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My film reviews site: www.FilmGateReviews.com
My Favourite Movies of 2014
1. Boyhood (2014)
2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
3. Night Moves (2013)
4. Obvious Child (2014)
5. Whiplash (2014)
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The actor/actress is not to be blamed as they are just a child and probably didn't realize that their character was carrying a disease that would infect the host show and eventually kill it.
The following are the known cases of Unknown Child Syndrome. Any additions are greatly welcomed.
Emphasis on indies from the last 5 years.
My film reviews site: [link]http://www.filmgatereviews.com[/link]
Counting movies with sole female leads and movies sold primarily on the female star. Indie and Hollywood - limited release and wide. NOT counting films that had simultaneous VOD and theatrical releases since VOD numbers are rarely published.
Gender equality is a hot topic in Hollywood, with many claiming that very few good roles are written for women.
From these screenwriters who have all written at least two roles that went on to win Oscars for the actresses, who has written the best roles for women?
Both original and adapted screenplays are considered, but the Oscars must have come from two different movies.
The Animal Project (2013)
Loses interest and then loses the point amongst meaningless lives
"The Animal Project" stars Aaron Poole as Leo, a thirty-something acting teacher, who is way too hippie-like in nature to put together coherent thoughts, although I'm sure he thinks he does. He instructs six wannabe actors on how to act, and they are just as insufferable as he is with their pretentious techniques and ideas on how to be successful in life.
The Animal Project is an idea that Leo has, that if actors dress up in animal mascot suits, they can then give hugs out to people on the street. (Grown adult men cannot do this without going to jail, hence the need for the animal costumes). It would have been interesting to see where they take this animal project idea, except Leo and the actors were struggling with "what does it all mean, man," and whatever idea or questions the filmmakers wanted to put out there were lost as I have no clue what the point of any of this was.
The opening scene was fairly well constructed. Leo was asking questions to each of the actors and filming their responses. And each was cut during the opening credits, so we just got a flash of what each of these people were like. But we also got the nagging suspicion that they were acting. After all, they are actors. But then to give further introduction to each of the actors, we got very bleak, slow introductory scenes of random, meaningless moments in their life. In fact, the point could very well be, that as struggling to become actors they feel like they are living meaningless lives and losing themselves in the process. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that idea can carry a slow, bare film about pretentious actors.
The second main theme is Leo's struggle to raise his son. Leo struggles with a lot of things; he probably can't even put a pair of pants on, but that would belong in a comedy, which this is not. The film also loses a lot of interest before we even get to the father- son drama.
"The Animal Project" is a slow, austere drama trying to string together some semblance of meaning to people who either don't have much meaning or deserve to be understood. Even if there was a point to the animal project or the father-son drama, it was lost in a lack of interest.
Manhattan Love Story (2014)
Sweet charm, simple comedy, and lovable leads
The title alone gives the viewers three reasons to hate the show, but the two leads more than make it completely likable. In the acting world, model Analeigh Tipton made heads turn when she played the lovable babysitter in Crazy, Stupid, Love. She had this beautiful essence that allowed her to portray the innocent side of puppy love but also the naughty side as she attempted to explore her sexuality with an older man. I only know Jake McDorman from The Newsroom, but any actor that Aaron Sorkin is willing to take a chance on is fine by me.
This show's hook is the internal monologue as both characters get to narrate their thoughts as they go about their day. It works on a simple comedy level, but it also works by connecting the audience to the leads instead of just falling in love with them. Tipton's Dana represents the insecure side of people. She's awkward, shy, a little lacking in confidence as she likes to avoid confrontation, but speaks up when she needs to. McDorman's Peter represents the cynical side of people. He knows what he likes, he's confident, secure, selfish and can be more than a little abrasive with his sarcastic thoughts and responses. It's not just that opposites attract, but that both Peter and Dana represent most viewers, and are both people that you could fall in love with. In just one episode Tipton and McDorman showed multiple sides to these characters and gave lovable but realistic qualities to both.
The writing had a very quick and modern feel to it. Facebook jokes, economic instability references, and jabs at America's need to reward mediocrity. The jokes are clever and witty enough to make you smile. They also very efficiently introduced us to the supporting characters so we already have a good feel of the ensemble that can be developed. David is Peter's brother, a slightly more level-headed duplicate who is married to Amy, Dana's best friend, a less level-headed and no longer a duplicate of her.
Another choice that I was happy with is that Dana is brand new to New York City. Living here for less than a week, she already has to face her romanticism and idealism slowly slipping away, and she's going to have to harden up if she's going to survive at all. Peter has already let New York's cynicism envelop him, but he truly likes Dana, and will have to find a way to let her keep some of her optimism and generous spirit to ensure that they both still enjoy true moments of love.
I know we've had more than enough stories of love set in Manhattan, but this Manhattan Love Story is a beautiful experience. I can't wait to take more adventures into daily life with Dana and Peter. I encourage other viewers to do the same and find some sweet charm in this simple comedy.
Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
A whimsical air of love and magic
There are two movies within "Magic in the Moonlight." One is a plot- driven, thematically-heavy comedy about a realist magician desperate to unmask the secrets of a spiritualist. The second is like a romantic drama asking if opposites can attract. The former is much better but knowing that Woody Allen isn't going to include unconnected ideas, the film can be quite good for his die hard fans.
The comedy is very much on the light and minimal end, but that just allows for a more interesting element of magic in the air and even an element of simple human relationships drama. It also allows Colin Firth to show his full-range of abilities honed through-out his career. From the romantic comedy of "Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001) to the mature drama of "Devil's Knot" (2014), this is Firth at his comedic best. He opens the film as a rude and arrogant magician – never being his true self.
