Actually, the real title is: “Is Violence in Movies Okay as Long as it Involves Good Guys like Soldiers, Superheroes, cops, etc.?” 

You can see why I decided to keep cut it down to a couple of words. When I was a kid, I lived on Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Black Hawk Down. The only other movies I watched beside those involved dinosaurs. (Land Before Time and Jurassic Park marathon, anyone?) However, I wasn’t allowed to watch movies with gangsters until I was much older. When I was allowed to watch those types of movies, I was accompanied by my parents, and that too had a price to pay: a long lecture on why I shouldn’t be a criminal entitled, “Crime Doesn’t Pay.”

Why? Any ideas of mine to become a gangster or a con man were squashed whenever I watched movies like the Godfather, Goodfellas, or shows like the Sopranos or Breaking Bad. They are the single greatest testaments of why you shouldn’t become a criminal. Michael’s descent into the darkness after he is forced to take over the family business is reason enough for anyone to go “straight”. You can see it in his anguished reaction when his pregnant wife is killed. You can see it in the haunted stare he gives his wife in the closing scene.

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It sends a clear message. “You may have a mansion, but are you really ready to deal with losing everything you hold dear?” I have watched the Godfather over a dozen times, and I still ask myself that same question after each viewing. This question is also asked in Tv shows. In the past decade, we’ve experienced a growth in ‘prestige television’. The Birth of the Antihero technically began over fifty years ago with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, wherein he regularly made ‘good people’ do bad things. There was an episode called ‘Revenge’ where a woman is raped (implied, of course. This was the 50’s. Everything was implied), and when she and her husband are driving, she spots the rapist walking down the street. Her husband pulls over, and they kill him. They get back in the car, and drive away. A few minutes later, she points again, and says she’s spotted her rapist. 

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In that single episode of an anthology suspense series in the 50’s, it approached the subject of rape, psychological trauma, vigilantism, and of course, revenge. So, as you can see, we’ve had morally ambiguous characters for a very long time. I remember watching the Sopranos for the first time. My Dad was worried that I might resort to a life of crime because of it, but I simply kept asking myself the same question I asked during Godfather.

The thing that makes the Sopranos so addicting and visceral to watch is the fact that I would never do anything like it, and the realization that Tony Soprano never thought he was capable of doing it either. He’s unhappy with his family, his work, and more importantly, himself. There is a scene where Christopher (his nephew) talks about his trauma after killing someone, and Tony oh-so-subtly asks him if he ever feels depressed. His sideway glance at him says: “Did I do this?”

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Why is it okay for thousands to die in superhero movies (the best example right now is Man of Steel. I assumed by all the screaming and falling buildings that a couple thousand died there), but it’s deemed immoral for a gangster to kill a few people in a movie? Why are children allowed to watch Captain America kill hundreds with barely any effort (as long as there’s parental guidance), but watching Al Pacino shoot the man who tried to kill his Dad and a corrupt cop not allowed? Of course, there’s also a matter of sexual content in some of these movies, and also the amount of swearing. For years, Goodfellas had the most curses in film history. I think Django Unchained got the crown in 2012, but Scorsese stole it back with Wolf of Wall Street. 

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I hope someday there will be a PG-13 movie centered around a gangster. I’m not saying it’ll be any good, but the idea behind it will be more than enough. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier (my favorite superhero movie, by the way), no one talks about how Steve Rogers is a cold-blooded killer. It’s mentioned here and there, but our thoughts don’t dwell on the number of men he casually kills. Why? Because they’re bad, and he’s a superhero. 

I’m not asking Marvel to pull a DC, and force Chris Hemsworth to talk like someone kicked him in the throat over a dozen times. (In the eternal Marvel vs. DC debate, I’m with Marvel all the way.) I just think it would be interesting if people took a look at what they’re already allowed to get away with in PG-13 movies, and took it to a different level. There was talk about a Deadpool movie, and how it would be impossible to do a PG-13 version. I think they’re right, but if it’s acceptable to show a dinosaur munching on some random guy, why isn’t it acceptable to show a morally ambiguous character doing morally ambiguous things? (“How ambiguous!” the posters say.)

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In the first Hunger Games movie, they used shaky cam a lot to avoid getting slammed with an R-16 rating because of images portraying children killing other children. Ya know, usual PG-13 stuff. Why can’t we do that? I hate shaky cam, but it’s obviously possible to show that kind of stuff, so why hasn’t anyone tried it? As an experiment, it doesn’t have to be big budget. 

Here’s where the big divide between mainstream films and indie films come in. There seems to be this unspoken rule in indie films that they need  to have mature content. It’s as if the director and writer wants to make sure the viewer knows they’re watching an indie movie. “Okay, let’s show them changing clothes here, and talking about killing their estranged father. They’ll never mistake us for the new Avengers movie now!” 

Indie movies are supposed to be showing you something new and different from mainstream movies, but more and more mainstream movies are adopting an “indie” feel. The Wolf of Wall Street is a mainstream film based on its HUGE budget alone. But, its mature subject matter, morally ambiguous main character, and… well, everything in it shouldn’t be allowed. At this point, if indie movies truly want to be different, they should try a PG-13 movie with a hitman as a main character. It could be a failure, but indie movies are already risking a flop every time. It’s strange how they’ve fallen into their own little pattern, or their own safety net. I sometimes feel like you could take ten indie films, switch the actors and titles, and it’d still be the same. 

