyway for most of this movie, in a good way.

While the story is reasonably strong for the genre, the violence and gore is ramped up to 11, and it's wonderful. The gore effects are great, and I was surprised to see that WETA was behind some of the work, and it makes sense, because some of the effects are right out of "Dead/Alive," before Peter Jackson got all Hollywood on us genre fans.

As a horror film, "Evil Dead" is fine, a bloody-romp in the vein of what most people are used to out of the horror genre these days. As a remake, one of the best ones made. And while I use the term "remake," "Dead" is more like a re-imagining of the original. There are various odes to Raimi's masterwork, including our heroine wearing a Michigan State sweater, to the old car that she is also sitting on. We even get some chainsaw, yes, a chainsaw, what would an "Evil Dead" movie be without some chainsaw. With all that being said, if you're a purist, go into "Evil Dead" with an open mind, and have fun with it; there are plenty of odes to the original, and if you're new to the world of Ash and the Deadites, do your homework and watch "The Evil Dead," "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" and "Army of Darkness" (the primitive screw-head next to me kept calling it "Evil Dead 3." I wanted to tell him to go home because his mom called, and he had chores to do, plus it was a school night). 2013's "Evil Dead." In a world full or remakes and bad ideas, its nice to see they got something right. Hail to the King, baby.....

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G.I. Joe: Retaliation
(2013)

Gooooooooo! Joe!
Review by DJ:

I hate Michael Bay's Transformers franchise. I made many points as to why they are lowest common denominator fodder and a tried and true example of bad film-making alone. But to be honest, I hated it mainly because it was a tactical strike to my nostalgia. I am an 80s baby. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, TMNT, He-Man, Voltron, M.A.S.K., DuckTales, TaleSpin, Rescue Rangers, Silverhawks, Gobots, Heathcliff, Centurions, Dino-Riders, Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, and many more shows practically raised me. Yes, looking back at them now, I can see they were cheesy. However, I still love them because they spoke to me. They spoke to "A" me that I wasn't fully aware of at the time. They filled in the gaps of love and companionship my family left me to fill when they were not around. They developed my entertainment pallet. They developed my right and wrong meter. They are virtually time portals to my childhood. And if they stayed that way I would be happy with that. So, if you are going to remake them...if you're going to bring them back to modern day...changing things...changing their DNA to shoehorn them into modern sensibilities...it literally hurts me.

I bring up Bay here because of the financial success of his Bayformers, other studios followed suit seeing as the almighty dollar is their guiding light. Stephen Sommers (A director I can't believe I used to like) fired another Trident missile into my memories when he brought G.I. Joe to the the big screen. It was almost as if he was copying off of Bay's test in school. It was predictable, trite, comically bad entertainment. Then, it was announced that a sequel was on the horizon and it would be directed by the guy who did the Step Up films and Justin Bieber's Never Say Never. I felt like Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak. However, after seeing G.I. Joe: Retaliation I'm relieved to say that it is much BETTER than I expected. So to say it is BETTER isn't saying that it is a great film. It still has logic problems and cheesy moments and lackluster effects. But it more effectively fits the tone a G.I. Joe film should have and offer up enough fan service an old school Joe fan would want in order to be able to walk out of the theater under their own power.

Let's compare apples to apples; The Expendables works because it acknowledges the performers' nostalgic roots. It gives the fans of these performers what they want. You want Arnold to say 'I'll be back'? Fine. You want someone to say yippee ki yah? There you go. You want a Van Damme spin kick? You want a bloody, bullet riddled, fire fight for ten straight minutes? We'll give you twenty. It isn't complicated to make films that are based purely on nostalgia like Transformers and G.I. Joe. This isn't The Master or Tree of Life. Keep its simple and give the people what they want. Popcorn films like these have longer legs that way. Ask Joss Whedon. Yes, Transformers made money. A crazy amount of money. But does anyone...ANYONE hold it in high regard?