Stanley (Firth) is told about a young woman in France who is a successful spiritualist and becoming quite a celebrity in connecting wealthy people with their loved ones who have passed on to another world. Before even meeting Sophie (Emma Stone), Stanley has already decided that she's making it up along with her scheming mother in an attempt to swindle money out of gullible people. After all, he's a realist. There is no God, there is no other world, and there is no magic.
At this point the typical comedy of Woody Allen should be obvious. The world is made up of two types of people: optimistic spiritualists and pessimistic realists. Or in other words, people who are crazy and people who are right. It also includes his usual witticisms about life and death. In a hopefully-to-be-classic line, he sums up life as: "You're born, you commit no crimes, and then you're sentenced to death."
The film seems to drag in the middle after the plot of Stanley uncovering whatever Sophie is up to is concluded in a seemingly swift manner and then we're left watching a romantic drama. Sophie is supposed to marry the wealthy, appropriate but immature Brice (Hamish Linklater) and Stanley is engaged to the successful, appropriate but emotionless Olivia, but of course nature has other plans. The key in getting through this section is knowing that Stanley is never being his true self and this is a film about illusions, magic, deceit and trickery.
"Magic in the Moonlight" is very light but not as purely funny as most of Allen's previous films. The comedy is there but very much tied into the characters and themes. He has also perfected the art of filmmaking with beautiful shots, some framed scenes that echo the magic shows of the time, great costume design and a jazz score that fits the conservative but fun tone of the setting of the 1920s.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
A beautiful, funny story that is just as smart as it is nonsensical
Wes Anderson's latest film "The Grand Budapest Hotel" opens at the elaborate Grand Budapest Hotel with a storied history located in the fictional former empire Zubrowka in Eastern Europe. Young Zero Moustafa (newcomer Tony Revolori) is an aspiring lobby boy for the famed concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). The elder takes Zero under his wing and the two begin a trek across mythical lands.
As with recent Anderson films, this shares his distinctive artistic sense. Like he's telling a story through pictures. The story here is a quirky, idiosyncratic tale of mischievous and silly whimsicality. Random nonsense could also be a way to describe it. The plot, or a loose semblance of chapters of a related story, literally takes Mr. Gustave and Zero from satisfying old ladies, to art thieves, through a murder plot, to prison, a brief pause to fall in love, to escaped convicts and back to the noted Grand Budapest Hotel. It was quick and playful, also very far removed from any relatable sense of reality.
But the interesting thing about the film is that it does serve as an odd viewpoint to the real, war-torn world of late 1930s Europe. Personally, I found the juxtaposition between the frivolousness of the story and the dark, grandiose themes of life to be too startling and moves the film even closer to random nonsense. However, this is also where the film shows off its unique, incredibly intelligent and endlessly witty dialogue. It is really funny and fits both the quirky, playful nature of the story and the darker tones of the times. The dialogue at least allows you to laugh your way through the film even if you don't form much interest in the story.
As mentioned before, Wes Anderson is telling a story through pictures. Each shot is framed meticulously and symmetrically. I like his "square" way of telling more ludicrous stories. There are also a number of shot set-ups which allow for some funny jokes as the camera pans over to complete the scene. The production design is also very beautiful and fits the grand and eloquent, but also lonely, hotel. The colour palette this time around shifts more than usual, but the story also goes through a lot of phases. The hotel itself is bathed in a dull pink and purple, which is a gorgeous visual imagery for the overcast pall of communism and the lavish and hopeful lifestyles of its residents and employees.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is based on the writings of Stefan Zweig and it opens with a writer telling a story of an older Zero relaying the story of his life. Part of my issues with the film is that these characters don't resemble humans. Zero's motivations aren't clear and are not understandable, and Mr. Gustave is just crazy. And then they embark on an adventure that is just as odd as they are. The dialogue is hilarious and astute, and the landscape it all unfolds on is beautiful and elegantly created. It's a beloved film, but some will be unable to place themselves in that world.
Funny, clever and charming enough to get past the cheesy rom-com elements
"Barefoot", also released as "The Wedding Guest", is about, fittingly enough, a barefooted wedding guest. Well, that's a plot point. As with a lot of indie romantic comedies, it's about two mis-matched people (or two people not well suited for life in general) who find each other and figure out what love is. It's probably best to avoid any plot descriptions as it's going to be hard to make this sound good, when, in fact, it actually is.
Jay (Scott Speedman) is our hero. He has little respect for women, less respect for the law, and no regard for rules governing life. He ends up serving as a great protagonist because the rather hilarious dialogue allows this dark start to turn comedic. One woman oblivious to his desperate charms claims that he's single because he's an asshole. He knows this. "Well, yeah, but an interesting and fun asshole." Jay does actually have a heart beneath his sarcastic and irresponsible demeanor, but he just hasn't met anybody that it's worth having a heart for.
After the really funny, darkly comedic start, it takes a sudden turn for the dramatic with the introduction of Daisy. Daisy (Evan Rachel Wood) has just been admitted to the psychiatric hospital after her mother has died and she has nobody and no understanding of where she is, what day it is, or of herself. She is as literally naïve as one could possibly be, which lends her an air of innocence whether she is or not.
Jay needs a date to his brother's wedding, Daisy needs a hero, and a shoeless Daisy follows the reckless Jay out of the hospital and onto a plane to New Orleans. Now we get to meet Jay's Southern, upper-class family and a subtle clash of cultures – subtle because it's not so much a clash of cultures as it is a clash of people who value their culture and two people who just don't have a particular culture of their own.
The dialogue remains good and funny as Jay and Daisy are getting to know each other and we get to know both of them a little bit better than we thought we did. But then comes the ill-advised decision to run. The film goes for the over-used road trip element and takes us farther away from characters that were quite interesting. It's also the main plot of the film, and as I said, it's hard to make it good. But by this point, we've grown to care about the characters, been entertained by some well written dialogue, and it becomes easier to forgive some of the film's cheesier choices.
