Friday, January 30, 2015
Another year of film has come to an end, and it was a year that continually impressed me. From the beginning, there were films that showed boundless creativity, to ones with stellar effects and dripping with atmosphere. Movies that touched on social issues in our world without over doing it, and ones that spoke to the simple aspects of life.
I would say that 2014 is comparable to 2013, with many of the same pros and cons, but that 2014 saw those aspects amplified. The good things in 2013 got even better, but the bad ones got even worse. But since I said that 2013 was still a good year for films, I firmly believe that 2014 was a great year for cinema.
As such, let's take a look at the best (and worst) films of 2014 and give ourselves a little reminder to all the movies that made us laugh, cry, imagine and whimper in fear. However, unlike last year where I simply announced the best film, there were just too many great films this year to choose from, so at the end of this blog post, I'll be counting my top five films of the year.
Let's get started with...
Biggest Surprise - "Captain America: The Winter Solider"
Going into this film, I did not expect a lot. I thought there would be espionage, some cool hand-to-hand fight sequences and lots of Scarlett Johansson. While all of that was there, what we also got was the smartest superhero film since "The Dark Knight." A film where every character has shades of gray and by the end you are unsure what to make of both the heroes and villains. The terms "good" and "evil" are irrelevant, and only "right" and "wrong" remain.
Most Technologically Impressive "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes"
This category was a hard one, since there were so many films that looked amazing through their scope and use of camera techniques. "Interstellar," "Guardians Of The Galaxy," "The Lego Movie" and so many others blew me away with their visuals. But, if I had to pick one, it would be "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes," one of the more overlooked films of 2014. In this film, every single ape has its own movements. Then you remember there are over 200 different apes in this film. All done with CG. Combine this with another one-of-a-kind performance from Andy Serkis, and you've got a "Planet Of The Apes" film that almost reach the level of the original 1968 classic. Almost.
Most Fun In The Theaters - "Godzilla"
Admit it. Everyone saw this coming.
Though there were plenty of entertaining and cool films this year, especially from Marvel, nothing can compete with my excitement and expectations of Gareth Edwards' "Godzilla." I had waited ten years for this film, and it did not disappoint. The size and scope of Godzilla was bigger than ever before, the effects for the monsters destroying cities looked impressive and we finally got the Godzilla that fans have waited for a long time to see. My only disappointment is that the acting from Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olson could have been more convincing, which would have made their scenes even more heart-pounding than they already were.
Sleep Inducer - "The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies"
What was the point of this film anyway?
It is sad that a film as epic as a tale from Middle Earth could be so boring and uncaring. Part of this problem stems from the fact that all the character development and motivation was in the first two films of this trilogy, leaving "Battle Of The Five Armies" with nothing to go on. The film is practically running on fumes by the end of the first act. As such, there is no reason to give a damn about anything that happens. Characters are dying left and right, but I couldn't care less, because I don't even know half of their names, let alone their character traits.
Film I Need To Watch Again- "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
I'll give Wes Andersen this, he knows how to make a film that needs to be watched multiple times, but you don't mind watching multiple times. I have now watched "The Grand Budapest Hotel" twice, and I still do not feel like I fully understand it. To me, it is just another Wes Andersen film like all of his others. That is not a bad thing, but it didn't do much to grab my attention. It could be that I just do not get it and need to see it again. We will see.
Funniest Film Of 2014- "Guardians Of The Galaxy"
Like I've said many times over the last year, comedies nowadays suck. Even though 2014 did give us some decent comedies in "Top Five" and the previously mentioned "The Grand Budapest Hotel," none of them were uproarious laughter. The film that consistently made me laugh this year was "Guardians Of The Galaxy." From the witty and pop culture-fueled Star Lord, to Drax taking everything seriously, to Rocket and his general attitude of not caring about anything but himself, to Groot being...Groot. Lots to laugh and enjoy about this one. One of the better blockbusters of 2014.
Biggest Disappointment- "The Boxtrolls"
For a film made by the same people as "Coraline" and "Paranorman," this one was unnecessarily mean-spirited and hateful. It certainly had some neat animations when it came to the Boxtrolls, but the characters were either unimaginative, poorly written and so strange that seemed out-of-place. By the end of it, I was more disappointed at myself for falling for all that than I was at the movie.
Most Forgettable- "The Judge"
Did this movie even happen? I forgot.
Perhaps it was because I saw it on the same day as "Gone Girl," but "The Judge" had nothing going for it. The story was predictable, the characters were cliché and bland, and there was nothing to grab my attention. The conflict between Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall is so forced and hammered in that you just roll your eyes at every scene. And of course, it began my least favorite part of 2014 - keeping character motivation and backgrounds hidden until the last ten minutes of the film. This trend needs to go away, or else we are bound to get some terrible stories.
