Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Imitation Game

I’m sure that in some corner of the internet, people rejoice to hear that Benedict Cumberbatch plays a gay character, validating their hopes for the future of Sherlock and Watson… the internet is a weird place…

“The Imitation Game” stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley and is directed by Morten Tyldum. It focuses on the story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who managed to crack the German Enigma code, significantly helping the Allies in WWII. Oh, and also he is gay in a time in which that was a criminal offence, so it’s kind of “Satan’s Alley” with maths, and if you understood that joke, congratulations. It definitely caught the eye of the Academy, netting eight nominations.

The story of Alan Turing is frankly amazing, there’s no doubt about that, and for some reason this is the first major film made about him. Benedict Cumberbatch, who was my major concern about this movie, is well-cast and he creates an interesting character. I was worried that he would just rehash his “Sherlock” performance, which launched a well-deserved career, but also became kind of expected of him. At this point I’ was actually not convinced that Cumberbatch has great range as an actor. And I remain unconvinced, but that does not mean that this wasn’t a great performance. Cumberbatch manages to remove Turing and Sherlock from each other, although not very far, selecting a slight stutter over Sherlock’s rapid speech. The script also moves him in the direction of Asperger’s instead of being a high functioning sociopath.

Knightley also shows acting talent that surpasses most of her performances before this, playing a smart woman that has to deal with her place in society. This helps her understanding of Turing and the two work well together.

At this point however, sadly the positives run out. As much as I enjoyed the two lead performances, I was disappointed by the script. There are two aspects of Turing’s story that make it worth telling and interesting. The fact that he was helping the world with his work as much as he did but had to hide his true personality at all times is inspiring and shocking at the same time. The revolutionary work he conducted in math and most importantly computer technology is the other aspect, and this is almost non-existent in the film. The actual logic behind the code-breaking is so scarcely hinted at that the one moment that shows us the deciding idea that makes Turing’s machine work falls flat. If we don’t know what the problem was, how are we supposed to care for the solution? “The Theory of Everything”, where the science was clearly secondary but still explained effectively, managed to balance a personal story and give us an impression of the great scientific mind that is Stephen Hawking. “The Imitation Game” goes all-out on the personal drama and neglects the mathematical genius that is Alan Turing. The math is not even that hard to explain, Numberphile on Youtube managed it in two ten-minute videos. The filmmakers could have easily cut the mostly inconsequential childhood scenes and added some more cryptography.

My second criticism is historical inaccuracies. I do not expect a movie to be one hundred percent accurate, there has to be a balance between reality and storytelling. But once again, “The Imitation Game” is unbalanced, overplaying Turing’s social problems, hinting at autism where by all accounts there was none. This also puts it in danger of enforcing the association of gay with weird, acting against the films agenda of tolerance. When the Bombe machine (which was not named “Christopher”) finally works, the film leaves reality completely, forgetting that Turing was not the only real person in this film and takes a lot of creative licence with the supporting characters. This actually happens over the course of the whole movie, in an effort to create villains within the story.

Morten Tyldum’s direction, which I am only mentioning because he got nominated for an Oscar, is mostly boring. The performances he gets from his lead characters are great, but the rest of his direction is merely standard, with not one outstanding scene or interesting shots.

All in all, the film is still good, but honestly, I think Alan Turing deserves more than a good movie, his story deserves a great movie, with a better script and a better director. I can only imagine what this film would have been with a director who actually knows how to make science and personal drama interesting, someone like David Fincher for example.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Wild

„Legally Blonde“ this ain’t…

“Wild”, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in the early nineties in an attempt to get her life back under control. Along the way she deals with multiple issues plaguing her, including the death of her mother, played in flashbacks by Laura Dern.

To say that Cheryl Strayed had fallen on hard times before the hike that makes up most of this time would probably be an understatement. After her mother dies, she begins a downward spiral towards heroin addiction and meaningless sex with everyone who asks. At last, she is shocked out of her self-induced anaesthesia by the divorce from her husband and an unwanted pregnancy. On a whim, she decides to walk herself back to the woman she once was. So she picks up a book about the PCT and starts out on her journey back to self-respect.
What makes her so interesting is that underneath all the drugs, numbness and grief, she is a very smart woman. She is well-versed in poetry and when the divorce papers are filled out, she gives herself a new last name, “Strayed”, which seems like a very self-aware form of punishment.

All this has to be the basis for Reese Witherspoon’s performance, but she actually takes it even further. She goes to all the dark places that her back-story needs her to go, shown in flashbacks, which I’ll get to later. She also does all her own walking, which is a lot, even though through the magic of movie-making, it’s probably not quite the original 1,100 mile trek. It’s an incredibly physical performance and we can see it in every facet of Witherspoon’s performance. At the beginning of the journey, we meet a woman who is as down as you can get. A motel-clerk takes her for a drugged-up hooker and she’s not that far off. But soon the tired face of a drug addict is replaced by the tired face of a woman who goes to her limits, thinks about quitting and then pushes on.

Reese Witherspoon has won an Oscar for her role in “Walk the Line”. Her performance in that movie was great, but this is better. That becomes clear from the first scene, which wipes away the image of the All-American darling Reese Witherspoon. I don’t want to spoil anything, but when that scene comes around again, it’s even more haunting.

