Wednesday, January 28, 2015

You're Gonna Wanna See The Internet's Own Boy

Censorship is never a good thing. It's amazing that we've made it as long as we have as a society while still allowing people to censor us... sure censorship is a complicated subject dealing with the ideas of where power lies and how control can be attained. But some individuals are better formed to combat such convoluted issues than others.
The Internet's Own Boy is the true life story of a real genius, Aaron Swartz... cofounder of reddit and all around do-gooder. This is a guy who saw big problems from a very unlikely position... if an individual can chip away at the big stuff, eventually they'll be able to expose the soft underbelly... and clean out the bugs. If one person stands up the right way, the rest will inherently follow. Aaron was clearly an amazing thinker. It seems he could see problems from more sides than most and could work through them with unparalleled abandon. His tool and most powerful weapon was the internet itself. But then the justice system came in and decided they wanted (not even needed) to make an example... and because of a far more broken system than I usually like to admit, we'll now be deprived of one of the most brilliant minds of our generation.
I know it's a real downer. But if you don't know the story of Aaron Swartz, you owe it to yourself to learn. This is a fascinating documentary with a very relatable perspective. Brian Knappenberger found a very compelling way to give an unjustly sad story a necessary and hopefully positive message. While most of us may not be computer geniuses or the like, I think this film certainly proves that one man CAN make a difference. And that's the kind of thing American's need to be reminded of on a regular basis... before infringements into our rights go too far.

If You Like Jazz Or Positive Stories, Check Out Keep On Keepin' On

If you're more interested in a positive story out of your documentaries, this film'll likely get your goat.
Keep On Keepin' On is the true life story of legendary Jazz musician Clark Terry. But rather than tell us all about his storied career, the film intentionally veers off to focus in on the amazing work that Clark Terry has been doing as a teacher. Sure he's made more albums than you can count and he probably hasn't done too bad financially, but his real mark will likely come in those myriad students he personally took the time to coach and help up into the professional Jazz fold... Miles Davis... Quincy Jones... that's the caliber of student this guy's raised. So this is the story of Clark Terry's mentorship of a young, blind piano player named Justin Kauflin. And it's a very cool example of what this Jazz master has been up to, particularly in his later years.
Frankly, I'm a little surprised the Academy didn't nominate this thing for best documentary. The film's approach to its subject is just different from most docs that are out there. And it has a very clear, concise story to tell from an angle that no one's seen before. Clark Terry is the ultimate badass, and he deserves to have more films made about his storied career. But this is a rare glimpse at the man after all of his success, and the proof that not everyone who makes it big necessarily has to lose themselves to the darker side of celebrity.
I really enjoyed Keep On Keepin' On. If you like music, or just a positive take on humanity, this is a pretty good flick for you. Alan Hicks knocked it out of the park on his first try.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Unfortunately, Leviathan Falters When The Going Gets Tough

Looking at the impressions of the Academy, other awards organizations, and the vast number of critics who have seen Leviathan, I get the impression my opinion on this film will hold up as a very unpopular one. Still that seems just as good a reason to say it as any.
Andrey Zvyagintsev's latest film is an impressive portrait of the corrupt nature of Russian politics. The mere fact that Leviathan was so heavily chosen by the country of Russia as its representative film says a great deal, because the content of the film attempts to be, and for the most part is rather damning. Of course, a film like this could be set in many countries (the United States included) but it informs so very much that the location of this particularly film be in a communist state. Regardless, for all of that praise that I give to the country for allowing this piece to exist and be widely distributed, the final film still manages to fall quite short of its lofty expectations.
Leviathan tells the story of Nikolai Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), his wife (Elena Lyadova) and son. When the Mayor of their small town (Roman Madyanov) goes after Kolya's land for his own personal gain, Nikolai brings in his old wartime friend and now Moscow lawyer Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to help save his home. But this new visitor only creates more problems. This is a film about overwhelming corruption, injustice, and well... poetical nonsense. And for ever element that it manages to get right, the last quarter of the film manages to get just as much completely wrong.
I'll begin with the run time... two hours and twenty minutes was just outrageously too long for this flick. It easily could have made its point within an hour and a half and left me wanting more... but instead (and I usually advocate allowing a film time to breathe) Zvyagintsev and his writer Oleg Negin opted to just let scenes of little import linger and disassociate the audience from the actual subject being discussed. Similarly, the film's ultimate payoff could have been reached at least a half hour earlier without several useless plot additions... but then I suppose this is the nature of the Russian novel and will always find its way into the art of that country.
But if the concept is that corruption has become the way of things, and that a man alone is too small to take on the rising tide of his own government in a just and fair manner, the film does eventually manage to make this point. Unfortunately, for all of its concise and quality plot weaving through the first hour and a half, it manages to become just as uncertain and awkwardly metaphorical toward the end. I don't mean to hammer this idea to death... but there is a real chance I would have loved this film had the church metaphors not taken such a profound control over the ending leaving the characters, who were so well drawn and acted, ultimately in the dust. Yes there is an element of this in the concept of the title... it's all too big for individuals, but the payoff becomes almost secondary to the attempt at a much broader and poorly explained or exemplified idea.
In time I believe I'll only recall Leviathan as a profound misuse of an excellent theme. It will linger in my mind for a while yet as that film that easily could have been perfect, but came unhinged just when it could have reeled it in. It's unfortunate. But these things do happen I suppose. After all, artists and filmmakers are only human.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Two Days, One Night Is The Kind Of Film We Should Be Making In The States