Overall, I was fairly impressed with this independent film. It had high production quality, clever writing in parts (dialogue in particular), some clever edits, and great music. None of this generic indie crap, each song had an identifiable rhythm, and more importantly, identifiable lyrics which directly related to our main characters – Jay and Daisy. I repeated their names as it's a cute little nod (including some lines in the film to help you get there) to the classic novel "The Great Gatsby".
These characters will not be anywhere near as legendary as their namesakes; Daisy in particular is a tad too extreme as the sweetly naïve, innocent waif. And the ending takes both of them to locations outside of reality. But because "Barefoot" is comedy first, it really only matters if it makes you laugh. I laughed a lot at the beginning, less so when it was plot heavy, but the characters that make you laugh the most should be able to keep you hooked.
Veronica Mars (2014)
Pulls you in with the dark comedy stylings of Veronica Mars and her crime-solving ways
Veronica Mars is back! She thought she had escaped Neptune, California for the calmer, grown-up world of New York City; she thought she had escaped her bad boy past for the calmer, drama-less college boyfriend, Piz; but then they pulled her right back in. Even after nine years, one phone call from Logan Echolls is all it took; after all, their love is epic. It can span years and continents, lives ruined and bloodshed.
It's probably not a good idea to answer a phone call from the son of a Hollywood actor who had murdered his girlfriend, the son of a Hollywood wife who jumped off a bridge, and has a penchant for getting himself accused of murder. But Jason Dohring plays Logan Echolls. One of the most promising actors to come out of TV who has still not "made it", he has a way with words and a charisma which evokes a passion that makes otherwise good girls fall for bad boys.
Luckily for us, unfortunately for Veronica, Logan's most recent murder charge coincides with her high school reunion, and it reunites us with all the Neptune High characters we loved to hate (Madison Sinclair, Gia Goodman), everybody we loved to love (Weevil, Wallace) and everybody we forgot how much we loved (Mr. Clemmons, Corny). It's been eight years since we've last seen most of these people. Some actors didn't change (Jason Dohring), some characters didn't change (Dick Casablancas), and some scenes didn't change. And those were the great parts. Veronica tricking the Sheriff again, Veronica flirting with a certain Deputy with a pizza in hand again, and Keith scolding his number one daughter again were hilarious.
It can be a bit weird going from the small screen to the big screen. A different actor playing the same character doesn't help and old characters that we never actually met doesn't help either. Logan wearing the Navy dress whites seemed a joke at first, and then when it turned out to not be a joke, I was still waiting for the joke to play out. The jokes came when Veronica finally made it to the reunion and when Dick was helping Veronica help Logan. But then it got dark, and they pulled me right back in.
The comedy is primarily inside jokes, and yes it is very funny, but probably not hilarious to non-fans. The plot can be easily followed by anyone, and we and Veronica set out to solve who really murdered Logan's pop-star girlfriend. Well, actually, Veronica sets out to solve the crime. One of the biggest differences between the TV version and the movie is that we don't get 20 episodes worth of clues to solve it ourselves. We just get to sit back and watch Veronica get pulled back to the Hellmouth that is Neptune, California.
An overly abstract psychological relationship drama that is not the thriller it's supposed to be
Presented as a psychological thriller, "Enemy" stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a University professor of political history. Adam isn't a particularly happy individual – he has hurtful sex with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) and avoids conversations with coworkers. But one unsuccessful avoidance leads him to an interesting discovery. When watching a recommended movie (even though he doesn't like watching movies), he sees a small bit actor who is identical to himself.
Thus begins the tracking down, or hunting (if you will), of Anthony Clair (also Jake Gyllenhaal) — A rather angry man who drives a motorcycle and has a pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon). I liked Gyllenhaal playing both parts as I never once got confused if we were with Anthony or Adam even though they looked identical. The big problem with the movie is that it's not a thriller. It's a psychological relationship drama structured (with corresponding creepy music) as a thriller with no suspenseful or thrilling moments. And it doesn't lead anywhere thrilling. Relationship dramas don't need to lead anywhere per se, but if they're presented as a thriller, then they probably should.
Part of the intrigue of this movie is figuring it out. When the final scene fades to black, the predominant question will be, "What the &^$#% was that?" Occam's razor suggests the simplest explanation is the correct one. I feel that applies in this case as there really is only two possibilities of what was going on and the clues lead to only one solution. That is the correct one. Some clues to help you out are the thankfully small number of characters in the film, and the small number of character interactions, and spiders.
It's the type of movie that is told abstractly and symbolically. Just keep in mind some of the meanings behind spider symbolism: they can refer to the illusory nature of appearances and protection against storms. And yes, I know I'm being abstract and cursory, but the filmmakers wouldn't want it any other way. Because if you already know what the movie means or what it's about, then there is absolutely no point to it.
The handful of other people who saw "Enemy" and understood it, loved it. I did not. Other than two crucial scenes to help me understand what was going on – the first of which was muffled and the second one came really late in the film, nothing was happening. Or at least nothing if you never cared about Adam. I was too busy trying to figure out if this took place on Earth and what supernatural elements were in play to really get to know Adam. But even on reflection, Adam was an unhappy person who had hurtful sex and didn't like people, places or things.
The other problem with the movie is that it's not "Prisoners 2". It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and it's directed by Denis Villeneuve, but the comparisons end there. It's not photographed by master cinematographer Roger Deakins and the muted sepia tones get annoying. Villeneuve decided to go abstract rather than interesting, and Gyllenhaal decided to return to his acting roots where strange doesn't always equate with good.
"Enemy" starts out really slow with a strange, overly intense fascination with orgy sex and weird symbolism of spiders and creatures. It finally looks like it's going to lead somewhere with the introduction of Anthony, but it just doesn't. Probably because it's not a thriller. The figuring out of what is going on can provide you with some entertainment for awhile, but then it's over.
