Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Release date: December 25, 2013
Running time: 180 minutes
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler
Who to see it with: A Scorsese fan, or someone who likes over the top situations


The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s debaucherous announcement that he is still at the top of the filmmaking game. It tells the story of millionaire Wall Street investor Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) who created a stock brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, that quickly rose to be a multi-million dollar Wall Street player. The firm started earning Belfort millions overnight and he spent that money quickly and lavishly on insane outings and office events. As crazy as this sounds, the movie is actually based on Belfort's book and appears to be a somewhat accurate retelling of his story (assuming you believe his own account). 

For this film, Scorsese reunites with his movie staple Leonardo DiCaprio who masterfully portrays a complicated character. Belfort was an amazing salesman, inspiring corporate leader, and ruthless stock broker. DiCaprio’s portrayal is stunning, with a wonderful take on this complicated, and consistently intoxicated, person. His performance is inspired, ridiculous, and amazing. Joining him is Jonah Hill, who I usually find annoying, but is perfect as Belfort's right-hand man Seth. Like DiCaprio, he is required to be consistently intoxicated and over-the-top and answers the call every time.

The movie is not without it’s flaws. It’s a LONG film--the runtime is about 3 hours--but I honestly didn’t notice the length as I was watching it. Additionally, the story is pretty absurd, but on a quick read it appears to be a fairly accurate portrayal of what happened (depending on who you ask of course, Seth apparently disputes some of the events). Finally, for a movie featuring this much debauchery, there is a good amount of nudity, sex, and drug use. If that’s not your thing, this isn’t the movie for you. But for those of you that would like to see Scorsese at his best, buy some stock in The Wolf of Wall Street. The movie is one of the year’s best, has style, drama, and debauchery, and is something that should not be short sold.

Watch it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: Holiday Edition

There really aren't many DVD releases this week, so use the time to either head to the theaters to see Wolf of Wall Street or stay in and enjoy some great streaming options.

Martin Scorsese's latest Leonardo DiCaprio film is an over-the-top debaucherous look at someone who made millions on Wall Street overnight and spent it equally as fast. It's a long movie, but DiCarprio's great acting and the crazy story make it a great movie to check out (just keep in mind it has a lot of objectionable content, might not be a family movie). 

Tim Burton's classic stop motion animated film is a Christmas (and Halloween) classic and available for free streaming through Netflix. The style of animation is great and it has plenty of great moments and memorable songs.

Netflix Link

Another Christmas classic, this film follows the Griswold family as their plans for a big family Christmas predictably turn into a big disaster. The night goes from bad to worse, but thankfully they keep the spirit of the season alive.

On Christmas Eve during world War I, the Germans, French, and Scottish fraternize and get to know the men who live on the opposite side of a brutal war, in what became a true lesson of humanity.

Review: Grudge Match

Release date: December 25, 2013
Running time: 113 minutes
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin
Who to see it with: A huge Rocky fan.


Grudge Match is exactly what you'd expect it to be after seeing the trailer. Thirty years past the prime of their careers, aging boxers "Razor" Sharp (Stallone) and "Kid" McDonnen (De Niro) enter the ring to settle their tied boxing records. But, before they do, that they must regain their fighting form, overcome some of their own personal issues that have developed in the last three decades, and get the nation interested in a sport that is no longer top of the competitive landscape. This last part is done by desperate promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Hart) who does a wonderful job as a fast-talking, say anything for success character. Hart is surprisingly funny, and not simply for his plethora of geriatric jokes that pepper the film. Although there is plenty of age-related humor, the movie frequently breaks away from the age crutch to provide jokes that are funny and a little too edgy at times. And there is plenty of funny banter between old rivals De Niro and Stallone; in fact, outside of any interaction with Hart, the competitive goading between the two fighters are the most enjoyable scenes.

