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Are you anxiously awaiting the coming of the "Mockingjay?"
The YA (Young Adult) universe has been taking over cinema screens for years now. "Twilight" dominated the box office for its run while "Harry Potter" brought in more money than they knew what to do with. "The Hunger Games" took on a new phase of the genre, appealing to not only the young people it so desperately needed for box office results, but keeping the older viewers/parents of these movie-goers interested. The next installment of the franchise, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1," is a purely entertaining set piece for what will likely be a most intriguing finale.
The obvious quarrel with the film is the splitting into two separate movies. "Harry Potter" coined this tactic with "The Deathly Hallows," breaking them into two films to maximize box office potential. "Twilight" soon followed with "Breaking Dawn." This installment is probably the least bloated out of any of the franchises seen yet. It feels legitimately focused on the development of the characters and the surroundings they are now inhabiting.
Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Katniss from a whole new perspective. The film takes place just a short time after the events of "Catching Fire." Katniss is living in District 13, angry and in despair after losing Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in Quarter Quell. To add, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) has revealed that District 12 has been destroyed. Only 950 of 10,000 survived the raid and Katniss is asked to be the face of the revolution that is now rising against the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). When Peeta is revealed to be alive and being held in the Capitol, Katniss must wage war against Snow, with the rebels, and try desperately to save Peeta.
Lawrence continues to develop Katniss and bring us on her journey with a believable and authentic nature. Katniss is very broken in this installment, weakened by the events that preceded her, and Lawrence executes it just about flawlessly. The real surprise, is how effective Hutcherson and Hemsworth are this time around. Their roles are expanded, and they are offered an opportunity to showcase some very real and heartbreaking moments. Especially Hutcherson, who sheds all the annoyance he embodied in the first film, and brings a new life and lust to his eyes. I was quite taken by what he was doing and where's going.
the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1-sliceDonald Sutherland is a fantastic villain. The ying to Katniss' yang, the two are practically in an abusive love affair and it works tremendously. They're the two opposite spectrums of this new world where war rages on and the dead are not necessarily the unlikely ones. Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman are equally amazing in good measure of their respective roles. The pinnacle of the performers, and has been for this entire franchise is Elizabeth Banks. As Effie, she's embodied a soul plucked from her normal environment and thrust into the battle grounds of something she doesn't fully understand. Her appearances are both funny but impeccably warm. I hope people notice how vital and important she's been to the franchise, which should lead her to more vital and vivacious roles in the future.
Francis Lawrence makes artistic choices that keep the audience at arm's length. Some of it is deliberate to hide things I'm sure we will know in the next installment. Some of it, is deathly obvious, bringing suspicion and tension to characters we know are going to be forces to be reckoned with. For the most part, everything is standard filmmaking. Something as massively popular as this needs to be to get the widest audience possible. I do wonder if that wasn't the focus on Lionsgate, and if they attempted to be more gritty with the material, show the destruction and blood of the people, and go up to an 'R' rating, if this isn't elevated significantly? Can only wonder.
Overall, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" is very satisfying. Setting the chess pieces of what is destined to be an epic finale, it's one of the best things you can bring your family these upcoming weeks leading to the holiday season. I took my 14-year-old niece to see it, and she emphatically expressed "Oh my God! It was amazing!" You can't beat that.
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
At the Museum of Modern Art, New York audiences were treated to the "New York Premiere" of J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year," as a part of their Contenders 2014 series. Chandor's previous films "Margin Call" and "All is Lost" were also screened there over the years. The former is a well-told story, which garnered Chandor an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The latter, was well-admired, featuring a beloved turn from Robert Redford, and only managed a single nomination for Best Sound Editing. Chandor produces his finest effort yet with "A Most Violent Year" featuring two powerhouse performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.
Chandor gets his hands on some of the most talented and undervalued people in the film business for A24's newest venture. Cinematographer Bradford Young showed his best Terrence Malick-like aesthetic with his work on "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," probably his most recognized work up until now. He showed his abilities and the depth of his scope with the little seen "Middle of Nowhere" from Ava DuVernay in 2012, and "Pariah" by Dee Rees from 2011. His visual eye is simply remarkable, and what he captures in Chandor's newest, is some of the DP's most calculated and precise efforts. New York City, 1981, is the backdrop of our film, but along with Young's camera work, Chandor's focused direction and storytelling, and an ensemble that resonates profoundly, a new character is created before our eyes. Young inhabits the soul of that character. New York, you haven't felt this alive in cinema in quite sometime.
