Tag Archives: family

Review: Beauty and the Beast

batb poster
via Pop Sugar

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

PG / 129 mins.

Family / Fantasy / Musical

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans

Director: Bill Condon


When the adaptation of the classic Disney animated musical Beauty and the Beast was first announced I was instantly sold.  Not only was Beauty and the Beast released during Disney’s golden era of musicals, but the remake was set to star Emma Watson as Belle, the musical’s lead lady.  When you add in the fact that it was being directed by Bill Condon (of Dreamgirls and Chicago fame), it did not take much more for the remake to become a must-watch for me.  Now that the movie, a tale as old as time, has finally arrived, I can report that the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast has met my expectations, delivering an experience more magical than the original.

batb 1
via Digital Spy

If you have watched the original, then the remake should have you feeling right at home.  Aside from a few minor changes, the remake walks in lock step with the source material.  The Beast, played by Dan Stevens, is still under a curse that has trapped him in his own castle as a monstrous beast and his friends as a collection of inanimate objects.  He is still in search of someone who will love him before the last petal of his rose withers away.  Belle is still the young woman who, after going to search for her father, finds herself a prisoner in the Beast’s forgotten castle and soon begins to fall in love with the beast himself.  The rest is history.  It is still an endearing tale, only made better by the fact that Belle is not a damsel in distress this time around.  By Emma Watson’s demand, Belle is a more intelligent and capable character.  She is an independent and bookish woman, who will most likely act as an inspiration for a generation of young fans for years to come.

It is obvious that Emma Watson’s performance serves as the seat-filler, but the rest of the performances compliment her well.  Dan Stevens plays a good Beast, who shows both a beastly side as well as a charming side in his performance.  I think both him and Emma worked well together.  Then there are everybody’s favorite talking objects, Lumiere and Cogsworth, played by Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan respectively.  The two acts as the comic relief throughout the entire movie and share some of the movie’s best moments.  Gaston, the narcissistic and charming antagonist played by Luke Evans, also does a wonderful job with his role.  He is even better than the original in that he starts off as a rather harmless goof and then quickly turns into a terrifying figure blinded by rage in the end.  It is still a fun character arch to watch develop onscreen.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
via Gamespot

Emma Watson not only plays a good Belle, but it also turns out that she has a great voice as well.  Her performances, especially her opening number “Belle,” show off her great musical talent.  There were times where it seemed like her voice was digitally enhanced or modified, but it never felt too egregious.  The rest of the songs are just as great as the original classics.  Some songs have modified lyrics to fit the story while some songs are completely new.  While I don’t know how I feel about the modified lyrics, they never go too overboard with it.  Songs like “Beauty and the Beast” performed by Emma Thompson (who plays Mrs. Potts) and “Be Our Guest” sung by Lumiere and the rest of the castle crew feel livelier this time around and they will surely bring back some nostalgic memories.

The biggest differentiator (if it was not apparent already) is that the remake is live action.  CGI is the name of the game and it is well done in this movie, for the most part.  Lumiere and Cogsworth, as well as the rest of the castle objects, look amazing in CGI.  They are more fluid and move around with ease.  Mrs. Potts might look a bit creepy, though.  (What is even creepier is her Funko Pop figure) Then there is the Beast, who looked a little too rigid.  His movement did not feel natural which was especially evident in scenes like the ballroom dance.  CGI aside, there are some very nice looking shots throughout the movie.  It is a colorful film that is really pleasing to the eye.  There was some great cinematography that brilliantly captured the picturesque beauty of the original.

batb 4
via ComicBook.com

While it might not be a popular opinion to most, I think that the adaption easily surmounts the original Beauty and the Beast, despite some of its technical issues regarding the Beast and some pacing issues in its story.  I really enjoyed the original movie, but I do not highly regard it as some do.  In my opinion, the original provides a good backbone while the adaptation takes the story and runs with it, filling it with more energy and magic.  While it might not seem instantly apparent, there are going to be a new generation of kids that look at the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast and they are going to view it as the definitive version.  While this might seem like a bonkers idea, it is not necessarily a terrible thing.

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Review: Unravel

unravel-cover-art
via Wikipedia

Unravel (2016)

PS4 / Rated E

Puzzle / Platformer

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Coldwood Interactive


When this little indie game from Coldwood Interactive named Unravel was first announced at EA’s 2015 E3 press conference, it immediately caught my attention.  A very nervous Martin Sahlin, the game’s creator, came out on stage and proceeded to introduce us to the game, and its adorable little star, Yarny. (Seen below)  I remember being instantly intrigued with its mechanics and instantly charmed by the games irresistibly cute visual style.  It later went on to release in early 2016, but it seemed to be a game that largely flew under people’s radars…including mine.  After about a year I finally dipped my toes into what Unravel is all about and I was met with a very charming experience with some unique platforming elements that make it standout from some of its peers.