I grew up watching Saving Private Ryan. I wasn’t mature enough to understand a lot of the things in it, but the images have remained with me after ten years. I despise the idea of war because of it. I understand its necessity in certain situations, but as much as possible, I would avoid war like the plague. Because it is a plague. 

I think it’s time for people to understand that kids aren’t as impressionable as people think they are. I haven’t heard of a thousand kids jumping off skyscrapers to imitate Thor or Superman, so I think they’re smart enough not to copy Tony Montana in Scarface. 

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~Jian

I’ve wanted to do this series for a very long time. I first had the idea when I watched Homeland, and realized that the biggest competitor HBO has is Showtime. Granted, HBO holds a level of esteem that practically no other network can hope to match, but I wanted to compare all the “best” TV shows of each network with each other and then decide which is more superior. I was really surprised by some of the choices I ended up making, and I really grew to appreciate both networks greatly when I started this. Without further ado – I’ll save some for later – here’s Round One of HBO vs. Showtime.

ImageEntourage vs. Episodes

They’re both about show business, they both have actors that play a fictionalized version of themselves, and they’re both incredibly funny. So, naturally, I matched them against each other.

Entourage is about a rising superstar of an actor, Vincent Chase, as he brings his best friends along for the ride.

Episodes is about two British writers and their disastrous attempt to remake their beloved TV series in Hollywood.

Entourage has received dozens of award nominations over the course of eight seasons, garnering a Golden Globe for Jeremy Piven. Episodes has also garnered plenty of award nominations, and even got Matt LeBlanc a well deserved Golden Globe. I’m going to start by ‘reviewing’ Entourage since it concluded in late 2011, whereas Episodes is still ongoing.

 Entourage Analysis

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I’ve been hearing about Entourage since I was a kid. It was the show I wasn’t allowed to see, the show that I saw mentioned time and time again on the Simpsons or Family Guy, and the show that seemed to be as popular among men as Sex and the City was for women. So, when I first watched the first episode, I was a bit disappointed.

It was a solid Pilot, but considering all the hype I’d heard about since I was a child, it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. The Pilot dealt with Vince releasing his newest movie, and his best friend Eric ( “The Pizza Boy”, as he is mocked constantly by the awesome Jeremy Piven who plays Vince’s agent ) trying to decide if he should stay and ride his best friend’s coattails.

I thought that the show faced the biggest problem head on. Reading a summary of Entourage, it sounds pretty sad for Eric, Turtle, and Vince’s older brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase. They’re just a bunch of guys riding on Vince’s coattails. There seemed to be not much room for development beyond that, and honestly, a less mature show wouldn’t attempt to do any of that.

I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that the show is every bit as immature as its characters, and it knows that. It’s why the storyline of the Pilot is so significant because the show itself was straining against the preconceived notions of people, and at the end of the episode, Eric decides to continue riding on his friend’s coattails, and maybe help Vince out along the way. Eric ends up running a managing firm by the end, Johnny discovers that he has a future in acting outside of live action television, and even Turtle achieves something. Ari Gold, the raging agent, ends up happy with the wife that disapproved of his dedication to his clients after eight seasons.

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Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold. Definitely one of my favorite performances in a Tv show.

I think we’ve grown to overlook these types of shows with the rise of the antiheroes. The show is not very philosophical, and I don’t think it tries to be. It simply wants to leave its characters having grown as people, and maybe leave you smiling too. I sure smiled at the finale.

The show also has at least one guest star each episode, and more often than not, the guest star plays himself/herself. My favorite has to be the episode where Bono and Matt Damon pressure Vince into donating more to charity. It was one of the high points of Entourage, showing great self awareness and also showing that these celebrities have sense of humors as well.

Now, it did have its problems. For pretty much every fan of Entourage, the huge blemish on its reputation was the seventh season. When I first watched Entourage, I loved the fact that it didn’t immediately show all actors as these coke addicted divas. Only some of them were. And Vince became one of those coke addicted divas in the seventh season when he struck up a relationship with real life pornographic star, Sasha Grey.

The season was admirable in showing the “dark side” of fame, but regardless of dark side or not, it just wasn’t done well. I respect the idea, but I do not love the execution. (I did enjoy Eminem decking Vince, though). It also highlighted the overall problem with the show.

I remember reading somewhere that people watched Entourage to see the glamorous lifestyle these beautiful, talented people lead. (Most likely true.) But, the seventh season simply pissed people off. Vince wasted all the things that people coveted. I certainly wanted to have a big mansion like him, and he threw it all away. There is a certain point when you realize that these people are shallow, but they have redeeming qualities. But there is also a certain point where the superficialness can just make you grimace in disdain.

The show did get back on track with the eighth season, and at the end of the day, I love this show. I can still recall some famous actor pointedly mocking themselves, or an incredible director making a surprising appearance. (Scorsese, man! Bring in Spielberg and Fincher, and I would have been content.)

