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Camp X-Ray (2014)
26 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi shine in Peter Sattler's debut..., 14 October 2014

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.

21 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
Using the "M" Word Again...Masterpiece!, 13 October 2014

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 movie.

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.

Foxcatcher (2014)
7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Bennett Miller's latest is a building block of passion and tension with a righteous performance from Steve Carell..., 11 October 2014

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.

17 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
Paul Thomas Anderson has created an odd monster with a stunning ensemble and surreal standouts..., 4 October 2014

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.

Mr. Turner (2014)
4 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Mike Leigh crafts a beautiful painting but with no depth of character or story to engage..., 4 October 2014

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.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Cronenberg ignites a magnificent film with passion and humor..., 28 September 2014

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.

Whiplash (2014)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A pair of outstanding performances by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons embody Damien Chazelle's piece of perfection..., 27 September 2014

When it comes to cinema, there are often little gems in a sea of bigger spectacles, that can break through in the most proficient way. Last year, I pleaded to the entire film universe that discover and understand "Inside Llewyn Davis" from the Coen Brothers after seeing it for the first time at NYFF. This year, I've seem to already come to terms that the next film that will utilize all my energy and resources this year will be Damien Chazelle's highly intense psychological drama "Whiplash." An impeccable and tightly wound experience that brings your anxiety to a feverish level. As small, and utterly different as I'm about to compare, I haven't felt this uneasy with a film's tension since Paul Greengrass' "Captain Phillips," coincidentally also was a NYFF title. Two other similar traits that embody the two are the intense and completely submersible performances that inhabit them. Stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are absolutely astonishing, featuring two of the year's very best turns.

Chazelle's film tells the story of Andrew (Teller), a first year music student that seeks out and joins the prestigious school band, headed by an intense and frightening teacher Mr. Fletcher (Simmons).

Walking out of the screening I fully knew (though I fully hope to be proved wrong this year) that Miles Teller would be my "Oscar Isaac" this year. A performance that should shoot to the top of any awards consideration for a lead actor, but unfortunately will be passed over show after show. Teller is submerged in a way that we haven't seen the young actor achieve at this stage in his career. After plowing onto the scene opposite Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole," and then helming "The Spectacular Now" with complete ease and intensity, I was not expecting him to be the machine of fury and magnitude that is on display in "Whiplash." There are moments where he channels the emotional aura of performances like Tom Hulce/F. Murray Abraham in "Amadeus," as crazy as that sounds. I am so excited to see where Teller goes from here. It makes the future of film a lot more bright, knowing that someone like him will be rising up in the ranks.

Everything you've heard about J.K. Simmons is true and then some. A fully fleshed out supporting role, Chazelle doesn't write Fletcher as a caricature. He's a deeply acute individual, full of passion and acrimony. Chazelle doesn't keep Simmons at a "10," he and Simmons allow him to find a range of empathy, hatred, and cryptic allowances that will keep you at the edge of your seat. As I watched Simmons flesh out a performance that can only be described as magnificent, I kept coming back in my mind to Christoph Waltz in the Oscar-winning "Inglourious Basterds," a role that found much heat on the awards circuit. The world/all film lovers will not be able ignore the stunning presence of Simmons. A Supporting Actor nominations (maybe even a win) seems all but assured (and deserved). Looking back at the veteran actor's career that included memorable roles in "Juno," "Burn After Reading," and "Up in the Air," a role like this could not have come at a better time. Already impressive in his brief work in Jason Reitman's "Men, Women & Children," writers, directors, casting agents, and producers will be pounding on the actor's door.

You can't credit "Whiplash" without citing the words and control by writer/director Damien Chazelle. An amazing and outstanding sophomore effort (unfortunately have not seen his debut "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench") that channels a young Bennett Miller. Vigorous, self-assured, and innovative, Chazelle is a brilliant auteur filmmaker that knows exactly what type of films he wants to make. He takes inspiration from his own life, his love of film and music, and other places I'm sure we don't know about, and molds them into a gritty, layered experience, conditioned with rich characters, all realized through the writer's story. It's one of the best scripts of the year.

"Whiplash" features some of the best minutes of film seen in 2014. An ending that will bring tears to your eyes, dual performances that will have you applaud, and an experience that you surely will not forget. Drumming has never felt like such a personality. It acts as a visible tool for the viewer to understand and try. If you love music, appreciate education, and dare to be better than your current state, you will find something very real to latch onto. Hold on, and hold on tight.

"Whiplash" is being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and will be released October 10 in limited release (and then expanding after). A must-see for all movie lovers!

Gone Girl (2014)
28 out of 66 people found the following review useful:
David Fincher crafts a meticulous picture with a bravura performance from Rosamund Pike..., 26 September 2014

Calculated, meticulous, and completely engaging, David Fincher tackles one of his freshest and stylish films of his career with the adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel "Gone Girl." Intelligently structured by novelist Flynn herself, the film features a mannered turn by Academy Award winner Ben Affleck while the absolute success of the picture is indebted to the lavish and grandiose performance of Rosamund Pike.