The Right Kind of Wrong (2013)
A typical romantic comedy that loses the comedy and then loses its way
"The Right Kind of Wrong" features a man, Leo Palamino (Ryan Kwanten), broken and worthless after his ex-wife left him. And wrote a blog called "Why You Suck." And wrote a book based on the massively successful blog. Leo isn't necessarily heartbroken, just annoyed. But then he meets a girl, one who can kick a football. He watched her get married and still decided he was going to win her over.
I liked the premise. It seemed like a typical romantic comedy, which it is, but the set-up in the opening scenes was all executed. His ex, Julie, is reading his faults from her blog-turned-book – his goals are unattainable dreams, just as he decides he's going to marry Colette at her wedding. He then tells his friends that he has met a new girl. They are all happy for him. Where did he meet her? At a wedding. That's nice; they're still happy for him. Whose wedding? Hers! His friends' happiness fades into concern, but Leo remains happy.
The problem isn't that the movie doesn't live up to expectations, but more that it doesn't remain funny as the film executes exactly as it's supposed to. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, and boy attempts to win girl over. And the movie spends exactly an hour and a half on the boy attempts to win girl over part. I didn't see the appeal of Colette, but one of Leo's faults is that he makes snap judgements. So I suppose one doesn't need to like Colette, just Leo.
Kwanten's Leo was enjoyable. A little more pitiful than your typical everyman, and a little less likely to succeed with his unattainable romantic goals. Perhaps it's only fitting that the movie doesn't succeed with its romantic comedy aspirations. It's a Canadian production of a typical Hollywood movie. Shot on location in Alberta, the mountains, creeks and woods were beautiful, but the writing also had its hills and valleys. The quirky comedy wasn't funny, the expected storyline drags a little long, and then the ending wasn't anything new. "The Right Kind of Wrong" was supposed to be a different kind of romantic comedy, but when the humour fades away, it just doesn't work.
Girl Most Likely (2012)
A girl has lost her way and comes back home with quirky comedy
"Girl Most Likely" is Imogene (Kristen Wiig); a girl once likely to become the next big playwright in New York City, now she's desperately hanging on to the upper-class lifestyle convinced that it's all about who you know, where you live, and who you are with. A failed attempt of a fake suicide attempt sends Imogene back where she came from. All the way to New Jersey.
It's an indie film with a fairly minimal distribution, which generally means the film is going to try to survive on quirky comedy. Luckily, Wiig has had a decade's worth of experience doing quirky comedy on "Saturday Night Live". Also, luckily the film is more than just a quirky indie comedy. It's very much a character study, and a bit of a quarter- life crisis dramedy thrown in for good measure. Imogene doesn't know herself very well. She once knew she was a good writer, now she just thinks she's a good writer. She once knew she was better than the family she came from, now she just thinks she's better. She also thinks her life will be better if she gets to know her great and successful father whom she doesn't know.
Her home life features comedy from her weird and bizarre mother, Zelda, her weirder and more bizarre new-step-father-like figure, George, and her weird but well-intentioned younger brother, Ralph. There's also a strange man sleeping in her bed.
This strange man is Lee (Darren Criss), who is actually not strange at all. He is a young man mired in a quarter-life crisis who has rented out her room as a place to stay. He represents the romantic angle of Imogene's attempt to get her life back on track, and was actually a very welcome addition to the movie. Lee was much more sane, understanding, and more aware of his place in life than any of the characters. He was exactly the type of guy who could keep Imogene more grounded with her distorted life views.
The comedy is sweet, although at times it can become to quirky to be all that funny. The writing is good, even though at times it can be a little too self-aware to be all the great. But "Girl Most Likely" is a fairly enjoyable journey of a girl who has completely lost her way in life. It focuses on family, ambition and ties it all up with quirky comedy.
The Monuments Men (2014)
Telling an historical story comedically and missing a level of entertainment
"The Monuments Men" is a group of men (in real life around 350, and in this film 7) who are tasked with saving the historically and culturally significant monuments, fine arts and archives during World War II. They have to find and return that which the French hid and the Germans were finding and stealing and then hiding. And the film decided to tell this story comedically.
The film took a really long time to get going as they wanted it to be about the men that took on this task. But they changed their names and I also couldn't tell you a single characteristic of any of them. The men were paired off so they each had their own region to investigate, but none of that was interesting. The worst part was giving James Granger (Matt Damon) and Claire Simon (Cate Blanchett, representing the real- life heroine Rose Valland) a love story. They did have a reason for such nonsense, or how about just sticking with how it actually happened.
George Clooney has said the film is about 80% accurate, and that seems fair enough. But the problem isn't the historical inaccuracy; the problem is that the cheap humour diminishes the very people and story they're trying to empower. The humour was just a handful of lines wanting to kill Hitler and standing on a landmine. It just didn't make the film entertaining. The story could have done that but it didn't become interesting until they started discovering where the Germans hid the art. Coincidentally, the same point when the film started following the real story.
"The Monuments Men" very clearly wanted to help remember an important part of history and spark a debate about the cost of war on soldiers, civilians, and history and society. The debate is raging on, but the film missed the level of entertainment by not trusting its audience to be interested in exactly what happened.
Simple story, characters, photography and comedy done pretty much to perfection
"Nebraska" is a simple journey, told with beautiful black and white photography, of a father who thinks he has won a million dollars and a son who doesn't know what to do with his father except go along with him. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) suffers from dementia but he'll argue that point with you straight to the pub. David Grant (Will Forte) lives a fairly empty life so decides to head to Nebraska with his father.
Kate (June Squibb), Woody's wife and David's mother, steals the show as an aging woman who is going to have her opinion heard no matter what. Examples include, "I never knew the son of a bitch wanted to be a millionaire. He should have thought of that years ago and worked for it." And to David, "You're just like your father – stubborn as a mule."
The movie is just littered with one-liners, all of which are pretty damn funny. But as you may have guessed, you'll need to be okay with explicit and sexually-laced language.