Most Overrated- "Interstellar"
It was a tough choice between "Interstellar" and "Selma" for this one, but in the end, Christopher Nolan's ego-trip won against the Civil Rights story that we've all heard many times. As I've mentioned before, "Interstellar" does have some breath-taking visuals and make it worth watching, but the story is unnecessarily convoluted, forced and pretentious.
Believe me, I hate to use the word "pretentious" on anything, since it has air of smug and know-it-all. But that word and "Interstellar" seem to go together. It thinks way too highly of itself, like it is telling the most epic story ever created, when it is just like any other science-fiction movie. Christopher Nolan's finger prints are all over this film and that takes something away from it.
Most Underrated- "Big Eyes"
Early on in 2014, I talked about Hayao Miyazaki's last film "The Wind Rises" and how it not only encapsulates the feelings of its main character, but Miyazaki's dreams as well. Of a man who had no limitations on his creativity and imagination, no boundaries to speak of and always tried his best to make something that he could be proud of.
I bring this up because "Big Eyes" and its' director Tim Burton work in a similar way. The film depicts a woman who, despite all odds, saw the need to paint in the eyes of people and brought those paintings to the masses. She sees the inner beauty of people, or some cases the ugliness. Burton does the same with his work, as he makes his adaptations into his own ideas. They may not always work, but that is the beauty of being an artist - sometimes you have to figure out what works and what doesn't. No one knows that better than Tim Burton.
Best Performances Of 2014- *TIE* Anything by Jennifer Lawrence and Christoph Waltz
I am now convinced that both of these wonderful people can do no wrong. Both of these actors were in two movies that I saw this year, "X-Men: Days Of Future Past" and "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" for Lawrence, and "Horrible Bosses 2" and "Big Eyes" for Waltz. In all cases, Lawrence and Waltz were the highlight of all four films. The charisma of Waltz and the intensity of Lawrence have become eye-popping and worth the price of admission. It is impossible for me to choose between these two, so it is only fair that they share this spot.
Best Rediscovery Of 2014- "Fargo"
Like last year with "The Lady Eve," there were a few films this year that I had watched before, but gained an all new respect for all of a sudden. In 2014, that film was "Fargo," which I am now convinced is the best Coen Brothers film. After watching the unnecessarily depressing "Inside Llewyn Davis," I realized that the Coens are at their best when they have an overly optimistic and positive outlook on life in their dark worlds. No one does that better than Margie Gunderson in "Fargo." If it weren't for her, there would be very few redeeming qualities to that film. She makes the struggle of our pathetic and stupid characters worth following, as we see her have this happy and content life with a loving husband and a baby on the way. One of my favorite films today and a good one to pop in at any time.
Most Anticipated Film Of 2015- "Inside Out"
2015 promises to be a big year for the blockbuster. The second entry for the Avengers, the return of the Terminator, Mad Max and Jurassic Park, the end of Katniss, and of course, "Star Wars Episode Seven: The Force Awakens." So, since there is no new Godzilla film coming out, what is the movie that I'm looking forward to above all others? I have to go with Pixar's most imaginative film since "WALL-E."
One of my disappointments with 2014 was that there was no new Pixar movies. Luckily, we'll be getting two new ones in 2015, including one about the emotions of a girl and conflict going on inside of her head. Simple premise, but it could lead to so many creative and thought-provoking scenarios in a long time. You can bet that I'll be in the theater opening night to see "Inside Out."
Worst Film Of 2014- "St. Vincent"
If this film was not making me roll my eyes at the cliché and predictable story, it was making me groan in frustration at how poorly written these characters were. "St. Vincent" is unfunny, mean-spirited, poorly paced and subscribes to the idea that you should save character development until the audience is getting ready to leave. Even Bill Murray couldn't save this film, because he is not given any room to do his improv or add his own spice to the role. "St. Vincent" is an ugly movie only makes me feel dirty for watching it.
And now, we arrive at my top five films of 2014. Even though I still given five spots, it was still and difficult process to narrow it down to just five films. I'd like to give some honorable mentions to "Wild," "American Sniper," "Big Eyes" and "Life Itself" for being so close to making it on this list and still be wonderfully thought-provoking and entertaining films.
It took me a while to decide if "Boyhood" would make this list or not. I was unsure of how I really felt about the film and whether I actually liked Mason as a character. But in the end, I decided that I love Mason as a character, but I do not like him as a person. Since we see Mason become his own man over the course of twelve years, we can safely say that we know the inner workings of this guy. As such, I can at least respect Mason, but that he is still unlikable and boring at times.
