Oh no, here we go again. Another depressing, cheesy and predictable cancer story from Hollywood. Not so fast. Author John Green’s 2012 young-adult bestseller book about a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, both with cancer, isn’t so bad after all. It turns out that The Fault in Our Stars is just as good on the big screen as it is on the page. Green made a wise choice by adding in humor to his sad love story, and director Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) takes this to heart by filming it exactly how the book was written. Scriptwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now and (500) Days of Summer) know how to tug at your heartstrings little by little until you’re a wet mess by the end of the film. Neustadter and Weber keep the film meaningful and touching without being cheesy.
The film also thrives from its top two stars, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Most recently known as the Prior siblings in last spring’s Divergent, they are much better as lovers here. Woodley, 22, has already proven her expertise in 2011’s The Descendants and 2013’s The Spectacular Now. Woodley’s performance is even more heartbreaking here as she plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old whose thyroid cancer forces her to wear a tube in her nose and haul around an oxygen tank. Hazel is forced by her mother (Laura Dern) to go to a cancer patients’ support group at a local church, which makes her quiver by the sound of it. This over-the-top Jesus-happy group makes Hazel more nauseous than her chemo.
That is, until she meets Augustus Waters (Elgort). Newcomer Elgort is wonderful as the charming young man who is in remission from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, which caused him to lose one of his legs from the knee down. Augustus, also known as Gus, is in the group to support one of his buddies, Isaac (Nat Wolff), who has lost one of his eyes due to cancer. Gus befriends Hazel and shows her how to live life to its fullest without cancer getting in the way. One of Gus’ most interesting habits is bringing a cigarette to his mouth but never lighting it. If he doesn’t light it, then the nicotine won’t go into his lungs; therefore, he’s essentially cheating death. Hazel shares with Gus her obsession over author Peter Van Houten’s An Imperial Affliction. Van Houten ended this novel in mid-sentence, which frustrated Hazel. Hazel soon discovered that van Houten lives in Amsterdam and is consumed with meeting him.
Wanting to help Hazel, Gus uses his magic to get Hazel and himself to meet Van Houten. That’s when the real adventure begins for these two. Yes, The Fault in Our Stars still has its faults but Woodley and Elgort’s chemistry grows so strongly throughout the film that you overlook the mush. Boone also uses his sharp direction to help give the film more life. He takes such gentle care in telling this sad love story that in the end The Fault in Our Stars takes a piece out of you. Prejudging is hard but don’t let that distract you because this film reminds you how important your loved ones are.
I have enjoyed Seth MacFarlane’s early work with Family Guy and had high hopes for him after seeing his directorial début with Ted. Sadly, his second time around is a dud. MacFarlane is known for the cutaway gags and lampooning American culture. His humor is unique and funny. But in A Million Ways to Die in the West most of his jokes fall flat or go on way too long. This is the first time we see MacFarlane in a live action lead role for a film. He’s known for his incredible voice acting skill for animated characters. Sadly, his live action acting is not at the same level of quality as his voice acting.
It’s 1882, and we meet Albert (MacFarlane), a sheep farmer, who gets dumped by his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) to a dandy (Neil Patrick Harris). Albert meets a mysterious woman, Anna (Charlize Theron), who helps Albert find his courage, but there is one problem. She’s married to a gunslinger (Liam Neeson). From there the film unfolds into a messy situation … hint the title. Most of the time MacFarlane looked like he was out of place in the film, and the story was lost with the numerous jokes thrown in your face every second. And speaking of all those jokes, the biggest letdown of this film are the jokes. Most of them are hit-or-miss and after the material runs out the film leads into toilet humor.
The film did have some fun moments, the bar fight scene in particular, but after seeing the hilarious Ted, MacFarlane’s second film disappoints. A Million Ways to Die in the West misses the big laughs, wastes its talented cast and is overlong. In the end, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a scattershot affair.
If you want to see something fun, light, and heart-warming this summer, then go see Chef because it’s the feel-good film of the year. Jon Favreau steps away from the special effects, superheroes and elf tights to give us a great film about family, friends and food. Favreau directs, writes, co-produces and acts in this delicious film. He also serves us up a charming cast (Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr.) and a sharp script.
We meet Carl Casper (Favreau) a Miami-born chef who is trying to prove himself in Los Angeles, but in the process divorces his wife (Vergara) and is distant from his son due to his workaholicsim. Carl has a passion for food and wants to create new recipes just like an artist. Unfortunately, his boss (Hoffman) does not want the new food but the old food, A.KA. the classics. So when famous food critic and blogger, Ramsey Michel (Platt), comes by to dine, instead he is treated with old and unappetizing food. Ramsey is disgusted and disappointed with Carl, so he writes him a nasty review. Carl is furious and ends up finding his way to Twitter through his son, Percy, who sets him up with an account not knowing what his father is about to do. Carl is unaware of the power of social media and ends up slamming Ramsey online and in the process loses his temper and his job.
