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Trailer Reviews for May 16, 2014

GODZILLA



I don’t normally get excited for big dumb giant thing movies, but this one looks pretty good. I like how the trailers hold back on the Godzilla reveal to make it clear that it’s a movie with actual characters and story, not just a two hour CGI rampage. There’s a trailer focused on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character that’s even better than this one, but I can’t find it. Anyway, I wish I could go this weekend but I’m camping with my Girl Guides.

MILLION DOLLAR ARM



Dang, I wanted to see this movie too! Oh well. I’m just glad they didn’t decide to make me miss the opening weekend of X-Men: Days of Future Past. I don’t like baseball but I do like sports movies, I guess because they’re less about sports than they are about relationships and overcoming obstacles to become the best version of yourself. The idea of Jon Hamm becoming a ‘big brother’ to a bunch of Indian cricket players nobody thinks will succeed sucks me right in.

THE IMMIGRANT



Hmm. It looked nice, but I’m not sure I got much from this trailer. I get that Marion Cotillard is an immigrant, her sister’s in quarantine (consumption?) and that Joaquin Phoenix probably takes advantage of her while Jeremy Renner loves her, but why is it so quiet? Also, I get worried when I see reviews quoted that describe the movie as like a ‘dream’ or a ‘delusion.’ Dreams and delusions make no sense, and I can’t abide by nonsensical movies.

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DVDs for May 6, 2014

veronica mars

Veronica Mars

Otherwise known as “The Kickstarter Movie.” In a move reminiscent of Firefly, fans of the Nancy-Drew-esque high school murder mystery show Veronica Mars got together and handed series creator Rob Thomas (not the one from Matchbox 20) enough money to make a movie. They got an extra-long mystery featuring grown up Veronica investigating a case that catches her up with all the people she used to know as a teen. This is pretty much a fans-only movie, so try the TV show first.

Buy Veronica Mars on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

art of the steal

The Art of the Steal

There’s an art to making heist movies that aren’t just the same old cliches trotted out all over again, and this movie doesn’t have it. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a reformed thief bands together with his former colleagues to pull off one more heist before they retire, but divisions among the group screw up the plan. The only real difference is that the lead character played by Kurt Russell is (for some reason) an Evel Knievel knockoff. If you mass-consume heist movies, you’ll probably get to it eventually.

Buy The Art of the Steal on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

burn

Burn

I was first introduced to Detroit’s arson problem through Charlie LeDuff’s book Detroit: An American Autopsy. Overworked, underpaid firefighters in run down equipment risk their lives to fight huge numbers of arson fires in abandoned houses before they burn the handful of remaining people out of their homes (Detroit is where arsonists go on vacation). It’s hard hitting stuff, even more so in documentary form. They got some pretty amazing footage, so definitely check it out (especially you, fellow Chicago Fire fans).

Buy Burn on DVD.

generation war

Generation War

In North America, we call our World War II soldiers “The Greatest Generation.” We make endless movies about how they heroically put down those dastardly Nazis, but what if you’re German? What do you call the ’40s generation then? I always preferred the war movies/books that contained at least a single three dimensional Axis character rather than a hoard of cardboard psychopaths, so this miniseries, which follows five young Germans in different wartime roles, seemed like exactly what I’ve been looking for all this time. This is something we should all watch.

Buy Generation War on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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DVDs for April 29, 2014

labor day

Labor Day

Normally I hate movies where the main character is a criminal, but Labor Day broke my rule. Josh Brolin plays a man in prison for murder who escapes and forces a woman (Kate Winslet) and her thirteen-year-old son (Gattlin Griffith) to hide him at their house for the long weekend. The grown-ups fall in love and the kid gets a better father figure than his mom’s remarried ex, so it’s sweet rather than scary. Check it out if you like romantic dramas, or read my review for more.

Buy Labor Day on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

devils due

Devil’s Due

In this low-budget found footage horror movie, Zach Gilford and Allison Miller find themselves in a Rosemary’s Baby meets The Exorcist situation when some cultists kidnap them on their honeymoon and impregnate them (well, her) with a demon baby. Mom’s role in the story is to be creepy, while Dad’s role is to be weirded out and make videotapes of everything. The story’s a bit ridiculous but the acting’s good, so if you’re looking for a new horror movie to watch, try this or read my review for more.

Buy Devil’s Due on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

hercules

Legend of Hercules

There is a Hercules movie starring Dwayne Johnson that’s releasing this summer. This is not that movie. This is a lower (not low) budget version starring Kellan Lutz (best known for being one of the secondary vampires in Twilight). It’s kind of a cross between 300 and Gladiator, with poor misunderstood Hercules getting sold into slavery because he fell in love with the wrong girl. Watch it if you really want to see Kellan Lutz with his shirt off, but if you want to learn the myths, read a book.

