Cold, slowly built, tragic and memorable, Foxcatcher is a true crime… MoreCold, slowly built, tragic and memorable, Foxcatcher is a true crime drama unlike any other. Based on the relationship between wealthy philanthropist John du Pont and two Olympic Gold medal winners, and du Pont's obsession with validating his fascination with wrestling, Foxcatcher is a story told uncommonly well.
What one has to appreciate most about the film is the script. It's intelligently penned, creating very complex and nuanced characters, placing them in relatable situations and delivering authentic relationship dynamics. The characterizations are thus the hallmark of the film, and its triumph. It features brilliant performances from all involved, but most notably from Steve Carell who easily gives the best performance of his career, as the disturbed, yet poised and detached du Pont.
The film has a methodical feel which at times is a bit too slow. Yet, the build off pays off. Foxcatcher is not concerned with cheap thrills or easy storylines, yet in the intrigue, ambiguity, and the profoundly enigmatic nature of du Pont. It's a fascinating watch, populated with great characters and an unbelievable ending.
Fast paced, relentlessly violent, engaging, and undeniably cool, John… MoreFast paced, relentlessly violent, engaging, and undeniably cool, John Wick is one of the best action films of recent years. The story sounds all too familiar. We find an ex-hitman drawn back in to the life after the spoiled-brat son of a mob boss kills his dog, and steals his car in the wake of his beloved wife's loss. It's helplessly clichéd, yet executed so well that we forget.
Given the familiar plot and rather absurd nature of the story-line, one might wonder why it works. The explanation is twofold. For one, it is composed marvelously well. The action scenes are gritty, hyper-real, fluid and sudden. The film moves at a quick, but not rushed pace. The tone is atmospheric, and the cinematography beautifully saturated amid a splendid soundtrack. On a narrative level, the film knows what it wants to be-- a badass action film, and wastes no time getting there. Secondly, other genre pieces like this fall to mediocrity both in direction and in action, this is not the case with John Wick. Here, we find Keanu Reeves at his best, owning every scene, selling what little dialogue he needs to, and conveying a frantic, yet cool energy that defines him.
The final installment of the prequel series, director Peter Jackson… MoreThe final installment of the prequel series, director Peter Jackson nearly outdoes himself with ambition, grandeur, and scale with The Battle of the Five Armies, yet succeeds in delivering a satisfying and immensely enjoyable finale.
In Battle of the Five Armies, we find Smaug defeated but a new force of evil unleashed. Alliances become entangled, political intrigue is afoot and a nefarious force is prevailing the land. In other words, it's the Lord of the Rings. The film starts on a bit of a surprising note, almost unceremoniously tying up the cliffhanger of the second installment, yet immediately launches in to the penultimate showdown. There's a lot of plot lines to be had, a lot of action to be displayed, and Jackson proves once again his incredible skill with large scale films. The CGI is great, the world building ever effective, the staging grand, and the characters always central. It's perhaps not very distinctive from the other installments, yet feels organic to them.
Certainly, there are times when it feels as if Five Armies is trying to balance too much. Indeed, the third act starts to feel like it's getting away from Jackson, as if focus has been lost and instead action set pieces become the driving force, not the central narrative. He manages to hone it in, however, and we feel satisfied. Taken on its merits, and the difficult position it finds itself in being awkwardly placed in the series, we have to admire what the result is.
Equally inventive, humorous, well-acted, as well as intelligent, but… MoreEqually inventive, humorous, well-acted, as well as intelligent, but also slightly pretentious and a bit gimmicky, Birdman is an interesting film. It's a film that serves to pulverize or ingratiate with its quirkiness or originality, depending on how one interprets it. It's a black comedy, a character study, and perhaps a tragedy. Above all, it's memorable.
The film follows a washed-up former blockbuster star as he endeavors to prove his dramatic talent by putting on a Broadway play. Along the way he must contend not only with the nightmare logistics, but also his alter-ego, who continually questions his decisions and worth.
The script was sharp and offered a lot of higher brow humor mixed in with some witty dialogue. It was stylized in parts, though not overly so for most of its run. The narrative was kept largely focused, and we are totally transformed in to the film's world. We get a unique view of not only the theater system, but also an insightful commentary on us, the viewing public, and our narcissistic, attention obsessed society.
The performances have been rightly lauded, with Michael Keaton being nothing short of brilliant. The entire cast is in fact exceptional, with Edward Norton bringing a lot of self-parody and charm to his role. The direction keeps the film running briskly; it's always engaging, and never dry. If there's criticism to be had, one would have to say that the third act gets overly indulgent. His other persona becomes more of a distraction than an actual service to the narrative and the realism is sacrificed. The ending note is also unduly ambiguous and pretentious.
Overall, well worth a watch.
Admirable in all respects but remarkable in none, Unbroken is a film… MoreAdmirable in all respects but remarkable in none, Unbroken is a film that touches your heart for its story, but fails to make an impression with its execution. Set in World War II, Unbroken follows the heroic war exploits of Louis Zamperini. It's thus based on a true story, following his Olympic headlining to his unfathomable fortitude during his brutal captivity at the hands of the Japanese.
Director Angelina Jolie has all the ingredients for an effective film. The source material lends itself to film, it has a talented cast, and the themes of forgiveness and redemption resonate with nearly all of us. Yet she also has to contend with a genre that is fast becoming saturated with good entries, and thus has the task of trying to make Unbroken standout.
The film is long, but never outstays its welcome. The acting is good, not great, and the direction is competent. The world building is excellent, and the film does a good job of not simplifying or pandering, especially hard to do with a clear cut foe. It's enjoyable, heartfelt, and we identify with the protagonist.
