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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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Cinema is an ever evolving art form. The medium is pushed constantly,
often within its own limitations and once in a while, we get a
something special in its outcome. I do believe the original premise
surrounding Ned Benson's long-awaited The Disappearance of Eleanor
Rigby would have been that type of film. Debuting at the Toronto Film
Festival last year, the film was initially shown as two separate films
offering up the male and female perspective of a New York couple's
relationship. Being purchased by Harvey Weinstein and the awards
juggernaut The Weinstein Company, the film has been rumored to go
through many different forms throughout its buying process. Once said
to be a three-hour plus long cut putting both films together, and then
finally landing on a combined version subtitled "Them." If you are
aware that there are two other versions of the film out there titled
"Him" and "Her," the theatrical version "Them" can be a simply
satisfying introduction into the lives of Conor Ludlow (played
passionately by James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (played by another
staggering interpretation by Jessica Chastain). If you are NOT aware
that there are two other complete and different told stories, then
"Them" can be a frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying story, with
massive plot holes, and many questions left unanswered.
Written and directed by Benson, "Them" crafts an emotional and passionate tale of love lost, regained, and ultimately doomed to exist. Almost taking cues from films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Benson offers up an honest and raw interpretation of love in the shadow of tragedy. Likely not his first choice in which to tell his story, he takes a meticulous paintbrush and strokes through every part of the film with intricate detail, choosing what and what not to tell the audience.
James McAvoy is evolving before our very eyes and I'm afraid most of Hollywood and the world is missing out on it. Delivering questionably two Oscar worthy performances throughout his career (The Last King of Scotland and Atonement), McAvoy hits a new career pique as Connor. Seemingly born of mother New York, he wears every ounce of Connor with such comfort. He listens to his soul's reaction to every instance that he faces. I don't think you'll find someone this year that is more evolved and earth shatteringly brilliant in the way they choose to display heartbreaking emotion.
The ever beautiful Jessica Chastain continues to show that there is a place in cinema for her, not just this decade but for all time. The tragedy that is embedded within Eleanor is so profound and interpreted so fully by Chastain, it's a travesty to not include her in any awards conversation for not just this year, but any year. She pounds through Eleanor with relentless force, gauging her emotional highs and waiting until the opportune moment to unleash the fury and motives upon the viewer. I can't think of any other woman this year that has demanded so much of herself and the audience. It's another staggering performance to an already impressive resume that includes Zero Dark Thirty, The Tree of Life, and The Help.
Where Benson proves his worth as a writer in this love story is in the creation of the supporting characters. The multi-talented Viola Davis enriches every scene she's in with stunning results. She continues to show why she needs to be able to helm her own picture. This is an actress that attacks, and doesn't just take it lightly even in a role that is minimal in screen time. She makes her mark, and makes it well as Professor Friedman, a character that looks all too familiar when watching her speak.
When it comes to Bill Hader, a "Saturday Night Live" alumni that I would have never imagined would take the route that he's been taking post-SNL departure. I need every alumni of the 40-year-old show to use Bill Hader as an example of what to do when you step away from NBC's long-running machine. As Stuart, Hader offers subtle comic beats but a wonderful and morose realization of our generation's current climate. And I say our, but I really mean "my." Continue to do what you're doing Hader, I support you all the way.
Benson also assembles veterans like William Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, and Isabelle Hupert, along with the richly talented Jess Weixler. All of which stand up to the task of offering a little more insight into the characters they interact with. It's a stunning ensemble that is one of the best seen this year yet.
Ultimately The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them hits the right chords. Enriched in emotion and raw intensity, Benson crafts a loving story that will stand as one of the best told in some time. It likely stands better as a collection piece of the entire series with "Him" and "Her" attached. As a stand alone film, it does enough to suffice. A definite watch for 2014.
It took a little over 24 hours before I weighed in on my official
thoughts on Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game from The Weinstein
Company. My initial reaction upon leaving the screening room was it was
astonishing, a magnificent achievement that stands tall as one of the
year's best movies. As the film continues to settle within my cinematic
soul, this very well could be the best film of the year, anchored by a
career best performance from the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch.
