Dallas Buyers Club

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Of course, now that the Oscars have been handed out, I have to see what all the hubub was about with this film. And I am happy to say…I wasn’t disappointed! With 2 amazing performances, a solid script and a polished supporting cast, “Dallas Buyers Club” showed me why it was a highly considered Oscar contender in 2013.

Redneck electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) has contracted the HIV virus during the AIDS scare in the mid-80′s. He is told that he has a month to live. After receiving the news, he loses all of his friends, his job and his home and finds himself lost & scared. All attempts at finding a cure seem exhausted until he finds himself in Mexico, where he meets a doctor who seems to understand the nature of the disease and how it can be treated using alternative, healthy treatments. Woodroof finds himself an activist in America as he attempts to treat hundreds of patients who are dying from the deadly disease with the supplements. The FDA, however, seeks to shut he and his business down due to their lack of involvement and their push for a new drug that is being tested.

All roles in this film are spot on. Obviously, Matthew McConaughey’s performance speaks for itself as he won the Best Actor award for it. He is so immersed in his role that he lost almost a scary amount of weight and is so convincing as Woodroof that I often times forgot that it was an actor playing in a role! Jared Leto also won a golden statue for his role as Rayon, a cross-dressing homosexual who befriends Ron, despite his ignorance and hate, and helps him set up his shop. They eventually form a wonderful friendship and it’s that which drives this film. Leto is amazing in this role and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character. Rayon is a complex person and Leto carries the role with such grace that often times you don’t realize that he is a man! Jennifer Garner is also excellent as a doctor who becomes friends with Woodroof and who is a liaison at the hospital.

I admit, I have never heard of Ron Woodroof. But this story, which has been told with a little bit fact and a little bit of fiction, is an amazing one. It’s the story of one man, fighting for his life and fighting against corporate America. It is also a coming of age story, as Woodroof finds himself to be vilified by his community only to be adopted by a new and understanding one. It is beautifully told and well directed and it deserved to be considered one of the best films of 2013!

OVERALL RATING: A

And The 2014 Oscars Go To….

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2013 was a pretty damn good year for movies! And this year, there are 9 of them that have been chosen to represent for the right to be name the “Best Motion Picture Of The Year!” I can’t say that I have seen ALL of the films that have been nominated, but I have seen my share so I thought I would take a stab at who I think will be the big winners this year and which film I would pick to represent as the best of 2013. So…without further adieu…

Let’s just skip to what I think is gonna be a sweep in several of the smaller categories, shall we? Because I have a feeling, the sci-fi blockbuster “Gravity” is gonna clean house in several of them. So…”Gravity” takes BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS, SOUND EDITING, SOUND MIXING, ORIGINAL SCORE, EDITING & CINEMATOGRAPHY. So, right out of the box, that puts “Gravity” with 6 golden statues!

Okay…now with the rest…

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: Although I WANT to give it to U2 for their song “Ordinary Love” from the soundtrack of “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom,” I think the film “Frozen” might sweep in and take this one with “Let It Go.” So…I’ll go with “Let It Go” and root for U2. And I won’t be upset if I got this one wrong!

COSTUME DESIGN: “American Hustle.” I mean…here you have 4 of the most recognizable actors in the business and I never once thought to myself, “Huh…Christian Bale looks ridiculous in a combover.”

PRODUCTION DESIGN: “The Great Gatsby.” I didn’t really care much for it overall as a film, but the production design on it is outstanding and possibly the only reason (other than Leonardo DiCaprio) to sit through its 2+ hour runtime.

ANIMATED FILM: “Frozen.” I haven’t seen it but the word of mouth (which is mostly from my daughter and her friends) is outstanding!

BEST WRITING, SCREENPLAY BASED ON PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED MATERIAL: “12 Years A Slave.” Despite being an outstanding film, I don’t think it will win in many of the other categories and I see the Academy wanting to recognize it in some capacity so….here it is!

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: “American Hustle.” Who is hustling who in this film? It’s a great script that carries through to the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so did everyone else. Other than possibly “Blue Jasmine,” I don’t think this one could be topped in this category.

BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity.” Hands down. No question. It’s a done deal.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Having only seen 3 of the 5, I’ll go with who I would pick and that would be Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine.” But I have to imagine Jennifer Lawrence will get serious consideration also.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: I’ve heard Jared Leto is outstanding in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” but I haven’t seen it. So, until I do, I’m going with Michael Fassbender for his role as a plantation owner in “12 Years A Slave.” He’s also been a so many other films where he’s excellent that I think it’s time the guy got one…don’t you think?

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: THIS is a tough one! Here’s the deal…I HATED “Blue Jasmine.” And when I say HATE, I mean it in one of the nicest ways possible. Cate Blanchett is spectacular as a wealthy woman who is brought down to earth when her husband is indicted and sent to jail. Blanchett chews up the entire movie and I absolutely abhorred her character throughout the film. Then…you get to the end…and I found myself sympathizing with her and THAT is the sign of either A) a great actress or B) writing so amazing that the actor or actress can’t screw it up. So…which do I go with? Amy Adams’ character in “American Hustle” was dead on also (I even predicted her to win in my review of the movie) and I hear Judi Dench is also a possibility for “Philomena.” Well…I haven’t seen “Philomena” and “Blue Jasmine” was written & directed by Woody Allen. So…I’m going to go with my original first choice…Amy Adams wins for “American Hustle.” She is ultimately the absolute best in a role that I don’t think anyone else could have taken and made it what she did. Her performance is, quite frankly, the heartbeat of the movie and she deserves it!

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: I have to tell ya…Matthew McConaughey has had a pretty good year. And he’s nominated for “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” So…I can see where he might end up taking this one. But I haven’t seen this film (but I DID see “Mud” and he was excellent in it!) so I can’t say if he should win or not. I also have not seen “Nebraska” and I hear Bruce Dern is extremely good and has also been a noted high-tier actor in Hollywood for years. So HE could also be in the running. But for MY money, of the 3 actors that I HAVE seen this year, Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is probably the best. He is almost gleeful in the way he takes this reprehensible character and gives him life. Plus…we all know Hollywood loves DiCaprio and would love to see him win his first statue so…there ya go.

BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR: When voting for the best film, I would have to ask myself…”In 15 years, which movie would I WANT to see again?” In this case, it’s an easy answer. For me, there is only one movie that I HAD to see again. It was everything I enjoy about the movies and it was everything I could ask for in a 90 minute package. “Gravity” may not be the most thought provoking film of the past year, but it was definitely the reason I love to go sit in a dark room with strangers, munching on popped corn kernels and drinking soda. It was exhilarating, breathtaking and as entertaining as any film I’ve seen in years. So, despite the fact that there are so many great films in this list of hopefuls, my vote is for “GRAVITY.” I’ve seen it 4 times already and it is, in so many ways, perfect. It’s an A+ in a year full of A’s…and so it gets MY vote as the best of 2013!

12 Years A Slave

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With so much Oscar talk buzzing around this film this year, I HAD to see it before the awards ceremony to know whether or not it was gonna clean house. Nominated for several awards, many are predicting that “12 Years A Slave” could be in for a great night come Oscar night. I have read where this film has been compared to “Schindler’s List” in its importance to cinema and it could be said that, on many levels, it succeeds in that regard. Slavery in America was a terrible time in our country’s history and this movie succeeds in showing the relentless brutality towards African-Americans during the late 1800′s. It is not a pretty picture nor is it what I would consider entertainment. As a matter of fact, this movie is almost more of a documentary than entertainment to me…and that is where I lost myself watching it more as historical fact than fiction.

Solomon Northup is a violinist from New York. He lives with his wife & 2 children and is a well-respected man in his community. One night, after working in Washington, DC, he is tricked by 2 men he considers to be his friends and sold as a slave. From there, he is put aboard a boat where he is transported to Georgia and sold in an auction. He is then sold from one owner to the next, working in one plantation or another, while he lives with the hope that one day he can find a way to communicate with his wife and return to his family.

First things first…this IS an amazing movie on many fronts. The acting is top notch, the roles are well defined and the topic of slavery is never watered down. It is very much like “Lincoln” in how it presents the plight of Northup. It doesn’t water down his predicament and when he is sold into slavery without his papers, it is a moment that makes your stomach ache.

