Blue Jasmine (2013): The latest annual Woody Allen movie (fun fact: there has been a Woody Allen movie every single year since 1981) stars Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, a New York socialite forced to move to San Francisco after her life falls apart.
Confession time: this is my first Woody Allen movie. Ever. Not too proud of that. From the research I did after watching the movie, I believe I chose an interesting one to start with. From what I read this is not a typical Woody Allen movie. This is more of a drama, as opposed to a comedy. I'm still labeling it a comedy because it was funny, but it is very much a character-driven comedy. That said, how is the actual movie? Well the primary thing to take away from this movie is Cate Blanchett. I'm all for Amy Adams winning Best Actress this year, but if Blanchett wins it I will completely understand. The supporting cast is strong (couple cast members of Boardwalk Empire show up....Woody Allen must like that show) and they definitely do well to lighten the movie given what's happening to Blanchett's character. But will it resonate? Will it leave a lasting impression? I don't think so. Sure it has great characters, and a strong story arc from Blanchett, but the truly great movies resonate. This movie doesn't. Right down to the part where the ending is rather unsatisfying.
So Cate Blanchett. Wow. She takes a very unlikeable character with few redeeming qualities and makes you root for her. Somehow. It's absolutely amazing. After all, she's pretty much a jerk. She uses almost everyone, and when people without money and means approach her she basically tells them to go fuck themselves. Yet, despite this, you can't help but feel bad for her and all the crap that's happening in her life. This is all because of Blanchett. She absolutely carries this movie guys. More so than any one actor or actress has carried a movie all throughout 2013. And is almost the sole reason for going and seeing this. Sure there's a solid supporting cast, but this is Blanchett's movie. With such a strong emphasis on characters, you have to have a strong actor or actress leading the way in your movie, and boy does Blanchett deliver. One of the best performances of this year. The (as I said) strong supporting cast is welcome here as well. Sally Hawkins is great as Jasmine's sister, and her thuggish boyfriend, played by Bobby Cannavale, is rather intimidating yet loving and adorable. Particularly when he cries. Boy that sounds weird....just take it from me, when he cries and how he responds later to being accused of doing so is rather funny. And Louis C.K. is great in this too! He's doing a good job thus far transitioning over to movies. Well, far better than Kevin Hart to say the least. My biggest problem with the supporting cast was the character Sally Hawkins has to play. She plays her well, but she isn't written very soundly in my opinion. Sure the movie is about Blanchett, but since the entire movie is character-driven, doesn't it make sense that all the characters be well-written? Or is that just me? That's just me? Ok.
I don't really know what else to talk about. Oh! Music! I have a feeling that music selections is something Allen has always been good at, because the big band selections in this movie were excellent. I really loved them. But, the movie just lacked the necessary punch to make it great. I have no idea what that punch could've been, I just know it wasn't there. One person cannot carry a movie on their own guys. It just doesn't work. Maybe I just need to watch more Woody Allen movies? I will certainly make a point to see a few more in the upcoming months. I just don't get it on first viewing. I don't even know what to say against this movie, besides the ending. I guess the characters aren't necessarily the most human? I mean they aren't, but this didn't detract from the movie at all. I don't know. I do know that unless if I pursue more Woody Allen movies, I will likely completely forget about the existence of this movie within a few months, past the part where Cate Blanchett (likely) wins Best Actress from it. So go see it for that. If you don't care for that sort of thing, your time is definitely better spent elsewhere.
The Critique: gosh. Um.....Cate Blanchett. She's an A-list actress, and it shows beautifully here. Otherwise it's not the most memorable of movies.
The Recommendation: if you like Woody Allen or Cate Blanchett, it's a must-see. If not, well.....there are better movies from 2013 to see.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
I finally met my match guys. I just do not know what to say about this movie at all. I think I'm going to watch a few more Woody Allen movies before I critique another that's for sure.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014): Jack Ryan returns to the silver screen in the form of Chris Pine. This time, he is thrown into a scenario in which he must stop the Russians from blowing up a high-value target in the US.
Yay! My first review for a movie from 2014! You always have to be weary of January movies. This is, without any doubt, the worst month for movies out of the year. So far this month has been no exception. Ride Along has bombed. Kevin Hart just can't make the transition from stand-up to movies. A true shame. The Nut Job was just weird. No real rhyme or reason for that random kid's movie with a shocking amount of adult humor in it. Remember the part where Paranormal Activity 5 came out at the start of the month too? Ya that hasn't done well either. I, Frankenstein also just came out but is currently sporting a resounding 5% on Rotten Tomatoes. I may give that a full review but we'll see. Point being, January sucks. So I went into this move with virtually no expectations whatsoever. I was expecting a very standard action movie. What did I get? I got two movies. For the first 60+ minutes, it was a surprisingly awesome action movie. Very original, very smart, very emotionally gripping. I was on the edge of my seat for a while. Then the third act happened. A train wreck to say the least. The final 45 minutes were full of cliques and nick-of-time escapes, amongst many other movie mistakes. So let's dive into it, shall we?
First off, here's what the movie did well. Chris Pine was great as Jack Ryan. He's charming and charismatic, and I hope to see him play this role again. Maybe we'll get what we got in the early 90s where Ford played the character for Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Keira Knightley was good, as always. I really liked the fact that she was not just the damsel in distress. She actually did stuff! That was cool. Also Kenneth Branagh was good as the villain, Viktor. He had a great Russian accent, and while he was a very standard Bond-esque villain, he was still very sinister. He also did a great job directing this too. Oh ya, Kenneth Branagh was also the director. He did a good job with the action pieces all throughout the movie. Between the first Thor and this, he has a very solid reputation for directing a well-shot action movie. I'll give him that. The one-on-one fight between Ryan and another character (in the trailers) was brutal and tense. The phone call afterwards to his handler was arguably the best moment of the entire movie, as a distressed Ryan calls his handler and is in a tremendous amount of emotional stress. Some great writing there. Really, the first 60+ minutes of the film were great. Well written, very tense, very hectic. Quite a few great scenes. Then the third act happened.