 Episodes

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Now that I’ve finished talking about Entourage, the discussion about Episodes can begin. I already gave a brief summary of the show, but I want to describe the opening scene of the Pilot first. It features Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig from Black Books) leaving her co-writer and husband Sean Lincoln (the great Stephen Mangan) because she’s convinced he slept with some woman we haven’t seen yet. She pulls out of the driveway while Sean is urgently trying to tell her that she’s driving on the wrong side of the road, and she misinterprets it as his way of telling her she’s wrong. (To be fair, it could have been better clarified.)

It cuts to Matt LeBlanc (literally Matt LeBlanc playing himself. He’s from a little show called Friends. Mayhaps you’ve have heard of it?) driving while talking to someone about his new restaurant, and the scene ends with the impact of Matt and Beverly Lincoln. Then it rewinds to when Sean and Beverly were happy and critically acclaimed in England.

The beginning proudly states the sheer ambition of the show, and the hilarity to come. It featured great acting, great comedy ( Stephen Magnan’s frantic movements are a highlight), and just great writing.

The show is primarily written by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik. David Crane is known for being one of the creators of the incredibly funny and successful sitcom, Friends. (Starring Matt LeBlanc as a clueless actor.) It would’ve been enough if this show were hilarious (which it is), but it knows drama. There’s a scene in season 3 where Sean and Bev are laughing wholeheartedly about something (don’t want to spoil it too much, so I’ll make it ambiguous), and watch as their laughter becomes strained and awkward, the way they – and the viewer – slowly realize the ramifications of the episode’s events.

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Episodes knows how to do proper drama, and that’s not something you’d expect from a comedy. I’m not saying they can’t be dramatic, but the difference between Episodes and the other black comedies is that it still puts a smile on my face. I watched an episode of Girls, and while I can appreciate the satire and the drama, it’s neither funny enough nor dramatic enough for me to watch avidly.

Whenever there’s a new episode of Episodes, I can’t wait to watch it. It doesn’t tout famous guest stars like Entourage, but what it lacks in star power, it more than makes up for in witty writing, great dramatic moments, and amazing acting. The fictionalized Matt LeBlanc is selfish, destructive, mysoginistic, and yet charming, generous, and kind.

Like Tony Soprano, it makes the viewer question why they like Matt LeBlanc, and it’s because he’s a lot more human than he first seems.

While Entourage certainly had moments like that, I never felt engrossed in it as much as I am when watching Episodes. (Episodes is my favorite comedy.)

Both shows have flaws, and both shows have high moments. Entourage has proven that it can end a show satisfactorily, but with only three seasons, Episodes has as many comedic moments and as much (if not more) dramatic weight than Entourage. The first round goes to Showtime.

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This should have been great. It’s on a network I love (The USA Network, which is home to great shows like Suits, Psych, White Collar, Burn Notice, etc.), and the concept is original by centering the show about a team of paramedics. It’s not another sitcom about a group of friends at a bar/coffee shop, or about a dysfunctional family. The difference is that at least Friends and Modern Family are funny, and Sirens is not. 

The opening scene involves one of the main characters, Hank St. Clare (not even going to comment on the name), talking about whether or not someone on television is gay. He wraps up the scene with him proclaiming that he slept with the aforementioned Tv personality last week. He feels like a terribly politically correct character. He’s African American and he’s gay. Way to kill two birds with one stone, Sirens. 

The main character is Johnny Farrell, an egotistical smartass with commitment issues. Incredibly unique character there. Not like I’ve seen this type of character in a dozen other, better shows. 

When I first read the summary, I assumed it was a clone of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. (Brooklyn Nine-Nine is arguably a clone of the Office and Modern Family, though.) The main character there is also an egotistical guy with commitment issues (as well as parent issues) that can’t seem to grow up. The difference is Andy Samberg is hilarious in the show, and when he does stumble and fail, the extremely funny supporting cast helps him out. 

Johnny and Hank are forced to have a newbie (Brian Czyk played by Kevin Bigley) tag along with them, which allows them to explain each other’s personality traits to the viewer in some boring expositional ‘banter’. The beginning is mostly masturbation jokes, but it’s “funny” because these characters save lives! Yeah, not really. I have to say, though, that the only times that I did crack a smile was when the newbie Brian did or said something funny.

It can be cliched, sure, but it’s not as cliche as anything Johnny and Hank say. Oh, the story. Yeah, the pilot episode concerns Johnny trying to get his police officer girlfriend back without having to move in with her. 

It’s funny how the dramas of the USA Network are infinitely more funny than this entire episode. Now, is this a drama hiding in a comedy? Is this a black comedy like Episodes or Louie? 

Nope. I think a lot of people (or at least this show’s writers) mistake drama for painfully dull chemistry and forgettable dialogue. I watched the Pilot twenty minutes ago, and I can’t recall any funny jokes.

I wish I could write a longwinded review comparing the show’s aspects with Brooklyn Nine-Nine or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but the only thing this show has in common with the other incredibly funny shows it tries hard to imitate is that they both fill a half hour time slot. Sirens has crass characters, crass dialogue, and is just boring to watch. I could’ve watched the second episode, but the Pilot was enough for me. Yeah, it’s not fair to judge a show based on the pilot, but I find it funny how that’s what people say only when the show is bad. If the show has a brilliant pilot, then judge away. 