Many fantastic performances in this film, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has been nominated for an Oscar in the “Best Actor” category and deservedly so. Michael Fassbender also has a turn as a drunken plantation owner who takes to beating & raping his slaves. Fassbender is also up for an Oscar and could be a dark horse. I thought his performance was spot on. And there is a brief role by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o who plays a slave who is raped and beaten, mostly because of Fassbender’s affection toward her and his wife’s jealousy. Despite her nomination for “Best Supporting Actress”, I thought her limited time on screen will hinder her chance to win, especially since she’s up against Julia Roberts & Jennifer Lawrence.

“12 Years A Slave” definitely deserves to be considered for Best Picture of 2013. It is one of the most realistic looks at slavery that has ever been put to film and I imagine it will be represented on Oscar night with a couple of surprise statuettes…

Overall Rating: A

Red Rental Reviews: January 2014

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With 2 Redbox locations within walking distance of my house, I have ample opportunity to get caught up on all the movies that I didn’t get to see in the theaters this past summer. This month, I got to finally see 2 that I have been dying to see and a couple I didn’t think I would really WANT to see but was pleasantly surprised! Let’s get started!

The Conjuring (Horror)

It’s about time Hollywood came to its senses and got back to good, old fashioned scares. Things that go bump in the night (or go clap in the basement) can be just as jolting as seeing someone getting hung up on a hook…and this film is a great return to classic horror. Patrick Wilson & Vera Fermiga play the Warren’s, a couple who specialize in tracking and ridding our world of demons and evil spirits. And they find a doozy in the house of the Perron’s (played by Ron Livingston & Lili Taylor). It’s all set in the 70′s and this movie reminds me of classics like “Poltergeist” or “The Amityville Horror.” Very little gore, lots of scares. Its perfect for a fun date night and will have you on the edge of your sofa!

Overall Rating: A

We’re The Millers (Comedy)

A terrific cast is bludgeoned by poor writing and not-so-funny situations as a group of misfits band together to try to smuggle drugs across the Mexican border, only to find that they need one another more than they need the dough. It’s not even a funny premise, to be honest, and to waste the comedic talents of Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston is a pity.

Overall Rating: D+

The Wolverine (Action)

I didn’t care much for the first Wolverine movie and so I had no interest in seeing this one in the theater or otherwise. But it was a slow week and I like superhero movies so…I rented it. I’m happy to report that this one actually is more of what I expected the first time around out of our favorite, moody superhero and when he lets the claws out? This one ain’t so bad. The final act is a little clunky though and I found myself wanting it to end quickly. If anything, I’ll just say this is a standard, by the numbers action film with little beyond the firepower of Hugh Jackman to keep you interested.

Overall Rating: B-

Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters (Kids/Action)

Can I just say that I really liked the first Percy Jackson so I was just as eager to see the return of Poseidon’s son as my daughter was! Unfortunately, this movie quickly gets bogged down by too many effects and silly situations and becomes a bore after about 45 minutes. I wanted to like it, but it doesn’t hold up. Which is too bad because I really like all of the characters and I was hoping Percy Jackson could become better than a low rent Harry Potter…but I guess not.

Overall Rating: D+

The Family (Dark Comedy)

At some point, mob leader Giovanni Manzoni ratted out his family and is now living under the protection of the United States government. Unfortunately, he and his family have a hard time acclimating to their new home in Normandy. And once the mob finds out where they’re living, it’s an all out war in the streets as Manzoni (Robert DeNiro) and his family must come together as a family to stay alive. If you like mob movies, then this one is for you. It has some funny moments, some decent acting (thank you Michelle Pfeiffer) and has some scenes that are engaging. But overall, as an entire film, it doesn’t hold up. It’s not dark enough, funny enough OR interesting enough for its almost 2 hour runtime and eventually becomes tedious. As a rental though? It’s not the worst thing you could do with your time.

