2014 Review Catch Up!

Untitled

So I didn’t post a lot on this blog in 2014. I don’t really have an excuse for that, because I saw a lot of movies, and if anything, my opinions on things become more and more polarized to the point where I should write about them, just as an exercise in getting pent up frustrations out. However, I did not, and as the Oscars are this Sunday, I figured I’d  take a look back at some of the films I saw in 2014 and didn’t review. Don’t fret–I’ll also be doing an Oscar breakdown at some point later, but I thought it was important to first get my feelings about these films out of the way, in chronological order. I’m also gonna leave out some of the smaller films I saw–we’ll just focus on the ones that got the most press this year.


The Lego Movie

I was so hyped for this film last year. I don’t even know where the hype came from, but it honestly didn’t disappoint me in the slightest. The only real negative thing that could be said about The Lego Movie is that story wise, it isn’t the most innovative (chosen one gets the thing to save the world), but in a way even that plays into how great it is. It’s one of the most meta animated films I’ve ever seen, but who could expect anything less from the creative minds of Chris Miller & Phil Lord. I’ve never really been disappointed with anything they’ve put out, and this only cements that. Witty, imaginative, and interesting to all audiences (I’ve had enthusiastic conversations about this film with 10 year olds and 50 years olds alike), The Lego Movie is the most heartfelt and hilarious ninety minute commercial you will ever witness.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

As a fan of Wes Anderson, I am very quick to see anything he puts out, and am seldom disappointed. And with The Grand Budapest Hotel, he managed to push his quirky envelope to the absolute limit. I’m 100% here for it. It’s as fun to watch as I’m sure it was to be a part of, with splendid performances all around. The man can really do no wrong. I saw a tumblr post once that said something along the lines of, “Wes Anderson is like Quentin Tarantino’s weird quirky brother who listens to vinyl and complains about Quentin stealing his library card.”

I’m not really sure what that has to do with my review of this movie, but I find it really fitting.

Point is, it’s refreshing these days to go into a movie and actually have fun. Maybe that doesn’t mean a lot coming from me since I am a cinema cynic, devoid of any part of me that is able to relax and not take movies 100% seriously, but I had a great time while watching Grand Budapest. It’s not my favorite Wes movie (Rushmore is unbeatable), but it’s one of the best.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

I once watched a Alejandro Jodorowsky film with my sister entitled The Holy Mountain.

To this day, I still don’t know what I watched–only that it was the pinnacle of the absurd, really really colorful, and, despite making two hours feel like five, bizarrely compelling.

Jodorowsky is somewhat of a living legend for his ability to encapsulate the odd in a combination of John Waters and Salvador Dali, and one time, he tried to make a film adaption of the Frank Herbert novel Dune–which ended up later infamously falling into the hands of David Lynch.

But Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune was so unruly, so fascinating, and such a beautiful disaster, that Frank Pavich decided making a documentary about how the production fell to pieces was a good idea.

Spoiler alert: it really, really was. Easily my favorite documentary of the year, and an honest to god shame it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

Birdman

THIS SHIT WAS DOPE. PLEASE WATCH IT. IT IS SO ASTRONOMICALLY INVENTIVE AND PROGRESSIVE. And meta. If you didn’t know, I really like meta things. This film laughs in the audience’s face and it is amazing, the script is such a wonderful echo of reality both in the movie and outside. There aren’t enough words to describe my love for this wonderful movie. Easily my favorite film of the year.

Gone Girl

Another perfect storm of a film that somehow perfectly juggles feminism and sociopathy in a way that is offensive to no one. The titular character of Amy Dunne is a fascinating examination of a femme fatal, and the overarching themes of the effects of long term relationships is both soul-crushing and oddly liberating. Only David Fincher could take something that could be a TV movie on Lifetime and elevate it to this level of artistry and success, combined with one killer performance from a dark horse, Rosamund Pike. Also the soundtrack is elemental; please keep working forever, Trent Reznor. Definitely read my friend Kelly’s deconstruction of Amy Dunne.

Interstellar

There’s one thing to be said for Christopher Nolan, and that is the man knows how to create a theater experience. I have never walked into a Nolan movie, sat down, and not at least had a good time watching it. The unfortunate thing is that some of the time, I walk out of the Nolan movie, and that’s when it gets disappointing for me. Case and point: Interstellar. A beautifully shot film that pays homage after homage to my favorite filmmaker (Stanley Kubrick and his magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey), with production design like no other, unfortunately falls short on the writing end of the spectrum.

I mean, come on, Nolan. “Love Conquers All?”

My friend coined this film really well as, “The Best Episode of Doctor Who Ever.” Which is fine, I mean, Doctor Who is a good time. This movie was a good time. Not perfect, certainly no Inception and certainly no Dark Knight, but a good time. I do tip my hat to Nolan, though, for constantly coming up with (mostly) new sci-fi ideas while somehow managing to still be accessible to general audiences and film snobs alike, which is maybe the most difficult thing to pull off, ever.

The Book of Life

Can Maria become the new Elsa because my quality of life would improve tenfold. Please, parents, show your child this film, because it is splendid. No more words.

The Book of Life > The last ten years of Disney films.

Inherent Vice

With Paul Thomas Anderson being one of the top competitors for my #1 spot as “Favorite Living Director,” it goes without saying that I was excited for Inherent Vice. After the majesty that was The Master, I was also excited to see PTA working with Joaquin Phoenix again, and that, combined with my favorite trailer last year, just all stewed into my pot of hype deliciously.