Carl has nothing: He has lost his wife, his job and his passion for cooking. Eventually, his ex-wife, Inez, talks him into going with her and Percy to Miami to turn his life in the right direction. Carl agrees and heads to Miami to start up his own food truck company to re-ignite his passion for cooking. In the process, his son Percy and best friend Martin (Leguizamo) join him on this grand road trip. From there the film leads into a fun and heart-warming adventure. Chef reminds us the importance in a father-son relationship and the beauty behind it. Favreau shows us the right amount of screen time between Carl and Percy to let their bond grow through the film. It’s a rather honest and touching film about being a good father and Favreau hits all the right marks. His performance is energetic and funny. Favreau knows when and where to drop in the right kind of humor to keep the film lively.
Favreau cooks up a delicious and appetizing film that will make filmgoers satisfied everywhere, plus, a hilarious cameo by Downey Jr. Chef is not just a film about food, it’s about friendship, passion and artistry. Audiences everywhere will be craving Chef. Go see this film … you won’t be disappointed. Eat. Drink. Go watch Chef.
This is the question that I have been asking myself for years: Will Adam Sandler ever grow up? After, seeing Blended the answer has been made quite clear … No. While Sandler’s career kicked off in the ’90s with great promise and a key comedic spot in the Saturday Night Live lineup, sadly, the quality of his films has declined drastically over the last decade. Yes, we all know Sandler as the goofy immature Billy Madison, but those days are long ago and it’s time to move on. Sandler did show some maturity in films like 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love and 2007’s Reign Over Me.
Unfortunately, these are the only films where Sandler stepped out of his comfort zone. Other than that it’s back to the goofy, loudmouth comedian. There’s nothing wrong with only acting in comedy films, but first the film has to be funny. It has been a long time since I have seen a really funny Sandler film. If things could not get much worse for Blended, it’s Sandler and Barrymore’s chemistry here. While, they sparked in The Wedding Singer here they never even begin to sizzle. So after a disastrous blind date, Lauren (Barrymore) and Jim (Sandler) agree never to see each other again. But somehow the two and their kids wind up together in the same suite at an African Safari resort for a week … coincidence or cliché?
Along with Sandler and Barrymore’s awful chemistry the film’s jokes fall flat. You may chuckle a few times but for the most part it’s unfunny, unsatisfying and tedious. This is just another immature Sandler film that fails to hit the big laughs and in the end Blended just doesn’t mix.
Maleficent is the third live-action re-imaging film on a classic tale by Walt Disney Pictures. The first two were 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Although the weakness to all of these films has been their bloated CGIs, the actors’ performances still are strong enough to carry each film. In 2010, it was Johnny Depp’s wit and charisma that helped carry Alice in Wonderland. In 2013, it was Rachael Weisz’s who out-shined James Franco, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams as the vicious witch in Oz the Great and Powerful.
Now in 2014, it’s Jolie’s star power that upholds Maleficent. Everyone else in the film fades in her presence. What made Maleficent entertaining for me was Jolie’s re-imaging as the title role. She was fierce, magnetic, sly and strong. Jolie not only nails her performance but also has fun doing so. The story begins with an elderly narrator stating, “Let us tell you an old tale anew and see how well you know it.” This tells you upfront that the classic 1959 Sleeping Beauty that we all know of is not the whole story. This gives Disney the opportunity to add and make changes to the classic old tale. We are introduced to a young and powerful fairy, Maleficent, who lives in The Moors (a magical realm bordering a human kingdom). The creatures of The Moors and the humans do not get along. But Maleficent befriends a boy, Stefan, and grows a friendship with him.
Later in their years, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) becomes power hungry and betrays Maleficent to become king. Stefan ends up cutting off Maleficent’s wings to seal his right as the next king. In the end, Maleficent is scarred for life and will never believe in true love again. Of course, Disney had to sneak in their “true love” theme as all of their other films do. Years later, the king and queen have a baby girl, Aurora, who is cursed by Maleficent. When Aurora (Ellie Fanning) turns 16 she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and fall into an everlasting sleep. The king is devastated and sends Aurora to live with three pixies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville) in the woods. This is the story that we are all familiar with. But Maleficent ends up growing fond of Aurora as she is growing up. We see that deep down between her rage and hatred, Maleficent truly has a heart. Jolie does a wonderful job through her transformation as the evil beast to the beloved fairy godmother.
Director Robert Stromberg (special effects artist for Oz and Alice in Wonderland) does a decent job at showing this transformation and showing us Maleficent’s point-of-view. While I wish Disney would look past their obsession of heavy special effects, at least Jolie’s willpower comes through. Maleficent sheds light to the iconic villain, plus a knockout performance by Jolie. In the end, Maleficent casts its spell and will dazzle children of all ages.
