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The Two Faces of January (2014)
A trio of rich, fascinating performances are prominent in Hossein Amini's directorial debut...
Ambitious, gorgeous, even brave at times, though not always assured, Hossein Amini's beautiful and cautiously constructed thriller The Two Faces of January is an admirable piece featuring a trio of impressive performances from Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst. Oscar-nominee Amini, who writes and directs, showcases an intriguing aesthetic in his directorial debut that stands out as one of the most interesting and satisfying features of the summer.
The film tells the story of Chester (Mortensen) and Colette McFarland (Dunst), a con-artist and wife on the run in Greece in 1962. When one of them gets caught up in the death of a private investigator, a local American named Rydal (Isaac) assists them in attempting to flee the scene of the crime.
Mortensen has always seemed to be an underutilized chameleon in film despite acclaimed and recognized performances in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and Eastern Promises. As Chester, he lavishes in a new type of slimy demeanor that stands out as one of the actors most dynamic. He enjoys the aura and demeanor of Chester, unrelenting and unwilling to compromise on an escape but driven by jealousy and rage, Mortensen displays some of his most authentic and creative ticks.
The wonderful Kirsten Dunst sets another example of why she should keep her focus on independent cinema at the moment. With past works in Melancholia and On the Road, Dunst continues to improve her range and show new and richer pieces of her soul. As Colette, she operates as a new vixen, more mature and unpredictable. We haven't seen something like this since her turn in Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. In a borderline supporting role, Dunst confidently and impressively engages her character with poise. She handles Colette with patience and resolve. There's an enigma that surrounds her story, one that is never fully answered. A scene involving a little girl on a bus is more layered and telling that initially thought. Dunst is a powerhouse.
Less than a year after missing out on an Oscar nomination for Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac shows another side in which he proves to be one of the most exciting and invigorating actors working today. We constantly are on the lookout for our next generation of movie legends. Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, movie stars of the golden age of cinema, not working as much anymore and will one day pass on to the next step in life's journey. Great up and comers like Isaac make the future of cinema much more bright. His performance as Rydal signals some of the actor's greatest strengths and almost none of his weaknesses. He handles him with charisma and ease. Determined to make his breakthrough, Isaac will be one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood, mark my words.
What Hossein Amini does exceedingly well is allowing the robust and beautiful scenery of Greece become a character. Its motions, landscapes, and wonderful usage of colors, mostly thanks to cinematographer Marcel Zyskind, is an optimal display of imagery. It's stylish and beautiful. One of the best looking films of the year so far. Unfortunately, we the film falters is in a less-than-stellar third act resulting in a "showdown" of sorts that doesn't live up to the premise laid out by Amini and his team.
While The Two Faces of January is tightly wound from the beginning, it ultimately runs out of gas by the film's end. The performances will pull you through successfully, displaying some of the year's finest acting works. It's definitely worth a see.
THE TWO FACES OF January is now available on iTunes/OnDemand and in theaters September 26, 2014.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The Best Marvel Movie Yet!
James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Marvel movie yet. I challenge anyone who would place Iron Man or The Avengers over this action-packed and thoroughly entertaining picture that is the definitive summer blockbuster. It's just f**king awesome! (pardon my French)
Hilarious, innovative, and just super fun. I can't recall enjoying a movie this much, right along with a crowd, in quite some time. The less you know about the film and these characters, the better. I'm from a world of movie-watching but not so much on the comic book reading front. My knowledge of superheroes comes from watching Saturday morning cartoons. Like many movie lovers, probably one of the few that will actually admit it, I never heard of the "Guardians of the Galaxy." I had no idea who they were and what they did. This may have made the experience even more enjoyable. There a bunch of funny characters. I'll just say that.
