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'Deepwater Horizon' Shows Fury and Technique from Director Peter Berg
19 February 2017
Real stories about tragic events have the advantage of being harrowing without much effort because the accounts of the truth do much of the job for them. It takes a distinct type of filmmaker to raise the film above the standard. While director Peter Berg doesn't completely connect the dots, he promotes a tale of responsibility that will antagonize the wrath inside of all of us. "Deepwater Horizon" rallies emotion in the wake of truth.

"Deepwater Horizon" tells the tragic true story of the oil driller that due to negligence and fault of the BP Oil Company, created the worst oil spill in history.

Mark Wahlberg is an actor I've tended to be harder on than most lately with his choice of roles. Here he puts forth a genuine, heartfelt portrayal. Always placing himself in the "hero" position, he manages to tap into a delicate enactment of a man desperate to survive. He gets to show off a new accent that isn't south Boston, while digging deep to show real emotion. It's his best performance since "The Fighter."

The film boasts an all-star cast, some of which are doing adequate work. As the ship's captain, Kurt Russell continues to explore lively, vigorous roles in his later career. John Malkovich does all but twirl his mustache as the corrupt and pushy executive. Gina Rodriguez steps out of her "Jane the Virgin" motif to investigate a new, compassionate character and achieves a noble offering. Oscar nominee Kate Hudson plays the famed "woman on phone," but in some cases, just "woman on Skype."

Berg's direction has been problematic on bigger blockbusters like "Battleship," but with penetrating and vital material he gets to show the world what he can truly attain. Arguably not as emotionally resourceful as "Lone Survivor," it is perhaps cleaner in its assimilation of story and filmmaking technique. He runs the bases with his editing and sound team. They pulsate tension like there is an unlimited supply. Ingesting the central concept will undoubtedly infuriate the viewer as we're shown another key example of money corrupting our beloved Mother Earth. It provokes a sense of a revolution within yourself in exchange for liberating your own customary ideals of the standard "based on a true story" movie. It just presents the facts, and not much else.

"Deepwater Horizon" has heart. It has passion. It has a willingness to take the viewer into the dark and terrifying scene of that fateful day. With a more comprehensive script or more deeply natured approach in the future, Berg may be able to create his masterpiece, whatever that may end up being.

GRADE: (★★★)
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'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' Is an Arresting New Chapter for Fans and Newcomers to Relish
19 February 2017
The "Star Wars" universe is a world of endless possibilities about what stories you can explore, with an unprecedented amount of quality thematic elements that can be examined. With "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," Lucas Films and Walt Disney Pictures have started the analyzing elements of looking at different ways to tell the stories of some of our most beloved characters, while introducing new ones. Gareth Edwards' firm direction, in partnership with Greig Fraser's stunning cinematography, makes for a lavish and intense new chapter in the "Star Wars" mythology.

The first of the Star Wars standalone films, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" tells the story of a group of unlikely heroes that band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction.

Boasting an impressive cast that is led by Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones, it is one of the film's best attributes. Diversity in film has been called upon by every corner of the cinematic community and "Star Wars," Lucas Films, and Walt Disney do not get enough credit in being of the first to fully embrace this notion into its most profitable franchise. As Jyn Erso, Jones leads with intensity, delivering a near heartbreaking interpretation of the most unlikely hero.

Of the players, the fanboys of the universe will scream the names of Chirru Imwe, played exquisitely by Donnie Yen, or K-2SO, played with spunk by Alan Tudyk. You'll have your fill with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), whose stern presence isn't always a standout, but Bodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed) seems like a spirit animal of Poe from "The Force Awakens."

Villains here have no shortage of complexities, as Ben Mendelsohn's Orson Krennic is sensational, given alongside some other "amazing" surprises. I'll leave them for you to experience yourself.

Technically speaking, this is one of the franchise's most vivacious productions. The aforementioned Greig Fraser delivers grit and action in his abilities to capture them with the lens. John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen cut the film to an impeccable action- adventure that stands toe-to-toe with anything delivered in 2016.

Having big shoes to fill in John Williams' illustrious classic score, Michael Giacchino rises to the occasion and then some with his compositions. It's one of the year's best works. Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont's production design opens the doors to a new world that doesn't feel too familiar or too standard for the average fan.

"Star Wars" is only as good as its story and script. Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll and Gary Whitta lay the foundation down for an alluring tale. On paper, hearing about how the rebels acquire the Death Star plans is not particularly compelling cinema that we are running to see, but this group accepts the challenge. With the exception of some shoehorned entries of new and classic characters, "Rogue One" finds its balance in presenting this world to an avid die-hard fan and a casual movie-goer that is walking into this universe for the very first time.

Early reports of a "darker" and "more gritty" film have been around for months. We definitely have that here, but the insert of comedic beats often feel inserted so the audience can feel some joy in this tragic tale. It's safe to say that we are more than prepared for a devastation story that wrecks the minds of viewers everywhere – perhaps with "Episode VIII?"

Here is the main takeaway: this film has perhaps the best Darth Vader scene in franchise history. Let's talk about it in the comments after you see it.

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" successfully achieves everything it sets out to do. Action-packed and glorious in its engaging and oftentimes exotic dimensions of storytelling, it is absolutely stirring. Fans will be overjoyed and it becomes another classic chapter that we will be able to revisit in a weekend-long marathon somewhere in a galaxy far, far away.

GRADE: (★★★½)
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'Hidden Figures' Is Pure Goodness Featuring a Stellar Cast
19 February 2017
There's much to admire in Theodore Melfi's newest uplifting venture "Hidden Figures." His ability to tap into the human condition and spirit has been proved with efforts like "St. Vincent." Boasting an all-star cast that includes the talents of Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer, the 20th Century Fox feature emerges as one of the feel good films of the holiday season. Just one year after #OscarSoWhite dominated the internet, pointing out the Academy's lack of diversity, the timely themes explored here resonate more than ever.

"Hidden Figures" tells the story of a team of African-American women who provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program's first successful space missions.

Melfi is a competent and distinguished filmmaker, and despite only two features under his belt, he really knows how to tell a story and tell it well. He invites the audience into the tale, allowing his sensibilities to take hold of the viewer. The top-notch direction in which he leads his actors are some of the finest of the year. Taraji P. Henson's Katherine Johnson, one of the brightest minds to ever walk through NASA, delivers her best film performance since "Hustle & Flow." She is finally given an opportunity to play something different than her ever-popular Cookie from FOX's "Empire." While she overplays her hand slightly in key moments, her natural charisma is on full display for the audience to behold.

The professional and stoic presence of Octavia Spencer tends to be overlooked in film because she's always so great without even really trying. As Dorothy Vaughan, Spencer delivers some of her same ticks that won her an Academy Award for "The Help" and that could be too familiar for some on the surface. When seen on multiple viewings, you can see Spencer's interpretation of her character really evolve throughout the film's runtime.

The highlights of "Hidden Figures" are in the two show-stopping performances of musical artist turned actress Janelle Monae and Academy Award winner Kevin Costner. Monae taps into the fight and spunk of Mary Jackson, showcasing the determination and frustration of a brilliant mind, desperate to finally explore her full academic and professional potential. While Monae's external beauty is front and center, she bares her soul to the viewer, virtually giving us a warm nuzzle and allowing us to get peeks into her sophisticated and heartbreaking aura.

In recent years, Costner has found it difficult for audiences to remember how great of an actor he really is. We've received brief glimpses in films like "The Upside of Anger," but rest assured, Costner magnifies his abilities here, likely delivering his finest performance yet. His Al Harrison's leadership is a comfort for the film, acting like cinematic scissors to cut through the barrier between movie and person.

The film is a major threat for the Cast Ensemble award at the upcoming Screen Actors Guild awards, with supporting players like Mahershala Ali (charming as ever), Jim Parsons (playing an against- type), Kirsten Dunst (feverishly addictive in her mean woman role), and Glen Powell (playing the late John Glenn) all crucial to the film's inevitable success.

Brimming and refreshing, Melfi's technical team truly shines with slick production and costume design, and a soundtrack that is sure to go down as one of the year's best. Producer and songwriter Pharrell Williams' two numbers – "I See Victory" and "Runnin'" – are just two more examples of the Original Song Oscar being the most competitive in the history of the category. In terms of the film itself, it does the job and does it well. Not necessarily pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, it's just pleasant and wonderful in every sense of the word.

Precisely marketed as terrific adult entertainment for the Christmas season, "Hidden Figures" is a faithful and truly beautiful portrait of our country's consistent gloss over the racial tensions that have divided and continue to plague the fabric our existence. Lavishly engaging from start to finish, "Hidden Figures" may be able to catch the most inopportune movie-goer off guard and cause them to fall for its undeniable and classic storytelling. The film is not to be missed.

GRADE: (★★★½)
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Arrival (II) (2016)
'Arrival' Is a Masterclass in Filmmaking With Amy Adams Magnified
19 February 2017
The science fiction genre has evolved into some of the most prolific imagery and storytelling of the silver screen. Denis Villeneuve's splendid "Arrival" has the foreign director taking on uncharted territory and putting forth his finest film of his career yet.

Starring Academy Award nominee Amy Adams, "Arrival" tells the story of unidentified spacecrafts that enter the earth's atmosphere. Just hovering over the ground in dozens of locations around the world, it is up to a linguist and a scientist to break the language barrier and find out if their intentions are honorable or hostile.

Natural comparisons will emerge to Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar," and while that film's ambition was generally accepted and positive, "Arrival" taps into something Nolan's film only hoped to achieve. The exquisite class in which Villeneuve's film exists is such a daunting and audacious triumph. Eric Heisserer's script may at first feel familiar, perhaps too much so, as the first half of the film seems like the same foundation we saw with Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity." When the story is turned on itself in a soft and credible fashion, "Arrival" opens itself up as one of the year's most brilliant feats.