Director Bryan Singer (X-Men and X2: X-Men United) returns to the director’s chair to help keep the momentum going that 2011’s X-Men: First Class restored. The X-Men film series is one of the longest-running superhero series ever, starting in 2000. The franchise has had its highs (X-Men, X2, First Class and The Wolverine) and lows (X-Men: Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as a series, but Days of Future Past finally corrects those mistakes made in past films. This film acts as a sequel to both 2006’s Last Stand and 2011’s First Class, and as a follow-up to 2013’s The Wolverine. The film also boasts its solid cast (Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart) of both new and old X-Men actors. McKellen and Stewart reprise their roles as the incredible Magneto and Professor Xavier. Jackman also re-engages his claws as Wolverine, making this his seventh X-Men film to date.
The story is inspired by the 1981 Uncanny X-Men storyline Days of Future Past, by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, which focuses on two time periods. The film begins in the year 2023, a dystopian future run by Sentinels (mutant-hunting robots). The Sentinels are not only exterminating the mutants but the humans, who may harbor mutant genes, as well. Professor X (Stewart) comes up with a plan to send Wolverine (Jackman) back in time to the year 1973 where a catastrophic event took place that shaped history the way it is now. Wolverine has to unite the younger rivals of Magneto (Fassbender) and Professor X (McAvoy) to help him stop Mystique (Lawrence) who wants to assassinate an important person, Bolivar Trask (Dinklage), the creator of the Sentinels. Dinklage (most known as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones) has fun with his role. He’s a good guy and bad guy at the same time. Trask shows much ambition with his Sentinels but he’s also blinded by his creation.
The chemistry between Fassbender and McAvoy continues to grow as it did in First Class. Their best friend rivalry escalates throughout the film, and in the end McKellen and Stewart finally realize that their fighting was pointless. McAvoy and Stewart also have a face-to-face moment in the film that gives you shivers down your spine of the past looking into the future. But the real star in this film is Evan Peters, who plays Quicksilver. He talks fast, moves fast and plays fast in the film. Peters is a blast to watch on the big screen and I’m excited to see more of his character unfold in future films. Also, the prison breakout scene with him is a real doozy to watch. The film leads into a Terminator like feel. Scriptwriter Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes and First Class) delivers a thrilling summer blockbuster. It’s action packed, smartly written, solidly acted and gives honor to the X-Men franchise. Days of Future Past helps correct mistakes made in past films, while also connecting the rest of the X-Men universe. Singer knows how to deliver a big blockbuster film without dumbing it down. He has a passion for the X-Men films and gives them a lot of heart and tribute.
Standout performances in the film are by a fierce Jackman, a pessimistic McAvoy, a revengeful Fassbender, a magnetic Lawrence, an ambitious Dinklage, a quick Peters, a courageous Hoult, a brave McKellen and a thoughtful Stewart. Days of Future Past gets almost everything right and has fun doing so. It has set a new standard for superhero films to follow. Days of Future Past is this summer’s big winner and for that it receives four and a half stars out of five. It’s a grade “A” film. Please Mr. Singer keep making X-Men films forever. Also, make sure to stay after credits for a sneak peak at 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
From the guys who brought you last summer’s R-rated comedy knockout, This Is The End, comes this generation’s newest Animal House. Seth Rogen returns to the comedy stand as Mac Radner, a loving father and stoner. Mac and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) just became parents with their newborn daughter Stella. Now, Mac and Kelly are facing the hardships and restrictions of parenthood and just to complicate the situation a fraternity, Delta Psi Beta, moves in next door. Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and Pete Regazolli (Dave Franco) are the leaders of the fraternity and want to throw a massive end-of-the-year party to get their names up on the Delta Psi’s Hall of Fame.
The film leads into a hilarious frat vs. family with Rogen going head-to-head with Efron. Rogen is funny as usual and Efron actually did a good job as the hotheaded macho man. Rogen and Efron’s chemistry is filmed perfectly throughout and they’ll make you laugh until your insides hurt. Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets) nails the big laughs and pokes fun at the fraternity parties. I did enjoy more of the witty and slapstick humor than the gross-out humor in the film. There were a couple of scenes that could have been left out (the milking scene). Also, I did see a lot more of Rogen than I wanted to but for the most part Neighbors works. Neighbors hits its big laughs with Rogen and Efron’s help and in the end throws one heck of a party.
Neighbors is outrageous, crude, wild and funny. It’s this generation’s newest Animal House. Due to those factors, Neighbors receives three out of five stars. Plus, some great cameos by The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone; Workaholics' Blake Anderson, Anders Holm and Adam DeVine; and New Girl’s Jake Johnson. P.S. Stella is probably one of the cutest babies ever.