Her

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8.5/10

Spike Jonze latest film is his greatest accomplishment to date. Her is a dramatic piece about the depths of loneliness and the things we look to for comfort in an aching wound. I saw the film even a little different from the description that i just typed. I saw it as a piece that warns us about the rise of technological advances, and how the need for human life is slowly getting phased out. Juaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore Twombley, a man who is emotionally scared to open up to the world after the divorce from his wife (Rooney Mara). He buys a new operating system which gives the effect of an actual person in the room with him. What follows becomes the most emotionally invested relationship of Twombley’s life. Phoenix is absolutely breathtaking in this film. It sounds bad when i say this is a one man show, but he is definitely a step above the rest. That doesn’t mean that this amazing ensemble doesn’t do their parts. Led by Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde and the voice herself, Scarlett Johansson. These characters give Phoenix all he needs to play through a series of emotions. The film for me was more sad than anything else. When you think about where we are today in our own technological world, it hits a lot closer to home than people might think. Problems quickly arise in the relationship when the voice lacks personal touch, and i think it is done in a manor that the audience will fully invest in. I wouldn’t be doing my job if i didn’t talk about the phenomenal cinematography. This is the most beautifully shot film that i have seen in a long time. The angles and close ups on characters faces that represent what they are going through is a Jonze classic in his arsenal. It works best in a film like this that plays off nothing but emotional depth. The use of light in the outside shots are like the beautiful path that Twombley is walking on his journey out of solitude. The dialogue does get a little cheesy at times, but the premise itself is kind of cheesy when you think about it. It honestly didn’t bother me as much as it might some other people. The only thing that worries me about a film like this is that it might be too artsy and slow at times for people to enjoy. I think the real lovers of film will truly enjoy this film because it’s everything that is great about Hollywood. Sometimes you only need a great actor like Phoenix to hit with such a powerful piece of cinema gold. The people who are expecting huge things to happen in this film will be set up for disappointment. The big things are there, but they come in the form of character growth. The original cut of this film was 150 minutes, and i would certainly be interested in checking out some of that deleted footage. In the end, this film shows us that the line between human interaction is being cut thinner with time. But if we are willing to accept help from the most unlikely sources, maybe we too can change for the better

Still Alice

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7/10

When Julianne Moore won the Golden Globe for her turn in this film, i knew i had to check it out. What i found is a film elevated by Moore’s outstanding performance, and an educative look at the disease of alzheimer’s. “Still Alice” shows our title character, Alice Howland, a married woman with three grown children, and a career as an influential linguistics professor. When Alice receives a diagnosis of rare Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease,  Alice and her family find their bonds thoroughly tested. Her struggle to stay connected to who she once was is frightening, heartbreaking, and inspiring. As a film, i found “Still Alice” to be very close to home with a woman close to my life. My Step Mother has been currently battling a disease similar to Alzheimer’s for years, and Moore’s portrayal was a mirrored look at everything you need to know about the condition. The film’s script is a little thin when observed outside of the obvious plot content. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the movie serves as a reminder to the depressing clarity that every one in three faces with such a scary disease. Julianne’s deterioration never seems forced or over the top. The film’s beautiful pacing is complimented well by Moore’s top notch portrayal stepping up more and more the deeper the film goes. The gutting of this legitimately beautiful and inspiring person is one of the toughest thing’s i’ve had to sit through on the silver screen in the last decade. Kristen Stewart surprisingly also hands in what is easily her greatest performance to date. She plays one of Alice’s children, and it’s clear that she has the closest attachment to her mother. The sorrow in Stewart’s eyes shows that she was perfectly cast. To anyone who knows anything about Alzheimer’s, you know i am not spoiling anything by saying the final ten minutes of this film are absolutely heartbreaking. The relationship by Stewart and Moore helps that bittersweet note feel like the appropriate one chosen. Love is the last thing remaining when all else is lost, and i found the moral of that to be smile worthy. The only thing about the cast as well as the film that i didn’t enjoy was the casting of Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband. Don’t get me wrong, i enjoy Alec Baldwin, and think there is a serious side to his acting that a lot of his fans don’t get to enjoy often. In this film however, Baldwin is a little over the top. I get that he is dealing with a new found condition for he and his family, but he is the most insensitive pig, and i don’t think 100% of that was written that way. During the film’s opening ten minutes, i made a prediction to myself that Baldwin would be cheating on her. I was wrong about that prediction, but i called this because there is something about his performance that just doesn’t gel with a man married to a woman he’s loved for over 30 years. If he does one thing well, his disappearing act every five minutes makes you feel even more sad for everything Moore is going through. Overall, the film is consistent in it’s tear jerking approach. There are moments when the layers in the plot start to wear a little thin, but “Still Alice” is an good film turned into a great film by Julianne Moore. She is acting supremacy at it’s finest, and is a shoe in to take home the Oscar in March. That is something none of us could ever forget.

