Welcome to NICKPICKSFLICKS. I am your host for the evening, America's sweetheart, Nick Spake.
5 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Total Crap
Just Reviewed The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1-November 21st
Just Reviewed Dumb and Dumber To and The Theory of Everything-November 13th
Just Reviewed Big Hero 6-November 7th
Just Reviewed Interstellar-November 5th
Just Reviewed Nightcrawler and Camp X-Ray-October 31st
Mock (yeah) ing (yeah) bird (yeah) yeah, yeah! ***1/2
The final shot of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” certainly left audiences pumped for the following installment. Seeing that fierce glare in Katniss’ eyes, all you wanted to do was charge into battle alongside her. Given the adrenaline rush the previous film provided, it’s a bit disappointing that “Mockingjay – Part 1” isn’t the grand final confrontation. Rather, it’s more of a calm before the big storm. That doesn’t make the film bad. It’s still remarkably acted, thought provoking, and light-years ahead of most movies being targeted at teenagers. Still, “Mockingjay – Part 1” also leaves you wishing for the good old days when epic stories were told within three movies max.
Jennifer Lawrence, who’s ironically become the girl on fire in real life, returns as Katniss Everdeen. District 13 has rescued Katniss while her would-be boyfriend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) remains in the Capital at the mercy of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Julianne Moore makes her debut as President Alma Coin, who’s been building a rebellion alongside Plutarch Heavensbee, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. They still need a poster child for their cause, however, and Katniss perfectly fits the bill. Hell-bent on saving Peeta and keeping her little sister safe, Katniss reluctantly agrees to play the role of the mockingjay.
The “Hunger Games” movies are essentially one half political commentary and the other half kickass action extravaganza. “Mockingjay – Part 1” is probably the most politically strategic film in the franchise and also the most dialog heavy. This amounts to a lot of intelligent, powerful moments in which Katniss must sell herself as the savior who will bring the Capital down. While the film shines in everything political, “Mockingjay – Part 1” is lacking as an action picture. There are very few action set pieces at all, which is a major drawback considering the phenomenal second half of “Catching Fire.”
Not only is there very little action, but there isn’t nearly as much splendor in the art direction, costumes, or makeup departments this time around either. Much of “Mockingjay – Part 1” takes place in a dim underground sanctuary and lifeless fields of carnage. Even Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has been deprived of anything glamorous. Hell, the most well-fed and well-groomed individual in District 13 is a chubby cat. Granted, this is exactly what Director Francis Lawrence was going for, placing our heroes in the lowest point imaginable so they’re even more triumphant when they rise above it all. Nevertheless, this rise to victory likely would have had more of an impact if “Mockingjay” weren’t split into two movies.
At least with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” there was a ton of material to spread out over the course of multiple films. With a 309 page book like “Mockingjay,” however, it feels about as necessary as turning “The Hobbit” into a trilogy. Even if it is meandering at times, “Mockingjay – Part 1” remains a perfectly solid movie. It’s tense, smartly written, full of quiet, atmospheric moments, and does a good job at getting us excited for “Mockingjay – Part 2.” Had they not gone the double feature route, though, this could have been the tightest and most well-paced entry to the series.
Smart and Smarter ****1/2
Stephen Hawking is somebody we often view as a deep thinker, but not necessarily a deep feeler. Most people seem to assume that he’s just a giant brain and a voice box. Anyone who’s seen Hawking in interviews, though, will tell you that he has a wonderful personality and sense of humor. In “The Theory of Everything,” we learn that Hawking’s life isn’t merely defined by his contributions to the scientific community. Rather, his life is truly a love story about family, finding passion in your work, and celebrating human existence.
“The Theory of Everything” stets itself in the 1960s as Hawking studies physics at the University of Cambridge in England. Yeah, you probably missed the fact that Hawking is British based on his American computer generated voice. The gifted student almost immediately falls in love with Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), who’s got a beautiful heart to match Hawking’s beautiful mind. Tragedy strikes when Hawking is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and given two years to live. Of course he lives much longer than expected, but virtually loses the use of his body. Regardless, this doesn’t stop Hawking’s quest for knowledge, ultimately amounting to his book, “A Brief History of Time.”
Eddie Redmayne of “My Week with Marilyn” and “Les Misérables” takes another huge step forward in his young career as Hawking. On both a physical and emotional level, Redmayne couldn’t be more convincing in his transformation, which spans several decades of Hawking’s life. “The Theory of Everything” is just as much about Jane Hawking as is it about Stephen, however. It should be since Jane wrote the original memoir that inspired James Marsh’s film. Felicity Jones is magical as the woman who stands by Hawking through hell and back. While Jane never falls out of love with her husband, it does justifiably become harder for her to be married to him as the years go by.
