Friday, March 24, 2017

Marvel Movies: Ranking

It's been quite a long time since I posted anything. And while I won't be doing reviews anymore (or at least for the foreseeable future), I thought I might put a little list together about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an somewhat controversial financial juggernaut. About half the people who care love them all. The other half are bored to death with the inundation. There's very few in-betweeners. I am one of them. I thoroughly enjoy the concept behind it, a fact made possible by the excellence of a handful of the releases and the entertainment value of some others. None of them are Batman and Robin levels of bad, but are still incredibly lackluster.

Anyway, having either watched or rewatched all 14 of the films over the past month or so, I thought I'd do a short ranking of the films with some thoughts on each. Keep in mind I'm only listing the MCU films, so there will be no mention of stuff like either of the 2 Spider-Man iterations (though Homecoming, coming out this year, is fair game when the time comes), Fantastic Four, or any of the X-Men movies. So without further ado:

14. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

A film worth watching only if you revel in made-by-committee schlock or just like ogling Chris Hemsworth's chiseled features, Thor: The Dark World is the definition of lackluster filmmaking. Hemsworth, Tom Hiddlestone, and (sort of) the visual effects make the film watchable, but they are no match for director Alan Taylor's incompetent, limpid direction. The fight scenes are indescribably boring; the romance is completely devoid of anything resembling chemistry, feeling more inevitable than authentic; and the villain is incredibly unthreatening. The more I talk and think about it, the less I like it. Watch it only as a cure for insomnia. 1.5/5

13. Thor (2011)

Thor is not a good film; it's not a bad film. It's about as average as they come. Aided by a strong, reasonably complex performance from Tom Hiddlestone as Loki and Anthony Hopkins' reliable grandeur, both of which help ground the fantastical elements in the actual world, it doesn't fall flat on its face like its successor, but it's not exactly riveting viewing either. Director Kenneth Branagh is definitely trying to do a good job, but he frankly seems lost in many of the fight scenes, and the romance is overcooked, underperformed, and devoid of chemistry. Elsewhere, many of the scenes feel utterly sterile. Overall a disappointing, though not entirely worthless, display. 2.5/5

12. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

This is the point at which the Thor movies cease and at least somewhat worthwhile films begin. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to make of The Incredible Hulk. Some aspects are decent: Edward Norton's performance and the action/fight scenes to name a couple. But many other other aspects fail to impress. Liv Tyler and Ty Burrell are thoroughly unconvincing as PhDs, and Louis Leterrier, rather good at directing the fight scenes, fails to make many of the other scenes anything other than inert. Additionally, Norton and Tyler's chemistry is somewhat lacking, though certainly better than that found in either of the Thor films. 3/5

11. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Now Iron Man 2 is a bit of an odd apple. Robert Downey, Jr. is still entertaining enough as Tony Stark, even if the character is a bit stale and Downey, Jr. is clearly unchallenged. And that second bit is just where the rub is. Iron Man 2 checks almost all the boxes you need for a good superhero flick, but it lacks two crucial elements: a decent villain and an air of originality. Mickey Rourke is pretty bad overall, not to mention terribly unconvincing as a scientist. The story may be ostensibly original, but it doesn't feel fresh, so while it may be entertaining as you watch it, it doesn't really stick with you. And Sam Rockwell, a high point for some other reviewers, was, at best, underwhelming and, at worst, annoying, not entertaining. It does feature the genesis of War Machine (an underrated aspect of the Marvel film canon) and a great final fight sequence, but it's not enough to elevate the film. 3/5

10. Doctor Strange (2016)

It may seem harsh putting this so low, but I simply couldn't justify putting it any higher. Doctor Strange is certainly not a bad film, but aside from the outstanding visual effects, it never becomes anything all that special. Benedict Cumberbatch is good, not great, and is occasionally overshadowed by his somewhat annoying American accent (which I initially thought was intentional, until watching some of his SNL sketches and realized he doesn't have a better one). Rather surprisingly, he and Rachel McAdams actually have something, and the supporting cast is quite good, particularly Tilda Swinton. But Scott Derrickson fails to bridge the gap effectively between the supernatural elements and the rest of the Earth-bound narrative. The FX obviously help mask that unfortunate shortcoming, and it works for the most part. 3.5/5