If you've seen the poster (it's at the top of this review), then you've seen the terrible CG editing that the studio did to it. For whatever reason, they thought it would be better to have smoothed over monsters instead of what the characters actually look like. This problem also surfaces at the beginning of the movie where a "young" De Niro and Stallone are fighting in a terrible, CG mess. But thankfully, those instances appear to be the only use of CG during the film. The rest of the fight scenes are done with what looks like smart camera angles, decent action, and lots of sweat from both actors. The end fight is done well, but the build up to the fight is the most enjoyable. Seeing Stallone and De Niro transform from overweight has-beens into fight ready warriors is amazing. As I said, the movie is pretty much what you'd expect. The plot is fairly predictable but serviceable. The acting is fine and the writing is clever, although it would be much less funny without Hart's brilliant delivery. In the end, the movie goes a full 10 rounds and feels like it. It's nothing amazing, but it's definitely a funny movie that will keep you entertained until the final bell.

Rent it.

PS - There are two stingers that occur right after the credits start.  Make sure to stay for them as they really help to turn around an abrupt, slightly unsatisfying ending.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Release date: December 25, 2013
Running time: 114 minutes
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott
Who to see it with: Stiller fans who prefer his rare serious roles


Walter Mitty the second loose film adaptation of the 1939 short story of the same name, and Ben Stiller's latest try at directing a movie starring himself. (No writing this time, unlike Zoolander and Tropic Thunder.) He plays the title character, a mild-mannered Life Magazine employee who often mentally drifts into elaborate daydream worlds where he is free to act out his wild fantasies. Walter is an overly passive guys who keeps his thoughts to himself while wishing he could be someone else. He's disrespected by his new condescending superior Ted (Scott) who comes to Life to manage its closing, but seeing his friendly new coworker Cheryl (Wiig) keeps his spirits up.

Mitty does not make a good first impression. The tone of Walter's office and home life seems to be darkly comedic, but it mostly feels bleak and annoying. Ted's asinine behavior made many of the early office scenes hard to enjoy and the way over-the-top daydreams felt like a bad attempt to add ill-fitting humor to a dramedy. Fortunately, a mission to find a photo for his job removes Walter from his boring life and takes him on a European adventure that straddles the line of reality and fantasy. The trip is pretty unbelievable, but at least there's plenty of nice scenery and the daydreams become much less prevalent. Walter's unreal trip isn't anything special but is much more involving than seeing him berated by his too annoying boss or behave awkwardly around underdeveloped Cheryl. I like the story's message and the Walter's development, and maybe half of the movie is a drag to make the more fantastic aspects more effective, but the sort of odd fantasy portion does not make up for the often boring realistic scenes. 


I'm going to have to agree and disagree with what Lee said. He's right on the money that the day dreams are over-the-top and that Mitty's boss is plain annoying. But, I did like this movie a lot. It has pacing issues (the movie starts slowly, speeds up, then randomly slows down again) and the characters are not fully developed, but I overall liked the movie. It has a story that most people who have worked in a big office environment can relate to and I think Stiller was the perfect person for the leading role. And the cinematography is beautiful with wonderful scenery of some slightly exotic locales. 


Friday, December 20, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: December 20, 2013

DVD watchers looking for something faster-paced than Ain't Them Bodies Saints may want to check out Elysium or Kick-Ass 2. Patient ones might be interested in the tense, two-and-a-half hour Prisoners.

David O. Russell's latest revolves around a somewhat scattered story of con men (Christian Bale, Amy Adams) roped into an FBI investigation, but its comical, sometimes over-the-top characters and retro style make it light and fun to watch.

This is a quiet romance about a woman (Rooney Mara) longing for the convicted lover (Casey Affleck) who solely took the blame for the couple's crimes. She, and the overly concerned sheriff (Ben Foster), realize that he will risk anything to return to her, and his efforts to do so bring trouble to their small town home. It's deliberately pacedsome were reminded of Terrence Malick and fellow Casey Affleck film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Fordbut doesn't overstay its welcome with a running time just over 90 minutes.