As I mentioned before, the game stars a small red, cat-looking creature named Yarny, who is made entirely of yarn.  Yarny is constantly in awe and wonderment as he explores the objects and environments around him.  The game starts you in a small house that includes pictures of different locations that are important to the homeowner’s life.  Yarny explores these environments and collects memories along the way, slowly telling the emotional and nostalgic stories of the homeowner and their family throughout the years.

It is a very gripping story structure that drives you through the game.  There no cut scenes and a scant amount of characters, but the whole story is told through pictures and mirages in the environments that you explore.  Some of these stories were a little tough to understand, but the game does a fantastic job at capturing the various moments and emotions that families experience, whether it is the happy moments or the sad moments.  It is harrowing at times and will most likely relate to your life in some way.  Unravel, despite its simple concept, has a way of resonating with players, making it a special experience.

unravel-1
via Coldwood Interactive

The game is made up of twelve different levels spanning environments like forests, mountainous hilltops, and snowy valleys…to name a few.  These levels require you to use Yarny’s body made of yarn to get pasts its various obstacles and dangers.  Yarny can create rope to swing across gaps, make bridges, and maneuver objects.  If that was not enough, Yarny also unravels (insert title card) as you make your way through the level.  If you are overzealous with your yarn usage, you will eventually run out of yarn and Yarny will be stripped down to his basic frame.  To combat this, there are various “checkpoints” in the levels that allow you to re-spool, giving Yarny more yarn to work with.  I did not find myself running out of yarn too much, but it does add another layer of complexity to the levels and their thoughtful design.  In terms of overall difficulty, the game is not too challenging.  There are moments where the game will get you, but death is never really a burden given the generous checkpoint system.  You also can warp back to the latest checkpoint if you find yourself stuck.

One gripe I have with Unravel’s mechanics are the floaty controls that sometimes make tougher platforming sections a little frustrating.  There were some moments in the game were tighter controls would have been more helpful.  There is a trophy (on PS4) that requires you to go through each level without dying and I quickly found myself giving up because the controls were not as up-to-snuff as I would have liked them to be.  There is also the tiny issue of freshness when it comes to the game’s mechanics.  Unravel does a commendable job, for the most part, of giving you new challenges that change things up, but this evolution in gameplay starts to taper off when you get to the later levels.  Due to the game’s simplistic nature, it is tough to constantly give you new ways of using the mechanics at your disposal.

unravel-2
via Coldwood Interactive

But let us talk about the game’s main attraction: just how darn cute the whole thing is.  There is an enormous amount of detail that went into the game’s visual style from the environments to Yarny himself.  Everything has a tactile feel to it and Yarny looks super realistic.  Coldwood Interactive most likely drew some inspiration from Nintendo’s games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Wooly World.  The game’s score is also well done, meshing perfectly with the game’s heartwarming story of family and nostalgia.

Despite the few issues I had with the game’s mechanics Unravel still manages to invoke tons of feeling, something you do not see too much from puzzle-platformers.  The game’s eye-popping adorability is what pulls you in but it is the gripping and emotional story that convinces you to stay.  It is a relatively short, but powerful, experience that manages to do some cool things with its yarn-based mechanics.  Unravel is worth your time.  It is worth it alone just to see Yarny’s curiosity of the world around him.

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Review: Lemonade

lemonade cover
via This Is RnB

Lemonade (2016)

Beyonce

Hip-Hop / R&B

Parkwood


Last weekend Beyonce released her Lemonade into the world.  That last sentence might sound silly but it’s true, Beyonce didn’t release an icy drink but a full-length audio-visual album that debuted on HBO and Tidal.  Yes, you heard that last part right.  It released exclusively on Tidal, which makes total sense given her share in the company.  A new Beyonce album is a good reason for people to jump on the Tidal bandwagon.  However, with the album popping up on iTunes this morning, the whole release of this album further cements Tidal’s status as a joke, but that’s a story for a different time.

We’re here to talk about Lemonade.

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Lemonade might be the most personal album we have heard from the singer.  We’ve heard her get personal before, but this entire project feels like it was ripped straight out of her diary.  The diary contains pages about her relationship with Jay-Z, her family, feminism, and black activism.  Her message comes across loud and clear, a message that’s equal parts intimate and powerful.  It’s easy for an album’s overarching message to get lost in the sound but this was probably the clearest an album has been in a while.