So the third act. There might be some spoilers in this upcoming rant, but believe me: the third act becomes like every other action movie ever, so the whole tension thing that was happening in the first and second act is COMPLETELY gone. So, the twists and turns of the first and second act I'll leave for you to find out on your own, but spoilers MAY be upcoming. I'm sorry. So this movie starts falling off the rails as soon the movie leaves Moscow. Jack Ryan and the CIA did some pretty awful things in Moscow that pissed off a lot of Russians. So you would think that leaving the country might be a bit of an issue, right? Well, somehow, the CIA was able to land a supersonic jet filled with a crapton of high-tech computer equipment and then fly that jet through Russian airspace and out of Russia without anyone noticing. There could've been a huge plot point filled with a lot of tension in trying to get Jack Ryan out of Russia, but nope! He gets out. Done. That by itself is just a standard movie mistake, but what happens in the plane is the bigger movie mistake. See when the plane ride starts, the CIA has absolutely no idea who the bad guy is. No leads. No hints. Nothing. In the course of about 5 minutes on a supersonic plane over the Atlantic ocean, the CIA goes from having no leads to not just knowing who the bad guy is, but knowing EXACTLY WHERE HE IS. Just, out of nowhere! Quick! Search this guy! TYPE TYPE TYPE! Quick! Search this guy! TYPE TYPE TYPE! THEY'RE THE SAME GUY! That's our bad guy! BAM. Just a few quick clicks and they know everything they need to know about a sleeper agent the Russians spent years integrating into American society. There should've just been a blank screen with the text saying, ok, moviegoers: we're going to New York City. Just accept it. Not to mention the part where the plane ride from Moscow to NYC takes about 2 hours. Talk about supersonic! But these elements just kill the tension that had been building throughout the first and second act. Not to mention the entire NYC scene is totally unbelievable and incredibly clique. Honestly I would've loved for them to have failed. Ya, it's a terrible thing to say, but it would'e been very memorable. This is technically a prequel, after all. Remember the big point in The Sum of All Fears when they fail and the nuclear bomb goes off in Baltimore? It's been a long time since I've seen that movie, and I still remember it. A cliffhanger-esque ending of them failing would've been really cool! And setting up for at least another sequel with more of Kenneth Branagh's villain. But instead, we get a cardboard cutout of a stereotypical action movie ending, with the standard last-second saves and Jack Ryan all-of-the-sudden turning into Sylvester Stallone and being able to do anything and everything. I still cared about what happened to Ryan and to Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner, but my care level went down a lot by the end of this 105 minute disaster. Honestly, this movie should've contained about 20 more minutes of film. At least. They could've adequately explained how they found the bad guy without a couple of quick clicks. But it was clear that this movie was trying to stay under 2 hours.
So that was a heck of a rant. Ultimately, I would still recommend this to any action fan. There are definitely fewer cliques in here than in something like The Expendables. But still, this movie had so much potential! So much. Then it fell flat on its face.
The Critique: An original and gripping premise that succumbs to the norms of stereotypical action movies by the third act. A major disappointment.
The Recommendation: Still going to recommend this to action fans, but if you aren't one of those, I'd say view at your own risk.
The Verdict: 5.5/10 Slightly Above Average
So much potential......
All Is Lost (2013): After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. I didn't have to IMDB that one, but it's such a wonderful description that I couldn't help but use it.
Actions speak louder than words. I have to open with that because there's about seven words spoken throughout this entire movie. There's a quick voiceover at the beginning that gives us a tiny bit of backstory on the character here in which more words are spoken than the rest of the movie combined. This asks a lot of the actor asked to play the man in this movie. A one man show, I might add. Fortunately for the director J.C. Chandor, he managed to get one of the all-time greats, Robert Redford, to play our man. He doesn't even have a name guys. Nothing. The movie is simple one: watch one nameless man survive in the middle of the ocean for 8 days. Think Gravity, but on a boat. And with no exposition. Yet it is told in an emotionally-gripping and heart-wrenching fashion. If you consider yourself a cinema aficionado, and don't see this movie, you're 100% wrong. Actually 110% wrong. It may not make my top 10 list (not sure yet) but it is definitely one of the best works of cinema from 2013.
First off, acting. Well, just actor, I guess. There is literally no one else in this movie. It's just Robert Redford. Who reminds us why he is one of the best actors ever. All we have to figure out what's going on is what we see on his face and in his eyes. That's it. When he climbs the mast of his yacht and sees a storm coming, you can see his face go through the various stages of survivalist thoughts on how he's going to deal with the disaster coming his way. It is absolutely brilliant, and a travesty that he did not even get nominated for Best Actor. Especially when his "counterpart" character, Sandra Bullock in Gravity, does get nominated for Best Actress. And whereas she has a few (clearly forced) lines of dialogue while she's alone, Redford says nothing when he see the storm coming. His face says it all, saying, "I can't avoid this, so how do I prepare for what's coming?" By the end of the film I was just as invested, if not more so, in Redford's character and his fight for survival as I was anyone else in cinemas this year. Some people may take issue to the fact that he didn't get a back story, but I like that we the viewer is expected to figure out his story. I inferred that he was rich and important in his normal life, and highly intelligent given how much he knows about surviving on the open water.
There is nothing else here, obviously. No flashbacks, no back story, no showing a bad relationship with his daughter, nothing. Just him, his yacht, and his will to survive. And when a giant freight boat (right out of Captain Phillips!) goes right by him and he can't get their attention, it is absolutely heartbreaking. And you can see how deflating that is to him: to be 100 feet from rescue just for it to float away. But then you see the determination to survive return to him. It is truly incredible, as this is all done with his facial expressions. However the fact that there is no backstory is a curse as much as it is a blessing. Because we see nothing of this character's origins, casual moviegoers may not enjoy this movie. You really have to engage throughout the 106 minute runtime. From start to finish. If you don't you will not appreciate this movie nearly as much. Additionally while I may have kind of "bashed" Gravity earlier, it is certainly the better film. And more....entertaining? I guess? I would recommend both in a heartbeat but Gravity is the absolute can't-miss movie of 2013. Hopefully you were fortunate enough to see it in 3D and in IMAX. But you don't need to do that here. It is very well-shot, but seeing it on the big screen won't make a tremendous difference in the world.
