Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Summer Movie Preview!

Well it's finally that time of year, where the movies are bigger and the thrills are higher.  It's the start of the Summer Movie Season!  So lets get into our movie preview.

MAY 1, 2015: The Avengers: Age of Ultron
The kickoff of to the summer movie season.  This movie is going to be huge.  All our favorite heroes are back as well as a welcome of new comers (Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver).  This movie will also be the end of Phase Two and bring us one of the best villains to the screen, Ultron. 

MAY 8, 2015 : Hot Pursuit, The D-Train, Maggie, 5 Flights Up
It will be interesting to see how recently nominated actress, Reese Witherspoon, adjust to this buddy comedy.  Hopefully Witherspoon and Vergara will have good chemistry.

Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like he is actually trying to act in this movie.  This is an interesting zombie movie that looks pretty cool.

Looks like it has some potential to be pretty fun.  Jack Black looks like he is trying as well.

MAY 15, 2015: Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Slow West
Mad Max looks amazing!  Tom Hardy dropped out of Suicide Squad to promote this movie and that makes me more excited because he basically said that he rather promote a movie than be in a huge blockbuster.  That's awesome! 

The first Pitch Perfect was a really funny and entertaining movie, that I was amazed I enjoyed.  I can't wait to sing a long to this one too!

MAY 22, 2015: Tomorrowland, Spy
Brad Bird is such a great director and he shows a lot of confidence in this movie by turning down the Star Wars job.  This looks like a very interesting idea about the Disneyland park.  

MAY 29, 2015: San Andreas 3D, Aloha
Just a great cast of characters in this film.  The trailer looks amazing as well.

Dwayne Johnson stars in this California disaster movie.  Looks very "2012" like and could be a good popcorn flick.

June 5, 2015: Insidious: Chapter 3, Entourage

June 12, 2015: Jurassic World, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
So hoping that this will be a great movie.  Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard co-star in this dino disaster movie! 

June 17, 2015: The Bronze

June 19, 2015: Inside Out, Dope
Pixar can do no wrong.  So does it really matter what their movies are about?  Not really, but this is going to be a really emotional one.  Cause its about our emotions!

June 26, 2015: Ted 2
Grab your thunder buddy, cause our favorite talking and walking bear is back!

July 1, 2015: Terminator: Genisys, Magic Mike XXL
He's back!  I'm not sold on this movie for the simple reason that the trailer gave away way to much of the story and plot.  But still will be fun to see the Terminator back!

July 10, 2015: Minions, The Gallows
It's going to be interesting to see how the minions carry this whole film.  But it will bring some good laughs, I hope.  Also Gru might make a cameo at the end.

July 17, 2015: Ant-Man, Trainwreck, Mr. Holmes
Marvel can't do no wrong.  Considering how an amazing success Guardians of the Galaxy was, this gamble should do just find.  The last trailer as well sold me on this film too.

Judd Apatow is finally back directing a new movie.  It will be good to see his style of filmaking again.

July 24, 2015: Poltergeist, Pixels
The original film was scary and I'm hoping this will bring some good scares.  Sam Rockwell is a good actor, it's crazy that he is in a horror movie.

July 31, 2015: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Vacation, Southpaw, Self/less
Original slated for a December release but there's a little film called Star Wars The Force Awakens.  So it pushed this movie up a few months.  Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt as his team goes against the Rogue Nation.

I was one of the first people who drank the cool-aid for Jake Gyllenhall's performance in "Nightcrawler".  Could this movie finally get him a Leading Actor nomination at this years Oscar's?

August 7, 2015: The Fantastic Four
This remake of the not so good film of the same name, looks 100% times better.  Plus it's staring Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan so I'm game!

August 14, 2015: The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Straight Outta Compton
This bio-pic of N.W.A. has got me listening and singing their songs again.  I think it's totally cool that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube's sons are playing their fathers in this movie.

August 21, 2015: Sinister 2, Max
The first was such a surprise hit, that was really scary.  I gotta see this one!

August 28, 2015: Hitman: Agent 47
Originally was going to star Paul Walker, but from the trailer it looks action packed and better than the original.