The film fails, however, to really enliven and transcend its material. In the end we are entreated to the post-war happenings of Louis Zamperini and we are told that he makes good on his promise to God, and found the power of forgiveness. This is great, but the film doesn't really build up to this. The dynamic between him and the prison commandant never really resonates, because the film didn't explore it. The characterization of both men is shallow, and by the numbers. When we find out what happens to these men, we think to ourselves how much more interesting that would have been had the film explored that relationship further.
Good, but Bridge on the River Kwai it's not.
Capturing the inherent tragedy and intrigue of the controversial… MoreCapturing the inherent tragedy and intrigue of the controversial autobiography, A Dangerous Mind is an adaptation worthy of watching. Directed by George Clooney, the film has a distinctive feel, almost surreal in parts, capturing the apparent erratic and strangely brilliant nature of its subject, TV producer and purported CIA assassin Chuck Barris. Starring Sam Rockwell, his performance envelopes the screen and the Barris persona. Liberties are taken, to be sure, but the heart of what the book was trying to get across was captured. Once more, the Clooney film added to the story what was otherwise missing--relatable relationship dynamics and even greater drama. Especially effective was the cut-ins with real-life interviews.
Far more enjoyable than its predecessor, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the… MoreFar more enjoyable than its predecessor, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the rare sequel that excels in nearly every category. Not only does it boast more interesting, nuanced (for these sorts of movies) villains, but features actual development of the characters. We feel like what came before it matters, and therefore the stakes at play are much more effective because of it. Visually appealing, exciting, and finely acted, it's an all-around solid venture.
With the second installment, the OsCorp mythology is built upon, and a new antagonist arises, played surprisingly well by Jamie Foxx. The universe thus feels well-realized, and logical within its own framework. Director Marc Webb makes this almost 2.5 hour film move quickly, and never lets our attention down. He feels the screen with highly effective CGI and, more importantly, characters that we care about. This, by far, is what makes this film work so well. Andrew Garfield brings charm, humor, and just the right amount of dramatic heft, with the strong willed and relentless Emma Stone having pitch perfect chemistry with him. The script even dares to take narrative chances, and leaves us genuinely surprised at the end.
Good all around
Reflective, subtle, moving, and yet not quite as resonate as it should… MoreReflective, subtle, moving, and yet not quite as resonate as it should be, Wild is a film that offers a lot to admire, yet has succumb to acclaim that might make its actual delivery underwhelm. Set on a massive hike after self-destructive behavior and divorce, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is left to brave the elements, loneliness, and harshness of nature alone.
Based on an autobiography, the film does a good job of not bogging us down with exposition, yet effectively uses flashbacks to convey the struggles of its flawed, yet strong, protagonist. I really appreciated this, as the film stayed grounded in the journey at hand. It boasts a very strong performance by Witherspoon and mature direction by Jean-Marc Vallee. The themes comes across poignantly, if not perhaps a bit too heavy-handed in the end. The cinematography is beautiful, and we really empathize with Witherspoon's character.
Wild does feel a bit drawn out at times. I wondered at multiple points if the material simply didn't translate as well to film as the filmmakers thought, it never feels as insightful as it seems to think it is. The journey never really feels complete, undoubtedly due to the condensed nature film offers to narratives like this, combined with the lack of real conflict/adventure.
Worth checking out, but far from transcendent.
Tense, powerfully acted, and resonating in the end, The Gambler is a… MoreTense, powerfully acted, and resonating in the end, The Gambler is a character study that compels your attention. Self-destructive English professor Jim Bennett finds his compulsions getting the better of him, and in turn those around him, as he races to cover his mounting debts. Entrenched in an ugly world of decadence, violence and seedy characters, will he remain afloat?
The film is intense, but not overly so. We understand that the point is not really the bets and the wins or loses, but the man himself. Director Rupert Wyatt never loses sight of this focus, letting us explore its main character, in one of the better performances of Mark Wahlberg's career. The direction is thus effective, moving at a brisk pace, and appropriate in its tone.
Where the film really comes through is with its script and performances, both of which interact synergistically to create some enthralling scenes. We get rich dialogue, terrific monologues, and characters played by actors who enliven them. The best example of which is John Goodman, whose brilliance as a character actor cannot be overstated.
In what can only be described as a parody of the series, Transformers:… MoreIn what can only be described as a parody of the series, Transformers: Age of Extinction offers a searing indictment against needless sequels. Loud, utterly pointless, breath-taking in its stupidity, and flatly acted, it's a film that should otherwise not exist. But it does, and director Michael Bay tries earnestly to out due his special affects antics, resulting in a film of visual spectacle but nothing else.
The film's plot achieves two aims. For one, it creates a new villain for which grandiose asinine action sequences can be had, and it sets up the franchise for yet more films, literally starting at square one. In this case, we find the allegiances of the US Government turning against the autobots, ostensibly striking a deal with alien bounty hunters to destroy them. None of it makes any particular sense, and the stakes are the most contrived as possible. In the end, you are left to not only wonder what the point of that was, but are amazed with how uninspired the series is. It literally refuses to propel the narrative. Formula, it seems, involves recycling the same storyline, but interchanging its main actors.
The dialogue is atrocious, literally full of one-liners, obviously stalling or giving dumb-down exposition to set up the next action sequence. The actors are equally as flat, with Mark Whalberg having zero dramatic presences, and the other actors clearly phoning it in, not that we would really notice otherwise with so little character development (actually...none).
What good can be said of it? Visually, Michael Bay keeps things interesting. His adrenaline fast pace almost distracts us from the bad story, and keeps your eyes on the screen. Which, apparently, is all that is needed for this franchise.