One of the better surprises of the 2014 season will have to be Two Days, One Night... the latest film by the Dardenne brothers.
Two Days, One Night or Deux jours, une nuit is a Belgian flick about one woman's struggle to convince her coworkers to let her keep her job after the bosses had put her position up against a pretty big bonus. It's an incredible study on human nature and what happens when people are forced to show their true colors. And since the ultimate decision that the company is asking its employees to make for it is an incredibly unfair one, I can't help but look at it as a quality metaphor for any country's workforce... I live in the United States... so the comparisons come to mind particularly of the surrounding work expectations of my home. It's a keen look into how inhuman a corporation can be without anyone's help... though people seem liable to help the negative effects far more than one would expect. Yet, there are always little rays of hope.
Marion Cotillard shocked the world with her most recent Oscar nom. And she certainly gives an Oscar worthy performance. It was so compelling to watch her change her perspective bit by bit from hopeless to hopeful to lost to won... to finding her own dignity when most others seemed resolved to let theirs go by the wayside. I appreciate that the Oscars (in spite of many other major oversights both past and present) were willing to give one of the better performances of the season a fighting chance.
If you are lucky enough to get the chance to see Two Days, One Night I suggest you take it. This is precisely the kind of subject we need to be talking about in this country.

What Does Altman Mean To You?

In 2014, Ron Mann put out a documentary about the life of famous film director Robert Altman. And it was good.
That's as blunt as I can be without telling you to just watch the damn movie. Altman is an interesting experience. It's compelling like few documentaries can be because it has so much footage from the man himself just lying there waiting to be used. It captures a weird counter-culture nostalgia and attempts with some level of desperation to uncover the purpose behind each of Altman's films. And you can really see the trends.
It's so interesting to get this kind of perspective on one film director's life. Robert Altman was one of those strange cases... everything he did was intended to be contrary, and everything he did in one way or another managed to change the way people watched films. He was a trend setter and an artist, and this film exemplifies all of that. Altman gives us his highs and his lows and more or less allows us to understand what the man was really about at heart.

Still Alice Is Heartbreakingly Good

I know I've been pushing Reese Witherspoon for Leading Actress until now, but I always had to leave an asterisk. I hadn't seen the frontrunner... Julianne Moore. And her performance was well worth the wait.
Still Alice is the painfully sad story about Alice Howland, a linguistics professor who develops Early Onset Alzheimer's, throwing her and her family's lives into disarray. Now when you hear that summary you're probably wondering why you'd want to go see something so heart-wrenching and painful to watch. Why in the name of god would you ever even consider forcing yourself to feel this pain? Well Still Alice is so dense with quality performances, abstract and interesting camera work, and a truly compelling screenplay that I can't find a solid argument against giving it a shot. Sometimes it's worth feeling the pain in a fictional setting so you can open your eyes and start living. You know what I mean?
Julianne Moore trumps every other performance this season. Her take on the pains of living with Alzheimer's is both shocking and awe-inspiring. I've always known she was a great actress, but sometimes I need a film of quality to remind me just how great... Still Alice, fortunately, is that film. Alec Baldwin is as interesting to watch as ever, and I really enjoy it when he takes on these more serious kinds of roles. Kate Bosworth was just perfect. Her attempts at overcoming the realities of her and her mother's situation feel so genuine and intellectually motivated... And then there's Kristen Stewart. I've tended to question her celebrity in the past because her biggest movies have clearly not been made for my demographic. But she delivers as good a performance as anyone in Still Alice. If you were wondering where all the great female performances of the 2014 season went to, most of them were being saved for this flick. I'm honestly surprised it didn't get more nominations.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland made a hypnotically heartbreaking film. And they should be very proud of their work. Still Alice is finally in theaters now, and it was damn worth the wait. Check it out quick, cause it'll likely come home with the Best Actress Oscar.