Much like "Gravity" and "12 Years A Slave" last year, I respect "Boyhood" more than anything else. And because of that respect, it certainly earns a spot on my list of the best films of the year. No other film has done what "Boyhood" did and will probably never be attempted again.
4. "The Lego Movie"
I've probably talked more about this movie than any other one this year, but this needs to be stated - I have never seen a movie like "The Lego Movie."
I don't mean just a movie where everything is made out of Legos, but how each world of Legos operates, how the pieces of each construction can be broken down and recreated into something else, how it able to combine the aspects of some of the greatest stories ever made and still be its own unique story from the mind of a child. Throw in a wonderful sense of humor, some good voice acting and surprisingly adult twist and you have one of the most imaginative and fun movies that I have seen in a long time.
3. "Gone Girl"
Aside from this being an effective mystery that can be watched multiple times without getting tiresome, "Gone Girl" works at being an emotional rollercoaster, where your feelings on the main characters can change on a whim. Sometimes you'll be sympathetic to Ben Affleck, but other times you'll hate him for being a scumbag and then there are times where you're convinced that he killed his wife. For a film to be able to pull that off, and for to do it without even realizing it, is a massive achievement in dramatic storytelling and pacing.
For a while, I had "Gone Girl" ahead of "Birdman," but the more that I thought about the dialogue, the camera movement and the tragically optimistic character of Riggin Thomson, the more I realized just how amazing and profound "Birdman" is. The visual style is unique and fits the theatre theme, each character is like-abley pathetic and it leaves you wanting more. Out of the many smart movies in 2014, this one was the prodigy of the group.
And The Best Movie Of 2014 is...
Certainly the creepiest movie of the year, but the creepiness works in perfectly to Jack Gyllenhaal's performance and the unnerving business of breaking news. It goes beyond dog-eat-dog and becomes a dark place where the lowest scumbags will film your death to sell to the highest bidding news station. On top of that, you have a character like Louis Bloom, who lives in his own little world where people are expendable products and only the dominant and work-driven survive. In a world where the media consistently goes by the "If it bleeds, it leads" slogan, "Nightcrawler" is the most relevant movie of the year.
And this brings us to the end of 2014. I have to admit this has been one of the better years for film in some time and it has been a joy to share all these wonderful movies with you. I hope you have enjoyed my experience and thoughts throughout and I hope that 2015 will bring us even more great work.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Sometimes you can tell that a particular movie is created due to a star's popularity or the acclaimed roles they have played. "The Wolf Of Wall Street" was made almost specifically to showcase Leonardo DiCaprio's talents, same with Bruce Dern in "Nebraska."
"The Imitation Game" gives off the same vibe as those films. The film plays to the strength of its lead actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, by playing it close to home for him. But he exceeded my expectations by playing a character that is all too familiar to us, yet still giving a unique and creative performance.
It is the middle of World War II, and Britain is under constant attack by the Nazis. The tides seemingly turn though when British soldiers acquire an Enigma Machine, the device Nazis use to code all of their messages, making it impossible for anyone else to understand. The problem is that, since there are over 159 Million Million combinations, no person can figure out the machine even with a head start. But what would another machine?
Professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a mathematician prodigy and is hired by the British government to crack the code to the Enigma Machine. He figures that this task is impossible for him to pull off, so he'll invent something with a digital brain that could decipher the code. All the while, Turning is hassled by coworkers, the government and his own insecurities about his sexuality and need to keep secrets.
Let's start this off by pointing out the character traits of Alan Turing - He is a genius, able to solve complex problems in moments, is full of himself, loves to understand how the villain works, but is socially awkward, does not understand humor or sarcasm and chooses to not have many friends.
From the first scene with Turing, there was no doubt in my mind that Benedict Cumberbatch was hired because Alan Turing is so close to his performance as Sherlock Holmes. Turing and Holmes are two peas in a pod, even down to their vacant stare and uneasy around other people.
So you'd think "The Imitation Game" would be a WW2 mystery film with Sherlock Holmes being himself, right? Actually, I was surprised when I found out just how good of an actor Cumberbatch is.
Though he is playing a character almost identical to his role in "Sherlock," Cumberbatch finds ways to make Alan Turing his own man. Turing is reserved in his speech, choosing to stay quiet until something needs to be said. Also, Turing attempts to be friends with his co-workers, but they are put off by his need to be better than everyone else.
Turing actually cares about people and what might happen if he fails at his mission. Sherlock just loves the thrill of the hunt and understanding the mind of those he hunts.
Turing also breaks into many emotional motions in the film, so he is a man who wears his emotions on his sleeves. Cumberbatch can be both quiet and reserved, but also loud and boisterous. I have the utmost respect for Benedict Cumberbatch, being able to play a character so close to his iconic role, but still making it his own role. It is no wonder that he got the Oscar nomination.