With performances that have spanned a vast net of quirky and strong supporting players (i.e. "Junebug" and "The Fighter"), Amy Adams has emerged as a fully realized leading lady. While some will attest her previous lead roles in "Enchanted" and to a lesser extent "American Hustle" as proof that she's already mounted this campaign, discovering what she does here will make you change your perception. She is a talented artist, sensitive and endowed with the tools of a legendary actress. It is a beautiful work.

Co-stars Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker are served well in their minimal roles. As the slick but engaged scientist, Renner approaches his role with the utmost candor. Whitaker, as an army leader, is blunt, honest and frank – everything you would want in anyone playing a character such as this.

Cinematographer Bradford Young is utterly suave in his usage with the lens. Already capturing our hearts with his works on "Selma" and "A Most Violent Year," Young's glossy and poised framework is not only exciting, but visually moving.

For the third year in a row, composer Johann Johansson raises the bar for nearly all creators of the musical language. "The Theory of Everything" and "Sicario" were just the beginning for him. He mounts an orchestra of vast sensations. The sentiment of each scene is built within Johansson's response to the words on screen. He not only has respect for the visual works being created, he compliments the details in which the expressions and languages endure. It's another Oscar-worthy work that will undoubtedly bring him another nomination.

"Arrival" is a film that can seem bigger than itself. Perhaps it's even "too smart." However, movies should challenge the viewer. The stamina of a film rests on its tenacity and persistence to dare the viewer to explore new thoughts and feelings. "Arrival" achieves just that. It is a film that should be noted in multiple Oscar categories and revered by all except the most impudent viewer. This film is not to be missed.

GRADE: (★★★★)
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Live by Night (2016)
'Live By Night' Has Luscious Looks That Can't Save Its Numbing Plot
19 February 2017
With an impressive trio of films that any working director would be lucky to have on their résumé, Ben Affleck has proved to be a powerful force in Hollywood. Winning an Original Screenplay Oscar for 1997's masterpiece "Good Will Hunting" with pal Matt Damon, he returned to the ceremony in 2012 for his Best Picture-winning "Argo." His newest outing "Live By Night," in which he also stars and adapts the Dennis Lehane novel, is the filmmaker's first career misfire behind the camera.

Thoroughly ambitious in its technical construction, Affleck has a handle on capturing a time and paying homage to old Hollywood movies, but has very little control of its narrative sensibilities and what keeps an audience invested in a movie. While "Live By Night" is surely stylish, and features a set of terrific performances, it's deprived of inspiration and misplaced in a year that was full of it.

"Live By Night" is a story that is set in the Prohibition Era and centered around a group of individuals and their dealings in the world of organized crime. At the center of it is Joe Coughlin (played by Affleck), whose own moralities are tested by family, friends, and both past and present love interests.

Affleck's ambitions are on full display. He chases the classics such as "Chinatown" and "L.A. Confidential," as well as modern-day classics, but comes up short in almost every regard. Characters are sorely underdeveloped, even down to Joe Coughlin himself. Despite being structured as a crime epic, it's staggering how little we know about Joe, and how little we care. Affleck focuses on nodding towards nostalgia rather than reinventing it. Visually, the film is quite impressive, but on all other fronts, it nearly drags its audience through a muddy swamp that probably sounds more interesting than the toothless tale that was told.

There are quite a few positives to take away. First and foremost, the outstanding and bountiful turn from Chris Messina stands as one of the year's most undervalued turns. He makes the most of every moment he's given, while interpreting the sidekick role like nothing we've seen over the last few years.

Jess Gonchor's vivacious production design in partnership with Jacqueline West's fiery costumes place us right in the time. Editor William Goldenberg, who won the Academy Award for "Argo," makes poor choices in trying to put together a story so that it doesn't feel like a 12-hour mini-series. The action sequences are well put together, but we have to credit the sound teams for their impeccable work. DP Robert Richardson's lighting and lens choices give the film its 1920s-era feel, but if it can't match an equally inventive script, then there's little we can get excited about.

All the women in the film feel like they're from a different movie and stumbled onto the set. Sienna Miller's inconsistent accent, littered with her facial expressions that look like she was plucked out of Tim Burton's "Batman," have her delivering some of her worst choices to date. A talent is being wasted and we need a more challenging director to save her.

Zoe Saldana is shoehorned, not only in character but in just mere existence in the picture. From inception to exit, it would take a miracle for anyone to repeat her story arc and what she offered in terms of progression and motivation.

Elle Fanning, who just knocks everything she touches out of the park, is solidly invested in her Loretta Figgis, a born again Christian causing a stir. While she has a great exchange with Affleck in one scene in particular, it's too little too late for us to get wrapped in her luscious words.

The appetite of "Live By Night" is welcomed in any landscape of cinema, but in the wake of many filmmakers and studios raising the conventions of what a movie is these days, the film is simply decades too late. It's misjudged with unclear villains and a misshapen story. Audiences may mildly enjoy it but quickly forget it by end credits.

GRADE: (★★)
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Patriots Day (2016)
'Patriots Day' Is a Poignant and Affecting Portrait of a National Tragedy
19 February 2017
Peter Berg knows the power of suspense, but even more than that, he knows the virtue of the human spirit, as is demonstrated by his work in "Patriots Day." In a year that has already included an exhilarating demonstration with "Deepwater Horizon," Berg has found his niche and comfort zone within filmmaking. Compelling and sobering, the film pays an homage to not only the great city of Boston and its victims, but to law enforcement officials everywhere. It's an upsetting and uncomfortable experience but lingers with its gripping storytelling quality. It very well may be Berg's best film to date.

Closer to "United 93" than "World Trade Center" in terms of high- profile national tragedies on the big screen, "Patriots Day" packs a wallop of emotion, bringing to light details that the average citizen may not have been aware of during the events. Berg's attention to detail, especially in the narrative cohesion and editing is the film's supreme achievement. He recreates the attacks of this harrowing chronicle in American history, utilizing existing footage, only scarcely giving us hints of Hollywood in the production. The film is much more difficult to recommend to the average movie-goer for a casual Friday date night, but it is sure to start some much needed conversations that should be happening daily about the human spirit.

"Patriots Day" is an account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis' actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

What Berg does extremely well is assemble a stellar ensemble cast, giving everyone their own assignment, each operating at their very best. With Mark Wahlberg in the lead role as Sgt. Tommy Saunders, he lifts the jarring presence of himself that was littered throughout "Lone Survivor." He manages to convey the hurt and pain of a city in one scene, and then be the beacon of hope and endurance the next. It's his best performance since his Oscar-nominated work in "The Departed."

Co-stars Kevin Bacon and John Goodman, both grossly ignored by the Academy for their entire careers, are both champions of their craft, unrivaled by their dedication to bringing these true men to life.

Playing the villain of a movie can be challenging. Playing the real- life person who committed one of the most vile acts of terrorism seen on our soil in recent memory is another hurdle on its own.

Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev deliver immaculate work that stands toe-to-toe with some of the great supporting performances of 2016. They tap not only into evil as seen by the acts of the day, but by the vanity and hatred of motivation that drove these brothers to not only act but plan to continue their reign. They're also key examples of why we are in desperate need of a casting Oscar at the moment, because the sheer imagery of them both in comparison to the real individuals is staggering.

Most of the time, when critics name an MVP in a film, it goes to an actor or the director. In "Patriots Day," film editors Gabriel Fleming and Colby Parker, Jr. rise to their professions with respect and excellence. Cutting together heart-stopping action sequences littered with emotionally resonate beats, the team just hits a home run. That's also thanks to the talented sound team, who partnered with Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to blend the two elements beautifully.

The main flaw in "Patriots Day" is the film not quite knowing when it has its audience. With a collage of interviews with real-life survivors following the end of the film, it makes a strange shift from narrative feature to an almost documentary-like structure that just feels misplaced.

"Patriots Day" has lots to celebrate. An unblemished ensemble, partnered with a near perfect crafts team, makes for a pure sentimental outing at the movies.

GRADE: (★★★½)
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Silence (I) (2016)
'Silence' Flourishes With Respect and Martin Scorsese's Ultimate Legacy
19 February 2017
Martin Scorsese has been a master of his craft for decades. It's hard not to consider him our single finest director working today. With films like "Raging Bull," "Goodfellas," "The Wolf of Wall Street," and now his newest endeavor "Silence," we must now relish with the fact that we are witnessing a grand master of sorts working right in front of our eyes. History has remembered "Citizen Kane" and "Vertigo." These were two films not wholeheartedly recognized as masterpieces of their time. History now, however, will remember "Silence," a marvelous and inspiring cinematic experience not to be forgotten.

"Silence" tells the story of two Jesuit priests (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), who in the seventeenth century, face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor, Father Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson), and propagate Catholicism.

"Silence" is Scorsese's most personal and beautiful film of his modern career. Labeling it just a "passion project" does it no justice. It has etched out a new avenue in which we can explore film forever. He has explored some of the most enigmatic themes in film, whether it be about revenge, family or a general exercise to push the boundaries of the medium.

With "Silence," he writes his most heartaching letter yet. There are filmmakers who are quickly trapped into the corner of "indulgence" when taking on a production this personal to them. Scorsese gets into the trenches of the story, mysteriously performing his own deconstruction of his faith and what it has meant to him. You can't ask a director to be more involved in the house of his film. He builds the foundation, drawing from the soul of his spiritual ancestors, and gives them his most devoted respect. Scorsese gives the viewer the weight of the message and lets it rest upon us. We are desperately and quietly screaming for justice, in a land that isn't allowing such things. Simply put, it's awe-inspiring.

