‘Boyhood’ (2014) – The Start of Something Great


If you’ve heard anything about Boyhood, it’s probably the hype surrounding its groundbreaking 12-year production phase. This is a movie that started filming in 2002, and follows a boy named Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane) as he quite literally grows up before our eyes, with all the change and experiences that growing up entails.

The film, which introduces Mason at age 6, chronicles his life all the way until he graduates from high school at 18, focusing on his relationship with his divorced parents and various others who come in and out of his life.

Viewing a film that spans the length of 12 real years is a strange experience. In one sense, it’s like viewing a biopic documentary, which shows a person’s lifespan using real clips. But those clips are aged, and those stories are real. This is a fictional story with a consistent camera showing these characters change right along with the actors. No heavy makeup, no lookalikes–just pure, unadulterated growth.

Being only two years older than lead star Ellar Coltrane, watching Mason grow up on screen was like watching a tribute to my own past. Much of Mason’s childhood activities were my own. While Mason sat watching Dragonball Z in his living room, or playing the video game Halo on Xbox with friends, or eagerly waiting in line for the release of the sixth Harry Potter book at midnight, my childhood experiences were right there with him because I did those things too. Even his uncertainty on college and relationships eerily mirrored much of my own.

In those ways, viewing this film was somewhat of a bittersweet and transcendental movie experience, and for that alone it’s hard for me to say this film’s experiment didn’t succeed.

That being said, I couldn’t help feeling frustratingly underwhelmed by Boyhood’s story, and for a movie (no matter how original or groundbreaking its production is) that’s still key. While the dialogue was largely well-written and served to effectively paint a picture of these characters and their familial issues to an intimate degree, I felt many of the moments (especially regarding the cliched abusive step-dads) were pulled straight from any melodramatic coming-of-age story, and had me wishing that Boyhood took a less familiar road through Mason’s childhood. Furthermore, I felt that Mason and his sister Samantha (played by Lorelai Linklater) gave shaky performances throughout, which were only accentuated by the superb acting jobs from the mom (Patricia Arquette), and biological father (Ethan Hawke).

More than any plot detail or acting performance, the larger picture left me wanting something more meditative. As Mason, Samanatha, and his mother (played by Patricia Arquette) move from place to place–leaving behind old friends, old jobs, and old husbands–the film seems intent on keeping the past in the past, and for much of Mason’s experiences, that’s probably a good thing.

However, there’s something to be said about the phrase, “you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” For change to occur there needs to be reflection, and for a film spanning the length of 12 years, Boyhood seems to devote very little time to it.

Perhaps that was a side effect of the unorthodox filming process, which wouldn’t allow for as holistic a perspective as other film’s can receive, or perhaps it was the intention of the filmmaker to keep the plot moving rigidly forward, either way, I felt myself wishing that with the film’s spectacular breadth of time, the characters, who had changed so much over the course of the film, could have payed homage to who they were–that their journey would have been more cyclical. For me, that is what separates Boyhood from being an epic.

Yet, for my disappointment that the end result wasn’t more for me than it was, I still enjoyed the film and it’s left me excited for the future. While Boyhood will surely be remembered as a landmark film for its experimental production process, I think it will pave the way for films to adopt its design with a more impactful story in the way that all breakthroughs make room for improvements.

Review: ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ (2014)

To enjoy The Purge (2013), and its sequel, The Purge: Anarchy (2014), which must have gone into conception about the day the first film left the hospital, you need to buy into an interesting, albeit nonsensical premise; that one day a year all crime is made legal to provide denizens with a cathartic purging of their criminal proclivities. For 12 hours on Purge Night, everyone is free to pillage, rape, and murder to their heart’s content, so they may “get it out of their system.” It’s the same logic that would go into giving a drug addict unlimited amounts of their vice for one day a year, so they’d have no interest in it the other 364 days.

Yet, if you are somehow able to ignore the lack of reasoning and larger implications of this system, and the film makes sure it doesn’t touch that with a ten foot pole (because, you know, that’d be a lot to think about), you may find yourself able to enjoy the ride–if only the ride included whispers of smart dialogue, and the occasionally compelling character or two. Unfortunately, however, The Purge: Anarchy is full of annoying characters, banal dialogue, and copious plot holes.

The Purge: Anarchy continues one year after the events of the first film. Sgt. Leo Barnes (played by Frank Grillo) is a man planning to use the legal freedom of Purge Night to get revenge on the man who killed his son until he is forced to team up with two pairs of survivors and get them to safety, while still allowing himself enough time to carry out his mission.

The first pair to join Leo is Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoe Soul), a mother and daughter duo, respectively, who are rescued by Leo on the brink of their execution. Among the many awkward exchanges and relationship dynamics between characters in the film, these two characters provide perhaps the strangest. Both the mother and daughter seem to share romantic tensions with Leo that are left uncomfortably ambiguous. We’re never sure if he and the not-so-young daughter form a father-daughter bond or if their interactions are sexual. There’s evidence to support both, and each bit of evidence is through either awkward eye glances or cringe-worthy dialogue that makes either type of relationship unsettling.