There's a moment that overcomes me in the middle of Guardians. Chris Pratt is walking across the screen, after just delivering about a dozen hardcore laughs that literally had me in tears; he's just about gained a theater full of new loyal fans, and Gunn decides to give him a money shot for all the ladies. He walks across the screen in his underwear, sweaty and doused in yellow paint, and heavily panting. I couldn't believe this is the same guy from NBC's "Park and Recreation," Bride Wars, and Her. He's come into his own, and has fully become a movie star, with talent to boot. His work as "Peter Quell" trumps anything done by Robert Downey, Jr. in the Iron Man films. I'd go as far to say that he should heavily be considered a candidate for a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical). Pratt is the new boy toy for every action figure having kid, and every horny Mom that pretends they hate "these kinds of movies."
Coming into another big franchise following Star Trek and Avatar, Zoe Saldana moves quietly throughout the film as an unstoppable force as "Gamora." Kick-ass fight sequences, and an interesting enough story that should feel satisfying for even the most hardened movie snobs. Dave Bautista wrecks through the film as "Drax" and even develops his own character ticks and beats that help him stand out considerably.
As the voice of "Rocket," Bradley Cooper infuses a dynamic and comical performance that stands as one of the actor's best outings. All I could think of during the film was this is one of the many reasons the Academy needs a Digital and Voice Acting category. Something as lively and priceless as Cooper's voice work deserves some type of recognition. The same can go for Vin Diesel as Groot, though he lacks the speaking volumes to warrant consideration. I thoroughly enjoyed their relationship and dynamic and it's something that plays out completely well on-screen.
Obviously, the film has faults. It's very heavy-handed on the whole "we are one, we are friends" message. It actually starts to beat us over the head with it at times. The film also defies all the logic of physics. There are times that even for a superhero film, you have to raise your eyebrow. There's also not really any importance placed on the villain, and I'm not entirely sure I could recite his ultimate plan. This is no fault of Lee Pace as "Ronan" - just an uninteresting story arc.
Guardians of the Galaxy is the ultimate summer flick. Something that's just plain stupid fun for you and the whole family. Geeks will bow, audiences will cheer, and the film will secure itself as a new and enlightened franchise for years to come. Gunn's admiration for films like Independence Day, Star Wars, and Top Gun are on full display. There are even instances where I thought of Boogie Nights and Running with Scissors. It's a blend of every clever nuance and thing you love about the movies rolled into one spectacular experience. It's delicious in nearly every way.
Dear younger generation, you have been given your "Star Wars." Go see it!
A Most Wanted Man (2014)
A Fine Goodbye for Philip Seymour Hoffman
The final moments of Anton Corbijn's latest film A Most Wanted Man are both gratifying and poetic. Starring an impeccable cast that includes the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, and Robin Wright, the film is based on the novel by John le Carré, and is a tension-driven and smartly paced thriller ride that makes a mark as one of the year's best rides.
A movie that is more in the vein of an extended episode of "Homeland" than a full-out feature (which is not exactly an insult), is tightly wound, fish hooking the audience with its clever storytelling abilities. Corbijn creates a meticulous and subtle picture that unravels itself with suspense and excitement. The movie challenges the audience in attempting to follow each detail and fully understand what is going on. That might be a turn off to many. Like many of Carré's books that have been translated to film like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Constant Gardener, there's an aura that exudes from the screen that you want to take home with you. There's so much to the story that happens before the film and starts and long after the movie ends but you're satisfied with that. Adapted by Andrew Bovell, the Australian screenwriter may have penned the film of his career.
The elephant in the room is the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's very hard to not want the film to end because you are very aware that this will be one of the last times you see a new film by this actor. One of the greatest actors to have ever lived, Hoffman shows exactly why his omission from our world is such a loss. Subtle, electrifying, and profoundly real, Hoffman's "Gunther Bachmann" is an intriguing force that demands the audience's attention with the simplicity of a tone or look. While the tween world waits on the arrival of the final two installments to The Hunger Games, this film felt more of his goodbye to the film community that has appreciated him for over two decades.
One of the pleasant surprises of the film is the beautiful and talented Rachel McAdams, which immediately makes you think, "where has she been?"