Beyonce doesn’t waste time, immediately addressing the elephant in the room with her first batch of songs.  Her songs “Pray You Catch Me” and “Hold Up” address the relationship rumors between her and Jay-Z and the infidelity that is called into question.  She makes it clear that she still loves her husband, but she’s willing to go crazy to find out where his loyalties lie.  There’s also “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a pointed track full of angst and thrashing guitars, thanks to some help from artist Jack White.  It’s a strong track that puts fear in even the most hardened souls.  With lyrics like, “If you try this shit again, you gon lose your wife,” things must have gotten pretty bad.  I don’t know what Jay-Z did, but after listening to this song all I got to say is he better watch his back.

lemonade 2
via Miss Info

There’s a lot of songs about her and Jay-Z’s relationship, which happens to be the core of the album.  “Love Drought” is a passionate plea to rekindle a relationship behind an airy cloud-synth beat in the background that really carries you away.  Then there’s “Daddy Lessons,” which might be my favorite cut off the album.  It’s Beyonce’s first foray into country, and she kills it.  It’s a song about her father and the similarities between him and Jay-Z.  It’s a deep song that really took me by surprise.  It’s not your typical Beyonce sound, but she harnesses some of her southern roots and gives us a sound that I want to hear more of.

Although songs of love cover most of the tracklist, there’s also some feminism and black empowerment to be found.  “6 Inch” is a song of female empowerment, featuring some vocal help from The Weeknd.  It’s a positive and upbeat song about the grind and success that comes when you’re willing to put in the work.  Lemonade’s sole single, “Formation” is a powerful black activism song that struck up some controversy for its imagery as well as its themes.  “Freedom” is another song about civil rights, featuring the always vocal Kendrick Lamar.  When you talk about issues of civil rights, Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar have definitely been on the forefront of conversation.  The track also ends in a touching way, with some words from Hattie White, Jay-Z’s grandmother.  She says, “I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to cool myself off.  I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”  There we go, it’s a statement that quite literally sums up the entire album’s message.

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“Sandcastles” is the album’s turning point.  You can hear the pain and tears come through in her voice in one of the most personal songs off the album.  It’s on this song where she starts to contemplate what comes next.  She’s made promises in her life, some of which she wasn’t able to keep.  The same goes for Jay-Z.  Despite all of this, their sandcastles still stand strong, weathering the storm.  It’s a song full of imagery and hope.  The rest of the album features a message of redemption and optimism, especially for her relationship with Jay-Z, which is always a good sign.  “All Night” is the unofficial end to the album, topping it all off with some positivity.

Lemonade’s sound is just as powerful as her lyrics.  Featuring the production work of individuals like Mike Dean, Diplo, Hit-Boy, Ben Billions, Mike Will Made It, Vincent Berry II, and Just Blaze, the album has a wide range of sounds that all work very well.  You’re not going to find too many radio-ready songs on this release, with Beyonce favoring ballads over bangers.  This might be disappointing for some but this isn’t the type of album that’s supposed to play well on the radio.  It’s a deeply personal experience.

lemonade 4
via Ice Cream Convos

Now that the album is on iTunes, hopefully a bigger audience will be able to listen to Lemonade, which I might consider her best work to date.  It’s a fascinating project that puts you right in the center of her thoughts.  She opens up a lot in a surprising amount of ways.  Her message is emotional, powerful, strong, poignant, controversial, and most of all, hers.  She makes it clear, especially in “Sorry,” that she doesn’t care what you think.  This is her life and her message and she wants to put it all out there.  This is an album that we’re going to be coming back to a lot and it’s going to be the talk of the talk when it comes to album of the year.

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Review: Three Fourths Home

three fourths home cover
via PS3 Life

Three Fourths Home (2014)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Digerati Distribution

Developer: [bracket]games


There’s something about long car drives through the middle of nowhere.  They’re therapeutic and relaxing.  How about adding some rain into the mix?  The rain drops bead up on the windshield of your car as you continue on your drive.  There’s really nothing like the experience of the open road and the pleasant sights, sounds, and smells of a spring rain.  Now, what would make this experience ten times worse?  What if you replaced the rain with a tree-splitting tornado and the open road silence with a stressful conversation with your family that you haven’t talked to in a while?  That’s basically the anxiety-inducing premise of Three Fourths Home, an interactive visual novel.

three fourths home 1
via I Play PSVita

The interactive piece of fiction places you in the shoes of Kelly Meyers, a young girl traveling home through the corn-fields of Nebraska.  She has just recently moved back in with her parents and her brother after being gone for some time.  She left home in the first place to attend college, but hasn’t kept in touch with her family as much as she might’ve wanted to.  On the way home, things start to go bad as big storm starts to kick in.  Making matters worse, you’re on the phone with your mom talking about a whole slate of different topics ranging from school to your dad’s drinking problem.  Kelly’s family take turns passing the phone around as they put her through the gauntlet of family drama…the last thing you need as your pushing 80-90 mph in order to make it home before the Tornado gets the better of you.

