Taken 3 - 2015 - 1/5 - Directed by Olivier Megaton - starring Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker
So this is it, it all ends here. Thank god, I've never wished for franchise to come to end quicker in my entire life. Pierre Morel's Taken is one of the better revenge/action thrillers in recent memory. It took Liam Neeson out of the dramatic zone and made him an action hero, and it worked. It was fantastic, and it should've ended there. Of course, Luc Besson and EuropaCorp need to ruin great films by unnecessary sequels, so I wasn't keen on Taken 2 when it was announced, and I especially wasn't keen on the announcement on Taken 3. Besson & Co. and director Olivier Megaton have managed to crap on Morel's great film once again.
Set some time after the events of Taken 2, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is living a comfortable life and his family is in the right direction with daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) going to college and in a good relationship, and ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen) has a great friendship with Bryan. Lenore confesses that she has been having marital problems with her husband Stuart (Dougray Scott) and seeks Bryan's help. One morning, Bryan receives a text about meeting Lenore at his place, only to discover her dead body and the implications that's done it. With the LAPD and Inspector Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) hot on his tail, Bryan moves through Los Angeles trying to clear his name as he uncovers a sinister plan involving his family.
There's some inconsistencies in this film and the previous film. In the first film, Bryan and Lenore don't get along at all, until Bryan goes on a personal mission to get Kim back from Paris, which is when Lenore and Bryan begin to start respecting each other again. By the second film, when they travel to Istanbul, we are led that Bryan and Lenore are going to get back together again, but that's not the case here. Maybe over the course of events in between films, there was a change of heart, but it feels weird. Especially having Dougray Scott play Stuart, who was previously played by Xander Berkley in the first film, who considerably looks different than Scott and is older. Why the change of actors? Maybe creative differences, or maybe Luc Besson just said screw it.
Olivier Megaton's last four films (including Taken 3) have all been under Besson, and all have been horrible. Transporter 3 was a horrible end to the trilogy that is now being rebooting. Colombiana was a joke and the last two Taken films have been horrible. Either Megaton is a ghost director (think George P. Cosmatos) for Besson, or he truly can't direct his way out of a paper bag. Literally each action/chase scene has an average of one or two cuts per second. It's like his editors had a massive sugar rush, snorted some cocaine, threw on "Turn Down For What" and just threw in any and every cut possible. It's not that it had ridiculous amounts of shaky cam, but I swear the editing was horrible, to the point where it was headache inducing. Taken 3 is probably the worst edited action film I've seen since Quantum Of Solace. Hell even the two Raid films had better editing and I can't stand those films. Pierre Morel's Taken was done with such precision and expertise, it was just a near-flawless action film. This is just bad. It didn't have any of the heart from Morel's film (neither did the second film). It was just ninety-five minutes of repetitive sequences. Once again, I will say that John Wick is still the best action film I've seen in recent years. It did everything right and was perfectly executed.
The story is considerably much more different than the previous two films in which no one gets taken. Though you could say that Lenore dying is her being "taken" from Bryan and Kim. Going in a different direction would I guess be the right choice in trying to salvage what little you have left, but Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen just can't come up with a story with giving a damn about. It's still Bryan Mills going around doing what he does best with his "particular set of skills". The villain is just as weak as the previous film and the final fight scene between him and Bryan is hilarious. Seeing Liam Neeson get beat up by a guy in his skivvies (underwear) is probably the funniest thing I've seen all year. And it's only January.
With the acting, Liam Neeson is Liam Neeson, so there's not much to it. He shows up, kicks ass, gets his ass kicked, get's paid, end of story. I applaud him for still going strong at his age, 62. Maggie Grace doesn't have a whole lot to do in this film, other than being the "damsel in distress" plot device in the closing moments of the film. She does look better as a blonde however. Forest Whitaker plays a cop and pretty much reprises his characters from Out Of The Furnace and The Last Stand, and is only there to either state the obvious or something cop-like. Everyone else is just there to serve Bryan Mills and the story a purpose.
Is Taken 3 better than the second film? It at least tried a different director, but failed to do anything exciting with it. So to answer the question, no, It's just as bad, if not worse. I did like the opening titles showing aerial shots of Los Angeles at night with "Toes" by Glass Animals playing. Other than that, it's just another Luc Besson-produced, terrible action film.
Please, Luc Besson, No Taken 4. I'm begging you.
"I'll come for you, I'll find you, and we both know what's going to happen."