However, outside of Cumberbatch's unique acting talents, there is not much to "The Imitation Game." The pacing and story are rather predictable, with a twist leaning towards Turing's sexuality, and the cast does a fine job at their performances, especially Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, but nothing that sticks out.
That being said, "The Imitation Game" is still a movie to be checked out, if only to watch Benedict Cumberbatch do something old and new simultaneously. The film does not necessarily do anything bad, but it is not eye-catching either. Wait for this one to come out on DVD and give it a rental.
Final Grade: C+
Sunday, January 25, 2015
One thing that all good art should do is make you think. Not just about how much you liked it, but how it made you feel, or if comparisons to other works can be brought up, or if made you reminisce about your own life. Sometimes you could not even care for the art itself, but still appreciate it for making you think. Afterall, maybe that was the artist's intention.
This is how I feel about Richard Linklater's newest film "Boyhood." It chronicles the young life of one boy as we watch him grow up from a six-year old to graduating high school and starting a new life in college. We watch as he argues with his sister, sees his mom and dad break up and his mother fall in love with many other men and his friends pressure him into doing things that will change his life.
This is not necessarily a review of "Boyhood." More so, my organized thoughts on the film and what it left me with. As such, if you've seen "Boyhood" I would love to hear what you thought of the film, so please leave a comment below and tell me all about it, or even if you disagree with my thoughts.
So let's start with the obvious point that everyone brings up with this film - that it took over twelve years to make, while still using all the same actors and actresses. For that reason, right off the bat, I respect "Boyhood." To be committed to any sort of project for that long takes true dedication, strength and artistic quality. No other film has done this before, especially with starting off with someone at the age of six and going all the way through his teenage years.
But, that can only take a film so far. Like I said, I respect "Boyhood" but that does not mean that I like it.
I've mentioned this in the past, but when I watch a movie, the key elements that I choose to focus on are the characters and the story. They are the backbone and foundation to any good movie. If they do not hold up or turn out to be terrible people who you do not want to follow, then the film falls apart.
"Boyhood" has very little story and the main character is unlikable. There are story elements, as well as some very realistic dialogue, and events happen, but they happen to the people around our main character, Mason. Throughout the majority of the film, Mason will witness the world change around him, yet he will remain the same - stoic, uninteresting and kinda bored. His mother gets divorced and has to leave the house in a hurry, but Mason just sits there with the same dull look on his face. Until the end of the film, the story of Mason is an uninteresting one.
Mason also has an "I don't care about the world" attitude. He has very short conversations with people, thinks that there is always a conspiracy against him and treats most of the people around him like crap. He only seems to care about his photography. It is hard to give a damn about that sort of character when all he does is complain and does not engage us in any way.
However, to the films' credit, I think this was intentional. There is supposed to be very little story, and Mason is supposed to not be that engaging. Because that is life. There is no ongoing story to our life journey, just events that occur to help shape us into the people that we are. This is especially true for young kids, who just witness life happening around them before deciding to join the world and become their own person. Mason may not know how to handle all the grief and sometimes misery that happens around him and ends up being bored by life.
When I was a teenager, I found myself rarely engaging in conversations with my parents when they would ask "How was your day?" or "Anything interesting happen?" Because I did not feel like explaining myself and reliving things that I may not want to remember. Granted, I quickly moved out of this phase in my life, because I thought it was rude and disrespectful to my parents, but it still occurred and it is a phase that Mason also must go through.
So while Mason may be unlikable and boring, he is quite possibly the most relatable character that I've seen in a long time.
Another interesting aspect is that Mason is growing up at almost the same timeframe that I grew up in - the late 1990s and early 2000s. We watch him go through phases and fads that I saw firsthand, like Britney Spears, Skateboarding and the summer of "The Dark Knight." I found myself repeating, "Oh, I remember when that happened! That was a cool time!"
Which makes the events that happen in Mason's life that much more relatable. We see both good and bad things happen to Mason, like going to a baseball game with his father and sister, but also witness family quarrels. This made me think, "Boy, I remember when that happened. That sucked."
Not only is Mason an unbelievably relatable character, but the timeframe and story events are also relatable, especially for me. Because that is just how life works - you have to take the good with the bad, and learn from all that. Do what you want with your life, and make sure you don't repeat the mistakes that you've seen.
For this reason, "Boyhood" is the ultimate coming-of-age story. Not just because a boy learns to become a man, but because we literally see him turn into a man. This is the same boy throughout, as we watch him see a dead bird to deciding that he wants to become a professional photographer.
