The 2013 Oscars Were Great — Thanks to Seth MacFarlane!

Despite being an avid movie-goer, I usually don’t find myself caring about the Oscars very much. This year was certainly an exception.

Many people without a sense of humour, or those that are overly sensitive, claimed that Seth MacFarlane bombed. Everyone else loved it! Besides does that look like a face that cares? (see main image).

There are a number of reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed the Oscars this year:

1. Seth MacFarlane hosted

Seth MacFarlane was an amazing host for so many reasons. First and foremost, he was hilarious! He had jokes for everyone. Some zingers that crossed a line or two, some funny sketches and the usual poking and prodding at the stars in the audience. What was a surprise to many, I’m sure, is how talented Seth is. He writes brilliant comedy including several TV shows and a movie and sings as good as Frank Sinatra.

Fun fact: Seth MacFarlane vocally trained with Lee and Sally Sweetland — the coaches behind Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand.

Fun fact #2: Seth narrowly missed getting on one of the planes that ended up crashing into one of the twin towers.

I obviously adore the man but in trying to be objective, I think he was the overall best-suited for the job — perhaps ever. His comfort with comedy is no laughing matter and his vocal skills made for some great musical numbers. Combined, they killed (in a good way).

2. The nominees were amazing and the winners deserving

The Oscars can certainly be hit or miss. I can recall several years where I was thoroughly frustrated by both the movies nominated and the winners in each category. However, this year was not the case. The fact that I watch upwards of 52 movies a year means that I have seen almost all of the winning movies and found most of the winners to be deserving.

I thought Argo most deserved Best Picture and had entered the movie on my ballot but then changed my mind as the show went on thinking that they would give the award to Lincoln. It was very refreshing when Argo ended up winning (and very fortunate that my ballot was set in stone before I decided to change it).

3. There were many surprises

Surprises in the Academy Awards can be frustrating but during the 2013 Oscars most of the surprises were good ones (or neutral). The neutral surprise was the fact that both Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty won the award for sound editing — something I did not know was possible to do.

Seth MacFarlane’s jokes were often surprising. The best example was, when introducing Meryl Streep, he says “and now an actress that needs no introduction” and immediately bolts of the stage. It caught me by surprise and almost brought me to tears with the way he pulled it off.

Argo winning Best Picture was a surprise, presumably even to Ben Affleck. I was personally very pleased that a movie with broader appeal and more diversity won. There have been too many years when the honour goes to the most artsy period piece in the group — appealing only to the utmost movie snobs.

Normally I would say that if you missed the Oscars you wouldn’t have missed much but 2013 was definitely a stand-out year.

Too Many Ads Before the Movies – Cineplex

Too much advertisingI am a frequent moviegoer, seeing over 52 movies a year with a passion for almost all genres except “Chick Flicks”. Unlike my unwavering love for movies, however, my love for Cineplex has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs recently.

I wrote previously about the not-so sneaky introduction of advertising in TimePlay, and later wrote about how they fixed the situation by removing the ridiculous advertising and made TimePlay awesome. However, they have recently taken a step back by introducing heavy advertising before the movie begins. I realize that movie theaters probably aren’t doing so well these days with piracy rates going up but by introducing too many advertisements before the movies, they risk alienating what audience they have left and stressing relationships with loyal customers like myself.

As far back as I can remember theaters had advertisements before the movies but Cineplex has recently taken it to a whole new level – some movies starting with up to 12 advertisements! Going to the movies isn’t cheap. People will begin to get very upset with the fact that they’re paying top dollar to see movies when they’re released only to be bombarded by more advertisements than watching movies any other way. So now the options are to see the movie in a theater while watching an abundance of advertisements, or download the movie in the comfort of your home and have no advertisements. Which option do you think will be more popular?

What makes the situation even more insane, is the fact that movie previews are already built in advertisements. So not only do you spend several minutes watching ads for other movies but you must also spend many more minutes being spammed over and over again with additional ads. And don’t even get me started about the annoyance of seeing the same ads over and over — made excruciating because of how frequently I go to the movies. It was a slight annoyance before when there were only a couple ads for each movie but now the number of ads has become intolerable.

The worst situation was when I went to see The Hobbit recently. My fiancée and I actually counted the number of ads and we got to 12 – give or take, we somewhat lost count. We just sat there in astonishment as ad was followed by ad for what seemed like an eternity. Since then we saw one more movie and although there were fewer ads, there were still way more than in the past (probably double).

Cineplex, I want to love you like I used to but you’re making it very hard right now. We may have to see different people. It’s not me, it’s you.