While she has been making her rounds in independent films like Passion, About Time, and To the Wonder, her role as "Annabel" shows a deeper talent that is aching to be realized by the right director. Internalizing emotions and releasing only when called upon, McAdams turns in her one of her strongest turns yet. Not your A-typical "damsel in distress" or "unbelievable tough chick," McAdams reinvents a character that could have just laid on the screen with no emotion. She relaxes herself into the role, working well off some of the screen's most gifted performers. It's a magnificent work.
With no real arc or allowance to his character, Willem Dafoe unfortunately distracts for much of the film. Feeling like he's part of the Osborne family again, his role is rather underwritten and a bit of a mystery but not one you're aching to learn more about. Robin Wright utilizes her sensational appeal and charismatic nature to sprinkle a dash of brilliance to the film's narrative. As "Issa," Grigoriy Dobrygin keeps the viewer at a distance, never allowing his true motives to unleash. He constantly asks the viewer to question our own judgment. He is very impressive.
With a gritty yet polished aesthetic, Corbijn knows exactly how he wants his film to look and feel. Using Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme keeps the tension at the very brim of explosion. Composer Herbert Grönemeyer, who also has a role in the film as "Michael," lays out a soothing, relentless score that is both memorable and undeniable.
A Most Wanted Man is smart and precise, an espionage thriller that stands out as one of the best of its kind in quite some time. It's confident in its approach and doesn't shy away from its central purpose. It's a morality tale that engulfs your conscience with terrifying and difficult questions. I don't mind being asked them every now and again. It's one of the year's best.
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
The Congress (2013)
'The Congress' could be the best thing Robin Wright has ever done!
The blending of two worlds haven't been this enjoyable in some time. Director Ari Forman, who won his first Academy Award for Waltz with Bashir, crafts a trippy, fascinating story anchored by an astonishing performance by Robin Wright in The Congress.
Wright, who plays an alternate reality version of herself, is a washed up actress who takes on her final acting job, digitally capturing herself for a future Hollywood. Wright has been a remarkable talent for over three decades, going virtually unnoticed in some of cinema's most iconic works. An adoration remains for her work in Forrest Gump, with a tangible respect for She's So Lovely, and an underrated and remarkable turn exists in Breaking and Entering. In Forman's animated, sci-fi hybrid, she delivers one of her best and most creative performances yet. It very well could be the performance of her career. What has always drawn me to Wright's work is her understated yet profoundly moving way she approaches all her roles. Even in this performance, where half of her work is only voice, she bleeds through the screen in an enchanting manner. She radiates the artistic bravery of an actress like Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There. This is an awards worthy performance.
Co-starring the magnificent Danny Huston, the multi-talented Harvey Keitel, the often too overlooked Paul Giamatti, and the hilariously awesome Jon Hamm, The Congress is nothing like anything you've seen this year. It has a way of evoking the spirit, and richly drawing the audience into its world. If you love anything about the movies, this film celebrates the warm qualities that we respect.
Forman, who co-writes the film with Stanislaw Lem, provokes a film with many different things to say. It asks questions about how we interpret our world and what we expect from the human race. Through a dramatic and tender effort, Forman allows the animation medium to reinvent itself for American audiences. Animation doesn't always have to be colorful characters with a light-hearted agenda. You can have the medium bring things to life you may not want to see in real live-action settings. Forman and Lem develop a picture that blends the artistic qualities of The Matrix and Cool World, with the sensitivity of The Artist and Being John Malkovich.
Though daring, the film is about twenty minutes too long. Its twists and turns are all nearly interesting but they tend to make generic executions at times that don't fit the entire aura. Still, anyone who creates a movie studio named "Miramount" and pokes fun at Hollywood the way this film does, should be applauded. Also, the stunning opening is among the best scenes I've seen this year. Though this blend of the film medium has been used before, there is something strikingly new that Forman brings. It's as if we all took a psychedelic drug and were kidnapped and immersed into this world. It's hard to believe that I even understood all its themes, because there were many, and this likely exists as an endeavor that needs to be watched on multiple viewings to gauge and comprehend all its profound messages. I'm okay with that. Once in a while, à la Cloud Atlas, its welcomed.