The Cosby Show’s pilot featured a completely different house, and in the next episode, they even tweaked a few of the characters. However, people didn’t care because the Pilot was still hilarious. I hope I never accidentally catch another second of this show. 

0.5 out of 6

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(Note: This is a review of the American adaptation of the UK Tv Series. It’s possible that the original is the funniest show in history, but after watching this, I have no interest in giving the original a shot.)

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Non-Stop is misleading, just like its characters. Upon looking at the poster and blurb, my first assumption was that it was an action movie in the vein of the Taken movies. I saw a version of the poster where a blurb mentioned something about everything being taken from him (just to make sure everyone would watch it on the basis of it being exactly the same as Taken, I bet), but it’s not a non-stop action movie. It’s a smart, suspenseful thriller. I was kept guessing throughout the entire film, which is something a lot of modern thrillers can’t claim. 

Let’s start with the plot. The movie begins with Liam Neeson mixing a mug of bourbon and draining it entirely after an angry phone call to his supervisor. He whizzes past airport security, and in this scenes, you can see the majority of the main cast in the background. You can even hear Julianne Moore talking about getting a window seat. 

It was a shaky beginning, literally. The camera shook while Liam Neeson walked, and considering the way it uses extreme close ups and how it leaves most of the background out of focus, I was starting to think this was going to be another Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

However, my fears were completely uncalled for. It began to redeem itself during the takeoff of the plane. The camera, of course, shook. But, it shook in a controlled way so you could still keep track of everything. The sound was realistically loud, but you could still hear Liam Neeson talking about his daughter giving him a ribbon for good luck while Julianne Moore sits beside him and attempts to calm this huge action star that gets nervous during takeoffs.

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It was shaping up to be a good film. I was already wondering what’s going to happen, and looking forward to the rest of the film. (I didn’t read a summary before going to the movie, so I was going in blind.)

With the lights turned off so that everyone can sleep, Liam Neeson suddenly gets a text. I realize I keep referring to the actor, but that’s because the actor completely encompasses the movie. He’s playing essentially the same character he’s always played, but it’s all right. Because it’s always interesting.

Anyways, the text is from an unknown number, and after the usual round of questioning, the mysterious figure reveals that he’s going to kill someone every twenty minutes unless 150 million dollars gets wired into his account.

Interesting premise. Liam Neeson notifies the pilots, and they report it to their superiors. I’m afraid I can’t go into anymore detail about the movie from this point because I’d risk giving you enough time to figure out the killer(s). This is as suspenseful as they come. It’s similar to Air Force One in the sense that it’s on a plane, but that’s where the similarities end really. 

It takes a really unexpected path with how it doesn’t rely on Liam Neeson killing a hundred people with only a scratch on his face. He actually has to try to figure out the killer for a change, and you’ll find your stomach in a knot trying to figure the mystery out for yourself. So, let’s talk about the characters. The principal characters include Julianne Moore as a smart woman that has to have the window seat (you’ll see why), and because she was asleep beside Liam Neeson when he got a text, she’s one of the few people he can actually trust. Their dynamic is pretty good, and Julianne Moore delivers a great performance. (As expected.)

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Liam Neeson looking very somber.

Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) plays a stewardess that’s had relations with the co-pilot, and she’s on the very short list of people Liam Neeson can trust. 

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Another point goes to the film for the fact that it acknowledges racial profiling. A Middle Eastern passenger is on the plane, and in his first appearance, everyone looks at him suspiciously. One of the other passengers, Corey Stoll (House of Cards) even makes a remark about it later in the film. Is it groundbreaking? No, but it doesn’t avoid it, either. 

It’s true. It’s been awhile since 9/11, and it seems like movies and shows have been given the green light to talk about it (The Golden Boy, Blue Bloods, Homeland are but a few examples of this), but it’s still a sore subject. So, the fact that the film acknowledges that the system isn’t perfect is really refreshing.

I’ve praised this film. Now it’s time for the flaws. Here’s a slight warning. The following isn’t really a spoiler, but it can be construed as spoiler-ish, so it’s just a heads up. I don’t pick on plot points or anything, so feel free to skip this section. 

POSSIBLE SPOILER ZONE

The fight scenes are really well done, but like most action movies, it suffers from the Invincibility Syndrome. Die Hard 5 is the pinnacle of this example. John and his son kill hundreds of enemies, but oh no, their clothes are a bit blackened from all the explosions and they have a few cuts! Poor guys. Let’s drag ‘em to the emergency room! The Taken movies are also fine examples of this. Oh, yeah, I’ve absolutely decimated the entire population of Bulgaria, but I’m fine. See you in the next movie!

In this movie, Liam Neeson gets into some pretty unbelievable fights that end with him having a tiny little bruise at the corner of his forehead. Meanwhile, his enemies are… well, let’s just say they didn’t get off with a bruise. So, that doesn’t really damage the film as a whole, but I would’ve enjoyed it much more if he was, I don’t know, limping or bleeding a lot more at the end? 