In conclusion, this is a wonderful movie. Since it only netted about $6 million at the box office, you probably missed it. But really, I say this one of the better movies of this year. You should see this movie. A simple idea executed brilliantly. And the survival aspects of it? Amazing. Half of the things he did to stay alive I didn't recognize at all. But I trusted that he knew what he was doing. Ah! Is it better than Cast Away? Absolutely. Cast Away is a very good movie, but there's a lot there that doesn't work too. Here, the only things that work against the movie is its simplicity. But if you are ready to fully immerse yourself into a movie for a while, this one is absolutely worth your time. Go see it.
The Critique: A wonderfully simplistic yet powerful piece of cinema. Executed to perfection, this one is well worth anyone's time.
The Recommendation: A must-watch for any fan of the cinema or survival pieces.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 9/10 Amazing
Robert Redford really deserved an Oscar nod here. It is truly criminal that he got passed over, even more so than Tom Hanks getting passed over for the same spot in Captain Phillips. This is one of the all-time great actors guys. And he's had such a prominent role in the entertainment industry over the years, particularly with the creation of the Sundance film festival. And he has exactly one Oscar nomination for acting in his career. One. And we complain about the lack of an Oscar for Leo.....
The Fifth Estate (2013): The story of the creation of WikiLeaks and it's controversial creators, Julian Assange and Daniel Berg. I had to IMDB their names by the way. I just watched the movie and I can't remember their names. Good start.
So this movie sucked. A lot. It's a huge shame too because it has a great premise and a great cast. But then it goes and falls on its face in epic proportions. Honestly this movie is one of my worst movies of 2013. And I'm going to try to tell you why because that's what I'm here for! So let's dive into it shall we?
First, we should talk about what the movie does right. Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl are decent as the movies main protagonists. Neither are great, rather they are just somewhat good. There aren't that many movies out there that have put Cumberbatch squarely in the lead role like this one does. And he tries. You can tell that he really tries to make the best of his character, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. But the character is so poorly written that even he can't make it any better.
I'm already onto the bad by the way. So here's the problem with Julian: you are clearly meant to sympathize for him. This is very obvious. But here's the catch: he's a total asshole who is completely obsessed with his own ego. There's some weird back story that is clearly only in there for you to say, "Oh! He's an asshole but he's had a crappy life so it's ok." No! It doesn't work like that! Maybe if you are just treating other people like crap I can still sympathize if it's a well-written back story, but when the extent of someone being a jerk is a complete disregard of human life in order to fuel your own ego? You can't sympathize with that, no matter how bad a childhood that person may've had. It also doesn't help that the backstory is very poorly written as well.
Honestly this whole movie is poorly written. I had no idea what was going on half the time, or what characters were doing what. There was montage after montage of either Cumberbatch or Bruhl sitting behind a computer typing inhumanely fast and then dramatically lowering the screen on their laptop and proclaiming they just took down a government or a bank or something. Or a montage would be abruptly ended as some random person would walk in on them and they would quickly and (still) dramatically close their laptop so the random guy wouldn't know what they were doing. The movie was also overly-dramatic, if you couldn't tell. The big moment of WikiLeaks was the infamous War Files of 2010 (I think) that brought to light thousands of war documents. When these files (and cables, whatever they are) were given to WikiLeaks, a side story was brought in within the movie (starring Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, and Anthony Mackie, by the way) to try to express the gravity of this situation to us the viewers. This side story culminated with those three people getting some random guy out of the country he was in. No backstory on this guy. Not even a quick montage to show off what he was doing before his whole life came crashing down. Nope. Just, "We gotta get this guy out! Phone call! GET OUT NOW! He leaves! YOU MADE IT? Oh thank God!" and then it's over. Riveting right?
Let me give you another example of how shallow this script is. So Bruhl's character has a girlfriend in the movie. It's a horribly-written romance from start to finish, but it culminates with one particularly horrible scene. So the two of them separate at one point. Not together. Let's remember that together: they are not an entity throughout the entire movie. It was a pretty obvious break-up to me. Complete with a heated argument and her storming out of his apartment. So, once they are separated, Bruhl gets frustrated with Cumberbatch over something and decides to leave him and where does he go? His ex-girlfriend's house. They say two or three meaningless lines at the door, and then THE VERY NEXT SHOT we see them post-sex. SERIOUSLY? No, "I'm sorry for how I treated you." from Bruhl or anything? Just....meaningless exposition and then straight to sex. Yep. That's what happened. So very shallow. Oh and there's this weird dream sequence that recurs throughout the movie that was also just so awkward. Gotta throw this in because it's a visual crutch to show us when something is happening with WikiLeaks. It's a metaphor of a website as a business office. I guess they are trying to make this movie easier to understand? I don't know. It didn't work because the problem with that is that there is quite a bit of Internet jargon and sitting behind computers as is, so those with little understanding of technology aren't going to understand this movie anyway. One metaphor is not going to make this movie easier to comprehend guys.
I hope I have adequately conveyed why this movie is terrible. Sure there's some good acting from the two leads, but there isn't anything else. Everything else, right down to the pacing of the movie, is all over the place. Bill Condon, the director, clearly has no idea what he's doing. He doesn't even know how to do something as simple as leave text that we the viewer must read on the screen long enough for us to actually, you know, read it. Maybe you'll be able to get past all of this and just enjoy the decent acting and the interesting premise, but probably not. Put this one way down on your list.
The Critique: Decent acting and an interesting premise fall flat on its face when the movie can't deliver anything else. Still waiting on a good story about the creation of WikiLeaks, that's for sure.
The Recommendation: If you like Cumberbatch, there might be enough here for you to get some enjoyment out of this train wreck of a movie. Otherwise, stay away.
The Verdict: 2.5/10 Basically Garbage
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): A week in the life of Llewyn Davis, an aspiring musician in the 1960's Greenwich Village folk scene. Please don't be alarmed that it's about the folk scene. It's still worthy of your attention if you are a fan of any kind of music.
