Sunday, January 25, 2015
Dearest Blog, lemme tell ya: I'm a little bit exhausted from juggling all these awards hopefuls (that I never expected to see in my area) with regular new releases and weekly screenings of The Hobbit!
However, thanks to an understanding boss, this weekend I was able to catch Johnny Depp's latest as well as one of Oscar's favorites.
First on my agenda: Mortdecai.
Johnny Depp stars as art dealer/thief Charlie Mortdecai, called upon by MI5 to assist with a case.
Well, dear reader(s), even as a die-hard Depp fan, I'm growing bored with his seemingly endless succession of interchangeable goofy characters. Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, and even Transcendence were all terrible disappointments to me. So, as a Depp fan, I'm pleased to say that Mortdecai, while far from perfect, represents a bit of a rebound.
Comedies are a sketchy business...so often you pay ten bucks for a ticket only to find that all the really funny bits were in the trailer. It is, perhaps, because Mortdecai is more amusing than gut-bustingly funny that it doesn't seem that way; instead of a dozen big laughs spread over two otherwise boring hours, Mortdecai is a more evenly-entertaining experience.
Depp is terrific as the self-absorbed Mortdecai, and, if his "weird people with English accents" routine is wearing thin, it works better here than it has in his last few attempts. As Mortdecai's loyal and long-suffering manservant, Jock, Paul Bettany is the movie's highlight.
A running gag with Jock--not so much as hinted at in the trailers--provides the movie's best laughs.
Mortdecai is a caper as well as a comedy, and it's pretty entertaining. It doesn't drag on or over-inflate itself with unnecessary pretense. It's not too clever, but it IS fun, and, yes, there are even some laugh-out-loud moments.
Mortdecai runs 106 minutes and is rated R for "some language and sexual material." (For my money, I've seen far worse rated PG13...don't understand this rating at all.)
Mortdecai is not a special movie--you won't be talking about it next week, let alone next year at awards time--but Mortdecai IS a bit of mindlessly fun entertainment. Last I checked, that wasn't yet a crime in Hollywood.
Of a possible nine Weasleys, Mortdecai gets five and a half.
(It would have been six had it co-starred ANYONE besides Gwyneth Paltrow!)
Next up was The Imitation Game.
During World War II, English mathematician Alan Turing leads a team attempting to break Nazi codes.
Alright, I'm gonna say it straight up: though it has zero chance of taking home the Oscar, The Imitation Game is easily my favorite of the Best Picture nominees I've seen.
(Still missing Whiplash, which hasn't hit my orbit yet.) Benedict Cumberbatch is phenomenal in the lead, often abrasive but still strangely sympathetic. Again, though he doesn't seem to have a legitimate chance of hearing his name called on the big night, his performance is as good as any I saw last year, and the supporting cast is uniformly strong as well.
The Imitation Game races against the clock to break Nazi codes and prevent further loss of life; as such, it's more "edge of your seat" than it probably seems from the description. The movie also touches on Turing's homosexuality, for which he was prosecuted later in life, under UK laws of the time. It's heartbreaking, but never miserable.
The Imitation Game clocks in at 114 minutes and is rated PG13 for "some sexual references, mature thematic material, and historical smoking."
The Imitation Game is riveting from start to finish, beautifully executed on all levels. The very definition of "must see!"
Of a possible nine Weasleys, The Imitation Game gets nine. Just go see it already!
Until next time...
Saturday, January 24, 2015
A talented young jazz drummer experiences a trial by fire when he's recruited by a ferocious instructor whose unyielding search for perfection may lead to his undoing. For as far back as Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) can remember, he's been watching his father fail. Determined to make a name for himself no matter what it takes, Andrew enrolls in a prestigious east coast music conservatory where his talent quickly catches the attention of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) a esteemed music teacher who's notorious for his caustic approach in the classroom. The leader of the school's top jazz ensemble, Fletcher promptly transfers Neyman into his band, giving the ambitious young drummer a shot at true greatness. He may achieve it, too, if Neyman's methods don't drive him to madness first. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
Director Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Max Kasch, Damon Gupton.
Release Date: Oct 10, 2014
Rated R for strong Language and Some Sexual References
Runtime: 1 hr. 46 min.
The best kind of films are the ones that can make just about any subject riveting, even ones you have very little knowledge or interest. Whiplash is that kind of kinetic freight train of a film. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle allows his film to build steadily and surely until it reaches its nearly exhausting climate. It’s an impressive feat when you think about the subject matter. At its core the film is elevated by two spectacular performances by Simmons and Teller as they engage in some brutal psychological warfare. J.K. Simmons performance is stunningly powerful. At first glance it looks like a variation of R Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket but it becomes readily apparent that it’s a much more complex role as the film progresses. Teller is just as focused and impressive as the student reaching for greatness at all cost. Miles performance allows you to feel the nearly insane amount of drive his character feels. The duo is entrancing when they’re onscreen each focused, performing at an incredibly high level. You can’t really ask for more from a film.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Biopic of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most-celebrated sniper in American military history. In the aftermath of 9/11, Kyle decides to serve his country by becoming a Navy SEAL. But with each tour of duty, he grows more detached from his wife and children. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, Rovi
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Luke Grimes, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Ben Reed
Release Date: Jan 16, 2015
Rated R for some Sexual References, Language Throughout and Strong Disturbing War Violence
Runtime: 2 hr. 12 min.