I understand that action movies can’t end with the main character in a coma, but I’m sure I’m not the only one that wishes they looked like they went through the ringer a bit more. 

END OF POSSIBLE SPOILER ZONE

The final verdict is that this is a great movie. I had maybe twenty possible suspects, and I still didn’t expect the ending. That makes it a really well planned film, if you ask me. Are there flaws? Yup. Liam Neeson makes some decisions that really don’t make me think he’s the sharpest tool in the shed, but it’s very entertaining. For me, it’s definitely better than the Taken movies. He doesn’t have as good of a hook as in Taken (“I don’t know who you are…), but my interest was definitely held for a lot longer here. 

If you need any more reasons to watch it… it’s a Liam Neeson movie. There you have it. 

4 out of 6

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The Lego Movie is one of the most ambitious films I’ve seen in awhile, and it delivers on the promise of a lot of laughs. It’s a dystopian sci-fi movie, a Western extravaganza, a good old fashioned romance, and just plain funny. The ‘funny’ part cannot be understated.

The beginning starts off a bit awkward. It was focused on showing how completely all the citizens were being manipulated, and that even among all these blank slates, the main character is even blanker. 

Chris Pratt voices the main character, Emmet Brickowoski. He’s a regular construction worker whose favorite song is Everything Is Awesome, just like everybody else. 

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Chris Pratt manages a fine performance in the portrayal of the blank hero. He does a believable job of an Everyman, but manages to avoid sounding dull or fake throughout the entire film.

The beginning may not be funny, but it’s the setup for a lot of great lines. After five hours of singing his favorite song, Emmet hears a strange noise, and he goes in search for said noise. He finds a hooded individual, and consults a manual telling him that he should report any mysterious people. He’s about to sate his intentions when the hooded individual removes the hood, and exaggerated slow motion ensues as Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) shakes her hand to straighten her head. 

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Elizabeth Banks delivers a great performance in the “insecure” Master Builder with the name of a DJ.

She leaves, and when he tries to follow her, he falls into a ditch. He sees a strange object, and slowly moves to touch it. Below him, we can see the page in the manual specifically advising against such a thing, but completely entranced, he grabs unto it. 

Different images intercut together follow, and he’s woken up by a gruff Liam Neeson playing the Bad Cop who is in the middle of interrogating him, apparently.

Emmet points out that he is a real expert from watching cop shows, and notes the absence of a Good Cop. Bad Cop then swivels his head, and the “Aww-shucks” Good Cop appears. This is an example of the directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – the makers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) using their subject matter to its utmost advantage. Sure, it’s not the most innovative thing in the movie, but it was a nice touch. It showed self awareness that these characters were all legos, and that unlike with a lot of toys, you can do plenty of different things with them.

The interrogation is interrupted when Wyldstyle rescues Emmet, and tells him about a prophesy naming him as the Greatest, Most Talented, Most Specialest Person Ever. Yeah. At least they aren’t simply using the Chosen One, I guess… There’s a really cool chase with Emmet and Wildstyle on a makeshift motorcycle while cars and helicopters tail them.

The action sequences in this film are really good. There are a few issues here and there, such as the fact that certain characters move too fast. You get used to it, but it’s initially difficult to track them across the wide screen. (Especially if their attire blends into the background.)

They escape through a tunnel, and enter The Wild West. Apparently, there are other realms in the Lego World, and it was a real treat to see images of the actual box sets of the different “realms”. Ah, childhood. They track down Vitruvius, the blind Master Builder as portrayed by Morgan Freeman. 

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Vitruvius feels like Morgan Freeman’s way of poking fun at his “wise, practically omnipotent” characters in the past. Shows that even someone with the perfect voice for narration can have a sense of humor.

They perform something similar to a Vulcan Mind Meld, and enter Emmet’s mind. Which is… completely blank. When asked to envision something he always thought was good, he conjures up an image of a Bunkbed Couch. Wyldstyle promptly tells him that it’s a bad idea, but Vitruvius interrupts her. 

Instead of saying that it’s just an abstract idea, he actually says much harsher words than her, calling it the worst idea ever. I’ll stop describing everything in detail here. I just felt it was necessary to describe the beginning because the potential for so much more is apparent from just these scenes. Don’t even get me started on the rest of the movie. (Unless you REALLY want to, because I’ll be happy to oblige.)

The villain is portrayed by Will Ferrel. I don’t how he does it, but he can mispronounce the most simple words, and make it seem completely unintentional and natural. He does it in such a convincing way that when he calls a Nail Polish a “Na-eel”, it seems completely normal. You begin to start asking yourself the question, “Why would I think he’d pronounce it that way?”

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As he’s shown in Megamind, Will Ferrel can play a really funny, great sympathetic villain.

He is President Business, and he wants to use the Kragle (a tube of Krazy Glue with the Z, Y, and U scratched off) to permanently keep everything in place. He wants to bring order into chaos. Honestly, it’s a rather good evil plot. To demonstrate this to Bad Cop, he uses the Kragle to glue the feet of Bad Cop’s parents. When prompted to glue them completely, the Good Cop refuses to do so, and that’s when his face is brutally erased. 

