The Lost City of Z

The search for a rumored nation of people brings a cryptic explorer to the forefront of the raging jungle. Based on author David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller, ‘The Lost City of Z’ tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett, supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and aide-de-camp (Robert Pattinson), returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. An epically scaled tale of courage and passion, told in writer/director James Gray’s classic filmmaking style. The Lost City of Z is written and directed by James Gray, and is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity.

The Lost City of Z found a way into my heart that very few two hour plus films do anymore. This structure in storytelling and various depth in plots is the kind of justifiable leap that you take when it comes to an investment as big as this one (135 Minutes), and it paid off in presenting to me a film that touches so unapologetically on so many life themes about becoming the person we were destined to become. Sound cliche and a bit tacky, I’m sure, but James Gray’s masterful touch at bringing to life a story with such a massive following like this one, speaks volumes considering our current day release takes place more than one hundred years after the initial setting of this picture. At its core, The Lost City of Z is structured like a horror movie. Don’t believe me? A crew of men take a dangerous cross-world journey of uncertainty to clash with the boundaries of stepping on a land that is run by cannibals. But even so, Gray’s story dabbles in these bloody waters while still capturing an essence that very few nail on such a collective grasp of the details as this one does.

My mind raced at the very brutal consequences of time, and just how important of a hand that it played in Percy’s explorations. One thing that I loved so dearly about this movie was its jumbled sense of time misdirection, which is obviously that of intentional directing by Gray. My lone problem coming out of this film was that the jungle sequences sometimes blend together because there’s no sense of time translation in text, nor in physical features like different clothes or longer beards. Then it hit me; James uses this to establish the pay-as-you-play kind of rules to following your dreams and immersing yourself in imaginative waters. This theory of mine was made even more apparent when he includes text in every time jump in story while Percy and his crew are out of the amazon. To play further into my ideal of this, I believe Gray is showing us how easy it was for Percy to get lost in his own expedition, forgetting the humbling evidence until he gets home. We are treated to gut-wrenching visuals that depict his children and wife getting older, while our central protagonist (At least immediately) still looks the same. It’s touches like this that kept me glued to the on-going events that always seem to stand in the way of this passionate man that was once an order to explore, but has now become his life’s mission.

After you get past the first twenty minutes, the film constantly keeps moving, crediting that of storytelling that paces itself out accordingly in epic style fashion. The film’s responsible direction to show the audience how dangerous and taxing that a trip like this was in 1915 is one that I commend dearly, and this decision radiates effortlessly throughout the film. Physically in brutality, some characters are killed in the waters by creatures that they cannot see. Mentally, the exceeding limits of sanity and bodily torture are pushed through an endurance test of iron man proportions. It all sets up to a finale that has as much sentimentality in heart as it does fear in our confidence with Percy and how much age has finally caught up to him. I fear that some people will feel underwhelmed by the final shots of the movie, but I drank it in for the rewards it instilled into our lead protagonist. It is definitely the peaceful catch-22 that Percy needed, but from an audience standpoint, I can see some complaining about the juice not being worth the squeeze. I disagree because it’s never about what we see, it’s about what HE does, and in that regards, this feels like the peak of the mountain.

The technical tapestry provided some truly elegant aspects to the overall cinematography for Gray’s right hand man, Darius Khondji. As the director of photography here, Darius pops his colorful touch at just the right moments. From the grainy sun-eclipsing shading that vibrantly commute Percy’s enjoyable home life, to the blending of greens that overtake the screen with each trip for this mystical land, this film radiates the conflicting backdrops in land that constantly serve as a reminder just how far these men are away from home. I also greatly enjoyed the makeup work of the 12-person crew that brought the aging process to life in a faithful way for once in Hollywood cinema. It’s rare that I will commend a movie for this aspect because most of the time the aging process is presented in laughably bad context, showcasing an all grey wig, or skin so wrinkled that it looks like our characters have sat in the sun for too long. If you can’t do it right, just cast older actors to play the roles. Thankfully, this film’s production team accomplish so much by doing so little, and it’s in those light touches that we pick up on without being bashed over the head with its gimmick. For Charlie Hunnam, we are treated to a lighter shade of blonde than the one he adorns for the earlier acts of the movie, as well as some light aging around the eyes that tell of the stress that this character has endured. What’s even more impressive is that this crew does it without turning the movie into a laugh riot, something that goes a long way in my final grade.

Not to be outdone by the technical of the story however, the main trio of actors bring so much humanity and personality to their respective roles, each of them giving arguably their best performances to date. I had my doubts about how deep of an actor that Hunnam could be, but as Percy we get the dreamers protagonist who does so without feeling cocky or crass. Hunnam reminds me a lot of a young Brad Pitt for how he is able to emote empathy from the audience who see this man who practically has everything. This is a tough guy with loads of heart to boot, and Hunnam’s urgency brought goosebumps to me on more than one occasion in his fight against time. Sienna Miller also dazzles as Percy’s wife Nina. Miller herself always feels like a chameleon because she transforms her identity over and over again. I was awestruck at how I didn’t recognize her until an hour into the film, when she had been acting in front of me up until that time. Her identity became evident on a random expression that I otherwise might’ve went the whole movie uncertain at this new actress who is holding up her own against the boys. Robert Pattinson though, is the true surprise for me. As Henry, Pattinson commands a redemption tale through the eyes of a struggling alcoholic who now sees purpose for his life. He does it all in his best John Lennon appearance, and it is intriguing how easily this man loses himself in this role, despite a third act that is less than kind to the creativity of his character. Robert has earned a fan out of me because of his subtle delivery that constantly feels like the cloud of clarity for these characters. A cloud that rightfully earns him the status as Percy’s right hand man, a man who is always quick to cast a hilarious truth.

The Lost City of Z is easily the grandest surprise that I have had the pleasure of taking in this year. James Gray adds to an already astonishing list of visual accomplishments by succeeding at his most ambitious project to date; a nearly two-and-a-half-hour epic that pays homage to Herzog and Lean. Hunnam and Pattinson were made for the big stage, committing to a journey of ambiguity that like the water that surrounds them, always keeps rushing. When you walk out of a movie this long begging for more, it’s a sign of a modern classic, and Gray is happy to construct the kind of movies that make you think as well as gasp.

10/10

La La Land

Critically acclaimed musical director Damien Chazelle brings his newest musical masterpiece to the big screen in “La La Land”. In this modern take on the Hollywood musical set in the city of angels, we meet Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dreams in a city known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts. With modern day Los Angeles as the backdrop, this musical about everyday life explores what is more important: a once-in-a-lifetime love or the spotlight. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are drawn together by their common desire to do what they love. But as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart. “La La Land” is rated PG-13 for minor adult language.

Damien Chazelle has always had a finer appreciation for music within his films, and his latest is certainly no exception. After modern masterpieces like Whiplash, my favorite film of 2014, as well as Grand Piano, Chazelle crafts stories that revolve around music and never vice versa. So naturally when the chance to orchestrate a modern musical comes to fruition, he is the perfect choice. Musicals haven’t faired so well on the silver screen over the last twenty years, so to release one during Oscar season is certainly a risk that Damien fully believed in. That confidence and vision is clearly evident from the opening scene because La La Land is a visual spectacle of infectious energy that never slows the pulse or excitement from within its audience. Chazelle articulates not only his most ambitious, but also his signature on the very tinsel of the Hollywood spectrum. Make no mistakes about it by the gorgeous backgrounds depicted in the trailers, this is NOT a calling card to the city of angels. Chazelle depicts this place as a city of tortured and broken dreams that step on whoever to preserve that mystique. An aspect that the movie pokes fun at on more than one occasion.