Django Unchained Movie Review

With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
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Movie Poster - Django Unchained CastDjango Unchained is both very intense and very good. Be warned, however, that the movie has many uncomfortable scenes, even by my standards. Racism runs throughout the entire movie and, although uncomfortable, appears to be an accurate depiction of the monstrosities of the past.

Django Unchained is a movie that does not hold back in any way. Quentin Tarantino seems to fear no one, not even mixed reactions from the audiences, so he does not hold back. This is what separates Quentin Tarantino from other directors — the fact that he has a back bone.

What has always stood out to me about Tarantino movies is the amazing balance he is able to find between dead-seriousness, ridiculous over-the-top violence and pure comedy. As dark as some scenes in Django Unchained were, many were hilarious. And do not get me started on the witty dialogue!

Christoph Waltz is without question, one of my favourite actors and the way he delivers his witty lines is nothing short of amazing. Those that believe they are not familiar with Christoph Walz, may remember his spectacular performance in Inglorious Basterds as part of a hilariously bizarre opening scene (see video below). Needless to say, Waltz is an incredible actor that I hope to see take on many more roles — currently he is primarily a favourite of Tarantino’s.

Django’s character, played by Jamie Foxx, was more simplistic than Waltz’s, however Foxx still crushed the performance. It certainly seemed like the entire purpose of the movie was to first build-up how atrocious slavery was and then have Foxx come in an make up for the harm that was done in glorious fashion. This, he most certainly accomplished.

The plot was simplistic but did not hinder the movie in any way. In fact, I tend to think it a characteristic of some of the best movies – following the Keep-It-Simple-Stupid principle. Instead of a convoluted plot, Django Unchained focused all of it’s attention on Tarantino’s signature blend of action and dialogue and the outcome was very satisfying.

To finish up this post, I figured I would leave you with a checklist that can help you decide whether or not you should see this movie. You should definitely watch Django Unchained if any of the following are true:

  • You are a Tarantino or Christoph Waltz fan
  • You enjoy a movie with a blend of action, comedy and dialogue
  • When you see gore you do not hide in a corner and cry

SkyFall Movie Review | Bond is back. James Bond.

Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
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James Bond is back and he is kicking ass and taking names! SkyFall is action-packed but it is not the action that carries this movie. Instead, it is nostalgia and overall utter brilliance – as the British would say.

For those who are unaware, our favourite agent 007 is celebrating his 50 anniversary and for his birthday he gets an amazing gift — without question the best Bond movie. Sure, you may argue that an older Bond film is better because you prefer a particular portrayal of James Bond but there is no arguing that SkyFall is one of the most perfectly put together movies of the franchise. Here’s why:

  • Action. But unlike many other Bond movies, action is not all she wrote.
  • A perfect blend of nostalgia and throw-backs combined with graceful modernization
  • A storyline that, while simple, is very engaging and restarts the franchise (much like Batman Begins)
  • Performances that are likely to be remembered for years to come

Much like Christopher Nolan’s revamp of the Batman franchise, SkyFall succeeds in transcending James Bond movies of the past in terms of relevance, polish and a level of “seriousness” that was absent from many of the mainstream-action iterations of the past. You can hear it amongst the group of moviegoers as they exit the theatre. Not only the joy of having witnessed such a great movie but pure excitement; already eagerly anticipating the next movie in what will hopefully be a whole new era of Bond. An era of high expectations and delivering upon those expectations.

SkyFall also toys with a unique bond girl setup in which there is not a specific woman of interest. Although still present, sex appeal was used more sparingly than previous Bond movies, if my memory serves me correctly. This is not a sour point, however, as I believe that many bond girls in past movies have merely served as a distraction from the plot and little else (a significant visual distraction). Instead, Bond interacts with the women in the movie in a much more progressive way. Perhaps as a means of appeasing a changing female demographic or perhaps to eliminate distractions from the main story. After all, Bond never really spent a great deal of time building relationships in the past so any character contributions made by “romance scenes” in previous movies were negligible.

SkyFall is the best iteration of James Bond in a long time and probably ever. Everyone will find something about this movie that will truly catch their attention. Die-hard fans of the original movies will enjoy the many inclusions of nostalgic elements, while new-comers to the franchise will enjoy the modernization of the story and the removal of many “cheesy” elements that are no longer acceptable in great modern movies.

I tend to rate movies rather favourably, however, exaggerations aside, SkyFall has likely found its place in my list of Top 10 Movies of All Time.