The Lego Movie, on the story and characters alone, would be considered imaginative and creative. However, it took it to a different level with their use of stop motion animation (probably thanks to their recruitment of Robot Chicken veteran, Chris McKay), and other cool stuff that I won’t spoil. 

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Considering the reception Ben Affleck received, Warner Bros. might want to consider Will Arnett as a replacement.

At the end of the day, this movie is funny, charming, and something that the whole family will enjoy. Sure, the parents will have to deal with being pestered to buy more legos, but that’s a risk they’ll have to take for some really good entertainment. Frozen deservedly received a lot of fans and critical acclaim, and the Lego Movie feels like a fitting followup to that great animated movie. 

I think that children should have more movies like the Lego Movie and Frozen, and that’ll only happen if we make the effort to tell people to watch them. (Although, at this point, Lego Movie and Frozen are huge successes. And Lego Movie isn’t even out of the theatres yet…)

Watch this for the quirky characters (Unikitty. All I’m saying), the hilarious superheroes (the love/hate relationship between Superman and Green Lantern, the brooding artist that is Batman), and legos. Watch it for those reasons, and you won’t regret it.

4.5 out of 6

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My problem with Leonardo DiCaprio is that every time I watch his latest movie, I immediately think it’s his best performance to date. And the Wolf of Wall Street is no exception. 

The Wolf of Wall Street is the true story about Jordan Belfort (based on his book), with a script written by Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, the Sopranos), and directed by Martin Scorsese (think of a gangster movie besides Godfather, it was probably made by him.)

The movie begins with Leonardo DiCaprio telling us that he made 49 million in a year, and he was really pissed off because it was three million shy of a million a week. He has a white ferrari, a huge yacht, an amazing house, and an equally amazing wife. 

He’s living the dream, really, and then he recounts how he got there. Earlier this year, I reviewed American Hustle, written and directed by David O. Russell. I mentioned how much he channelled (truth is, he copied) Martin Scorsese, and this movie proves why directors like David O. Russell can’t replace Martin Scorsese yet. I feel like Martin Scorsese saw American Hustle, and decided to make a movie to show David O. Russell how it’s done.

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I’m not even the biggest Scorsese fan. I liked Goodfellas and the Departed, but I’m definitely not a huge fan by any means. Wolf of Wall Street has made me want to watch more of his movies.

All right. Let me explain a little bit about the plot. Jordan Belfort is an ambitious young guy looking to make money quick, and he sees Wall Street as the way to do that. On his first day at work, he’s already hooked on the adrenaline in the room. I have to interject with a warning. If you find cursing uncomfortable, it’s safe to stay away from any Martin Scorsese movie. The first fifteen minutes of the movie feels like it’s warning you about what’s to come, so I just thought I should mention that to anyone that’s squeamish about that sort of thing. Moving on… He’s taken as a protege by Mark Hanna (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey), and he quickly learns the ropes. Matthew McConaughey’s performance really is more of a cameo, but man, it’s a great cameo.

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He teaches Jordan an anthem that comes up throughout the movie, and I have to say, it is really catchy. You can hear it in the trailer, I think. 

Right after Jordan’s promotion, he’s loses his job (because of Black Monday), and he’s forced to look for a new job. His wife suggests that they sell her engagement ring, but his pride does not allow such a thing. From this scene alone, you could probably guess that his pride will come back later to bite him in the ass. He finds a job at a small business dealing in penny stocks. Penny stocks belong to the companies that aren’t big enough to qualify trading at Wall Street, and because of this, the traders get a 50% commission. Belfort picks up the phone, calls a random client, and the room quiets. Another stockbroker takes out a notepad and begins writing down what he’s saying, and by the time the phone call is over, he’d made over a thousand dollars. 

He gets a new car, and while eating at a diner, meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). With phosphorescent teeth, a voice that sounds like gravel being poured through a garbage disposal, he provides much of the movie’s comic relief.

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He becomes Jordan’s selfish, crack addicted sidekick after he quits his job when Jordan shows him proof that he makes over 70k a month. 

Jordan starts a new company called Straton Oakmont, and pretty soon, he has a huge office and too much money to spend. (It’s a different kind of money problem…)

DiCaprio addresses the audience directly, saying: “The question is… was any of this legal?”

He smiles, and says: “Absolutely not!”

It isn’t long before his private investigator learns that he’s being investigated by a straight arrow FBI Agent, and Jordan stupidly invites him to his yacht to bribe him. Thankfully, he was at least smart enough not to mention an exact figure, but not smart enough to listen to his PI. 

It reminded me of another Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Catch Me If You Can. He played a gifted young con artist being hunted by a dedicated law enforcement agent (played by Tom Hanks). It isn’t much of a spoiler to tell you not to expect the same amount of… playfulness between Belfort and the FBI Agent. 

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Sure, they fake politeness in their initial meeting, but there’s no interesting banter here. There’s just plain animosity between the two of them, and it was refreshing to see this done after watching so many movies doing the Catch Me If You Can formula. (I loved that movie, by the way.)

