Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review

After six movies, 17 hours of film, and over fifteen years in production, Peter Jackson's Middle-earth saga is finally coming to a close with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The climatic chapter in his Hobbit trilogy ties up the loose ends of this series and sets up the first chapter in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Essentially, The Battle of the Five Armies amounts to little more than a final adieu to Middle-earth. Nobody is going to argue that this was necessary in any way and I would say that they could have ended with The Desolation of Smaug mixed with the first fifteen minutes of this movie and everything would have been fine and dandy. Nevertheless, Jackson decided to make one final film and it focuses mainly on an epic battle between men, dwarves, elves, Orcs and eagles. It's completely unnecessary, but it's mildly satisfying CGI eye candy and ultimately, it's a somewhat enjoyable conclusion to Jackson's bloated trilogy. 


The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right where The Desolation of Smaug left us, with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) on his way to Lake Town and our heroes stuck at the Mountain. However, Bard (Luke Evans) manages to save the town and slay the dragon. This is not a spoiler. This happens in the first ten minutes of the movie. After that, the dwarves realize that they've won the mountain and they celebrate. Yet Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitrage), leader of the dwarves, is not impressed. First, he searches passionately for the Arkenstone, a gem that controls those who possess it. At the same time, the armies of men, Orcs, elves and even more dwarves are headed to the mountain to get their share of gold. 

While this is happening, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is stuck in a prison in some far-off land. When Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) rescue Gandalf, they realize that Sauron has burst back into the world, setting up the Lord of the Rings franchise. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) have also traveled to Gundabad to find a second army of Orcs that is moving towards the Mountain. Meanwhile, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves are preparing for a massive battle that will decide the fate of the Lonely Mountain- and the lives of many who have traveled to it. 

The Battle of the Five Armies does not even pretend to be an actually movie. It's merely here to finish off all of the extraneous storylines that Jackson mixed into this nine-hour adaptation of a children's novel, and to give us one final epic battle. But for the most part, this is a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed the way that it set up The Fellowship of the Ring and I thought that the battle scenes were pretty solid. Yet, just like the rest of the franchise, this final installment can't help but feel completely useless and unnecessary. The main story is over within the first ten minutes- Smaug is dead and the mountain belongs to the dwarves. I know that The Battle of the Five Armies is in the book, but to borrow a quote from Bilbo Baggins: "We've won the mountain. It's yours! Can't we go home?" My thoughts exactly, buddy.

What we get instead is an eclectic mix of emotionally cold CGI battle scenes and actual, genuine poignancy. The fight between Thorin and Azog the Defiler is appropriately epic and the whole final hour of the film is pretty good. Once Jackson gets going with these movies, he truly gets going. However, just like in The Desolation of Smaug, it just takes forever for the story to actually get going. The Battle of the Five Armies starts out with a bang, but drags its feet after that, spending much of the film's time with Bard, who is an interesting character, yet he's not meant to be the main focus of the film. For some reason, we end up with Bard and his annoying servant Alfrid (Ryan Gage) for quite a while.

After that, it's just a lot of waiting for the big battle to start. There's the subplot with Gandalf and Galadriel and a lot of the movie is just looking for the all-powerful Arkenstone. And once the armies start to assemble, there's a lot of talking about fighting, then a lot of standing around, waiting for people to start fighting. When the battle finally arrives, it's cool and enjoyable, but nowhere near the epic scale of The Two Towers or Return of the King. The practical fights were much more amazing than any of the CGI battles that Jackson orchestrates in this trilogy. 

The actors are all sufficient. No great performances. No bad ones. Simply fine. Any personality, fun or true depth is lost amid all the digitized fights and the constant world-building. Martin Freeman and Richard Armitrage are the one main exception. They have strong chemistry together and actually manage to achieve one genuine emotion during a critical scene at the end of the film. Yet other attempts to pull on the audiences' heartstrings come off as forced and groan-worthy, and by trying to make the audience care about useless characters, Jackson lost me a bit. 

This is also the shortest film in the Middle-earth franchise, clocking in at a still-lengthy 144 minutes. It goes pretty quickly, moving at a solid pace that doesn't feel nearly as extended as An Unexpected Journey. However, this film still feels like it's padded with twenty extra scenes that have no reason to be in the film at all. Truth is, Peter Jackson had enough material for two great movies, but he extended it to a trilogy and ended up weakening the films. I knew that going into this final installment, but it become even more clear as I watched Jackson stall the battle for most of the film's first hour. 

