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Reviews

Instant Family
(2018)

Funny, Endearing Film
Would you believe me if I told you that the director who directed the raunchy Adam Sandler movie That's My Boy would later write and direct an endearing and heartfelt film about fostering and adopting? I doubt it. But that is what happened.

Instant Family tells the story of Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne), a married couple with no kids who renovate and fix up houses for a living. They feel a void in their marriage, and go to an adoption center where two social workers, guide them and many other couples through the process of fostering and eventually adopting children. While everyone easily wants to match up with younger kids, social workers Sharon and Karen emphasize teenagers. Pete thinks talking to any of the teenagers is worth trying, while Ellie is reluctant. Their loud conversation easily catches attention of Lizzie (Isabela Moner), a teenager who confronts them about their conversation. This proves enough for Pete and Ellie who want to take Lizzie in. The catch is her younger brother and sister.

The film focuses on the turmoil of Pete and Ellie being new parents to three kids who have had rough lives, while the kids are in new territory with interesting behaviors. There are times where the story may feel predictable, but only part of what one may guess comes true.

What I enjoyed most out of this film were the characters, thanks to the work of director Sean Anders and the cast for fleshing out these characters. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are strong characters who show that they are doing the best that they can with taking care of the kids, but being respectful of them and only being firm when absolutely necessary. Wahlberg and Byrne deserve major props for pulling every kind of emotion throughout the film. Wahlberg gives one of his funniest performances to date as Pete. Rose Byrne gives a much more emotional performance as the foster mother who does what is best for the kids despite them being bratty, especially Isabela Moner's Lizzie. Moner does a fantastic job as the teenager Pete and Ellie take in. She makes Lizzie a strong character, who pulls off the rebellious teen well. We see Moner play Lizzie as disagreeing with Pete and Ellie but always has the best interests of younger siblings Juan and Lita at heart. I found it interesting in her part with how she also is still attached to her biological mother, who visits frequently. The other actors fit their roles well. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro did nice jobs as the social workers. Margo Martindale is funny as the over the top, yet good-hearted grandmother.

As I said before, the script and story may feel formulaic and predictable, but it's only part way and throws in an unexpected turn here or there. This is thanks to the work of co-writer/director Sean Anders and co-writer John Morris. They crafted a script that takes many of the funny things that go about with what it's like to be a foster parent and eventual adopter. They do a nice job of throwing in a turn every once in a while. While there are a lot of laughs, there are plenty of dramatic moments that kept my interest. This film comes loosely from a personal experience Anders had with his wife, and you'll see a picture of him with his family in the beginning of the end credits. Thanks to this, Sean Anders has given us his best and most personal film as a director. As a director, Anders does a nice job at keeping a good pace where the jokes aren't excessive and there isn't a dull moment.

Everybody Wants Some!!
(2016)

One of Richard Linklater's Best
The wait for Richard Linklater's follow-up to the masterpiece that is Boyhood is now over, with the release of his new film, Everybody Wants Some!!. Linklater has found ways multiple times to keep his audience engaged by spending time with the characters in films such as Dazed and Confused and School of Rock, and this film is no exception.

The film begins with a montage of a young kid named Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) on his way to college at Southeast Texas University. He is a pitcher who was a star in high school and we see him move in to the house where his teammates live. Shortly after meeting them, a few of them drive to around, where one of them tries to flirt with a couple of girls moving in, but they both reject the teammate and one of the girls says she likes the quiet one in the back, referring to Jake. The girl is Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a performing arts major.

The film takes place in 1980 during the entire weekend before Jake begins his freshman year. Linklater shows the guys being competitive at everything they do at the houses, them partying, having fun, and trying to be grown up. Linklater's direction is fun and focused on the characters, and the script focuses on what it's like to be in college. In an unusual way, Linklater has made this film sort of a sequel to both and .

As for performances, Blake Jenner is likable as Jake. He has a calm presence as someone trying to be one of the guys, yet try to start a relationship with the girl he meets. Zoey Deutch is very good here as Beverly, the performing arts major. I enjoyed all of the scenes between Beverly and Jake. All of the actors who play Jake's teammates are fun and entertaining in their own quirky ways. Tyler Hoechlin has come a long way since Road to Perdition, and shows an interesting role here as Glenn McReynolds, a power hitter and team leader who hates pitchers.

I think this is one of Richard Linklater's best films, but not his overall best. I still think Boyhood is his best film.

The Good Dinosaur
(2015)

The Good Dinosaur is a good Pixar movie.
Pixar has finally come back to its originality that made it so great with Inside Out earlier this year, and continues to do so with its newest flick, The Good Dinosaur.

We start out millions of years ago, seeing the a meteor floating through space, and it seems to be coming for Earth. But the meteor passes over Earth completely, and we see what it would be like if dinosaurs never died. Fast forward to millions of years later, where we two dinosaurs start a family with three children of their own: Libby, Buck, and Arlo. They all run a farm together, and all have their way of contributing. We see Arlo most of the time, where he is assigned a new job of stopping the culprit who has been stealing the family's food. The culprit is caught, but Arlo is afraid of the small human, who runs off. Arlo catches up to the human boy, but can't find his way back home. The story becomes all about the relationship between Arlo and the human boy known as Spot, as Arlo grows in his experience being lost and away from home.

Pixar continues to prove their capabilities at tugging at the heartstrings of the audience here, especially with their own version of a popular and sad Disney moment. Thanks to the efforts of director Peter Sohn, Pixar shows their uniqueness and originality with the stories they tell.

The music is definitely the one of the two standout technical aspects of this film. Composers Mychael and Jeff Danna make some moving and emotional music that fits well and weaves into each scene quite nicely. The other standout technical aspect is the beautiful scenery here. So many of the shots felt real, and the filmmakers did a beautiful job of capturing such great places in nature.

All of the voice performances were good, but there were two that stood out to me most. One is one of the most recognizable voices out there in Sam Elliott as the voice of Butch, a T-Rex and father of two who looks after Arlo after Arlo helps out the T-Rex's. The other is Steve Zahn as Thunderclap, a vulture who makes it clear he enjoys it when storms come.

Pixels
(2015)

Chris Columbus and Adam Sandler Combine Fun With Nostalgia
Chris Columbus and Adam Sandler are two people in the film industry whose movies I grew up with and still enjoy up to today. Columbus gave us Home Alone, Adventures in Babysitting, and Mrs. Doubtfire. Sandler gave us Happy Gilmore, Mr. Deeds, and Big Daddy. Now, they have combined their efforts to give us a new film that also took me back with Pixels.

The film begins with adolescent versions of Sam Brenner and Will Cooper, who are checking out the new video game arcade that just opened. There, they also meet and befriend Ludlow Lamonsoff. They all get involved in a huge video game tournament where footage of all the kids playing video games will be sent into outer space. The finals come down to Sam and another kid named Eddie Plant. Eddie beats Sam in a game of Donkey Kong. Years later, they have all lived different lives. Will (Kevin James) has become President of the United States, while Sam (Adam Sandler) has become a tech installer. Ludlow (Josh Gad) has become a conspiracy theorist. Will has called in Sam to look at some footage he has of a military base in Guam, thinking it might have something to do with a video game they played when they were kids. It turns out that the attackers are an alien race who interpreted the video of kids playing video games as a declaration of war. When the military isn't trained for defending the world against video games, it is up to Sam and Ludlow to save the world before their three lives are up.

While Adam Sandler is well know for his low brow, goofy characters, this time around he has toned down the goofiness a lot. There is still a little bit of a goofball, but compared to his fellow cast members, his role is a bit more straight. Kevin James as the adult Will Cooper is also in more of straight part. Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage, who plays the adult version of Eddie Plant, have the crazy goofball roles in this one. Both Gad and Dinklage are riots in their parts and you can tell they are having a lot of fun with their roles. Veteran character actor Brian Cox is also a lot of fun in his part as a crusty old admiral who is not particularly happy with how the President is handling the crisis at hand. Michelle Monaghan is also decent as Colonel Violet Van Patten, a single mother with a young son who is also called into action during the crisis.

