Monday, January 26, 2015

Whiplash (2014)



Whiplash (2014)

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

Here’s another Oscar contender, as it is, Whiplash has been nominated for five awards which include Best Picture, Best Actor Nomination for J.K. Simmons, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Adapted Screenplay, now if you ask me, I think it has a shot at Film of the Year, simply because it’s such an engaging film, which is one of the great things about it, it’s a movie about a music student, a drummer, yet the film manages to be so tense! Well, this film got to me on a whole other level because I’m currently finishing my bachelor’s degree in education, and so of course, I saw it from the student-teacher perspective. Because obviously, there’s many theories as to how to educate a student, what to do and what not to do, so I loved how the film explored these themes and situations. So this review comes to you guys from the perspective of a future teacher, which might offer you a different point of view on the film.


Whiplash is all about Andre, a 19 year old percussionist who has just gotten accepted into one of the best music schools in New York. He practices often and hard because he wants to be “one of the greats”. Unfortunately, he soon meets Mr. Fletcher, the music teacher from hell. Mr. Fletcher’s education techniques are extreme and unorthodox, he insults, screams and smacks his students in the face. Questions immediately arise. Is he too extreme? Does he achieve anything by intimidating his students? Is he going too far with his methods? Is it worth it? Or is he just a whacko blowing off steam with his students? Of course, we’re all rooting for Andre to make it, but will he make it with such a hellish music teacher breathing down his neck?


This movie touches upon many themes, but one of them is the choice that a person who wants to be “one of the greats” has to make when the time comes to choose between love or career. This is a conundrum that those completely dedicated to their careers eventually stumble upon, to love someone or to love what you do? The idea being that if you’re going to be 100% dedicated to something, you cannot have time for love. Whiplash reminded me of The RedShoes (1948) and Black Swan (2010) in that sense. But ultimately, Whiplash is an inspirational film because it introduces to a character who doesn’t let anything get in the way of getting where he wants to go. He wants to be the best of the best, unfortunately, his extreme teacher serves as a stumbling block. Some might see it another way, some might see Mr. Fletchers methods as extreme, yet effective. How did I see this film, from the perspective of a future educator?


Well, in the film, Mr. Fletcher has a peculiar way of pushing his students to their limits. He speaks at them in a very candid matter, quite a few ‘fucks’ are said on this film (and interesting drinking game would be to take a shot every time the word is said) not to mention other beautiful words like ‘faggot’ and ‘cocksucker’, but these aren’t high school kids, and to be honest, college professors can sometimes be very candid. But at the same time, you’ll feel that Mr. Fletcher is going just a little too far, he’s methods are harmful in a way that affects the student’s self esteem and psyche. I mean, I’m all for helping students achieve their maximum potential, but is there a line? That is the main question that the film addresses. And I say yes, there has to be a line. You cannot for example humiliate a student to the point that he’ll commit suicide. This film is being compared with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) for a reason: the teacher behaves in the same manner as R. Lee Ermey’s ‘Sgt. Hartman’, screaming and hollering at his students like if they were in the military. I’d say Whiplash is a mash up between Full Metal Jacket and Fame (1980), strange comparison I know, but that’s exactly what it feels like. 


 I’m glad that J.K. Simmons was nominated for an Oscar, his performances is quite good. I’m sure he was chosen for his explosive personality, some of you might remember him as J. Jonah Jameson, editor of ‘The Daily Bugle’ in the old Spiderman movies, he’s the guy that always screams and insults Peter Parker. On Whiplash he does that, but with a decidedly more serious and deadly tone. J.K. Simmons plays a character that you’ll either admire for his extreme methods or completely hate. In any case, he also comes off as a very human character. He’s not the squeaky clean, pitch perfect wholesome teacher you’ve seen in so many movies centered around education, like say Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) or Dangerous Minds (1995). I also loved Miles Teller’s character, Andrew, a very vulnerable yet headstrong character. He proves to be Mr. Fletcher’s biggest challenge. There’s this amazing scene where Andrew is completely humiliated by Mr. Fletcher, and he sort of gives up, but then turns things around and decides to give Mr. Fletcher the old “fuck you man, I know I’m good!”. This was a scene that I loved because sometimes as a student, you have to stand up to a particularly idiotic professor, you know, the snobbish kind, with those damned egos. If there is one thing this film proves is that there is such a thing as a bad teacher and that sometimes personal problems and personality traits can get in the way of the teaching, and that’s when the student has to stand up for himself, because we all have our pride and self esteem to protect. Whiplash gets a perfect score from me, a very satisfying film, you won’t know where it’s going or how it’s going to end, it deserves an award for that alone.


Rating: 5 out of 5  


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Foxcatcher (2015)


Title: Foxcatcher (2015)

Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller

Steve Carell has gotten an Oscar Nomination for his performance as John Dupont, the mad man millionaire who shot Olympic wrestler Dave Shultz three times, point blank, for god knows what. It’s one of those crimes where we’ll never really know what happened, because those involved won’t say, so it’s probably some really dark secret thing that they don’t want anyone knowing about, which gets your imagination going as to what really happened. Some say it had something to do with exposing Dupont’s potential homosexuality, others attribute the murder to John Dupont’s schizophrenia and others say he was just high on drugs. Similar to The Wolf of Wall Street (2014), this is the story of a millionaire with enough money to be high all the time, on the drug of his choice. Apparently, one of them was cocaine.


So anyhow, the story is all about how John Dupont, one of the richest men in America, decides he is going to fund the American olympic wrestling team by creating a training compound called ‘Team Foxcatcher’. You see, Dupont was an Olympic wrestling aficionado, so he wanted to back the team up, go for the gold by sponsoring these young guns, he also wanted the glory of being called their ‘coach’, though in reality, he had very limited knowledge of the sport. Things go sour when John Dupont’s schizophrenia or his drug abuse begin to show their ugly face. Will Team Foxcatcher win the gold medal? Can the team hold together when its financial backer is a certified wacko millionaire?