Sopranos creator David Chase made his film debut with this 1960's coming-of-age tale about a teen who joins a Beatles-inspired band to impress a girl. Doug's rock star aspirations and style do not impress his tough dad (Sopranos star James Gandolfini). It's a funny, sometimes sad story of a boy swept away by the British Invasion.

This Scottish comedy-drama focuses on ruffian Robbie as he tries to turn his life around following the birth of his son. Director Ken Loach is known for realistic portrayals of the working class, but that grittiness is approached with a lighter touch this time (perhaps awkwardly, as some critics feel the darker elements of the plot don't mesh well with the movie's lightness). Sentenced to community service, Robbie and his new companions become inspired after learning of a lucrative but illegal opportunity. It sounds like a crowd-pleasing, if familiar, story of strangers bonding with the help of a lot of whisky.

Good Deal: Elf is free on Google Store

Elf, everyone's favorite Will Ferrell Christmas classic is free on the Google Store today. The movie stars Ferrell as a human boy who is raised by elves at Santa's workshop only to later discover that he was adopted. He embarks on a quest to New York City to find his dad, who coincidentally is on Santa's naughty list. The movie is filled with great lines, funny moments, and Christmas cheer. To get the movie, head over to the Google Play store by clicking the link below.

Review: American Hustle

Release date: December 13, 2013 (limited)
Running time: 138 minutes
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence
Who to see it with: Heist fans who laugh when looking back at 70's style


In American Hustle, con men Irving and Sydney (Bale, Adams) reluctantly become involved in an FBI investigation loosely based on the FBI's late 1970's/early 1980's ABSCAM operation. AH's plot resembles that of a heist film, with the criminals and feds forging a shaky partnership where it's hard to tell if they're not only conning their targets but also one another. It's decent but unspectacular. Fortunately, it's not the main attraction, serving mostly as an excuse to allow a group of good actors to play off of one another while outfitted in often garish, chest hair and cleavage-baring 70's clothes.

AH is best taken as a sum of its parts. The music, hair, clothes and sets are all appropriately and humorously retro and stylish. It's pretty funny, with many scenes and lines feeling a bit random. Sydney is the least funny but most complex character, spending most of her time feeling conflicted about the complications of her professional and love lives. The others have much more intense personalities that make them fit for loud, comic situations, especially Cooper's sometimes bizarre agent and Lawrence's sassy wife. The ABSCAM story is fairly engaging but weightless, and the characters are so broad and silly that I had little care for anyone's outcomes, but I can't say that I didn't enjoy seeing them react to one another and their complicated plights. And it's interesting that the film's slimier characters are more likable than the "good guys". American Hustle is fun but somewhat scattered, better at riffing on the 70's and its comically broad characters than telling its heist-like story.

Watch it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

Release date: December 6, 2013 (limited)
Running time: 105 minutes
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham 
Who to see it with: Folk music listeners and struggling artists


The Coen Brothers' latest is a week in the life of folk musician Llewyn Davis (Isaac), who struggles with several personal problems in addition to being unable to get his music career off of the ground. He clearly has talent, but his dour attitude and unwillingness to go for a mainstream audience have left him couch surfing with a dwindling number of friends. His disagreeable behavior makes this a week full of awkwardly funny discussions of music and disappointing realizations about the music world.

ILD does not have a traditional plot, often feeling like a series of moments designed to give a glimpse of the 1960's New York music scene and its artists. The characters often seem to end up right where they started rather than making much progress. This is fitting considering the difficulty of breaking into any artistic scene, especially for someone like Llewyn who refuses to join his friends (Mulligan and Timberlake) in catering to the masses. Llewyn's hardheadedness makes him fairly unsympathetic, but Isaac makes you invested in his outcome. I am not very familiar with folk music but it effectively gives ILD a melancholy mood, especially combined with the cold winter setting. There are lighter moments but they often further highlight Llewyn's frustrations. These things make ILD feel like a sadly realistic glimpse into the life of an uncompromising starving artist. The soundtrack was produced by T-Bone Burnett, who also worked on the very popular O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. ILD will likely connect most with folk fans, but most can appreciate this tale of an artist stuck in personal and professional holes of his own making.