While I do think the story of Mason's mother and father is a far more compelling and captivating story, as she tries to juggle school, relationships and being a mother, and the father learning that he needs to grow up and move on in life, there is something awe-inspiring about Mason's story. To see something like this be attempted through scope and sheer determination is amazing.
"Boyhood" also reminds me of films like "Gravity" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." All three films are not necessarily about the story, but about the experience. These films put you in a state of mind where you don't necessarily care about what happens but you are entranced by the atmosphere, visuals and remembering your own life experiences. You don't even remember what happened in the film, but you know that you had a great time.
So, did I enjoy "Boyhood"? Yeah, but I respect it more than I enjoy it. To do what Richard Linklater did and succeed is nothing sort of miracle and a masterpiece. From a story and character aspect, there is not much to go on. But when it comes to relating all of it to life and the experience of being a child, this film could not be closer to the truth.
Again, if you've seen "Boyhood" please tell me what you thought of it, because I'm curious to hear what you guys have to say. Do you agree with my thoughts or think that I'm way off? Let me know in the comments below.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
It has been a day since I watched "Foxcatcher" and I am still not sure how to feel about it.
There were certainly good aspects to the adaptation of John E. DuPont's obsession with wrestler Mark Schultz, and even great aspects that make the film worth watching. But then there are other points that left me confused and uninterested in several parts of the film.
Perhaps it is the undeniably creepy and off-putting atmosphere combine with the slow pacing throughout the film that makes some scenes unclear. Or it might be the lack of dialogue and letting the tension rise through Steve Carell's out-of-character performance. Most likely, it is a combination of both.
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic Gold-Medal wrestler, and wants to be seen as the greatest fighter in the world, even better than his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Mark gets his chance when John E. DuPont (Steve Carell) of the DuPont family dynasty takes up an interest in wrestling and wants to train Mark for the World Championship and the Olympics. As time goes on though, John seems to take more than a special interest in Mark and sees him as more than just wrestler and friend.
To start off, "Foxcatcher" is dripping in an unsettling atmosphere, while still having the tension be so thin that you could cut it with a butter knife. Both Mark and John are unhinged and obsessed with achieving their goals, no matter what the costs may be. If they can't get what they want, they will beat themselves up, or beat anyone nearby.
Steve Carell's performance deserves the Oscar nomination, as it is other worldly at times. Channeling a bit of his inner Norman Bates, we get a character who wants to out-do his own legacy and be remembered as his own man, and not just another DuPont. Yet he still has the mindset of a spoiled child, obsessed with toys and sports and will use his money to get what he wants.
This leads him to claiming certain things as his "property" without realizing the ramifications.
However, "Foxcatcher" does suffer from pacing problems, especially at the beginning of the film. For the first thirty minutes, we watch Mark wander around his hometown trying to make a living and being generally unhappy that he only has Top Ramen to eat. Later on, there are scenes where Mark and John share about two lines of dialogue and go no where. This is still quite unsettling, but there is a limit to all of that.
But my biggest complaint with "Foxcatcher" is how disjointed and unconnected many scenes are. For example, there is a scene where John enters in a wrestling tournament, that he supposedly paid off so that he could win, and then rubs it in his mother's face. While this does explain more of his character, that scene is never brought up again and ended as quickly as it started. Several points in the movie will remain unexplained and confusing. Combine this with the slow pacing, and there are some scenes where I stopped caring about the film altogether.
"Foxcatcher" offers up a fascinating experience, through the excellent atmosphere and performances always giving a sense of gloom and uncertainty. While I suppose the pacing and disconnected scenes add to this, they do take away from the film. There is a difference between unsettling and confusing, and "Foxcatcher" seems to get the two mixed up often.
That being said, there is still plenty of great things to enjoy about "Foxcatcher," even the lack of dialogue throughout the majority of the film helps contribute to how bizarre the film can be. It is certainly worth your time and I recommend "Foxcatcher" to those who enjoy a film where they're not sure what is going on.
Final Grade: B
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Imagine that the person you love most in this world came running at another person you care about with a machete. And the only way to stop them was for you to shot them. Could you pull the trigger? Did they deserve to shot? Could you live with yourself?
Now imagine doing this 160 times.
This is the tragedy of Chris Kyle, nicknamed "The Legend," and living up to that name by being the most lethal sniper in American military history. A man who saw no joy in killing, nor for the thrill of the hunt. This is a man believes in few things - Family, God and America. He would do anything to protect those that he cares about, even if that means self-sacrifice.
Not just laying down his life, but sacrificing his own happiness, thoughts and identity to serve and protect his country.