And then I was disappointed.

Before anyone (Ott) says anything, no, it’s not because “Thomas Pynchon novels don’t make sense!!” or “I couldn’t follow it!!”. It was because it was maybe the least dynamic PTA film to date, with just a series of scenes of Joaquin Phoenix walking somewhere, saying some stuff, and then leaving. Examine any other PTA movie and that is not what you will see. Thomas Pynchon is a very ambiguous and complex writer–so maybe some ambiguous and complex scene structures might be nice. That being said, the film still looked beautiful, so Paul is still one of my favorite technical directors.

Nightcrawler

Great story, GREAT characters–I can honestly see Lou Bloom and Amy Dunne getting together. However, when I saw Nightcrawler my initial vibe was that they were going for a Drive type feel–it wasn’t nearly stylistic enough. However, the film still managed to keep me invested and interested all the way through, and the way the main character was written was so devious, sharp, and just plain interesting that I couldn’t get enough. Jake Gyllenhaal in my head has always been kind of underrated in Hollywood–he gives great performance after great performance and never gets much recognition for it. I’d give him an Oscar nomination for this over most of Leo DiCaprio’s nominations, just sayin’.

Boyhood

THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME. THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN EVER TO CINEMA–NAY, TO AMERICA. LIFE CHANGING. HAS CANCER CURING EFFECTS. DID YOU KNOW IT TOOK TWELVE YEARS TO MAKE IT?! TWELVE WHOLE YEARS. THEY DEDICATED THEIR ENTIRE LIVES, WITHOUT ANYONE EVER ASKING THEM TO. TWELVE YEARS!

Are the thought police gone? Okay, real review time.

I realize I’m in the dissenting opinion here, but I really, really didn’t like Boyhood. Before you get antsy, I will say that it is an amazing feat what they accomplished. I mean, filming something over 12 years… watching the actors grow before your eyes… that’s likeunheard of

Okay, okay. All snark aside. It was well shot, pretty, and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette gave really solid performances. Unfortunately with a film titled “Boyhood,” the main focus is on… the boy. He is boring and I don’t care about anything in his life. All of the philosophical elements of this film have already been explored in previous Linklater productions–his Before trilogy is easily his best work, and it is painfully obvious that the writing process for Boyhood just blatantly borrowed ideas from those films.

Furthermore, Boyhood does the cheapest thing in the universe, which is uses nostalgia to make people feel things & think the film is Amazing. If this movie had not been shot over twelve years, if you took out all of the prolonged shots of things that will make me nostalgic (a Gameboy SP, for example), but you still used the exact same script, it would be an incredibly mediocre film.

When the only thing that elevates your movie to the next level is a gimmick, you’re not an Innovative Filmmaker. Linklater is just a patient one. Which is fine, but it’s so unnecessary to trademark him as a true progressive, when this script and characters are anything but. Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) is a progressive, and even though his film also has somewhat of a gimmicky quality to it, the script and the characters at least give the movie another layer completely. Boyhood completely lacks that.

Into The Woods

With the least accessible second act in musical theater history, I was really interested to see how the film production of Into The Woods was going to go. And, surprisingly enough, it went really, really well. It was imaginative, the production design was fantastic, the sound mixing was beautiful, and it was cast perfectly. It was also way more interesting and dynamic to watch than, say, Les Miserables, but maybe I’m just biased because I love the hell out of Stephen Sondheim.

I also found it beautifully ironic that Disney produced this film, considering the musical is literally making fun of all of their exploits. The live-action remake of Cinderella was one of the previews before I saw Into the Woods, which made me chuckle quite a lot.

Big Hero 6

SPEAKING OF Disney movies, the winter season’s vehicle! With Marvel and Disney now being fully synergized, it was only a matter of time before an animated superhero film. And thus, Big Hero 6 was born, and this time, it not only integrated every single Disney trope in the book, but every single Marvel trope in the book as well! Isn’t life fun? Aren’t cliches still enjoyable after the 700th time? Ah, yes.

I feel like Disney is just run by a robot now. I get no sense of individual artistry in any of their films; no voice other than the big, corporate, “I want all your money, sheeple” voice. The other two animated films I reviewed are so stylish and perceptible to the individuals who made them. There really isn’t any of that going on at Disney anymore. The AI just makes movies that everyone on earth will see and think is nice. I guess their AI works, because Big Hero 6 was a nice movie. I laughed, I cried, I got excited, I felt for all the characters.

“So what’s wrong with that, Maddison?”

A ROBOT MADE ME FEEL THIS WAY. THEY ARE TAKING OVER. SLOWLY BUT SURELY. SKYNET IS SOME REAL SHIT.

Selma

This movie was everything Spielberg’s Lincoln should’ve been: pointed in on one specific period in a famous person’s history, without cheaply foreshadowing to future events nor rehashing things that already occurred in the film’s canon. With sharp performances all around, this is easily the best biopic of the year, as well as the least Oscar Baity, which gives it a standing ovation in my personal opinion. The direction in this movie is sharp, the writing is as excellent as the performances… it’s a well crafted biographical movie that still somehow manages to be progressive in the art of filmmaking, unlike…

The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything

…which are, by definition, “well crafted movies.” And yet I was bored by them, not because the characters were underdeveloped or because the direction was flat, which they weren’t. They were Good Movies, as there always are in every Oscar season. These stories might be important to be told; the main focus of both films are absolutely men to be honored. But in 5 years, I don’t see these in any “BEST FILMS OF THE DECADE” lists. I do, however, see them in high school history classes.