When it comes down to it, Peter Jackson has released the extended versions of The Hobbit films into theaters, with all the nerdy details that casual fans really didn't care about at all. I know that there still have been some extended editions for The Hobbit films, but the amount of added footage has been noticeably less than when Jackson released the extended editions for The Lord of the Rings

In the end, this is the product that we got and we have to deal with that fact. So what is my general opinion on this trilogy? It's bloated and forced and overstuffed and suffers from a multitude of issues. And yet, it still manages to capture a little bit of magic. When Howard Shore's masterful score kicked on in the background at any point during this series, I couldn't help but feel that Jackson had managed to recapture that feeling I got when I watched Lord of the Rings

Despite those brief moments of whimsy, I think it's safe to call The Hobbit trilogy an underwhelming cinematic achievement. With a glacially slow first installment, a monumentally entertaining, but still overstuffed penultimate chapter, and a third act that stalls around just to get to the battle scenes, The Hobbit trilogy didn't succeed in its goal of telling a singular story (a la Lord of the Rings). And this installment might just be the biggest mixed bag of the series, as there's simply too much of everything.

In the end, there's no denying the entertainment value that The Hobbit franchise brings to the table, especially in this massively epic conclusion. The nearly hour-long Battle of the Five Armies is big, bold and accompanied by some truly great individual fight scenes. It's a good way to close out this trilogy and I think that Jackson hit his stride a couple times during this film. It's safe to say that if you enjoyed the first few installments in this series, you'll love this one as well. If you hated the other films, you won't be swayed this time around. And if you're like me, and you fall somewhere in the middle, you'll probably find this to be an excessive final chapter, but one that closes out the series well nonetheless.

Note: I saw this film in IMAX 3D. I don't think you have to see it in that format. It gave me a crushing headache at times during the film, for whatever reason. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.9/10)


Image Credits: Movie Pilot, The One Ring, NY Daily News, Business Insider, Moviefone, Screen Rant

Into the Woods review

Movie musicals are few and far between at this point, yet we're still getting two alone this Holiday season. Not many fans are looking forward to Sony's Annie, which has received ghastly reviews so far. But fans of movie musicals are definitely anticipating Disney's Into the Woods, the Oscar contender from Chicago director Rob Marshall. Based on the beloved fairy tale show by Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods is a dark and revisionist take on a group of classic fables. Although it never works as a whole, Into the Woods features many admirable parts including terrific music and lyrics, strong performances and great production design. The second act is a mixed bag and the film is pretty forgettable in the end, but if you're looking for a solid film for kids this Christmas, Into the Woods might be a decent choice.


Into the Woods follows a group of classic fairy tale characters including The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Prince Charming (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) and an evil witch (Meryl Streep). All of these characters head into the woods to find certain items and get what they wish for. However, just as it appears that everything is coming to a happy close, the darkness and reality of the world seeps in and happily ever after might not be a possibility.

I'm not a huge fan of movie musicals, but I can very much enjoy a well-made one (I count Singin' in the Rain as one of my all-time favorite films). I was hopeful for Into the Woods because I had heard so many good things about this show over the years and I was intrigued to see what Disney would do with such a risque and interesting property. And yet, even a week after watching this film, I still don't quite know what to think of it. I very much enjoyed the first act and all of its light and enjoyable musical fun. And I liked the idea of the second act, but I thought that the execution was off.

The actors all do a very good job of bringing these characters to life and do a terrific job with the singing as well. Emily Blunt and James Corden anchor the film and give the most nuanced and insightful performances. They're the only characters that we really get to understand in this ensemble cast of actors and I was quite impressed by both of them. Anna Kendrick is also good as Cinderella and she has quite a bit to do in the second act. Johnny Depp really surprised me after his stretch of awful movies that has wrecked his career over the last few years. He's delightfully sick as the slightly pervy wolf and I thought he was great. Chris Pine also is brilliant and his show-stopping musical number makes the film so much more fun.

The two kids in the cast, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, get off to a rocky start with the singing, but they're terrific in the second act. Surprisingly, Meryl Streep is the weak link in the cast. Maybe her character was just terribly underdeveloped, or maybe Streep was just too over-the-top, but I just didn't think she was all that great. She certainly doesn't deserve all the accolades that she has received for her performances.

