Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: The People Vs Larry Flynt

An earth shattering look at free speech in America and one of its strongest proponents.

Milos Forman does fantastic work here directing Harrelson to one of his best performances as "smut peddler" Larry Flynt. This is a great cast all around with a career making turn by Edward Norton and Forman's usual group of ensemble players.

The standout here, even more than Harrelson is Courtney Love, whose performance is transcendent. She goes toe to toe with Woody and lights up the screen. Really great work.

This is an essential picture for anyone who's ever had an unpopular opinion and gotten flak for it. The People Vs Larry Flynt proves that just because you speak out against what's accepted, it doesn't make you a criminal to say it. You deserve to be heard, no matter what.

Evidence that a heartfelt story doesn't need to have lovable or even likeable characters to get its point across. This is one of the absolute best films of the 90's

Monday, May 25, 2015

Best Films of 2014

Best Non-2014 Movie in 2014
All That Jazz / The Purple Rose of Cairo (Tied)

Biopics tend to get a bad rap and for good reason as it can be close to impossible to fit an individual’s entire life into two hours of film. However, when something like Bob Fosse’s “auto-biopic” comes along, it throws conventional criticism of the genre out the window. All That Jazz, a thinly veiled autobiographical telling of Fosse’s life, is like no film you have ever seen before; a ‘musical that isn’t a musical’ that’s both visually and thematically stunning with towering production values and performances from all involved.

One of the most magical movie experiences in my thirty years on this planet, Woody Allen’s masterpiece, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a heartwarming film from it’s whimsical start to its devastating finale. The story of a Depression era waitress named Cecilia (Mia Farrow) and her literal love affair with the cinema, Purple Rose of Cairo features a fun premise that’s backed up by some of the cast’s best performances. A masterful look at our shared love of film both as a medium of art and a form of escape.

Honorable Mention
Under the Skin

Visually breathtaking and featuring a knock-out performance by Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is one of the most difficult science-fiction films in years. As an alien who hunts for human flesh in rural Scotland, Johansson commands your attention at every turn, using her charms to ensnare not only unsuspecting Scottish men but the audience as well. With free-flowing cinematography by Daniel Landin and the best musical score of 2014 by Mica Levi, Under the Skin will leave you confused and breathless. Something the best science-fiction is supposed to do.

10. Boyhood
9. Whiplash
8. Nightcrawler
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel
6. Selma
5. Foxcatcher

Almost violently depressing, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is one of the darkest films I saw in 2014 and perhaps that’s why I love it so much. Featuring break-out performances by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, it tells the story of the Schultz Brothers, Olympic Gold Medal wrestlers, and their precarious relationship with billionaire John E. du Pont. Carell has been getting most of the praise but it’s Tatum who truly transforms for his role. This guy has some real acting chops and I couldn’t be more delighted to watch him grow as an actor. 

4. The Babadook

A masterclass by first time director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is the scariest film in about a decade. Essie Davis is by turns terrifying and terrified by her young son and the intrusion of Mister Babadook into their lives. As great a metaphor for grief and loss as it is a horror film, The Babadook reaches to places deep in your mind and latches on, unwilling to let go, much like loss itself. A phenomenal first feature by Kent, this is a director I’ll be following from this point forward.

3. A Most Violent Year

For the second year in a row a J.C. Chandor film has made my Top Five. After the harrowing All is Lost, we’ve been treated to A Most Violent Year, a brutal story of a man trying to stay clean in a corrupt 1981 New York City. Featuring perfect performances from the entire cast, especially Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, great direction by Chandor and yes, a good amount of violence both verbal and physical, A Most Violent Year is one of the most constantly engaging films of 2014. Oh and Albert Brooks forever and always, please.