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is burdened by cleaning out the closet of the previous film's story-line. A terrorist group called Cobra have an operative impersonating The President and reeking havoc on the Joes and the world. A team of surviving Joes must clear their names and take down Cobra before its too late. Simple. Director Jon M. Chu seemed to have done his research on what failed in the first film and done research on the material in general. It shows in the little nuances Joe fans would notice. A faceplate for Cobra Commander, an Uzi for Snake Eyes, an Australian accent for Firefly, a blindfold for Jinx. Its those little things that show me he actually cares about the material and doesn't just want to use the property as a bridge to show off his directorial talent. It comes across that the Joes in this film seem to actually be capable soldiers with varying skills, the way the show was intended. That as apposed to the bumbling, excelerator suit wearing, dummies in the previous film. Men and women who seemed to be working for Maxwell Smart instead of the United States Armed Services.

Dwayne Johnson takes the lead in this and does an solid job. Much BETTER than the laughable Marlon Wayans and the cameoing Channing Tatum. The one thing that I thought the first G.I. Joe film got right was Ray Park's Snake Eyes. Though, Sommers even tried to screw him up too by putting a mouth on a masked man who DOESN'T TALK. But I digress. He is the only thankful carry over from the first film. His action scenes with rival Storm Shadow are worth the price of admission alone. Bruce Willis is trying much more in this than he did in his own tent pole franchise and I really liked Adrianne Palicki's Lady Jaye. However, the performances aren't all roses. Jonathan Pryce is still a bit over the top as the faux President/Zartan. The ball was dropped by casting the wooden D.J. Cotrona as Flint. A character who is supposed to be the more charismatic version of Duke merely slinks by unnoticed and unremarkably through this film. And I'm not even going to get into how bad RZA is as Blind Master. I think it is the overall camaraderie of both teams that allow you to be able to dismiss the bad apples.

Oz the Great and Powerful
(2013)

Great and Powerful indeed
Review by DJ:

Little self involvement time. I haven't written a review in a while mainly because I've been busy preparing content for our monthly podcast here at Simplistic Reviews. (SELF PROMOTION DURING SELF PROMOTION...SO AWESOME) Anyway, when the days between reviews started piling up, I became cautious picking the PROPER comeback movie to review next. (I was this close to reviewing Parker there for a minute, so count your blessings.) This week, however, I happened to go against my previous judgement and against many preconceived assumptions by the masses and watch a film that made me anxious to talk about. The film is Oz The Great And Powerful. A movie that I have heard maligned even before it came out. A movie that certainly does not deserve it.

Oz The Great And Powerful is a....DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!...prequel to the 1939 cinematic classic The Wizard Of Oz. And for those who have been hiding under a rock in a cave in Timbuktu, The Wizard of Oz is about a Kansas girl named Dorothy who is whisked away by a tornado and sent to a magical world where wicked witches are the norm, munchkins are a plenty, and lions are cowardly. Dorothy journeys to find a supposed wizard who can send her back home. That wizard...74 YEAR SPOILER ALERT...turns out to be just a man behind a curtain named Oz. Oz The Great And Powerful fills in all the blanks on how he got there and why certain witchly characters got their wickedness.

Now maybe because I've had to re-watch Star Wars episodes 1 through 3 for my 9 to 5 job, I'm standing on a hyperbole soapbox here. However, I don't regret saying that Oz The Great And Powerful is one of the greatest....DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!....prequels ever made. My favorite, by the way is The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. When the familiar pieces of The Wizard Of Oz began to neatly fall into place in Oz The Great And Powerful, I got the same feeling I had when Blondie picks up that iconic poncho. The same feeling I didn't get when Lucas clumsily dropped his pieces on the ground, brushed off and forced onto me at the last minute. The Good The Bad And The Ugly sets up a world that, frankly, is pretty easy to set up. The Wizard Of Oz is anything but. It has enough oddly shaped moving parts to make an Ikea salesman blush. (Rimshot. Nailed it.) One day I'll have a discussion about how the land of Oz is just an imaginary place where one subconsciously goes to work out their inner issues. A theme this film duplicates and also nails by the way. However, for the sake of avoiding an even bigger moniker as an overly- analytical, auteur theory douche, I'll stick with the simple things that make this film work.