The Imitation Game - 2014 - 4/5 - Directed by Morten Tyldum - starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
"Are you paying attention?"
The Imitation Game is one of the better biopic films to come out this year, as well as recent memory. While the trailer for the film left me a bit unfazed, the overall film itself was actually a surprise, as I found it to be better than expected. Is it still Oscar bait? Yes, but at least it's enjoyable as well as being highly interesting too.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a highly sophisticated and intelligent man who is recruited by Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) to help break a German Enigma code that has simply been deemed unbreakable. Turing assembles his team of code-breakers as they attempt to break code, meanwhile Turing is working on a machine called Bombe, an electromechanical device that would help decipher the Enigma and change the tide of the war (World War II, to be exact). The Imitation Game spans three timelines, his work on the Enigma code, his years at a boarding school, and his years after the war where he tragically frowned upon for his sexuality.
I wouldn't call The Imitation Game a thriller film at all as there's nothing remotely thrilling at all, unless Benedict Cumberbatch simply puts you on the edge of your seat, waiting for more, than go figure. It's a drama film, a very well made and competently made one at that. It's also a war film too, but isn't at all overly political. It's more of a behind the scenes war film, seeing how much work and dedication Turing and his team spent trying to break Enigma, which would ultimately help change the tides of the war and put it in the favor of the allies. For a World War II film, it's better than 2014's previous WWII film, Fury by a great deal. We are also shown the genius of Turing and the beginning of computer science and how it progresses.
While we see his genius and intellect, we are also led to believe that he is overly eccentric and possibly even autistic. In reality, Turing wasn't autistic, yes he was a bit eccentric, but it's the flashbacks to his childhood at boarding school that want to think otherwise and that Turing was very socially awkward. He wasn't autistic nor was he remotely socially inept. This course was most likely taken because it would possibly have a bigger impact of someone with things like this being depicted as a true genius. It didn't really work for, as it would've had much more impact, if not more, by just having Turing being Turing, not depicted as otherwise.
The acting is very good here, with the best coming from the leading actor, Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is a really good actor, and this is easily his best film to date. Of course people and audiences will still manage to look at him as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and Sherlock Holmes on BBC's Sherlock. The Imitation Game is really just a one man show, and his acting is very good. Complex, and layered, though restrained without going into overacting. The rest of the acting is needless to say very good, but none equate to Cumberbatch's performance. Keira Knightley however just didn't do it for me. Probably because I don't particularly find her that great of an actress, but she was just okay here.
The Flashbacks, while they lend us an idea into who he has, I feel could've either been handled differently or just removed entirely. I would've liked it if they took a chance and actually delved more into his sexuality. Turing is an important figure in World War II and history entire, though his sexuality led to his collapse. Back then, it was crime to be a homosexual. A shame, considering how important and crucial he was during that time. I think his sexuality could've been much more front and center than it originally was, while still focusing on Turing and his work and not being distracting. It doesn't frown upon it at all in the film, and it isn't the major factor in it either.
I have to mention this, but is Alexandre Desplat really the go-to composer for basic scores that come into play when something important happens, on top of virtually being unidentifiable? I really cannot stand any of his scores, except for two, which were surprisingly good.
While there's some flaws present in the film, The Imitation Game is surely a very well made film. Sure it's dramatization of Turing is a bit questionable (for me at least), but it is definitely one of the better biopic films of 2014, and at least better Oscar Bait than say The Theory Of Everything.
"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."
American Sniper - 2014 - 4.5/5 - Directed by Clint Eastwood - starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller
"If you think that this war isn't changing you you're wrong. You can only circle the flames so long."
American Sniper is directed by Clint Eastwood and tells the story of Chris Kyle, SEAL Team 3 soldier for the U.S. military and is the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. The film chronicles his early life as a child and a young man, before thrusting us front and center to the battle hardened Navy SEAL who would serves four tours of duty in the middle east. Kyle was the subject to numerous attempts of IED killings, six actually, and had a bounty placed on his head during the war. American Sniper also shows the effects of war on a soldier and the mental side in the film and doesn't stray away to being filled with unnecessary politics and propaganda. It's a war film, a biography, and one about a man who did a great deal of service to his country, who's life was tragically taken away by a fellow soldier coping with PTSD that he was trying to help.
