Kung Fu Panda 3

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In the third installment of the Kung Fu Panda saga, Po continues his journey, “legendary adventures of awesomeness”, this time having to face two hugely epic, but different threats: one supernatural and the other a little closer to his home.

Who knew that a sequel about a fighting panda would be the first good January animated movie of the decade? Kung Fu Panda 3 just about lives up to its predecessors, surprisingly being able to handle an amount of plots with just the right balance. The movie starts off right about where the last one left off, with Po continuing his physical and emotional journey through kung fu. Speaking of our hero Po, Jack Black once again shines as the hilarious, unforgettable protagonist, who helps us laugh and enjoy our way throughout the film. Black has always been such a great comedian throughout his career, and this franchise is his opportunity to let his hilarious voice shine; here, he takes it for the third time. Dustin Hoffman is also great in his returning role of Master Shifu, and Angelina Jolie does a good job as well. Bryan Cranston was fantastically cast as Po’s biological father, as his character is very fun and well written. J.K. Simmons was the perfect choice for this movie’s villain, Kai. He has a great concept, fun lines, and he may just be the best villain in the saga yet.

The story, although often familiar, is always entertaining, and there isn’t really a dull moment in this film. The plot is always going and you never stop having fun until the end. The animation is gorgeous, bringing you amazing natural landscapes with a realistic effect. Hans Zimmer’s score is awesome, and adds to the movie’s excitement. The editing can sometimes be off, but that didn’t stop me from being very entertained. Although there is less substance in this film, what the saga is meant for is just some kung fu animated fun, and it isn’t as emotionally provoking as its predecessor, it’s just as entertaining, and ultimately, Kung Fu Panda 3 was everything it needed to be.

Kung Fu Panda 3 delivers as an awesome sequel, and a great way to kick off the year. With a high entertainment factor, vivid animation, and very clever humor, this movie is a great treat for kids and families alike.

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Room

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Room tells the extraordinary story of Jack, a spirited 5-year-old who is trapped in a windowless, 10-by-10-foot space he and his Ma call Room. Ma has created a whole universe for Jack within Room, and she will stop at nothing to ensure that, even in this treacherous environment, Jack is able to live a complete and fulfilling life. But as Jack’s curiosity about their situation grows, and Ma’s resilience reaches its breaking point, they enact a risky plan to escape, ultimately bringing them face-to-face with what may turn out to be the scariest thing yet: the real world.

Based on a fantastic novel, Room is able to tell a realistic, captivating and emotional tale with great directing, writing, and wonderful performances. Brie Larson delivers what could be the best female performance of the year. Her motherly soul feels realistic and there with her every moment she’s on screen. She has excellent chemistry here with young star Jacob Tremblay, who also delivers a marvelous performance here. They feel so intimately connected as mother and son, and they both blew me away in this film. Tremblay is also great as Jack, and since the story is told through his character’s eyes, he gets a lot of time to shine in this amazing breakthrough role for him. I would be pleased if Larson were to win the Academy Award, she is very well-deserving of the award, at least as much as the other nominees.

The movie is captivating from the start to the very end. The movie’s setting immediately fascinates and brings a very believable and realistic story to the screen. The writing is always on the spot, and a few lines within the script will make you tremble. However, there are a few minor but important points of exposition that were mentioned in the book, and that the movie should have clarified to be a tad more understandable for people who haven’t read the book. Sometimes, the movie’s score is out of place, as there are a few parts where the music did not fit into the intended tone of the scene in the film. The climax halfway throughout the film is just as intense as it should have been, and seeing an incredible story like this one being brought to the screen feels like an achievement for such small (as in independent) filmmakers. The movie has excellent directing, as it’s a daring challenge to put two young actors in a room, and have them prepare for their roles for so long. Although the directing isn’t perfect, due to the minor flaws I stated earlier, it’s mostly on point, and I’m proud that the director dared to take on such a strong and interesting topic and make the product feel very real and emotionally heavy.

Room is thrilling, emotional, and very well-made, and I would definitely recommend you see it, as it’s worth all the Oscar buzz it’s getting. I would love to see Brie Larson win the Oscar for her performance in this film, and I hope it does well in it’s other categories, too.