Overall Rating: C

Kick Ass 2 (Action)

While the first Kick Ass was ultraviolent and dark, this one goes into this weird teen angst mode and never seems to get on its feet. It starts up where the first one left off. Kick Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a senior in high school, living with his dad and trying to be a normal kid with normal problems. Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a freshman who just wants to fit in while also dealing with her need to be a superhero. Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) seeks to avenge his father’s death at the hand of Kick Ass by becoming the first supervillain, known as “Mother#$%@.” Despite some fun action sequences and the same stylized violence of the first one, Kick Ass 2 never really becomes anything more than a John Hughes action film. And I don’t mean that in a good way. I had MUCH higher expectations for this film and it failed on almost every level except for Moretz, who manages to keep Hit Girl interesting even when the script isn’t above grade. Even Jim Carrey, in a role that seemed fit for him, seems out of place in this one.

Overall Rating: C-

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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It’s the return of everyone’s favorite news team…but this time…they’re taking over America! And leading our rowdy band of misfits is the man who puts class in classless…Ron Burgundy (Will Farrell). This film picks up a little after the original left off. Ron, Brian Fantana, Champ Kind & Brick Tamland are recruited to be a part of a start up 24 hour news organization based out of New York. They are one of many news teams that are hired to be on air and the San Diego news crew is given the coveted 2am slot.

What can I say about this movie and not give anything away? There’s action, romance, cross country adventure…even a baby shark! There’s so much packed into the 2 hours that is “Anchorman 2″ that it’s hard to capsulate all of the various plot points. That being said, I CAN tell you that there is much hilarity and so much ridiculousness that it would be a disservice to mention even a single one of them. Okay….maybe one.

Brick is dead.

But THAT is the only plot line that I am gonna give you.

Oh…and Jack Lime is played by James Marsden. But THAT you can find on IMDB.

Anyway…this film is, by all accounts, a return to everything you liked about the first film. There is a storyline that can be followed here and it involves….

NO…I WON’T tell you!

The thing about A2 is that it’s BETTER than A1 and much smoother than ketchup. Oh…and the 2nd act letdown that happens in A1 doesn’t really happen in this one. It’s 2 hours of fun and, despite a couple of slow spots, it’s worthy of your time and laughs.

Overall Rating: B+

American Hustle

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It’s not very often that I go into a movie thinking I’m probably not going to like it but then I’m pleasantly blown away. In the case of “American Hustle,” I was definitely blown away. I went into it with a lot of skepticism but all of the players involved are top notch, from the director down to a surprise uncredited performance by everyone’s favorite badass, Robert DeNiro. And what looked to me like a period piece in the movie trailers, is actually a vehicle for some of the absolute best performances of this year!

I don’t want to give away the plot because it IS a lengthy storyline with a lot of twists and turns. But let’s just say that Irving (Christian Bale) & Sydney (Amy Adams) are con artists who get in WAY over their heads when they are busted by a young & feisty FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who is trying to make a name for himself. While trying to clear their names, both Irving & Sydney agree to help the FBI setup politicians & power players who may, or may not, be involved in a scheme to rebuild Atlantic City with dirty money. In itself, this plot really doesn’t seem like much. However with the powerhouse performances given by Bale, Adams, Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence (as Irving’s wife, Rosalyn), Jeremy Renner & Louis C.K., this movie is alive with fresh blood and gives director David O. Russell some of the best performances of any of his films!

Here’s what I’m seeing…several Oscar nominations (probably all 4 headliners get listed) and an Oscar nomination for best film, best directing, best screenplay and best production design or makeup. As you can imagine, that’s not much of a stretch considering all of the accolades that are being thrown at “Hustle” right now however, after watching the movie and the excellent work done by so many, I’m pretty sure they won’t be left out of the Oscar race this season. I personally think Bale is AWESOME in this role as the scam artist with a heart, Irving Rosenfeld, however I doubt he’ll win. There have been so many amazing male performances in a lead role this year that this one, while excellent, probably won’t get him the kind of push to win him a statue. Amy Adams, on the other hand, should be considered the best in her category. She is outstanding as Rosenfeld’s soul mate and right-hand woman. At any given time, she gives life to any scene that she’s in. She’s sexy as hell in one scene, a complete mess in another, and she plays this character to the hilt! I wouldn’t have ever thought that she could pull this character off but she does it in spades!

Needless to say, this will be considered one of the best films of 2013. It’s every bit a classic Russell movie with lots of emotion, lots of comedy, it’s cleverly edited and the script is perfect. Go see “American Hustle.” It’s worth seeing in the theater and will provoke lots of conversation afterword!

Overall Rating: A