Don't Scoff, Paddington Was Really Good

The truth is, I would have never seen Paddington had it not been for its myriad BAFTA nominations this year. The trailers looked cheesy and without purpose... and it really felt like it was just gonna be another family film massacre of a previously beloved children's book series.
So what's the deal? Paul King of The Mighty Boosh fame came along and rather masterfully crafted a film that's actually worth seeing. If you don't know the story, Paddington is a talking bear that lived with a family of other talking bears in darkest Peru. The bear family had previously learned the English language back in the 1950s when an explorer came through and made fast friends with them. But one day and earthquake comes along destroys Paddington's home... and with his aunt going to stay in a home for retired bears, he is forced to seek out a new place to live. So of course he goes to England in hopes of finding the explorer he had heard so much about. Well he ends up staying with a very kind family, the Browns, and their search for the explorer begins.
The cast feels spot on. And the CG is just swell enough. And the action of the flick moves just about right. The pacing is never off... and as the movie pushed forward I felt myself getting more and more comfortable with the world as a whole. Things just began to sink in. Paddington has a flavor all its own. It's a story about human kindness, young ingenuity, and learning to trust one another. These are lessons worth learning, and I'm very appreciative to have gotten a chance to see it. Amongst all of these serious Oscar films, Paddington becomes a very welcome change of pace.
Check it out. I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 2015 Oscars Will Host The Most Surprising Snubs Of The Season

Alright, this one's a shocker. Here's the list of 2015 Oscar nominees:

Best Picture:

American Sniper

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything


My Pick: Birdman deserves it... if only to show that a film with that much integrity and ingenuity can win. This year's been odd, and these nominations may be odder, so I think we could use a film like Birdman winning just for sanity's sake.

Actor in a Leading Role:

Steve Carell - Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper - American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything

My Pick: Jake Gyllen... wait... he wasn't even nominated?? Ugh. Okay, I guess my second choice is Michael Keaton. Yay, Birdman gets another one (inflection not consistently serious). Did you also notice how Selma's David Oyelowo didn't get recognized here either. This category is amongst the most disappointing evidence of the Academy's poor decision making this year.

Actress in a Leading Role:

Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore - Still Alice

Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon - Wild

My Pick: Julianne Moore... though I'd still be down for a Reese Witherspoon win.

Actor in a Supporting Role:

Robert Duvall - The Judge

Ethan Hawke - Boyhood

Edward Norton - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons - Whiplash

My Pick: J.K. Simmons! At least this one hasn't changed... though the addition of any performance from The Judge is questionable at best on the Academy's part.

Actress in a Supporting Role:

Patricia Arquette - Boyhood

Laura Dern - Wild

Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game

Emma Stone - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Meryl Streep - Into the Woods

My Pick: Patricia Arquette... because her performance still blows my mind!

Animated Feature Film:

Big Hero 6

The Boxtrolls

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Song of the Sea

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

My Pick: The LEG... wait... this one too? Dammit Academy! Stop ruining my day... Well, How to Train Your Dragon 2... but with a very very heavy asterisk. The best movie doesn't even make the list.


Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Emmanuel Lubezki

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Robert Yeoman

Ida - Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

Mr. Turner - Dick Pope

Unbroken - Roger Deakins

My Pick: Birdman... Though once again I've gotta say, Mr. Turner could nab this one.

Costume Design:

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Milena Canonero

Inherent Vice - Mike Bridges

Into the Woods - Colleen Atwood

Maleficent - Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive

Mr. Turner - Jacqueline Durran

My Pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel.


Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Boyhood - Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher - Bennett Miller

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson

The Imitation Game - Morten Tyldum

My Pick: Alejandro G. Iñárritu... but isn't it funny how a film that didn't even reach the Best Picture category managed to get its director in here while several other flicks considered to be of that quality didn't... I'm okay with a separation between the two awards because there is a difference, but at some point the two do become one and that's when you pull the one from the other.

Documentary Feature:


Finding Vivian Maier

Last Days in Vietnam

The Salt of the Earth


My Pick: Virunga. It's one of the best films of the year.

Film Editing:

American Sniper - Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach

Boyhood - Sandra Adair

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Barney Pilling

The Imitation Game - William Goldenberg

Whiplash - Tom Cross

My Pick: Whiplash. I know I've got at least one friend who'd disagree, but Whiplash captured so much emotion and gave just the right beats at just the right moments... through cutting and coloring.

Foreign Language Film:





Wild Tales

My Pick: Ida. Though I can't speak for any of the other candidates. A little surprised some of the other foreign flicks I saw this year didn't make it.

Makeup and Hairstyling:

Foxcatcher - Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier

Guardians of the Galaxy - Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

My Pick: Foxcatcher... I expect this to be the only award Foxcatcher gets, but damn does it deserve it.

Music (Original Score):

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Alexandre Desplat

The Imitation Game - Alexandre Desplat

Interstellar - Hans Zimmer

Mr. Turner - Gary Yershon

The Theory of Everything - Jóhann Jóhannsson

My Pick: Since my pick was never gonna make this list I can give the Academy a little bit of a break here. At least my second choice got in... Mr. Turner.

Music (Original Song):

"Everything Is Awesome" from The LEGO Movie - Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson

"Glory" from Selma - Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn

"Grateful" from Beyond the Lights - Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from Glenn Campbell... I'll Be Me - Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond

"Lost Stars" from Begin Again - Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

My Pick: Oh, you guys did know The LEGO Movie existed??? Everything Is Awesome!!

