“Non-Stop” or “Taken” on a Plane?

I was surprised to see this thriller of 30,000 feet get the amount of critical love that it has. Granted, it has only a 60% on RottenTomates, but hey!, that’s actually certified as “fresh!” I guess we aren’t tired of Liam Neeson action vehicles just yet.

Liam Neeson never stops.

Liam Neeson never stops.

Non-Stop opens up with Neeson staring contemplatively at an airport drinking from a whiskey bottle. Right away we get a glimpse of Neeson’s character Bill Marks: he’s a man with a heavy and hurt past and a dismal future. Marks is an air marshal charged with the task of escorting a flight from NYC to London. With only a few brief encounters, he’s on the plane sitting next to a nervous passenger, Jen Summers (Julianne Moore). Marks is a maverick in his own right, smoking and drinking in the lavatory after taping up the smoke detectors. He gets a text from an unknown number through the private plane network which says unless 150 million dollars isn’t deposited into a bank account, someone on the flight will die every 20 minutes.

What follows is a top of the line thriller. The danger is immediate and the time limit between deaths serves as dramatic tension. Yet with this 20 minute device, the story is episodic. It has stop and go tendencies which is ironic seeing that the title is Non-Stop. Despite that, every episode had me holding my breath.

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t fooled. That’s part my fault (for actually trying to be smarter than the movie) but also the movie’s. If you’re going to give me a mystery give me the breadcrumbs to follow. This was a dire mistake in last year’s Now You See Me. Although, Non-Stop isn’t as egregious or offensive, I felt a little cheated. Oh well.

Neeson as Bill Marks, grizzled hero.

Neeson as Bill Marks, grizzled hero.

Neeson plays his same grizzled lawman with determination. Which is what we are now expecting every time we see him in a new release, right? I didn’t notice any other performance as being misplaced or confusing. Much of the cast were unknowns except for the newly Oscar award winning actress Lupita Nyong’0 who only plays the smallest of roles. This is a strength of the film, having so many unknowns doesn’t make draw any of our eyes any which way. Anyone could be the hijacker.

Jaume Collet-Serra take the director’s chair in this only having directed Leeson’s past feature Unknown and a couple little horror features like Orphan and House of Wax. I’m not going to say he did a “bad job.” But much of what he did didn’t let me focus on the action on the screen. In some sequences, he was movement-happy with the camera. Text messages in the form of super-imposed images floated across the screen. This wasn’t a bad thing to do; it helped heighten the tension, but I feel like it could have been used in a less jarring way.

All around, Non-Stop was a highly-effective thriller which kept me on the edge of my seat. Well-paced, the acting delivered and the script didn’t have much fat on it to be trimmed. But, it won’t change the way you see cinema or move you in a life-changing way. Which is okay.

Rating: Good.

Did you get to see it? Was it more than “Taken on a Plane?” Let me know!

Next up: Need for Speed or Veronica Mars or The Grand Budapest Hotel. 

“The Wind Rises,” Miyazaki’s Final Opus Soars

"The Wind Rises" your spirits.

“The Wind Rises” your spirits.

Hayao Miyazaki has made a name for himself with his masterful and imaginative animated movies beginning with 1986’s Castle in the Sky, even up to winning Best Animated Feature in 2002 with Spirited Away. Although I’ve only seen those mentioned (I plan to see most if not all) I know what makes a Miyazaki film: grace, gorgeous animation, remarkable storytelling and endearing characters.

Miyazaki’s possible final film is no exception.

The Wind Rises is about dreams. We are introduced to a “Japanese boy” named Jiro (Joseph Gord0n-Levitt) whose literal and figurative dream is to design the most gorgeous and best functional airplanes anyone has ever seen. He’s visited by an eccentric Italian mentor, Caproni (Stanley Tucci), periodically in his dreams to drive Jiro’s ambitions and give him inspiration to continue. While traveling back to school an earthquake hits which allows teenage Jiro and a small child, Nahoko (Emily Blunt), to connect through Jiro’s kindness for her guardian. That outgoing gesture paves the way for their relationship down the road.

