Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hobbit Has Ended...

...and there will be no more films about Middle-earth.
As I sit here listening to the original Lord of the Rings scores written by Howard Shore back in the early 2000s, I can't help but reflect on how big a part Peter Jackson's Tolkien films have played in my life. No piece of cinema has set my imagination to wandering in quite the same way. And even as I had levels of disappointment about the overall quality of the prequel series, The Hobbit, I still feel a great sense gratitude toward Peter Jackson for giving me the opportunity in my lifetime to experience such a massive and beautiful world.
The Battle of the Five Armies is good. And for that I am thankful. As much as Jackson's film career has modeled that of George Lucas, the man has never given us a product so useless as the Star Wars prequels. He has, it seems, always managed to bring just enough to the table to keep my appetite sated. Sure these Hobbit flicks have been overwhelmed by special effects, hurt by an extension into three films from two (which many can argue was too much to begin with), and at times even simply abandoned as the final action sequences of The Desolation of Smaug were. But there has always been a level of heart that could not be denied.
Similarly, we as fans have been welcomed into the bosom of the productions themselves with Jackson's extensive special features. We've been afforded unparalleled insights into the making of these epic films and have been allowed to see the good times as well as the bad. It's truly remarkable the relationship Jackson has managed to create with his audience. And again I'm thankful.
So what do you need to know about this most recent and final chapter? The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right were The Desolation of Smaug left off. It's shorter than the other films by about a half hour. But it feels worth it. Knowing how little material they had left to work with from the book it was very interesting to see what they decided to highlight that perhaps we would not have known or experienced in the book itself. Sure, some of the action is ridiculous, but Jackson's control of the sweeping motions of his camera kept the film moving and allowed some pretty good performances to take precedence. This film is exciting. It's still got that little bit of Tolkien magic. And it gives us fans a convincing ending. After The Return of the King lost the Scouring of the Shire sequence, I was uncertain how Jackson would end his Hobbit. But rest assured, he allows us to return this time. He gives us those final thoughts that I feel were so gravely missing from Return of the King. I'm so glad that Ian McKellen continued to bring Gandalf to the screen. These would not be the same Middle-earth without him. And beyond that, the additional scenes with Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee actually managed to feel worth it. It was a pretty cool way to play with the history that we'd come to understand in the original trilogy.
I love Peter Jackson's Middle-earth movies, warts and all. They're always charming and never without that level of heart that keeps a franchise from growing stale. And I will miss these experiences far more than I realized. Thanks Peter for such a wonderful journey. You have made my young adult life feel so much richer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Can't Place My Finger On Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson makes weird movies. That's kind of his thing. But Inherent Vice takes that statement to a whole new level.
This is the first film adapted from the author Thomas Pynchon's work. And it's got a plot far too convoluted to explain, but I'll try anyway. In 1970s Los Angeles, Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private detective smoking his days away while he's not trying to solve a case. But one day his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up at his place in tears telling him about a conspiracy she's been drawn into to stick her current boyfriend (who's actually married) in a looney bin. The story just gets weirder and weirder from there. But always with a sense of fun and intrigue.
I guess when I say I can't place my finger on Inherent Vice, what I mean is I like it but I don't really understand why I like it. This movie feels like an anomaly. It's like P.T. Anderson's attempt at making his own The Big Lebowski. But he being who he is found a property that perfectly encapsulated exactly what his version of that would be. It's baffling. It's mesmerizing. It almost shouldn't work, but then something comes along and gets you back on the same page. There are too many names by half and too many organizations trying to be involved, but that doesn't seem to matter. Somehow the relationship between Doc (Phoenix) and Bigfoot (Josh Brolin) holds power over the audience. Neither character makes sense by themselves, but at some point they both begin to make perfect sense with each other.
Joaquin Phoenix does a good enough job here. Though at stretches he is impossible to understand and the looseness of some of the scenes, particularly early on, seems to work against his current acting style making him feel like he's sitting in some low-level acting class trying to remember how to breath and talk at the same time. But like I said, he mostly gets it done. Josh Brolin is great! He's entertaining to watch, knows when to chew the scenery and when to reel it in, and his character choices are precisely what is called for at any given time. To be honest, I'm surprised he's not getting any Supporting Actor buzz. Katherine Waterston is a joy to watch here as well. I didn't know her very well before this flick, but I'll be looking for her in the future. It's also really cool to have Joanna Newsom in there as the narrator. She's got such a wonderful voice which she'll usually display in music, but P.T. had the insight to let her voice color his own film in a different way.
On the surface, Inherent Vice seems like it shouldn't work. It's just too overwhelming and weird. But a great director with a quality cast... and a little bit of elbow grease... gets it done here. This is a flick worth seeing in theaters.