Benedict Cumberbatch was good. Eddie Redmayne was good too. They were good movies. But I don’t really care about them all that much. Neither of these films are The Social Network or A Beautiful Mind. That’s all there is to be said.

American Sniper

Remember when Clint Eastwood talked to a chair on national television, pretending it was Obama? Yeah, that crazy ol’ bastard still makes movies. Here’s one of ‘em. Think… “Birth of a Nation,” but instead of demonizing black people, we’ll demonize Middle Easterners! Let’s make a movie that will only intensify White Fear! I think that will be really good for society, because there aren’t enough hate crimes against Muslim folks in America already!

If you’ve seen Inglorious Basterds, take this moment to remember that one Nazi that Daniel Brühl plays. The sniper who killed a bunch of people in that watchtower. Remember how the Reich Minister of Nazi Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, makes a biopic about him and all the Nazis celebrate him and his accomplishments, despite the fact that he’s actually a horrible, egotistical womanizer, and a damn NAZI?

That’s actually 100% what American Sniper is. Chris Kyle was not a nice dude. Please stop celebrating him. And please stop saying that he “protected our freedoms” because straight up, killing people in a country that is 1/22 the size of ours and is half a globe away does not do shit to “protect our freedom.” Thanks.

Also, this movie was really really poorly directed. It looked like a Call of Duty sniper montage on YouTube. Except it was less fun to watch, because Chris Kyle hardscoped the whole time and didn’t even do one 360. Bradley Cooper was good, only because he’s a good actor, not because this role was written well. The nobody who played his wife was a bore. And then Jonathan Groff showed up for 2 minutes just to confuse me with his role choices, or maybe just to prove that Clint Eastwood is at least cool with gay dudes? I don’t know. It was a lame movie, is the point I’m trying to make.

Clint Eastwood, you were really really amazing. Once upon a time. That time is over. Please stop making films now, because your filmmaking ability has already peaked and it’s all downhill from here. I’d like to remember you with some fondness but you’re making it hard.

Whiplash

What a film. Wow, just thinking about this movie gets the bad taste of writing about American Sniper out of my mouth. What. A. Film. This is the kind of movie you go in to watch and you can just feel the energy and drive that went into making it. It’s love that is palpable; hell, you could stir it with a spoon. The direction is so aggressive, much like the script and the characters and the performances, and all of it  blends to make a film that just goes BAM! CRASH! POW!

Pun intended, because Whiplash is about a drummer, hohoho. And actually a really nice way to close out the cinematic year of 2k14, which was underwhelming in some parts, and overwhelming in others. In a film society that is plagued by remake after remake, sequel after sequel, it’s invigorating, inspiring, and liberating to know that there are still truly original passion projects being pursued.

Advertisements

Review: James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Untitled-1When I first heard about one of the newest Marvel enterprises, Guardians of the Galaxy, my first thought was, “well, they’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t they?”

Indeed, the film industry has been milking the comic book movie thing for a good long while now. The quality of such movies is a pretty mixed bag–sure you’ve got shining stars, the first Iron Man, The Avengers, Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight. But there’s more than enough duds as well, and overall, it’s becoming a little tiresome. Though obviously, it’s not going to end any time soon. And so I’ve resigned myself to accept these comic book films as they come, just hoping that some genuinely good pictures will come out.

And no–when shown Guardians of the Galaxy spots and trailers, the only thing positive I could really say about it was, “Well, I really love Chris Pratt.” Other than that–I’d never heard of Guardians in the first place and it really seemed like some sort of cash grabby thing.

Yet as the days got closer and closer to this August 1st release, I felt something bubbling inside me. What could it be? Hype? Impossible. Ever since The Dark Knight Rises partially left me wanting more, my hype for comic book films had pretty much died. Yet this emotion was brewing, inexplicably. Again, I’d never heard of the comic for Guardians of the Galaxy, and the trailers and posters made it look like a rather bizarre choice for a mainstream Marvel film. But I couldn’t quell the insatiable interest that was growing within me. As I watched the catchy, charming trailer… I found myself rethinking my original opinion.

Eventually it all led to yesterday. Sitting in my room in Los Angeles, looking at my almost-empty bank account, and making the executive decision to spend my last few dollars on a movie ticket for Guardians at the cineramadome. And, quite honestly, I will never regret spending those sixteen dollars plus-three-for-parking.

Guardians of the Galaxy was utterly charming, hilarious, and indeed, one of the most (dare I say it) meta superhero flicks I’ve seen. Chock full of winks and nods to the audience about the ridiculousness of the situation, it’s a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And god do I respect it for that, my main issue with Iron Man 3 was that it took itself far too seriously. But Guardians of the Galaxy knows what it is, and that’s just honest to god summer fun. Which, I think, between all the gritty reboots, is something much-needed.

The universe they create is stunning, with cinematographic moments that truly look like you’re flipping through a comic book. I haven’t really seen moments like that outside of Sin City, but Guardians catches the whole comic book feel perfectly. The title sequence alone is a wonder. The performances and chemistry are perfect. The whole gang is swell, Pratt and Saldana and Batista, with voice work from Bradley Cooper and (a very limited) Vin Diesel.