Into the Woods is also a beautiful-looking film, with great costumes and stunning sets. The production design by Dennis Gassner is dark and interesting, and it does some fun stuff with what could have ended up being just another stuffy period piece. He could definitely get an Oscar for his work here. I had heard rumors that Colleen Atwood's costume designs were brilliant going in and I was definitely impressed by her work. The costumes are an intriguing mix of classic period garb and more modern clothes.

It's not honestly surprising that this is a well-written musical as well, considering that it was written by James Lapine, with music by Sondheim (both of whom created the Broadway production). Not only did I enjoy the big show-stopping numbers, I was also amazed by Sondheim's rhythmic flow in the dialogue, which adds quite a bit to the movie, especially in the mostly music-free second act. With those two principle players on board as well, I wasn't shocked that this also truly felt like a musical. This is a real musical, with dialogue that is mostly expressed through singing. I really liked that director Rob Marshall stuck to the musical elements and created this film the way it was originally made on Broadway.

Despite all of those terrific elements, this film just doesn't work as a cohesive whole. There's a lot going on for a 125 minute film and it hurts the film in the character development department. You never truly understand the motives of some characters and it becomes problematic at a point. The second act was also pretty dicey in my opinion. Some interesting things happen, but it's a jarring shift of tone and pace that will likely leave audiences puzzled. The twist that the film takes about half-way is good, but it leads to a second act that feels anti-climatic, bland and not all that satisfying.

Into the Woods mocks the idea of a happy ending with a last-minute twist just when everything seems to be ending well. I liked the idea of that, but I didn't like the direction that the film took after that. It's devoid of all the fun of the first act and the darkness isn't exactly that appealing. Everything happens so suddenly and so quickly that I wasn't even sure what the film was trying to say. I was never bored, but I found the second act to be troubling and I thought that the film's climax was completely unsatisfying. However, I did think that the ending of the film was strong and I enjoyed some of the last-minute choices made by the filmmakers.

Into the Woods is a film that I won't remember for very long, but I did enjoy it quite a bit while I was watching it. The performances are good and the music is unsurprisingly strong, yet the second act stops the film in its tracks. This is not a great film, but it's certainly a good one and I think that movie musical fans and families will probably enjoy it the most. I found quite a bit to enjoy with this one and the more I think about it, the more I like it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.9/10)



Image Credits: Hitfix, Flicks and Bits, NY Daily News, EW, We Are Movie Geeks

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Broadcast Film Critics Association reveals the nominations for the Critics Choice Awards

After the SAG Award nominations and the reveal of the Golden Globe nominations late last week, the BFCA (Broadcast Film Critics Association) revealed their nominations today for the best films of the year. With many unique categories (Best Action Movie, Best Rising Star, etc), the Critics Choice Awards is one of the more intriguing award shows around. The show is also an important Oscar precursor, dropping lots of hints about who could be nominated in January. Without further delay, here are the nominees for the 2014 Critics Choice Awards:

BEST PICTURE


Birdman
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Nightcrawler
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Unbroken
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Richard Linklater, Boyhood

BEST ACTOR

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS


Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE


Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Selma

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giaccobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, Unbroken
Nick Hornby, Wild

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY


Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Interstellar
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, Unbroken

BEST ART DIRECTION

Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Snowpiercer

BEST EDITING

Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, Birdman
Sandra Adair, Boyhood
Kirk Baxter, Gone Girl
Lee Smith, Interstellar
Tom Cross, Whiplash

BEST COSTUME DESIGN


Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods
Anna B. Sheppard, Maleficent
Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

Foxcatcher
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Into the Woods
Maleficent

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE


Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie

BEST ACTION MOVIE

American Sniper
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
Fury
Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow
Chris Evans, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Brad Pitt, Fury
Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE


Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow
Scarlett Johannson, Lucy
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1
Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy
Shailene Woodley, Divergent

BEST COMEDY

Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
St. Vincent
Top Five
22 Jump Street

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY

Jon Favreau, Chef
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Bill Murray, St. Vincent
Chris Rock, Top Five
Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY


Rose Byrne, Neighbors
Rosario Dawson, Top Five
Melissa McCarthy, St. Vincent
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Kristen Wiig, The Skeleton Twins

BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE

The Babadook
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Interstellar
Snowpiercer
Under the Skin

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Force Majeure
Ida
Leviathan
Two Days, One Night
Wild Tales