Chris Columbus delivers us a fun film with a lot of references to the old video games such as Donkey Kong, Pac Man, and Centipede. Columbus is having a lot of fun with this, mixing in the action and the comedy, and showing that he still has something for us. Now Columbus did have to go to the different companies who made each video game and get permission to use their characters. But with what he was able to get, he certainly shows respect for the characters and still gives the audience something entertaining.

The visual effects are outstanding. I like how the visual effects team made all the video game characters look like they came right out of the machine rather than some new, and improved CGI. With this, it feels more in line with the games from the 80's.

Pixels is a fun film for everyone. The kids will get some enjoyment and interest in the story and situations, while the adults will get to see some of their favorite video game characters come alive on screen.

Ant-Man
(2015)

A Fun New Addition to the MCU
Anyone who knows me knows that I highly enjoy Marvel films, and sing their praises. Since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the first Iron Man in 2008, Marvel has made a hit with me every time. I've enjoyed all eleven installments Marvel has put out, and Ant-Man makes it twelve.

The story begins in 1989, where Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has quit SHIELD after he finds out that they tried to replicate his shrinking technology. He has been trying to hide it away from everyone ever since. Cut to present day San Francisco, where infamous burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is getting out of prison and moves in to an apartment with his former cell-mate, Luis (Michael Peña). Scott wants to see his daughter Cassie, but his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her fiancé Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) won't let him visit until he can pay child support. He can't hold a job due to his criminal record. To rectify, Luis tells Scott of a job he can pull off. Scott is reluctant because of his desire to stop stealing. He takes the job, which involves stealing from the safe of an old man who is not home, only to find a suit and helmet. As he dons the suit and finds out what it does, he hears a voice as he is being tested right away. Hank is the voice Scott hears. When Scott tries to return the suit, he is arrested and thrown in jail, but his "lawyer" Hank recruits him to be the new Ant-Man. Scott accepts the job and is needed to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), a former protégé of Hank's who has replicated his shrinking technology and wants to use it for his own personal gain.

I was always interested in this project since the announcement that Edgar Wright, director of comedies such as Hot Fuzz and The World's End, was going to direct. I became more interested when reading of the preproduction issues such as Marvel seeing the film one way with Wright seeing it a different way. Peyton Reed, who has directed films such as Bring It On and The Break-Up, stepped in and showed that he can not just do things how Marvel wants it done, but be able to add to it. Reed did a very nice job of mixing the action and comedy, and also combing a comedy film with a heist film. Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish had some nice ideas with the script. With Adam McKay coming on to fix up the script, he knows how to write to Rudd's strengths as an actor. Rudd also did some script polishing with McKay.

Paul Rudd has shown in the past that he can be a lead and carry a movie with roles in I Love You, Man, How Do You Know, and Wanderlust. As Scott Lang, Rudd is at his finest with making a criminal likable and showing that he wants to do good. Michael Douglas is just spectacular and elevates the role of the mentor to Scott to someone who is also haunted by his past. Michael Peña is a riot as Scott's best friend. He hilarious with when he tells Scott about the job and again when someone wants to find out about him. Corey Stoll also has some moments as Darren Cross. Everyone else goes from serviceable to decent.

The technical achievements are also great. I liked the use of the 1.85: 1 aspect ratio as I felt closer to the action. I thought the visual effects were spectacular, especially the scenes where Scott is ant sized and adapting to being that size. I also like the visuals when Scott is fighting Darren in Cassie's bedroom. The enlarged ant and the enlarged Thomas the Tank Engine cracked me up. I also liked the editing, especially in the two scenes where Luis is telling his story and the characters involved are talking the same way he is. The sound design was all around brilliant and I liked the use of different sounds.

This is an overall fun addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, this has an overall light tone that makes Marvel feel fresh but be part of the overall universe. I enjoyed the mid credits scene and the end scene makes a nice buildup to the next MCU installment.

The Duff
(2015)

Similar to the Films of John Hughes
I decided to see the latest high school themed comedy. From the trailer, it seemed somewhat mean spirited, but only a couple of the characters truly are.

Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman from Parenthood) is a few weeks into her senior year of high school. Bianca is a hard working student who is also the editor of her school's newspaper. She also enjoys watching cult films in her spare time. Her best friends are Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos). When popular girl Madison Morgan (Bella Thorne) invites Jess and Casey to her party on a school night, Bianca feels left out, but ends up being there anyway. She has a crush on a guitar player named Toby, but gets too nervous around him and can't even come up with two words. At the party, Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell), the football team captain/Bianca's neighbor, tells her that she is a DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Bianca's feelings are hurt, but she slowly realizes that he is right as she feels like she only is there to make her friends look better. Having no choice, Bianca goes to Wesley for help in looking more dateable in exchange for helping him improve his science grade. Seeing them spend time together, Madison does what she can to humiliate Bianca.

Like I said before, the film isn't as mean spirited as the trailer makes it out to be. The only mean spirited characters are Madison and her friend Caitlin, who films Bianca twice to humiliate her. In a lot of ways, The Duff reminds me of the films of John Hughes. With this film, director Ari Sandel and lead actress Mae Whitman show that everyone can relate to being a DUFF. Sandel's work here also makes me think of Hughes in the sense of how the latter showed that teenagers are human and go through life obstacles.

The standout in this cast is Mae Whitman in the front and center as Bianca Piper. Whitman did tremendous work the past five years as Amber Holt on Parenthood and shows here that she can carry a feature film. She is great here as this girl who overcomes obstacles with school, labels, and being dateable. The next standout is Bella Thorne, who plays the popular Madison Morgan. Thorne turns in a heck of a performance as the bitchy girl who thinks she is better than everyone else. Samuels, Santos, and Amell all do nice jobs in their respective roles. It was also nice to see Allison Janney, Ken Jeong, and Romany Malco all show up.

The film has a lot of laugh out loud moments, interesting characters, and an entertaining story.

Men, Women & Children
(2014)

Jason Reitman Makes a Great Film
Jason Reitman has certainly become one of the best working directors today. He has shown some great work with Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult. Labor Day was not as good as the first four films, but he has bounced back with his new film: Men, Women, and Children.

Men, Women, and Children is a few stories mixed together about how social media has changed the lives of high school teenagers and their parents. What I liked best is how Reitman is able to mix these stories and not focus on one for too long. One story involves Don Truby (Adam Sandler), a married man who uses his son's computer to watch porn, then looks to hook up with an escort. Coincidentally, his wife Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) is also looking for an affair online. Another story involves high schooler Brandy Beltmeyer (Kaitlyn Dever) who can't do anything on her phone or computer without her overbearing mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) knowing about it. Brandy also starts seeing Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), a fellow student who has quit the football team and spends his time with online role playing games. The other main story involves cheerleader Hannah Clint (Olivia Crocicchia), who aspires to be an actress and has a website about her operated by her supportive mother Donna (Judy Greer).

Reitman's direction and script show that he is a great story teller. With this film, he does a nice job of intertwining the stories of these characters. Reitman has also done a spectacular job of getting great performances out of his actors. For me, Adam Sandler is the first standout. With his performance as Don Truby, we see something completely different from his past films. We see a guy in a sexual rut and looking for something exciting. The next standout is Kaitlyn Dever as Brandy, who wants to live her life without her mother monitoring her every move. I hated Patricia Beltmeyer so much, which says how good of a job Jennifer Garner did as the nosiest mother in the world. I liked Judy Greer and Olivia Crocicchia in their roles as the Clints. I also liked Dean Norris and Ansel Elgort as the Mooneys. The entire ensemble does a tremendous job.