1. Straight Outta Compton
2. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
3. Tomorrowland
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
5. Southpaw
6. Jurassic World
7. Inside Out
8. Mission Impossible V: Rogue Nation
9. Ant-Man
10. Trainwreck

Also check out our videos on youtube as well!

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Ex Machina (2015) Review

Directed by
Alex Garland

            The opening scenes of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina bear an unmistakable similarity to the set-up for Jurassic Park: A young man at an office receives a mysterious invitation to a remote land far removed from civilization.  His coworkers seem jealous, as the invitation appears to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  After all, it been sent by the CEO of the company, a mysterious and enigmatic genius with vast sums of money and, evidently, free time.  “How long until we get to the estate?”  The young man asks the helicopter pilot as they traverse the mountainside by air.  “We’ve been flying over his estate the past two hours,” replies the pilot.
            When the helicopter lands, the young man, Caleb (Domhnall Green), must walk through the forest to get to the estate of the surreptitious CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac).  Although Caleb is not a paleontologist (he’s actually a programmer) and Nathan is anything but kindly old Richard Attenborough, it is soon revealed that like Jurassic Park the purpose of Caleb’s visit is to be the first witness to a milestone step in human evolution: The creation of artificial intelligence.  A being that can not only comprehend and use language, but have emotion, intellect, and even a sense of humor.  And instead of this artificial intelligence lodged in the form of an impersonal computer shell, the robot has designed in the shape of a beautiful human female (Alicia Vikander).  Nathan informs Caleb that her name is Ava.  But before Ava can be mass produced, she must first pass the “Turing Test” – whether her robotic qualities can go undetected by average citizens like Caleb.

            Ex Machina begins with a familiar premise deeply entrenched within the most standard of science fiction tropes: The mad scientist who encounters a breakthrough which simultaneously signals the advancement of human engineering as well as the imminent threat of major danger and catastrophe on a global scale.  Fortunately, however, Ex Machina differentiates itself in a number of crucial ways – ways which make the film anything but routine.
            One of these differences is the characters.  The film only contains four roles – Caleb, Nathan, Ava, and Kyoko, Nathan’s Japanese maid who does not speak any English (“So that I can talk business out loud without worrying,” Nathan informs Caleb).  Thus, the bulk of the action takes place in one of two settings: Either during conversations between Nathan and Caleb, or during Caleb’s face-to-face sessions with Ava.  A programmer by trade, Caleb is intrigued by the way in which Ava has been engineered to understand the nuances of human language and communication.  His first questions are understandably laden with technical details which, perhaps surprisingly, seem to offend Nathan initially.  “No, no, no – I want to know what you think of her,” he tells Caleb.  Not whether her motor skills are effectively comparable to human vocal patterns but, you know, whether he likes her personality or not.
            Caleb gradually realizes that Nathan hardly fits the bill for a standard mad scientist.  He spends most of the time drinking alcohol or lifting weights to get rid of nasty hangovers.  He doesn’t use scientific jargon and comes off as friendly, affable, and even goofy (one potentially tense moment between the two is eased when Nathan breaks into a sudden dance with Kyoko).  Caleb relishes at the opportunity to work as Nathan’s beta tester, although he marvels at his god complex and remains suspicious about the surroundings – especially since so many locations in the house are kept off limits while sudden mysterious power outages occur sporadically.
            And as for Ava the robot – well she’s everything you could ever imagine in advanced artificial intelligence.  She has perfect command of language, is able to articulate her thoughts and feelings, and even draws pictures.  She puts on human clothes and even seems to be capable of understanding abstract human concepts like flirtation, embarrassment, and intimacy.  Caleb’s interactions with Ava are limited to once a day with a glass barricade separating them and Nathan viewing the interaction through surveillance video.  What’s interesting about these the way these sequences are filmed by Garland is that it’s never really clear whether Ava’s the one being interrogated, or whether it’s Caleb.  Visually, Caleb is the one sitting in the more enclosed, tighter space making him almost appear like a prison inmate, while Ava is able to move about with greater freedom.  But physical interaction such as touching remains strictly off-limits.  It feels a little like Clarice Sterling and Hannibal Lector.