One year after delivering THE performance of the year with "Inside Llewyn Davis," and being passed over by the Academy Awards and several major guilds, Oscar Isaac hits another one out of the park with his performance as Abel Morales, a man desperate to achieve the American dream. Isaac, who is both complex and satisfying, is richly devoted and impeccably raw. With his work on display, he shoots to the near top of today's best working actors. Isaac's turn is easily one of the year's most invigorating and most exciting character studies, revealing only real and believable behavior. Intelligent, well-mannered, and downright fantastic, it's one of the best performances of the year.
Jessica Chastain sinks her teeth into another meaty role and bites down hard as Anna Morales, Abel's wife. Reminiscent of a mixture of Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom" and Laura Linney in "Mystic River," Chastain constructs an enigmatic woman, a Lady MacBeth-type, but with an authentic style that steals the show. There are even elements that call back to something like Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct." Definitely alluring, and inhabiting a sexiness you can't teach in Julliard, Chastain keeps the audience in the dark but with a complete hypnosis. She fixates on her motives with a terrifying determination, accompanied by a gritty script, and sets the screen ablaze word after word, minute after minute.
The rest of the supporting cast delivers in their brief moments on- screen including Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, and Alessandro Nivola. One of the great finds of the year, at least to those who appreciate a layered and bravura performance, is that of Elyes Gabel. Making a living on CBS's "Scorpion," and with some remembering his work on the first two seasons of HBO's "Game of Thrones," I have to sadly admit to never hearing of him before (or realizing it was him). As Julian, Gabel takes on a fully, fleshed out supporting turn, commanding our attention, and earning every second of screen time. In a just world, we'd be talking about him as a serious Best Supporting Actor contender. Gabel is a marvel to witness.
Composer Alex Ebert hits another career high with his score and original song titled, "America for Me." Ebert channels the tension of the scene within his composition, knowing exactly when to pull back, and hit the accelerator full force.
The film is a slow simmer, ferociously brought to a boil, before unleashing its fury in a third act that is fully engrossing. Admittedly, it takes some time to wonder if the work is either earned or necessary. I kept going back to the last few moments, wondering if what I saw was ultimately satisfying. Days later, it stands out as one of the key scenes in film from the year overall. There's a brilliance to what Chandor decides to show and end in those moments. Unpredictable, and maybe not the note that audience members will want to go out on, but completely guided.
"A Most Violent Year" is one of the great modern crime thrillers, ultimately showing itself as one of the most enthralling experiences of the year. I thoroughly believe that a true Oscar contender is on our hands in several categories. Visibility, and a love for the movies, are the only requirements to enjoy this gem. A great piece of art that all should treat themselves to.
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
It's hard to put into words why "Still Alice" from writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westermoreland is as effective as it is. A cinematic experience that will pull you through the ringer, similar to other tearjerking efforts like "Terms of Endearment" or "Stepmom," the film is a heartbreaking measurement of storytelling that is one of the surprising gems of the year. Helmed by a magnificent performance by Julianne Moore, "Still Alice" dodges most of the cliché tropes of disease-ridden dramas with spunk and warmth. It's not just about the struggle of Alice (Moore), it's also an in- depth and informative medical drama that not only breaks your heart, but provide valuable information and sensitivity to anyone who may know or will know someone in the future.
The film tells the story of Alice, a brilliant professor that is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer's disease at the age of 50. Terrified of the future, and the fear of forgetting the life she's created, "Still Alice" reflects not only on the ramifications of knowing such knowledge of your eventual demise, but how it affects those who know and love you. If your loved one was stricken with such an illness, would you, rather could you stand by their side no matter what? It's easy to answer with the socially acceptable response until you're faced with such a question.
"Alice" inhabits a simplicity that almost feels too uncomplicated and transparent to warrant a positive take but alas, here we are. Glatzer and Westermoreland create a sensitive, well-intentioned examination of a woman struggling with early on-set Alzheimer's disease. May sound like shameless, factory-standard Oscar bait, but its unlike any movie you'll see this year, dealing with delicate subject matter in a tender way. They cover different angles of the topic at hand without getting too preachy. Of course, this is mostly due to the brilliance of four-time Academy Award nominee Moore, but she's not the only one on her A-game. Co-star Alec Baldwin, who plays Alice's husband John, showcases one of his most layered portrayals yet. Internalized, disturbed, but very compelling in the way he chooses to execute his feelings. Baldwin's mannerisms and antics have not been put to better use in quite sometime.
