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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Into the Woods

directed by Rob Marshall
[director filmography: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), Nine (2009), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Chicago (2002)] 

written by James Lapine [based on his musical]

starring Meryl Streep [the one and only], Anna Kendrick [Pitch Perfect (2012), 50/50 (2011), Up in the Air (2009)], Emily Blunt [The Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Looper (2012), The Devil Wears Prada (2006)], Chris Pine [Star Trek (2009) & Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)], Johnny Depp [yea, yea]Christine Baranski [TV Series "The Good Wife" & "The Big Bang Theory", Mamma Mia (2008)]

ENJOYMENT: *1/2 (out of 5)
"Unenjoyable, on the verge of terrible" 

This is a musical. From beginning to end, just about every word spoken in this film is sung. There. I thought I would get this out of the way for those of you who don't like musicals. Usually, I don't like dumping films into this category, because as a rule they're not my favorite types of films either but some great films happen to be musicals. I loved Chicago and West Side Story and I'm a big fan of Mamma Mia. So there are exceptions to the rule, but Into the Woods is not one of them. From the trailer, I was entranced and so excited to see this film. Then, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt both got nominated for Golden Globes for their performances and I read from one critic that Chris Pine had never been better. And I really like Anna Kendrick. And Rob Marshall also directed Chicago! So, going in my hopes were high. However, after the opening song, which was actually excellent and well choreographed, things went way downhill for me. From there, it never got any better and Into the Woods--a Disney film released on Christmas Day that should have been at least enjoyable--ended up being a pretty bad experience. 

There was a simple enough storyline with a seemingly straightforward structure, but then it just never ended. It kept going about 40 minutes after I wanted (prayed) that it would end. And there was never another song that I really liked. There were some big-shot cameos, with Johnny Depp playing a wolf who was modeling his performance on Jerry Sandusky and didn't even look like a freaking wolf. Meryl Streep was good enough, but I started to get sick of her at some point in the movie and I don't think that has ever happened. Chris Pine was embarrassingly bad. Anna Kendrick and Emily Blunt were good enough, but they couldn't save this movie. The film looked cheap, with very simplistic sets and forest scenes that looked as if they just wandered into some random woodlands and started filming. The cinematography was terrible and didn't make this movie look like a fantasy film--it sorta looked like a musical on stage. Honestly, I hadn't seen a film that I wanted to walk out of for years, but this was one of them. Despite this, critics seemed to like Into the Woods well enough and some of the main performances have been recognized. However, I know a lot of people who said they didn't like this movie, and some (including my mom) who did, so maybe it's just a controversial film that some will love and others will freaking hate. I am the latter. Case in point: while I was so happy for it to be over, when the credits came on someone in the audience started to applaud. As I left the theater, I saw the people who were still clapping and they were wiping away tears. Maybe I had to see the play. Maybe I had to be a diehard musical lover and Disney enthusiast or Grimm's Fairy Tale reader. It just so happens that I'm not any of those things, and Into the Wild is one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Despite my disagreement with this, Meryl Streep is beloved by the Academy. She's won three Oscars for acting (more than any other actress) and has been nominated 18 times (also more than any other actress--or actor!). This will be number 19 and it'll be for Best Supporting Actress. Into the Woods will likely be nominated for technical awards like costume design, makeup and art direction. It will not win for acting.

Other ratings: IMDB (7.2/10), Rotten Tomatoes (71%)


directed by Bennett Miller
[director filmography: Moneyball (2011), Capote (2005)]

written by E. Max Frye [Mini-series Band of Brothers (2001)], Dan Futterman [Capote (2005)]

starring Steve Carell [Anchorman movies, TV series The Office, Little Miss Sunshine (2006)--yea, that Steve Carell], Channing Tatum [21 Jump Street movies, White House Down (2013), Magic Mike (2012)], Mark Ruffalo [The Avengers (2012), Shutter Island (2010), The Kids Are All Right (2010), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)]

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 5)
"Excellent film"

I was not sure really what Foxcatcher was about going into it, and I believe that added a little to the experience. Therefore, I will keep this short. I did know that it was about a rich guy [Steve Carell] who took an interest in a wrestler [Channing Tatum] and that this rich fella was somehow involved in the wrestler's training. I also knew that this was Steve Carell's first dramatic performance and I was honestly confused as hell why he was even casted. Nonetheless, I did soon learn why Carell was given this role, and I do think it was an excellent decision. Foxcatcher was an excellent film with impeccable acting, directing and writing. Though I was expecting a great film, it still threw me off guard. Foxcatcher contains subtle humor at times as well as some very disturbing bits as well, almost feeling at times like Fargo. All in all, this was an unexpected great film and is the third success by director Bennett Miller.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Foxcatcher will get a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, Steve Carell will be nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Mark Ruffalo will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It won't win anything.

