While this sequel may not be as fresh as its predecessor, Muppets Most Wanted is still enjoyable. After two and a half years the Muppets return to the big screen to show audiences why we still care for them. While The Muppets (2011) re-introduced our fellow and heartwarming pals, here the sequel plays more on laughable gags and the silliness that made the Muppets memorable. Sadly, Jason Segel and Amy Adams do not return, but have no fear, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey are here.
The sequel begins in the same spot where the last film ended. Now that the Muppets are famous again they start off with a song of why sequels are not as good as the first film. While they are mostly correct with this running gag, the song is so catchy and funny you won’t be able to resist humming along. Following their success from the first film, Dominic Badguy (Gervais) suggests that the Muppets go on a world tour with him as their tour manager. Gervais is hilarious as usual and helps the film execute big laughs on screen. Kermit agrees to go on tour with him and the Muppets head to Europe. Next, we find out that Constantine – the world’s No. 1 villain – has escaped from a Russian prison. He looks exactly like Kermit but with a mole on his face.
When Constantine finds Kermit, he frames our beloved frog as himself by slapping a fake mole on his face. Kermit is arrested and taken away to the same Russian prison. There Kermit meets Nadya (Fey), a Gulag prison guard. Fey is brilliant as the quirky prison guard who may have a slight obsession with Kermit the Frog. After Kermit is gone, Constantine and Dominic team up to steal some of the world’s greatest treasures. Sam the Eagle and Jean Pierre Napoleon (Burrell) also team up to solve the case and to find Constantine. This duo is irresistible and funny. There is never a dull moment when both of them appear on screen together.
Will the Muppets realize that Constantine is a fake? Will Kermit escape the prison? Will Sam the Eagle and Napoleon solve the case? Will miss Piggy ever stop complaining? The Muppets have always been fun and prove that they’ve still got it in Most Wanted. In the end, the Muppets are still able to pack in enough gags, catchy songs and cameos that it will leave the viewers wanting more. I had fun from start to finish in this film.
SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen the first 300, they all die at the end so, sadly, we get no Gerard Butler in this film. Butler has not done much since then but his presence and Spartan kick were deeply missed in the most recent installment of, 300. While the first 300 was no masterpiece by any means, a sequel was nothing more than unnecessary. Of course, the only reason Hollywood gave it the green light was to make more money off of the franchise. Zach Snyder (Watchmen and Man of Steel) does not return to the director’s chair in this one. Instead, Noam Murro (Smart People) steps in his place. Murro tries, but lacks Snyder’s keen visionary experience to help shape the film as a whole.
Where in the first film we have the underdog story of the Spartans, here the plot focuses on Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), the leader of the Athenians who goes to war against the invading Persian army to unite all of Greece. The sequel also takes place before, during and after the events of the first film. The Persian forces are still led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who will stop at nothing to have the whole world serving underneath his feet. Eva Green plays Artemisia, a new commander of the Persian navy who is out for vengeance. If anything, watch this film for Green’s performance alone. She does an excellent job as the vengeful leader out for everyone’s head. It’s a shame because even with Green’s grand performance the film still falls flat and is nothing more than a bloodbath. The sequel is nothing more than stylized gore to try and please the viewer.
So if buckets of blood with no point amuse you, why not pay the extra buck to see it in 3D? Along with the bland storytelling the film also packs in one of the most outrageous sex scenes in recent memory. Where this first film was just mere fun and enjoyment of the underdog story, here the sequel is nothing more that just pointless bloodshed for a few more bucks. Green does her best as the ruthless villain but is overshadowed by the rest of the mess in this film. 300: Rise of an Empire gets two bloody stars out of five.
Meet Ron Woodroof, (McConaughey) a real-life Texas cowboy who has three priorities to his life: sex, drugs and rodeos. Woodroof’s life is soon to be turned upside down after he is diagnosed HIV-positive and is given only 30 days to live from Dr. Sevard (Dennis O’Hare). Woodroof of course does not believe anything will kill him and ungracefully leaves the hospital. Soon after, Woodroof starts to realize that he is sick and needs help. McConaughey did a grand job in this role and his performance won him an Oscar for Best Actor – in the Leading Role. McConaughey is electrifying and even lost 45 pounds for this role. He has finally proven that he is a top-notch actor being in three critically acclaimed films in 2013 (Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club). McConaughey is really transformative here and pulls you into the film when he becomes the character.
