Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2014 Wrap Up

Hey Guys! It's that time of year again. I've seen 165 new releases this year... effectively blowing out my record from 2013. And I came to notice that my Movies Loved list once again was much bigger than my Movies Hated. Perhaps it is just that I am a cinephile and am not willing to drop films down to that category unless they legitimately gained my ire. A few flicks that I wanted in the Bottom 10 didn't make it as with the Top 10... this year in film was just so loaded with ups and downs. So without much ado, here's my Best and Worst of 2014:

(Keep in mind, I intend to update this as the final films become available... but I tend to doubt much will change)

My Bottom 10 of 2014:
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Draft Day
Dumb and Dumber To
Jersey Boys
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Movies I Hated:
300: Rise of an Empire
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn
The Double
Dracula Untold
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Kill the Messenger
The Monuments Men
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
The One I Love
Only Lovers Left Alive
Penguins of Madagascar
The Purge: Anarchy
The Rover
The Two Faces of January
When the Garden was Eden
Whitey: The United States vs. James J. Bulger
Wish I Was Here

Movies I Thought Could Have Been Better:
Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity
Cuban Fury
The Drop
Earth to Echo
The Fault in Our Stars
The Gambler
The Giver
Horrible Bosses 2
In Your Eyes
The Interview
Into the Woods
The Judge
Land Ho
A Letter to Momo
Life After Beth
Life Inside Out
Mr. Turner
The Nut Job
Obvious Child
Particle Fever
Playing for the Mob
Planes: Fire and Rescue
The Signal
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
St. Vincent
Son of Batman
Third Person
Video Games: The Movie

Movies I Liked:
Art and Craft
The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Begin Again
Blue Ruin
The Book of Life
Brian and the Boz
Citizen Koch
Dom Hemingway
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Fading Gigolo
Finding Vivian Maier
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
The Green Prince
Hector and the Search for Happiness
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The Hundred-Foot Journey
The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1
The Imitation Game
The Internet's Own Boy
Keep On Keepin' On
Million Dollar Arm
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Muppets Most Wanted
The November Man
Print the Legend
Rio 2
Space Station 76
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
The Theory of Everything
This Is Where I Leave You
The U Part 2
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Movies I Loved:
22 Jump Street
A Most Violent Year
American Sniper
Bad Boys
Bad Words
Big Eyes
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dear White People
Edge of Tomorrow
Force Majeure
Get On Up
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Grand Piano
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Homesman
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Jodorowsky's Dune
Life Itself
The Lunchbox
Magic in the Moonlight
A Most Wanted Man
The Normal Heart
The Railway Man
Red Army
Requiem for the Big East
The Skeleton Twins
Slaying the Badger
Still Alice
Top Five
Two Days, One Night
Under The Skin
We Are The Best

My Top 10 of 2014:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Inherent Vice
The Lego Movie
Love Is Strange
Palo Alto
The Raid 2
The Trip to Italy

If I could fit more I would've added these films to the top 10 list: Belle, Guardians of the Galaxy, Force Majeure, The Homesman, Under The Skin, and Virunga... unfortunately the others just barely knocked these flicks out of contention... but they've still made appearances in my Loved List. If you had to ask what my overall favorite film of the year was... I'd honestly be very hard pressed to answer that question. So let's leave it to 2015 and see if I can't figure it out.

Happy New Year everyone! Have a damn good responsible time! And see you next year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Big Eyes Is Tim Burton's Best Since Big Fish