You don’t do much in Three Fourths Home besides navigating text choices during the phone conversation with your family.  There’s moments were you don’t have a choice in how to respond, but it’s mostly on you to decide how you want the conversation to go.  You can be negative or positive in the way you talk with your family.  You can burn bridges or mend them.  It’s all up to you.  The conversations start at the surface level but as storm ramps up, so does the intensity of the drama.  The storm taking place outside your car is indicative of the intensity of the conversation your having with your family…which is really cool.

three fourths home 2
via Vandal

Visuals play a key part in what makes Three Fourths Home so unique.  The game’s art style is primarily black and white.  It gives the game a dreary and depressing tone, which fits perfectly with what’s happening on your journey back home.  Kelly’s in a pretty crappy situation, in more ways than one, and the visuals reflect this in every way.  The sound design, consisting mostly of sounds of rain, thunder, and wind, meshes well with what’s taking place as well.  Three Fourths Home does a pretty bang-up job of immersing players into its tense atmosphere.

Some of the controls are a little wonky and they can take some time to get used to.  I found myself repeatedly pressing the wrong buttons, causing me to in turn choose the wrong dialogue options.  It wasn’t a major problem but it led to some annoying situations that put me down a path that I didn’t want to be in.  You’re driving a car for the entirety of the short little experience, so you have to hold in one of the triggers to keep the car, and the conversation, moving.  This leaves players with an awkward control scheme that might not be too familiar.

three fourths home 3
via Game Planet

The writing is well done and searing and makes it easy to picture the people you are talking to in your head.  During the course of the game you never see Kelly’s family, but the writing leaves you room to form those characters in your head.  The game is short, lasting roughly 1-2 hours, but it builds up its characters and makes you care about them in the short amount of time.  There were times where I wished there was a little more visually going on, but the stark atmosphere of the long open road does enough more than enough to keep players going.

Three Fourths Home is short and to the point, but it tells a deep and painful story about the reality of leaving your family hanging for a couple of years.  The game succeeds in that it makes you sit back and reflect about your family and how much you talk to them.  It’s eye-opening in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  There’s a couple of rough patches here and there but this short little interactive piece of fiction is something special and worth a try.  It’s not that expensive and it will leave you moved in some form or fashion.

three fourths home score

Review: Fuller House Season 1

fuller house poster
via Ruck Makers

Fuller House (Season 1) (2016)

Netflix / NR

Comedy / Family

Starring: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber

Producer: Kelly Sandefur


Oh Mylanta! That’s what the internet shouted upon the announcement that the original cast of 90’s sitcom Full House would be reprising their roles in the new Netflix comedy Fuller House.  The sitcom, which cemented itself as a cultural mainstay, holds a special place in a lot of 90’s kids hearts, so when the reboot was announced (with the original cast), I was pretty excited to return to everybody’s favorite San Francisco townhouse.

fuller house 1
via Pop Shifter

Let’s first break down the cast.  Almost everyone from the original makes it on to the show, including Danny (Bob Saget), Joey (Dave Coulier), Jesse (John Stamos), Becky (Lori Loughlin), D.J. Tanner (Candace Cameron Bure), Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), Kimmy (Andrea Barber), and even Steve Hale (Scott Weinger).  Notice how the Olsen twins aren’t present on the billing?  Yep, unfortunately these two were the only main cast members to not make an appearance.  (Don’t worry, the show does a pretty good job of reminding you about that.)  There’s also some new additions in terms of the kids.  D.J. Tanner’s kids, Jackson and Max, are played by Michael Campion and Elias Harger (a big ball of energy) respectively.  Twins Dashiell and Fox Messitt play D.J.’s youngest, Tommy Fuller Jr.  Finally, the other primary character we see is Kimmy’s daughter Ramona, played (pretty well) by Soni Bringas.

