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Screening: ‘American Sniper’ hits emotional mark

From U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s position atop decrepit buildings in Iraq, his hidden presence seemed like anything but unknown to those in his close proximity. U.S. ground troops, going door-to-door searching for insurgents, gained confidence knowing that America’s best-ever sniper was providing them over-watch protection from high above. Enemy forces also grew to know of Kyle’s legendary marksmanship skills and close whereabouts, witnessing their al-Qaeda in Iraq members dropping dead after each single shot from Chris’ rifle. No one, however, was more aware of Chris Kyle’s presence and four tours of duty in Iraq than his wife, Taya Kyle, left behind in San Diego. It’s that marriage and relationship between Chris and Taya Kyle that “American Sniper” steadies upon, takes aim at, and, ultimately scores a direct hit for viewers. Between sighting in terrorist targets and actually pulling the trigger as Kyle, Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper must control his breathing—the same task moviegoers must master in this heart-pounding, emotional true story.

  • 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' 'Birdman' tied for most Oscar noms

    It's officially award show season and, while the awards won't be given out until Feb. 22, the Oscar nominations were released today.“The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Birdman” are tied for the most nominations this year, each being recognized in nine categories. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a comedy written and directed by Wes Anderson and inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig. It tells the tale of two concierges who team up after one is framed for murder.  Michael Keaton stars in "Birdman" as a forgotten actor, once famous for his portrayal of the titular superhero, Birdman. Keaton hopes to reinvent his failing career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.See the trailers for the two big films below. Trailers for the other nominated films over at the Oscars' website.

  • ‘Selma’: Powerful! Inspiring ‘must-see’ film

    One extremely profound and historic moment (of many) during the film “Selma” occurs when viewers witness President Lyndon B. Johnson finally acquiesce to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. over his desire to conduct a protest march in Alabama. The dramatic White House scene, in which President Johnson places a call to Alabama Governor George Wallace at this insistence of Dr. King, is magnified tenfold when viewers can’t help but notice a portrait of George Washington staring down at LBJ from an Oval Office wall. The symbolic message to the audience is clear. After nearly 200 years as a country—built in large part upon the backs and suffering of African-Americans--the United States was finally turning a new page on that grim chapter of our nation’s history.“Selma” is a powerful, must-see film on a multitude of levels. The movie seamlessly educates, inspires and shocks audiences with knowledge, faith and unfiltered images. It unapologetically documents the importance church played in American society at one of our nation’s most trying times. The film denotes the vital importance religion played in spawning renewed support from all regions the country, particularly white church goers and religious leaders. No religious spirit and kind heart was touched more so by the outpouring of followers than Martin Luther King, Jr.Director Ava DuVernay’s brightest achievement in “Selma” is the palpable intensity felt, heard and seen by moviegoers as the film marches along. “Selma” justifiably depicts the deadly and graphic violence which took place against blacks in the 1960s. The multiple illustrations of inhuman treatment are necessary in this movie to fully understand the ruthlessness of so many…for so long. In contrast, and perhaps more importantly, we can see and appreciate Martin Luther King’s remarkable kindness towards humanity and strong conviction that peaceful protests should remain non-violent despite sustained cruelty by others.The film’s most endearing quality is the growth found in the main character over its 2-hour span. We find Dr. Martin Luther King’s fortitude comes primarily from three sources—faith in his religion, support from the people, and resolve from his wife Coretta Scott King. As King gains strength from each of these pillars in his life, he’s able to handle confrontations and setbacks dealt from Washington DC, Alabama whites, and even some black militants—all attempting to derail his organization’s movement. It’s impressive in “Selma” to see Dr. King gain influence and power from his church podium, leading a march across an Alabama bridge, or challenge a U.S. president and its citizens into action.  Aside from the obvious bond to his faith, this movie sheds light on the momentous part Coretta Scott King played in her husband’s life and his Civil Rights successes.“Selma” is more than just a film about eliminating barriers to black voters. It’s a movement about one man’s place in our history--going from spiritual leader to national preacher. With steadfast determination and non-violent tactics, Dr. King used the church to gain momentum for his march between the cities of Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. In comparison to the harsh treatment from the white establishment, Martin Luther King Jr. and his non-violent ways convinced many religious organizations and whites to ultimately join his cause. The most influential of those who came around to accept Dr. King’s hastened timeline, and later signed the Voter Rights Act of 1965, was the President of the United States at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson. After almost 200 years, the voices and votes of those who’d suffered the most over that period were now going to be heard and counted--finally. That’s the grateful tribute of “Selma” to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his peaceful, non-violent means to achieve a justified end…and the real reason to see this exceptional, historic story.Grade: A