The plot bounces back and forth with Jiro’s pursuits of inspiration, ingenuity and work with his boss Kurokawa (Martin Short) to his relationships with his friend and peer, Honjo (John Kraskinski). This formula works well with the movie as to not full mix up the focus of each scene, even though characters may become intertwined every once and awhile.

Not only is the story basic enough to follow, it’s also relate-able on all fronts. It speaks to a generation of dreamers with passions of changing the status-quo, raising the bar of excellence and to pursue the inner passion despite the failures that come before you. It also speaks of true love. Not the flittering feelings that comes from a puppy-dog. But a love of support. You’ll feel connected to these characters. Invested in them.

Jiro is a champion of passion.

Jiro is a champion of passion.

Yet it’s not just the incredible storytelling that The Wind Rises has going for it. Its beautiful animation draws you into the scene. Honestly, there was no bad shot in the entire movie. Each one is carefully framed and expertly colored.

To complement the scenery, the sound design was unorthodox as it was a character of its own. Some sounds felt like they were coming from a folly artist’s mouth, which I have no doubt they did. But the background noises and the subjective noises were perfect in that it envelops your senses.  Along with the sound, the score was magical in its own right. There were several styles which changed in different scenarios. When Jiro was in Tokyo, there was a relaxing blend of Japanese and Italian inspired background scores. And when an airplane lifted off, a classic symphony accompanied to help give flight that wonder back to us.

Thank you,Mr.  Miyazaki.

Thank you,Mr. Miyazaki.

Miyazaki has had an amazing career. One that is comparable to Walt Disney. He has created these livable worlds and populated them with kinetic energy and character who we can’t help but love. I plan on watching all of Studio Ghibli’s films with anticipation. Thank you Miyazaki and enjoy your much earned retirement.

Rating: Extraordinary! 

Seriously, if you have the chance, please experience this movie in theaters. If I had seen it before my Top 10 of 2013 List, it definitely would have made it. Life.

What are your favorite Miyazaki pictures? I’m planning on seeing My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle next. What others should I see?

Thanks for reading.

Next up: (Possibly) The Grand Budapest Hotel. 

“The LEGO Movie” is awesome

Could the title be anything else? Nah, I don’t think so.

Even Emett (Chris Pratt) is awesome.

Even Emett (Chris Pratt) is awesome.

My reaction when I hear there will be a LEGO movie: alright…? My reaction when I see the trailer: Looks hilarious. Ticket sold. My reaction when actually watching it: Oh myidjfksiskjs!!!!!

Yeah. To put it short, I loved it. It is definitely the Cabin in the Woods of this year. Not in the way of genre or flair, but how that it took the premise of the movie and blew it up a hundred fold. It’s more than what you see. The LEGO Movie proves that mediocrity with a silly premise is NEVER an option.

And this comes from the minds of the directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Millerwho continues to take these properties like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street and expands on the roots of the idea to make it more than the sum of its pieces. Pun (?) intended.

I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t raised on LEGOs. Whenever I went over to my cousins’ we would dump theirs out and watch them play with them in their magnificence while I tried to slap together a blocky fortress. Mine didn’t turn out too well. But I understood what LEGOs meant to their fans. It’s about imagination, fun, inventiveness, storytelling, and everything in between. You can make what the box suggests into your favorite movie car or spaceship, or you can make whatever you want. With LEGOs, the possibilities are endless. That’s where Lord and Miller begin.

Quick synopsis. In the intricate world of LEGO, Emmet (Chris Pratt), is an unspecial constructor who follows the status quo while singing the generic, happy theme “Everything is Awesome.” He stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance one day after work which has the power to stop Lord Business’ (Will Ferrell) super weapon to freeze all its victims. With the help of WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), a hilarious Batman (Will Arnett) and a group of other master-builders to stop Lord Business’ evil plans. Master-builders are those who have the capabilities to build whatever they want out of the world of LEGOs. Emett must find himself to become one of these in order to save the metropolis. 

