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A rundown of the biggest films to hit so far this summer…
            A great improvement on the first Captain America film in 2011. Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo have honed their craft shooting parody action scenes on NBC’s Community and Winter Solider greatly benefits from this. Possibly the first film in the Marvel extended universe to have any actual stakes, this will hold us over nicely until Guardians of the Galaxy/Ant-Man/Dr. Strange hit theaters in the coming years.

FilmFire review:
4.25/5 forms


            Another fun but non consequential romp from Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield. Ridiculous and cringe worthy coincidences litter this film all the way through but it doesn’t stop it from being very entertaining. A lot of universe building stuff à la Iron Man 2. Paul Giamatti is wasted in a sea of third act villains.

FilmFire review:
3.25/5 forms


            A total joy to watch. Intense slow burn through the beginning stages of the film until we get what we’ve been waiting for. Bryan Cranston shines but is the only relatable character in the movie. The lead actors are terribly written and given less than nothing to do, but it doesn’t stop the film from being wildy enjoyable. Insane ending climax that is brutally satisfying.

FilmFire review:
4/5 forms


            A return to form for Bryan Singer, his first time directing an X-Men film since 2003. Fast paced and much more enjoyable than any of the X-Men movies from the last decade, Days of Future Past is a a ton of fun to watch. It manages to successfully combine the old and young casts into one film without seeming bloated with characters, something Sony should learn to do with their rambling Spider-Man franchise. The interesting take on time travel mechanics makes it a joy to watch.

FilmFire review:
4.5/5 forms


            A complete butchering of the original fairy tale, there’s almost nothing of merit here besides Angelina Jolie chewing scenery. Completely takes the evil out of the witch and sanitizes all of the dark and broodiness from the original. She doesn’t even turn into the dragon. Maybe fun for families with little kids, but this is another case of Disney cashing in.

FilmFire review:
2/5 forms

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It’s about as magical and wondrous a movie as I’ve seen with more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory. The LEGO Movie is an absolute delight.
-Josh Hylton, Dark Horizons

A film every bit as imaginative, colourful and cleverly constructed as their plastic inspiration
-Tyler Hanley, Radio Times

O.K., I’m just going to come right out and say I have no idea what’s going on.

The Lego Movie is hilarious, exceptionally animated, completely original, and delivers a great message regarding creativity vs conformity. It is jam-packed with so many funny moments and lines, it’s impossible to catch everything with just one viewing. This film expertly walks the fine comedic line that provides equal entertainment for both children and adults. If you are looking for negatives, you won’t find them in this film.

Trust your instincts…Unless your instincts are terrible.

This film is an absolute blast to watch from beginning to end, but it isn’t just full of hollow laughs and throwaway gags. That a movie ostensibly made for children has any plot to speak of is impressive in and of itself, but the storyline that is constructed throughout The Lego Movie actually leads to a very well executed emotional payoff. It ends in a very heartfelt and genuine place while keeping you laughing from start to finish.

The Lego Movie incorporates the best mix of stop motion and cgi visuals you will see. So much is going on at any given time it almost becomes sensory overload, but in a good way. There are hidden easter eggs, site gags and jokes in the background of just about every scene. The rewatchability factor is bound to be sky high. Even better, the filmmakers take no shortcuts here as the entire world is made of up lego bricks of some kind (including water, fire and smoke).

SPACESHIP!!!

A tribute to Lego made by enthusiasts, not an ad for Lego made by hacks.
-Tim Brayton

Any movie exculsively about a toy line should probably end in disaster. The fact that this film didn’t become a 90 minute glorified Lego commercial is a real tribute to directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who have become known for successfully adapting curious properties to film (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street). The Lego Movie is no exception. No one was exactly demanding a film based on a system of interlocking bricks, but they did it and they did it their way. To great success.

Great. I think I got it. But just in case… tell me the whole thing again, I wasn’t listening.

Go see The Lego Movie 100 times in the theater. It’s fantastic fun and you won’t regret it. “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME” about this film!

FilmFire review:
4.75/5 forms


It’s Oscar time again, and that means its time for my top ten movies of the year.
2013:

  • 10. The Place Beyond the Pines
  • An epic sprawling story of how bad decisions have consequences that can affect future generations.

  • 9. The Way, Way Back
  • My favorite of the slew of the indie comedies that came out this summer. Sam Rockwell steals the show and it’s great to see Jim Rash pop up in a few scenes.