Full disclosure, I'm fairly oblivious to European history and the heroes that had a hand in one of the deadliest wars in history. I've heard the name Alan Turing from high school and college but either didn't care enough to learn or have no recollection of his contributions. Minutes following the screening, Amazon.com got $15.82 from my bank account in order to read "Alan Turing: The Enigma," the book in which screenwriter Graham Moore based the story upon. Telling the story of Alan Turing, a mathematician who in 1939 led a pioneer in cracking one of the most difficult codes in history. His contributions paved the way for essentially the way we exist now. However, Turing, who is a homosexual, has to wrestle with his secret in order to keep his status and his work years later.
Masterfully told and encompassing an emotional complexity, Tyldum's film is both engrossing and disturbing. It has genius aspirations in which it wants to exist in the cinematic world. It's an impeccable thriller, taut and brilliant, exploring the horrors of war along with the choices that doom mankind for all eternity. Tyldum is methodical and precise in which he decides to unravel the story, Turing is one of the fallen heroes of our history and his story stands as one of the most tragic. Screenwriter Moore crafts a murky, dark, yet totally enjoyable spy film that stands taller than any James Bond film ever released. It's a sure-fire Oscar contender for several Academy Awards including Best Picture. They should feel so lucky to have the gumption to choose something this methodical and majestic.
Benedict Cumberbatch continues to climb the ladder as one of the best actors working today. After impressive performances August: Osage County, 12 Years a Slave, and TV's "Sherlock," this is the role that will make him a bonafide movie star. Oscar-winner or not, this will be looked upon like the greats such as Gene Hackman in The French Connection or any legendary 70's movie that you love today. Cumberbatch hones in on all of Turing's character flaws and good qualities that make him a real person. He constructs him from the toes up, inflicting mannerisms and behaviors that all ring true. He stimulates all the sensual beats that keep us fixated on a performance. I can't help but go back to someone like Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, who delivered a construction of epic proportions. Though based on a real person, the talented Cumberbatch ignites his own masterpiece performance. He follows the demons of Turing down to his bones. Unsure, arrogant, and dismissive to the world around him, Turing shows only what he must, what he chooses, and every once in a while, we get a front seat to his soul. Thank you Cumberbatch.
The rest of the cast is completely on their game. It's probably a contender for the SAG Ensemble prize. Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley, as the feisty and fiery Joan Clark, is as loose and comfortable as I've ever seen her. She wears Joan like an old coat from the back of the closet. Remembering it fondly and seeing that it fits just perfect. She has all the things that make up an Oscar nominee; a scene that will likely bring you to tears, plenty of scenes that play as the comic relief in a dark tale, and being simply charming in every part of the film.
I don't know when it's going to happen but the world needs to make Matthew Goode a mega-star. In his brief time on-screen, Goode makes his mark, becoming essentially a co-anchor with Knightley of the supporting players, showcasing a reason to give this guy his own leading role sooner rather than later. As our resident sleazy authority figure, Charles Dance shows that he's still got it. Mark Strong and Allen Leech also deliver memorable, fascinating scenes, both getting an opportunity to shine.
Technical merits are no shortage of excellence on display. Oscar- winning Editor William Goldenberg (Argo) shows that tension is his second language. Cutting the film to perfection, and forcing your heart into throat, this espionage thriller succeeds for general audiences because of Goldenberg's efforts. It's something that anyone can seek out and get fully immersed into. Alexandre Desplat tacks another impressive composition to his already thick resume. With films like The Grand Budapest Hotel already in his arsenal, I assume this to be another Oscar citation in his future. Shot by the talented Oscar Faura, responsible for painting the canvas that was J.A. Bayona's The Impossible, he utilizes the standard brilliance of capturing a moment. Knows when to pull back and get close. Let's not forget the Production and Costume Design by Maria Djurkovic and Sammy Sheldon Differ. Those two will surely be mentioned for the rest of the film year.
The Imitation Game is assertive and makes a serious claim as one of the best spy thrillers ever made. There are sub plots that all resonate and never feel forced. This will not only keep your tension level at a fever pitch but could leave you in tears to walk home with. It's a complete realistic view at the spy game that stands as one of the best films of the year and a performance for the ages from Benedict Cumberbatch. A captivating achievement that I'll likely remember for some time.