47 Ronin

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7.5/10

I cannot understand why this film is sitting at a 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. Simply put, 47 Ronin is a perfect film for someone who enjoys the fantasy genre. It’s a samurai dream composed of 2 hours of excellent fighting scenes and a great story to make you care about the characters. Keanu Reeves stars as a samurai who is cast out of his family when he illegally competes in a tournament. Keanu was dealt the right hand for a film like this. I think he is really good because (And i’m not trying to sound mean here) he doesn’t talk a lot. They keep his character very mute and let him show his actions with the sword. Keanu is someone who can show deep emotion without ever saying a word, so why do so many films ruin him with too much dialogue? In addition to what i listed, the fight scenes are excellent in this film. Some of the animation of the monsters can get a little cartoonish for me, but this film is well choreographed from beginning to end. It knows where it’s going and it knows how to get there. The only other problem i had with the film was the 3D. I don’t feel this is a film that is needed with the 3D experience. There are a couple cool tricks with a dragon’s tail coming at your face, or a ball and chain being thrown in your direction, but nothing to write home about. 47 Ronin tells a true story about a group of men who paid the ultimate sacrifice by standing by a leader that they always chose to fight for. It’s a tale of honor and sacrifice, and that is why i recommend the film. Fantasy genre fans will love it.

The Wolf of Wall Street

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9/10

The rise and fall of Jordan Belfort tells a story that is so crazy it can never be touched. I truly couldn’t have been prepared for the things that were coming in this movie. Leonardo Dicaprio gives and Oscar worthy performance as Belfort, a stocks trader who robbed hard working Americans of millions of dollars in the 90’s. Dicaprio is one of those actors who will always be an all time great. In Belfort, he makes us love and hate him which is the sign of any great actor. He brings so much to a character that we are supposed to despise because we cannot relate to him. Jonah Hill is also fantastic as Belfort’s best friend who quits his job to join up with Belfort. There were times when i forgot i was even watching Jonah Hill. It shows how far of an actor he has come from his days in Superbad and Knocked Up. The film is 3 hours long, and this is probably the only time i will ever advocate a single film being that long. You have to show every single scene along the way even when it seems pointless. It will all come together in the end like a puzzle. Martin Scorsese is one of the best directors in the world, and he only further cements his legacy with one of his greatest films ever. The lone problem that i had with the film was that we didn’t learn a lot about the characters after it all came tumbling down. We find out a brief interchange, but it doesn’t fill in the gaps to leave us satisfied. I am also curious to hear a woman’s perspective of this film as there are a lot of male misogynistic scenes where women are degraded and treated as meat. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it must have been to be a woman working at that office. The Wolf of Wall Street is truly one of those films that you have to see to believe. Even though it’s only a film, it tells the story of an insane time in American business. One that will probably never be repeated again. I definitely recommend this film to everyone, but be ready for a long sit and some weird scenes that will make you wonder why they are in there. Once again, if females see this film i would love to hear your thoughts.

 

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.

Nebraska

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8/10

Bruce Dern and Will Forte star in this black and white adventure about an old man (Dern) who receives a letter in the mail claiming he has won 1 million dollars. We know it’s a scam from the start, but that isn’t what the film is about. There are a lot of hidden meanings in this film that you really have to pay attention to get. One of those meanings was a father/son bonding experience across country. We find out that Dern has been kind of an abandoning father to Forte, but there isn’t anything the son wouldn’t do to make his father happy. The film is beautifully shot in black and white which i feel gives an old style feel in the way that we may be seeing the world the way Dern does. There are also excellent performances from Bob Odenkirk and who i think should win the Oscar for Best Supporting Female, June Squibb. Squibb is electric as the nagging wife who is driven crazy by her husband, but stands by him with her devotion to love. Nebraska is a slow sit though. I can’t say i would recommend this film to anyone but fans of director Alexander Payne (Sideways). His style of slow shots and meaningful undertones is something i like in a director. As i said, the film is riddled in slow spots. The dialogue is 100% of this movie. If you are waiting for some big explosion or some earth shattering event, this isn’t the film for you. I think most people will be bored by it, but i enjoyed it. It’s a different film from what you see in 2013, and if you have to travel to Nebraska to find it, well so be it.