The plot line obviously sort of falls into cliches–the Five Man Band has to get the MacGuffin to Save The Entire Universe but the script regularly hangs the lampshade on this which makes the whole thing all the more enjoyable. Again, it can get meta–which is another recent trend, but one I can get behind wholeheartedly.

So, if you’re looking for your summer popcorn movie, look no further. Guardians is nothing short of never ending fun, and I shamelessly can’t wait for the sequel.

Also it’s really fun to see Chris Pratt doing flips and kicks and bad ass shit in general when you remember he’s this nerd.

And the after-credits scene is most definitely the best one in Marvel history.

 

Review: Josh Boone’s “The Fault In Our Stars”

 

ay

About nine months ago my friend Anne told me to read John Green’s book The Fault In Our Stars. I purchased a copy on a whim and while I admit I was a little late to the TFIOS train, I went through the thing in about a week. I remember that unfortunately I was in a rather public area when I finished chapter 20 and started 21 (fellow readers of the novel will understand the weight of such things) and thus was crying pretty terribly in a large room full of my peers. I remember that when I finished the novel I had to call my mom because of how badly the thing had shaken me.

Over dramatic? Perhaps. I have to say that before starting the novel I was somewhat suspicious of its effects on readers. I, indeed, have a tumblr, so I played witness to a lot of preteen and teen girls just raving about it. It made ever-cynical me slightly skeptical of the book, and I thought that it would perhaps just be some adolescent thing packed with “feels.” Not necessarily high literature.

I am glad to say that I was wrong. John Green had crafted one of the most honest stories I’d ever seen. Yes, indeed, aimed at young adults, but written intelligently too. I like John Green because even though he writes for teens, he still at least treats his readers like adults. When I went to one of his Q&A’s, he cited books like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest as one of his favorites, and though a majority of the people (young teenage girls) around me probably were not familiar with such things, he didn’t feel the need to talk down to the audience. It’s a symbiosis of knowing who you write for and still being able to be yourself, and I respect him a lot for it.

I went into reading TFIOS knowing that they were making a film but just so I was able to craft my own visualizations of the characters in my head. I fell in love with them, I shared a week and a half with them, and then they were gone. And then it was time to wait for the movie.

I think I speak for the majority of TFIOS book lovers when I say I was incredibly nervous for the adaption. The characters are astonishingly complex and I wasn’t sure that was going to translate well to the screen. The trailer alone made me cringe a little bit because I realized that out of context, the pretentious and ridiculous things Augustus Waters would say sounded like they were being played completely straight, which in the context of the novel, are not. The trailer represented something cheesy and trite when TFIOS is anything but. Fans of the book rushed to its aid but to the masses who probably just sat through the trailer at home, it was not represented well.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, the trailer gets an F. The film itself, I am happy to say, is a different story.

I went into a screening two Thursdays ago aside my friend Daniel, another TFIOS book reader, and was amused to hear that most everyone in the audience had not read the book.

“These people have no idea what they’re getting into,” I confided to Daniel, and he agreed. We were prepared for the onslaught, at least, though even so, I found myself crying just as hard at the film as I did while reading the book.

The entire theater joined me. Rounding to the beginning of the third act, the entire room was filled with sniffles and upon exiting, dampened faces were noted on every single person’s face. For some reason I counted this as a personal victory. Now these people understood the pain I was afflicted with nine months ago.

And the film did the novel, in my eyes, absolute justice. I was off put by Ansel Elgort’s performance as Augustus in the beginning but he eventually charmed me, much like my initial reaction to Gus’ character in the book. Shailene Woodley continues her habit of delivering poignant performances (her character in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants is quite different than Hazel Grace, yet she’s just as convincing) and the supporting cast backs it up even more. The technicalities are indeed far from perfect, with one too many face-framing shots but in the end this is not a movie about the direction, it’s a movie about the characters, and it sold. The perhaps overly-witty (though we wouldn’t have it any other way) dialogue gets an equal amount of laughs as the latter half of the film jerks tears, making for a well-rounded, non-manipulative feature. As opposed to the stereotypical Nicholas Sparks flick where one of the characters gets diagnosed with some tragic disease halfway through to delude the audience into thinking the movie has feelings, The Fault In Our Stars presents an honest depiction of love and sickness. There are some aspects of the book that were annulled for the sake of less screen time but the screenwriters (Scott Neustader and Michael Weber, who penned the equally heartstring-pulling (500) Days of Summer)kept the important bits and crafted a loveable screenplay, and handed it off to a loving director and a genuine cast. Again, Shailene Woodley’s performance alone makes this film worth watching. The chemistry between the two leads is absolutely staggering and again, does the book fantastic justice.

So maybe you don’t get caught up in romance stories or care to see films where you’re made to cry. But I think any person, book-reader or no, cynic or no, would be able to go into this charming, honest story and get something out of it. It’s a story that, on the outside, seems like mush, but in the end, it gets you.

An Open Letter to the Douche Who Told Me to “Shut Up” During the Midnight Premiere of Godzilla

Untitled-2

[Spoilers Ahead]

Have you ever been to the Cineramadome, sir? Have you sat in the hallowed halls of movie history and watched a spectacle unveil before your eyes? Were you there during the premiere of Anchorman 2, where the ticket tearers dressed like the legendary Ron Burgundy? Did you see The Wolf of Wall Street on it’s opening day (Christmas) and laugh yourself to tears alongside everyone else in the theater during the Lemmons scene? Have you ever sat in that theater and watched a movie with an audience and had a good time?