So this is a great movie. If you like music, like I do, and really want to see a great piece about the life of a small-time musician, then this is an absolute must-watch. It is a brutally real and honest movie about the hardships that a nobody has to go through while trying to just make a living. He's not trying to make it big, he's just trying to get by.
The directors, the Coen brothers, do not treat their characters very well in their movies. Most known for movies like No Country for Old Men and True Grit, they certainly continue their tradition of creating a character that you so desperately want to root for but as soon as you start to like them nope! They go and do something assholish and douchey. Llewyn Davis is a jerk. No other way to say it. You do nothing but feel for him because his life is incredibly difficult, even though he is an incredibly selfish person. I mean, how would you feel if you legitimately had no idea where you were going to sleep that night? And yet while you sympathize so much with him, he goes and does terrible things, like leave a cat that he's gotten rather attached to in some dudes car so that it's his problem, or yell terrible things to a girl on stage while she's performing. It's awful. In short, this is a great character study on Llewyn Davis as much as it's an investigative piece on the life of a nobody musician. A bold undertaking for sure, and the Coen brothers nail it. Not to mention the part where it is breathtakingly shot. 10/10 on cinematography that is complete with a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
The acting is fantastic. There's really only two primary actors here, Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan. I'll start with Carey. I've seen her in several movies, none of which were any good, and she was a primary reason for the movie being not very good. Gatsby? She was terrible! And she wasn't much better in Wall Street 2. But you know what? She is fantastic here. She is so angry all the time at Davis and it's wonderful! She allows herself to be fully immersed in the role, and since it's not a love story between her and the lead (which is usually where she's falls apart) she does a great job calling Davis terrible names and treating him like complete crap. I was genuinely impressed. Oscar Isaac was also fantastic as Davis. He actually has a great voice too. He brilliantly displays the various emotions that he's asked to convey. It's not an easy role at all, and he dives right into it. And, as I said, he can sing quite well. This helps a lot. Additionally, there are many great cameos from various actors, including Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, and the legendary John Goodman. All put in good performances. Nothing really memorable except maybe Timberlake, primarily since he's FINALLY playing himself in a movie, but really this is Oscar Isaac's movie. I didn't really know him before this movie, but now I am excited to see what he does next.
Now this movie did have several faults. The entire trip to Chicago, which is essentially the second act, feels rather out of place. Actually, I'll make it a bit more specific: the drive to Chicago from NYC feels out of place. Really it feels like an excuse to put John Goodman in this movie. I'm totally ok with that don't get me wrong, as they probably just brought him in for a day or two to sit in a car on set and read a few lines, but it really is unnecessary. The movie is 104 minutes long, so it's not too bad, but these few exchanges in the car go on for about 20 minutes and really takes away what the film is good at, like its stunning cinematography work, or watching Davis' life unfold in front of him. It also really throws off the pacing of the movie. Not to fear though, as the journey back only takes about 5 minutes. So at least they don't make the same mistake twice. Another thing I should mention is that the ending does not tie up a lot of loose ends at all. It might be too unsatisfying for some, despite the fact that it's trying to convey the fact that it's a circle that he's in. And he can't get out of it. I personally didn't have much of a problem with it, but if you don't like the movie that will likely be reason number one as to why you didn't like it.
In conclusion, I cannot recommend this movie enough to those who enjoy music. Don't be turned off by the fact that it's folk music! I know I have a thing for it as it is, but there is plenty more to enjoy here than just the music. Even if all you listen to is rap. It's easy to get into the life he's living while not even enjoying the music he's playing. About the only time where I felt liking folk actually benefited me was at the end where there was a great and clever cameo from the greatest musician to come out of the Greenwich Village folk scene. Obviously he was a nobody at the time but he has come to define the entire genre. You should also see this movie if you like character pieces. Unlike August: Osage County, this is a character piece where you can actually identify and appreciate the person being studied! WHOA.
The Critique: one of the best films on the music industry in recent years, Inside Llewyn Davis is a great piece of cinema from start to finish.
The Recommendation: A must-watch for any fan of the music industry and those who like the Coen brothers. Also a solid recommendation to those who like character studies.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Quick Oscar Talk: Only two nominations here, but honestly if this movie does not receive the award for Best Cinematography, it will be solely because of the extended John Goodman-in-a-car conversations. Also the musical single, Fare Thee Well by Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford, definitely deserved a nod for Best Original Song. Just saying. Go listen to that song if you like folk. It is fantastic.
August: Osage County: How the hell do you describe this? Um....we get to watch an incredibly dysfunctional group of Oklahoma intellectuals become even more dysfunctional at the hands of their mother. And it is ridiculous. By the way there are few spoilers in this review, but I can't get around them in what is a character piece. They are very minor set-up spoilers, not major plot-points spoilers. Please keep this in mind.
What the hell did I just watch? Ok....um....so! Here's where this movie works: it stars about every important actor of the last 10+ years. Julia Roberts. Abigail Breslin. Chris Cooper. Julianne Nicholson. Sam Shepard. Margo Martindale. Ewan McGregor. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH. (Ah! Can't believe he's in this!) And leading them all, one of the all-time great actresses, Meryl Streep. See I made that last longer than it needed to why? Because the good things about this movie basically end there. The main problem is that everyone except like two of the people in this movie are wildly unbelievable characters. What does this mean? What's supposed to be a character study of this family is not a character study AT ALL. It's just a sequence of events that are ridiculous and unbelievable. Let's start with Meryl Streep. I should preface what I'm about to say with acknowledging that the person I'm talking about is widely considered the single greatest living actress, so take it with a grain of salt. But she did NOT deserve a best actress nomination for her character here over Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks. But she got it because of her name. Sure, it's a damn good performance, but it's also rather overacted. She went way too far with her character's temper tantrums and overreactions to meaningless things, and as a result created an incredibly unbelievable and absurd character that should have been thrown in an insane asylum years before, not at the head of this whole bloody family! This is not one of her better performances. Which isn't saying much given how great we all know she is, but still, if Tom Hanks can't get a nod for Captain Phillips, Streep does not deserve a nod for this.