  • 'Transparent,' 'Boyhood' win big at the Golden Globes

    The Golden Globes took over the small screen last night. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted celebrating, in Fey's words, "all the great television shows that we know and love as well as all the movies North Korea was OK with."The duo poked fun at Emma Stone's big eyes, showed Bill Cosby no mercy and congratulated Reese Witherspoon for doing all her own walking in the movie "Wild." This was the third, and probably final, time Fey and Poehler hosted the event."Transparent" won for Best TV Series and Best Actor in a TV Series, marking some of the first signs that Amazon might have a shot in the original series business. Meanwhile, "Boyhood" had a good run, winning in three of the five categories in which it was nominated. Who should have won? Who should have been nominated? Watch the opening monologue and take a look at the nominees and winners below, and leave your thoughts in the comments.  Best Motion Picture, Drama

  • ‘Big Eyes’ performances worth seeing

    Two-time Oscar nominated director Tim Burton (“Frankenweenie”, 2013) brings another eccentric storyline to the big-screen, albeit minus Johnny Depp. “Big Eyes” follows the true story of Walter and Margaret Keane, played superbly by both Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Amy Adams (“American Hustle”), as newlyweds in the 1950s with a shared fondness for art. As Walter and Margaret bond over their novel paintings depicting children with extremely large eyes, their talents take each of them in opposite directions. One delves deeper into her widely successful art production while the other attempts to claim, market and manipulate those paintings through lies.“Big Eyes” provides a compelling look back at American households and the role of women in business. It boldly tackles the topics of divorce, marital roles and participation in the workforce from the perspective of Adams’ character, Margaret. A time when a young fledging mother discovers her unique skills with a paint brush, only to find she can’t acknowledge her talents or dreams publicly. The artist Margaret Keane is held back from international fame by a combination of gender stereotypes, discrimination, and greedy self-indulgence.While “Big Eyes” paints a realistic and interesting portrait of Margaret Keane’s personal challenges and setbacks, the movie’s acting is by far its finest quality. Adams, a 5-time Oscar nominee, delivers a sensational performance in her most robust and expansive role to date. Adams flawlessly captures Margaret Keane’s transformation in self-confidence as she finds her voice to speak up and the fortitude to face her troubles.As exceptional as Adams’ work is in “Big Eyes”, it isn’t the only exhilarating performance. Two-time Academy Award winner Waltz oozes flamboyance and narcissism as Walter Keane—keeping viewers mercilessly glued to the film. He does a superb job selling himself, promoting the paintings, and marketing “Big Eyes”.“Big Eyes” is an interesting true tale; however, its true masterpiece is found in the film’s exceptional acting. Adams’ incredible portrayal of Margaret gives vindication to those manipulated by others. Likewise, the wildly powerful performance by Waltz showcases the two competing sides of Walter Keane—a marketing genius and a controlling con man. Poignantly, Adams and Waltz canvas “Big Eyes” with an abstract form of harsh realism from that period’s landscape using Burton’s broad, yet enlightening, brush stroke.Grade: B