Laura Dern gives another strong performance, although I would have thought that she would get her Oscar nomination for her role in “The Fault in Our Stars”, which is similar but with more depth than this one.

Jean-Marc Vallée follows up his success from last year, “Dallas Buyers Club”, with a movie that is quite different. Where “Dallas Buyers Club” was a conventionally structured film with a few contemplative moments thrown in, this is all-contemplation. The idea of most biopics is to give the audience a way into the head of the subject and “Wild” is a masterpiece in that aspect. Flashbacks are often sequenced into films, mostly to provide necessary information, as one block. The flashbacks in “Wild” are less exposition, more stylistic device. The reason for Cheryl’s trip is never much of a mystery and is not treated as such. Instead, the flashbacks are shot and organised in a way that basically lets us read Cheryl’s mind. She has a lot of things to work through and we get to see that process in a very organic way. For example her inner monologue would list things that she misses about the civilized world, like good food, friends and the Minnesotan snow (the last one maybe not so much). The next thing we see is a short clip of her in a restaurant with a friend. Then we see her hike on, but the memory has surfaced and then gets expanded upon, showing us an integral scene of the past. It works like a charm, we always get to see what triggers the memory that follows. The film is episodic in that way, but at the same time, all these things are on her mind at all times, illustrated by the way short flashback moments are intercut with each other. The flashbacks are also not limited to complete scenes, sound bites and music are used to similar effect.

I could write so much more about this film, it impressed me on all levels. It manages to take the audience on a journey and doesn’t fall into clichéd territory. No easy third-act redemption to be found here. It’s also very funny in some places. It’s an impressive film and the greatest performance of Witherspoon’s career.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Theory of Everything

For a man who enjoys chess this much, Stephen Hawking apparently threw around a lot of chess boards in his early days…

“The Theory of Everything” is the Stephen Hawking biopic, directed by James Marsh, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Saying this film is a Stephen Hawking biopic doesn’t really do it justice though. More than on his struggles with Lou-Gherick’s disease or his scientific work, “The Theory of Everything” focuses on his first marriage to Jane Wilde, played by Felicity Jones. The film is also based on her book "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking". Thus, Redmayne and Jones share equal amounts of screentime and we see both of their stories unfolding at the same time.


The two lead performances are amazing. Felicity Jones plays a woman who, when Hawking is diagnosed, is given the chance to bow out but doesn’t. She stays with him, against the doubts of his family and against Stephen’s initial will. She is a strong woman, but she also gets tested more than most human beings. Where Hawking is the brilliant scientist, she is a devout member of the Church of England. This and many other things weigh on her marriage and Jones portrays the hard work that is her life and the effect it has on her admirably. Eddie Redmayne on the other hand has a much more physical role. The movie opens with Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair, playing with his children, but then moves back in time (just as Hawking did in his work) to his early days, racing his friend Brian on a bike. However, at no point in this movie is he not affected by his disease. Early scenes show him slowly losing control over his hands and the film never pretends that this is just clumsiness. However, his disease is only put into focus when it is absolutely necessary, for example at his first diagnosis. Everything else rests mostly on Redmayne’s shoulders. He goes from slightly shuffling to using a cane to not being able to climb the stairs and finally to the wheelchair. It is an extremely demanding performance and it’s probably going to prove almost impossible for Redmayne to top it in his future career. He deserves his Academy Award nomination and so does Jones.

The movie really lives from those two performances, but it is also well-directed and beautifully shot. The story offers a unique look into the life of arguably one of the greatest person in human history and his family. At times it isn’t exactly comfortable to watch, but the film manages to find a heartfelt approach to all stages in Hawking’s life and manages to insert some good laughs here and there. Look out for a reference to a popular British TV-series in particular.


Overall, this is a must-watch for the two lead performances alone, especially since the Oscars are coming up fast. Also, while it certainly isn’t easy fare, it is preferable to emptying a bucket of ice over your head to raise your awareness for ALS.

Friday, 16 January 2015

A short reaction to the Oscar nominations

So the Oscar nominations have been announced and I'm super excited to see who is going to be taking away statues this year. I'm not going to go into full detail, but there are a few things I would like to address.

First, very little appreciation for "Nightcrawler", which is a shame. If you've read my top ten list of last year's movies, you know that "Nightcrawler" took one of the top spots. With only eight out of ten possible nominations for best picture, I don't really see why it was left out. An almost even bigger shame is that once again Jake Gyllenhaal gave a transformative performance and is getting no credit from the academy. However, it's an undeniably strong category this year, so it didn't really come unexpected. And from what I'm hearing about "Selma", the Martin Luther King biopic, the omission of David Oyelowo seems to be much more controversial.

Second, "The LEGO Movie" got snubbed for best animated feature. In a category in which one out of four eligible movies get a nod, the Academy managed to leave out the one movie that most Oscar predictions actually handled as the big favourite. I watched it again tonight and it is simply an amazing movie with great style, a lot of fun and even more heart. Apart from all that, it also manages to perfectly capture the abstract concept that is "playing with LEGO's". This is probably the one thing I am most disappointed about.

