Saturday, February 14, 2015

Marion Cotillard joins Michael Fassbender's Assassin's Creed film

It's been some time since we've heard anything about the video game adaptation of Assassin's Creed.  Well, this week we got two great updates.  The first is... that the movie finally moved into production!  It's actually being made, Woo-hoo!  It's literally been years since this movie was greenlit, and it's released date has been set for December 21, 2016!  As originally reported, Michael Fassbender will produce, and star in the film.

The second update involves the casting of an Oscar winning actress.  Marion Cotillard has joined the cast of the film.  I thoroughly enjoy Cotillard's work, and think she can do no wrong.  She's even nominated for an Oscar for next week's Academy Awards.

It's way too early to tell; but this film might, maybe, hopefully, break the trend of horrible video game adaptations?  Only time will tell.  Until then, I look forward to a glimpse into the world director Justin Kurzel is creating.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Whiplash review; an intense portrait of perfection

Whiplash is a film Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle, and stars J.K. Simmons as an intense music instructor, and Miles Teller as his young protege.  The movie is actually inspired by a short film of the same name, that Chazelle wrote and directed a few years ago.  Don't be fooled by this simple premise.  Simmons and Teller are electric in this film.  Let's go like a jazz band on Bourbon Street!

What I liked about the film:
The Acting
Holy crap the acting in this film is ridiculously good.  I considered J.K. Simmons to be one of the most versatile actors today, before this film.  Now?  Now I think he's one of the best.  Simmons owns the screen from the first frame we see him in.  The way he carries himself, the way he speaks, the way he screams; all lead you to believe he IS the character.  This is NOT the Farmers Insurance guy, ladies and gents.  Simmons' character is obsessed with perfection.  He feels that the worst thing a mentor can do, is to 'baby' a student, and say something as damaging as 'good job'.  I've seen most of the performances nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, and I'd have to give it to Simmons if I had a vote.  His involvement alone is worth the price of admission.

Miles Teller is turning out to be a great actor.  This is not your average teen heartthrob.  He has the ability to go toe to toe with some of the best in the business.  And that is certainly evident in this film.  Teller plays a young man who works tirelessly to impress the Simmons character, with his incredible drumming skills.  He practices his hands to the bone... literally.  The determination Teller portrays makes you want to do better at your job!  He was able to make me care about him, and cheer for him, with very little dialogue in the film.  The two main actors are incredible and certainly carry the film.

The Music/Cinematography
It's not really fair to clump these two categories into one, but for the sake of time, I must.  I'm not a fan of jazz music at all, but this movie had me tapping my foot like a mad man.  The music pieces chosen for the film, and the way they're shot, takes us into a world we really don't know much about.  I mean really, how often are jazz bands the subject of Oscar nominated films?  The incredibly fast paced filming, cinematography and pacing, make the movie feel like it's flying by.  The music was written by Justin Hurwitz and the Director of Photography was Sharone Meir.  Awesome!

The Ending
I'll be vague here, and still try to explain.  There is a musical number at the end of the film that lasts close to 5 minutes and it is one of the most impressive things I've seen in a movie in a long time.  You see some of the best filming, acting, directing, of this year.  Just watch the eyes of the actors as you enjoy the ending.  You will appreciate their art on a whole different level!

What I didn't like about the film:
The 'Twist'
Oh the stupid twist in this film.  The movie is OUTSTANDING... 90% of its runtime.  Then Chazelle writes a twist scene that simply does not fit.  It tonally didn't work for me, and it definitely didn't make any sense within the context of the plot.  I'm obviously being careful how I word this, but you'll know exactly what I'm saying when you see the film.  I had a true 'what the hell' moment during the film, and could barely regroup before that stellar ending.

The Verdict:
An Intense Portrait of Perfection
The movie is outstanding in so many different ways.  Chazelle has put together a stellar cast, wrote a riveting script, and directed the hell out of this movie.  I can look past the silly plot, because so many other great things happen during the film.  Please go see this movie, and tell me you don't see J.K. Simmons taking home the gold, at this year's Oscars.  I'll be

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel review; A Wes Anderson Triumph

FULL DISCLOSURE... I am not a fan of Wes Anderson films.  I'm not.  I simply do not understand his sense of humor, or have any interest in the subject matter explored in his films.  But... BUT.. The Grand Budapest Hotel was an absolute delight!  Let me tell you more about it.

What I liked about the film:
The Acting
The star of this show is Ralph Fiennes.  He is so good in this movie!  He plays a concierge in the film, and is such a unique character.  Charming, deceiving, witty, demeaning, smart, blundering.  Contradictory traits I know, but the Fiennes character embodies of all them.  I loved what he was able to do with the character of Gustave.  I truly believe, that in any other year, Fiennes would have been nominated for Oscar for his performance in this film.  The field is just too crowded this year.

