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

by     Posted 2 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 5 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 5 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.

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) Review

by     Posted 5 days ago

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[Birdman expands to more theaters this weekend.  Click here for Perri's review from the 2014 New York Film Festival]

To paraphrase one of the most famous plays of all-time, Alejandro González Iñárritu Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is “but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage…A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,” and it signifies almost nothing.  Macbeth uses this to refer to life, but for Iñárritu—who literally has someone shout this soliloquy off-camera—it applies to the entirety of a picture that rejects subtlety in a misguided attempt to blend the language of film and stage, and address a multitude of topics including acting, celebrity, the New York/L.A. divide, superhero movies, critics, and ego.  The result is a cacophony of opinions and half-cooked ideas where the only one that comes close to fruition is an exploration of a nervous breakdown where identity has become consumed by artistic desperation.

JOHN WICK Review

by     Posted 6 days ago

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Because so many directors are overwhelmingly lazy with how they capture action (i.e. shake the camera around because nothing is as thrilling as nausea), we’ve gained a greater appreciation for filmmakers who can deliver excitement cleanly and clearly.  It’s an art and a science, and John Wick is an exercise at how to succeed at both.  Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski show they are masters of efficiency as the kills are stylish and direct.  But technical proficiency doesn’t inherently lead to exhilaration, and while the technical craft of John Wick is undeniable, its half-hearted storytelling is supported not by strong characters or a deep narrative (the impetus for the protagonist would be comical in its simplicity if it wasn’t wholly depressing), but by an interesting world that’s far more intriguing than any of the people who inhabit it.

A Horrifying Education: MARTYRS

by     Posted 8 days ago

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I’ll give this to my teachers: When they assigned torture porn, they didn’t do half-measures.

I knew of Martyrs by reputation, with the reputation being a mix of “One of the goriest films ever,” and “GAAAAAAHHHHH.”  And that got me excited because this was coming from die-hard horror fans; people who have seen the worst of the worst and they were still affected by this film.  I was ready to jump in with both feet by watching it in my darkened apartment right before going to bed.

Instead of making me afraid of possible nightmares, Martyrs helped me drift off to sleep by being so boring. [Spoilers and gory images ahead]

YOUNG ONES Review

by     Posted 12 days ago

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

There are rare times when everything in a movie can work—its direction, performances, etc.—and yet the picture somehow comes up short. This is the problem with trying to judge movies piecemeal. For all of the different aspects that make up a picture, we have to evaluate it as a whole. Obviously, we can call attention to its outstanding aspects, but they have to lead, for better or worse, to some kind of impression. Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones is remarkable in how it does so much right, and yet it leaves the viewer completely cold. Its strengths are undeniable and its flaws are subtle, so subtle that they can be confusing as to how such a technically superb picture can be so ineffective.

CAMP X-RAY Review

by     Posted 12 days ago

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[Note: This is a re-post of my Camp X-Ray review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The movie opens in limited release this weekend.]

In Camp X-Ray, writer/director Peter Sattler attempts to chronicle life at Guantanamo Bay through the eyes of a young female private, played by Kristen Stewart.  It’s touchy subject matter for sure, and though Guantanamo Bay has been no stranger to controversy, there are plenty of avenues worth exploring.  While the film features a compelling central relationship between the aforementioned young private and a foreign detainee, it too often veers into melodrama or goes for the easy cliché, making for somewhat of a mixed bag.  Read my full review after the jump.

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA Review

by     Posted 12 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my The Tale of Princess Kaguya review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens today in limited release.  Please note that this review is for the original Japanese-language version, so there is no critique of the English-language dubbing or the voice acting.]

Studio Ghibli’s films have always embraced the connection between nature and magic, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya continues this tradition in fine form. Writer-director Isao Takahata, who also co-founded Studio Ghibli, breaks from the company’s familiar animation style to venture into a sumi-e look that perfectly suits the story’s celebration of nature’s simplicity and magnificence. Although Kaguya does become slightly redundant in highlighting its heroine’s values before the film indulges in an abrupt revelation, Takahata and Ghibli have still found fresh life in their classic themes.