Funny that Tim Burton should make two Big movies a little over ten years apart, and that they should so easily outrank the rest of his films within that ten year period.
Big Eyes is yet another true story... this film season is packed full of em. But this one is particularly interesting. It's not a war film. Not a civil rights film... well not directly. This is the story of Margaret and Walter Keane (Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz) the famous "artists". Quotes apply because only one of them is actually an artist. However, the story of how that realization comes to be is so gosh darn interesting. And it's an excellent discussion piece... because even though this incident is perhaps a product of its time, there's nothing to say it couldn't happen again today. It's not exactly a women's rights issue, though one particular scene in a church brings that subject and even more so the subject of public perception of sexism as classism into question.
No, Tim Burton's latest flick is mostly a bizarrely true period piece. This movie is very much about the late 1950s through the 1960s and the way people behaved and accepted without proof. There's a naivety to peoples' perceptions that is mind boggling in todays standards, but somehow could make even more sense in todays world... now that we can practically invent new identities at a whim online. People's identities can be stolen... property taken. But never in such a personal manner. Never with such bluntness. And never quite so in your face as Walter was able to do to Margaret.
I will go see Amy Adams in anything. She's been doing incredible work since Drop Dead Gorgeous, and she powerhouses this movie. Of course, Christoph Waltz is an excellent companion. Every performance he's ever given has garnered some form of praise... and he brings to this film a level of honesty that should be absurd given how full of lies his character is. But that's what's so blatantly fun about this performance. I also enjoyed Krysten Ritter, though her character was mostly one note. She just fit the time period so concisely.
At times I have just wanted Tim Burton to stop making films. But if he puts out something as semi-charming as this every few years... and we don't have to wait ten agonizing years between all the while watching bad adaptations of previously loved properties... well I wouldn't go yelling that Tim Burton is back or anything, but Big Eyes is a wonderful first step to me perhaps getting back on the Burton train in the near future. Yet, given the two films he's apparently planning on making in the near future, those hopes may never come to fruition. Oh well. At least I had a good time with this one movie.

The Gambler Kind Of Just Happens

Rupert Wyatt's latest flick, The Gambler (his first since Rise of the Planet of the Apes), has its moments, but seems to lean too heavily on a sense of overwhelming depression.
Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a compulsive gambler... he also happens to teach literature at a nearby college... oh and did I mention he once wrote a novel that didn't really go anywhere. He's a lonely kind of person. But he seems to have everything... minus the right mindset. Set when he overspends and borrows more and more money from the wrong kind of people, his oldest lender gets fed up and gives him an ultimatum... Seven days to get the money. Seven days to get his shit together... and apparently seven days to work out all of his mental issues.
The Gambler seems to want so badly to say something meaningful. And while it may be a remake, it still seems to want that meaningful something to be something new. It's kind of awkward. And Mark Wahlberg is expected to carry the whole thing in the process, which he kind of does in his own Mark Wahlberg way... racing through lines as if he's always known he was gonna say them... playing a character that is only menially likable and usually annoying in his unnatural ability to make terrible decisions. Unfortunately, since the film leans so heavily on Wahlberg, it also leaves several really good actors giving really good performances in the dust. Yeah, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Jessica Lange all get their moments... but always too briefly and rarely does the film feel like returning back to their characters. And the same can be said for unknown Anthony Kelley, who has one very compelling scene only to be left out for the majority of the picture.
This is a flick that could have used an ensemble kind of vibe, but didn't. It almost feels like an attempt at a David O. Russell flick. But doesn't quite reach the highest level of what that could be. Yet I can't help but feeling like Rupert Wyatt proved something with The Gambler. He doesn't need all of the effects to make his movie good. And while I don't know that I'd classify The Gambler in the "good" category, it's still a semi-entertaining film. And honestly that's not an easy thing to make.

Unbroken Fails To Set Itself Apart

When I heard the Coen brothers had written the screenplay for Unbroken, I got excited. When I found out they were just behind one of several drafts... well... let's just say things changed.
Unbroken is a crazy true story about an Olympic athlete, Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), who crash-landed in the Pacific in WWII. After an incredible 47 days stranded on a life raft he was picked up by enemy troops and transported to a Japanese prison camp... what happens there and Zamperini's resolve to survive without losing himself or his beliefs is truly amazing.
Jack O'Connell is quite compelling here. He brings that exact survivor quality that other characters refer to, and his performance breathes and zings when it needs to. He is the National Board of Review's choice for breakthrough performance and while I'd still like to catch Starred Up... I can fully understand why they'd give him such a credit based solely on this performance. Domhnall Gleeson gets the short end of the stick here, but still manages to make it work. He's just an interesting actor. Everything I've seen out of him of late has been at the very least entertaining. Then there's Takamasa Ishihara. Damn did I enjoy his performance as The Bird. He's both despicable and alluring at the same time. And I've gotta wonder how long it'll be before we get another flick out of him. The cast here is great.
However, Angelina Jolie's film fails to separate itself from other POW flicks and unfortunately falters on its own expectations. While Zamperini's story is in fact quite extraordinary, the film in question maneuvers through those events according to practically the same pacing and formula of at least twenty films to come before it... but without the style of say Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence or the perspective of The Railwayman... which I actually do think is a better overall POW film to come out of the 2014 season. This is a prime example of what I call a "handsome film"... It is exactly the kind of thing people expect to see come award season, but it likely won't be remembered in 20 years time.