  • ‘The Interview’ has made over $15 million online

    In the midst of the aftermath of a massive data breach, at least one thing is going well for Sony Pictures. In only five days after its release through video-on-demand sources, Seth Rogan and James Franco’s movie “The Interview” has made over $15 million in online sales and nearly $3 million in sales through the small collection of theaters that showed the film. The movie was originally slated for a full theatrical release, but the release was canceled due to terrorist threats that were made against theaters that showed the film. These threats were made by a group that calls themselves the “Guardians of Peace”, the group responsible for the astronomically extensive hack of Sony’s network late last year. Though there is no concrete evidence linking “Guardians of Peace” to the threats, any threat of terrorism must be taken somewhat seriously in a post 9/11 world. “The Interview” stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as television journalists who are hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un.An opening weekend of $15 million would be considered a moderate opening for any theatrical release. Sources from online torrenting websites, those from which the internet user can download files, have reported nearly 2 million downloads of the movie. Sony won’t be making up for the $75 million spent on the movie’s production, but under the circumstances, the movie did well. Even better news came shortly after the movie’s release when Sony announced that through deals made with several major cable providers, “The Interview” will be available through television video-on-demand. “We have always sought the widest possible distribution for ‘The Interview,’ and want to thank our new partners for helping us make that happen,” Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton said regarding the deal. The movie will be available through Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and Verizon for only $5.99. Is there a future for online releases for media? With online services so quickly willing to pick up this controversial movie, it seems there is a perceptible desire by the consumer to have a different way to see new movies. Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime grant access to television shows and movies for a fee, and the video-on-demand market is accessible in more and more living rooms in the country every year. Considering a movie that draws as much media coverage and controversy as “The Interview”, it isn’t too surprising to see that any publicity is good publicity. Though some are calling the movie a little too over the top in its humor, there is still much positive response. Only time will tell how successful the movie will be. 

  • ‘Unbroken’ honors remarkable life, hero

    It’s a life span that must be told to the audience with the same strength and determination as the man whose true story it reveals.  A strong narrative encompassing the confidence, resiliency and steadfastness found in this film’s main character and title. Only an unflinching and straightforward body of work could properly honor a young troublemaker’s dramatic rise to U.S. Olympian and, later, to American military hero. Based on the best-selling non-fiction novel by Laura Hillenbrand of the same name, “Unbroken” casts such an overwhelming shadow from a remarkable man’s life, almost any director would have found the story daunting to make for the big screen. Particularly one sitting in the director’s chair for only her second time ever--Angelina Jolie.To start the film, director Jolie wisely takes a page straight out of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” playbook, throwing moviegoers immediately into the opening scene of hostile fire from enemy forces in World War II. From here, we learn that this movie’s an impressive story about an uncommon man named Louis Zamperini. As a young boy who grew up in Southern California, we find Zamperini a bombardier aboard a U.S. Army Air Forces’ B-24 Liberator dropping bombs on Japanese targets in the Pacific. The strong-willed Zamperini falls back on his exceptional athleticism and mental fortitude—instilled during his old high school track days—throughout the movie as he fights for his life.“Unbroken” is a staggering masterpiece and watermark film for Jolie. Although her track record as a director is short, she’s already achieved success and a Golden Globe nomination for her first film, 2011’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey” in the Best Foreign Language Film (USA) category. To Jolie’s credit, for “Unbroken” she threw out the original screenplay and brought in two of the best screenwriters in the business—the Academy Award-winning Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. While impossible to capture every event in Hillenbrand’s book on film, Jolie and her team of writers do a fantastic job of covering the influences in Zamperini’s life and the importance he placed in his faith and the human spirit when difficult times confronted him.Perhaps the most significant achievement in “Unbroken” is the feeling of despair and hopelessness conveyed upon viewers of Zamperini’s dire circumstances. For a film with a running time of only 2 hours and 17 minutes, it feels like twice that length to audiences absorbed in the continual challenges faced on-screen by the weary characters. The film, however, does not drag on endlessly or beg for scenes to be cut out. Instead, Jolie squarely places the mental and physical burdens carried by Zamperini into moviegoers’ minds--unobscured and repeated for needed emphasis on years passed by.  Each character assuming the thousand-yard stare, as evidenced by the disturbing footage of human suffering from malnutrition and torture.  This film’s striking cinematography also gives credence to the threats and risks faced by our nation’s Greatest Generation during World War II. Credit 10-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins for the realism exhibited in the movie. From the shark infested waters of the Pacific Ocean, the crippled B-24 bomber & aircrew taking numerous bullet holes, or the unimaginably harsh conditions of the Japanese POW encampment, “Unbroken” unapologetically showcases Zamperini’s real-life hardships without pulling any punches.Angelina Jolie has passed her watershed film moment moving from one end of the movie camera to the other. As director of “Unbroken” she stayed true to Laura Hillenbrand’s epic novel and her bold, intense storytelling. But even more importantly, Angelina Jolie honored a son, a brother, an Olympic athlete and true American hero named Louis “Louie” Zamperini. His unfathomable, real-life survival during World War II are brilliantly presented and told by Jolie in this landmark military movie.  “Unbroken” is a phenomenal tribute to one man’s endurance over a lifetime, achieved by his confidence, resiliency, steadfastness and faith. And a film as shocking as it is inspiring.

