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Pawn Sacrifice (2014)
Biggest disparity between a box office and my score, ever. An indescribably small $1.3 mil ($1.6 including international !), though the ratings are relatively high by those who have actually seen it. Excellent performances by Maguire, Schreiber and especially Sarsgaard, who was the character I identified with the most. I'm guessing most of the subtle humor wasn't obvious, to most--some of it being Chess humor. The movie perfectly portrays the fact that we'll never know how much of Bobby was show and strategy, and how much mental problems.
Excellent to outstanding use of music, especially "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane from 40+ years before--which beyond doubt had to have been written and performed expressly for this move. If they'd have included "One Night in Bangkok", at least in the credits, it'd have finished it off exquisitely, "I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine"---but I'm obviously in a very small minority.
P.S. You don't even have to know how to play chess, because they don't dwell on the actual play.
Irrational Man (2015)
Magnificent. Existentialsim is the opiate of the Literati.
(WARNING: Action junkies and those adverse to heavy emphasis on dialogue, proceed at your own risk of brain lockup or catatonia at the mere discussion of the film. Any comparison between what those with such a disposition would feel having to sit through it, and the straight-jacketed, eyelids held open Alex in "A Clockwork Orange", is more than a perfect analogy. There's only one small, climactic action sequence at the end. In line with all that, a brief refresher in existentialism: "Søren Kierkegaard 1813-1855 is generally considered to have been the first existentialist philosopher, though he did not use the term existentialism. He proposed that each individualnot society or religionis solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely ("authentically")"--Wiki. I emphasize that Kierkegaard didn't name it; and as it's expressed in Wikipedia, his concept was very reasonable. FF 160 years into the future to what that concept, under the existential label, has been bastardized into during the intervening years--a training ground for psychobabble, making theology seem like a maze with no turns. Thus it makes perfect sense that our hapless, confused philosophy professor, seeking existential enlightenment, should assume the mantle of the title character.)
If religion is the opiate of the masses, then it follows that Existentialism is the opiate of the Literati.
I'm not a Woody Allen fan in any sense, but if I hadn't known he directed and wrote it, I never would have guessed so. But it's far and away the best thing he's done that I've seen inmynevertobehumbleopinion Every aspect of movie making, especially the dialogue, cinematography, story line, and the excellent casting (with one exception), is perfect. About that exception: what's with Jamie Blackley getting top billing, alphabetically or otherwise, over the other three primaries--especially Emma Stone who had the most difficult part, the most screen time, and redeemed both herself and Woody Allen after their last collaborative abomination, "Magic in the Moonlight". And who is the hell is Jamie Blackley anyway; his part was secondary, and his performance was blah at best. What's going on there, some nepotism......or worse?
(Major spoilers follow) As for the moral issues the movie raises, the first, the murder of the judge, is not so cut and dried as it is made to appear. If you see someone about to be murdered and you kill the perp instead, are you not justified? If you have no other way to prevent a corrupt authority figure from perpetrating a horrific injustice (with diligent fact checking and exploring other avenues of resolution, which the story took license to assume), what would, or should you do? If you do take action, you must assume responsibility for the correctness of your judgement, and for the system resolution that follows.
I was spellbound, making this my #2 movie, and most thought provoking (out of 72 so far), in theaters this year. Magnificent, 9.5/10
Like Sunday, Like Rain (2014)
Distinctive, enigmatic and fleeting
10/10 Masterpiece. Some are calling this melancholy, but I think bittersweet is a better word. Above all, it's a story about a 12 year-old music prodigy being played by a c. 12 year-old acting prodigy. As good as child acting has gotten, few if any could have pulled this off as well. What's the significance of 12? It's that age where you're as mature as you're going to get before the onset of puberty. But what if your emotional maturity and profound awareness outstrip your physical growth? It's about resigning yourself to your solitude, until.... The result is a bittersweet gulf between two otherwise kindred souls. This isn't about dramatic friction, it's about something distinctive, enigmatic and fleeting. It's like playing a beautiful tune on a cello in an empty swimming pool with good acoustics. It's like Sunday, like rain.
Maybe the best "child" performance ever.
The Gambler (2014)
Best since The Departed
I've liked Mark Wahlberg since his best of the outstanding cast performance in "The Departed". Since then he's mostly been in slo-mo-strutting-away-from-an-explosion action flicks which haven't employed his abilities effectively at all. For me this puts him back up on that level and then some. His scenes in the college auditorium are exquisite.
I'd stayed away from this since the trailers made it appear to be just another depressing, soul-wrecking examination of self-destructive introspection. But it was a surprise. Those clichés were not adhered to, and it isn't predictable at all--all of which will probably keep it from garnering any significant awards. The direction it was going had me in the dark right up until the absolute end where either of the two main possibilities each had their further quirky possible trajectories. Goodman is excellent standing in for Jabba the Hutt, though I worry he won't be with us much longer. They have me wondering if they had his already significant bulk in a fat suit.