Other ratings: IMDB (7.6/10), Rotten Tomatoes (86%)

Gone Girl

GONE GIRL (2014)
directed by David Fincher
[director filmography: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), The Social Network (2010), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Zodiac (2007), Panic Room (2002), Fight Club (1999), The Game (1997), Se7en (1995), Alien 3 (1992)]

written by Gillian Flynn [based on her book]

starring Ben Affleck [you've probably heard of him], Rosamund Pike [Jack Reacher (2012), Pride & Prejudice (2005)], Neil Patrick Harris [TV series "How I Met Your Mother" and "Doogie Howser, M.D.'"], Tyler Perry [Madea in all the Madea Movies]

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 5)
"Very entertaining"

In case you didn't already know, Gone Girl is a film about a man [Ben Affleck] accused of murdering his wife [Rosamund Pike]. Of course, to make things more interesting, the audience isn't sure if he did it. Even though we follow around the protagonist from the beginning of the film, there are points where we believe there is no way he could've hurt anyone, then places where it might be possible, and other moments where we just have to admit we have no idea what happened to her. Despite being a familiar plot--one that has been made and remade since the dawn of cinema--it is unlikely you could guess what ends up happening as the story unfolds. Both Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike deliver excellent performances that keep the audience guessing what is really going on, and they are supported by a brilliant and unlikely supporting cast that add to the entertainment value. Despite the originiality of the story, great acting and innovative filmmaking, Gone Girl is not quite a masterpiece. Still, it will entertain the hell out of you for two-plus hours and will likely remind you why you still want to go to the movies.

Gone Girl is another adaptation of a world-famous novel directed by David Fincher, and, similar to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it is also another that is sure to please readers. As a film lover, when a best-selling novel emerges my personal philosophy is to wait for the movie so I don't spoil it. Therefore, because I heard there was a crazy twist in the book and I knew the masterful David Fincher was directing the film adaptation, I put off reading the book and was happy that I did. Gone Girl was pretty incredible to say the least and it was a crazy ride. The only thing that didn't quite sit well with me was how the story was told. There were some narrative aspects that were almost dream-like and the story jumped around in a way that killed the momentum for me and was a little scrambled to watch. Also, despite Rosamund Pike being great, I am still not convinced that she was the best for the role. I read that Reese Witherspoon was attached at one point and was filled with regret that she wasn't the lead. Other than these pieces though, Gone Girl is what I go to the movies for and is a great reminder that a thriller can still be both original and well made. 

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Gone Girl will be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score and maybe Best Actress in a Leading Role for Rosamund Pike. David Fincher was nominated for Best Director at the Golden Globes, but I have the feeling that was a popularity vote and he will not be nominated for an Oscar. It will not win any of these awards.

Other ratings: IMDB (8.3/10, #114 on the Top 250), Rotten Tomatoes (88%) 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

written & directed by Wes Anderson
[director filmography: Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), The Darjeeling Unlimited (2007), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Rushmore (1998), Bottle Rocket (1996)]

starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson & Tony Revolori as Zero

ENJOYMENT: ***** (out of 5)
"Top Five of the Year"