Watch it.

I agree with everything Ronald said about the film. ILD is a very beautiful, carefully crafted movie that has a lot happen, but doesn't feel like it goes anywhere. The acting is good, the music is wonderful, the characters are varied and interesting. Isaac is an amazing actor and although you don't sympathize much with his character, you do become invested in his overall outcome. However, the plot of the film slows (or grinds to a halt) at points and some of the actions by Llewyn Davis just don't make much sense. Additionally, the movie leaves the viewers with an unsatisfying end to an interesting, but ultimately unfulfilling story. 

Rent it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Release date: December 18, 2013
Running time: 119 minutes
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carrell, James Marsden
Who to see it with: An absolute, die hard Anchorman fan.


I was out of my mind excited for Anchorman 2 when it was announced. I absolutely loved the first film and couldn't wait to see the next chapter in Ron Burgundy's saga. However, as I thought more about it, I wasn't sure I wanted an additional movie. The first film was such an enjoyable, over the top, machismo movie that it's tough to recreate that feeling. The news team, dealing with sharing the spotlight with a female co-anchor, was the perfect storm of a situation. And unfortunately, the second movie tries its hardest but doesn't quite capture the magic of that original situation. The story is serviceable enough, having Ron again hit rock bottom and be forced to slowly climb back up the news ladder. It provides an avenue to get the team back together and into some funny conundrums, but it also isn't nearly as enjoyable as the first movie's story and does jump around a decent amount.

My original thought with an Anchorman sequel was that if you got the cast back together, the movie would be funny because of the strength of that group. And, although there are definitely plenty of humorous moments, the magic from the first film isn't there. Maybe it's because it's already been done before, maybe it was the characters reprising their previous roles and not having it be fresh, but for whatever reason, although the movie had its moments, the overall humor of the film didn't seem as laugh-out-loud funny as the first one. The writing is clever enough, with a balance of improvisation and written parts, but some of the improvised parts are forced and unnatural. The characters are fine, with all your favorites back and a few new introductions, but I didn't like some of the new characters. Overall, Anchorman 2 is a movie that didn't need to be made. Although it is a funny sequel, it doesn't quite recapture the magic that the first one had. Just like the second glass of delicious, rich scotch, it might get you drunk but won't have that same, smooth, delicious flavor that made the first one so enjoyable. 

Rent it.

PS - There is a stinger after the credits end but, surprisingly, no outtakes during the credits.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Release date: December 20, 2013
Running time: 125 minutes
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell
Who to see it with: A Mary Poppins fan (so pretty much anyone)


Saving Mr. Banks has a very interesting premise, it sets out to tell the story of how Mary Poppins was made, from securing the rights to the original novel to some of the design and musical choices for the film itself. Although it doesn't sound very interesting, the story and the presentation are fascinating to see. Much of the film showcases the back and forth between Walt Disney, who promised his children to make their favorite book into a film, and P. L. Travers, who absolutely does not want to sell the rights to Mary Poppins. While telling this story, the film flashes back to Travers childhood to reveal aspects of Travers herself and some of the inspirations for her famous book. Although it could be jarring, it's done amazingly well, revealing a little bit of the story at a time that tends to parallel the events that are happening in the "present."  

The first thing you'll notice about the movie is that the acting is wonderful and all the characters are perfectly cast. Emma Thompson is practically dreadful as Ms. Travers; Tom Hanks absolutely transforms for this role and takes on a completely new persona for Walt Disney. Paul Giamatti is genuinely endearing as Travers's driver and Colin Farrell might be the most impressive of the bunch--I haven't seen him in a role where he can be so genuine, charming, and complicated at the same time. The writing is fun and the interactions between Disney and Travers seem genuine and horrible at the same time. But, the most important thing about this film is that the movie has plenty of cues to the original Mary Poppins. The musical cues, sayings from the film, and other reference instantly evoke a sense of nostalgia and brought a smile to my face. And when the music is not drawn from the original film, it does a great job of setting the mood and evoking the proper emotion from the viewer.