I also liked how Jason Reitman would keep the camera focused on the actors and bring up the graphics showing what is being typed or text.

This Is Where I Leave You
(2014)

A Sweet Family Comedy-Drama
It seems that Shawn Levy is one of the most disliked directors out there. However, I find him to be very hard working and puts out fun and entertaining movies. His newest, This Is Where I Leave You, shows that Levy is getting a little more serious, while still being funny at the same time.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is a producer for radio personality Wade (Dax Shepard). One day, Judd comes home to find his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) having sex with Wade. Shortly after, we see Judd living in a small apartment ignoring Quinn's phone calls, but receives one from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) informing him that their father has passed away. Their mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda) is holding it together. At the funeral, we meet two more brothers, Paul (Corey Stoll) and Philip (Adam Driver). At home, Hillary has ordered for her children to stay home as they go through Shiva, or an entire week of mourning, stating that it was in their father's will. Throughout the film, we see the Altman family spend time together, have some fun, and lash things out.

Jason Bateman stands out as the lead in this ensemble. Here, Bateman shows us a guy who always played it safe and never took a chance. Bateman also shows that he can mix the comedy and drama in his character arc very well. In her second collaboration with director Shawn Levy, Tina Fey is funny and serious as the sister who keeps her brothers in line. Jane Fonda shows that she is still one of the best living actresses as the mother. Corey Stoll and Adam Driver are both good in their respective roles. Of the ladies in this film, my favorite was Rose Byrne as Penny Moore, a potential love interest for Judd. The standout in the supporting cast was Timothy Olyphant as Horry, the son of Hillary's neighbor Linda. Horry had also suffered a head injury and this character is completely different from Olyphant's Raylan from Justified.

This Is Where I Leave You is Shawn Levy's best and most mature film to date. With this film, Levy shows his ability to do comedy and drama mixed together. The script by Jonathan Tropper, based on his own novel, does well with focusing on all of the Altmans. The only technical standout is the music by Michael Giacchino, which made me think of his score from The Family Stone.

When the Game Stands Tall
(2014)

Best Football Movie Since Invincible
I had an awesome opportunity to see this film tonight. I, for one, enjoy football movies and enjoy the different stories around the sport that directors have brought out over the years. When the Game Stands Tall is a very nice new addition to my favorite football films.

The De La Salle High School Spartans are coached by Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel). He has led the Spartans to a 150 game winning streak, which is the longest in all of football, even more than any team in the NFL or NCAA. The beginning shows us an intertwining of win #151 with a team meeting the day before the game. The meeting shows us how together and united the seniors are while the game shows how hard working and dedicated they are during each play from snap to whistle. In that game, the juniors get to finish the game and we get to know who some of these guys are, particularly Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig), Danny Ladouceur (Matthew Daddario), and Tayshon Lanear (Jessie Usher). After that, the pressure is on to continue the winning streak and pick up where the graduating seniors left off.

Throughout the film, we see the Spartans face many adversities on and off the field. What I really liked in this story and script is how we see this team overcome their adversities and dealing with family, unity, and looking out for each other. This script Scott Marshall Smith and David Zelon is nice held together by director Thomas Carter, who does a nice job with the football sequences and the non-football scenes.

At the front and center of this film is Jim Caviezel as Coach Bob Ladouceur. With this role, we see Caviezel do so well as the coach, who knows the right thing to say, and doesn't act a lot like other coaches. Through Caviezel, we see a guy who has more of a calming influence and does what is best for his players. The next standout is Alexander Ludwig as Chris Ryan, a running back and linebacker who plays very hard and is always under pressure from his overbearing father (Clancy Brown). Brown is very interesting as the father who puts pressure on his son who is on the verge of breaking California's high school record for touchdowns. Laura Dern is nice in her role as the coach's wife. Michael Chiklis is also very good in his role as assistant coach Terry Eidson. In Chiklis, we see the kind of coach who does the job of getting guys fired up.

The film has all the makings to be a great one centered around high school football, and it certainly is a great one. This is easily one of my favorite football films out there.

Guardians of the Galaxy
(2014)

Marvel Continues Its Excellence in Filmmaking
Wow, just wow! Marvel Studios keeps churning these films that keep making superhero movies to be among my favorite types of films. Marvel has now added to that again here with one that I had a blast watching, Guardians of the Galaxy.

In 1988, young Peter Quill is living on Earth and his mother passes away. He runs off but is abducted and then raised by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers. 26 years later, Peter (Chris Pratt) is now traveling around the galaxy, stealing things, living life, and prefers to be called Star Lord, until he steals an artifact and is stopped by Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Although he escapes, Korath calls on Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the device. When Star Lord, tries to sell it, he is ambushed by Gamora and a fight ensues. This attract a pair of bounty hunters, Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a tree-like humanoid named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). However, they are all stopped and imprisoned together. While in prison, the four meet Drax (Dave Bautista), who first wants to kill Gamora for her association with Ronan (Lee Pace), who killed his family. Star Lord convinces Drax that is not the case as Gamora has betrayed Ronan. The five all team up as they are wanted for the orb they have.

James Gunn direct and co-wrote this film and has done a spectacular job. Gunn has done a great job of telling us a story, showing us who these characters are, and keeping us interested in what is going to happen next. Gunn and his co-writer Nicole Perlman have done some great work at giving us this story of a group of heroes, but different from The Avengers.

Chris Pratt hugely stands out in this film as Peter Quill/Star Lord. While I have highly enjoyed his roles from Parks and Recreation, The Five Year Engagement, and Delivery Man, he shows a completely new side to his acting with this role. Here, we are not seeing the hilarious slacker or best friend like those other roles. With this part, Pratt shows that he can carry a film and shows that he can have a dramatic side too. The next standout surprisingly to me was Dave Bautista as Drax, the big muscular prisoner who joins the Guardians to first avenge his family, but becomes a respected member. Zoe Saldana is great as Gamora, who antagonizes at first, but joins Peter's Side. Bradley Cooper is a riot in his part voicing Rocket Raccoon. I also enjoyed Michael Rooker as Yondu, who seems to want to murder Peter. I also enjoyed seeing Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reilly, and Glenn Close in each of their brief roles.

On the technical side, there are so many spectacular things to praise. First to stand out is the visual effects in this film. Next is the production design as it shows a lot of creativity and many interesting set pieces. The makeup is very well done. I also enjoyed the cinematography by Ben Davis, and the music by Tyler Bates.

I had a fun time watching this film, and would be happy to see it in theaters again. Marvel continues to show their excellence not just in superhero films, but films overall.

Neighbors
(2014)

Nicholas Stoller Continues to Show His Filmmaking Talent
Nicholas Stoller has already achieved a feat of hitting a comedy trifecta with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and The Five Year Engagement. He has now turned that trifecta into a quadrifecta with his newest comedy Neighbors.

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are a married couple with a new home and an infant daughter. Their lives revolve around caring for their kid. One day, they noticed that a college fraternity has moved in next door to them. Realizing what the fraternity will be doing, Mac and Kelly go over to introduce themselves and nicely ask fraternity president Teddy (Zac Efron) and vice president Pete (Dave Franco) to keep the volume down. The fraternity doesn't listen, so Mac and Kelly go over and party with them and form a friendship. However, Mac breaks their trust by calling the cops, and all hell breaks loose between the Radners and the fraternity guys. The only one who is not willing the tolerate the nonsense is the college's Dean (Lisa Kudrow).

Nicholas Stoller has done another awesome job as a director, with this story of older couple vs. college fraternity. Stoller continues to show his talents behind the camera with making the film feel like a breeze, getting good performances out of his actors, and continuing to go for the laughs at just the right time.