As I mentioned above, there are a slew of a-list actors in supporting roles.  For the sake of time, and because I'm incredibly tired right now, I'll be brief.  Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel play characters unlike anything I've ever seen them do before.  Jeff Goldblum and Jude Law make the most of their bit parts, as do Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Tom Wilkinson.  What an all star cast!

The Writing (The Dialogue/Story) 
The film is smart, it's fast, and it's witty.  Wes Anderson wrote the script and it really is different from his other films.  I know I keep saying that like it's a good thing, and I mean it to be!  I love how how the film reminds us of a much more elegant time.  The 1930's are brought to life with some great language spoken onscreen by some very interesting characters.  

The story is also a great part of the writing.  It's unique, it's different, and it's not like any of the other films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year.  When I started the movie, I had no idea it would feature a quasi-heist story.  And it juuuuust teeters on the side of weird.  

The Set Design
Adam Stockhausen's production design in the film is spot on.  His work was recognized by the Academy Awards last year, for his work on 12 Years a Slave, and again this year for 'Budapest Hotel'.  The 1930's is brought to life in what could easily be mistaken for a Broadway production.  Anderson and Stockhausen fool us into believing the movie is of a much larger scale that it really is.  In a matter of seconds, we see numerous sets flash before our eyes, as if the actors were running in front of a green screen.  This was one of my favorite aspects of the film.   

The Pacing
The movie is fast and swift, and doesn't waste any time with 'filler' scenes.  Every bit of information is important to the story, and we don't have time to get bored.  

What I didn't like about the film:
The Comedy
For as smart and witty as the movie is, the comedy doesn't hit every note.  Yes, it's meant to be dry and deadpan, but it felt like a sketch comedy at times.  This goes back to the multiple set pieces during a chase scene if you will.  It felt like a Saturday Night Live sketch at times.  Not really even a bad thing, so much as me being picky.  

The Verdict:
A Wes Anderson Triumph
I have to give credit to Wes Anderson.  He wrote and directed such a unique and interesting film.  I like that it is receiving Oscar nominations, but doubt it will pull off any upsets in the major categories.  I don't want to be cynical though, I really think the movie is great.  Fiennes' performance is so damn underrated, and that's too bad.  The movie is different in so many ways, and that can be refreshing when all I do is complain about Hollywood's lack of creativity.  I highly recommend you stream the film, as soon as you can!

The Theory of Everything review; A One of a Kind Love Story

Stephen Hawking is undoubtedly the most famous scientist in the world.  The work he's done in his field has changed the way people view time and space.  While his findings may be too complex for this blogger to truly understand, I can still very much appreciate what he's contributed to the world of science.  That being said, before watching The Theory of Everything, I knew nothing about this man.  There's a reason biopics are such Oscar favorites; because they tell incredible true stories.  This is no different.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Acting
Eddie Redmayne received a lot of attention for his work in 2012's Les Misérables.  But nothing could have prepared us for his performance here.  Redmayne transforms into Hawking; not only does he captured Hawking's speech, but his mannerisms as well.  Redmayne plays the character with such a boyish charm, wonderful sense of humor, and quick wit... you can't help but fall in love with him.  And as Hawking's debilitating condition worsens throughout the film, our heart breaks for him.  From every slip and fall, to every near death experience, we take the journey alongside Redmayne.  He's sweeping up every award under the sun, leading up to the big show; and I have no doubt he'll take home the Best Actor Academy Award.

Felicity Jones plays Jane Hawking, Stephen's wife.  From everything that I've read, Jane Hawking was not just some trophy wife that Mr. Hawking could flaunt at Cambridge.  By all accounts, she was smart, sophisticated and confident.  The way Jones carries herself on screen is really hypnotic.  You cheer for her successes, down to every smart ass playful remark she has for her husband.  And our heart aches for what she endures to try and make the marriage work.  Jones is so good in this film; I truly believe this is her story being told.  Phenomenal work!

The Writing (The Love Story)
Not only are Redmayne and Jones terrific in the film, their chemistry is obvious.  They play off one another so well, the two actors could very well have been married for all we know.  That helps, but the writing in the film is what really brings the story to live.  Anthony McCarten wrote a beautiful script, that could easily have gone in a whole different direction.  The script could have been all about Professor Hawking and his scientific achievements, but it wasn't.  It's about this beautiful couple, that fought the odds for so long, with such a passionate love, that we WANT them to make it.  We want them to live happily ever after.

The Score
The music in the film told the story.  Jóhann Jóhannsson wrote a beautiful score that toyed with every one of my emotions.  You know what it felt like?  Like a symphony was playing behind a movie with no film score.  It was simply... perfect.

The Director
James Marsh is an Academy Award winner for his documentary, Man on Wire (which is being made into a feature film).  So the man knows how to tell a story; we should not be surprised at the result of this film.  Marsh makes so many great decisions that I must give him credit for.  The set design, the costumes, the cinematography; all of these were vital to telling this story.  Nicely done by Marsh; I hope we see more of his work in the future.

