Pawn Sacrifice

Pawn Sacrifice

Oscar contention is eight moves ahead of the competition, with Tobey Maguire starring in the biopic as Chess great Bobby Fischer, in “Pawn Sacrifice”. In a gripping true story set during the height of the Cold War, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Maguire) finds himself caught between two superpowers when he challenges the Soviet Empire. He makes a promise to takedown their prime player and world champion Boris Spassky (Liev Shreiber). If Fischer can keep it together mentally, he can make American history during a time when a victory of the Soviets seemed unreachable. Far beyond the measures of a board game, “Pawn Sacrifice” is a story about obsession, country tensions, and most importantly, paranoia. It’s a film about the life of one of the most complex minds in American history leading up to the biggest game of his life, as well as the distractions that handicapped any chance he had a straight forward game. The movie brilliantly puts the sound mixing into Fischer’s head. We hear what he hears and it adds more effect to the thought that Fischer might just be a victim to his own mental torture. This man is clearly a ticking time bomb whose fuse is already reaching dangerous levels, but this was the guy who America put all of their hopes on in the 70’s, and it’s in that desperation combined with glorious cinematography by Bradford Young, that really casts a sense of hopeless dread for our home base during this period. Lets talk about the acting roles for a second, because they make the events of Fischer’s greatest outbursts come to life. Plenty of newscasts as well as real life interviews fit so perfectly in the film’s narration, and they certainly give the movie a better design colorfully as to what these broadcasts felt like. The movie has a supporting cast that is out of this world Oscar worthy. Peter Sarsgaard serves as a best friend to Bobby and perhaps the only person who truly understands the coil that is unwrapping to his sanity. What Sarsgaard pulls off is a narration to every outsider who sees Bobby as just another opportunity. It’s great to see him narrate through every game, considering he is the only guy in the world who defeated both Fischer and Spassky. Liev Schreiber was very believable with his Russian accent, and why not? this is his fourth film with such a heritage. We expect Boris to be this evil antagonist to Fischer, but what we get is a quiet soul of a man stuck in the wrong place during the wrong time, with a love for a game taken to absurd levels. Tobey Maguire, take a bow. This is your best performance to date. His portrayal of Fischer is almost detestable, but we see there is so much more to his performance than just child like tantrums. This is a very sick man who believed absurd things about the people trying to help him, therefore chasing everyone he loved out of his life. Maguire showed dramatic signs of brilliance in 2009’s “Brothers”, but it’s in this movie where he is a one man storm that gains more and more momentum the louder he strikes. This is a performance that definitely has to be seen, as the trailer only tips the iceburg of Tobey’s emotional transformation into such a complex role. Props also goes to director Ed Zwick for taking a child’s game and putting a tension behind every move. It’s easy to get lost in this film because every move means so much for the future of the games and how they play out. Complete this with an orchestral led score by the always great James Newton Howard, and you have a back and forth staredown to Shakespearian proportions. I had to search high and low for something that i had a problem with in this movie, and it took to the final five minutes for it to surface. I was very close to making this film my second 10/10 for 2015, but the ending kind of wastes away an opportunity for the audience to revel for a minute in Fischer’s triumph. The film stays with a somber kind of tone throughout the film, and that’s not a problem. Frankly, anything else for Bobby would be a lie. What i did have a problem with was how that tone never changes even with the end result. We see six of the twelve games between the two best players, but we never get to see the other six, instead settling for text that reveals the rest of the result. I think the audience deserved that one moment of triumph, but it never comes. The film stays on one emotional note, so the audience (Like Bobby) never really feel like the juice was worth the squeeze for his chase for greatness. It’s not an earth shattering problem as evidence by my rating for the film, but it does keep it from reaching that upper echelon of a rare number of films to reach my perfect level. Overall, “Pawn Sacrifice” is a carefully constructed depiction to an emotional enigma. It’s complete performances, as well as creative point of view, makes this film a can’t miss, one move at a time.