Such is the strength of Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper," as it hits at the core of many war films, but manages to hit it on the nose more than most others. Films like "The Hurt Locker" and "Full Metal Jacket" discuss the need to lose yourself in war, so that you can cope with all the death and destruction, but "American Sniper" makes it far more personal.
Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) has spent his young life being a wild cowboy, but finds no purpose or fulfillment out of it. When he learns about terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Chris enlists in the SEALS and puts his hunting skills to use and becomes an elite sniper. After the 9/11 attacks though, Chris is deployed to Iraq and makes a name for himself with his impeccable aim and zero hesitation. All the while, Chris thinks about his new wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) and the baby on the way.
While I was watching "American Sniper" I thought back to how similar it was to "The Hurt Locker." A modern-day war film about one guy and his many dangerous, sometimes disjointed, adventures while trying to maintain his sanity and survive his tour.
But as soon as I thought about that, I realized that "American Sniper" was better in almost every regard. This was due to one simple reason - Bradley Cooper's wonderful and heartfelt performance.
In "The Hurt Locker," Jeremy Renner has the same blank emotionless expression throughout the majority of the movie. He is desensitized to the violence, which makes it harder to connect to him on an emotional level. Cooper, however, seems to feel regret and disgust for every kill he has to make. He does not want to take these lives, but he is forced to.
In Chris Kyle's eyes, America is the greatest country in the world and those who threaten it with violence and death are evil people. If that's the case, there are a lot of evil people. They must be dealt with swiftly, before they hurt the people he cares about.
Like Chris says at one point, he is not protecting some dirt in the Middle East, but making sure these people do not attack San Diego or New York.
Yet once Chris gets back to his family, he can't stop thinking about those lives that he can't protect in Iraq. He can't stop seeing himself at the end of that sniper rifle. So much so that all he does is watch footage of the war, rather than raising his son or spending time with his wife.
Cooper hides behind shades and contemplation when at home, always thinking about the lives that he couldn't save. That is the heart of "American Sniper" and why reliability and understanding is so important in a war film.
When I walked out of the theater, I not only noticed a massive line for the next screening, but also several people wearing shirts with the American flag and even one wearing a "The Legend" shirt with The Punisher logo on it. I then realized that Chris Kyle was more than just a great shot, but a role model to those attempting to survive in the Middle East. A reminder of how strong the will to serve and protect your country can be. To always stand up for your ideals and let no one get in your way.
Personally, I came out of "American Sniper" seeing a man dedicate and sacrifice himself to his country, even if that means he loses himself. Driven by an uplifting and tense performance by Bradley Cooper, an unrelenting atmosphere where the enemy could be hiding around any corner and tight pacing and editing that keeps the story grounded in reality, this is a war tragedy that never lets up but you never want to look away from.
Final Grade: A-
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Race privileges and civil rights are a hard topic to discuss, especially in this day-and-age.
Where I've lived and the way I have grown up, race is not that much of a problem. I've been raised by the belief that everyone deserves the same rights and duties, no matter what their race, gender or orientation may be. I've never witnessed an act of hate due simply to the color of their skin and everyone gets a fair shake.
Part of this is because of the age we live in. During the civil rights movement, who would have thought that the highest paid athlete in America would be Lebron James? Or that actors like Denzel Washington and Lupita Nyong'o would win the highest awards for their craft? Or how about Oprah Winfrey being, well, Oprah? She is just her own brand now and is arguably the most powerful woman in the world.
And of course, the leader of the free world, the president of the United States. We really have made a lot of progress when it comes to civil rights.
The reason I bring this up is to show how the film "Selma" has left very little impact on me. While I'm sure this film will stir some people up, "Selma" left me feeling a bit cold about events that were already ingrained into me - that the civil rights movement was a very tough time period when African-Americans were suppressed and did not have any rights as citizens of America.
My response to that is - Man, it is a good thing we are passed that. So, what does this have to do with me?
This is my problem with "Selma." The whole film comes across as a documentary about that time period with actors playing these significant roles - Danny Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., Tim Boardbent as President Lyndon B. Johnson and Oprah Winfrey as her holy self. Rather than telling a story with relatable characters and showing their lives, "Selma" is recapping the major events of the civil rights movement that led to African-Americans claiming their rights to vote and be apart of this nation.
In showing how this came about, "Selma" does just fine. Every major moment is given the weight and importance that it deserves. How Martin Luther King Jr. became such an icon and leader in that movement is put on full display.
However, outside of being that leader, that figure which most people know about, we do not get to know much Martin Luther King. We know that he has a few fights with his wife, but that's about it. There is a person inside that legend, but it does not seem like we get to know him.