Seth Rogen still shows some of the same stuff he's done in past performances, but this time he shows us a guy who is more grown up and mature compared to past characters like Ben Stone or Zack Brown. Rose Byrne is hilarious as the wife who is just as much clever as she is attractive. Byrne gives another one of her best performances. Efron shows that he wants to shed his younger image and gives us a interesting role as a guy who will stop at nothing until he proves his dominance over the Radners. Dave Franco is also interesting as a smart guy who puts his wants in life over his fraternity. The surprise to me is Ike Barinholtz as Mac's best friend Jimmy, a divorcée who wants nothing to do with his friend's plans until he realizes a frat guy named Scoonie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is having sex with the ex-wife Paula (Carla Gallo).

Muppets Most Wanted
(2014)

Just As Good As the First Film
I highly enjoyed The Muppets back in 2011. However, their sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, was one of those films that I'd like to see, but was not a high priority. Luckily for me, I had an opportunity to see it, and I found myself enjoying it just as much as the first one.

The film begins where the first ended with their musical number. The Muppets are all gathered around the set where during the opening musical number "We're Doing a Sequel", they are not quite sure what to do next until Dominic (Ricky Gervais) suggests that The Muppets go on a world tour. Dominic is managing The Muppets, while Constantine, a criminal frog who looks identical to Kermit, has escaped a Siberian Gulag. The Muppets go to Europe and everyone has an idea of what they want to do for the show, but Kermit is not wild about their suggestions. After getting frustrated, Kermit takes a walk where he runs into Constantine, who in disguise, glues a fake mole to Kermit's face and runs off, making Kermit be mistaken for Constantine. Kermit is then taken to the Gulag, while Constantine bosses around Dominic and lets the other Muppets do whatever they want. Animal is the only one who is suspicious of "Kermit".

While the Muppets are performing, Constantine and Dominic are stealing different things at museums near the venues the Muppets are performing at. The detectives on the case are Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and CIA Agent Sam Eagle. While Dominic is managing the Muppets and assisting Constantine, Kermit's attempts to escape are thwarted by the intelligent guard Nadya (Tina Fey). Nadya subsequently orders for Kermit to organize the prison's talent show, and ultimately has a secret of her own.

The film is just as much funny and clever as the first film was. James Bobin, who directed the first film, returns here and has put together another entertaining Muppet musical. The musical numbers are all lively and fun. The standout number and song was "The Big House", which is played when Kermit arrives to the Gulag.

The standout in this film is Tina Fey as Gulag guard Nadya. She is a hoot as the guard who is too smart for Kermit. Burrell and Gervais are fun in their parts as well. Of course with all Muppet films, there are a lot of cameos that are fun to see including (but not limited to) Tony Bennett, Frank Langella, Soairse Ronan, Toby Jones, Sean Combs, Usher, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Stanley Tucci, and Ray Liotta.

The film is fun for both kids and adults. The songs are great. I also say, that this film is equal with the 2011 hit in terms of quality.

Draft Day
(2014)

Excellent Look Into the Biggest Day of the NFL Offseason
I'm always up for a good football movie and I'm pretty sure that hasn't been one since 2009 when The Blind Side came out. Now, we have a new story from director Ivan Reitman about that one day in the NFL offseason everyone anticipates, Draft Day.

The film begins hours before the NFL Draft begins, and Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is just getting ready for the day that may make or break his tenure as the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. Sonny knows everything that is going on even before getting to the office. He has ESPN on his TV at home, and listens to all the sports radio talk. Early in the day, Sonny makes a deal with the Seattle Seahawks, who have the #1 pick and are expected to take hotshot quarterback Bo Callahan. The deal involved the Browns getting the #1 pick from the Seahawks in exchange for their first round picks for the next three seasons. Everyone is expecting Sonny to pick Callahan, but there are two other prospects Sonny is interested in: a linebacker with a good heart but a mouth on him named Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and running back Ray Jennings (Current Houston Texans running back Arian Foster), whose father Earl (Terry Crews) was a Browns legend. This move has made Browns fans happy put has angered some Browns personnel, such as head coach Vince Penn (Denis Leary) and starting quarterback Brian Drew (Tom Welling). Ultimately, the choice belongs to Sonny, who is also facing some personal issues with his father, a legendary coach, having passed away a week before the film begins and his girlfriend and fellow co-worker Allie (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant with his child. The film goes through Sonny's day with dealing all the pressure, especially from owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella).

Ivan Reitman has done an awesome job of telling a football story revolving around a big media frenzy every year. I like that he focuses the story on Kevin Costner's sunny and making about the GM of the team, a very tough job indeed. He and director of photography Eric Steelburg (who has shot Reitman's son's films) do a nice job of intertwining the phone conversations between any two characters, usually Sonny and somebody else.

Kevin Costner is just excellent at the front and center of this film. He is great at being the man under pressure from every one and their cousin as his job is on the line. Jennifer Garner is good in her part as girlfriend Allie, but I think any actress could have played that part. Denis Leary is great as the coach who wants to win. Frank Langella was enjoyable as the owner, but my favorite supporting performance was Chadwick Boseman as hothead linebacker Vontae Mack.

Cleveland Browns fans will certainly be happy with this film being about their team. While I am not a Browns fan, I got a football movie I highly enjoyed.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
(2014)

A Nice New Take on a Popular Character
The late Tom Clancy had a successful career thanks to his novels revolving around Jack Ryan, a character primarily known for his work with the CIA. The latest adaptation of Clancy's work and characters was brought to the big screen by Thor director Kenneth Branagh and actor Chris Pine.

The films begins with the title character Ryan (Pine) attending college in London when he witnesses the September 11 attacks on TV. Shortly after, we see Ryan in military action when he is involved in a helicopter crash. Subsequently, Ryan is finishing his rehab with Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) when he is seen by CIA Agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Harper brings on Ryan to work in the CIA in the business side of things. However, Ryan comes across many private Russian accounts led by businessman Viktor Cherevin (Branagh). While finding this out, he uncovers a plot by Cherevin to have a terrorist attack by crashing the U.S. economy.

From seeing the work Kenneth Branagh did as the director of Thor, it's easy to see why Paramount wanted to have him direct the new Jack Ryan film. Here, Branagh does a nice job of telling the story, making the film fly by, making the payoffs work, and great choices of where to point the camera. The only complaint I have is I felt that there were too many close up shots of the actors' faces. I did enjoy that Branagh's version was its own stand alone story.

Chris Pine is now the fourth actor to portray Jack Ryan on the big screen. What I liked best of Pine's version of the character is how he shows us a new Jack Ryan who is in way over his head but is able to solve his problems quickly. Pine does great at making Ryan keep his cool and using his brains when fighting. Costner is great here as the mentor Harper. He is just right for the part in being the guy guiding Ryan. Knightley is a joy to watch here as Ryan's fiancé Dr. Muller. Cathy is no damsel in distress and Knightley plays her as a smart woman who can call out Jack's lies. Branagh is the supporting standout as the villain Viktor Cherevin. With this , Branagh brings a menace to the big screen, who is very reckless, yet he also has superiors to answer to. I also enjoyed how Branagh made Viktor a sophisticated character too in showing that this man is very smart.

I also quite enjoyed the technical work put in here. There is excellent cinematography and editing. I was also amazed at the work done in the sound department that makes the film work well. I even quite enjoyed the visual effects in the film, which were realistic.

Her
(2013)

A Beautiful, Touching Comedy-Drama
To this day, I still find it amazing that filmmaker Spike Jonze started his career with doing a lot of work associated with MTV and Jackass. Since that, Jonze has proved himself to be a legitimate feature filmmaker with Bein John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are in his resume. Jonze has now shown himself to be a great filmmaker again with his latest comedy-drama, Her.

Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man. He lives in a Los Angeles apartment alone and has a job where he writes letters for others and sends them out at the end of the day. Theodore is sad mainly because of his impending divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Subsquently, Theodore purchases a new operating system with artificial intelligence, which is designed to have a real relationship with him. After the operating system has set up, Theodore begins to talk to it like a regular person. The operating system has taken the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). From there on, Theodore and Samantha have a real relationship and Theodore is a lot happier, but not all the time. Theodore has a nice time with a blind date (Olivia Wilde) until she says that she wants a commitment. But, Theodore also has become closer to his neighbor Amy (Amy Adams), who he dated briefly in college.

Spike Jonze has always directed scripts written by others or ones that he co-wrote. Her marks the first time Jonze is directing a feature he wrote by himself. As a director, Jonze shows his skill with showing us where to look and what's important to his story. Jonze also does some very brilliant work as a writer in setting up the blueprints to this film and creating a world in the not too distant future where technology has made many advancements. As a writer and director, Spike Jonze tells a story that made me feel happy, sad, and emotionally invested in these characters.

Joaquin Phoenix is the heart and soul of Spike Jonze's Her. Phoenix gives his best performance since Walk the Line. With the role of Theodore Twombley, Phoenix gives us a raw and emotional performance. Phoenix makes Theodore into somebody who is lonely, funny, romantic, and heartbreaking at the same time. Phoenix carries this film on his shoulders and makes us feel for Theodore and relate to him.

The ladies surrounding Phoenix all do great jobs with their part. Scarlett Johansson makes herself stand out using only her voice as Theodore's operating system, Samantha. Johansson makes us also interested in knowing about Samantha the same way Theodore does. Amy Adams also makes herself stand out as neighbor Amy. Adams shows her raw side here too as her husband leaves her and she finds herself in a situation just like Theodore's. Rooney Mara is nice to see as ex-wife Catherine. While her character isn't fully fleshed out, Mara does fine with her role of Catherine, moreso showing her frustration and irritation with her ex-husband. Olivia Wilde was also nice to see as the blind date who was trying to start something too fast. Even though he's no lady, Chris Pratt also has a nice brief role as Theodore's co-worker and friend Paul. While this role wasn't a stretch, Pratt is nice comic relief for the film.

Along with the hard work and efforts of Jonze, Phoenix, and the cast, the crew does some beautiful work from a technical standpoint. Director of Photography Hoyte van Hoytema does very beautiful camera work and lighting here with capturing Los Angeles at day and night. K.K. Barrett, who has worked as production designer on Spike Jonze's previous features, does his best work here at bringing Los Angeles in the near future to life. I enjoyed the collaboration here as Jonze and Barrett do a nice job with the possibilities of how much technology could advance, but making the look feel that it's still a world we as and audience can still relate to. Arcade Fire provided the score and do a lovely job with the piano music. I also highly enjoyed "The Moon Song", which plays when Theodore goes on vacation to the mountains.

Her is a beautiful, wonderful comedy-drama with many laugh out loud moments. It also is an interesting look into what the future may hold.

Inside Llewyn Davis
(2013)

Coen Brothers Continue Their Excellence with Oscar Isaac Anchoring
It goes without saying that Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, a.k.a. The Coen Brothers, are among the top working filmmakers today. They keep showing us repeatedly why they are among the best and proved it again with their latest flick, Inside Llewyn Davis.

The title character, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer who is not living an ideal life. Llewyn gets himself gigs every once in a while, he lives in New York City, but his records are not selling, his former singing partner has killed himself, and he is crashing on the couches of his friends since he does not have a home. With all of the troubles Llewyn has going on in his life, he cannot catch a break. His friend Jim (Justin Timberlake) cannot give him money without his wife Jean (Carey Mulligan) finding out. Jean is also pregnant and thinks that the child is Llewyn's. She wants an abortion and for Llewyn to pay for it. Inside Llewyn Davis focuses on one week of the title character's life as he does whatever he can to change his life.

The Coen Brothers are still among the true auteurs out there and still have been doing what they've been doing for 30 years and produce excellent results. Inside Llewyn Davis shows us the Coens have a keen interest in showing us a character who is a loser and make us be interested in this character. As writers, the Coens have crafted a unique story in 1960's New York with quirky characters.

At the front and center of the film is Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis. Isaac is very interesting here in becoming this guy who is having no success as a folk singer. Isaac's strong points in his performance are in making us feel sympathy for a guy who is a loser that can't catch a break. Isaac proves that he can make a great leading man.

The rest of the cast do their contributions nicely. Carey Mulligan is the best of the supporting cast as Jean, Jim's wife and a woman who thinks Llewyn is a scumbag but cares for him too. Justin Timberlake is good here as a Jim, a fellow folk singer who brings on Llewyn for a song he wrote. Garrett Hedlund and John Goodman are also fun in their roles as fellow musicians who are travelling to Chicago and let Llewyn ride with them. F. Murray Abraham even has a nice cameo as the owner of a Chicago venue who gives Llewyn an audition.

The technical aspects of this film are well done, like all Coen Brother films. Oscar winner T-Bone Burnett is the music producer and does a nice job with having the music all fit the film. There is beautiful cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel. Frequent Coen collaborator Jess Gonchor does a nice job with the production design and making the sets feel authentic to the time period. Also involved is another frequent Coen collaborator is costume designer Mary Zophres who does not disappoint here. The other major highlight is "Please Mr. Kennedy", a song in the film that Llewyn contributes to recording.

The Wolf of Wall Street
(2013)

For Martin Scorsese Fans
Needless to say, but Martin Scorsese is one of the best living directors, and has kept the consistency. He has brought us classics such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull to Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and my favorite, The Departed. But now Mr. Scorsese has brought us another great film that is a must see for all Scorsese fans, The Wolf of Wall Street.

With this film, Scorsese is collaborating with star Leonardo DiCaprio for the fifth time. Here, DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street stock broker who never knew when to say quit. The film begins with him starting out at a Wall Street firm manning phones. Shortly after beginning work, his boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) takes him out for lunch and coaches him on how to survive on Wall Street by recommending to Jordan to take up his lifestyle of drugs and prostitutes. After a the firm goes out of business, Jordan's wife Teresa (Christin Milioti) finds a job in the want ads that will fit him. His new boss Dwayne (Spike Jonze) gives him new information about the stocks his place sells and offers an unusual reward if he sells ten thousand dollars worth of stock. Jordan's selling strategy hugely impresses all of his coworkers and earns him a fortune.

At a diner, Jordan meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a salesman who coincidentally is a neighbor of Jordan's who wants in on his business. Shortly after, they have their own firm and recruit some of Jordan's old coworkers to join in. Standing out among them is Jordan's friend Brad (Jon Bernthal), who also deals drugs. However, the firm has become wild and crazy, which causes Jordan to hire his dad Max (Rob Reiner) to handle the finances. Jordan also throws many wild and crazy parties involving drugs and sex. At one of his parties, Jordan meets Naomi (Margot Robbie), and they hit it off leading to a divorce from Teresa and a new marriage to Naomi. Jordan's actions lead to an investigation of him and his firm Stratton Oakmont by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler).

In the three hour run time Martin Scorsese has put on this film, he gives his audience a wild and crazy ride through the life of Jordan Belfort. As a storyteller, Scorsese doesn't hold anything back. He is not afraid to show us the sex these characters have or have us witness these people doing drugs. I do think that some parts of the film could have been trimmed down, but Scorsese keeps everything in that is important to Jordan's story. The times does fly by quickly. Terence Winter wrote the script and does a great job of making the story run smoothly. Winter does a great job at writing out the dialogue for each of the characters, but the cast also does excellent at bringing Winter's script to life.