Andrew Garfield is divinely spectacular. With a year that has included another strong turn in "Hacksaw Ridge," Garfield has shown himself to be one of the next generation's most gifted thespians. Adam Driver's vulnerability has never been matched in all his previous roles. He becomes the audience's spokesperson of doubt and logic, as Scorsese and writer Jay Cocks make him our voice of reason in a rich and layered dynamic.

Issey Ogata is one of the year's vivid findings. Acting as the "Hans Landa" of Catholic persecution, Ogata's Inquisitor Inoue nearly reinvents the spiritual nature of the film, stealing every scene he shares with another actor. It's been 32 years since Haing S. Ngor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for "The Killing Fields" and it's about time the Academy rewards a deserving Asian actor. With Ogata, a new Supporting Actor contender has emerged. Liam Neeson's work, though integral to the story, is a bit too brief to make a lasting impact.

It's easy to write "masterpiece" for a film, and let it be generally understood by the casual movie-goer that reads it. The word left by itself doesn't fully explain the film's technical mastery. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and Thelma Schoonmaker are masters of their crafts. Prieto frames the film to utter perfection, utilizing fog and blue-grey hues to capture the film's undying message of faith. Schoonmaker lets the story evolve into a construction of time, allowing the viewer to feel the "weight" of the "waiting."

"Silence" is epic, poignant and inventive. It must be said: As someone who was raised Catholic, used to be a high school religion teacher, and had his own personal qualms with his Lord and Savior, "Silence" spoke to me in a way I was not anticipating. I do recognize that there could be a large portion of the world, especially those who don't have strong feelings about any Christian religion, that may not be fully invested in the weight of its message. Scorsese set out to make a film about the ecstasy of one's own faith.

How much do you value it? Why are there others so thirsty and hungry for its divine meanings and teachings? These are just two of many questions that the film dares to ask, and you really don't get the clear answer you may be searching for. For a select group, it could infuriate you, for others, it was just the tip of the iceberg of the glacier that lies beneath.

The language of cinema is universal. The frames tell everything you need it to. Without words, a single image can change the world. What if "Silence" was a silent film? What would that have offered in its quest for answers? It's remarkably creative, and on the surface, you can say it's repetitive in what it displays to the viewer. The continuous striking of faith beats you down, submitting to the film's own moral compass, and developing a new wave of art that we have only dreamed.

"Silence" is imperative to our landscape. It is the crown jewel of Martin Scorsese's modern career, and in time, could be the defining film that history will use to represent him – his magnum opus.

Grade: (★★★★)
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Miss Sloane (2016)
'Miss Sloane' Is Ruthless With a Monstrous Turn by Jessica Chastain
12 November 2016
In a time of fiery debate, just following a tumultuous election year, nothing is as timely or educational as John Madden's politically charged "Miss Sloane." Constructed by a crackling script by Jonathan Perera, in his boisterous debut, the film is rich in words and helmed by an enigmatic turn by Jessica Chastain. Emulating a second coming of Aaron Sorkin in his prime, Perera, in partnership with Madden's distinct vision, creates an orchestra of dialogue and story, all leading to a genuinely surprising finale.

"Miss Sloane" tells the story of a brilliant and ruthless lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane. She is notorious for her unparalleled talent and her desire to win at all costs. When she goes rogue to push a gun control measure in America, her career and morals are put at risk.

Firmly entrenched as Elizabeth Sloane, Chastain manages one of her finest performances yet. Nimble in movements but nearly paralyzing in line delivery, the Oscar-nominated actress is unparalleled in her sheer excellence and commitment to the craft. The twist and turns of the tale allow her to precisely land each punch to the stomach with advancing intensity. It's a complete and marvelously unstoppable force that is worthy of Academy Awards consideration.

Not acting alone, Chastain is supported by a strong cast. Gugu Mbatha- Raw's sensitive and affirming work is magnetic, even if the character's opportunities are not fully discovered. As the vulgar but intriguing opponent, Sam Waterston makes a case for Hollywood to remember that he still remains Oscar-less after an impressive career. Staying in the lane of "sleazy challenger," Michael Stuhlbarg is able to do this role in his sleep and just make it look too easy.

Sprinkle in a love interest from Jake Lacy, a corrupt senator from John Lithgow, and a revenge seeking former employee from Alison Pill, and you have one of the year's most snappy and creative ensembles.

"Miss Sloane" is an intelligent and informed look into the corruption of politics. It shows the vigorous nature in which politicians yearn to keep their positions and how our leaders are often picked and sabotaged. Engaging the audience with its chilling resonance, the film is often beautiful in its slick and smooth exterior, blended with its dark, and even at times creepy undertones of American politics. Weighty and ardent, its reduction of emotion can be a distance for some, perhaps even off-putting. The cynical and vivacious storytelling method could even be pushed as outrageous to a general movie goer or critic. Its hypnosis is darn strong in every frame. Chastain fills each scene with a fervency, delicate in which she lays them from her luscious lips and all too stylish business suits.

"Miss Sloane" crackles with excitement and performances. A riveting game of cat-and-mouse, standing toe-to-toe with other political machinery films of the last few decades. It unmasks the raw, honest truth of the system. As a portrait of power, the high tension and cynicism can be hauntingly charming. You can get wrapped up in its webbed-up world of civics and government. It is a simmering gem to the year.
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'The Light Between Oceans' has class but falters the message of love
2 September 2016
A film full of class, and one of the most aesthetically beautiful films to grace the screens this year, Derek Cianfrance's "The Light Between Oceans" manages some tender and enchanting moments. With that said, it stumbles and falters in certain executions of character motivation and generic story structure. Cianfrance has performed remarkably well in his other two efforts ("Blue Valentine" and "The Place Beyond the Pines") however, this is probably his weakest overall outing yet.

"The Light Between Oceans" tells the story of Tom and Isabel, who live on a remote island. Tom works as a lighthouse keeper, and is trying to come out of the horrors of World War I. As the couple begin to find happiness in their solitude, their inability to have children begins to plague their fairy tale. Isabel's hopes and prayers are believed to be answered when a dead man and an infant baby girl wash ashore. While Tom grapples with the reality of reporting the incident, or making the woman he loves happy, he ends up choosing the former, kicking into motion some heart wrenching consequences.

The high marks are present and littered frequently throughout. It begins with the heartbreaking turn from Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz as the devastating Hannah, a grief-stricken mother whose arc goes into interesting territories. Michael Fassbender as the stoic and tortured Tom, has the actor showcasing another effortless and engaging presence that proves he's got plenty more to offer the realm of cinema.

Co-star Alicia Vikander, recently just crowned for her riveting turn in Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl" earlier this year, is as capable as ever in portraying a difficult and unlikable character. The problem is the script doesn't particularly offer her an opportunity for the audience to tap into the soul of Isabel. Her behavior at times is so despicable, it's hard to wrap your head around any her actions and why she chooses to do them. What's worse, it that we can't understand why her husband Tom would love someone like her. It feels even at times, unnatural. Everything from the inception of their love, to the finding of their baby, and the surrounding events that follow.

Technically, the romantic drama is wholeheartedly intact. Composer Alexandre Desplat continues to deliver score after score, with strings and chords that tug at the heart. Desplat's choice of swells and subtlety are quite remarkable. They are choices that can once again, land him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.

Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw ("Animal Kingdom" and "MacBeth") glosses the screen with invigorating colors and breathtaking imagery. When the word "class" is associated with any work of art, Arkapaw is the epitome of understanding in that regard. He frames a scene with respect and adoration, fixating on the not so obvious objects and movements of a scene. He allows us to travel graciously through the picture, enriching a methodical and lavish wonder of screen shots.

With all these great high points provided, there's a very visible and apparent weakness in the script. Constructed by Cianfrance, and adapted from the novel of the same name, he attempts to build a vivacious love story. He gives us two people who he is saying to the audience are "meant for each other." Cianfrance ends up failing in establishing a believable and unique take on these two individuals from different walks of life. Tom, a veteran and tortured man of war is drawn to the passion and energy of the young Isabel. On paper, that can be sufficient but you must give the viewer motivation, action steps, and beats that prove the point you're trying to make. There's an elephant sized hole in the house that our director and writer tries to build.

The writer/director truly fumbles in the final third of the film. He chases ideas that are leisurely shoehorned in the story. Cianfrance chases suspense, nostalgia, heartbreak, and resolution. All of these things seem like they're thrown together in a ten-minute scene reel. The filmmaker also manages to go down "J. Edgar" territory of bad makeup, aging characters that end up just becoming beautiful distractions of their former selves. There's even an abrupt ending that manages to raise eyebrows.

Consequently, "The Light Between Oceans" doesn't totally fail. It's ambitious but unbalanced, desperately attempting to make a modern-day John Cassavettes. His fixation with love, and the dismal look at the reactions of people in a relationship is evident. Perhaps in the future, he'll put a much more focused effort on the sub-stories and actions that surround them.
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Sausage Party (2016)
'Sausage Party' Brings Raunchy Laughs and an Oscar Worthy Song
11 August 2016
Animation has never been such a fantastic blend of fun and dirty as seen in "Sausage Party" from Sony Pictures. Created as the movie your perverted older brother made in high school but you can't help but love him for it, the definitely offensive but enthusiastically rapturous romp is the surprise hit of the summer.

Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan helm the ship that was written by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir with a steady hand as they play off social and racial stereotypes in the vein of something we would have seen on "South Park." Trickle in a talented voice cast that includes Rogen, Oscar nominees Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Edward Norton, and Salma Hayek, and you got a formula for something downright hilarious.

"Sausage Party" takes no prisoners as the profanity and graphic nature makes an educated film-goer wonder "how the hell did this just get an 'R' rating from the MPAA?" Shock value will bubble to the brim and likely spill over as we see food make sexual advances, dirty and used condoms interact with a smaller hotdog, and an orgy that might manage to trump any movie in the last 15 years.