  • 8. Inside Llewyn Davis
  • A fun and quirky story of just how much rejection one can take. Great acting all around and another notch in the Cohen Brothers belt.

  • 7. Rush
  • My surprise film of the year. Manages to create suspense out of cars racing in circles while staying away from all the cliches of the sports genre.

  • 6. All is Lost
  • Robert Redford gives a great nuanced performance of a man going through absolute hell to survive when his situation continues to go from bad to worse.

  • 5. Gravity
  • An intimate story of love and loss set in the most beautifully horrific setting one can imagine: space. An absolute visual spectable and unmatched technical achievement. Believe the hype.

  • 4. The Wind Rises
  • A beautiful tale of the sacrifices it takes to achieve your dreams. My favorite Miyazaki film since Spirited Away in 2001.

  • 3. The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Scorsese’s ballsiest directing gig also features DiCaprio’s best performance yet. The funniest scene of 2013 involves Leonardo crawling down a flight of stairs in a half paralyzed state. Raunchy and hilarious.

  • 2. Captain Phillips
  • Tom Hanks gives my favorite acting performance this year in the most intense film of 2013. Hanks puts on a pure acting showcase as he delivers a gut wrenchingly exposed performance in the final scene.

  • 1. Short Term 12
  • A heartbreaking and superbly acted account of the inner workings of a foster care facility. Far better written and acted than all of the over exposed Oscar-bait this year *cough 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Nebraska* , Short Term 12 is my favorite movie of 2013.


With the introductions and bag-packing out of the way from the first film, the new movie jumps straight into the action and doesn’t relent until the cliffhanger ending almost three hours later.
-Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail

Smaug ignites the excitement missing from Jackson’s sluggish first Hobbit flick, and the stunning visuals — cinematography, costuming, set design, effects — set it apart as one of the most impressive fantasy films ever made.
-Tyler Hanley, Palo Alto Weekly

If you awaken that beast you will destroy us all

The more time I can spend in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth, the better. Another 3 hours in Tolkien’s fantasy world for Desolation of Smaug? Count me in, and I’m going to love every minute of it.

There have been numerous complaints about all the differences between this film and The Hobbit as a novel. Books don’t often translate too well to film and this is surely one of those cases. The Hobbit contains so much exposition and inner dialogue and characters meandering here and there, it would be a disaster of a film to do a straight one to one version of the book to screen. The Desolation of Smaug, however, is an “adaptation” of the novel and much has been changed to make for a better theatrical experience. Some things just make more sense visually on a screen than as written word and vice versa.

It never ceases to amaze me, the courage of Hobbits…

Sure, I was disappointed we didn’t see a lot of Beorn’s house, but how cinematic would it have been to watch the dwarves settle in and listen to Gandalf tell the story of what we’ve already watched? The wood elves forest parties are some of my favorite scenes from the book but they just wouldn’t work correctly in the context of the film. Remember how tedious the dwarf dinner scene from the first Hobbit was? Not too exciting.

If you can manage to turn off your thought process that compares the film to the book, the movie will be that much more enjoyable.

We’ve been blind, and in our blindness,
our enemy has returned.

What the film does suffer from is the same pacing issues from last years An Unexpected Journey. This second chapter seems to barrel along at rapid speed for the first hour and a half or so, bouncing from one set piece to the next, mixing in an action sequence here or there. As mentioned above, the scene at Beorn’s home is painfully short (for good reason, I suppose) and the entirety of Mirkwood flies by as well. But by the time we get to Lake Town and Erebor, the film has slowed down considerably, but not so much to it’s detriment. You COULD cut 20-30 minutes from this film without much damage, but why would you when it’s so much fun to watch?

The final few acts of the film revolve around the reveal of Smaug himself, and it is a joy to behold. Much like Gollum in the “Riddles in the Dark” scene from the previous film, Smaug is an unmatched technical achievement and so much fun to watch. The movie is worth it solely to see him slithering through all that gold treasure under the mountain. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch with some additional distortion techniques, Smaug should go down as one of the better cgi creatures in film.

Dragonfire and ruin! That is what he will bring upon us! He cannot see beyond his own desire!

A much better all around film than An Unexpected Journey last year and a lot more fun, The Desolation of Smaug is a fantastic journey back to Middle-earth. The climactic ending sets up next years conclusion perfectly; and much like when the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended, I’m already beginning to feel the emptiness set in for when this trilogy is over. Maybe after another 9 year break Peter Jackson can find a way to bring us back to this magical land just one more time.

…What have we done?

