THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 Review

by     Posted 30 days ago

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Although Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is ostensibly the heroine of the Hunger Games saga, the story has developed to where she’s no longer in the mold of a traditional protagonist.  She began that way in the first movie, but The Hunger Games: Catching Fire started to push her to the background as she became part of a much larger conflict rather than its leader.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 continues this shift to the point where it barely resembles the first two pictures as the true story of the latest installment isn’t Katniss’ journey, but the revolution that’s consumed her and the rest of Panem.  She’s still an integral part and the focus of the narrative, but director Francis Lawrence has expanded the social commentary far beyond the first film, and put it squarely on how media can be used to control or inspire in the true battle for hearts and minds.  Although the movie is eventually weighted down by the business requirement of splitting the final book into two movies, and Katniss still becomes a puddle of tears when the melodramatic love story surfaces, Mockingjay remains a fascinating and dark development in this unique franchise.

FOXCATCHER Review

by     Posted 36 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my Foxcatcher review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens today in limited release.]

For those who aspire to be champions, it’s a horrible thing to know you’ll never be the best. Successful people will engender only envy and further self-loathing. You will only see your weakness. You will live in shadows. Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is an incredibly sad and poignant portrait of two men desperate for greatness they’ll never achieve, and destroyed by the failings they’ll always feel. They can lie about confidence, achievements, and relationships, but there’s no escape. Led by astounding performances from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo, Miller has created a quiet, brooding picture of doubt, depression, and destruction.

ROSEWATER Review

by     Posted 36 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my Rosewater review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens today in limited release.]

Gael Garcia Bernal plays incarcerated journalist Maziar Bahari in Rosewater, but writer-director Jon Stewart is the true lead. For fans for The Daily Show, his personality shines through every episode, and it’s one that has become wearied over the years as news coverage has declined at an exponential rate. His hopes for a better world have become a life raft, and his refusal to give into cynicism is what keeps his directorial debut afloat even if it veers into being earnest to the point of cheesiness. Rosewater may not have much depth, but Stewart’s personal connection to the story—both professional and ideological—give it an abundance of heart.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO Review

by     Posted 37 days ago

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In 1994, Dumb & Dumber was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen.  My ten-year-old self loved the dirty jokes, the characters’ charming stupidity, and the childishness of it all.  As the Farrelly Brothers’ Dumb and Dumber To shows, that childishness—specifically the odd innocence of the characters—was key to making the original picture work.  The sequel replaces that childishness with a mean-spirited attitude that turns obliviousness into narcissism and antics into attacks.  There are still some laughs scattered about, but the heartlessness of the picture makes Dumb and Dumber To too nasty to be dumb fun.

PLANET OF THE APES: THE EVOLUTION OF THE LEGEND Review

by     Posted 38 days ago

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In the lead-up to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I did a retrospective on the series and became a fan.  I was amazed at how each entry distinguished itself from the others, carried political subtext, and how they were unafraid to go ridiculously dark and insane.  How insane? [spoilers ahead] One ends with the Earth being destroyed, another murders the protagonists and a baby ape, and another has an incredibly violent uprising where the ending had to be re-edited and re-dubbed because the original version was so brutal and unforgiving.

These are such fascinating films, and sadly the Blu-ray drops the ball when it comes to the sequels.  This is where Joe Fordman and Jeff Bond‘s book Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the Legend comes in, goes far beyond the movies, and becomes a must-own for any self-respecting fan of the franchise.

AFI Fest 2014: IT FOLLOWS Review

by     Posted 39 days ago

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An unavoidable sense of dread powers David Robert Mitchell’s remarkable sophomore feature It Follows.  A careful deconstruction of the teen slasher genre as well as a powerful allegory to the fear of sexual disease, of aging, of dying and most of all – the absolute powerlessness to stop it, It Follows is the best kind of horror: the one less concerned with the monster hunting you but more so with the cognizant knowledge that it’s out there somewhere lurking.  It’s ostensibly a horror film about waiting – and how people pass the time until the boogeyman claims them.  It’s terrifying because there are no answers or solutions, no spells or third-act heroes, no way to defeat the monster, no exit… But most surprisingly of all – for a movie about the hopelessness of living and the pains of consciousness, it’s never morose or nihilistic.  In fact – the opposite is true.  Hit the jump, for more.

BANKSY DOES NEW YORK Review

by     Posted 43 days ago

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[Banksy Does New York is currently available on HBO GO.  It will broadcast on HBO on November 17th]

Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop was my favorite film of 2010.  Banksy is one of the most popular artists in the world, but as his documentary showed, he’s more fascinated with the reaction art engenders rather than the art itself.  Although he had no direct involvement with Chris Moukarbel‘s documentary Banksy Does New York, the film feels like the ultimate culmination of Banksy’s goal with his October 2013 open exhibition in New York City.  Moukarbel’s film collects social media reaction to Banksy’s daily art projects, and then builds on these reactions to also include explorations of Banksy’s affect on the art scene, who owns street art, the privatization of public space, and more.  Although the movie occasionally carries an undertone of unquestioning reverence for Banksy, Banksy Does New York is still a surprisingly excellent response that uses the artist’s NYC project as a way to open up a larger conversation about consuming art.