Buy Legend of Hercules on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

gimmie shelter

Gimme Shelter

Apparently Vanessa Hudgens is really serious about breaking away from the cutesy good-girl image that’s been following her ever since she starred in High School Musical. First Spring Breakers, now this: a gritty/inspiring drama based on a true story. Hudgens plays a pregnant teen who escapes from her abusive, drug addicted mother, is rejected by her rich absentee father, and finally winds up accepting help from a shelter run by Catholics. If you can stomach the faith aspects, it’s a pretty strong showing.

Buy Gimme Shelter on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Trailer Reviews for April 25, 2014

THE OTHER WOMAN



There are three of them. Shouldn’t it be called The Other Women? The trailer reminds me a lot of John Tucker Must Die and The First Wives Club, but those were funny movies. I don’t think I would mind watching another movie that was like them. Also, that was Taylor Kinney.

THE QUIET ONES



“If we cure one patient, we cure all mankind.” I’m not sure science works that way, dude. Also, yet another thin justification for found footage. Who went and edited it all together in the scariest possible way after you were all sucked into the sky by the ghost/demon/whatever?

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE



“You being so reclusive and everything is probably only going to make people more interested in your music…” and also, you look like Tom Hiddleston and you rarely wear a shirt. That’ll do it every time. It looks pretty funny, but also reeeeeally slow. I’m not sure I’d have the patience.

BRICK MANSIONS



Ugh, and here I’d been thinking parkour looked cool. Way to ruin it, movie.

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DVDs for April 15, 2014

mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

If you like snazzy, colorful, Life magazine photos about people’s experiences, this movie is for you. It follows an archivist as he tracks an elusive photographer across the world looking for the missing photo negative he needs for the cover of the magazine’s final print issue. The story will resonate particularly well with people who have boring lives and who frequently daydream about having adventures, like the titular character does. Read my review for more.

Buy The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

nut job

The Nut Job

If you’re not already sick to death of heist movies, here’s another one. It features squirrels trying to steal nuts from a store so they can survive the winter. Sounds cute, right? It would be, if the lead squirrel wasn’t a self-centered, backstabbing jacka** who lost the winter food supply to start with and is only helping get it back because the store is a front for human bank robbers. A much better animated animal-related food-heist movie is Fantastic Mr. Fox. Rent that one for the kids instead.

Buy The Nut Job on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

philomena

Philomena

This is another nice, quirky British comedy-drama. Steve Coogan plays a jaded journalist who helps Judi Dench’s character find the son the Catholic Church forced her to give up many years ago. Philomena herself is a real person, as is her son, and though they do take a few liberties in the name of story structure, it’s mostly accurate. It’s also an indictment on church adoption policy and a heartwarming buddy/road trip movie, without all the cliches you usually expect (oh no, the car rolled into a pond, etc.) Check it out.

Buy Philomena on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

ride along

Ride Along

Speaking of comedies that are loaded with cliches, here’s Ride Along. A wimpy, video-game obsessed security guard (Kevin Hart) accompanies his fiance’s cop brother (Ice Cube) to work in order to prove himself. The only thing he really proves is that he can get increasingly squeaky and hysterical in response to danger, which I guess is supposed to be funny. Rent it if you must, but the poor dialogue and the lack of original situations for the duo to face will make you wish you’d rented any other buddy cop movie ever made.

Buy Ride Along on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Book Review: Going Over by Beth Kephart

This Random Friday book review is Going Over, a teen historical romance by Beth Kephart. It’s new this month from Chronicle Books. I won a free copy in a Goodreads giveaway.

going over cover
It’s 1983. Wild graffiti artist Ada and cautious astronomer Stefan are dating from opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. Ada wants Stefan to escape from East Berlin. But does he dare?

This book is right up my alley (YA, Cold War, etc.) but we got off to a rocky start. At first Ada seemed selfish to me. She threatens to break up with Stefan unless he risks his life trying to escape. As I learned more of Ada’s secrets, I understood why she needed him with her. She’s strong, but even the strongest person can only handle so much alone.

At sixteen, Ada is already working in a daycare to help her damaged mother and grandmother eke out an existence in a squatter’s village. She’s also trying to protect a little Turkish boy and his abused mother. Ada deals with her feelings by spraypainting them onto the Berlin Wall. Her pictures sound so evocative that I wish I could see them. I also wish the book was a little less cagey. Unpleasant events are never explicitly stated – just hinted at. I’ll always wonder if things were really as bad as I thought.

