Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

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Definitely mark The Revenant in the category of Good Movies I Never Want to See Again.

The Revenant is a beautiful movie. I can recognize and appreciate The Revenant as another technical achievement by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It is very well-directed, but the story itself is rather lackluster. This is an endurance test that exceeds 2 hours and 30 minutes.

It’s almost a shame that The Revenant is the performance that will finally get Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar for Best Actor. The outcome has been preordained, which seemed like the intention from the outset. DiCaprio is solid as Hugh Glass, but he’s constantly overshadowed at every turn by the phenomenal performance of fellow superstar actor Tom Hardy. While John Fitzgerald is a one-dimensional bad guy, Tom Hardy brings an undeniable spirit and charisma to this shitbag.

However, you can never forget that Hugh Glass is Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s hard to blame DiCaprio. Leo delivers everything written in the script, but the man doesn’t exactly melt away into a character. For a vast majority of the movie, DiCaprio does his classic What’s Eating Gilbert Grape Face where he juts his lower jaw and chin out while breathing heavily and slobbering all over himself.

Slobber

The only humor in The Revenant comes from the racism of Tom Hardy’s character and the unintentional comedy of Leonardo DiCaprio’s nonverbal acting. Without any real dark humor or additional entertainment value, The Revanant is (at times) an arduous slog. I could have really gone without the philosophical/existential flashbacks—especially those scenes filmed at the burnt church. It was all too reminiscent of Gladiator. After the opening hour, it’s an exceedingly dry revenge thriller short on thrills.

But holy shit, The Revenant is incredible for that first hour. Inarritu is a visionary director, which should be evident from the marvelous, hypnotic camera movement in the opening action sequence. It is violent in the most visceral fashion. You can feel the desperation of those trying to stay alive.

About 20 minutes into the movie, an amazing thing happens—one of the most astonishing scenes I’ve ever witnessed occurs. Leonardo DiCaprio gets raped by a bear…or so some idiots would lead you to believe. What you do get to experience is a realistic bear mauling. I don’t know how they managed to pull off such a stunt with a blend of practical effects and an impressive CGI grizzly bear.

Bear Attack

Unfortunately, it was mostly downhill from there. The next half hour of Hugh Glass’ struggle to survive that vicious bear attack is surprisingly engaging. I think a lot of actors would have been just as capable, but DiCaprio does a great job portraying that emotional journey. It just gets to be way too much after the initial hour since there’s still another hour and a half left of the same shit.

I understand The Revenant was designed as an epic, but I can’t help believing this would be much improved by shortening the second and third acts with a more direct cat-and-mouse routine between DiCaprio and Hardy. After the first hour, these characters don’t really share any screen time together until the very end. I don’t know how the last-minute reshoots impacted the final cut, but the second half of the movie feels like it could have been entirely different at one time in production.

Tom Hardy

I wish there was something more to hang onto than just solely beautiful visuals and those two great scenes in the beginning. Granted, those scenes were unparalleled in their greatness. But I wanted a tighter narrative and more room for these phenomenal actors to breathe.

While I can enjoy this movie and appreciate its place in the grand scheme, I cannot envision a scenario where I will ever watch The Revenant again. This movie might even win Best Picture. DiCaprio will probably win Best Actor and at least Tom Hardy is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. None of that changes the fact that this story is largely bleak and dreary—making it difficult to endure.

DiCraprio Jaw

Coming off of Birdman, my expectations for The Revenant were probably too high. Apparently, Inarritu was prepared to exceed expectations. His insane idea (at least initially) to set the bar high was to film this movie in the same single shot style. Inarritu had enough difficulty with an exploding budget and frozen conditions that made so many staff members quit. It would have been an unbelievable feat, but it would have merely been another layer to an already well-directed movie.

I admire the ambition. Unfortunately, the subject matter doesn’t quite match Inarritu’s ambition. Ultimately, The Revenant fails to be transcendent because of the storyline—not the execution. This movie is missing an element to the story that makes it re-watchable. Years from now, I doubt most will remember this for more than the movie that got Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar. Hopefully the 22-year-old blonde model-sized hole in his heart will be filled with that goofy gold statue.
Oscar Handjob

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Mad Max: Fury Road is almost too good to be real.