Exodus... Doesn't Deserve A Single Nomination

Ridley Scott's latest... ignoring the racial controversy for now... is just not a good enough movie. Especially when you take into account its $140 million budget. And, as it should be, this movie is already flopping. So what went so terribly wrong with this biblical epic?
Exodus: Gods and Kings (what a pointless subtitle) is essentially The Ten Commandments... you remember that Charlton Heston flick. But attempting to bring in some modern sensibilities. We get a burning bush (with a little kid in front of it), plagues (for about ten minutes), and a parted sea (well not exactly parted). It's an effects master's dream... gone completely wrong. And while there are elements that do seem to work here and there, an all-star cast surprisingly seems to drop the ball at every turn.
So let's get back to that little race issue I mentioned earlier. Exodus doesn't have race. Rather, this movie with all of its modern sensibilities with an opinion as to how the plagues work and its considerations that the parting of the Red Sea wasn't exactly as mentioned, fails to cast any Egyptians or Africans in any meaningful roles. The leads... almost all royalty... are all white. And the slaves, well only the slaves that have no lines get to be black. That seems kind of weird when you consider the nature of the region in question today... and back then when this story is said to have taken place. Oh yeah, and let's not forget that Egypt was full of women back then... there weren't just two in the whole region. If in his aging mind, Ridley Scott really thought he'd get away with this cast and no one would notice... he's living in a different time and place. And as much as I've liked his older films, it's been quite a while since he's made anything I'd actually want to suggest anyone else ever sit through. He's looking pretty washed up between this, The Counselor (dear god I wish I could forget that), the mess that was Prometheus, and that awkward Robin Hood thing. It's been almost a decade since he's made an even remotely credible film and even with his production company Scott Free in hand, I can't imagine other studios are gonna continue to sign off on his crap for much longer.
But I'm getting carried away. In this film... and actually in his last several as mentioned above, Scott has failed to get quality performances out of quality casts, thus dooming his films before the lack of content could even reach their audiences. Christian Bale gives one of his worst performances in years here. It honestly doesn't feel like he even prepared for the role of Moses. I really like Joel Edgerton but in this he's just expected to sit there and brood and sniffle. What comes from that is the constant panging thought that I don't care about anything in this movie. And as much as I've enjoyed Aaron Paul of late, he had practically nothing to do. We're talking the most vocal character in the story of Moses, and he barely says five lines. It's just so frustrating to be asked time after time to remember this once great director... the guy behind Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator... and then walk into these heaping piles of steaming horseshit.
I'm gonna give up on Ridley Scott. That's all there is to it. He's no longer growing as a director. In fact, he and his films have been on the decline for a long long while. If you really wanna see Exodus, I can't stop you... but I can say "I told you so."

Charmed By We Are The Best

We Are The Best is not the kind of film I expected to be looking at for any kind of awards race. Though in the always strange pool of foreign films, where the country of origin picks one flick to represent them, this little 80s period piece may just break into the final five.
It's a very simple story about three thirteen-year-old girls in 1980s Stockholm trying to start their own punk band... even though they don't know how to play and everyone keeps trying to tell them that punk is dead. It's a story about friendship and the ever-changing dynamics of young relationships. And damn if there isn't something so incredibly charming about theses three girls... they way they deal with each other and the rest of the world... they way they aren't willing to take anyone else's shit. Lukas Moodysson has adapted some bizarre material into a very watchable film.
The three leads are all wonderful: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, and Liv LeMoyne. And it'll be interesting to see if they do anything after this. But there's something so subtle and natural about this that I'm also left wondering if any of them would even be interested in moving forward with acting careers. Things seem to work differently in Sweden, so who knows?
Regardless, this is a nice little treat for a rainy day. And very easily accessed on Netflix right now.