Very few movies come along that are practically perfect in every way. Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful experience both for the nostalgia that it evokes as well as the amazing story it tells.  Although it takes some liberties with the story, it is still an interesting one to experience. 

Watch it.

PS - There is a stinger that occurs right after the credits start. Make sure to stay for it because it's well worth it!

I haven't seen Mary Poppins so I have no nostalgia for it, though it's been referenced enough that I am familiar with the character and a few of the songs. Nostalgia and familiarity will surely benefit your time with this heartwarming family film, so heartwarming that it occasionally seems a little too sweet. I agree that the actors are great, especially Emma Thompson. Ms. Travers is pretty cold and stubborn, but Thompson and the writing manage to make her concerns valid, her bristly nature funny and her pain sympathetic. Unfortunately, Ms. Travers is a character in a Disney film, and the plot goes through fairly predictable motions in its second half. One major moment wouldn't seem out of place in a Disneyland commercial, dramatically changing the mood in a way that seems to imply that the place is truly magical.

Still, I think it's worth seeing just because it's an entertaining tale of a stubborn writer repeatedly clashing with an overwhelmingly cheerful movie studio about an increasingly loose film adaptation. I could easily see someone adapting this story in a much more cynical way. Hanks's Disney is charming, perhaps too charming. A pivotal conservation near the end between he and Travers is designed for sentimentality, but if presented slightly differently would seem like an example of a clever executive slyly manipulating his desired source material's owner. I doubt the relationship between the real Ms. Travers and Disney ended in such a tidy manner. Despite the excess sentimentality and abrupt character changes, Ms. Travers is such a good character that she elevates what could have been just an overly predictable family. Watching others grapple with her chilly personality is always enjoyable. SMB will be popular with anyone wanting a more lighthearted, but not silly, alternative to more serious and edgy awards season movies like Mandela and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Rent it.

Review: The Punk Singer

Release date: December 13, 2013
Running time: 80 minutes
Starring: Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon
Who to see it with: Anyone who wants to see a movie about a strong female figure


The Punk Singer tells the story of Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer and front woman for the punk band Bikini Kill, the synth pop / rock band Le Tigre, and some other smaller projects. Hanna was also an early, and vocal, voice in the so-called 3rd wave of the feminist movement, which began around 1990. Hanna pioneered the "riot grrrl" movement and provided a visible, no holds barred icon for young feminists to look up. Hanna's story is so intertwined with the feminist movement that it is tough to tell one story without the other. And although it makes sense that a documentary about her life would have these threads woven together, I was surprised by just how seamlessly The Punk Singer accomplished this feat.

I went into this film knowing nothing about Hanna, her bands, or the movement that she helped pioneer. Thankfully, the documentary does a good job of laying the groundwork around Hanna and progressing her story in a logical, temporal manner. It starts with her early artistic experiments, her emergence in the Washington (state) and feminist punk scene, and how she became a powerful voice in those areas. The story is told mostly through interviews from various personalities in the music scene, the feminist scene, and from Hanna herself. It's well done and I especially liked the touch of some of the musical artists being interviewed in what looked like a tour van. As expected from a documentary about a prolific musical talent, her songs are featured throughout the film. The music is a great addition and I especially enjoyed hearing her musical progression and how that related to events in her own life. The footage is interesting with a lot of old, archival footage and videos from various concerts. But most importantly, Hanna has an interesting story and one that should be told. The Punk Singer tells the story of an influential and controversial woman in both the punk and feminist movements. It is an entertaining and energetic documentary that mirrors the personality that it is chronicling. 

Watch it.

PS - I was a little surprised by the trailer for this film. It has a large segment about Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain, but he is barely mentioned in the film. I know that he was put in there to try and drive interest, but I was disappointed that the production company, in advertising a documentary about an influential feminist, resorted to trying to use a famous male singer to drum up interest. 