            There’s more.  Much, much more.  I dare not spoil some of the surprises this story has to offer, except to say that because the story is so narrowly focused on four people – only two of which can claim to be both human and able to understand English – Ex Machina is less concerned with the events that transpire and more interested in personalities of its characters.  It would not be inaccurate to consider the film more of a nuanced character study than a true science fiction film.  Caleb functions not only as a skeptic and foil to Nathan’s pseudo-philosophical diatribes on robotic evolution (“Soon humans will be looked at the same way we look at relics of skeletons excavated in the plains of Africa,” he poetically waxes at one point), but is gradually shown to carry some degree of care and even sympathy for Ava.  What gives Nathan the right to sentence his creation to a life of imprisonment fortified within the lifeless walls of his laboratory?  If Ava can think and communicate like a human, does that not also make her capable of having feelings of loneliness, isolation, and curiosity about the world around her?  The same world she has been systematically suppressed from?
            The question at the heart of Ex Machina is not only whether robots can process and replicate human communication, but whether – if the technology became possible – robots should be equipped with those uniquely human faculties.  In the world of Ex Machina, the engineering of artificial intelligence become so advanced that robots even adopt some of the worst deficiencies of human intellect and character; the capacity to be deceptive, for example, as well as the capacities to manipulate and carry long-standing resentment against others.  Caleb feels bad for Ava like we might feel bad for a dog locked up in a cage at the animal shelter.  Where Garland’s screenplay is exceptional, however, is its ability to as the question of whether the imprisonment of nonhuman life forms could ever be considered ethical and even beneficial to the rest of human society.  Thankfully for audiences desiring narrative complexity in a sci-fi film, Ava’s harm to humanity does not come in the form of machine guns or explosive devices, but in her excelled learning capacities and her callous indifference toward human emotions.

            Simply put, this is a brilliant film. At a time when overreliance on computers threatens to destabilize virtually every part of the human experience – from basic interaction to romance to education to vocational skills – Ex Machina is a reminder that humanity and its attributes still remain the most fundamental components to a successful and engaging story.  Because after seeing this film and reflecting deeply on it, what is Ex Machina really trying to say?  I think what Alex Garland is saying, among other things, is that human-ness is defined by flaws and blemishes, whereas the only real flaw of artificial intelligence is that it is engineered by humans – the very same humans who consistently put to test its capacity to have complex thoughts, emotions, and orchestrations.  This skepticism proves very costly by the end, and it’s not unfair to characterize the movie as basically one extended operatic poker game between Caleb, Nathan, and Ava, with each one wondering who is playing the bluff.    
            Ex Machina is the kind of film you probably need to see twice; not because the story is overly labyrinthine or contrived, but because what you see in front of you does not truly reflect everything that is actually occurring before your eyes.  This is the kind of film you ponder long thoughts into the night about – about what Nathan’s true motivations and preparations are, about whether Caleb is truly as na├»ve as he comes off, and whether Ava is capable of human feeling after all.  It’s what all great science fiction strives to do – engage the intellectual as well as emotional senses – and for the love of god, it doesn’t include loveable robots with machine guns jumping off buildings.  It serves as a reminder that every once in a while, a movie can better articulate our collective excitement, fears and trepidations about the future than most of us can ourselves. 

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top Ten Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies

With the release of the highly anticaptaed Avengers 2: Age of Ultron  right around the corner, I thought that I should make this top ten list for the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies.  Also considering that there have only been ten films, you will be seeing all of them (so far) on this list.  This list excludes Spiderman, The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and that other Hulk movie.  They could be included in another list all together.  So lets get started...











The Avengers has to be the best film cause it works so well.  I'm a huge super hero movie fan and I can't wait to see The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man this year.  I'm hoping that I could add them to this list when I revise it when Avengers 3 comes out in a few years.  

What is your top ten Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies?  Let me know!  Comment below.  Also check us out on youtube!  We post movie reviews and will be doing a Summer Movie Preview soon as well.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

2015 Pre-Season Profile: Boston Red Sox

Okay, it may not be pre-season anymore, but I can still give a season preview.  The Boston Red Sox went from worst (2012) to first (2013) to worst again (2014).  Will 2015 bring another bounce back year?

