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564th Review: E for effort, F for execution
With way more holes in in than Swiss cheese this hokum is trite trash at best. The film squanders a great cast with a script that should never have been green lighted and then proceeds to go to some laughably illogical places.
The performances are fine and I even watched the whole thing - but honestly, it was tough going when half the time your brain is going "What? Why? How?"
The theme of thwarting the terrorist mega-plot is a good one, but making it into a bad episode of CSI/24 is not.
Honestly? Only worth your time if you absolutely will watch any spy film.
Big Eyes (2014)
563nd Review: Cold, Hard, Kitsch
The true story of Margaret and Walter Keane, who created an art empire, but did so through manipulation and magnificent hubris is told in Big Eyes. Tim Burton directs and does so in a surprisingly straight forward manner. Big Eyes has all it needs in story, stars, and director to be one of the better dramas of the year - Burton avoids the clichés of kitsch and instead takes us into the stylism of the 1950s in stunning detail - clothes, furniture, mannerisms and manners are all beautifully rendered. However, we never really get beyond the surface and when we do it never convinces at it should. The main fault is the polarization of the central performances - they are really two dimensional and as such the film relies more on surface than substance.
Amy Adams is the put upon wife, she tucks her chin in and widens her eyes, and does her trademark mix of pathetic and amused. Christopher Waltz is her Svengali husband, a mix of megalomaniac and charm - the perfect salesman. Together, they create the hugely popular Big Eyes style of kitsch - hugely over sentimental and hugely populist and popular.
The film plays to a dark streak of humor and a light streak of drama - Burton obviously loves the topic but it is in many ways an unbalanced film - it is watchable, particularly if the style and look of the 1950s are of interest, and the central performances are, even if comically simplistic, extremely watchable.
Above all Big Eyes is proof that you really fool all of the people some of the time.
Song of the Sea (2014)
562nd Review: Oscar Contending Masterpiece
Song of the Sea is a singularly exceptional film. It hides complexity in both story and fabulous art behind a simple, beguiling tale of two children, Saoirse and Ben, their father, Connor, their mother Bronach, and a very adorable dog, Cu, who struggle to cope with loss, and find in magical realism a way to understand and find the world afresh.
Using superb metaphors and meaning from Irish folktales and legends the film can be viewed on one level simply as an adventurous fairy tale set in modern times, but viewed deeply, it speaks deeply to the human condition; and for this viewer is one of the most singular films of the decade. It is fun, funny, and sorrowful and, importantly, as unpatronising as children themselves. It is totally suited to all ages, including very small children, who will adore the seals and Cu, and adults, and even teenagers, who may be enticed to see something more.
It is this aspect of understanding the human condition in Tomm Moore's film that lifts it from another animated film to the absolute finest cinema. Yet he does so with such a light touch that many viewers will accept the magical realism and simply enjoy the charm and whimsy and be swept along. However, it also poignantly asks if happiness can exist without sorrow, and given the choice, would we want to live without either or both, and does so with some terrific touches.
In addition, here is a world of sublime artistic technical skill and excellent voice acting - the film is hand-drawn and was 4 years in the making - the detailing with swirls and lines in the backgrounds and the tiny movements, while still keeping a simply line drawn animation, deserves multiple viewings. Tomm Moore has with this and Secret of Kells turned Irish animation into a world class powerhouse. This is not American or Japanese, Moore has successfully defined in two films, a unique approach that marries Celtic line art with simple 2D animation and a non-vibrant colour palette and has created a new school of animation.
This is a great film - several critics pounced on Kells for a lack of a defined story, here they cannot possibly complain: the interweaving of Irish legends with the modern day, is both inspired and strong. Also strong is a wonderful sly sense of humour and real, not forced, emotion. It is both entertaining and deep - and works.
Finally, it is the meaning and value of family and above all, the place of the mother, that makes Song of the Sea exceptional - I have seen few other film that explores loss with such wonderful metaphors as this, and certainly none as beautiful and with such a light touch as this. It is constantly surprising, full of wonder, and is, in the best sense, simply magical. Above all, it never defines where reality ends and magic begins and that is its real magic.