So, I have to write about The Grand Budapest Hotel. I saw it back in the spring when it came out and I liked it, but I didn't really love it until I watched it again at home recently. I am a fan of Wes Anderson, sure, but usually I just don't understand the fascination with him. He always makes very imaginative films with huge ensemble casts and the film industry definitely wouldn't be the same without him, but his films always seem to feel too much in the realm of fantasy and never really resonate with me. I always manage to respect them though. The one previous exception, of course, is Fantastic Mr. Fox. That is one of my feel-good movies I can watch over and over. But now I have a new Wes Anderson film in the mix. The Grand Budapest Hotel is so clever, so funny, so fun and such an all-around remarkable story with incredible filmmaking that I had to make sure I acknowledged it before the Oscars on Sunday. Anyway, now that it's acknowledged, I think all I will say is that I loved it and if you're a Wes Anderson fan you will love it too. If you're not a Wes Anderson fan, however, or have no idea who this man is, then this is the film you should watch to give him a chance. Even if it's another chance. It is sure to delight.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: The Grand Budapest Hotel gets my prediction for Best Original Screenplay this year. If it was any other year, Ralph Fiennes probably would've gotten a Best Actor nomination, but it was a very competitive category. This film could win Best Picture -- at least I could see it happen -- but it's probably third in line. Wes Anderson probably won't win Best Director, but I could definitely see it happen. Let's just say that this movie deserves any positive attention it receives.

Other ratings: IMDB (8.1/10, #186 on Top 250), Rotten Tomatoes (92%)

Still Alice

written & directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
[director filmography: Quinceanera (2006)]

starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth

ENJOYMENT: ****1/2 (out of 5)
"Unbelievable performance by Moore and fantastic film"

I'll keep this one short. I really liked this movie. Julianne Moore got a lot of hype about this role starting in the fall and when I heard what the movie was about I knew that she was sure to pull it off better than just about anyone else could. She has been around for so long, has had so many impactful and masterful performances and in this one she is no different. Actually, she is different: she's better than ever. In Still Alice, Moore plays a Columbia linguistics professor who comes down with early onset Alzheimers. At first she forgets little things and gets lost from time to time, but then she starts to really go downhill. The film covers many issues you'd expect if a successful woman and mother of grown kids was diagnosed with such a horrific and incurable disease. It's draining on everyone. The film isn't all sad though; there are times when you laugh and when you still see the joy in her life despite difficult circumstances. As a movie it is great, but with Moore's performance it is more than that. The transformation she portrays starting out as a strong, brilliant woman and deteriorating into someone who is just a shell of herself is truly remarkable. And it brings home the horrors of this disease like I've never seen and unfortunately couldn't empathize with as much if it was about someone who was older. 

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Julianne Moore is sure to win Best Actress. It wasn't nominated for anything else. 

Other ratings: IMDB (7.5/10), Rotten Tomatoes (90%)

American Sniper

directed by Clint Eastwood
[director filmography: Gran Torino (2008), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Mystic River (2003), Unforgiven (1992)]

written by Jason Hall
[first big film]

starring Bradley Cooper [American Hustle (2013), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The Hangover Triology], Sienna Miller [Foxcatcher (2014), GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra (2009), Stardust (2007)

ENJOYMENT: ***** (out of 5)
"Profound film that made me speechless"

From the trailer, it was clear that this film would be powerful. I mean, in it they show Cooper's character deciding whether or not to shoot a child running toward American GIs with an RPG ready to blow. And most of the film goes on like this. For some reason though, I didn't realize it'd be such a war film. I knew that Bradley Cooper plays the deadliest sniper in US history, Chris Kyle, but for some reason I thought it'd be more a flashback sort of telling about his time in the war. I thought they'd spend more time on his family and him readjusting back to home life after his tours. And they do. But not really. And I'm glad they didn't. The majority of the film takes place in combat in Baghdad. Because of this, from the point of view of a twenty-something who did not go to war, I believe every American should see this movie. American Sniper shows the horrors of war with the force of sledge hammer. Most movies are about wars that took place generations ago, in Vietnam or WWII, and it's easy to separate that from today. However, this film came out at a time when we were debating another war in the Middle East against ISIS, so it serves as a strong reminder of how destructive it can be even if you do survive. Nonetheless, there are some lighter moments as well. What makes the movie so brilliant is that it is mostly chronological: we witness Kyle meet his wife, get married, have a baby, etc. This allows for a balanced film and where we get to see Kyle's transformation from these experiences, especially after 9/11 and many tours in Iraq, and it allows for Cooper to showcase his incredible talent as well. As a director, Clint Eastwood is clearly a genius and at 84 years old it is remarkable that he can still make films like this. All in all, this is one of the most important movies of the year. I literally went 15 minutes without talking after this movie and my husband did as well. It was powerful and a very necessary film and one of my favorites of the year.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: American Sniper was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Clint Eastwood probably should've been nominated for Best Director. Despite it being so good and a box office marvel, it will not win anything. This is the year of creative, innovative filmmaking and American Sniper is a bit too serious and controversial to take home the big prizes.