I was very surprised that Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland disappointed me. I thought that his famously quirky style would be perfect for the material. It is why I was worried that director Sam Raimi might stumble into the same pitfalls with Oz The Great And Powerful. Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard Of Oz are two worlds that are terrific at hiding morose, gruesome, and inappropriate subtext under colorful, shiny, childish window dressing. Burton brought more of the morose subtext to the light, thus dragging down Alice In Wonderland away from what it was intended. Whereas, Raimi keeps the balance and tone of his film's predecessor. I believe Raimi knew it was suicide to mess with a formula as delicate as The Wizard Of Oz. Burton made subtext the focal point when he should have remembered it is the wonder the makes the world. Raimi thrives here and never takes his eye off the ball.

Despite being an actor I very well should hate, I can't help but like James Franco. Perhaps it is his 'in on the joke' personality and the fact he never takes himself too seriously that disarms me. His talent, when he's trying, is undeniable. This isn't Franco's finest work but I believe he's perfectly cast as Oz. Oz is a failed showman. A man with the potential for great things, but seems to never be 100% genuine. A man you want to expose as a fraud not laud as a talent. Franco seems to fit the bill. Since Spider-Man Raimi has seemed to know how to use Franco's more unpopular tendencies. His mugging for the camera never feels out of place in a Raimi film. And his tender moments, ones that would be cheesy in any other film, seem right at home here. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams stand tall, where other actors would sleepwalk. That includes Weisz's great nod to, coincidentally Return Of The Jedi, and having a sorcery battle with Williams that rivals even that of Gandalf and Saruman. But the stand out here is Mila Kunis. She has been proving since That 70s Show that shes not just a pretty...pretty...pretty...damn she's pretty...face. It is probably known to all her role in the film. However, I won't spoil it other than to say she completely humanized and made me empathize with a character I thought would be impossible to.

Oz The Great And Powerful isn't the greatest film you'll see this year by a longshot. But it knows what it wants to be, it knows what it has to be, and accomplishes these things nearly perfectly. Don't believe me? Close your eyes and imagine for a moment what you deem a PROPER...DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!...prequel to one of the most classic, iconic, and 'out there' films in almost the last hundred years. Click your heals three times, open your eyes, watch Oz The Great And Powerful...then tell me I'm wrong.

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Olympus Has Fallen
(2013)

Shut off your brain.....and forget it
Review by DJ:

Really? Really?? You got to be kidding me...I'm...sorry, I should be professional here. However, I'm literally slack-jawed after watching Olympus Has Fallen. Dumbstruck. Flabbergasted. At a loss. Flummoxed. Perplexed. Confused. Baffled. My shoulder and neck hurt after having tilted my head to the side at the countless IMPLAUSIBLE and ridiculous moments in this film. And I expected it! I...I just can't. Okay, let me gather myself. Olympus Has Fallen is the Antoine Fuqua directed....WAIT...Fuqua directed this!? The man behind one of my favorite films Training Day directed this mockery?!? Tyler Perry makes a film a month and Fuqua gets stuck with crap stains like this? Sorry, sorry. Olympus Has Fallen is the...(gulp)...Antoine Fuqua directed film about a Korean attack on American soil. Sound familiar? Well it should. Because you just got through NOT seeing the same concept in the abysmal Red Dawn remake. Oh..oh this time it's the White House, not rural America. That'll make it better. NO! No. It doesn't.

How does the White House....THE MOST secured building IN THE WORLD get taken over you ask?

(SPOILER ALERT)

An airplane with more countermeasures than a Transformer and the most organized attacking force I've ever seen in my entire life. Seriously. The Red Skull and Loki both wielding the cosmic cube couldn't organize an attack this precise and infallible. Patton himself running SkyNet robots couldn't pull off an attack this perfect. At one point I thought the entire population of downtown DC was just armed North Korean terrorists. They come out of nowhere and just happened to ALL get mere feet away from, again...THE MOST SECURED BUILDING IN THE WORLD. The supposed secret service decide the best way to stop a bunch of terrorist firing at them with a .50 cal is to just walk directly into the gunfire, bullets be damned. If it was revealed later that this film was produced by the government in order to get the North Koreans to attempt something this stupid and IMPLAUSIBLE in order to legitimize us kicking their asses then nuking them, I'd buy it.