If you’re from the outside looking in, you would probably expect that Danny, Joey, and Jessie would be present throughout the entirety of the series, but that doesn’t hold true.  Instead, Fuller House centers around the story of D.J., Stephanie, and Kimmy who end up inheriting the house from Danny who, along with the older crew, are moving out and doing their own things.  (Don’t worry, the likes of Danny, Joey, Jesse, and Becky make sprinkled appearances here and there!) The majority of the story focuses on that fact that the girls are now older, living more adult lives.  Relationships, parenting, and other adult things tend to be the new focus.  Also…a lot more boob and sex jokes, furthering the show from its predecessor’s squeaky clean image.

fuller house 2
via IB Times

Longtime and fervent fans of Full House should find bundles of things to love about Fuller House.  The show’s producers and directors did a pretty bang-up job of recreating the look and feel of the original series.  The interior of the house (albeit some minor changes) looks like a carbon copy of the house we have come to love and the actors fit right back into their characters with ease.  The new theme song, sung by Carly Rae Jepson, is pretty amazing and the show provides a good bit of flashbacks to the original.  Not an episode went by without some reference to the old show.  It made Fuller House fun to watch.

However, if you take away the nostalgia and present the show as it is…there isn’t that much there unfortunately.  The show leans a little too heavily on the nostalgia factor, sacrificing good writing in the process.  A lot of the humor is a little too on-the-nose for my tastes.  A good bit of the jokes fell flat as well.  There were some genuinely funny moments (D.J. Tanner and her plumber, the whole SF Giants episode) but a lot of the humor just wasn’t working for me.  There’s also a love triangle that develops between D.J. and two other guys that has its moments, but just comes off as cheesy and predictable in the end.  I’m not going to spoil the final episode, but let’s just say I predicted it from a couple of miles away.  It wasn’t the payoff that I was expecting.

fuller house 3
via Hypable

I enjoyed my time with Fuller House best when I just forgot about the parts that make it an average sitcom and instead enjoyed the heavy doses of nostalgia that it shovels at viewers.  I’m willing to bet that most people who will watch the show are coming for the nostalgia, so it should bode pretty well with fans.  However, if you take off the nostalgia-goggles and view the final product as a whole, it’s a show that has some issues.  Did I enjoy Fuller House?  Sure, for the most part.  Is it a good comedy?  No way, Jose! (Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh…but it’s not good) To no surprise, the show was just renewed today for a second season, so this gives them another chance to right their wrongs and put out a second season better than the first.

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Fuller House

Review: See You in Valhalla

see you in valhalla cover
via The Red Carpet

See You in Valhalla (2015)

R / 82 min

Comedy / Drama

Starring: Sarah Hyland, Bret Harrison, Steve Howey

Director: Jarret Tarnol


Oh the classic genre that is dramedy.  It’s a genre where you pretty much know what your signing up for when you go in.  *Insert life event* brings *insert name* back home to their crazy family where they all have to deal with *insert life event* in their own ways.  What’s that you say?  This kind of story sounds familiar to you?  That’s because you have probably seen this type of movie a bajillion times before.  Luckily (or probably not), See You in Valhalla brings a paint-by-the-numbers story to the table with a few quirks as the side dishes.

see you in valhalla 1
via Entertainment Today

The movie begins with the rather odd death of Johana Burwood’s (Sarah Hyland) brother who attempts to avenge his girlfriend by dressing up as a Viking and going after the drug dealer who was one of the reasons for his girlfriend’s overdose.  Johana’s brother was high as a kite, which didn’t do him any favors as he ended up getting himself killed.  Upon hearing of her brother’s death, Johana and her newly appointed boyfriend, Peter (Alex Frost), take a trip back to her home where she has to deal with the wack-job of a family as well as her muddled past.

Johana’s father, played by Conor O’Farrell, is out of touch with reality, hiring some therapist lady (Jamie Wozney) to be his in-home therapist.  Her brothers, Barry (Bret Harrison) and Don (Michael Weston), have quirks of their own.  Barry is gay and has a bodybuilder sensei type boyfriend named Makewi (Steve Howey) while Don is working through a divorce with a daughter who he had when he was pretty young himself.  Yeah, they’re a dysfunctional family that work each other up and get on each other’s nerves.  They all manage to be super unlikable, minus a select few like Peter and Makew who happens to be one of the movies most redeeming qualities.  There was a scene where the whole family was gathered around the dinner table for the first time in a while, where it didn’t take long for the insults to fly and the punches to be thrown.  I imagined myself sitting at one of the chairs because, I too, hated almost every person at that table.  They are all dirt bags who need to get along.