Other ratings: IMDB (7.5/10), Rotten Tomatoes (73%)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

directed by Peter Jackson
[director filmography: The Hobbit Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong (2005)]

written by Fran Walsh [The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings Trilogies, King Kong (2005)], Philippa Boyens [The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings Trilogies, King Kong (2005)], Peter Jackson [The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings Trilogies, King Kong (2005)]Guillermo del Toro [The Hobbit Trilogy, Pacific Rim (2013), Pan's Labyrinth (2006)]

starring Ian McKellen [The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings Trilogies, X-Men movies], Martin Freeman [The Hobbit Trilogy, TV Series "Sherlock" & "Fargo"], Cate Blanchett [Oscar Winner for Best Supporting Actress in The Aviator], Benedict Cumberbatch [The Imitation Game, The Hobbit Trilogy, TV Series "Sherlock"], Orlando Bloom [The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings Trilogies], Hugo Weaving [The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings & The Matrix Trilogies] lots of dwarves

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 5)
"Enjoyable and worth seeing" 

I'm a big fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogies, but there is quite clearly a difference between these two franchises and I like them both for different reasons. This shouldn't be a surprise, of course, since the LOTR trilogy is an adaptation from nearly 1200 pages worth of dense material while The Hobbit is based on only 300 pages of thin material. Moreover, the LOTR book trilogy would arguably not have ever been made into three films in the first place had it not already stood the test of time for millions of fans. In fact, the LOTR was so rich with important storylines and subplots that material had to be cut in order to make three 3-hour long movies for theaters. On the contrary, The Hobbit was made much differently; the book did not have enough material on its own to expand into a trilogy and therefore the writers needed to create material themselves. I believe this was the right move, since so many fans were sure to happily join Bilbo and crew back to Middle Earth for three more films, but the material was not tested in the same way. The writers took what was a timeless classic, The Hobbit, and essentially changed it. As a result, these films were not of the caliber of the LOTR, but that's okay--they weren't meant to be. It was not the same rich story as the LOTR with complex character development, compelling relationships, moral and philosophical issues, mature and human-looking characters and it was not as original this time around. Consequently, the filmmakers had to know that The Hobbit would likely not get the critical acclaim of its predecessors, or win an Academy Award for Best Picture as The Return of the King did, but that was the price to pay for the nearly $3 billion they have earned so far from this new Middle Earth trilogy. Despite still being directed by Peter Jackson and having all of the writers from the LOTR plus the one-of-a-kind Guillermo del Toro, The Battle of the Five Armies was enjoyable but by no means a masterpiece. Still, it was definitely worth seeing for some finality for Hobbit fans and it still offered incredible special effects, original battle scenes and the pleasure of any of the other five films.

The Battle of the Five Armies specifically had one of the weaker storylines in The Hobbit trilogy. In fact, this installment contains the actual desolation of Smaug that should have taken place in The Desolation of Smaug. I wonder if the filmmakers thought that there wouldn't be enough of a compelling story in the third film and it would be too much like the LOTR movies if it didn't contain dragon fight scenes. Nonetheless, what Jackson and crew decided worked and the second film was fine the way it was so whatever. Seeing this film in IMAX 3D undoubtably added to the entertainment of this film as well. Still, I have to think about what this movie would have looked like if Smaug was already taken care of in the second film, and I wonder if most people would have left the second film thinking, "Welp, it's over--that was cool." So to keep audiences on the edge a bit--especially those who forgot about Azog and all his orcs and hadn't read the book--and to make another film and therefore another $1 billion, there was a bit of a cliffhanger. It's really hard for me to complain about the plot points or any of the weaknesses in the story telling or editing in this film. Jackson gave audiences everything they wanted in these films: Legolas returned and was cooler than ever, Galadriel was back, Gandalf was as bad ass as ever, Smaug was a pretty fantastic dragon (watch Smaug as special guest on Colbert) and the battle scenes felt pretty new. All in all, The Battle of the Five Armies is a worthy addition and appropriate conclusion to The Hobbit trilogy and is sure to please most fans as long as they aren't too uptight and expect everything they got from the LOTR trilogy. 

