A great piece of R-rated escapist glee, Kingsman: The Secret Service… MoreA great piece of R-rated escapist glee, Kingsman: The Secret Service exceeds my expectations and is far better than it needed to be. It largely channels and pays homage to the Roger Moore era of Bond movies in the same way how Austin Powers satirized late era Sean Connery Bond films. But in lieu of sex jokes and quotable humor, Kingsman delivers non-stop blood, gore, and F-bombs. The showstopper is Colin Firth as a gentleman spy/Obi-Wan Kenobi figure and he seems to genuinely enjoy himself in this distinct change of pace from his usual roles. Samuel L. Jackson gives some awkward laughs here and there and Taron Egerton might have a future with this franchise. As an action movie Kingsman fails, but as a dark comedy it brings the house down and that may have been the intention. The exception to this is the infamous church scene which will burn itself into the minds of its audience for years to come. (Said scene has the best cinematic usage of Skynyrd's Free Bird ever.) Much like Kick Ass it can be quite clever, until the third act when it essentially becomes the thing it's poking fun of. Overall, a welcome popcorn movie to enjoy when not much else seems appealing.
Sigh. I was so ready to love this one. As it is, A Most Violent Year… MoreSigh. I was so ready to love this one. As it is, A Most Violent Year is a solid small-scale crime drama more along the lines of Killing Them Softly than the Scorsese-esque show stopper the trailer promised. Violent Year makes vague commentary about the American Dream through its protagonist underplayed by Oscar Isaac and his adamant refusal to believe that through his illegal business practices, forced circumstances, and shady connections he is slowly becoming a powerful criminal. (He has much in common with Niko Bellic from GTA IV, though he lacks his Terminator-esque killing prowess.) The best scenes are between Isaac and the always great Jessica Chastain. You've got to admire competent no bullshit acting when you can get it. Few, if any of the other characters make much of an impression. The film suffers more than it should from a glacial pace. And this is coming from a person who enjoys slow films. This movie is VERY slow. While I have to admire how it maintains a limited focus and is content with a very limited arc for our characters, it damages the impact it might have had. On the plus side A Most Violent Year does give you a feel for crime-ridden 1981 New York and there is an impressively filmed, restrained chase scene that came almost out of nowhere and managed to have consequence on the plot. So while it is beautifully shot and well-acted it fails to be (at least for me) enjoyable or memorable. It's worth renting or downloading and breaking it up into a couple of sessions.
Unsung and underappreciated, Cake is the most tolerable thing Jennifer… MoreUnsung and underappreciated, Cake is the most tolerable thing Jennifer Aniston has headlined since...god knows when. Aniston both entertains and horrifies as the recovering victim of a terrible accident, of which we slowly learn the details. She's moody, vulgar, funny, hateful, and takes enough painkillers to sedate a hospital ward. The back and forth between her and her long suffering nurse (Adriana Barraza) is the heart of the movie, and said costar actually steals much of the film without intending to do so. I'd be remiss not to mention Anna Kendrick as a cruel, spectral visitor who both torments our protagonist and acts as a strange Greek chorus. Cake's plot may not be the most original, and it does tend to meander for several stretches. But it deserves credit for rarely dipping into the syrupy sentimentality that many pics in this genre succumb to. It only bothers to tie the shoes of its protagonist in the most subtle of ways. In fact this film goes to some dark places (suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism) and tends to stay there for uncomfortable periods of time. It's an emotional film, without much of the melodrama to accompany it. Compare it to Wild, where its female heroine reaches a full catharsis over a long journey. Here, Aniston succeeds only in subsisting and avoiding suicide. The arc is less extreme and lacks the warm gratification most audiences want. Thus it was completely doomed for this award season. But I will say this - I would take it over The Theory of Everything or similar awards season shlock any day.
Charming and inventive, The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably Wes… MoreCharming and inventive, The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably Wes Anderson's most entertaining movie in addition to being his most successful. True, The Royal Tenenbaums may be his best, and The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom may be deeper, but this thing is so damn fun and visually resplendent you can't pass it up. The star of the show is Ralph Fiennes who shines as a sophisticated but incredibly crass hotel concierge. One moment he may be giving our young protagonist insight into business and high culture. The next he's dropping F-bombs, getting into fights, and having sex with rich, old women. Said protagonist (Tony Revolori) plays this film's equivalent of a straight man and acts as a clever foil to Fiennes, grounding the hilarity a bit. Honorable mentions to Jude Law for some interesting narration and Willem Dafoe's creepy, murderous, Terminator-esque hitman. Throw in a great soundtrack, superb art direction, and amazing set design and you have the funnest Best Picture nominee for 2014. If you haven't seen it, you need to fix that. NOW.