Shot in gorgeous Panovision and technicolor, the very colorful themes popped so vibrantly throughout the concerto of vibrant set pieces and immense landscapes that played as much of a character as our two lovebirds did in the movie. What garners so much re-watching out of something so articulately crafted is that there’s an obvious color symbolism being used here, with blue for Emma Stone’s character, as well as green to represent Ryan Gosling’s. If I were to add my opinion to the already full pot on this debate, I would say the blue represents the emptiness that plagues Stone and her journey to Los Angeles. There’s clearly something missing within her, and that disappointment rings true in fairytale endings not being what they seem. More on that later. With Gosling, the green can mean many things, but I think it’s his jealousy particularly in that of the hipster music scene that has virtually erased the Jazz history from LA. Throughout the movie, Gosling wishes to open his own Jazz club, but finds that the desire for that genre is slim pickens in the city, a theme that radiates throughout his character arc for the entirety of the movie. In addition to this, the technicolor is a callback to past musicals of the 50’s and 60’s that nearly adds a three-dimensional aspect to the beauty. To say this is one of the most beautifully shot movies of the year, would be an understatement. Chazelle’s best work comes in walking the camera where the characters go, and even through some pretty difficult transitional dance sequences, the camera always seems to catch the pulse of that particular musical number.

Speaking of music, my review would be a waste if I didn’t mention the grandeur of Broadway meeting the dream-like atmosphere of Hollywood for a toe-tapping marriage. Every musical number here is totally original, and even Stone and Gosling lend their vocal work to such an offering. What is surprising is how on-key both of them deliver in their emotional release through every song. Holding a note and acting in-sync is a very difficult thing to manage, but both of them omit it effortlessly through the more than twenty musical sequences throughout the movie. Some of my personal favorites were “Someone in the Crowd”, a dress-up whimsical between Stone and friends as she gets ready to meet Mr Right. The personal surefire Oscar pick for me however, is Stone’s “Here’s to the Ones Who Dream”, a majestically haunting storytelling of the fools who fall for the charm of a city famous for crushing dreams. Both of these you can listen to below. The music is welcome to overstay its presence, but Chazelle instead knows how important his characters are to the storytelling, so both methods of exposition are given ample time to never make you yearn the absence of the other.

For two solid hours of a musical/comedy, I was very impressed by how much dramatic depth lied underneath the atmosphere. These are two equal protagonists whose stories are diversely as important to the overall themes of the movie, and Chazelle never falters as a storyteller. This is very much the anatomy of a real relationship in all of its highs and lows. This of course offers a very realistic approach to something so silly and musically accompanied in delivery, and that’s something that most musicals commonly struggle with. The only minor critique I had about the story is that there’s a plot element introduced about thirty minutes into the movie involving Emma Stone’s disposition to not go all the way with Gosling, and it’s kind of introduced and then disposed of within a ten minute arc. Not something that the movie necessarily needed as a dilemma, and I think taking it out wouldn’t have hurt anything creatively. What I do commend the film for is in the ending that feels right at home with the very themes of this desired location. I can see this being a conversation piece among couples who see the movie, but I thought it played life very real and pure from an engaging point of view.

Stone and Gosling also radiate pure chemistry off of their timeless delivery and modern approaches to a forgotten era of cinema. This is a coming out party in particularly to that of Stone, offering a fresh take on her every-girl persona that is so easy to fall in love with. There’s a great pain to Stone’s Mia, and that empathy registering in all of our stomachs for her character feels prominent through everything she goes through. As I’m sure, everyone who knows me knows I’m a pure Emma-enthusiast, so it should come as no surprise how delightful she was in this movie. What might shock you however, is that I don’t consider Stone a very versatile actress in terms of delivery. That was however until La La Land. This is very much her shining moment to join Hollywood’s elite, an echoing effect that transcribes art imitating life. Gosling is a noble gentlemen straight out of the 60’s, and leading men like Bogart and Gable would clap aloud for Ryan’s gentle touch. His character goes through a transformation of sorts midway through, but it never changes what we indulged about his performance in the first place; endless heart and charisma that prove he’s more than a handsome face. The success of this couple is easy to get behind because we understand through life’s muddy waters how important this brief moment of happiness can be for the other person involved. They very much serve as the inspiration to the other one, and while this isn’t an original take for film, it is one that works every time with two actors as engulfed in chemistry as they are. This is Stone and Gosling’s third movie together, and it’s clear that they are both at their peak when they stand across from the other. Chazelle paints them a beautiful canvas, then lets the actors remind the audience why we’re here in the first place; for a look into two crazy kids who bleed emotion for each other.

If everything I have mentioned above hasn’t encouraged you to see Damien Chazelle’s modern masterpiece, then take with you one final critical praise. La La Land sways to the serenade of an Oscar worthy musical score, while treading along to the beat of life’s many switching lanes. It’s an ambitiously infectious shooting star that transforms Hollywood to a much simpler time of filmmaking. Chazelle’s wizardry doesn’t require a wand, he does just fine with a camera.

10/10

 

Arrival

Earth prepares for new visitors in the much anticipated follow up for critically acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, called “Arrival”. When multiple mysterious extraterrestrial spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team is put together to investigate, including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Mankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers to the mysterious presence of these outer world creatures. Banks, Donnelly, and Weber will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity, as they brace for the ultimate confrontation with Earth’s newest guests. “Arrival” is rated PG-13 for brief adult language.

Denis Villenueve is perhaps my favorite director working today, and with movies like “Arrival”, it’s no wonder why the bar keeps getting set higher and higher for this remarkable filmmaker. Going into this movie, I expected so many things in one direction, but was taken in a total opposite with the presentation. To anyone expecting a big-budget alien encounter movie, you might be disappointed, but the disappointment will only lead you to much bigger heights. This movie impressed me on every end of the creative spectrum, and perhaps the biggest shame is the fact that the best parts about it I can’t discuss for fear that spoilers will give away too much. “Arrival” deals with so many complex themes and ideas that blend especially with the surface plot of these foreign creatures from another world coming to ours and bringing with them a series of questions that has us on the edge of our seats for the entire time. As far as alien invasion movies go, this is not only the greatest that I have ever seen, but a different kind of monster all together that totally redefines the genre and serves as another testimony to Denis’s magnificence that has already racked up quite the filmography of instant classics.