As animation goes, this is a gem. Something that is unique and fascinating in a medium that doesn't take enough chances in North America. It's a definite must-watch and something cinema lovers will love.
The Congress is currently available on VOD. In select theaters August 29 2014, and in NY September 5, 2014.
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell need Oscar consideration...for real
Very few sequels outdo their predecessors. Some will credit Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part II as the greatest sequel of all-time while I find the wonder and amazement in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back as the best science fiction film of all-time. When the first trailers started to appear for Matt Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the follow-up to Rupert Wyatt's reboot from 2011, I was ready for "Cheesefest 2014." I thought we would have apes and monkeys speaking long, drawn-out stories about politics, life, and love. Similar to Tim Burton's reboot failure from 13 years ago. What we get in this stunning edition is an action-packed, multi-layered story that stands as the definitive summer blockbuster. Actually, thinking about it, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn't just a summer blockbuster, it's a full on dramatic epic.
Starring Andy Serkis as Caesar, the film takes ten years after the events of the first film. Humans have been nearly wiped out of the Earth, and Caesar and his fellow apes have built a civilization in the wooded and abandoned San Francisco area.
The growing debate about motion capture is put to the ultimate test in this second installment. For years, fans and pundits have championed the talented Serkis in his role as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films, most pertinently in The Two Towers. Other films followed with a similar argument including James Cameron's Avatar since then. In the 2011-2012 awards season, some critics came around to the idea. Serkis scored a nomination from the Broadcast Film Critics Association for Best Supporting Actor, a huge feat for the motion capture community. I'll be honest, I've never embraced the idea of an actor getting recognition for this type of performance, not that I'm against the notion, I just haven't seen something that made me champion a performance....until now. Serkis' turn as Caesar this time around is a fully realized and gracious work that stands as one of the great performances of the year. It's a gorgeous triumph and the highlight of the entire picture.
What makes the film even more special is that Serkis is not the only actor that shines this time around. While Serkis has carried the torch for motion capture actors for years now, he has some company in Toby Kebbell who plays the conflicted and vicious Koba, Caesar's right hand ape. Kebbell's multi-layered and glimpse into his inner-darkness is stunningly profound. He raises a plethora of intriguing questions about the nature of justice and the power of vengeance. Unrestrained, violent, and at times, downright terrifying, Kebbell is sensational.
After sadly losing the Visual Effects Oscar in 2011 to Martin Scorsese's Hugo, Reeves' film is ready for a second bout. Everything that sings in the film is due to the visual effects team. There's a big pay off to the intricate detail they spent on each character. The entire technical team should be applauded. A panoramic look through a perspective of a tank along with a reflective look through a window, Cinematographer Michael Seresin emotes as one of the most exciting veteran DP's that we should be ashamed to have forgotten. Composer Michael Giacchino knows how to set tempo, build excitement, and pull back when necessary. His score is pretty darn spectacular on every musical note.
Where the film falters unfortunately is in the development of the human characters. Trite, boring, and utterly predictable, especially when it comes to the women, leave much to be desired. Jason Clarke's Malcolm balances some of the over-the-top back stories with true, natural talent. Equally effective as James Franco in the first one, Clarke continues to explore his acting options well as his career continues to elevate.
I love nearly everything about Keri Russell. I feel she is a phenomenal talent that has proved her abilities several times over including currently on FX's "The Americans." Unfortunately for her, she's relegated to virtually nothing with the occasional screaming of Malcolm's name, and a lazy back story that involves A-typical female behavior. I'm very pleased to see Kodi-Smit McPhee getting older and growing into himself. I thoroughly enjoyed him here. Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman kind of wallows around the film. There's no real arc to his character and if you pluck him out, I'm not sure if anything changes.
Overall, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets the job done and does it well. Astounding direction by Matt Reeves that blows anything that Garreth Edwards did in Godzilla look like a high school musical. It's one of the best surprises of the year along with being one of the finest. The film is now playing in theaters.