If you are unaware with the story, stay clear of any plot spoilers as possible. Obviously I always respect such a demand. Simply put, the film tells the story of Amy Dunne (Pike) who disappears from her home on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary to her husband Nick (Affleck).

We have to applaud Gillian Flynn, a novelist turned screenwriter that composes a tense and mystery story that evokes a fascinating social commentary on marriage and media. A taut thriller, some of which may find bloated, but still satisfying by credits end. There are quibbles you can find in certain character motivations or certain events that lead to our ultimate resolution but it's not enough to ruin the experience. Flynn launches herself in the Oscar race for Best Adapted Screenplay with a very good chance of standing on stage this year.

On one hand we have Ben Affleck, an actor of considerable talent that showcases another notch in his belt for his career. Reserved and orchestrated with impressive restraint, Affleck keeps the audience on the edge of their seats with audible suspicion. We've seen him in movies like "Hollywoodland" and "Argo," both of which brought him great acclaim. This will likely be one that will follow suit.

Unfortunately must admit that I discovered the beautiful Rosamund Pike in Lone Scherfig's "An Education" over five years ago. Since then, I've only gotten glimpses in features like "Made in Dagenham" and "Jack Reacher." A career topping turn as evolved in her newest work as Amy Dunne in "Gone Girl." I don't think I've seen a more complex female character that allows an actress to go places we haven't seen in quite some time. Pike is a revelation, an actress that should run the gauntlet for every Best Actress award in 2014. She's passionate, intense, and damn near impenetrable, taking risks that pay off for every single movie moment she's involved in. I absolutely loved her.

You can't deny that meticulous and craftsman genius that is embedded within director David Fincher. "The Social Network" and "Se7en" have been prime examples of how to tell a well executed story. Stylistically, "Gone Girl" offers nothing amazingly new for his repertoire. Director of Photography Jeff Cronenweth uses his same techniques that have made him one of the most exciting cinematographers of today. The real technical highlight is the score of Oscar-winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Balanced, unsettling, and musically tense, the duo develop another stunning score for the year.

The supporting cast all have high points, most notably the spunky Carrie Coon of HBO's "The Leftovers." Her quirk and ferocity stand up as an unforgettable highlight. Tyler Perry gives the world a terrific example of life outside "Madea" and by God, I want some more. He steals many of his scenes shared with his co-stars. Neil Patrick Harris also delivers in his brief amount of screen time, one that will channel a new generation's Anthony Perkins. Kim Dickens, Casey Wilson, Patrick Fugit, and ESPECIALLY Missi Pyle make their marks accordingly. Don't be surprised to see the Screen Actors Guild cite this for Best Cast Ensemble.

As a vehicle for awards players, the big chances will stand for Screenplay and Best Actress, both of which are win-worthy. In some ways, I feel Fincher has crafted his equivalent to Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," and obviously that worked out for very well for the overdue director. This is something that audiences will eat up, talk about at their water coolers, and probably revisit for years to come. It's hard to imagine how an awards member will see it but it will definitely appeal to many out there.

"Gone Girl" is an undeniable winner. Haunting, unpredictable, and completely unforgettable, Fincher's film stands tall as one of the best things to be produced this year. Their might be similarities to "Prisoners," maybe even "Psycho," but "Gone Girl" has enough going for itself to stand on its own.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Marion Cotillard delivers another stunning performance in Belgium's submission for the Oscars..., 24 September 2014

There is a clear and vibrant simplicity to The Dardenne Brothers' newest and affecting effort Two Days, One Night starring the hauntingly rich and powerful Marion Cotillard. Intimate and honest, the selection for Belgium for the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony makes a compelling case in showcasing a tragic story of family, despair, and sacrifice.

Starting this off with a cinematic (likely horrible) confession, I've never seen a Dardenne Brothers film in its entirety. Growing up in an American household, and only learning of them over the past few years, the two acclaimed filmmakers remained on my bucket list for a cinematic weekend but never fully got around to it. Does that make me less qualified to review the new film distributed by Sundance Selects? I'd like to think not. Every new generation of film critics, both new and beyond, will learn the ways of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and the Dardenne Brothers in some new capacity.

The film tells the story of Sandra, a young mother who learns that her co-workers have opted for a large cash bonus, and as a result, will leave her without a job. She spends the next two days and one night, visiting all sixteen co-workers to convince them to give up their money in order for her to keep her job and help her support her family.

From the premise alone, you can only assume that you're going to be pulled through the ringer. What the writer/directors exercise brilliantly is the feeling of desperation. A supportive husband Manu, played magnificently by Fabrizio Rongione, and a friend Juliette (Catherine Salée) offer balance to a dark tale but you can't help but just feel for our lovely Sandra. It's a social and economical look at the working class. What it can make you do and how you can lose your humanity as a result.

