Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan are charismatic in this… MoreAnna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan are charismatic in this split-timeline, two-hander musical, but the very conceit of her story going backwards and his forwards just doesn't quite work, like how it doesn't quite work on stage either. There's no one to really REACT to in any given scene (until the midpoint proposal of "The Next Ten Minutes"), and the movie seemed to know that going in, so of course, instead of the partner just sitting with his/her back to the audience, there are superfluous "reaction" shots with the partner "reacting" moonily or exasperatedly, and the script doesn't allow for more ad libbing of spoken dialogue, nor does the editing cover up the less than inspired takes.
There are lots of big emotions in each of the songs, which is a blessing and a curse. The constant His Story/Her Storying doesn't allow the audience to latch onto an emotional arc. Furthermore, Jaime ogling other women literally ten minutes after getting married, sleeping with a bevy of random hotties while the Cathy's away, and ultimately leaving her with a piddling Dear John letter, are somewhat heavy-handed and unrealistic plot points, despite this musical being based on Jason Robert Brown's own past relationship.
Kendrick is catatonically melancholic at the beginning and a triple-threat darling in Cathy's send-up of the grueling showbiz audition circuit, "Climbing Uphill," but ultimately, the movie lacks true pathos.
This small-town epic seems like an Oscar-bait movie, but I'm surprised… MoreThis small-town epic seems like an Oscar-bait movie, but I'm surprised it hardly caught any fish. Robert Duvall plays a venerated, hard-nosed judge who is suspected of a hit-and-run of an ex-criminal whom he put behind bars decades ago, and RDJ plays the estranged son who long ago lost respect for his father but now must put that aside to showboat-lawyer away this charge. Both turn in layered and affecting performances.
It's a long-ass movie, but the family's dramatic backstory is worth the wait. Vincent D'Onofrio plays the same put-upon older brother he played in "The Break-Up," but it works, and Jeremy Strong as the mildly retarded younger brother is an endearing supporting character that provides all the others a piece of sugar in their darkest moments.
I may not be into Kenneth Branagh as an actor, but his directorial… MoreI may not be into Kenneth Branagh as an actor, but his directorial efforts have been remarkably solid. This live-action "Cinderella" is magical in revealing the backstory of her blissful childhood to how she became a slave in her own house, much like how a frog doesn't know it's being boiled until it's too late.
Lily James's optimistic grace and breathless exhilaration are adorable, and Richard Madden as the prince is humorous, dashing, and poignant. Cate Blanchett is a decadent villain, of course, but her reasons for quashing Cinderella are left vague and unspoken. I wonder why the movie didn't end with Cinderella granting her stepfamily shelter in the castle. It's kind of an easy booya to say "I forgive you" when she knows she's leaving them in the dust.
Phillip Alford and Mary Badham are riveting child actors as Jem and… MorePhillip Alford and Mary Badham are riveting child actors as Jem and Scout, the na´fs at the center of this somewhat convoluted morality tale. The movie suffers from some old-fashioned weirdnesses like the canned suspense of the shadow creeping towards the children when obviously, the figure casting the shadow (Boo) would be completely visible to them; the canned suspense of when Scout accidentally rolls into the Radleys' yard and Jem and Dill embark on a needlessly elongated rescue attempt with Jem running up to slam the Radleys' front door for no apparent reason; the canned suspense of Boo hiding behind Jem's bedroom door and no one figuring out that he was the one who rescued the kids. So what I'm saying is, there's a lot of hokey canned suspense.
The themes of coming-of-age, fatherhood, goodness, tact, humility, fighting against injustice in the face of futility, as espoused by the novel and film are still beautiful, and the entire court sequence with Brock Peters' plaintive testimony, Gregory Peck's masterful closing argument, and Reverend Sykes chastising Scout to stand as her father passes and the entire black congregation rising, are just indelible moments in our cinematic history.
It wasn't terrible. I had read the first couple pages of the book and… MoreIt wasn't terrible. I had read the first couple pages of the book and found the writing to be insufferable, but I also fully expected the screenplay to iron out the kinks (heh) like with the "Twilight" movies, which had better material to work with in comparison. Anastasia is still a little unnecessarily inept and vapid at first and Dakota Johnson oversells her mousiness, but she proves herself a subtle comedienne in the hardware store and drunken voicemail scenes.
