Life Itself

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Life Itself is a great biographical documentary about film critic Roger Ebert.  The movie spans his entire life including a significant amount of filming during Ebert’s final weeks as he finally succumbed to cancer.

The film is a moving tribute and shows Ebert, warts and all, from his days breaking into newspapers while still a teenager, his ascension as a critic while battling alcoholism, a nuanced view of his pairing with fellow critic Gene Siskel, finding his soul mate later in life, and finally his brave and very open battle with cancer.

The film is directed by Steve James, who is most famous for Hoop Dreams.  It’s a very emotional movie movie with a lot of humor as well.  Some people might find parts of this movie tough to watch due to the toll that his illness took on him and the physical problems that he faced, but this is a film well worth seeing.

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Lucy

Bill C’s Review – 2 out of 5

I knew from the previews that the plot of Lucy made little sense, but since the film was directed by Luc Besson, I hoped the action would make up for it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.

Scarlett Johansson stars as Lucy and does a fine job.  She is happy-go-lucky until drug dealers use her as a drug smuggling mule by implanting a new drug in her stomach. Things go from bad to worse as the bag of drugs break, causing Lucy to utilize 100% of her brain power. (Luckily, Morgan Freeman is giving a lecture so we know humans only use 10%). This turns her into a vengeful superhuman fighting machine. Up to this point, the film had lived up to my expectations of having a dumb plot, but the action did not redeem the movie either. In some ways, this film reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey as there were flashbacks to prehistoric monkeys and other animals, but that didn’t make much sense to me either.

The action was never boring, but it didn’t seem that original and when necessary, Besson seemed to just give Lucy a new super  power that didn’t have too much to do with brain power.  Lots of guys coming at you with guns? Give her the power to disarm all of them at once from a distance. No problem!

Besson has written/directed some great action movies, including District B13 (very highly recommended), Taken, La Femme Nikita, and The Transporter.  I’d recommend one of those instead of his latest film.

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Snowpiercer

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Snowpiercer takes place in a post apocalyptic world after a plan to reverse global warming goes awry and most life on earth is wiped out as the earth is plunged into a deep freeze.    All survivors  have been riding on a super train that needs to keep moving to allow it to sustain life.   All of this is told before the opening credits.e

The class system rules on the train with the lower classes in the back doing all the work and the 1% in front living the good life.  After several years the people in back revolt.  This is an excellent sci-fi movie with excellent, varied action.   The plot is also pretty good with a lot of  surprises/twists revealed along the way.  There’s also a good mix of humor to go along with the action and serious themes.

This is directed by South Korean (this film is in English)  film maker Joon-ho Bong who is most famous for The Host a few years ago.  The cast is excellent with Tilda Swinton (almost unrecognizable) steals the movie as one of the leaders of the upper class trying to control the lower classes.

I think this just had a limited release and might be easier to find on video on demand.  it is worth looking for.

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Boyhood

Boyhood – 4.5 out of 5

I originally reviewed this at SXSW in March.  It is now being released.  So far this is my favorite movie of 2014.

This is a great movie that everyone should see when it comes out in July.  It’s a narrative that took over 12 years to make.  Richard Linklater shot for 3 days every year with the same actors telling the journey of a boy and his family as he grows from 1st grade to his first few days of college.  While Linklater had the basic arc he wanted to follow it’s interesting to watch as he weaves in the cultural events of the time into the story.  And it’s just fascinating to watch as he and his family go through change (including physical changes during those 12 years).  While nothing incredibly exciting is going on plot wise it’s just fascinating to watch.    This also had an excellent cast led by Ethan Hawke (also great in Predestination), Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane (as the boy) and Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter) as his sister.

This  movie packs an emotional wallop.

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22 Jump Street

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

22 Jump Street is the sequel to 21 Jump Street starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum graduating  from cops going undercover as high school students to cops going undercover as college students.

The sequel is almost as funny as the first.  The movie doesn’t take itself seriously so they feel free to make fun of everything from the absurdity of them pretending to be college students to film sequels to their own film persona. Some of the humor doesn’t quite hit the mark, but a lot does.

The film has a bunch of cameos cameos and you should stick around during the closing credits. If you liked the first one, you’ll definitely like this. But  it’s not necessary to have seen the original to enjoy this above-average comedy.

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

I really enjoyed this, even better than 21 Jump Street from what I can recall.  It’s over the top and nuts in some scenes with not much down time between the laughs. Bill mentioned the closing credits….they are as funny as anything, and at the very end there’s a 3 second funny bit. Ice Cube has a real good scene where he goes ballistic. Channing Tatum is so good, and of course Jonah Hill never disappoints. Perfect summer fun film!

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Obvious Child

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 4

Obvious Child is an entertaining romantic comedy.  Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who gets dumped, loses her day job,  gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion.  Slate, whose claim to fame before this movie was saying the F-word on her Saturday Night Live debut (before not being brought back the next year), does a great job showing a range of emotions as she tries to get her life together.