The confluence of events that finally led to the creation of this movie is unthinkable. Stuck in development hell for 15 years or so, there was legitimate concern that another Mad Max installment would never see the light of day. The Iraq War and Mel Gibson’s various racist incidents nearly signaled the end.

Somehow, George Miller persevered and his vision eventually came into existence. In this age, it is hard to believe a major movie studio would entrust a director with total creative control—especially after so much pre-production chaos and controversy. Thankfully, George Miller was up to the task and potentially daunting responsibility. The end-result surpassed even the loftiest expectations.

At this point, I’m so late to the game that you’ve probably heard the bountiful praise heaped upon this movie by now. It’s not for lack of interest as I was in the seats the first night to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. And then I went back the next night. In terms of re-watchability, you can’t find a better film.

Doof Warrior

Don’t be skeptical. Leave behind your cynical bullshit and be prepared to have your face melted.

Believe the hype. Immerse yourself in the desolate hellscape and revel in the spectacle.

Summer blockbusters don’t deserve to be in the same category as Mad Max: Fury Road. While some people have mischaracterized it as a nonstop chase sequence, the pacing deliberately stops to inhale the dust while delivering more than enough action. Unlike most movies of this ilk, the action works because you care and feel some investment in the characters. The intensity cannot be manufactured. Utilizing practical effects rather than over-reliance on CGI, the audience is allowed to experience the gravity of situations instead of being hurled around in a whirlwind of flying metal like Michael Bay movies.

With top-notch performances from Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, and Hugh Keays-Byrne in the supporting cast, there isn’t a weak link anywhere in the chain. The good vs. evil dynamic is only as strong as the villain. Despite a mysterious rise to power, Hugh Keays-Byrne’s run as Immortan Joe is as awesomely badass. While oppressively evil, Immortan Joe’s stranglehold over his domain is tenuous due to his deteriorating physical condition. It has all the makings of an iconic, memorable movie.

Immortan Joe

In short: if you don’t like Mad Max, go fuck yourself.

We don’t need to be friends. It sounds snobby and condescending, but you just don’t get it if you are unable to enjoy this movie. I’m not saying you are an idiot if you don’t like Mad Max: Fury Road. However, you are much more likely to be an idiot if you hate this movie. Surprisingly, this is a rare mass appeal action spectacle that satisfies the senses with ample support from a simple yet interesting story.

Mad Max isn’t flawless, but it doesn’t have to be pristine. This movie embraces and celebrates its warts—quite literally in the case of certain characters. Mad Max: Fury Road is perfectly imperfect.

Tom Hardy

The big swinging balls of George Miller are inescapable. Not only is the titular character turned into a prisoner, but almost all of his face is obscured by a bulky metal mask. While Max is relegated to an object of the plot rather than the driving force, the de facto lead, Charlize Theron—one of Hollywood’s most gorgeous actresses—has her head shaved bald and a mechanical arm replacing her amputated stump.

For the purpose of this story, there’s no reason Mel Gibson couldn’t have returned as Mad Max. As much as I love Tom Hardy, it would have been nice to see people finally forgive and re-embrace Mel Gibson. Mad Max: Fury Road could have launched a new beginning for that lovable old racist kook.

Mel Gibson’s loss is Tom Hardy’s gain. The acting ability of Tom Hardy is unquestioned, but big screen success has eluded him up until this point. Thanks to the overwhelming positive reception of Mad Max: Fury Road, every door in Hollywood should be gaping open in eager anticipation of Tom Hardy. Not only can he carry a small independent film like Locke where he is the only character on-screen, but he also has the charisma to lead a major motion picture. I want and need more Tom Hardy in my life.

Furiosa

The brilliance of George Miller is palpable and abound in this madness. Mad Max: Fury Road is everything you can imagine in a massive, mindless action movie while still managing to bring something new to the table. Likely to be often emulated but never duplicated, Mad Max: Fury Road has already spawned a life of its own and hopefully future installments don’t shit all over this beautiful foundation.