One such eye roller occurs when the team is walking down a tunnel and Cali won’t stop demanding that her savior tell her more about himself. Leo calmly repeats the words “stop talking” over and over for far longer than he has any reason to until he eventually gets forceful and Cali replies with her best unintentional middle school girl impression, “I’m going to stop talking now, but not because you told me to.”

The other two supporting characters are Shane (played by Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple who we’re introduced to when their car breaks down in the middle of the city as the deafening siren signals the start of Purge Night. While the film’s intention here is to mimic the dread of that masterful scene in I Am Legend when Will Smith finds himself suspended upside down in the city as the sun fades over the horizon, all I can think is that Shane and Liz’s situation would be entirely avoidable had they not taken any chances and stayed clear of the city. It’s not a great indicator of strong character writing when our first thoughts of their actions are, “well, that was stupid.” Simply put, there’s a difference between flawed characters and characters that insult our intelligence.

As the characters tread deeper into the city and the Purge Night draws closer to an end, the situations get more and more ludicrous. At one point, the movie even veers into a blatant rip off of The Hunger Games when the team finds themselves being auctioned off to rich, upperclass citizens, and taken into an arena to be hunted like sport. In fact, the rich will even buy people so they can take part in Purge Night in “the safety of their home.” Add to that an elderly woman joyfully describing the pleasure of killing someone with a double barrel shotgun in front of a laughing audience of rich aristocrats, and any remaining sense of seriousness to this self-indulgent, wannabe social satire goes out the window.

The Purge: Anarchy is rated R for strong disturbing violence and language.

AFI DOCS Review: Three Fantastic Documentaries to Watch

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending D.C.’s AFI DOCS. For many, the annual, international documentary film festival is the closest thing you can get to a Hollywood red carpet experience on the east coast. With more filmmakers at the 5-day event than the city likely receives in an entire year, the film festival is the rare time when a city other than L.A. or N.Y.C gets the honor of premiering a number of films sure to be seen at next year’s Oscars, and it’s not hard to understand the choice of location.

Because documentaries are so often political in nature, utilizing the genre to inform or make a statement about one hot issue or another, hosting the event in the nation’s capital compliments the atmosphere of change and reformation, as such documentaries aim to achieve. What results is an experience closer to a TED conference than Sundance, but nonetheless one that brings to D.C. a more tangible Hollywood feel than anything else.

So knowing that the selection of films would largely play to location, I wanted to view as balanced a selection as possible. And while I wish I could say I was able to see more films than I did, due to the unfortunate truth that a lot of screenings were happening simultaneously at various locations (and I was not blessed with the ability to be in two places at once), what follows are the three films I was able to screen: An Honest LiarPoint and Shoot, and The Internet’s Own Boy.

#1 An Honest Liar

An Honest Liar, the story of James “The Amazing” Randi, who has been mastering the art of illusion and sleight of hand for more than half a century, begins with Randi’s own personal mantra: that he’s a magician who tells you he’s going to fool you, and then he does.

Starting off his career as a stage magician whose speciality included escaping from seemingly impossible situations (a la Harry Houdini), he soon took to humanitarian causes, using his expertise in deception to expose charlatans who claimed to perform “real” magic, and it’s the latter profession that occupies most of the film time.

As the documentary progresses, several major investigations are chronicled: Randi’s debunking of Uri Geller, James Hydrick, and Peter Popoff. The first two were magicians claiming to possess psychic powers such as bending forks, moving book pages and pencils without touching them, and being thousands of years old. The third one, however, took matters into Christianity and was by far the most depressing to witness.

Peter Popoff was a televangelist and self-proclaimed prophet whose “healing” services brought in an audience of thousands. He would call audience members by name to come up to the stage to be healed, and after thrusting them to the ground , would tell them to go ahead and throw their medicine on stage as they wouldn’t need it any longer. Naturally, it didn’t take long for Randi to take notice and investigate the claims of supernatural healing for himself.

With the help of a surveillance specialist, Randi intercepted a radio signal which revealed the “voice of God” to be none other than Popoff’s wife, who was relaying information about persons in the audience, their illnesses, and their street addresses as to Popoff as he “healed” the sick.

While the documentary was largely an inspiring and entertaining account of Randi’s life, the emphasis on the egregious Popoff case was extremely disheartening to watch and did no favors for an already increasingly negative view of Christianity in America.On the bright side, however, the topic did promote a faith-related question, and so after the showing when Randi and his partner Deyvi Peña took to the front, I was able to ask Randi a question of my own, though the answer I received was somewhat less than satisfying:

As someone of faith, it was very sad to witness the corruption of church leaders like Peter Popoff, so I was wondering, since you worked with other aspiring magicians — the other magicians in the Stanford experiment — did you ever, in a similar way, work with any church leaders to help debunk some of the ones like Popoff?

The church leaders were…they wanted to stay away from that…they just backed out of it. I thought that was very improper of them. I made some tentative offers towards them, but they know very well that I am an Atheist, and I’ve declared myself to be an Atheist, and I think for very good reasons. It’s not just because it’s something I choose. I think I have good reasons to be an Atheist. I’m not going to get into that now because that’s not the subject, but uh no, we did not get any help from any of the religious figures at all, though we should have, I believe.