FilmFire review:
4/5 forms


Although people who loved the book will find much to love here – it really is a good movie – the potential impact is too soft for the epic it aspires to be.
-Kevin A. Ranson, Movie Crypt

About as good a film as you can squeeze out of a morally complex source work given today’s studio environment.
-Mark Keizer , Alt Film Guide

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy

Decades in the making, Orsen Scott Card’s “unfilmable” novel has finally hit cinemas. The first screen adaptation of Ender’s Game: Was it worth the wait? Read on to find out.

understand him well enough to defeat him

The cinematic version of Ender’s Game is, for good reason, much more streamlined and less meandering than the novel. The backbone and structure of the book are still in tact, essentially with quick cuts between the major scenes and set pieces in place of the smoother transitions the book uses. Understandably, this is about the best the filmmakers could have done considering the massive scale and stakes of the book. There is only so much that can fit in a 115 minute run time and unfortunately a lot of the books charm and whimsy is lost in translation.

then in that very moment I also love him.

As far as portraying the central storyline from the novel as cinematic as possible, the film does a pretty remarkable job. Battles at the Battle School are fully realized and well done. The effects look great across the board, particularly in a recurring all-cgi dream/game sequence that Ender has. The alien race from the book is hidden from view until the very end of the film, which works great. The creature design is unique and incredibly interesting to look at. One relatively minor flaw is the mundaneness of the set design. Battle School and Command School seem like nothing more than endless mazes of intersecting generic hallways and rooms that are shiny and metallic in nature. A little variety to these environments could have gone a long way.

One of the major flaws inherent of adapting a book of this scope to the screen is a loss of detail. This is especially evident in Ender’s Game. All the meat is there but most of the connective tissue is missing. There is virtually zero time for tension, buildup, character development or the exploration of many of the relationships Ender has in the novel. It feels like story beat after story beat, checking each major plot point off until the film is over. What ended up on the screen is very well done, it’s just missing a lot of the little things that made the book great.

And then, in that very moment when I love him…. I destroy him.”

Fans of the book will find a lot to like, but it’s not the same experience as reading it for the first time. Those who are unfamiliar with the source material may get confused at times due to the lack of quick nature of the films plotting and lack of explanatory dialogue. The way the ending of the film is written is jarring and somewhat off-putting, being much too tonally different from the scenes immediately prior. Thus, the film finishes on a somewhat sour note.

Ender’s Game is a valiant attempt at adopting the unfilmable novel and is much better than many anticipated. However, a lot of the idiosyncrasies and quirks of the book are left out and do the film no favors. It’s still a solid sci-fi film and worth checking out, who knows when we’ll see another Ender film?

FilmFire review:
3.75/5 forms


A magnificent thriller, and one of the most dumbfoundingly impressive technological feats in the 20 years since Jurassic Park put the world on notice about CGI.
–Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

[The] director’s last effort was another great science-fiction movie, “Children of Men,” which was borne of ideas. This one celebrates sensation. And it deserves to be one.
-Jeffrey M. Anderson, San Francisco Examiner

At 327 miles above earth, there is nothing
to carry sound, No air pressure…No oxygen…

Believe the hype. Gravity, the first film from Alfonso Cuarón since 2006, is one of the best movie going experiences one can have. A total visual spectacle from start to finish, this film will have you holding your breath for entire minutes at a time. Gravity is an intimate story of love and loss set in the most beautifully horrific setting one can imagine: space.

…Life in space is impossible

This is a MUST-SEE for anyone with even a passing interest in film, and here’s why:

  • A technical marvel and achievement unmatched in film
  • Absolutely breathtaking cinematography and effects
  • The closest anyone will ever come to actually being in space (outside of attending space camp, maybe?)
  • Completely and utterly immersive, you will lose yourself watching this
  • The camera hangs on every scene with a very limited amount of cuts, essentially long “tracking shots” in space
  • Just as heartfelt and sincere as it is horrifying
  • Oscar caliber acting from Bullock and Clooney
  • Unquestionably THE best use of 3D we’ve seen in film-making to date

Take it from the master of visual effects technology himself:

“Gravity is the best space movie ever”
-James Cameron

See it in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find.

FilmFire review:
4.75/5 forms


Neill Blomkamp … keeps the action coherent and fills the plot with clever twists that make up for some of the insulting obviousness of the political allegory.
-Craig Seligman, Bloomberg

An exciting and visually stunning film, one which perhaps holds too much to a familiar path, but which is undeniably thrilling.
-John Lyus, HeyUGuys

You can save everyone.
There’s no coming back from this.