The Hospital offers Woodroof the legal testing drug AZT to help him but he soon finds out the harm of AZT after his HIV turns into AIDS. Woodroof decides to smuggle unapproved pharmaceutical drugs into Texas to help his symptoms and other AIDS patients. He calls his business the Dallas Buyers Club. Woodroof meets Rayon (Jared Leto) a transsexual who befriends him and wants to help him out with his business. Leto plays a difficult role here but actually transforms into his character. Leto hits perfection, with his best role in his career. He brings wit, charm and heartbreak to the film. Leto won an Oscar for Best Actor – in a Supporting Role.
The best scene in the film is when Woodroof hugs Rayon in his broken down apartment. There is no talking, just silence, but you can feel the emotion between the two characters. Woodroof finally shows compassion toward people with AIDS. He finally sees that they are real people with feelings. Rayon finally feels cared for from someone else since his family has disowned him. This is the most powerful and emotional scene in the entire film.
Director Jean-Marc Valleé (C.R.A.Z.Y. and Café de Flore) executes their relationship brilliantly. He gives both actors time to grow on and off the screen. He makes you feel McConaughey and Leto’s pain throughout the film. You feel their loneliness and suffering through every perfectly placed shot. Dallas Buyers Club really focuses on its main characters and this is what uplifts the film. McConaughey and Leto proved on screen why they won the Oscars for Best Actor and Supporting Actor. Dallas Buyers Club also helps shed more light on the AIDS epidemic that has been haunting our world for decades. This is a powerful film.
Two-time Oscar winner Judi Dench hits a new peak in her acting career with a performance for the ages. Dench plays Philomena Lee, a good Irish-Catholic out to find her long lost son the nuns at the Roscrea Convent took from her 50 years ago. Dench’s performance is inspirational and is the foundation for the film. She was nominated for Best Actress – in a Leading Role. This is her sixth Oscar nomination in her career. She meets Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), an atheist Brit journalist who not only tells her story but also helps search for her son. Coogan not only acted but also co-wrote and produced this film. He does a tremendous job as the skeptical journalist who talks down God and the purpose in life.
When Lee goes to Sixsmith and asked him to help search for her son, he is torn between writing a good journalism story or finding out the truth of what happened to her son. Director Stephen Frears (The Queen) exposes the wrongdoings of the Catholic Church’s past and the nun’s hypocrisy. Throughout this film we see the how people still fall short in life and hiding old sins under the rug will never go away, like the nuns thought they would. Lee is able to still rise above all the immoral corruption of the Catholic Church and still holds her faith close to her.
Through the highs and lows throughout the film Lee and Sixsmith’s chemistry deepens and Sixsmith starts looking at life through a different perspective. In one of the last and more emotional scenes, Dench shows us the true power of forgiveness at the end. This incredible story needs to be shared to everyone. It will surely tug at your heartstrings.
Director Alexander Payne (Sideways and The Descendants) is known for his dramedies and in Nebraska he pursues this genre even further. Payne chooses veteran Bruce Dern to take on the lead role for the film. He plays Woody Grant, a father who is convinced he has won a million-dollar magazine sweepstakes in Omaha, Neb. The only problem is that Woody lives in Montana and is not allowed to drive. At the beginning of the film he tries walking to Nebraska, but his family members repeatedly come to rescue him. Dern, 77, is a knockout in the lead chair for this film; he plays the character with such instability and heartbreak. Dern received his second Oscar nomination because of his grand performance in this film.