#2 Point and Shoot

Point and Shoot is a documentary film about the unique story of Matthew VanDyke, an American who sets out to find his sense of manhood and finds himself in the middle of the 2011 Libyan Revolution. The film is told almost entirely through the eyes of VanDyke as he uses a GoPro to chronicle his adventure, which starts as just a motorcycling trip all over northern Africa and the middle east, until it eventually brings him straight into a war-zone.

During his travels abroad between 2007-2010, he forms lifelong friendships, some of which live in Libya. Fast forward to 2011 when the Libyan Revolution takes place, and VanDyke returns to Libya voluntarily to aid his friends. Shortly after the fighting begins, VanDyke is thrown in a Libyan prison where he remains for nearly 6 months until the prison is sieged and he is freed. In an extraordinary move that many would call foolish and insane, VanDyke decides to continue to stay in Libya to fight, rather than return safely to America. The majority of the film documents the events that take place after the imprisonment.

In between VanDyke’s own footage of his travels, director Marshall Curry interviews VanDyke and his loved ones who bring their own striking and personal accounts of the experience. It’s a powerful and thoughtful film that captures the feeling of isolation in a foreign country, as well as the tragedy and horrors of war to the degree of 2010′s Restrepo. Even more, the documentary is as intense and sobering as it is heartfelt and comical, and simply put, any documentary, whether involving war or not, should take notes from Point and Shoot.

#3 The Internet’s Own Boy

The Internet’s Own Boy is the tragic story of Aaron Swartz, an American computer programming prodigy who was hunted and demonized by the government for his unwavering stance that knowledge should be a right rather than a privilege.

The documentary begins with his early life and extraordinary achievements at a young age, some of which involved aiding in the development of web feed RSS at age 14, and co-founding Reddit at 17. As he grew older and possessed an astonishing number of successful internet ventures under his belt, he began a career in internet “hacktivism,” in which he sought political change regarding the fair use of information.

It was during this period that Swartz used MIT’s network to upload thousands of documents to the web, which he considered the public’s right to access. Unfortunately for Swartz, the government disagreed and charged Swartz with 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, giving Swartz 35 years in a jail and $1 millions in fines. The extreme disproportionality of the charges in regards to the crime came on the coattails of wikileaks and individuals like Snowden. Truly, the film makes it clear that Swartz’s extreme punishment was the product of the government wishing to make an example out of Swartz to deter others from following in his footsteps, and paired with the response from Swartz’ friends and family, the film made a compelling case for the injustice of it.

Unable to cope with the extreme charges, Aaron Swartz ended his life on January 11th, 2013. Yet, judging by how fired up I became on an issue that I had previously not given much thought, I’m betting this powerful documentary will create the change Swartz fought to the end for. But even if you disagree with the stance that is fervently supported, watching the film is still a captivating and emotional experience, and in my opinion, was the best film out of the three.

Deliver Us From Evil – A Refreshingly Thoughtful Crime-Horror Film that Explores the Implications of Evil

WARNING: REVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS…

I’ve always found the spiritual horror genre compelling for the question it forces its viewers to engage: Does the supernatural being shown really exist?

For many, the answer is a scoff and resounding “no,” but when the subject matter (in this case demonic possession) falls under several religions that together total more than 3 billion followers, the question of the film’s fictional or nonfictional qualities becomes up for debate in a way that no other genre can be.

And that is partly why so many flock to see these movies. Although many audience members are just there for the cheap scares, there’s something alluring about the possibility of supernatural forces engaging with people, and that maybe, just maybe, there is some truth to the “Based on the true case files of such-and-such” these films claim to hold.

Of course, what follows is filmmakers overusing the “Based on true events” trope to attract audiences, all while increasing the extent and intensity of the film’s supernatural elements, and what results is the audience suddenly finding the film too fantastical to be anything but fictional.

But while Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil doesn’t convince the existence of evil any more than other horror films, it at least understands what that would mean.

Based on the real life events of New York street cop Ralph Sarchie (Played by Eric Bana), Deliver Us From Evil follows Sarchie as he uncovers a series of related, paranormal cases with the help of Mendoza, a rough-around-the edges Jesuit priest (played by Edgar Ramirez).

Skeptical, to say the least, that these strange occurrences are at all paranormal or spiritual, Sarchie is hesitant to gain the help of Mendoza, who insists these related cases involve demonic possession. He slowly begins to accept this help, however, as he is targeted more and more by the three possessed persons, whom, as Mendoza explains it, have targeted him because he holds the “gift of discernment,” allowing him to sense them, and is therefore a threat.

While this “threat” isn’t really delved into, nor is there an explanation for why the possessed persons in question were chosen as hosts or what their goals are, the strength of the film lies in the relationship between Sarchie and Mendoza, which provides a pleasantly uncommon level of character development in a genre not known for having the roundest of characters.