Kristen Stewart continues to revitalize her image as an actress. "Clouds and Sils Maria" and "Camp X-Ray" are terrific examples of her talents put to great use but what she achieves as Lydia, Alice's youngest daughter is nothing short of spectacular. Glatzer and Westermoreland understand her abilities and limitations but heighten them to stunning results. If Stewart continues on this path, she could easily become one of our greatest working actresses. She's certainly one of the most exciting at the moment. Stewart is a gift.
After struggling to find her voice in the movies, Kate Bosworth hits on all cylinders as Anna. As does Hunter Parrish, fondly remembered from "It's Complicated." He's aching for his big, breakout role.
I guess it's time to worship the aura of Julianne Moore. It's easy to dismiss my take on her work since I'm unapologetically a Moore enthusiast (loud and proud). Three of her Oscar nominations for "Boogie Nights," "Far from Heaven," and "The Hours" are all worthy citations, arguably winning performances that Oscar passed over. I've been able to separate her overall brilliance from some of the choices she's made in roles over the years. "The English Teacher" is an attempt to be change it up, "The Forgotten" is a horror/mystery that lacks either of those words, and "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" is well that movie from 2005. Julianne Moore is a revelation of epic proportions. Bold, provocative, and emotionally gripping, she delivers one of her strongest performances to date. She's takes a daring stand to be vulnerable, and hits an amazing high. A destined winner of Best Actress.
The film can feel like a factory-standard creation passed over by the TV networks at times, mostly due to the style in which its shot. Cinematographer Denis Lenior keeps things straightforward but isn't adventurous enough to stand out in the crowd. Film Editor Nicolas Chaudeurge should also take a few cues from the playbook of Pietro Scalia, Stephen Mirrione, and Richard Marks, editors that know how to milk a scene for everything its worth. There are moments that will surely create a weep-a-thon in your seat, but there are missed opportunities to really push the audience over the edge. Composer Ilan Eshkeri however, takes his cues from famed musicians like John Williams and Howard Shore to swell the tearducts to maximum capacity.
Overall, "Still Alice" is a very rewarding experience, wrapped in a blanket of emotions held by Julianne Moore and Co.. It's one of those rare films that makes you think and gives you a debate to have with your loved ones. A deep, human movie that doesn't shy away from baring its soul and the vast complexities that come with it. Just plain great.
You want some intensity, heart palpitations, and just sheer pulse-
pounding action? You don't need to look much further than David Ayer's
monumental war film "Fury" with an all-star cast that includes Brad
Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LeBeouf, Michael Pena, and Jon Bernthal. In
the vein of any edge-of-your-seat thrill ride experienced over the past
few years, "Fury" ignites a passionate look at the brotherhood of war
and the beauty that can peak its head out every now and again. Honest,
raw, and vividly shot, Ayer's war epic stands as one of the best
surprises the year has offered.
With elements of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" and a "dinner scene" that would put "Django Unchained" to absolute shame, "Fury" is full of wit, charm, and affection. The film takes place in April 1945 Germany. A five-man crew of a Sherman tank, lead by a battle- hardened sergeant named Wardaddy, take on near-impossible odds to hit the heart of the opposition towards the end of the war. When a rookie infantry member joins the group, they will learn several things about each other, and ultimately themselves, in the face of a motherless war.
How can you start anywhere else, without beginning with the writer and director David Ayer? Already gaining a legion of fans following "End of Watch," the impressive filmmaker takes on a new realm of storytelling that feels intimate, and consequently real. We spend over 60% of the film, inside the belly of a mechanical beast. Paul Greengrass executed a similar take with "Captain Phillips" last year in the lifeboat, and Ayer illustrates the same quality that is sure to be appreciated and loved. From a directorial standpoint, Ayer is unmatched by any action filmmaker that has hit screens this year. He owns every shot, every emotion, and every ounce of pride that the cast and crew exhibit. He controls the ship (or in this case TANK) with an effortless ease. There will be no doubt that this is a testosterone driven film, and the average movie guy will be screaming from the rooftops in an action-packed blissful state. However, there is an emotional core that is so very present in every scene, even when its ugly, that it allows an accessibility to every movie-goer. You won't find a more genuine depiction of war since "The Hurt Locker."