The movie is given the opportunity to completely misfire when Jane meets a churchgoer named Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox). As Jonathan volunteers to help out around the Hawking household, Jane can’t help but develop an attraction to him. This plot point never turns into a sappy love triangle out of a soap opera, though. Rather, Stephen, Jane, and Jonathan spend much of the film discussing their feelings and treat each other with rational understanding. These are all essentially good people that want what’s best for everybody. Part of that has to do with Jane and Jonathan’s devout faith in God’s teachings, which somewhat rubs off on Stephen.
While Stephen Hawking has publicly declared himself as an atheist, he does recognize the value in other people placing their faith in God. After all, science and religion aren’t as different as we make them out to be. Both are largely based on ideas and philosophies that have yet to be proven. “The Theory of Everything” demonstrates that life isn’t necessarily about finding concrete answers. It’s about sharing and listening to each other’s beliefs about how this mysterious, limitless universe works. The more people realize this, the more our society will evolve.
Just when I think that the Farrelly brothers couldn't possibly be any dumber they go and make a movie like this...and totally redeem themselves! ****
It’s been twenty years since “Dumb and Dumber” and almost ten years since the god-awful “Dumb and Dumberer.” Unlike the needless prequel, “Dumb and Dumber To” finally reunites all the principle players that made the original a 90s comedy classic. This sequel is likely to be enjoyed by anyone who was a fan of the first film, meaning that the overall consensus will be split down the middle. Chances are you either despised “Dumb and Dumber” or you still find yourself quoting the movie in your day-to-day life. Fortunately, I’m among the latter group.
“Dumb and Dumber To” is appropriately even dumber than it’s predecessor. While not as fresh or funny, it does run circles around most belated comedy sequels like “Blues Brothers 2000.” The film knows what its target audience wants and delivers with gross-out humor, physical humor, offensive humor, animal cruelty humor, stupid humor, and smartly stupid humor.
So what have Jim Carrey’s Lloyd and Jeff Daniels’ Harry been up to these past two decades? No much as Lloyd has been pretending to be a vegetable in a mental institution just to play a trick on Harry. Once he’s released, the two knuckleheads find an old letter from Fraida Felcher, who’s turned into Kathleen Turner. Turns out Harry impregnated Fraida and she gave their daughter up for adoption. The guys set out on yet another road trip to find Harry’s offspring, witlessly getting mixed-up in another farce along the way.
Peter and Bobby Farrelly touch base on every timeless gag and quote from their debut picture. The funniest callback centers on the now grownup Billy from 4C, the blind boy Lloyd duped into buying a dead parakeet. Now Billy has a whole flock of birds, most notably a parrot named after Gene Siskel who voted thumbs up on all of the Farrelly’s movies. “Dumb and Dumber To” goes beyond just rehashing old material like “The Hangover II” did, though. The film is full of great new written and visual jokes that will have you laughing yourself stupid…or checking your watch in aggravation.
Again, this is as subjective as movies get. Where some will eat it up like junk food, others will call it one of the worst movies of the year. What you might be asking is how I can pan something like “Jack and Jill” and give “Dumb and Dumber To” my seal of approval. For starters, the humor in “Jack and Jill” is not only lowbrow, but also obvious. Whether you love or hate “Dumb and Dumber To,” there are at least a handful of surprises you won’t see coming from a mile away. Secondly, with most Adam Sandler movies you get the sense that he isn’t even trying to make a funny comedy. In “Dumb and Dumber To,” everyone involved completely commits to their roles, particularly Carrey and Daniels who never miss a note as the dimwitted duo. Even when a joke doesn’t work, you got to at least give them an A for effort.
It won’t win any Oscars. It won’t even be nominated for a Golden Globe. For what it is, however, “Dumb and Dumber To” will appeal to anyone with a soft spot for the Three Stooges’ brand of comedy. Now for the real interesting question: What’s more ironic, the fact that Jeff Daniels started production on this film right after winning an Emmy for “The Newsroom” or that a “Dumb and Dumber” movie is coming out the same week as the Stephen Hawking biopic, “The Theory of Everything?”
It's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man ****1/2
When Disney acquired the rights to Marvel, nobody knew what to make of the union. With one best known for wholesome family entertainment and the other geared more towards intense action intended for older audiences, would they really blend well together? “Big Hero 6” is clear-cut evidence these two innovative companies are a match made in heaven.
As impressive as Marvel’s recent live-action films have been, there are some stories that work so much better in the boundless realm of animation. “Big Hero 6” is such a product. Disney takes Marvel’s seemingly unfilmable source material and makes it jump out of the screen with carnival colors, charming characters, and all the fun of TVs most stimulating Saturday morning cartoons. The result is a winning combination that will thrill Disney lovers and Marvel lovers alike.