It was not the only disappointment though, because Billy Boyd did not get nominated for his amazing contribution to the final "Hobbit" film, the original song "The last Goodbye". This song captured the feel of the whole "Middle-Earth" saga, and the journey of making it, so well that I had it on repeat for days. Them feels...
But at least "Everything is Awesome" got nominated, so that's my new favourite in this category.

Apart from that, I can only say that it's a really strong field this year and that I can't wait to see all of these movies. As I haven't seen any of the best picture nominees yet, I can't tell you who's my personal favourite right now, but I've got a feeling that "Whiplash" might end up there. I don't know if it will win, but by the way the awards season has been shaping up so far, it seems to be between "Birdman" and "Boyhood". We will have to wait and see, on the 22nd of February.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

John Wick

Keanu Reeves has been trying to come back into action for a while now… Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.

“John Wick” is Keanu Reeves’ return to action, after “Man of Tai Chi” and “47 Ronin” didn’t perform as well as he might have wanted, co-directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. On the surface it is a simple revenge thriller about a professional assassin who comes out of retirement to kill the son of a Russian mafia boss who stole his car and murdered his dog.

Keanu Reeves is one of the most dedicated action stars that Hollywood has ever seen. He is not a martial artist in his spare time, but on-screen, he is extremely serious about it. Between 2010 and 2012 he took a break from acting and put a lot of time into studying cinematography and camera-work, partly with the purpose of finding new ways to film fight scenes. So when he came back, he started working on directing “Man of Tai Chi”. While that film wasn’t a complete success, neither on an artistic level nor on a financial level, but it had some really amazing fights. John Wick, directed by Chad Stahelski, who has worked with Reeves as a stuntman since “The Matrix”, is a success on every level and might just put Reeves back into the action-star role that he so deserves. If you don’t believe me, watch this.

So whether you believe any of that or not, Keanu’s zen-like style works perfectly for the role of John Wick, ex-assassin who quit when he found a woman he loved. He is elegant and carries himself with a good deal of melancholia, but when the fighting starts, that elegance turns into almost superhuman deadly precision, in some brilliantly choreographed fight scenes. Think of the knife-fights in “The Raid” and put in a pistol. The directors both started out as stuntmen, something that to my knowledge has never turned out well before. Only this time, it does. They get some help from cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who has previously worked on movies such as the at least beautiful (we won’t talk about the rest) “Max Payne” and “A good Day to Die Hard”, which… wait what? And the movie is produced by Eva Longoria from “Desperate Housewives”? How did this movie ever turn out so well? Anyway, “John Wick” looks really good, and Sela’s work provides an intoxicating atmosphere to the different setpieces, be it a hotel bar that is realised in some very strong green tones or a loud club that is home to one of the coolest action scenes I’ve seen lately.

Which brings me to the movies second strong point, maybe even more important than the great action and fitting actors. The world that this movie is set in seems so special and draws you in unlike anything I’ve seen in an action film since “Scott Pilgrim”. Where “Taken” has only one really interesting set-piece in its slave auction towards the end, “John Wick” checks into a hotel that is a kind of demilitarized zone for the mobsters, led by a mysterious “management”, that enforces its one rule, no business in the hotel, with cold efficiency. Where Liam Neeson kills people left and right, never fearing that he might encounter people who are not his enemies, Wick’s world is populated with car mechanics, cleaning crews, hotel managers and other assassins, all of them merely small characters with minimal screen time, but characters nonetheless. They know John Wick and his enemies and they have some stance towards them. The result is a fascinating world that actually managed to make me want to explore this world deeper before Reeves has even landed his first headshot, of which there are plenty.


In conclusion, this is a return to form for Reeves and a surprisingly good movie. It is my favourite action movie since “The Raid”, mostly because of the great world-building. It even beats out “Taken”, and I loved that movie. So if you find yourself with the choice between Liam Neeson throat-chopping a bunch of random bad guys for the third time (not counting “Taken-on-a-plane” and “Taken-in-Berlin”) and this, “John Wick” gets my recommendation. If you want to take your girlfriend, you can get her excited for it by telling her about the cute dog that’s in this (a lot of “awwwwwws” during the first fifteen minutes), just don’t show her the trailer.

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Hobbit - Why your argument is not as good as you think it is

So last time I wrote about the reasons I think that the “Hobbit” films are good films, though I acknowledge that they are by no means masterpieces. The thing is, when you’re fighting the internet, good arguments do not matter. What matters is destroying you opponent, so if you hate on the Hobbit, be prepared to be insulted with some homophobic slurs…
Or I'll just try to challenge some of your arguments, like a sane human being. Maybe I can change a few minds.

Now, I want to make one thing clear from the get-go. All film is subjective and if you didn’t like any movie in “The Hobbit” trilogy, I have no problem with you. However, I know a few people that refused to even give the movies a chance, based on arguments that I can only describe as shaky.

Because if you tell me that “The Hobbit” is simply a cash-grab and then you go watch “Taken 3”, then you’re an idiot. But one at a time.

Beware, there are spoilers down below, because if you argue against the movies and haven’t seen them and read the book, I am already not listening to your arguments. And when I say “and”, I mean it.

“The Hobbit” should never have been three movies!!!

There’s a few things to say about that. First, if your argument is that because “The Hobbit” is one book it should be one movie, then that’s a very arbitrary thing to say. Why would that be the case? Where does it say that no book can be adapted as two movies? Or three?
Have you read the book? Now, at this point I want to just talk about a book being adapted into more than one movie, not specifically three movies, that’s later. First let’s talk about how much actually happens in this three-hundred page book.