From a writing standpoint, Ayer puts forth a solidly valiant effort, with minor missteps along the way. I would have wanted less clichéd behaviors from certain characters at times, even some richer dialogue. Ayer constructs his story with precision. He absolutely knows when, what, and how he wants his characters to react. Every action feels fluid, and moving towards an ultimate resolution. He finds the beats of a scene quite well and at over two hours, the film moves like a freight train. You never feel a second. I do feel that Ayer missed out on some opportunities for a "real" breakthrough in a character, or a revealing quality of a character that didn't feel like I've seen it before. There were moments that were predictable but in no way do they bog down the overall experience of "Fury."
A slick and magnetic ensemble are present on screen. This is one of the best performances that Brad Pitt has ever done. Continuously pushing himself as an actor, his depth and vigor are both alluring and hypnotic to watch. The real breakout star of the film is none other than Logan Lerman. Already exhibiting an awards worthy performance in Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" over two years ago, if there was any doubt that this young man is one of the most exciting actors to watch, they should be laid to rest. Lerman is sensational from front to end. Calling back some young actors that have played in war films and have stood out (I kept coming back to Jeremy Davies' unrequited work in "Saving Private Ryan"), he plainly steals the movie from underneath every actor's eye. Lerman's work is an awards- caliber performance that the Academy Awards should not hesitate to recognize.
Co-stars Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena, and especially Shia LeBeouf all have individual moments to shine. Bernthal is a tornado of frenzy rage, taking out everything in his path. LeBeouf calls back to his stunning work in "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" from nearly a decade ago. Quietly powerful but loudly present. Pena is your most underwritten and clichéd character, but someone of Pena's talent ability, rises above in nearly every instance.
"Fury" has an abundance of technical highlights. Recent Oscar- winning composer Steven Price, puts forth another emotionally resonate score that stands out. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov captures shots of anxiety and concentration that only a master could accomplish. Film Editor Dody Dorn, who's crowning work will always be Christopher Nolan's "Memento," should be commended for making a 135 minute war epic, feel like a fleeting anxiety attack.
"Fury" is an emotional extremity. You don't get films like this that both operate on an accessible entertainment level for all audiences and still remain awards-caliber. It's a tremendous achievement, unforgettable, and one of the richly rewarding films of the year.
The directorial debut of Peter Sattler is infused with a strong moral
ambiguity that will make you question your own beliefs. Anchored by two
magnificent performances by Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi, "Camp
X-Ray" is a flawed yet very affecting portrait of a relationship that
develops in the most unlikeliest of places.
"Camp X-Ray" tells the story of a soldier named by Amy Cole, who is assigned to watch detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Her whole outlook on the military and life are changed when she befriends one of the detainees named Ali Amir.
From an honest filmmaking standpoint, writer/director Sattler hits many of his cinematic cues that you'd expect in a movie like this. It's full of emotion, tension, and moral questions that keep you thinking. However, the questions and emotional high-points are few and far between. At times, the film can feel awfully bloated, with fluff, and seemingly unimportant subplots that do nothing for the overall theme. There was a unique opportunity to explore queries regarding war, prison, and other things regarding politics that can be very frustrating when watching, especially since it has 117 minute run time. With all that said, when Sattler does it right, he nails it. I would be remiss if I didn't say, I'm not looking forward to see what he has up his sleeve next.
The cinematic world tends to forget that Kristen Stewart showed such immense promise pre-"Twilight" days. A complete standout in Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" in 2007, for which she was nominated alongside the cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Even in between the vampire franchise, she subtly delivered in "Adventureland," "The Runaways," and "On the Road." Stewart revives her glory days as Private Amy Cole, and makes us believe in a brighter future for the tween icon. Sattler knows her limitations, strengths, and puts them both to stunning use. Emotionally charged, Stewart may have delivered her finest performance yet, even one of the best by an actress this year.
As Asghar Farhadi enthusiasts will remember the talented Peyman Moaadi from the Oscar-winning "A Separation," the rest of the world that hasn't had the pleasure yet will start becoming well acquainted. Moaadi ignites a fire throughout the film, balancing his inquisitive and charismatic demeanor against a deep-rooted anger that will explode at any moment. I implore all writer and directors to utilize him over the next few years/decades.
Overall, "Camp X-Ray" has many things to offer an audience member. Some of which will make you curious, some of which that will undoubtedly disappoint you. Consequently, the film will get a dialogue going between those who have seen the film. I'm excited to see how Sattler's experience will be interpreted by the viewing public. At bare minimum, you can relish in the bravura turns of Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi, two actors that are well worth the watch.