The film takes place in a fictional city that looks a lot like San Francisco meets Tokyo called San Fransokyo. Ryan Potter provides the voice of Hiro Hamada, who utilizes his engineering gifts to win illegal BattleBot fights on the streets. Through the influence of his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), Hiro is eventually motivated to put his talents to better use. The fourteen-year-old robotics wiz invents a device to take control of tiny microbots that can make anything. When his technology falls into the wrong hands, however, Hiro must step up as, well, a hero.
Hiro isn’t alone on his mission. He’s aided by his brother’s robot Baymax, voiced by a soothing Scott Adsit of “30 Rock.” This artificial healthcare companion is simplistic in appearance with a flabby, inflatable body painted white, a habitually calm voice, and expressionless dots for eyes. Yet, Baymax manages to be one of the funniest and most lovable animated characters in a long time, serving up an equal amount of hilarious physical and written gags. Think WALL-E, Totoro, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rolled into one.
The “6” in question is made up of four other tech geniuses that join Hiro and Baymax. They include an adrenaline junkie Asian named GoGo (Jamie Chung), an overly cautious worrywart named Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), an energetic mad scientist of sorts named Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), and a slacker sci-fi hipster named Fred (T.J. Miller). Miller in particular steals some of the film’s best lines with his childish passion for comics and monsters. Occasionally you kind of wish these four got a little more screen time, but they aren’t the main focus of the movie. This is truly a story about a boy and his robot. On that basis, “Big Hero 6” is one of the most heartfelt stories of its kind since “The Iron Giant.”
In addition to being a grand fusion of Disney and Marvel, “Big Hero 6” is also an endearing mix of western animation and eastern animation. It makes sense that Disney would make a film with such a heavy Asian influence since anime is as popular as ever in the US and Disney animation is huge in Japan. Last year’s “Frozen” notably became the third highest-grossing film in the country’s box office history, behind only “Spirited Away” and “Titanic.” After some failed attempts to mimic Miyazaki with “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet,” Disney finally gets it just right through a diverse balance of anime action set pieces, comic book lore, and their own trademark magic.
Diversity is the keyword here with Directors Don Hall of “Winnie the Pooh” and Chris Williams of “Bolt” taking a number of different elements to create a varied world, style, and story. While we’re on the subject, hasn’t this been a diverse year for animation? There have been so many strong films and all of them unique in their own ways. Unlike most years where there’s a universal standout, selecting 2014’s Best Animated Feature should prove quite the challenge with “The Lego Movie,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” and now this in contention. As of now, though, “Big Hero 6” feels like a hard act to top.
An otherworldly experience ****1/2
Of all the movies released in 2014, none has had more hype, anticipation, or secrecy backing it than Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” Now that his ninth feature film has at last landed, reactions are likely to be split. Some will call “Interstellar” a pretentious director’s desperate attempt to live in Stanley Kubrick’s shadow. Others will hail it as a science fiction masterpiece that will be praised for years to come. There will also be a fair percentage of audiences that won’t know what to think after just one viewing. As for my opinion, “Interstellar” is one of the boldest pictures ever made regarding nature, science, and, above all else, the unknown.
It’s actually incredibly fitting that the trailers have given away so little information about “Interstellar.” The film is about venturing into uncharted territory and solving the universe’s vast sea of unsolved mysteries. Are we alone in this universe? Is there a species superior to man out there? What are man’s limitations? Does man have any limitations? Is mankind selling itself short by assuming we have limitations? The list of questions just goes on much like the universe.
The buildup in “Interstellar” is phenomenal as Nolan sets us in what appears to be an everyday farming community. We soon learn, however, that this is a dystopian future where dust storms are gradually killing the population, space programs have been discontinued, and the crops provided by farmers are imperative to our scarce food supply. One of these farmers is a man named Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey who’s been on one of the most impressive winning streaks of our time subsequent to an abysmal losing streak.
The widowed Cooper survives by his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), his teenage son Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and adoring daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). A former astronaut, Cooper is among the few living people qualified for a mission being lead by the now underground NASA. Michael Caine’s Professor Brand informs Cooper that the planet is dying and humankind’s only hope is a wormhole to new inhabitable worlds. Cooper is accompanied by several other trained astronauts, which includes Anne Hathaway’s Amelia, Wes Bentley’s Doyle, David Gyasi’s Romilly, and an A.I. companion that looks like a mobile version of the monolith from “2001.”
“Interstellar” has everything we’ve come to expect from Christopher Nolan. The scope of the film is huge with an impending musical score, inventive sets, mind-blowing cinematography, and state of the art effects that aren’t totally reliant on CGI or green screens. Nolan has a brilliant screenplay by himself and brother Jonathan Nolan to accompany such exceptional craft. What Nolan gets down most of all in “Interstellar,” though, is the heart. A particular relationship drives the story, which amounts to a gut-wrenching game changer half way through. There are several other pivotal plot points and performances that contribute to the greatness of “Interstellar,” but to give away any more information would spoil the film’s astonishing experience.