For example the whole process of killing the dragon takes up two and a half pages. By the way, the black arrows are set up on those pages as well. And that’s the graphic description of it. Our heroes, the dwarves learn of it from a bird. As a screenwriter, that poses a problem. When our company of dwarves set out to take back a mountain from a dragon, it’s heavily implied that they will kill said dragon. But that’s not how the book goes. So not only do you need to build a strong action scene based on one page, which becomes the opening of “Battle of the Five Armies”. Also, the actual heroes have to have some confrontation with the dragon, preferably coming out on top. So you have to add an action scene taking place in Erebor. And that is just on the surface. You also need to have a dragonslayer that has enough character for audiences to latch on to.

There are more examples like this, several scenes have to be extended to be cinematic, and a lot of things have to be expanded upon simply because Bilbo falls asleep halfway through the action.
What I just did for the death of Smaug can be done for a lot of the other scenes in this wonderful book. That alone puts it from one to two movies at least, if you ask me. And just to give you a hint of what else needs to be addressed when you adapt this book, a lot has been made about the lack of characterization for the dwarves in the films. Eight out of thirteen dwarves in the book are characterized only by the colour of their hood.

So now we have our two “Hobbit” movies, and it’s great, two fast-paced adventure movies with great action and maybe you can even fit in some characterization for a few characters between all the action. What puts it from two to three is the connective tissue between the two trilogies. Now in my personal opinion, if they had done it right, this could have been two movies, but I like it as three as well, for one last reason.
We have never before seen an adaption from a book that actually committed to putting more to screen than is in the book. There is a reason for that, because rarely does a book have enough backstory to warrant that. Middle-Earth has that, and more, which arguably has presented the filmmakers with problems in the editing room.
Anyway, this is all I’m going to say about that, there’s more where that came from though. The second argument that people usually bring is a little bit easier.


It’s just a cash-grab!

The Hobbit trilogy had a budget of 745 million dollar. That is not how you do a cash-grab. You do not try to revolutionize cinema by introducing high frame rate, no matter how well that worked. You do not hire some of the most successful actors working in Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. What you do is take something cheap that people liked and copy it. That is what the entirety of the Horror genre seems to be about these days and I don’t doubt that we will see that in the upcoming “Taken 3” as well.

Apart from that, accusing a film of trying to make money seems like an exceptionally stupid thing to do. After all, the movie business is just that, a business. We are lucky to have a lot of people in the filmmaking business that love what they are doing and are ambitious about delivering quality movies, but the people that are actually responsible for getting these movies to our screens are running a business.

To take this back to the “Hobbit” films, the two people who were most responsible for this movie are certainly Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Jackson. These two are some of the best examples in the business right now for filmmakers for whom art is the primary objective, not success. Look what Jackson has done with his success after “Lord of the Rings”. He made “King Kong”, a passion project for him. Del Toro has committed huge amounts of his time lately to get the sequel to “Pacific Rim” made. That’s all I’m going to say about that.


So that’s it, those are the arguments against “The Hobbit” that I have real problems with, simply because they are unsubstantiated and target the making of the movie more than they talk about the actual films. They are also often simply repeated without any other thought put into them, especially the first one. Most of us have never written a screenplay or made a movie, yet we indulge ourselves in judging the work of people who put a lot of work into something. With that I don’t want to say that there are no bad movies or that we can’t say so. But when we start forming our opinions before we’ve actually seen a frame of the movie, that’s something we should be careful about. “The Hobbit” is a great book but it’s not exactly written in a cinematic way. In adapting it, Jackson and his crew had to compensate for a lot of things such as Bilbo’s tendency to fall asleep when stuff starts going down or the lacking characterization of Thorin’s company. And remember that “The Hobbit” was Tolkien’s first step into Middle-Earth, a world that he fleshed out much more with “The Lord of the Rings” and his other works.

Fun fact by the way, “The Lord of the Rings” is only three books because of the publisher. Tolkien wrote it as one book in six parts. In the making of the “Rings” trilogy, the project went exactly the same way the Hobbit did. First it was one movie, then two, and then it became a trilogy.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Hobbit - Why they had to make them

So my dear friend Cinemartian is taking part in a Middle-Earth marathon right now and if I hadn’t been to one last month, I’d be so jealous. Instead I have to read people on the internet hating on the Hobbit films, and it’s annoying as fuck. So I decided to go ahead and finish up this post in defence of the Hobbit trilogy. And yes, Hobbit-haters, I'm splitting it into three parts.

A lot of people on the internet (and I’m not talking about reviewers, I mean people on the internet) have levelled a lot of criticism against the Hobbit films. Some of it’s warranted, a lot of it isn’t. Critics have been a lot more positive towards them, with each of them being above 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. Personally I’ve liked all of them, not only for the opportunity to revisit Middle-Earth, but also because I genuinely think that they are very good movies.
The most important thing to get out of the way is the unfairness of comparing these movies to “The Lord of the Rings”. The Rings trilogy are some of the greatest movies ever and all one can ask of the “Hobbit” trilogy is that they deliver something that is worthy of the original trilogy, something that justifies making these movies, just like the “Star Wars” prequels didn’t. Because of this, I want to start by giving you a short list of things that these movies did that enriches what the Middle-Earth saga was before. I’ll try to respond to some of the more specific points of criticism next time.