BIG HERO 6 Review

by     Posted 44 days ago

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Too often in superhero tales, science falls in the realm of the baddies.  The scientists are the cackling madmen (and almost always men) in white lab coats.  They’re irresponsible with their genius.  Meanwhile, the hero has their superpowers thrust upon them.  What they lack in smarts, they make up for in determination.  Big Hero 6 flips the script by making science cool, but never loses the cute and nerdy heart of heroes who are still out of their depth.  Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Disney Animation Studios’ new movie is filled with gorgeous designs, exciting action, and endearing characters—especially the cuddly robot Baymax (Scott Adsit)—but its most noble deed is getting younger audience members to see science as heroic.

INTERSTELLAR Review

by     Posted 46 days ago

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“Except Christopher Nolan“.  That’s the cinephile’s refrain for a blockbuster marketplace that won’t accept any bold, original ideas.  No one gets to make a blockbuster film unless it’s based on a pre-existing material…Except Christopher Nolan.  Inception embodied this ideal, and following the conclusion of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan was free to travel to anywhere he wanted to go.

His latest destination is Interstellar, a film that certainly breaks away from the traditional blockbuster in the sense of its visuals and turning scientific concepts like relativity, gravity, and time distortion into understandable dramatic plot points.  Unfortunately, for all of the movie’s grandeur, the voyage is constantly beset with clunky exposition, stilted dialogue, maudlin sentiment, and thinly-drawn characters.  Nolan has the power to go wherever he wants, but he leaves the most valuable parts of his story in the dust.

NIGHTCRAWLER Review

by     Posted 50 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  Nightcrawler opens today.]

Local TV news is sociopathic. If I came up to you and began our conversation talking about the horrible deaths of total strangers that had no larger implication than seizing on your deep-seated fears about city living, you would think I’m not only insane, but predatory. And you would be right. Dan Gilroy’s chilling, pulse-pounding Nightcrawler manifests the essence of local news and puts it inside a protagonist where a soul should be. Anchored by Jake Gyllenhaal giving the best performance of the year thus far, Gilroy’s film is a scathing and decadently amoral portrait of ice-cold calculation and ruthless ambition speeding through the dark streets of Los Angeles.

HORNS Review

by     Posted 50 days ago

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Everyone has got some ugliness deep down in our souls.  It may be a fleeting thought or repressed anger, but good people try to keep it hidden, which isn’t a bad thing.  It makes us human, and without that humanity, our brutal honesty shines through.  Alexandre Aja‘s Horns tries to explore this inner darkness by weaving together religion, salvation, damnation, and dark secrets, and the movie’s approach, albeit heavy-handed at times, is admirable.  There’s not much room for subtlety, but the darkly comedic aspects help balance out the somber tone, and although the plot stumbles across clunky storytelling, it’s a refreshing horror film that conjures up some sympathy for a devil.

My Favorite Halloween Movie: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

by     Posted 52 days ago

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[Since Halloween is this week, Adam, Perri, and I decided to write a bit about the films we watch annually to celebrate the holiday.  Click here for Adam's pick.]

My memory is a bit hazy, but I’m pretty sure The Nightmare Before Christmas was the first stop-motion animated film I ever saw.  I was used to 2D animation and had never seen the work of Ray Harryhausen and his ilk.  Then my parents took me to see the film, and Jack Skellington’s sentiments regarding Christmas Town could have easily applied to my feelings about Henry Selick‘s masterpiece.  The movie that may not be scary, but it embodies the best aspects of a child’s holiday traditions.

Early Reviews for Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR: A Winning Epic, But Far From Perfect

by     Posted 54 days ago

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Interstellar’s November 7th release date is fast approaching and the early reviews are pouring in.  The highly anticipated Christopher Nolan film stars Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a former NASA test pilot who is asked to join the Lazarus mission and leave Earth behind to find a new life-sustaining planet for mankind.

There’s been talk of Interstellar being an Oscar contender and while there is high praise for the film all-around, it also seems as though “hokey contrivances” and “a ruptured script” could keep it from earning Nolan his first Academy Award win, or another nomination for that matter.  Hit the jump for snippets from the early Interstellar reviews in circulation right now.  The film also stars Anne HathawayJessica ChastainCasey AffleckMichael CaineDavid OyelowoWes BentleyJohn LithgowEllen BurstynTopher GraceDavid GyasiMackenzie FoyBill IrwinTimothee Chalamet and Matt Damon.

LAGGIES Review

by     Posted 57 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  Laggies opens today in limited release.]

There is certain kind of movie that I would describe as a “Sundance Comedy”. They’re technically indie films even though they feature movie stars, and they’re almost always fairly tame. They’re cute at best and forgettable at worst, and Lynn Shelton’s Laggies has the distinction of being both. What begins as a moderately interesting coming-of-age tale eventually devolves into something so light and airy that it’s on the verge of floating away, especially when the characters’ implausible actions do nothing to keep the story grounded.

FORCE MAJEURE Review

by     Posted 57 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my Force Majeure review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens in limited release this weekend.]

What would you do if a seemingly harmful avalanche were headed towards you and your family?  Would your instinct be to jump up and protect your loved ones, or would you simply ensure your own safety and run?  That’s the question that kicks off the moral dilemma in writer/director Ruben Östlund’s Swedish film Force Majeure, and the choice sets off a ripple through the family dynamic at the center of the film, snowballing over the course of the story until it envelops the entire family unit and even those on the periphery.  While this sounds like the premise of a dark, depressing character study, Östlund succeeds in exploring the issues of instinct and human nature as they relate to familial relationships with a heavy amount of humor, resulting in a moviegoing experience that is both highly entertaining and pointedly thought-provoking.

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