On route to Lincoln, Nebraska, Woody and David stop in Woody and Kate's hometown filled with family members who want his money, past acquaintances who have done him wrong (or more likely that he has done wrong), and a cemetery filled with family members who have passed on. But Kate manages to tell their story from beyond the grave with biting hilarity.
"Nebraska" is a simple film done pretty much to perfection. Simple story, simple characters, simple photography and simple comedy (or deadpan humour).
Masterfully written, beautifully portrayed story that is better than just a human interest story
"Philomena" starts with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in the doctor's office; he's quite pleased with news of his outstanding stool sample – until he realizes it just means that it hasn't been received yet. The humour is kind of a long those lines. You don't realize that the movie is funny until a joke has just been said and you've been given a moment to digest the punch line. The movie really is very funny.
Martin Sixsmith has just been fired due to poor communications within the Labour Party. He's been asked to do a human interest story, and he proceeds to tell this poor woman, in no uncertain terms, exactly how he feels about human interest stories. As I don't want to do the dialogue injustice by improperly paraphrasing, let's just say that he feels about human interest stories the same way I do – their only value is to make the audience cry for 15 minutes and then is completely forgotten in a sea of worthlessness.
Since "Philomena" is a human interest story, I couldn't wait to see how they juxtaposed that they were telling the very type of story that they hate. This works on a few levels. For starters, the story that they set out to tell is solved half-way through the movie. Sure, it's a sad story but it is told so humorously due to the differences between Martin, the writer, and Philomena (Judi Dench), the heroine.
Philomena was raised by Catholic nuns and when she got pregnant as a teenager, her son was taken away from her. She wants to find her son and get some closure. Martin, who refers to the Catholic nuns as the evil nuns, has no problem telling this story because he wants to expose an ugly history to the Catholic Church.
"Philomena" is elevated to that of a brilliant film because it makes an otherwise sad story funny, it juxtaposes the Atheist Martin with the Catholic Philomena and tells a story that they're both happy with – the evil nuns are evil but their beliefs are still allowed to be their beliefs. It's a masterfully written, beautifully portrayed story that is better than just a human interest story.
Kill Your Darlings (2013)
The story of Allen Ginsberg during some of his more interesting years
"Kill Your Darlings" is the story of Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) as he arrives at college and is ushered into a new generation of writers. Ginsberg is young, naïve and innocent. He was raised by his father – a writer (in the very traditional sense), and his mentally unstable mother. Columbia University presents a whole new world, a bright future for this talented man.
But Columbia University also presents ideas previously unknown to the sheltered Ginsberg. A fellow student stands on a desk reading from a banned book and when someone with authority claims that it is a restricted book, he responds, "That's why I committed it to memory." Ginsberg watches with admiration. When he's looking at a New York subway map, he's warned not to take a particular place. "It's the land of the ferries; you'll never get back."
Ginsberg never will be the person he was before any of these moments. The film is about the formative years of Allen Ginsberg. The college years that formed him into the writer he became. Which leads me to the screenplay. These writers clearly know their Beat writers providing these visionary characters with dialogue that they probably would have said. But also providing the audience with a structure that we would prefer.
The arrogance and notoriety of the Beat Generation are perfectly captured. It was there in full view, but we met Allen Ginsberg early enough in his life that we still liked him. We really just feel sorry for him when he falls in with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). Their attempts to get high and live were wholly unhealthy, but of course they would argue that it leads to producing some of the most creative and widely- read literary works in the world. And that that's more important than doing anything "normal." Well, that's your call.
This film is about the characters, how they interact with one another, how they influence one another, and how Allen Ginsberg became the revolutionary poet that the world knows him as. "Kill Your Darlings" is a story of sex, drugs and murder. The former elements are of course present in every story of the Beat Generation, but the latter is what provides a new element for this film, to give the story a fresh take and something interesting to say.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
A character with conflicting ideals provides a drama with charm and humour
Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) has been diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. But surely that's a mistake because he "ain't no homo". "Dallas Buyers Club" does a good job of establishing the character of Ron Woodroof with that of what he needs to do to survive. He lives in Dallas, lives a very disgusting lifestyle and should be close to dead. But he also likes making money and disregarding authority.
McConaughey, as he is able to do, imbibes Mr. Woodroof with enough charm and likability that we care to follow him, but the faster we get past his less charming moments the better. The film hits its stride when we meet Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual also suffering from AIDS/HIV, and when we travel to Mexico to secure drugs otherwise unavailable in the United States.
Dallas Buyers Club is a bordering-on-illegal club that Woodroof sets up to sell drugs to fellow sufferers. It serves a dual purpose of providing needed to care to a disenfranchised community of society and making Mr. Woodroof more money. He's this AIDs patient / cowboy / business man that really is pretty amusing. Along with the Texas accent and swagger, it's the type of mix that only McConaughey can pull off.
Rayon and Woodroof have an interesting relationship in the beginning. The homophobic Woodroof can't stand the transsexual Rayon but Rayon can put him in touch with the homosexual community which has the money and need to buy life-saving drugs. Woodroof has to face the conundrum of money versus homophobia. He chooses money.
That early comedy moves into drama as we learn more of Rayon's life, which is not a happy one. But Woodroof continues with this Texan swagger as he attempts to win over Eve (Jennifer Garner), a doctor in charge of the HIV drug trials and who prefers to do things according to protocol. Woodroof, of course, does not like doing things according to protocol.
"Dallas Buyers Club" does mostly follow protocol but it was the many light and humorous moments of the movie that are most memorable.
Brightest Star (2013)
A meandering romantic drama about losing love and finding yourself
"Brightest Star" is an indie romantic drama about the journey of winning back the love of your life versus finding yourself. The Boy (Chris Lowell) loved Charlotte (Rose McIver) and lost Charlotte, and now he's lost himself and will do whatever it takes to get her back. That's right, our lead character doesn't have a name but every other main character does. If you haven't figured it out yet, he doesn't know himself very well.
