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What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

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How do vampires really work in the real world? Do they truly sparkle in the sunlight? Do older vampires adapt to the fast paced life of the modern life? Documentary film makers, Jemain Clement and Taiki Waititi, bring us a glimpse at the life of four vampires who share a home and struggle to keep up with the fast pace of modern times. Running at a length of 86 minutes, this mockumentary manages to be one of the most memorable vampire movies in the last few years.

From a visual standpoint, What We Do In The Shadows is not the most eye pleasing film. Often times the movie will look like it was done over several weekends instead of being a feature but it actually helps authenticate the feel of watching a documentary. The actors, or subjects, also do a great way of portraying the different quirks and irritations that each of these vampires has with each other whilst sharing the same home. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is the roommate who used to be the terror of Europe until “the monster” humiliated him ages ago. He’s lost his touch and a good portion of power since then. Viago (Taiki Waititi) is the roommate who moved to New Zealand in search of his beloved. He does his best to keep harmony and cleanliness throughout the household with various degrees of success. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the irresponsible peasant turned vampire. His transformation was through the hands of Petyr (Ben Fransham) the eldest of the four flatmates.

The comedy in this movie is unlike anything I have seen recently. What We Do In the Shadows revives old vampire lores and uses them to poke fun at the more recent renditions of vampires. The way each characters dresses denotes what time period they are from while at the same time providing humor at how absurdly they are dressed. The addition of other characters throughout the movie are never dull and offer a good amount of laughs. Even the camera men are not safe as they are often targeted by other dark entities throughout the course of their filming. What would it be like for a meeting between vampires and werewolves on the street really be like? The movie explores these things and even more.

The “best” two documentary film makers (try and name two others) of New Zealand bring a brilliant new glimpse at what the life of a vampire is truly like. Solid performances and a plethora of humorous situations make it seem like the footage of this movie is just too short. Any fan of Flight of the Conchords or Monty Python’s Flying Circus will absolutely enjoy What We Do In the Shadows. With any luck, we might even get a documentary about the werewolves.

TL;DR: Classic Formula, fresh result. What We Do In The Shadows takes the classic vampire lore and brings us a hilarious spin on what it’s like to live in the shadows.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 8.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

IMDB: 8.0/10

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Guardians of the Galaxy may just be the most obscure comic book title that Marvel has brought to the big screen. This particular movie is based on a 2008 rendition of the comics, as opposed to its original 1969 cast. The plot introduces the main members of the Guardians of the Galaxy as they learn to work together in order to stop Ronan (Lee Pace) from destroying the planet Xandar. Although it may sound like any old comic book story, Guardians of the Galaxy introduces some very important things into the Marvel Universe (more on this later).

A big part of what made Guardians of the Galaxy such an entertaining movie was how perfectly each cast member was able to fit into their role. Chris Pratt (Parks and Rec, The Lego Movie) had the job of carrying a good portion of the film as he played Jason Quill, the immature outlaw. Quill is a character who can only be compared to a young Han Solo with a more impulsive personality. The death of his mother that is shown at the very start of the film seemed like a cheap way to give his character depth but Pratt’s performance as Quill really make you root for him immediately. Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek), also fit the role of deadly assassin perfectly although she had a more discreet performance in comparison to other cast members. Vin Diesel who played Groot also deserves credit for bringing the tree creature to life although it seems like he really hit the jackpot since all he had to do was repeat one line. Dave Bautista, Drax in the movie, is probably the actor whose performance surprised me the most. Known more for his years wrestling in the WWE, Bautista seemed like the perfect fit for Drax the destroyer but it wasn’t just the muscle that made him a stand out performer. The wrestler was able to show moments of emotion beneath the muscle-bound exterior of Drax as well as delivering various jokes in the film. No movie would be complete without its villains and the two main antagonists Ronan and Yondu did an excellent job. Lee Pace (The Hobbit, Lincoln) did an excellent job at playing Ronan the Accuser, his lack of emotion and emphasis on brutality made him seem like a villain who you would want to avoid. Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Jumper) also did an excellent job even though it seemed he was essentially reprising his role as a space version of Merle from the Walking Dead.