Last year, "12 Years A Slave" showed us an honest yet brutal portrayal of one the darkest times in American history. A time when African-Americans were treated worse than filth and inhumanly. While I had problems with the film, I still respect Steven McQueen and the film for bringing this often-forgotten story to light and never once flinching in the face of disgust.
While I could say the same thing about "Selma," there is this feeling that holds me back. It is most certainly honest, but to the point where it becomes tedious. Perhaps it is that "Selma" does not take enough chances with a story that has been told many times, or that it feels more like a documentary instead of flowing narrative.
We've seen or have been taught these historical events already, so what else do you have?
Overall, "Selma" is average. It sits on the border of dull and excitement, unsure if it wants to be faithful to history or try something new. Each scene gets the job done at getting the point across and does not over stay its welcome. As a recap of that movement and a time capsule of mid-1960 Alabama, "Selma" is fine. If you're unfamiliar with that time period or Martin Luther King Jr, check it out. But if you already know about it, then this film probably won't do anything for you.
Final Grade: C
Friday, January 9, 2015
Now this is a step in the right direction.
For the past couple years, I've had nothing but complaints when it comes to the state of comedies in cinema. Aside from poor storytelling, films being nothing more than excuses to enact improve with little film work being done or just retelling the same jokes over again, comedies recently have not been funny.
I mean, isn't that the reason we watch comedies? To laugh? It should not be that hard, but filmmakers seem to have forgotten just what constitutes as comedy and instead focus on the grotesque, insulting and disrespectful.
Luckily, every once in a while, a shining beckon of hope shows up to make audiences remember that true comedy comes from the situations and circumstances, and not verbally ripping people apart. Last year, that was Martin Scorsese's' "The Wolf Of Wall Street," but this year we have Writer/Director Chris Rocks' "Top Five." While the film is not saying anything new, it does give us some fleshed out characters getting into all sorts of hijinks.
Andre Allen (Chris Rock) was once voted the world's funniest man and had a string of successful Hollywood blockbusters, but now finds himself wanting to be taken seriously. With the release of his new film about a Haitian Revolution and getting married to a big-name reality television star, Andre should be happier than ever before. That is until the New York Times sends reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) to follow Andre around for a day and see just how messed up his life truly is.
What really stood out to me was how dynamic and diverse the lead characters were. These two are big names in their respective fields, but have their dark sides as well. Andre was an alcoholic who fells like he is not funny unless he is drunk, but has been sober for four years now. Chelsea has made many relationship mistakes and still suffers from her mistakes in the past.
"Top Five" fleshes these characters out at a reasonable pace, not unloading it all at once, but not saving it until the end either. It makes these two not only relatable characters, but feel more like people and not just a bunch of punch lines and pop culture references.
As for the comedy, "Top Five" provides continuous laughs throughout the film. The title is a constant question asked throughout the film, where characters will ask what the five best rappers of all time would be, but the comedy comes from people reacting to the lists.
That is the comedy of this film in a nutshell - reactions. Watching Chris Rock respond to a crazy situation with two sexy women and a drunk Cedric The Entertainer is funnier than the situation itself. Most of that comes back to the comedic timing and acting skills of the lead characters.
Yet, the film still takes the time when there is a serious moment to slow down and appreciate the dilemma. When Chelsea reveals some shocking secrets about herself, Andre does not immediately jump in with a snappy comeback, but has questions for her.
Aside from the lack of good jokes, this is what comedies are lacking today. That realistic approach to characters and the need to slow down and appreciate the situation, instead of just trying to make the audience laugh.
Overall, I appreciated "Top Five" more than I enjoyed it. While I did laugh throughout the film, the story itself was not that interesting, but the characters more than made up for that. I respect Chris Rock for taking such a bold step like this and coming out with a product that understands what makes comedy so great.
Final Grade: B
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
When an actor has to carry a film solely on their own performance, that's a difficult task. It is a different story altogether when that actor is basically the only person on-screen for the majority of the film.
For example, "Forrest Gump" becomes all the better due to Tom Hanks captivating yet simple performance, same with the intensity of Burt Lancaster in "Birdman Of Alcatraz." But there are also several other factors that can be attributed to the success of those movies, like a good supporting cast or effective cinematography. On the other hand, you have a film like "127 Hours" where James Franco is the only thing we see for most of the film, and not much else.
If he gives us one reason to not care about him or doubt his struggle, the film falls apart.
This is the case in "Wild," as Resse Witherspoon takes it upon herself to carry this film all on her own, both figuratively and physically. We watch as she rarely speaks, interacts with others even less, and turns walking 1,000 miles into a touching and effective character piece.
Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) has had a rough couple of years and seems to have lost vision of who she wants to be. After arguing with several loved ones, she decides to do the impossible - walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mexican Border to Canada, on her own. Everyone tells her that she can back out at any time and they'll still love her, but that will not be stopping her anytime soon.