2. Birdman

Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of Birdman, is a tough nut to crack. He’s previously shown a great ability to tell a globe-spanning tale of interconnected misery with his 2006 opus Babel. Here the misery and redemption is not globe-spanning but instead confined to a two block radius around the storied St. James Theatre in New York City. Iñárritu shows that he has an ear for great dialogue and is able to get some arresting performances from his cast. This is in thanks to some heartbreaking monologues where the actors/characters are able to bare their souls. Various subjects such as ego and obsession are touched upon with a grace (some would say heavy handedness), that approaches an ethereal quality that isn’t unwelcome in the least. This is a director who will constantly surprise you with the stories he chooses to tell.
An existential super-hero film if anything else, Birdman is one of the best films of the year. A great behind the scenes look into the world of Broadway and the way super-hero films can ruin the lives of those who star in them, this is a film that should be seen by anyone with even a passing interest in strange, unique stories. Breathtaking from start to finish and a truly surreal experience, Birdman is one of a kind and a high point for Michael Keaton’s career. 

1. Gone Girl

David Fincher’s latest film is a story of horrible people doing horrible things and it’s all the more memorable and glorious for it. Based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, which she adapted for the screen, Gone Girl is a dark, brooding mystery from the get-go and from the early scenes all the way through the myriad twists and turns it’s easy to see that Fincher can tackle almost any subject with a deft hand. 
Fincher is able to spring surprise twists on his audience with little to no warning and that’s all thanks to the slick screenplay with which he’s working. This is a masterful satire of media in the modern age and one of the most dark, funny films in recent memory. 
Gone Girl is a phenomenal trashterpiece of the highest order. Not only is it the best film of 2014 it’s also one of the best of Fincher’s career.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

While We're Young Review

Noah Baumbach impresses yet again with this story of a middle aged couple living vicariously through a younger one.

Great characters are supported by a sharp screenplay by Baumbach that has a great amount of heart. Surprised to see a lot of myself reflected in both Ben Stiller and Adam Driver's characters. Sure it's no Frances Ha but few things are.

Oh and awesome to see Adam Horovitz aka my second favorite Beastie Boy giving a great performance.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Miami Vice Review

Visceral and unflinching. Miami Vice is the most Mannish of Michael Mann films. 

A mood piece disguised as an action/crime drama, Vice updates the dated 80's television series for the 00's and is glorious entertainment. Mann's style has rarely been so on display, from his choice of digital to the riveting action sequences, this might be one of his best.

Farrell and Foxx bring great depth to the iconic roles of Crockett and Tubbs and have great chemistry both with each other and the supporting cast. Speaking of which, Gong Li is ravishing as Farrell's love interest Isabella, a harsh business woman with a taste for Cuban nightlife. Everyone here is on top of their game.

Dion Beebe's cinematography is both eye catching and revelatory. I seem to come away from most recent Mann films saying this but the use of digital is a breath of fresh air. Everything is so immediate and in the moment, it all feels so real, which at certain moments can be overwhelming in the best way.

Some have criticized the dialogue mix but I wasn't bothered in the slightest. Some words and even full sentences are unintelligible or inaudible but it works. These are real characters and perhaps some of their exchanges are none of our business in the first place. When talking to someone in real life, in a crowded bar or city street, you don't pick up on every word said and Mann knows this and works it into his films. It's a masterstroke of realism and he should be applauded for it.

Miami Vice is thrilling from beginning to end, culminating inn one of the most brutal gun fights of the last ten years. It's a high point for crime cinema and comes with the highest of recommends. 

Just check your expectations at the door.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Foxcatcher Review

"Horses are stupid. All they do is eat and shit. It's all very silly."

Almost violently depressing, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is one of the darkest films I saw in 2014 and perhaps that’s why I love it so much. Featuring break-out performances by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, it tells the story of the Schultz Brothers, Olympic Gold Medal wrestlers, and their precarious relationship with billionaire John E. du Pont. From the pacing to the atmosphere of increasing dread, to Vanessa Redgrave stealing every scene she's in, Foxcatcher is pretty on point.

Though Carell got most of the praise it’s Tatum who truly transforms for his role. This guy has some real acting chops and I couldn’t be more delighted to watch him grow as an actor. Ruffalo has rarely been better and this is definitely a career best for Tatum. Carell is offputting and bizarre but I think that's kind of the point, the man plays menace quite well. 

From a technical standpoint, it's a marvel. Featuring some of the best sound design I've heard in a while and a fantastic, haunting score by Rob Simonsen, Miller's film is a somber affair for sure.

This was one of the few 2014 films that I was hyped up for and it actually delivered. I still haven't seen Moneyball but so far Bennett Miller hasn't let me down as a filmmaker.