Ada has plenty to do right from the get-go, but Stefan’s story gets off to a slow start. He spends the first half of the book waffling over whether to try and cross the wall. He’s caught between memories of his visits with Ada and his grandfather’s ill-fated escape attempt. However, once he reveals his desire to pursue a career not open to him in the East and starts gearing up to implement his crazy escape plan (which is based on a true story), he becomes a lot more interesting.

While I enjoyed the plot and characters, I wasn’t keen on the writing style. Ada and Stefan’s stories are told from two of my least favourite perspectives: first person present (I do this, I do that) and second person present (you do this, you do that). First person present is popular in YA because it helps create immediacy, but second person present is unusual and irritating. The author also makes some strange grammatical choices. I assume they’re meant be poetic, but I just found them difficult to swallow.

The author obviously did a lot of research into Berlin, the Cold War, the problems faced by Turkish immigrants, and graffiti. However, I don’t think Going Over is a good introduction to any of these topics. Description and explanation are sparse. This isn’t the first book I’ve read about Cold War Berlin, and even I didn’t understand what was happening at times. To avoid confusion, I suggest reading a few Wikipedia articles before picking up this book.

A good effort, but it didn’t blow me away. I rate it:
category 3

This review brought to you by:
east german graffiti

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DVDs for April 1, 2014

47 ronin

47 Ronin

Based on a true story (sort of), 47 Ronin features a group of samurai who attack a rival faction to get revenge for the death of their master. The difference between this movie and the other 47 million films about Japanese martial arts is that this one is American, stars Keanu Reeves, and is mostly a vehicle for CGI. Paradoxically, this Japanese story will best be enjoyed by people who are not fans of Japanese cinema because it seems so inferior by comparison. However, if you just want to watch some hackey slashy and cool special effects, you might actually enjoy it.

Buy 47 Ronin on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

anchorman 2

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Will Ferrell’s iconic newsman and his entourage emerge from the 1970s and attempt to join the 80s by taking over a 24 hour news channel. Like Anchorman, you’ll either love this movie or hate it. Unfortunately the litmus tests seems to be attempting to watch one of the films. Haters (like me) rarely make it to the end. Some clues that you might not like this movie include: disliking other Will Ferrell movies, being offended by sexist/racist/anythingist jokes, and squirming with agony when characters embarrass themselves. Watch at your own risk.

Buy Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

pirate fairy

The Pirate Fairy

In this straight-to-DVD movie, Disney makes yet another feeble attempt to bring its Princess properties into the 21st century… by slapping a 19th century bar wench outfit on a fairy and setting her up as a misunderstood Tinkerbell villain. She apparently stole some pixie dust and Tinkerbell’s crew has to rescue it whilst attempting to sort out their switched-around powers. It’s a Tinkerbell movie so a lot of little girls will like it, but it mostly leaves me wondering who switched Disney’s brains around with bags of rocks.

Buy The Pirate Fairy on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

knights of badassdom

Knights of Badassdom

Knights of Badassdom is a goofy horror comedy about a group of scewups who accidentally summon a succubus while at a live action roleplaying convention (sort of like a pretend medieval camping trip/battle re-enactment). It’s better than Your Highness, mostly because it stars Peter Dinklage and Ryan Kwanten instead of Danny McBride, but it’s still pretty dumb. You might like it if you’re a fan of that Supernatural episode where Sam and Dean infiltrate a LARP convention as part of a case.

Buy Knights of Badassdom on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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DVDs for March 25, 2014

Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

This movie, which could also be called Douchebags Spend Your Retirement Savings is the latest in a long line of Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio teamups. It tells the true story of a Wall Street stockbroker named Jordan Belfort, who made a buttload of sketchy money and was subsequently tackled by the FBI’s white collar crime division. If you have a heart condition and a burning hatred of fatcat fraudsters, watching this movie will probably kill you.

Buy The Wolf of Wall Street on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

delivery man

Delivery Man

This movie is an Englishization of a Quebec movie called Starbuck. Vince Vaughn plays a screwup who discovers that his sperm bank donations have resulted in the birth of over 500 kids, all of whom want to meet their ‘dad.’ He’s not sure he wants to meet them, so he insinuates himself into their lives without telling them who he is. I’ve never found Vince Vaughn characters as ‘lovable’ as advertised, but you should see this movie just to watch Chris Pratt keep a straight face while being slapped by a toddler.