Taking the "Toy Story" premise and asking the question, what if food could talk? "Sausage" gives its characters a dynamic range of emotions as they mix in the very questions of today that marry the ideas of religion, purpose, and tolerance. I'm sure somewhere deep in the bones of every Pixar writer in the world, they've wanted to make THIS kind of movie. Why wouldn't they? The animation is tenderly bright and vibrant, creating a world of chaos but clarity. They work through the material with a bold and fearless nature that the Academy Awards would feel so lucky to be included among their Animated Feature nominees in 2017.

Stepping outside the box with a raunchy song, Alan Menken's compositions and work stand just as high as anything delivered this year so far. Vivaciously alive in every beat, you can't help but smile ear to ear as the party rolls on. I'd surely say Menken is the hunt for an Oscar nomination in Original Song.

The rest of the voice works of Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, and ESPECIALLY Nick Kroll are purely delightful.

This is not the movie for Mom, unless your mother is awesome in every way. This is not the movie for your kids, because I can't wait to hear the headlines of the general audience goers that brought their kids to see thinking it was just a "cute cartoon." This is not the movie for your sophisticated movie friend because he or she is probably going to call you dumb for laughing at the jokes. This IS the movie for the Friday night, bring your girlfriend or boyfriend, watch their jaws drop, and enjoy the company of just plain old fun at the movies.
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Solid Film But 'The Lion King' with Dinosaurs
25 November 2015
Pixar offers another base hit for its already stunning performance as a well-oiled studio with Peter Sohn's "The Good Dinosaur." Standing tall as one of the Pixar's most beautiful creations to date. A lusciously crafted piece that stands as another key example of cinematography executed brilliantly in animated features. While the story hawks too much back to past Disney films like "The Lion King," there's no denying the emotional and cautiously executed impact the story and its characters possess. It also assembles an impressive cast of voice work that should surprise no one as each one excels in their own way.

"The Good Dinosaur" tells the story of Arlo, an Apatosaurus who makes a perilous journey back to his family, while meeting an unlikely human friend named Spot.

Young Raymond Ochoa, who voices Arlo helms the picture with gifted innocence and a palpable feeling of growth. Arlo, who's small, fearful, and unconfident is visually seen growing and maturing before our eyes. Ochoa nails every nuance and emotion required of him. Around him, Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand, who voice Momma and Poppa fearlessly engage with the very mature subject matter. As one of Pixar's most "adult"-like themed movies to date, there is still a sense of naïvety as the parent dinosaurs attempt to teach life lessons. The rest of the cast is littered with the works of Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliot, and more, all culminating in a smorgasbord of raw talent.

From top to bottom, "The Good Dinosaur" soars on its visual elegance. Using the backdrop of real nature camera work, the two worlds are blended in a most fascinating way. You never feel as if the animated dinosaur and human are plucked into the scenery unwillingly or awkwardly. It works in every frame. Also worth noting is the another vivacious musical score by Academy Award winner Mychael Danna and his younger brother Jeff Danna. The two come together for a swelling of tears and suspense, all littered throughout the Pixar treat.

With all the positive vibes and words that "The Good Dinosaur" inhabits, the story structure and baseline for our main character doesn't fall into Pixar's most original database. Essentially "The Lion King" for dinosaurs, the film takes queues from many animated tales seen before, and while those aren't exactly poor representations, you are very much aware of its predecessors. There are also two or so dead spots, where the film feels like it hits a brick wall. Possibly suffers from lingering too long on a moment or not exactly going places well enough, its apparent by the middle of its highly publicized troubles before release.

All in all, "The Good Dinosaur" works. On an emotional level, I felt it hit better than "Inside Out," but in terms of innovation and originality, it come up a little short. Great for kids and adults like always, Pixar does its job and does it with satisfaction.

"The Good Dinosaur" opens on Thanksgiving.
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Concussion (2015)
Will Smith Steps Up to the Plate, Script Falters
11 November 2015
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An inspiring, academic by the name of Dr. Bennet Omalu takes on the titan of Sundays, the NFL, in order to prove a direct link from head trauma during football games to CTE, a football related injury that occurs. Writer/director Peter Landesman takes on the very detailed, and dramatic thriller "Concussion," with an insightful amount of control in direction, mostly thanks to Academy Award winning editor William Goldenberg, who keeps most of the film at a decent pace. However, with a clichéd script that brings the eye-rolling effect to a fever pitch, you can't help but wish that the material was more rendered and secure in its delivery. Surely to bring on an inner rage as we watch these men, so revered by Americans on a weekly basis, beg for absolution as they lose sight of themselves as time progresses. What doesn't work in "Concussion's" favor is the glossing over the real human condition that is so desperately apparent in each frame the film attempts to show.

Starring two-time Academy Award nominee Will Smith as Omalu, he delivers one of his strongest performances ever. An impeccable capture of a man from Africa, soulfully searching for acceptance in America, Smith brings a visible intensity in each line spoken. Settling into a role that calls for the best parts of Smith's charisma, which he has demonstrated effortlessly throughout his career, he handles it with an equally emotional heft that garners most of the film's best moments. This is a performance that deserves to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Landesman also constructs a decent cast with Alec Baldwin (not totally owning his own southern-ish accent in his exchanges), Gugu Mbatha- Raw (beautiful but utterly wasted in under developed scenes), and David Morse (who deserves much more roles and is quite effective in his limited screen time). Of all the supporting players, Albert Brooks delivers as the vulgar Dr. Cyril Wecht. It'll call back to his beloved turn in "Drive" just a few years back (minus villainous murders). As a distracting entity, Luke Wilson cast as Roger Goodell is a poor choice by the filmmakers, serving nothing more as celebrity wallpaper.

Composer James Newton Howard puts his horns on overload, sweeping into scenes that work well in films like "The Village" but with a film such as "Concussion," it begins to grate on the ears at times.

At 123 minutes, the film bloats like you over indulged at dinner time. In some bizarre, and almost "too try hard" choices, Landesman attempts to focus on some of the more "human" and "natural" elements of Dr. Omalu's life. As we find ourselves more interested in the case at hand, the writer/director almost sets out to make his version of "The Insider," which would be fine if he got a better grasp on which elements he should focus on.

"Concussion" isn't a complete failure, delivering at times with a grandiose turn from Will Smith. If anything, he's more than worth the admission ticket but I believe most of all, the film does successfully place a spotlight on an issue that is in desperate need of change. The final title cards will prove the NFL's power, and even deepen your frustration and anger. I think that it'll at least offer up a discussion point. That's success on its own.
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Anomalisa (2015)
'Anomalisa' is the classic Kaufman we all Love!
11 November 2015
There comes a moment in "Anomalisa," from co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, where you stop fighting the need to try to understand the weird yet invigorating story structure, and surrender to all the quirks, charm, and emotional tension its displaying on screen. Hypnotizing in the words ad expressions of its stop-motion characters, Kaufman's screenplay is right up there with his top-tier works of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Being John Malkovich." If anything, it's as if Kaufman merged his brilliant writing style with the works of Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, delivering a newly interpreted work that shows itself as one of the year's gargantuan masterpieces in writing. The less you know, the better. Watching the recent trailer that dropped for the film did it no favors as it presented itself as the animated version of "Lost in Translation" when its anything but. Simply put, it focuses on a man named Michael Stone, who has made a career about stressing the importance of customer service. When he takes a one day trip to Cincinnati, he begins to focus on the mundanity of his life. I've banged this drum too often, with some help from notable critics and viewers, but voice work has to be looked upon as a genuine performance, and you'll find just another example of it with the outstanding works of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. Thewlis' Michael Stone is intricate and calculated with a real sense of disparity and hopelessness. He envelops the essence of a lost man, attempting to regain normality in a world where everything is far too familiar and similar. Jennifer Jason Leigh captures the essence of innocence and perplexity, as her Lisa tries to make sense of a situation that can either be interpreted as fate or coincidence. Visibly broken, and aching to be put back together, Leigh enriches the morose yet intriguing nature of the film with zeal. It's one of her best performances and one you can look back upon as another staggering performance from a voice-actor. Tom Noonan where's so many hats in "Anomalisa," a chameleon transcending the inner workings of a broken man. It's a breathtaking performance, one not obvious at first, but eventually opens up in the most awkward but satisfying manner. When walking into Kaufman and Johnson's world, one of the first questions you have to ask is why stop motion? Does this have the opportunity to be interpreted in different mediums that could be more satisfying and accessible for the viewer? It's a perfect marriage of narrative structure and story. As an adult animation drama, you can see the freakish elements of films like "Fantastic Mr. Fox" but it is in no way for children. This speaks to the minds of adults. If you have ever struggled with depression, or have been stuck in the abnormality of a current state of living, the film may hit some very real chords with you. "Anomalisa" is an astounding achievement on every level. Exquisite and ravishing animation is on full display, using divine, subtle tones of color to capture the mood of a world all too distant but so uncomfortably close. It's single-handedly one of the best films that 2015 has to offer. Don't deny yourself this experience.
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Brooklyn (2015)
Everything a Nicholas Sparks Movie Wishes It Was
8 October 2015
Often movies have a magical quality as you're viewing them. Some will demand your undivided attention, others will hypnotize your senses, leaving them to simply wash over you with their exuberance and classic filmmaking procedures. In the case of John Crowley's "Brooklyn," the latter is certainly the case. There comes a moment in the film when you are taken in by the film's classic style filmmaking, and tenderly thought-provoking performances from its cast. Director Crowley, in partnership with Oscar-nominated scribe Nick Hornby, create a beautiful and sensitive love story that is everything a Nicholas Sparks film adaptation wishes it could be. With a vibrant turn from Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan at the helm, "Brooklyn" utilizes all of its tools in its arsenal to convey a potent message of love and family.