As most horror films focus as intensely as possible to provide jump scare after jump scare (and Deliver Us From Evil has its fair share of the famous horror cliché to its detriment), Deliver Us From Evil instead finds its strength in the underlying implications of this evil existing. Sarchie, who has resisted the existence of both God and the supernatural since he fell away from the Catholic faith at 12, must reflect and grapple with both what he’s witnessed, and what it means for him in a larger context.

Also, although filled with too many moments of the cliché “protagonist explores dark corridor only to have the inevitable jump scare,” which quickly became both predictable and boring, I found myself enjoying that the context was of an investigative cop addressing reports of strange activity. Watching Sarchie be forced to enter these situations for his job provided a deeper sense of unrest because the reality is that real cops have to enter similarly unsettling environments and sometimes see almost equally disturbing images. And while the existence of the supernatural will likely always be up for debate, the fact remains that the world can be a very dark place and sometimes we’re forced to enter it.

Unlike most horror films where the characters, after discovering the existence of evil and triumphing over it, are simply relieved that they can move on with their lives, Deliver Us From Evil recognizes that the existence of supernatural evil then requires the existence of a supernatural good. Upon finally acknowledging that these individuals were indeed possessed by a demon, Sarchie returns to his Catholic faith and the film ends with the baptism of his new baby girl.

The true success of Deliver Us From Evil is that it goes beyond the horror to address the existential implications of a supernatural evil. While not always succeeding in the scares that many viewers will crave, its willingness to go behind the scenes makes this film stand out among its contemporaries.

Think Like a Man Too: The Hangover’s Vapid, Shallow, and Forgettable Cousin

As I watched Think Like a Man Too, the most recent product from writers Keith Merryman and David Newman who brought you that wholesome flick, Friends with Benefits, I couldn’t help but think of the climbing divorce rate in America. In a culture that is increasingly devaluing marriage (sadly more often than not treating it as a fashion to be dispensed when no longer convenient — though I do want to go on record saying divorce can sometimes be appropriate), Think Like a Man Too exemplifies it to a degree that ranges from hopelessly depressing to downright maddening.

In fact, part of me is even impressed by how much this movie affected me; I left the theater legitimately boiling from its aftertaste, much as I did after watching the critically acclaimed but also morally vapid, Sideways (starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church), in which Church’s character gets involved in an affair that he proudly manages to hide from his fiancé by the film’s end (all while Giamatti’s character looks on from a distance with satisfaction).

Yet, it’s not the actions of moral depravity that upset me in film/television. Those who know me will know I am a huge fan of shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, which are both bursting at the seams with immoral actions throughout. The difference between those examples and Think Like a Man Too is purely the message you’re left with. Either being one that condemns those actions and provides consequences (as the former two do), or one that is all too comfortable with that behavior, sometimes even to the extent of promoting it — and Think Like a Man Too couldn’t do this more.

For those who haven’t seen the first Think Like a Man (and if you have, I won’t judge you for denying it), the film chronicles an interconnected series of couples as they wrestle with conflicting expectations and preferences on relationships. Holding such stereotypical nicknames as “The Player,” “The Non-Committer,” and “The Girl Who Wants a Ring,” the characters and their significant (to varying degrees) others struggle to maintain any sort of a healthy relationship that points to long-term success due to their self-centered mindsets regarding relationships.

In the first film, which largely focuses on the ladies’ perspective (hence the title), the women discover a book of [terrible] relationship advice, which they then use to get what they want from their unsatisfactory significant others. Of course, it wouldn’t be fair if there was no sequel for the guys to have their turn, and so thus Think Like a Man Too was born.

Think Like a Man Too follows up the events of the first film with the group arriving in Vegas for the wedding of their friends Michael (played by Terrence J) and Candace (Regina Hall). The film mainly chronicles the events of the bachelor party, but before that each character is briefly reintroduced (for those lucky enough to have missed the first film), and it isn’t long before the audience gets a deep understanding of their flaws, which at times are, shockingly, even intended as comic relief.

But there’s nothing funny to me about a group of men whose ideas of relationships have nothing to do with commitment, exclusivity, or integrity. Cedric (played by the tireless Kevin Hart), Michael’s faux-best man — “faux” as in Michael intended for his best friend Dominic (Michael Ealy) to be his best man, but Cedric thought he was pointing to him so they all awkwardly decided to go with it (because why not?) — attempts throughout the bachelor party to get the groom to indulge in strippers and enough alcohol to make his future self of 12 hours weep. The other members of the group in the meantime go along with this with varying levels of acceptance, yet none of them do anything to limit it. 

What becomes infuriating to watch over the 106 minute runtime is that every continuing instance of the groom’s degradation is given an atmosphere of acceptance and justification. The filmmakers clearly want you to laugh at the chaos and ridiculousness of the night, but it’s not because the night is a failure and these characters are stumbling on their way to redemption. To them, and unfortunately most of the audience, this is how a bachelor party is supposed to go down, and anything otherwise is a failure.

Even more unfortunate, however, is that this low-brow comedy comprises of a superbly talented cast. For all the distasteful, cliche, and unoriginal dialogue throughout, the actors sell their roles. Cedric in particular, while a horrible faux-best man, does play his character with an impressive level of energy and authenticity. Furthermore, Loretta (Jenifer Lewis), the mother of the groom, sells the unapproving and over-protective old woman in a performance that is sure to go down among the best film portrayals of that type.