The story is very layered, often times shuffling between this invasion, as well as flashbacks with Louise’s character that gives us some insight into her backstory. It’s orchestrated with an enriching quality to storytelling that takes us in many directions long before the twist, and what a beautiful one it is. The story is the most important aspect here because it is what creates the tensions, not the visuals which is par for the course to this particular genre. What really amazes me about this story is that there were so many problems that I had initially with the movie in the first two acts that had me shrugging my head as to why so many critics were giving above favorable reviews to it. Then it happened; the twist heard around the world. I stood astonished as all of my problems evaporated into thin air once I understood the logic behind their reasoning. The slow pacing and illustration of every situation with our protagonist’s test subjects was there so the audience could always remain eye-to-eye with the very turns the that the story entails. Some matters within the flashbacks that didn’t quite add up to the continuity in which they are told, was literally wiped away in one swoop that left me internally applauding the true brilliance of modern day storytelling. It’s something special in 2016 when something can throw you completely for a loop not only in shock value, but in revealing the bigger picture. In that regards, Villenueve’s latest triumph is a good painting up close, but greater when you step back and see what is rendered beneath the beautiful colors.

And what gorgeous and appealing tones they are that captivates our senses for another visual dessert that is always filling and goes down smooth. Cinematographer Roger Deakins unfortunately didn’t join Villenueve for the first time in years, but no step was missed with the vibrantly imposing design in Bradford Young’s rendering. To anyone who has followed Denis, you know that he loves presenting these worlds that are very much ominous and decayed in illustration. This goes well here because we get the sense of a very bleak outlook on life from Louise’s backstory, often struggling to be motivated from her daily routines. The establishing shots not only of the first images of the ship, but with the following shots for our characters from one room to another, reminds us that this is something new and insightful that plays against your typical alien movie. Some of my favorite stylings were those of the mysterious fog that surrounds the alien ship before our initial deposition. This shot alone communicates to us the uncertainty and enigmatic nature that the movie dives right into within the opening fifteen minutes of the film. I can’t say enough for Young’s patient touch on framing and taking in everything around the main focus in every image. This is a cinematography visionary with extreme precision that has me excited for his ideas in the upcoming untitled Han Solo Star Wars film due out in 2018.

One thing that I forgot to mention earlier was that of the social commentary on our own society, which proves that this is the perfect movie for the world at this place and time with everything going on in the idea of dividing others who don’t meet our ideal plans. The movie also focuses heavily on the idea of language barriers and jumbled translations that come with them, projecting a sense of fear or urgency when it comes to our impatience with understanding the whole sentence in structure. With the presence of so many different languages and cultures in the world, we are born into a place that has already labeled us as something different to somebody out there, and that imposition is detailed at such a disadvantage in this film, especially considering the race against the clock of uncertainty as to why our newest guests have harbored here and now.

The great Johann Johannsson steals the show by offering a subtle mastering of pulse-setting tension, as well as articulate volume that never overtakes the scene. The musical tones here are played very accordingly, and sometimes faintly enough that you can barely hear them, but this is masterfully done by Johann because he wants it so claustrophobic and quiet in the theater that you’re afraid to even breathe, something that 1979’s “Alien” masterfully crafted over thirty-five years ago. The encounter scenes with the aliens are nearly on mute, but if you listen close enough, the musical narration guides us through the terrifying waters of uncertainty that bubbles tension deep beneath this sea bed.

Amy Adams performance in this film was fantastic. She has certainly proven herself to be manageable of an extreme degree of varying diversity in the roles she takes on, but her fragile encompassing of the foggy Louise proves that this is a woman destined for something greater. She seems to be in the right place at the right time for this situation, and there is a satisfying reality to this very theory that will have you stunned during the anxiety-ridden finale. Adams grasps our heartstrings without ever shedding so much as a single tear, and that takes remarkable depth from one of the very best situational actresses working today. If I did have one slight critique for this movie it was that it really is a one woman show, as Jeremy Renner and Forrest Wittaker really didn’t have a lot to do to justify their characters existences. Renner is a little different because the finale shakes things up for him slightly, but Wittaker is wasted as the typical FBI guy who is there only to shake things up when the plot deems it necessary. I could’ve used a little more emphasis on both of their backstories, but it wasn’t a make-or-break deal in the grand scheme of this otherwise emotionally engaging picture.

Overall, “Arrival’s” meat is in its story and breathtaking finale that brings it all to life when accompanied with social commentary eerily similar to the adversities we face in our own world. It’s riveting, engaging and very deserving of future re-watches with its reliability on thought-provoking material. Villenueve’s “Arrival” comes in peace, but leaves you in pieces for the spine-tingling cloud of tension that you see coming, but never feels less suffocating once it has engulfed our characters. One of the very best this year.

10/10

Hell or High Water

Two brothers down on their luck in the game of life, set out to rob banks across the Texas landscape, to get rich come “Hell or High Water”. Texas brothers Toby (Chris Pine), and Tanner (Ben Foster), come together after years divided to rob branches of the bank threatening to foreclose on their family land for missed payments. For them, the hold-ups are just part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that seemed to have been stolen from under them. Justice seems to be theirs, until they find themselves on the radar of Texas Ranger, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) looking for one last grand pursuit on the eve of his retirement, and his half-Comanche partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their scheme, and with the Rangers on their heels, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the values of the Old and New West murderously collide, leaving behind a trail of blood and money that will leave the four men changed forever. “Hell or High Water” is directed by David Mackenzie, and is rated R for some strong violence, adult language throughout and brief sexuality.

David Mackenzie has certainly seen his fair share of Westerns, and after taking in a showing of his most recent effort, I can say that he maximizes the most of that experience with a presentation that left me rattled in my seat. For those who don’t know, “Hell or High Water” is garnering quite the positive reactions on all of the movie critic websites, so I was quite intrigued to see how well this movie lived up to the entirely positive reception that it has for itself. I can easily say that this is one of my very favorite films of 2016, and I feel confident that it will still be up there four months down the line when I make my annual countdown list. This movie has everything; sound precision that really packs an audio charge for people who take this movie on in a theater, superior acting to anything that I have seen during this movie season, and a narrative that builds such a powder-keg of spine-tingling tension that never disappoints. What’s amazing to me is how predictable Westerns have become over the last twenty years or so, but “Hell or High Water” breathes new life into a genre that is easily choreographed. This film always kept me guessing, and really builds to a third act climax that will send everyone home with a blurred vision on character morals and what motivates the risky decisions that we take on.

Some of that blur comes in the form of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s emphasis on meaningful characters building to a bigger payoff when that inevitable confrontation finally comes. This movie centers that importance of its characters with an equal time share between two duos that the movie depicts. The first is the law abiding Marshalls in the form of Bridges and Birmingham, and the second is in the on-screen brothers of Pine and Foster. On the former, the law figures could easily come off as the antagonists of this movie, but instead this well devised script tests its audience on the decision of who’s right and who’s wrong by letting them understand both sides of the coin. This makes for an even more difficult decision to that moral question, and as I said before; the answer feels very blurred. With the brothers, you soak in a lot of personality from their robbing of banks day after day. Despite some terrible things they do and poor decisions they make, these two are dedicated to the mission at hand of saving their family farm, and this becomes more evident with the introduction to the sneaky corporate banking system that has become a staple in this West Texas setting. This was one of those movies for me where I wanted everyone to win and come out unscathed, but I knew that simply wasn’t possible. When the consequences come, they mean that much more because of the details I mentioned here. Great characters make for meaningful story arcs, and “Hell or High Water” would be a passing grade if it rested simply on those laurels alone.