Inside Llewyn Davis

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7/10

Inside Llewyn Davis is kind of like a new song by a famous artist (The Coen Brothers). It’s got a good rhythm (Screenplay) and good characters (Narration), but it’s not the best from the artist or nearly the kind of songs you fell in love with (No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou). With that said, Oscar Isaac is a Best Lead Actor front runner when the Oscars come in March. He gives an amazingly warmhearted and dry witted performance as Llewyn Davis, a folk song writer struggling to stay afloat in 1961 New York. The first hour of this film kept in contention with some of the best films i have seen this year. It’s in the 2nd hour that the film begins to lose steam. We find out that some things have happened in Llewyn’s life that he has to make right. Mainly impregnating the girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) of a fellow friend and artist (Justin Timberlake). Mulligan is outstanding in the role of the harsh and negative girl who doesn’t quite know what she sees in Davis. My biggest problem with this film aside from the ending (Which i will get to later), is that many of the questions were never answered. I don’t want to spoil anything, but we never find out about the abortion or a couple of other things by the movie’s end. It’s like they had a great story and abandoned some of the parts to make an artsy ending. The ending itself just happens anti-climatic. When the screen goes black, you will ask yourself if that really is the end. It’s a shame too because you really care about these characters. They deserved a better ending than the one they are given. It’s amazing that with all i have said that The Coen Brothers still put together a decent film. Some great positives is the setting of each scene with incredible lighting. Also a score that i will be picking up in stores that should win an Oscar. Inside Llewyn Davis is not a film for everyone. Nothing huge or groundbreaking happens in this film. But if you can sit through almost 2 hours of beautiful songs with deep characters whose questions are not always answered, then this cup of tea is for you, friend. It’s also pretty cool to hear Akron mentioned a couple of times in the film

American Hustle

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9/10

One of the best films of the year that delivers some amazing performances. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence give their all in roles that carry this movie to the top of the best films list. Bale and Adams are recruited by Cooper to take down some big corrupt city officials in a plan to save their own lives after being caught by the FBI during a scam they ran. While the four actors i named were equally great, it’s Amy Adams who totally steals the movie. She has those scenes that make you feel what she is saying before she even opens her mouth, and that is the sign of a great actress. I was amazed with how much comedy was in this movie. I laughed a lot at mostly Cooper. He is semi-psychotic as an FBI agent who is definitely on his last ring of sanity. The film has a couple small problems that keep it from being a perfect film. First of all, some of the scenes are filler. They serve as nothing more than to create another funny scenario for the audience. These times in between will make you look at your watch and wonder how far along in the film you are. I almost wish they would’ve left those on the deleted scenes list. There are also a lot of swerves in the film, and that is good and bad. It is good because the swerves were so great that i didn’t see any of them coming (especially the last one). But it’s bad because after a couple of swerves it gets a little difficult to fully comprehend what is going on. This is definitely a film you are going to have to pay attention to. Many people will see it in theaters, but i almost advise to see it on DVD so you stop and rewind when you need to. It’s a great film and one minute should definitely not be missed. David O Russell is definitely turning into a favorite director of mine for his great work on this, Flirting With Disaster, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. Check out this film and enjoy some real Oscar contender performances

Hours

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7.5/10

If this is the last full length Paul Walker film, then i can say that his memory will go happy. This film really surprised me with how good it was. In my opinion, Running Scared and Joy Ride are the best Paul Walker films, but this is very close as well. Walker stars a man who is on his way to the emergency room to be there for his wife who is giving birth. When he is told that his little girl is on a breathing machine until she can breathe on her own, he finds out his wife has passed. When you take a story that already has a great plot like that and mix it with the fact that this is all taking place during Hurricane Katrina, it makes for an edge of the seat ride. The hospital is completely abandoned, so it’s up to Walker to keep his daughter alive for their rescue 48 hours later. I love when a film takes place in one setting the whole film. I think it asks more from it’s actors that way, and Walker definitely delivers. I really enjoyed the realism from the faulty hospital equipment to the surprises that Walker has while being alone in the hospital. When Walker died, he left behind a lot of fans who enjoyed the charisma that he showed on screen. If you are one of these fans, you simply CAN NOT miss this film. The ladies will shed some tears and be yelling at the screen while the guys will appreciate what the man does to keep his daughter alive.