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Rocket in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. To his right is Nova, another character that may make his debut in future Marvel movies

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, Hangover) as the Rocket Raccoon was probably the most controversial casting of all. Although Cooper brought certain star power to the role, there are several other actors that had played him before in both video games and television shows. When Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced, rumors of who would voice Rocket included talented voice actors such as Seth Green (Mass Effect, Robot Chicken), John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time), Nolan North (Deadpool, Uncharted) who had voiced the character before. These names paled in comparison to the fan favorite, Greg Ellis(Pirates of the Caribbean, The Hobbit), who had given the mastermind raccoon some popularity through his portrayal in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. When it was finally decided that Bradley Cooper would fill the role, there was a lot of skepticism of what would happen to the character’s trademark cockney accent. The voice was ultimately changed to a more “street” version as opposed to cockney but the actor was able to surpass everyone’s expectations. Cooper was able to voice the character’s anger issues and intelligence while also being able to show the character’s soft side when it was necessary. In a lot of ways, Rocket Raccoon is the heart of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Bradley Cooper was able to play the role perfectly.

One of the things that stood out during the initial trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy was Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” track. Such and old song like that immediately stands out in a science fiction movie like GotG but it was done so well that it actually added to the identity of the movie. The soundtrack is actually one of the key belongings of Peter “Star Lord” Quill that was given to him by his dying mother. “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” is a set of nostalgic songs from the 80’s that reminds us that although Quill is in space fighting aliens and having adventures, he’s still human. Every song is out of place in the futuristic world of Guardians and at times it is even addressed directly in humorous ways. Love it or hate it, the list of tracks is a very significant factor that sets the tone of the scenes they are played in.

I’ll go ahead and say right now that I’m not the biggest fan of CGI in movies but I didn’t mind it so much in this movie. James Gunn, the director, uses a lot of CGI graphics to make characters like Groot and Rocket as well as the exotic locations within the film. To my relief all of the graphics were done extremely well and every scene was paced really well for the most part. There was no shortage of laughter or action throughout the whole movie which made it easier and more enjoyable to watch. Apart from a few shots that seemed to be catering to a 3D audience, the world of GotG was created beautifully.

SPOILERS OF VARYING WEIGHTS AHEAD~

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The Infinity Gauntlet

With the introduction to this colorful cast of characters, it is easy to forget that this is still a story that is happening within the Marvel Universe. There are several ways that Marvel could use GotG to link itself to other super hero universes but there are two main things that stood out to my basic knowledge of comic books. The first is that there are several “Guardians” that were not mentioned in the movie. One of these characters is Cosmo the telepathic dog, who actually appears within the film in the after credits scene. The other t has been a Guardian in the past should be familiar since it is none other than Iron Man. This is the part when you start to realize how close Marvel is at making a cross over movie between Guardians and Avengers.

The second and most sure fire way that Guardians is connected to the rest of the Marvel Universe is through the reveal of the Infinity Gems and the villain Thanos. Infinity Gems are extremely powerful stones that are able to give its wielder an enormous amount of power. These gems can all be wielded together through the use of the Infinity Gauntlet which also happens to be the major plot point of a mini series by the name of Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet in which Thanos (who is played by Josh Brolin in the film) tries to collect all of stones. If this isn’t enough proof of a Guardians/Avengers crossover then it’s also worth mentioning that the Tesseract from the first Avengers movie also happens to be an Infinity Stone. Adding to all of this is the fact that the Infinity Gem ends up being taken by the Nova Corps at the end of the movie which may potentially open up the way for Richard Rider, AKA Nova, in the future.

END SPOILERS~

All in all, I am excited for what Marvel has in store for its upcoming movies. Guardians of the Galaxy is an extremely solid film that showcases James Gunn’s skill in directing as well as a superb performance from all of the cast members involved. The soundtrack is an amazing throwback that adds some personality to the film. It’s also worth mentioning that there never seemed to be a dull moment in the film. Guardians of the Galaxy is a must-watch movie for any fan of the Marvel Universe.