Fortunately, the movie has so much more to give to its audience, in the form of sound mixing/editing that rumbled the foundation of my safe zone in the theater. This movie was quite easy to immerse myself into because on more than one occasion I shook from surprise, as several times in the movie the bullets and ammunition hit your ears in an almost fourth-dimensional layering. Everything here feels authentically timed and telegraphed in terms of the firepower that it abuses positively on more than one occasion. The impacts of which left me flinching in my seat, with the reading of every devastating blow.

The cinematography and use of natural lighting also plays a big part in setting the correct tone for this deserted Texas landscape. It’s true, most Westerns take place in a dusty Texas town, but what pushes this movie one step further is that you can almost see the pain from so many citizens who lost what they had because they weren’t bold enough to fight for it. The brothers in this film are the only ones we see near or around their home soil, and that goes a long way in the creative feeling of just how alone these two central characters really are. The banks act as a kind of diamond in the rough or free cheese in a mouse trap, depending on how you see this story playing out. In addition to the visuals, the pacing is impressive considering how dry a story this can get. I never felt bored or uninterested in where the story was going, mostly because the exposition between these brothers kept growing more and more important as the film went on. I mentioned earlier this week in my review for “Indignation” how the greatest parts of the movie aren’t seen, and how important seeing those things are in a film that is played so dry. “Hell or High Water” proved me completely wrong, as this is brilliant storytelling without even one visual to play off of as proof. We learn so much about these characters because their chemistry intrigues us into hanging onto their every word.

For some of that chemistry, the work of Pine and Foster are simply magnetizing here. Ben Foster has always been a very underrated actor to me, charming his excellence and undeterred passion for each role he takes on. But here is something completely different for him. Almost a feeling like the creative leash is taken off of his neck, and we are seeing Foster shine through honestly for the first time ever. That’s not to say that Ben is a gun-toting man-child, but Foster definitely gave me that inside feeling of improv in his character, and it added more and more laughs to a story that needed some light-hearted humor. Pine continues to dazzle. This time encompassing raw human emotion that is so expressive without ever having to raise his voice or shout. I honestly had my doubts about Pine in this gritty role, but Chris has proven me wrong, with a range that delivers patiently for his time to shine within the confines of a loaded cast. Bridges is perhaps my favorite as this rundown Marshall just days from retirement. We have heard this character arc a thousand times before, so what makes the performance here any different? Bridges feels like something out of a Coen Brothers film, channeling menace without ever needing to prove it. I believed that this officer was someone you didn’t want to be on the other side of, and a lot of that is in Bridges grizzled veteran exterior that communicates his best days are behind him. This final case is like getting Bridges ‘Marcus’ in his prime for just a couple days. His intent to strike down becomes more and more clear as the film goes on, and Bridges becomes a metaphorical hawk who is always one step ahead.

Overall, “Hell or High Water” is a lethal dose of Texas gun-slinging that builds sharp tension with carefully constructed precision. It’s a callback to a forgotten era of film making that rough its rugged, timeless feel, offers an air of thought-provoking idealism taking place in a post-recession world. This one is a MUST SEE, and deserves all of the money that your big blockbusters didn’t during this disappointing Summer season.

10/10

Captain Fantastic

“Captain Fantastic” might not be the hero we need, but he is the one we deserve. Matt Ross writes and directs this inspiring drama set in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, with Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) raising his six children off-the-grid by himself because his wife is in an institution for treatment of bipolar disorder. When Ben receives a startling and shocking notice that his wife has killed herself, he takes his children on a road trip to New Mexico to attend their mother’s funeral, despite warnings that his disapproving father-in-law (Frank Langella) will have him arrested if he disrupts the ceremony. Events surrounding the funeral, including one of his children being severely injured, one of them wishing to go to college, and one of them siding with his father-in-law, force Ben to reevaluate his choices regarding his children’s upbringing and education after living in isolation for over a decade. “Captain Fantastic” is rated R for adult language and brief graphic nudity.

“Captain Fantastic” is an outstanding film, and one of my personal favorites of the year. The movie fires on every single cylinder that you can imagine. After watching the trailer, I sensed some comedy, but it mostly played as a drama. That trailer is nowhere near the kind of experience that you are getting yourself into with this one. I laughed, teared up a little, and felt great concern for the many different kinds of people within Ross’s world. This is a tightly paced, beautifully crafted film that doesn’t have to rely heavily on art to get its point across about life and its many themes and lessons. I’ve always thought that the best films should always have you leaving the theater seeking to be a better person, and “Captain Fantastic” is one of those feel good stories too charming not to fall in love with. It’s a movie that showcases the magnitude of importance for family, and the one in this story always kept me interested with their many trials and tribulations with the outside world, that feels foreign to them.

What really opened my eyes during this movie was the experience of getting to watch people from two different worlds and cultures, and watch them interact with each other through some hilarious, but truthful results in their comparisons. On one side, you have the main protagonists who live in the woods and use as little resources as necessary to live the life that they desire. They are very well educated and strong enough to survive on their own if it ever came to it. On the other side, you have the people in our everyday world. The big houses, multitude of food choices, and pop culture invested. They are truly spoiled, but never a loss in this comparison. That’s what I truly love about Ross’s film; no one side is ever better suited for life. Both worlds have things that they do better than the other. It surely would be easy for the filmmakers to weigh heavily towards the side of Mortensen and our protagonists, but they are smart enough to know that there are some genuine concerns within this world that seems so easy. Some of the most enjoyable aspects to me were seeing this family reacting with concern for our video games, fashion sense, and even obese people when compared to the nearly unhealthy skinny bodies of our characters. It never feels forced for comedy, and instead you can sit back and learn because everything is very thought-provoking. There are aspects of your own life that Ross forces you to think about, and he does it without it ever feeling overdone or preachy.

The acting is very well layered and full of enjoyable performances from a mostly young cast. There are six different children in this immediate family that dominates the camera time, but all of them get their time to shine, delivering a vast array of emotional responses when they find out the untimely passing of their Mother. I found myself fully invested in them because their innocence never feels like weakness. These are children who despite their age, are very capable of handling themselves, and all of that comes from Mortensen’s Father/Teacher combo. Viggo has always been a very methodical actor, but as Cash we see a man coming undone at the very eye-opening experiences that his children are having. He’s doing everything for them on his own, so we feel mutually exhausted when the mental walls start coming down midway through. Mortensen is perfect for this role, and his love for these children really became quite evident early on in the film, when the concept of protector was taken to new levels. It was also great to see Frank Langella, even if his role is very brief. When you first meet Langella’s character, you get the sense that he is angry with Mortensen because of the passing of his daughter, but the movie is brilliant enough to really make you see things from his side of the table. Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn are also in the movie, and offer a startling contrast reflective of the naive methods that we use on our children everyday.

The film’s visuals felt very much like a Jean-Marc Vallet film, complete with mental representation on-screen for what our main character is going through emotionally, as well as flashbacks and hallucination scenes that really paint the picture for what kind of things were going on with this family before we ever saw them. Vallet is always someone who paints a psychological picture first, and Ross certainly has done his homework in communicating raw emotions without ever beating the audience over the head deliberately with obvious themes and moods.

Overall, “Captain Fantastic” is a hero and a film that we can all believe in. The ending is beautifully deranged, but it never lost me at any point during its jaw-dropping visuals. The film offers a humble look at the thoughts and ideals that we instill in our children, and how you’re never too old to ever be wrong. Ross crafts an above average drama with some unexpected twists and turns along the way that results in a humorous and enlightening showcase that tugs at the heartstrings of any parent who seeks the best for their children. Very much so one of my favorite films of the year.