Basically, this movie is the anti-Waterworld.

Bask in its eternal glory—shiny and chrome.

Shiny and Chrome

5 out of 5 stars

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I don’t understand the appeal of Matthew Vaughn movies.

His relatively short directing career: Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsman.

Is there a good movie among them?

I’ve never watched Layer Cake, but it might be his best work. Stardust was an atrocious, unwatchable bomb. Kick-Ass is the most celebrated, but it was an overhyped turd that would’ve been unwatchable without Nicolas Cage. James Gunn’s Super was superior with better characters, writing, and acting. X-Men: First Class was occasionally interesting but still boring despite being an origin story for an iconic superhero group. All of these movies are either approaching 2 hours or even longer.

Someone needs to take a machete and start hacking away at the superfluous bullshit. Matthew Vaughn makes good use of visuals, but there is absolutely nothing beneath the surface. Kingsman is no different.

I get it, Kingsman is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek take on the spy thriller genre. Trust me, there are enough references to James Bond to make you painfully aware that this is a parody of its overly serious tone. I’ve never cared about any 007 movie, which is a sure sign that this probably isn’t my type of movie.

Colin Firth

Colin Firth is fantastic as Harry Hart—codename Galahad—who is a select member of the secret spy organization responsible for stopping all major crimes around the world. However, Harry is perpetually scarred after his Kingsman recruit jumped on a bomb to save his life. Harry even delivered a bravery medal to the man’s wife and son with a hidden message that basically serves as a Get Out of Jail Free card should the young lad find himself in trouble.

That kid’s name: Gary “Eggsy” Unwin. Why is his nickname Eggsy? No fucking idea. Maybe it’s the actor’s name, but he’s Eggsy for the whole movie. I guess it’s a British thing, but it would be nice to know why.

Naturally, there’s an occasion where that Get Out of Jail Free card comes into play since the young kid turns into a slightly older teenage shithead with a penchant for dumb, dangerous decisions. Kingsman thankfully picks up the pace once Harry bails Eggsy out and starts his journey auditioning to become a Kingsman—replacing the recently murdered Lancelot.

Don’t expect this to be a breezy viewing. You feel every second of this 2-hour endurance test.

Eggsy

Taron Egerton is serviceable playing the role of Eggsy, but the movie falters when Egerton is asked to carry the third act. There’s a reason he’s only been on a British TV show before this movie. Apparently, Egerton was the last actor cast in the movie. But I don’t blame Taron Egerton because it is the story that failed him. In an ideal world, this is a brisk 90-minute movie that highlights the action and tightens the script to remove all the unnecessary fluff.

Kingsman is so self-aware and reliant on spy references that it fails to realize its own faults. For a movie that eschews the typical spy conventions, Kingsman itself is pointlessly complicated and convoluted with the villain’s plan for world domination. Samuel L. Jackson plays Internet billionaire Richmond (get it, Rich?) Valentine—who has a desire to hit the reset button on humanity in order to save Earth from the devastating result of human-induced global warming.

Samuel L

Samuel L. Jackson isn’t great, but his performance is memorable even if the rest of Kingsman is completely forgettable. For the record, I’m fine with Valentine’s lisp. The decision was apparently all Samuel L. Jackson’s doing, which is incredibly ballsy but it works well with how the character despises violence and physically cannot stand the sight of blood.

Even if you don’t take Kingsman seriously, it is impossible for me to ignore the awful story and unforgivably bad ending. The third act is so unspeakably awful that it almost ruins my enjoyment of everything else. Part of Valentine’s plan involves surgically implanting a device into the necks of those who give into his demands. Disregard the fact that the surgery leaves a very visible scar and technological interference can cause the implant to explode and kill the person.

Yes, you read that correctly: you can tell who exactly is a participant in this super-secret evil plan just by looking at their neck for a scar. No, Richmond Valentine isn’t a buffoon. He’s billed as a genius tech billionaire. Valentine just happens to have a detailed, precise plan for world domination that is built on a foundation of popsicle sticks. The story is incredibly flimsy and the ending makes everything up to that point feel utterly pointless. I get it, but I don’t get it.