Yet what was perhaps saddest of all is that when the events that transpire result in the groomsmen (and their counterpart bridesmaids who have been having their own equally empty bachelorette party) getting thrown in jail and arriving late to the now-cancelled wedding, the actions that caused this are not condemned. And there is where my problem with the film’s message lies.

The movie ends with the group finding a way to go through with the wedding later that night after all; The couple says “I do,” everyone cheers, and the credits roll with the newly formed husband and wife living happily-ever-after.

But that is complete bullshit.

As I touched upon earlier, shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones would have resulted in the characters not finding immediate gratification. They would have paid the price and hopefully learned from their mistakes, or at least realized that there was an issue with them to begin with. If there’s anything Think Like a Man Too does well, it’s exemplify a culture where the sanctity of marriage is fading away in place of one where a wedding ring is nothing more than a symbol of two people being slightly more committed than before. Unfortunately, nothing in the film convinced me it will last.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Or, How to Do a Sequel Right)

There is a scene in the pilot episode of the critically acclaimed TV show Breaking Bad when Walter White describes the parallel between chemistry and life. “Chemistry,” he argues, “is the study of change…it is growth, then decay, then transformation.” While this acts as foreshadowing for Walter’s own arc in the series, and can be applied to any well-written story-arc for that matter, it is especially relevant to sequels, and more to the point, their critical success.

All too often movie sequels are shameless cash grabs, created more because their predecessor was a goldmine in the box office than because the story needed any sort of continuation. While the financial success of a film is not a problem in and of itself, it becomes a problem when the subsequent sequels do nothing to further the story in a significant way—in short, when there is no meaningful change.

Thankfully, How to Train Your Dragons 2, the sequel to 2010′s DreamWorks story of a Viking boy named Hiccup (played by Jay Baruchel) who befriends a dragon, knows this, and uses change as a running theme in a number of smart and logical ways.

Set five years after the events of the first film, Hiccup, who has now come of age, must deal with the pressure from his father, the village chief (played by Gerard Butler), of taking his place. A la Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, Hiccup is reluctant to embrace his birthright, feeling that he’s not meant to rule.

Without spoiling too much of the plot, as there are quite a few major reveals, I can say that this tension between forging one’s own path and accepting duty is made much more dramatic later on in the plot, resulting in a sequel with even more emotional complexity than the original.

Perhaps the biggest story addition to the How to Train Your Dragon franchise is that of the hermit-cum-dragon rider Valka (played by Cate Blanchett) who helps guide Hiccup. While her role was revealed in some of the trailers, I would imagine a viewer would find more delight in not knowing her identity until seeing the movie. Rest assured, both the character and the emotional implications of her are a highlight of the film.

Along with the changes that come with Hiccup’s newly entered stage in life and the introduction of Valka, the sequel adds in a number of “upgrades,” for the protagonist duo. Hiccup, shown to be an inventor in the first film with his makeshift dragon saddle, has added to his arsenal his own personal wing-suit and a flaming sword with a couple tricks up its sleeve that create some truly gorgeous animated sequences, sure to entertain both kids and adults alike.

Furthermore, Toothless, Hiccup’s inseparable dragon, discovers a hidden power within himself in the climax of the film, giving an already incredibly dynamic (despite silent) character more depth. It’s simple additions like these that add a satisfying layer of change to the formula that, for all intents and purposes, succeeded in the first film.

As I’ve glanced at several reviews, I’ve noticed a lot of reviewers making comparisons between How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and it’s not hard to see why. Perhaps the most famous of sequels, The Empire Strikes Back built upon the strengths of A New Hope in almost every way. It was more ambitious, more complex, and ultimately much better. Similarly, nearly every aspect of How To Train Your Dragon 2 builds upon the strengths of the first. The visuals and 3D are sleeker, the dialogue is wittier, and the story has an even deeper emotional hold.

One area of the sequel that unfortunately stands out negatively, however, is the villain. For a film that otherwise sets itself apart from other animated films through its originality and quality of storytelling and writing, Drago Bludvist is largely forgettable. His take-over-the-world goals are cliché and underdeveloped, and his final encounter with the village of Berk ends, as T.S. Eliot would say, “not with a bang but with a whimper.” All of this is made painfully obvious because it may just be the only weak aspect of an otherwise fantastic movie.

When the first How to Train Your Dragon hit theaters in 2010, it immediately won over the hearts of viewers and critics alike with its stunning visuals, witty dialogue, and uncommonly emotional story. In How to Train Your Dragon 2, director Dean DeBlois continues the success of its predecessor and builds upon it to create an even more emotional and thrilling experience that soars to even greater heights, and reminds us that the best animated films don’t necessary come from Pixar.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.

Edge of Tomorrow: When Groundhog Day Meets the Matrix and Succeeds as Both.