(END OF SPOILERS)

Look, I try my best not to spoil movies here on the site. However, I find it to be irresponsible of me as a human being not to prepare you for whats in store if you do plan on seeing this film. And for those saying that this is like Die Hard in the White House...Like DIE HARD in any shape, form, or F*%KING capacity...shame on you. Shame...on...you. You need to slap yourself in the face three times, genuflect to the awesomeness that is John McClane, put in Die Hard, then write a ten page apology letter to Bruce Willis and John McTiernan (In prison) for ever uttering Die Hard in the same paragraph as Olympus Has Fallen.

The acting in this is over the top. It is clichéd and wooden. It is paint by numbers. How can a film this stereotypically bad garner talent like Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, and...well Gerard Butler does anything nowadays. When Sly and his Expendables do films like these, we eat it up because they are being ironic and nostalgically nodding to their earlier classics. There are no expectations of weight to the performances. But when you start sprinkling in Academy Award nominees in a film like this, it feels like you just caught them slumming it with some alleyway street walker on the LA strip at three in the morning. They are all better than this. Even you Butler.

Olympus Has Fallen is a big budget film that still has a direct to DVD feel. All the stars and horribly CGI-ed fireworks they throw at it still can't polish this turd of a film. If you watch it...brace yourself...then try to tell me I'm wrong.

(Sigh) Well, at least this will probably be the last film using this stupid White House under siege plot for a while. (SUDDENLY HANDED A PIECE OF PAPER) I've just been informed that a film in June starring Jaime Foxx and Channing Tatum will be about the White House under siege. And it will be directed by Roland Emmerich.

I'm moving to Canada.

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Spring Breakers
(2012)

Guilty Pleasure of the Decade
Review by Matt:

Every once in a while, a film comes around that changes your life. A film that you'll tell your kids and grand-kids that ushered in a new wave of cinema. A film that will be a landmark moment where all film- goers collectively get out of their seats, and initiate "the slow clap." A film that that will be broken down in film schools across the world and film historians will bring up in conversations with the likes of "American Beauty", "Casablanca", and "8 1/2." Well, this isn't this film, not even close, but despite what a lot of people have said, and are saying, "Spring Breakers" might not be pretty, but it just might be the biggest guilty pleasure film in recent memory.

"Breakers" can be lumped into two categories; it's either a soft-core porn that is cashing in on the popularity of "Disney girls" who are trying to break free of their kiddie-image, but they are being exploited just as bad, if not worse. Or, you can look at it as a caricature of Spring Break culture that you might have seen on MTV back in the early 1990s, and an expose on small town life versus "the real world." I promise, I will not dig that deep into this movie, because if you go into "Breakers" looking for deep meaning or a reason why the movie was made you are going to miss out on a film that is super fun, super awesome, and super stupid, but stupid in that way that you might have said back in the 1990s, ie, STUPID FRESH!

In case you heard, the plot is simple. Four friends, Candy, Cotty, Brit, and Faith, don't have enough money to go to Spring Break in Tampa/St. Pete, Florida so they do what any rational young college student would do; rob a restaurant to finance their trip. After their successful robbery, the four girls head to Spring Break for the time of their lives, that is until they're arrested and the party is over, or is it? Bailed out of jail by a small-time gangster named Alien, played by James Franco in probably his most memorable role to date, things go from bad to worse for the four friends as they leave behind their dreams of the best Spring Break ever, and it turns into a nightmare.....or does it?

Part of the fun of "Breakers" is not knowing fully what the film is about. Yes, at heart, it's a skin flick that shows PLENTY of boobs, close up shots of crotchal areas, and any parent's nightmare of what their precious little boys and girls are doing in vacation resorts around the country from late March to April. Yes parents, your kids are probably having unprotected sex all over the place, while doing funnels of Natty Light, after doing coke off a townie's a*s. C'mon, we've all been there before.