Find something better to do with your 2 hours. Definitely check out the ultra-violent, awe-inspiring church scene on YouTube or somewhere else, but you don’t need to sit through everything else. About half of this movie works and the other half falls flat. Let’s just hope beyond hope that there isn’t an unbearable sequel to Kingsman in the works. There wasn’t enough story for one movie, let alone two.

Don’t mistake a good-looking movie for a good movie.

There is a difference, I’m just not sure if Matthew Vaughn knows that yet.

Steam

2.5 out of 5 stars

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I am not the target demographic for films based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m a nerd, but not that kind of D&D nerd. While impressive in scope and unparalleled in its beautiful landscape porn, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was painfully long, boring, and overly dramatic. After only watching bits and pieces from the equally boring initial installment of The Hobbit, I completely checked out and ignored The Desolation of Smaug. I’ve never watched any of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies in a theater.

Why would I watch the finale of The Hobbit?

An experiment: can The Battle of the Five Armies stand alone as its own movie?

Although the finer details were lost, the answer to the question above is yes. The Battle of the Armies is completely suitable by itself without the 4-5 hours of backstory and fluff from the first two films.

That’s an achievement for Peter Jackson and also a condemnation. Sure, he’s a visionary and it’s scary to think how The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit would have turned out without his direction. But can someone get this man an editor? The Battle of the Five Armies did not need to approach 2 1/2 hours.

Frankly, even I could have done without the flashbacks and spoon-feeding of backstory. If those previous scenes were so important to establish motivations, then the viewers would remember that from the previous films. Don’t curtail and appeal to someone like me that didn’t watch the first two films.

But that speaks to the problem with The Hobbit: there’s way too much fluff and it’s entirely too long. Everyone knows The Hobbit did not need to be broken up into a trilogy. Good luck arguing that point with a studio and convincing them not to print money each time The Hobbit comes to theaters. The Battle of the Five Armies has been an unstoppable force at the top of the box office during a coveted Christmas stretch.

Smaug

The action is underway quickly in the opening sequence as Smaug is laying waste to what I understand is Laketown—easy enough since it is a town on a lake. For some reason, Dracula (Luke Evans playing a human character called Bard) is rotting in a jail cell until he breaks free by throwing a rope to strangle some rich prick fleeing in a boat with all of the town’s gold. Dracula then must kill the dragon and drink his blood.

I’m pretty sure he shot him with the pointy end of a sturdy metal fencepost.

With no more Smaug the Terrible for everyone to fear, armies are streaming towards the Lonely Mountain for the dragon’s hoard of dwarf gold. Apparently, there are five armies. Don’t ask me to name them. But there are a ton of elves pissed at dwarves with a ragtag group of men with shitty spears and swords just hanging around watching. I think there’s a sparkly gem at the heart of this disagreement.

Bard

Right before heads are ready to be split open, massive Middle-earth-eating monster warms crash through the mountains. Imagine the creatures from Tremors, but exponentially larger and meaner.

Oh shit! How are the good guys going to defeat the bad guys when they have these monsters leading the way in front of ever-flowing flanks of orcs? Don’t worry, those creatures just slink away and disappear off-screen. There are some very bizarre sequences, including two dwarves putting down their weapons mid-battle for a moment so they can hug. And Legolas jumps Super Mario-style from bricks crumbling off a breaking bridge to Hurricanrana one of the orc leaders. Yes, that actually happened.

Blah

Overall, there’s some entertaining action and the pace is swift enough. Your ass still feels the long runtime when in an uncomfortable theater chair. If you take this movie for the big dumb sci-fi spectacle that it embodies, then you should enjoy this experience. While I did go back and watch The Desolation of Smaug afterwards, it wasn’t necessary since the first two films from The Hobbit ended with extremely unsatisfying non-resolutions. I feel like I picked the correct one to watch in a theater.