Production Design:

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Adam Stockhausen (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration)

The Imitation Game - Maria Djurkovic (Production Design); Tatiana MacDonald (Set Decoration)

Interstellar - Nathan Crowley (Production Design); Gary Fettis (Set Decoration)

Into the Woods - Dennis Gassner (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration)

Mr. Turner - Suzie Davies (Production Design); Charlotte Watts (Set Decoration)

My Pick: Mr. Turner... though I would really like to see The Grand Budapest Hotel win as well.

Sound Editing:

American Sniper -  Alan Robert Murray and Bob Asman

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Martin Hernández and Aaron Glascock

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Brent Burge and Jason Canovas

Interstellar - Richard King

Unbroken - Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

My Pick: Birdman... That's what I say anyway.

Sound Mixing:

American Sniper - John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga

Interstellar - Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten

Unbroken - Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee

Whiplash - Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

My Pick: Whiplash!! Glad it got nominated... and I don't know how anyone in their right mind could nominate Interstellar here... that flick was utterly impossible on the ears.

Visual Effects:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist

Guardians of the Galaxy - Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould

Interstellar - Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

X-Men: Days of Future Past - Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

My Pick: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes!! Because it deserves it. Serious props to these guys for bringing those apes to life in such an amazing way.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay):

American Sniper - Written by Jason Hall

The Imitation Game - Written by Graham Moore

Inherent Vice - Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything - Screenplay by Anthony McCarten

Whiplash - Written by Damien Chazelle

My Pick: Inherent Vice. Paul Thomas Anderson's script is a perfect adaptation of that book... and it actually manages to enlighten some of the more confusing passages believe it or not.

Writing (Original Screenplay):

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

Boyhood - Written by Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher - Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

Nightcrawler - Written by Dan Gilroy

My Pick: Birdman. Once again. Here's the thing, I would nominate Grand Budapest, but it's adapted and these awards shows keep moving it into original... which is just wrong. Not to mention Whiplash is in the wrong category. These two should be swapped.

Damnit! Every year the Academy finds a new way to piss me off. I'd yell more about Ava DuVernay not getting nominated, but I sincerely don't think she was the best director this year. Regardless, I don't understand how Selma gets nominated for Best Feature but doesn't get a director nod while Foxcatcher rightly misses out on the Best Feature category but somehow Bennett Miller gets in for directing. But as I said, that's the least of my gripes... The Lego Movie and Jake Gyllenhaal both got shanked and those were the two categories I was most looking forward to. I just hope they get it right with the stuff they did choose to nominate come award day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

DamNation Is A Damn Cool Exploration Of Changing Perceptions

When DamNation gets started, it seems like a simple activism documentary about the harsh realities of damns, the threats they pose to our nation's fish, and the political and financial powers that would stand in our way of removing them. But as the movie progresses, something really cool becomes clear, the public perception of these damns has changed since the filmmakers began production... And they clearly went out of their way to address this change.
Ben Knight and Travis Rummel have made a very interesting film. And it's not exactly what you'd expect. Sure, it goes through the progressions of many other docs... a couple guys trying to make their point in the most ridiculous way possible, but it branches out. I can honestly say that I was caught up in the journey because the people they interviewed were so poetic and concise in their  own purposes. The cinematography only helps their cause, and ultimately it becomes more an open love letter to the fish we've been keeping away for all of this time.
It's really exciting to witness such a shift in peoples' perceptions of something that could have been stuck in neutral for a lot more time. But I think the greatest point this film makes, is the things we had to do in the past to help our community grow and thrive may ware away and lose their value once their initial purpose has been served. In that respect I think this film can serve to say something about more than just the dam infrastructure... and I think there is a welcome metaphor in this for another faulty institution in our country... public roads and the highway system. But that's just my own prerogative.
DamNation is definitely worth your time. And it's really easy to catch on Netflix, so check it out.

Is Particle Fever What It Claims It Is?

Particle Fever was a pretty quality documentary that came out in 2014. But the Higgs Boson is still only creating more questions than it's answering.
If you sit down to watch Particle Fever, Mark Levinson's documentary about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, you likely already have some idea about the achievement this group of physicists managed to accomplish after 20 years of conceptualization, construction, and preparation. And if you're interested, that is exactly what the film gives you... several years of watching the team working and waiting until the moment finally comes, contemplating wether the moment will be what they want it to be or wether it will completely disprove all of their current theories. And even though I already knew the outcome, I still felt their pain as they waited and watched and hoped and mawed at their huge fancy super collider.
But Particle Fever still manages to miss at one of the more basic levels. While it attempts to give the audience background on what the Higgs is and why it is important, I feel like it coasts over the most crucial information in an attempt not to bore us. In fact, towards the end, when one scientist is standing on stage explaining her data before the big announcement, the music kicks in and mutes out the explanation as there's this bizarre operatic moment with the other scientists that we've been following. I think they should've been shown but the music hurt the integrity of the scene as the, perhaps difficult to understand, science jargon was left in the wake without a more fulfilling explanation.
Regardless, this path of thought likely doesn't matter. What feels absurd to me is that the Higgs itself remains completely undefined by the end... and every article I've ever read about the particle states that it really hasn't taught us anything... which is the assertion that the physicists come to at the very end anyway. This movie is about the journey, so that's not really a spoiler. But it's concerning to me that we continue to claim this as a monumental achievement when it hasn't proved or disproved anything... everything is just left up in the air.
So Particle Fever may be a fun watch, but I understand why the Academy wasn't interested in including it with their list of eligible docs. Yet the PGA still seems to have found enough reason to include it.