Leonardo DiCaprio continues to show why he keeps starring in Scorsese's films, and shows a lot of greatness here as Jordan Belfort. With this role, DiCaprio brings confidence, craziness, determination, and a lot more. DiCaprio fleshes out this character and makes him into somebody who is living his dream, but doesn't know when to say quit. The rest of the cast is great too. I truly enjoyed Margot Robbie as Jordan's second wife Naomi. She takes this role of the wife and makes her into a strong and attractive who knows how to stand up to her husband. Rob Reiner is great as Jordan's dad Max who is there for his son and goes nuts at times but can turn the craziness off at the right time. Jon Bernthal is also great as Jordan's drug dealing friend Brad. Jonah Hill is good as Jordan's right hand man Donnie Azoff, but excessively over the top. The standout of the supporting cast is Kyle Chandler as FBI agent Patrick Denham. Chandler is excellent as the agent who was assigned to the case. With his scenes, Chandler makes some great acting choices with his eyes that indicate Denham's intelligence.

Like all of Scorsese's films, there are some great things that stand out technically too. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is nice with the lighting in each scene. Thelma Schoonmaker, who has been editing Scorsese's films since Raging Bull, does a lot of great work with making each scene dramatic or exciting and putting the whole thing together.

While I highly enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street, I must say that this is not for everyone. I recommend this for Martin Scorsese fans and those who enjoy great acting.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
(2013)

For the Adventurer in All of Us
Ben Stiller has shown himself to be one of the hardest working and most dedicated actor-directors in today's cinema. He again proves himself here with his latest directed film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Stiller stars as the title character. Right away, we see who Walter is as a person. Stiller shows us what Walter's life is like as he is somebody who is conscientious with his money spending, cares about his mother, and lives a lonely life. Walter has begun to set up an account with eHarmony, but cannot come up with anything creative to put in it. But he continues to look at the profile of one Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). He tries to send her a wink on the site, but it doesn't work. Walter then enlists the help of an eHarmony employee named Todd (Patton Oswalt), but still can't provide him with much information. At the same time, Walter has a habit of zoning out at various times during his day and ends up missing out on a lot, as he is one who can use lessons from Ferris Bueller.

We then see Walter show up for work at Life magazine, where he looks at the negatives for photos. When he arrives to work at the beginning of the film, he finds out that the current issue will be the last one publish and Walter has to look at the latest negatives sent in by photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn). Walter gets a message from Sean saying that negative #25 of the bunch is the best of the set and thinks that one should be the final cover. Trouble brews when Walter looks at the negative and notices 25 is gone. This prompts Walter to go out into the world more and look for clues to find Sean and retrieve the missing negative.

Ben Stiller's previous two directorial efforts, Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, were both entertaining with a lot of slapstick humor. With The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Stiller as a director toned down the slapstick, but still has plenty of humor in the film and does a nice job of putting heart into the story. Stiller also makes some great choices in making us know when Walter is zoning out and making us interested in figuring out the clues too. I also highly enjoyed how Stiller put in the message of going out there, living life, and showing what can be accomplished. Stiller has made a film here for the adventurer in all of us.

Stiller even does an excellent job of carrying this film on his shoulders as the lead actor. Stiller is great at making us like Walter and want him to succeed on his quest. The strongest part of Stiller's performance is that he makes Walter an ordinary guy who we can relate to. The entire ensemble does their part too. Kristen Wiig plays Cheryl, Walter's love interest. Wiig does a nice job of being Walter's motivation to go out there and do what he would not think about doing. Adam Scott plays Ted, Walter's new boss. Scott has shown before his capability of playing jerks like he did in Step Brothers, and brings that same kind of nastiness to his character here. Patton Oswalt is hilarious in his cameo as Todd, the eHarmony employee. Kathryn Hahn has a brief part as Walter's sister. Shirley MacLaine was also fun to see appear here as Walter's mother who gives him even more motivation and support. Sean Penn was the best of the supporting cast as the famed photographer Sean O'Connell. Penn has a great scene with Walter with a great monologue.

Steve Conrad wrote the screenplay based off of the short story and does a nice job of making the blueprints to this story about an ordinary man who does some amazing things. The cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh is very breathtaking. His capturing of the scenery made we want to go out there and see it for myself in person. There is also some inspiring music by longtime Ben Stiller collaborator Theodore Shapiro.

American Hustle
(2013)

An Excellent Goodfellas Vibe, But Something Different
Wow, filmmaker David O. Russell has come a long way to becoming one of the most popular filmmakers today. Recently having impressed audiences with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, Russell has struck gold a third time in a row with his latest flick, American Hustle.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a man from the Bronx who sports a comb over hairstyle. He works in running cons with his lover Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). They have been doing successful in conning people to giving them money thanks to Sydney's fake British persona Edith Greensley. Even though they are succeeding, they're lives are complicated by Irving's wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who he refuses to divorce out of fear of not being allowed to see his son. It isn't until FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) tricks them by being a customer and then arresting Sydney. Feeling attracted to Sydney, Richie will release them on the condition that they help him arrest four other con artists.

In order to set this up, Irving has one of his friends pose as an Arab Sheik looking to invest in American business. An associate suggests doing business with Camden, NJ mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who is looking to legalize gambling. David O. Russell's film is one of mystery, craziness, and you don't really know who is conning who until it is all revealed at the end.

David O. Russell continue to show his excellence in directing. Russell does just right at pointing the camera at what is important to the story and how what is happening pays off. Another way Russell shows his skill as a story teller is keeping us interested in these characters, who are not really likable.

Eric Warren Singer and Russell co-wrote the script, which gives the film a nice Goodfellas vibe. With the majority of their screenplay focused on Irving and Sydney, it gives us a nice insight into what is in it for each of these characters and how they are all developed.

Christian Bale does an excellent job leading this ensemble as the con man who wants business. Bale dedicates himself to this performance by having gained weight and giving Irving an interesting looking comb over hairstyle. With this role, Bale shows us a guy who does his best to keep his cool despite what he's going through. Amy Adams is knocks her role out of the park as Bale's co-lead and Irving's lover Sydney Prosser. Adams does some impressive work not just as a con artist tricking people with her British accent, but also keeping us on our toes in making us unsure if she is loyal to Irving or Richie. Bradley Cooper is the best in show here as FBI agent Richie DiMaso. As Richie, Cooper showed us how much he has grown as an actor. I liked the choices Cooper made in showing us how much charge Richie is taking and keeping things in order, while trying to please his unhappy boss. Jennifer Lawrence is a riot as she pulls off the role of a 1970's New York housewife. Lawrence engulfs herself into looking the part to a tee, with the hairstyle and dresses she wears. Lawrence does so by using the mannerisms used then and how she gets nosy into her husband's business. Jeremy Renner does some nice work as the mayor who wants to do what he can to bring business to Camden and be able to get the economy going. I even enjoyed the cameo by Robert De Niro as Victor Tellegio, a mob boss who is also looking to do business in Atlantic City.

I also quite enjoyed some of the technical aspects to it. The production design of the film done by Judy Becker was so well done, I felt like I was right there in 1970's New York. The costumes designed by Michael Wilkinson felt authentic to the time period depicted in the film. The soundtrack also had a lot of great tunes that also contributed to the Goodfellas vibe I was getting.

Nebraska
(2013)

Alexander Payne Adds Another Excellent Film to His Resume
With his first five films, director Alexander Payne has put us with the main characters as they go through their lives. Going from seeing Ruth caught up in a war between pro life and pro choice in Citizen Ruth, to seeing Miles spend a week with his best friend Jack before Jack gets married in Sideways, to witnessing Matt King decide on the fate of his land after finding out about his wife's infidelity in The Descendants. This time, Payne has put us with through a journey with a geriatric in his latest comedy-drama, Nebraska.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an old man who lives in Billings, Montana. Woody has won a prize containing a million dollars. There's a catch: Woody has to go Lincoln, Nebraska and turn in his confirmation letter to claim his prize. He is determined to get there, even if he has to walk. He has even been stopped numerous times and it has driven his wife Kate (June Squibb) crazy. Woody's son David (Will Forte) reluctantly agrees to take him there, even though he thinks there is no million dollar prize. Payne has his film focused on Woody and David and their journey to Lincoln. Primarily, the film takes place in the small town of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where Woody is from and where his relatives live.