A few things surprised me about "Breakers" besides the fact that I truly enjoyed it, almost too much in fact. Say what you will about Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens; but they can act. Yes, I said it, they can act. I was almost surprised at how down and dirty they got, especially Hudgens, who gives the 2nd best performance in the film, but that best performance goes to Franco, who creates a character that is part Tony Montana, part Saul from "Pineapple Express," and part rapper Paul Wall. His creation of Alien is in fact other worldly, and his "Look at my sh*t!" and for lack of a better term, gun blow-job scene, are the highlights of the film. And like my co-reviewer said in his "OZ" review, Franco loves to mug for the camera, and he's at his best in "Breakers" completely self-aware that he is in complete control of character. Oh, by the way, for you wresting fans, your old pal Double J, Jeff Jarrett, makes a cameo as a Jesus freak. Yes, that Jeff Jarrett.

This film is polarizing, and people are either going to love it or hate it, just like most of Harmony Korine's films. Let me put it this way, if you've seen "Kids" and "Gummo" and you hated them, save yourself the money or just be lame and watch "The Croods" or "Tyler Perry's: Temptation."

"Spring Breakers"......."Spring Breakers" forever.........

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Children of Men
(2006)

The Epitome of Sci-Fi
Review by Matt:

Lately in film, especially futuristic sci-fi fare, the preferred city of devastation is London. It used to be that Godzilla would stomp Japan into oblivion, but of course we all know that giant lizards bred out of nuclear irresponsibility is completely far-fetched, right? But putting fantasy away, London has been a hub the past decade or so for apocalyptic visions of the future. From Rage viruses to an infertility pandemic, I'm not sure "Keep Calm and Carry On" would be enough for even London's strongest citizens to get behind. This brings me to 2006's "Children of Men" one of the most captivating sci-fi films to be released in recent memory.

Here's the scoop; we visit London in the not too distant future where there hasn't been a reported new birth in nearly 18 years. Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, the youngest person in the world, lovingly named Baby Diego, has just been murdered. With the world in mourning, we follow happy-go-lucky Theo, played by Clive Owen. Theo is the type of guy that loves to get high with his hippy friend Jaspar and get kidnapped by a terrorist group called "The Fishes" led by his former activist wife, Julian, played by Julianne Moore. The plot thickens when it's discovered that Theo is carrying some precious cargo, namely a baby in the belly of a young refugee girl named Kee. With the government, crooked cops, and members of the terrorist group hot on his heels, Theo has no choice but to protect Kee and try and deliver her to The Human Project, a mysterious group researching why humanity become infertile so many years ago.

"Children" went largely unnoticed during its theatrical run, which is odd for how good this film really is. The acting is spot on, the setting couldn't feel more real, and the message is relatively universal. Sure, there are some preachy moments, and even some of the imagery and names are obvious, case in point, the young girl Kee, (even though it's technically pronounced "chi") who just might be the "key" to civilization's survival. But those are minor quibbles.

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who some might know for "Y Tu Mama Tambien" or to an even wider audience as the director the best Harry Potter film installment "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Some might disagree with that assessment of the "Harry Potter" franchise, but it was the moment that the series went from light-hearted and childish to dark, brooding, and serious.

Cuaron lends that trademark style to "Children" and creates a dystopian London where all hope seems to be lost, refugees are treated like Jews during World War II, and ethnic tensions are slowly coming to a head. With all of that being said, Cuaron is still able to capture small glimmers of hope in a hopeless world, and some humanity in some of the more monstrous characters. But the highlights of the film revolve around the long take action sequences which last upwards of 6 minutes. Even though it has been debunked that these scenes are not one long take, the fact remains that these scenes highlight the film and create the most memorable moments in "Children."

Despite the fact "Children" was critically praised, the fact it didn't bank more at the box office was a crime in and of itself. It's also a movie I'm always shocked people have never seen; at that moment I slap them in the face, hand them the DVD, and bid them Godspeed.