9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

While it suffers from Guy Pearce's proclivity for overplaying every single villain he's ever been cast as, Iron Man 3 nevertheless succeeds where Iron Man 2 failed, with new writer-director Shane Black's fresh, new take bringing the freshness the second installment sorely lacked, and Ben Kingsley making for one of the better "villains" of the canon, just because he's so ridiculous. Perhaps the best aspect, however, is the new and improved Tony Stark. I say new and improved in the sense that he's a much more complex and challenging character than before. As a result, Downey, Jr. gives his best performance in any one of his character-centric films. The final battle is very well-down and elevates the film beyond Pearce's unfortunate work. That said, it's only good and not great. 3.5/5

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

In many ways Age of Ultron is a lackluster follow-up to The Avengers. Its final battle sequence, for one, isn't as gripping as its predecessor's, though it's still rather compelling. It is perhaps saved by its plethora of superheroes, a fact I'm always willing to count in a film's favor, particularly if they've been well-developed in previous films, which many of them had been by this point. Additionally James Spader does a decent job grounding Ultron with his voicework and the transitions by the Maximoff Twins are well-handled by Elizabeth Olsen and (rather surprisingly) Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Definitely not an improvement over its predecessor, but still nothing to balk at overall. 4/5

7. Ant-Man (2015)

A completely different sort of superhero movie, in a good way, Ant-Man is thoroughly entertaining and intermittently funny, Ant-Man is just plain old fun. Paul Rudd is a joy, and what it may lack in character or narrative complexity, it more than makes
up for in pure heart. 4/5

6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

A great example of how to do an origin story right, Captain America is thrilling, entertaining, thoughtful, and patriotic. Paired with the effortlessly charming Agent Peggy Carter (played with dynamism, spunkiness, and sex appeal by Hayley Atwell, and whose own eponymous show is one I wholeheartedly recommend), Steve Rogers and Captain America are brought to life effortlessly by Chris Evans' terrific portrayal. He's not as complex as some of the other superheroes to emerge from the pens of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but with his determination, patriotism, and dose of underdog spirit, he's my favorite. This fact, coupled with the film's period setting and accurate detail (a definite weakness of mine), may bring me to up the score later on, but for now I'll leave it as is in case my sentimentality is clouding my judgment. 4/5

5. The Avengers (2012)

Terrific at pretty much every turn, The Avengers is a terrific ensemble piece and a fabulous example of how to make an action movie. Aided by its central sextet's great chemistry, writer-director Joss Whedon (one of my favorites) sets about creating a witty (shawarma anybody?), action-packed film that manages not just to entertain, but to raise interesting dilemmas and develop characters and relationships in the midst of the action set-pieces. 4.5/5

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The Russo brothers brought something new to Marvel movies when they directed The Winter Soldier. Anchored by Chris Evan's steadfast performance and animated by Anthony and Joe Russo's great direction and an underrated screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the film in some ways paved the way for the arguable redefinition of what the genre could be in its successor. Tremendous action sequences and emotionally resonant character development between the title characters make it all work. And work it does. 4.5/5

3. Iron Man (2008)

The film that started it all, Iron Man single-handedly redefined the superhero genre. With a career-best directorial effort from Jon Favreau and the return of the somewhat dormant talent of Robert Downey, Jr., the film is both the MCU's best example of a superhero origin story (even nearly a decade later) and a terrific stand-alone movie in its own right. There's really not much more that I can say. If you haven't seen it you're missing out. 5/5

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I can count on one hand the number of times I've had a better time watching a movie than I do every time I watch Guardians of the Galaxy. With a fantastic soundtrack, talented cast, and assured writing and direction from James Gunn (his screenplay is perhaps my favorite of 2014), Guardians is funny, heart-filled, and fun as hell. Chris Pratt is tremendously entertaining as Peter Quill, Dave Bautista is damn-near hysterical as Drax the Destroyer, with Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, and Vin Diesel (to a lesser extent) playing/voicing their parts to great effect. It's hard to find faults, but they do exist. Lee Pace is dreadful, as is Karen Gillan (which is unfortunate as she's rather great in Doctor Who), and Djimon Hounsou leaves something to be desired. But on the whole I love it and can't recommend it highly enough. 5/5

1. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

In a phenomenon unsurprising for those familiar with how my opinions on movies and TV shows often go, my favorite Marvel film is not the one I consider the best. While Guardians of the Galaxy is undoubtedly my favorite, it lacks the complex characterization and conflict of Civil War, and that is by design, but is true nonetheless. Captain America: Civil War is a tremendous film and features an MCU-best performance from Robert Downey, Jr. It's eponymous character is also well-developed, and Sebastian Stan gives a performance as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier that has gone unfortunately unappreciated. The conflict is developed incredibly well, and the action/fight sequences are incredibly well-done and completely gripping, as well as entertaining. The introduction of new characters at seemingly every turn never seems forced or unnatural, and Tom Holland's and Chadwick Boseman's turns as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and T'Challa/Black Panther, respectively, promise great things to comes in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther both to be released this year. The film is not without faults, particularly Scarlett Johansson, who is unable to effectively convey the inner-conflict her character should clearly be feeling. There are other faults as well, but the highs of the film are so powerful they easily overshadow any negative aspects. Plus, Stan Lee has easily his best cameo (Tony Stank?). 5/5

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Oscar Nomination Predictions

I haven't seen anything new since the last time I posted, which means I really far behind on watching stuff. I hope to make up for that and more once I return to school and faster internet speeds.

That aside, Oscar nominations come out bright and early tomorrow morning, so here are my Oscar predictions (I've listed them in order of the likelihood I perceive them getting in):
Best Picture:
  1. Boyhood
  2. Birdman
  3. Selma
  4. The Imitation Game
  5. The Theory of Everything
  6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  7. Gone Girl
  8. Nightcrawler
  9. American Sniper
  10. Whiplash
Spoilers: Unbroken; American Sniper
Long Shots: Interstellar; A Most Violent Year; The Lego Movie; Inherent Vice; Big Eyes

Thoughts: I'm pretty secure on my top 8. I went with American Sniper and Whiplash over Foxcatcher and Unbroken because I figure Whiplash will have it ranked in their top 5 or not at all, while the other 2 will be consistently around 9 or 10. Therefore, with there being, in all likelihood, 9 slots (as has proved to be the case in the past), I like Whiplash's chances.

Best Director:
  1. Richard Linklater for Boyhood
  2. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman
  3. Ava DuVernay for Selma
  4. David Fincher for Gone Girl
  5. Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Spoilers: Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game; Clint Eastwood for American Sniper; Damien Chazelle for Whiplash
Thoughts: I'd much prefer Tyldum or Eastwood (but especially Tyldum) to Fincher, but if anybody misses out, I expect it'll be Anderson. He was a favorite a few years ago for Moonrise Kingdom and was snubbed and has never received the Academy recognition he so thoroughly deserves. That may or may not change this year.

Best Actor:
  1. Michael Keaton in Birdman
  2. Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything
  3. Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
  4. Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
  5. David Oyelowo in Selma
Spoilers: Steve Carell in Foxcatcher; Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel
Thoughts: If he's nominated, I think there's very little chance Oyelowo loses come the night of. Being the first to portray MLK as a film's lead character will get him plenty of votes, even before performance quality is taken into account. So this is his major test. Fiennes is more sort of wishful thinking on my part. If Oyelowo's on, the Cumberbatch might miss out if he gets the Hanks treatment where everybody thinks everybody else is going to vote for you so nobody ends up doing it.

Best Actress:
  1. Julianne Moore in Still Alice
  2. Reese Witherspoon in Wild
  3. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
  4. Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
  5. Jennifer Aniston in Cake
Spoilers: Amy Adams in Big Eyes
Thoughts: I struggled mightily here. The top 4 are a piece of cake (no pun intended), but that 5th spot is a doozy. Go with the hot performance or with the far better actress? It's really a boring category because there's a negligible chance of anybody outside of these 6 getting on. Also, this is Julianne Moore's to lose, and her almost assured win will be one of the most overdue in history in my humble opinion.

Best Supporting Actor:
  1. J.K. Simmons in Whiplash
  2. Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
  3. Edward Norton in Birdman
  4. Robert Duvall in The Judge
  5. Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
Spoilers: lol
Long Shots: Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice; Miyavi in Unbroken
Thoughts: Talk about a boring category! I will do something extraordinarily unusual in self-flagellation (or similar) if this exact lineup is not announced.

Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
  2. Emma Stone in Birdman
  3. Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
  4. Meryl Streep in Into the Woods
  5. Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year
Spoilers: Rene Russo in Nightcrawler; Naomi Watts in St. Vincent
Thoughts: This is always the weakest acting category, but some of the weakest years in history ain't got nothing on this one. Russo is the best of the bunch, but Watts probably has a better chance of knocking off Chastain.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn, from her novel)
  2. The Imitation Game (Graham Moore, from the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges)
  3. The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten, from the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking)
  4. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, from his short film)
  5. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, from the novel by Thomas Pynchon)
Spoilers: Wild
Long Shots: American Sniper; Unbroken
Thoughts: Inherent Vice is a HUGE stab in the dark, but, in the past, even when his films have fared somewhat poorly otherwise (see Boogie Nights and Magnolia), PTA has managed screenplay nominations.

Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
  2. Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo)
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness)
  4. Selma (Paul Webb)
  5. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
Spoilers: The Lego Movie; Foxcatcher
Long Shots: Interstellar
Thoughts: Why Boyhood's mediocre script is even in the mix is beyond me, but there you have it.

Best Animated Feature:
  1. The Lego Movie
  2. How to Train Your Dragon 2
  3. Big Hero 6
  4. The Boxtrolls
  5. The Book of Life
Spoilers: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Thoughts: My mind won out over my heart on this one. The Academy hasn't pulled a Studio Ghibli out of the hat in like 6 or 8 years of something, so seeing one now (that lacks Miyazaki at the helm, no less) would be a real shocker.

Best Foreign Language Film:
  1. Ida (Poland, in Polish)
  2. Force Majeure (Sweden, in Swedish)
  3. Leviathan (Russia, in Russian)
  4. Tangerines (Estonia, in Georgian, Estonian, and Russian)
  5. Timbuktu (Mauritania, in Arabic, French, and Tamashek)
Spoilers: Wild Tales (Argentina, in Spanish); Corn Island (Georgia, in Georgian); Accused (Netherlands, in Dutch); The Liberator (Venezuela, in Spanish, English, and French)
Thoughts: This category is a crap-shoot (along with Documentary Feature and all of the shorts), so I have no blooming idea. My prediction is based on other groups' nominations, which almost never means anything here, and the spoilers are literally every other shortlisted films. The submission rules are also super-dumb; for instance, Ida (which is quite good, in fact, and should probably win) was released in Poland like 16 months ago or something!

Best Documentary Feature:
  1. Life Itself
  2. Citizenfour
  3. Last Days in Vietnam
  4. Virunga
  5. Finding Vivian Maier
Spoilers: Jodorowsky's Dune; The Case Against 8
Thoughts: See Foreign Language Film Thoughts. Also, I'll be very surprised if Life Itself does not win, despite Citizenfour's thematic material.

Best Cinematography:
  1. Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert Yeoman)
  3. Interstellar (Hoyte van Hoytema)
  4. Unbroken (Roger Deakins)
  5. Mr. Turner (Dick Pope)
Spoilers: Gone Girl; The Imitation Game
Thoughts: Normally I'd put Unbroken 5th, but Roger Deakins is so widely respected he gets bumped up. It's a shame he'll probably never win. He was the odds-on favorite at the start of the year, but that was before anybody knew Birdman and it's one-shot deal was even a thing.

Best Editing:
  1. Birdman (Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione)
  2. Boyhood (Sandra Adair)
  3. Whiplash (Tom Cross)
  4. Gone Girl (Kirk Baxter)
  5. The Imitation Game (William Goldenberg)
Spoilers: Interstellar
Thoughts: I'd normally have put Interstellar on, but Imitation Game has a much better shot at winning (though it's really 0% either way), so I did it this way.

Best Costume Design:
  1. Into the Woods (Colleen Atwood)
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Milena Canonero)
  3. Mr. Turner (Jacqueline Durran)
  4. Maleficent (Anna B. Sheppard)
  5. Belle (Anushia Nieradzik)
Spoilers: Guardians of the Galaxy; The Imitation Game; Inherent Vice; The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; The Theory of Everything
Thoughts: Costumes are pretty and stuff. Grand Budapest deserves it, but Into the Woods will win because fantasy stuff always does.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
  1. Foxcatcher
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Maleficent
Spoilers: The Theory of Everything; The Grand Budapest Hotel
Thoughts: This is such a finicky category. Foxcatcher will probably win, even though all they did was put a fake nose and false teeth on Steve Carell, while Guardians painted 2+ people blue, made a purple rock-man (who destroys stars or something), did cool red and grey stuff on that revenge dude.