Some of the early sequences are out of chronological order, but it's not difficult to figure out where we're at. He was with Charlotte and now he's not. The film seems to revel in its independence with many close-up shots of the characters deep in thought with nondescript music playing in the background. It's a meandering tale of losing your first love and then finding yourself.
The over-arching element of the story is of the universe. The boy is a liberal arts grad but is really interested in astronomy and he wants the universe to guide him in making the right decisions. As he explains in the opening narration, you could say it does, but I really hoped he eventually figured out how stupid he was being. The whole physics/universe angle is starting to become greatly over-used in recent indie romantic dramas and comedies, so it just doesn't feel all that fresh anymore.
The writing was decent and the acting was good, but there's nothing to elevate the film to a higher level. The boy goes from meaningless job to meaningless job because he just doesn't know what to do and it takes him a while to figure out how to win back Charlotte. I never understood why he wanted Charlotte back in the first place. We never got to know her and only saw her treat him terribly. But the point isn't to get to know the characters. The point is that The Boy could be any boy, and every boy has a Charlotte. And every Charlotte is different except that they don't love the boy anymore.
I needed "Brightest Star" to tell a more specific story. Preferably one where the boy wasn't so clueless and didn't need the universe to tell him what to do.
Short Term 12 (2013)
Realism allows comedy and drama to come together in a fully likable manner
The realism of a foster care center for teenagers is up-close and personal but provides so much humour that the drama is never over- whelming. It's also quite touching that the adults in charge are just as messed up as the kids but try even harder in covering it up. "Short Term 12" stars Brie Larson as Grace a twenty-something counselor who is in charge of fellow staff and a few emotionally-damaged kids.
Grace is in a relationship with fellow counselor, and former foster child, Mason (John Gallagher Jr). Grace's emotionally-damaging childhood has left her ill-equipped to be in a relationship but Mason is such a loving, caring individual that she's going to need to mature up eventually.
The highlight of the teenagers is Marcus (Keith Stanfield) who is turning 18 and has to leave the care center. He hides his insecurities behind masculine bravado, but as it doesn't fool our heroes and heroine, Mason eventually gets him to read his poetry. It's a rap song with many words and phrases that he's not allowed to say, but anybody watching will be laughing so hard that he probably can't be held responsible for every inappropriate thing in the song.
There's a significant bit of drama unfolding in the foster care center, all of which can be very upsetting, but the beauty of "Short Term 12" is that the drama is folded into the comedy so realistically that it really is easy to like. The characters, particularly the supporting adults, are beautifully portrayed and allow the complexities, the flaws and graces, of our heroine Grace to evolve in their own time.
A dichotomous journey through religion and homosexuality
"C.O.G." is the journey of one man based on the real life journey of writer David Sedaris. David (Jonathan Groff) is an academically-minded man in his twenties who has destroyed every relationship with his own arrogance. He's not entirely aware of it, as he thinks he's on a journey with his girlfriend after they read The Grapes of Wrath and decided to get back to nature. But really his ex-girlfriend had no such journey in mind.
Now on his own, he's determined to be true to himself. This involves sharing his nihilistic, anti-religious views with anyone who dares to have a conversation with him, but not being totally open with his homosexuality.
He finds himself working in an orchard which, as you can guess, involves people who have a relationship with God, people on the conservative side who don't get the gay culture, and people who don't like pedantic intellectuals teaching them about real literature. David doesn't fit in very well.
I loved the first half of the film. The more he mocked religion, the more I loved it. But as David finds himself in trouble (due to not fitting in very well and due to his ability to destroy any relationship he has with his arrogance), the film starts taking on a different tune. One which seems to be the exact opposite of what drew people in in the first place.
While it could just be that I didn't get whatever they were trying to say, the second half of the film seems to go against what people would have liked in the first half. Those that would like the messages in the ending probably would have been turned off by David's first anti- religious rant (which comes in the opening scene). And, to me, that would lead to a film with no audience remaining.
"C.O.G." stands for Child of God and you are going to have to have an extremely open mind to all points of view, both pro and anti organized religion and to sexual orientation, to enjoy this film. I appreciate Jonathan Groff taking on a character like this, but I have a feeling I wasn't supposed to have enjoyed his character as much as I did at the beginning as he moves too far away from that in the remainder of the film.
Prince Avalanche (2013)
Just a simple conversation between hilarious characters by great actors
"Prince Avalanche" is the story of two men and is the classic comedy of differences. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is in his late thirties and has such trouble connecting with other people that he doesn't even realize his marriage is in trouble as he prefers to spend time alone. Lance (Emile Hirsch) is in his early twenties and he is desperate for female companionship, or just presence of females, as he is way too into himself to understand true companionship.
Lance is also in need of a job and is paired with his brother-in-law, Alvin, to repaint highway lines in Texas following a devastating storm in 1988. The entire film is essentially just a conversation between the two men, and it's great. The dialogue is hilarious and Rudd and Hirsch have a very natural chemistry as the lines seem to have been written for them.
The comedy arises from the completely opposite life views that the two men share and how both are completely oblivious to their own flaws and they're also oblivious to their own failings with women. Rudd's Alvin has many smart, philosophical things to say and Hirsch's Lance is just so lacking of anything resembling smarts that he can't even point out Alvin's failings which should be obvious to everyone. Alvin has no problem pointing out Lance's failings but then there's the whole thing about people in glass houses shouldn't be throwing stones.
The film has a magnificent simplistic setting in the woods in rural Texas, with wonderfully-realized simplistic characters and dialogue that naturally flows through the entire thing. "Prince Avalanche" is the story of how a former Hollywood director has returned to his simple, non-mainstream roots and two great actors found their perfect match.