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Maybe some technical awards but nothing else. The Hobbit trilogy was enjoyable, but not to the caliber of the Lord of the Rings

Other ratings: IMDB (7.8/10), Rotten Tomatoes (61%)


SELMA (2014)
directed by Ava DuVernay
[director filmography: only big film to date]

written by Paul Webb
[writing debut]

starring David Oyelowo [Interstellar (2014), Jack Reacher (2012), Last King of Scotland (2006)], Carmen Ejogo [The Purge: Anarchy (2014), Away We Go (2009)], Oprah Winfrey [Lee Daniel's The Butler (2013), The Color Purple (1985)], Tom Wilkinson [Michael Clayton (2007), Batman Begins (2005), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)]

ENJOYMENT: ***1/2 (out of 5)
"Decent but not the movie it should've been"

I saw this movie later than I would've liked to. I saw it after it racked up a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, after it was nominated for a bunch of Golden Globes, after it got snubbed for many predicted Academy Award nominations and after the filmmakers and the black community called foul because it was overlooked. I was intrigued, of course, and was surprised when I ended up not liking this movie very much. I mean, it was okay, but the film about MLK's life and the march on Selma should've been one of the greatest movies ever. To me, however, this movie was a big disappointment. Sure, there were points that David Oyelowo's MLK was convincing, that Tom Wilkinson's LBJ made my jaw drop, when the artistic talent of DuVernay shined through and when the depiction of this time in the nation's history made me embarrassed beyond belief. However, this was not anywhere near the perfect film it should've been. It felt like the work from a novice filmmaker. Many of the points that should've packed the most punch felt cheap. Oyelowo's MLK was a good imitation but I never really believed that he was MLK except for in a couple of well-rehearsed monologues. I could go on and on talking about what wasn't quite right with this movie, but I'll spare the details. All in all, I'm not surprised or outraged that this movie was overlooked by the Academy. The Academy is not racist. I'm not sure why it was so highly rated on RT to begin with, and it is understandable that I'd be an outlier from time to time, but I think this movie was lucky to even get a Best Picture nomination.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Selma nominated for Best Picture. Because it was overlooked for Best Actor, Director and Screenplay, I think the chances of it winning Best Picture are slim.

Other ratings: IMDB (7.7/10), Rotten Tomatoes (98%)

The Theory of Everything

directed by James Marsh
[director filmography: Man on Wire (2008)]

written by Anthony McCarten [first big film]

starring Eddie Redmayne [Les Miserables (2012), My Week with Marilyn (2011)], Felicity Jones [Amazing Spider-Man movies, Like Crazy (2011)]

ENJOYMENT: ***1/2 (out of 5)
"Average, but heart in the right place" 

A film about one of the world's leading astrophysicists who was diagnosed with terminal ALS back in the 1960s and is still alive, a prolific author and leading scientist? How could you go wrong? Well, for one, you could make it a romance film and neglect the confusing science stuff. Also, you could focus on the overcoming ALS part and make it just like any other cliched "inspirational" film made about anybody else. Unfortunately, The Theory of Everything seemed to follow this recipe in order to be one of the more average and therefore disappointing films this year. At the beginning of the film, the audience is launched into the 1960s at Cambridge, and the actors seem very comfortable in their challenging roles. There were few hints at this point that I wouldn't love this movie, but when the focus on science and Hawking's work shifted to focus on home life, I knew something was off. Was this a story about the relationship between Mr. & Mrs. Hawking, or was this a movie about Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant men of his generation? I understand that "behind every man is a great woman," but that is not my point. Showing homelife is important, knowing what makes someone tick is crucial, getting a glimpse of the folks that play a part in this story is welcomed. But, in my opinion, it would have been much more interesting to focus on Hawking the Scientist not Hawking the Husband and Father. 