Buy Delivery Man on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

walking with dinos

Walking with Dinosaurs

This movie was mostly a 3D vehicle made to bring in kids who wanted to see CGI dinosaurs roaming around. While a lot of work was put into the effects, almost none was put into the story. A kid on an archeology trip gets a lecture that turns into a movie about a clumsy little dinosaur whose dinosaur tribe is migrating through a valley full of predators. Bad dialogue, thin plot, and heavy handed lecturing make this a big flop for all but the littlest and least discerning children. Just put on The Land Before Time instead.

Buy Walking with Dinosaurs on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

scooby wrestling

Scooby Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery

Otherwise known as the movie that ruins Scooby Doo. He and the gang travel to a Wrestlemania event (blergh) which is threatened by a ghost bear thing (what??) so the Scooby gang has to solve the mystery before the event can continue. And a bunch of “wrestlers” (sarcastic air quotes) have cartoon cameos. As you can probably guess, I hated big fake wrestling even as a kid (when they were still insisting it was real) but if you or your kids are fans you might like this movie better.

Buy Scooby Doo Wrestlemania Mystery on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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DVDs for March 18, 2014

frozen

Frozen

Frozen is the big-deal cartoon cartoon of the year (it just won an Oscar) but to me, this confused story about a princess trying to get another princess to unfreeze their land is just Disney’s first, fumbling attempt to bring their damsel-in-distress musical model into the 21st Century. The reindeer is cute and the twists on convention are amusing but the songs all sound the same and the plot meanders all over the place. Check out my full review for more.

Buy Frozen on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

saving mr banks

Saving Mr. Banks

If you’ve ever wanted to see a Disney movie about how they get the rights to make movies, this is for you. It follows the (sort of) true story of author Pamela Travers and her twenty year fight with Walt Disney over the rights to her book Mary Poppins. Travers is portrayed as unpleasant and Disney as a giant man-child and their battle is less interesting than the flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in Australia. It’s not strictly true to life but it does make a compelling movie. Read my review for more.

Buy Saving Mr. Banks on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

american hustle

American Hustle

This movie won a bunch of Golden Globes but no Oscars (as is usually the way with Golden Globes and Oscars) and is almost as popular as David O. Russell’s last movie, Silver Linings Playlist. It didn’t appeal to me, but if you like crime dramas where everyone’s in over their head and nobody’s quite sure who’s going to be conned by who when, then you might. It follows a pair of con artists (Christian Bale, Amy Adams) and an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who worm their way into mafia circles in New Jersey.

Buy American Hustle on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

mandela

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

This film, which is based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, is a school history style overview of Mandela’s life, starting with his childhood. It chronicles his opposition to South Africa’s racist Apartheid policy, the time he spent in jail, and his decision to pursue a peaceful resolution. It ends with him becoming president. Since this movie is more about ideology and personal struggle than chronicling the violence of the time, it’s not too gritty to show to young people. With a PG-13 rating, it’s appropriate for classes of junior high schoolers and above.

Buy Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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DVDs for March 4, 2014

catching fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Between accidental revolution/totalitarian government mind-f**ckery and harrowing teenage death-match game show action, Catching Fire was the third best movie of 2013… not that the Academy agrees with me, but when do they ever? I would also rate this movie better than the first Hunger Games, simply because they did away with the shaky-cam and gave Gale (the non-annoying point on the love triangle) more screen time. Read my full review for more or just go ahead and watch it right now.

Buy Catching Fire on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

12 years a slave

12 Years a Slave

Films that win best picture Oscars (like 12 Years a Slave just did) are almost always depressing. Frequently they’re boring and/or pretentious too, at least from the viewpoint of normal people. Thankfully 12 Years a Slave is actually good. It’s a true story based on the life of a free-born African American man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s. As the title suggests, the poor guy spends the next 12 years trying to get back to his family. The subject matter is depressing, but at least it has a relatively happy ending. Check it out.

Buy 12 Years a Slave on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

hours

Hours

Not to be confused with The Hours (a 2002 film about women and suicide), Hours is the story of a distraught father who has just lost his wife and is abandoned at a New Orleans hospital to keep his premature daughter alive on manual life support during Hurricane Katrina. It’s not based on a true story and it’s not particularly well written or made (about average for a B movie), but it is one of the last films Paul Walker had a chance to do before his accident, so if you’re a fan you’ll want to put it on your list.

Buy Hours on DVD.

girl rising

Girl Rising

I was having trouble finding another movie worth talking about on the release list for this week until I came across Girl Rising. It’s a documentary made to support the cause of making sure girls and women in developing countries are safe, educated, and able to direct their own futures. My Girl Guides and I learned about the Girl Effect (giving aid money to women/girls as a way of making sure it actually helps communities) a few years ago and I can tell you that the stories these girls have to tell are very compelling. So check out this movie.

Buy Girl Rising on DVD.

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