9/10

Everest

Everest

A group of ambitious climbers get more than they bargained for on the mountain of “Everest”. Two rival mountain climbing group leaders (Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal) are front and center for one of the most vicious storms to ever hit the world’s tallest peak, Everest. Their dreams of reaching the mountains peak are just the beginning, as the quest to get back down in one piece becomes the fight of their lives. Unfortunately, “Everest” is only being shown in 3D formats that include XD and IMAX. It’s unfortunate because this film really deserves a wider audience. If you can’t tell, i greatly enjoyed this film. It is such an endearing story not only about the dangers of such a big dream, but the true test of one’s will to survive. There is so much to get to in terms of why this film is must see. First of all, the sound editing and mixing really thrived in an XD screening. The increase in wind velocity is very subtle, but it hits the audience so hard that you really feel that you are being whipped by it’s fierce cold. That is really the greatest thing that this film has going for it; it has a way of putting you on the mountain, despite that we know this is only a movie. The camera angles and cinematography are really breathtaking. I was happy to find out that only a slim margin of the film was CGI greenscreened, as many of the shots were filmed on an actualy snowy mountain. The wide angles of the fast moving clouds going by, as well as the side by side comparison of just how small these climbers look compared to their vicious counterpart, really communicates how helpless these people are. Because of that, it’s very easy to get behind their characters, even without the brief but helpful backstories that the film entails in the first twenty minutes. It would be easy for this film to get lost in narrative and focus so much more on the meat of storyline, with the disaster scenes. However, this film finds it just as important to educate the audience on the hazzards and unexpected road blocks that come with this great challenge. In fact, the first 70 minutes of the film are built between the climbers training for their expedition, as well as the climb of reaching the peak. The minority of the two hour run time was focused on the aftershock after the storm hits. It’s during that period when we get some of the best makeup and prosthetic work of the year. There were so many visuals on these tortured climbers that really made me squint or grit my teeth in the visual scars reflective of the mountain’s punishment. Disaster movies are a dime a dozen, but what really sets “Everest” apart is it’s acting from a variety of A-list actors that proved there is no such thing as a small role. Besides Clarke and Gyllenhaal, there were exceptional turns by John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, and Robin Wright. What’s great about the fact that all of them agreed to be in this film, is that it’s a real shocker when someone dies. I have always thought that using A-list actors in smaller roles will make it that much more interesting when one of them hits trouble, and this film used that to it’s truest potential. I enjoyed every character and didn’t want to see any of them hurt, and that’s hard enough to do for one character, let alone all of them. The real meat and potatoes of performances came from the dramatic offerings of Josh Brolin and Emily Watson. Watson has always been dependable, but she plays the panic so well in this film, considering she is hearing everything go on over a CB radio. I wish we could’ve gotten more screen time for her, but she makes the most of every scene she is in. Josh Brolin is bar none the absolute best thing in this movie. He serves as the real reflection card for everything that these men and women go through. He’s the heart and soul for this movie, because while he isn’t the main character of the film, he is the one that we follow from the very first scenes of the film. He had so many heartbreaking facial visuals in this film, and his mental breaking is slow and very crippling. “Everest” is a mentally tough climb for it’s audience. It’s unforgiving nature isn’t something that will be a winner for everyone, but if you seek the best kind of audio and visual experience within an IMAX screening, look no further than the top of the mountain.

9/10

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton

Dr Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and the other members of the legendary rap group are given the biopic treatment in F Gary Gray’s latest film, ‘Straight Outta Compton’. In the middle of the 1980’s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country. When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the overnight rise and fall of N.W.A., the movie tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever, the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war. It’s not easy to craft a powerful musical biopic, so what did i love so much about Gray’s powerful piece? Every single thing presented to the audience. It would be easy for a film like this to fall into a VH1 biopic of the week, in the same light that the TLC story did, but ‘Straight Outta Compton’ packs part action packed shoot em up, with part dramatic tearjerker, that finds a comfy medium supported by outstanding Oscar worthy performances. The casting director for this movie deserves every bit of credit as much as the director and crew does. There were many points in the film where i actually forgot that i was watching a performance from actors and not footage from the actual group themselves. O’Shea Jackson JR tore the house down while playing his father. His solid line deliveries would feel carbon if given by someone else, but he garnered the perfect amount of mellow cool that was slowly burning into a volcano of anger. Corey Hawkins showcased Dr Dre in a light that i haven’t quite viewed him in until now. He captures the musician, but more importantly the businessman and brains of the most monetarily successful rapper of all time. I would be doing a great disservice to the performances however, if i didn’t mention Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. Mitchell sends the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions for how we feel about his character. To viewers who don’t quite know the story, his third act reveal will steal the comfort from under your seat. The camera style and production costs were also both used to top level efficiency. This is a movie that is gritty, raw, and in your face. More importantly, it’s not afraid to show you the real side of a city known for it’s bad cultures. Many of the fast paced scenes involve a minor shaky cam that was done so well it never felt like it was leaving the framing work of the events going down on screen. I also noticed some minor symbolism in the backgrounds for most of the scenes early on shot in Compton. There is kind of a grainy fog that fills the air for many of these scenes with brainstorming for the next big lyric. Most people will view it as cigarette or marijuana smoke, but i viewed it as a way for the group to not only work out the displeasures of writer’s block, but also as a metaphor for the toxic environment that surrounds them, fueling their rage. This is a movie that isn’t just about N.W.A, it’s also about the turmoil of the racial tensions that were reaching an all time high in South Los Angeles towards the end of the twentieth century. The movie focuses on many different events, including the Rodney King beatings and the riots that followed. A film like this and the events it entails, couldn’t come out at a better time. It’s crazy to think that over twenty five years later after the tellings of these tales, we still don’t seem to be advancing any closer for equality in the face of equal rights for cops on black crime. Overall, i thought the movie was intense, shocking, and uncut in the story it told. It’s a little long at two hours and twenty two minutes, but it never runs out of intrigue to tell. The real tragedy isn’t what horrors the members of the group had to go through, but the fame and fortune they were robbed because of such events. ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is one of the very best films that i have seen in 2015, and it deserves a look from the audience whether you are a fan or not. Coming from living my whole life in bad neighborhoods, many events in the film struck a chord with me and the culture that is hard to understand from someone who has never lived there. Most of us come from our own kind of Compton, but the movie shows us how important it is that we break out of those metaphorical chains and strive for more. Spend your money effortlessly for this one.