If I told you that this was Clint Eastwood's best film as a director since Unforgiven you'd probably call me crazy. War films, specifically those about the wars present, tend to have an effect on me. WWII films are played out. Why is it these modern war films just have an enduring effect on me? Maybe it's because I have friends in several different branches in the military or because my dad is a former U.S. Marine, or because I too nearly joined the Navy (and still think about this). I don't know, I guess it's all of it really. A friend of my sisters pulled two tours in Iraq, and is now suffering from PTSD, and it's hard to see him try and cope with the horrors of war he's seen.
One of the biggest things Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall do is present this film as not just an action-war film. It focuses on the mental side, and the horrific and grueling side effects war leaves on you -- especially after pulling four tours. We see why Kyle enters the military, reasons being the conflict in the middle east as well as to serves his country. He goes in a normal man but comes out a different one. The things he's experienced, from having to take lives from children that mean to inflict danger on those you are set to watch over. From taking heavy fire and not knowing if this is going to be the end. War changes everyone, and for some, you become so conditioned to it, you just go back and back. Four tours of duty is a lot on the mind.
A normal life at home wasn't so normal for Chris Kyle, so he kept going back, because that's what your conditioned for. Being a known Republican, I was surprised that Eastwood didn't attempt to make this a film of propaganda or politics. Of course there will be people that will say that the boot camp scenes are propaganda for ways to draw viewers into joining the military, or that the film is keen on showing a glimpse of 9/11 solely political reasons. American Sniper is biography film, showing the life of a man, but most importantly, his troubles and dangerous sides of war.
When I heard Bradley Cooper was going to play Kyle, I was scratching my head. Could it work, I thought to myself. Then I saw a picture of a bearded, bulked up, military fatigues wearing Cooper and saw the dedication he put himself through in trying to accurately playing this man. And you can see it. Anyone can put on a uniform, grow a beard, bulk up and grab an M4A1 rifle, but you still need to put in the effort. Bradley Cooper does just that, as he really does justice to the deceased Navy SEAL. He completely transforms and just loses himself in the process and is terrific in the role. Definitely his best role to date and career changer.
When It was announced that Spielberg was doing the film, I wasn't too thrilled, since I don't think he's made a good film in quite some time. When he left and Eastwood came in, I was excited. It feels different than what he's done in the past as a director, and I truly believe this is his best work behind the camera since Unforgiven. He not only manages to capture the emotions and life at home in the states very well, but create tense, thrilling action scenes in the middle east. The man surely knows how to director action scenes as I thought they were done perfectly, shot and edited with precision.
If there's a complaint I have It's that it doesn't really look too far into Kyle. By that, the film doesn't really show the fact that he wasn't too good a person and came off as an a**hole. I attribute that from all of the violence he's seen and done as well. I appreciate what Eastwood and Hall have done here, but It would've been interesting to see how they handle that side of him. However, I'm also graceful of what they showed and displayed of him in the film at the same time. We're able to see the hardships he's been through and ultimately thank him for his contributions and serving us. Maybe including more about him and his personality, would've deterred us away from giving a S***.
I can't say anything else about American Sniper other than I was completely surprised with how well it turned out. The writing is good, the direction from Clint Eastwood is top notch, and Bradley Cooper's performance as Chris Kyle is a marvel. It's a film that I can see getting some flak on here, but I stand by my words proud. This is a fantastic film.
Two silver star medals. Five Bronze star medals (valor). One Navy and Marine Corps commendation medal. 2 Navy and Marine Corps achievement medals. One hundred-sixty confirmed kills, two hundred-fifty five unconfirmed. Longest shot recorded at 2,100 yards away. Chris Kyle, "The Devil of Ramadi".
"I just want to get the bad guys, but if I can't see them I can't shoot them."
The Gambler - 2014 - 2.5/5 - Directed by Rupert Wyatt - starring Mark Wahlberg and Michael K. Williams
"Red or black, all or nothing, all the money down, that's all I'll do."
I reviewed the original The Gambler film (No, not the one with Kenny Rogers, dammit) some weeks ago. It's a terrific film and really shows the degeneration of gambling addiction with one man, Axel Freed. Why Paramount thought remaking this was going to be a great success, I'll probably never know, but The Gambler is nothing more than a modern remake of a hugely underrated film that tries to be more in line with the cynicism of today. In short, It wasn't the piece of S*** I thought it was going to be, but it was still hugely uninspiring.