Selma: Finally A Martin Luther King Movie!

Selma isn't a perfect movie, but I'm just glad to get a good enough flick about such an important historical figure.
Everybody knows who Martin Luther King Jr. was. He broke racial barriers and changed the way our country perceived humans and their basic rights. Selma is the true story of how Dr. King lead a group of peaceful protesters through the overtly racist state of Alabama in an attempt to push the argument about fair voting practices into law. It's an amazing story; an example of one man proving to have more power than all of the lawmakers and political officials of this country combined. And while it seems less and less likely that any other individual will have the kind of impact that Dr. King did, it is still a welcome lesson in how someone under those conditions may work... and what he or she may have to expect from the power in question.
Ava DuVernay can be proud of the film she made. It shocks and amazes me that this is the first big screen adaptation of Martin Luther King's life. And David Oyelowo gives an excellent performance as the reverend. He has not always been my favorite actor... his part in Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes to mind as a particularly low quality performance. But in Selma, he delivers. He brought back memories of every recording and video I've ever caught of Dr. King. And surely that is a good sign. I liked Carmen Ejogo here as well, though I felt her role called for a little more stimulus. Selma did happen to remark on a very interesting period in their relationship, and I greatly appreciated at least getting a glimpse into that dynamic. But it felt, unfortunately, too short lived. Tim Roth comes through as usual with a very specific quality performance. I'd refer to his role George Wallace as the villain, though he really fills a strange niche. And he shows his darker more disgusting side with an obscure composure. I love to see what good actors can do with such unbelievable and unrelatably true qualities.
At the end of the day, Selma is good enough. Given we've had to wait so long for anybody to even attempt this story on the big screen, I'm very glad to have gotten something at least of this caliber.

American Sniper Is Very Well Made Propaganda

Clint Eastwood finally managed to make a film that didn't bore me to tears. But that doesn't mean American Sniper is %100 just or fair.
American Sniper is the true life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). Known as the deadliest killer in US military history, Kyle's obsessive nature pulls him back again and again to a war where the casualties frequently exist in the form of young children and mothers. Families stuck between a rock and a hard place. But Kyle always remains true to his values... in war that is. His home life is a different story altogether.
While I'll happily commend the caliber of filmmaking (I really do like it when filmmakers prove me wrong), I cannot ignore just how one-sided this picture is. At no point is the war questioned, rather it is always remarked upon with the utmost of import... Kyle constantly streams out lines explaining how this war is protecting his family, though there is no imminent threat on his home, wife, or children. And while in most cases, such a strong character opinion could be left as just that, a character's single opinion, American Sniper manages to make this message ultimately seem unquestionable. Even as his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) denounces Kyle's decisions to return to war,  she seems to never feel the need to state any truly strong opinions against the overall operation. This struck me as odd. But it wasn't enough to shortchange the overall film. It was just well made. Interesting. Entertaining. And while war films usually miss the mark for me, this one managed to shoot straight.
I suppose what makes this such an interesting piece is the mythological nature of it. By the time Chris Kyle has returned for his second tour of duty (pretty early on) he has already achieved myth status. To the men around him he is frequently referred to as "Legend" and so the film seems to go with his character as well. There is never a weakness in him. There is never a miss or a misstep... outside of one home incident. And even that is cleaned up in such a way that we are expected to feel nothing but respect for every aspect of the man's life. And I agree he is a true hero. But something about this approach to his character feels strikingly like propaganda straight out of the 1950s.
Regardless of that opinion, Bradley Cooper gave a clear and concise performance. I really think he's coming along as an actor and it's cool to watch him grow here. I've never had a problem with Sienna Miller and to be honest, she's having a booming year. After this and Foxcatcher I think she's gonna start turning more heads and getting more attention from critics and awards groups alike.
American Sniper may not tell the whole story, but the story Jason Hall's script chooses to tell is good enough for now. If this film were viewed from a strictly neutral position with only the intention of being quality entertainment, it would succeed in droves. Even so, I still walked away liking the flick. And with a much greater respect for the people involved in making it to boot.