The Normal Heart Could've Been An Oscar Contender...

...had it not been made for television. But don't let that hinder your enjoyment of an exceptionally well made film.
Ryan Murphy has been on top of the television market for more than a few years now between Glee and American Horror Story. And he knocks one out of the park here with this made for tv adaptation of Larry Kramer's same titled play. The Normal Heart tells the story of the gay community's attempt to create awareness for an otherwise completely ignored epidemic back in the 1980s; AIDS. And while I would be willing to argue that the subject has been done to death at this point, the skill with which the film is shot and the quality of its actors'  performances consistently keeps its head well above water.
First off, Mark Ruffalo is just excellent here. He keeps proving time and time again that he can do whatever is asked of him. Matt Bomer turns in one of his better performances here as well. And by the end I was actually happy to be watching Julia Roberts in what I previously would've considered a very obscure role for her. But this is probably the most meaning I've ever pulled from a Julia Roberts anything... Jim Parsons was fine. He didn't do anything new, however his awkward demeanor did really fit the role so this can likely be considered a win for him. And I'm so glad that Alfred Molina made it into this picture. His scenes with Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer were truly electric.
The Normal Heart is just a good film about a people who were intentionally being ignored during the most devastating public situation of their history. Certainly terrible things have been done to individual members of the gay community before AIDS came about, but never did the numbers add up so heavily. I'm really just glad I myself didn't pass over this title as it is honestly one of the best films of 2014. Give it a shot!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The U Part 2: Yet Another Gut-Wrenching 30 For 30

While this 30 for 30 was in many ways a sequel to the original doc The U, it's really its own thing by the end. Sure both films are about the same franchise, but at very different times in its history. And ultimately, the story seems to completely separate from any comparison to the first as bigger issues take hold.
The U Part 2 is the most recent 30 for 30 from ESPN Films. It's the story of how the University of Miami, once a great and storied football franchise, came back from the lower dregs of the NCAA to make a run for the title once again... and perhaps find itself with another dynasty. However, the fates had different plans, and just as things begin to seriously turn around, one desperately bad officiating decision manages to throw the entire organization into chaos. Once again, the concept of "Student Athlete" becomes an absurd question mark on the face of college sports, and ultimately the league itself comes under fire for its obscure and unreliable decision making.
What The U Part 2 manages to do so well, is bring you into a story you think you understand and then turn it on its head. The truth about what happened between UM and the NCAA is absurd and ultimately I am left with the same lingering question... Why is it legal for colleges to make money off of students playing sports without real payment? No, I don't think a scholarship is enough for these guys. They put their bodies in harms way for their teams, and if they get injured, they may end up with nothing to show for it.
I'm beginning to wonder how many times this question has to be brought into the spotlight before the NCAA finally comes around... In my mind, there's a real legitimate reason to call for that organization's disbandment under legal and ethical clauses.
Catch The U Part 2 on Netflix.

Here Come The DGA Nominees

Here's likely the shortest list of nominees for an awards event you'll ever see...

DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for 2014:

Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel

Clint Eastwood - American Sniper

Alejandro G. Iñárritu - Birdman

Richard Linklater - Boyhood

Morton Tyldum - The Imitation Game

And to be honest, I'd be pretty okay with any of these guys winning. That's saying a lot and it usually doesn't happen. For one year to so consistently manage to nominate actual worthy competition is a surprise to say the least. Usually something or someone underwhelming sneaks in at the last minute... and even without the Academy nominations, I can still say this awards season has been pretty respectable in almost every category.

Now that being said, I've picked my best director the same regardless of competition in every other awards show so far, and that isn't about to change here. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, in my opinion, did the best job coordinating an entire production... and god help me, he made it feel original. Something that has proven a difficult task for many a director of late. For his creativity and ingenuity, I've gotta keep the trend going and pick the Birdman director once again.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Whelp, I Finally Saw Blue Ruin

Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin is one of the biggest surprise success stories of the 2014 season. And in spite of everyone's raging about the damn thing I didn't really care to catch it until just recently when I figured enough was enough... you know?
Blue Ruin is an epically simple concept blown up into a brooding, moody indie revenge film. I wouldn't even refer to it as a thriller really. It's practically a character study, but for the rather underdeveloped family feud/murder plot. Basically, a guy who's been living as a hobo for the last... eight years I think... discovers that the man responsible for his parents' death has just been let out of prison. So he sort of returns to his former life in hopes of seeking revenge. It's pretty much redneck killing redneck, with little more reason than the most basic of relationship issues.
The film lives and dies on its lead actor Macon Blair who does a pretty quality job in a rather strange role. The extent of his character's degradation is alarming and absolutely necessary for anything of value to come out of this movie. Yet he always manages to play off even the most peculiar of decisions with a level of sincerity and an incredibly awkward kindness. When I say that a revenge murderer seems to perform with kindness perhaps you can begin to understand the confusing but rather interesting nature of this casting decision. But as I was saying, it does work. And the cinematography is wonderful... so serious cred to Jeremy Saulnier for writing, directing, and filming this thing all himself.
If I had to give a thumbs up or down, I'd give Blue Ruin one up. But I still must admit, I'm pretty surprised that its managed to blow up like it has. It's such a small, miserable kind of film. Then again, I would probably recommend you stay home and watch this rather than go out and catch Taken 3 this weekend. So that's gotta mean something, right?

BAFTA Noms Today!

So now for the British Academy Film Awards (excluding the short films, which I am unfortunately likely to never see)... These guys have a slightly different taste than other awards groups and, since they're a whole other country, it seems some other films are eligible that perhaps made an appearance in last years Oscars... so bare with me on that. Anyway, I am appreciative of more than of few of their more surprising nominations.

Adapted Screenplay in 2015

The Theory of Everything - Anthony Mccarten
The Imitation Game - Graham Moore
American Sniper - Jason Hall
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
Paddington - Paul King

My Pick: The Imitation Game... Graham Moore did an excellent job of relaying the science to his audience. And for that I've gotta commend him in spite of some formulaic BS here and there. Truth be told, my likely picks definitely did not make this category... but I'll come to that later.

Animated Film in 2015

The Boxtrolls - Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable
The LEGO Movie - Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Big Hero 6 - Don Hall, Chris Williams

My Pick: The LEGO Movie... This was the first film I saw of the 2014 season. And it's been pencilled in for this award ever since. I do still find it confusing that there were apparently not enough space for How to Train Your Dragon 2... not that it would change my decision.

Cinematography in 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Robert Yeoman
Ida - Lukasz Zal, Ryzsard Lenczewski
Interstellar - Hoyte Van Hoytema
Mr. Turner - Dick Pope
Birdman - Emmanuel Lubezki

My Pick: Ugh this is tough... Birdman for its originality and creativity. But a very close second to Mr. Turner.

Costume Design in 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Milena Canonero
The Imitation Game - Sammy Sheldon Differ
The Theory of Everything - Steven Noble
Mr. Turner - Jacqueline Durran
Into The Woods - Colleen Atwood

My Pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel... because FUN!!

Director in 2015

Alejandro G. Iñárritu - Birdman
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
James Marsh - The Theory of Everything
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Damien Chazelle - Whiplash

My Pick: Alejandro G. Iñárritu... his vision made it to screen. And it may have been a bizarre vision, but it was bizarre in the best kind of way. Birdman was too cool and all because of Iñárritu!

Documentary in 2015

20 Feet From Stardom - Morgan Neville, Caitrin Rogers, Gil Friesen
20,000 Days On Earth - Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
Finding Vivian Maier - John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
Virunga - Orlando Von Einsiedel, Joanna Natasegara
Citizenfour - Laura Poitras

My Pick: Virunga... this film was both beautiful and horrifying. It was simply put, an amazing achievement. That and 20 Feet From Stardom is a 2013 flick and even won the Oscar last year. It was alright, but not Oscar worthy... and it's had its day. Virunga all the way!

EE Rising Star in 2015

Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Jack O'Connell
Shailene Woodley
Margot Robbie
Miles Teller

My Pick: Gugu Mbatha-Raw... Firstly, I already knew the others aside from Jack O'Connell and held them in some esteem. Secondly, because Mbatha-Raw gave an incredible performance in the little noted but wonderful Belle. I didn't catch Beyond the Lights, but I can only imagine she continues her ascension there.

Editing in 2015

Birdman - Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione
The Grand Budapest Hotel - Barney Pilling
The Theory of Everything - Jinx Godfrey
The Imitation Game - William Goldenberg
Nightcrawler - John Gilroy
Whiplash - Tom Cross

My Pick: Birdman... once again for originality. When an editor can make you believe a film never cuts away... that takes ability.

Film in 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson
The Theory of Everything - Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony Mccarten
Birdman - Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, James W. Skotchdopole
The Imitation Game - Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman
Boyhood - Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland

My Pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel... mostly because I'm just so glad it got a nomination somewhere. But Wes Anderson's latest flick is seriously legit and should be recognized for its own wonderful existence. Out of these, it was between that and Birdman for me.

Film not in English Language in 2015

Ida - Pawel Pawlikowski, Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczyska
The Lunchbox - Ritesh Batra, Arun Rangachari, Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga
Two Days, One Night - Jean-Pierre Darenne, Luc Dardenne, Denis Freyd
Leviathan - Andrey Zvyagintsev, Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergey Melkumov
Trash - Stephen Daldry, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris Thykier

My Pick: The Lunchbox... which beautifully captured the mundane day to day lives of ordinary people, but managed to make them interesting and completely compelling.