More related to this particular subject however: did you watch Godzilla last night? Were we in the same theater? Were you not sitting directly in front of me as we both witnessed the massive, amazing Godzilla visualize humanity’s worst fears of urban terrorism? Did you not watch a school bus full of children narrowly avoid getting destroyed by massive monsters that put Clover (but not the Kaiju–they’re still bigger) to shame? Were you not totally frightened and totally floored by the badass sound editing and fantastic production design that created one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever seen in a giant monster movie? Were you not amused at the fact that there was no real main character to follow and that nobody besides Bryan Cranston had any actual personality? Were you not shocked that Bryan Cranston himself, who was all over the ads for this film and was a main pull for a lot of the audience, dropped dead after only 40 minutes? Was your heart not pounding as you watched that puppy dog run down the street to avoid a massive tsunami? As Kick Ass/John Lennon/The Mustache Dude In Anna Karenina lied down on the train tracks, keeping as silent as possible as a radioactive-material consuming demon crept around him?

Were you too confused at the logistics of the American military when they just decided to nuke the heck out of San Francisco? Did you not laugh at the ridiculous little Godzilla jokes, like the iguana crawling around? Were you not eagerly and impatiently waiting through the first hour of the movie before they finally showed Godzilla himself in all his building-crushing glory? Were you not amused at the fact that there were two other monsters added to the mix? Furthermore, did you not clap along with the rest of the audience as Godzilla shot lightning out of it’s mouth, triggering a “woo” from me before you turned around and so sternly demanded that I “shut up?”

Is Godzilla such a serious film to you that you find that the rest of the theater must enjoy it in total apocalyptic silence, similar to the silence that lead shots of the ravaged San Francisco? Did you consider it a thinker piece? Was Godzilla your 12 Years a Slave? Did we have to examine ourselves as human beings as we watched it? Could we not perhaps say “woo” (along with everyone else in the theater) when our literal hours of waiting for Godzilla to finally kick ass paid off? Did you really find it necessary, when everyone else around you was also celebrating as Godzilla decimated the other monster, to turn around and select only me to say “Shut Up” to? Was it necessary, when there are a million more polite ways to request someone be quieter in a theater, when all of your hipster friends sitting to the right of you were being louder than me, when the entire audience is actually enjoying themselves? Was it appropriate to pick me, when I was quiet during the tense moments, during the moments of exposition, during the moments where it was necessary to be quiet? Was it truly I, sir, that truly deserved you channeling your hateful and loveless attitude towards?

Did you go into it expecting Best Picture Of The Year? Were you confused that I laughed during the ridiculous moments and said “woo” when Godzilla shot lightning out of his mouth? Did you expect everybody to take it seriously? Did we not watch the same movie, wrought with campy references and laugh-out-loud metacisms? Did you honestly expect something deep and meaningful from the remake of freaking Godzilla, one of the most beloved and ridiculous movie monsters of all time? Did you expect anything more or less than a ridiculous crowd-pleaser?

Have you ever been to a midnight premiere at all? Even outside the Cineramadome–have you ever gone to a premiere at your local Harkins or AMC? The Dark Knight? Did you gasp when The Joker took that guy out with a pencil? The Return of the King? Did you clap after Legolas single-handedly took down the oliphant? Do you understand how audiences at midnight premieres for blockbuster films function?

And an even more open rhetorical question: have you ever enjoyed a movie ever? Have you ever felt emotions? Did you cry your eyes out at Marley & Me? Did you fan out when Thor’s hammer hit Captain America’s shield in The Avengers? Did you have an existentialist crisis during The Master? Did you get heart palpitations during the last 30 minutes of Argo?

The way you turned around and very rudely demanded that I “shut up” during Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla which apparently, to you, is the most serious film endeavor of all time, makes me think no, you don’t understand emotions or joy. I truly hope you do, someday, not just for your own sake, but also for your ugly girlfriend’s sake and for your hipster friends’ sake. Otherwise, enjoy dying angry, bitter, and alone.

 

Review: The Russo Brothers’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Untitled-1
Marvel films, for me, have always been teetering on the edge of lackluster. Occasionally they’d even dip into regions of being genuinely annoying; the first Captain America was stale, Thor was underwhelming, the first Iron Man was great but the franchise quickly fell apart with its consecutive sequels. There was a beacon of hope with The Avengers, though the main issue with Marvel for me is that their films rarely seem to take themselves seriously. That certainly showed with Avengers, which just barely breached the amount of too many gags. No–I’m not looking for every superhero film to go all Dark Knight (because bad things happen when you try to make non-gritty superheroes gritty), but I’ve always longed for superhero movies to not be too campy. Somewhere there has to be a happy medium between fun action, amusing quips, and solemn plots. Somewhere.Who would have thought that the liberation would come from Captain America. I never was a big fan of Steve Rogers, he was nowhere near close to my favorite superhero. I always found him quite bland, too clean-cut and again, I really did not care for the first Captain America film. However, The Winter Soldier has turned all of that around for me.Maybe it’s an overstatement to say it’s my favorite Marvel film but honestly, when I get to thinking about it, it easily was. The characterization was great, the plot made sense, the plot holes were minimal to none, and the movie actually made me feel. Emotions! Yes, ladies and gentleman, the first summer blockbuster of the year, number one at the box office since it’s release, CGI-fest of caped crusaders ACTUALLY MADE ME FEEL THINGS. Like a real movie! I felt for the characters! I was worried and cared about them! This is Captain Fucking America we’re talking about! What a world!