10/10

Deadpool

Deadpool

Project X’s favorite Masked Merk returns to the silver screen in search of more positive results than his first effort, in “Deadpool”. Directed by Tim Miller, and Based upon Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, “Deadpool” tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) being on the edge of his deathbed with cancer in every vital organ in his body. Wade who after being subjected to a rogue experiment by a mysterious businessman (Jed Rees) and his two associates (Ed Skrien and Gina Carrano) that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, feels inspired him to adopt the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humor, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life while trying to rescue the love of his life (Morena Baccarin). “Deadpool” is rated R for strong violence, language, and graphic nudity.

“Deadpool” is much more than a superhero film. It breaks through a fourth wall in more ways than one with laugh-out-loud comedy, heart pounding action, and a heart that most superhero genre films carry on without. To say that this movie was great would be an understatement. In all reality, “Deadpool” is the single greatest superhero film I have ever seen. Something that is ironic because the title character is defined as an anti-hero.

At the front and center of the film is Ryan Reynolds. This movie serves as a dream project for the Canadian native, and he has been looking for a chance to film this project since the disappointment that was “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. How does “Deadpool” differ? Well for starters, the film lets Deadpool own the most of every scene with his R-rated humor and quick-wit comebacks. To see any other Hollywood actor in this role would be doing a disservice to the character. Reynolds IS Deadpool. He has invested so much into a character that most crowds knew so little about. What makes his role refreshing is that even despite how unforgiving and menacing he is to his enemies, there is a real person underneath this mask who hurts like everyone else. There were scenes in this movie that touched my heart for their brutal honesty on society and how they sometimes treat someone who looks different. We really feel for the kind of lost life that this guy has endeared, and it feels like this guy just can’t break free from some of the torturous past that has defined the better part of his life.

Behind every good man is a woman, and Morena Baccarin provides wonderful chemistry with her on-screen co-star. It’s convenient that this film drops on Valentine’s Day weekend because the romance between them is something for both sides of the relationship. The two of them are kind of outcasts in their respective worlds, so when they come together it kind of stabilizes all of the nastiness that their lives entail. Where their story really works is in the heartbreaking news for their relationship when Wade is diagnosed with this life-changing disease. The movie does well in its presentation to show the mountain top that these two were on before one event changed everything forever. It’s tough to relate this kind of relationship to both sexes in the audience in any film, let alone one that is a Marvel movie, but it works for every single second. Baccarin shines like a quiet storm whose importance to the film and it’s protagonist greatly increases as the film goes forward. She proves that she is much more than just a damsel in distress.

The action was every bit as hard hitting to offer a 1-2 punch to some of the gut-wrenching laughs the film served up. There’s a feel of Matthew Vaughn meets Zach Snyder kind of cinematography for the way the sequences are shot, complete with everything from quick edits that match the very tight choreography of our characters, to the slowed down shots that showcase so much going on in the background that you might miss if you blink. The most lasting impression in any film is its replay value, and “Deadpool” offers aplenty for the many quick wit hits and on-screen visual gags that you may have missed while closing your eyes to wipe tears of hilarity from pouring down. The movie has an outstanding sense of humor that I haven’t seen in easily ten years, and a lot of that revolves around the breaking of a fourth wall that pokes fun at everything from real life behind-the-scenes drama from past Reynolds films, to cliche-ridden superhero films that often come off as a bit repetitive. It really does serve as the rebel of the group, and nothing ever feels off limits for the masked merk.

If there was one weak spot in the film that served as even the slightest nitpick, it was in the vilain being a little too conventional for a film that pokes fun at that type. One could certainly view it as intentional, but I felt that Ed Skrien’s portrayal just didn’t provide the kind of sinister force that Wilson deserved to really make you doubt his well being in this fight. That’s not to say that the final battle isn’t entertaining, but it’s a little anti-climatic considering Deadpool is a persona who regenerates.

“Deadpool” is the must-see movie event of 2016. During a month known for its box office blunders, Tim Miller’s fresh take on an over-saturated genre goes above all expectations that the months and months of advertising supplied this film. At a 58 million dollar budget, the film looks and feels like a cheap production, and I feel that is the way it should stay going forward with sequels. Be sure to stay after the credits for an instant dose of nostalgia that you would never expect for this character. “Deadpool” is a heart-pounding, gut-wrenching powder keg that never lets its audience up for a breath of air. It’s a game changer that beats them into submission and offers a fun and adult look at just how great the genre could be for many years to come.

10/10

 

The Revenant

The Revenant

Leonardo Dicaprio pushes the envelope as much as humanly possible in pursuit of his first Oscar, as a man searching for revenge, in “The Revenant”. Inspired by true events, Alejandro Inarritu’s latest film captures one man’s epic adventure of survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit. In an expedition of the uncharted American wilderness, legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. He is pronounced dead by these members upon returning home, but two of them know the real truth behind their devilish deed. After witnessing the murder of his own son while physically handicapped, Hugh’s motivations to keep breathing are enhanced by the spirit of revenge. In a quest to survive, Glass endures unimaginable grief as well as the betrayal of his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must navigate a vicious winter in a relentless pursuit to live and find redemption for the spirit of his only love; his son.

At it’s face value, “The Revenant” is a story about revenge, plain and simple. But what Inarritu does artistically and emotionally is craft one of the very best films of the year, and one of the most impactful films of the decade. The sheer volume of breathtaking camera shots, as well as surrounding action and suspense that encompassed my viewing left me gasping for air at the sheer volume of everything hitting at once. The wide angle shots that deliver some of the most beautiful shots digitally showoff the snowy and unforgiving mountainside as faithfully as possible. The film’s location is one that goes on for miles and miles with nothing other than bone-shattering cold and snow for the viewers eyes to see. Inarritu is one of those experimental directors who only comes along once in a while, and his two and a half hour epic will serve as a calling card to the greatness that embarks this man. There are so many impressive and fast paced shots that left me stunned as to how Inarritu managed to pull them off with such clarity. Very little special effects (Other than a CGI bear) are used for the film. Perhaps the most impressive tidbit is that “The Revenant” used natural lighting for every single one of it’s scenes. When the movie is dark, you are seeing everything that the light allows you to see, so in a sense you are at as much of a blindfolded disadvantage as Glass is in the film. My favorite shots are the long shots where Alejandro leaves the camera on during long takes to capture as much as he can without cutting. We saw this breakthrough style of shooting in last year’s “Birdman”, and I am thrilled to goosebumps that the man brought it along for this movie. The gorgeous technique of panning from one side of the screen to the other captures everything without sacrificing the artistic value of the film’s integrity. Just within the opening twenty minutes or so, we are treated to up-close gunshots, as well as arrows flying at the screen, giving the film an almost three-dimensional feel without actually needing the cheesy gimmicks that go along with it.