In Los Angeles, California, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a literature professor who happens to be a compulsive gambler. Jim is $260,000 in the hole and has just seven days to pay his debts to Lee (Alvin Ing), a Korean businessman and Neville Baraka (Michael K. Williams), a loan shark. Jim then turns his attention to his mother, Roberta (Jessica Lange) for the money as well as another loan shark, Frank (John Goodman), who tells him to adopt a "F*** you" attitude in the process.
I think Karel Reisz's original film with James Caan works great as both a drama film and a character study. Toback's script was keen on having Axel Freed being this compulsive gambler and just putting himself further in a hole. He was someone that despite having a severe problem, you sort of wish the best for. William Monahan decides to do the same thing again, making this a character study of Jim Bennett, but it just doesn't work. Bennett comes off too much of an a**hole to even care about, and we can see that through his friends (lack-thereof), students, and family. There's no depth or characterization to Bennett, or even anyone. It's just bland all across the board.
Mark Wahlberg may have sat it on many university lectures and lost sixty-one pounds, but this is far and above his best performance. He lacks charisma, then again, not that he's supposed to play Jim Bennett with any, it's as if he was just bored throughout. As a gambling addict, yeah I can believe him about the same as James Caan. As a professor of English Literature, no, absolutely not. Axel Freed was passionate about his teachings and English literature, Jim Bennett is just an asshole who happens to love Brie Larson. Axel Freed is a character that may not seem likable, especially after gambling $44,000 that was supposed to relieve him from debt, but Bennett is just a moron and someone you just don't care to root for. Maybe he looked at actors like Christian Bale and Jake Gyllenhaal who have lost extreme weight in hopes of getting more recognition, but it doesn't work. Wahlberg simply isn't believable, nor good.
The rest of the performances are pretty much phoned in, including Brie Larson who plays the love interest, but she's just there as a plot device for Bennett to not be that much of a dick and for him to sort of be himself. Until the two go out and he gambles $260,000 away like nothing. The girl was needed for Reisz's film, but here, it's just throwaway. Same thing goes for Jessica Lange's role, who probably could've had more to work with, but ultimate is left with nothing. John Goodman is good along with his interesting "f*** you" philosophy, though he only has four, maybe five scenes. On the other hand, Michael K. Williams was great as loan shark Neville Baraka, then again, Williams has never really been bad in anything. His scenes with Wahlberg are among the best in the film and he's the only one who seems to embrace his character and just have fun.
The film begins interesting, before becoming uninteresting and relying on scenes and aspects of the 1974 film to be updated and retold, rather than completely do new things, take chances and make something that isn't on the heels of being eerily similar of the original film. I didn't care for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes along with Rupert Wyatt's direction, and I didn't care for it here. He doesn't have any sort of flair that makes anything in the film remotely interesting or appealing to digest. It looks and feels like any other crime film, despite being a drama/gambling film. Instead we get a generic looking film. Funny, since at one time Martin Scorsese was at one time attached to direct with Leonardo DiCaprio set to play Jim Bennett. Maybe Scorsese + DiCaprio could've done wonders with Monahan's script, but we'll never know.
Did I want to like this? In a way, yes, because there are some decent moments in the film, but it's just too keen on being generic and average rather trying to be great, let alone just good. Maybe if Mark Wahlberg actually had his acting switch on, I probably would've liked this more, but in the future I'll just sit down and watch James Caan as Axel Freed in a much more superior film.
"I'm not happy. You know why? Because I'm teaching the modern novel to classroom full of students who don't give a f***."
Whiplash - 2014 - 5/5 - Directed by Damien Chazelle - starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons
"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job'"
As soon as Whiplash had ended, I grabbed my phone, placed in my earbuds and starting playing one of my favorite songs with some of my absolutely favorite drumming. "When The Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin. While it certainly isn't of the jazz genre and can come off as sort of basic drummer (I beg to differ), John Bonham's drumming speaks to me the same way Buddy Rich's speaks to Andrew, our main character in Whiplash. I've heard nothing but praise in every aspect of this film. Now that it's ended, I feel incredibly relieved. Whiplash isn't a thriller, but sure had me on the edge of my seat like one. Damien Chazelle has crafted a film that completely blew me away and pretty much took the coveted number one spot for my Top 10 of 2014.