DiCaprio is my favorite actor. I think he’s the best actor of my generation (well… technically it’s my sister’s generation), and I love all of his movies. However, I’ve come to expect a little something from his roles. His movies are generally serious, and while his acting for each character varies greatly, they all have the same feel about them. They all had the sense that the entire world was on their shoulders.

In this movie, he shows that it was all intentional. When Jordan Belfort parties, he parties. He’s superficial monster that doesn’t care about the people he steals from. It’s also DiCaprio’s funniest performance to date, and one of his most dramatic.

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After flying a helicopter drunk on alcohol and pills, he wakes up to his wife (played by Margot Robbie) tossing a glass of water in his face. His reaction here is just brilliant. I have two other favorite scenes, but I won’t even hint about them. You should just watch the movie and see it for yourself. They’re too good to spoil. (Even for a huge spoiler like me.)

In these types of movies with a criminal protagonist, it’s always the same. It shows the rise, the peak of all their achievements, and inevitably, the fall. It’s unavoidable. *coughs Like A Certain Scorsese movie coughs*

People need to see the bad get their comeuppance, and I always thought that this was the most enduring formula of movies. So, it isn’t a big spoiler to tell you that things do start to go awry for Jordan Belfort. He has to make a deal with the SCC, and still face criminal charges from the FBI. His relationship with his wife starts to go downhill. 

I don’t believe in karma, but even I have to admit that karma finally caught up to him. He left his loving wife for Naomi, and you can see that he really loves her. He cheats on her… but he really does love her. And maybe it’s karma that his wife doesn’t love him as much, if at all. 

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The ending, though, is really good. I won’t describe it to you, but it’s one of my favorite endings of all time. (Coincidentally, my other favorite ending is the ending of the Departed.) Now, I hope Leonardo DiCaprio gets an oscar for this, but considering the hype of the other performances, it’s not likely. I think this is the best Martin Scorsese movie I’ve seen, and having watched a few of the other nominees for Best Actor and Best Picture, I really do think this movie deserves to win. (Don’t let me get started on Gravity…)

I just hope that Christian Bale doesn’t beat DiCaprio for Best Actor. Yes, he gained a lot of weight, but come on. I guess I’m biased when I say that DiCaprio’s acting in this movie beats almost everything Bale did in American Hustle. Just saying. That’s what I think.

In conclusion (do you like how I suddenly became very professional?), this is an amazing movie. My favorite of 2013, and probably going to be one of my favorites for 2014. It’s already earned a place in my Top 15 Favorite Movies, and it might even rise in my list after viewing it a few more times. If you like great black comedy, great performances, great writing and directing, you’ll like Wolf of Wall Street.

If you hate watching an evil man get a lot of money, a huge amount of cursing, drug abuse… You probably won’t like this movie. It is not for everyone, but if you don’t mind any of that, then this is worth a watch. 

 

6 out of 6

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~Jian

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I had high hopes for this movie. I’ve always liked Chris Pine’s movies (even his role in Princess Diaries 2), and Keira Knightley was brilliant in Pride and Prejudice. Not to mention I have read a few pages from a Jack Ryan book, and the story and action seemed competent enough. Even the trailer for the movie was good. But, every expectation I had was dashed, and I regret watching it instead of any other movie. 

Okay, let me start by pasting the summary of the movie.

Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

 

 I don’t recall the plot well enough, but I can tell you about the beginning. 

 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starts off with Chris Pine at the London School of Economics. He notices a lot of his classmates are rushing off somewhere, and he follows them to see that they’re all transfixed on a television. Scenes of 9/11 play on the screen. I think it was when Homeland was released around 2010-2011 that a signal was released to everyone that it’s okay to talk about 9/11 in movies. I think that’s fine enough, but I don’t particularly like it when movies actually show real footage. Or evoke imagery from the tragic incident. Chris Pine’s previous movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, evoked some of those same images, and another example would be Ender’s Game. (Starting to see a pattern with science fiction movies…)

It cuts to 18 months later, and Jack Ryan is now a lieutenant in the marines. He’s on a helicopter, and it’s at this time that I began to worry. The camera shakes all over, it’s unfocused for several seconds, and it’s put in such close proximity of the characters’ faces that I could actually count the number of pores they had on their face. (If I had a notepad, I would’ve listed the number, but I’ve since forgotten the exact amount.)

However, I cut it some slack. After all, they were on a helicopter. It was realistic, I guess, and I had some experience with that type of style being done well. (Hurt Locker. I don’t love the movie, but even I have to admit that the director used that style perfectly.)

Jack Ryan unbuckles his seatbelt to help a newbie with his, and it’s at that moment that an RPG hits the helicopter. It’s here that my hopes started to dim. The helicopter is crashing, and the camera starts to move all over the place. It was dizzying, but once again, I cut it some slack. I just told myself that the director really wanted this scene to be authentic.

Chris Pine is rushed to a field hospital, and we find out that he’s lost feeling in his legs. He screams in pain, and in the next scene, he’s attempting to walk with crutches. It’s here that we’re introduced to Keira Knightley who plays Cathy Muller. She’s a third year med student tasked with helping him recover. The camera isn’t as jerky in these scenes as it was on the helicopter, but it’s still put within inches of each actor’s face. Keira Knightley and Chris Pine are attractive people, but I don’t think anyone can look good that way. (Especially when you’re watching them on a thirty foot screen. If I didn’t already know the plot, I’d think it was a horror movie.)