Sorry....that kinda turned into a rant on the Oscars for a few sentences. Anyway let's continue with the review yes? More bad things. Like I said everyone is unbelievable except Chris Cooper and maybe....um....Ewan McGregor? Mostly just Cooper. Well and Same Shepard but you don't see much of him. Various characters do inexplicable things to each other with very little rhyme or reason to their actions. I love me some Benedict Cumberbatch, and he is great in this, (at one point he sings in his southern American accent, which is not an easy thing to do, and he nails it) but his back story with Julianne Nicholson is just....well, stupid! A group of intellectuals, and we have incest going on. Like, really? Are you serious? That's just a small SMALL example of some of the absurd set-up of this movie. Why am I saying this? Because this makes this movie a character piece where you DON'T CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. I see a small problem there.
Ok so I need to talk about positives right? Ok.....um....Found one! Julia Roberts. Her character is still unbelievable, but she puts in a phenomenal performance doing it. She does this by primarily maintaining subtlety when she acts like her mother, Streep. She goes well outside her comfort zone by portraying a very despicable character with very few redeeming qualities. Typically she plays charming and sexy characters but not here. Not here at all. And this might be why she wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. I say it's between her and Lupita Nyong'o from 12 Years a Slave. We'll see. So there's a positive! I guess I should say that despite the absurdity of the movie, I wasn't necessarily bored at any point. For one it was awesome to see Streep and Roberts in the same camera shot. And the dinner scene was phenomenal when the whole family is in the same room together. That was the best scene of the movie, even though what ultimately happens in it is....you guessed it! Ridiculous. But I was surprised I had as much fun as I did. Despite the fact that this is not even remotely what the movie was going for. It's a very serious movie but because it is so ridiculous it turns into a freaking comedy. I was laughing pretty hard when Roberts is trying to get Streep to eat her lunch by saying things like, "Eat the fucking fish, bitch!" See what I mean? You're never going to say that to your mother! Just too ridiculous. And when the big twist comes in the movie, I was just like.....nope. I didn't care. It was so incredibly unbelievable!
Final thing: this is based off of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. I have never seen the play, but I'm guessing the movie took quite a few liberties with it's premise. For one, it's a 3 hour play squashed into 121 minutes. Still too long, by the way, but honestly I do not see what the hype is about this play. Sorry. I'll keep an open mind by assuming they cut out important details for the movie, but if the movie here is very similar to that of the play, I don't know where the hype for it is coming from. This is not a good movie guys.
You know what? I take back that last statement. It is just below average. Just slightly. The acting is good, and I was never bored, however I liked it for the wrong reasons. I liked it because it was stupid funny, not because of the character study. That's the problem. Since the movie failed on its entire premise, I can't give it that high a score.
The Critique: An absurd and ridiculous set of characters played by A-list actors. A very mixed bag.
The Recommendation: Man, who do I recommend this to? If you like Julia Roberts, or just a conglomerate of great actors on a screen in front of you, go see it. Oh! IF YOU LIVE IN OKLAHOMA, GO SEE IT! Ya! Cause it's relevant to you because Osage County is IN OKLAHOMA. WHOA! Imagine a look of complete shock on my face as I say that. Ok I'm having way too much fun with this I'm gonna stop now. In short, your time is better spent elsewhere.
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Still well acted, and fun. Even though it wasn't trying to be fun. If I were to rate it on it actually trying to achieve its purpose, I would give it something like a 2.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013): The story of Ron Woodroof and his creation of the 1985 buyers club for those stricken with the AIDs virus in Dallas.
Ah the Matthew McConaughey resurgence continues. Seriously. That's the biggest thing to take out of this movie, because it is Oscar bait through and through. Now that doesn't mean this is not a good movie, rather it just means that its existence is here simply for Truth Entertainment and Voltage Pictures to get some buzz with the various guilds that vote for the Oscars. And coincidentally make more movies! WOAH. It's like it's a business or something! All jokes aside, this is a good movie, but that's all it is. Good. Well maybe great. Masterfully acted, well told, interesting, and relatively moving, this movie is a strong and worth-while bit of cinema.
So the highlight of the movie is without a doubt the acting. Matthew McConaughey and how he's continuing to turn his career around is the highlight of this highlight reel, as he fully immerses himself into the role of Ron Woodroof, creating a convincing story arc from start to finish. While it is not as good a performance for him as Mud was earlier in 2013, that's not saying much because his acting in Mud just might be my single favorite acting performance of 2013. Yep. I said it. Anyway, McConaughey isn't the only worthwhile performance in this movie. The other is in the hands of none other than Jared Leto. A man who I have actually had the (unfortunate) pleasure of meeting in December of 2013. While he is one of the biggest jerks in existence, (sorry 30 Seconds to Mars fans, but he is) he goes all out portraying the transvestite Rayon. Actually his initial reveal was my favorite part of the movie. "Is that Jared Leto? Holy shit it's Jared Leto." was my reaction when I first saw him. As I said, he goes all out, complete with borderline-sexy dresses and makeup to portray Rayon. He was barely recognizable. And his acting was marvelous too! At one point he goes and sees his dad and dresses like a man and you can see the anguish on his face as he puts on a mirage of him being normal for his father. It was a moving scene (probably the best of the film) and almost worth the price of admission alone. Wow. That is a lot of praise for Leto. However where there is good acting, there is also bad acting. In the form of Jennifer Garner. She really needs to get out of the business, because she cannot act. Her role isn't written very well in the first place, and more-or-less serves at the pleasure of McConaughey, but she does a TERRIBLE job of expressing the emotions her character needs to express. When your best performance is a subpar job in Juno, you know you need to quit.
Anyway, the story. The story is pretty good, though not without its faults. For starters, this is a very safe movie. What I mean is that Hollywood managed to find the one person in the AIDs epidemic that helped gays through it while simultaneously being a straight homophobe. So this is a movie that is about the hardship of the gays, but at the same time insults them throughout by reminding us that many people absolutely hate them. In short, Milk was a better movie about the gay hardship during the 70s (and 80s) in part because it actually told it's story from the viewpoint of someone who is actually gay and makes him the hero. Now this doesn't mean that this movie is bad. McConaughey goes through a very well done and convincing story arc, and Leto has his moments. Garner is written poorly but her lack of acting didn't help the situation either. There are various stages that McConaughey goes through as he is forced to deal with the people that he hates initially, and I bought the change he experiences. It's a hard chip to sell, but they got it! And the moments Leto has, like with his father, were very moving and rather heartbreaking as well. His character really is beautifully written, despite being the blunt of many of McConaughey's insults.