So this is one of those movies that runs on the strength of one particular performance and that’s Steve Carell’s portrayal of John Dupont. Everyone else in the film is great, it’s refreshing to see Channing Tatum trying something serious, and the same goes for Mark Ruffallo who turns in a solid performance as Dave Schultz. The thing with Carell’s performance is that we’re used to seeing him play the goofball Manager of Dunder Mifflin, Scranton branch on The Office. But here he is playing a psycho and it’s a drastic change to be sure. It’s not surprising to see a comedian trying something new, comedians always try to branch out into more serious roles in order to stretch their acting abilities, to grow as an actor. We’ve seen a lot of comedians do this, Bill Murray is a good example, but I guess the biggest example would be Tom Hanks, a straight forward comedian who’s suddenly this serious Oscar Caliber actor who rarely makes a comedy anymore. Will we see Carell leave comedy forever after Foxcatcher? I hope not, to me Carell is such a hilarious actor he should keep making funny movies forever, but of course, an actor wants to expand and grow, so I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to explore the serious/dramatic route for a while.

That's Steve Carrell playing John Dupont on the left, and on the right, the real John Dupont, playing at being a coach for the Olympic Wrestling Team. 

Speaking of the Oscar race, Foxcatcher has been nominated for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Mark Ruffalo gets the nom for Best Supporting Actor. I think he did a fine performance here playing Dave Schultz, Mark Schultz’s big brother, but he has some stiff competition. The same goes for every category that Foxcatcher is nominated in. If you ask me, Carell and his performance as John Dupont is the only chance Foxcatcher has at winning an Oscar. Even director Bennett Miller, who also directed Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011) doesn’t have much of a chance against the contenders going up against him. For me, the best director Oscar will go either to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman or Richard Linklater for Boyhood, simply because of the technical prowess displayed in both of these films and the phenomenal concepts behind both of them. Both Birdman and Boyhood are so much more complex in execution than Foxcatcher, that its pretty obvious either of those two will win. And therein lies Foxcatchers limited chances, its a pretty simple picture when compared to other Oscar contenders. Don’t get me wrong, Foxcatcher is a completely watchable film with many merits, it just didn’t say much to me, it felt like a lightweight thematically speaking, like empty calories. I mean, the sibling rivalry angle isn’t exploited much and neither is Dupont’s possible homosexuality. Things are sort of touched upon, but never really explored, ultimately, Foxcatcher left me wanting more, I wanted it to dig deeper, but I detected a bit of restraint on the filmmakers part.


Why wasn’t Dupont’s schizophrenia explored more in depth? I mean here’s a guy who reportedly spoke to rocks, thought spirits and spies where after him and thought that treadmills could send him back in time! It would have been interesting to see this angle explored a bit more. The film does go into Dupont wanting to garner others respect, mainly his mothers. Here's a man who's trying to do something great, but is unable to because he himself isn't a "great man", so what does he do? He hangs around the greats, to see if some of that greatness and talent rubs off on him, but that's not how it works. Greatness is achieved through talent and dedication. Dupont wanted to pretend. In regards to Dupont’s schizophrenia, the film reminded me a bit of Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind (2001) a film in which Russell Crowe plays a brilliant mathematician who also talks to imaginary people, yet is brilliant in his own field. The only difference is that A Beautiful Mind ends on a more positive vibe, while Foxcatcher goes down a darker path. So in conclusion my friends, Foxcatcher was a good movie, with a strange vibe which I enjoyed. You know something is off, but you’re not sure what it is.  And we get Steve Carell’s awesome performance, which is strong enough to get him an Oscar this year;  but the competition is tough, we’ll see.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Dave and Mark Schultz during their glory days

Friday, January 16, 2015

Best and Worst Films of 2014


I'll start things off by pointing out that I haven’t seen many of the films considered the best of the year, among them Gone Girl, The Skeleton Twins, Theory of Everything,  The Two Faces of January, Still Alice and The Imitation Game …you could say I've skipped a lot of those Oscar chosen, Golden Globe winners…but anyways, no worries, I’ll be reviewing those during the coming month as well. So anyhow, recapping this year, I’d say it was a weird year for commercial blockbusters, the summer –a time usually reserved for an onslaught of big budget spectacles- was a huge void, with very few blockbusters to titillate. I guess they were saving all the good ones for 2015, which is poised to be a juggernaut year at the box office! There were also a lot of bad films, some of which I've included in the 'Worst of the Year' segment of this article, this is something I've decided to add to my end of the year review thing. Past lists were comprised of only the best, but this year there were so many crappy movies, I couldn't help myself, so from now on, my end of the year review will also include the worst of the year! Hope you’ll find this list useful, this is the cream of the crop my friends, also, the worst of the worst, so you can choose wisely when the time comes to watch a good movie. Enjoy!



Comments:  So yeah, I know this one was released theatrically on 2013, but it was released on dvd on 2014, so I count it among my favorite of 2014. I’m sure some of you out there will do the same. So anyhow, this is Jim Jarmusch’s latest and boy, it’s awesome that it’s a vampire flick. Of course, this being Jarmusch (the living embodiment of artsy/independent cinema) this is a vampire flick that breaks with all the parameters of a vampire film. It has a lot of what makes a Jarmusch film great: great atmosphere, a slow yet interesting pace and characters I couldn’t stop watching. How cool are these vamps? They a cultured group, they hang out at rock and roll bars and eat blood popsicles, they like to spend their eternity reading good books and listening to music, and hanging out with Shakespeare, who by the way is also a vampire!. If you’re in the mood for a slower paced film, with moody characters who love to sulk in their sadness and despair, then this is the movie for you. I loved the locations, first the movie starts off in dilapidated real life Detroit Rock City, and then it shifts to Tangiers, Morocco. The visuals and the vibe in both locations offer distinctively different atmospheres and beautiful visuals. Another existential film from the master of existential films, Jim Jarmusch.   