I think we've all been exceptionally good this year because Christmas
came early with Alejandro González Iñárritu's masterful "Birdman (or
the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," an experience that you won't soon
forget. Debuting at Venice and Telluride Film Festivals, the film
closed an already impeccable New York Film Festival on Saturday morning
for press and industry colleagues. It's a film that resonates
profoundly, and may just be the best film of 2014. From its pristine
writing (by Iñárritu, Armando Bo, Nicolas Giacobone, and Alexander
Dinelaris), to its carefully constructed direction and cinematography,
to its genius casting and performances, "Birdman" is just a dream of a
The movie tells the story of Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed up actor who used to play a superhero icon called Birdman. In a valiant attempt to reclaim his career, he adapts, directs, and stars in a Broadway play. With problems from one of his very method actors (Edward Norton), assistant daughter (Emma Stone), emotional co-star (Naomi Watts), overly sexual girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), flamboyant producer (Zach Galifanakis), and loving ex- wife (Amy Ryan), Riggan prepares for the breaking point of his career.
"Birdman" is so damn enjoyable and one of the most entertaining films in years. It charms not just because of its story, but because of the performances and slick way that co-writer/director Iñárritu plays with tone. It's downright hilarious in parts, probably the funniest film of the year, and then there's the dramatic edge that comes into play, and simply breaks your heart. Above all, Iñárritu's "Birdman" is a celebration of cinema. It's an audacious achievement that floors just about every aspect of film witnessed in 2014. Iñárritu already had vocal admirers from "Amores Perros," "Babel," and "Biutiful," but this is his most accessible. This will move him up in the ranks with the Scorsese's, Spielberg's, and Eastwood's. He familiarizes us with the stage and the theater. He makes the surroundings a very palpable character for us to know and enjoy.
At 63, Michael Keaton has been criminally underutilized in his career, despite some iconic performances. The nerd crowd will worship him as the ideal Bruce Wayne/Batman combo, while the same thick will remember his "Beetle Juice" fondly for all-time. Where Keaton was passed over was for his dramatic capabilities. I've beat the horse dead on mentioning his cancer-stricken father-to-be performance in "My Life" or his recovering alcoholic player in "Clean and Sober." In "Birdman," Keaton marries the two with an undeniable sensibility that stands as the actor's finest to date. It's such a studied turn, you feel the accuracy and precision in which he executes every move and mannerism of Riggan. It's the role that Keaton has been waiting decades for. It's the role of his career.
If we're talking about underutilized actors, then Edward Norton needs to be mentioned. Two brilliant performances under his belt, both Oscar-nominated ("Primal Fear" and "American History X") but both passed over for someone else, Norton is back and better than ever. A scene-stealing standout, Norton makes us realize how unspoken dialogue between characters can be just as humorous without the punchline. Emma Stone has finally arrived with "Birdman." Criminally misused and passed over by Hollywood for "bigger name" actresses, Stone finally shows the world what they've been missing. In one single scene, Stone revolutionizes and captures the essence of "Birdman" with a ferocity that you couldn't see from any other performer. She finds the heart and soul of Sam, laying her on the screen meticulously and transparent.
Though brief in screen time, the vivacious Naomi Watts, the sexy Andrea Riseborough, and the seasoned Amy Ryan make their marks exquisitely. Watts gets the most chuckles out of the ladies while Ryan has the greatest arc for us to explore. I hope and pray that Zach Galifianakis continues down a path in independent cinema. Fully realized and delivered, he layers the film with a beautiful sympathy, vocal and restrained, he finds the meaning of Riggan and presents him to us.
Emmanuel Lubezki. That is a sentence, statement, and just pure cinematic meaning nowadays. You can't watch a movie shot by the Academy Award winning Cinematographer and not find yourself more intimately contained and available to the realm of the movies. Just one year after stunning us with "Gravity," Lubezki allows the audience to be in the movie. We are present in every scene, every movement, and every thought that a person is having. We feel as though Riggan and the cast are interacting with us. When they're laughing, we're laughing, when they're crying, we're crying. He is an absolute magician.
This seems to be the year of the drums because Antonio Sanchez composes "Birdman" with a drum score that lays deep in my ear canals. Tapping your feet and bobbing your head, Sanchez elevates the film to new heights. Editors Douglas Prise and Stephen Mirrione may be the unsung heroes because in the film, we are nearly in one continuous take, which hardly ever gives up (at least to the untrained eye). In no way do I call myself someone who can spot a digital edit, but I spotted no more than a dozen cuts throughout. That is amazing. I'm sure there were dozens more, but you couldn't catch them.