Last Season
71-91, 5th in AL East

The Red Sox followed up a magical World Series run in 2013 by falling back down to earth and the cellar of the AL East.  No one has had such up and down swings in recent memory.  With the talent level of their roster, it's a mystery how they are able to drop that low every other year.  It's like they are turning into the odd-yeared version of the Giants.

2015 Additions / Subtractions

The Red Sox were extremely active this offseason.  After signing two of the biggest free agents this offseason, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, to bolster their offense, they brought in Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, and Wade Miley to strengthen their starting rotation.  The Red Sox roster is completely retooled and revamped and ready to make another push in 2015.

Most Important Hitter
Pablo Sandoval

Kung Fu Panda rode a mediocre season and a heroic postseason in 2014 to a big contract signing in 2015 with the Red Sox.  The Sox paid him to be the postseason hero, and they need him to be that level of player for this signing to be worth it and for their season to be a success.

Most Important Pitcher
Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz had some serious issues in 2014.  Now that Jon Lester has moved on, they need Buchholz to be back to his All Star form and be the ace of their staff.

Player to Watch
Rusney Castillo

He may not be starting on the Boston roster this season, but Cuban defector Rusney Castillo has the potential to be the next Cespedes or Puig by the end of the season.  Inevitably, someone in that outfield is going to get hurt, and Castillo will get his shot.

2nd in AL East, WILD CARD, Lose in Wild Card Game

It is time for the Red Sox to bounce back in 2015.  They may not make their way all the way back up to the top of the division and the league, but a playoff birth is definitely a possibility this year.  We will see how long this window of opportunity stays open with an aging David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Sandoval and Ramirez not being young.  I give them maybe three more seasons before they have to start all over again (which I guess they had to do this year).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wild Tales (2015) Review

Directed by
Damian Szifron

            The BMW pulls into the driveway of the mansion late one night.  The license plate has been ripped askew and has blood marks on it.  The kid leaps out of the car sobbing and tells his parents that he hit a woman and fled from the scene.  Soon, news about the hit-and-run is broadcast on TV with an angry crowd gathering and demanding that police find the perpetrator. The kid is scared.  He should be.  Fortunately, his father is rich.  With the help of his own personal Michael Clayton/Winston Wolf-type “fixer,” the father hatches a scheme: Give $500,000 to the family’s poor groundskeeper to take the fall for the kid.
            The plan almost works.  But soon the fixer demands a $500,000 retainer fee of his own.  When the local prosecutor arrives, he immediately sees right through the scheme and demands a $1 million payment in order to keep silent.  When the groundskeeper sees that the prosecutor is being paid more money, he demands an increase of his own.  And so it goes.  More money, more convoluted details, and more angst for the father who in earnest just wanted to do what he could to keep his kid out of prison. 
            This story, entitled La Propuesta (The Proposal), is one of the six 20-minute episodes from Damian Szifron’s Relatos salvajes (Wild Tales), and it is also the strongest. It works because all the events take place within a self-contained time and place: A single evening, at a single location.  Its story does not contain enough characters or dramatic situations or progressions to merit a feature-length film, but the moral questions it asks are of the same caliber as the best of Renoir, Kurosawa or Hitchcock: What is the price of a human life?  Who has the authority to set the price of a human life, and is it ethical, if put in a position of vast financial wealth, to indulge in temporary deceit in order to amend unfortunate happenstance if the result is a greater good for all?  Look at the facts: The son stays out of prison, the groundskeeper’s family is abundantly provided for, the dead woman’s family gets justice, and heck, you could even say wealth is more equitably distributed among all the parties.  But of course, there is always a steep price to pay – a price greater than any amount of money – when deception and human fallacy are at the center of a cover-up.  The conclusion of La Propuesta illustrates this in no uncertain terms in its startling and abrupt climax.
            Had La Propuesta been a feature film, we perhaps would have gotten a deeper backstory into the troubled father-son relationship or the difficulties the groundskeeper faces at home with his poor wife and children, or the way that the prosecutor is trying to work his way up the corporate ladder at work.  Of course, we don’t need any of that.  The episode’s greatest strength lies in its brevity – its simple and lucid examination of character types and their flaws, and how hasty, rash, immoral thinking leads to tragic results.  Further depth would only proselytize.  That’s the benefit of a short film.  It stays with us just long enough to get the major point across and not too long that the point becomes banal.  
            In some ways, La Propuesta is the most atypical of Wild Tales’ episodes.  Most of the others are more comedic and even operatic, as in the case of El mas fuerte (The Strongest), where a simple game of chicken played between two drivers on a remote highway escalates into deranged anger and homicidal rage.  This comes dangerously close to veering into Tex Avery material, but Szifron does a good job at showing the intoxication that rage and violence sometimes breeds; one-upmanship simply isn’t enough.  There is a cathartic thrill to unleashing the anger that resides deep within even the friendliest of people.  The episode concludes in a deeply ironic vein, but also in a way that illustrates the absurdity of violence as well as the universality of passionate anger.