9/10

Inside Out

Inside Out

9/10

Disney Pixar’s newest home run is a free fall of emotions for the audience, just like the emotion characters that it portrays. Riley is an 11 year old girl with a lot of small voices inside of her head that make her tick. These emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith),live in the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in the control room. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school. This film exceeded my expectations to the highest degree. It had me intrigued, laughing to no end, and even crying during an emotional goodbye scene. The hardest thing for an animated film is to relate such unique characters, but Director Pete Docter has written something beautiful, as well as complex with the fragility of the human mind. Perhaps the most impressive element to me about this film is that i feel adults will benefit more from it than children will. Make no mistake about it, this is a kids movie, but it’s the inside adult humor jokes that push this film in a direction that Pixar doesn’t often go in, at least not for the entirety of the 90 minute sit. The colorful cinematography is very eye appealing to the audience. It goes a long way in even the smallest of pety details with pun landscape jokes in Riley’s psyche. Places like Family Land are decorated in her most meaningful of memories with over the eleven year journey with her parents. The film does suffer from some re-occuring structure themes, but it’s nothing to ever truly weigh the film down. The movie gives us a scene in Riley’s life and then lets our colorful personalities react to it. While this is the main idea behind the film, it’s very predictable to the point of waiting for each scene to cut to the reaction. Even more important than everything i have mentioned, the casting for the voice work is absolutely 100% brilliant. Lewis Black has become famous for his angry stand up schtick that he is often associated (at least in this critic’s mind) as the real voice of anger. Poehler is charmingly witty as the main direction in Riley’s head, and she plays Joy as someone much deeper than just a stereotype. If there is one person who owns this film though, it’s Smith’s monotone reactions to anything presented to her. When i first saw the trailer, i thought Sadness would be the most annoying part of the film, and boy was i wrong. Phyllis has been an accomplished TV actress for over a decade with roles in Arrested Development and The Office, but Inside Out is her coming out party. She is at her most talented with picture perfect comedic timing despite the negative nature of her character. Inside Out is entertaining to it’s audience, while offering something sentimental just below the surface. On top of it all, it’s a perfectly paced film that demands future re-watches to find the little details in art design that you may have missed during the innagural showing. If your inner conscience is telling you to give this film a chance, follow those voices and check out the year’s best animated feature.

Kurt Cobain : Montage of Heck

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9/10

21 Years ago, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the band at the helm of the grunge music revolution, Nirvana, took his life at the age of 27. The events that led to the depressed state of the musician is still a puzzle that hasn’t been solved more than two decades later. Critically acclaimed documentarian, Brett Morgen (On The Ropes), takes the audience through an artful narration of Cobain’s personal writings and drawings in a life that changed forever when the band became the biggest thing in the world. There is so much excellently done with ‘Montage of Heck’. For any fans of Nirvana, you might be a little disappointed, as this is a look strictly at the life of Cobain. That is one thing that i found refreshing about this documentary. It focuses on one man instead of three when trying to comb through what led to the suicide of one of rock’s most prolific frontmen. Complete with interviews from Kurt’s parents, to Courtney Love, to Kurt’s longtime girlfriend, they paint the clearest picture of a human enigma. Morgen makes some artistic choices that pay off incredibly.He shows us Cobain’s personal still-frame drawings coming to life as a metaphor for the events being narrated over. It gives the picture an almost fairytale-like when combined with Cobain’s narration. The film also takes it’s time informing the viewer on the very emotions that Kurt felt with each passing milestone in his life. Other Cobain documentaries haven’t gone as deep into his journal, as well as never-before-seen photos like this one has. I am a huge Nirvana fan, and some of stillshots had my eyes popping in curiosity as to why they have never made print. The sountrack would normally be obvious in a music documentary about a particular band, but Morgen instead decides to add some creative touches to grunge favorites. He plays ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as a choir song performed by children, he spins a remix of ‘Heart Shaped Box’ as a piano instrumental, and my personal favorite; recordings of Kurt’s first attempt at crafting songs with only his accoustic guitar and a cheap tape recorder to boot. One particular scene with the ladder has Cobain stopping to answer the phone, and it’s in that authenticity that it never feels like we are watching a movie, but instead right next to Kurt holding the camera. I was so close to giving this film a 10/10, and future watchings may push this film into that immortal territory, but one thing stuck out like a sore thumb in a display of documentary greatness. The film goes into great deal for two hours and twelve minutes, but decides to end abruptly when it reveals that Kurt took his own life. One could interpret that Morgen thinks the audience already knows the story with the after, but i think his legacy post-death is just as important as the story being told. I could’ve used a final word from the people being interviewed, but it never came. Overall, ‘Montage of Heck’ is the greatest musical documentary i have ever seen, and one of my favorite documentaries of all time. Even if you never followed Nirvana, you should see it for it’s peeling of the layers with such a mysterious force who took the world by storm for four flannel filled years. The mystery will never be solved, but Brett Morgen’s patient approach gives the audience the greatest offering of clarity with a film that is a fierce and hammering account of teenage empathy.

