Monthly Archives: February, 2015

Podcast: 2/25/15 Episode #4 – Oscar Round-Up, Two Movie Reviews, Plus DVD Releases and Box-Office Talk

podcast

Today I ramble about some of the stupid nonsense on the Oscar telecast and the winners/losers before reviewing two movies, Nightcrawler and The Theory of Everything, both of which I reviewed and can be read here and here. My brain was clearly up my butt so forgive my forgetfulness and general lazy sound at times during this episode. I’ll pick it up next week. Enjoy!

Review: THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014)

If you’re looking for a film about Stephen Hawking that deals a little more heavily with science and math then you should probably watch a documentary on the man.  This film is concerned with the life and romantic struggles of the famed astrophysicist and churns out an interesting if not semi-vanilla biopic that is anchored by a great physical performance by Eddie Redmayne.

The heartbeat of the film

The heartbeat of the film

The most interesting aspect of the film is definitely the physical transformation of the character as he gradually succumbs to ALS and the toll it takes on his life with his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). I think the film is better served because it is based on the book written by Jane Hawking instead of an outside biographer.  In this story we see imperfect people who deal with an immensely difficult situation the best they can, but we learn that a brilliant mind and a headstrong, intelligent woman can only handle so much. The film does a wonderful job of showing that being stricken with an ailment affects more than just the infected person, it spreads a wider circle of influence.

The main issue I could point to is a lack of a compelling conflict. The world knows that Stephen Hawking has ALS and is still alive, so the disease poses no life threat in the film. We also know that he became a world renowned astrophysicist and is considered one of the greatest minds of our lifetime, so there is no tension in his scientific endeavors. And if you’ve read even the synopsis you know that his marriage to Jane does not last, so there’s no question as to whether their marriage will survive the incidents in the film. In this aspect it would be a story better suited to a documentary.

That does not mean that there is an emotional divide between the film and the audience, quite the contrary. What is compelling in this narrative are the trials of Jane and the emotional state of Stephen as they deal with his physical decay and learn to cope with various medical instruments and unique inventions. As the film progresses you begin to feel the charm of these two characters and the sadness they both feel despite Stephen’s professional success, of which he owes much to Jane and her tireless help. There is a connection you can feel and it is sad to witness their professional and romantic trajectories diverge over time.

There is a way of telling a story where the conclusion is foregone and somehow it is still compelling, but it is a rare feat. I think this film toes the line of accomplishing that but falls a little short.  It is a nicely written, if not a little predictable in the way situations are set-up, and a beautifully photographed film featuring a great leading performance and a good female protagonist. And maybe that is all this film could be, especially considering the subject and the material available on him. While the film fails to attain the greatness of its subject, there is nothing wrong with hanging your hat on those positive attributes.

Review: NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

Welcome to the new American dream! It can be said that Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is to the 2010’s what Mary Harron’s American Psycho was to the 1980’s. In fact, it’s kind of a shame that title was previously taken as this film could easily have carried it.

Nightcrawler-red-band-trailer

This film begins and ends on the shoulders of Jake Gyllenhaal and he carries it with an unrelenting seriousness that is at first endearing and humorous, but finishes as something completely different. Gyllenhaal’s character, Lou Bloom, is the perfect embodiment of what the American dream has evolved into: get your shot no matter the cost. To a world that is infatuated with the grotesque underbelly of American society (I’m looking at you, reality TV viewers) this movie is like a mirror. We watch the deplorable behavior of the sociopathic lead character and recoil in its weirdness and disturbing lack of conscience without realizing that we gleefully devour the kind of footage he schemes to get and thus we are the reason the footage has so much value. If people didn’t watch the type of videos Lou Bloom films there wouldn’t be a market for it. Plain and simple.

There’s a line in the film when Lou’s sidekick, Rick (played by Riz Ahmed), has had enough of his behavior and tells him “You don’t understand people”. Lou takes this admonishing without comment. Later in the film, Lou eventually fires back “What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” In watching him manipulate people scene after scene we learn that Lou understands people quite well, better than most people, and in all honestly he hates that he needs them. He uses Rick as well as the TV news director, Nina (Rene Russo), to get ahead in his business.  From the outset Lou has a business plan, he simply doesn’t have a business.  But when he finds out he has a knack for manipulating both people and the reality in front of his camera, he goes all-in and his success steadily increases.

What is also interesting is the character of Nina. She is not so different from Lou, though she lacks his manipulative ability. Knowing full well that what Lou has filmed has broken moral and legal codes does not stop her from airing it, and therefore she feeds into his behavior as much as the rest of us. Nina is, essentially, a proxy for the public’s viewing appetite. Her mantra about the news is to think of it as “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”. That’s what sells because that’s what people will watch, and both of these characters understand this. Russo is really great in this part.

This film is very dark and not likely for everyone, though I found many moments encased in black humor. It’s beautifully shot and the score is great with some tremendously thrilling music underscoring some of the more active scenes, including car chases and such. Gyllenhaal was robbed of an Oscar nomination for sure as Lou Bloom is quite an exquisite creation, though at times he’s a bit one-note. As a driven, ambitious character he’s right up there with the most insidious, sociopathic characters ever put on film. I found myself both disgusted and rooting for him at various times throughout the film, which is definitely a testament to the character and the writing of Dan Gilroy.

Podcast: 2/17/15 Talking 50 Shades of Grey, Oscars, Spider-Man, Plus Movie Reviews

podcast

I was off last week (too busy) so this week I tried to gather up all the nonsense from this week and last and give a few thoughts on each. I talk about 50 Shades of Grey, the Sony/Marvel deal with Spider-Man, Jon Stewart, and get into a couple movie reviews that I wrote about here and here.

