Film Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

In an attempt to be different, Fantastic Four leaves out everything lovable about superhero films – including fun.


After months (possibly years) of bad press and mixed anticipation for Fox’s reboot of Fantastic Four, the film released to scathing reviews and some added behind-the-scenes drama. The movie, helmed and co-scripted by Josh Trank, director of Chronicle, seeks to do something different in the superhero genre.

The story we probably know from the first series of films. In the name of science, a (future) husband and wife, her brother, and their friend, are essentially infected with different powers. They must learn to harness their abilities, while working as a team, to save the world. 

The first two films were largely disliked for their goofy tone and cartoonish plot. In this 2015 reboot, they attempt to ground the film as hard as they can in reality, so as to not make the same mistakes as the other films.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a brilliant young scientist who, with help from his childhood best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), builds some impressive spacetime-bending equipment. Noticed by Dr. Storm (Reg. E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) at a high school science fair (I guess they were just browsing random science fairs? Not too clear on the reasoning there), Reed is given a scholarship in exchange for help building the Quantum Gate with the Storms and the moody Victor Von Doom. Oh yeah, and Johnny Storm crashes a car and is punished by being made a high-valued member of the Quantum Gate team, for some reason.

Von Doom’s entire part in the film is completely inexplicable. From his introduction where he’s simply an angry brat who hates everyone, to his only occasional feelings for Sue Storm, to his on-again off-again friendship with Reed, to whatever his motives are for briefly trying to destroy Earth, Von Doom just doesn’t make any sense.


There are some admirable aspects to Fantastic Four. I appreciate the attempt at a grounded, realistic tone, but “realistic” doesn’t have to mean it sacrifices fun. In fact, there’s almost no action in the entire film. Isn’t that why we go to superhero movies? There’s only one real fight scene, and it’s horribly predictable.

The film started to really interest me when the four returned with their powers. Each was under observation, and everyone was scared for what could happen. Just when I thought the film would really explore the fear and psychological effects that these strange powers would have, the film jumps ahead a year, skipping the interesting part! I was so disappointed.

In the end, Fantastic Four had a lot of potential, ultimately wasted by forgetting why people see superhero films: to have fun and see crazy action. Without either of those elements, replaced by a really confusing and uninteresting story, Fantastic Four is a bust.

Sidenote: There was a lot of talk about either Trank being really hard to deal with or Fox putting too much pressure and control on a creative, leading to this mess. Without any of us truly knowing what happened, it’s hard to put the blame on any one person. For an interesting timeline of the bad press, check out this great article from Film School Rejects.


Film Review : The Gift

The Gift surprises and impresses at almost every turn.


At the start, The Gift appears to be a traditional thriller. The setup is so average that the viewer could assume he knows the plot and the twist within the first few minutes. As the film progresses, however, it becomes fairly clear that nothing is as expected.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move from Chicago to California, close to where Simon grew up. Soon enough, while out shopping one day, the couple runs into an old acquaintance of Simon’s, named Gordo (Joel Edgerton). Everything feels pretty standard; Gordo is a weird dude who hangs around a bit too much, creeping out the couple. Things go in very unexpected directions more than once, keeping you on your toes.


The audience of course tries to guess where the film is headed at every turn. Every time it seems like you may have figured it out, the film completely surprises you. The writing here is really strong. Not only does the plot trick you, it’s not even the type of movie you think it is.

In addition to his excellent performance, Edgerton writes and directs this very promising debut. There may not be anything groundbreaking here, but The Gift is a very enjoyable, tense, and unexpected delight. Edgerton is certainly a filmmaker to keep our eyes on.


Film Review: Ricki and the Flash

Stuffed with Oscar winners, Ricki and the Flash delivers a fairly unsurprising plot with a nice polished exterior.


Meryl Streep stars as Ricki Rendazzo, the wannabe-rock-star and nonexistent mom trying to figure out how to reconnect with her family. When her daughter Julie, played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, attempts suicide after losing her husband, Ricki returns home to help her pull herself together. Of course, Ricki must learn to pull her own life together first.

The premise alone is pretty unremarkable. We’ve heard this all before. Luckily the film has enough charm and superb performances to make up for the cliches.

Ricki and Greg (Rick Springfield) lead The Flash, the aging house band at a tiny bar in Los Angeles. The film opens on their performance, a great sequence that starts only on the band, leading the audience to believe it might be a successful group, until swiftly cutting to the small, old, and odd crowd in the bar.