19 year-old Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a jazz drummer who is accepted to the best music school in the United States -- Shaffer Conservatory. There he begins his schooling as a drummer alternate in a class of other musicians under the teacher of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Though everything seems fine as Fletcher appears nice to Andrew, his true side comes out: A master manipulator and a perfectionist of music and sound. After being publicly berated by Fletcher in front of the class, Andrew Spends all of his free time practicing and getting better. As well as hopes of being the core drumming for Fletcher's jazz orchestra on top of earning his respect. Even if it kills him.
Whiplash is taken from the short film of the same name by Chazelle, who adapts it into a full length feature. Normally I'm not to crazy on music based films, and the only one in recent memory that I've liked is Inside Llewyn Davis. Whiplash is above and beyond the most different and darkest I've ever seen. It's expertly written that is just intuitively rich and one of the best screenplays of 2014 I'd say. What starts out like a normal music-based film, takes a left turn the minute we are introduced to Terrence Fletcher. After that, Chazelle takes to Fletcher's Hell. A hell that consists of berating other students, throwing chairs, yelling, spewing out obscenities, etc. He's literally the teacher from hell. He'll use anything he can against you, mentally, to break you down and kick you when you're down. Unless you understand what he wants loud and clear and you follow his tempo, you're just spinning in your own madness.
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
The best way for me to compare Terrence Fletcher is to that of a drill instructor during the boot camp days in the military. My dad was in the Marine Corps. and has stated many times, the hardest part (albeit in the beginning) is to endure them. They simply don't give a damn who you are, and they will be in your face screaming, kicking the S*** out of you until you get the training course correct. It's the mental training. While Fletcher may not be a drill instructor, he certainly acts like one. He simply will not tell you "good job". His methods are indeed way out there, and extreme, but sometimes it takes someone elses madness to bring out the very best in us. That's Terrence Fletcher. You need to be able to get the material down to a T, follow his instructions, and block out his tirades.
In the beginning we think Fletcher is just an asshole who likes to be violent and angry with others, but it isn't until the last half hour of the film, where we begin to think otherwise. He loves music, he loves teaching, and he wants to find the next great jazz musician. It's his methods that just bring out the very best in us. They are indeed extreme, and have actually led to a former student of his to emotional stress and depression, which in turn led to suicide. That tells you, that he is indeed a different kind of teacher. For Andrew, all he want's to do is be a great musician like Buddy Rich. After meeting Fletcher, he wants more than that. He want's his respect and he wants to be the best in his class. Even if it means playing the drums until his fingers begin to bleed, distancing himself from his father, and abruptly stop dating his girlfriend. By the end of the film, wee see how much of an amazing talent he truly can be, and while he may not suddenly like Fletcher all of a sudden, he has at least earned his respect.
The acting is fantastic, no actually, that's an understatement, no adjective can simply describe the acting in Whiplash. Miles Teller comes across as an okay actor to me, but man was he just absolutely amazing here. Displaying a full range of emotions as well as playing off of J.K. Simmons so well. And now I come to Simmons, who is probably a major reason to see Whiplash. Simmons is normally a comedic actor, as I really haven't seen him in much dramatic roles. While he does comedy well, Terrence Fletcher is a character he was born to play. Fletcher fits him perfectly like a glove, he's just spellbinding in this film. You literally cannot take your eyes off of him in each scene he's in. He will make you laugh, he will make you cry, he will make you scream. This is easily his best acting of his career and best supporting role of 2014. If he doesn't get an Oscar Nomination, let alone win the Golden Globe, I'll throw my chair at my tv. He's that good.
Each shot is perfect in every way, whether it's just the basic session scenes, dialogue exchanges, or the concert hall performances, all are great. However, the real beauty to Whiplash is the editing, crisp cuts in scenes. But it's during the drumming sections where it just comes front and center and so sharp and breathtaking. This is one I'll be rewatching in the future just based on the editing alone. It's by far some of, if not the best editing of 2014. Whiplash is just more than a feast for the eyes, it's aesthetically pleasing. Musically, there's no score, just a jazz soundtrack that's outstanding. The sound (editing/mixing) is also perfect as well.
In short, I loved Whiplash more than I anticipated I would. It told me that no matter how extreme people like Terrence Fletcher may be, we need them. We need them because they break us down and we build ourselves back up. We realize our full potential and the very best we have inside of us. Thank you, Damien Chazelle for such an outstanding film.
"I'd rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was."
Kill The Messenger - 2014 - 4/5 - Directed by Michael Cuesta - starring Jeremy Renner and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
"My friend, some stories are just too true to tell."