We see romance films all the time and this was a chance to make a film that celebrates science, shares the majesty of the universe and inspire others to think more about the field. Instead, there were few times Hawking's science was even discussed let alone explained. This resulted in a timid film that felt as if producers didn't trust their audience to be interested or capable of understanding and it definitely didn't deserve its title "The Theory of Everything". What the filmmakers didn't realize is that the huge appeal of Hawking in the first place is his ability to reach wide audiences and sell best selling books on seemingly arcane topics such as black holes and spacetime. This was a huge miscalculation in my mind, and though I may be biased as a scientist, and I do realize the film was based on the memoir of Mrs. Hawking, I think the more important story would have focused on Hawking the Scientist. Still, I realize that I may be in the minority here since many reviewers and friends did like this film. In addition, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones both have magnificent performances, the cinematography is beautiful and the world that was portrayed was compelling. I never want to discourage anyone from seeing a movie they think they'll like (this has happened to me too often), but my opinion of this movie is very lackluster and thus I would be interested in hearing some diverse perspectives. Still, I believe that Hollywood has made more than enough romance movies and though this one was unconventional in many ways The Theory of Everything owed it to all of us, including Hawking, to be different.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Eddie Redmayne will be nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Felicity Jones will be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role. It will not win.

Other ratings: IMDB (7.7/10), Rotten Tomatoes (81%)

The Imitation Game

directed by Morten Tyldum
[director filmography: Headhunters (2011), some short films]

written by Graham Moore 
[some short films]

starring Benedict Cumberbatch [The Hobbit Trilogy, TV Series "Sherlock"], Keira Knightley [Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy, Anna Karenina (2012), Atonement (2007), Pride and Prejudice (2005)], Matthew Goode [A Single Man (2009), Match Point (2005)]

ENJOYMENT: ****1/2 (out of 5)
"Very entertaining & important film"

For those of you who don't know the story of Alan Turing: you should. He is credited for inventing the computer and he used his invention to help the Allies defeat the Germans in World War II. Also, he was gay and was prosecuted by the British government under "gross indecency" laws despite his great contributions during the war. In addition to being brilliant and gay, however, he was extremely socially awkward and his inability to get along with his peers almost cost him, and the rest of humanity, what inventions he did have a chance to create. Throughout The Imitation Game, it seems that Turing is the only person aware of the importance of what he is creating, and he has little patience for other's ineptitudes. This is what makes The Imitation Game so enthralling, because, since his project is funded by the cash-strapped British government, Turing is usually only one argument and one sour relationship away from having his whole project shutdown. Benedict Cumberbatch is remarkable at playing Turing with all of his certainty, idiosyncrasies and character development, and adds a dimension to this role that couldn't have been done by just any actor. As Sherlock in the amazing BBC series "Sherlock", Cumberbatch plays a genius detective with such awareness and conviction that I thought it would be hard to see him in another, intellectually similar, role. However, Cumberbatch's Turing is completely different than Sherlock: Turing is an actual human with emotions, fears and handicaps as any other person has, and Sherlock is superhuman. The thing that unites these two characters though is how they both care more about the process of solving unsolvable problems than whatever auxiliary benefits the population at large may receive as a result of their work. Both Turing and Sherlock are less interested in saving lives than they are in their own intrinsic curiosities--it just so happens that what they're so obsessed with will also bring a great benefit to humanity. The Imitation Game is a great film created by young and talented filmmakers, acted beautifully by Cumberbatch as well as Keira Knightley and will be one of the most recognized films of 2014.

This film is great for many reasons but one of the main things that I liked about it was the audience perspective. Throughout the film, we are not always reminded of the devastating war taking place on the European continent and at times it seems that the main characters are not so consumed by its horrors. Because of the nature of the war, and the fact that dozens of Ally soldiers were dying every minute, they had to acclimate to these realities quick in order to stay sane. This allows for the characters to have what looks like a somewhat normal life despite living in horrific times, and it was an interesting insight into what must have been the case for those who didn't join the front lines. The chronology of how the story was told was very creative and engaging. The film is told semi-chronologically with flashbacks to Turing's childhood and scenes from after the war interspersed, and this allows us to get further insight into what makes Turing tick as we get to know him more throughout the film. Keira Knightly plays a remarkable character, as a genius problem solver in a man's world, and is an amazing addition and counter-balance to the often-unpleasant Turing. The rest of the film is fantastic and unfolds in very exciting ways. There are many ethical dilemmas that Turing and his team encounters and they culminate when they are forced to make great sacrifices in order to ensure their contributions end up helping to win the war. All in all, this film is a classic addition to the large collection of movies about World War II, but for the first time tells the story of perhaps the most important contribution that helped the Allies defeat the Germans when they did.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS (I wrote this before the Oscar Nominations released this week): Nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Original Score. It will not win anything. UPDATE: The film did get nominated for all of these award, plus a nomination for Best Director (Morten Tyldum). That was surprising. It still will not win anything.