Phew. It’s best to go in with only a shallow knowledge of the movie to let it unfold before you, but that’s the main gist.

LEGOThere are so many elements of  The LEGO Movie that I loved. First, the world is remarkable. Everything is made out of LEGOs, even the water. This gives the movie such unique animation aesthetic that isn’t found anywhere else. They even play jokes out of it such as Liam Neeson’s Good Cop/Bad Cop character who changes his head around for alternate personalities. And if there are items that aren’t LEGOs, they are held as weird, rare and have mystical power like the Piece of Resistance.

One of the reservations I have is the ability to speak to its audience. No doubt it will make 20-somethings laugh and enjoy through its hour and 41 minute runtime. Yet it may go over an elderly crowds’ heads. It might even be too fast and chaotic for them. And what about kids? It is a kids’ movie right? Not really. The jokes play more off of wordplay rather than strict physical comedy. I’ve heard through the grapevine that kids get bored and want to leave. So, parents, be cautious when taking your kids and be prepared.

When the media wave plummeted on our TVs and theater screens, I told myself that the humor reminds me of a smart and witty 12 year old who you would love to play LEGOs with. And that’s consistent through the movie. The writers understand what WE would be saying and doing with unlimited power and LEGOs when we were that age. And that’s where the movie finds its magic.

I love one-off movies like the aforementioned Cabin in the Woods. But if Lord and Miller have more up their sleeve that can hold a candle to this masterpiece, give it to me and give it to me now. Watch out Pixar, we have a new player in town ready to take your animated pedestal.

Rating: Extraordinary!

Next up: The Wind Rises. 

Theodore Twombly fell in love with “Her,” and so did I

her2I’ve been putting this off for way too long. I’ve seen it twice, the most of all the Best Picture nominated films. Once on opening night. I let it sink in enough until I took my second helping. Of course, the second viewing of any movie isn’t as good as the first unless we’re talking about The Sixth Sense or Memento. But I felt I had to see Her twice before truly appreciating the beauty that it has throughout it.

What can I say that hasn’t been said already? Probably nothing. I’ll do my best though.

In a near-future Los Angeles, the hipsters have truly taken over. And I’d be okay with that if it meant that we would have pants that stayed up without the need of a belt, soft shades of bright colors lining our walls and on our clothes, and technology that kept up with our fast-paced lifestyles. We’re introduced to Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a calm-mannered proxy writer. His voice writes sentimental love letters on behalf of a significant other. Theodore’s emotional journey begins when he downloads the latest Operating System, OS1, an artificially intelligent secretary living inside computers and cell phones. This is where we meet Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), Theodore’s OS1. She is quickly learning about the outside world which does nothing but excite her and her ambitions for life.

What comes out is the most unexpected sci-fic, romantic-comedy, drama that has probably ever graced the screen. Even though that mixture of genres is so niche, that’s what makes it so special. Who would’ve thought that this premise would actually work? Director Spike Jonze works his magic at selling every bit of his self-penned screenplay. Everything from the set decoration to the acting to the atmospheric music. All of this is carefully framed, lit and shot beautifully.

Now, it’s not a perfect movie. I have just a couple gripes such as taking one scene out to make another more meaningful. Also, one plot device doesn’t make sense: how does a computer have a sexual awakening without the aid of the proper brain chemicals where those sensations come from? Head scratching for sure. In any case, I can excuse those devices for the most part.

Although it is a story about a man and his computer, it is very much a love story. The two grow to learn and understand each other, experience jealousy and miscommunication and ultimately become different beings at the end.

And the film works on so many different levels. It can show something about our dependence and devotion on technology can never trump the personal one-on-one relationships. It can also be a weird allegory about our long-distance relationships; which I personally would never endorse. Anyone can insert themselves into this unorthodox pairing, man or woman.