The performances leave nothing to be desired from every part of the emotional spectrum. If Leonardo Dicaprio doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Actor this year, then I swear to all of my readers that I will no longer watch the prestigious ceremony for as long as I’m alive. This man sacrifices life and limb quite literally with his turn as the legendary explorer Hugh Glass, and it really defined the meer definition of human spirit. Dicaprio is beaten and bloodied during several scenes that really push the envelope for an actor’s job. I have been a huge fan of Leo for over two decades, but this role is by far his best performance to date. What is even more remarkable about his depth is that he does so much with a stare. Glass doesn’t have many talking lines in the film, and what lines hedoes have focuses on his thirst for blood at the hands of his coward adversary. Leo communicates his feelings to the audience by a simple stare or daze that encaptures the misery that this man is experiencing. My favorite actor Tom Hardy also lost himself as the film’s central antagonist, while playing opposite of Leo for the second time in his career. The most dangerous thing about Hardy’s Fitzgerald is that we don’t see a lot of what’s running behind the engine, and that makes for the scariest of vilains. Hardy is a master of voices and disguises, so much so that I nearly forgot a couple of times that he was the man portraying this deep south accent when the camera wasn’t focused on him. I also greatly enjoyed the chops of up-and-coming Domhnall Gleeson as the man in charge. When Gleeson learns the truth, the fire inside of him isn’t quite as vicious as that of Glass, but it burns for a completely different reason. He is a noble leader, and doesn’t give up on his men until the very end.

The story itself centers a lot around rebirth, so it’s no surprise that Inarritu focuses a lot of his time on spiritual visions through the eyes of Glass. There are attempts to always keep the audience guessing with surreal imagery and symbolism, and it doesn’t always come across as informative to the audience. It is a little pretentious and even repetitive during the second act, but it never left me bored or seeking more from the movie’s over-physical stance. The film clocks in at just over two and a half hours, but manages to keep the attention of it’s audience by the violently fast-paced storm of action going on around us.

One thing that is evident in Alejandro’s films is that the man knows how important a musical score can be to the pacing of each suspenseful scene. Musical composer Bryce Dessner and Ryuichi Sakamoto team up for one heart-pounding narration that really takes us inside the mind of Glass, often injecting drum beats playing in-sync with ominous orchestral notes that glorify the pain taking place on screen. These tones signaled to me when terror was lurking, while still leaving a lot of surprise on-screen with a script that never lacked surprises to say the least. If a musical score is done right, it will have the ability to get your heart racing despite the fact that you are watching this on a screen and safe from the film’s terror. Dessner and Sakamoto did accomplished this feat while leaving me humming some of the repeated rhythms.

“The Revenant” is only the third film that I have given a perfect score to this year, and it more than lived up to the hype. It’s a knock-down, spiritual slice of adrenaline that never stops pumping. Despite looking forward to it all year, the film had to earn it’s place with me, and it certainly gave me something that I haven’t seen in 203 films this year; artistic imagination and the translation of four-dimensional physicality. I am still reeling from the brutal nature of this film, but Alejandro Inarritu taught me that the human spirit can withstand anything if love is on the line.

10/10

Room

Room

A Mother and her child’s compact lives revolve around a “Room” that is their entire worlds. The film is the touching exploration of the boundless love between a mother and her child. After Seven years of kidnapped solitary for Ma (Brie Larsen), she decides that enough is enough for her and her child Jack (Jacob Tremblay), and their enclosed surroundings by her kidnapper, the father of five year old Jack. The Room is all that Jack has ever known, but his world is turned upside down when his eyes are opened to the world outside that he is learning for the first time.  As he experiences all the joy, excitement, and fear that this new adventure brings, he holds tight to the one thing that matters most of all; the bond to his Mother, who has literally been his teacher and protector for every day in his life. What “Room” does emotionally goes miles beyond a script that is heartpoundingly intense, it crafts a story that is a child’s entrance into the real world, and metaphorically acts as his first steps into such a discovery. Simply put, if “Room” doesn’t move you emotionally, then you should seek a doctor to make sure your soul is intact, because this movie is phenomenal.

There were so many things about the movie that i want to talk about, as it’s all perfect technically and acted accordingly. On the latter, the performances in this movie will grip you to tears. Larsen gives the performance of her young career, and this movie showed a side dramatically of her that I’ve never seen before. The relationship between Larsen and Tremblay feels natural in it’s simplicity, but made complex in in the many layers of a story peeled back slowly one layer at a time. The film proves that there is no relationship quite like the one of a Mother and her child, and together they can make it through any nightmare. Larsen harrowingly encapsulates every reaction to her Motherly duties, and her performance feels most honest when she sacrifices herself to protect young Jack. While this isn’t Tremblay’s first feature film, this is quite the coming out party for the boy wonder, as he was leaps and bounds the very eyes of this film. I will get more to beautiful camera work of this film later, but many of these scenes we are experiencing physically and creatively through his point of view with the camera. The story follows Jack more than any other character, and i think that says a lot with the kind of faith that director Lenny Abrahamson has in his young prodigy. One of the biggest problems with kid actors is that their performances often feel wooden or forced, but Tremblay’s innocence will merely be the appetizer for a main course that will have your heart pulled in ten different directions. Jacob’s eyes tell the story of everything that he’s thinking, and in a story that revolves around confinement, his emotional response is always played out in the open. It’s quite spellbounding to see him discover things that he hasn’t even dreamed about for the first time. It makes for some of the very best moments of a two hour thought provoker.

The film’s first act is definitely the peak of the film, and that’s not to say that the rest of the film is weak, but the true genius of the film is the things you might not pick up on right away. The shot composition of the film was used very intelligently. Every single shot in the film’s entirety is used for a bigger picture creatively in the limited space of the film’s setting. The movie opens up with a lot of tightly shot close ups of the every day culture and surroundings of these two’s lives. The room feels so much bigger because of the close ups to characters that always put us right next to our two main characters. In more ways than one, the room feels like the real world in the first act, and everything outside of it feels artificially fake, because it’s only seen through the television that is in the shed. It’s very genius of this film’s art direction to never show us the audience anything from outside until it is absolutely necessary. This will earn a bigger response emotionally from it’s audience when we see Jack’s first look at the immense sky that he seems mesmerized by. MINOR SPOILER – There is a part in the film’s finale when the two return to the room as a final goodbye. It’s interesting how now everything feels smaller in the shed when compared to the endless possibilities of a world that Jack is still learning. Abrahamson crafts this by wider shots, as well as visual symbolism for just how empty the room is of all of it’s objects which have been taken by police for evidence, now that the love of the Mother and Son have left the premises. The screenplay is also something that creates a balloon of tension, and makes the audience walk on top of it while trying to keep it from popping. The escape scene in particular was some of the most gut-wrenching cinema that i have seen in 2015, and this is magnified by a musical score that narrates the danger of this boy’s only chance for freedom for he and his Mother. Composer Stephen Rennicks tiptoes around these scenes where it feels like the floor beneath us is going to cave in, but then magnifies his instruments effortlessly when the triumph pays off. Rennicks worked with Abrahamson on his 2014 film “Frank”, and they are quickly moving up the ladder as one of Hollywood’s greatest on-screen 1-2 punch combos.