Quote: “I just feel like all the sand is at the bottom of the hour glass or something”


22 Jump Street

Comments: So yeah, I always like to include comedies in my best of lists because usually they get ignored or lost in the shuffle, same as horror movies do. So anyways, I’m including 22 Jump Street because it actually made laugh. It’s stupid yes, it’s formulaic yet color me stupefied, I couldn’t stop laughing! One thing I enjoyed about the film is that it’s very self conscious, they know they are making a “cash in” sequel, so they reference the fact throughout the dialog. I thought it was kind of hilarious that way, I mean, they acknowledge the fact that they “got lucky with the first one” and so they are giving us the same crap all over again, but with a bigger budget. Another thing I dug about this movie is that the whole ending of the film was shot in Puerto Rico on this beach I’ve gone to a million times, so it was also cool seeing my own country on a film, But that aside, what matters at the end of the day is that this one made me laugh. The plot never mattered at all and they knew it. What matters is the improvisational comedy that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum pull off on any given situation, which is surprisingly hilarious.

Quote: “We Jump Street, and we about to Jump in Yo’ ass!”


Snowpiercer

Comments: Now here’s a film that caught me completely by surprise. It came out of left field for me, but I rented it because I liked the premise which reminded me of Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 (2004) an erotic/romantic film which is also about a train that runs through the world. So anyhow, I ended up liking Snowpiercer a lot because it’s a subversive film, and you guys know how much I love Subversive Cinema! The thing with Snowpiercer is that the train and its inhabitants are a representation of society and so, the people that live on the back of the train represent the poor, the working class, while the ones in the front of the train are the privileged high class, the elite, those in power. The train has its fair share of dictators, rebels and we leaders going up against the evil oppressive government. I love the idea that these people have to live in the inside of this train because the outside world has frozen. The idea of having the rebels going up against the evil government to uncover “the truth” about things is nothing new, in fact, we’re currently seeing an avalanche of these types of movies in theaters, the concept of a bullet train piercing through the ice cold world is a novel one and offers some interesting visuals. I ended up loving the art design of this unique film.  

Quote: “A shoe doesn’t belong on your head; a shoe belongs in your foot. A hat belongs in your head. I am a hat. You are a foot. Yes? So it is.”



Comments: Here’s a film I was ready to hate with every inch of my body. Why? Because it reeked of unnecessary sequel, it looked like something they made simply to profit from the success of the original. To my complete an utter surprise, this movie rocked the house! I was floored by the amazing visuals! The first 300 film was centered on visuals, it was a stylistic piece, same goes for this sequel, there’s a distinctive focus on the visuals. Same as in a Frank Miller comic, we’re here to look at some cool art. And 300 comes to life in this way. There’s tons of slow motion and incredible camera angles. This film is a CGI orgasm, thankfully, they use CGI they way I like CGI to be used: artfully. Other great factors: it was neither a sequel, nor a prequel, it’s a film that happens at the same time as the first film, but in a different location, I thought that was a pretty novel idea. We get Xerxe’s origin story and get Eva Green playing a hellish villain, something she apparently excels at! 

Quote: “You fight much harder than you fuck!”



Comments: The most hyped movie of 2014 had only one thing to prove to me: was it all worth it? I mean, it’s not every day that a movie causes terrorist threats! Here’s a movie that’s supposedly so offensive to the North Korean government that they supposedly threatened to commit terrorist attacks upon any theater that dared to show it! Be that story true or not, what mattered to me was if it was funny or not, was it any good? Hell yes it was, I laughed every second of it. On top of things, the film delivers a message about the mediocrity of mass media, and the importance of using the media for something worthwhile, like say, the truth. It has that Seth Rogen and crew style of humor, so if you enjoyed say Pineapple Express (2008) or This is theEnd (2013) as much as I did, then you’re in for a treat.  

Quote: “You know what’s more destructive than nuclear bombs? Words.”


Comments: Here’s a movie that left cinemas extremely fast for whatever the reason. Maybe the filmmakers waited too long to make it? I mean, here’s a sequel that came out almost 10 years after its predecessor! It was a huge bomb in theaters, but to that I say, “whatever!” This movie gave us everything we loved from the first film, It gave us Marv again, the whole thing is still told in loud, exaggerated comic book style, we still get the voiceovers, the black and white look, the little splashes of color here and there. And it even functions as something of a sequel, concluding one of the stories from the first film. Bottom line is, while this new Sin City film is not better than the first one, because let’s face it, the first film is a hard film to top, it does still give us everything we loved from the first time around. The same style, the same characters, the same tough as nails cops and evil as hell villains; in this sequel, Sin City is still Sin City, and I loved that about it. 

Quote: “An Atom Bomb goes off between my legs..”


Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

Comments: Sometimes it feels like Marvel just keeps getting better and better at making comic book movies. I mean, they should, each movie keeps getting bigger and bigger, with more buildings collapsing, more worlds in peril…things are getting epic with each passing film trying to top the levels of destruction achieved by the previous ones, and with budgets escalating with each passing film, who knows what we’ll end up seeing next. So yeah, this sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) is bigger and badder in every way possible. It has a distinctively subversive vibe to it, with Captain America realizing that maybe working for the government isn’t the best idea. On this one he decides to go solo, which is cool because it frees the character and the films from political propaganda, which was so present in the first film. The action is amazing, but also, this film includes one of the coolest characters to ever grace a comic book film: The Winter Soldier! Though Joe Johnston did a fine job with the first film, this one excels in many ways, it’s more bombastic, the story is more epic and the American patriotism/propaganda machine is turned off, which honestly is one of the things I didn’t like about the first one.    