In conclusion, if you want to see the performance that will win best supporting actor this year or want to see why Hollywood is getting excited about Matthew McConaughey, watch this movie. However, if you want a gay hardship movie, go watch Milk. Which is one of my favorites, I might add. Still a good story here, but Milk's is great. Oh almost forgot! At 117 minutes, this movie feels a little long. It could've used 15 minutes getting shaved off somewhere. Oh! I know! Let's remove all of Jennifer Garner's parts! That'll make it better. Man I really put some hating on Garner in this review I wonder if anyone's going to come out and support her.....but geez even her IMDB picture is bad! *I'm going to stare dramatically into the camera for some reason. No smile up in here! Because having fun and enjoying ourselves is for losers!* That's what her picture is saying. And that's how I'm going to end this review. Testicles.
The Critique: some of the best acting performances of the year combined with just a good story equals a movie that almost gets to great but not quite. Still a good watch though.
The Recommendation: watch it for the acting. However if you really don't care about acting your time is better spent elsewhere.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Somewhere between good and great
Oscar Talk: Definitely the favorite for best supporting actor, and I'm going to leave it at that. Especially seeing as the nominations will be out in like 12 hours.
Frances Ha (2013): A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn't really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she's not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles.
Sorry, had to IMDB that one because the story is rather hard to explain. So, critically speaking, as in not my personal opinion, this is the best indie movie of 2013. The reason it's not my own personal opinion is simply because I have not seen that many indie movies from 2013. Definitely not enough to render a judgement on this topic. But if you are to see one indie movie from the past year, I would definitely recommend Frances Ha.
So here are my thoughts. This movie is very much an indie movie. Which means that the director, Noah Baumbach, throws a lot of ideas against the wall, from everything that Frances goes through to even the sights (it's shot in black and white. I don't really know why but it didn't bother me at all. Don't let this fact turn you off!) and sounds of the movie. But the beauty of this movie is that about 90% of it works. Some of the musical selections are pretty weird and out there, and very little of what happens in the movie has any sort of consequence after it happens, but the events that occur in the movie, such as a broke Frances taking an entirely spontaneous weekend trip to Paris on a credit card she just received, are wonderful to watch. Frances is a great antihero, one which you identify with and root for from minute 1 on. And this is a short film too. 86 mins long to be exact. While many movies at that length suffer from a lack of character development, Frances Ha gets around this by really only requiring Frances herself to need any character development. And boy does she.
So this movie came out in May of 2013, in case you didn't know. And Greta Gerwing was up for best actress at the Globes this year. That's how memorable a performance she puts in here. She almost single-handily carries this movie as Frances, expressing various emotions flawlessly throughout the short movie. She's funny. She's lovable. She's identifiable. And through it all she's a bloody antihero! Remember that name, Greta Gerwing, for you will be hearing it a lot more in years to come. However, the movie's greatest strength is a double-edge sword. As a result of how important Frances is, everyone else is totally forgettable. Some of the acting from the supporting cast is actually kind of bad, well, at least it's not up to my standards as a viewer. Particularly the best friend of Frances, Sophie. Mickey Sumner does not do a good job with this character, with some some off-the-wall expressions and awkward acting. And she is not written very well which does not help. But again, her role is rather minimal. Frances is who this story is about, and she does a phenomenal job. That really is all that matters here.
In conclusion, this is a nice heartwarming story about finding yourself and figuring out what you want to do with your life and the mistakes you make along the way. But it is told in a far better manner than another recent movie with the same theme of finding yourself, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. If you want to see a movie about finding yourself, I would absolutely recommend Frances Ha over Secret Life any day of the week. Why? At every turn Secret Life is constantly bashing you over the head with moments where you should be moved. HERE! WE ARE MOVING YOU RIGHT NOW. FEEL IT? In contrast, Frances Ha lets the story develop and allows its theme to evolve right in front of you. A far more effective strategy. Plus Greta Gerwing outperforms Ben Stiller any day of the week.
The Critique: One of the best indie movies of 2013, Frances Ha tells a funny, wonderfully moving and identifiable story of someone trying to find themselves without constantly reminding you that that's what it's about.
The Recommendation: since it's short, I'm gonna recommend this to anyone. It's definitely worth a watch.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Oscar Talk: Greta Gerwing may be nominated for best actress. I wouldn't be surprised, since by doing that Hollywood would be showing its support for the indie films. POLITICAL DECISIONS. But she does deserve it in all seriousness. Can't wait to see what she does next!
Her (2013): In the not-so-distant future, a man falls in love with his operating system, an A.I. named Samantha. Many dramatic/comedic moments ensue. And it is beautiful.
Wow. I should just end the review with that one word. Wow. Director/Writer Spike Jonze has been flirting for years with the home run ball. He has a solid repertoire with Where the Wild Things Are and Being John Malkovich, to name two, but he has never hit it out of the park. Well, we can now say that he has. Her is a masterpiece. Easily one of the best films of 2013, Her takes a concept as (seemingly) ridiculous as a human being falling in love with an OS and makes it believable. Makes it real. Makes it grounded. It's a truly heartfelt story, with many unexpected turns throughout. Jonze does a great job avoiding the easy cliches that frequently occur in romantic movies. As a result this is going to be the extent of my thoughts on the story, because I don't want to spoil anything for you, since half of the fun is watching their relationship develop and mature in front of you. It's masterfully told, and, as I said, wonderfully grounded and believable. This is without a doubt the best date movie of the year, and right there with 2012's Perks of Being a Wallflower for best date movie of recent memory. In my humble opinion.