Nowadays, it’s unfortunately rare that you come across a movie far greater than its trailer. With the sheer colossal amount of money and time invested into a product’s advertising, what you as a theater-goer are usually subjected to is a trailer revealing the funniest jokes, most memorable dialogue, most stunning action scenes, and even in some occasions its most significant twists.

The audience laughs, quietly (or not) whispers to their neighbor, “this looks good,” and then in a few months buys that ticket, only to be disappointed because the film couldn’t live up to the promotional hype. After a while, you’re thinking “what’s the point of even seeing the movie when you get all the best parts of it for free in its trailer?”

And honestly, I don’t have the answer to that.

Thankfully, however, Edge of Tomorrow is not like those movies. Nothing about the sci-fi film’s time-loop (a reference to Groundhog Day), dystopia ruled by alien machine creatures (The Matrix), or frantically running Tom Cruise (every movie he’s ever been in) felt banal or forced.

In fact, the movie’s references act as a tasteful homage to the aforementioned films, creating a clever and thrilling sci-fi action flick that is simply one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever seen.

The film starts with Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise), a cocky public relations officer, assuring General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) that his planned D-Day-like ambush will be a success. The General, having a distaste for the major’s callowness, proposes Cage join in on the “fun,” prompting Cage to admit his own preference to stay out of combat, as he’s “never really felt like a soldier.” Of course, what follows is that he’s arrested, stripped of his rank, and sent to be on the front lines.

Cage wakes up on a pile of baggage and is immediately met with a tongue-in-cheek barrage of orders from two Master Sergeants, whom Cage would have superiority over if not for his rank being stripped to private. They lead him to get ready for the impending attack, introducing him to his new teammates in J-team, and to the combat ex0-skeleton suit he will be wearing in battle.

Upon arriving on the beach, they quickly realize the alien machine creatures called Mimics have been anticipating their arrival, and what follows is one of the most intense cinematic action sequences I’ve ever seen. Although shown briefly in the trailers, the set up in the movie creates an unparalleled tension through Cage’s inability to operate his suit and utter helplessness in battle. Pairing that with truly terrifying squid-like beasts that rip through the soldiers with incredible ease, as a viewer you can’t help but feel overwhelmed with adrenaline.

In a way, I’m kind of perplexed by the film’s PG-13 rating. While the film has little language (a few instances of the “s-word,” and half of an “f-word”), next to zero themes of sexuality, and not much in the way of gore/blood, I imagined the intensity of the fight scenes alone would have garnered an R rating in a similar vein as There Will Be Blood, which had an R rating almost exclusively for the intense and mature nature of the non-explicit story. Either way, parents should exhibit caution before bringing a young teen, and even may want to do a screening for themselves first.

Of course, what follows very soon after landing on the beach is Cage’s first of many, many deaths, and unlike Groundhog Day, which gave no reason for Bill Murray’s constant limbo in Punxsutawney (and arguably needed no reason to), Edge of Tomorrow explains the cause of Cage’s time loop in a way that is fascinating and believable given the universe. While I won’t spoil it here, just know that when the time-loop comes into effect, the movie gets a whole lot more interesting–and funny!

With his new found power of essentially invincibility, Cage is quick to make use of it by anticipating what people will say and do. Just as Murray used the ability to know when a mayor would choke on his food and a car full of old women would get a flat tire, Cage begins to use his power to make the Master Sergeant giving him trouble look like a fool, and gain the respect of his teammates through knowing them so thoroughly.

More importantly, however, he attempts to save his teammates in J-squad from their quick deaths on the battlefield. This eventually leads to his meeting with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who notices his uncanny ability to predict the precise moment of when a Mimic will attack. “Find me when you wake up,” she says, revealing that she knows what is happening to him.

Although Cage becomes more adept every day as he memorizes the events on the battlefield with greater accuracy (and learns a few tricks with his suit), he finds he is still unable to singlehandedly win the battle, and must instead seek a different means of victory.

Against all expectations and early impressions, Edge of Tomorrow is a powerful, clever, and enthralling action story that doesn’t sacrifice brains for brawn. In fact, it’s the only action movie in recent memory that I can say succeeds on every level. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt’s acting is top-notch, the battle sequences are terrifyingly intense, and the writing chops of Christopher McQuarrie, best known for his Oscar winning screenplay for The Usual Suspects, are operating at full capacity. Simply put, Edge of Tomorrow is the perfect summer blockbuster, and one everyone should see in IMAX 3D if possible.

Announcing the Nominees for the 2014 Patheos Movie Awards

We watch lots of movies here at the Entertainment Channel. And we have lots of opinions about them. So we decided to create the first ever Patheos Movie Awards, the Pathies!

Our Entertainment Channel writers have selected our nominations for the best in cinema in 2013.

The final Patheos Movie Awards (aka the #Pathies) will be announced February 26, 2014.