Riddles in the dark
Technically the pivotal moment of the whole trilogy, chilling out at the beginning of the third act. The one ring passes to Bilbo and he becomes the ring-bearer, later passing it on to Frodo, starting the defining chapter of the third age of Middle-Earth, the war for the ring.
This is one of two scenes where it’s not even debatable, this is on the level of the original trilogy. It brings back Gollum, the most amazing character from the original trilogy, once again portrayed perfectly by Andy Serkis. Freeman and Serkis play off of each other perfectly and despite the action fuelled scenes that follow, Bilbo and Gollum playing a high-stakes game of riddles is the emotional climax of the film.

Don’t wake a sleeping dragon
For two movies, we had to wait to finally see Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug, the last great fire-drake of Middle-Earth, and let’s just say, it’s intense. Once again, the actual, action-filled climax is preceded by an amazing battle of wits (something that most action films don’t find necessary these days) as Bilbo tries to find the Arkenstone and accidentally wakes the dragon, even though Balin specifically told him not to do that. What follows is a little hobbit playing for time, trying to escape and carry out his mission at the same time.



Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
I’m on record saying that I find Martin Freeman’s performance to be one of the best in the complete Middle-Earth saga. Bilbo Baggins is one of the most interesting characters in Middle-Earth and throughout these movies, they even managed to enrich the character.
Bilbo has a multi-layered emotional arc. He is away from home, on an adventure for the first time and has to find his courage. Also, he tries to earn the respect of the dwarves and we as an audience see the influence of the ring.
The movies have found this wonderful way into the relationship between Bilbo and the dwarves through Bilbo’s love for his home. For this, some key scenes have been added, like Bilbo’s conversation with Dwalin when he is thinking about quitting the company. (Which is something you can bet I will bring up when I’m addressing the whole 3-movies-question)

So these are just three aspects of the prequel trilogy that I was very happy to see. I truly believe that it would have been a crying shame had we never got to see these things play out on the big screen. Things that make these films not only good movies, but also worthy parts of the Middle-Earth saga. These are also part of the reason why I think that ten years from now, nobody is going to care that they made the prequels into three parts, 48 fps and that they had the audacity to earn any money from them, those dirty cash-grabbers. The simple fact is that all three films have been good. They are not masterpieces, but they are great adventure movies, always entertaining and made with care and love.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

St. Vincent

Have child actors gotten better? It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie with a child actor made me hate him for being so bad… apart for Joffrey of course, but that’s because he is so good at it.

“St. Vincent” is directed by Theodore Melfi and stars Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Jaeden Lieberher, but mostly Bill Murray. The film follows the relationship between Oliver, a young boy who moves into a new neighbourhood with his mother, and Vincent, a misanthropic old war veteran, who becomes his babysitter, because his mother has to work long hours to support them both.

Bill Murray is the strong-point of this movie, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, being that he is one of the greatest actors in Hollywood. The role of Vincent seems to be tailor-made for him, making full use of his dramatic range and perfect comedic timing. Also, it develops in a way that elevates it over similar characters, which put Murray in the awards conversation, even if he might not be up there for the big ones in a season that is as packed with great performances as this one is.

Also surprisingly good is Jaeden Lieberher as young Oliver, a kid who has to deal with his mother’s divorce, a new school and a new neighbourhood. Lieberher gives a likeable performance and at the same time manages to give the audience a way into Murray’s character, who could easily come off as unlikeable, considering the things he does throughout the movie. Another surprising performance comes from Naomi Watts as eastern European stripper/”dame of the night”. She steals most scenes she’s in and has amazing chemistry with Murray.

 The one person I was worried about was McCarthy. She was incredibly funny in “Bridesmaids”, but since then, she has been doing the same thing Johnny Depp has done since he played Jack Sparrow and recycled that performance again and again. Only unlike Depp, she doesn’t have a gigantic filmography full of diverse performances to convince me that she is more than a one-trick-pony.
But maybe she really isn’t, because she is very good in St. Vincent. Instead of playing a scenery-chewing over-the-top femme fatale, she actually played a human being. While she is not the focus of the movie, she actually manages to bring out a lot of the emotion in her character in a short amount of time. It’s a performance I didn’t expect from her, and I was happy to see it.

The one problem I had with this movie is that, for most of the time, it’s absolutely predictable. I say “for most of the time”, because it does throw one very interesting curve-ball towards the end of the second act, but while that helps to elevate Murray’s performance, it doesn’t change the trajectory of the movie at all. It goes on to a by-the-numbers end. However, none of it is executed poorly in any way, and the finale was actually extremely touching, so this all falls into the category “minor gripes”.


Overall, first-time feature director Theodore Melfi managed to create a heartfelt movie with great performances and as I said, in a different year, Murray would have gotten a lot more attention for his role. As it’s still getting awards attention across the board, so I doubt anyone involved is losing any sleep about it.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

My Top 10 most anticipated movies of 2015

2015 has finally come around, and from a film-nerd perspective, I can tell you that I’ve been waiting for this since 2013. There are so many upcoming movies that I want to see, it was really hard to limit it to ten films for this list, but hey, that’s the job. There is an improbable number of films that I want to give honourable mentions to, but instead, I’m just going to put them in a list at the end, so you can google them yourself. But now let’s get going.