Other ratings: IMDB (8.3/10, #220 on Top 250), Rotten Tomatoes (90%)

Big Eyes

BIG EYES (2014)
directed by Tim Burton
[director filmography: Dark Shadows (2012), Alice in Wonderland (2010), Sweeney Todd (2007), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Big Fish (2003), Planet of the Apes (2001), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Ed Wood (1994), Batman Returns (1992), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman (1989), Beetlejuice (1988)]

written by Scott Alexander [Man on the Moon (1999), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Ed Wood (1994), The Problem Child movies], Larry Karaszewski [Man on the Moon (1999), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Ed Wood (1994), The Problem Child movies]

starring Amy Adams [American Hustle (2013), Her (2013), Man of Steel (2013), The Master (2012), The Fighter (2010), Julie & Julia (2009), Doubt (2008), Enchanted (2007), Junebug (2005)], Christoph Waltz [Two-time Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor in Inglourious Basterds & Django Unchained], Jason Schwartzman [The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Marie Antoinette (2006), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Rushmore (1998)]

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 5)
"Very entertaining"

This movie was great. I had seen these "Big Eyes" paintings around since I was a kid, but I never knew there was a backstory so enthralling and comical behind it. I didn't know that Margaret Keane rose from obscurity, that Mr. Keane was a sly con artist, and I didn't know that Mr. Keane was taking credit for Mrs. Keane's work the whole time. This film encapsulates the plight of women in the mid-20th century and how far we've come as a society since this time. The story of Keane screams out for Hollywood to jump and make a film about this, and it was as good as you'd expect based on the plot. Tim Burton did a wonderful job directing this film and was a nice homage to his innate storytelling abilities as he's diverted somewhat with his more fantastical, superficial films of late. This was more of an Ed Wood than anything else he's done in the last 20 years. As a side effect, Big Eyes was both aesthetically beautiful and epically told. Both Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz were at the top of their games, and it was clear why they get so much attention as actors. All in all, Big Eyes was a great film, beautifully told and expertly acted. 

OSCAR PREDICTIONS (I wrote this before the Oscar Nominations released this week): Amy Adams might be nominated for Best Actress. It's either her or Jennifer Aniston for Cake that will round off the group of five this year [note: it was actually neither; instead Marion Cotillard was surprisingly nominated for Two Days, One Night]. Christoph Waltz should a nomination for Best Actor, and in some years he might've, but this year is too full already for that category. Adams will not win even if she's nominated way. UPDATE: Amy Adams was not nominated, nor did the film get nominated for any other Oscars.

Other ratings: IMDB (7.2/10), Rotten Tomatoes (71%) 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

directed by Francis Lawrence
[director filmography: Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Water for Elephants (2011), I Am Legend (2007), Constantine (2005)]

written by Peter Craig [The Town (2010)], Danny Strong [Lee Daniels' The Butler, Game Change]

starring Jennifer Lawrence [Oscar Winner for Best Actress in Silver Linings Playbook], Josh Hutcherson [Hunger Games movies, The Kids Are All Right (2010)], Liam Hemsworth [Hunger Games movies], Woody Harrelson [TV Series "True Detective", No Country for Old Men (2007), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Natural Born Killers (1994)], Donald Sutherland [Hunger Games movies, Ordinary People (1980), MASH (1970), Phillip Seymour Hoffman [Oscar Winner for Best Actor in Capote], Julianne Moore [The Kids Are All Right (2010), Children of Men (2006), The Hours (2002), Magnolia (1999), Boogie Nights (1997)]

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 5)
"Falls short, but you still have to see it"

I was one among probably 100 million people around the world who was looking forward to the most recent installment of The Hunger Games series. As a result, I doubt I was the only one who was pretty disappointed. The first two films were fantastic, the first one being a surprise to me because I didn't read the books or believe the hype. In fact, I didn't even watch the first movie until it was streaming on Netflix, but, of course, instantly became super excited about the upcoming sequels. The second installment, Catching Fire, somehow beat the first in my opinion and was a complete and welcomed surprise. So, coming into this third film, my expectations were huge. I saw the early tepid reviews, I tried to check my expectations, but I couldn't help it--I was disappointed. 