TL;DR: Solid Summer movie and a must watch for any fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

IMDB: 8.8

MetaCritic: 76/100

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Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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In the future, an alien race has made a devastating invasion on Earth. To combat the extraterrestrials, the military forces have developed exoskeletons in order to make their soldiers even more devastating. Despite all of this, the invaders decisively win almost every battle. William Cage (Tom Cruise), an army Major that has never been in combat, is assigned to be on the first wave of Allies that land in the next battle. Cage does his best to get out combat but ultimately dies in the front lines after a few minutes. After his death he wakes up to find himself out of combat back in boot camp. After a while, he realizes that he is stuck in a time loop that forces him to relieve his life from a certain point. After numerous attempts, Cage becomes increasingly more skilled at defeating the “mimics” and teams up with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) in order to find a way to defeat the invading alien race.

Director Doug Liman (Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) does a really good job for the most part. One of the scenes that caught my attention the most is when Cage is being dropped off into battle for the first time. Liman makes sure to make the audience feel the anxiety and stress that Cruise’s character feels during his first time being in the heat of action. As Cage repeats the same scenarios over and over the action begins to flow smoother as the character becomes more experienced with battle. Overall, Liman made the Groundhog Day-esque premise work really well with Edge of Tomorrow. The action was fast and enthralling and the comedy sprinkled throughout made the film feel fresh despite it being a repeat of a scene that had been seen before.

Funny, cowardly, determined are all words that can describe several scenes that Tom Cruise’s character is in. Edge of Tomorrow is proof that Mr. Cruise still has what it takes to be a lead actor in a Summer blockbuster film. After playing the damsel in distress in several movies, Emily Blunt shows that she has what it takes to play the bad-ass hero. Both actors played their roles brilliantly and although there were a few scenes that seemed a bit forced, they were quickly forgotten as the movie continued to increase the suspense.

Although a solid film, there were some things that I wish could have been explored more in depth such as the actual aliens. Despite spending most of the movie fighting the creatures, nobody seems to know much about them other than the broad facts. Then there’s the matter of how exactly the time loop is supposed to work or how far back he’s supposed to go after dying. These questions were all little things that bothered me but after taking everything into account, it doesn’t really change the fact that Edge of Tomorrow was simply a fun, action packed movie to watch.

TL;DR: Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt put on some solid performances in a very fun and clever  Summer movie.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

IMDB: 8.1/10

MetaCritic: 7.1/10

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Taxi Driver (1976)

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Taxi Driver tells the story of Travis Bickle(Robert De Niro), a Vietnam War veteran who is trying to live his life in the city. When he gets a job as a cab driver in New York he begins to form the idea that there needs to be someone who will rid the streets of malicious people. As he continues to isolate himself from others, he begins to make a plan to do something about the criminals on the streets. His main concern is freeing 12-year old Iris (Jodie Foster) from prostitution.

The story has a slow pacing but it is not without its purpose. Throughout the entire film, Martin Scorsese does an excellent job at portraying what Bickle’s life is like. In the beginning of the movie, Travis is shown to be very introverted and a seemingly nice guy. As the story continues to show his life, it becomes more and more obvious that this is a man who is alone in the world with only his dark thoughts to keep him company. Taxi Driver explores the gray areas of morals and the fine lines that exists between hero and criminal. This is not a story of a hero rising up to the challenge of fighting crime, it’s a snapshot of a man’s struggle with loneliness and descent into insanity.

A taxi cab, wandering eyes, and people walking around in the street. This is how the director decides to open his film. Everything about this small opening, music included, tells the audience right away that the main character is a lone wanderer. One of the things that makes this movie so great is how the movie is able to tell the story of the protagonist without the help of dialogue. The slow music, the shots of Travis Bickle walking on the street alone in New York City, or even just the way his one room apartment is shown as he sits down to write in his journal. All of these things convey the sense that the person we are seeing on screen is a lonely individual.

Scorsese’s directing plays a big part in telling the story of Travis but it simply would not be the same without De Niro’s performance as the ex-marine. De Niro’s portrayal of the lone Travis Bickle is flawless. It is a challenge for anyone to try and show what a character is feeling with limited dialogue and De Niro makes it look easy. The way he tells his jokes and carries himself makes the audience grow a genuine like for his character. The likeable persona that De Niro portrays makes his on screen transformation into a vigilante even more shocking. Two other actors that also play an important part of this movie are Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel. At only 12 years old, Jodie Foster plays the role of a underage prostitute and manages to reinforce the tone of the film. Harvey Keitel on the other hand puts on the role of the smooth talking pimp. Along with the rest of the cast, these 3 actors put on the memorable performance that make Taxi Driver such a unique film.