Time to talk about acting. A lot of people may be turned off from this movie because of Joaquin Phoenix. And rightfully so, since some of his past roles have been rather over the top and quirky. Well I'm here to say this is the most relatable role I have ever seen him play. His character and his falling in love with the OS is totally buyable, and this is thanks to him playing a very grounded character. He definitely sold me on this role. And his role is not easy. He has to fall in love with a voice. He has to maintain a relationship with a voice. He has to argue with a voice. He has to have sex with a voice. (Yes, this happens, but it is beautifully shot with a simple black screen while it occurs) And this is without seeing the fact that the voice is Scarlett Johansson. Who basically anyone would fall in love with let's be honest. Scarlett Johansson? Also phenomenal. She has to create a very real and human character with nothing but her voice, and she nails it. Honestly this movie was going to sink or float based on her performance alone, and she definitely kept it afloat. Incredible amounts of emotion from her voice while also not overacting is located throughout the movie, from her trying to get Phoenix out of bed to the arguments the two of them have. There's only a small supporting cast, primarily Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, and Rooney Mara, but they are also very human and believable characters. Once more, Adams puts in a great performance, one which is a complete 180 from that of American Hustle. Her character also has an OS, and has a very different experience than that of Phoenix's character. But again, I totally bought it. Also there are some surprising cameos in this, like Bill Hader, Brian Cox, Kristin Wiig, (she has a provocative and very brief part towards the beginning) and Olivia Wilde. Honestly the one who gets a little lost here is Rooney Mara, who, despite her incredible talent, was just kind of a side note, even though her character is a very prominent one.
So there are so many other things that are beautiful in this movie. The directing, editing, cinematography, and score particularly. But there's too much to cram into a short review. Seriously, just go see this. Oh and I should bring up the fact that the movie takes its premise very seriously. Yes it's a ridiculous concept, one which tech nerds will love to analyze, but it is definitely told in a grounded and convincing manner. As in I definitely bought the development of the OS. To the point that I do not feel the need to overanalyze her by the end. So don't let this hold you back from seeing it. Everyone should see this. Really I had one simple complaint. It's a 126 minute romantic comedy/drama. While this is not a bad thing, this does mean that an element or two may be introduced that may not make a huge amount of sense. Towards the end of the second act, a surrogate human being is introduced for the OS to inhibit. While Phoenix responds to her in the logical way, her whole character was unnecessary, and really didn't do anything for the story besides have me briefly overanalyze the logic behind it. But Phoenix quickly moved on. And so did I. A trivial complaint. In short, go see this movie. Now.
The Verdict: one of the best movies of 2013, Her masterfully blends comedy, drama, and romance into an original and rather unexplored idea, one which will resonate with you for quite some time, as it's concept is not really all that ridiculous.
The Recommendation: for the love of God, go see it. It's the perfect date movie. But there's something here for everyone. And try to see it in a theater because it is beautifully shot.
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect
Oscar Talk: I don't know. I'll say score, director, cinematography, and original screenplay. SUCH A GOOD YEAR FOR MOVIES this one honestly may not have enough buzz around it to generate an Oscar push. Hopefully I'm wrong.
12 Years a Slave (2013): Steve McQueen's retelling of Solomon Northup's kidnapping and time spent in slavery. 12 years of it, if you couldn't figure that out. With lots of gruesome horrors that were norms for slavery. Lots.
Ok so I had to sleep on this one. On one hand, I felt the need to truly enjoy this movie. Steve McQueen is a phenomenal filmmaker. He only has three movies under his belt, but Hunger and Shame are two very powerful works of cinema. Shame in particular has really stuck with me for a long time since I first saw it in 2011. The movie has a great cast, with Chiwetel Ejiofor (yes I had to look that one up) leading the way as Solomon Northup. I see an Oscar nomination upcoming for him. Absolutely. Though I still think DiCaprio wins it (finally) but that's just me. And the supporting cast? Terrific. You know you have something awesome when Brad Pitt has less than ten minutes of screen time in this 134 minute film, and is still memorable. Honestly a cool moment for me in this is searching the movie on IMDB and seeing everyone that I may have missed in this movie. SNL's Taran Killam is in this. I didn't even realize that. This is a result of great production design. Phenomenal production design allows these recognizable actors to be absorbed into the Antebellum south and become completely unrecognizable. Though Benedict Cumberbatch as a Southern plantation owner was still pretty obvious to me. He has a very believable Southern American accent here and is great at showing the fact that his character views slavery as a "necessary evil" and is in reality horrified by the atrocities however the Cumberbatch haters are not going to change their mind on him if they see this.
Ok so great acting, great production design. Check. You know what this movie is going to become? The movie that you watch in your junior year American history class right before Christmas break to show how provocative and evil slavery was. Seriously! That's what this movie was. It effectively (honestly over-effectively) showed just how evil and how terrible slavery is. Every few minutes we are shown another grotesque and horrifying inhumane act against these people, and it is painful to watch. McQueen does this thing constantly where he extends a shot to near-uncomfortable levels. Like a scene where Michael Fassbender's character is having sex with a very young slave girl (played by Lupita Nyong'o) and the scene just goes on and on. The purpose is obviously to show how this disgusting man owns her and there's nothing she can do to stop it, and you see the torment on her face as it occurs, but it is so horrifying to watch. And it goes on for ages. However the scene of the movie is when Northup is almost hung by Paul Dano (yep he's in this) and then when another overseer stops them and then goes to fetch Cumberbatch, Northup is left hanging there with just enough of his body on the ground to not die. As in his toes. And he stays there for hours. The scene goes on for what feels like forever as we see other slaves go on with their duties as Northup just hangs there clinging to life. They can't do anything to help him because then they will be killed in addition to Northup. One does bring him some water but that's it. Without a doubt the most moving scene of the movie, and McQueen made it all-the-more powerful by extending it as much as he did.