Number 10: “Jurassic World”
I’ve been looking forward to this since I saw the first pictures. It would probably be higher up on my list, but the trailer didn’t blow my mind as much as others have. Doesn’t mean I’m not super excited about Chris Pratt riding with dinosaurs.
The plot sees Jurassic Park up and running for the first time. However, people are actually becoming bored by dinosaurs, so the people behind the park have actually taken it upon themselves to create a new attraction by genetically modifying known species into a new and smarter dinosaur… like that never goes wrong.

The trailer is right here and the film drops on June 11th.



Number 9: “Entourage”
This made my list probably based on the fact that I’m rewatching the series right now and it’s just so much fun. The trailer looks like they’re doing everything right so far. The chemistry between the crew is perfect and it’s simply fun to watch.
Not much is known about the plot except that Vincent Chase, after the end of the series, has turned to directing a movie for Ari Gold, now a big studio head. Apart from that, look forward to lots of shenanigans between Vince, E, Turtle and Drama. And a lot of furious screaming by Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold.

The film also comes out on June 11th and there's a trailer right here.



Number 8: “Ant-Man”
Being excited for a Marvel movie is kind of a given thing these days. Anyways, this film had a lot of problems getting to the screen, with Edgar Wright leaving the project. Still, I’m excited to see what they can bring to the cinematic universe and I can’t wait to see Michael Douglas doing a big blockbuster.
The plot follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a professional thief, who has to plan a heist with the help of Hank Pym (Douglas), who gives him the Ant-Man suit. The suit enables Lang to shrink in size while keeping his normal strength.

Ant-Man comes out on July 23rd and there's an ant-sized trailer right here with a full sized one coming out in three days.



Number 7: “Birdman”
Everything I’ve heard about this sounds absolutely fascinating. A complete film made to look like a single shot, if that doesn’t sound interesting, what does? The trailer looks amazing and what I’m hearing Keaton and Norton are both at the top of their game and at the top of the Oscar conversation.
The plot is about an older actor who wants to reclaim some of his past glory by putting together a play on Broadway. However, the cornucopia of problems that comes with the project, including a problematic co-star played by Edward Norton, see him stress out and haunted by Birdman, the superhero role that made him famous.

The film comes out this month, on the 29th, and a trailer's over here.



Number 6: “Whiplash”
And another Oscar contender. Miles Teller is one of the most talented young actors at work these days and it looks like J.K. Simmons is given the role of a lifetime.
The film is about Andrew, a young Jazz-drummer who wants to be one of the greats. His break comes when he is discovered by Fletcher, a prestigious and respected teacher who is looking for a drummer for his band. But when he turns out to be extremely abusive, a psychological war between the two begins.

The film comes out February 19th and there's a trailer over here.




Number 5: “James Bond – Spectre”
“Skyfall” made a billion dollars at the box office, so it’s safe to say that Spectre has some expectations to meet. As a huge fan of Daniel Craig as James Bond, I am confident that they are going to deliver a great movie, especially with Andrew Scott and Christoph Waltz joining him.
The plot sees Bond go up against an old enemy, the terrorist organisation Spectre, which has given him so much grief in the past, then led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Will we see a new incarnation of Blofeld? No word on that so far, but if you’ve got Waltz, why not use him for that?

The film comes out over here on November 5th.



Number 4: “The Hateful Eight”
After lots of controversy about the leaked script, Quentin Tarantino luckily decided to go ahead and make the movie anyway. It sees him go back to the western genre and I could stop right there, because that’s all you need to know really.
Apart from that, word of mouth from people who have read the script is great, with the story following a group of travellers that get trapped in a cabin together by a storm. Sounds like a lot of opportunities for great dialogue…

The film sadly doesn't have a release date in Germany yet and the teaser trailer got pulled from the internet and is only available in bad quality.



Number 3: “Mad Max – Fury Road”
Have you seen the trailer? If not, click here. This movie was actually done a year ago or so, but when the studio saw it they liked it so much they gave director George Miller, who has directed the first three movies as well, more money in order to make the movie bigger. Mel Gibson, who is slightly problematic these days, is replaced by Tom Hardy, an actor who has a physical presence unlike anyone else, and he is joined by Charlize Theron who looks like a proper badass in this.
The effects look seriously amazing, with a great mix of CGI and practical effects and the plot is described as one gigantic car chase… count me in.

The film comes out over here on the 14th of May, two weeks after...



Number 2: “Avengers – Age of Ultron”

I’m not sure if I even have to sell you on this movie anymore. If you’re not into the Marvel Cinematic Universe by now, chances are you’ve either lived in a cave for the last years or you won’t get into it anymore. The fact is that the first Avengers film is either the best or the second best comic book movie of all time. And the sequel looks like it’s set to go bigger, better, darker and all the things that sequels do to leave the original in the dust.
 The film follows the Avengers dealing with a threat of their own making, Ulron, a sentient AI that was created by Tony Stark as a peace-keeping force, but went rogue and decided that the best way to keep the piece is to destroy humanity, you know, because we are not the most peaceful species.