Jamie Dornan is sufficiently sexy and tortured and predatory, but the script is careful to make sure Ana's free will is at the forefront of every decision, though some may argue it's the illusion of freedom because she's so inexperienced and he's so persistent. Even so, that doesn't make her decisions any less her own, nor his lust any less an earnest desire for connection in the only depraved way he knows how. It's a problematic relationship dynamic, to be sure, and there's really only one Harlequin fantasy way to end it, but so far, the representation seems unmannered and unfettered (heh).
I have problems with the no-gray-area notions of excellence that the… MoreI have problems with the no-gray-area notions of excellence that the movie seems to espouse, but I can't deny the visceral power of Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons's master and slave tango. In fact, one of my problems is that Teller didn't get any Best Actor nods for his utterly grotesque, quietly smoldering intensity as a self-torturing artist while Simmons swept the Best Supporting category just for, I suspect, the flashier role. Simmons's acceptance speeches were all class acts, but I found the character to be a flat stereotype of the tyrannical maestro with obvious "pieces of sugar," begetting an average performance with only a handful of notes - well-conducted notes in terms of literal conducting form - but still only a handful nonetheless.
It's unclear whether Terence Fletcher is a revenge-driven bully or a no-nonsense educator who truly believes in his prodigies and elicits the best out of them. It's too easy to say he can be both. He never seems to doubt his extreme methods, covering up his former prodigy's suicide as a car accident and mourning more for the loss of beautiful music than regret at pushing a student to his death. Fletcher starts off as the kind of unsentimental idealist that makes for an interesting character, but the revenge plot is too inorganic and just plain evil, and the chrome-domed, tight-black-t-shirt uniform (while well-worn) makes him too freakily reminiscent of that douchey designer played by Miguel Ferrer on "Will & Grace" who also liked to make people jump through hoops for his own amusement. Did Fletcher suffer some kind of trauma in his past to become the way he is, or did he also endure and conquer a similar drill sergeant music teacher?
And while I'm not a drummer, I like to think of myself as a musician with good rhythm, but I didn't find the tempo exercises to be that clear. WAS Andrew rushing or dragging? I'm still unsure. Furthermore, was Andrew's last drum solo a fuck-you to Fletcher, or was he trying to gain his respect? Are we to admire Andrew's crazed tenacity or feel sorry for his Stockholm Syndrome? Once again, it's too easy to answer C) All of the above. If there were at least one last shot of Andrew's father outside the door looking lost and hopeless, maybe I'd buy the latter. Fletcher's gestures of approval seem to indicate a rapport building, but isn't the whole point of Fletcher's pedagogy to never say "good job"? Andrew ought to never measure up in Fletcher's eyes, but we don't get to see what happens after the movie ends, so it's too cooked of an ending.
I do have one other compliment for Melissa Benoist who plays Andrew's #WCW. Her girl-next-door affability lights up the screen.
A little-viewed gastronomical gem that was mercilessly mocked by… MoreA little-viewed gastronomical gem that was mercilessly mocked by "Esquire" magazine - a publication I ordinarily revere! Jon Favreau's not really my cup of French Onion Soup, but his "fat-strong" physicality really fits the character of media-maligned celebrity chef Carl Casper looking for his new culinary bliss. The little visual details (like the chef's knife tattooed on his inner forearm and his impressive speed-julienning skills) had me convinced that Favreau must be a real Epicurean.
The food looks glorious, of course - a bon vivant's dream. The exposition goes on for too long though; the restaurant owner is so illogically pig-headed about not giving Casper free rein over the menu, which needlessly drags out the inciting showdown of chef vs. food critic. However, the father-son-mentor-apprentice-food-truck-road-trip-bonding movie that eventually begins is quite adorable and inspirational. There are small conflicts, but they are solved in realistic ways in good time, and the supporting gang of sous-chefs played by John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale adds some spicy ethnic flair. RDJ makes a very RDJ-esque cameo, ScarJo rocks a Bettie Page look, and Sofia Vergara's maternal instinct is impressively subdued.
Perhaps the most technically and narratively ambitious movie of the… MorePerhaps the most technically and narratively ambitious movie of the year, with its seamless illusory editing, feverishly percussive score, and lyrically brutal showbiz fable. An aging former superhero mounts his comeback by quadruple-threating the short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver.