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via Live for Films

It doesn’t take long for the movie to start throwing around the stereotypical family drama that you have come to expect from these types of movies.  Death, past relationships, current relationships, abortions, divorce, and jobs are some of the deep subject matter that the movie just tosses around like a feather, holding no weight whatsoever.  Everything is tackled at surface level without managing to go deeper.  “Hey, I’ve been going through a divorce.” “Oh really, I’m sorry to hear about that…okay what’s next?”  That right there is an example of a sample conversation that would go down in this movie.  Uh, you don’t want to go a little further?  He seems to be hurting pretty bad because of the divorce.  Well okay if you insist…

Maybe the most mind-boggling aspect of the whole movie is the fact that nobody addresses the massive elephant in the room…the part where their brother got himself killed…as a Viking?  What? The movie seems to play it off like it’s nothing.  Don’t even get me started on the movie’s final scene.  It’s kind of funny, but so out of left field that it feels super out of place.  Maybe I would have gotten a little more out of the movie if I just accepted the fact that their brother was just a casual Viking.  I was waiting the entire movie for one of the characters to be like, “hey guys, don’t you maybe think it’s a little weird that our brother got himself killed as a Viking?”

see you in valhalla 3
via Screen Picks

There were times when See You in Valhalla made me laugh, but those moments were few and sparse.  Instead, we get a movie that tries too hard at being sappy and sentimental thanks to its surface level drama.  It also doesn’t help that the movie has a plot formed by the same cookie cutter that a lot of similar movies have used.  Johana would have done us, as well as herself, a ton of favors by just staying home and sitting this one out.

see you in valhalla score

Review: Furious 7

via Movie Poster
via Movie Poster

Furious 7 (2015)

PG13 / 137 min

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson

Director: James Wan


It’s ride or die time folks.  Furious 7 is here and it has some pretty big shoes to fill. Fast Five delivered a fair share of thrills and Fast & Furious 6 was just a flaming ball of insanity.  There were two questions that I had going into the seventh instalment of the series.  First off, would Furious 7 somehow find a way to top the levels of ridiculousness that the sixth movie brought?  Secondly, how would they send off Paul Walker and his character Brian O’Conner?  James Wan, the movie’s director, managed to deliver not only a high octane experience, but a sentimental one as well.

The story this time is all about family.  It’s also about revenge.  Remember Shaw from Fast and Furious 6?  He was the evil criminal mastermind who led a team of mercenaries.  It turns out that he has a brother, Deckard Shaw, who is played by action movie badass Jason Statham.  He’s out for revenge for what Dominic Torretto, played by Vin Diesel, and his crew (or should I say family) did to his brother.

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After injuring Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, at his own headquarters, Deckard then moves on to Tokyo to take out Hans.  He even proceeds to plant a bomb at O’Conner’s house, which they narrowly avoid.  This is enough for Dom to assemble his team.  No one messes with his family.

Jason Statham does a great job at playing the menacing and dirty assassin-like character of Deckard.  It’s a shame that the movie treated him like a mere distraction though.  The bigger threat that Dom and his team have to face is revealed later in the movie, and Deckard’s purpose is to just get in their way.  “God’s Eye” is the big piece of technology that is the root of all the conflict.  It’s a device that basically allows the user to tap into every camera in the world in order to find anyone you would like.  It’s a piece of technology that basically takes all of the challenge out of a manhunt.

via On Secret Hunt
via On Secret Hunt

Let’s be honest with ourselves however.  It’s hard to really care about the overall plot, which leaves a lot to be desired, when the high-speed races and the intense stunts are what we watch these movies for.  Furious 7 doesn’t give us massive set piece moments like the crazy airstrip scene in the previous movie, but it manages to deliver non-stop thrills over the movies 140-minute running time.  Cars are being dropped out of planes, as well as driven out of skyscrapers.  We also get street fights and street races through the streets of LA.  Suspension of disbelief is required, because the movie knows that it is not rooted in reality, and it takes its stunts to extreme levels of un-believability.  Furious 7 is by definition a popcorn movie.

via On Secret Hunt
via On Secret Hunt

The movie manages to press hard on the gas pedal, but it does slow down for a few sentimental story moments.  As I mentioned before, the movie gives a nice send-off for not only Brian O’Conner, but Paul Walker himself.  The ending took me by surprise, and it actually pulls pretty hard on the heart-strings.  I didn’t know what to expect going into the movie, but I was pretty satisfied with how they handled his goodbye.  The movie also focuses a little on Dom and Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, and their relationship.