I Thought Pride Would Be More Entertaining

Don't get me wrong, Matthew Warchus' Pride is a solid flick all things considered. This is the true story of U.K. gay activists joining in to help the Miners union during their strike back in 1984. And it is rather inspirational to witness so many people recognizing the lengths their fellow men/women are willing to go to help them out... in spite of and eventually regardless of sexual preference.
But this is still the kind of film that manages to host a more interesting subject matter than the overall final product manages to be. Rather, Pride didn't hold my attention in quite the way I'd hope a great film would and I often felt my mind wandering...
Now I felt like Ben Schnetzer did an excellent job. Imelda Staunton was solid. I also always enjoy a good Bill Nighy performance... I could use more Nighy in a film. And George MacKay was good enough. But then there was Andrew Scott... this guy just doesn't bring anything interesting to the table in my mind. He's the same guy that makes me cringe when I think about rewatching some of those old episodes of Sherlock... because he just cannot seem to find an honest place to emote from. In that series he was completely too much... and here well he's the exact opposite... too little but still annoyingly fidgety. I don't mean to be rude... really, if he gave me a performance worth watching I'd happily change my tune, but when a person reaches the highest of levels in their profession I don't think I'm alone in expecting more.
Anyway, this film got a nod in the Golden Globes Best Feature Film, Musical or Comedy category. And it is worth a watch. Though I doubt I'll ever feel the need to revisit it. I was just led to believe this would be a lot more fun than it ultimately was.

Into The Woods Almost Gets It Right

I grew up on the stage play of Into The Woods, so there's a slight chance this may be biased...
When Rob Marshall was first announced to direct the Sondheim classic, I literally groaned. What Marshall had managed to do to Yeston's Nine was nothing short of abysmal. So how could he possibly be expected to make a quality Sondheim flick? Apparently Disney was less nervous in spite of their own subpar experience with the director shortly after... Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Regardless, the film went ahead... and some very head scratching changes were made.
If you don't already know the story of Into The Woods... well you probably actually do. It's a wonderful amalgam of classic fairytales all being interconnected to create a new and very much more adult message. Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk) and Little Red (of Little Red Riding Hood) both discover the world... and perhaps their own sexuality. Cinderella learns that happily ever after is actually somewhere in-between great and awful. And the Princes of apparently every fairy tale ever are pretty much just spoiled rich kids who only see the world and people in it as something they can possess. Into The Woods is supposed to put an adult spin on the stories we grew up with as children. And it's supposed to have a very intriguing dark side.
Yet, somewhere along the line, as Disney was putting this film into production, they lost sight of something very important... stakes. It is odd to jump so immediately into the second act as the film was forced to do without an intermission. But it is even odder to take several of the most important deaths out of the story altogether. I understand not wanting to kill off Rapunzel since Disney does consider her a franchise character now. But everything that the Witch does in the second act becomes lost when the character simply runs off. Suddenly the Witch becomes just a whiney character with no real purpose. Similarly, the lack of the Narrator as a separate character manages to both take away a critical sense of comedy from the story and drops the stakes of the second act even further. To not have that character die as well as keeping Rapunzel alive suddenly forces the second act into this odd hole wherein the amazing "characters dropping like flies" thing never occurs. If only two or maybe three characters die out of an expected five or six... a crucial sense of urgency becomes lost.
Likewise, the intentional dropping of a few songs in the second act limits this film even further. Certainly one has to consider runtime, but that likely should have been done in the first half where we all already know the classic stories being told.
On another note, in spite of enjoying this film to a stronger degree than either of Rob Marshall's last two, I cannot give him credit for a good directing job. He did just enough as director not to piss me off. Sure he kept the musical numbers in the real world instead of trying to pull them to some fantasy stage as he did in Chicago (which worked) and Nine (which really really didn't)... and some individual acting performances were great, as if that needed to be said about Meryl Streep. But Marshall also didn't have enough imagination to open things up and allow multiple character moments to occur on screen at the same time. It's perplexing to watch a musical these days and two, three, or maybe twelve different voices may be going at the same time in a song, but we're stuck on only one of those characters... Yes, film is very different from stage, but some visual notes should be taken from what does work on a stage when adapting from that medium.
This poster probably says it the best...
I also cannot separate myself from the overall choppiness between numbers... and particularly in the middle when they try to find a quick fix in order to combine the end of act one to the beginning of act two. I probably sound like a spoiled brat about all of this, but my issues come from a legitimate place of love for the property in question. Into The Woods is simply one of the best Broadway musicals of the last thirty years. And while it did manage to finally get a big-budget, big-screen adaptation, I can't help but feel like something crucial to its emotional success has been lost.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mr. Turner Does Not Die So Well As It Lives