Also, I mention a satirical post a feminist writer put up on her site during my discussion of 50 Shades of Grey, which can be found here. I highly recommend it. Enjoy!

Review: THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (2014)

I feel like I only write about films I enjoy for whatever reason, so today I’m going to write a review for a film I did not particularly enjoy. Sadly, that film is This Is Where I Leave You.

The happy family

The happy family

Briefly: the family patriarch dies and the troubled, emotionally scattered offspring must return home, sit Shiva (mourn/hang-out for 7 days) and bicker and discover themselves before we get the emotional hugs at the end of the movie. Done and done.

Ok, now that the entirety of the film has been laid out I can break down what doesn’t work in this thing. Well, let’s start with what does work: Adam Driver and Rose Byrne (kinda). No offense to Jason Bateman (and I love him) but he continues to do the Michael-Bluth-everyone-is-crazy-embarrassed-reaction bit that got him back on the map in the first place. He’s been reduced to a one-trick pony these days, and he still does the shtick well, but it’s getting tired for me. I hope he does something different soon, because he has to be getting bored. Maybe not so bored cashing these movie checks, but I digress.

Adam Driver plays the youngest sibling (the immature screw-up) who brings home his much older therapist to show-off, much to the catty chagrin of the rest of the family.  He has the perfect charisma (you could argue he has the only charismatic performance in the entire film) to drag this film out of boring, melodramatic cliche land from time to time. Rose Byrne displays a similar sense of charisma and is also a breath of fresh air whenever she appears, but sadly she is reduced to a puzzle-piece in Bateman’s arc by the end of the film. She could have been her own movie or had her own subplot and it would have elevated the movie about the dregs.

Tina Fey, Timothy Olyphant, Jane Fonda, and Connie Britton round out the rest of the notable cast who are reduced to footnotes and paper-thin versions of real human beings.

As per usual, everyone in the film has a bad history and bears a grudge of some sort (lost love, guilt/grief, former lovers, maternal issues, etc) that is used to create comedy in the first act and then devolves into string-thin conflicts as the film continues, ending with resolution and emotional catharsis in the form of happy music and hugs. If you’ve seen movies where characters spout out completely unnatural dialogue as they describe their feelings and discover themselves with somber music in the background, then stretch out your eyeballs now, because you will be doing some heavy eye-rolling.

Hmmm....this scene looks familiar.

Hmmm….this scene looks familiar.

The main issue with this film is everything about has been done before and every narrative beat is expected. It’s not a terrible version of a film you’ve already seen, it’s just the same thing as most every other family dramedy. If you’ve never seen a film like this you’d probably enjoy it, but if you have then you’ll be able to write each scene before you see it. So take that for whatever you’d like.

Ahhhhh….it feels good to write negatively. What does that say about me? Maybe I’ll have to do more of this. Stay tuned…

Review: JOHN WICK (2014)

I grew up in an era that was regaled with the machismo action productions of the likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Van-Damme, Snipes, and Reeves….wait, what?!  Point Break, Speed, Johnny Mnemonic all have varying levels competent film-making (the latter has the least) but they were all works of action film-making starring the original “Ted”,  Keanu Reeves.  The argument could be made that he represents the passive action hero who is not the muscle-bulging, one-liner spouting, running-from-an-explosion-while-screaming action hero that we grew accustomed to in the 80’s and 90’s. Keanu generally plays the hero who gets dragged along by more assertive and intelligent character(s) (The Matrix, Speed, Point Break) and therefore was rarely viewed as an action star.  He plays the dumbfounded-yet-surprisingly-capable guy with a certain aplomb and that look on his face has served him well.  He was a symbol of the newer age action hero, getting involved with extreme sports and computer hackers while still wielding his 9mm.

Check out that superb lighting.

Check out that superb lighting.

And now, he’s gone old school. While not throwback to the muscle-bound action films of yore, John Wick is a blending of old and new action.  You can blame the Taken series for the birth of the “man-with-a-certain-set-of-skills” movie craze that we’re being subjected to on a monthly basis now.  But where that series falls short with its attempts at poor storytelling and terrible monologues that have become Liam Neeson staples, John Wick side-steps this and succeeds at being what it knows it is: slick and straightforward action. Keanu is cast perfectly in the title role of a man with a certain set of skills who seeks revenge for a wrong done to him. The reason for the revenge plot is unimportant, as they never matter in these movies, but animal lovers may sympathize with our hero more than usual.  This movie has all the old school elements: a retired assassin, Russian villains, gun-play, hand-to-hand combat, the hero-gets-caught-and-needs-help-to-get-out trope, and eventually a final stand-off.  Check all the boxes off.

I think what’s most enjoyable about this movie is it’s insistence on being simple. A man gets wronged and he seeks revenge for that. Aside from a few monologues about who John Wick is and why it was a bad idea to upset him, we are not treated to stupid dialogue and over-bloated narrative nonsense about the evil-doings of the bad guys and how they want to take over the world and blah blah blah. Enjoy the ride.

P.S. It’s worth noting the color palette and lighting in this movie is fantastic, just look at that image above. The mood is appropriately dark and the additional colors only add to the coolness of the action.

Oh, Glory Days: More Trailers!

It doesn’t get much better than watching advertisements for movies months and months in advance. Because how they are shown in these clips is ALWAYS identical to how they are in their full form.  Good times.

With the Super Bowl all wrapped up, we got to see a slew of new trailers in the last week. Here they are:

Poltergeist (2015)

Magic Mike XXL

Jurassic World

Furious 7

Podcast: 2/5/15

Today I ramble on about trailers and the basic lack of movie news in the last week. I do have a couple of short reviews of two films I watched in the last week, Rudderless and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Hope you enjoy!