CitizenFour

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9/10

Edward Snowden’s eye opening reveals about the invasion of privacies that our very government takes is front and center in this documentary that is presented as more of a real life movie unfolding before our very eyes. In January 2013, Director Laura Poitras was most of the way into making a film about surveillance in the post-9/11 era when she started receiving encrypted e-mails from someone identifying himself as “citizen four,” who was ready to blow the whistle on the massive covert surveillance programs run by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. In June 2013, she and investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Snowden. She brought her camera with her. The film that resulted from this series of tense encounters is one hundred percent breaking news in the history of cinema. As someone who read plenty about the Snowden saga of last year, i found enough in “CitizenFour” to feel like i never heard anything about the story. Poitras has an agenda for the truth, and it’s spellbounding the events she was lucky enough to capture when the camera was running. What was originally refreshing for this documentary as opposed to others, is that Poitras doesn’t need side by side interviews to narrate the story. She lets the lens do the talking, and the reveals are incredible even for someone who knows how dirty this regime can be. I don’t think there is a film this year or this decade that will open your eyes more about the freedoms we are losing. Events like 9/11 made it possible for these higher ups to succeed in getting these laws passed to invade the privacies of e-mail, cell phones, and any form of electronic communication. I won’t ruin the film for those of you interested in checking it out, but i left the theater feeling a little tense, and it’s in that respect that the film is scarier than anything a horror film could ever bring you. Whether you consider Snowden a traitor or hero or something in between, it’s not relevant. The movie is impactful in its immediacy of action needed, and terrifying in its implications. It took a ton of bravery for Snowden to come forward with this information, and the films ending foreshadows that this might only be the beginning. The impact of a movie like “CitizenFour” i believe will last for decades. It’s a film that will never allow you to going back to living with your eyes closed. I commend Poitras and Greenwald for continuing forward in their search for the truth when the walls around them are coming down. The camera work is sharp, the sound is perfect, and the editing deserves a noteworthy praise of it’s own. The e-mails exchanged between Poitras and Snowden are shown during the film and are narrated by Laura herself. The text is shown while different spy agency locations are shown in the background. This gives the audience a feel for how big empowering this problem really is. It would be easy enough to tell us about these places, but Poitras does her homework and shows us that this is one nightmare that extends beyond someone’s dreams. “CitizenFour” is every bit alarming as it is informative. It’s the tip of the iceburg in a discussion about what else might be going on behind closed doors.

A Most Violent Year

 