Yeah there were the issues that every film like this is bound to have–just a little too action heavy and a couple moments in the middle that dragged with a plot hole here and there, but overall it was a fast-paced ride that kept my attention. Somehow it found a genuine symbiosis between that campy superhero-ness and almost Jason Bourne-esque twists and turns. The action was interesting (the car chase was a thrill to watch) and the moments of solace were vulnerable and meaningful. This movie worked. And god, is that a relief. The performances were even good and never did I feel like I got a “phoning it in” vibe–not even from the illustrious Robert Redford (who for half of the movie I didn’t even realize was Robert Redford). Sebastian Stan makes a stellar performance in particular, and I hope he continues on that path with the rest of his 9-film deal with Marvel.

I’d like future superhero films to take some notes from Winter Soldier. The fact that you don’t need to revamp a superhero to make him brooding and dark. The fact that you don’t need to shoehorn in some absolutely pointless love story. The fact that yeah, you can throw in some classic campy superhero silliness (i.e. “I’m going to kill you so I might as well tell you my entire plan” or, actually, just that whole scene in the bunker with the villain’s brain run on computers from the 60’s) but still take the movie seriously enough so that you can create genuine tension and emotional stakes. The fact that even if you market it for children, the movie doesn’t have to just run on gags. Furthermore, Winter Soldier is a great standalone film–you don’t need to bother with the first Cap or the Avengers in order to enjoy it.

It still blows my mind that this sort of character depth came from a Captain America movie, though I embrace it wholeheartedly. I’ve even started reading Captain America comic books–that’s how much this movie got out of me. It’s a great movie, accessible and fun to watch, but still takes itself seriously enough to be a real movie. And in this day and age where we’re used to directors talking down to their audiences and stuffing their blockbusters with mass chaos and shiny explosions, it is an anomoly indeed.

Review: John Krokidas’s “Kill Your Darlings”

As a noted fan of the beat-era poets, I was phenomenally excited when I first heard word of Kill Your Darlings. Anything about Ginsberg or Kerouac and I will most certainly be there. Furthermore, when I discovered that the ever-infamous Daniel Radcliffe would be playing Allen Ginsberg I was more excited. It was an interesting casting choice. Having seen other adaptions of Ginsberg (notably James Franco in the film Howlit was going to be fascinating to see how Radcliffe would expunge the vision I had in my mind of Ginsy and interpret the eccentric poet himself. Furthermore, upon discovering that the film would be depicting the enigmatic Pre-Howl Ginsberg, my excitement grew and grew.

Radcliffe delivered with force, representing an awkward, teenaged Allen who was yet to come into himself, and his performance, along with the fascinating script was captivating.

Indeed, the script itself was a marvel, and it was easy to tell that a lot of passion went into this project. Everyone involved was enthralled in the work they were doing and it shows, from the shots to the performances to the way the characters were written. It was enjoyable to watch with an intriguing as well: I had no previous knowledge of the events depicted in the films (surprisingly enough) and thus was fascinated by the retelling. The coming of age themes paired with the electirc poetry of the script and the murderous plot melded together in an edgy yet incredibly sincere form.

Perhaps the true star of the film, however, was not Radcliffe’s Ginsberg, but rather, the entirely romantic and feverishly disturbed Lucien Carr, played by up-and-comer Dane DeHaan. I was already swept with Dane from witnessing his prior feats: his tragic depictions of the ADHD-ridden Jesse in HBO’s acclaimed series In Treatment, Andrew in the edgy, superhero-sleeper Chronicle, or more recently Jason in notoriously-gritty Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines. DeHaan seems the type to fall into typecast territory of angsty adolescent, and while Lucien doesn’t do much to quell that, the role is flipped on its head by the fact that Carr is incredibly skilled at getting people to fall at his feet. And DeHaan does so without fail, bearing an intense portrayal of the poet-turned-killer that draws a love-hate response from the audience. His performance was, in a word, incendiary.

The supporting cast were magnificent as well, including Michael C. Hall as the predatory-yet-mournful David Kammerer, Ben Foster as the ever-odd Burroughs and Jack Huston as our lovely Kerouac, and again, it was easy to tell that everybody involved in the project was fully committed to what they did. With such a small budget and a brief shooting schedule (the entire film was shot over just 24 days), I figure it was hard not to be.

Despite the film’s quandaries in that it seems to break structure here and there, Kill Your Darlings was a persuasive tale. To any lover of the beat generation, it provides fascinating insight to the writers so loved and to those less familiar, is a gripping and mysterious introduction. The loving script and the dedicated performances make it shine.

Guest Review: Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive”

[By Ott Lindstrom]

Drive is…

Well.