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The Revenant

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Based on true events, The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s recent masterpiece. DiCaprio plays fur trapper Hugh Glass, a frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s along with his son and a dozen hunters. He fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

Having swept up this year’s Golden Globe awards, I knew I was up for something when I walked into The Revenant. I had been looking forward to the film since the trailer was released in July, and of course because of its director and cast. In The Revenant, Inarritu scores big with an impressive, breathtaking scale that must be experienced on the big screen. The Revenant is not only a work of art, but is also a beautiful, although gory, experience of cinema. Inarritu tries his best here to work in the key of Terrence Malick, and in ways this movie does feel like an anti-thesis to The Tree of Life; instead of showing you the joy of life with Malick’s style of visual storytelling, Inarritu uses this style to show strong, gruesome violence and death, and uses silence here perfectly to depict the film’s natural setting as realistically as possible.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has proven to be one of the best cinematographers in contemporary Hollywood with films like Gravity and Birdman, demonstrates what may be his best work with this movie. Like every other film he’s shot, he tries to keep as many little takes as possible, and it pays off very well here, adding to the intensity the film delivers, as well as the beauty (and danger) of the setting our hero is pit against. Speaking of our hero, Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a marvelous and excellent performance here. Lubezki’s camera is pointed at him for almost the entire film, and DiCaprio transforms into his character both physically and mentally, with little dialogue and lots of action. His performance feels so realistic, and I was shocked to find out that he actually did all the unbelievable things his character did to survive in the film, like eating raw fish and sleeping inside a horse’s carcass. Is his performance worth all the awards buzz he’s getting? I would definitely say yes to that, as his performance is so riveting and unbelievable, I would love for this to be his long-awaited Oscar-winning performance. Tom Hardy is also great in his villainous supporting role; he felt very threatening and was developed very well.

What helps make this movie so real and breathtaking is its use of practical silence to show you the realism of the setting, like I said before. Even the quietest moments in the movie can be breathtaking. The sound is used so well that it adds such a great effect to the frightening realism of the movie. We are pulled into the vastness of nature as our protagonist advances through his journey. Every scene feels special in it’s own way, from the 10-minute opening battle which feels like the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan, and an intense scene with a bear that feels like an achievement in action filmmaking. With a relatively long runtime and flawless filmmaking, Inarritu brings this adventure to life in the most realistic way.

If there is one movie you should see from 2015, it’s The Revenant. The Revenant is not only one of the best filmed movies of the year, but also of the decade. Although incredibly graphic and not for young viewers, I would absolutely recommend it to anyone, ideally 15 and up, that is searching for the perfect Oscar-worthy film of the year. The experience is ideal on the big screen, so please go see this movie in theaters as soon as you can.

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Nominations Announced for the 88th Academy Awards

Today, the nominations for this year’s Oscars ceremony were announced. I am surprised by a few of the nominees and snubs, but I overall was fond of these nominations. Here are the nominees for most of the categories (the ones in bold are the ones I believe will win the category):

Best Picture:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Best Director:
Adam McKay – The Big Short
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson – Room
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Best Actor:
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saiorse Ronan – Brooklyn

Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

Best Supporting Actress:
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Best Original Screenplay:
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton

Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
The Martian
Room

Best Animated Feature:
Anomalisa
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

Best Cinematography:
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

Best Visual Effects:
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Film Editing:
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Production Design:
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Best Costume Design:
Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Best Original Score:
Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing:
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Editing:
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I am mostly satisfied with these nominees, although I have a few concerns, and found some snubs on the list. First off, I don’t understand why Christian Bale is credited as a Supporting Actor, for he was the main star of his film The Big Short. Also, I feel that Aaron Sorkin should have been nominated for writing Steve Jobs, and although I have yet to see the film, he won the Golden Globe for writing the film, and Sorkin always knows how to write fantastic screenplays. Also, Quentin Tarantino probably deserves a nomination for writing The Hateful Eight, although it would be cool to see Ex Machina, an excellent, underrated science fiction movie that exceeded expectations in every way, win that award. I am also very surprised that neither Carol nor Steve Jobs received Best Picture nominations. It seems like The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens may end up sweeping up most of the awards this year. There is only one way to find out: to watch the Oscars on February 28 to determine if my predictions were right!

The 73rd Golden Globe Awards

Tonight was the night that the 73rd Golden Globe Awards took place. The ceremony was hosted By Ricky Gervais, who turned out to be a decent host. He was able to make me crack up a few times with his smart humor. Although I still have yet to see most of the winning films, I feel urged to right now, and I feel glad for all the winners because of how much I love the stars and filmmakers who won tonight. Here is the list of winners for the film categories:

Best Picture – Drama: The Revenant

Best Picture – Comedy: The Martian

Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez  Inarritu – The Revenant

Best Actor – Drama: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

Best Actress – Drama: Brie Larson – Room

Best Actor – Comedy: Matt Damon – The Martain

Best Actress – Comedy: Jennifer Lawrence – Joy

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone – Creed

Best Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Best Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin – Steve Jobs

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song: “Writing’s on the Wall” by Sam Smith – Spectre

Best Animated Feature Film: Inside Out

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul (Hungary)

