Life Itself

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“He really really loved films,” said Martin Scorsese. Nothing could be more true of the film critic Roger Ebert, a man who inspired the world with his passion, insight, and love of cinema. Director Steve James takes us through a journey of his life, in a fashion that was very refreshing for a documentary.

James knew the risk he took making a film about one of the most iconic and praised film critics this world has ever seen, and he didn’t disappoint. The film takes you through a not-so-chronological story of Ebert’s life. It starts with a visit to his hospital room, post thyroid surgery, after he had some pain in his hip and had to be admitted. After getting a glimpse of his personality at an older age, we get to see what he was like as a young man with a passion for writing.

We’re taken through the story of his life almost haphazardly. Cuts between his life as a growing film critic, and his life after his sickness gave a fresh perspective each time we found out something new. One of the most fun things to watch was his rivalry with Gene Siskel, another film critic who wrote for a much more prestigious newspaper when they first met, but who came together when asked to do a show about films. Their relationship was both terrifying and comical, with insults being thrown one minute and jokes the next. As Gene said, “he’s an asshole, but he’s my asshole.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is the people that are interviewed. They feature a wide variety of his friends and acquaintances, including his family, his friends, and filmmakers who were both popular and not-so-popular. They each gave different views, and painted a clear portrait of the great Roger Ebert.

Towards the end of the film we learn of the effects the disease takes on him, which ultimately lead to his undoing. This was a man who had been optimistic his whole life, and who kept his ambitions up until the day he died. The unraveling of a man who in his lifetime had one of the greatest careers and experiences one could wish for, felt raw and emotional in his last email to James. “I can’t. Cheers, R”.

Life Itself is a clear and precise glimpse into the raw personality that demanded our attention. It’s about passion, hard work, love, loss, and the definition of the phrase “do what you love and find out how to make money doing it.” Roger Ebert loved what he did, and did it up until the day he died, with his last entry being the day before he passed. It ended with “I’ll see you at the movies,” and I think if he were to critique this one, he’d give it a big “thumbs up”. 9/10

-Jess

The Amazing Spiderman 2

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Please note that the following review contains spoilers to “The Amazing Spiderman 2 so if you have not seen the movie and do not want to have important plot points spoiled DO NOT continue reading.  If you have seen the movie or just really want to read and have no interest in the film but just want to laugh, then come on the adventure.
 

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Hey guys, long time no see.  Glad you are here.  I decided to write a review of “The Amazing Spider Man 2” since I literally just saw it about an hour ago.  

Now, I have many friends who are very much into film and I did my best to stay away from conversations about this film due to not seeing it.  I have now watched it so I can talk about it and not talk out of my rear end.  I must say that the relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) is probably where the “Amazing” comes from for the title.  Both are great together, as well as the chemistry and just overall naturalness to them and their interactions are just wonderful.  Emma Stone, by far, gives the best performance in my opinion.  She is engaging, smart, and has some really good comedic timing with Garfield.  It is a shame that she will no longer be apart of the series as watching her portray Gwen Stacey was enjoyable.  I thoroughly enjoyed how the writers decided how to kill off her character, (Granted in the comic it is not known if the Goblin killed her first or the sudden stop from the web Spidey shot that caught her foot did it.) having the sudden stop from free falling snap her neck was a great touch to really add something more to Spidey.  

There were things that I was not a fan of and I think I have to start with Harry Osborn.  I really did not like how the character was written or performed for the most part.  Now, I am not totally destroying Dane DeHaan here.  There are moments that I really thought he did a great job, but overall Harry Osborn was made to be a real “emo” rich kid.  There are times when he is just yelling to yell and I feel that those times were just simply a bad acting choice.  I also feel that his “Green Goblin” looked really stupid and he was just not good at portraying a top 3 villain in the Spiderman universe.  

 I also think that Andrew Garfield did a good job as Peter Parker/Spiderman.  Now there are moments that I really liked him in (see any scene with Emma Stone) and he does well working with the great Sally Field.  However, there are moments that I feel that Garfield drops the ball.  There are many times where Garfield forgets how Peter Parker speaks, since there is a somewhat odd New Yorker accent that gets thrown in there.  I will say that this go around as the web swinger is better.  There is a more wise-cracking vibe with Spidey which was missing in the “first” installment.

We are now at the point where I need to get something off my chest about this film and the series in general.  Now mind you, I thought the movie was okay.  It may be the best of the “Amazing” series, but it is not as good as the other series (Sam Raimi directed ones).

This movie was very, very similar to “Spiderman 3.   Yes, I just heard the internet explode because of the previous sentence.  “The Amazing Spiderman 2” is nearly the same movie as “Spiderman 3”.  There are some differences like the villains used (Electro in “Amazing Spiderman 2” and Sandman in “Spiderman 3”)  both are not bad guys.  One (Electro) just wants to be noticed, and the other (Sandman) wants to get enough money to help his sick daughter.  They are both guys pushed into things by extraordinary circumstances.   The only difference is Sandman didn’t go crazy and still try to kill Spiderman at the end.  