Alexander Payne has been an excellent director and continues to show his excellence with Nebraska. Payne does a great job of having what is important to each scene and pointing the camera to what is crucial to the film. Payne does some nice work with shot selection and keeping the story interesting, funny, and having a nice pace.

Bruce Dern stands out in every way possible. With the role of Woody Grant, Dern makes him more than a geriatric who is determined to claim his prize. Dern shows us a man who has lived a long life, who can be very funny, but there are times where we don't know if Woody is even listening to anyone else. Dern takes this role of Woody and makes him into a likable, three dimensional character. Will Forte plays Woody's son David. David takes time off his job to spend time with his father. Forte is primarily known for laugh out loud comedy films such as The Watch and That's My Boy. With this role, Forte trades some of that comedy and shows us that he is capable of doing drama. Forte also gives us a guy who is frustrated at his father's actions, but at the same time cares about his old man. June Squibb knocks the role of Kate Grant out of the park. She plays Woody's annoyed and frustrated wife, and plays the role of a crabby old lady who is annoyed at her husband's actions and always speaks her mind. I like how Dern, Forte, and Squibb let all of their emotions out there and not hold back.

The rest of the cast all do fine jobs in their parts. From a technical standpoint, the best aspect is the beautiful cinematography by the Director of Photography, Phedon Papamichael. Papamichael captures very beautiful shots of the scenery when Woody and David are on the road and also does great work with the camera in capturing the small town and making me feel like I am there. Mark Orton does a nice job with putting in a country score that fits with the atmosphere Papamichael captured on camera. Kevin Tent does a nice job of putting the film together and getting the cuts just right. Bob Nelson wrote the script and does a nice job of making Nebraska as more than a father and son road trip movie. Nelson also does a great job of writing the characters so the actors can develop them and show their talents. The rest of the ensemble cast does a nice job of fitting their roles just right as Payne has an eye for having the right people play each character.

Delivery Man
(2013)

Vince Vaughn Leads a Funny Touching Film
Having been a Vince Vaughn fan for many years, I think he is one of today's best comic thespians. He shows it again here in Delivery Man, however, even though this is a comedy, this film is a minor departure from what Vince Vaughn usually does.

David Wozniak (Vaughn) is an irresponsible underachieving slacker who doesn't even cut it at his own job. David works at his father's butcher shop delivering meat in a truck, which is where the title. After a day where he gets multiple parking tickets, and fails to even come through on the simplest of responsibilities, he goes to see his girlfriend, Emma (Cobie Smulders). Emma reveals to David that she is pregnant, and tells David that he needs to shape up and change his life if he wants them to stay together. Returning home, David finds a lawyer in his apartment who informs him of how in the early 90's, he donated sperm to a clinic for a very unusual number of times, which has resulted in him being the biological father of 533 children. David is then informed that 142 of those want to know who their father is. The children only know him by the code name Starbuck. Legally, David has the right to privacy and not reveal he is Starbuck, but the children who want to find out think they have the right to know. David then goes to consult his best friend/lawyer Brett (Chris Pratt) on what he should do. Brett advises him to not reveal himself and gives him the records of each kid who wants to find out Starbuck's true identity. However, David opens it and looks at one, who turns out to be playing for the New York Knicks. Then he looks at other pictures, and looks for opportunities to show acts of kindness. At the same time, David owes a lot of money to some loan sharks. This story is mainly about a man who transitions from being irresponsible to being somebody who changes his life and grows as a person.

As I said, Vince Vaughn has proved his talents as a comedic actor with roles such as Peter LaFleur in Dodgeball and Jeremy Gray in Wedding Crashers. With the role of David Wozniak, Vaughn has shown that he still has he comic talents, but has also grown as an actor and shows us that he can handle adding some drama to the mix with this character. Vaughn is great at showing us this man who transforms his life and makes David to be a likable guy. Chris Pratt is hilarious as Brett, David's best friend and lawyer. With this best friend role, Pratt is great at making Brett to be somebody who cares about his best friend, yet is off the wall at times. While David is growing as a person, Brett shows that he can handle responsibility in handling David's case. Cobie Smulders is also very good in her role as Emma, David's pregnant girlfriend. Smulders is one of few actresses who can pull off what sounds like the typical girlfriend role. Yet Smulders makes Emma into a woman who knows what she wants and how to stand her ground on that. I liked how Smulders makes Emma into that strong woman who cares about her boyfriend. The actors who play all of David's kids do fine jobs and show that they are all lost kids who are in need of a friend.

Delivery Man is written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Ken Scott, who has remade his original film Starbuck for American audiences. Scott's work here shows that he is capable of telling the story and being able to get what he wants out of his cast. Scott also knows how to play the humor and let the situations be what makes the film funny. In addition to Scott's efforts, there is also a nice score from composer Jon Brion, who knows how to capture the mood of each scene. Eric Edwards, who has shot films for Gus Van Sant, Judd Apatow, and other Vince Vaughn starring films, is the Director of Photography on Delivery Man. Edwards does a nice job of beautifully capturing the look and feel of New York City and nicely lights each scene with attention to detail.

Frozen
(2013)

A Nice New Addition for Disney
Disney is always known for and loved as a studio with its animated musicals for the whole audience, something for both the kids and adults. Last year, Disney expanded by not doing a musical with Wreck-It Ralph. Now, Disney is back with Frozen, a musical that fits in with Disney classics.

The film starts off with Anna and Elsa, two princesses who live in their parents' kingdom. Elsa has the ability to make Winter weather at any time, to which she and her sister have fun with it until her power accidentally hits Anna in the head and knocks her out. As Elsa's power grows stronger, she locks herself away from everyone, including her sister. When the time for her to be named queen, Elsa is afraid of what everyone will see, but keeps herself calm until Anna announces her engagement to Prince Hans, who she has just met. This causes an outrage in Elsa, who walks away in rage, but not without Anna giving her the third degree as to why. Elsa leaves for the North Mountain, and unintentionally causes an eternal winter in her home of Arendelle. When she makes it, she realizes that it's okay to not be afraid of her powers, and builds herself an ice palace (played over with the brilliant number "Let It Go"). Anna now makes it her mission to find her sister and bring back Summer. On the way, she enlists the help of an ice trader named Kristoff, his reindeer Sven, and an eccentric snowman named Olaf.

The cast all does a good job and worked their voices into their characters. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel do some very nice work as the two princesses, Anna and Elsa. They both do nice of making their characters as great counterparts to one another and pull off their roles as sisters. Jonathan Groff is entertaining as Kristoff, the ice salesman who joins in Anna's quest to bring summer back. Alan Tudyk, who did some excellent work in last year's Disney film, Wreck-It Ralph, is hilarious in his minimal role here as the Duke of Weselton. The real stand out in this film is Josh Gad of Book of Mormon fame as Olaf the snowman. Gad does some brilliant work of making Olaf the comic relief who is always keeping positive and never in the way.

The story is loosely based off of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" and the directors do a nice job of making their own thing, like many Disney movies before it. The animation is nicely done and has some great visuals and shot sequences. In addition to that is a brilliant score by Christophe Beck and some great songs that made for memorable musical numbers, some funny and some serious. "Let It Go" is the best of all the musical numbers.