Encompassing all the best parts of films like A Beautiful Mind by Ron
Howard but creating its own signature and style to the biopic genre,
James Marsh's gorgeous and beautifully compelling The Theory of
Everything, the true story of Stephen and Jane Hawking, is a sensitive
piece of filmmaking that stands as one of the finest movie efforts of
the year. Starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen and Felicity Jones as
Jane, the two develop a masterful and sonorous dynamic that behaves as
a naturalistic relationship that inhabits qualities of both love and
sadness. They're a match made in heaven. Also acting as a morality
tale, screenwriter Anthony McCarten puts forth intriguing questions
regarding love in the shadow of someone's disability. Do you really
know what is asked of you when you vow to love someone in sickness and
in health? What happens when disability doesn't allow you to love the
way you want? Are you better off just breaking free if you have the
The film acts as a moving oil painting. Benoît Delhomme shoots to utter perfection. Intimate in scenes requiring the viewer's undivided attention, and taking the liberty to capture the essence of the time where the innocence of love offers many possibilities. The scenes ultimately feel as if we're in a dream sequence, sleeping silently as these two lives play out in our minds.
You don't get any tears or moving feelings without the bravura score of Jóhann Jóhannsson. Criminally overlooked last year in the grand scheme of things for his work on Prisoners, the composer orchestrates his best score of his career. Very likely not just my favorite score of the year so far but one of mine in the last few years. From the opening credits, Jóhannsson puts his stamp with heavy violins and beautiful piano playing. In the end credits, you can sit and marvel as the names cross the screen with the music that accompanies it.
When it comes to biopics, people tend to automatically give credit to makeup and body language when talking about a performer. Past winners like Jamie Foxx in Ray have always felt empty as a performance but people were so tied in with the mannerisms that he brought to the role, which he often did in his stand up comedy routines. In Eddie Redmayne, we get a fully realized and tender performance. The first twenty minutes of the film, prior to the diagnosis of Hawking's disease, Redmayne utilizes all the quick wit and charm to show what his Stephen loved the most of his work and his woman. Obviously going through the physical transformation must be rewarded. Contorting his body and learning the physical tics that Stephen Hawking has displayed in real life all ring true. Since his breakout work in Les Miserables, a role that should have landed him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, I was wary to believe I'd revisit a praising session with the young actor so soon. It's one of the best things offered this year.
When it comes to Felicity Jones, the emotional backbone of the entire process has to be awarded to her. With stunning works in Like Crazy under her belt, Jones takes upon a daunting and heavily emotional character, never afraid to have the audience dislike or be disappointed in what she's doing. Marsh directs her to astonishing resolve. As a leading lady, Jones ignites such fiery and compelling questions not necessarily asked before in a biopic such as this. Complex and staggering in the way she decides to portray the brave Jane, Jones allows her character to grow, and both live and learn inside of her. What's most remarkable about Jones is she makes everything seem so effortless. She's not faking anything, she's really feeling and becoming Jane. She locates all the emotions required of her to execute successfully. It's a turn I wouldn't be surprised to see runaway with the Academy Award for Best Actress.
The supporting players are no shortage of talent, though secondary to this type of story. Charlie Cox was just as good in his screen time. As Jonathan, Cox lays it all out on the table, heart on sleeve, and soul bared for all of us to see. David Thewlis, Emily Watson, and Simon McBurney are all solid but brief.
Production Designer John Paul Kelly and Costume Designer Steven Noble should be commended for their meticulous craft in bringing the time period to the screen. An Oxford University dormitory along with a dozen outfits worn by all the characters can easily be taken for granted in a film like this.
Screenwriter Anthony McCarten adapts his script from the book "Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen" which was written by Jane Hawking. Audiences like their fair share of love stories, but some of them, rather most of them, don't like the ugly that goes with it. In real life, people make mistakes, and do things that can make some cringe. I believe some of the more questionable and controversial things during the Hawkings marriage was merely glossed over to not paint them negatively, even though the world is well aware of what went on. I'll be honest, I knew next to nothing about Stephen Hawking and his work prior to sitting for the movie. I knew the robot voice and that's where it about ended. If anything, the film inspires me to learn more about Stephen's work and theories presented. All of those things are definitely given a back seat to a film that doesn't really require them. The Theory of Everything is not about the equations or the mathematics. It's essentially about us. It's about love, and not just in the form of marriage. We as humans learn to love ourselves, our families, and our children. They are placed in our lives but I'm not sure how much we realize what goes into maintaining those relationships. The movie makes you think of those things.
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.
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
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!
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