That's the farthest you can expect to see their faces. The director probably regrets filming them from so far away.

That’s the farthest you can expect to see their faces. The director probably regrets filming them from so far away.

 

Let’s fast forward, shall we? Jack Ryan is recruited by an enigmatic C.I.A. Operative portrayed by Kevin Costner to become an analyst for them. He goes undercover in Wall Street, and they meet in movie theaters that show old movies. Kind of like how in the Departed, Damon and Nicholson meet at a porn theater. It’s here that the movie shows its cheekiness. The director seems to like the contrast of the old, classical style of movies with his own style. Aside from this scene, Keira Knightley is seen watching an old movie on the television. (A shot which is mimicked later on in the movie.) I thought this was a nice touch, and my hopes began to swell again. They were once again dashed when the writer portrayed Cathy Muller so terribly. In the movie, Cathy Muller confronts Jack Ryan about hiding things from her, and she demands to know if he’s having an affair. She stomps away, and Jack Ryan says: “Let’s go to Paris.”

Then all is well. 

I mean, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really paint her in the best light. She knows he’s lying, and she forgives him just like that for a trip to Paris? Admittedly, it’s understandable, but she could’ve looked a little conflicted about it, at least. Oh, and let’s talk about Keira Knightley’s performance. Cathy Muller is American, and Keira Knightley is British. So, her accent for this movie was crucial. And… It’s all right. It does waver here and there when she raises her voice, but it’s passable. The accent is believable enough, but it does have an unfortunate side effect of lowering her acting ability. She was great in Pride and Prejudice, and even though I didn’t like her character in the Pirates and the Caribbean movies, she was good there as well. Forced to do a foreign accent, however, it’s obvious that she’s struggling. 

It’s perfectly reasonable why she can’t act to the full extent of her ability. It’s a lot of hard work! I couldn’t help but think that her average acting in this movie is the fault of the movie. I feel like she noticed, halfway into the movie, that it wasn’t good. And she just didn’t feel like working that hard for a below average movie. I can understand Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell, I guess, working on their accents for months for Saving Mr. Banks, but I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard for a movie like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Let’s talk about the fight scenes. I hate shaky cam. Yes, it’s realistic. Real life fights are shaky, unfocused, and messy. But movies aren’t about being realistic. Sure, I like the plots and characters to be realistic. But movies are about elevating reality. Here’s a good example. In Oldboy, there’s a scene where the main character goes down a corridor, and fights over a dozen assailants. The camera only shows it from one angle, and it moves slowly down the corridor while he disposes of the nuisances. It’s calm and precise and rather elegant. It made the fight all the more brutal because you could see everything clearly. It was horrific and brilliant. 

In the fight scenes in this movie, the camera actually isn’t pointed at the characters for certain seconds! I’m not kidding. In the last fight scene of the movie, the camera is focused on the background, leaving the characters in the foreground unfocused. And when they moved, it took a few seconds for the camera to follow them.

It’s ridiculous. It’s hard to take a movie seriously that looks like a home movie I made when I was thirteen and was too lazy to stop recording when walking. (At least with that, the ground and footage of my feet walking was in focus.) 

The villain… Oh, I need to talk about the villain. Kenneth Branagh portrays Viktor Cherevin. I could tell you his occupation, but to be honest, his occupation is to be a villain. That’s what the movie shows you, and don’t expect anything more from him than that.

Ooh, he's looking very villainous here.

Ooh, he’s looking very villainous here.

 

In the first scene we see him, the camera is looking at him from behind. We see an elegant European room while classical music plays loudly in the background. A large bodyguard stands at the other end of the room, and a man is poking a syringe into the arm of the villain. He obviously misses the vein or something like that, and the villain beats him for it. The sounds they used for his punches and kicks sound like something you’d expect if you kicked a pillowcase with a basketball in it. It’s completely fake, and boring. 

In another scene, he’s at a Church lighting a candle while a choir sings, and it is so cheesy that I actually laughed. At the end of the day, the plot isn’t important. In my previous reviews, I told you a little bit about the plot, but to be honest, I can’t even remember the plot of this movie. It’s about Russia being the bad guys. Again. It’s about Chris Pine saving the day, and about the director trying to give you a headache. (He succeeded!)

The one thing I thought was interesting is that they managed to sneak in an F-word. It’s PG-13, I believe, and I think it’s because when the guys in charge of censorship looked at the movie, they realized that you can’t see any of the violence. “Okay, since you can’t see any of the fight scenes, you can have one F-word. Use it well.”

I wish so badly that I just watched Wolf of Wall Street. But unfortunately the showing wasn’t till the day after, and like I said, I did think that this was going to be a good movie. If this movie gets a sequel, which I hope it doesn’t, I will not watch it.

On the bright side, I was on a Lazy Boy at the theater where I watched the movie. That’s the high note of the entire film for me.

 

2 out of 6.

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~Jian