But let's get to the other hand. Yes this is a great period piece, but it's more about showing us how bad slavery is as opposed to following Northup and his time spent as a slave. As a result there is no character arc with Solomon Northup. Or anyone else for that matter. Sure we see Northup develop as a slave and learn to keep his mouth shut, but that's about it. For example, there is no residual effects in later scenes to the whole hung-to-within-inches-of-his-life ordeal. Or when he's finally leaving the plantation when it's brought to light that he's a free man, there's an emotional goodbye with one of the slaves (Nyong'o's character) and Northup. So wait, since when did Northup really care about this slave? Enough to warrant an emotional goodbye? I have no idea. With this crucial element missing, the appeal of this movie greatly diminishes. As in this movie doesn't really appeal to anyone except slavery buffs. I mean I consider myself a huge Civil War buff but I was slapping myself a few times in order to stay engaged. Bored. As much as I hate to use that word, I was bored at times. The movie is very self-aware, and is constantly beating you over the head reminding you that slavery is bad. While I think high school juniors need that in their American history class, does everyone? Probably not. Oh and the score! It was borderline awful! The musical swells at emotional moments were way too powerful. Just think HERE ANOTHER REMINDER THAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE MOVED RIGHT NOW. It was very unnecessary and added to the movie being overly self-aware.
That said, this is still a good movie. Not great, but good. If I were to become an American history teacher, I would make sure to watch this every year.Yes it is a mature movie but it is a very eye-opening movie for those who think slavery is like what's depicted in Django Unchained. Not bashing Django just saying that it's a lot more brutal than that. In the end I would recommend it, but just be ready to be educated. And if you want a chronological journey of Northup's time in slavery, don't hold your breath. It's not going to happen.
The Critique: Roots: rated R edition. A powerful piece on the evils of slavery. However, the lack of true character development keeps this movie from being great. Also if you've never heard of Roots you're wrong.
The Recommendation: beware, American history classes, this movie is coming for you. If you want to see an eye-opening slavery is bad movie, then this one is for you. If not, you will be bored out of your mind. View at you're own risk.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
Oscar Talk: I see lots of nominations but not as many wins in store for this. Actor, Director, Picture, Costumes, Makeup all likely. Adoptive screenplay too. This movie will win awards as Hollywood has to be politically correct. The question is just how correct are they going to make themselves. We shall see!
Catching Fire (2013): The much-anticipated sequel to 2012’s hit The Hunger Games bring us back to Katniss and Petaa as they set off on their victory tour around the districts. Then, the President visits Katniss and intrigue ensues.
So I know people always say that sequels are never as good as the original. I disagree. I say movies that are knowingly the middle movie of a trilogy, and everyone knows that there’s going to be a trilogy has it the best because they don’t have to introduce all the characters and they don’t have to conclude the story. The classic example of this in cinema history is The Empire Strikes Back. Another example I would provide is The Dark Knight. We shall see in time if this gets added to that list, but I will say one thing is for certain: Catching Fire is miles ahead of its predecessor. Now that isn’t an insult to the original Hunger Games as much as it's a complement to Catching Fire. This movie isn’t just good, or great, it is a borderline masterpiece of science fiction.
Couple reasons why: one, the acting is brilliant. There are several new characters introduced here, and they spared no expense with who plays these roles. Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, and the legendary Phillip Seymour Hoffman all are added to the incredible cast list that already includes Woody Harleson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and of course Jennifer Lawrence. Everyone brings their A-game here, which is needed because anything less from some of these outrageous characters would probably result in me not buying into them. This was present particularly in the characters of Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci. In the first movie Banks was a very hollow and linear character but she has a surprising amount of development here, to the point that I actually bought her character and her motivations. And Tucci. Tucci looks like he’s having so much fun here, and it really equates to a phenomenal and entertaining performance. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a welcomed addition as well, though I wish I had seen more of his character! He was fleshed out pretty well, but after further scrutiny he really needed a few more scenes to continue to develop his character.
And I haven’t even mention Jennifer Lawrence. Once again she is phenomenal as the lead character Katniss. She is without a doubt one of the best actresses in Hollywood, despite the fact that she’s still rather inexperienced. Now the story here is excellent. I have not read the book, though I have a friend who has and said that the movie strays very little from the book. A few characters are not as developed here as they are in the book, particularly Hoffman’s character, but that is to be expected. Back to the plot on hand. To me this movie was trekking on thin ice with its plot because it is very similar to that of the original on paper. But it’s not. Yes they are forced to play the Hunger Games again (every trailer points this out) but they do a great job of not going through the same formula as the first one leading up to and including playing the games. The whole concept of obtaining sponsors is barely mentioned this time, particularly with the statement Katniss makes at her trial with them. This was a big thing with the first one. And the games themselves are played differently enough that I felt that it was an original take on the same formula.
Now one of the things that I really appreciated about this one that makes it significantly better than the first is how immersed we are into the dystopian post-apocalyptic world that is Panem. In the first one I didn’t feel like the world was properly explained. Or really explained at all in any way shape or form for that matter. About the closest we got to it was with the interviews the tributes had with Stanley Tucci’s character. This time, however, we are treated to a far more in-depth view of the world. From a ball at the president’s manor to interviews with Tucci to going to each district on the winner’s tour to begin the movie, the world itself is really given time to be developed. This is a quality that should be expected in every sci-fi movie. You have to HAVE to spend some time developing the world that your characters live in.
Finally, I was absolutely shocked at how much I was emotionally invested into this movie. This didn’t happen in the first one. In the first one I enjoyed myself, but here not only did I enjoy myself, but I was really caught up with what was happening in the movie. I don’t really know why unfortunately. The emotional theme here was a lot more present than it was previously. But it wasn’t just that. Maybe the fact that these characters had a whole movie to already develop did it. My theory is that the fact that they had to play the games again and against far tougher opponents is what did it, and that the fact that more of the opponents had time to develop rather than just Rue in the original also contributed.
To sum up the thoughts, I’d say that this is a wonderful piece of cinema, and would definitely recommend it to anyone. Not just a popcorn flick like the first one, definitely be ready for some emotions. But anyone who likes to have a good time at the movies should definitely check this out.
The Critique: A powerful piece of cinema with great acting, a great story, and great visual spectacle. Masterfully acted and paced, this piece is one of the best movies of 2013 thus far.
The Recommendation: to anyone who is a fan of the movie, check this one out. Just be sure to watch the original first, because you won’t want to see it after this one.
The Verdict: 9/10
Oscar Talk: This is a bit tricky. It’s sci-fi, so there probably won’t be much here past costume and makeup. Maybe best picture but only because of how big the nomination list is nowadays.
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