Drive is a 2011 arthouse crime movie, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. It stars Ryan Gosling, Ryan Gosling’s sweet-ass scorpion jacket, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and a whole lot of fake gore. The story revolves around the unnamed Ryan Gosling character, a stunt driver by day/getaway driver by night who befriends and ultimately falls in love with his neighbor Irene, whose husband is in prison. One thing leads to another and the unnamed driver ends up on the run from a bunch of pissed-off gangsters with a million dirty dollars in his possession. Refn won the Best Director award at the Cannes festival and the film was nominated for a number of B-tier honors, while being notably snubbed at the Oscars. Drive grossed over 77 million dollars at the worldwide box office on a 13 million budget, for a modest profit of $64 million. Drive clocks in at 100 minutes and is availablah blah blah blah.

It’s a movie, capiche? It was shot on a movie camera and it was shown in theaters. You can watch it on Netflix, torrent it off Pirate Bay and buy it on DVD and BluRay on Amazon if you feel so inclined.

But to simply characterize Drive as a film would be unfair, if not downright doing it a disservice; Drive is just as much an art installment as a movie, a medium-transcending feast of color and sound. The variety is simply flabbergasting: from the harrowing opening scene dripping with shadow and tension to the sundrenched ethereality of a joyride down the Los Angeles spillway, Refn jumps between a cadre of moods and styles with the dexterity of a circus juggler. Every frame is executed with more aesthetic care and craftsmanship than most films can muster in their entire runtimes. The music is equally superb, an eclectic mix of deep, grimy synths and eerie vocals. Somewhat unfortunately, the musical highlight of the film comes rather early on, where the contrast of the Driver’s ascetic apartment and a neighbor’s party is accompanied by a poppy dance number, which worms its way in and out of being diegetic as the camera hops between the two rooms. It’s a fun trick, one that is sadly never topped.

However, Drive’s art gallery veneer and acoustic expertise belies that, at its core, Driveis also a video game. Certainly, it’s the most scripted and the least interactive one since Heavy Rain, but apart from the lack of quick time events and obnoxious ads for DLC and microtransactions, Drive is a perfect embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the current gaming paradigm. It is an adolescent power fantasy spiced up with visual flourish and excellent packaging, brimming with brutality for the sake of brutality (and, in one notable scene, breasts for the sake of breasts). It tells a rote crime story, its simple twists telegraphed miles away, populated by two-dimensional mannequins, vacuous husks with the masks of pretty actors grafted across the voids within. Nowhere is this inherent emptiness more apparent than when the lazy camera focuses on the Driver himself. A monosyllabic murder machine, the Driver’s binary smirk-to-straight range of facial expressions makes the internet’s memetic stereotype of Kristen Stewart look downright expressive. It’s telling of how limited Gosling’s portrayal is that the movie would have lost very little if the rubber mask the Driver dons as part of his stunt driver ensemble in the first ten minutes had remained in place for the remaining hour and a half. But it’s not just Gosling; with the exception of Albert Brook’s viciously energetic Bernie, the other characters are little better; Bryan Cranston is crotchety, gruff and not much else, Ron Perlman stands around and says “fuck” a lot, and Carey Mulligan spends a good 70% of her screen time staring silently, tearfully into the middle distance.

But here’s the weird thing: this universal shallowness works. When all the simplistic elements are working together, when the soundtrack is pounding a decadent beat and the lights and the shadows are tearing into each other like rabid beasts, Drive is a visual symphony, a dreamy exercise in art house experimentation acted out by soulless, blood spattered automatons. Logically, the whole thing should fall apart, but it doesn’t. It should collapse under its own pretension and weirdness, but it doesn’t…it’s just all the stronger for it.

Drive is truly something to behold.

*/5 “Defies a numeric summary”

Available on Netflix Instant Streaming

Review: Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave”

There’s something to be said for our society when, upon viewing a trailer for a film that deals with the topic of slavery in the United States, it is immediately dismissed as “Oscar Bait.” I myself am no stranger to jumping to that particular conclusion (sometimes faster than I thought possible). It is something that comes almost naturally. In fact, a lot of period pieces in general, of any kind, tend to bring about this response in audiences. And, upon watching the film, do not do anything to quell said response. War Films, Biopics, et cetera, all share an emotionally-stirring idiosyncrasy that just seems to scream “well that director wants an award.” In a way it has almost trivialized the events that they are covering. That is not to say that these types of films are bad films, because they aren’t—more often than not they are without a doubt what anyoone would consider a Good Film, but in such a by-the-book way that it can almost reduce the film going experience entirely. Something too wrought with swelling scores and emotive speeches breaches cliché territory, indeed, breaches “Oscar Bait” territory, and quickly. It is—and I say this only for hyperbolic purposes—almost a little insulting that studios can produce these almost manipulative and sometimes seemingly passionless films in search of a buck or perhaps an award for the mantle.

However, there are times when a period piece film comes along that makes me realize that those kinds of films do not always fall into Oscar Bait territory. Take, for example, Steve McQueen’s recent monument, 12 Years a Slave.

I wasn’t familiar with the book the film was based off, but I knew more or less what to expect with the subject matter, considering the title. However, I knew not to expect the run of the mill Civil-War-era period piece from Steve McQueen, who had demonstrated his incredibly poignant and subtle direction through his past works (Shame and Hunger), and thus I was pretty excited for the film beforehand. Taking into account the cast too, I  had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be just “another one of those.” And, lo and behold, it gloriously wasn’t.