Tied for best of the year IMHO with "Nightcrawler"; and with "American Sniper" yet to go. Definitely the first year in quite a while to be dominated by male actors. 9/10
Jersey Boys (2014)
A Cry for Creativity
It isn't that the music in the (20 years and counting) run of musical anthologies is that great, although the ABBA collection in "Mamma Mia" which started it all comes close, and it isn't even the nostalgia; it's the lack of inspiration in song writing that's able to make it past the gauntlet of suits who think music is rehashing a sound that semi-worked....once. You need go no further than the pitti-pat music in the otherwise excellent previews that accompanied this movie. This is a cry not for Frankie Valli, but for music with a spark of something, anything, but the same ol' same ol'. Nowhere is musical creative cowardice more evident than Broadway with it's assembly-line approach to boiler-plating the musical, substituting Novocaine for its claim-to-fame lifeblood. "Frozen" has been very popular, but only because most of the audiences haven't been numbed by the Broadway rut. Why else this major resurrection of 50 year old pop music? This is of course is a back-handed complement for this well done Eastwood production, which only makes me long all the more for some modern Euterpian creativity, especially from Broadway and Hollywood. Certainly these characters weren't heroes, mostly just Jersey punks, except maybe for Bob Gaudio, the song writer...as irony would have it
Hateship Loveship (2013)
Includes ***spoiler***, so marked.
This is another one to add to the list of recent superlative female performances in the last few years. They just keep coming. If a lack of action or "character driven" defines a chick-flick, then I guess this one qualifies. But for me, its tone just doesn't put it in that category. And even for those who don't believe in awards, the melding of the truly imaginative screenplay with Kristen Wiig's superb, often wordless performance of it, would probably prompt a lot of them to make an exception for this magnificent film.
In the scene with the Chinese food, and taking it in the scene's context, Kristen delivered the most wicked grin ever recorded in film history. It makes an artistic set piece to accompany Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile in oil and canvas, only here you know what prompted it.
***spoiler***In the last scene where Kristen stands in front of her unintended benefactor (Sami Gayle), listening to her explaining her cookie cutter plans for the future to someone, you can feel Kristen weighing her options for a response. When Sami rudely asks "What do you want?", it makes up Kristen's mind for her, and she responds perfectly, "I have what I want" (instead of a possibly helpful suggestion that she consider a career in writing). I thought at first they'd missed the boat there, but then I realized the audience could savor both, while Sami's character could wallow on her shallow journey towards square-filling non-fulfillment. That double spoken/unspoken statement is another milestone for me as well.***spoiler*** 95/100
Draft Day (2014)
Really good behind the scenes drama.
Costner's best in a good while. The movie was confusing at first, throwing around a lot of unfamiliar names; but by the end, the packed audience I saw it with was all in. It was like a high stakes poker game (bid, bluff, dodge) with the whole world watching and using football trading cards instead of the standard poker deck. My main negative was the obligatory, Jennifer Garner love interest distraction. Chadwick Boseman is very charismatic. And since they were fictionalizing the 2014 draft, they could of at least come up with a post season summation to spice things up during the credits--like for instance, "Browns make it to the Super Bowl, but loose....to the Cardinals....in Phoenix." Yaaaaaaah! I'm a casual NFL fan, and I'd have to be a lot more involved to even care about following the draft, but the behind the scenes drama is what draws me in here. The NFL mystique will only be abetted by this movie.
Words and Pictures (2013)
Great story with a rough finish.
Starts off with a great premise and excellent dialogue throughout, but the story falters 2/3rds of the way through with the art vs. words contention going completely one sided given the exemplars. The tête-à-tête between Owen, Binoche, and to a degree, their students, was the centerpiece of the film. But the alcoholism was a distraction and not necessary to the story. I was amazed at what they were holding up as "fine" art. Her creations were executed with brushes of ever increasing sizes until she was using a mop suspended from the ceiling. The masterpiece (?) and the two panels at the end were the most recent examples of an emperor having no clothes. 7/10
God's Not Dead (2014)
There's so much wrong with this massively over the top movie, but the worst is the title which should have been: "The Strawman's Not Dead". No, I'm not an atheist of any flavor. Then what you may ask am I? Good question, but nobody took the other position. As Ecclesiastes implies, there's a time for gray, and a time for black and white.
I knew I was in trouble when I saw all the old people and young families with school age children in the audience, the religious themed previews, and someone in the credits listed as an expert on apologetics. As I predicted elsewhere, deism or anything like it never came up, and neither did anything like soft atheism. All the good guys were Christians and all the bad guys were mean spirited, glib, sarcastic and/or hard atheists.
The best line in the movie came when the kid asks the professor "If you don't believe in God, how can you say he's dead", which drew smile from me, but great laughter and applause from the crowd confirming my earlier assessment about the bias of the packed audience this Friday afternoon. It was the coup de grace from one strawman to another. The ending after that, with all the implied miracles and the dying conversion, was sickening.
Need for Speed (2014)
Up and down and...
The true stars of the show are the cars (drool), the impressive driving/stunt work and the locations....even though Georgia locations are substituted randomly for New York and Michigan**. The acting was adequate at best, and the unlikely story sets the audience up for extreme whiplash, the overall quality switching so rapidly between good and bad from beginning to end. Imogen Poots (cute as hell but born with a real anti-marketing name) along with Michael Keaton were the best thespian offerings.
**The story starts in upstate NY, but imagine my surprise when I notice many Macon and other Georgia (my adopted hometown and state) locations I know by heart, slathered with kudzu throughout the fist half of the movie. Picturesque, yeah, but....