FURY Review

by     Posted 13 days ago

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If “war is hell,” then every soldier is a sinner.  It would be nice to think that every American who fought in World War II was a saint, but we know that’s not the truth.  War makes monsters because it has to, and we have to live with that ugliness because it’s in service of defeating a greater evil.  Since we as Americans accept without question that Nazis are evil and deserved to be killed en masse, writer-director David Ayer turns the problem of morality towards American soldiers with his new movie, Fury.  Despite strong central performances from Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman, Ayer’s picture ultimately feels hollow as the spectacular action and stomach-churning violence never take us anywhere beyond what we already know: war is hell.

A Horrifying Education: SLEEPAWAY CAMP

by     Posted 16 days ago

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I don’t avoid any genre of cinema, but horror is my blind spot.  I have favorite horror films, but the genre is so rich and diverse, and I feel like I haven’t even come close to scratching the surface.  Thankfully, I’m now lucky enough to be working alongside two horror aficionados, Evan and Perri.  Since October means Halloween and therefore horror, we decided to do a four-entry feature where they would decide on four horror films I would have to watch and then report back with my thoughts.  They would then reply with why they chose the film, their thoughts on it, and the movie’s legacy.  Hopefully, if you’re as ignorant of horror films as I am, you’ll join in on the lesson.

Hit the jump for our thoughts on the first assignment, 1983′s Sleepaway Camp. [Note: To encourage discussion, the comments section can contain spoilers.]

WHIPLASH Review

by     Posted 19 days ago

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

We know “greatness” demands sacrifice. It’s blood, sweat, and tears, and if you’re not willing to dish out all three constantly and consistently, then hey, you’re not worthy of your dream. Physical greatness–the greatness of athletes, for example–is easily quantifiable. But when that physicality is blended with musical expression, it becomes something more vague, complex, and fascinating. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash provides an intense and disturbing exploration of the primal drive to dominate and achieve greatness but at a horrific cost. Anchored by extraordinary performances from lead actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, Chazelle’s film never loses its brooding, unnerving energy even as it stumbles trying to find a fitting crescendo.

KILL THE MESSENGER Review

by     Posted 19 days ago

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I really admire investigative journalists.  They’re like detectives who works for all of us where it’s not about protecting one person, but looking out for society as a whole by trying to get at the truth and hold the guilty accountable for their actions.  However, too often we get bogged down in what’s salacious rather than what’s honest.  Director Michael Cuesta falls into the same trap with his new film, Kill the Messenger.  Although his movie (which is based on a true story) firmly sides with reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), the director seems distracted by Gary’s paranoia and government intrigue when the more interesting story is about how newspapers would prefer to sabotage each other rather than join the search for truth.

THE JUDGE Review

by     Posted 20 days ago

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David Dobkin previously directed broad comedies such as Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up, and now he’s moved to broad drama with his latest feature, The Judge, a movie that clumsily grasps at every heartstring you have.  It’s a soft-focus weepy that rarely elicits any emotion.  Instead, the film feels made to showcase Robert Downey Jr‘s acting ability by proving he can do more than play variations of Tony Stark.  While the movie succeeds in showing the actor’s range, it still feels indulgent as it piles on plotlines instead of keeping the focus on the chemistry between Downey and co-star Robert Duvall.

DRACULA UNTOLD Review

by     Posted 20 days ago

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For a movie with the title “Dracula Untold“, it’s a story that’s painfully vague.  We all know Bram Stoker’s classic monster.  Some may know that the character was loosely based on Prince Vlad the Impaler.  Director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless seemed content to keep it at that with a bit of an emphasis on Drac’s family and then mostly relying of CGI bats.  The film plays like a treatment rather than a real script.  It’s lean to the point of being anemic as Vlad’s transformation into Dracula doesn’t feel tragic but rather a slog towards the inevitable peppered with lame action and stock characters.  Dracula Untold proves some stories aren’t worth telling.

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