Saturday, February 21, 2015

Foxcatcher - 5 stars out of 10

Foxcatcher - 5 stars out of 10

Maybe I had too high of an expectation for this film due to its five Oscar nominations, including two in acting categories, but “Foxcatcher” was a disappointment.  This is the story of eccentric millionaire John du Pont and his influence on Olympic wrestling… sort-of.  I can usually deal with the artistic liberties that writers take to enhance an historical story, but the inaccuracies really bothered me in this one.  I attribute this to the film’s progression of events being so dry that it almost felt like watching a documentary, especially with the actors’ performances being subtle and not overly emotive.  I enjoy films that create the sense of watching life happen before your eyes, but this only works in a historical film if the information is accurate.  The timeline doesn’t line up (the Schultz brothers never even lived at Foxcatcher at the same time), they make a big deal about the cocaine and then never address it again (probably because it wasn’t significant in real life), and the most important event of the film occurred seven years after the 1988 Olympics, not seven months as shown in the movie, which completely distorts the motivations of du Pont (not to mention that his motivations are never explained or explored).  To quote my wife, “If they weren’t going to make it accurate, they could have at least made it exciting.”  I get the acting choices made my Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum, but I don’t get the Oscar nominations.  Each actor has a brief opportunity to show their skills (Tatum and the mirror, Ruffalo at the end), but those moments are a small percentage of their screentime.  It is nice to see Carell breaking out of his shell since he absolutely possesses the ability to be a serious actor, but this was not his best showing.   As far as the homosexual undertones that allegedly exist between du Pont and Mark Shultz, I did not feel that they were apparent during the film.  If the writers wanted to paint du Pont as a homosexual and use that to explain the tension, they could have included some of the controversial events during his time at Villanova; instead, du Pont just comes off as an eccentric.  On a positive note, the set is dead on and the make-up is really impressive (Ruffalo looks exactly like Dave Schultz and Carell is successful transformed).  “Foxcatcher” is an interesting story that has helped me to become better informed on the Schultz brothers and the world of Olympic wrestling, but that is due to all of the research that I had to do afterwards and not the film itself.


[Pictured: Tatum and Ruffalo truly look the part]

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Boxtrolls - 5 stars out of 10

The Boxtrolls - 5 stars out of 10

“The Boxtrolls” was pretty much what I expected.  While it was a few steps above “ParaNorman” and the animation was very interesting, it just can’t compare with Tim Burton’s innovative stories.  I have the utmost respect for the stop-motion art form.  I believe that it is important for films like this one to be nominated for Best Animated Feature in order to legitimize the art form, but it simply cannot compete with the visual beauty of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” or the inventive storyline of “Big Hero 6.”  The Boxtroll characters themselves are pretty unique, but the whole “creatures from another world invading the human world” concept seems to have become a part of every one of these films (Corpse Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman, Coraline…)  I did appreciate that the writers kept the dialogue family-friendly and even threw in a few decent jokes.  The film was worth watching just for the Curds Way pun.  The best part of the film was actually the post-credits scene (no spoiler here) in which they use time-lapse photography to show the complexity of shooting a simple scene.  If you see this film, make sure that you don’t miss it!  The voice acting is nothing special, with the exception of Ben Kingsley whose villainous voice drives the entire film.  I definitely wouldn’t give “The Boxtrolls” an Oscar, but I could actually see myself pulling this one out to show my children someday.

[Pictured: Don't miss the post-credits scene.  It's eye-opening and really cool!]

Leviathan (2014) - 5 stars out of 10

Leviathan (2014) - 5 stars out of 10

“Leviathan” is a downer of epic proportions.  This story of Kolya, a sort-of modern-day Job, has a much less uplifting ending than the Bible story.  The film dives into deep family issues, government corruption, and ultimately injustice.  I actually fell asleep the first time watching this due to its slow moments, particularly the beginning, but once it gets going you'll be anxious to find out what happens next.  You’ll think that you have the story figured out and then it turns in an entirely different direction.  I was actually surprised that this was Russia’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film since it certainly is a stereotype. I can image that a lot of Russians are tired of being portrayed as vodka-drinking, gun-toting potty mouths, but this film does not give us any reason to believe otherwise.  I expect that "Ida" will take the Oscar since it sends a stronger message and was so visually interesting, but this was still a decent film.  The critics loved “Leviathan” and I believed that there is a lot to be gained by watching it, but I would definitely favor a shorter film with more memorable acting performances during the pre-Oscar viewing frenzy.
[Pictured: The film gains its momentum from the downward spiral of the characters' lives]


[Pictured: The film gains its momentum from the downward spiral of the characters' lives]

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nightcrawler - 10 stars out of 10