"Brooklyn" tells the story of Ellis Lacey (Ronan), who in 1950s Ireland and New York, has to choose between two men and two countries. One is the charismatic Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen) while the other is the reserved yet sensitive Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). Both are making a case for Ellis' love.

The film is helmed with a strong and undeniable confidence from Saoirse Ronan. Feeling the internal battle just pouring out of her in nearly every sense and every scene, Ronan finds Ellis' struggle and wears it on her sleeve. She doesn't just have fear of choice, she goes through a barrage of emotions, and we actively see the character progress in each milestone that she hits throughout. It begins with the yearning and devastating separation from her family in Ireland, before gradually being brought to a yearn for acceptance in a new city. Her mild but rewarding progression into comfort and confidence is shown before being abruptly ripped away when tragedy strikes. Every instance is felt in Ronan's work, all of which is authentically true and vivaciously real. It's one of her best turns, and further proof that her name will be on our lips for quite some years.

After breaking out with a scene-stealing turn in Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines," Emory Cohen shows his sensitive and charming side of his range, resulting in an equally measured and tantalizing performance to his co-star. Don't sleep on this kid. Domhnall Gleeson's reservations to Jim Farrell is haunting in a role that doesn't call for many words or emotions. You can see the ache and pain in his movements, desperate for love and an overwhelming feeling of being lost. In a few scenes, Julie Walters as Mrs. Kehoe sustains as a surprisingly comic relief in a very serious drama. Her stoic, passive demeanor is such a treat to watch in her scenes of interaction with the girls of the boarding house in which Ellis is staying.

Screenwriter Nick Hornby constructs the story with real life emotion, taking very few short cuts for its characters. He allows Ellis' feelings to make the journey in each instance in which she faces them. The foundation of Tony and Ellis is honest, and rings true as something we'd see in any instance within our own lives. Where he really shines in the connection between Ellis and her family. Thousands of miles away, and with little interaction on screen, you are heartbroken and pulled through the ringer as Ronan exemplifies the loss of her family and determination to see them once again. If there is a chink in Hornby's armor, it's the case he creates for the audience for Ellis to stay in Ireland. Up until the second half of the film, Hornby makes his case for New York, I'd only wish he made a more compelling case for Ireland, giving the audience a more fruitful and difficult dilemma in making their own decision about where Ellis should be.

One must acknowledge how impeccably constructed the film is from head to toe. Crowley assembles a dynamite team behind the camera, who all standout in their own right. Cinematographer Yves Bélanger, with a yellow hue and soft palate, capture the country and the city to stunning results. He frames each scene intimately, capturing the heart and emotion of every word spoken. Production Designer François Séguin and Set Decorator Suzanne Cloutier capture the 50's homes as if plucked from the time period themselves, along with transporting us to a foreign land we can only dream to visit. Odile Dicks- Mireaux's magnetic costume work elevates each performance, allowing the actors to fully engage with their characters and the time. And finally, the music of Michael Brook is a breathtaking swell of emotion, creating moments that will surely bring you to tears.

"Brooklyn" is a damn fine movie, following all the classic beats that we've grown to love about the most timeless love stories. "Brooklyn" will join the ranks of those timeless stories in the coming years. It's a joyful and heart aching film that stands as one of the year's best, and a sure-fire contender for several Academy Awards.

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Just Solid, Classic Spielberg
5 October 2015
One of the most prolific directors in the history of cinema, Steven Spielberg, returns to the silver screen with his new period thriller "Bridge of Spies" starring two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks. It features competent and solid filmmaking from its director, writers, and crafts team however, the film doesn't quite ignite passion and excitement from its standard storytelling. What really manages to standout is the impeccable and sensational performance of Emmy Award nominee Mark Rylance, who steals and owns every scene he's present.

The film tells the story of James Donovan (Hanks), an American lawyer that is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot (Austin Stowell) detained in the Soviet Union. It all begins with the discovery of a probable spy on our own soil Rudolf Abel (Rylance), who tests Donovan's profession and safety net.

Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg brings many of his signature techniques to the spy tale. Tugging at the emotional heartstrings is an Olympic event at this juncture in his career, although not exactly hitting the mark the way it was intended. He frames his scenes with the same familiar authority that we've grown to love about Spielberg, and it definitely exceeds some of his lesser works like "War Horse" and "The Terminal." What the film truly lacks is a daring approach to its source material. Unfamiliar with the story and real life individuals, Spielberg, and the writers, Joel & Ethan Coen and Matt Charman, don't enter the grit and horror of two countries at a feud, literally on the brink of a real devastating war.

Tom Hanks brings his natural charisma and wit that we've loved about him for decades. His James Donovan is caring, engaging, and reminiscent of Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird." His devotion to his family and the human condition is truly admirable, all clear and on display thanks to Hanks. As Rudolf Abel, Mark Rylance is just a joy to behold, filling in the gaps of the film's shortcomings with charm and seasoned acting ability. It's a brilliant turn by a brilliant actor. It's one of the year's best supporting turns and a contender for the Oscar statue.

As James' wife Mary, Amy Ryan is relegated to just a few scenes but great nonetheless. Also brief are the works of Billy Magnussen and Alan Alda, who have good, solid one scenes to chew on.

Technically the film does present qualms. Janusz Kaminski's camera work is distracting in parts, shining bright lights through windows, and keeping a one note camera style all throughout its 135 minute run time. Thomas Newman's score isn't put to its best use, as it swells in inopportune moments, even managing to overwhelm a key and fantastic scene by Rylance. Michael Kahn cuts the film to a bloated expansive run time but manages to keep you involved enough to make it through. The film really shines in its Production Design by Adam Stockhausen and its Costume work by Kasia Walicka-Maimone.

"Bridge of Spies" may find lovers in mass audiences. What it does well is ignite a curiosity and power to look at the history of its subject. Spielberg succeeds at introducing the world to James Donovan and what else he contributed to society, along with the supporting players at hand. We do wish that a better, more dynamic treatment had hit the screens. From an awards standpoint, it's going to appeal to a great deal. Perhaps a second viewing will open up more possibilities.
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Steve Jobs (2015)
'Jobs' Proves Fassbender and Winslet's Worth
5 October 2015
There are dozens of things to truly admire about Danny Boyle's new film "Steve Jobs," from its ambition to tell a compelling story about a famous man and the structure in which it decides to tell it. The initial casting of Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender was criticized initially because some felt he was "too good looking" to interpret a man, who was essentially a computer nerd. By the film's third sequence, Fassbender fully melts into the role and delivers one of his most visceral and intriguing performances to date. What's equally measured to his work is the talent and ferocity of Academy Award winner Kate Winslet, who falls into a sympathetic, determined woman, whose conscious is complicit in witnessing vile behavior. Aaron Sorkin's script is a multitude of words and one- liners, and is just plain smart in its dialogue exchanges between its characters. And finally, Boyle himself has never been more reserved in his direction, letting the words flow through the screen like a tractor trailer through a corn field. He sits on the sidelines, only letting instances of his vivacious direction show its head, which may or may not be a plus for Boyle enthusiasts. With all this said, it sounds like just a romp at the movies. Then why am I left underwhelmed by the final product?

We have to begin with the story's narrative structure. Choosing three set pieces in 1984, 1988, and 1998 to show the progression of the film's characters was genius. We see a growth and progression to not just Steve Jobs, but the surrounding players in which are a part of his life. The film is jam-packed with wall-to-wall dialogue, something that is truly impressive to watch unfold in the moment, but hard to take in as key information and thoughts are being displayed. I needed some more beats, to take in, and disengage from the moment, to properly move on to the next. Its a movie that clearly needs two or three viewings to get everything from it. This may be its ultimate downfall. "Steve Jobs" demands so much of its viewer. Our attention, dedication, and fearless endowment to the characters and the moment. I'm not entirely certain that general audiences can do that for 122 minutes. It becomes a double-edged sword. Is it okay that a movie such as this exists that will require us to give repeated participation to fully understand everything it has to say and reveal or does a film only deserve one shot to say everything it wants to say? I'm not sure I have a clear answer to that but I feel comfortable that general audiences members probably feel more towards the latter. Sorkin's work is compelling, with vibrantly preyed upon dialogue that simply sings through the theater. Its surely one of his most ambitious efforts of his career, and likely something that will forward his progression as a screenwriter, even in his later years.

From a performance standpoint, the film stands near the top of ensembles and individualized works seen in 2015. Fassbender approaches Jobs with a familiarity, like he knows the man. He finds sarcasm to be a second language, and repugnancy to be a way of life. Boyle and Sorkin do very little to have Jobs redeem himself, as he continues to pile on immorality with repulsive, revolting behavior that may make you think twice before talking to "Siri" ever again. I can't recall a Lead Actor candidate this unlikable in quite some time. It's a tour-de-force to behold, and one that will surely place near the top of Oscar ballots, but I'd be lying if I say I was looking forward to spending time with the character "Steve Jobs" again.

What Fassbender benefits immensely from, is a squad of supporting players, each making their individual mark. Winslet firmly plants her feet next to "Jobs," declaring herself as one of the finest actresses we have working today. Jeff Daniels as John Sculley is easily the most comfortable with the script's barrage of words. Daniels handles it with a defined purpose, delivering his best portrayal since "The Squid and the Whale." To a pleasant surprise, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak is tenderly inserted, and holding back all his normal tics and signature mannerisms that have made him a star. It's a welcomed entry into serious and challenging roles in the actor's future. Staggeringly underused but equally effective as each of her castmates is Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs' high-school girlfriend and "possible mother" to his daughter, played by three talented child actresses, Makenzie Moss, Perla Haney-Jardine, and Ripley Sobo. The dynamic and vigorous Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld is a sensation to watch, and will go down as one of the key players by a select group of movie-goers. Let's just call this a SAG Ensemble lock, shall we?