I'm A Little Surprised Print The Legend Isn't An Oscar Hopeful

Print the Legend is Neflix original documentary about a very interesting subject... The men and women behind the growing market of 3D printing.
The film really picks up early in some of these upstart companies lives, but as it pushes on, gives us a visual transformation of the industry. It's about how regular people become CEOs and the steps they take to lose their identities and (rather awkwardly) assimilate with the company itself in a way, dropping all sense of moral code or ethical human behavior. It's about the monster that is corporation from the perspective of those who incubate said monster. And most amazingly, it proves its point in a very satisfactory manner.
Hence why I'm surprised that Luis Lopez and J. Clay Tweel's film was not given consideration among the final 15 eligible documentaries under the Academy's doc award rules. I'm finding more and more that most documentaries don't grasp their point enough to get it across to the viewer, so when one does prove itself so well, I expect it to be amongst the top of the pack when awards finally do roll around. Unfortunately, Print the Legend missed the race this time around. But I really do hope, since it is so easily available on Netflix, that people manage to stay in and watch it. This works really well as a companion piece to Citizen Koch (also on Netflix).

Horrible Bosses 2 Can't Escape Its Predecessor's Mistakes

You know, it's amazing to me that Horrible Bosses got a sequel at all. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy aspects of that original movie, I was just always under the impression that everybody thought of it as just so-so. But they made a sequel anyway.
Horrible Bosses 2 picks up a little while after the first flick. The guys (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day) are actively trying to start their own business and really do have a shot with an appearance on a morning show looming. When the son (Chris Pine) of an owner (Christoph Waltz) of a prestigious catalog calls them up offering to buy them out, the guys take a moral stand.. as they say, never wanting to have to work for a horrible boss ever again. But that seems to back fire when the catalog pulls out of the deal at the last second intent on buying up the foreclosed property for pennies. So the guys decide to do something drastic.
I don't hate this setup. There's something really charming about it... timely as well. And honestly I don't feel like this flick tries as hard as other comedy sequels do to rehash the same jokes from the original... with the exception of MF Jones (Jamie Foxx). However, that doesn't fix the core of what Horrible Bosses wants to be (and thinks it is) as a franchise. It's got three capable actors in Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis... though the latter's films usually tend to disappoint leaving him blowing in the wind for another crappy gross comedy (ie. Hall Pass, We're The Millers). And far too often the filmmakers have to rely on these guys to just have a good time in front of the camera because it seems there's not enough "funny" inherent in the script. This really does go for both flicks even though they had completely different creative teams behind them.
Based on the lack of audience interest in the property, I can only imagine New Line doesn't bring us a Horrible Bosses 3. Though, studios do have a tendency these days of beating a dead horse in the hopes it'll get up and carry them the rest of the way through the desert that has been the creative market since superhero movies really took off.
Horrible Bosses 2 wasn't bad. There were moments when I actively laughed with the rest of the very small audience. But in the end, it feels like more filler. Better than Dumb and Dumber To, but that's not saying much of anything. If you just want to giggle, but don't care much how you get there, this'd be an alright choice.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Golden Globes: Another Day, Another Group Of Awards Nominations

Yesterday we got a glimpse into what SAG was thinking. Today we get the Hollywood Foreign Press Association...

Best Motion Picture, Drama

The Imitation Game
Selma (Not yet released)
The Theory of Everything

My Pick: My choices for the year didn't make the category, so I gotta go with Boyhood.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

Julianne Moore - Still Alice (Very Limited)
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon - Wild
Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
Jennifer Aniston - Cake (Not yet released)

My Pick: Reese Witherspoon... though I do really dig Rosamund Pike's performance.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
David Oyelowo - Selma (Not yet released)
Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler

My Pick: Jake Gyllenhaal!! Steve Carell feels like a supporting actor to me...

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

Into the Woods (Not yet released)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
St. Vincent
Pride (Missed it... I'll have to play catchup)

My Pick: Gotta go with Birdman for now. Grand Budapest is up there too... but St. vincent shouldn't even be in the category.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

Julianne Moore - Maps to the Stars (Not yet released)
Amy Adams - Big Eyes (Not yet released)
Emily Blunt - Into the Woods (Not yet released)
Helen Mirren - The Hundred Foot Journey
Quvenzhané Wallis - Annie (Not yet released)

My Pick: It looks like I'm out of options here... fortunately the one choice I do have is a damn good one, Helen Mirren.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

Michael Keaton - Birdman
Bill Murray - St. Vincent
Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Christoph Waltz - Big Eyes (Not yet released)
Joaquin Phoenix - Inherent Vice

My Pick: Ooh, I want Ralph Fiennes to win!