Mr. Turner is the latest masterful but somehow incomplete attempt by Mike Leigh.
This flick is beautiful, disgusting, and an incredibly insightful representation of England in the 1800s. It's the true story of famous painter J.M.W. Turner. But it tends to veer away from any strict plot progressions. Mr. Turner runs about a half-hour longer than it should, and the overall film really suffers from sagging into tedium... particularly in the final quarter when we're made to wonder "will he die in this scene? Or the next? Or the next?"
It is very unfortunate that a film that so perfectly captures a style of life can manage to misstep when all of its cards are on the table. Honestly, Timothy Spell does his damnedest to deliver a truly incredible performance. His relationships with Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, and Martin Savage are mesmerizing... and I really believe this entire ensemble should have been honored with some kind of group award throughout the more obscure award ceremonies. It would seem every single actor on set had a complete understanding of the material and brought their absolute A-game. This is why it seems so very unfortunate that Mike Leigh himself could not reign in the material to actual make a complete movie and not an overwhelming blob that eventually suffocates itself...
Yet when I put it like that I have to waver for a moment and consider the character of J.M.W. Turner himself. I would go so far as to say, this movie is built to be a meta example of the man. It is beautiful in a rather disgusting way... the pace does not seem to matter to it as the pace of life seems to simply wash past Turner... he simply seems to accept the next moment never questioning his own actions or the current state of affairs. In fact, even when he becomes wise enough to recognize his own faults and failings, the man never once lifts a finger to try and make a change... he just continues to allow the issue to linger. When I put it like that to myself, I have to applaud the attempt Mike Leigh made to capture that energy in the shape of the film itself. It just becomes unfortunate that such a contextual illumination cannot make that final quarter of the film more enjoyable.
But let's reverse. I was firmly on board with everything through the first hour and a half at least... probably more. The film opens on a very bleak picture and the score (that amazing score) comes in like no score I've ever heard before. It's like it's tuning up the orchestra, but to an actual song that will never completely take shape, but simply haunt your mind through the films runtime. And if Gary Yershon does not receive at least an Oscar nomination for his efforts I will be greatly disappointed with the Academy. This score is breathtaking, bleak, beautiful, and all at once haunting. It is precisely the kind of score the film requires. And it does not fold to anyone else's standards. Like the paintings... like the cinematography: so amazingly planned and punctuated by Dick Pope. Practically everything about this movie works besides the runtime... the tedium of death that fills the final minutes... the failed message at the end of people remembered and forgotten.
Mr. Turner is an amazing but flawed achievement. I wanted so badly to come out of the theatre considering it one of my favorite films of the year... and it came so very close to achieving immortality in my heart. But ultimately the ball dropped and the baton never passed... and Mr. Turner became just another almost great film. I'd absolutely recommend you go and see it, particularly if you're interested in quality period pieces... but this recommendation comes with a heavy asterisk. Be aware, it will not die so well as it lives.

