This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: September 19, 2014
Director: Shawn Levy

The Altman family siblings; Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver), and Paul (Corey Stoll) – are summoned by their mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), to sit in mourning together for a week in a traditional Jewish practice called Shiva (which literally means ‘Seven’ in Hebrew) at their father’s dying request. This, despite their father being an atheist, brings them all together under one roof and into contact with people from their collective pasts. What ensues is loads of family antics.

I saw this film in the theater with my own siblings. It wasn’t really on my list of movies to see, but it turned out to be an okay film and I’m glad I went with my own brother and sister to see it because it really gave some nods to the sibling dynamics that we’ve all experienced.

Most of the movie has some decent moments but overall, there wasn’t much substance to grasp onto or to really sink your teeth into. It felt almost more like an episode of a long-running television show than it did a feature film. I think what really saved this was the comedian actors and actresses who headlined this movie – especially Tina Fey and Jason Bateman.

Is this a bad film? Not by any means. It just didn’t pack much punch. It wasn’t especially funny, nor especially deep or poignant. There are definitely enough laughs to merit at least one watch-through and I’m sure there are some people out there who will genuinely connect with the film more than I did. For me, it just didn’t go anywhere new. We’ve seen this movie before in multiple incarnations.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For This Is Where I Leave You

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Oz The Great And Powerful (2013)

Oz The Great And Powerful (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: March 8, 2013
Director: Sam Raimi

Oz (James Franco), a small-time traveling circus magician, finds himself on the run due to his philandering. He escapes the clutches of a slighted circus strongman with the aid of a hot air balloon and is hit by a tornado which transports him to the land of Oz. With his newfound companions, he must defeat the Wicked Witch and restore Oz to its former glory and also redeem himself.

Before seeing this film, I’d had lots of trepidation about it. We have all (hopefully) seen the original Wizard of Oz and it’s one of those untouchable films that has withstood the test of time, and will seemingly always be a classic in our hearts. So, when I heard that Sam Raimi was doing an Oz prequel with James Franco and Mila Kunis…yikes. I was pretty scared.

However, my fears turned out to be unfounded.

The film starts out true to 1930’s/40’s film fashion and Raimi does a great job with the transition from black and white to full color. You can definitely see his influence in the film with the way some of the scenes are shot and especially with how one of the witches looks. (She looks like a Deadite from his Evil Dead series) This may or may not be a good thing, given the nature of the flavor Oz movies have.

The best part of the film, to me, was Mila Kunis as Theodora. We finally see how she became the evil witch we all love to hate, and despite the crazy makeup she still somehow exudes sexy. There were a couple of weird nods to her hotness, with a butt-shot and a bodice-ripping scene…but it didn’t jar me for too long. She looked amazing as The Wicked Witch.

All of the companions are creepy but somehow entertaining. (Doll with a knife?! Helloooooo?!) There were nods to other characters like the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow that we know we’ll eventually see. The visuals were great and the music was nice by Danny Elfman (despite the random pop song during the credits…WTF?)

All in all, I think it was a fun movie. It had some plot holes and dull moments, so it’s not perfect, but it’s nice to revisit Frank L. Baum’s universe again and see how Oz, The Great and Powerful got his start.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Oz The Great And Powerful

Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth (1986)

Original Theatrical Release: June 27, 1986
Director: Jim Henson

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a fifteen-year old girl who lives her life in a fantasy world after her mother dies. She is unhappy with her current stepmother (like in any good fairytale) and resents being left home to watch her baby brother Toby while her father wines and dines the would-be-replacement mother. In a fit of rage, she wishes for the Goblin King, Jareth (David Bowie) to take him away. When he does, she realizes the mistake she’s made and must traverse Jareth’s labyrinth and make her way to his castle in only thirteen hours or Toby will be gone forever.

When this movie first came out, I was five years old. Back then, Jim Henson was a god (and still is, I guess), at the height of his popularity. Sesame Street and The Muppets were king…along with Fraggle Rock and all those other Jim Henson vehicles.

This was a movie we watched every year, and I still do. Jennifer Connelly was as beautiful and talented as ever back then and David Bowie’s role in this movie is untouchable, even though at one point they were considering having Michael Jackson as Jareth. (That would be so weird!)