Leading Actor in 2015

Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton - Birdman

My Pick: Jake Gyllenhaal... It's not gonna change! Gyllenhaal's performance was perfect. He surprised me and for that alone he deserves this award.

Leading Actress in 2015

Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Reese Witherspoon - Wild
Amy Adams - Big Eyes
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl

My Pick: I said Reese Witherspoon... She ruled in Wild. So much so that I could actually go back and watch a movie about somebody walking for three months again... But now I've seen Still Alice and Julianne Moore rocked that film.

Make-Up And Hair in 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy - Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, David White
Into The Woods - Peter Swords King, J. Roy Helland
Mr. Turner - Christine Blundell, Lesa Warrener
The Grand Budapest Hotel - Frances Hannon
The Theory of Everything - Jan Sewell

My Pick: Guardians of the Galaxy... I can't believe Foxcatcher didn't get a nod. So the most colorful flick gets my vote.

Original Music in 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Alexandre Desalt
Interstellar - Hans Zimmer
Birdman - Antonio Sanches
The Theory of Everything - Jóhann Jóhannsson
Under The Skin - Mica Levi

My Pick: Under The Skin... I'm just so relieved that someone recognized the real best score of the season. Mica Levi killed it!

Original Screenplay in 2015

Birdman - Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr, Armando Bo
The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson
Boyhood - Richard Linklater
Whiplash - Damien Chazelle
Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy

My Pick: Whiplash... Okay, this was tough, but as I said earlier, my choice for adapted screenplay wasn't in that category... it was The Grand Budapest Hotel which is in fact adapted for your information British Academy! Unfortunately I was just more impressed by Whiplash's surprising anger and emotion.

Outstanding British Film in 2015

'71 - Yann Demange, Angus Lamont, Robin Gutch, Gregory Burke
The Theory of Everything - James Marsh, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony Mccarten
Under The Skin - Jonathan Glazer, James Wilson, Nick Wechsler, Walter Campbell
Pride - Matthew Warchus, David Livingstone, Stephen Beresford
The Imitation Game - Morten Tyldum, Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman, Graham Moore
Paddington - Paul King, David Heyman

My Pick: Under The Skin... Because I'm a sci-fi fanboy and Under The Skin was something I hadn't experienced before.

Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director or Producer in 2015

Stephen Beresford, David Livingstone - Pride
Gregory Burke, Yann Demange - '71
Elaine Constantine - Northern Soul
Hong Khaou - Lilting
Paul Katis, Andrew De Lotbiniere - Kajaki: The True Story

My Pick: N/A... I didn't like Pride enough to give it the go ahead, and I haven't seen the others yet.

Production Design in 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game - Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana Macdonald
Mr. Turner - Suzie Davies, Charlotte Watts
Interstellar - Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
Big Eyes - Rick Heinrichs, Shane Vieau

My Pick: Mr. Turner... Because they so completely managed to capture this odd and awkward but often beautiful past.

Sound in 2015

Birdman - Thomas Varga, Martin Hernández, Aaron Glascock, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño
American Sniper - Walt Martin, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman
The Imitation Game - John Midgley, Lee Walpole, Stuart Hilliker, Martin Jensen
The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio, Pawel Wdowczak
Whiplash - Thomas Curley, Ben Wilkins, Craig Mann

My Pick: Whiplash... Though I'm told by my good drummer friend that the drum hits were inaccurate, I still can't deny how perfectly the sound managed to move the emotion of the film. Damn fine work in my opinion.

Special Visual Effects in 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Joe Letteri, Eric Swindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
Guardians of the Galaxy - Stephane Ceretti, Paul Corbould, Jonathan Fawkner, Nicolas Aithadi
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Erik Winquist, Daniel Barrett
X-Men: Days of Future Past - Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Tim Crosbie, Cameron Waldbauer
Interstellar - Paul Franklin, Scott Fisher, Andrew Lockley

My Pick: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes... If this doesn't win I will be baffled to all hell. This was far and away the best effects work of the season. And while Interstellar comes a close second, the difference is in scope. While it's awesome effects are of worlds that could've just been pictures we can't compare, Apes had the difficult task of once again bringing creatures into perfect life-like reality.

Supporting Actor in 2015

J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
Edward Norton - Birdman
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood

My Pick: J.K. Simmons... I'm impressed that the British Academy was willing to recognize Steve Carell's performance in its correct category. There was no leading actor in Foxcatcher. And Mark Ruffalo would get my vote before him anyway. Edward Norton was also damn good and really would've claimed this award in another year.  However, J.K. Simmons gave the best performance of his career. And he really should win.

Supporting Actress in 2015

Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game
Imelda Staunton - Pride
Emma Stone - Birdman
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Rene Russo - Nightcrawler

My Pick: Patricia Arquette... I feel like she's the only one from this list that really should be on here anyway. But that's because of the role she got to play and the way she got to play it. I really loved what she brought to the dynamic of Boyhood. And her performance won't soon be forgotten.