Citizenfour Proves To Be So Much More Than I Could Have Expected

The mere fact that this film exists is an achievement.
Citizen four is a true day-to-day account of the Edward Snowden whistleblowing event... with Edward Snowden!! I'm serious. The documentarian Laura Poitras was one of only a small group of people allowed into Snowden's hotel room in order to record the man's actions. And it's an unequalled example of absolute insight into the event. Quite seriously, this is the ultimate Snowden film. And it's shot so well that a Hollywood screenplay probably never needs to be written... because the emotional beats are already there.
Obviously, this is a story worth telling. And there's no doubt in my mind this is a worthy entry into the Best Documentary category at this years Oscars. But that is clearly not the end all be all here. Citizenfour sets out to give unparalleled access to a pretty important event in our recent history, and even more amazing is how completely it manages to succeed. At any moment that door could have been broken down and the rest of the film would have been a mad attempt at simply gathering news reports and making lists without direct communication with Snowden. But that's not what happened. Snowden proved he could stay free. And the film greatly gained from his freedom. And you will greatly gain from seeing this film. So check it out!

Monday, December 22, 2014

But The Double Is Just A Mess

Man, Richard Ayoade's The Double just didn't work for me.
I know I came into this thing with expectations. It's appeared on several "Best of 2014" lists. But nothing about the story was compelling or actually made any sort of sense. Let's be serious, if anybody was actually as afraid of life as Jesse Eisenberg's character Simon, they probably wouldn't have the job he does in the first place. So this is the concept... Simon (Eisenberg) loves Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) from a distance, but nothing in his life seems to work. Then one day James (also Eisenberg) shows up and proves to be everything that Simon isn't. But since they look alike, they sort of strike a deal.
This is basically just Fight Club meets Dead Ringers without any of the fun, mystery, or suspense. And while I enjoy Mia Wasikowska in almost everything she does... and Jesse Eisenberg gives two solid performances... and considering Wallace Shawn plays a crucial role... the positives still don't outweigh the negatives.
Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine wrote a completely baffling and convoluted script with no room for justification or explanation. Given all of these missteps, I can only refer to The Double as a sloppy and unfortunate mess.

The Homesman Beautifully Captures Another Time

The Homesman marks the first time I've actually enjoyed a Tommy Lee Jones directed film.
From start to finish this is a bizarre story. It's almost foreign in its perspective, but utterly believable when you consider the time. Women in the old west are rarely a part of any discussion, though when you really start to think about it, it must've been incredibly hard going. That's precisely the point this movie sets out to make... and it succeeds with gusto. Every action requires an overwhelming process that people in America today would probably just give up on. And the tumultuous nature of the seasons in the desert can lead to myriad catastrophes. Thus leading to the odd plot at hand.
The Homesman tells the story of strong-willed Mary Bee Cuddy's (Hilary Swank) journey to bring three exhausted and insane women, overwhelmed by the pioneer life, back to civilization. She is forced to enlist a criminal named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) to her cause when the men of her small town prove too cowardly to help. And their trip does not prove to be an easy one.
With this film, Tommy Lee Jones shows a mastery and understanding of his craft that had been lacking in previous efforts. His perspective of the old west makes for a harrowing experience. And I still can't believe the depths this film is willing to go to in order to state its case. Hilary Swank is (and I wouldn't say this if I didn't mean it) the perfect choice for the part of Cuddy. Not only did I believe her for all of her strengths, but for her incredible levels of desperation as well. And while there is one segment of the film that simply confused me, enough of this worked. That and Marco Beltrami is a truly great composer. His music always keeps things interesting.
I love a good western, and it's been really cool to see the genre try to evolve with the times. Jones' The Homesman is perhaps the best example of the neo-western genre we have.