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
Feels like the movie I was born to watch
Every once in a while, you can witness something that hits you at your very core. I've felt this very few times in my film loving career. I gazed in awe at the sight of dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, marveled witnessing the birth of the universe in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, and now, I sit in sheer admiration and respect at the magic that is Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Nothing you have read, heard, or seen about the film will prepare you for the experience that is this cinematic rarity. Filmed over twelve years, Boyhood tells the story of Mason, who we follow from ages 5 to 18.
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater, Boyhood assembles the finest cast of 2014 so far. Each player, dedicating themselves to the greater cause, allows themselves to evolve. Fully realized, and oozed with every rich element of movie making, Linklater writes the most authentic characters to grace the screens in years. Ready for more hyperbolic thoughts? Doesn't make it less true but get ready. Boyhood, potentially, could be one of the best films ever made. Last year, I referred to his third installment of the Before series, "a masterpiece." I stand by that even today. Boyhood however, is something that is a once in a lifetime endeavor that will be studied, criticized, admired, and bring all the discussions about film to the forefront. I feel blessed just to have watched it.
Ellar Coltrane is simply stupendous. As you watch his transformation before your eyes, his subtle and restrained performance will floor you, scene after scene, year after year. It's astounding how Coltrane interprets young Mason as a boy, bringing him through adolescence with grace, and then fully realizes what kind of man he has become. There's an intimacy in which Coltrane decides to finesse Mason upon the audience. He thoroughly cares about him, understanding his confusions, and even more, realizing his flaws. It's one of the year's most outstanding performances and one of the best delivered by any child actor.
Ethan Hawke continues to be one of the more undervalued and underutilized actors working today. Though he has three Oscar nominations to his name, two for co-writing Before Sunset and Before Midnight, and one for Best Supporting Actor in Antoine Fuqua's Training Day, I'm still unsure about how Hollywood and the world perceives his abilities. As Mason's Dad, Hawke takes his character to the brink of sheer brilliance. Showcasing an unrestrained and eager willingness to connect with his children, Dad, as he's only called in the film, is a sensational and intriguing look into fatherhood and being human. Chasing the dreams, and believing you are destined for something greater, Dad allows the audience to relish in his quest to be connected and complacent. Hawke shines once again, involving both mind and spirit, into a man we may know all too well.
As Mom, Patricia Arquette ignites the spirit in a performance that should land her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Headlining a career that has produced impressive work on TV's "Medium," as well as in films like True Romance, Arquette's prowess is her ability to be a fallen character without requiring pity or persuasion from the viewer. She interprets a woman, desperate for a connection to other aspects of her life, and reinvents the foundation of the broken mother. Arquette's beautiful yet exhilarating turn often feels like riding on the edge of a cliff, unsure if we're going in, but even more excited just to be on the ride with her. Pure and raw talent exists in her, and it's been worth the wait to finally witness it all unravel.
Richard Linklater casts his daughter Lorelei Linklater to play Samantha, Mason's older sister. Without even realizing or thinking about it, you secretly and solemnly fall in love with her transformation from girl to woman. She is every bit as brilliant as any person in the cast, delivering on all beats, allowing her awkward yet sweet demeanor to pierce through yet not forgetting her annoyance and overbearing nature in which she came. Honestly, it's a performance destined to be forgotten during the awards year but it's something I will recall for years to come.
There are other supporting players that we meet throughout the journey particularly Marco Perella and Zoe Graham, who completely make their mark during the picture.
Running at 165 minutes, this dramatic, coming-of-age epic had me just yearning for more. I wanted to stay with them, see their journeys continue, and just relish in this dream a bit longer. I walked out secretly (or not so secretly) wishing that Linklater is quietly filming these same characters for the next twelve years, and will not reveal the plans until it's all finished. Talk about the surprise of my life. At 42 years old when and if that happens, I will be excited for the ride.
