Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Reviews On The Run

Get ready for another edition of (sorta) quick reviews of some movies that were recently seen by these eyes over the last few months.  There's a little mixture of everything - Oscar winners, could have been Oscar contenders, a documentary, and a little cult classic thrown in just to make everyone feel a little uneasy.

The Theory Of Everything

When movies are nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, there tends to be at least one reason most people can agree on that makes it worthy of such an honor. It turns out that the The Theory Of Everything had many admirable attributes people appreciated - from the score (that main theme slayed me) to the dreamy cinematography that made every shot worthy of being turned into a gorgeous poster. Oh, and obviously, the little item that will be the films lasting legacy - a hugely effecting and stellar performance by Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. No one is going to say he didn't deserve that Best Actor trophy.

However, the way the story was told turned out to be partly disappointing. Hawking is one of the most notable people in modern history and while the film focuses generally on the ideas that made him famous, nothing goes too in depth. Normally, I want less of this mumbo jumbo, but in this case, I really wanted to learn more about Hawking's genius. "More science!", has never come out of my mouth during a movie until this one.

Since this bio-pic is based on the book by his first wife, Jane, it instead focuses more on their romance and the debilitating impact of ALS. This is a profound tale to tell, but even this part of the story felt a bit generic at times. More often than not, it was leaning more towards being an average movie drama instead of the extraordinary, unique tale, that I was expecting to see.

Although, this movie wonderfully succeeds in depicting an accurate image of the pain and stress someone goes through while taking care of a loved one, with credit additionally owed to the understated, excellent work by Felicity Jones, who played Jane.

The Take-Away: Can't take your eyes off the screen, but leaves you wanting more.


While the trailers and clips at awards shows made it look like Whiplash is just J.K. Simmons yelling and throwing cymbols, in actuality, it is also quite an interesting story about obsession and dedication, where  equal extremeness is brought by the main character, played by Miles Teller. Well, there is also an awful lot of Simmons channeling the Hulk, which was what kept me from rushing out to see this one, even though I think he's great.

Watching two hours of someone yelling just didn't seem appealing. And now, I'll admit, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Simmons won the Academy Award for bringing the intensity, but boy, does Teller also totally nail a young man who is obsessed with drumming. Bloody hands and sweat pouring out of every pore didn't stop him for a second. There is one surprising scene that, to me, felt extremely far fetched, but if the point was to show just how focused this kid was, than the scene served its purpose, even if it fell out of the actual realm of realism.

All former orchestra nerds and band geeks will relate to the crankiness that any conductor gets before an important competition, but Whiplash shows off the far end of the extreme spectrum. Certainly the world of professional musicians is filled with people like the character Simmons portrays. It's a section of society that takes music more seriously than breathing. Where being the best is all that matters.

The Take-Away: Terrific, high energy movie about passion. Really impressive depiction of musicians in general. J.K. is phenomenal, but so is Teller - their characters sure deserve each other.

Big Eyes

As I've said previously, just by the trailer, anyone could blatantly see that the premise of Big Eyes was a beyond perfect topic for Tim Burton to turn into a movie. There's the retro setting and his vivid eye for finding an interesting way to capture a story. Even the actual paintings by Margaret Keane (whose life story this movie is based on) give off a Burton vibe. Her work is bright and colorful, with a semi eerie darkness thrown in. That alone perfectly describes Tim Burton's unique aesthetic.

Much of Big Eyes is wonderful. Just like the Theory Of Everything, many scenes could be frozen and turned into their own framed art, and the acting by Amy Adam and Christoph Waltz is always perfect. It's just too bad then that the script overall didn't make for a completely fascinating movie from beginning to end.

The details of Keane's life are fascinating. She was a woman who became overpowered by the men in her life and was lead to believe by one of her husbands that he should take credit for her paintings, and he did so for years, even becoming internationally famous for paintings he didn't create. She eventually came to her senses and now everyone knows the truth. With such rich circumstances, it felt that the movie didn't take it far enough, like the plot was only scratching the surface. Even the moment where Margaret Keane finally gets justice felt empty and rushed.

The Take-Away: Even the spectacle of Burton, Adams, and Waltz can't make up for a generic take on a fantastic life.

Finding Vivian Maier

One auction completely changed the life of two people - the man, found what could potentially be his life's work, and the woman, will never know how the discovery impacted her. This is the basis for the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier.

In 2007, John Maloof bid on a box of photography negatives that he thought could be used in a history book he was working on and instead unearthed thousands of photos taken by one woman predominately in the 50s and 60s. They tell the stories of her life and what she saw, but these aren't just your average set of family photos. The woman who turned out to be named Vivan Maier was a master amateur (yeah, that's an oxymoron, but here it just says everything) photographer who excelled in capturing the highs of lows of average people on the street. She was producing the classic caliber of work seen in the pages of Life and Time during their heyday.