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama
American Sniper is an interesting film that manages to be straightforward but complicated at the same time. Eastwood doesn’t really give us much of a point of view on the Iraq War; he’s more interested in the personal story of Chris Kyle which is refreshing since it could have easily devolved into a jingoistic anthem. Eastwood’s film alternates between the war and Kyle’s home life but it’s clear that Eastwood is far more comfortable with the war portion of the story. He delivers some impressive battle sequences with the final one being the most impressive and tense of the entire film. At the heart of the film is Bradley Cooper who does fine work embodying Chris Kyle and chartering his growing internal struggle as his military career wears on. Cooper is reserved and understated throughout but he captures the intensity and drive that ran through Kyle’s life. Even though it’s a biopic the film does seem to focus on Kyle almost exclusively which means that doesn’t get a good feel for his friends or even his wife whose under characterized. It doesn’t help that she’s played by Sienna Miller who’s not nearly a strong enough actress to believably deliver the emotional moments required. Some creative choices also left me scratching my head, such as the villainous enemy sniper which was always within earshot of Kyle, regardless of which tour of duty he was on. Even with its faults, the film does a fine job of honoring Chris Kyle’s memory and legacy.
Dearest Blog, this week I had a glance at two awards favorites, Big Eyes and American Sniper. How's that for mature viewing? The fact that I saw both of these because the times worked well with additional Hobbit screenings...well, we'll keep that to ourselves, eh?
Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers or, you know, if you occasionally watch the news.
First to the plate: Big Eyes.
The subject of Big Eyes is painter Margaret Keane--noted for her portraits of waiflike children with extraordinarily huge eyes--her marriage, subsequent split, and legal battle with her second husband, who took credit for her work.
I burned a half-day's vacation Thursday to see Big Eyes before it closed here, thinking I'd need it for the Oscars. Oscar nominations were announced Thursday morning, and, as it happens, I don't need it at all ("My luck!" my Dad would have said), but, since the schedule worked perfectly with The Hobbit...well, you know the rest of that story.
Now, dear reader(s), you know how I feel about female-centric stories. I couldn't be less interested.
Even allowing for the Tim Burton factor, I expected to snooze through Big Eyes expressly for the privilege of saying, "Gee, that Amy Adams sure is great, huh?" Great Ms. Adams certainly is, but I couldn't have been more wrong about the rest of it. It's really nice to see something from Tim Burton that isn't inherently wacky. It's been awhile. That's not to say Big Eyes doesn't have its wacky Burton touches, but we're minus the goofy hats, silly songs, and rubber-legged dance numbers this time.
The whole thing still has an air of fairy-tale about it, which keeps a sometimes-less-than-happy story light and easy to watch. Amy Adams is incredible in the lead, a straight-woman to Christoph Waltz' over-the-top turn as her husband. (That's not to say Waltz isn't also great, and given the story, I don't find it hard to believe his performance is entirely accurate.)
Full marks to costumers, set designers, art direction, etc.: the movie looks beautiful, bright, and colorful, even in its toughest moments. It moves at a good pace and never feels slow or long, though it's hardly action packed. It came as a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed every minute.
Big Eyes runs 106 minutes and is rated PG13 for "thematic elements and brief strong language."
Maybe Oscar didn't love it, but I did.
Of a possible nine Weasleys, Big Eyes gets seven and a half.
Yesterday's heavy hitter was American Sniper.
Bradley Cooper stars in the true story of Navy S.E.A.L. Chris Kyle, a legendary sniper through four tours in Iraq, who found difficulty leaving the war behind when he finally returned home.
I always think it's important to be upfront if there's something that colors my opinion of a movie besides the movie itself, so here I need to state that I lost a friend, a Marine, in Iraq. Though I'm usually a notoriously cold fish, since then I can't keep it together if I so much as see a Marine by the Toys for Tots bin at the Mall during Christmastime. There's no way for me to watch or write about this movie minus that baggage.
So... *deep breath*
Bradley Cooper is as good as you've heard in the lead. I can't say he deserved an Oscar nod over Jake Gyllenhaal, but there's certainly nothing bad to say about his work here.
The supporting cast is solid, too, though I confess I'm not entirely sold on Sienna Miller.
The "in country" scenes are brilliantly executed; you can practically feel the heat and smell the dirt, and I'm pretty sure I held my breath for the better part of two hours, waiting for a potential threat from somewhere...anywhere.
For such a grim picture, there's a good bit of laugh-out-loud banter, and very little scene-setting music, which adds to the realistic tone.
Kyle very much embodies the prevalent American attitude of the time, so American Sniper presents quite the black-and-white view of the war, with little, if any, grey area.
The movie runs just a little longer than it needs to, and it feels somewhat wrong allowing it to present as truth so many things that have since been called into question. (The war itself aside, Kyle's Estate has been the subject of several lawsuits over the book on which the movie is based.*)
When it was over, I sprinted from the room in tears, bowling over a couple Marquee friends in my haste to go hide in a bathroom stall for a minute. (All I could see were maroon vests, so whoever it was I hope you're reading this and I apologize.)
I don't think I stopped shaking until the Elves arrived in Dale. I'm not sure how much blame/credit for that goes to the movie and how much to personal experience, but from the number of sniffles I heard around the room, this film is doing a bang-up job striking a nerve with more than just me.
American Sniper clocks in at 132 minutes and is rated R for "strong and disturbing war violence and language throughout, including some sexual references."
There are many reasons I hate American Sniper, none of which keep me from realizing it's a very good movie.
Its unflinching depiction of the cost of war is essential viewing. Of a possible nine Weasleys,
American Sniper gets seven.
Until next time...
*Thanks to Melissa Bradley for bringing this to my attention.