Finding Vivian Maier Surprised Me

John Maloof and Charlie Siskel have together directed their first film. And they have a great deal to be proud of.
When John Maloof bought an old chest full of negatives at auction, he had no clue the rabbit hole he was about to tumble down. Finding Vivian Maier is the true story of Maloof's search to uncover the  life story of the perviously unknown photographer he accidentally made famous. And man is this an interesting documentary.
I was surprised by this piece. There was something so wonderful about its ability to evoke a sense of comprehension of life. These stories are true. Somehow the people are completely understood in retrospect. And their perspectives are reminiscent of peoples' that I have known in my own life. I've seen hoarding too often from people in my time, but never been able to make sense of it. Yet, this film somehow seems to find that understanding by taking a step back and without judgement, connecting the dots. Certainly this film reaches to darker places than it seems to let on at first glance, but the moments of discovery... the breakthrough moments where things really come to light... seem worth everything else. I don't want to say more than I should. Vivian Maier's life is a weird sort of mystery that slowly gets uncovered like a puzzle. And it's both amazing and tragic to watch.
Apparently this is eligible for Best Documentary at this years Oscars despite boasting a 2013 release date. But then, the Academy's rules seem to make less and less sense the more you look at them. Anyway, I definitely understand why this film is considered of high enough quality for the award. And I'd recommend checking it out if you're at all interested in docs.

Who The Hell Wanted Another Annie Anyway??

Annie is a god awful childhood memory that will not go away. For some insane reason, some producer gets it into their head that they wanna make a production of Annie. Then parents bring their kids to see the cheese-fest. Time passes and it seems like, thankfully the whole godawful experience has been forgotten. But that's just the problem with history... if we allow ourselves to forget, we will likely pay for it by repeating the same mistakes time and time again. About ten years pass. Some new producer says, "Hey I've got an idea for an easy money maker... Annie!" Suddenly the kids have grown up. They say, "I wonder what I can do with MY kids for a couple hours. Well Annie's the only thing out. It can't POSSIBLY be as bad as I remember." But they're wrong. Annie will always be as bad as we remember. Because Annie is just annoying... and bad. Nobody in their right minds will want to go to a new production of Annie. But then another ten years pass and, like a serpent, insanity somehow slips back into the culture... and suddenly... well you get the point...
I hate Annie. I've never liked it. Everyone I've ever spoken to about Annie seems to agree with me. So how the hell does it keep on coming back????
Anyway, I think I've ranted long enough. The fact that this 2014 rendition is still Annie automatically hurts any credibility it has as its own movie. But that didn't stop the writers from trying to make us okay with the idea of watching a new Annie flick. And to be fair, it almost works. Some of the added songs are actually good... And the girl they got to play the not-so-"lovable orphan", Quvenzhané Wallis is actually pretty good. But then any movie with Cameron Diaz in it is instantly gonna drop back down in my estimation. And oh yeah, I don't wanna forget this... the lip-syncing is some of the worst I have EVER seen.
Look, any time a producer gets it in their head that a new Annie sounds like a good idea, that producer should be instantly demoted... because Annie is a national atrocity that we've had to deal with like a plague for far too long.


Chris Rock Makes A Quality Flick In Top Five

Director, Writer, and Star... Chris Rock came out swinging in 2014 with his release, Top Five.
This is the story of Andre Allen (Rock), a famous comedian who's essentially sold out. He's marrying a reality tv star, and his latest movie is a mad attempt at trying to be something he's not. So when he lands in New York to do publicity, it's not exactly a surprise that everyone's asking about the wedding instead... Everyone except the journalist the New York Times has sent to do an exclusive, Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). This is a flick about being yourself and knowing what you actually want out of life. And it's pretty cool.
What's really exciting about Top Five is Rock manages to find a way to pull an actual moral out of his   comedy. This seems to be a rarer and rarer trend these days, but the film manages to follow a very direct line, point by point making the viewer aware that there is, in fact, a deeper meaning here. Until, by the end, he is able to subtly lay in the final commentary and the audience is allowed to easily roll into it. And while a few things could have looked or felt better... particularly the fake movie within the movie... the overall flick had more than enough to turn those issue into non-issues.
Rosario Dawson and Chris Rock build an excellent chemistry here as well. They are the life of this picture and they prove to be more than up to the task. Cedric the Entertainer is hilarious and shows a command over his craft that I have not experienced from him as an actor before. And Gabrielle Union manages to be pretty believable as a reality star, though I'm not sure if that should be considered a compliment.
Top Five was honored by the National Board of Review, and I completely understand why. I also tend to think it's rather poignant that this released on the same weekend as the decidedly racist Exodus. And at the end of the day, this is clearly the better of the two films. I really liked Top Five, I think you will too.