The movie is funny, while also dealing with tough emotional issues.  The film has a good supporting cast of most unknowns playing her mother, best friend,  and new beau.

The film dealt with the topic of abortion from where Donna was with her life and what was best for her, and didn’t feel preachy to me. But if you’re strongly (or maybe even moderately) pro-life, this movie is probably not for you, but others might enjoy it.

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 4

I enjoyed this film. Jenny Slate is naturally interesting, and plays very very well a young woman who combines aspects of intelligence, ambition, laziness, incredible candor and courage, of course humor and personality, as well as a lack of fortitude to confront her problems head on.  Most of the movie I felt like I was waiting for something to happen, but this is more of a slice of life, albeit during a time when she has to make a tough choice, as Bill described above.

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Edge of Tomorrow

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

The Edge of Tomorrow is a sci-fi Groundhog Day during an Independence Day like war with aliens.

As Tom Cruise goes back in time he needs to keep learning so he can get further and hopefully progress to lead the defeat of the aliens.  He is aided by Emily Blunt who had a similar ability, became a hero  at a key battle but eventually lost the power.

I really liked the first 95% of the movie.  The plot is good, they threw in a lot of good humor and showed the progression towards the goal in a clever way.

Blunt and Cruise were both good although Cruise is probably reaching the point where he should leave this role to younger people (but if Liam Neeson can  do action stuff in his 60s why not? And I see Mission Impossible 5 and a Top Gun sequel are coming up for Cruise!).

The very ending to me seemed like a big cop out.  I don’t want to give it away but would be interested to know if others agreed.  Despite the ending I thought this was a good summer action movie.

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X-Men Days of Future Past

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Things are looking bleak for the X-Men sometime in the future.  They are losing a Terminator like war as humans have come up with these killer machines.  So what are you going to do?   Time to send an X-Men (X-Man?) back in the past to try to unite the X-Men at a pivotal time in history and alter the key event that led to the present situation.

I didn’t think this was the best X-Men movie but I thought it was a pretty good one.  The action was good  and included some humorous action (although the first time travel sequence was sort of confusing to  me until they explained it).

At this point you know the key characters pretty well with Wolverine, Raven/Mystique, Charles and Magneto getting most of the screen time.   Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence stand out with most of the tension coming from the need to get Magneto to conform.  Jackman has been playing Wolverine for almost 15 years now and you wonder how much longer he can do that role but so far he can still handle it.    While a ton of X-Men are in the movie some just have cameos (Rogue/ Ann Pacquin being  probably on screen for about 5 seconds).   Peter Dinklage handles the evil non mutant role and they find a Richard Nixon impersonator for some of the scenes in the 70s towards  the end of the Vietnam war.

I did not see this in 3D although I heard that was pretty good.  If you’re a fan of the series you should definitely see this one.  If you have an extra 8 minutes stick around for the closing credits  and teaser for the next X-Men movie (and let me know what it means).

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Locke

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Locke is  pretty good for a movie that totally takes place during a 90 minute car ride.  Just the lead character (along with  occasional views of the dashboard and road)  is ever on screen as he juggles conversations with his wife, kids, boss, subordinate and others on the phone.

Locke has a great family and career that appear to be crashing down around him as he tries to step up and do what he views as the right  right thing in a tough personal situation.  During the course of the movie you learn about  events in his past and present that drive him as well as get to know the people he is dealing with.

The writing and acting are excellent.  Tom Hardy does a great job as Ivan Locke.  I never would have guessed he was the same actor that played Bane in the last Batman movie.

For a movie with such a simple premise and setting  this turned out to be a tension filled movie with a performance that was definitely worth watching.

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Million Dollar Arm

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

I loved it. Great story, based on real-life events, of a sports agent holding a nationwide contest in India to find a couple of cricket players who could throw a baseball with “juice” (i.e. fast and accurate), awarding them with a trip to the US to get professional training and a major league tryout. Jon Hamm is pretty perfect as the down on his luck agent, kind of like a 2008 version of Don Draper gone out on his own: arrogant, but with likable potential if he slows down from his fast track business focus enough to appreciate the people around him. The scenes in India give just enough local flavor to keep it interesting, while the secondary characters stand out, especially Alan Arkin as the jaded scout, Bill Paxton as the coach Tom House, and Pitobash as the volunteer translator and gofer who’s got big baseball ambitions but tiny stature. Lake Bell is good as the tenant neighbor love interest and wise voice of reason, while the two potential pitchers are realistically quiet and intimidated by the fish out of water experience, and end up doing a realistic version of pitching so it doesn’t look like typical Hollywood actors trying to be athletes. Finally, I must mention that the film was inspired by my college friend, Will Chang, who in real life funded the contest and helped initiate the film. The character that portrays “Mr. Chang” is quite harsh, which is very unlike Will in real life, so I assume they needed it for dramatic impact. Some critics have called the film corny and boring. I agree it’s no Jerry McGuire, and no Slumdog Millionaire, but it’s very enjoyable and I was never bored. Bring kids of all ages and you will have fun.