Droves of dorks, nerds, and families of dorks and nerds will always come out to watch these movies. If another movie or series of movies based on Tolkien’s The Silmarillion gets released, then that too will print money. It’s an incredibly lucrative franchise and it makes too much sense for it to not happen at some point in the future—though probably not with Peter Jackson at the helm. And that’s a good thing.

Personally, I’m interested in seeing what will come next for Peter Jackson. He’s built a film industry in New Zealand as a result of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. But that’s eaten up more than a decade of Jackson’s time. This is a man who created two of the best horror comedies with Braindead (Dead Alive) and The Frighteners. Despite delving into the big budget PG-13 blockbuster world for the last 10+ years, Peter Jackson should be making more creative R-rated movies with all of the “fuck you” money he has made from adapting J.R.R. Tolkien works. Please, just no bloated 3-hour mess like King Kong.

While Peter Jackson certainly put his stamp on these movies, Martin Freeman is the best part of The Hobbit. Because of his impeccable comedic timing and nuanced facial expressions, Bilbo Baggins is an interesting and ultimately likable character. If you did not stick through the prolonged stretches of the Fargo television show, then you probably aren’t aware of Martin Freeman’s incredible acting. He’s always phenomenal in every work. I’m all in with my Martin Freeman stock. Remember his name but forget his role in this romp.

The Hobbit is entertaining enough and tolerable if you take it as a stupid tongue-in-cheek spectacle.

Tongue In Cheek

3 out of 5 stars

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What the fuck did I just watch?

Surely, that’s the first thought you should have after sitting in a theater for 3 hours watching Interstellar. My issue with 2-hour movies is well-documented. Just imagine my level of excitement in anticipation of Interstellar’s daunting 169-minute runtime. Although the first act passes by rather quickly, the time it takes to progress through the second act feels equivalent to the passage of time on Miller’s planet. And if you didn’t fall asleep prior to the third act, then you probably wish you did when it mercifully ends.

Interstellar has some great moments, but those very brief glimpses were few and far between vast stretches of boringness. The story is a total fucking mess, and the ending is telegraphed by the very first line in the movie. As long as you stay awake, you should know exactly where everything is heading.

It’s not rocket science. Or astrophysics.

All Christopher Nolan movies are well-made and typically visually striking, but there’s always some gimmick involved. Follow the quirky hooks—which often deal with the handling of time—in Following, Memento, The Prestige, Inception, and Interstellar. Inception was a fucking mess of the same proportions as Interstellar. People want to feel self-important so they’ll claim to like a movie such as Inception.

I dare you to challenge anyone who likes Inception to tell you why it’s a good movie, and then enjoy a hearty laugh at their inability to say anything. The most memorable aspect of Inception is Leonardo DiCaprio’s stupid facial expression turned into a meme.

Inception

If not for Heath Ledger’s legendary performance, The Dark Knight trilogy would likely be remembered differently. Batman Begins was mostly a boring origin story with lots of ninja training while The Dark Knight Rises was a botched and bloated attempt to re-create The Dark Knight with better special effects. Christopher Nolan is a great director, but I find his writing ultimately unsatisfying and underdeveloped.

In his movies, there’s always an element missing that’s needed to elevate the unremarkable story.

Interstellar is no different. Suspension of disbelief is important—particularly for sci-fi movies. But the monumental plot holes in this script aren’t acceptable for a movie of this quality. The lack of logic or any reasoning at all behind key decisions and plot points is absolutely befuddling.

Somewhere in the near future, Earth is dying and life will no longer last on the planet.

Why? Global warming or some shit like that.

In Interstellar, it’s referred to as the blight, which brings miserable dust storms and an awful cough that kills your lungs. We already have this in our reality—it’s called Arizona and Valley Fever. But it’s all over the place and about 100 times worse in Interstellar. As a result, humanity is forced to look anywhere and everywhere for an answer, which is found in the stars.

And the stars open up and offer us an opportunity in the form of a wormhole orbiting Saturn.

Mann's Planet

As the audience, we perceive all of this through the eyes of Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot turned farmer. Cooper has two children: Murphy and Tom. Cooper really only cares about one of his children. Guess which one. Predictably, it’s not the one with a dick.