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9/10

Writer and director, J.C Chandor takes us back to a more dangerous time for New York City in his newest film starring Academy Award Nominees, Oscar Isaac, and Jessica Chastain. Set during the winter of 1981,statistically one of the most crime-ridden of New York City’s history, “A Most Violent Year” is a crime drama following the lives of Abel (Isaac) and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. Simply put, this is a film based on dynamic performances from two of the world’s most powerful actors. Isaac and Chastain set the silver screen on fire with the portrayal of a couple with very dark backstories. It’s those backstories that are slowly peeled off, but never fully revealed. We get a taste of the kind of sinister deeds that these two have had to undertake to get to this point, and we understand why they are perfect for each other in that regard. Most crime genre films tend to focus on only the male character and his motivations for such decisions. It’s in Chandor’s film, that this history ends with Chastain stealing the show in every single scene she’s in. Jessica can pack a punch with the powerful emotions she displays without ever making the scenes feel like actors acting. Her portrayal of Anna in this film far outweighs even the best of performances from her at this point in her career. Isaac is quickly perfecting his craft with the charisma and passion of a young Pacino in his prime. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his name is Abel considering he is fighting himself with two different sides throughout the whole film. There is the business man who wants the American dream, and tries to keep his cool in the face of other sabotaging his business. Then, there is the gangster with a violent history who works as a problem solver. Unfortunately, the ladder is more of what appeals to his wife. She tells Abel that without conflict, there can be no resolution. Perhaps the most compelling character is that of the actual setting, New York City. With theĀ underlining tones of a beautiful composition by Chandor favorite, Alex Ebert, the on screen transformation for a setting 34 years ago is a successful one. Chandor uses gritty and dream broken streets to tell a story of how hard it is to make it during the city’s most turbulent decade. I couldn’t find any contradictions to the year that would take me out of the film, and that’s a testament to the eye for detail that Chandor and staff have. The movie generally feels like you are watching a picture from the early age of VHS cinema. The soft lighting is very limited, but reflective in the shadows are the backstories from these tested characters that we don’t know much about. When watching the film, notice how much the blurry takes up the framing of the film. Like the characters are the only thing that stands out in world’s they’ve made figuratively and literally dark. If i had one small problem with the film, i only wish the intro would’ve educated the viewer more on some of the problems with NYC and what made it the most violent year to date. With little knowledge unless knowledgeable about the city, the viewer is left to wonder what made this era so threatening to those still hungry for their dreams. I think a black background scene with text displaying the crime and murder rate could’ve gone a long way in setting the mood for the next two hours. We’re watching the beginning of a great American filmmaker in Chandor. His originality when it comes to set production is on the very brink of a composer ready to write his memorable masterpiece. It’s hard to imagine where J.C will go, but he has certainly made a fan out of this critic. “A Most Violent Year” is a welcomed flashback to the time where we were still learning what true depths it took to reach for that brass ring. It’s a gritty, savvy, and brilliantly structured. Impactful even without the very violence that typecasts the title.

Wild

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9/10 – A woman approaches a fork in the road at the crossroads of her life in this autobiographical tale. With the crumbling status of her marriage and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) has lost all hope. After years of reckless, destructive behavior, she makes a rash decision. With absolutely no experience, driven only by sheer determination, Cheryl hikes more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. “Wild” was every bit as emotionally moving as it was powerfully intense. There is so much i enjoyed about this film that the review practically writes itself. It is helmed by the best female leading performance i have seen in 2014. Make no mistakes about it, Reese Witherspoon becomes Cheryl in this film. Her character left me spellbound because i didn’t receive just one performance from her, i received a couple that hit me in different emotional facets. I loved Cheryl because i saw a determined person’s search throughout this long journey to find the woman her mother raised. Her relationship to her mother (Laura Dern) is something i related to so much that it tugged at my heartstrings when Cheryl’s life feels worthless without her. I hated Cheryl because of the terrible decisions she made that hurt the only people she had in her life. I felt sorry for Cheryl because the film captures her loneliness on this journey as miniscule when compared to her life at home. This journey is about starting over, and that starts with facing the monster she created in the mirror. Reese gives the rawest performance of her career. It’s clear that she did her homework on the frail Strayed as she serves as a producer on the film as well. Many people will view the nudity scenes she does in the film as disappointing, but i think it was important to show just how far her life had fallen. Her sex scenes come across as hard to watch because that is what we as an audience are supposed to feel as she gives herself to several men in the name of infidelity. The camera angles are breathtaking in the film. Many wide angle shots support the statement of just how alone this woman is. That loneliness takes on many forms throughout the film, boredom, pain, fear, and delirium to name a few. It’s in each of these emotions that Cheryl grows as a person, and it becomes a clear portrait of a battle tested woman by film’s end. My favorite thing about the film however, was the wonderful editing job on so many symbolic flashbacks. The film has two stories to tell in Cheryl’s life, past and present, but it never feels like the movie is overcrowded for it’s 1 hour and 50 minute run time. Instead, the script takes it’s time giving you short flashbacks one at a time and making you search for the ending. Many scenes like this in other films will sometimes beat the viewer over the head with the answer they are trying to convey, but i think some of the events past in “Wild” will require multiple viewings while pushing to get the most from the viewer. I searched and searched for something i didn’t like about the film, and with the exception of some events that pop up out of nowhere, i couldn’t find anything. Those pop ups gave me a minor bother because they sometimes feel out of place with a previous scene, but i can ignore this because it’s based off of real life events from the literary biography. Director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) hits a homerun again with uncut emotional depth and a journey that the viewer takes physically and psychologically with Strayed. “Wild” is a film that can’t be missed by anyone. The biggest message of all is perhaps that every obstacle in front of us begins with one foot at a time.