Even though Woody’s past is blurred with drinking and hard times, his wife, Kate (June Squibb), calls him a damn fool for chasing this fantasy. Squibb is hilarious every time she is on screen. She does not put up with people’s garbage and always throws in her 2 cents. Squibb was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress – in a Supporting Role. His youngest son, David (Will Forte), knows the sweepstake is a scam and tries to tell his dad that, but Woody will not have it. David shows compassion for his dad and decides to drive him to Nebraska. This is where our adventure begins with a father and son road trip to Nebraska. Their relationship starts out slim but deepens by the end of the film. This trip gives David an opportunity to get closer with his father by asking him questions about his childhood, seeing his old house where he grew up and even having a beer with his old man.
Payne executes this brilliantly and sends a heartwarming and poetic message to viewers about family. One unique aspect to Nebraska was that it is shot completely in black and white. In my opinion, if this movie were in color, the film’s value as a whole would have been lost. Another noteworthy performance is by a comedic Bob Odenkirk, who plays the oldest son, Ross. Payne has already shown his greatness with a list of remarkable films (Election, About Schmidt, Sideway and The Descendants) and now has added another great film to his canon. Throughout this film we journey with Woody all the way to Omaha seeing his highs and lows as a parent.
Even though Woody has had a difficult past with his drinking, here we see a more optimistic Woody who is determined to get his million dollars in Nebraska and make a better name for himself, and more importantly, his family. Nebraska was nominated for six Oscars, but sadly the film did not win even one. That should not discourage the viewer, though, as Nebraska is still an excellent film. Through all of this black-and-white film, Nebraska still shines brightly with its poetic and heartwarming message.
Every so often Hollywood gets the bright idea to remake classic or original films that should be left alone. Now, don’t get me wrong, there have been some remakes in the past that have made a significant improvement from the original. Remakes like: The Fly (1986), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), King Kong (2005), Scarface (1983), Cape Fear (1991) and Oceans Eleven (2001) all stood out from the original. But when there are good remakes, there come bad ones as well. Remakes like: Clash of the Titans (2010), Conan the Barbarian (2011), The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), Halloween (2007), The Invasion (2007), Planet of the Apes (2001) and Psycho (1998) all were awful remakes and films in general. Back to my point, while Jose Padilha’s (Elite Squad) Robo-remake was much better than any of these bad remakes in my opinion, it still did not make a significant improvement over Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original.
The original Robocop was no masterpiece by any means, but it still had that special something from the ’80s. Verhoeven packed in themes of gentrification, corruption, authoritarianism, capitalism, revenge, dystopia and ultra-violence. These aspects are what made that film so unique from that time period. The year is 2028, and OmniCorp is at the center of their “robot soldier” technology, when Alex Murphy, (Joel Kinnaman) – a good father and cop in the corrupted Detroit – is critically injured in a car bomb. OmniCorp makes their golden opportunity to create their Robocop, turning Murphy into part man, and mostly part machine. Kinnaman did an OK job as Robocop, but I preferred Peter Weller’s performance from the original. Director Padilha lacked Verhoeven’s craft and critical/comical satire in the film. The next flaw was the PG-13 rating. This of course was made to boost ticket sales for younger audiences, but the ultra-violence is what made the original stand out. The ultra-violence was a major factor for the original because Verhoeven used it to satire the American culture.
While the special effects were a huge improvement from the original, it still should not be the biggest factor for a film. One noble performance from the film that I should point out was Gary Oldman. He plays scientist Dr. Dennett Norton and does a superb job. Oldman has always been an actor I have admired, so if you do go see this film, go see it for his performance alone. Another thing this film did a decent job on was focusing more on Murphy’s family relationship after he turns into Robocop. Sadly, half way through the film the ending became predictable and was totally bland from there on.
Overall, this Robocop had some entertaining aspects (special effects and Oldman’s performance), but it also contained negative feedback for the lack of direction, absence of Peter Weller, lack of ultra-violence, the predictable ending and the lack of making it stand out from the original.