Quote: “The truth isn’t all things to all people, all the time”



Comments:  This one was special for me because it’s a film from one of the greatest directors of all time: Ridley Scott. Every film he makes is a gift, so of course I went to see this one. All I have to say is that if I was a Christian, I’d be super stoked about this movie. But I’m not, and I still loved the hell out of this one, so take that for what it’s worth. The story of Moses, the ten commandments and the parting of the Red Sea is about as epic as the bible gets, so of course I was excited to see how one of the greatest directors to walk the face of the earth was going to bring these stories to life. And I wasn’t disappointed, the movie was epic, yet it was different to Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), for example, Moses isn’t portrayed as a religious zealot, he’s more a rational man. Maybe he talks to god for real, or maybe it’s because he accidentally hit his head? Maybe all the miracles are explained away by reason, or maybe God’S making them happen? The movie is ambiguous like that and many Christians resent this version of The Ten Commandments because of that, but if you ask me, Exodus: Gods and Kings is no less spectacular a film because of this.

Quote: “Follow me and you will be free, stay and you will perish.”



Comments: By now we are accustomed to a level of excellence from Christopher Nolan, slowly but surely he’s shaping up to be quite the director, one of the greats. Interstellar is certainly a good one, though truthfully, I don’t think Nolan has made a bad film yet. What’s awesome about Interstellar is that it evokes so many movies that came before it, and not just movies but also books, to be more precise Arthur C. Clarke books like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama and Hammer of God. It’s also very heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Any Kubrick fan should instantly spot all the homage’s Nolan makes to what is obviously one of his favorite directors. But aside from its influences, the film offers us the experience of what it might feel like to see a black hole up close and personal, in the most scientifically accurate way possible, which is an awesome experience, nothing remotely cheesy or silly like what you might find in Disney’s The Black Hole (1979), yet every bit as trippy. The cool thing about movies about Black Holes is that whenever we go into the Black Hole it’s going to be something trippy every time, no matter what the film, once in the black hole anything’s possible. Interstellar is no exception, it might get a bit incomprehensible at times, but there’s no denying the visual spectacle is there, and at heart, it’s also a family film, with heavy emphasis on love.      

Quote: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”



Comments: This was the surprise hit of the year, nobody (not even Disney) expected this to be as big a hit as it turned out to be and it can all be attributed to James Gunn, the director behind this superhero/sci-fi/comedy/ mash up. The thing about James Gunn is that same as Josh Weddon, the director behind The Avengers (2012) franchise, Gunn is a true geek. He’s always loved sci-fi and horror, if not check out his totally underrated Slither (2006),a  film about alien slugs that grow inside of you and turn you into a zombie. He’s also mixed the comic book genre with comedy before in Super (2010). So in many ways, Gunn was the perfect guy to direct Guardians of the Galaxy. Why did it work so well? To start things off, these characters had not been seen before, I mean, sure there have been Guardians of the Galaxy comics, but never on film. And even the comics were never that popular. So the characters have a much needed freshness to them. Also, apparently people don’t want the popular, squeaky clean heroes we all know; they want the misfits, the imperfect heroes, the heroes with a freaking sense of humor. Also, the comedy is welcome, Guardians of the Galaxy feels like a good bye to the dark and brooding superhero films like The Dark Knight (2008), and a hello, to a more light hearted, fun, comic book film, which to be honest, I was missing.     

Quote: “What should we do next? Something good? Something bad? Little bit of both?”


Grand Budapest Hotel

Comments: Wes Anderson’s films are a universe onto themselves, so every time you see an Anderson film, you know you’re seeing an Anderson film. They have that look, that framing, that music, that dialog, those colors, those actors, simply put, Anderson has his very own unique style. This time around we go even deeper into Anderson’s own world through The Grand Budapest Hotel, a gigantic hotel that exists in the fictional ‘Republic of Zubrowka’. The story focuses on a concierge and the things he does to make everybody happy, especially the ladies, even the older ones. On top of things, the film has a pacifist message; the story unfolds during the overtaking of a Nazi like government, which affects the lives of all the characters in the film. Grand Budapest Hotel is a delight to look at, the aesthetic of it is simply beautiful. Behind it all is a story of true love and true friendship, looking forward to seeing it again.   

Quote: “A lobby boy is above all discreet to a fault. Our guests know that their deepest secrets, some of which are frankly rather unseemly, will go with us to our graves. So keep your mouth shut zero.”



Comments: This one was a complete surprise to me. I’d heard it was sort of a sci-fi, but I wasn’t ready for such a different kind of sci-fi, not in your face, but instead very subtle.  The film is all about a female alien who seduces men in order to feed on them. She’s sort of like a vampire, which is why it made me think that Under the Skin is actually an artsy fartsy version of Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985), it even copies the idea of having the female vampire/alien naked throughout a huge chunk of the film. If you remember correctly, in Lifeforce a human ends up obsessed with the female alien, attracted by her magnetic, hypnotic beauty. Basically the same thing happens in Under the Skin. What I did get from Under the Skin that I didn’t get from Lifeforce was an exploration of human sensuality, how we are blinded by the prospect of having sex, so much so that we’ll sink into the blackest tar pits to get it. We are blinded by it. Because the main character is sort of like a voyeur, observing humanity with an objective point of view, many aspects of human behavior are explored, including violence, rape and compassion. Topple all of that with amazing visuals and atmosphere and a twist ending and you got yourselves one of the best sci-fi films of the year. The film does have a slow pace, which is not for everyone because truth be told, half of you will love this film while the other half will hate it. Me? I loved every second of it, it just got better and better the further I went. On top of things, it’s filled with these amazing trippy visuals and shot in a realistic documentary style. It’s just a very artful film, which is why it gets on my best of 2014 list. It’s just a beautiful film to look at and absorb.   