Nightcrawler - 10 stars out of 10

“Nightcrawler” is one of the best films of 2014.  So many films (even many of the great ones) take an old concept and try to improve upon it but, once in a while, a movie manages to be so entirely unique that it feels like a new experience.  The late-night underworld of Los Angeles has been the backdrop of many films but never through this sort of lens.  The story develops around Lou, a thief who develops the hobby of videotaping car accidents and criminal activity, then selling his footage to the highest bidding news station.  He operates without guilt or emotion, and yet his way of speaking is so straightforward and logical that the line between good guy and bad guy is completely blurred.  No words can actually describe him.  He’s entirely odd but entirely entertaining.  I would even venture to say that this character has revived Jake Gyllenhaal’s career.  He plays “Lou” to perfection, from the calm speech pattern to his unwavering expression that cannot be considered a smile nor a frown.  The screenplay is inspired, gripping from start to finish and reaching a climax in the news station editing sequence is so unexpectedly intense.  “Nightcrawler” is a definite Oscar snub. There are so many great things about it and it deserves more notoriety than a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  In a less competitive year for Best Actor, Gyllenhaal definitely would have been nominated.  Even in this year’s race, I would've chosen him over Cumberbatch and Carell.  This movie was so entertaining that I could probably watch it again right now and not be tired of it. The film doesn't need a big twist. The characters and concept are so interesting that it is a joy to watch the story develop.  If you skipped “Nightcrawler” in lieu of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture, you are absolutely missing out.


[Pictured: The situations presented in this story are incredible]

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) - 8 stars out of 10

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) - 8 stars out of 10

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a quality sequel in this rebooted series.  While the storyline and human actors fall far short of its predecessor (how can a few Australian no-names compare to James Franco and John Lithgow?), the film makes up for it with jaw-dropping visual effects.  In fact, this film might actually challenge “Interstellar” for the Best Visual Effects Oscar.  “Dawn” is performance-capture technique perfection, with the vividly real animal movements of the actors pairing perfectly with the detailed computer animation.  It is literally unbelievable - you would swear that these were real apes and, in a less competitive year, I truly believe that Andy Serkis would have been nominated for best actor.  The plot was a bit weak but serves as a good bridge between the ape escape at the end of “Rise” and the inevitable battle of the species (which we will hopefully see in the next film).  One of the biggest perspective-changing aspects of the film is the establishment that neither species are the good guys or bad guys.  By basing the conflict off of a misunderstanding, it is clear to see that they could coexist but have no choice in trying to eliminate the other.  The film sets a great tone with its opening.  I don’t typically buy into the “global news report opening sequence,” but this one is a perfect recap of the previous story and puts the global spreading of the ALZ-113 virus into perspective.  In spite of the special effects and grand-scheme-concepts that this film adds to the series, the human acting is a mess.  Gary Oldman was completely underutilized.  He is the biggest name in this film and the writers even acknowledged that by giving him an incredible emotional moment, but then his character basically disappeared and didn’t get another “moment.”  The same goes for Keri Russell, who isn’t given a chance to use her acting chops, and the rest of the cast who just kind of exist to create a reasonable story.  I can't get over the fact that a ton of CGI apes have more personality than the live humans on-screen, but I mean that as a compliment to the apes more than an insult to the humans.  It feels like some of the script was hastily thrown together with repetitive scenes and a lack of intelligent dialogue.  When half of your movie is without dialogue due to ape interaction, you would think that the other half of the movie would be well-written.  Still, the incredible animation and apocalyptic San Francisco make those flaws hardly noticeable.  “Dawn of the Plant of the Apes” needs the rest of the series to make it a great movie, but its special effects would make it worth watching even without a plot.


[Pictured: Could it look any more realistic?]

A Day at the Magic Kingdom - 5 stars out of 10

A Day at The Magic Kingdom - 5 stars out of 10
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwFkpZgYaOo

This souvenir video from 1991 captures an interesting chapter in Magic Kingdom history.  Its look at the park contains most of the original iterations of each classic ride (except for Splash Mountain, which had not yet been built).  The nostalgia kicks in because it predates the updating and retheming of rides like the Astro Orbiters, The Enchanted Tiki Room, and Mickey’s Starland, giving us an authentic look at the Magic Kingdom of our childhoods.  Whether you had the opportunity to visit Disney during this era or are just watching this to see what it was like, there is something special about getting to see 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Skyway, and other rides that no longer exist.  One of the most surprising things about this video is the number of rides that were left out (Mr. Toad, Mission to Mars, Snow White’s Scary Adventure).  There are a few quirks to this video, such as the absence of real Disney ride audio in lieu of hastily dubbed impersonations of Peter Pan, The Haunted Mansion, The Jungle Cruise, and It’s A Small World.  The video follows a family on their trip around the park to loosely tie the footage together, but all of their voices were obviously added in post-production.  While “A Day at The Magic Kingdom” has its quirks, it provides an interesting look back at the Magic Kingdom before it started catering to the next generation.

[Pictured: The old Star Jets were updated when they no longer looked futuristic]