One thing that greatly pleased me was how this film didn’t fall into the clutches of a made for Lifetime Television movie. Ma finds out quickly that even though the two have left the room physically, they may never leave the room psychologically. This kidnapping has an effect on so many people, and we the audience don’t ever truly think about it until those scenes when everything is supposed to be alright. Some of the greatest tension for the movie is definitely in the reconcilliation of Ma with her parents, including a chilling scene of argumentative dialogue between Ma and her Mother (Played by Joan Allen). Leaving the room is definitely only the start of the film, and you realize this when there is still an hour of the movie when Jack escapes. I don’t feel like i am spoiling anything here because if you saw the trailer, you know i am not revealing anything that you shouldn’t already know. The outline is certainly there in the trailers, but you will want to watch this movie for the sorrow that spins a web of psychological precision that is every bit as crushing as it is triumphant.

“Room” is a story about much more than the desire to carry on. It’s a story about the relationship between two people when they are all they have in the world that is created for them. As a son with an amazing Mother, i can honestly say that Abrahamson film warmed the areas of my heart that have been frozen for years. He constructs an adults tale seen through kids eyes, and it makes for one of the very best films of 2015.

BONUS POINTS – The movie’s setting (believe it or not) is Akron, Ohio. EERIE

10/10

Mad Max : Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road

10/10

Once in a while, you get those films that will change and shape a genre for future films of that particular genre. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is that movie for action films, and it may be the single greatest action film I have ever seen. The film is the 4th installment in the Max franchise. It takes place in the stark desert landscape of Australia where humanity is broken. Two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max (Tom Hardy), a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland. In tow, are five women they have taken from an egocentric madman (Hugh Keyes-Byrne) he uses as mating brides. It all results in a high octane, exhilarating action packed thrill ride that reignites this nearly forty year old franchise. Judging by my grade, i don’t have to tell you i enjoyed the film. There is so much to this movie that will require multiple viewings, as it’s one of those films that you don’t mind seeing days after you just watched it. I was very pleased with not only Director George Miller’s decision to come back to the franchise that made him, but his refreshing looks of sets and props to make this the greatest Max film yet. As a fan of practical effects, i was pleased to find out that this movie is 90% engaged in them. Miller is a director from a past era, so he knows how to get the most out of the money he spends. It costs a lot to do these effects, but it pays off in spades with multiple heart pounding camera shots, as well as choreographed fight scenes that always kept me on the edge of my seat. For such a bleak setting of the desert, Miller really adds an eye-appealing coloring and shading to his backgrounds that really make them pop. The cinematography is among the very best that i have seen this decade. Miller used the first two years of filming the movie to work on the vehicles in the movie, and something as crazy as that paid off hugely, as the detailing work of these war machines are the most important part to the film. The script writing is psychologically in depth while giving us our most human look into our main protagonist. This is the first film that has really explored Max’s psyche as a result of not only losing his family, but his inability to save thousands of people who screamed his name before they died. Those voices play a bigger role in this film than any other Max movie i have seen to this point, and you appreciate the time in detail that Miller took when writing this script. The performances are out of this world. Hardy continues to be my favorite actor, and his take on Max is something that feels like he is at odds with himself. It feels like there is a side to Max that is OK with the apocalypse, but at the same time, always searching for hope no matter how bleak of a chance. Hardy is believable as the character, but the movie makes him feel like something after “Mad Max 2 : The Road Warrior” with how quiet he is during the first act. This in addition to many other personality traits, leads me to believe that Miller ignored that “Beyond Thunderdome” ever existed, and i am OK with that. Nicolas Hoult played a character with a lot of heart. He’s a villain who just wants to be admired by his boss, but the movie changes everything about him midway through, and i couldn’t help but cheer for his triumph in a sad existence. Make no mistake about it though, this movie belongs to Ms Theron. Charlize was so damn good as Furiosa. It’s nice to see such an ass-kicking female protagonist who doesn’t need love to survive for once. The film has been getting a lot of press for it’s take on feminism, but who cares even if that is the case? I love to see women kicking ass, and Furiosa is the best at it since Ripley donned a machine gun in the original “Alien”. She is every bit as tough as Max, and i wouldn’t even mind seeing a prequel film based on her beginnings. I would be doing a disservice if i didn’t talk about the impressive musical score by Junkie XL. The tracks are very similar in tone, but they are used in such great moments that they only add to the intensity of each chase scene. One of my favorite things about the film involved a flame shooting guitar player for no other reason than just than Miller can. It’s pointless and uses gas that frankly no one in this setting should be wasting, but it’s filled with musical delight that you can hear coming from miles away. The only small problem i had with the film (And i’m hugely nitpicking here) was the sound editing in certain parts. Some of the actors come off as hard to understand in certain scenes, and it’s hard to grasp if that’s on the actors or the sound department for having too many background noises at once. If it’s the latter, i appreciate how real their take on loud places are. Too many of films will shoot a club scene where we can hear our actors perfectly despite loud music playing. Even the 3D was enough for me to recommend it. I still feel like 3D technology has a long way to go before we master the most usage out of it, but “Fury Road” is the most bang for the buck. If you are going to see this film, go all out and easily hand the money over. I doubt you will be disappointed. The movie is great overall, but seeing it on your TV at home just won’t do this one any justice. George Miller has given his hardcore fans of the series an early Summer treat with the explosive juggernaut of the year. Thirty years of waiting didn’t spoil the taste of this carnage candy. It was worth every minute of that span. Oh what a lovely day indeed.

 

Whiplash

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10/10

Man oh man did this movie exceed my expectations. “Whiplash” is the story about music major Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) an ambitious young jazz drummer, well intentioned in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons), an instructor equally known for his unequaled teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the country. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man’s life. Andrew’s passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability-and his sanity. I don’t often give out perfect scores for movies, and there is so much to talk about when it comes to this film as one of the best of 2014. If Simmons doesn’t WIN the Oscar for best supporting actor, i will no longer watch the Oscars. Simply put, he is that damn good in this film. His mentoring lessons are very damaging on ones mental psyche, but he has managed some of the greatest musical talents in the country, so there has to be a method to his madness. Simmons pushes the movie to such heart pounding levels of intensity, even to the point of exceeding the very drums he is hearing in the same room. What makes this role so memorable isn’t just the dictatorship, but the understanding of the kinds of pressures that someone with his accolades carries as he has to start fresh with a new group year after year. Simmons has always been known for him comedic talents, but it’s about time that he gets a dramatic role worthy of him carrying a movie. Teller also proves that he is ahead of the class with the next breed of a-list actors. It’s hard to believe this was the same kid who starred in 21 and Over, but he sure has come a long way. You see Andrew coming unglued with each lesson that passes. Every time he takes one step forward with Fletcher, he takes two steps back. The score is easy to talk about because it’s much more than just another musical score; it’s the whole movie. The smooth jazz is so alluring, and so complimentary to the scenes that you find yourself getting aggitated like his students when Fletcher stops them to give feedback. If you are anything like me when watching this film, you will find your toes always tapping to some impressive numbers. The camera editing is among the very best that i have seen in 2014 with a lot of quick cut drum shots to support the volume increasing moments of the drum solos. The pacing was great considering the film has a plot that isn’t anything extraordinary. The movie is very down to earth and knows how to pace every positive and negative with Neyman’s life. One scene in particular i found great was a dinner table conversation with some of Andrew’s family members. The scene has two college men who play football for a division III school, and it’s clear that their family views football as more important than music. It’s a very sad but true realism of the way our society views art. I was also happy to see that a movie knows how to do a great 3rd act, as i felt it was one of the best endings to a movie this whole year. So many films have been close 10/10’s for me, but ruined by an ending that is either unrealistic, or doesn’t mix well with the rest of the movie. I can safely say that “Whiplash” is never dull for a minute. I worry that director and writer Damien Chazelle won’t get enough credit for this masterpiece. A movie like this can only be written and executed on camera by a man with a vast musical knowledge, and it’s clear Chazelle knows what he’s doing. This is the 3rd film he has directed about music, so it’s clear that he has a passion for it. It’s sad that films like this are only showing at two theaters in Northeast Ohio right now, and yet films like Ouija, The Best of Me, and other boring moaners get a wide release. I have often questioned America’s taste when it comes to film, and this movie is evidence of that very question. If you feel like driving a little further, i can promise you it’s worth it. Get out and support this movie. It is one of those rare cases where i am 100% positive you will enjoy it. “Whiplash” is a behind the scenes look at the obsession to be great, and the consequences that come with such obsessions