Best Production Design:
  1. Into the Woods (Dennis Gassner (art) and Anna Pinnock (set))
  2. Interstellar (Nathan Crowley (art) and Gary Fettis and Paul Healy (set))
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen (art) and Anna Pinnock (set))
  4. Mr. Turner (Suzie Davies (art) and Charlotte Watts (set))
  5. The Imitation Game (Maria Djurkovic (art and set))
Spoilers: Birdman; Maleficent
Thoughts: I'm going out on a huge limb here not picking Birdman, but Mr. Turner and Imitation just seem like much more Oscar-ey design (especially Mr. Turner).

Best Score: 
  1. The Theory of Everything (Johan Johannsson)
  2. Gone Girl (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
  3. Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)
  4. The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)
  5. Unbroken (Alexandre Desplat)
Spoilers: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)
Thoughts: I'm afraid that Desplat's score(s) (especially Imitation Game) will go unrecognized because he's in the running with 2 scores (Unbroken and Grand Budapest Hotel being the others), but I hold out hope. If gets a nod for any one of them, I'll be pulling for him to win, if only because he's had far and away the best years anybody's had in a long time (his only real competition is with himself). I also hope he gets just 1 nomination, because more than that would completely destroy his chances for a win. I fear just the opposite might happen, given the year's lack of competition.

Best Original Song:
  1. Glory from Selma (written and performed by John Legend and Common)
  2. Everything Is Awesome from The Lego Movie (written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, and The Lonely Island and performed by Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island)
  3. Lost Stars from Begin Again (written by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, and Nick Southwood and performed by Adam Levine)
  4. Big Eyes from Big Eyes (written by Lana Del Rey and Dan Heath and performed by Lana Del Rey)
  5. Split the Difference from Boyhood (written by Ethan Hawke and performed by Ethan Hawke and Charlie Sexton)
Spoilers: Yellow Flicker Beat from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (written by Lorde and Joel Little and performed by Lorde)
Thoughts: Though it has no chance, The Last Goodbye from The Hobbit would be a fitting final recognition for the franchise.

Best Sound Editing:
  1. Interstellar
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Unbroken
  4. Fury
  5. American Sniper
Spoilers: Whiplash; Birdman; The Hobbit; Into the Woods
Thoughts: Think explosions, gunshots, etc. not how well you can hear the dialogue or how the music mixes with it.

Best Sound:
  1. Whiplash
  2. Into the Woods
  3. Interstellar
  4. Unbroken
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy
Spoilers: American Sniper; Fury
Thoughts: Think about the things I just said not to think about. how well you can hear everything over explosions, etc. is also important though.

Best Visual Effects:
  1. Interstellar
  2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Spoilers: Who cares?
Thoughts: See Spoilers

Best Animated Short:
  1. Feast
  2. Duet
  3. Coda
  4. The Bigger Picture
  5. The Dam Keeper
Spoilers: Symphony No. 42; Footprints; A Single Life; Me and My Moulton; The Numberlys
Thoughts: Literally no idea

Best Documentary Short:
  1. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
  2. The Lion's Mouth Opens
  3. One Child
  4. Joanna
  5. Our Curse
Spoilers: White Earth; The Reaper: Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace
Thoughts: Death usually fares well here, hence all 5 deal with death or depression.

Best Live Action Short:
  1. Carry On
  2. The Phone Call
  3. Aya
  4. Boogaloo and Graham
  5. My Father's Truck
Spoilers: Baghdad Messi; Summer Vacation; Butter Lamp; Parvaneh; SLR
Thoughts: Anyone?! Bueller?!

Monday, January 5, 2015

American Sniper

This is going to be a very short review.

American Sniper is a rather promising movie, but I can't help but feel its entirety is a mixed bag, almost always ending up on the negative side of that statement.