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The Great Muppet Caper
(1981)

Hold the Caper
Review by Matt:

My first exposure to The Muppets wasn't any of their movies, it was actually "Muppet Babies" which for me, still goes down as one of my favorite cartoons of all time, and the best cartoon of the 1980s. There was nothing wrong with it; it had "Star Wars", "Indiana Jones", and pretty much any pop culture reference that you could think of at the time. It was smarter than the kids that were watching it, and for my money, still holds up pretty well. The Muppet movies didn't really come around for me the first time around, in fact I remember watching most of them on VHS when my dad recorded them for me. Think about it, "The Muppet Movie" was released in 1979, and to say the least I was the last thing my parents had on their mind at the time. However, when I was old enough to know how to operate the VCR and go through the stacks of VHS recordings that we had in our house, it was that fateful day I popped in 1981's "The Great Muppet Caper" starring all of your favorite Muppets; from Kermit the Frog to *John Cleese, yes, John Motherf*ckin' Cleese is in this movie.

Like most Muppet fare the plot is going to include plenty of hijinks, celebrity cameos, and humor that goes well over the intended audiences heads, including one in "Caper" that refers to a guy cheating on his wife. Jim Henson had some balls on him. Any who, we open "Caper" with our three heroes, Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo in a hot air balloon talking about the opening credits. Next thing they know their balloon is going down right in the middle of a crowded street which breaks out into our first musical number. Further hijinks ensue that involve a case of mistaken identity, stolen diamonds, and a love triangle between a frog, pig, and Charles Grodin. Good clean family fun.

What stands out, like most Muppets movies, are the songs. The highlight is "Happiness Hotel" that has the sound of a blues, zydeco, and a big band mash-up that works perfectly and will be stuck in your head for days. Some of the other songs get a little sappy, but there's still a whimsical element to the music that can appeal to the young and old alike.

While the setting of the movie takes place in London, it could really take place anywhere. This isn't "The Muppets Take Manhattan" where the city is almost as big a star as The Muppets, but you still get a chuckle from some of the dry British humor we all know and love.

If you've only seen 2011's "The Muppets" with Jason Segel and Amy Adams, which is fine in it's own way, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to "The Great Muppet Caper" that has plenty of mad-cap antics and no cheap Disney tie-in's.

*Disclaimer: Of course I know John Cleese isn't a Muppet, but he might be the king of silly walks.

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Savages
(2012)

A Savage cop out
Review by Matt:

There are times when a film comes around that you hear about, wait to see it, finally see it, are extremely pleased with the results, but come the end of the movie you're thinking to yourself, "What just happened?" That's the film "Savages," where come the end of the film, or what you think is the end of the film, you scream out, "C'MON!"

When you think about Oliver Stone you have to think about the amount of directors that he's influenced; I would bet one American dollar that there isn't a director, living or dead, that would say they weren't influenced by either the writing or directing talents of Stone. He uses spiritual imagery in an effective way, loves to show sex and violence, but there is still a tongue-in-cheek element when he goes to the extreme, especially in his post-"Platoon" work. Lately he's had his ups-and-downs, trying to cash in on old ideas ("Wall Street"), but when "Savages" was announced I was a little excited. It looked and felt like old-school Stone, circa "Natural Born Killers." Gritty, bloody, sexy, and violent. Even the cast was young and hip. So why was "Savages" a let down? Let's take a walk.

"Savages" stars Blake Lively as O, or Ophelia, who is "shared" by two independent pot growers/sellers, played by Aaron Johnson and "Mr. Chicken Burrito" himself, Taylor Kitsch. Everything is going swimmingly for the three until they turn down a request from Baja Cartel Mistress, Elena. Things go from bad to worse for the three as they find themselves at war with the Cartel. The violence is brutal at times, but what would you expect from a vicious Mexican Cartel. Just read or listen to the news and I'm sure you'll read, or hear, much worse.

Lively is the backbone of this film, and rightfully so. I think she kind of gets a raw deal in Hollywood due to her "Gossip Girl" ties, but she holds her own in "Savages" and gives a pitch-perfect performance of a girl who is both the "damsel in distress" and the "strong heroine." If you want to see Lively in another good performance check out "The Town." For someone who you would take a quick glance at and write her off as just eye-candy, she can act, and takes chances. We need more Blake Livelys and less Brooklyn Deckers and whoever that girl is who can't close her mouth in "Transformers 3."