Now the Harry Osborn scenario is somewhat the same in both except 1. In “Amazing” Harry is dying from what Norman Osborn called “The Osborn Curse” that makes them turn green and goblin like (Mind you totally stupid in my opinion.) 2. DeHaan’s performance was not nearly as good as James Franco’s performance. 3. Harry becomes a good guy like he does in the comics and not the primary villain (which SHOULD be Norman Osborn, but I digress).
Both become “Green Goblin” but “Amazing”s addition of a potential Sinister Six in future installments was good.  

The introduction of “Rhino” was the equivalent of “Venom” I feel.  Now there is a HUGE difference between “The Amazing Spiderman 2” and “Spiderman 3”.  That huge difference would be the ridiculous amount of HYPE “Spiderman 3” had leading up to its release.  The fans had enormous expectations for the film and when it didn’t meet them: the fans said “This movie stinks”.  Granted, I will admit that “Spiderman 3” was not the greatest movie, it was not the worst movie of all time, it was a movie that was decent but the hype that preceded it really hampered the flick.  

TL, DR:  I know my opinion may not be popular but while I did enjoy “The Amazing Spiderman 2”, I feel that it is just about as good as “Spiderman 3”.  I give this movie a 6/10.

 
-Chris

The Fault In Our Stars

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Pain demands to be felt.

And oh boy was it felt in the tear-jerking teen romance story, The Fault In Our Stars. This film is an adaptation of John Green’s book of the same title. I did read the book before I watched the movie, as I usually do, but it didn’t help me prepare for the river of tears I cried anyway.

Hazel Grace Lancaster has cancer, and cancer sucks. Augustus Waters, a devilishly handsome boy in remission, meets her in group therapy. But all Hazel wants to do is push everyone possible away to “minimize the casualties”. Augustus won’t have it. After much resistance on Hazel’s part, they fall in love.

It’s a beautiful story about love, loss, and sickness. Being an avid fan of the book, I found this to be one of the most faithful book to film adaptations of a story. I had re-read the book a few days before and couldn’t believe how much came straight from the book. Director Josh Boone took a story that had a large following, knowing that fans would be highly critical, and didn’t disappoint.

Casting here was strange for me, only because Shailene Woodley(Hazel) and Ansel Elgort(Augustus) were recently portrayed as brother and sister in a different book adaptation, Divergent. However, their chemistry on screen was undeniable. They’re both a little awkward, but cutely so. Woodley did a fantastic job of portraying what it’s like to die, without knowing what dying feels like. Elgort’s character was also solid, and as cool and collected as he was in the book. After watching, I couldn’t think of better casting myself.

Boone made some tweaks to the story, but they were minor. I did miss some of the smaller details, but if you haven’t read the book, you won’t miss them. In fact, I love what Boone did with the cancer support group. All of the members of the support group were cancer survivors, which was a fantastic touch. Mike Birbiglia(Patrick) did a great job of being the comic relief with his “literal heart of jesus” as the leader of the support group, and we were even given a more detailed description of him than in the book through flashbacks, which was nice.

This movie had me crying way before I should have, but that was because I knew what was coming and those moments where they were together and happy had more weight to them. So if you’re heading to the theatre or reading this in the future and planning on renting, one word of advice, BRING TISSUES! I give a 9/10

-Jess

Maleficent

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Anyone who knows me knows that I love anything Disney. In fact, I didn’t even know how to pronounce “Maleficent” until I started working there, and Sleeping Beauty was never one of my favorites. She often got skipped at the Princess Fairytale Hall, so one day I decided to watch the movie again so I could be more attuned to her story. It’s a good thing I did, because a year later Disney decided to center a film around the movie’s iconic villain.

 

I’m a really big stickler for movies paying homage to whatever preceded it, whether it be a book, a broadway play, or a comic. So the fact that this movie stayed pretty true to what happened in Sleeping Beauty was a blessing for me. Director Robert Stromberg kept a lot of the visual representations that were created in Sleeping Beauty, with a few modern tweaks. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather all got name changes, Maleficent has wings and is a fairy, and her crow is constantly being turned into things other than a crow. But otherwise, there were a lot of similarities drawn between the two, which was great for anyone who enjoyed the animated film.

 

Jolie and Stromberg made a great pair. I never once was upset with Jolie’s performance. She didn’t have an easy task, considering her character is at battle with herself for most of the movie. Commendations to the wardrobe and makeup department, who created a strikingly scary yet somehow gorgeous depiction of what a real life Maleficent would look like. Elle Fanning(Aurora) played an overly optimistic and bubbly Aurora, dissimilar to the animated version, where Friar Rose was a little more reserved and a little more sneaky as well. I wasn’t entirely put off by it, since it created chemistry between her and Jolie; they made it look easy.

 

The film itself wasn’t spectacularly beautiful. I always am able to point out the “money shot” (the scene that costs the most money, you pervs) easily, because it is an establishing shot with a lot of beautiful waterfalls, colors and light, but also is completely computer generated. Even that scene wasn’t particularly spectacular to me, considering nothing will ever beat Frozen’s money shot where they show the frozen waterfalls and ice covered trees complete with ice chandeliers coming from the branches. The theme was always dark around Maleficent when she was filled with revenge, and a bit lighter and more colorful when she wasn’t.

 

All in all I was happy with the adaptation. The ending made sense and created a little bit of wonder when you left the theatre. The acting was great and the comedy was a good relief from the dark tone of the film. I’d give it a 7/10.

 

-Jess