"Birdman" is a masterpiece (there goes THAT word). At a time where movies feel like they have to choose to between comedy and tragedy, Iñárritu's beauty works on us from the inside-out. It's a human story, comedy, thriller, mystery, all rolled into one. All told by a master filmmaker and storytellers. The year's must-see experience.
A film that takes its time presenting its case, Bennett Miller's
wickedly brutal "Foxcatcher" entices audiences to learn more about the
questions around us, and where they could lead. Seated firmly in the
center are a trio of dazzling performances from Channing Tatum, Steve
Carell, and Mark Ruffalo, all of which make a compelling case for their
career best works.
Written by Oscar-nominee Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, "Foxcatcher" tells the story of Mark Schultz (Tatum), an Olympic wrestler who befriends billionaire John Du Pont (Carell) in the mid-1980's. Along with his brother Dave (Ruffalo) and his wife Nancy (Sienna Miller), that new relationship leads to unforeseen consequences.
At the core of this morality tale is Bennett Miller, the Oscar- nominated director of "Capote" and "Moneyball." He allows"Foxcatcher" to study its subjects, and give the audience an in-depth understanding of all the motives involved. With the help of Cinematographer Greig Fraser, and composer Rob Simonsen, the movie's melancholy atmosphere is truly compelling. Miller's brilliance isn't in things he chooses to show, but in the things he chooses not to. He draws out scenes that offer so much to the narrative. There's still so much left on the table that we do not know, which in itself, is perfectly acceptable. Life never gives us all the answers we seek. Miller, Futterman, and Frye understand this. Material like this calls to be made into a film. I'm so glad that these three answered the call.
What Steve Carell achieves as John DuPont is not just a performance by a full embodiment. With strength and precision, he understands DuPont, a man with an extreme outlook on reality. Carell doesn't just ask us to sympathize with John, between his awkward behavior and his constant yearning to impress his family's legacy, he demands our understanding. If I didn't already know about the film for the past two years, I wouldn't have recognized him. His performance is completely focused and profound. Looking at the way he carries himself through the film, you are witnessing one of the purest creations of a character this year. When he's not on-screen, you're secretly wishing he was.
When it comes to Channing Tatum, I have to admit that I never FULLY understood the appeal. Discovered the young ferocious actor in Dito Montiel's "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" nearly a decade ago, and afterwards was only mildly entertained by his presence in films like "21 Jump Street" and "Side Effects." What he does in Miller's film is something beyond anything I could have ever thought he could do. Tatum doesn't just do an imitation, he channels the inner workings of a man desperate for more. His peculiarities are richly on display as he yearns for a father figure outside of the shadow of his more successful brother. He embraces the odd DuPont, against all logical instincts, but you can see exactly why he would feel so compelled to do so.
Mark Ruffalo gives Dave the ticks and beats of an original creation. Picking at his beard (something I know all too well), constantly engaging in team leadership, and hugging his younger brother whose more of a son than anything. Ruffalo mounts himself on the perch of a loving brother just trying to create success for himself and his family. This is another solid outing for him.
Co-star Vanessa Redgrave, as John's fragile mother, is marvelous in her short scenes while Sienna Miller adds a needed dynamic to understanding both Mark and Dave. The two women both offer compassion and balance.
"Foxcatcher" is terrifying, disturbing, and utterly engaging. A slowly unraveled piece that is risky but pays off immensely. It's cautious yet strictly well-defined as a character study. Like all great films with great performances, its element of truth is plainly apparent. On the gray-skied farm, we will get to know three interesting men, some of which, we'll never truly understand.
Let's start this off with a reward offering. I'll pay anyone $20 if
they can explain to me, in detail, the full plot and synopsis of
"Inherent Vice," front to back. That's a good place to start, eh?
The New York Film Festival press and audiences given the gift of a first look at Paul Thomas Anderson's hotly anticipated "Inherent Vice" starring Joaquin Phoenix and an all-star cast. Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, rumors flew about for months that the novel is a tough read and that the translation from book to film could be confusing in the hands of an auteur filmmaker like Anderson. Well, to a certain extent, they are absolutely correct. "Inherent Vice" is such a mind trip, one that will probably make you want to enroll in drug rehab by the end credits. What's amazing about it is even though you, nor I will probably "get it," and there's way more questions than answers at the moment, I cannot wait to revisit it again to start seeking those things out. You can see a little of Anderson's entire filmography.