Supposedly Mockingjay Part I follows the first half of the book pretty closely, but my major criticism then is that they shouldn't have split the last book into two movies. Or, to make it a complete standalone film, they should've added a storyline or some extra action sequences. It tried to pull a Harry Potter on the last installment to make an extra billion dollars, but instead they should've done what The Hobbit did to beef up the story in order to give the audience something for their money. Despite being let down, and despite most of the major scenes being in the preview, this was still a necessary viewing. We care about these characters, the storyline is still moving forward and you know I'm still stoked for the last film. For these reasons, and for seeing the brilliant acting of Jennifer Lawrence, a welcome to Julianne Moore, one of the last performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, eye candy from the rest of the cast and to keep up with the story, you still have to see it. So go ahead and get it over with.


Other ratings: IMDB (7.2/10), Rotten Tomatoes (66%)


WILD (2014)
directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
[director filmography: Dallas Buyers Club (2013), C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)]

written by Nick Hornby
[screenwriter of An Education (2009); author of Fever Pitch (2005), About a Boy (2002), High Fidelity (2000)]

starring Reese Witherspoon [Oscar Winner for Best Actress in Walk the Line], Laura Dern [Fault in Our Stars (2014), Citizen Ruth (1996), Jurassic Park Trilogy]

ENJOYMENT: ***** (out of 5)
"Loved it"

Damn, it was hard to get me to see this movie. I wanted to see Top Five. If it wasn't for the lack of clear Best Actress contenders this year, and that Reese Witherspoon got a Golden Globe nomination for this role, I probably wouldn't have gone. For those of you who have read the book by the same name, it is probably pretty clear that I did not read it. It is probably also clear that I didn't see the trailer or know that it was from the same director as Dallas Buyers Club, because if I did I would not have hesitated to see this film. It is this illogical reluctance to see Wild that makes me wonder how many other near masterpieces I forgo seeing every year that may have affected me very deeply. What have I learned? I've definitely learned that my prejudice against Reese Witherspoon for making a bunch of superficial films in her past (and likely even in her future) needs to end right now--she is one of the best actresses around when she wants to be. I've also learned that Jean-Marc Vallee is a powerhouse filmmaker, Nick Hornby can now be trusted to write pretty much anything, Laura Dern is still alive and acting finer than ever, and that Wild is one of the top 10 movies of the year.

I mentioned that if I had seen the trailer I wouldn't have hesitated to see this film because the trailer shows that Wild is actually about a very troubled young woman [Witherspoon] who needs to hit the reset button in life. Troubled by drugs, by poverty and by tragedy, she is unsure what else to do with herself. I won't ruin any more about the film, or about her character in the film, except to say that her way of hitting reset is to spend her last dollar on buying the equipment she needs (and some that she doesn't) to hike the entire 1,100 mile Pacific Coast Trail--by herself. Along the way, we get to learn more about her past, about her mother [Laura Dern], and about all that brought her to this point. This is filmmaking of masterful caliber with remarkable acting, editing, music, cinematography and locations. I don't want to make a comparison to Into the Wild (2007), because it is different in a lot of important ways, but I was still energized in a similar way after seeing both. In the end, Wild proves to be one of the more heartfelt, raw, and philosophically rich films of the year. It is for anyone who has ever felt that they didn't have a fork in the road, that they didn't have a way out, and that their only option was to shake things up in the most extreme way. This is the true story about a woman who acts on these needs.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: This film is phenomenal on so many levels, but I think it screams to be overlooked by the Academy for Best Picture or Best Director. It's a hunch that unfortunately rarely fails me. Reese Witherspoon will be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Nick Hornby for Best Adapted Screenplay. If there is justice in the Academy, Laura Dern will also be nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (she was overlooked by the Golden Globes). It's too soon to tell whether Witherspoon will win, because all of the other big films with strong female leading performances haven't been released yet. Also, she already has won once and she doesn't scream 2-time Oscar Winner yet--but who knows, that could just be my prejudice still. (I think it will be Julianne Moore's year for Still Alice--though I haven't seen the film yet. Like I said before, it's just a hunch I get.)

Other ratings: IMDB (7.2/10) as of Dec 17, Rotten Tomatoes (92%)