Shot gorgeously by Lee Daniel and Shane F. Kelly, and edited with clarity and love by Sandra Adair, Boyhood succeeds as a technical marvel just as much as a narrative and performance piece. Linklater's writing, on virtually every level, is the best thing since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Originality, and taking a fresh perspective on a genre that could feel stale for some, Linklater will make you a believer again. His direction is even more impressive. It's the single best thing that he's ever done and probably ever will do. It's the pinnacle of his career, and is his offering to cinema for all-time.
In essence, Linklater's Boyhood is a must-see film for any lover of the movies. It's the type of film that was imagined when they invented film. With tears in my eyes, I marveled and wept for a creation I still may not fully understand but am anxiously waiting to revisit very soon.
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
Happy Christmas (2014)
Kendrick and Lynskey are superb
It's terrific to see filmmakers evolve in front of your eyes, especially as you see their filmmaking abilities and keen sense of moments expand from movie to movie. In Joe Swanberg's Happy Christmas starring Academy Award nominee Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, as well as himself, he manages to capture the feel of the early 90′s independent cinema culture that felt so mature and darkly magnetic. In this dramatic comedy that tells the story of Jenny (Kendrick), a 20-something who moves in with her brother and sister-in-law in Chicago.
It's interesting how Swanberg manages to capture the moments of life within in the picture. For example, little things like watching a 2- year-old sit in a bathtub or shove a fist full of Cheerios in his mouth feels magically authentic. Even in the way the adults interact with each other feels strangely familiar.
Anna Kendrick continues to test her boundaries as an actress. Whether it's playing the punk-rock DJ in Pitch Perfect, or the manic, irresponsible adult that she exudes here, I'm excited to see her evolve the way she is. In ten years time, she could be one of our most innovative and gifted actresses. Her Jenny feels edgy and risky like driving on the edge of cliff. You know there's a safer place to be but you want to get on the ride with her. There are bits to her performance that is reminiscent of Maggie Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby, minus the full- out bravura turn that should have scored multiple accolades. This is a nice mark for her resume nonetheless.
Melanie Lynskey, the reliable actress who continues to one of Hollywood's best kept secrets for over twenty years, is completely compelling as Kelly. The truth in which she exists in the film is hypnotizing and I wonder just how much longer we have to wait until she breaks out into every living room and theater across America, and I mean something outside of "Two and a Half Men."
Lena Dunham serves her purpose to the film however, if there's a chink in the armor of some of Swanberg's creations, Carson is likely it. This is by no means a home-run from Swanberg. While the authenticity and honest demeanor in which he portrays his characters are appreciated, they're not always engaging or interesting. There might have been some unrealized ideas or actions that could have brought this film over the finish line. There are plenty of laughs, sensational dialogue, and an intimate look into a very familiar family dynamic. It's moving and artistically relevant in films today.
Happy Christmas opens in limited release July 25 and is distributed by Magnolia Pictures. It is currently available on VOD.
Life Itself (2014)
Steve James' look into the life of the world's most famous critic is profound...
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
Roger Ebert meant so much to the entire film community and when it was announced that there would be a documentary about his life and struggle after cancer, nearly every cinema lover jumped at the opportunity. Ebert, as well as his wife Chaz, inspired millions with their love, story, and the simplicity of living life with films as the central focus. Life Itself by director Steve James is an intimate and respectful look into the life of a man who too many people didn't get the chance to know.
I should start with talking a bit of what film criticism is to me. The picture inspires you to look inward and search for the reasoning behind such a love. Bloggers, critics, journalists, there are many names for all of us that exist in newspapers, internet sites, and forums around the world. We all love cinema and believe we can, and bring something different to the table of criticism. When I decided that I wanted to write about the movies, I knew I didn't want to be the academic critic. I'm not someone who analyzes the deep themes and symbolism of the movies. Doesn't mean I don't see them, it's just something I didn't set out to write about. My approach was always simple. Be able to tell people if a movie is good or not. I write from the heart. That's why you will often find typos, misusing grammar, etc.. I have never pretended to be a genius. Trust me, in school and in life, I've been pretty average when it came to academics and overall expectations. Where those have been my "shortcomings," I've been blessed in other ways with family, friends, and a killer staff. Roger Ebert was the academic critic who didn't believe that he was the tip of the iceberg. He knew there were many more of us that would claim to change the game and his time, was borrowed time on this earth.