Boyle's market for his bombastic colors and dance sequences are sure to miss them because they are non-existent. It's great to see him taking a different approach to his storytelling, though letting running text play a role should feel familiar for many. What I found dizzying was the camera work by Alwin H. Küchler, who in the spirit of "Birdman," has the audience constantly moving along with its constant walking characters. At one point, you want to just beg them to sit down and chill out for a second. Hats off to Elliot Graham's editing, who cuts to a commanding pace, even if more pauses would have been appreciated. What shines above all the technical merits is the score by Daniel Pemberton, orchestrating a symphony of music that swells in at the finest moments, and breathes new life into the work of composers everywhere. It was a truly remarkable piece of music that just flies off the screen.
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Son of Saul (2015)
The Gifts of László Nemes and Géza Röhrig
5 October 2015
We simply don't deserve László Nemes, the first-time writer/director of Hungary's submission for the Oscar's Foreign Language category, "Son of Saul." Nemes vacuums everything we think we know about filmmaking and the Holocaust, and gives it a raw, intense, and fresh outlook that we haven't seen since Roman Polanski's "The Pianist," perhaps even Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Not to mention, he is thoroughly aided and indebted to the stunning and remarkable talent of Géza Röhrig, in his feature debut. The two simply dance circles around other films and performances seen in this year, with an authentic and genuine approach to art, that we just don't get to experience too often. I'm in awe.

"Son of Saul" tells the story of Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners isolated from the camp and forced to assist the Nazis in the machinery of large- scale extermination. In October 1944, Saul discovers the corpse of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkomando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task.

Its direction like Nemes that should make the world very optimistic about the future of cinema. If we have filmmakers like him, getting in the trenches of history and the human spirit, and beckoning its awakening into our souls, we should be so lucky to have him display the beauty and evil of the world in such a provocative and engaging manner. His choices in which to shoot the film, and portray one of the most heinous acts in the history of our existence is just downright scintillating. "Son of Saul" plays as if we're watching a disturbing, noxious, and depraved home movie about a time in which we never want to see. From a near first-person perspective, we enter the revolting world of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He uses out of focus camera work, to not bath in the bloodshed, but wallow in the psyche of a man, that is desperate for purpose. It's the single best direction of the year. I'd go so far to say this could be the single best direction seen this decade. His script, along with co- writer Clara Royer, is so painstakingly simple but echoes decades of oppression in its short, respectful run time.

Don't call him a "poet by profession" because newcomer Géza Röhrig doesn't believe in the word profession. There's only artists. Géza Röhrig is an artist, of which I haven't seen in some time. With little words, he says countless and devastating things about what he's feeling and what we know about ourselves. He doesn't use cheap tricks to engage the audiences like "really intense face" or "really scared moving." Röhrig displays the numb, almost disengaged weight of the world in every physical and vocal movement he chooses to exhibit. It's a flawless, masterful performance that we need more of in this cinematic world.

Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély is your next great craftsman to watch, even though making his mark on films like "The Quiet Ones" and "Miss Bala." He frames close-ups that Danny Cohen himself, would hope to achieve in his next collaboration with Tom Hooper. He stays with a person, a scene, a moment, so intelligently, and so vibrantly, he places each one of us in the rooms, full of fear, and full of hopelessness. The subtle yet effective music by László Melis is sonorous but the Sound team is what really needs their praise. Tamás Dévényi (Production Soundmixer), Tamás Székely (Sound Editor), and Tamás Zányi (Sound Designer) create monstrous and dynamic effects that essentially become its own focal point of the story. We are listening intently, desperately, and just fearful at every nick, boom, and cry we come in contact with. It's something everyone should and will notice and applaud.

"Son of Saul" sneaks up on you. It's too important and critical to our cinematic landscape to overlooked or forgotten. I can't imagine a more dour and sullen experience this year that fills my heart with this much adoration. It stands toe-to-toe with most Holocaust films created in and before my lifetime. It may be the definitive one this millennium.
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Carol (2015)
'Carol' Puts Blanchett and Paulson at the Top of their Game!
30 September 2015
The seduction and hypnosis of a Todd Haynes film is hard to deny. His attention to detail in such films like "Far from Heaven" and "I'm Not There" are simply superb, and one cannot overlook the vision he engulfs upon as he directs each one of them. In his newest venture, "Carol," which is based on the book "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith, the luxurious command in which he approaches the material is confident and pristinely evident once again. He pulls out some outstanding performances, especially from Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson, and crafts another multi-layered deconstruction on love during a time where it was simply one note to modern society. With all that said, there's a barrier between the film's central characters and its audience, resulting in a good, not great cinematic endeavor.

"Carol" tells the story of Therese (pronounced TER-REZ and played by Rooney Mara), a department store clerk who dreams of a better life outside the normalcy of work and her persistent beau Richard (played by Jake Lacy). Set in 1950s New York, she falls for an older, married woman names Carol (played by Blanchett), and the two embark on a journey of forbidden love.

"Carol" is as lusciously made as you come to expect from any Haynes film. Sexy, sultry, and vibrantly crafted, Haynes pours his heart and soul into each frame he directs with generous and respectful admiration. He transports us to a time we can only see in our dreams, with stunning cloths of the 1950's, thanks to outstanding Sandy Powell, and gorgeous set design, thanks to Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler.

The script by Phyllis Nagy, whose only credit is the TV Movie "Mrs. Harris," which she also directed and was nominated for an Emmy, is profound in parts. It's natural to go back to something like "Brokeback Mountain" for comparison, a story that succeeded so much on the subtle and quietly spoken thoughts of its characters. We see their love present in a secret kiss on the side of an apartment, or on a quiet standing by a camp fire as Ennis goes to take care of the caddle for the night. These are factors that add to up a forbidden love.

In "Carol," there's a missing variable in Carol and Therese's relationship. They meet, flirt awkwardly, and then suddenly are together in a strange circumstance. Now, one can argue that love knows no boundaries of time nor space. Perhaps you would be correct in that, but the main difference between Ennis and Jack versus Carol and Therese, is that the love in the former felt just as high-stakes at what they threatened to lose. Ennis loses his family, wanders the Earth essentially, still unsure of his own place, even without theoretically any more obstacles. Yet, Jack visits him upon the news of his impending divorce, and with still a real fear of exile and being true to himself, Ennis sends him away. Jack is heartbroken by this behavior, that translates well into one of the most iconic lines, "I wish I knew how to quit you."

Carol feels like Ennis in this regard, destined to live alone despite embracing her own sensibilities and self. However , in Therese's young, unconfident mind, she doesn't equal or amount to the yin, of Carol's yang. Her exploration comes off like curiosity rather than love. Perhaps that's the intent, and if it is, then I applaud it, but when the film reaches its conclusion, nothing supports that claim. I find little reason to root for these two to be together. "Blue is the Warmest Color," even with intense and ill-fitting explicit scenes, manages to show the passion between the two main characters. I think that's the key word that's missing from the film: passion.

With those hurdles, some of the performances surpass any and all expectations. With a stellar year in hand with James Vanderbilt's "Truth" already loved by so many, Cate Blanchett delivers an even more breathtaking portrayal in Haynes' film. Blanchett captures the lioness quality of Carol, steaming forward with blinders on as she finds herself entranced by Therese's innocence. Her slow, sultry hand moving across her lover's shoulder is a vibrant action that speaks impeccable volumes. I thought it was one of her best performances ever.

Rooney Mara's sensitive yet disengaged nature from her surroundings is particularly moving as she walks through the film. Her quiet breakdowns are felt in the moment but have no lasting effect for the rest of the story. With such strong Supporting Actress buzz for the performance, I'm a little baffled by its unanimous love fest. Especially when standing next to the great Sarah Paulson, whose role and performance will hawk back to Patricia Clarkson in "Far from Heaven" but with such depth and assurance. Not exactly developed to its full potential, but as Abby, Carol's best friend and former flame, Paulson engages it all with a vigorous and palpable energy. As Carol's husband Harge, Kyle Chandler's desperation and urgency is lively and vivid, but with not enough substance and time to really make an impact.