The pinnacle and most profound element of the picture is the towering achievement of Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard. She observes Sandra in her fragile state and avoids any typical tropes and clichés. Cotillard searches for Sandra's purpose, almost as convincingly as Sandra searches for her own. She yearns for more, but most of all, she seeks simple clarity. She's drowning in her own sadness, something that some of us might know too well. She's dying for a breath of air. This is just another prime example of Cotillard's stunning abilities to transform herself in any role. Rust & Bone and La Vie en Rose are just the tip of the iceberg, and this may not even be the full extent of her talents. I think we're looking at a legendary actress emerging before our eyes. There's a role coming, if you haven't experienced it already, that is going to knock all of us on our asses. This could be it for many.

The major flaw I found is in the way the brothers decide to tell the story. At 95 minutes, the film tends to move at a snail's pace from time to time. As soon as the film reveals its premise, I wondered how we were going through sixteen individuals without feeling repetitive. While some of them definitely make their marks (a scene involving Timur Magomedgadzhiev rings profoundly genuine), others feel like victims of circumstance and even a little bland. By the movie's end, I felt like I had sat for over two hours.

Two Days, One Night is a contender for Best Foreign Language Film and a dark horse for Oscar-winner Cotillard to score a nomination. If you are familiar with the Dardenne Brothers previous efforts, this film should feel just as satisfying. If anything, this is a kind and seamless introduction to the directors' past efforts.

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Though a social downer, Jason Reitman's latest offers up some interesting ideas..., 16 September 2014

A singularity of depressing feelings fills Jason Reitman's latest drama Men, Women & Children and doesn't let up in its 116 minute runtime. There's no way to start talking about the film without putting that out there from the jump. I've never experience such a social downer probably since Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, and at that time I was a young adult who had no experience with drug addiction. In Reitman's adaptation of the Chad Kultgen novel of the same name, it brings to the forefront, the current social climate of our children and adults. For some, it may feel as if you're brow beaten into submission the entire time. At times, that would be completely accurate however, there's no denying that Reitman's cinematic aesthetic has been risen to an impeccable height. Not to mention, Men, Women & Children features one of the year's best ensembles, all delivering noble and honest work.

Centering around our entire culture, and even the different ideals that surround our existence and universe, the film tells the story of several high school students and their parents and how sexuality frustrates them in their everyday life.

I was surprised, perhaps even shocked about how much I enjoyed the film by the end credits. The film successfully manages to have you fixated on its story and its characters for the entire duration. Though you are pulled through the ringer with little breaks, Reitman amazingly builds several stories, full of aggressive tension that is reminiscent of films like Paul Haggis' Crash. That may already keep you at an arm's distance with that comparison but the two directors both have similar styles in bringing their points to the surface. What does Men, Women & Children teach me? To keep my daughter Sophia at home for as long as I can and don't buy her a cell phone until she's 50. Is the film innovative or groundbreaking? absolutely not. In a discussion with my staff writers, we were discussing the film's trailer after it premiered. One of them astutely said, "this feels like one movie too early for Jason Reitman." I agreed at the time however, I'm of the mind that it's about two movies too late. If this had been released around the time of The Social Network or immediately following Reitman's Oscar- nominated Up in the Air, I would feel as if we would be looking at our winner for Best Picture. Unfortunately, in 2014, I feel we all know this. We know technology is keeping us apart, we know our children are being buried under the cloud of our family's issues whether it be sex, lies, or divorce. It's still a fascinating look at the interpretation.

One thing that can't be denied is the cast is simply superb in every forms of the word. With no real standout, there are no weak links. I'm most fond of young Ansel Elgort, likely playing a character you may have interacted with more times than you'd like to. Perhaps even a vivid representation of yourself at one point. This will be a great plateau for him to leap from to show he's not just the "YA cute boy" from The Fault in our Stars. He's firmly a part of the next generation of young, gifted actors. Next in line is the multi- talented Dean Norris. Sensitive, furious, and truly heartbreaking, Norris extends himself to a new limit we never really thought he had in him.

It's so refreshing to see Adam Sandler doing something so stoic and reserved. No Sandler-isms are shown, just glimpses of a man with so much more left to prove and say. While its nowhere near his work in Punch Drunk Love, it's something I hope that will be the beginning of a new wave of work for him.

Jennifer Garner, though very good in her limited time, as just pigeon-holed herself into a role that she's played way too often. It's time to break out something new. Judy Greer is quite staggering, involved in a character that's richly despicable yet surprisingly sympathetic. Same goes for the amazing Rosemarie DeWitt, who challenges herself in new realms of sex appeal and ferocity.

Kaitlyn Dever is also the next wave of sought after talent just one year after Short Term 12. She will also likely be joined by Olivia Crocicchia and/or Elena Kampouris in that regard.

Men, Women & Children moves Jason Reitman into a new chapter for filmmaking. One year after Labor Day crashed and burned, he's feeling himself out and may have something huge up his sleeve in the near future. All the crafts from music, to cinematography, and especially editing were very impressive. I think paired with the right material, timely subject matter, and another outstanding cast, we should soon see that he will be here to stay. The film is a somber but emotionally resonate experience. Though there are times that it can come off a bit "try hard" such as a completely unneeded narration by Emma Thompson, the film is definitely a base hit for Reitman and the studio. I'm in.

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