Her talent isn't even the most astounding - the extraordinary fact here is that she wasn't getting her photography published. She seemed just to do it all for herself and didn't show her work to hardly anyone. Instead, she spent her days working as a nanny and taking photos for enjoyment.

She is now posthumously famous, never knowing what an impact her photos have had on the world and that she is widely considered a remarkable talent by art critics.

This all really made me think about the world of celebrity - fame is fleeting and not guaranteed, so doing what you love will always be the most important, even if no one else notices.

The Take-Away: How many talented folks out there will never be discovered? Also, we should all go to auctions - who knows what is waiting in someones discarded boxes.

The Hundred Foot Journey

It's a food movie with Helen Mirren and a stamp of approval from Oprah! What's not to love?

The Hundred Foot Journey follows in the great tradition of those flicks that make your mouth water. Every whisk beat and precise sprinkle of spices acted out on screen as every character cooks will put to shame any mess of a snack you decided to consume while watching this movie. Bag of Cheetos = not as good as authentic, vibrant, Indian food.

With a visionary director like Lasse Hallstrom, it was a sure thing that this movie would look extraordinary. From The Cider House Rules and What's Eating Gilbert Grape to another classic in the "foodie" genre, Chocolat, and yes, one of those Nicholas Sparks adaptations, Dear John (I like it - sue me), Hallstrom has never failed to beautifully capture a story. Much like Big Eyes, the visual look and direction of the movie is its biggest strength.

Otherwise, The Hundred Foot Journey, was too long, and left me feeling like it should instead be called The Hundred Year Journey (how many reviews do you think used that line?). All in all, it started strong and turned into a rather predictable, cute movie, that had a plot which fell off the rails in a direction that made sense, but I didn't like too much. It is worth struggling through some sections just for the food though. Cooking show devotees will rejoice.

The Take-Away: Couldn't say it better than my dad did - "Hey, this is just like that Ratatouille...but you know, without the rats." I preferred the rats though. Sorry Mirren.

Magic In The Moonlight

Reader, if you're anything like me, than over the last couple years (or longer) you've been stuck in a tight spot about Woody Allen. Some sort of middle ground in your mind that can't ignore the atrocious things he's been accused of, but still finds joy in many of his movies. Should actors or audiences continue to support his art?

It makes it even more difficult when he casts such films starring some of your favorite people - Colin Firth and Emma Stone - and writes the setting in dreamy locations like Paris, the Côte d'Azur, and Provence.

All of the above aligned in Magic In The Moonlight, so I couldn't resist any longer. Don't make me feel like a terrible person for being rather enamored by this enjoyable little movie. It casts Firth as a stage magician in the 1920s, paired against Stone, who is either masquerading as a psychic or really has the gift. Between their characters begins a semi-battle of wits and words about the importance of "real" vs "spiritual" and "pessimism" vs "optimism".

The story is simple, but rather unique with a little hijinks (of course) thrown in for good measure. Don't forget, this one also includes the same theme many other Woody Allen films focus on - he continues to show his obsession with pondering the meaning of life. Those topics are rather overdone in films in general, but in this case, a batch of talented actors made it feel interesting and new again.

Firth and Stone, the gorgeous setting, and period costumes (endless great hats!) are really all you need to have me love a movie. As much as I think about not supporting Allen anymore - here we are again.

Can we all at least officially agree that Emma Stone is the best? Even though I always like her, for some reason this movie really made me realize how she can sell the shit out of anything. Other actresses playing a "mystic" would have had over the top visions and it would have seemed too campy, but Stone really made you believe she was a psychic intercepting messages from the beyond. Even she made me believe that this was something that could really exist. Maybe Stone's calling is in late night infomercials.

The Take-Away: Emma Stone continues to rule the world - this time with Firth on her arm and a bunch of fun hats (until she drives in a car with the top down, a time when a hat would actually be useful).

The Room

Oh, hi Readers

Last week, I took in this spectacle at a Riff Tracks screening held at my local theater. It was one of those Fathom Events that Regal puts on.

Lovingly cheered for at Midnight Movie screenings, basically since the minute it made its debut in 2002, The Room is the ultimate "so bad, it bounces back and is incredible" movies. Thousands or millions of think pieces have been produced trying to explain its insanity, but The Room very much needs to be seen in order to be believed.

Written, directed, produced, and starring an unknown maniac, this is a movie where roughly nothing and EVERYTHING happens. Yes, just like the title alludes, a lot of this movie happens in "The Room", or rather, a tacky, small apartment in San Fransisco. This whole situation all made a lot more sense after hearing that the creative genius behind the movie couldn't decide if it should be a movie or a play. Bonkers.

The Take-Away: How Did This Get Made?

We're getting into the hot summer movie season. There isn't too much being released that is making me feel as excited as a bunch of confetti being shot out of a cannon (besides Inside Out!), but I'll still be out in the theater and I hope you will be too!

Until next time.
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