It’s also worth noting that James Wan and Universal did a great job at handling Paul Walker’s death.  The actor’s death came during the production of the movie, but they managed to use his two brothers, old footage, and CGI to fill in the blanks.  Yes, there were some instances where we saw Paul’s face obscured, or his back to the camera, but for the most part, they did a pretty good job.

via On Secret Hunt
via On Secret Hunt

The Fast and Furious movies continue to out-do themselves and Furious 7 is no different.  The movie gets ridiculous at some points, almost laughably so, but that is the theme of these movies.  They’re about fast cars, high thrills, and family.  Jason Statham was a great addition to the star-studded cast, even though his character could have been used in a better way.  The movie also sets itself up for Furious 8, or whatever form that movie takes.  Furious 7 is dumb fun action movie, which gives a nice start to the summer blockbuster season.

furious 7 score

Review: Boyhood

via Pathe
via Pathe

Boyhood (2014)

R / 165 min.

Drama

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

Director: Richard Linklater


With the Oscar nominations announced and all the buzz surrounding the nominated movies, the Oscar season has officially started.  One of the movies that has been receiving a lot of buzz is Boyhood, a movie that took twelve years to make.  Twelve years?  It’s really insane when you step back and think about it.  On top of that, the same actors were used during the whole span of production.  It’s quite an undertaking, and a broad vision by director Richard Linklater.  There was no doubt that I had to see what this project was all about.

Boyhood chronicles the twelve year journey of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his wild ride through the ages of five to eighteen.  I’m willing to bet that just about everybody has some pretty fond memories of these years.  A lot happens during these childhood years, and there is a fair share of phases that we probably went through.  Mason is no different.

via Vulture
via Vulture

Along the way, we see Mason’s sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) as well as Mason’s mom and dad, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke respectively.  As we see early on in the film, this relationship doesn’t last too long, and the kids begin to live with their mom, who goes on to deal with a bunch of bad relationships often spoiled by the effects of alcohol and abuse.  It’s a rough childhood for Mason and his sister Samantha, and as Samantha put it early on, “it sucks.”

Even amongst the struggles that they face, they all find ways to move on in their lives.  They grow up on screen right before our eyes.  It’s amazing.  No other movie that I have seen to this date really captures the transformation of a boy quite like Boyhood.  A director’s main goal in a movie is to get his audience to care about his characters.  When you witness the growth of Richard Linklater’s characters year by year (literally), it’s almost impossible not to grow attached to Mason and his family.

via Flavor Wire
via Flavor Wire

Along their journey, we begin to get a look at how Mason deals with things like puberty, school, bullying, drugs, alcohol, and sex.  These are all obstacles and milestones that we have to go through and experience on our way to become adults.  Amid all of these things, we also get to see things like camping trips, parties, road trips, baseball games, bowling, and graduation.  We’re watching Mason go through life in every sense of the meaning.

I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of nostalgia as I witnessed the growth.  Not only did we see Mason grow, but we also saw the world around him grow as well.  The music that was popular changed.  The video games that they played changed.  The activities that they found fun changed.  It was cool to witness these kids grow up on the same things that we did.  It just made them so much more relatable.

boyhood 3
via Focus

One of my favorite performances in the movie came from Patricia Arquette as Mason and Samantha’s mom.  The kids had a hard childhood, but it was even tougher for their mom, who had to deal with the blunt end of most of these struggles.  Arquette captured this character perfectly, and her transformation by the end of the movie was just as fulfilling as the kids.  Her last moments in the film as Mason was getting ready to go off to college were probably the toughest to watch.  She just seems like a broken woman by the end, as her last milestone of Mason going off to college was being checked off.  What does she have to look forward to?  What’s next for her?  “[Her] own funeral” as she puts it.  It was the end of the line for her.  She got herself a nomination for Best Actress, and I couldn’t agree more.

via Oscar Favorite
via Oscar Favorite

The one gripe I have with the movie is with the character of Samantha as Mason’s journey comes to a close.  During the first half of the movie, both her and Mason were heavily featured in the spotlight.  However, as the journey rolled on, we started to see her character fall off, and Mason’s come to prominence.  Yes, this is a movie that is centered on Mason’s journey, but it still would have been nice to see a little more of Samantha’s growth towards the end.  It kind of just felt like she was forgotten, left in the movies tracks.

I can only imagine the amount of work that was put into the movie, given its insane amount of time it took to make.  It doesn’t have the scale of those big blockbuster action movies that adorn the screens in the summer, but Boyhood’s just as epic as those blockbusters.  The amount of work that Richard Linklater, the actors, and his team put in to this movie truly shines through every scene that is presented to us.  A lot of these actors spent a good portion of their lives with this movie, and probably have learned a lot of things along the way.  I am excited to see where they go from here, because I’m sure they all have bright futures.

boyhood score

Review: Breaking Bad Season One

breaking bad s1 posterBreaking Bad (Season 1) (2008)