In fact, 12 Years A Slave is potentially one of the most fulfilling, endearing, and painful films in this particular genre to watch. I say painful not in that it is bad, because it certainly is not, but in that it is agonizingly realistic. And beautifully so–disturbingly long sequences depicting the mistreatment of humans in pre-13th Amendment days so gloriously shot by McQueen’s visionary eye stirs the viewer in the most honest of ways. The performances in the film are standout, specifically in the newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who is for sure due for an award or two this season. She is electric, and the same can be said for the rest of the cast; Michael Fassbender, a McQueen favorite, shakes the screen with a terrifying portrayal of cognitive dissonance. And of course there is the star of the show, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who truly comes into his own, with longing expressions lighting up the screen every moment. Everyone else, from Benedict Cumberbatch who is very rapidly climbing his way to the top of the A List, to the classic Paul Dano, really put on their war faces for this film, and it shows. It is a perfect storm of cinematography and performance.

In sum, 12 Years A Slave, though with a mere glance at the title seems to be Oscar Bait, is most certainly not: it is honest, it is heart-throbbing, it is both a pain and a joy to watch, and it is a capital-c Classic. If no other antebellum-era picture, all must at least witness this.

Guest Review: Michael Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Untitled-1

[By Ott Lindstrom]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s prologue is, at first glance, the set up for an uninspired romantic comedy: against the backdrop of a frigid New York Valentine’s Day, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet spend seventeen minutes make puppy eyes at each other, exchange playful dialogue and do their very best to be adorkable. Out of context, it’s a damning first impression, coming across as a sort of twee understated indie thing where copious amounts of mumbling and awkwardness attempt to stand in for actual wit or humor. Then the seventeen minutes is over and the mood changes with the brutal swiftness of a bullet to the head as the titles drop, accompanied by a shot of Jim Carrey sobbing alone in a dark car.

There is something oddly compelling about watching Jim Carrey cry, a morbid satisfaction akin to sticking a thumbtack into a child’s balloon or popping the head off a dandelion. When the man’s famous rubbery visage, so adept at pulling off wacky expressions in accompaniment to funny noises, is scrunched into a tear drenched cascade of wrinkles, you can’t help but be enthralled. So it is with many aspects of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michael Gondry’s examination of failed romance wearing the guise of a low concept science fiction film. This is not a “feel good” movie by any means; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is to romantic comedies what Spec Ops: The Line is to modern shooter video games, an assumption-manipulating, cliché-eviscerating exercise in subversion and indictment that still manages to engage and fulfill despite its many layers of grim cynicism.

The majority of this engagement is embodied in Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Both actors are in top form here, as ex-lovers Joel and Clementine who opt to undergo a procedure to erase all their memories of their relationship. Carrey is marvelously low key, turning in a quiet and nuanced performance at odds to his usual over-the-top comedic shenanigans. If it weren’t for the few rough patches where Carrey’s broad comic chops are given the opportunity to manifest (mostly in the form of almost cringe-worthy tone-breaking displays of facial muscle acrobatics), one could nearly be convinced he had been dealing in empathetic, dramatic roles his entire career. Sadly, it is perhaps this abstracted triumph of Carrey’s acting that is the biggest tragedy in a film full of heartbreaks: it is closing in on a decade since the film’s debut and Mr. Carrey hasn’t set foot near any project with even a fraction of Eternal Sunshine’s depth since.

Kate Winslet is equally great as Clementine, a brilliantly constructed corruption of the manic pixie dream girl romantic archetype. To paraphrase her catchphrase, Clem is a very fucked-up girl, whose litany of eccentricities comes off as more sad and petulant than endearing. The brash impulsiveness Winslet brings to the role is a perfect foil to Carrey’s quiet uncertainty. While their romantic chemistry feels a touch lacking (as it should, considering the context), the interplay between the two is nevertheless extraordinarily pleasurable to watch.

The background cast, while solid, feels more like a collective means to an end than an actual roster of fleshed out characters. Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood provide flashes of comic relief (far more seamlessly than Carrey does) and Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson provide a moderately interesting subplot that channels into the main twist of the third act. The actors are all good at what they are doing, but many of them feel one note and they are all completely overshadowed by the main duo.

Gondry’s directing and Charlie Kaufman’s writing are all but impeccable. Apart from the clunky way in which the script brings Joel and Clementine back together at the end of the film and the supremely awkward way in which the title’s source quote is worked in, Eternal Sunshine is fantastically constructed and presented, taking joy in toying with the viewers’ preconceived notions and slamming them in the face with jarring juxtaposition. The sci-fi aspects of the movie are nicely minimalistic, with no bloated technobabble to bog down the excellent dialogue (this is one of the most eminently quotable films I have seen in a good long while). The nonlinearity that stems from the science fiction elements is easy to grasp and follow, managing to be clever without confusing. The special effects, few and far between, are pleasant in their subtlety; an image of Joel’s storybook childhood home transforming into a bleak, tumbledown wraith as his memory is scrubbed is beautiful and melancholy.

And that is the best way to describe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: a beautiful melancholy. By the time the film has come to its inexorable conclusion, there isn’t a scrap of hope left for the characters, only the putrescent stench of dead love lying thick over the chilly streets of a New York February. And yet, despite the frustrating futility of Joel and Clem’s love life, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is still extraordinarily satisfying; the creativity and craft of the creators and the talent of the leads is more than enough to justify letting a little heartbreak into your life.

4.5/5 “You should probably check this out. Now.”

Available on Netflix Instant Streaming