Boyhood

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10/10

Richard Linklater has created something that tops his already impressive resume of film with his newest movie, Boyhood. It’s a never before done way of shooting a movie over a 12 year span. It’s a story through the lives of two children who live with their single mother and deal with the stresses and situations of such an age. Boyhood is seriously unlike anything i have ever seen in my life. It’s impressive to think that these actors signed up for a 12 year shooting schedule that takes them on a transformation much deeper than just character. The children are of course the biggest transformation as watching them grow is literally like watching family video tapes from a young age. It reflects the characterization in a way that makes you question if we are really watching actors playing characters or a legit team that became a family in 12 years of shooting. There is a scene towards the end of the film where the mother (played by Patricia Arquette) cries after her son finally moves out on his own. You feel her tears because this is literally like watching a real life child of hers move out on her. It’s that kind of chemistry that you won’t find in any other film ever. Think about it, what movie ever took twelve years to make while it’s constantly shooting scenes? The pacing is absolutely genius. It is such a coming of age story about growing up and the awkwardness and bittersweet moments that we go through on our journey of adolescence. The awkward scenes are great because usually in a movie you will get an awkward scene for it to go somewhere later in the film, but in Boyhood it’s done just to reflect the lives we once lived in that era. It’s not to set up any kind of storyline, and i really appreciate that. It keeps me on the edge of my seat when the movie is less predictable. The cast is perfectly crafted with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette being the only big time movie stars in the film. The children (Coltrane Ellar and Lorelai Linklater) don’t ever feel like actors, and maybe that is for the best. It’s really a gamble to know if these kids who become adults are going to be good actors when they get that age because they are cast as an 8 year old. So i appreciated even more that director Linklater took a chance on a film for twelve years because it epically paid off. One of the other unique aspects of the movie is that of the soundtrack. During the year it is in, the movie will play only hit songs from that year. It’s a musical scrapbook of songs from the last decade that will have you trying to pick the song from the tip of your tongue as you listen in the backseat with the children. I can also imagine that it probably cost a lot of money to not only license the songs, but license them from bands who are really among the biggest in the world. Linklater spared no expense on his baby of a film, and it’s clear to see why. It’s also pretty cool to see the gadgets like Nintendo 64 and older model cell phones being used for the respective year they were popular. I am curious to know if it really is product placement when the film they are showing these gadgets off is done many years after they have already been discontinued. I found myself laughing when the kids got to be teenagers and the boy talks about wanting to delete his Facebook page because of ongoing drama. It’s situations like this that makes Linklater a master of studying today’s youth. John Hughes used to get credit as knowing teenagers better than anyone, but i think Richard deserves equal the amount of respect for having to learn about real situations in three different decades for our young stars. The only slight problem i had with the movie was the transitioning scenes where the kids would age a year or two. It happens without warning, and some of the past is never fully explained with relationships or what happened to characters who played an important role five minutes ago. I know it’s not Linklater’s style, but i would’ve preferred to see some small text revealing to us how much time has passed before we see the character with a different look. I think this is done so that he can tell us that sometimes our own children grow before our very eyes. That’s the way i interpreted it anyway. That’s why i didn’t get too mad at the long critique i had for the film. For anyone who has seen Linklater’s earlier work, you know the man is a guru with dialogue dominated films. It doesn’t work better than it does in Boyhood because you already know that these kids will grow up and move on someday. That dialogue shows us the viewer in so many words the subtle nature of these characters. You know that Ethan Hawke is a good, but struggling father to relate to his kids because of the way he stutters to find out anything new in their lives. You know that one of Patricia Arquette’s boyfriends are an abusive alcoholic because of random trips to the liquor store between playing father of the year. It gives you subtle hints at these characters without beating you over the head with it. The running time is just shy of 3 hours long, but it never ever dragged for me. I was well invested in these characters because i felt i grew up with them as a viewer of their growth. I sat through the film in one sitting and it never ever felt like 3 hours to me. I would like to say so much more, but i feel i got into spoiler territory towards the end of this review, and i don’t want to ruin it for anyone. I abso-freaking lutely recommend this film to every single one of my readers. Linklater’s satire is monumental in technical direction, but breathtaking in character transition to the eye. Adjectives won’t ever do this film justice because Boyhood is a cinematic masterpiece 12 years in the making. Thank you Mr Linklater for inspiring me to believe in films in 2014.

Saving Mr Banks

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10/10

Ladies and gentlemen, i give you the best cast in a film this year. Saving Mr Banks is one of those films that come along every once in a while and leave you with all kinds of emotions while watching it. You will laugh, smile, cry and even be frightened for the character of E.L Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. The film shows Travers (Played amazingly by Emma Thompson) struggling to make a living since writing Mary Poppins over 20 years ago. She is approached by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) with a deal to make Mary Poppins into a film. What follows is the struggle to find a decent agreement between the two sides for making a film that won’t damage the other party. There were so many great performances to talk about that i feel this review might be my longest ever. Tom Hanks is the only choice for Walt Disney. He brings out the magic and charisma in a constant workaholic who made a 20 year promise to his daughters to get this picture made. Emma Thompson deserves an Oscar nod for bringing out the true heart in an otherwise grouchy woman. She makes us understand why she is the way she is when pitching the book to Disney. Colin Ferrell stole the film for me. He gives his best performance to date as the father of a young Travers. He is majestic and energetic as a loving parent with a bad secret below surface. This is the second part of the story told in this film. It shows us flashbacks as the current film is going on of a young Travers and the actual real story of her family and the wonderful woman who came into their lives, Mary Poppins. I honestly tried my hardest to find something negative about this film, and i couldn’t. Everything is done so well that i would totally see this film more than once in theaters just to catch what i may have missed. The supporting cast also deserves praise for the talent that they bring to this picture. Paul Giamatti (ALWAYS amazing), Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak bring just as much to the picture as the actors i already names. Scwartzman is brilliant as the song writer to some of Disney’s most magnificent numbers. Giamatti is the limo driver who forms the only friendship with Travers, as he sees something deeper below the surface. The set pieces were outstanding with the recreation of 1960’s Hollywood. The film really does it’s homework in trying to get the look and feel right, from vehicles to clothes to Disney Land itself. Saving Mr Banks is one film that definitely cannot be missed. I can’t imagine anyone would have anything negative to say about this film. It’s one of those where the whole family will love it, and it tells two amazing tales with one movie.