Once Ricki returns to the family in Indiana, the family drama shines. Ricki’s ex Pete (Kevin Kline) is fairly uninteresting, but the family dynamic keeps things snappy. A dinner sequence with the whole family in particular overcomes so many predictable moments with hilarious dialogue.


As with every Streep performance, we’ll see this performance coming into the awards conversation soon, but it’s deserved. Ricki is a severely insecure character who covers with false confidence. Streep’s subtleties let the insecurity feel so true. Mamie Gummer holds her own alongside her mother: Julie’s depressed character also steals the show. While it may not be groundbreaking or Oscar-caliber, Gummer deserves awards talk of her own.

Ricki and the Flash is nothing new in the family drama realm, but the humor and performances make it an enjoyable, if unremarkable, film.


Fresh Off The Boat – TV Series Review


ABC has been basking in the glory of their crown jewel Modern Family. It’s a cash cow, and it’s won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series five years in a row (one for every single season so far), tying Frasier‘s record. They new they hit something good with relating to white families, so of course they must replicate it.

Black-ish premiered in fall 2014 and tried to do for black families what Modern Family did for white families. Anthony Anderson’s comedy is decent, but never truly feels original. It’ll last, I’m sure, but it’s not the newest and greatest show.

Enter Fresh Off The Boat. Premiering a bit under the radar, this new series stars an Asian family who makes a move from Washington, D.C. to Florida and must adjust during the mid-90s. Rather than focusing primarily on the adults, Fresh is narrated by Eddie, the eldest of the three elementary-age boys. Eddie’s perspective guides the show as the family makes due in their new lives. He’s a wannabe gangster rapper, and his nineties-vibe is hilarious and well-written.


The family is entirely likable, even the harsh Jessica (Constance Wu) and Louis, portrayed by the funny, if not the best actor, Randall Park. The secondary kids are all funny and decent actors, unlike all the kids in Black-ish. Of course Eddie is the standout as the lead. It’s a fresh perspective, different from the kids on Modern Family.

Fresh Off The Boat succeeds where Black-ish fails. While it centers on an Asian family, the storylines don’t hinge on racial stereotypes. While Black-ish (often a very funny show, don’t get me wrong) seems to only have one card to play, Fresh Off The Boat doesn’t use race as an excuse to fill every episode. Sure there are plenty of racial jokes and funny bits having to do with the Asian family, but it’s secondary to the main plot.

Don’t get me wrong, Black-ish is a funny show that will hopefully get better, but Fresh Off The Boat is the real “answer” to Modern Family. It’s got a unique perspective and hilarious take on the family sitcom. I hope it continues.


Daniel’s Top Ten Films of 2014


2014 provided to be an incredible year all-around for film. Amazing blockbusters, spectacular indies, and epic Oscar films. It also happened to be the year I saw more movies than I ever have before. I saw 51 films in theaters this year (most of them for free, don’t worry), and 84 films released overall in 2014. It was truly difficult, as it always is, to lay out my top ten films. Some choices were easy, and there were some tough cuts. I even had to cheat a little bit with one tie. These are films that affected me in some way, challenged me, enlightened me, or even simply humored me. Check out the list, along with some honorable mentions.


10. TIE: CHEF, BEGIN AGAIN Okay, okay. So I cheated. But I really couldn’t decide between these two. The reason I paired them together is that I had very similar feelings about them both. They are purely happy films. They’re feel-good, enjoyable experiences. Begin Again was an absolute surprise going in, and I left the theater floored at just how fun the film turned out. Chef has an infectious energy that pervades the whole film. They both deal very much with creatives and the importance of an artist’s free expression. Both are musically driven and have fantastic soundtracks. I couldn’t decide which I like more, and I stand by that. They’re under-seen, happy films, and the world needs more just like them.


9. STILL ALICE The closest thing to a horror movie you’ll find on my list, Still Alice was a terrifying look at Alzheimer’s disease. I expected to like Moore’s performance, but I didn’t realize I would love the movie so much. It’s such a simple film, modestly shot, very few locations, small scale, but it’s so effecting. There are moments of shock at the progress of the disease. It’s frightening. “I wish I had cancer,” she declares at one point, and we get it completely. Moore’s performance is so pitch-perfect, capturing the fear along with the forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s. This a powerful film exploring a real-life killer. Watch it.