AMC / TVMA

Crime / Drama / Thriller

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn

Creator: Vince Gilligan


It’s about time I got around to one of the most highly regarded TV shows as of late.  Whenever Breaking Bad was running, I always regarded it as an interesting show…but nothing that I would sit down and watch. I never felt like I had the time to do it.  My friends and people around me would talk about it in a really good light.  After some thought, I have decided to give the series a try, and see what all of the hype is about.  It only took a couple of episodes for me to get hooked.  Literally two episodes.

via AMCTV Blog
via AMCTV Blog

Breaking Bad is a look at the life of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher who has been diagnosed with a terminal case of Lung Cancer.  It takes him a while to bring up the news to his wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) and son Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte).  He feels that in order to provide for his family after he eventually passes away, he needs to provide them with a good amount of financial security.  He decides to get into the methamphetamine business.  Coincidentally, he begins his work with an old high school student of his, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

The relationship between Walt and Jesse is bizarre.  It’s amazing that the two somehow turn out to get stuff done.  They’re polar opposites, and this causes a little bit of tension between the two.  Jesse is probably my favorite character so far.  He’s not new to the meth business.  He carries a “gangsta” persona that often rubs Walt the wrong way.  The part of Jesse’s character that sticks out to me is his relationship with his family.  We only see these interactions in one episode, but it’s clear to see that they are not too accepting of his tendencies.  I really hope we get more of this relationship in the upcoming seasons.  It showed the emotional side of Jesse, one that I didn’t see too often in other episodes.

via Top Ten TV
via Top Ten TV

We also get to see Skylar’s sister, Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt), as well as her husband Hank (Dean Norris).  Hank is an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration in New Mexico, which will most likely cause quite a few problems for Walt in his future dealings.  We started to get the sense towards the end of the season that Hank was starting to sniff Walt’s trail.  He hasn’t accused Walt yet, but it’s only a matter of time before Walt slips up and things get nasty.

Over the course of the first season, we start to see Walt and Jesse’s initial struggles with their venture.  Walt, using all of his chemistry knowledge, cooks the best batch of crystal that anybody in that town has ever seen.  This doesn’t help them however when it comes to their business interactions.  Their first deal with a drug dealer named Krazy 8.  Things don’t go nice and planned, causing Walt to kill Crazy 8’s partner and keep Krazy 8 in Jesse’s basement until they could figure things out.  It’s here that we get to see the kind of stuff that Walt will have to deal with if he wants to continue on with the business.  Things will most definitely not go as planned, but he needs to keep his composure through it all.

breaking bad s1 3
via AMCTV Blog

 

By the end of the season, we begin to see the progression of Walt and Jesse’s relationship, and we also get to see how complicated their business is going to get.  Walt is going to need a lot of money for all of his treatments, which means he is going to need to cook a lot of meth, which isn’t going to be easy.

After the death of Krazy 8, Tuco is the man who takes over as the drug lord for the town.  After Jesse almost gets beaten to a pulp attempting to sell a batch to Tuco, Walt realizes that he is going to have to take the matter into his own hands to get stuff done.  This is when we see Walt don the iconic nickname of “Heisenberg” to mask his identity.  As silly as the name sounds, it’s the start of what will become bigger and better things for Walt and his partner Jesse.  They make a lucrative business deal with Tuco, which means production is going to have to ramp up.  The money starts to flow in.  Things are looking good.

via seriesly Awesome
via seriesly Awesome

As the future seasons come and go, bigger and better things will come with their bigger problems.  As we saw in the first batch of episodes, it’s not going to be smooth sailing for Walt.  He is going to have to attempt to live a double life, which will be close to impossible once production starts to ramp up.  He’s also going to have to watch his tail, especially with guys like Hank who are in smelling distance of catching Walt in his footsteps.  When I talk to friends about the series, they tell me that the show “just started”.  I can only imagine what ridiculous and crazy situations that “Heisenberg” and Jesse get themselves into, especially considering how crazy this first season got.

In the course of the first bunch of episodes, I have really grown an appreciation for Breaking Bad’s writing.  The show is brilliantly written and it’s as captivating as ever.  The pilot episode had a grip on me like no other, and the rest of the episodes so far have kept things moving.  All of the characters are nicely done and the relationships and conversations that they have with others is truly entertaining.

via Esquire
via Esquire

The first season of Breaking Bad has been a wild ride, and I expect it to shoot upwards in terms of insanity.  Walt only has a matter of time before his cancer starts to bring him down, and I am really looking forward to seeing the progression of his character.  We see him pretty low in the first couple of episodes, but he begins to brighten up after his treatments start to kick in.  I can only imagine the roller coaster ride that I have waiting for me at the start of season two.

breaking bad s1 score