The film comes out April 30th and the amazing trailer is right here.



Number 1: “Star Wars – The Force Awakens”
I haven’t watched the first trailer, I don’t want to know what it’s about, I just want to see this movie. The cast is filled with the most talented young actors and actresses the world has seen in the past few years and it’s helmed by J.J. Abrams, one of my favourite directors. Hell, as a kid, I was playing at being a Jedi, and all I had to go on were the shitty prequel movies. Now I know the original films and love them even more, so without even knowing what it’s going to be about, “The Force Awakens” beats out every other movie on this list.

This is the one that we have to wait for the longest. It comes out December 17th, and even though I don't want to watch it, the teaser is here.

So how about you, what movies are you excited for? Why don’t you tell me in the comments? And here is the promised list of honourable mentions. There are many more, but you have to stop somewhere.





Chappie
Silence
Sea of Trees
In the Heart of the Sea
Jane Got a Gun
Still Alice
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Pixels
Tomorrowland
Selma
Mission Impossible 5
American Sniper

Inside Out

Friday, 2 January 2015

My Top 10 Favourite Movies of 2014

So with the New Year rolling around, any movie reviewer worth his salt is obliged to make at least two “Top 10” lists, one of his favourite movies of the last year and one with his most anticipated movies for the coming year. (A “Top 10 Worst Movies” list is optional unless you’re on Youtube, in which case you are required to do one by international law.)

So here’s my Top 10 Movies of 2014. It was really hard choosing between about two dozen movies that absolutely blew me away when I saw them, but I managed to get the list down to ten. Anyway, first, here are some honourable mentions:

“Snowpiercer”:  Probably one of the biggest surprises of the year. I didn’t quite know what to make of it when I first saw it, but since then, the more I think about it, the more fascinated I am by it. I can’t wait to get it on DVD and watch it again.

“The LEGO Movie”: Animation really isn’t my thing, but this one impressed me. It was funny, heartfelt and insanely creative. The same goes for Lord & Millers other movie of the year, “22 Jump Street”, which also narrowly missed a spot on my list.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”: While I loved the movie and it was definitely one of my most anticipated movies of the year, a lot of that is because of it belonging to the Middle-Earth saga and while each of the “Lord of the Rings” movies would have easily taken the top spot on my list, the Hobbit films just aren’t on that level. Doesn’t keep me from loving them almost as much as the original trilogy though.

“Calvary”: Probably not a lot of people saw this, but I did and it was such an impressive film. This was the hardest decision to make, but in the end, it’s on 11, narrowly beaten out by:

Number 10: “Locke”
This is quite simply one of the most impressive performances of the year, if you ask me. Tom Hardy is probably the best young actor working today, with a huge range, and he shows it here, all alone in a car, only playing off of people on the phone.
The plot is simple: Ivan Locke has made a mistake and he is driving to London to fix it. What we see is the ninety minute drive it takes him to get there. It’s a fascinating journey and Hardy anchors it with his calm acting style.
If you want to read my complete review, it’s right here.

Number 9: “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jonah Hill did this movie almost for free, just because he wanted to work with Martin Scorsese so badly, and he was right to do so, as it gave him his second nomination at the Oscars. It also put him into an amazing movie, one of the funniest of the year.
Scorsese’s films often deal with characters with a shaky moral compass, and this is no difference. Following the exploits of corrupt investment broker Jordan Belfort, Scorsese makes you enjoy his antics in the first half only to do a complete 180° turn and make you realize what a horrible person you have been actively rooting for for the last 90 minutes.

Number 8: “Guardians of the Galaxy”
The fact that this film is on the number 8 spot on this list speaks volumes about the quality of films we had in 2014. With about a dozen relatable and loveable characters (and let’s be honest, one bad guy who was more forgettable than his henchmen) and a million quotable lines, this is one of Marvels funniest films so far.
Summarizing the plot for this seems kind of redundant, as I know of no living person that hasn’t seen it, but anyway. The movie follows a bunch of misfits, led by earthling Peter Quill, who calls himself Star-Lord, hunting for a mysterious artefact called “The Orb”. However, they are by far not the only ones hunting for it.
You can read more in my review right here.

Number 7: “Gone Girl”
Have I mentioned that we had a good year in movies? There are six movies that I liked more than a David Fincher film… Anyway, the film follows Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne, who returns home on his wedding anniversary to find his wife, played brilliantly by Rosamund Pike, missing and the house showing signs of struggle. What follows is an incredibly clever cat-and-mouse game, a lot of commentary on public perception and the media and a lot of twists and turns.
The performances are great, the direction is precise, my review’s over here.

Number 6: “Edge of Tomorrow”
I think this film surprised a lot of people. Not that many though, because not nearly enough people have seen it. But while it underperformed at the box office, possibly due to bad marketing and people being somewhat weary of Tom Cruise these days. Whatever the reason, it’s a damn shame, because in a year with some incredibly high-quality blockbusters, this came out of nowhere and gave the rest of the field a run for their money.
It follows Tom Cruise’s Cage, who is a publicity manager for the army during an alien invasion. However, he is demoted to being a grunt after trying to weasel his way out of a front line mission. He ends up at the front anyway, strapped into an exoskeleton that he has no idea how to control and promptly gets killed. But he doesn’t stay dead. Instead he finds himself back on the base, a day before the invasion. Armed with the knowledge of the previous day, he is again part of the attack and dies again, finding himself stuck in a time loop. The film follows a certain video game logic, and Cage soon unlocks a trainer in the form of Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski, the ultimate badass, who has been through the same experience.
It is a great movie, you should watch it, and if this wasn’t enough to convince you, here’s my review.