Kill The Messenger was a film I had been waiting to go into wide release for some time, but I guess it just never happened. Shame, because the source material and real life story is quite fascinating. As it would turn out, Kill The Messenger is an excellent film and probably the best biopic film of the year with great writing and directing and a powerhouse performance from Jeremy Renner, one I would call his finest of his career.
1996, Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) is a reporter working for the San Jose Mercury who covers primarily alleged drug dealers. One day he gets a phone call from Coral (Paz Vega) who says her boyfriend, Danillo Blandon (Yul Vazquez) was working with the government importing cocaine and arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Webb traverses gaining insight on the governments involvement and discovers it was in fact the CIA illegally funding a war and receiving cocaine. After Webb publishes his article, he becomes the target of media backlash and is shunned by his peers for his work of revealing the truth, all while the CIA denies everything. Webb would eventually quit his job and over the years became ridden with depression and eventually committed suicide, but he never bad or wrong about admitting the truth of the CIA.
Kill The Messenger has a large ensemble cast to support leading man, Renner, though it's his show really. Jeremy Renner is a solid actor, and his performance as Gary Webb is by far his best since probably The Town. Hell, even The Hurt Locker. He's a charismatic reporter who just wants to do his job and tell the truth and as the film goes on he becomes the target of the CIA and the media which eventually drives to madness as well as being shunned away by his peers. Renner's performance is probably my favorite of the year, and I would say it's right up there with Steve Carell and Jake Gyllenhaal from Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler respectively.
This isn't a conspiracy theory type of political thriller, as Webb exposed a national secret. All the facts are presented and laid out in front us, though the film still maintains a level of secrecy throughout as the CIA quickly attempts to cover-up this secret. At an hour and forty minutes, it moves a great pace, and never slows down. It draws us in for a ride and doesn't let go until the ending credits. It builds everything up nicely and has along for the researching ride alongside Gary Webb. Kill The Messenger is a very well made political drama/thriller that is a must see. It's a shame it didn't get a wide release considering how great of a film it is. A must see.
"I thought my job was to tell public the truth, the facts; pretty or not, and let the publishing of those facts make a difference in how people look at things, at themselves, and what they stand for."
Selma - 2014 - 3.5/5 - Directed by Ava DuVernay - starring David Oyelowo and Tom Wilkinson
"We're here for a reason, through many many storms."
I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't impressed with Selma. It actually turned out to be a rather well made film, one that fits in perfectly with our society and political issues in the U.S. now more than ever. Despite some historical inaccuracies, Selma is a great historical film with a powerhouse performance by leading man David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. Selma follows the work from King as he and other African American citizens in the United States march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, as part of a movement to achieve voting status to African Americans in a part of the south where racism and hatred was at it's worst.
While Martin Luther King, jr. is the lead character of the film, don't mistake Selma for a second that it's in anyway a biopic film on his life and work. Selma only covers a portion, albeit small, of his life, but it's arguably one of his greatest. It's more of a historical film, and one of the better made and told ones too. One that perfectly orchestrates a period of time where racial tension was at an absolute high in the south, much like it is now in modern times. Director Ava DuVernay doesn't sugarcoat anything, and shows the tension for what it is, as well as the blowback on both sides -- for King and the President.
Surely at times, Selma can easily be too sentimental, but it's still presented in a great way. David Oyelowo's performance as King is nothing short of excellence. Perfect capturing the man's presence which immediately catapults you the first time you see him. Oyelowo makes you believe he truly is Martin Luther King, jr. However the rest of the cast is really underdeveloped and really are pushed to the side. This is King's film, but there's several times where we're introduced to new characters and it feels as if we're forced to understand them and feel for them, but in the end it falls short due to being underdeveloped.
Another factor I didn't like was the portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson. I thought Tom Wilkinson did a hell of a job as LBJ, however the filmmakers decision to have be a sort of barrier that was standing in the way of King from achieving his success in Selma and whatnot just didn't bode too well with me. While in reality there were times with King and Johnson didn't agree with one another, there still was a mutual line of respect for one another and their respective work with the country and shaping it up for what it is now. I felt it was done this way as means to strengthen the overall tone of the film. Not to mention that for a historical film, there's several times throughout where the film slows down considerably.
On the positive side, Selma is perfectly shot by Bradford Young. There's not a moment throughout the film where it looks of a lesser quality. Taking the "Bloody Sunday" march for example, the scene is shot explicably well as well as edited well, presenting an atrocious moment in history in a chaotic way, much like it really happened.