August: Osage County (2013)
Two great scenes defining three women and a whole cast of greatness
"August: Osage County" is set in Oklahoma during the summer. The time of year when the temperature and tempers rise up. But of course sometimes it is provoked. The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, so we can guarantee that this dysfunctional family will come to a head with no easy route to escape.
The always great Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston who is not an easy woman to live with. One daughter has stayed (but she gets told she doesn't wear enough makeup), another daughter has run away and not grown up, and the oldest daughter escaped to live her own life. While her husband is ready to kill himself, and so he does in the first scene of the movie.
This brings the entire clan back together and life is going to get worse for all of those still living. Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the daughter who stayed but she has a secret that shows she's ready to move on with her life; Barbara (Julia Roberts) is the eldest daughter and she's returning home with an ex-husband (Ewan McGregor) and a teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) who's in the midst of rebellion. Karen (Juliette Lewis) is the middle daughter who's coming home with a new fiancé (Dermot Mulroney) who in one quick introductory scene shows that he is bad news. Violet's sister (Margo Martindale) and brother-in-law (Chris Cooper) are also there to help. But oranges also don't fall far from the tree and we meet their son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is more abused than all three Weston sisters combined.
I can understand the complaints of this movie being too slow, as it does take a while for things to come to a boil. Violet seems to love watching her clan simmer. But for fans of movies based on plays we know the action will come eventually. There are two big breaking points. The first occurs at night with Violet sleeping and the rest of the characters responding to recent drama of their own doing. This drives half of the cast away. The second occurs with just three remaining Weston women and Violet just sitting there watching chaos unfold that she created but did not explicitly cause.
All the acting and all the characters were powerful, specifically Streep and Roberts as mother and daughter who, simultaneously, were as similar and as separate as you can get. The final scene was breathtaking in its simple execution and conclusive word on who really takes after whom.
There is one character who has not yet been mentioned. The one character not played by a Hollywood superstar and the one character who didn't belong to this dysfunctional family. Johnna (Misty Upham) is a Native American hired at the beginning of the film to watch over Violet. And so she does. She is present in every defining scene and provides a point of view for those who don't feel like they belong in "August: Osage County".
That Awkward Moment (2014)
Funny moments and moments that just fall flat
"That Awkward Moment" is a buddy comedy/romantic comedy which is about as predictable as they come. But just because you know crude jokes are coming, it doesn't mean you won't still laugh. And just because you know they're going to fall in love, it doesn't mean that you won't want them to. It airs more on the side of comedy than anything else and delivers a lot of attempted jokes; some funny, some not very funny.
Jason (Zac Efron) loves being single, probably because he gets to sleep with whomever he wants whenever he wants. Daniel (Miles Teller) loves the idea of being single, but doesn't seem to be all that good at it. Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is getting divorced, and he doesn't love that. If he seems like the odd one out, that's because he is. One of the biggest problems with the movie is the mis-match of writing and characters.
Mikey is subdued, meant to be more dramatic and offers little laughs. He belongs in a different movie all together (although I did appreciate the chemistry of Jordan with the other two guys). Miles Teller has proved as of late that he can deliver comedic lines hilariously. He was given the majority of the one-liners and I was expecting him to steal the show, but he didn't because the writing just wasn't there for him.
However, Jason is the lead and Efron carries the movie. He's a pretty outlandish character – he's arrogant, selfish, aloof and "emotionally retarded". He even says so himself. And delivers the comedy and even connects with some drama (although how dramatic is it really when we know exactly what's going to happen?). While I have enjoyed Efron's indie character dramas recently, I didn't realize how good he was at over-the-top comedy, and many of Jason's more outlandish stunts resulted in some pretty decent comedy stylings.
Seeing as this is a guy's movie, it's rather odd that the better written supporting character was Ellie (Imogen Poots), Jason's love interest. She was given less predictable turns and a more fully-realized character than the others. I definitely wish that they either turned Daniel's and Mikey's story lines into flat-out comedy so it could have been more easily relatable as a buddy comedy, or at least gave them surprising plot turns so the drama (and the not-so-funny jokes) of "That Awkward Moment" wouldn't have fallen as flat.
The Happy House (2013)
A horror-comedy short on thrills and laughs but interesting character interactions
The Happy House is a remote Bed & Breakfast specializing in odd rules to make your stay as uncomfortable as possible. It somehow got good reviews (even though the movie itself has gotten bad reviews) and our New York Couple are off for a weekend to repair their relationship. Wendy doesn't want to go; Joe thinks it will be for the best. And as an audience, we have no clue what it's going to be like.
It starts out just plain weird. With an old-fashioned batty housewife, Hildie, ordering the couple around, and her strange grown son, Skip, who may or may not kill people, it doesn't seem like the most inviting movie to watch, but it does suggest there will be some kind of plot eventually.
And sure enough, there is a plot. With Joe and Wendy stuck there, a Swedish lepidopterist who likes staying there, and then the arrival of Hildie's significantly more normal sister, Linda, we now have a full house of people and action that can unfold entirely within the house and amongst the conversation of the people.
A deputy arrives at the door informing them that a serial killer is on the loose and they should not leave the house. I tend to like movies that force the action into one location and let the dialogue drive the characters forward. They each have their distinct personality and their own ideas on what they should to keep themselves safe. They make a number of mistakes, but I guess that's what keeps this horror-comedy silly.
I think I might be in the minority in wanting more character drama, but that's probably why I liked "The Happy House" which is short on thrills and laughs. It's an interesting premise with some strange elements but there's enough intrigue to the characters to keep some fans interested.
Who Might Like This: People who like character dramas disguised as horror-comedies; anybody looking for an odd combination of horror, comedy and relationship drama.