Quote: “People wind me up, they are ignorant”



Comments: Nightcrawler is a movie of its time; it marks the general mentality that people are living under right now. Sort of like how TheGraduate (1967) marked the 60’s, Wall Street (1987) the 80’s and Fight Club (1999) the 90’s. Its main character, Louis Bloom, is a desperate man, on the brink of poverty, willing to do anything he can do to survive. Hunger drives him, the desire for success is his fuel and he will stop at nothing to live a better life, to mingle with the big guys, to prove his worth. It’s a sad reflection of society, because while it is true that Louis Bloom is an exaggeration, a sort of cartoon of the crazy dog eat dog world we live in, we cannot deny that this character is a truthful mirror to the kind of human beings society is breeding. And this is the reason why I loved the film, but also because it comments on media manipulation. In some ways it’s similar to Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976) when it shows how the media makes us see things in a certain way, under a certain light. The film offers us a  powerful performance from Gyllenhal, he was already nominated for a Golden Globe, but lost to Eddie Redmayne for Theory of Everything. Sadly, Gyllenhall was ignored by the Academy Awards, could it be because the film attacks the media? Well, at least it got a nod for best screenplay. 

Quote: “Who am I? I’m a hard worker. I set high goals and I’ve been told that I’m persistent”



Comments: This is one of those movies that is a film about films, it speaks about the frustrations of an aging actor looking for a way to get back into the spotlight, to get the respect and admiration he once had from the public. He does this by directing and starring in a play that he hopes will become a hit. The film analyzes what cinema is today, and goes all around what it means when they say that Hollywood takes you in, chews you and then spits you out. What do audiences like to watch nowadays? Do they like philosophical cinema? Or do they enjoy empty effects spectacles?  It was interesting seeing a film that addresses society’s current obsession with superhero movies. It’s also about a man battling old age, he’s trying to prove he’s not passé, he wants to prove he still has some worth in this world! One of the more interesting aspects of the film, apart from the awesome themes it touches upon is how it was made. This film was shot with long takes, and it aims to give us the illusion that it was shot in one continuous long shot, the result is nothing short of amazing, with the camera in constant movement always following somebody around. Same as Linklater’s Boyhood (yet another Oscar contender this year) Birdman will more than likely be recognized for its technical achievements, for its direction and for Michael Keaton’s awesome performance.  

Quote: “And let’s face it Dad, it’s not for the sake of art; it’s because you want to feel relevant again”


Boyhood

Comments: Boyhood is quite possibly the most amazing coming of age story ever made. Why? Because through this film we can actually watch the protagonists grow before our very eyes and not by using different actors to play the same character in different stages of their lives, but by taking 12 years to make the film! So we see Mason, the films main character go from being a child, to being a college student, all during the course of one film. The film is a life  journey of a family. You see, Boyhood is essentially a family drama about a single mother looking for the best that she can for her and her children and how the whole family adapts to the different changes in life, the cool part is seeing the actors change through the years, they change hairstyles, music they listen to, stature. I love this kind of film because it’s  a cautionary tale, a coming of age story, it’s the kind of film I would show my preteen son or daughter so they understand the different phases that one goes through in life, the kind of things that should be taken in consideration before making life changing decisions. In accordance with Richard Linklater’s style of filmmaking, Boyhood is essentially one long philosophical conversation, exploring life, feelings and situations. It’s an amazing accomplishment for Linklater, a stroke of genius that could quite possibly win him the “Best Director” award at the Oscars this year.

Quote: “Any dipshit can take pictures Mason. Art? That’s special. What can you bring to it that nobody else can?”


Whiplash

Comments: This movie is amazing in many ways, but one of them is that you don't know how anything is going to turn out, you wont know where this film is going, and that my friends is a good thing in my book. Another thing it has going for it is that it's a film about a music student and his crazy ass gung ho teacher and his extreme teaching methods. You see 19 year old Andrew wants to be one of the greatest drummers whoever lived, and his willing to take the physical and psychological punishment he has to in order to be among the best. Does his teacher go over the line with his teaching methods? Should Andrew blow the whistle on this hot head, loud mouthed teacher? Or will all this preassure bring out the best in Andrew? You won't know if you should hate Mr. Fletcher, or admire him. Though it's J.K. Simmons that has gotten all the Oscar buzz, I also have to mention that Miles Teller's performance as Andrew is equally amazing. Simmons has been nominated for Actor of the Year at this years Oscars, and I think he actually has a shot at winning. He does have tough competition (Michael Keaton is ready for that Oscar) but without a doubt, Simmons is one heavy contender! Highly recommend this inspiring film, just forget everything you have seen in films like Mr. Hollands Opus (1995) and Dangerous Minds (1995)!

Quote: "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'Good Job'"

Worst of 2014

Haven’t seen Annie, Left Behind, God is Dead, Heaven is for Real, but if I had, trust me, they’d all be on this list! Here’s a list of some of the worst films of the year for me. All of these where simply put, a torture to look at.  