The Verdict:
A One of a Kind Love Story
Who would have thought, that the world's most famous scientist had such an amazing love story to tell?  Stephen Hawking has gone out of his way to praise the film, and specifically, Redmayne's performance.  It's a great script, telling a beautiful story, with perfect performances.  You see how I keep using the word beautiful?  It's because that's exactly what this movie was to me.  Beautiful.  Enjoy everyone!

Ps.. Check out this terrific documentary based on Professor Hawking's life.  Click here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Selma review; oh, Selma how you've been wronged

You often hear people talk about how important a film is.  Or how a film has the ability to raise awareness about a certain subject matter.  A film can even remind us about of the wrongs that took place in our country.  A film can be more that just entertainment, and that's exactly what Selma is.  Directed by an incredibly talented African-American young woman named Ava DuVernay; the film stars David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo as Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta Scott King.  I can't wait to tell you more about this film.  Let's go.

What I liked about the film:
The Incredible Story/The Writing
The script was written by Paul Webb, and it is terrific.  Selma takes us inside Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights movement.  There is a very apparent story being told on the surface of this film; and I enjoyed that story very much.  But it is what takes place behind the scenes that will make you think, it will make you ask questions.  The film dives into the relationship between MLK and President Johnson, and his role in the civil rights movement.  The story also examines the different ideals set forth by MLK and Malcolm X.  The movie does a great job at showing what a non-violent movement has the capability of becoming.  

The relationship between MLK and his wife is prominent in the movie, and it is a compelling relationship.  Just imagine what MLK's wife Coretta must have gone through.  This woman had to become accustom to death threats, on a daily basis.  She must have feared for her life, every time she stepped foot out the door.  Yet, she understood that what her and her husband were trying to accomplish was too important to stop.  I loved watching this relationship, and all it's ups and downs.  

Talk about how tight knit the script is and how there is no waste.  Every scene matters and every words spoken matters.  I really appreciate this type of writing, the older I get.  By the way, this is Paul Webb's first screenplay!

The Acting
I've been a fan of David Oyelowo, the actor who plays MLK for a long time.  He is poised, in control, and demands attention everytime he is on screen.  Oyelowo goes through so many emotions throughout the film; anger, frustration, sadness, happiness.  And Oyelowo plays them all beautifully.  The film very well could have been a documentary about leadership, considering we see just how MLK got the best out of people.  Oyelowo played a great leader.

Carmen Ejogo is terrific.  She plays MLK's wife as a smart, loving, supportive woman, who is not afraid to voice her opinion if she does not agree with what she sees.  I thought that was important in a film like this.  How could we appreciate a film about civil rights, if woman are nothing more than arm candy in the film.

Tom Wilkinson plays President Johnson and does a fine job.  At this point, what else would you expect out of the great Wilkinson?  There are other bit roles that flushed out the cast, most notably that of Oprah Winfrey, Tim Roth and Giovanni Ribisi.  For no reason other than time, I will not go into more detail.  But trust me, they all give top notch performances in the film.   

Snubbed.  Period.  (The Director)
It wasn't until I got out of the theater that I understood what all the fuss surrounding the film, was all about.  And by fuss, I mean the sheer lack of Oscar nominations Selma received.  Ava DuVernay directed a fantastic film.  And this film is more than just entertainment; yet the movie could only muster up two Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Best Song).  It's a shame.  DuVernay makes so many great choices.  The set design, the costumes, the cinematography, the editing/pacing, the music, the songs... all these departments of course have someone in charge, but they all made DuVernay's vision a reality.  Now I understand what all the fuss is about.

What I didn't like about the film:
Who Was this Man?
What kind of family man was MLK?  The relationship with his wife is explored, but not much if any with his kids.  While I dislike 3+ hour biopics, it would have been nice to learn more about the man in which the film is about.  Some minor flaws in his character are explored, but no one is perfect.  

The Ending
The ending was too abrupt for me.  I felt like it needed another scene or two to really drive the message home.  I felt as if there was a plan for more, and the filmmakers simply ran out of money.  I can't speak intelligently as to whether or not that was the case, that's just what it felt like.  And the entire movie, we're shown glimpses of the FBI surveillance on MLK; but then what?  Why show us all that if it leads to nothing?  I really wanted just a bit more pay off for the amazing build up.   

The Verdict:
Oh, Selma How You've Been Wronged
I need movies like this.  WE need movies like this.  Selma is more than a MLK biopic.  Selma reminds us, that while we've made great strides towards civil liberties, we still have a long way to go.  We need not look further than the past 18 months, to see how important the message of this film is.  Ferguson, Missouri, Trayvon Martin, and so many other horrific stories are a constant reminder of how much more work there is to do.  I for one was incredibly moved by this film, and hope you all have an opportunity to see it.  As of today, it is my favorite film of the year.