Gravity
(2013)

A Feast for the Eyes from a Visionary Director
Seven years is too long of a wait for a director to bring out his latest film. That is the case with director Alfonso Cuarón. His most recent outing, Children of Men, came out in 2006. But to this movie fan, it was well worth the wait.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space shuttle mission. She is accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is on his last mission. While in space, the astronauts find out about debris being through space destroying anything in its way. The mission is aborted, leaving the shuttle destroyed, and the astronauts stranded in space. While Stone is stranded and freaked out, Kowalski comes to her as they only have 90 minutes until the debris returns around the earth. The two keep trying to contact Mission Control in Houston to no avail. They make it back to the shuttle, to find the remaining crew dead and the shuttle damaged beyond repair. There is a nearby Soyuz that they can make it to nearby. However, that is also damaged beyond repair and the ship used to take astronauts home is also gone. They end up at the International Space Station, thanks to Kowalski's thruster. However, his momentum is pulling them both away. But Kowalski's confidence assures her that she can fly the damaged Soyuz module to a nearby Chinese space station with a landing module based on how the Soyuz is designed.

This is a very powerful film with a great story, thanks to the many efforts of visionary director Alfonso Cuarón. His direction keeps the story exciting, entertaining, and makes us wonder what will happen next. The story is simple, yet effective. Cuarón proves that less is more. He does a nice job of combining story and structure. He does some excellent and creative work with the camera and showing us very nice shots of what is happening. Cuarón wrote the screenplay with his son Jonás Cuarón. Together, they wrote a simple script, but show that you don't need a lot of words to make an effective script.

Sandra Bullock gives the best performance of her career at the front and center of this film. She does excellent at showing the many emotions of Dr. Ryan Stone. She does a great job at being the newbie who is freaked out, but able to get calm and rely on what she knows and what she can do in order to make it back to Earth safely. As an audience, we feel sympathy for Stone and want her make it back. Bullock shows her will and desire, and more importantly her perseverance as Stone. George Clooney is fun and entertaining in his role as Matt Kowalski. Clooney brings his confidence and zaniness to the role. With this performance, Clooney shows us a guy who knows his stuff and can keep calm in a tough situation.

With this story, there are many great technical aspects. The big standout are the visual effects. The visual effects team in this film make us as an audience feel like we are in space with Stone and Kowalski. They also do a very nice job with the efficiency of little things floating in space, and not overdoing with the debris flying. Alfonso Cuarón's longtime director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki does some very beautiful work with the camera, especially with the pans in the continuous shots. Cuarón also edited this, which he collaborated with Mark Sanger. Together, they did a very efficient and compelling job of cutting when necessary and showing us what is important to see in this story. The sound design is also very effective and does a great job at putting together the dialogue of the actors, and hearing the noises of the space stations, and powerful when debris crashes. The other big technical standout is the loud and moving music by composer Steven Price. His score is effective at knowing when things are calm and when trouble is imminent.

Enough Said
(2013)

Nicole Holofcener Puts Together a Nice Romantic Comedy
I got to watch this new romantic comedy from writer-director Nicole Holofcener. I always find myself interested in seeing what women do behind the camera, and Miss Holofcener does a nice job with this cast and script she wrote.

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a masseuse who spends her days going to her customers' houses and gives them their massages while hearing them talk about their lives. At the same time, she dreads about her daughter going off to college. She goes with her friends Will (Ben Falcone) and Sarah (Toni Collette) to a party where she meets some new people, two in particular. Marianne (Catherine Keener), a poet who becomes a new customer for Eva. Eva also meets Albert (James Gandolfini), who is a TV historian. At the party, Eva says that there is nobody there she is attracted to. Albert says the same. Later, Eva finds out that Albert is interested in her, so they go out. Eva is very happy with the date and the two become romantically involved. Shortly after, she keeps giving Marianne massages regularly and the two become friends. The only complaint Eva has about Marianne is how she rips on her ex-husband too much. Albert also complains about how terrible his ex-wife is. After, Marianne complains about one specific detail regarding her ex, Eva realizes the man she is hearing about is Albert. After finding out that it is him, Eva is doing everything she can to balance being a girlfriend to Albert, and being a good friend to Marianne before things go wrong.

Nicole Holofcener does a very nice job as a director and shows a talent for telling this story that she also wrote. She does a nice job at keeping us interested in Eva and how she manages to balance her life of knowing this couple while worrying about her daughter's impending move. Holofcener creates a funny, witty script that also stays interesting throughout. She also does a nice job directing the cast she has put together.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus does a great job at the front and center of this ensemble as Eva. For Louis-Dreyfus, this is a nice departure from the sitcom world. While this role shows Louis-Dreyfus doing some good dramatic work, she is still funny in the role. She makes the role work really well as the hard working single mother who wants a new romance and to help out her daughter and friends. James Gandolfini is also very great as Albert. As Albert, Gandolfini shows us a man who has a big heart and really likes Eva. Gandolfini also does some nice drama and comedy work here as a guy who cares. Catherine Keener is good here as Eva's new friend and customer who shows a good side and bad side to Marianne. Ben Falcone and Toni Collette are funny as the married couple who bicker a lot.

Rush
(2013)

Excellent Racing Film That Feels Like an Actual Race
Being a fan of Ron Howard as a director, I would say his best films are his historical dramas such as Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, and Cinderella Man. You can now add his newest film, Rush, into that group.

James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) are both Formula One race car drivers with wealthy backgrounds. Hunt has proved himself to be a hard working and winning driver. Hunt is a Brit who has a habit of vomiting before every race and is a well known drinker and ladies man. Lauda first bought his way in to being a driver in the Formula Three circuit, and is a technical genius who knows what works best for the cars he races. Hunt and Lauda meet after a Formula Three race where both of their cars spin out of control and Hunt eventually wins the race. Immediately, they don't like each other. Both of them go their separate ways, only to meet again when they each join the ranks of Formula One. Hunt lands a deal to race for McLaren, while Lauda buys his way into a team that races Ferrari's. The film's primary focus is on the 1976 season, and shows us what Hunt's and Lauda's lives were like on and off the race track. Hunt is seen as a ladies man, who settles down with Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), while Lauda meets Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara) at a party she is ditching. Both racers are very competitive of each other, but don't necessarily have hatred toward each other. They do trash talk to each other, and do their best outdo the other.

Ron Howard's direction of this story, is crisp, rapid, and makes some nice choices that make Rush a very exciting film. Howard is great at showing us various shots of what's going on and gets very creative with the camera. Howard does a great job at keeping us interested in the lives of James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Howard also gets excellent performances from his cast. Peter Morgan, who previously collaborated with Howard on Frost/Nixon, delivers a fast paced and crisp screenplay. I like how Morgan managed to make the script feel like a race in itself when combining Hunt's and Lauda's stories.

The standouts from the cast of Rush are the two leads, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. Hemsworth excellently portrays James Hunt as more than a drinker who parties and hooks up with the ladies. Hemsworth makes Hunt to be a man determined to win and is ambitious to be the best. Chris Hemsworth gives the best performance of his young career. Daniel Brühl also gives the best performance of his career. Brühl shows Niki Lauda to be a sophisticated and knowledgeable driver who knows his cars. Brühl is also excellent at showing a man who wants to win, but eventually knows when to stop racing.

Rush also has a lot of great technical aesthetics to it. One of them is a lot of very unique shots captured by DP Anthony Dod Mantle. Mantle does best at getting the races shown and things happening in the cars and especially point of view shots from the drivers' eyes. The editing by longtime Howard collaborators Dan Hanley and Mike Hill is fast and well put together to tell the story. The makeup department does an excellent job with making Daniel Brühl look like the real Niki Lauda. The music by Hans Zimmer is fast and electric and makes the races more exciting. The sound department does an excellent job of putting together everything, from the actors' dialogue to the music and the sounds of the cars.

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