Number 5: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
I haven’t seen this on a single list the past few days, but I loved this film so much. Ben Stiller shows once again that he is a very talented director and actor. “Mitty” combines a lot of imagination with a sense of adventure and wonder at the world we inhabit. It’s a movie that makes you want to travel and meet new people.
It follows Walter Mitty, an inconspicuous employee at Time magazine, prone to daydreams, who has to man up and seek adventure when he loses a negative that was meant for the cover of the final edition of Time magazine before it becomes an online service. His journey takes him to Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan and a lot of other places.
It’s a beautiful movie, advocating simple pleasures in life and the pursuit of happiness.

Number 4: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Where “Guardians” was funny, “Captain America” was serious. It blends the incredible entertainment value of the Marvel movies with serious 70’s spy thrillers, gaining credibility simply by the fact that Robert Redford is in it. To that add some amazing performances by Chris Evans, who finds the right approach to Captain America, a man who rivals Superman for his boy-scout status, making him interesting by contrasting his golden age morals with today’s morally grey world. Scarlett Johansson made people clamour for a Black Widow stand-alone movie, and although we are not going to get that anytime soon, her role in the Marvel Universe gets bigger and bigger.
The plot sees Cap investigating the inner workings of S.H.I.E.L.D. after Nick Fury gets attacked by the Winter Soldier, a mysterious assassin. What he finds not only makes for an amazingly smart and compelling movie, but also has major implications for the Marvel Universe going forward. Also, social commentary in a comic book blockbuster, who would have guessed that.

Number 3: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
And here’s another smart blockbuster with lots to say about escalating conflicts, leadership, humanity and all that good stuff. But this one also has ground-breaking motion capture work and amazing special effects.
The follow-up to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” shares with it a certain chunkiness of the title, but apart from that surpasses its predecessor in almost every way. It follows a small group of humans that comes into the area that Caesar and his smart apes inhabit after the simian flu almost eradicated all of humanity. While it seems like apes and humans can coexist peacefully in the beginning, forces within both groups push for conflict.
I can’t begin to describe my amazement at the amount of detail that shows in the apes. There is CGI that just seems lazy and then there is this. And you can’t talk about motion capture without mentioning Andy Serkis, who might finally get some awards recognition this year. But even if he doesn’t, that won’t diminish the work he has done on this movie and in his other roles.
My review is right here.

Number 2: “Nightcrawler”
Hands down the best performance I’ve seen all year from Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, the most driven sociopath you will ever meet. “Nightcrawler” is a film that will haunt you. It’s well directed by first-time director Dan Gilroy, a man who I can’t wait to see more of.

The story revolves around Lou Bloom, a thief who spends his nights drifting through L.A., selling fences for scrap. That changes however, when he comes across a traffic accident and sees Bill Paxton’s character filming it with the intent of selling the footage to morning news shows. Lou decides that this is the right job for him, hires an intern and goes into business. Very soon, he starts crossing lines and becomes more and more successful.

What else can I say, it’s not necessarily a comfortable watch, but it’s going to stick with you for it’s great performances and direction. My full review is over here.

Number 1: “Interstellar”
Critics have found flaws in this movie, and I can’t argue with them. It’s extremely exposition-heavy, and some of the characters suffer for it, but since this is a list of my personal favourites, the number one spot goes to the movie that literally left me speechless for about five minutes when it ended. It might not be perfect, but it was an experience alright.

The plot is slightly complicated (hear the sarcasm?), but I’ll try anyway. The basic setup is that earth is dying. Crops are failing and humanity is on the brink of mass starvation. In a final attempt to save humanity, NASA sends a mission through a wormhole to another solar system. There they try to find a suitable planet. Piloting the ship is Matthew MacConaughey’s Cooper, a family man who left his son and daughter back on earth. There’s also a whole lot more about the relativity of time, black holes, multiple dimensions, robots and a whole lot of other things.

It’s complicated, intelligent, spectacular and did I mention complicated? But most of all, as I’ve said, it is an amazing experience. MacConaughey’s performance continues his incredible streak and Nolan shows that he is ambitious enough to challenge his own boundaries, delivering a much more personal movie than any he has done before.

So that’s it, my favourite movie of the year, the review’s over here.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Outside Hollywood Episode 8 - Review of the Year

Happy New Year everyone!!!

I actually wanted to get this up yesterday, but I got distracted, so here is the final podcast of last year, in which we look back at all that was good at the movies last year... and some of the bad, because let's be honest, that's just as much fun. In the reviews section, we talk a little bit about the Sony hacks and a lot about the final entry to the Middle-Earth saga "The Battle of the Five Armies". I had to do some editing on this, because I had to cut out some of my coughing, and I got most of it, so if you, eagle-eared listener, notice some bumps in the recording, congratulations, that was just to spare you my disgusting noises.