Elysium – Neill Blomkamp’s much anticipated follow-up to his 2009 sleeper hit District 9. The world has been wondering: Will Elysium meet the high expectations of matching the success of Blomkamp’s freshman effort?

The year 2154: humanity is divided between 2 worlds…

The results are mixed, but mostly land on the positive side of things. Elysium is a fairly worthy successor, but thematically isn’t as strong of a film as District 9. Blomkamp is undeniably a talented film maker but it seems the studio may have interfered just a bit too much with his artistic vision on this one. A comparison of District 9’s modest $30 million budget to the $115 million production of Elysium proves that there was much more at stake here, and certain choices the film makes are catered to a mass audience appeal.

…We live on Earth…
In the year 2154, the wealthiest inhabitants of Earth have split from the planet and formed a utopian space habitat known as Elysium, built by the Armadyne Corporation. Citizens of Elysium take advantage of luxuries that include access to private medical bays that instantly cure any illness. Meanwhile, The rest of the population remain below in the disease riddled and overcrowded slum of a planet that Earth has become.
…The privileged live on Elysium.

Minister Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is the Secretary of Defense on Elysium. Her job: to enforce the strict Earth immigration laws and protect the Elysium border at all costs. She is the commander of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, keeping Earth in line and its citizens in place. Her strict zero tolerance beliefs when it comes to Earth immigration isn’t shared by the bulk of the Elysium government, but she will do what it takes to protect Elysium from illegals.


Jodie Foster is terribly miscast in this role. The character is extremely one-note and we never completely find out her motivations for being as evil as she is. Why does she have this unadultered hatred for the citizens of Earth? We never learn her backstory and there is no character arc to be found. Foster deserves a lot better and had very little to work with here.


“Undocumented ships are approaching elysium airspace…shoot them down!”

Agent M Kruger (Sharlto Copley) is a crucial weapon and first line of defense in Secretary Delacourt’s arsenal to keep Elysium free of illegals. One of Elysium’s most important Earth-based sleeper agents, Kruger has untold human rights violations to his name and is a professional killer. His bloodlust is unmatched.


Kruger is one of the most outrageous and intense villains I have ever seen in a film. Copely holds nothing back and plays this character as a completely psychotic madman thirsty for blood. It’s pretty fantastic to watch his insane performance, especially during the final act of the movie when he is chasing down Damon’s character. It’s a spectacle to behold.

“Whoever has this, has the power to override their whole system”
Our hero, Max Da Costa, (Matt Damon) is a citizen of Earth who doesn’t “play by the rules”. After growing up as an orphan in the streets of the now shantytown Los Angeles, he spent a good chunk of his young adult life in and out of prison. He finally commits to pulling his life together until he experiences lethal exposure to radiation during a workplace accident at his job as an assembly line worker. Told he has just 5 days to live, Max seeks a way to outmaneuver Delacourt and Kruger, breach Elysium security and receive the medical attention he needs.

Damon is always outstanding in the action hero role and he does the same great work here. What makes this character even better are the biomedical implants he has surgically added: a neural transmitter and exoskeleton suit.

We’re going to break into the most heavily guarded place in the universe

Like District 9, the story of Elysium has a very strong political allegory under the surface, although it’s much more heavy handed this time around. It’s painfully obvious how badly the film wants to make statements on border control and class discrimination but a little more subtlety would have been nice. District 9 was much more nuanced with its own metaphor for the South African apartheid, to greater effect.

The world building, artificial intelligence, creature effects, sound design and CGI are all outstanding in Elysium. It is an absolute visual feast to watch. The shantytowns and slums of Earth look incredibly intricate and detailed and juxtapose perfectly with the sun-bathed landscapes, swimming pools and palacial mansions of Elysium. The Earth police force is made up of merciless drone robots that look and sound fantastic, even the parole officers are mechanized mannequin-like robots that fit the world perfectly.

Elysium is an incredibly fun science fiction film that falls a little flat when it comes to articulating it’s themes. The actors are all solid, aside for the terribly written evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil character played by Jodie Foster. Sharlto Copely is a standout as deranged mercenary Kruger, the film is almost worth seeing just for him. Visually, the film looks phenomenal. The environments are all beautifully imagined and the characters are designed flawlessly. Although the heavy-handed take on inequality issues weigh the film down a bit and detract from the cool and interesting visuals, Elysium is still one of the better films of the summer and a blast to watch.

FilmFire review:
4.25/5 forms