If you were skeptical about this film, don’t be, because The LEGO Movie is the first great film of 2014. This film works thanks to its beautiful animation, talented voice cast, catchy music and charming story; it’s fun for all ages. This all-star voice cast consists of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and many more. Our adventure begins with Emmet (Pratt) an average, rule-following LEGO mini-figure who one day gets mistaken for the “special” (the LEGO who will save the world). Emmet meets Wyldstyle (Banks) and Vitruvius (Freeman), who help him join forces with the other Master Builders to take down the evil tyrant Lord Business (Ferrell). Lord Business has captured the “Kragle,” which will freeze the LEGO universe perfectly in place.
Now, it’s up to Emmet to stop Lord Business, save the LEGO universe and find out if he’s a true Master Builder. Lord and Miller are known for their one-line gags and execute this perfectly in the film. The LEGO Movie is fast paced and sometimes can spiral out of control, but it’s non-stop fun from beginning to the end. Behind these tiny LEGO blocks is a charming story of a nobody who saves everybody and good family relationships. I’ll also give you a small hint: the LEGO world is parallel to ours. In the end, Lord and Miller show us the true joy of being a kid and building LEGOs. This is why LEGOs were made for kids to use their imagination and to express their creativity through them. The film shows us an appreciation for LEGOs and will bring out the inner kid in you. That’s why I give The LEGO Movie four LEGO blocks out of five.
Ellen DeGeneres hosted this year’s Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and did a fantastic job, bringing big laughs to the show by knocking out jokes, handing out pizza to the actors and, of course, taking selfies with them. The Oscars also did a tribute to the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. Pink sang Over the Rainbow and her sensational performance blew audiences away. Bette Midler also sang a memorial song for all of the people in Hollywood who have passed away in the past year, like James Gandolfini, Harold Ramis, Shirley Temple Black and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Gravity won the most awards of the night, taking home seven Oscars, including Best Director. 12 Years a Slave won three (including Best Picture), Dallas Buyers Club won three (including Best Actor and Supporting Actor), Frozen won two, The Great Gatsby won two, Blue Jasmine won one, Her won one and The Great Beauty won one. Now, where there are winners at the Oscars, sadly, there must also be losers: American Hustle (nominated for 10 Oscars), Captain Phillips (nominated six), Nebraska (nominated six), The Wolf of Wall Street (nominated five) and Philomena (nominated four) did not take home a single Oscar.
While Gravity took home the most awards, the big winner of the night was 12 Years a Slave, taking home Best Picture. 12 Years a Slave is a true story based on Solomon Northup’s personal experience as a slave. At first, Northup is a free man but ends up being tricked and sold into slavery. Here we take the journey with Northup through all of his pain, suffering, hope and faith. If you have not seen this film I recommend that you see it at once. “Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” said director Steve McQueen, who dedicated his film to the people who were or still are in the bondage of slavery. Win or lose, all of the films nominated for an Oscar this year were great productions that have and will impact the way we look at cinema from now on.
Here is the list of all the Oscar winners:
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Winner: 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Winner: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine (2013)
Best Achievement in Directing
Winner: Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity (2013)
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Winner: Her (2013) – Spike Jonze
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Winner: 12 Years a Slave (2013) – John Ridley
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Winner: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Winner: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Winner: Frozen (2013)
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Winner: The Great Beauty (2013) – Paolo Sorrentino (Italy)
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Winner: Gravity (2013) – Steven Price
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Winner: Frozen (2013) – Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez (“Let It Go”)
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Winner: Gravity (2013) – Emmanuel Lubezki
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Winner: Gravity (2013) – Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould
Best Achievement in Production Design
Winner: The Great Gatsby (2013) – Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
Winner: Dallas Buyers Club (2013) – Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Winner: The Great Gatsby (2013) – Catherine Martin
Best Achievement in Editing
Winner: Gravity (2013) – Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Winner: Gravity (2013) – Glenn Freemantle
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Winner: Gravity (2013) – Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro
Best Short Film, Live Action
Winner: Helium (2014) – Anders Walter
Best Short Film, Animated
Winner: Mr Hublot (2013) – Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares
Best Documentary, Short Subject
Winner: The Lady In Number 6 (2013) – Malcolm Clarke, Carl Freed
Best Documentary, Feature
Winner: Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013) – Morgan Neville