Our "basic synopsis" is the story of Larry "Doc" Sportello, who in the 1970's, begins to search for his missing former girlfriend. The other things that accompany those facts, is a hallucination of laughs, satire, and magnificent filmmaking abilities.
Let's start with thanking the good Lord for Paul Thomas Anderson and his love of 35mm. Even though the screening did not show the film in that quality (the public screening however did), there's a charm that's still embedded within all of Anderson's film that pays homage to all the classic films of history. This is also partly thanks to Academy Award winning DP Robert Elswit, who can frame a scene to tension and success. Much like his past efforts such as "The Master," "There Will Be Blood," and "Boogie Nights," there's a magnitude of a visual master's exercises on display. He crafts provocative and engaging players that fully mesmerize you for its duration.
On the top of his game, once again is the genius that is Joaquin Phoenix. He's hilarious, and nothing like "The Dude" as many will compare him. He's a three-dimensional character with layers, fully invested in the story, and best of all, utterly believable. In a quirky, detective mystery such as this, you expect some outrageous behavior that can sometimes run false. Call me crazy, I believed nearly all. Phoenix is pure, ludicrous, and keeps you fixated entirely. You couldn't ask for a more dependable thespian at this time in cinema. There's even a weird but obvious comparison to Freddie Quell, as if Freddie's illegitimate child got into drugs and missed out on the alcoholism.
The supporting players are as rich as any Anderson creation before. Finally back to large ensembles, where he has shined time and time again in films like "Magnolia," he assembles one of the strongest casts seen in 2014. Like a rock and roll star, Josh Brolin owns the stage with a savage and vicious dedication to his character, he stands out as one of the finest performances of the year. I adored him, and it might be his finest outing yet, and something that could ring him some much deserved awards attention.
If you don't know her name yet, Katherine Waterston will be on the tongues of many for years to come. As Shasta Fay Hepworth, you'll find an enigmatic character with an entrancing and sensual aura. At times, feeling like a mixture of Rollergirl from "Boogie Nights" and Claudia Wilson Gator from "Magnolia," Waterston is one of engrossing and compelling characters of the year. It's an awards worthy performance, baring the soul of a performer that understands her purpose, Waterston is plain magnificent.
You will get big chuckles from Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, and Martin Short, all of which make their mark. In one strong scene, Jena Malone leaves her mark while Michael Kenneth Williams could have set the screen on fire with more time than what he was given. Sasha Pieterse (fabulous as always), Reese Witherspoon (reminding us why we loved Johnny and June Cash together so much), Eric Roberts (yearning for a larger role at this time in his career), Joanna Newsom (our new female Morgan Freeman of this generation's narrators), and Maya Rudolph (who needs to team up with hubby more often), all shine.
Why the world isn't recognizing Jonny Greenwood as one of the most innovative and talented composers yet is beyond me. Once again, everything on-screen is elevated by his eerie composition and whimsical take on the 70's aura. Not to mention, the soundtrack may be THE album of the year. You can't tell me that you won't have that on repeat seconds after viewing. You also get a richly realized costume design by Mark Bridges and honest sets by David Crank and Amy Wells. It's a technical masterpiece for sure.
"Inherent Vice" is such a strange demon. Hard to say you love, if you don't comprehend it all yet, but with enough magic to keep coming back for more. It's one of the best offbeat and pecuilar monsters seen on screen this year, and you just might fall for its potent nature.
Mike Leigh has always been a detailed and passionate filmmaker.
"Secrets & Lies," "Vera Drake," and "Another Year" are among the best
of his career. When his newest venture "Mr. Turner" premiered at the
Cannes Film Festival, the word suggested he may have hit a new high.
Sadly, this is his most dry and monotonous effort he's executed. While
his visual take on the life of J.M.W. Turner's is among his most
ambitious attempts, thanks to Cinematographer Dick Pope, outside of a
few key scenes and good performances, the film lays lifeless like a PBS
special on a Sunday afternoon.
The movie chronicles the life of British painter J.M.W. Turner during his exploits with a barrage of different women including his housekeeper, ex-wife, and his landlady. When his father dies, his art and life are profoundly affected.
Mike Leigh is intricate in his telling of Mr. Turner. His attention to detail is exquisite. Production Designer Suzie Davies, along with Set Decorator Charlotte Watts, construct an alluring atmosphere of time and history. Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran knits some dazzling and angelic cloth for all the actors. DP Dick Pope manifests a lens that resembles that of an authentic Turner painting. Bright colors, gorgeous sunsets/sunrises, and framing of certain scenes will make you take notice. Composer Gary Yershon invokes the spirit with his palpable music that elevates the bone dry material.