Coop’s beloved daughter, Murph—a terrible nickname since it is only shorter by one letter—is experiencing some whacky ghost shit in her bedroom by way of books being knocked off her shelf. Somehow they discover this isn’t random. Someone or something is trying to communicate with them.

Spoiler: the call is coming from inside the house.

The coded message is actually latitude and longitude coordinates.

Hijinks ensues in this episode of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper where Coop ‘n Murph travel to the location the mysterious ghost told them about in that coded message. Our dynamic duo stumble upon a top secret NASA site dedicated to humanity’s last ditch effort to find a new home via the aforementioned wormhole orbiting Saturn. This meticulously crafted expedition to explore these 3 promising new planets is mere days away from happening, but now they can’t possibly go without a semi-experienced pilot like Coop.

This is where things get truly bat shit crazy.

Crying

One minute they didn’t bother to look him up in the phone book to see if he was alive. The next minute, Cooper mistakenly stumbles upon the site location (protected by a single measly chain-link fence with some barbwire) and he’s replacing the pilot. While I would love to ruin the rest of the movie by discussing the various other gaping black holes in the story, the redeeming factor is the incredible effects. If you wade through the muck and mire of this 3-hour slog, your reward is a stunning depiction of deep space.

But the problem with Interstellar remains the same as other Nolan movies.

Interstellar cannot withstand the burden of its flimsy premise. Basically, Interstellar is a better version of Gravity with more gravitas. But as an epic film with massive hype, the audience is bound to be disappointed. Interstellar does not live up to the lofty expectations and hype because the story is not anywhere near the same level as the acting and directing.

Matthew McConaughey’s career resurgence continues with this movie, but there was nothing McConaughey could do to elevate Interstellar. For the most part, the acting is adequate, but unremarkable. The movie didn’t need him, and another actor could’ve easily replaced McConaughey. As far as I can tell, Christopher Nolan just wanted a good looking guy with great abs to provide some downhome enthusiasm to counterbalance Anne Hathaway because people find her cold and unapproachable. While this role won’t earn him another Oscar, I’m hopeful McConaughey will still try to swing for the fences every year. At the very least, McConaughey gets to explore exotic locations and doing sit-ups while riding a bike shirtless.

TARS

Perhaps the best actor in Interstellar is someone whose face never actually appears on the screen. Bill Irwin voices the robot TARS (Terrain Assistance Robotic Support), which will likely serve as the only memory remaining years after watching this movie—and not because it’s basically pluralizing my last name. If that technology existed, there’s virtually no reason for this to be a human expedition.

With that level of artificial intelligence intertwined with a story regarding the relative passage of time, Interstellar would serve as an interesting case study for a philosophy paper on Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. What determines our being? Is being possible without a being to understand being?

According to Heidegger, the answer to those questions is Dasein, which is a German word meaning being-there or existence. In this context, Dasein refers to how we (beings) experience being. While TARS is programmed with adjustable levels of humor, sarcasm, and other human emotions, the intelligence is artificial and lacking the awareness of being. Do we cease being if there are no more beings?

Being and Time

Being involves questioning important issues such as individuality, mortality, and the paradox of being with others while being alone. Although this may sound like the work of The Riddler, I believe Interstellar would have benefitted from a much more philosophical questioning of being. The broad strokes of the story were salvageable because the fundamental focus of the movie is humanity looking to the stars to find a way to save humanity. If this expedition fails, then humans will certainly face extinction.

Ultimately, Interstellar suffers as a result of Christopher Nolan’s writing. It is the glaring issue that prevents this concept from being stellar on-screen. Imagine if Christopher Nolan directed a movie written by someone with the ingenuity of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)? I’ll continue to watch Christopher Nolan’s movie for the spectacle alone, but his writing desperately needs to elevate to the quality of his directing.

Ambition stretches only so far before a breaking point where the story cannot support the structure.

For a film that traverses the vast unknown of space, Interstellar is flat and one-dimensional in its depiction of various dimensions. I can’t decide if Interstellar is a good bad movie or a bad good movie. Either way, I’ll never devote another 3 hours of my life to watching Interstellar again.