The Avengers 2012 Movie Review: Joss Whedon vs. Michael Bay

the-avengers-movie-review-2012-joss-whedon Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.
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Okay, so I’m super late on reviewing The Avengers– both because the movie has been out for weeks and also because I actually saw the movie weeks ago. However, I couldn’t not write about it. After all, it was one of the best movies I have seen. Period. So why am I so ecstatic about this movie? Mostly because it could have been “Michael Bay’d” like Transformers but it wasn’t. Instead it was turned into so much more.

Josh Whedon vs. Michael Bay

On the surface, The Avengers seems like a fairly straight-forward super hero movie, but upon closer examination you will notice that there is much more going on. Unlike a Michael Bay movie, which transplants any semblance of a story with non-stop explosions, Joss Whedon’s works tend to bring much more to the table. For one, The Avengers was a very dialogue-driven movie. Any regular reader of my movie reviews knows how much I like finely crafted dialogue and The Avengers surprised me with witty and hilarious dialogue throughout the movie. This dialogue often served to reconcile the ridiculous with reality and makes the characters much more believable (despite being crazy powerful superheroes, of course).

Michael Bay movies, by contrast, are littered with comedy as well, but unfortunately they are of a grade 4 level and extraordinarily low-brow. The Avengers on the other hand offers non-stop hilarity, combined with the necessary special FX and surprisingly deep characters. This, of course, is all thanks to Joss Whedon. A recent article in Wired, “With The Avengers, Joss Whedon Masters the Marvel Universe”, tells the tale of Joss Whedon like I never could. I highly recommend a read through the rather lengthy article because it truly gives you a new perspective on his works and The Avengers as a whole. The short version: he is brilliant and brings both depth and entertainment to anything he directs.

Okay, so you get it, Joss Whedon is superior to Michael Bay as a director but what about the movie? I mentioned the witty, hilarious, and believable dialogue previously but the movie also did a great job tying in a series of separate superhero movies in such a way that I thought was impossible. From the very beginning when Fury is attempting to assemble The Avengers, each scenario is believable and the characters get along just as you would expect them too (initially hating each other’s guts and then eventually coming around).

Apart from that, the animation was great and not just constant explosions. The cutting was not overdone (very common in action movies when they don’t want you to see much of what is actually happening) and I felt that the story moved along in such a way that I didn’t even realize that the movie was almost 2.5 hours.

The only thing that prevented the movie from being perfect was the inclusion of two characters that suck as superheroes. I’m talking about Black Widow and Hawkeye, of course. I can’t blame that on Whedon though since he was sticking true to the original cast of characters but they sure do feel out of place from the rest. I can’t complain much about Black Widow though, since Scarlett Johansson is always a welcome addition.

If you haven’t yet seen The Avengers, watch it. And if you have, watch it again. 5 stars all the way.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

P.s.

Don’t even get me started about how cool Iron Man is. Throw together a witty and hilarious genius with a super suit that can fly and shoot lasers and you’ve got yourself a character. Best. Superhero. Ever. (Batman is a very close second). They’re particularly awesome because they are not overly farfetched (they stretch reality but they reside within it unlike other superheroes – ahem, Superman).

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Lockout Movie Review

Lockout-Movie-Review A man wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage against the U.S. is offered his freedom if he can rescue the president’s daughter from an outer space prison taken over by violent inmates.star-whitestar-whitestar-white

Perhaps I just like movies way too much and I’m just easily entertained, but it seems like every movie that I expect to be total garbage has been surprisingly me lately. I expected Lockout to be an action movie with nothing but a couple good action scenes yet it turned out to be so much more. Here goes nothing – my Lockout movie review.

Firstly, the movie was very clever. The dialogue was very witty and every utterance was a quip. This was definitely the case for Snow (the main character played by Guy Pearce). His careless attitude had him making jokes about every situation he got into. It added a great touch of humour to the movie, although it was somewhat overdone causing his character to be entirely one-dimensional; one of many factors holding my rating to three stars.

The second impressive aspect of the movie was its originality. The concept of a prison in space is novel (at least to me) and many of the plot twists were somewhat original as well. Most importantly, the movie veered away from some of the most stereotypical elements. Like the witty dialogue, Lockout may have taken this too far by trying a little too hard to be surprising, but for the most part it worked well.

In summary, Lockdown was far more than I expected with its originality, sophistication and originality. Several aspects of the movie held the movie back, including the fact that some of the aspects mentioned above were overdone, however, all-in-all it is a better-than-average action movie. It is worth watching, but waiting to rent it is probably the best move.

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The Hunger Games Movie Review

the-hunger-games-movie-review Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.star-whitestar-whitestar-whitestar-white

The Hunger Games wins on so many levels that it will be hard to touch on everything in this movie review.