Timothy Spall has been a marvelous character actor for decades. Sprinkling his charisma in films like "Sweeney Todd" and "Topsy Turvy" have provided him with stunning reasons to be able to helm his own picture. I just didn't see what the big deal was about this time around. Where he physically gets into his role, I've never seen him more stiff and unnatural in his line deliveries. He inflects Turner with mannerisms and beats that entirely distract from what's going on. His constant growl and snarl makes him more like Danny DeVito as "The Penguin" than a 18th century painter. While he does have some satisfying moments, Spall doesn't offer enough to pull you through the story.
The high points of the film are the three exceptional turns by the female characters. Beginning with the talented Dorothy Atkinson as Hannah Danby, Turner's housekeeper, she layers a broken woman with ravishing resolve. She says so little yet so much with our own expressions. The elegant Marion Bailey evokes a performance you'd see from a veteran actress like Kathy Bates. Her magnetism adds a sensitivity that lacks throughout and ultimately captures the viewer's attention every time she's on screen. The glittering and scene- stealing Ruth Sheen embezzles every ounce of comical and emotional currency in her brief scenes. I prayed for more of her. As Turner's adorable father, Paul Jesson makes the most of his screen time as does Lesley Manville.
Conclusively "Mr. Turner" has technical high points that will hypnotize the most avid movie lover. For the casual movie-goer, there is little to latch onto. At over two and a half hours, you'll be looking at your watch, waiting for an end, or a mere emotional climax, that will wake you back up. Wistfully, that moment will never come. There are moments of laughter, as Spall grunts and moans more than a dozen times, and there's history to revere at, with historical characters you may or may not know. I was fatigued and uninterested by credits roll. Judging on the reception from other critics that have seen it, this may be a vocal minority opinion about Leigh's work.
"Mr. Turner" is a rare miss for Mike Leigh.
Probably the weirdest monster you'll come across this year, David
Cronenberg's Map to the Stars is an odd animal full of wit, charm, and
pure entertainment value. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but
for those who love rich and layered characters, Cronenberg takes on
Hollywood with zeal and humor. Some may classify the attempt as "mean,"
but no different from what Martin Scorsese brought to the table with
The Wolf of Wall Street, a black comedy with a much deeper message is
fully on display.
Bruce Wagner's script is a masterclass of writing. He finds all unique characters within our social existences and assembles them with stunning resolve. It's hard to believe the guy who wrote "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors" could be capable of such a feat. We also get a subtle score by Howard Shore and stunning contemporary costumes by Denise Cronenberg. Not since The Devil Wears Prada has fashion felt like a separate character piece on a contemporary film set.
With no short of brilliance, the entire cast ignites some of their finest and most compelling works of their careers. It starts obviously with another powerhouse turn by four-time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore. As "Havana Segrand," an actress dying for a big comeback, Moore illustrates her most vibrant and fruitful interpretation since "Cathy Whitaker" in Far from Heaven. Ferocious, daring, and completely involved, there's no other actress like Julianne Moore on this cinematic planet. Too good for words.
Everything seemed to finally click for actress Mia Wasikowska in her most daring performance to date. A ticking time bomb of emotion, her interpretation of "Agatha" is damn near close to terrifying. Robert Pattinson leaves all his "Twilight" days behind him and continues to evolve as a true performer. Cronenberg obviously knows what the heartthrob is capable of as he continues to use him frequently.
John Cusack and Olivia Williams are a match made in cinema hell, which secretly means heaven. Two people who are despicable together, the pair play insanely well off each other, showcasing luscious movements that all ring true. The young Evan Bird will have all of us learning his name by end credits. Lots of child stars make soft transitions in upbeat films like Little Miss Sunshine and Whale Rider. This is a brave and charismatic performance, channeling the aura of Justin Bieber (unfortunately just based on looks) but with tenacity as such performers as Ryan Gosling.
There are some tough pills to swallow during the viewing. There's incest, murder, "mean girl," moments, children dying which has characters happy to see it, it just doesn't seem to end. However, you will be entranced and placed under its spell from moment one. Cronenberg takes on subjects like violence and family with assurance. He's displayed this ability many times over in his filmmography. Map to the Stars stands tall with all the director's previous efforts.
Map to the Stars is not coy and completely confident in its demeanor. A well orchestrated and symbolic film that stands as one of the year's best films. This is Cronenberg's best effort since A History of Violence.
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