Everyone else gets older, but Matthew McConaughey stays the same age.

Time

3 out of 5 stars

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Animated movies typically do nothing for me.

The cold cockles of my heart are not warmed by song and dance. If anything, the whole charade annoys the shit out of me. Maybe it would be different if I had children. But my hatred grows whenever I see a movie that’s supposedly made for children yet advertised as if it is also for adults.

The Book of Life masquerades as adult entertainment, but this is really a children’s movie at heart. All the pee and poop jokes make it easy to tell. Somehow, it still manages to not be so horrible.

As a story, The Book of Life is unremarkable. Situated as a story within a story, the opening introduces the audience to a ragtag group of misbehaved children arriving at a museum for a school field trip. However, the tour guide (Mary Beth voiced by Christina Applegate) leads the children through a special entrance and to a hidden room that houses the Book of Life—a tome containing every story in the world.

Book

Mary Beth tells the children about a struggle between the forces of good and evil. In this story, La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo) rules over the Land of the Remembered while Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman) rules over the Land of the Forgotten. It doesn’t take a genius to find out which side is good and evil.

Like all great Mexican children’s stories, it’s all about gambling. In this particular piece of folklore, the focus centers around a bet between La Muerte and Xibalba over which young boy—Manolo or Joaquin—will win the heart of our young beauty, Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana). If Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) marries Maria, then Xibalba will reign supreme in the Land of the Remembered while La Muerte is banished to the Land of the Forgotten. If Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) marries Maria, then La Muerte will rule over both realms and Xibalba must never interfere in human affairs again.

LaMuerteXibalba

Not exactly the most interesting stakes, but let’s forgive that fault from a children’s movie.

It’s all about managing expectations, which can get carried away when you learn about Guillermo del Toro’s involvement. The Book of Life is written and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez, but you can certainly see Guillermo del Toro’s influence as a producer. While the story plays out in rather standard fashion, there are enough entertaining wrinkles that can capture the imagination of adults.

In particular, The Book of Life surprised me by not succumbing to the temptation of the song and dance routine. The story isn’t interrupted every few minutes by a light-hearted melody. Instead, there are only a handful of songs that sporadically break up the plot points and there’s mostly a reason for the song.

When Manolo breaks into a cover of “Creep” by Radiohead, I immediately bought into this movie at that exact instance. It was a perfect rendition of a widely recognized song that’s used to propel the story—elevating the sequence above more than the typical pointless song and dance dribble.

There’s nothing here that will escalate to Frozen’s “Let It Go” tune, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as The Book Life is an infinitely better movie than Frozen. Walking a fine line between schmaltzy and serious, The Book of Life brings vibrant Day of the Dead visuals to life that everyone should enjoy.

World

With the correct concoction to satisfy both children and adults, The Book of Life is the rare type of movie for everyone. Don’t expect this movie to be on the same level as the all-time classic Pan’s Labyrinth because it’s not a direct product of Guillermo del Toro. Blended with equal portions of elements from Nightmare Before Christmas and Romeo and Juliet, The Book of Life is a quality film with substantially better presentation and execution than most animated movies—including The Lego Movie earlier this year.

Now a generation of children will grow up with Ice Cube telling them to write their own story.

Churros

4 out of 5 stars

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For two months, Guardians of the Galaxy has completely dominated the box office. Without question, this is the best movie of the 2014 summer blockbuster season. If you haven’t already seen this movie, there’s nothing I can possibly write to convince you to get off your ass and go watch Guardians of the Galaxy.

While summer has come and gone, Guardians of the Galaxy has remained the constant.

For the record, I could not care less about the vast majority of the Marvel superhero movie stream. Iron Man was a very good, interesting movie, but the sequel sucked despite Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell attempting to save the franchise from itself. Thor was a bore, and I ignored the sequel. Captain America is not captivating even when channel surfing for something to watch on television.

And I still have not watched The Avengers. It does not interest me.