TT158. SELMA What an eerily well-timed film. In my life, the Civil Rights movement has always felt before my time, in the past. Of course as this year has taught us, it’s not that simple. Oyelowo gives an absorbing performance, showing MLK’s powerful authority, his zen-like leadership, and his behind-the-scenes boiling anger. Selma is an excellent, thrilling film, beautifully shot and exciting. It’s not a perfect film, yet I understand the confusion (read: anger) over it’s lack of a real presence at the Oscars, but let’s remember it’s nominated for Best Picture. When other films miss out on nominations, we don’t cry racism. Maybe that’s the reason, or maybe the voters just liked other films more. Either way, Selma works, and it’s a film that will last.


7. BIRDMAN What a captivating, unique film. Wonderfully shot as if in one-take, Birdman draws us in, making the camera, along with the audience, almost feel purely like a spectator of a real event. The performances are top-notch all around. I feel as though I need to see Birdman a second time. The first viewing was more to experience it, but a second time is necessary to really appreciate what Birdman is trying to say. There are plenty of excellent emotional moments, like when Sam rips her father apart, telling him he doesn’t matter. But there are plenty of hilarious moments too, like most of Mike Shiner’s scenes. Birdman is a such a unique creation.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-zoe-saldana-chris-pratt6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Easily the best blockbuster this year, and there were a lot of great ones to choose from. Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, it’s surprising, and it’s just purely, unashamedly awesome. Sure it’s part of a franchise, but it’s a completely new universe. Everything feels fully developed and lived in. Chris Pratt proves he’s a star and gives a great performance. Guardians isn’t perfect, but it’s infectiously fun.


5. GONE GIRL Incredibly written and endlessly intriguing, Gone Girl never stops making you think. It’s a thriller that has you guessing from the moment you finish the trailer. Rosamund Pike gives one of the best performances of the year-or of most years- as Amazing Amy Dunne. The film is so spectacularly woven together, releasing precise pieces of info at very specific moments. Cutting back and forth from real-life to Amy’s diary was a beautiful choice that only muddied the waters even more. This is certainly one of the best written films this year. Gone Girl adds yet another powerful thriller to David Fincher’s near-perfect filmography.


4. INTERSTELLAR Interstellar is more of an experience than most films. I saw the movie in true 70mm IMAX, and it was worth it. It’s an immersive ride that drives you to want more. Story-wise, Interstellar is more interesting than impactful. The family drama is a little cliche, the characters aren’t all-in-all original. I stuck with the exploration aspect the whole time, but it lost me when we were brought into the staircase dimension. Still, in the end, none of that seems to matter. These are minor mistakes in a spectacular film. It didn’t reach the heights it hoped, but it reached farther than most. It’s a beautiful film filled with wonder. Inspiring and intriguing, Interstellar leaves me wanting more films just like it.

TT203. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING This was a surprising film, but in many small ways. We go into Theory of Everything expecting an Oscar-caliber performance from Redmayne, and he delivers whole-heartedly. We expect less from Felicity Jones, who succeeds and exceeds these expectations at every turn. Theory is romantic and sad, painful and inspiring. Such a well-crafted film from beginning to end. Despite a sad ending, you can’t help but leave the film happy.

Whiplash-5547.cr22. WHIPLASH It was a very, very difficult choice between my top two. I swapped the titles multiple times before posting. Despite a tough battle, Whiplash has settled at a very respectable number two. J.K. Simmons’ formidable, intimidating performance is what makes the film. But don’t get me wrong, Whiplash is so much more than just that. Through his screaming and torment, Simmons’ Fletcher forces his students to give him only the best. One of the best lines of the year is spoken more than halfway through the film: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.'” Honestly, it’s hard to disagree with him in the moment. His methods are maddening and horrifying but he begs a tough question: how far would you go for greatness? An intense, well-crafted, exciting, dramatic piece of art, Whiplash simply works.


Boyhood is exactly, perfectly my type of film. It’s an achievement all on it’s own: following a central actor portraying a character over twelve years of his life, filming a little bit each year. It’s a powerful concept flawlessly executed. The acting isn’t all around the best, and the story isn’t the most complex and original, but it doesn’t matter. It simply feels real. It’s life, pure and simple. We watch Mason grow up right before our eyes. It’s a truly effecting experience filled with catharsis. We all grow up searching for answers and meaning, and here we watch one such journey play out. It’s a powerful thing, this search for truth. While Mason certainly hasn’t found absolute truth in the end, his journey impacts us. Boyhood will remain an important film for decades to come. A pure slice of what it was like to grow up in this age. This is film history in the making. This is powerful, raw, emotional storytelling. Boyhood is the best film of 2014, and one of the best films in decades.