Welcome to Me (2014)
561st Review: Alice in Satireland
Welcome to Me is much more than a dark comedy. It is the evilish innocuous lovechild of whack of center films like Eagle and Shark (2007), Gentleman Broncos (2008), and Lars and The Real Girl (2007) if they coupled with satires like Network (1976), and Bob Roberts (1992), and it does so with dark whimsy, subtle charm, and is laugh-out loud funny.
The resulting film is a superb satire on the all out illusion of the American dream. Firstly, it derides the notion that money and fame are the goal of living while lauding it, a tough balancing act, and, secondly, that, in a country where 70% self-medicate for some form of depression, anxiety, or just can't cope with life, that mental illness is what happens to others. It combines the two, and lets the lunatic take over the asylum. We might well ask whether the crazy is the message or the medium...
Kristen Wiig is Alice. And let's start by saying in this Wonderland it's a great name for the character; and, a name that's almost become a cliché name for all woman in crisis, as Bob has for all blue-collar guys. Alice is a heady mixture of cutely crazy. We tried to list it all, but kind of only got as far as obsessive-compulsive, bipolar, narcissism, and manic-depressive, all veiled behind an obsession with voyeurism by her, and of her, through the TV. And that is the first point: she is non-categorizable - she is not just do-lalley, she is not even complex, she is Alice - wanting the world to love her, and wanting the world to cure her, to cure her past, and to see how important her pain is.
When her own therapist, a snappy turn by Tim Robbins, effectively gives up, Alice gets beyond lucky and gets her chance to have her own TV show through an amoral (or just pragmatic?) James Marsden. What results is a truly roller-coaster ride into Alice's bizarro gonzo world, where her unedited world is literally broadcast.
This is the best satire we've seen is a while. Like Nightcrawler (2014), it pokes the bear of TV for all its worth, and looks at America as a modern freak show, where empty calories and instant gratification have replaced any meaningful content. It is also really a film about the death of TV for the YouTube generation - who under 30 watches more TV than internet now?
This is post-hipster, post-modern, life out loud funny, that leaves you with a bad taste - it is smart, both kind and cruel, and a brilliant take on Modern America. Above all, it is original and deserves to be praised for being a film that belongs more to indie films of the 1970s than now - it is a surprisingly lingering, has just enough sympathy while still skewering its subjects, and for us, is a gob-smacking watch.
Wish I Was Here (2014)
560th Review: Pushing On The Out Door
Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is a flaying adult, drowning in a sea of self- doubt and confronting his father's Mandy Partinkin (Yentyl, Princess Bride) terminal illness, his bother's spectrum behavior and a life of good choices turning bad. This is Aidan's pivoting point - will he discover what it takes to get his life back on track and what does that track even mean?
Wish I Was Here absolutely and resolutely is a companion piece to Garden State, but rather than College Age, we have moved on 20 years to post-30 fast approaching 40, pre-Mid Life crisis. With touches of fantasy and doses of reality the movie tries hard to capture the struggle between fading dreams, changing a generational age, and even the Big Question itself.
No film that aims so high is ever totally successful, but Wish I Was Here is wry and chooses a light drama comedy with a touch of sentimentality to center itself nicely around the Bloom Family.
Zach Braff always writes well. He's not hugely likable on screen,though you suspect he is a very good friend to have and keep off-screen. Here, the trademark charm vs. smarm is toned down, with Braff losing some of the frenzied just love me approach of Scrubs to be a more hang dog world weary crumble that works massively in his favor. He's never going to get near to being Walter Matthau, but it makes a more interesting character. Kate Hudson steals every scene she is in, putting in a very fine performance as a more than understanding wife and mother.
Written with his brother, Adam, the script has zing in places - it is heavy-handed and obvious a little to much, but then it's a Braff piece so par for the course, but when its not just hammering the message home there are moments of real tenderness and some genuine smarts laughs.
All in all, a smart, funny film, and one that successfully breaks the norms of Hollywood, it was partially funded by Kickstarter, and whether flack or funds, that is no bad move.
If romantic comedies or drama comedy are your thing you should absolutely enjoy it.
559th Review - Favourite Film of 2015 So Far
Hector is a successful psychiatrist with a perfect life - but he cannot solve what happiness is. Cue a journey full in pursuit of happiness. This is a film to simply enjoy - Pegg brings more than comic timing, he truly brings heart - he is an everyman for the modern age: both naive and struggling to understand what happy means as a grown-up.