Comments: Speaking of torture, here’s a film that I gave the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t think it would be as bad as people were saying it was, cause, shoot me, I kind of enjoyed the third one. So anyhow,  things started out well, but the further into the movie I went, the worst it got. By the time the film goes to China in it’s third hour of running time, I was like “Why?” I just didn’t care for anything that was happening. Though the film does have its show stopping moments, like the scene where an alien spaceship pulls every metal object up in the air with its magnetism, most of the film felt like it didn’t really matter. I tried to like it, but it was too silly, too long and too unimportant, I blame the soulless computer generated characters. The transformers just aren’t well written characters, we never get to ‘know’ them, and therefore we never care. We’ve all seen movies that have brought computer generated characters to life through excellent characterization, excellent motion capture performances and voice acting, but these cardboard cut outs just aren’t it. Here’s a film I actually saw people walking out from!   

Quote: “I am Optimus Prime and this message is to my creators: leave planet earth alone! ‘Cause I’m coming for you!”



Comments: Wasn’t expecting to put Expendables 3 on my ‘worst of the year’ because I enjoyed the first two, but damn, here we are. Why was Expendables 3 such a disaster? Well, they did many things wrong to screw this one up, let’s see. First up, the reason why we are here is to see our favorite 80’s and 90’s action stars kick ass and say a few one liners while doing it, like in the good old days. Instead, we see the old guns for a while, but then they are replaced for most of the films running time with a new crew of kids whom we care nothing for, cause we came to see the old guys, not these new guys whom we don’t know. So that’s the first mistake, then they go and make it a PG-13 bloodless film, which is an even bigger mistake because what we came to see was a homage to old school bloody action films like the kind they made in the 80’s, not the bloodless cgi crap we see nowadays. And speaking of CGI, god they over did it here and this is certainly not what we came to see. We want to see real cars and helicopters blowing up, not Playstation grade animated versions of them. Plus, the screenplay was just freaking atrocious! It was sad to see so many big guns like Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Jet Li and Arnold Schwarzenegger sink so low, these guys deserved way better than this. Bruce Willis did right in backing out of this one, smart move Willis! Even though it was greed that made you step down from appearing on this one, you avoided a huge turd! Yipee- Kiyay in deed!  

Quote: “Nothing lasts forever. We’re part of the past. If we keep this up, the only way this ends up for any of us is a whole in the ground and no one will give a shit.”



Comments: I’m a robo nut, I’ve loved Robocop ever sense he stomped his way into theaters way back in 1987, when action films still had some balls. What made the old Robocop so cool was Paul Verhoeven’s love of blood and violence and its tendency to go complete over the top, which is why this new politically correct Robocop doesn’t work. It plays it safe, it’s too squeaky clean. This movie needed to be rated ‘R’, it needed the profanity, the nudity, the violence, the gore, the violence and the blood and guts that makes the original film so memorable. If you want to read an in depth article that lists the reasons why this new Robocop just didn't work, go here. But basically, this new Robocop had none of what we liked about the old Robocop, it didn’t have the over the top villains, the craziness, the goddamn over the topness! Joel Kinnaman as Robocop, terrible choice, that black suit, awful. Robocop, without the mas just looks goofy, they should’ve just called it Goofy Cop. It frustrates me. But, the fans retaliated with a dismal box office return. Why? Because this wasn’t the Robocop we love, it wasn’t the Robocop we wanted. We want that 80’ Robocop magic back! Somebody call Verhoeven!   

Quote: “This my friends, is the future of American Justice!”



Comments: If there’s something I hate, it’s a wasted opportunity. When films that have the potential for something awesome, turn out to be crap, it infuriates me. Case in point: Transcendence, a film I had high hopes for, yet ended up being really disappointed by. Why? Well, because it was a bore fest. I mean, here’s a movie dealing with artificial intelligence and cyber punk elements. This is the story of an extremely intelligent scientist who ends up transferring his consciousness to a computer, yet somehow the film managed to bore me to tears! Too bad, because while I dig films that explore philosophical issues and this one does that, it did so in the least entertaining way, which is a big no, no for me when it comes to movies. I guess I’ll have to wait another decade for a decent cyberpunk film. 

Quote: “Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology. And in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world ”



I, Frankenstein

Comments: Wow, where to begin, this film is an abomination for many reasons. Number one is that I really hate Hollywood’s new trend of making classical monsters less monstrous? They did it in Dracula Untold (2014), the Twilight Saga and Warm Bodies (2013) and they will apparently keep doing this. I guess somebody decided having monstrous monsters was a bad thing for our collective psyche, so now monsters are to be softened up or something? Fuck that bullshit, I want my monsters ugly, deformed and freaking monstrous. The more evil looking the better! I don’t want them to look like Aaron Eckhart or Luke Evans. Man, Frankenstein is supposed to be made of dead body parts for Christ’s sake! For all intents and purposes, Frankenstein is a zombie! Yet he looks like Aaron Eckhart scratched his face in a cat fight! On top of that, the computer generated effects on this thing were atrocious! I mean, the whole thing looked like a videogame, which made me role my eyes in disappointment. So, ugh. Don’t even bother with this one, I disconnected from it faster than you can say “It’s alive!”

Quote: “I’m a dozen different parts of eight different corpses. I’m a monster.” (Yeah Right)


The Legend of Hercules

Comments: So yeah, this is another one that I decided I’d give the benefit of the doubt to because it’s Hercules and I love films about Greek mythology, I love fantasy. Unfortunately, I couldn't connect with this one either. First red flag that popped up was the fact that this one was made in a hurry, to compete with Brett Ratner’s Hercules (2014), which by the way I dug a lot. So anyhow, this version is another CGI fest, and the thing about CGI is that if it’s not done convincingly, well, then it just looks bad. And that’s what this film suffered the most for. As you can see, a lot of the films that made it onto my worst of the years suffer from the same ailment: they are filled with terrible cgi and bad scripts, a deadly combination.  Another stumbling block with this movie is that it stole a lot of scenes from Ratner’s film and from the God of War series of video games. Why didn’t they just make a God of War film instead?  It’s so sad to see Renny Harlin, who directed a series of cool action flicks like Cliffhanger (1993), Die Hard 2 (1990) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), sink so low. Lately he just directs crap, pure unadulterated crap, so sad.
    