In Life Itself, Ebert is captured in some of his most vulnerable moments but ironically, at his strongest point in his life. We witness him battle the heartbreaking truth, that his time with us is limited and there isn't much time left. But before we venture off into our Ebert of the past few years, director Steve James tells us a fascinating and beautiful story of Ebert's life, starting off in the film criticism industry, and what he brought to so many people. We get first person accounts from some of the world's most prestigious filmmakers and actors like Martin Scorsese, and first person accounts from Ebert's early days from many of his closest colleagues. It offers so much insight into the legacy of a man who offered so much to the world.
Through outtakes from the Siskel & Ebert show, to intimate and rich portraits from his many adventures around the globe, through Life Itself, we become even closer to a man we hardly knew, and in essence, become closer to ourselves. It's one of the finest films of the year and one that should be considered as the first documentary ever to be nominated for Best Picture. If there's a film that breaks the barriers for all movie-lovers everywhere, Steve James' Life Itself is it.
Magnolia Pictures will release LIFE ITSELF on iTunes/OnDemand and in theaters this Friday, July 4, 2014.
How dare you Michael Bay? How dare you?
I uttered that exact question to a passing critic upon walking out of the latest screening of Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction. He shook his head in dismay. The director, who has made his mark on films like Pearl Harbor and The Island, has hit a new low with his latest installment in the Hasbro franchise. Not only does the film inhabit some of the worst dialogue spoken in years, which led many audiences to laugh outrageously loud, but it has the audacity to clock in at over two and a half hours.
Talk about indulging in your own perverted and simplistic style that offers no value to an already crumbling franchise. If you thought Megan Fox spread out against a car was out of line, wait until you see newcomer Nicole Peltz rock booty shorts and deliver an acting range reminiscent of a post-American Pie Tara Reid.
Michael Bay managed to tone down and clear up his visual spectacles that haven't worked consistently in the other Transformer films. Much better choreography, layered with clarity, makes the action sequences much more fun to enjoy. The sound design is still some of the best seen in film this year. The entire team, which includes Oscar's most overdue craftsman Greg P. Russell, is superb. You can't find a more dedicated and audibly creative team working in the business. Finally, in a film that is the first to be shot in full IMAX Digital 3D cameras, wearing those glasses hasn't felt that cool in quite some time. It's worth the extra cash.
Now, let's get on with the fundamental issues.
Mark Wahlberg is a fine actor. Also, he's someone that I can only assume is very smart and capable of many different things outside of his normal acting deliveries however, he needs to learn his limitations as an actor and learn them fast. In a Michael Bay film, you expect cheesy dialogue delivery, and even worse cheap moments at laughter or tears. In no normal universe does the general public accept Wahlberg as an intellectual. He plays Cade Yeager, a farmhand who also happens to be an inventor. An inventor? When's the last time you looked at Marky Mark and said, "I bet Mark could create a really cool robot if he wanted to." This is also one of the things he exhibited in M. Night Shymalan's The Happening a few years back and he's doing it again. Stick to your tough guy roles and producing outstanding films like Lone Survivor and The Fighter. Stay away from being the "smart guy" in a movie. Also, utilizing the same joke like "lucky charms" barely worked the first time. Get ready to hear that one half a dozen times throughout.
Stanley Tucci is one of my favorite character actors working in the business. Loved him in films like Julie & Julia, The Devil Wears Prada, and even manages to be the best part of a bad thing like in The Lovely Bones. As Joshua Joyce, Tucci takes over the "hole" left by John Turturro from the previous films. Short of getting peed on by a giant robot, Tucci's character is completely unbelievable and completely obnoxious.