While I don't think I'll see Selma it is definitely worth a watch, and one of the better Awards consideration films from 2014.
"I'm no different than anybody else. I want to live long and be happy, but I'm not focusing on what I want today."
A Most Violent Year - 2014 - 5/5 - Directed by J.C. Chandor - starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain
"You will never do anything as hard as staring someone straight in the eye and telling the truth"
The minute Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" began playing over the cold, winter of 1981 New York City, I knew I was in for a treat. A Most Violent Year was more than a treat, it was a crime film that reminded me of the ones from the late 70's and early 80's. It was a different type of crime film to come out all year. With outstanding writing and directing from J.C. Chandor, striking cinematography by Bradford Young, and amazing performances from leads Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, I'm happy to report that A Most Violent Year was just absolutely terrific. One of the best films made about the American Dream.
Set in New York City, 1981, a year that was statistically one of the most violent in the city's history. It follows on immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) who has spent the last twenty years or so, building and expanding his business as well as capitalizing on opportunities. Abel owns a heating oil business and for the last several months his trucks have been getting ripped off, costing him a fortune. With the DA, Lawrence (David Oyelowo) looking to persecute him, It's up to Abel and his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain) to survive this nightmare in 1981 New York City.
What makes A Most Violent Year such a great, compelling piece of crime film is how different it works. You won't see mobsters or gangsters or crazy shootouts here. It's a riveting tale on the American Dream, and one that is substantially different that say Scarface and Spring Breakers. Abel Morales isn't a gangster, he's a man who came to the United States to make a living and a name for himself and his family. He's done just that and thriving off success as much as he can. Sure he's done some stuff that you can call questionable, but in the end of the day, he's just a man living the life and the dream. It's an amazing crime film, that's written so expertly and directed with sheer confidence.
It's a crime film that is similar in vain of those from the late 70's and early 80's where characters and atmosphere mattered more than grit and violence in today's crime films. It has a very old school look and feel to it. There's certainly a few thrilling sequences in the film, including a chase towards the end of the film which was done well. It maintains a mood throughout the film that stays consistent and a very tense atmosphere that just draws you in closer and closer the more the film goes on. Not to mention the beautiful cinematography by Bradford Young. Having seen now three of his films, he's quickly becoming more and more impressive behind the camera. He presents both the beauty and the bleak sides of New York City in the film.
Oscar Isaac's performance as Abel Morales is a work of brilliance. I thought he was outstanding in The Coen Brothers' 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis and here in A Most Violent Year he's better. Al Pacino is my favorite actor of all time, and Isaac literally channels his inner Al Pacino based off his intensity and emotions alone. His performance is only rivaled and at few times in the film, surpassed by Jessica Chastain. All those nominations and wins she's garnered for this film are completely justified, she gives a hell of performance here, further proving to be one the finest working actresses of our time. Isaac and Chastain have such great chemistry, that it only boosts the film up higher.
It's crazy how one film can change everything about how I feel. I recently called Whiplash my top film of 2014 and stated that it would most likely stay there. Then I watched A Most Violent Year, and everything changed. This film was just masterful from the opening frame to the closing frame. A great job by J.C. Chandor in creating one of the finest crime-drama films in recent time. I have nothing but praise for A Most Violent Year.
"When it feels scary to jump that is exactly when you jump. Otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can't do."
Unbroken - 2014 - 0/5 - Directed by Angelina Jolie - starring Jack O'Connell and Domnhall Gleeson
"Don't loot at me."
If there's one thing I've learned in regards of 2014 in film, it's that I've seen enough biopics to last a year. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but seriously. Of all the biopics I've seen this year, I've only enjoyed The Imitation Game, despite some flaws and issues I had with it, I still found it to be good. All the other ones are just mediocre Oscar Bait films. In comes Angelina Jolie's Unbroken which takes the cake of worst biopic as well as worst WWII film I've seen. I don't know how she landed the job, but she literally cannot direct, and it's only her second directorial outing.
Unbroken follows Louis Zamperini, a track athlete from Torrance, California who would go on to the 1936 Berlin, Germany Olympic games and establish himself as an Olympic athlete. Afterwards, he would enlist in the Army where he was a bombardier. One day, his plane's engines fail and crashes into the ocean, killing everyone but Zamperini and two other men. Zamperini would survive forty-seven days stranded at sea before being captured by Japanese forces and forced to remain a prisoner of war, for the remainder or WWII.