Ultimately, Her isn’t a “feel good” movie. Theodore’s and Samantha’s relationships has dips and highs that make you feel the way they do. You’re with them through it all, the thick and the thin. But at the climax you’ll appreciate the ones beside you as you strive to move on from heartbreak.

Did I give justice to this movie? Absolutely not. If I had seen it before 2013 turned 2014, it would have topped my Top 10 list. The best advice I can give regarding this movie is to go see it ASAP if you haven’t already. I wish I put it out sooner but alas, it must be forgotten in this mess of early year mediocrity we are now experiencing.

Grade: Extraordinary!

What did you think of Her? Is it an instant classic as I propose it is? Or is it a flash in the pan for Jonze? Let me know.

Next up: The Lego Movie. 

2013 Loose-ends Review Blitz

2013 is a long way behind us and there are many movies that I didn’t give their due for one reason or another. It’s like having a sneeze that just can’t get out so I have to hold some pepper up to my nose. Just get it out so I feel better.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be as brief as I can and give a numerical value and a finalizing word on it. Slap it on the bare bottom and let it go into the wild. Let’s do this!

Don JonDon Jon- 9/10

As you may recall from my Best of 2013 List, “Don Jon” held my #2 spot just being “Into Darkness.” This hit a reality that many think of but is rarely explored in cinema. It’s about reality versus fantasy, about the meaning of relationships, and about sex versus love. It’s a poignant film with taboo material that will make your cringe at times but for the right reasons. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s confident directing hand only adds to the experience.

Must watch.

Dallas Buyers Club- 9/10 dallas buyers club

I have never been so happy when I saw both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto grab their Golden Globes last Sunday night. But I’ll be even more happy if they grab the rightly deserved Academy Awards next month. They are nominated and favorites so far. “Dallas Buyers Club” begins with the most despicable character you can imagine; McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof is a gay-hating racist who only cares about himself. When he gets AIDS he flees to Mexico for help and finds not a cure but a way to feel better. He turns this into a business/club for the AIDS community in Dallas. What comes out of it is an examination of the politics and lobbying used to benefit the money-mongering pharmaceutical companies. I’ll stop there. Just…

Watch it!

Gravity- 6/10

Everyone and their mother is salivating over this and for good reason. Alfonso Cuaron’s vision of a survival in a zero gravity setting miles above the earth is done perfectly. I wouldn’t dare to take that away from him. But the story left much to be desired, for me at least. I understand that it is simple and a beautiful allegory of depression and recovery. But it was also too on the nose with it. To me, it was set piece after set piece without much in between the two. It felt like an IMAX documentary rather than a narrative film. I only saw it in 2D on a smaller theater screen, and I’ve heard to “fully experience” it you have to go full IMAX with 3D. So maybe that’s why I wasn’t gushing over it like others.

See it in 3D IMAX, I suppose.

Captain_Phillips_PosterCaptain Phillips- 8/10

I’m surprised at myself for not writing up one of “Captain Phillips.” The tension that Paul Greengrass gets in this simple story of survival and desperation is amazing. Unlike “Gravity” it is about man versus man. Barkhad Abdi, who has a true Cinderella story, delivers the performance of a veteran actor and is comparable to Hanks’ its caliber and intrigue. The resolution acts as another climax where emotion for Phillips overflows.

Eventually watch!

12 Years a Slave- 7/10

There’s no denying the horror and inhumanity that came out of the slavery era of the United States, especially after watching “12 Years A Slave.” Another story of survival that is brilliantly carried out by Chiwetel Ejiofor and artistically touched by director Steve McQueen. It acts as a horror more than a historical drama with Michael Fassbender the monster to fear and despise. It truly rips your heart right of your chest and makes you look at it.

For acquired viewers.