Birdman

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9/10

Director Alejandro Inarritu presents a film even more ambitious than his previous efforts “Babel” and “Biutiful”. “Birdman” is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) famous for portraying an iconic superhero as he struggles to create a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. This film is an absolute smash hit, and i would go as far to say that it is not only one of the five best films i have seen this year, but by far the best technical film of 2014. The score works beautifully considering it’s only drums throughout the whole film. Nothing complicated, and the beat gets faster when Keaton’s character has a blood rushing scene for either anger or humiliation. The lighting is absolutely gorgeous with that stage coloring similar to 2008’s “Black Swan”. There are a lot of neon backgrounds perfectly complimenting New York City, the film’s setting. The best part of the technical aspect is the camera work. It’s Oscar worthy. The film is presented in a continuous shot to give the impression that the nearly 2 hour film is done in one shot, but it’s obviously not. If you are someone who watches a lot of films, you can spot where a few of the cuts come, but i generally found myself amazed how they edited some scenes together, especially during long dialogue expositions. This gives the film a definite plug for second and third viewings if you are like me when it comes to looking for these edits. The acting is totally brilliant with Keaton leading the charge for his best starring role ever. He is joined by A-listers like Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zach Galifanakis, and Lindsay Duncan. Norton is phenominal in the role of a play actor who is clearly better than the play he is starring in. Norton and Keaton’s interraction is so dualy time dedicated that you often find yourself being lost in the plot of the film, and feeling like either character could infact be the main protagonist. Keaton is easily the lead during the first act of the film, but we find more screen time being dedicated to Norton during the second act, and it all comes full circle in the play that Keaton directs when Norton takes charge of it. It all feels like art immitating life, and it’s all incredible considering it’s being written by first time writer Alexander Dinelaris. The film has a pitch to give to the audience to ask the question if Keaton is insane or if he really has become this Birdman character that made him famous over twenty years ago. Keaton is no doubt the only choice for a role like this. Besides the obvious comparisons to Batman (1989), Keaton’s longevity in film has taken the same twists and turns as his character in this movie. It feels like both the actor and the character are getting their long awaited big break, and the irony couldn’t be sweeter. There are a lot of parts in the film that are very surreal with the Birdman character, but my reading into these scenes is that they serve more as a life being breathed back into the dead soul. For instance, Keaton moves things with his mind in the beginning of the film. This serves as a light breather that the Birdman is still inside of him just dying to get out. When Keaton starts flying around New York City, the Birdman inside of him has taken over. He’s not really flying because he imagines himself flying to the theater when a Taxi driver stops him inside to ask him for the money he owes. It was obvious to me that he wasn’t literally flying, but instead these scenes represented what was going on inside. It’s reasons like this why it’s hard for me to recommend this film to the casual film fan. They won’t understand a lot of the metaphors, and will come to that the film is too weird for them. I definitely recommend the movie to anyone willing to get lost in character dialogue and good psychological building. There is a man being ripped apart at the seams here, and each little object in the road is building towards something bigger. I wanted to give this film a 10/10, and the only reason i didn’t is because the last ten minutes aren’t as good as the previous 104. I won’t spoil the ending, but i was pulling for the original ending that the film presented and seemed to be moving towards. With the ending going an opposite direction, i felt it ruined a perfect film. I loved that the film seemed to be poking fun at a lot of people in Hollywood, but film critics in particular. There seems to be a dark comedy commentary going on with the actors finally getting to leash out at some of their real life haters. The film making of this movie went above and beyond my expectations and left me transfixed from movement to movement among the character.