The Hunger Games is based on the super-popular book series of the same name written by Suzanne Collins and both the movie and books bring something to the table for a variety of audiences. Although the primary target appears to be teens, the movie has universal appeal – for both young and old as well as male and female (unlike some movies *cough* Twilight *cough*). The movies has a good balance of both male and female roles as well as a balance of character types, including a  race-balance (some racists disagree about the casting of some characters). To reiterate, this creates a diverse experience that will be enjoyed by many.

The movie is based in a society in which the government fully oppresses the lower classes and forces impoverished citizens to engage in vicious fights to the death in order to maintain peace. The theme of the movie is extremely relevant given today’s current power struggles (the 99% vs. 1% and the 99% vs. the government) much like In Time. The movie even goes as far as to depict protests as a result of the hunger games that can be mistaken for having turned on CNN.

The Hunger Games was clearly written to illustrate the many problems plaguing modern-day society. Apart from the most obvious message –“watch out for an increasingly powerful government” –the story also spends considerable time illustrating the struggles of the lower class for the audience. It becomes apparent that the upper class is unaware of, or wilfully blind to, the struggles of the oppressed. All they care about is the “reality show”. The reality show idea was taken to the max as the producers of the show were willing to do anything for the ratings – not at all different than in real life (although with less extreme consequences, hopefully). The number of truly relevant modern-day themes written into The Hunger Games is truly incredible.

The movie itself was well-filmed with some interesting camera shots. The editing kept the movie alive even during some of the slower parts (of which there were not many). The music was well-suited throughout and the theme song during the credits was particularly great. Most surprising of all were some of the actors cast. It was a pleasant surprise to see Woody Harrelson; always a welcome addition. There were other surprises that I will leave out in order to avoid spoiling the movie.

Overall, the movie was highly engaging, very timely, well put-together and appealing for a variety of audiences. I cannot wait for the follow-ups.

What did you think?

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Cineplex Timeplay: New and Improved

cineplex-timeplay-new-and-improvedIn a previous post, I wrote about how terrible the new Cineplex Timeplay experience was. I am writing about it again because they have dramatically improved the experience and it is now pretty awesome! Perhaps I was somewhat critical of the initial experience because it was the first attempt of its kind. Before we take a look at the improvements, however, a quick summary for the uninitiated:

Timeplay is an advertising experience comprised of smartphone apps that interact with “games” onscreen in the movie theatre. Users perform actions like flicking blobs onto the screen from their smartphone to reveal or create images in order to win prizes. It is a bit hard to explain, but the main idea is to get users to engage in advertisement-driven games to win prizes.

Click here to view a video overview of Timeplay

Better Rewards

The single biggest improvement has taken place in the reward received for participation. Previously, movie-goers were given prizes like “10% off a Canon Camera”. For advertisers, these rewards were great because they were directly applicable to their products, however, for users they were not very motivating. After all, everyday coupons and promotions typically match or top these discounts. The rewards also had no relation to the actual movie experience.

Thankfully, they have made some great changes to these rewards. Namely, scene points (reward points for free movies and concessions) are now given for certain Timeplay games. For frequent movie-goers this is a much more motivating reward. I collect these points religiously and get many free movies a year so I am now actively engaging with Timeplay where previously I had stopped caring. Hopefully they continue to tie-in movie specific rewards like these.

Better Games

Some of the games available for Timeplay are fun, while others are terribly mundane. Ford, for example, had a game that involved voting for what scene you wanted to see next in the commercial. Yes, it is just as boring as it sounds – you are simply voting on what part of a advertisement you want to see.

Timeplay now seems to be distancing themselves from these “games”, that really aren’t games at all. They seem to be focusing on games that involve throwing blobs from your smartphone onto the screen by flicking the screen. These games are actually surprisingly fun as you are awarded points individually.

Personalization

Somewhat annoyingly, Timeplay automatically assigns you a username that you cannot, at this point change. While this makes sense because many users may abuse customization by using inappropriate names, it is somewhat disappointing. What is neat, however, is that recent Timeplay ads have begun to incorporate these personal qualities into the games. For example, in a recent game I played, I was able to launch graffiti onto the screen and next to each piece of graffiti was my username. I was also awarded points individually that were used to rank players at the end of the game. Players were then rewarded with 100 scene points (1/10th of a free movie). Awesome!

Fewer Games (ads)

Timeplay had been added on top of all previous pre-movie advertisements. What that meant was that there was another 5 minutes or so of advertisements, extending the time before a movie (there are already too many pre-movie advertisements!).