See what I mean? The BAFTAs are kind of weird. But mostly in a fun way. What's the deal with all of those nominations for Paddington?? I mean really? Then again I haven't seen it... but I can't exactly say it feels like award material. Anyway, this has been a weird year for movies, and that trend seems to be continuing into award season. I have to wonder how these nominees will compare to those of the Oscars. There'll definitely be a few very serious shakeups.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

And Now The WGA's Nominees

Well it's about time the Writers Guild of America got themselves into award season. Here are all of their nominations:

Original Screenplay:

Boyhood - Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher - E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness

Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy

Whiplash - Damien Chazelle

My Pick: Damien Chazelle for Whiplash. I've never experienced a film like that. And while J.K. Simmons likely amplified the experience with a brilliant performance... somebody did actually write that part for him... and wrote it spectacularly.

Adapted Screenplay:

American Sniper - Jason Hall; Based on the book by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwan and Jim DeFelice

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn; Based on her novel

Guardians of the Galaxy - James Gunn and Nicole Perlman; Based on the Marvel comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

The Imitation Game - Graham Moore; Based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Wild - Nick Hornby; Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed

My Pick: Nick Hornby for Wild. There are some really good options here, but ultimately I've gotta give the nod to the film that most accurately captured a specific emotion. That fever dream quality Hornby managed to bring to his screenplay was amazing.

Documentary Screenplay:

Finding Vivian Maier - John Maloof & Charlie Siskel

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz - Brian Knappenberger

Last Days in Vietnam - Mark Bailey & Kevin McAlester

Red Army - Gabe Polsky

My Pick: John Maloof & Charlie Siskel for Finding Vivian Maier. Not a lot of options here as I've missed most of these. However, Vivian Maier surprised me. I've said that before and I meant it. There is an overwhelming moment during the film wherein everything seems to make a bizarre sort of sense. And this being a real life mystery... that is no easy feet. Even if the film delves a little too deep into the darkness towards the end, it is still quite interesting.

Those are all of the WGA nominees. Not a lot of surprises, but very exciting to see some of the best flicks of the year make it. I am however sorely missing representation for two films here... The LEGO Movie and Inherent Vice. Regardless, there's plenty of good stuff between these.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Most Violent Year Invokes Memories Of Many Great Classics

J.C. Chandor's been killing it since he burst onto the scene back in 2011 with Margin Call. A Most Violent Year is his next film of quality.
A Most Violent Year is an interesting take on the mafia mentality... or rather a completely new perspective. Because this isn't a mob movie. This is an anti-mob movie. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a power-hungry opportunist building an oil empire throughout the burrows of New York. But every step of the way he seems intent on staying fair and honest. Though the rest of the world seems to assume him a crook... and even his own wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) may not be a trustworthy partner in his attempts to keep things clean.
The cast is excellent. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain both give exceptional performances worthy of any awards season. And while I feel like Albert Brooks gave one of his hammier performances in recent memory, his character seems well written enough to keep him on track throughout the film's run-time. David Oyelowo shows up once again this year. And I have to say, I'm becoming more interested in his career with each day. Between this and Selma he can mark 2014 down as a real victory.
But what J.C. Chandor has accomplished with this film goes far beyond the acting performances. He has proven that he can make a period piece in the style of old Hollywood, but still manages to bring modern sensibilities to the table... rather, he has proven that no one can box him into a corner and label him as just a "this kind" of director. And while last year's All Is Lost didn't really do it for me, I still can't say he's made a bad film. There's just too much good stuff to be taken from the three he's got... and between this and Margin Call, the other could be forgotten regardless.
A Most Violent Year is certainly on par with the best films of 2014 and well worth your time and money.

Son Of Batman Tries Too Hard To Be Adult

Here's an obscure one from 2014... DC Universe's Son of Batman.
This is the story of Batman discovering he has a son. And how that son turns out to be far more of a handful than Bruce Wayne has ever really experienced. It's a yarn of overconfidence and mistakes... and understanding your limits and what the differences are between right and wrong. It's also surprisingly over-violent considering what one would assume was its target audience. However, I would never allow that to interfere with my own viewing of the film.
Yet something else would manage to pull me out... Two things to be clear. First, the casting choice for the voice of Batman was just completely wrong... Jason O'Mara was clearly not raised in America and his Irish accent slips in and out throughout the flick. This is a huge no for one of the oldest American heroes. And I can't believe the production company felt comfortable with their decision in the end. Still this manages to take a back seat to the much bigger issue that is terribly bad dialogue. Joe R. Lansdale has written some pretty fun stuff in his day, and while his script does give just enough to carry the audience from one scene to the next, this dialogue is just completely below par. It almost feels like the studio assumed this would sell to its audience no matter what and just took the first draft that rolled out of the printer.
Son of Batman is darker than it needs to be. And it's a mess on paper. But it's still not the worst interpretation of Batman I've ever seen. That being said, I can't imagine I'll ever watch it again.