Taxi Driver is a phenomenal film that showcases Martin Scorsese’s phenomenal directing as well as Robert De Niro’s acting talent. The film itself may just be the best cross section of a character that has ever been done on screen. Little things such as the camera movements or small pieces of dialogue serve to show the viewer how everything looks through Travis’ eyes. The character development is not the only thing that makes Taxi Driver unique. It’s not often that a movie shows the rough side of a city like New York. The film does an excellent job of showing how dangerous the city can be during the night. This view of the city along with the violence of the film is one of the reasons crime movies became so popular in the United States. Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is not only one of the best movies of the 70’s it is an important part of American Cinema.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 9.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

IMDB: 8.4/10

MetaCritic: 93%

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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With a mega cast that includes Oscar nominated actors like Adrien Brody and Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly promised an entertaining time. The movie is small chronicle of Gustave M. (Ralph Fiennes), a concierge at one of the most renown hotels in the world. Although it follows Gustave, the story is told by Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who worked as a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) in his youth and became the concierge’s apprentice. When Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), a hotel regular, is murdered, a series of events unfolds that has Gustave and his lobby boy on the run.

The Grand Budapest Hotel has a little sprinkle of everything placed throughout its story. Moments of humor, suspense, and romance are all carefully laid out and spread out enough to keep the movie fresh. Unlike other directors, Wes Anderson stayed focused on the story of the Grand Budapest and did not spend too much time giving screen time to the large amount of A-List actors that are in the film. Not only did this make the story run smoother, it kept the movie from feeling like it was dragging on too long. One of the more interesting choices that I noticed was giving Willem Dafoe’s character, Jopling, very little lines in the movie. As a villain, this limited dialogue helped emphasize the danger that the character represented to everyone else and worked wonderfully. The cast for this movie did not disappoint and no matter how small the role, it seemed as if every actor fit in perfectly into their roles.

Wes Anderson is a director known for his unique style of portraying characters and locations and Grand Budapest is not an exception. Just about every scene in the film looks as unique and interesting as the last. Everything from the hotel to the train that the characters are in have their own unique feel. This feel is not only because of the way the movie is shot but also because of the great score that Alexandre Desplat composed for the film. Every character, location, and event in the film has a certain charm that is not present in a lot of other movies.

It’s hard to watch a film by a director like Wes Anderson and not compare the Grand Budapest to the rest of his films but this might be his best movie. Of course, choosing his best movie comes down to preference but it is hard to deny that the Grand Budapest Hotel is some of his best work. With a moving story and his trademark look, Wes Anderson has created a story that is memorable and enjoyable to watch. Nothing feels out of place and for its running time of 100 minutes, it packs quite an array of thrills, laughs, and even a little heartbreak.

TL;DR: Some of Wes Anderson’s best work. Worth the price of admission.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 9.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

IMDB: 8.4/10

MetaScore: 87/100

 

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The Lego Movie (2014)

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The Lego Movie starts off in a regular looking (Lego) city. Emmet (Chris Pratt) wakes up and goes through his routine of greeting his neighbors to working at a construction site. Before he’s able to head home, he falls into a pit where he discovers a mystical block that marks him as the one who will save the world and disrupt President Business’ (Will Ferrell) plans. After a short interrogation from Bad/Good cop (Liam Neeson), Emmet is drafted into a resistance group by WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). Along with his new friends, an unprepared Emmet joins the battle to put a stop to President Business’ evil plans.

Almost everything in the Lego Movie is generated by computers. What makes things even more entertaining is that everything within the movie is made up of Lego bricks including non solid objects like smoke and water. This overload of Legos takes some getting used to but won’t really distract from the actions on screen. To make things even better is the fact that the Lego world  cleverly includes human objects and uses them as relics.