The Nominees are:

Best Picture of 2013

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Lone Survivor
  • Philomena

 Best Director

  • Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
  • Peter Berg (Lone Survivor)
  • Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
  • Spike Jonze (Her)
  • Cristian Mungiu (Beyond the Hills)
  • Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing)
  • Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)

 

Best Actor

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
  • Christian Bale (American Hustle)
  • Joaquin Phoenix (Her)

 

Best Actress

  • Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
  • Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
  • Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
  • Brie Larson (Short Term 12)
  • Barbara Sukowa (Hannah Arendt)
  • Adéle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color)
  • Judi Dench (Philomena)

 

Best Supporting Actor

  • Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
  • Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
  • James Franco (Spring Breakers)
  • Daniel Brühl (Rush)
  • Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
  • Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave)
  • Sally Hawkins ( Blue Jasmine)
  • June Squibb (Nebraska)
  • Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

 

Best Movie to Watch as a Family

  • Frozen
  • Monsters University
  • From Up on Poppy Hill
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • The Way, Way Back

 

Best Portrayal of Faith

  • Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) in Gravity
  • Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) in 42
  • Father Quintana (Javier Barden) in To the Wonder
  • Shira (Hadas Yaron) in Fill the Void
  • Philomena (Judi Dench) in Philomena

 

Interview Transcript: Andrew Erwin on Filmmaking, October Baby, and Mom’s Night Out

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

Andrew Erwin, May 29 2013, On set of Mom’s Night Out in Huntsville Alabama

Could you describe the movie and why you did it?

Yeah, absolutely. Moms Night Out..Jon and I, we directed and created October Baby, was our first full length feature. And we were trying to look for what our follow up project was going to be. Our good friend Kevin Downs, who’s an actor, producer, had stumbled onto a script that was for moms, just celebrating the beauty of being a mom, of parenting. But the thing that attracted it to us was this was a comedy. And this was something that was very relatable but something that we could kind of take a breath and laugh. And sometimes, including October Baby, there’s so many, you know, really intense serious films, that I think the Christian audience wants to laugh just as much as any other audience. They like to find things that are just lighthearted. But then I think that allows you to look at some really neat issues and messages that are important. But in a way that is a little bit more approachable and humorous, and so we fell in love with the idea and decided to sign on and take on the project and it has become much bigger than we ever anticipated.

What about this movie makes it a Christian movie?

I think our first goal, I mean Jon and I are unapologetically Christian, and our first goal when we take on a story is to tell a good story. To make sure it’s an entertaining movie because we are in the business of entertainment. And if we don’t entertain people, there’s no reason to put our message in there. But I think when we find a story that is entertaining,  nine times out of ten, we are attracted to stories that have our values just, you know, intrinsically in it. I think Mom’s Night Out number one, allows us to portray Christians in a positive light. You know, I think comedy allows us to be a little bit more approachable as Christians, especially to a secular audience. If we are able to laugh and kind of let our hair down a little bit, I think that takes a lot of the fear away of the unknown from an audience that doesn’t totally understand us. So it allows us to put good Christian role models out there. So Patricia Heaton plays the pastor’s wife and she does it in an amazing way. Alex Kendrick from Courageous is the pastor. Sarah Drew plays our lead character, the mom, and Sean Astin, her husband, portray a real Christian marriage, where they’re kind of struggling through tings and trying to figure out how to handle all these kids. So that’s first of all. Secondly, I think there’s a really sweet message in this movie, just about the beauty of motherhood, what God sees so special in this amazing position in the family. And then allows us to celebrate that. And also look at just maybe some of the pressures that our society puts on moms versus what God really expects.  and then just what it means to be a good parent. So it’s TI’s all in there and I think that really is something Christian audience will resonate with. And also this idea of parenting is something that’s very broad and hopefully will allow us to engage culture in a new way.

Is directing something you’ve always wanted to do or how did you get your start?

[Laughs] Jon and I kind of joined the circus when we were kids. So we’re kind of I guess maybe you’d call us homeschooler carnies. We..my dad was in the industry growing up and we were kind of studio rats and hung around and there was a small Christian camp up in upstate new york called word of life and we went up there and we had a little experience and they asked us to do a little short film for the kids. The best test audience you will ever have is 500 teenagers locked in a room because they will tell you if it’s good and they will tell you real quickly if it’s bad. So that allowed us to do these little films. We started like,  Knights of the Round Table and Star Wars and all these things. We watched how it engaged the kids. We fell in love. It was like…it was just…we got just hypnotized by it. This is something we’d love to do for the rest of our lives. We didn’t have a ton of experience beyond just hobby. There wasn’t really a film industry here in Alabama to speak of. So we just tried to figure out by trial and error. We moved on to doing music videos. Then documentaries. And then ultimately decided to just go ahead and make the jump to feature films. It’s been about…from when we were kids starting…it’s been about an 18 or 19 year process, but it’s something we’ve always wanted to do.

What was your first film that you did?

It was October Baby. And that was, you know, Jon and I had kind of taken a break on directing stuff together just for the summer. He really wanted to go do Courageous so he went and directed second unit for the Kendricks in Courageous and I stayed in music videos and did one for Casting Crowns and Montgomery Gentry. Jon while he was there, Alex and Steven pulled him aside and said, what’s your purpose for what you do? And Jon said, Well to get a paycheck. And they challenged him and said it’s time for you to step off the sidelines. So he’d been dabbling for this script for October Baby and he came home and put it in front of me and just said I think this is our first feature. I read it and fell in love with the story. It was risky. We decided to do it. Did it on a shoestring budget and the next thing you know it was on the front page of the New York Times. It found its audience and that led to this. So…(inaudible)

On Casting….