What to Watch This Weekend: December 13, 2013

There are some great options on all fronts this week.  If you're interested in more of a documentary, check out The Punk Singer, about the life of Kathleen Hanna, a vocal female punk singer and feminist. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is also out this week, although we felt it was more of a rental. 

Very few movies come along that are practically perfect in every way. Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful experience both for the nostalgia that it evokes as well as the amazing story it tells.
Fast and Furious movies aren't perfect films, but they're perfect at what they do. They're B-movies with A-list production values. And they're one of the few Hollywood franchises that seems to be getting better with each iteration. This sequel was exactly what I wanted from the Fast and Furious franchise.

Streaming (Netflix): Blackfish
Blackfish explores the dichotomy of Killer Whales in captivity, who are known for their hunting prowess, yet expected to be docile and perform. The documentary employs the story of notorious performing whale Tilikum, who-unlike any orca in the wild-has taken the lives of several people while in captivity. I've heard nothing but great things about this movie, so make sure to check it out!

Netflix link:

It's the best work director David Gordon Green has done in awhile, exploring the goofy brotherly bonding seen in Pineapple Express within a more realistic context. Prince Avalanche may not leave much of a lasting impression, but you'll enjoy getting to know its odd couple leads. 

Netflix link:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Screening: August: Osage County

Update: All winners have been notified.  Thank you everyone for entering the contest!

Screening Date: December 17, 2013
Time: 7:30 PM
City: Washington, DC
Theater: AMC Georgetown

August: Osage County tells a dark, humorous, and touching story that looks at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. August: Osage County is based on Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prizewinning play and stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, and Benedict Cumberbatch. 
We will be notifying winners on Monday, December 16th. We will by trying Rafflecopter for this one so let us know what you think. To enter, follow the Rafflecopter widget instructions below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Release date: December 13, 2013
Running time: 161 minutes
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace
Who to see it with: A fan of TLotR or the first Hobbit movie.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the story of the first film as the company of dwarves, Gandalf, and one burglar attempt to reach the Lonely Mountain before their way into the mountain, and by extension their quest to retake their homeland, are forever lost to them. This leg of the quest takes them through a mysterious forest, past a lake town, and into the mountain itself. Pretty much all of the characters from the first movie are back including Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Richard Armitage as Thorin, and the company of twelve other dwarves. 

One of the main complaints with the Hobbit movies is that the source material is not very long (the original book is about 280 pages), so Peter Jackson had to add plenty of additional content in order to fill three, two-and-a-half hour movies. Although I didn't mind it in the first movie, because it ultimately felt like the additional footage was in service to the overall journey, this time it felt like a lot of the added content did not fit or was there to fill space. I definitely don't remember the Hobbit book jumping around this much and although the side stories did give some additional backstory, it feels like they were added to lengthen the movies enough to fill a trilogy. There are also additional scenes and dialog that depart from any of the Hobbit reference material, and appear to be attempts to increase the drama of the film or further highlight the importance of certain characters. Additionally, there are call backs (or I guess those would be foreshadowing) to the events of LOTR. The foreshadowing wasn't terrible, and I actually enjoyed some of the musical cues, but a lot of it does feel like it was placed specifically to try to tie the two trilogies together.

The Hobbit (and by extension, the LOTR movies) do a great job of creating sets and transforming their characters into the denizens of Middle Earth. When it's done right, it's a joy to see, especially with some of the nastier creatures. However, maybe because the make up and costumes are so good, when they resort to CG, something doesn't feel right. Either the characters look a little off, or move unnaturally, but something approaches the uncanny valley in those situations; it really takes you out of the experience to see some of the fights done almost completely in CG. The writing is fine, even if it's a little over dramatic and attempts to paint some of the characters in their best light. And the moments of levity in the film are funny, but felt out of place in some of the more serious scenes. In the end, if you liked the first movies you will most likely like this one also. If some of the flaws of the first films (and especially of the Hobbit) bugged you last time, then they will only be emphasized in this film. The Hobbit: TDoS is an exciting journey and captures the look and feel of Middle Earth, but the adventure seems to depart from the path frequently and takes a long time to complete. 