Best Animated Feature Film

The Lego Movie
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls

My Pick: The Lego Movie all the way!!

Best Foreign Language Film

Force Majeure
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem Gett (Not yet released)
Tangerines Mandariinid (Not yet released)
Leviathan (Not yet released)

My Pick: Force Majeure... for now.

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Jessica Chastain - A Most Violent Year (Not yet released)
Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Meryl Streep - Into the Woods (Not yet released)
Emma Stone - Birdman

My Pick: Patricia Arquette please.

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Robert Duvall - The Judge
Edward Norton - Birdman
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher

My Pick: J.K. Simmons gets all my votes.

Best Director - Motion Picture

Ava DuVernay - Selma (Not yet released)
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu - Birdman
David Fincher - Gone Girl
Richard Linklater - Boyhood

My Pick: Alejandro González Iñárritu... he just made so many cool choices.

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo - Birdman
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Graham Moore - The Imitation Game

My Pick: Wes Anderson. Cause he's the man.

Best Original Score - Motion Picture

Alexandre Desplat - The Imitation Game
Jóhann Jóhannsson - The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross - Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez - Birdman
Hans Zimmer - Interstellar

My Pick: I loved Antonio Sanchez' drum score! Though Alexandre Desalt deserves mad props.

Best Original Song - Motion Picture

"Big Eyes" - Big Eyes (Not yet released)
"Glory" - Selma (Not yet released)
"Mercy Is" - Noah
"Opportunity" - Annie (Not yet released)
"Yellow Flicker Beat" - The Hunger Games: Mockingly - Part 1

My Pick: Yellow Flicker Beat, I guess.

The TV stuff gets a little looser...

Best TV Series, Drama

Downton Abbey
The Affair
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
The Good Wife

My Pick: Game of Thrones

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama

Viola Davis - How to Get Away With Murder
Claire Danes - Homeland
Julianna Margulies - The Good Wife
Robin Wright - House of Cards
Ruth Wilson - The Affair

My Pick: Claire Danes.

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama

Kevin Spacey - House of Cards
Clive Owen - The Knick
James Spader - The Blacklist
Dominic West - The Affair
Liev Schreiber - Ray Donovan

My Pick: Kevin Spacey.

Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy

Orange is the New Black
Jane The Virgin
Silicon Valley

My Pick: Silicon Valley

Best Actress in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy

Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Veep
Edie Falco - Nurse Jackie
Gina Rodriguez - Jane The Virgin
Lena Dunham - Girls
Taylor Schilling - Orange is the New Black

My Pick: Taylor Schilling.

Best Actor in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy

Don Cheadle - House of Lies
William H. Macy - Shameless
Ricky Gervais - Derek
Jeffrey Tambor -  Transparent
Louie C.K. - Louie

My Pick: Louie C.K.

Best TV Movie or Mini-Series

Olive Kitteridge
The Missing
True Detective
The Normal Heart

My Pick: True Detective

Best Actress in a Mini-Series or TV Movie

Jessica Lang - American Horror Story: Freak Show
Maggie Gyllenhaal - The Honorable Woman
Frances McDormand - Olive Kitteridge
Allison Tolman - Fargo
Frances O'Connor - The Missing

My Pick: Frances McDormand.

Best Actor in a Mini-Series or TV Movie

Martin Freeman - Fargo
Matthew McConaughey - True Detective
Woody Harrelson - True Detective
Billy Bob Thornton - Fargo
Mark Ruffalo - The Normal Heart

My Pick: Woody Harrelson.

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-Series, or TV Movie

Kathy Bates - American Horror Story: Freak SHow
Uzo Aduba - Orange is the New Black
Joanne Froggatt - Downton Abbey
Michelle Monaghan - True Detective
Allison Janney - Mom

My Pick: Uzo Aduba.

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series, or TV Movie

Bill Murray - Olive Kitteridge
Jon Voight - Ray Donovan
Matt Bomer - The Normal Heart
Alan Cumming - The Good Wife
Colin Hanks - Fargo

My Pick: Alan Cumming.