Well, that's it boys and girls, see you again next year!  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Birdman (2014)



Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton

I enjoy Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu films because of the level of realism they have, they have immediacy to them that I enjoy, they feel like real life, they don’t feel likecolor filtered, fake looking films. Nope, Iñarritu’s films feel like real life. If you don’t believe me go rent Amores Perros (2000), a film that tells five stories that are all connected by one catastrophic car accident, an idea that Paul Haggis borrowed heavily from for his film Crash (2004). Amores Perros is shot in this hyper realistic documentary style that just blows me away every time I see it, actually all of Iñarritu’s films are shot this way which is what I like about them. So anyways, I always look forward to Iñarritu’s films, because he is one of those few directors with a pitch perfect record, he hardly ever makes a disappointing film. The only time I wasn’t blown away by one of his films was with Babel (2006), and even that film has its merits. Iñarritu’s the kind of director that even when he makes a “bad” film, it’s still good. When I heard about Birdman I was immediately attracted to it because of its premise, I thought it was a novel idea, but I have to admit I was more than a bit curious as to what Iñarritu was going to say with this film. What would it be about? 


Birdman is all about Riggan, an aging actor trying to gain the respect of an audience that has forgotten all about him. You see, at one point in his life Riggan was the biggest star on the planet when he starred in a series of comic book films called Birdman; a series of films about a super hero with wings, which by the way is a pretty cool looking character. Point is Riggan stopped making Birdman movies and is now fading away from the spotlight. His plan to regain the audiences approval and attention is putting on a play called ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’.  When the movie begins, the play is days away from premiering in a theater in New York City and he is all kinds of nervous looking for a new actor to take the lead role. Will he get to premiere his play successfully? Does he still have what it takes? Will the audience accept him once again?


Various elements make Birdman one of the best films of 2014, but let’s start with its obvious technical prowess. Here’s a film shot in a way that makes it look like its one long continuous shot, and though this might fly undetected by the common moviegoer, those with a more keen sense of observation will realize just how difficult it is to make a film this way. The big problem is that when an actor messes up a line, you have to start filming the shot all over again. Also, shooting a film with long continuous shots proves difficult in the editing room, because through editing you can establish certain beats in the rhyme of the visuals and the storytelling, you can even add comedy through editing, but if it’s all one continuous shot, things become just a little more demanding. Performances and shots have to be incredibly well choreographed and timed in order for this technique to work well, so this is why I applaud Iñarritu for achieving this technique so well.  Alfonso Cuaron also used this technique effectively in Gravity (2013). And it’s not that they don’t ever cut, they do, but the cuts are placed in a way that you hardly notice them, and they are very few. Entire sequences will go on and on and on without cutting, it’s quite amusing for those interested in filmmaking. It certainly makes things more demanding for everyone involved. Some shots are amazing, keep your eyes peeled for them, there’s quite a few of them.

Iñarritu directs a scene

Another area in which this film excels is in its themes, you see this is one of those films that’s about film. It’s not unlike Hugo (2011), The Big Picture (1989) or Shadow of the Vampire (2000), which are films that explore the nature of filmmaking both from the filmmakers view point and from the actors view point. On Birdman filmmaking is explored from the point of view of the actors, it’s all about the never changing fact that “Hollywood takes you in, chews you up and then spits you out”. There’s a reason why that saying hasn’t faded away and it’s because it still remains true. Hollywood caters to the young, the beautiful, the ‘now’, what’s in and what’s hot is what matters. You get old, suddenly you’re not getting as many roles as you used to. The movie addresses this idea that in Hollywood, unless you become a raging icon to the masses, you are more than likely going to fade away, quietly into the night. And sometimes that “fading away” ain’t a pretty sight because it’s hard for actors to let go of the fame and the spotlight. The film focuses on that frustrating moment when the actor simply doesn’t like the fact that he or she is no longer “popular”. What makes things even more interesting is the fact that Michael Keaton used to play a comic book character himself, same as the character in Birdman. It’s no wonder Keaton’s performance rings so true, I’m sure a lot of his own frustrations were channeled into his performance, because while Keaton has never stopped working, he isn’t as popular as he was when he made Batman (1989) or Bettlejuice (1988). There’s this amazing moment when Riggan is locked out of the theater by mistake and he’s in his underwear, the scene comments on how acting is a very vulnerable profession, you expose your soul to others through your performance, so I loved the metaphor there, an actor desperately baring his naked soul to his audience, humanity, the masses. You can expect a real heartfelt performance from Keaton. Could the critical success of Birdman spell a comeback for Keaton? It certainly feels like it, from what I hear, he’s gonna be reuniting with Tim Burton for Beetlejuice 2 next! It will be interesting to see how they make that one work after so many years have passed.   