However, I was immediately on board when I heard James Gunn was directing Guardians of the Galaxy. Walking tree and talking raccoon be damned. This was my most anticipated movie of the summer, and James Gunn didn’t fail to deliver. Despite my absolute non-interest in most of the Marvel movie world, Guardians of the Galaxy serves as a fantastic film capable of standing alone on its own merit. In terms of sci-fi fantasy, this movie is right there with Star Wars—and even better in my mind.

James Gunn deserves so much credit. Throughout the two hour runtime, this movie remained entertaining and it transcended the typical trite comic book bullshit. Guardians of the Galaxy could have easily turned absurd, and I imagine this would have been a steaming pile of shit if not for Gunn’s deft guiding hand.

In 2008, there was a ridiculous Vh1 reality show called Scream Queens where mostly shitty actresses compete for a role in Saw VI—back when that was a thing. While I was already familiar with the Dawn of the Dead remake and Slither, I didn’t know James Gunn, but I soon would because he was the best thing about Scream Queens. That’s actually a lie, Gunn was the second-best (or third) thing—next to Lindsay Felton’s boobs. But seeing the incredibly genuine, professional way Gunn interacted with these mostly mediocre actresses was shocking. Despite an utter lack of talent, Gunn could coax an interesting performance out of someone—even if it was only for a scene with over-the-top campy material.

In a world where Michael Bay is wildly popular while making shitty action movies, I immensely appreciate the work James Gunn has given me to enjoy. As a director, Gunn has definitely blossomed the past few years with Super (considerably better than its counterpart, Kick-Ass) and now Guardians of the Galaxy.

Star-Lord

James Gunn simply has an eye for creating an entertaining product.

I could go through all the enjoyable moments peppered throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, but people really need to see this movie for themselves. This isn’t even a kids movie, but rather a movie for adults (in a stage of arrested development) masquerading as a kids movie. In terms of summer blockbusters and the comic book genre in general, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best of the best.

You could certainly argue for The Dark Knight, but that’s probably a bit unfair considering the phenomenal, career-defining performance from Heath Ledger as The Joker. If you remove Ledger from that role, then The Dark Knight would fail to have the same lasting impact. Most people forget about those long, boring scenes like the completely unnecessary Hong Kong kidnapping sequence.

If there’s a fault to find with Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie does not have a very memorable villain. Ronan and Thanos fill the villain roles opposite our ragtag group of miscast heroes. A singular villain would be ideal, but Thanos needed to be introduced since this movie will eventually intertwine with The Avengers.

The best compliment to James Gunn is that Guardians of the Galaxy rates astronomically high on the re-watchability scale. In a manner of two months, I have already watched this movie 3 times—3D, regular, and at a drive-in. Every time, I have been thoroughly entertained. I know the punchlines to the jokes, but the comedic timing is so fantastic that it’s still as funny through multiple viewings.

Rocket

Bradley Cooper was downright superb in his instrumental voiceover role bringing Rocket to life. Despite not being asked to do much, Vin Diesel’s array of “I am Groot” deliveries are spot-on each time. Zoe Saldana isn’t remarkable, but she hits her lines and serves her purpose while this is a breakout role for Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord—which should springboard him into stardom. But the most surprising performance came from Dave Bautista—a lumbering, muscle-bound former wrestler. Transforming into Drax the Destroyer, Bautista is perfect in this role and he owns the some of the best lines of the movie. I’ve seen Dave Bautista in other movies (notably Riddick, with Vin Diesel) so either he’s becoming a true actor or James Gunn deserves more praise for putting Bautista in the best position to succeed.

As a longtime fan of James Gunn, I cannot wait to see the direction of where he’s now allowed to travel thanks to the success of this movie. As evidenced with Slither, Super, and now Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn puts part of himself in his movies. This movie’s soundtrack that everyone loves comes from Gunn’s childhood memories. This movie’s infusion of comedy comes from Gunn’s uniquely twisted humor.

With movies becoming increasingly repetitive and watered down, everyone should appreciate what a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy gave us during a completely mundane summer slate. This is the rare epic blockbuster with a beating heart. We need more James Gunn in this world.

Groot

5 out of 5 stars