Frozen- 7/10

What do you expect from a Disney Princess flick? A beautiful protagonist. A cute animal. A sidekick. A handsome man for the princess to fall for. Beautiful and catchy music. Cute acts and characters. Yep. That’s what you’ll get from “Frozen.” But that’s all you’ll get too. Trusted and true Disney fare.

For kids and most adults.

The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug- 5/10 hobbit

Ugh… I have to talk about “The Hobbit.” Okay, if I must. Not only did I not like the first installation of Jackson’s prequel to one of the most successful and well-told fantasies of our time, but I had a terrible watching the second one. I don’t understand how anyone can find satisfaction in this very gooey middle of Bilbo’s story. Nothing really happened. The boon which was stated at the beginning of “Smaug” never came to realization. I took the chance of watching it in 3D HFR. Bad choice. Okay. I’m done.

If you must, but not in 3D HFR.

All Is Lost- 7/10

Very simple and yet again a survival story. Robert Redford plays a nameless older gentleman who finds his boat punctured by adrift cargo. All done in action with few words, Redford takes all the right steps to better his situation but finds fate relentless in its punishment. One of the film’s detriments is not giving us a reason to care for the man other than the direction of the camera which makes us fill we are with him yet helpless like he is. In any case, it was a very different cinematic experience.

Exciting, but at the same time… not?

American Hustle- 7/10

I got lost in a lot of the logistics of the cons. Shame on me. But I enjoyed the powerful cast’s performances and how the characters related and bounced off of each other. Loosely based on a true story of proving corruption in American politicians, David O. Russell is continuing his streak in creating zany characters and surrounding them in an enjoyable plot and world.

Hilarious, must see eventually.

The Wolf of Wall Street- 6/10

Okay. Hear me out. I loved Scorese’s directing. The story. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill were amazing and comically outstanding. But… sooo much could have been cut and still had a great movie. Especially all the drugs and sex and immoral actions that polluted every scene. I felt like they were there just for shock’s sake and had no merit in the overall story. I’d be sad to see DiCaprio win for this performance. He had many other better ones.

Stay away unless you want to feel dirty.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues- 6/10 anchorman-2-posters-ron-burgundy-will-ferrell-us

They tried to make a sequel to the Mona Lisa and failed. Rehashed jokes that were a third as funny as the originals. The last third of the movie was a weird mess. It was nice to see the funny characters back but it would have been more nice if they were funny again.

Watch the First. It’s better.

Saving Mr. Banks- 7/10

When I saw the trailers for “Saving Mr. Banks” I couldn’t help comparing it last year’s “Hitchcock.” A behind-the-scenes look at a monumental film with a couple legendary actors playing iconic people. And that’s why I got. Like “Hitchcock” “Banks” had a central theme that the movie was based around and revisited. Many say it put Disney in his proper light, I must have missed that. Emma Thompson was the intolerable, relentless and unapologetic P.L. Travers who captured the essence perfectly. I think I would have appreciated the comparison to the story behind the book of “Mary Poppins” if I were more familiar with the plot points of “Mary Poppins” the movie. So, it’s not in any way a “bad” movie, just directed at a particular audience that I wasn’t in.

For the right audience, it’s perfect.

NebraksaNebraska- 7/10

Bruce Dern plays a delusional and out-of-touch father who “won” a million dollars and has to travel to Nebraska to claim it. It’s an interesting premise to be sure. But the execution wasn’t to its full potential. At most times I felt it was more in the vain of an undergrad student film. It didn’t play on the sap which would be easy to do which I appreciated. But it played on unneeded dark humor that I found more depressing than funny. Bruce Dern’s character was pathetic which made me empathetic yet many in the theater were laughing at his misfortune. I wonder what Alexander Payne was intending.

Only if you’re curious.

Her- 10/10

It’s a shame that I didn’t see this movie before making my Top 10 of 2013. I’m waiting to see it again to write a full and respectable review, so be watching for that.

Must see ASAP!

There you have it! Now, how wrong am I? Just kidding. Write your feeling below.

Thanks!