Some of the special effects, by today’s CGI standards, are outdated but still hold a certain charm not available to CGI characters. The sets are beautiful and Jim Henson’s creations really shine and come to life.

The characters are all amazing and even though the story is simple and sort of familiar, drawing on many fairy tale and fantasy tropes, everything else combined makes it stand out from a lot of other films and media with the same types of themes.

The music is where it’s really at, though. The mood. The relationship between Jareth and Sarah. It’s all very well-conceived and I think even if you didn’t grow up with the film you could still watch it today with your kids and let them enjoy it before they are indoctrinated with all the CGI effect-laden films and cartoons we have today.

This is one of my favorite films of all time. Can you tell? This is me, cosplaying as Jareth himself.

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JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Labyrinth

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Original Theatrical Release: December 14, 2001
Director: Cameron Crowe

David Aames (Tom Cruise) is a successful publisher who inherited the majority of his father’s money and business and lives a carefree life where nothing ever goes wrong and everyone caters to his every need. During David’s posh birthday party, his friend Brian Shelby (Jason Lee) shows up with who could very well be the girl of David’s dreams – Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). David has to decide if she’s worth changing his life for. However, there are consequences to every action, and a very manic and depressed “fuck buddy” of David’s, named Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) waits on the sidelines in quiet anger and desperation.

Let me first tell you that I am often not a fan of Tom Cruise. Or Cameron Diaz. Or Penelope Cruz. About the only actor I initially liked in this movie in other projects is the amazing Jason Lee.

None of that matters, though, because this movie completely blew me away.

It’s a remake of the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) in which Penelope Cruz reprises her role. Many think that Abre Los Ojos is far superior, but to each his own. I felt that Vanilla Sky hit harder with me under Cameron Crowe’s direction.

I rented this one night on a lark, not really knowing what to expect. Tom Cruise turns in one of the most memorable performances of his career, donning makeup that makes him look disfigured throughout the film when he’s not wearing the facial prosthetic/regenerative mask. Cameron Diaz has mostly unimpressed me (aside from There’s Something About Mary) but she was perfect for Julie Gianni’s moody, depressed character. Jason Lee was awesome as Brian, the best friend character….and Penelope Cruz was charming as the independent Sophia. Oh, and KURT RUSSEL. Seriously.

I have seen this movie so many times that I can quote it by heart. It made me laugh, it made me cry. The music was amazing (I bought the soundtrack after seeing the film), the cinematography was gorgeous.

This is a highly underrated film and didn’t get much attention when it first came out. I think it has staying power and an extremely strong message that I definitely identified with. It’s commentary on life, on love, on material possessions and existential thought. Go see it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Vanilla Sky

Stand By Me (1986)

Stand By Me (1986)

Original Theatrical Release: August 8, 1986
Director: Rob Reiner

Stand By Me, based on the novella “The Body” by Stephen King, is the story of four childhood friends who go looking for the body of a missing local boy. Once they find his remains, the boys discover that they aren’t the only ones and must confront the local knife-wielding gang leader, Acce Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland) and his crew.

This movie has so much going for it.

The best part is that the boys and their journey evoke lots of images from a simpler time in all of our lives. As we travel with these four kids from a small town in Oregon, we recall long, drawn out Summer days with lots of exploring through woods and through streets not our own, childhood friendships both fleeting and lasting, and the times where responsibility meant just coming in once it got dark outside.

Rob Reiner made excellent casting choices with the sensitive and intelligent storyteller, Gordie (Wil Wheaton) the tough-guy with a heart of gold, Chris (River Pheonix) the sometimes-crazy Teddy (Corey Feldman) and the boy afraid of everything, Vern ( Jerry O’Connell). ESPECIALLY the psychotic, leader of the local hoods, Ace (Kiefer Sutherland). Richard Dreyfuss made an excellent narrator (Gordie when he’s older) and even John Cusack made a brief appearance as Gordie’s older brother.

The movie is hilarious, sad, whimsical, nostalgic and fun. I challenge anyone who watches it not to be charmed by its sense of adventure and childhood innocence. ( I also challenge anyone to go into a lake without thinking of the leeches and then having second thoughts)

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Stand By Me