Honorable Mentions:

Best Animated Film: The Lego Movie

Best Documentary: Citizenfour. Incredible, thought-provoking real-life thriller.

Biggest Surprise: Edge of Tomorrow

Best Under-Seen Film: Snowpiercer

Worst Film of the Year (that I actually saw: Pompeii

Tyler’s Top Ten Films of 2014


Up front, let me be clear that this my list of my favorite films of 2014. This is not necessarily a list of which films should be nominated for any Oscars in particular. When I’m thinking of a list like this, I’m focusing on enjoyability, as well as rewatchability. I can watch a film and recognize that someone has a particularly outstanding performance , or that the film overall is technically superb, or even those few films that are so clearly, wholly phenomenal that they should garner an Oscar nod. Thus, this list may overlap with those we’ve been talking about this past weeks. However, I have to expand a bit: just because a film gets–and deserves–an Oscar nod doesn’t mean that it’s enjoyable or that I’d watch it over and over.

I’m looking for a whole moviegoing experience. Would I recommend it to others? Is it impactful or particularly important? Was it fun? Visually appealing? Obviously, this is largely a matter of taste, and it’s an incredibly unscientific process to formulate a result.

Here goes, in order:

1. Chef


Chef might be my favorite film of 2014. It’s not the best, most technical film. I didn’t break new ground in cinematography; it didn’t have an actor contorting himself into a wholly different persona; it didn’t hit new heights of sexuality; and it won’t win Best Picture this Oscars Season. But I think it’s my favorite anyway–it’s just a joyful film. From the addictive, upbeat soundtrack to the redemptive relationship between a nearly estranged father and son, it hits on all cylinders. It’s a truly heartwarming film, yet it doesn’t fall into the cheesy category, something that I think has been missing of late.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

gotg still and banner

3. American Sniper


This film reminded me of Zero Dark Thirty, which is a film I can watch and rewatch. I see that happening here. It is still an intriguing film, well-made and thoughtful. Bradley Cooper’s intense and true portrayal of PTSD, as well as the juxtaposition of war life and home life was poignant and significant. The quickness of the film was needed to highlight the blur of war, and the struggle that soldiers and their families must go through during transitions.

4. Gone Girl


Gone Girl was a crazy, intense film. First of all, I almost never like a film more than the book from which it is adapted: Gone with the Wind, the Bourne Trilogy, The Godfather, Parts I & II, and The Hunger Games series. In this case, it’s hard for me to decide which I liked better, because this film is quite faithful. The book is deeply mysterious and emotional, as is the film, yet the film was more visceral and impactful than the book. Usually I don’t think that, because my imagination is pretty vivid, but in this case it was more gripping.

5. Interstellar

interstellar new banner

Interstellar was one of those movies that I wanted but didn’t even know that I wanted. I love films like this: films that mess with time travel and space travel, that explore the ideas of what lengths we might have to go to in order to preserve the human race. That, combined with McConaughey, Chastain, and Hathaway’s stellar acting sells the gravity (puns intended!) of the situation that they’re in. Finally, add in Hans Zimmer’s rich organ-oriented score and the captivating visuals, and you have a perfect storm of a film.

6. Whiplash


I had to pick my jaw up from the floor at multiple points throughout Whiplash. It was a deeply dark and disturbing film, but one that also probes the depths of passion and perseverance. This isn’t an inspirational film, but it is a film that readily delves into the dark corners of the drive to achieve greatness, not necessarily for the love of the creativity of art, but for the notoriety of that greatness. I loved the film, but I would have to think twice before getting ready to sit through it again, because it brought me to a dark place. The opening scene, however, is maybe the most precise and concise piece of characterization I have seen in a long time.

7. Birdman


Birdman was a singularly immersive experience. From the opening moments, I was enraptured by almost every element: Keaton’s (dare I say) breakout performance, the single-take conceit, the seamlessly woven play within a film, and the slow psychological burn that underpins everything we see. Each performance was spot on, though not all are nomination-worthy. This film will battle for Best Director as well, and I think it may deserve both awards (as well as Keaton’s Best Actor nod). However, no other film on this list tries to do what this one accomplishes, nor possibly leaves such an impact.

8. Selma


I was riveted by Selma, from the bombing early on to the frenetic, emotional riots and brutality throughout. This move easily deserves its place on this list of nominees, if only to balance out The Imitation Game‘s shortcomings. The acting is superb from all angles (every actor is British, except for Common and Oprah), the music accents everything emotionally, the story is relevant and impactful, and they didn’t have to hit anyone over the head with the message of peace and equality. It does it on its own without being underscored by epigrams at the end.