A huge improvement has been reducing the number of Timeplay games (ads) to 1 before a movie. This is a much more reasonable intrusion – although I’m sure movie-goers that do not have smartphones are still probably angry at the extra advertising they cannot even participate in.

Overall, I like the idea of engaging advertisements as long as they meet the criteria I mentioned throughout this post: good rewards, fun games, and a reasonable amount of time/ads. Have you experienced Timeplay? Have you noticed any improvements?

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The Grey Movie Review

the-gray-movie-review-liam-neeson In Alaska, an oil drilling team struggle to survive after a plane crash strands them in the wild. Hunting the humans are a pack of wolves who see them as intruders.
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The Grey is not “artsy” enough to be nominated for an Academy Award, but it was most likely the best movie I have seen all year. What makes the movie stand out is its balance. The movie manages to be a thriller, drama, action flick, and dialogue-driven all-in-one. An impressive feat considering most movies that try to incorporate multiple elements end up falling flat.

Like many critics, I was very surprised by the movie. The Grey was marketed as a pure action movie – Man vs. Wolf. It was refreshing to see that there was much more to it. The movie explores various aspects of life and death, fear and survival. No movie, to this point, has made me think of death in the way that The Grey did. There are scenes that are so raw that you can’t help but feel really uncomfortable. The movie is also punctuated with action sequences and gore, but it is used somewhat sparingly – adding to the intensity of the scenes when they occur.

Liam Neeson always demands attention on-screen, and The Grey is no exception. He excels at playing intense characters and can usually be found in intense action movies kicking some serious ass. In The Grey, however, he shows off more of his acting skills and has much more depth to his character. Although he plays an intense character, he also engages in a lot of deep dialogue relating to life and death. His character is also highly believable in the sense that, although his character was a badass, he also showed signs of weakness and openly admitted his fear in their desperate situation.

The movie takes place in the Alaskan wilderness, adding to the movie’s intensity. One thing this movie will do is destroy any desire you have to visit Alaska – if you had any to begin with. The premise of the movie (I know, I’m describing it really late in this review) is a number of oil drillers get stranded in Alaska after their plane crashes. They must then survive the elements as well as a number of angry wolves that are hunting them down one by one.

Overall the movie is well balanced, highly intriguing as well as intense and exciting. Add it to your list of must-sees. You won’t regret it.

Man on a Ledge Movie Review

man-on-a-ledge-movie-review As a police psychologist works to talk down an ex-con who is threatening to jump from a Manhattan hotel rooftop, the biggest diamond heist ever committed is in motion…star-whitestar-whitestar-white

Man On A Ledge, starring Sam Worthington and Elizabeth Banks, follows a familiar Hollywood plotline. For a movie that is of a very familiar format, it needs to be innovative and truly great to make up for its lack of uniqueness. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t quite come through.

Man On A Ledge is a dialogue-driven movie (my favourite) and is relatable to movies like Phone Booth or The Negotiator. Unfortunately, unlike some of my favourite dialogue driven movies (The Taking of Pelham 123, Assault on Precinct 13) Man On A Ledge fails to deliver in a number of ways. The acting is appalling (more on that later), the plot is unoriginal and predictable, and the characters had no draw whatsoever.

As I just mentioned, the acting is pretty brutal. Elizabeth Banks falls flat throughout most of the movie. She never seems to nail down her character – I blame it on poor casting and her lack of depth as an actress. Sam Worthington’s performance is not overly impressive either. I spent the entire movie wishing an actor better suited for this type of movie would show up (cough, Denzel Washington, cough).

The plot borrowed elements from a number of great heist movies and tried to meld them all together. Despite being a fan of heist movies and dialogue-driven movies in general, I was not impressed with the execution of Man On A Ledge. Some of the twists and reveals were well thought-out while the rest of the movie was predictable and unoriginal. The movie does pick up quickly though, and maintains a steady pace throughout. genesis-rodriquez-man-on-a-ledge

The characters were one of the worst parts of the movie. Elizabeth Banks character was intended to generate sympathy but I couldn’t help but hate her character for the longest time (although, it could just be the acting that I hated). Her altruistic ways did eventually have me come around to like her character. All of the other characters are forgettable except for a very attractive actress, Genesis Rodriguez, who was clearly there just to keep the audiences from wanting to leave the theatre (photo to the right from the movie). I would not be upset to see her in a number of movies going forward as “the hot girl” – she was the only one who was cast properly.

All-in-all, the movie was not as terrible as I may have made it seem. It is merely a rental. Definitely skippable while in theatre.