As the arc goes this is a very warm and watchable film - it is both lightly insightful and just great fun. It works as a travelogue hopping round the planet, but more it works on the heart - and surprisingly, it also takes up a journey that really does ask what happiness is.
A lovely, easy watch that is seriously fun, funny, and even inspiring. Warmly recommended.
558th Review - And all that jazz
Whiplash is a tour de force of a film that hits you hard in stomach from the get go and keeps going. With career defining performances from J K Simmons as a Svengali mentor and Miles Teller as an ambitious young drummer willing to go through hell to achieve greatness.
Director Damien Chazelle gives the film a near stage like look that suits it well, there are only three or four outdoor scenes, otherwise the claustrophobia created by focusing on the music practice room suits the piece well.
This is a film about suffering for ambition. A film about the need to be the best, to strive for fame, but also about two characters who are destined to clash. Simmons is pure vitriol, knowing exactly how to use his temper and words to break a player, and it is a fine performance - showing just the right level of loss of control with a cold logic.
Central to the film is the struggle jazz has to be seen. Given the immense work required to become a jazz great, jazz tends to be difficult on film compared to the glamor of rock. This is a film that likes it jazz straight up - and is better for it.
It is one of the better films of the year. It is a powerful film with great performances that it is about very human traits: the need for approval and the abuse of power and if liberation is ever possible. Recommended.
557th Review: King's Indelible Legacy - Marching To Today
Selma is a magnificent, inspiring, and massively watchable film that does not shy from the politics or from showing King as a man. Above all, though, this is the film that bothers to take its research very seriously. As many of us, I have studied in depth the Rights Movement. The attention to historic detail, without glorification or hagiography is commendable. The attempts to use actors that look like the person they portray, excellent, and the tone and mood of the film is a truly fitting depiction.
The Civil Rights movement took the impetus and teachings of Gandhi (King traveled to India and stayed in Ashrams in 1959 in order to understand NVDA) and coupled that with the true spirit of Southern Baptism - and found their leader in King.
There has been nothing like Attenborough's Gandhi for King. Partly because of internal rights (and it is too complicated to explain here, but worth research) and partly because other attempts have not captured the true spirit of both sides. Where Selma succeeds massively is that it captures deeply what both sides believed in - the incredible bigotry is shown as is - the film shows that morality, justice, and the dignity of men lies in justice and fairness and that such freedoms are worth all; then and now. This is a film that inspires young and old people and reminds us all that we can do and do better.
Selma is a clear and sincere historical account of the events of late summer 1965 that would lead to LBJ enacting the Vote Act - it is powerful tribute to one of the most important events of 20th Century American history.
556th Review - One of the Best of British Films
I am a huge, huge fan of British Film - in particular comedy-dramas from 1932 - 1961. In 1949, just after making Kind Hearts & Coronets, Alec Guinness made A Run For Your Money about two Welsh Miners who win £200 and are sent to London. It has everything that Lion, Gainsborough, and Ealing were to make staples of.
Pride is the closest thing this reviewer has seen this decade to the huge legacy and spirit of 50s cinema - it has a message, but it entertains - massively. It is joyful, moving, deeply deeply inspiring and above all it's simply watchable, as in real story-telling and humanity. I need to go back via Full Monty to Brassed Off to remember a film that really does hit home this hard while still being a British Comedy. It takes both the Gay Pride movement and the Miners' Strike of 1984 and produces a film that is moving and funny.
If you want a great film that will make you remember what it's like to really experience life then go see Pride - it captures the early Eighties in Britain brilliantly with excellent performances and a zinging script. This is what cinema should be about - it'll make you laugh and cry and it'll stir your spirit.
Get on Up (2014)
555th Review - The Music Biopic of the Year
Electrifying music coupled with electrifying performances make Get on Up one of the best music biopics. It has serious musical chops and acting chops that combine in a non-linear narrative that is full of sly comedy and good emotions.
Above all, this is Chadwick Bosemans film - he is totally convincing as James Brown, not just in mannerisms and some extraordinary performances, but he gets the spirit spot on - a dizzying concoction of funk, dance, comedy, threat, drive, and soul, it is a bravado performance that it's hard not to be simply swept up with.
Tate Taylor does a great job as director - it really is along with the documentary of Searching for Sugarman one of the better music films of the past decade. Mick Jagger put his money behind this and all we can say is: Long Live Funk!