It details the life of America's most deadly sniper, Chris Kyle, and while director Clint Eastwood does a bang-up job in the early going pacing Kyle's pre-sniper days very well, he seems to struggle with how to pace the ending, which is quite understandable as Kyle was murdered after the source autobiography as well as actual filming had actually begun. But despite this late stumble, Eastwood's direction is, on the whole, very good. I would argue he's the greatest actor-director in history (at least that I can think of while writing this sentence), and he has some truly stand-out moments, not least of which is the sandstorm scene.

Nevertheless, the film is a true and honest testament to a modern day American hero and his struggles within himself to overcome the guilt of killing some of the (albeit deserving) people he killed and to overcome the PTSD he suffered back home.

Bradley Cooper delivers a very strong performance, the best of his career (yes, even better than his outstanding Silver Linings Playbook work), and Sienna Miller is solid enough as well.

The writing is what really destroys any chances the movie has at greatness of any sort. It is essentially an American propaganda piece without an ounce of understanding of cultural differences (not that I'm trying to give any excuse for Islamic militants). Strangely I found some of Cooper's strongest moments to be when he's making up for the script's massive shortcoming's, somehow reconciling Kyle's hearty agreement with a fellow soldier's noisy and ignorant (and often vulgar) blanket denunciation of Arabs, their culture, and the entirety of the Islamic religion and its followers in one scene, and showing incredible empathy for the plights of those whose denunciation he endorsed just a minute or two earlier. He also does a wondrous job making his PTSD believable and not over the top, especially since the script has absolutely no build-up to it. Considering the script's horrendousness, Clint Eastwood's ability to at least occasionally add some sort of unifying tone is quite a feat, even if it's only, as I implied, about one-quarter of the time.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is a British movie in the absolute best sense of the word. Understated yet assertive, it rather conforms to its main thesis: Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

Superbly written by Graham Moore from Andrew Hodges biography of one of the men most misunderstood during his generation, The Imitation Game works equally well as a biopic, an acting showcase, and a heartbreaking look at life’s injustices, and only slightly less well as a thriller, though it never really tries to be one.

The film never soapboxes, yet by the end, there is the definite sense that something special has just been witnessed. Director Morten Tyldum deserves much credit for this. He walks a fine line straddling emotional potency and emotional overbearance and he does so with poise remarkable for a man directing his first English-language work. Alexandre Desplat’s excellent score certainly does not hurt either.

Neither do the performances. As Alan Turing, Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a masterful portrayal of a troubled genius nuanced so as to not resemble his Sherlock Holmes even in the minutest sense. It is most surely a mannered performance, but every mannerism feels incredibly natural and his emotional reveals are handled expertly. His genius is not precocious, instead being comfortable in his own skin because of a couple of loving persons. He makes Turing both a wretched human being and one the audience cannot help but sympathize with.

Keira Knightley gives arguably her best ever performance. Perhaps even more impressive, she’s actually convincing at playing the brilliant Joan Clarke. The rest of the cast is also up to the task and whether it be Mark Strong or Allen Leech, Charles Dance or Matthew Goode, each is up to the task.

But the movie is more than just about Turing’s tremendous accomplishments and contributions to the Allied war effort. It is also his homosexuality, and, perhaps more importantly, about the injustice of life, in which a national hero, admittedly unknown, can be convicted of a crime no matter how harmless.

The Imitation game is an excellent film and a deserving tribute to a man whose singular genius altered history.

The Imitation Game is one of my favorite movies of the year, not just for Cumberbatch’s performance or just for the complete Britishness of the proceedings, but for the honestness of its portrayal of a man struggling with himself in a society that cannot accept him.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gone Girl

Before I saw Gone Girl, I wasn’t expecting the best things. Many of the people whose opinions I trust were somewhat underwhelmed by it, so I went in with low expectations.

Needless to say, those expectations were far exceeded. No, it’s certainly not a perfect film, but it’s certainly a very, very good one.

Let’s begin with what’s wrong with it. Like so many of the movies I’ve seen this year, the movie’s biggest weakness is its direction. Arguably the living king of the thriller, David Fincher fails to really find the right tone for his film. Fincher needed to find the right mix between a thriller and a movie about everyday life, as the movie is largely about how Ben Affleck’s character attempts to go on living his everyday life even as it is being ripped up all around him.

Unfortunately, Fincher does not really succeed, and it is not really until the film’s final, more thriller-oriented act that he really finds his directorial stride. The rest of the time, he seems to find himself unable to insert the necessary thriller edge, and the film’s tone is rather too pedestrian for much of the runtime as a result. In other words, the movie should mostly be about and feel like the everyday, but it should always have that thriller edge, which it is oftentimes lacking.

