Kingsman: The Secret Service

February 28, 2015 at 9:45 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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The central theme of this over-the-top action romp seems to be “out with the old, in with the new.” From start to finish, this film announces itself as the replacement for your parents’ spy thriller. And by spy thriller, while it takes on James Bond most clearly, it makes clever reference to the Bourne series and to the TV show 24, as well.  And by “your parents,” it means anyone over 35. With a steady stream of cartoonishly graphic violence, an 80s pop soundtrack and the occasionally first-person shooter view point, director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick Ass,” “X-Men:First Class”) steadfastly reinvents the genre as something part Tarantino, part Wachowskis, and part video game. Though it starts a bit slowly, once it gets moving, it manages to maintain a brisk clip for most of its 129 minutes. But there’s more here than just action; this film manages to also be quite funny, sometimes at the expense of the old-school spy genre and sometimes at the expense of it’s older audience. It also makes sometimes very sly social commentary. One critical scene takes place in a Southern hate church. It could have taken place anywhere but there’s a reason Vaughn chose the scene he did, especially when pairing it with a Lynyrd Skynyrd soundtrack. Only time will tell us if this represents the future of action films but, I for one, felt like I was getting a small glimpse of the what’s to come.

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2014 – The Year in Review

February 22, 2015 at 6:30 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment

I saw fewer films this year than over the past several years.  Just 57 2014 films, as opposed to 71 each of the past two years.  I not really sure why that is.  IN both of the last two years, I have about 1/3 of the films I saw in the bottom half of my rating system.  However, I did notice that in, 2013, I had almost twice as many films in my lowest rankings (1 and below) as I did this year, so perhaps I am becoming more selective or, perhaps, there were just slightly fewer films that excited me this year.  I guess time will tell us if this is a new trend or not.

As with last year, I have ranked films under the number of lozenges I gave them, focusing on just those films I truly loved.  They are in roughly descending order.

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Boyhood

Whiplash

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Birdman

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Locke

Nightcrawler

Selma

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Love is Strange

Top Five

The Drop

Only Lovers Left Alive

The Babadook

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Wild

Gone Girl

Calvary

The Theory of Everything

Still Alice

Chef

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Life Itself

You can check out any of my above reviews by clicking on the film title.  As I look at this list, I am particularly struck by how truly truly fantastic 8 films are. Please read my reviews and seriously think about seeing these films.

 

Oscar Predictions

February 22, 2015 at 4:50 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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Well, just in the nick of time (check the time stamp, kids, this is published before the show starts), I have managed to get my predictions out.  Let’s see if I can keep the guessing streak up, though there is little that is up for speculation this year.  Unless, we get some great surprises (and that might be fun), most of the winners are pretty well known already.  Here we go:

 

Best Picture

Should be:  Boyhood.  Really one of the most remarkable films in years.

Will be:  Boyhood or Birdman.  This was a lock for “Boyhood” even up to a few weeks ago but “Birdman” has such momentum right now that it could steal it.  I do really love that movie and it wouldn’t be the worse thing in the world, except “Boyhood” really is truly better.

Best Director

Should be:  Richard Linklater for Boyhood.  This is his moment and he will never get another chance.  And, frankly, he earned it.  Anyone who has the patience to make a cohesive film over 12 years deserves acknowledgement.

Will be:  Richard Linklater.  It could go to Iñárritu for “Birdman” but I’m thinking this one is close to locked up.

Lead Actress

Should be:  Julianne Moore in Still Alice.  Though I never saw “Two Days, One Night,” Moore’s performance is really the stand out here. It is solely responsible for lifting her film into something worth seeing.

Will be:  Julianne Moore. No question.

Lead Actor

Should be:  Michael Keaton for Birdman or Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything.  I genuinely cannot decide here.  Keaton gives the best performance of his career, without a doubt. It is raw and honest and incredibly vulnerable. He is playing himself.  Redmayne, on the other hand, is playing someone else so beautifully that he get’s lost in the character. His transformation is mesmerizing. Steve Carell gives his best performance ever as well and is stunning (he would deserve to win in most years) but just can’t compete against these two. Frankly, David Oyelowo should have been nominated instead of Benedict Cumberbatch.  Sorry, Cumberbitches, he’s good but his performance was not better than Oyelowo’s.

Will be:  Eddie Redmayne.   Keaton could possibly steal it but I doubt it.

Supporting Actress

Should be:  Emma Stone in Birdman.  This one will seem a surprise and, the truth is, I don’t feel strongly about this category this year.  Nobody really blew me away but Stone held her own in some intense scenes, so I give her my nod here. Not that it matters…

Will be:  Patricia Arquette in Boyhood.  Without a doubt.  One of the easiest calls of the night. My problem is that I have never liked her acting. Maybe I am unfairly prejudiced for some reason but she always seems stilted to me, like she’s reading dialogue. It bugs me. Sorry.

Supporting Actor

Should be:  JK Simmons in Whiplash.  Without a doubt. Far and away the best performance.  Nobody else in this category even touches this one.

Will be:  JK Simmons.  Without a doubt.  This one is absolutely THE easiest call of the night.

Adapted Screenplay

Should be:  Damien Chazelle for Whiplash.  An amazing, frenetic and beautifully scripted film.

Will be: Maybe Graham Moore for Imitation Game.  I’m really not sure.  There is little buzz and momentum in this category this year that I know of. So, it could be anyone’s game.  This is my best guess- give a nod here because the film will likely be shut out elsewhere.

Original Screenplay

Should be:  Wes Anderson for Grand Budapest Hotel.  This is a tough call because everything in this category is fantastic.  But Anderson deserves a win and this would be a great one to win it on.