Selma

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9/10

There has been no better time for a film centering around peaceful protest. The film chronicles the troubling three month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr led a dangerous campaign to acheive equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernays SELMA tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history. Something i found that made this film different from recent biopics is that the film is called “Selma”, so it’s not so much a telling of King’s life story, but instead about the tribulations facing a city stuck in the past. It’s rare that such a great film is released in January, and i could definitely see this one being at the top of my list come the end of 2015. Oyelowo is a sure fire Oscar contender. His portrayal of King is so real, that i often wondered if the film was positioning real life historical footage into certain scenes. The voice, the accent, the look, and the soft spoken but powerful demeanor completes Oyelowo’s transition into one of history’s most important figures. One amazing thing to me is finding out David is a British born actor, and his accent never once popped during the film. There are many films when i notice even the smallest of accents peaking out, and it completely takes me out of the moment. This was not the case with the film’s lead. The rest of the cast is exceptionally valuable to a script that was important to a lot of celebrities. Tim Roth was so despicable, but never over the line as Governor George Wallace. There are many times where you feel Wallace is so close to saying something he will ultimately regret. It was refreshing to see Roth as a villain in a film, and i think that the film would be lost without his antagonist to the revolution. Tom Wilkinson also gives a very eye opening performance as president Lyndon Johnson. The film does no favors to Johnson in regards to the pressures he faced from both sides of the argument. Wilkinson is a master of on screen psychology, and i wouldn’t be surprised to see a supporting actor nomination for him come Oscar time. Another thing i enjoyed immensly was the script by writer and director Ava DuVerney. Ava has done a couple of films before this one. Sadly, nothing i have ever seen, but i like the directional inspirations that she added to such an inspirational story. The camera angles are very close and in your face to make you feel like you are walking next to King supporters, or even standing against them in their faces. There were a couple scenes in the film that added slow motion touches to the disgusting violent scenes shown in the film, and i thought it was hit and miss. The motion does get a little repetitive after the fourth or fifth time this happens, but i see the point. DuVerney is subtely letting the viewer soak in the wrong the same way Steve McQueen did with 2013’s “12 Years a Slave”. The violence is shocking, but is never anything that even the youngest viewer couldn’t witness. I think it takes more talent to shoot violence effectively without the gore, and make it leave an impression on the viewer. It’s safe to say that DuVerney accomplishes this feat without doing too much harm to the pacing of the film. Her lighting touches are also very effective in a story like this. Most of the film is done at night with a lot of darkness and shadows around our protagonists. Shadows usually signify something being hidden in films, and you never know when King’s opposers could strike in such a scary setting. It’s nice to see a script that doesn’t treat the viewer like an idiot. We already know who King is, so we don’t need his whole life story. This film is about his biggest cause and effect. It’s nice to see a film capture the psychological reasonings for some of the decisions King made that even his biggest of supporters sometimes didn’t understand. The private moments with his wife are there, and it’s in those intimacies that we learn more about King than we ever could in protest. “Selma” was a film that is powerful and inspiring in it’s message. It’s amazing to look at a film’s whose setting was over 50 years ago, and to see just how little has changed. It’s a film that everyone should see, even if it’s only for it’s historical significance. I definitely recommend it to everyone, and i think this is one that is worthy of it’s Oscar contention.

Gone Girl

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9/10

The pages of Gillian Flynn’s novel comes to life as Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a married man whose wife is kidnapped the morning of their 5th anniversary. Nick is the prime suspect in the trial, and the film has bombshell reveals that really make you question his character. Gone Girl is my favorite novel that i have ever read. I find it’s twists and turns so original and eye opening, and it’s always great to see an author who writes characters with human traits. The film is no disappointment. There are a lot of things that director David Fincher does to make this one of the best films of 2014. First of all, the cast is absolutely perfect. I was a little worried about Ben Affleck as the main protagonist when this film was first developed, but i honestly couldn’t see anyone else playing him. Nick experiences a love/hate relationship with the media, and i don’t think anyone knows that better than Affleck. With all of the critiques about his upcoming role as Batman in 2015, Affleck knows fine and well the beatings that a man in the spotlight can take. Another pleasant surprise is Tyler Perry as Nick’s lawyer, Tanner Bolt. Perry is finally working off of a script that isn’t his, and Fincher gives him great direction as a hot shot think fast lawyer. Perry exherts so much charisma, and even delivers the best line of the movie for me. Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens are also very noteworthy as Nick’s sister Margo, and Detective Boney respectively. For a while, it seems like this film will easily be Dickens for the taking, but that changes with the casting of Roseamund Pike as Amy Dunne, the woman who is taken. I am not embellishing even slightly when i say that Pike deserves an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Amy. There are so many emotions that this character has to display, and i knew she would knock it out of the park. She gives you so many goosebumps in just a stare. It really is impressive to see her with a role that brings out her absolute best. This is a role that people will remember her for the rest of her life. The sound editing/mixing was also top notch once again for a Fincher film. David always does sound better than anyone in Hollywood because he takes a situation at a club or a public area and make it a little drowned out to hear our characters. This is great because people are always heard perfectly in films whenever they are at a bar or club. The lighting is also given that Fincher treatment with plenty of pale tones to echo the moods of the story. The eggshell coloring of the Dunne’s house inside makes the house feel empty even when our characters inhabit it. The film’s score is again brilliantly done by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The reflections of our characters actions are played to dark and ominous tones that are reminiscent of early 90’s Twin Peaks instrumentals. When i compare the film to the book, i feel that they both have a place. People who read the book and enjoyed it will enjoy the film, and people who haven’t read the book will enjoy the film for the smart, sleek nature of the story it reveals. The narration of Amy’s journal is very welcome with the pacing of the story, and the flashback scenes that they describe. There are some differences with the film from the book and that is much expected. The absences of a couple key characters hit home a little bit for me. Nick’s Dad is in the film, but his role is greatly devalued. I would’ve liked to have seen his backstory involved a little more as he is a prominent suspect in the book. If i have one critique with the film, it’s that some areas of the story aren’t told to the full value that they were in the book. One example is the reveal of the objects in the shed and their sentimental meaning. It’s not a big deal, but those kind of things meant more in the book. The big reveal is done about an hour into the 2 hour and 20 minute film, and i thought this would be took quick while watching the film. I was totally wrong because it allows enough time to show how derranged the film gets, and explain every single step in the kidnapping. I definitely recommend this film to anyone over the age of 16. There is nudity, language, and surprisingly a lot of graphic violence. Gone Girl twists and turns through a maze of emotions and character shifts, but it’s ending is unlike anything you have ever seen, and it’s for that reason why Gone Girl is can’t miss.