What I love about "Wild" is that, without ever saying anything, we are told everything we need to know. Through some visual cuts, tight editing and a haunting performance by Witherspoon, we now know why Cheryl is going on this hike, what her life was like before that, and her concerns about when she finishes the hike.
It is using the visual medium to your advantage, while still telling a beautifully sad story.
Plus, unlike recent films such as "The Judge" and "St. Vincent," right away we know the characters motivations and reasons for why they are acting this way. Every character action is logical, well-thought out and performed well enough for the audience to understand with just a simple gesture or emotional response.
To watch Resse Witherspoon turn from this sickly sad woman into a proud, confident person, is just incredible. At the beginning of the film, she can hardly lift her 65-pound backpack or figure out what kind of flames she needs to operate her stove. But by the end, that backpack means nothing to her. In fact, it has become a part of her.
In a strange way, "Wild" takes place specifically in the mind of Cheryl Strayed. Many scenes are driven and edited through her memories and stream of consciousness. When she runs into a horse on her hike, she remembers taking care of her mother's horse, leading her to a touching scene with her and the horse in the rain. This is a odd yet effective way to show just how dependent the film is on Witherspoon and her performance.
Even when thinking, she has to keep the audience invested.
"Wild" is an excellent character piece, as we watch a good person have tragic events occur, and then witness that person rise from those tragedies to become someone she can be proud of. Driven by a stunning performance by Resse Witherspoon and nature-documentary level cinematography, this is one that is touching, gritty, and thrilling.
Final Grade: A-
"Big Eyes" (2014)
Oh boy, Tim Burton.
Director Tim Burton has become a touchy subject these days, as his recent films have been, for lack of a better term, sucky. In particular, films like "Alice In Wonderland," "Planet Of The Apes," "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" and "Dark Shadows."
But here is an interesting tidbit about all of those films - they're all based on a different source material. Even Burton's best films are based on other source material - "Ed Wood," "Big Fish," "Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," "Sleepy Hollow" and even his Batman films.
The thing about all those good adaptations? They all added something new and innovative to the old stories that gave Burton's films their own unique flare, while still being those captivating stories. Burton tried to do the same with films like "Planet Of The Apes" and "Dark Shadows" but it just did not work.
Such is the life of an artist. Sometimes you have to put up with some crap to get to the good ones. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But my point is that Tim Burton has always been at his best when he finds creative and wholly original ways to adapt classic stories. Burton is a phenomenon of an artist, and one is not afraid to test the waters with his unique perspective.
Perhaps this is why Burton is the perfect choice to adapt the life story of Margaret Keane, a painter from the 1960s who was famous for painting children with enormous eyes. This has led to Burton's newest film "Big Eyes," that provides a fascinating modern tragedy of personality loss and being desperate.
Margaret (Amy Adams) has left her husband and moved to San Fransisco with her daughter, hoping to make a living off of her paintings. It's just too bad that 'no one wants to buy women paintings.' One day, she comes across a fellow painter, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and is smitten by his charm and charisma. When Walter takes his paintings to a local art dealer, he shows off some of Margaret's paintings, but claims that he created them. Suddenly, the big eyed paintings start to take off and they begin to make more money than they need, even though Margaret has to live with the world thinking that Walter painted them.
Some people have criticized this film for Waltz's portrayal of Walter Keane, making him out to be psychotic and delusional. Personally, I thought Waltz's performance was the best part of the movie. Not only does he give the usual charm and love for the world we have come to expect from Waltz, but underneath it all is a desperate man who wants to make it in the world. To be given a chance to show the world what he has, even if 'what he has' is not really his own.
But as the film processes, we watch as Walter deteriorates into a greedy, self-obsessed man who begins to think that he did create those paintings. All the while, Waltz eyes light up when he can do business and make a bigger name for himself. The more people who believe his story, the more paintings he sells, and more happy he will be.
It just so happens that, for his own personal happiness, he must destroy the life of his wife. In a way, this makes the story just as much about Walter as it is the story of Margaret.
Don't get me wrong, Amy Adams does a wonderful job as her mental state starts to break down. But Christoph Waltz blows her out of the water, as he is known to do.
Combine this with Burton's eye-popping color scheme and dramatic angles, and you have a tragedy about desperation and relevance that begs to be viewed for its performances as much as its cinematography.
Overall, "Big Eyes" captures the imagination and creativity of a Tim Burton film, while telling a modern story about desperation and personal identity. The best of both worlds, on top of two mesmerizing performances by Waltz and Adams. Certainly, one of Burton's best films.
Final Grade: A-