Just in case you didn't know, the sub name of this film is "Age of Extinction." The trailers have displayed "bad ass dinobots," roaring and gearing up to kick some Decepticon butt. Just over the two-hour mark I say to myself, "Self", because that's what I call myself, "Self this movie is suppose to have Dinobots in it, isn't it?" And low and behold, enter the wackest and most disappointing Dinobots imaginable. Their infusion into the story is lazy, they barely rally up any excitement, and they're barely on-screen in a 165 minute robot epic. What the hell? The nine-year-old boy inside me calls bullshit.
I like you Kelsey Grammar but you are a non-threatening bad-ish guy and I never want to see you in something like this again. Newcomer Jack Reynor, let me give you some life advice. I didn't realize until the movie was over that you played the lead role in the independent film What Richard Did from last year. I liked you quite a bit in that film. As the token hot-guy with an Irish accent, who sort of looks like he's in the Hemsworth family, I need you to seek out other action vehicles for yourself to become a household name. And if they're trying to get you into the house talk by having Mark Wahlberg call you "lucky charms" a dozen times, and never get a chuckle from the audience, talk to your agent. I give you permission to enter the Marvel or even TV superhero universe. But hey, you're going to be in MacBeth by Justin Kurzel so maybe you already got this advice.
And now the bottom of the barrel: writer Ehren Kruger, who penned a film that is nearly three hours and has the nerve to leave us on a semi- cliffhanger, when I just invested my time to something when I could have been buying Q-Tips or playing Ker Plunk, is a slap in the face. And you're the guy who wrote Arlington Road and The Ring, two films with cliffhangers that work and are EARNED. You did not earn a single moment, whether it was laughing at the serious moments or not laughing at the funny moments. Please do better. And not just for me, think about humanity in general. This is science fiction with giant fighting robots, and it was completely unrealistic in more moments than not. Oh, and your total Man of Steel rip off was completely noticed and I'd appreciate it if you did things a little more discreet.
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About Alex (2014)
'About Alex' is a Dream!
Large ensembles have the opportunity to say different things from different characters. Before screening at Tribeca, many were calling this "our generation's" Big Chill from 1984, which was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture. While there are obvious similarities in the number of people who are present, and themes surrounding love and death, newcomer Jesse Zwick, son of producer/director Edward Zwick, pours his heart and soul into each frame and reinvents a masterful motion picture. About Alex is a raw and beautiful morality piece about where the late twenty- somethings are presently. I loved nearly every second.
About Alex tells the story of seven friends who reunite over a three-day weekend after one of them attempts suicide. As the friends take shifts to watch their unpredictable old friend Alex, past and new feelings come to the surface.
An all-star is assembled that includes Aubrey Plaza (NBC's "Park and Recreation"), Maggie Grace (Taken), Max Minghella (The Social Network), Nate Parker (Arbitrage), Jason Ritter (Freddy vs. Jason), Max Greenfield (FOX's "New Girl"), and Jane Levy (ABC's "Suburgatory"). Each one of the actor's know their parts, actions, motivations, and completely immerse themselves in the characters. In particular, the standouts include Greenfield, who continues to steal every frame, from every show or film he's in, and Plaza, who takes on a new departure for herself and succeeds.
Jesse Zwick, for his first writing and directorial feature, shows much promise of what could be an elaborate career. He handles his scenes with firm hands and a watchful eye of what he chooses to show and not show the viewer. He allows the surroundings, both inside and outside, become two new characters for the audience to embrace. Everything put together in About Alex is simply impressive.
There are some technical hiccups that the film suffers from. Choices made by the film's editor doesn't smoothly transition from one scene to the other. As independent films go, the film stands tall on its own merits but I would have liked a more polished final product.
All in all, About Alex is an absolute dream. Full of laughs and tears, the film raises the bar for this type of genre. It's a thoughtful piece that will have admirers for years to come. It's the best cast ensemble seen this year and of the Tribeca Film Festival.