The plot twists and turns and keeps you on your toes throughout. You really never know who is the next person to get killed or get caught in the crossfire, and the stakes are pretty high throughout the film. That is until the "end." If Stone had more balls he would have ended the film ten minutes earlier. The "end" is what you would have expected the whole film, but I guess that's the whole point. You expect something Shakespearean, but you get a curveball that really makes you say, once again, "C'MON!" Like "Hamlet" you expect a tragedy, and you get close, but I of course won't spoil the fun, because all in all "Savages" is actually the best Oliver Stone film since probably "Killers" or I might even go as new as "Any Given Sunday."

The one thing you'll take away from "Savages" is that Stone still has it. He can still make a film just as visceral as he did in his younger days. After years of dealing with George W Bush, September 11th, and going back to "Wall Street" there was a question as to whether Stone wanted to deal with darker subject matter. We all know that he's an intellectual, and a thinking man's filmmaker, but it was great to see him go back to his hungrier and darker ways with "Savages."

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House of Lies
(2012)

This Lie is True
Reviews by Matt:

Slowly but surely, Showtime is catching up to it's big brother, HBO, with some of the best programming since "The Red Shoe Diaries." I kid, I kid! Jokes aside, between "Dexter," "Homeland," and "Shameless" the network that tells you to "Hold on Tight" is showing a pulse when it comes to funny, subversive comedy, and intriguing, dramatic work. But what happens when you take a good idea, in theory, add a great cast around it, and try and make it your replacement for "Weeds?" Well, you get "House of Lies," a breezy dramedy series made of pure fluff.....or is it, deceiving you?

This isn't to say that I don't enjoy fluff and hijinks; I thoroughly enjoy the fluff of "Parks and Recreation," and the madcap insanity of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." What you get with "Lies" is a group of Managing Consultants from Galweather & Stearn, based in Los Angeles, led by the sociopath/corporate headhunter, Marty Kaan, played brilliantly by Don Cheadle. (who earned a well-deserved Golden Globe this year) Kaan (get it) is the Polaroid of the modern American working professional; failed marriage, single father, a compulsive sexual appetite, especially for his equally damaged ex-wife, and some serious mommy issues. However, when its time for Marty and his team to put their game-faces on, they never fail. Well, they fail until their figure out a way to win, which is the ongoing theme of "Lies."

To put it in perspective,think "Entourage" having relations with "Californication" and "Weeds" deciding to pull their pants down and join the party as well. What I enjoy about "Lies" is the banter between Marty's team, or his "Pod," which includes Kristen Bell in probably her best work since "Veronica Mars" and Ben Schwartz, who you might know as Jean-Ralphio from the aforementioned "Parks." The young cast is perfectly anchored by Cheadle who is excellent in everything, but you really get to see him show a darker, and very much damaged, side to his acting. If there's any reason to watch the show it's to show his deceiving nature destroy his enemies but nevertheless have him get caught in the crossfire as well. While the show started out breezy enough, as the first season progressed it started plunging into darkness, and while there are still a few zingers that will tickle your ribs, you also have a pit in your stomach and think to yourself? Am I supposed to be rooting for these characters, or wagging our fingers at them and saying, "See, that's what you get."

Another gimmick of the show, but it still works pretty well, is Marty breaking the 4th wall. One of my favorite comic book characters is Deadpool. One of his actual powers IS breaking the 4th wall. But in reference to Marty, its usually a way to move the story along and remove any doubt from the viewers' mind what exactly is going through HIS mind. It's effective one two fronts; 1) Marty knows he is the smartest guy in the room and feels he controls his team, but you'll notice that he is only totally in control when he is in his comfort zone; his work. 2) Sometimes the situations of the show do get a little convoluted so it does help to have someone quarterback you through the situation, and who better than a slimy Management Consultant. What could be said negatively about these scenes is that the show is not allowing the audience to put the pieces together themselves and treating them with kid gloves, which might come of as insulting to some viewers.

Overall, "House of Lies" is a fun show in the vein of "Entourage" minus the big time celebrities, the best you're going to get is Cat Deeley, for all you SYTYCD fans out there. (if you have to ask what it means, well, you're probably better off) With a definite lack of comedy on HBO, this might be Showtime's foothold to take some audience away from them, unless you like "Girls," and if that's the case you should really ask yourself, "Why?"

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