There are just so many moments I love in the movie: the flash of jellyfish at the beginning foreshadowing Riggan's botched suicide years earlier; Riggan's restrained breakdown when he leverages his false childhood abuse story against Mike's for yuks; the tighty-whities lock-out sequence primed by the trailer (and parodied so brilliantly by NPH and Miles Teller at the Oscars) but made so much more tragicomic in full by Keaton's unblinking purposeful stride, the camera-ready viral media sensation culture, and the rousing staccato beats of the Times Square drumline.
I also really love the ex-wife character played so naturally by Amy Ryan. Sylvia and Riggan's comfortable exes dynamic and Sylvia's on-the-outside-of-showbiz-looking-in reasoning for why their marriage ended really resonated with me. Michael Keaton is the perfect oxymoron of likable asshole, and Zach Galifianakis is surprisingly unschticky as the producer/best friend. I was surprised that he was passed over for a Best Supporting Actor nod in favor of Edward Norton, who was frankly just okay in the difficult task of playing an actor playing out a scene that is supposed to be good. Emma Stone's bug-eyed, strung-out, angry tirade has gotten most of the attention, but I honestly think she is a Better Supporting Actress in her quieter moments: slinking through the hallways, the come-hither dares on the rooftop, the fragile candle-burning-at-both-ends intensity about which Mike rhapsodizes.
It's not a perfect movie; the magical realism is somewhat inconsistent, but I think it's deserving of its Oscar wins.
Tied with "Selma" for my highest rated movie of the season. A tautly… MoreTied with "Selma" for my highest rated movie of the season. A tautly paced, superbly acted, intellectually emotional (or emotionally intellectual) story of Alan Turing breaking the Nazi Enigma Code as well as the enigmatic codes of social, sexual, and ethical conventions.
For what seems to be such a nerdy story, the solving of the code is suspenseful and exhilarating, the gradual camaraderie among colleagues is uplifting, and the dawning realization of the monstrosity in their heroism - their "blood-soaked calculus" - is just gut-wrenching. The intercutting of the past and present timelines is a bit ham-fisted, and Joan's tell-off speech is slightly too harsh for someone who probably knows that Alan's rejection is a preservation ploy for both of them, though both issues are lovingly and tragically resolved.
Bumperbuggy Cabbagepatch prattles and stammers to great "irascible genius" effect, and Keira Knightley just keeps rising in my estimation as the timidly strong woman mathematician in a man's world. Their chemistry as tacitly platonic besties is awkward and endearing. And it's always great to see what twinkling, Oscar Wildean mischief Matthew Goode's perfectly British countenance gets into.
Sondheim and Lapine's dark and twisted musical retelling of fairy… MoreSondheim and Lapine's dark and twisted musical retelling of fairy tales gets a fairly faithful, albeit PG adaptation. I, of course, have no big problem with this because I always found the massive stage musical a bit of a massive letdown after Act I, especially with the Baker's Wife getting killed off after she has sex like some horror movie trope. The sex and death are toned down, which actually evens out the story better, but the demise of the Witch and the reveal of the Mysterious Man/Big Bad Wolf/Baker's Father are anticlimactic and nonexistent, respectively.
All the performers give such impressive turns that I feel like I have to comment on every one of them because it's really a well-cast ensemble. Emily Blunt is the definite stand-out, being probably the only one of the cast who consistently acted intentions while singing, making the Baker's Wife a funnier character than I previously thought with her charmingly flushed comic relief.
Anna Kendrick is, as usual, a musical dynamo with her high and bright Broadway-rafters voice, and Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen steal the show in "Agony" with their princely posturing. Tracey Ullman plays Jack's Mother with cantankerous mettle, and James Corden is quite plucky as the hapless Baker. Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, and Christine Baranski also make a nasty and daffy step-trio. Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel is actually given more to do here than she is given as the good-woman mother on "Forever."
I'm not a fan of the children's songs or characters, but Lilla Crawford has some pipes and decent comic timing, while Gavroche kid enunciates too oddly for my taste. Meryl Streep is a trifle slow with the "greens" tongue twisters, and while she does belt some meaty notes later, I'm not sure how much of her vibrato was added in post-production. I didn't think that voice came out of the same woman who did "Mamma Mia"...