  • Sony Pulls The Interview From Theaters Amidst Threats

    Sony Pictures’, “The Interview”, a comedy starring Seth Rogan and James Franco as two reporters who are sent on a mission by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has been pulled from its Christmas Day theatrical release. The cancelling of what may be one of the most talked about movies of the season comes after an unknown person or group threatened to attack any theatres that played the film. Several major theatre chains pulled their support for the movie in the past week, prompting Sony to make a decision.“We are deeply saddened by this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees and the American public,” Sony said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”  This is just one more piece of bad news for Sony. The company was recently the victim of what many analysts consider the largest cyber-attack in history, involving millions of pieces of Sony staff’s personal information, bank records, and even scripts to upcoming movies. The U.S. Government immediately responded to the massive attack with full investigations by the FBI and other government organizations. As of now, the U.S. is laying the blame on North Korea, indicating that a state-sponsored group of hackers are responsible. A group has taken responsibility for the attack, calling themselves the “Guardians of Peace”. The blame has fallen on North Korea because of similar malware used by the elusive nation in an attack on South Korean media companies in 2013. North Korea has of yet denied any allegations of involvement, but still expressed clear support for the attack.“The hacking into Sony Pictures might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea),” a spokesman for North Korea said.There was immediate backlash to Sony’s unprecedented decision. Many see the cancellation of the movie as Sony giving into the demands of terrorists. Others have become even more wary of the integration of technology that has become so invasive in modern society. 

  • ‘The Imitation Game’ is a smart, intriguing “must-see”

    History is rich with examples of extraordinary people being placed in extraordinary circumstances, providing a success no one else might have achieved.  A notion similar to President Abraham Lincoln’s enormous feat of keeping the nation together after the Civil War, General Dwight D. Eisenhower calling the shots on the successful D-Day invasion, or NASA engineers responding to a president’s challenge to land on the moon before 1970. It’s through nature’s fate that brilliant and visionary souls often find themselves facing difficult circumstances to which extraordinary results are not just asked for, but are fully required to achieve that success. These desired outcomes link the destiny of one person’s life to a particular time and place in our history.  One such historic moment occurred when a gifted British math scholar found himself standing between victory or defeat for Great Britain and the Allies in World War II.“The Imitation Game” illustrates how a brilliant mathematician’s life took several twists and turns before arriving on the scene at Bletchley Park, 50 miles outside London. Based upon a true story, the movie depicts the British government’s secretive MI6 spy agency’s attempt to break coded German messages in WWII. Unable to stop Nazi Germany’s land and sea assault throughout Europe, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill recruited extraordinarily smart people to decipher the mindboggling challenge presented by Hitler’s unbreakable Enigma message machine.  British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (“Star Trek: Into the Darkness”) shines brightly as the real-life math genius and cryptanalyst Alan Turing, one of his generation’s greatest thinkers and credited forefather to today’s modern computer. Joining Cumberbatch’s exceptional performance is a cast just as rich and talented, including Academy Award winner Keira Knightley, who plays a fellow code-breaker and adept crossword puzzle solver.Relative newcomer Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”, 2012) directs this educational and fascinating story. Tyldum expertly holds several subplots and story tangents close to his vest, while keeping audiences mesmerized on the larger task at hand—break the German code and win the war. However, the director uses timely flashbacks to Turing’s youthful boarding school days to capture critical events of his life.  Behind the mathematical statistics, complicated decipher computations, and spy games rests a compelling story of a young boy struggling to be accepted in life.  As fate would have it and after being spurned by so many growing up, Alan Turing found himself in the extraordinary position to help save and affect millions of lives. “The Imitation Game” splendidly illustrates how Turing met his appointment with destiny--a time and place requiring his extraordinary mind and talents. A moment in history when certain people are placed difficult situations, and, where exceptional results can and do occur.  It’s that unlikely connection of Alan Turing to the outcome of World War II, which makes this film so remarkable, intriguing and a “must-see” winner.Grade: A+

  • Witherspoon’s ‘Wild’ hike heads toward Oscars

    Their phone conversation was as short as it was awkward.“I’m sorry you have to walk a thousand miles, just to …”“Finish that sentence!” demands Reese Witherspoon’s character Cheryl, to the man she’d married years ago and still deeply cares for.“Happy trails, Cheryl”. Click.And with that, filmgoers find Witherspoon embarking on a cinematic journey that signifies her most challenging and emotional acting endeavor to date.Witherspoon, an Academy Award winner for her role as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line” (2005), dominates the screen as best-selling author Cheryl Strayed. “Wild” is the movie adaptation of Strayed’s 2012 true story novel titled “Wild: Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”. Her memoir about the real-life challenges she faced along that 1,100-mile trek, in fact, reached #1 on the New York Times’ Best Seller list and made Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club selection.