Rent it.

An Unexpected Journey told a less disjointed story. TDoS frequently alternates between big action sequences, character introductions, incomplete subplots and an unnecessary romance. Obviously, a trilogy's stories won't fully pay off until its end, but this may suffer from middle chapter issues more than similar movies. The LotR callbacks/foreshadowing don't totally work. The scenes are fine but often don't add much to the story. If I were unfamiliar with LotR, I'd probably be confused rather than afraid or intrigued by this mysterious evil that keeps being teased. That being said, TDoS was more exciting than the trilogy's occasionally boring beginning. The characters and subplots don't always connect, but the action is bigger (unfortunately in a way that often looks too animated) and the stakes higher than those of the meandering AUJ. The big moments are more creative and suspenseful, including an encounter that reminded me of Bilbo's tense meeting with Gollum. And though the ending feels like an abrupt cliffhanger compared to the more complete ends of the previous films, it's effectively chilling and will leave fans anxiously awaiting what's next. On the bright side, There and Back Again should easily be the best of the trilogy now that all of the pieces are setup for a grand finale. I don't know if five and a half hours were needed to reach that point, but they've mostly been fun despite being a bit unsatisfying.


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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Screening: American Hustle

Update: All winners have been notified.  Thank you everyone for entering the contest!

Screening Date: December 18, 2013
Time: 7:00 PM
City: Silver Spring, MD
Theater: Regal Majestic

One of the most anticipated movies of this year (and already on many people's top movie lists for 2013), American Hustle follows a con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams).  They are forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
We will be notifying winners on Monday, December 16th. To qualify, you MUST be a fan of Watch or Pass on Facebook, so if you haven't "liked" us yet, please go there and do so now. After that, please comment on this blog post (using Disqus, so we have an email address to contact you at) with your answer to the question: 

Have you ever been conned? No need to go into embarrassing details, unless you want to!

For an additional bonus entry, please like the Facebook post for this contest and comment on the Facebook post with your Disquis username!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trailer: Godzilla

The trailer for Legendary Picture's remake, reboot of Godzilla has finally emerged onto Youtube and it looks like a grim take on the whole Godzilla saga (although I guess the original Godzilla movies were serious for their time). The film opens with soldiers air dropping into a ruined city that has already been ravaged by the monster. For some reason, they have flares and smoke trails, presumably to let the monster more easily track them. From the teaser, you get the sense that the movie is going for a more apocalyptic, serious movie instead of the campy, B-movie path taken by last summer's Pacific Rim. The teaser also takes a Cloverfield-type approach and only gives glimpses of the monster, although we do see a profile view late in the trailer. Godzilla stars Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Ken Watanabe. The film attacks theaters on May 16, 2014.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Screening: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Update: All winners have been notified.  Thank you everyone for entering the contest!

Screening Date: Tuesday, December 10
Time: 7:00 PM
City: Washington, DC
Theater: Regal Gallery Place

Broken up into a trilogy, the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of Bilbo Baggins and the company of dwarves looking to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug. This film follows the company through Mirkwood forest, Laketown, and finally to the Lonely Mountain itself. The last movie seemed fairly polarizing, with many people hating the additional content that was added to fill three movies, but I personally loved it and am happily looking forward to the next movie in this trilogy. Plus, Ned the Piemaker (also known as Lee Pace who plays Thranduil) has a much larger role than in the first film!
We will be notifying winners on Monday. To qualify, you MUST be a fan of Watch or Pass on Facebook, so if you haven't "liked" us yet, please go there and do so now. After that, please comment on this blog post (using Disqus, so we have an email address to contact you at) with your answer to the question: 

What is your most memorable adventure?

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