The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug

 

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8/10

Coming from someone who is not a big fan of this series, i thoroughly enjoyed this film. This film has made walk away with the greatest feeling after seeing it, and that is for a few reasons. The first is that i was on the edge of my seat for this movie. The dragon Smaug is a great villain that adds even more because he can talk. The scene with the gold coins and his awakening scared me to death. There was just something about seeing his huge eye pop out that made my heart pump. The cinematography in these films is second to none. While i didn’t like the first Hobbit film, i can say that it was the most beautiful picture of the year. This one follows that trend, but it does it in a way to match the desolate mood of the Lake Town. This film’s views are seen more as dark and (hate to use this word again) desolate. The high frame rate is something pretty cool to read about with this film. The fact that they shot each frame at 48 frames per second is impressive, and it shows. I also really enjoyed the introduction of Bard the Bowman and felt Luke Evans was a perfect choice to play him. For those who don’t know, Luke has been cast in The Crow reboot, so i am curious to see what he can bring to Eric Draven. Some of the things i haven’t liked about other films are still there in this film, and i am sure i will get ambushed by fans of the series for it. Ultimately though, what kind of critic would i be if i didn’t put all of my cards on the table? These films are just way too long. I get that it is an epic story you are trying to tell with lots of characters, but maybe there in lies the problem; too many characters. I think the same story can be told without a couple of their back stories being learned. I also have never been a fan of Legolas. The guy is just too immortal for me to relate to. I mean seriously, could he get a cut or a scrape just once? Why do they even need an army if this guy can kill ten people in ten seconds? Just send Legolas to take care of any trouble in the town. I did enjoy the way the film ends as it sets up for There and Back Again quite well. I recommend this film to fans of the series for sure. As for non fans, it’s a hard prediction to make. I am not a fan and i loved it for the things i mentioned above. Give it a shot, it might surprise you.

Out of the Furnace

 

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7.5/10

A very deep and dark movie about the lengths we will go when something happens to a member of our families. This film has some amazing character performances and it’s those performances alone that give you every reason to see this film. Those performances are led by Woody Harrelson as a drug selling country hick who runs an underground fighting ring. Harrelson is one of my favorite actors, and it’s always fun seeing what role he will play next. Choosing him to be the villain for this movie was great casting. Is there any role this man can not do? Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are also impressive as the brothers in the story. Affleck has a young charm that makes him too naive for the stupid decisions he makes. Bale continues to be the best character actor bar non on the planet. The man will do anything to prepare for a role. The one thing i will say about this film is without those actors giving amazing performances, this film is nothing. The script is mediocre and plays out like a film you would watch on Lifetime Movies. It knows the points it’s crowd is supposed to cheer and boo and it exploits them. The film has a nice haunted town setting of Pittsburgh and it’s surrounding suburbs. A soundtrack by Pearl Jam gives the town it’s extra feel of hard nosed fighters who just never know when to quit. I recommend checking this film out, but keep in mind that there are some slow parts. Those parts don’t seem as big of a deal with the performances unfolding at hand.

Oldboy

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7/10

This film has it’s advantages to the 2003 Korean original, but falls just short of surpassing it. Josh Brolin gives an amazing performance and stars as a man trapped and imprisoned for 20 years for things he did in his past. He finds out he is framed for the murder of his wife while in that prison. I really enjoyed the 2003 version and was kind of worried about this one. Spike Lee does a decent job in adapting a very violent story to American cinema. There were a couple of things that i actually liked better in this film than the original. I will not spoil those things for the people who have not seen either version. The camera work in this film is supreme to that of it’s original for the quick cuts and views the way Brolin sees things. The ending to this version is also better in my opinion, as i had a couple of problems with the way the original ended. The acting is better in the original as the villain in this film is laughable. It feels like Brolin is controlling him the whole time and that is something that just doesn’t work in this story. There were also some violent things left out of this version that i felt added to the story, and those opportunities were missed. Overall, this film isn’t a bad version of the story. I would recommend this film only after you have seen the 2003 original. If you liked that film, then i really think you will enjoy this one as well.