The movie is written by Gillian Flynn, who wrote the source novel, and I really did not come to a full appreciation for her script until I was able to look back on the movie after it was over. The early flashback scenes are utter brilliance as she uses a keen ear for dialogue to create conversations that are too good to be true. The way it never telegraphs anything and only shows you the parts of the picture you should be able to see at any given moment is also quite admirable.

Along a different vein, with their contribution to this film, it seems David Fincher has found the perfect creative team. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score is terrific and rivals the excellence of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Jeff Baxter’s editing and Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography are likewise excellent.

The film’s acting is probably its greatest strength, and perhaps its greatest surprise as well. Ben Affleck carries the movie quite well. He uses his limitations as an actor brilliantly in creating a character that was completely out of touch with his life before his wife’s disappearance and that is completely out of his depth after the disappearance. His lack of conviction is also handled impeccably well as Affleck makes his reluctant interest feel completely natural. It is an outstanding performance, easily his best since his Oscar-worthy work in Hollywoodland, and another sign, along with the work I just mentioned, that he has talent if he is challenged in the right ways.

As Affleck’s wife, Rosamund Pike is stunning. She takes on a deceptively hard character, and succeeds wonderfully. She takes two seemingly completely disparate personalities, the normal and the psychotic, and masterfully combines them into a single, completely believable human being. Simply stunning.

The supporting parts are also mostly well handled, not least by Carrie Coon as Affleck’s sister. As the investigating detective, Kim Dickens is also effective at portraying the appropriate sense that she strongly believes something but has to put her personal beliefs on the back burner until the evidence shows them to be true.

Tyler Perry is never anything special, but as the big-shot attorney, he exudes a truly astounding amount of charisma. Neil Patrick Harris, while certainly distracting, is not at all close to the terribleness Matt Damon achieved in Interstellar.

All in all, I was far more pleased with Gone Girl than I expected to be.



Of all of the movies coming out in 2014, this was probably the one I was looking forward to the most. Overall, I must say it was a mixed bag. With Christopher Nolan at the helm, it would be unrealistic to expect anything other than a great movie, but it was, at best, just that. It was not an excellent movie or a brilliant one. In many ways, it was a disappointment.

It most certainly is an ambitious movie, visually, scientifically, imaginatively. But therein lies much of its problems. There is too much suspension of disbelief required in the late-going, a problem only saved by Matthew McConaughey, and the entire thriller section in the middle is telegraphed (and therefore unsurprising), absurd, and completely distracting due to the overrated Matt Damon’s presence. Just like the plot twists in The Dark Knight Rises, these moments and sequences make it seem like Nolan is just going for ambition for its own sake right now, and I hope he stops soon.

The movie is about humanity destroying itself and then pushing its limits to persevere and save itself from self-imposed extermination. This is all fine, well, and good, but maybe Nolan and his brother should have persevered and saved their own movie from self-imposed extermination by coming up with a different reason to fear for the mission’s success that did not involve Matt Damon.

The rest of the movie, though, is breathtaking and brilliant. The visual effects are stunning, as is the art direction. Hans Zimmer’s score is another tone poem, and it works quite well. Similar to Emmanuel Lubezki’s work in Gravity, Hoyte van Hoytema finds a way to make his cinematography gorgeous and great, even when he’s limited to unusual angles in CGI background scenes.

The movie really succeeds, though, because of its acting. Matthew McConaughey is an able and effortlessly charismatic lead throughout, but he furthers that by taking advantage of his every emotional scene. His scene while watching his daughter Murph grow up before his eyes is the stuff legends are made of.

And as Murph, Jessica Chastain and Mackenzie Foy are both solid and manage to play off of each other rather well.

Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine are fine, but neither really overcomes the limitations the script places upon them. Bill Irwin as the voice of the robot TARS, is really the only other performance worthy of mention above all the others.

So all in all, it has that wow factor, but once you get past the “I just got my mind blown” moments, which it admittedly has in spades, the acting is really what keeps it all standing.

No, it's not really trying to be 2001: A Space Odyssey at all, but it's hard to really go to bat for it in any sort of committed capacity regardless.