"Carol" is fruitful in the cinematic capacity of its structure but it leaves some things to be desired. For a Haynes enthusiast, they'll likely run the gauntlet on its construction and performances, eating every morsel of it up with a spoon. For others, the appreciation will surely be clear, but there may be some that are left out in the cold.
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The Lobster (2015)
A beautiful dream with Colin Farrell's best screen role ever...
27 September 2015
It took some time to let Yorgos Lanthimos' new film "The Lobster" settle into my mind. On the surface is a dark comedy, full of rich images, and staggering performances from its principal cast. Deeper lays one of the most original and heart wrenching stories on modern relationships, likely the best seen in film since Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." "The Lobster" tells the story of a dystopian near future, where single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty- five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods. At the center is David (played by Colin Farrell), who enters the Hotel with his brother, who's been turned into a dog, and begins a domino effect that will make him both an outcast and a fugitive. Beginning with a hilarious and smart script by Lanthimos and co- writer Efthymis Filippou, "The Lobster" gets some of the year's biggest laughs. The two create a symphony of truth about our society's perception of relationships and love. When David first enters the hotel, you can see the initial despair and fight against the system. He believes in the idea of love but isn't particularly fond of being under its spell once again. Its simply life and death but when the story makes him an outcast, where love is forbidden, you see his hopeless romantic self become drawn to his "Short Sighted Woman." (played by Rachel Weisz) The evolution of David's outlook on his current situation is authentic and real, as he shows the center of his heartache in only intermittent spurts. You can thank all that to the powerhouse performance by Colin Farrell, who delivers his best and most audacious film role to date. "The Lobster" isn't just about its script and lead performer. It also assembles one of the year's best cast ensembles. Rachel Weisz is a sensation, giving her best work since her Oscar-winning role in "The Constant Gardener." As the "Lisping Man," its refreshing to see John C. Reilly dig deep into a role like this, one of which we haven't seen from him in nearly a decade. As the "Limping Man," Ben Whishaw continues to build an arsenal of titanic-like performances, all of which solidifies him as one of the best kept secrets working today. More roles for him please. As the "Loner Leader," Léa Seydoux's villainous and vile demeanor is a fantastical addition, adding a needed depth and danger to the film and role. Olivia Colman's Hotel Manager is a bonus treat, as she effortlessly brings chuckles and fear to her mystery woman. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis finds his stride and vision early on, capturing an aesthetic that is both stylized and advantageous. The visual contrast is dazzling and particularly noteworthy but what's lurking between each and every frame is especially dynamic and robust. One of the year's very best. Upon first viewing, Yorgos Mavropsaridis' editing work can seem bloated but over 24 hours later, it's a taut and vivaciously engaging piece, cut with a resemblance of Jeff Buchanan and Eric Zumbrunnen's snubbed work on Spike Jonze's "Her." The score is insanely haunting and very appropriate for its dark natured comic look at life. It took some time to digest but "The Lobster" feels full of life and is a soulful opus on love. Quirky and clever, its black comic tones shouldn't distract from its core narrative and mission; to engage the parimeters and infatuation of devotion. Just a dream.
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The Walk (II) (2015)
'The Walk' is Half Visual Spectacle and Half Dreadful
26 September 2015
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Robert Zemeckis has created some of the best films of the last 30 years. "Forrest Gump" is one of cinema's finest masterpieces, "Back to the Future" revolutionized the time travel genre, and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" is a beautiful merge of animation and the real world. With his newest effort "The Walk," Zemeckis creates an apparent respect and adoration of New York City and the twin towers that haven't really been seen in film post-9/11 however, his narrative tones and setup are both uninspired and dull, all leading up to a grand finale that makes the film simply watchable. Helmed by a very determined Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the visual spectacle creates a real sense of height and wonder, portraying breathtaking effects. Though its only half passable, the film feels like an appropriate and perfect opener for the New York Film Festival.

"The Walk" tells the story of high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who in 1974, recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.

Written by Christopher Browne and Robert Zemeckis, "The Walk" is narrated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, on top of the torch of the Statue of Liberty, with the World Trade Center towers in the background. He addresses the audience with every thought, which is heavily relied upon from the film's writing team. From the opening of Levitt's monologue, the entire set up looks like the beginning of a "Saturday Night Live" episode where Levitt himself, was hosting. Giggles were sprinkled among the audience as the first minutes passed but eventually Gordon- Levitt settles into his role. His accent was impressive, speaking fluent French, and to the untrained ear, he nails his lines. From an emotional perspective, Levitt leaves much to be desired. In his defense, the script does him no favors. Browne and Zemeckis inflects a wit and charm into Philippe that can come off annoying and unlikable.

Co-star Charlotte Le Bon, who plays Annie, Philippe's girlfriend, is a sensitive addition, trying her very best to elevate the one- dimensional character that she's given. James Badge Dale is best- in-show, giving personality and spunk to a vastly underwritten role. Ben Kingsley is added as veteran acting wallpaper, just to show experience and dignity in a role that can be done in his sleep.

IMAX 3D is put to fantastic use. The final hour is a sequence that stands as one of the year's best. To watch Petit set up for the death-defying stunt was totally engaging, and seeing him take his first steps on the wire was a fantastic spectacle. The natural thoughts go to the Oscar-winning "Man on Wire," but what Zemeckis focuses on is his time on the wire, walking back and forth, making daring moves, and utilizing 3D imagery to inflict real fear and anxiety into the audience. From a directorial standpoint, Zemeckis attempts to make his "Hugo," using 3D as something to progress and tell the story impeccably, placing the audience right there on the wire.

"The Walk" is an ambitious and respectable misstep. The Visual Effects are well worth the price of a ticket in an IMAX theater, and with the final sequence as long as it is, you should definitely seek it out.
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Truth (2015)
There's 'Truth' in Blanchett and Redford, But Not Much Else
23 September 2015
James Vanderbilt's feature debut "Truth" assembles the likes of two- time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, alongside Oscar-winner Robert Redford, in a story about how Mary Mapes and Dan Rather lost their careers following a "60 Minutes" story about George W. Bush's military records. While professionally and passionately executed with the performances of its cast, Vanderbilt's film doesn't quite have a strong enough handle on the material or the story he's trying to tell. What is left by the credits, is a duo of stellar turns, alongside often forced and unnatural dialogue. If anything, it'll be the work of those two veterans that will pull you through successfully but most importantly, it does spark a needed interest on the state of modern journalism. Vanderbilt should be applauded for that at minimum.

"Truth" begins with Mary Mapes (Blanchett) producing a "60 Minutes" special, in which host Dan Rather (Redford) presented documents of George W. Bush's military records, showing that he went AWOL during his time in the military and received special treatment. After the episode airing, bloggers and experts make accusations that the records are indeed fake. As Mapes and her team try anxiously to retrace their steps, inaccuracies and possible corruption is brought to light.

Putting politics aside, I've never read Mary Mapes' "Truth and Duty," the memoir on which the film is based upon. Going by what the film shows, Mapes' account of the aftermath following the "60 Minutes" special becomes a dog chasing its tail. Unsure if they were trying to portray an incompetent producer/journalist, or a misguided woman, led astray by false information. Nevertheless, Vanderbilt's script, at times, portrays a compelling argument in favor of the accuracy but leaves the audience wondering what he or anyone firmly believes. There is some great things happening in the story, that would have made a smarter, more interesting complete film. Vanderbilt explores the relationship of Mapes and her family, which makes for an interesting perspective to see her actions. Rather's tumultuous relationship with CBS is touched upon, but little else outside of the compounds of the cameras.

Calling back to a film like "Shattered Glass," Blanchett often feels like Hayden Christiansen, desperately believing the "story" but giving everyone around her doubt. Cate Blanchett's work explodes on screen, jolting in and out of coherent thoughts and persuasion, often never letting the viewer feel secure about their how they really feel about her. In one dynamite scene, and we'll call it her "Oscar scene," Blanchett controls the screen and her cast members with a bull-like charge, invoking and bringing to life, the best written scene of the film. It's one of her very best performances ever, and something that will courageously keep her in the Oscar conversation for Best Actress.

Robert Redford's stoic and reserved take on Dan Rather is a quiet storm, and likely the unsung hero of the film. He takes on the man's mannerisms but inserts his own sensibilities about how we perceive him to be. Dennis Quaid shines as an ex-Military personnel working on the story while Topher Grace goes a little bit overboard as a manic and shrill young journalists trying to find the conspiracy theories. Elisabeth Moss is regulated in general inquiries about the players behind the documents but offers little else in her underwritten role. Bruce Greenwood, as the president of CBS, is fantastically present. David Lyons also surprises as Josh Howard, a role that boils right to the top without going over. Same goes for the always diabolical Stacy Keach.

"Truth" excels in many of its technical merits. Brian Tyler's score offers depth and suspense to certain scenes while Mandy Walker's camera work softly maneuvers through the film. Richard Francis- Bruce's editing almost nailed a perfect ending to the film, but for whatever reason, was taken to one extra scene that the viewer truly didn't need.

"Truth" may not be an all-out homerun for Vanderbilt, but its a fine example of the exceptional work that Blanchett and Redford are capable of doing in any role they're given. Though not magnificently executed, I can't help but still ponder on its findings, and the questions that it brings up in its first few moments. He gets the mind thinking, and the juices flowing, before ultimately resting on the merits of two journalists that may or may not have been duped.
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Spotlight (I) (2015)
Flat Out Remarkable! Possibly the Year's Best!
19 September 2015
Seconds after the credits for Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight" roll, an overwhelming feeling of changing your career takes over. Is film criticism really where I belong? What important, life-changing story am I not writing about? Truth is, quite a bit of classic films give off that same feeling. "Rocky" made a bunch of our fathers and older brothers go for a morning run and drink raw eggs. "Rudy" made us want to go out and play Notre Dame football. "Spotlight" makes you want to go down to your local courthouse and search the public records for clues. Then, get on the phone, with a pen and a pad, and start asking some really tough questions. Honestly speaking, "Spotlight" is the best investigative news drama this century. Matter of fact, behind "All the President's Men" and maybe "The Insider," it's among the best ever made.

"Spotlight" tells the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Where you must begin, with any praise for the film, is the audacious and fortifying script by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. The two create cinematic magic in their articulation of words, characters, and narrative storytelling. Each person feels authentic. Each scene feels rich and equally important as the last. And most of all, its the tightest, most satisfying film from beginning to end, seen this year. From minute one, you're hooked, up until the last second, where they decide the last words spoken should be, "Spotlight" is astonishingly crafted.

I'm still in shock and awe that Tom McCarthy is the one who made this. This is a writer/director who I've appreciated but didn't have the "love" factor surrounding any of his films. Paired with an outstanding cast, co-writer Josh Singer, editor Tom McArdle, cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi and composer Howard Shore, Tom McCarthy gets a chance to create his masterpiece…and succeeds. He makes brilliant artistic choices, such as letting a Mark Ruffalo letter reading play over a 2-minute taxi car ride back to the newspaper. McCarthy's direction is one of the best directorial efforts from any filmmaker this year thus far.

All the players performing are top-notch but walking away, best-in- show, is the performance of Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo exhibits his best screen performance to date, and makes a stake in his claim for the Oscar this year. Weirdly reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix's work in "The Master," Ruffalo builds his 'Mike' from the feet up, giving him his own characteristics that I'm not sure McCarthy and Singer set out to do. His expressions in words, mannerisms, all encapsulate the magnitude of his work, bookended by an explosive scene that brought tears to my eyes. Think back to Emma Stone's acclaimed work in "Birdman," and the scene that made everyone notice. I wanted to simply applaud.

Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, who play "Robbie" and "Sacha" respectively, are attune with their characters and destinations. Each bring strong sensibilities and sensitivity to their roles that desperately call for them. Hotly worked into the story is Liev Schreiber as a newly appointed Editor, that in the little screen time he's given, makes a long-lasting impression. Stanley Tucci is also afforded the same opportunity, and gives one of the film's best monologues.

If there's a film this year that feels like an Oscar-winner, "Spotlight" sure does make a compelling case. Dramatic, heart- pounding, and necessarily made. It's one of the most important films this year and probably THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR. The Telluride tradition may continue.
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Freeheld (2015)
Come for Moore but Sadly Nothing Else!
19 September 2015
In a time when our nation is going through some the most progressive and long overdue changes in history, a film as timely as "Freeheld" would be welcomed with open arms and minds from critics and audiences. Unfortunately, what director Peter Sollett creates, in partnership with Academy Award nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, is an uninspired, insipid, and downright cheap take on a same-sex couple fighting for death benefits.

Starring recently Oscar-crowned Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, the two manage decent chemistry and maneuver through generic and Lifetime movie-like lines. The impressive Michael Shannon does his very best to elevate all the material, showing the if you're talented enough, no script can hold you back. On the hand, the rest of the cast, particularly Steve Carell, is so over-the-top, and poorly guided, that everything that could have made "Freeheld" a spectacular and moving drama, is quickly transformed into a distorted and tragic version of the Oscar-winning short that the film is based on. The most novice filmmakers could have created something more gratifying.

"Freeheld" tells the story of New Jersey police lieutenant, Laurel Hester (Moore), and her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Page). When Laurel is diagnosed with terminal cancer, both battle to secure Hester's pension benefits.

After just winning her long overdue Academy Award for last year's "Still Alice," the excitement and anticipation for Julianne Moore's next role was at an all-time high. Moore, as we come to expect, commits firmly to the role of a dying woman. Reminiscent of performances like Hilary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby," Moore dives into her psyche, offering her soul to a woman who lived her life with secrets, and became alive in her later years. While Nyswaner's script offers little insight into Laurel and Stacie's love, outside of montages and cancer treatments, Moore finds her way through the pitfalls to come out on the other side intact. Page, who was a strong voice in getting the picture made, is relegated to crying and awkward ticks. Several instances, we are led to believe that "this scene" will be "her scene" where she gets the chance to let loose and show us what she's all about. Once again, Sollett's plain and boring direction quickly cut her every scene short, and offer no room to explore her character's surroundings and feelings. It's a terrible waste of talent.

Michael Shannon delivers a competent and layered performance as Dane, Laurel's cop partner. He finds the humanity and conflict in Dane's misunderstanding about Laurel's lifestyle and later in the fight for equality. He's the film's key positive note. Carell's over-the-top yelling and mannerisms is among the worst acting examples seen in 2015. It's as if Sollett decided to let "Michael Scott" from "The Office" run amok on the set because that's all that Carell manages to evoke. One year after a career-topping work in "Foxcatcher," I'm embarrassed that this is his next venture for the world to behold.

Even down to the cheesy score by Hans Zimmer, nothing about "Freeheld" sings. It lays dormant in a small courtroom, where anger and inspiration are supposed to fly but lies lifeless among the picket signs and Josh Charles' snarls. I was sincerely hoping for something better, actually something magnificent; too bad there's not enough vision to bring this powerful story to life.
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Bravo to Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander! Oscars are Coming!
19 September 2015
With the transgender movement heavily in the media with figures like Caitlyn Jenner, and countless others heading the conversation, a film like Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl" feels vibrantly relevant in today's cinematic climate. Spearheaded by two powerhouse performances from Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl" is a luscious and gorgeously crafted piece, invigorating the soul with its conveying message of freedom and love.

As polarizing as Tom Hooper has been in his choices to shoot and frame his films like "The King's Speech" and "Les Miserables," two films that are still delightfully poignant years after, "The Danish Girl" is by far his most alluring film to date. Cinematographer Danny Cohen truly hits his stride from the opening frames, as he calls back to Dick Pope's work in last year's "Mr. Turner," but allows a story fragrantly moving to become his blank canvas in which to respectfully capture the film's most sentimental moments. If you're searching for the "Hooper-isms" like people shoved into the corner of a scene or extreme close-ups, you'll find them, but there's a resourceful way in which he's utilizing his tactics that feel genuine and necessary.

Last year Eddie Redmayne won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in James Marsh's "The Theory of Everything," beating out some big names. A performance I quite liked but didn't fully understand the gravitation over other names throughout the year. As Lili Elbe, Redmayne ignites his most daring and captivating turn of his career. Visually married to the woman in dedication to the role, he allows 'Lili' to wash over him both with aggression and delicacy. It's a near masterpiece performance that I'll remember for years to come.

Equally compelling, and even more magnificent in her turn is Alicia Vikander, who in just under two hours, solidifies herself as one of the most breathtaking and exciting actresses working today. Vikander's subtlety and interpretation of 'Gerda', is a sensational vessel of complexity and honesty, as she runs the gauntlet of a woman desperate to understand and struggling to hold it together. As the tears well up in her eyes, and she desperately asks Lili to have 'Einar' hold her, it's the single most heart wrenching scene this year. It's the strongest and most compulsory turn by an actress this year, and one that will have the Academy Awards running to check off for a nomination.

The rest of the cast, in particular Amber Heard and Ben Whishaw is staggeringly good. Matthias Schoenaerts' massive and stoic persona adds to the mystery and complicated nature of Lili's existence.

Where "The Danish Girl" faults itself is with the script by Lucinda Coxen. While she successfully captures the spirit and tone of Lili's struggle through her life, her inserted beats of on-the-nose dialogue can be trying at times. Having Gerda say things like "I felt like I was kissing myself" when recalling her and her husband's first kiss, was a little over-the-top in an attempt at foreshadowing. However, she delightfully captures the humble beginnings of their marriage, with the secret that plagues their union with accuracy.

Just one year after winning his long overdue Oscar for scoring "The Grand Budapest Hotel," composer Alexandre Desplat synchronizes fervor and empathy with his brilliant orchestra. I believe its one of his most profound works to date. Same can be said for Production Designer Eve Stewart and Costume Designer Paco Delgado, who both capture the essence of European history with accuracy and vitality.

"The Danish Girl" is a seducing feature with fortitude and grace, all of which measures up to heroic story of being yourself, no matter what the circumstances. Tom Hooper's direction, along with Redmayne and Vikander's work will likely be at the top of Oscar's to-do list for the awards season.
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Everest (2015)
Thin Air and Thin Characters
19 September 2015
Baltasar Kormakur's "Everest" finds itself in a precarious position. One half of the film is a harrowing and emotionally resonate story of survival, loss, and the human condition. The other half, is a massively underdeveloped story, chalk full of celebrity heads that are thrust into a movie that offers no type of care and engagement for the audience to latch onto. I'm unsure I could even tell you any of the character's names. The audience struggles to identify them by their "group name" and multi-colored Northface coats.

"Everest" tells the story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, where a group of climbers were killed. Starring Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, and Keira Knightley, the all-star cast are offered basic blueprints into the emotional center of their real-life counterparts. However, vaguely expressed through the script by Justin Isbell and Lem Dobbs, most of them are left in the dark and are unable to convey much of anything other than "be really worried or be really scared."

Starting with the positives, a 3D IMAX experience is well earned with the visuals that look like their plucked out of the Discovery Channel or NatGeo. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino leads a spectacular look upon the largest mountain in the world. Totino offers the audience a first-hand account of the power the mountain entails. The height, cold, and wind, are apparent and exist vivaciously in every frame he chooses to portray. Dario Marianelli's subtle score is appreciated as he doesn't go overboard in scenes where he could have easily let his organs reign.

From a technical standpoint, editor Mick Audsley seemed to be the one who dropped the ball. Quick cuts between a dozen characters, all who apparently have their own story and agenda, was not a good idea. We never get a clear introduction to any of the character's lives with the exception of Clarke and to some extent, John Hawkes (but credit must be given to Hawkes who delivers each line with clarity and certainty). The second half of the film jumps between so many people, all of which are at different locations, but we never have a real sense of where anyone is or worst yet, why or how they died?

From an acting standpoint, there are bright spots. The aforementioned John Hawkes is an everyday man, who gives "Doug" a sense of purpose and identity. Keira Knightley's emotional pregnant wife is an audacious presence, and one that we truly care about. In the film's most emotional moment, its her dedication to that moment, without overdoing it, that the film comes alive. Jason Clarke helms the film with an energy that works well and his interactions with Knightley are the film's true highlights. The rest of the cast… well, they're there. Some bearded, some crying, and some really cold.

It's hard to completely ding "Everest" for what it sets out to do. What I keep coming back to is the question, why? Why is this disaster given a platform, in the form of film, need to be told? Is it a pregnant wife at home that makes it more compelling? Is it a person losing body parts? I overheard someone once say, this is "White People Problems: The Movie." It's morose in the sense that individuals lost their lives, and there is a moment in the movie where you get the sense of why they choose to climb the mountain. On top of the highest peak, where 747's fly high, they look upon the earth like God. I get it but I can't say I care any more or less following the credits. "Rocky" made us want to be a boxer. "Gravity" scared the hell out of us going to space (if we ever planned on it). "Everest" makes us just say "okay?"

The final shot of the film chosen by Kormakur, is weirdly inserted and I'm completely unsure about what I was supposed to be feeling. A comparison can be made to something like "The Impossible" by J.A. Bayona, a film that set out to do some of the same things. Where "Everest" misses the mark, is in giving the audience the tools needed to make an investment in a story, and then see a return on that investment. Let's just say the DOW dropped on this one.
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