We’re a SAG film, so we cast some locals, but we did a lot of our casting out of LA and found some amazing actors, so pretty much every part that we went to cast, we got our first choice.

Can you talk a little bit about being a hybrid, working with LA and also doing your own thing? How does that work for you?

I love it. As a Christian, I really love engaging Hollywood. I don’t think…I think as I’ve seen it, you know, Hollywood is not necessarily intrinsically bad or evil. It’s a business. There’s people that use that for bad things and there’s people that use it for good things. I think as Christians sometimes we’ve been afraid to engage. While I was getting started with film ministry, I worked at ESPN for years, so I worked the secular side of things for a long time. So As a Christian, I really like engaging people that don’t necessary agree with me. I like having healthy conversations and I guess debunking some of the stereotype. Instead of interacting with them in fear, I like interacting with them with confidence and humility. So as we engage Hollywood, we’ve found there’s a lot of…I don’t require my actors to be Christians, I want the best person for the part, but I’ve been amazed at how many Christians there are in Hollywood and have the same values that work on big things. So the people who came around this project, surprised me, a lot of us have similar values. And on top of that, you get the best person for the role and you get somebody that brings it to life in a whole new way.

Talk a little bit about Soul Surfer. My secular colleagues were, you know, ok with it, some of them really liked it and some of them were ok with it, but they had a level of respect that I haven’t actually seen honestly for any other faith based movie. How does that make you feel? Were you happy with the acceptance that Soul Surfer had? How do you make movies that cross over that boundary?

I think that the first thing you gotta do, is you can’t go to make a movie trying to make everybody happy because I think those are the movies that end up offending more people because you’re trying to..it’s not honest. And I think a lot of times a film audience they can smell a fake a mile away….A filmmaker that’s asking the audience to go on an emotional journey that they haven’t taken themselves. So I think the first thing you’ve got to do is find a story that resonates with you. And is your goal to be not to get a message across but to go just tell a good story. And if you tell it in a way that is honest… I think the other thing that is a philosophy that I have is that um my job is not, I’m not a preacher, I’m not a politician, I’m a filmmaker. I’m a storyteller. So I don’t really need to tell people what to think. I need to challenge people to think. A filmmaker that I really respect, Paul Haggis, said the best films don’t give answers, they ask the most penetrating questions. So I think you know, I think the ones that like Soul Surfer, and some of those movies that have had that crossover appeal, I think that they told a good story that was genuine and that’s not necessarily offensive. Your message is never going to resonate with everybody. There are going to be people that really don’t like it. But I think if you tell a good story and cause people to want to go on this vicarious emotional story that is a film, I think eventually the audience will buy in and they’ll will go wherever you want to go. You just gotta make sure that it’s worth the entertainment and they find it a genuine story.

You film a lot of your movies away from Hollywood, which Hollywood does too, they film all over. So coming to the south, is that an unusual thing? In LA, I talked to…what’s his name….anyway. the director of The Help.

Yes. Tate

Tate. That’s right. Tate Taylor.

I love his work.

Yeah. And he was saying, he wanted to film in Mississippi. He’s native and the story’s set in Mississippi. And that people in LA literally asked, can we get copy paper in Mississippi?

[Laughter.]

And he had to fight that. Have you run into that?

Yeah. Definitely. We’ll have meetings out in LA and the first question will be like, SO Alabama… let’s talk about that.

And I’ll be like [adopts hick accent], guys I swear I only wear my straw hat on Tuesday and my overalls are still in the car, so…

Especially, Alabama with the fledglings film industry are similar to what Tate experienced in Mississippi, still a work in progress. But I think because of people like Tyler Perry in Atlanta and everything that’s going on in New Orleans, Louisiana, I think it’s becoming more popular because of how economical it is to make a movie, how enthusiastic people are here to do the film industry, they’re not as jaded, by the… it still feels new, and then you’re able to make a movie for a lot cheaper than you can somewhere like LA. On a lot of fronts. I think there’s’ a lot of benefit to it. The other reason why we do it is just because I like being close to home. For some reason, this is where I feel most creative. I like the pace of life. I like being in a state where people really don’t know a whole lot about what I do so I can just be a regular person and just be creative and it’s the story, not all the chaos that goes around The Industry. So as long as I can, as long as it fits the narrative and it enhances the story, I’ll keep making movies here as long as I can.

Redstate Podcast: 21 Jump Street, Game Change, and Why We Still Love George Clooney

This week on the RedState Movie Mafia podcast:

Game Change – The HBO Sarah Palin movie – is it everything conservatives feared?

We don’t always agree with George Clooney, but we still like him. We’ll tell you why.

How funny is 21 Jump Street? Our panel reviews, plus all the other releases and DVD releases of the week.

Plus, each of us gives you a Movie Pick of the Week.

Listen Here.

Or subscribe on iTunes.


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