Guardians of the Galaxy

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9/10

The sure fire hit of the summer from Marvel Studios has hit, and the comic world on the big screen will never be the same. Guardians of the Galaxy stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and voice work from Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. They are known as the title characters in question, and are assembled when all are arrested during a raid for an ancient orb that has powerful gifts that come with it. I absolutely loved everything about this movie. When the credits hit, there was only one thing i had a problem with, but it’s so small in detail and contains spoilers so i’m not going to get into it. Instead, this will serve as a love fest for one of the best films of 2014. The performances are so good in plenty that it’s hard to only mention a select few. Pratt has the charisma of a 1950’s movie star and brings out so much of his personality in Jason “Starlord” Quill. He gives the movie it’s comedy which is hilarious well past the cute one liners you hear in most Marvel movies. Bautista is very surprising as Drax The Destroyer. We all know Dave can play action scenes well from his time in professional wrestling, but Bautista gives Drax a sensitive undertone from the death of his family that we can relate to such a maniac in devastating fashion. The absolute best part of the movie for me was played by a CGI raccoon known as Rocket (Voiced by Cooper). The things Bradley Cooper did with this character with only a voice are purely out of this world. It sounds nothing like Cooper and that is the most impressive thing when anyone does voice work. It’s hard to get lost in a character that you didn’t actually portray, but Bradley Cooper is the best part of this movie. In a group of tough individuals, it is Rocket Raccoon that is perhaps the most unstable with his “Never enough” kind of attitude. The makeup work and costumes are absolutely brilliant for this movie. Oscar worthy even because they bring to life the pages of a comic book that is over 30 years old. The special effects and CGI work are what give the movie it’s sparkle. Lots of wide shots at the beautiful planets that these characters invade are eye candy to anyone who appreciates places that we may not see in our daily lives, like me. The 3D did something different with it’s effects that i really enjoyed. Instead of throwing things at the camera like most films do, the 3D in Guardians of the Galaxy served more as a template for the beautiful colors and imagery that the movie had to offer. There were fireflies that were passing in front of our very eyes, as well as the ashes from constant heart pounding fight scenes that our main characters went through. I don’t often rave about 3D, but if you see one 3D film this year, it has to be this one. The soundtrack and score alike are the very best that film has to offer in 2014. The movie is kind of a calling card to the 70’s and 80’s music trends that Jason Quill grew up in. Everything from Southern rock to club beats of the pre MC 80’s era is to be heard through the headphones of a Sony Walkman. As the viewer, you will actually feel like it is you who is listening with the headphones, and it makes it easier to get lost in the story around you. The overall attitude of the movie is what really took this leaps and bounds above anything Marvel has ever created. It’s a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and i think that is needed. How many times can you see a smart or tough superhero go through the same similar story to the same results? Guardians has the most likeable and relatable characters (Minus Iron Man) that you will ever see. What’s most amazing about that is there are a couple of people in this group who can be deemed “Psychopaths”, so to make the character enjoyable without tiring the audience shows Marvel really took their time with this one, and it paid off huge. The movie also has some really enjoyable cameos that i am not going to spoil for you. I managed to catch most of them, but if i didn’t it only leaves the door open for 2nd and 3rd watchings in the future. The action and fight scenes are brilliant with lots of fancy gadgets that we aren’t used to in the comic big screen world because most stories take place on Earth. Overall, i think Marvel waited till the perfect time to release this movie. It’s the best Marvel movie ever (My opinion), but it wouldn’t have been as good with the technology of 1998 or 2002. I am strongly waiting for the sequel to this movie, and i absolutely recommend that you go all out and see it in 3D. Your eyes will thank you for the visual treat in front of you. Guardians of the Galaxy is the most fun you will have at the movie theater this Summer. The schedulers definitely saved the best for last, and it’s the most fun you have had in space since the original three Star Wars movies.