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Will Arnett makes an excellent Batman

The cast of the Lego Movie includes several recognizable voices like that of Morgan Freeman and even Charlie Day. Do to the amount of licenses that Lego and Warner Bros. had it was even more entertaining to see certain DC superheroes such as Batman who is played by Will Arnett. Other A-list actors (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill to name a couple) make very short but sweet appearances. All of these actors have good performances and compliment the story arc which is a relief. With all of this talent carefully placed in the story, one could probably enjoy trying to figure out which actors are playing what character.

The plot of the Lego Movie was something that was worrying me when I first walked into the theater. How would someone be able to make a straightforward story about blocks? The last time a studio tried to produce a film based on a game without a story, they sank at the box office. All my fears were set aside when the world of Lego was introduced. Writers Dan and Kevin Hagemon along with directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were able to not only create a good story but also an interesting array of characters to go along with it.  Benny the Spaceman, Uni-Kitty, and Bad/Good cop aren’t characters that the audience is likely to forget. To this moment I am still amazed at how well crafted the story was and even the fact that the writers were able to add a few nice surprises.

The Lego Movie was a film that was written and intended to be for children but as I sat in the theater I noticed that everyone from kids to adults was engrossed in the story. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who were also responsible for 21 Jumpstreet) were able to craft a movie that anyone would be able to enjoy. Sure there’s bits of child humor but it also contains to several other films that only adults and teens would be able to get. One good example is of the various Terminator 2 references as well as some nods to Monty Python. There’s other references and acknowledgements to movies but I’d rather keep it a surprise for those of you who haven’t seen it. The Lego Movie may be a marketing scheme but I found myself enjoying every single minute of it.

TL;DR: There’s hardly anything negative to point out. A must see for all ages (would be surprised if it wasn’t nominated for best animated movie of ’15).

Rockit Raccoon: 9.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

IMDB: 8.6/10

Metascore: 8.2/10

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American Hustle (2013)

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American Hustle follows the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two work as con artists until they are caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso makes a deal with Irving and Sydney that involves them helping him arrest corrupt politicians and possibly members of the mafia.

David O. Russell’s film features an impressive amount of talent which is not limited to Bale, Cooper, and Adams. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Peña, and even Louis C.K. make an appearance. Being a very character driven movie, input to each actor’s role was necessary. Having gained about 40 pounds,  Christian Bale once again surprised the audience with one of his famous body transformations. The performances that Russell managed to get from each actor were good for the most part and some of them are going to be memorable for a while. Who is seriously going to forget seeing Jennifer Lawrence as a Jersey housewife or Michael Peña as Mexican playing an Arab? One of the things about the film that did end up bothering me was that there was more than one scene in the movie that seemed to drag on too long. I understand that some scenes were completely improvised which in turn showcased each actor but there were times when characters were on screen long after they had played their part in the story.

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Christian Bale gained weight for the role as Irving

The movie is definitely a character driven movie. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with the story which is solid and even gives the audience a few surprises and pieces of comedy here and there. Russell also gives us a clear look at styles and cultures in the 70’s and constantly reminds the audience of this.

Despite the showcase of talent from the cast of American Hustle, there are lots of things that I found wrong with it. The main culprit is the pacing of the film. Russell had a decent plot to start off with and talented actors but overindulging them with improv seemed to slow down and kill some of the story. Despite the problems that the characters got themselves into, there seemed to be very little suspense within the film itself. The other thing about Hustle was the fact that there were more than a few characters that seemed one dimensional and the fact that they got a lot of screen time made it seem as if the director was forcing the audience to like them.

American Hustle is by no means a bad movie but it did lose my attention multiple times throughout. By the time I finished watching it, it felt like the movie had no real pay off. David O. Russell certainly made the movie seem interesting but at the end of the day, it seemed to lack substance.  The best way to describe this movie would be to compare it to a bag of chips. Everything about the packaging seems as if it’ll be a good buy but once you open it you realize that there’s more air inside than actual food. Slow pacing and scenes that dragged on robbed the story of the potential suspense that every crime movie should have. American Hustle has its moments of brilliance but without the actors attached, it might have been just another bust.

TL;DR: Unless you’re a fan of an “actor’s” movie, just wait for the DVD release to watch it.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

IMDB: 7.7/10

Metascore: 90/100

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