  • Christmas day film releases bring options for everyone

    Christmas day is upon us, and with it, a goodie bag full of memorable holiday traditions. It is a time of love, family, gifts, and popcorn? That’s right. Many of us movie fans find the holiday as the perfect time to cozy up in a theater full of our fellow men and women, and digest our Christmas feasts over a new Hollywood classic.  Here is what to expect from the films set to release on Christmas day.In case you haven’t noticed, Benedict Cumberbatch has been nearly flawless in his film and television roles in recent years, and his newest release promises to continue the trend. “The Imitation Game” follows the true story of Alan Turning, an English mathematician and logician who spearheaded a successful effort to crack Nazi Germany’s Enigma Code during World War II. The film is rated PG-13, making it an appropriate family feature, but the plot will surely be highly cerebral and dramatic rather than packed with action sequences or funny one-liners. Don’t expect the kids to get through “The Imitation Game” without squirming and checking their smart phones, but adults should love the captivating performances and plot.Following the WWII trend this Christmas is “Unbroken”. The film tells the true story of Olympian Louis Zamperini, who lived at sea aboard a raft for 47 days after a plane crash, only to become a prisoner of war after being captured by the Japanese Navy. The film is directed by Angelina Jolie, and though it was written by the Coen brothers, the critics have been scrooges when it comes to reviewing “Unbroken”. That’s because the film does not necessarily show us anything we have never seen before, falling into tiredly stereotypical genres of survival in the face of shipwreck and war. Do not expect anything ground breaking from “Unbroken”, but it may still be worth the watch if you are in the mood for a story of triumph in the face of adversity. Though not bringing us anything excitingly new this holiday season, last year Angelina Jolie did successfully pave the way for bringing classic fairy tales to live action with “Maleficent”. This year, “Into the Woods” rides that wave in a film that has many interesting selling points: action, romance, music, and Meryl Streep without any makeup. The film fuses together plot-points from several classic Grimm fairy tales including Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood to tell a story about a childless baker and his wife, who are determined to break a curse placed on them by an evil witch. “Into the Woods” will likely be the box office giant this Christmas as it appeals to the entire family and has a star filled cast. What would the holiday season be without another biopic and a Tim Burton flick? The final film on the list this Christmas is “Big Eyes”, which tells the story of 1950’s painter Margaret Keane, and her struggle to obtain credit for her art. The film stars talented actress Amy Adams and co-stars Christoph Waltz. “Big Eyes” is fairing well with critics, and should be an off-beat treat for those who want something a little less traditional in their movie choice.

  • The Loft to show controversial movie "The Interview" in the name of freedom

    While many theaters backed away from showing "The Interview" on the planned Dec. 25 opening after terrorists threats that have reportedly been linked to North Korea, some other theaters have expressed an interest in showing the controversial picture.Tucson's The Loft Cinema is one of those willing to stand up to the threats, offering to release the movie as planned on Christmas Day.After what is being called one of the worst hacks ever, Sony Pictures called over the Dec. 25 premier. With that decision, came plenty of critics, including heavyweights such as George Clooney and President Obama.According to the movie details:In the action-comedy The Interview, Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show “Skylark Tonight.”When they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, they land an interview with him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as journalists. As Dave and Aaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang, their plans change when the CIA recruits them, perhaps the two least-qualified men imaginable, to assassinate Kim Jong-un. (Dir. by Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen, 2014, USA, 112 mins., Rated R)

  • Movie new releases 10/19

    New movie releases for 1/19The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies - PG-13| 2 hr. 24 min. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world.Cast: Ian McKellen , Martin Freeman , Richard Armitage , Evangeline Lilly , Lee Pace , Luke Evans , Benedict Cumberbatch , Ken StottDirector: Peter JacksonGenres: Fantasy, Adventure

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