The story of Zamperini's survival, the real story is a gripping one. It would only be a matter of time before a studio bought the rights to his life and WWII story and developed it into a film. That's exactly what Universal and Legendary have done. Unbroken is just a mess of a film. It tries to be a WWII drama, but it's poorly done, especially for being based on a true story. It tries to be a biopic, but only focuses on one part of his life, arguably his most talked about. It even tries to be a character study of some sort, but it only focuses on the themes of heroism and bravery that have been done to death. Overall Zamperini isn't a completely developed character in the film.
Jolie has no sense of style or direction present in Unbroken. It looks like it could have been made by anyone, and that's how it's presented. It's lazily made in hopes of major awards recognition and a few tears from audience members. It's longer than it should, and barely makes do with getting it's point and themes present, if there ever were any to begin with. Aside from the lazy, amateurish direction, that problem also lies within the script. Hard to believe that it was co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen, and hard to believe it was just terrible. Apparently it was rewritten once Jolie came on board, so who knows if it was her request or the studios. Either way, it's horrible and bland and plays on feats we've seen before.
The acting is stale across the boards. Yes, even Jack O'Connell who plays Zamperini isn't too good. He has glimmers where he's very good in the role of Zamperini, but most of the time he's just dull and not capable of delivering a great performance to carry a film of this stature. When we're supposed to fear and hate the primary antagonist in the second act of the film, Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe (played by Miyavi) the character is presented instead as laughable. I figured Roger Deakins photographing the film would be a saving grace to Unbroken. I was completely wrong, this has to be Deakins' worst work I've seen period. We're talking about the man who has had a storied career really and is such a revered cinematography. He's a master of his art, amongst other great cinematographers of our time, but there's no distinct visual style at all. It's shot like an amateur would shoot (possibly influenced by Jolie), and has an ugly color palate present. Not to mention it looks as if it was shot entirely in front of a giant green screen, as everything looks CGI'd in. Alexandre Deslplat is the go to composer for bland, dramatic cues, and that's what's present here.
Unbroken is lazy, terrible Oscar Bait, but above all, it's just a lazy, terrible film period. It may sound as if I'm being harsh, but Unbroken is one of the worst films I've seen from 2014. Dreadful cinema at it's finest. There's was not one single redeeming factor present in this film.
"I got good news and I got bad news."
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies - 2014 - 4/5 - Directed by Peter Jackson - starring Martin Freeman and Ian McKellan
"Will you have peace, or war? "
Just a year ago, I ended up reading Tolkien's book "The Hobbit" and writing a paper on it just for kicks. I ended up getting a passing grade and it was well received. Did the book change how I feel about the films as a whole? Absolutely not. People have complained that Jackson has changed too much, or rather added in stuff not in the book and taken from the appendices. That's what I like. If he made it just like the book to a T, it would've been nearly different in tone in comparison to the The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. You can say that two Hobbit would've sufficed, but I'm happy with three. While The Desolation Of Smaug is still my favorite entry in the trilogy, The Battle Of The Five Armies is still highly entertaining.
Picking up literally right after the previous film, we're thrust right into the action as the dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) causing mayhem over Laketown. From then on, it's pretty much all action, though it's not until the second act, where the huge battle sequence kicks in and pretty much takes over the course of the film. Up until the battle scene begins, there's a lot highs and lows, specifically in the pacing. It picks up and drops too much, and the love triangle just felt out of place. However, everything is made up for with the battle, as in the book it's really just a page or two, no joke. It's long, yes, but it's highly entertaining. It may not be as epic as The Return Of The King, but it's still impressive.
It's just a visually pleasing, though it's drowned in CGI of course, as the previous films, and the acting is still just as great. If I've learned anything over this trilogy, it's that Martin Freeman is terrific as Bilbo. I also enjoyed the added depth and structure for Thorin and his sendoff was great and hit all the right notes with me perfectly, despite knowing all that happens. As it stands, I'm impressed with this trilogy, and I find them all equally enjoyable. Of course it always receive backlash from others in regards to Jackson's approach of the book, but I am impressed with his work.
Thanks for the fun, Middle Earth. It was nice visiting. Now just as long as Jackson releases the extended cut of both trilogies on Blu-Ray, I'll be a happy camper.
"Farewell, Master Burglar. Go back to your books, your fireplace. Plant your trees, watch them grow. If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world."