9. Jodorowsky’s Dune


Jodorowsky’s Dune is a film that is many things at once, and they all work together to form a compelling narrative about a madman’s dream about a hippie’s trippy novel about drugs and war. It was described as the greatest movie never made, an influential film that preceded seminal movies like Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner. To see the inner workings of the making of this film, as well as the exploration of Jodorowsky’s film career, is like a bit of a film history class, but the most exciting one you’ll ever take.

10. Still Alice

still alice

Still Alice was excellent, and Julianne Moore is the quiet, yet standalone winner for me. Even with the other good performances on this list, Moore is clearly at the forefront. Where Felicity Jones is the rock next to Redmayne’s deteriorating academic husband, Moore is both the rock and the quicksand, clasping desperately at sanity, hoping that it will remain, and preparing herself and her family for the inevitable. It was a heart-rending performance, and one that is all-too applicable to audiences today.

Runners Up:

I understand that, with some of the films above, you may be scratching your heads a bit. There are some surprises on my list. To comfort you, here’s my long list (in no particular order) of the top films of the year overall. Remember that I was looking for rewatchability, more than simply the greatness of the film itself.

  • Foxcatcher
  • Boyhood
  • Theory of Everything
  • Begin Again
  • Fury
  • Big Eyes
  • The Judge
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
  • The Lego Movie
  • Babadook

Oscars 2015: FINAL Predictions

Daniel: Here they are! My final predictions. I’ve been a certified Oscar junkie for five or six years now, and those years were fairly easy to predict. Best Picture was pretty much sown up before the award show even began. Last year I correctly predicted 22 out of 24 categories. That’s a lot, if I do say so myself. This year, however, I expect different results. The 87th Academy Awards have been a really tough to predict, and that’s super exciting for movies! Take a look at our guesses, and let’s see how we do!

Tyler: This has been an excellent year for films, with some categories clearly locked, while most are wide open. I haven’t kept track of how many predictions I’ve gotten right, but I do OK. Here are our choices; see how we match up!

Don’t forget to fill out your own predictions and guess along with us on Sunday, Feb. 22nd!




Will Win:

T: Birdman

D: Boyhood, but it’s probably wishful thinking.

Should Win:

T: Birdman

D: Boyhood


Will Win:

T: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

D: Alejandro Iñárritu, Birdman

Should Win:

T: Alejandro Iñárritu, Birdman

D: Richard Linklater, Boyhood


Will Win:

T: Michael Keaton, Birdman

D: Michael Keaton, Birdman

Should Win:

T: Michael Keaton, Birdman

D: Eddie Redmayne, but Michael Keaton will be a deserving winner.


Will Win:

T: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

D: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Should Win:

T: Julianne Moore

D: Rosamund Pike, but Moore also deserves it.


Will Win:

T: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

D: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Should Win:

T: J.K. Simmons

D: J.K. Simmons


Will Win:

T: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

D: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Should Win:

T: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

D: Emma Stone, Birdman


Will Win:

T: The Grand Budapest Hotel

D: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Should Win:

T: Boyhood

D: Boyhood


Will Win:

T: The Imitation Game

D: The Imitation Game, but this is close with Whiplash

Should Win:

T: The Theory of Everything

D: Whiplash


Will Win:

T: How to Train Your Dragon 2

D: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Should Win:

T: Big Hero 6

D: The Lego Movie. Wait what do you mean it’s not nominated?!


Will Win:

T: Citizenfour

D: Citizenfour


Will Win:

T: Birdman

D: Birdman


Will Win:

T: The Grand Budapest Hotel

D: Boyhood

Should Win:

T: Boyhood (Well…Birdman…)

D: Whiplash


T: Ida

D: Ida, but it’ll be a close fight with Leviathan.


Will Win

T: The Theory of Everything 

D: The Theory of Everything

Should Win

T: (Interstellar should win…)

D: The Theory of Everything


T: Glory, Selma

D: Glory, Selma


T: The Grand Budapest Hotel

D: The Grand Budapest Hotel


T: Into the Woods

D: The Grand Budapest Hotel


T: The Imitation Game

D: The Grand Budapest Hotel


T: Interstellar

D: Interstellar


T: Birdman

D: American Sniper


T: Whiplash

D: Whiplash


T: Feast

D: Feast


T: Joana

D: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1


T: The Phone Call

D: The Phone Call