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Friday, November 28, 2014

Talking Pictures Once Again

I've been on my usual first months of school-year hiatus, but I'm back with a few thoughts on movies. Expect to see more of the blog as Oscar season hits full steam.

It's actually nice to have a little space with some of the movies, since I've noticed that some of these have lingered while others have faded a bit in retrospect.  Writing and grading right away is such a quick act, but I find the movies I really love are the ones that stick with me.


My deepest apologies for not writing about this earlier and imploring all of you to see it. If you didn't, see it as soon as you can! Richard Linklater's opus of an ordinary life is something quite unlike anything done in fiction film before. As he follows his character from age 6 to 18, we watch a child develop into a teen and into a young adult.  We also see all the adults who play a part in making this young man who he is. It's a remarkable movie, and I have a hard time believing I'll see anything to match it this year.  Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are both amazing as his parents, allowing themselves to age and develop naturally on the screen as young Ellar Coltrane and Lorelai Linklater. Boyhood is a movie or ordinary transistions and events that considers the beauty and wonder of an ordinary life and all those who help us on our journey.  Incredible.

Grade: A


Birdman is a thrilling mix of backstage drama and surrealist comedy reminiscent of a mix between All About Eve and Synecdoche, New York. I loved the film's energy, humor, and strange mix of the funny and tragic, real and imaginary.  Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innarittu has been accused of miserablism (I personally liked Babel and 21 Grams, but he lost even me with the dourness of Biutiful), but here the comedy seems to have set him free.  Michael Keaton gives a great big star performance in the center, and he's surrounded by the best supporting cast of the year. My personal favorites were Edward Norton and Naomi Watts as a erratic famous actor and his partner nervous and excited by her first big chance. Perhaps the best performance of all is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski, who films this all as one long take (with some hidden cuts thrown in).  Many elements of the story are familiar, but they're put together in such an ingenious way, I was energized and thrilled the whole way through.

Grade: A


What does it take to be good at something? What does it mean to teach a genius? How far can you go? These are all questions you'll surely be considering and thinking about long after you see Whiplash, this year's Sundance winner which certainly counts as a movie that lingers. Miles Teller plays a driven and very very good young jazz drummer who wants to be great. JK Simmons is absolutely terrifying as a tyrannical teacher who only accepts perfection. The two actors play off each other beautifully (I'll be surprised if Simmons doesn't win a Supporting Actor Oscar), and the movie has a propulsive dark rhythm that never lets up. The movie builds to what is surely one of the best climaxes of the year.

Grade: A-

Love is Strange

This is most definitely one of those lingerers, a movie that I enjoyed the first time out and have thought about a whole lot sense. Love is Strange begins with a gay wedding of an older couple (an excellent and moving John Lithgow and Alfred Molina), and takes off from there, as the couple's marriage has ramifications on their jobs, living situations, and relationship. It sounds sort of preachy but it's most certainly not. The two actors effortlessly portray a lifelong relationship and their surrounded by a great supporting cast. I especially loved Marisa Tomei as the niece of the Lithgow character. Who knew after her surprise Oscar win for My Cousin Vinny she would end up as one of the most natural and valuable actresses around? This movie also ends on a completely beautiful note.

Grade: A-

Gone Girl

The movie people can't seem to stop talking about.  Gone Girl is of course based on Gillian Flynn's hugely bestselling novel and brought to life by our modern-day master of chilly films, director David Fincher. Without spoiling the plot (for those who've kept away), I'll just say Gone Girl is about a marriage between Nick and Amy Dunne that begins seemingly happily and goes very astray. Gone Girl is a long movie that feels too short. In most ways that's a great compliment. Fincher keeps scenes moving and the audience always interested in what's coming next. There were times, however, when I wanted to give the movie more time to breathe and develop it's character.  The key "cool girl" speech, so crucial to the book and a balance to the narrative, ends up seeming a little rushed. Ben Affleck is made for the role of Nick and Rosamund Pike makes a convincing amazing Amy. As with the book, I'm not quite sold on the ending, but this is a solidly entertaining movie made by a great craftsman. After you see it, there's plenty to discuss, especially around gender issues.

Grade: B

The Skeleton Twins

SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader both turn in excellent performances in this film of a troubled brother-sister pair figuring out their life.  Billed as a comedy, I was actually surprised at the darkness of the film. It begins with an attempted suicide (and almost two) and kind of keeps its dark tone from there. It's a really solid small movie that I couldn't quite love because it seemed way too reminiscent of You Can Count on Me (2000), one of the few movies I would are to call perfect.  Both are about a wayward brother visiting his seemingly more put-together sister in upstate New York, but The Skeleton Twins feels a little more contrived.

Grade: B


Speaking of dark films, this one is pitch black. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a loner who finds his niche in Los Angeles as a freelance videographers who sells footage of crime scenes and car accidents to network news teams. Gyllenhaal lost a lot of weight for this role, and his eyes seem to bug out of his head. His performance is strange and unnerving, yet at some point I wanted him to go deeper. The best performance in the movie is by Rene Russo, who plays a world-weary news producer who develops strange relationship with Lou. The movie starts strong and fascinating and becomes a little more strident and obvious along the way.  It's definitely worth a look for the performances and intensity, but I don't think the themes are particularly novel.

Grade: B-

The Theory of Everything

I can never get that excited about biopics.  While they can be well made and enjoyable to watch, they also tend to follow the same patterns as they rush through a famous person's life. The only ones I really love are those that turn the genre on its head (I'm Not There) or focus intently on one small portion of a person's life (Capote, Lincoln). The Theory of Everything falls somewhere in between, not following all of Stephen Hawking's life, but instead focusing mostly on his relationship with his wife Jane Hawking. The performances are very strong. Eddie Redmayne is able to capture the youthful exuberance of Stephen which helps us feel connected to him as he loses the ability to fully participate in his life and family. Less flashy but even more compelling to me was Felicity Jones, who goes through her own emotional journey throughout the film. I really liked this movie at the beginning, but towards the end it fell into the trap of rushing through events to take us through the "important events" in their lives. While this is not my type of movie, look for it to make a pretty big splash at the Oscars, with a possible win for Redmayne.

Grade: B-

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