I couldn’t have been more thrilled by these winners. I feel more urged to see these films now, not that I didn’t want to before. When DiCaprio won the award, he received such a standing ovation, and I could tell that he knew the Oscar was finally coming his way. Sly’s won also received a standing ovation, having won an Oscar for the same role 40 years ago, so it felt great to see him win for a character spread across generations. My only disappointment is the song “Writing’s on the Wall” winning over “See You Again” (from Furious 7), because I feel like that award belongs to the late and great Paul Walker (to whom “See You Again” was made for and dedicated to), and besides, the latest James Bond theme wasn’t that great. I am surprised that The Revenant won as much as it did, and I hope it does just as well at the Oscars. Let’s hope this year’s Oscars are just as rewarding, and hopefully I’ll see all the winning movies from tonight by then!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Thirty years ago, the Empire was defeated and now a new threat, The First Order, has risen from the ashes of the Empire. A scavenger named Rey has come into contact with a droid that contains a map to the legendary Luke Skywalker, who has vanished. Rey and a rogue stormtrooper named Finn find themselves in a monumental conflict between good and evil, that will unite them with both old and new faces from the legendary saga.

With not only high anticipation and high results at the box office, but also having everything we expected from this film to revive the saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is able to entertain, bring nostalgia to viewers, and deliver as the most rewarding blockbuster of the year. The movie reintroduces us into the galaxy far, far away with a perfect balance of the old and new generation. J.J. Abrams felt like the obvious choice to direct a modern Star Wars film from the beginning, and he rocked this movie just like I expected he would do.  He is very dedicated,  stylish, and loves to perfect his style to make the setting epic and remind us of the past films. I feel like Abrams is the only director in our decade that can handle Star Trek the right way, and right now I feel the same with Star Wars, although we never know how another director taking on the sequels could go.

The cast and characters in this movie are fantastic. Daisy Ridley killed it as our new female lead, and I love that this movie dares to do something big with a strong female character. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac also rock the new cast as amazingly likable characters. Adam Driver is successful with playing a complex, threatening villain that feels very real and interesting. The balance between old and new characters was great, as we also get great performances from returning stars Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, who play the classic heroes Han and Leia. I immediately fell in love with this new world and characters, as well as this huge, fascinating setting that Abrams did such a great job with.

This new Star Wars movie feels like such a treat mainly because of how much it is able to remind fans of the past as well as do such a great job with the new generation of characters. The thing that has always made Star Wars so unique is that no matter who you are or what your taste in film is, Star Wars is the movie for you. The prequels released last decade, which I strongly dislike, lack the sense of fun, humor, and great setting that this movie was able to keep so well. I had such a great time with this movie, from the moment the Star Wars logo appeared on screen to when the credits rolled, after over 2 hours of amazing cinematic entertainment. I already cannot wait to see Episode VIII, as this movie left me with so much to look forward to. So as long as you love Star Wars, which you most likely do, and enter this movie with an open mind, The Force Awakens is absolutely the movie for you.

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The Big Short

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The Big Short follows the true story of four outsiders in the world of high-finance, who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s and decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.

Ever since I heard about this film, I knew I was up for something, especially because of the director and four main actors. This movie gave me everything I wanted from it. The stars, screenplay, directing, and humor were all excellent and made this film so entertaining. It follows in the footsteps of The Wolf of Wall Street, being another financial true story filled with cursing, humor, celebrity cameos, and fourth-wall breaks. The only difference from those basics is that this film is an achievement from a more amateur director in the genre. Adam McKay has directed some of my favorite comedies, including Anchorman and Step Brothers among others, and I loved seeing him venture into a more dramatic territory with this film. From beginning to end, the movie entertained the hell out of me, and even its ways of exposition to explain the financial laws of the story are made fun.

The stars in this film blew me away. Christian Bale completely transforms into the role, delivering a very realistic and human performance. Bale is one of my favorite actors and he was practically unrecognizable with his portrayal of Michael Burry and the character’s eccentric personality. Steve Carell also strikes with his performance as a somewhat mentally unstable broker who also finds himself able to profit from the economic collapse. Carell entertained and really delivered in his hilarious role. Ryan Gosling is also fun to watch on screen with his narration and nearly constant fourth-wall breaks. Brad Pitt is solid as well, but is not as frequent on screen as the rest of the main ensemble.

Even if you are not someone who would understand something as complicated as CDOs and other key financial items leading to the collapse, this movie’s script and directing makes this film entertaining and worth watching for everyone. I applaud Adam McKay for trying something new (especially not having Will Ferrell cast as his lead for the first time), and I hope I can see him do something like this again in the future. I am glad this movie got recognition at the Golden Globe nominee list, and hopefully it goes big at the Oscars this year as well.

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