            If there is a recurring theme in the episodes of Wild Tales, it may be how extreme revenge rarely fulfills its stated intentions.  An example of this is found in Las Ratas (The Rats), which tells the tale of a chance encounter between a young waitress and the man who destroyed her family’s well-being and caused her father’s suicide.  When this man enters her restaurant on a dark and rainy evening, the waitress tells her cook that she’s been waiting her entire life to have the enact revenge on the man.  The cook suggests poisoning his food, which at first appalls the waitress, but gradually begins to intrigue her.  Like La Propuesta, the episode initially revolves around the moral decision-making that the waitress is forced to make, and concludes with the unintended and tragic consequences that stem from that decision. 
            Another episode, Pasternak, is the unfortunate byproduct of bad timing on a global news scale.  The story involves a seemingly random group of people on board a plane who gradually realize they share a common connection to a mentally disturbed individual out to enact revenge on each of them.  Then they realize this individual is in the cockpit of the plane.  This story, which feels labored and pat in its standard O. Henry-esque formulation, is unfunny in its own right and even less so as a result of the recent Germanwings Flight 9525 crash (somehow seeing a doomed flight hijacked by a mentally unstable pilot doesn’t feel especially funny or novel).  The episode ends with the pilot’s psychologist pleading through the cockpit door that his feelings of worthlessness stem solely from his parents.  This sets up the last image of the episode, which looks spectacular from a visual standpoint but from a narratively, comes off rather inert and depressing when I would assume the intent was poetically comic.
            The other two episodes, Bombita (Little Bomb) and Hasta que la muerte nos separe (Until Death Do Us Part) involve individuals who are put through tremendous suffering.  In Bombita, a structural engineer’s car is unfairly towed by the corrupt municipal towing authority, which prompts a downward spiral leading to the engineer’s firing, divorce from his wife, and accumulating debt from parking tickets.  The engineer decides to undertake a plan of revenge enacted against the towing authority.  At times this episode feels like it’s going down a similar path to Pasternak in its disturbingly lightweight depiction of homegrown terrorism, but fortunately, the engineer’s fate takes a heroic turn.  In Hasta que la muertre nos separe, which concludes the film, a joyous wedding takes a turn for the worst when the bride is informed her new husband has not been faithful.  The excessively madcap anger of the bride makes her feel like a character from a Pedro Almodovar film (not surprisingly, Almodovar is listed as an Executive Producer) and as the wedding devolves into mass uncivilized chaos, the bride and groom soon realize the futility of their actions. 
            With the exception of La Propuestra, none of these films are masterpieces, but indeed that is precisely the beauty of the short film form – the episodes never grow long enough to become an unwelcome presence.  They are generally light, amusing, and often surprising.  According to Wikipedia, Wild Tales is the most widely-seen Argentine film of all-time, which given its bold and breezy structure is not particularly surprising.  During its opening credit sequence, cast and crew names are presented on top of backgrounds featuring still photographs of wild animals.  What does Damian Szifron mean by this?  It could be read as humans being no more civilized than our brethren of the animal kingdom.  Or something else entirely.  We do not know the answer, nor the ways in which the six episodes are related (or if such a throughline even exists), but the catalog of images and the films do just enough for Wild Tales to leave an indelible impact on audiences, just like all good short films should.
            (Note: Wild Tales was Argentina’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 87th Academy Awards). 

Rating: 3 Stars