Will be:  Wes Anderson or  Alejandro G. Iñárritu. I think this one is very very close.

Best Animated Feature

Should be:  I don’t care.  I didn’t see a single one. Though I would be kinda thrilled if it went to a non-American film like, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.”

Will be:  How to Train Your Dragon 2.  It’s big and Hollywoody and made lots of money.  It’s possible that “Big Hero 6” could steal it.  Who cares?

Best Foreign Language Film

Should be:  Ida.  Beautiful and disturbing. Every shot was worthy of being still photo. Lavish and stark at the same time.

Will be:  Leviathan.  This is a bit of a guess but this film seems to have the most momentum.  “Ida” could steal it but none of the others have any momentum at all.

Cinematography

Should be:  Birdman. As much as it pains me to not put “The Grand Budapest Hotel” here, the fact that this film was done to look like all one shot was brilliant.  Anderson’s film looks like his other films. It’s brilliant and completely, uniquely him but it looks like him. “Birdman” stands utterly on it’s own.

Will be:  Birdman.  No real question.  This is an easy call.

Best Documentary

I usually include this category but have only seen two of the films: “Citizenfour” and “Finding Vivian Maier” and I don’t feel like either was brilliant enough to make a call without seeing the other two.  That said, I do think “Citizenfour” is likely to win it; Hollywood just loves its message.

 

Finding Vivian Maier

February 22, 2015 at 4:01 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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A rather inauspicious way to wrap up 2014. I had intended to see “Two Days, One Night” but it got away from me, so I caught this On Demand, instead. So, sadly, this year in film for me started (with “Stranger by the Lake”) and ended poorly, though there was much to rave about in between. But more on that later. If nothing else, this minor documentary on a newly discovered photographer was only 83 minutes. However, for as lean as that seems, it still felt like it was mostly filler. Maier’s photography is beautiful and its discovery is a great joy. She had an eye for people and captured them with honesty, empathy and insight. Director John Maloof deserves a great deal of credit in preserving her work and tracking down her past. However, beyond that, there is little there. She was secretive and maybe/maybe not faked her French accent. No one really knew her and some people knew her as Viv, or Ms. Maier or Vivian. This is not the stuff of gripping narrative. In fact, Maloof has to stoop to tabloid level gossip and sensationalism in order to draw the film out. It feels a bit tired and one can’t help but be suspect of his motives. This film does little more than act as an advertisement (and a very effective one) for the thousands of photos that Maloof now owns the rights to and, that he repeatedly points out, the art establishment continues to ignore. Well, you can bet they won’t be ignoring Maier after this film. Which, in truth, is probably a good thing. She was an immense talent and, while a film on Maier may not have much depth, her photos certainly do.

Still Alice

February 2, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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I admit that it’s a bit of a hard sell to get folks into the seats for a movie on Alzheimer’s. It’s not exactly your typical date fare. However, for all of the tragedy (and melodrama) that you could imagine might accompany such a film, “Still Alice” is remarkably vibrant. There is no easy way to tell the story of a person losing herself, yet this film shows her struggle with dignity and, occasionally, humor. Julianne Moore has been rightly nominated for an Oscar for her role as Alice, the brilliant linguistics professor who is slowly slipping away as her family struggles around her. Moore is a master at subtle performances (see her in “Far from Heaven”) and here she is able to capture the slight changes in Alice’s face and body as she is increasingly less and less present. Moore’s performance is what makes this film work. The other actors (Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth among them) do a fine job but are largely ancillary; they all simply orbit the star attraction. Though I will say that, toward the end and especially in the final scene, Stewart shows a vulnerability and gentle strength that suggests she is a better actor than Hollywood allows her to be. The film ends suddenly, and very effectively, in the middle of the story. We do not see its ending, nor do we need to. This is not a tragedy, meant to have us dabbing eyes as we shuffle out of the theater. Rather, we are witness to courage; the courage of a husband, the courage of children but, mostly, the courage of an amazing woman to face her own fading with whatever dignity she can muster. It was a heavy film but it was also an inspiring one.

Mr. Turner

February 1, 2015 at 5:40 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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Is it fair of me to review a film I kept falling asleep in? Well, I shall cogitate on it.  But, at 2 1/2 hours, I feel as though I have already spent enough time with J.M.W. Turner and scarcely need to spend too much longer. I have been a great fan of director Mike Leigh (“Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Vera Drake”) and, in fact, his first full length film, “Secrets & Lies,” was one of my favorite films the year it came out. I loved that film for the way he was able to capture such natural dialogue and draw incredibly real and vulnerable performances from his actors. Here, perhaps it is too natural. The audience is subjected to seemingly endless scenes of Victorian Brits being stodgy and mumbling a lot. For this part, Turner (played effectively by Timothy Spall) is an utter bore. He grunts and wheezes and apparently agonizes but does so so stoically it’s hard to tell. He is insufferable to most who love him. All of this might have been offset if we had learned something about his evolution as a painter. But there is little of that here. In fact, there is little here in terms of a story at all. We go from unrelated scene to unrelated scene, from parlor to parlor, and are forced to sit through gatherings that are as insufferable for us as they are for the attendees, expect that we can’t quite tell who anyone is or why we should care. The film just rambles on until it doesn’t. Leigh does manage to make a beautiful film, with many many scenes looking like they might have been a Turner painting (his point, I am sure). The film is very beautiful in parts. And, as always, he draws strong performances from all of his actors. I was most especially taken by Dorothy Atkinson, who plays his housekeeper (?- it’s never really explained). She really became that sad and dedicated woman so completely. However, that is not enough. Fine acting and sunsets do not justify 150 minutes.

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