This movie is an emerald curtain. As strong as the buildup might be, none of it matters unless the audience finds something even stronger behind the curtain. It’s impossible to sing “Interstellar” anymore praise without pulling the curtain back just a little. So I’ll leave you with this. Get out there and pull the curtain back for yourself. Something truly extraordinary is waiting there.
TV news, the greatest horror known to man ****
If you don’t already think the people who produce television news are evil, you likely will after watching “Nightcrawler.” The Nightcrawlers, as the movie calls them, are the people who film the aftermath of car wrecks and shootings then sell the footage to news stations. It’s a pretty bleak job when you think about it, recording people in pain, never offering them a helping hand, and profiting off their misery.
Although it’s a radical generalization to assume everyone involved in this business is evil, one thing is for certain about the main character in “Nightcrawler.” He lacks anything resembling a soul, making him the perfect person to capture such carnage on film.
Jake Gyllenhaal is both uncomfortably hilarious and chillingly effective as Louis Bloom, a man attempting to make a living in Los Angeles. The film reveals nothing about where Louis came from. For all we know, he’s an alien that crashed landed on earth and is trying to blend in. At first he appears like a naïve, wide-eyed tourist who’s experiencing everything for the time. He absorbs information quickly, however, and can take advantage of a situation on the spot.
One night, Louis encounters a freelance cameraman played by Bill Paxton filming an accident. Just like that, Louis decides to get in on the crime journalism game. After acquiring a camcorder, a police scanner, and an intern (Riz Ahmed), he’s ready to start his own company. Louis will do whatever it takes to get the best shots and produce the best stories, even if it means a few people have to die in the process.
The confident entrepreneur takes his footage to a struggling news station desperate for content. Mummified in makeup, Rene Russo plays Nina Romina, who supervises the morning news. While Louis is no angel, Nina isn’t much better, enabling every despicable action Louis commits to draw in more viewers. At the same time, you can’t entirely blame any of these people for supplying TV audiences with what they demand to see: Blood, violence, and a constant state of fear. But where exactly should they set a limit while delivering such “entertainment?”
Writer/Director Dan Gilroy’s film is very much in the spirit of Adam Wingard’s “The Guest.” Is it a horror movie disguised as a dark satire or a dark satire disguised as a horror movie? Either way, both films have a mysterious, unsettling central character that’s always a blast to watch. “Nightcrawler” also has a pinch of “Network” to it, providing an equally funny and thought-provoking commentary on the state of media and what true journalism is. After it’s over, apart of you will want to boycott broadcast news forever. It probably won’t take long until the next major car chase or plane crash sucks you back in, though.
Kstew can act! ***1/2
A lot of people have said nasty things about Kristen Stewart over the years, the harshest being that she’s the worst actress on the planet. And…yeah, Stewart has given her fair share of bad performances. But come on, guys, it’s not like she had any potential to give a good performance in those “Twilight” movies. With the right role in a good film like “Adventureland,” Stewart can deliver perfectly solid work. That’s more than can be said about Paris Hilton, Carmen Electra, and other women who have no business calling themselves actresses.
In “Camp X-Ray,” Stewart is well suited to play Cole, a young, stone-faced solider sent to supervise prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Well actually, due to the Geneva Convention the soldiers are required to refer to prisoners as “detainees.” That’s like comparing lettuce to cabbage, though. One detainee who gives Cole an especially hard time is Ali, played by Peyman Moaddi from “A Separation.” While annoying and prone to throw feces at guards, Ali seems like an innocent enough man who’s interesting in knowing how “Harry Potter” ends more than anything else.
Curious, Cole does some digging on Ali and even develops an unlikely friendship with him. Although this relationship could have resorted to melodrama, “Camp X-Ray” wisely doesn’t turn Ali into a sanctified marauder or Cole into a white savior fighting for a wrongfully accused man’s freedom. The film simply portrays both characters as real people who are looking for somebody to confide in at one of the loneliest, not to mention one of the most intimidating, places on earth.
“Camp X-Ray” acts as both a strong star vehicle for Stewart’s post-Twilight career, as well as an engaging story about US/Arab relations post-9/11. This is essentially a story about the prejudice attached to befriending the alleged enemy. It might not be the first or best film to tackle such issues. However, Writer/Director Peter Sattler does address the subject matter with great intelligence and understanding without taking cheap shots. What sells the movie is the chemistry between Stewart and Moaddi, which ranges from to gritty and uncomfortable to charming and meaningful.
Above all else, “Camp X-Ray” thankfully never turns into a star-crossed romance. It feels like every movie with a male/female relationship at the center needs to incorporate a love story. There’s no sexual tension whatsoever between Cole and Ali, though. This is purely a story about friendship between very different, yet very similar, individuals. There’s something very encouraging about that.