Runner Runner (2013)
Lives the meaningless life for way too long to provide much substance
College student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) survives by using poker winnings to pay his tuition, but when he goes bust on an online gaming site, he's determined to make a name for himself by exposing the fraud. Unfortunately for "Runner Runner" they didn't spend much time with the smart, capable and struggling-to-get by Richie, who could be an intriguing form of the "every-man". He gets turned into a money-grubbing success story way too quickly.
Richie arrives in Costa Block, meets with entrepreneur Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) who decides he'll use Richie's smarts and drive as a way to further their income and superficiality. Just like the characters said, the movie is like everything you thought you wanted when you were 13 years old.
Girls in sexy dresses, check. An exotic resort where you could do whatever you wanted, check. Play in a casino all day long, check. Make tons and tons of money, check. And just keep flashing money and lights and sex until everybody realizes that you don't actually have a story.
Then, once everybody is bored of the over-hyped superficiality, give them a twisted plot with criminal mob bosses and fraudulent financial schemes. I was expecting the criminal mob bosses because it is a Hollywood crime thriller after all, but luckily the implications of what Richie and Ivan are up to can keep the film somewhat interesting to the end. But they didn't have anything else to drive the rest of the film. A life of nothing meaningful means a film of nothing meaningful.
The unfortunate aftermath of Kennedy's assassination
Set at Parkland Memorial Hospital and surrounding areas on November 22, 1963 and the days thereafter, "Parkland" is about the circumstances of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But what I primarily liked about the film is that Kennedy is not a character, this is not about him, but about those that had no choice but to be thrust into a chaotic situation.
Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) and Dr. Malcolm Perry (Colin Hanks) are the lead doctors entrusted with the life of Kennedy; Nurse Dorris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) is the experienced nurse who knows what needs to be done. I wish we spent a bit less time in the operating room; for starters, we don't need to see Jackie Kennedy holding on to the President's brain, and these characters didn't prove to be as interesting as some of the others.
In an ensemble film with dozens of stars, there were exactly two stand- outs: Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder and James Badge Dale was Robert Oswald. Both reluctantly became famous or infamous. Robert Oswald is of course the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald. He was shown to be hardworking and full of compassion and frustrated by his brother's likely mental instability. With an also mentally unstable mother (Jacki Weaver), Robert had no choice but to figure out what his brother did and be the touch-point for government officials.
Life proved to be just as difficult for amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder who is a Kennedy enthusiast. This was going to be the greatest day of his life when he captured the passing motorcade on his 8mm camera. His story is about processing what's on his film and then figuring out what do with it, the consequences of which he never fully recovered from.
The other main story is of the Secret Service agents, all of whom looked identical so it was hard to separate one person's story from another, making it a much more jumbled mess than Zapruder's or Oswald's deeply touching stories. It's just a simple film about real people who had no desire to be in the spotlight. Some parts worked better than others, but that's what you get with interwoven stories.
Between Us (2012)
Boring people in uncaring friendships and relationships
"Between Us" is a relationship drama. Two thirty-something couples, all friends, have ended up in slightly different places in life, but they are all determined to get through their relationships together. Except, they really don't care. The first weekend, Grace (Julia Stiles) and Carlo (Taye Diggs) visit the more successful Joel (David Harbour) and Sharyl (Melissa George). What is obvious to everyone else is that Joel and Sharyl are putting up a fake façade to hide their unhappiness.
Grace and Carlo are both, simultaneously, unaware of their best friends' unhappiness and uncaring so much that they don't care to do anything about it. Except complain. They're not being perfect enough hosts for their liking.
In the future, making it clear that there has been a falling out between these friends, Joel and Sharyl visit Grace and Carlo in their small New York apartment. Joel and Sharyl are still putting up a fake façade, but this time about pretending to like their former friends. Grace doesn't care.
"Between Us" has been compared to Carnage. Both films are driven by dialogue between two couples, but that is where the similarity ends. "Between Us" has no comedy and the characters are so ridiculously boring, that I don't care about them. And I shouldn't, they don't care about themselves or anybody else.
There is supposed to be a thriller element, keeping us in an air of suspense as to why these two couples, and best friends, have had a falling out. But this fails for many reasons: there is nothing interesting about this falling out, and they don't really act like friends in the first place, so there is no suspense.
Boring people in uncaring friendships and relationships make "Between Us" a very boring and pointless film.
Who Might Like This: People who like slow-paced relationship dramas; people who don't mind script-less dialogue-driven films; adults who want to see unhappy relationships evolve/de-evolve.
The good and bad of a Jane Austen theme park with clever romance and cute comedy
Austenland is a Jane Austen theme park designed for Jane Austen fans to live the life of their favourite heroines. I was really hoping that this was a real place or at least could have been a real place. But for the sake of the delusional fans, it's probably best that this is not real. Jane (Keri Russell) is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, and in doing something about it, she spends her life savings on a trip to England to Austenland.
What I didn't like about the film was the "theme park" itself. The first part was just a room decorated in tacky figurines with people insulting their customers if they didn't perfectly fit in the 1800s. Others in the theatre laughed, so I suppose that was supposed to be funny. The whole thing just seemed to be designed to make fun of people that were big fans but not "perfect" fans of Jane Austen. Our heroine, who wasn't perfect enough nor rich enough, finally got to experience part of this theme park.
They eventually get to go to an 1800s-styled mansion on a large country lot, exactly as Jane Austen's heroines lived. The theme park experience involves falling in love with a Jane Austen-styled hero – actors hired to play the part. This part works because it was all very funny. Watching Jane try to live the life but being treated like a servant, but no matter what she was determined to make the most of her stay here.
"Austenland" is of course a romantic comedy with Mr. Darcy-type characters all around ready to sweep her off her feet. It was also cleverly done since we know her love story is written for her as part of the theme park experience, Jane knows this but could easily forget it, but we (and Jane) also don't know what exactly was written and what exactly she's creating for herself. For fans of romantic comedies, it's not too hard to guess. But we still enjoy the humour and the romance that takes us there.