The film also speaks about how aging actors have to adjust to the changing of the times, and the way things are marketed nowadays. For example, there’s a moment when a video of Riggan becomes popular on You Tube and is ‘trending’ and his daughter shows him how many people have viewed it and tells him “this is power”, a fact that Riggan is completely clueless about. The film also talks about how a lot of Hollywood films are aimed at a young audience and that what the masses love is action, blood, explosions and special effects. Which is true, just ask Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich. The masses don’t want “philosophical bullshit” and the filmmakers behind Birdman are obviously frustrated by this.  I agree with them to a certain extent, because while I enjoy big fx spectacles, I also love brainy, artistic films. In my book there’s space for both types of films; the escapist summer movies as well as the more philosophical, story driven films. But of course, what the masses like, which is to say what the grand majority likes is brainless action and effects like the next Transformers movie, this in turn speaks volumes about the kind of people that make up the majority, which in turns is a sad state of affairs. When we get down to it, I think what the filmmakers behind Birdman are really frustrated with is the level of education of the majority, in other words, if we’re to read between the lines, there’s a genuine frustration with how many brainless zombies exist in the world. So yes my friends, we have an amazing film here, certainly deserving of being called one f the best of the year and one that I’m sure will garner Michael Keaton an Oscar nod, and quite possibly an Oscar win, here’s hoping.


Rating: 5 out of 5 


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbach

This is the big conclusion to The Hobbit trilogy and they obviously wanted to end the trilogy with a big bang, so of course, The Battle of the Five Armies ended up being like the ‘Return of the Jedi’ of the Hobbit movies, which is to say, the biggest and baddest of them all. It’s as if all the action that was missing from the previous entries was taken out of those and put into this one, one film to rule them all. The good news is you probably won’t doze off during this one! The action is never ending, right from the get go the film starts off with Smaug the Dragon destroying Lake town, and that’s a real spectacle to watch. Now, I’m a huge fan of Dragons in films, and I have to say that this is one of the best depictions of a dragon, ever. I say one of the best because my favorite dragon is still and apparently will always be ‘Vermithrax Pejorative’, the dragon from Mathew Robbins’ Dragonslayer (1981). Still to this day, I haven’t seen a better movie about dragons than that one, but the dragon in The Battle of Five Armies? Pretty freaking impressive.


In this the final chapter of The Hobbit saga we find the people of Lake Town picking up their remains after in a fit of anger, Smaug the dragon destroys their town. Good news is that after Smaug is slayed, the Lonely Mountain is up for grabs, and if you remember correctly, there’s a huge treasure of gold inside of that mountain! Since this legendary treasure is common knowledge to everyone around, and  there isn’t a fire breathing dragon to protect it anymore, now everybody wants it! The elves, the dwarves, the humans and the orcs! Everybody wants a piece of that treasure! But the dwarves are not willing to give it up! This all leads up to an amazing battle that takes up practically half of the film, which is why I say, this film is none stop action so strap yourselves on tight for this one. It’s not a bore fest! 


The only thing I criticize about these Hobbit movies is that I feel they stretched them out for too long. Yes, I have read the book, and I feel that the whole story could have been told in one, maybe two movies tops. But of course, we can blame Hollywood for wanting to stretch franchises for a few movies more, it’s the new trend in Hollywood. They’ll stretch “the final chapter” into various films. They did it with the Twilight films; they divided the last film into two, Breaking Dawn Part I and II…which creates a small confusion because how can it be part I if this is the fourth film? Oh cause its part one of the “finale” which they’ve now stretched into two films, simply to make a few extra millions. You see Hollywood knows the fans can’t miss a single chapter, because they know audiences are hooked on a feeling, like a junkie looking for the next fix. They also did this with The Hunger Games, “Mocking Jay Part I and II”. The thing is that you feel it, you feel that some of it is just filler, padding to fill running time. They did it with this Hobbit trilogy as well, which if you ask me went on for one movie too long, but whatever, this final film is like all kinds of awesome because it’s monsters and wizards and dragons fighting for almost the entire duration of the film! It’s a fantasy film fans wet dream!


Imagine how much action this film has that it feels like it doesn't have much substance to it. Good thing is that it still manages to pack a wallop emotionally; it has one or two moments which “got to me” because you've known these characters for three movies know, so you kind of grow fond of some of them. I like that in spite of being a huge onslaught of action and special effects, The Battle of Five Armies still manages to tweak your emotion chip, which is something that Peter Jackson has always infused these Lord of the Rings movies with: emotion; sometimes a little too much, but on this one? Just the right amount of schmaltz.


Final words: if you are a fan of fantasy films and love to see Wizards and Witches engaging in magic battles, fire breathing dragons destroying entire towns, and monsters going to war, then The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies won’t disappoint. I still wonder what these movies would have been like had Guillermo del Toro directed them, at least he still gets some credit in the writing department. I’m willing to bet that it was the studios who gave Guillermo del Toro de shaft because they wanted that weight of saying that these three films were directed by the same Peter Jackson who made the previous Lord of the Rings films. That’s a huge selling point right there and I’m sure they didn’t want to let that go, so they axed del Toro, even after he’d given various years of his life in pre-production for these three Hobbit films. Del Toro’s take on it was that he left because he couldn’t commit to these films for six years of his life, especially when he has so many projects going on with many different studios, which is of course entirely true. Still, Peter Jackson pulled it off nicely and who better to these then the director who made the previous three Lord of the Rings films right? I can’t help but wonder what he’ll do next now that he’s leaving Middle Earth behind, I hope it’s something every bit as spectacular. And to think Jackson’s career started with the low budget indie flick Bad Taste (1987), a movie about aliens looking for human flesh to sell in their own fast food chain! It’s funny, but even in his earlier films; Jackson  always displayed a tendency to go over the top with his ideas, a tendency to shock as much as he possibly could. If he was going to do a puppet movie then it would be the grossest puppet movie you’ll ever see (Meet the Feebles (1989)) If he was going to make a zombie, the it was going to be the bloodiest zombie movie ever (Dead Alive (1989)) and if he does a fantasy film, then he’ll make you jizz your pants with an overdose of monsters and wizardry. Can’t wait to see what he’ll go over the top with next.


Rating: 5 out of 5      


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