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE


Citizenfour
Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
Jodorowsky's Dune
Last Days in Vietnam
Life Itself
The Overnighters

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

"Big Eyes" from Big Eyes
"Everything is Awesome" from The LEGO Movie
"Glory" from Selma
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again
"Yellow Flicker Beat" from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Johann Johannson, The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez, Birdman
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar

BEST YOUNG RISING STAR


Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars
Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar
Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent
Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Quvenzhane Wallis, Annie
Noah Wiseman, The Babadook

After sorting through these nominations, I'm not sure how I really feel. For one, I'm ecstatic that the BFCA decided to recognize some of my favorite films of the year. Interstellar may not have been nominated in many of the big categories, but it received plenty of nominations and Gone Girl was well-represented as well. I also enjoyed seeing the love for Snowpiercer and Nightcrawler and the fact that The Grand Budapest Hotel received the second-most nominations (11). But it gets to the point where there's almost too many categories. Almost every major 2014 film received recognition here somewhere, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. In the end, this won't majorly affect the Oscar race, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Image Credits: Wired, Indiewire, The New Yorker, Daily Mail, Coming Soon, EW, Business Insider, Indiewire, Youtube, The Hollywood News

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings review

The recent trend of Bible-based films has yet to bring us a classic like The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur, but I had high hopes for Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings. The $140 million epic features an all-star (albeit, controversial) cast that includes Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and Ben Kingsley, along with stellar special effects and a great director in Scott. With all those terrific pieces, it's amazing that Exodus is so truly awful. This is a bland, uninteresting, emotionless, tedious affair that stretches nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes. The special effects are momentous, but the lack of character development, the cliches, and the poor pacing make Exodus one to avoid.


Exodus: Gods and Kings tells the iconic story of Moses (Christian Bale), the Egyptian general who was outcast and became a revolutionary of sorts. The film begins with Moses and Rhamses (Joel Edgerton) as the leaders of Egypt. They're sent off to go battle an army, but before they go, a prophesy is read about one leader saving another and that leader becoming a king. The battle is fought and Moses ends up saving Rhamses' life. That gives him all the more reason to hate Moses. It is later discovered that Moses is a Hebrew, and he is exiled to somewhere.

Moses starts a family and begins his own life. Fast-forward nine years, we learn that God is now asking him to free the Hebrews from the slavery of Egypt. Moses and an army of revolutionary Hebrews launch a full-on war against the Egyptians, accompanied by gory plagues, nasty locust scars, and the death of thousands of Egyptian children. All in 3D!

Exodus: Gods and Kings is a very bad movie. Not decent or okay or disappointing. Just plain bad. The actors are sufficient and the special effects are appropriately glorious, but there's just no getting around how empty this movie is. For one, it's two and a half hours, when it should be nearly three and a half. There's simply too much story to tell, so Scott ends up rushing through any sort of development to get to the big-budget, showstopper action scenes that ultimately felt lackluster because of how bored I was by the film. Exodus is all boring action and nothing more, making for a cinematic experience that feels bizarre, bland and frustratingly tedious.

The acting in this movie is one of the few aspects that I don't have a problem with. Christian Bale is decent as Moses, bringing a relatively minor amount of depth to the character. However, I still didn't understand Moses' reasoning or motivations, which seems to contradict the rest of the ideas in this film. But that isn't Bale's fault- it's the fault of the mediocre script. Joel Edgerton is also sufficient, but I hated the direction that the filmmakers took Rhamses. The attempts at making him sympathetic failed and the attempts at making him a truly vicious antagonist failed miserably as well.

The supporting cast is rounded out by famous people who have barely anything to work with. Sigourney Weaver must have owed Ridley Scott some kind of favor, because her role is so completely menial and pointless. There's no reason for her to be in this movie and her character is underwritten to the point where it's painful. John Turturro is also in this movie as Seti, and he has very little to do as well. Ben Kingsley's Nun and Aaron Paul's Joshua are barely even characters, standing in to advance the plot whenever necessary. It's frustrating and inexcusable for a filmmaker of this caliber.

The character development problem is the fundamental one that pretty much leads to this movie's downfall. It's amazing to me that people don't understand this fairly simple principle- if the audience doesn't care what's going on, no amount of mind-blowing CGI can save your movie. Exodus falls into that trap about a half hour in, settling for cliched emotional sequences and big, bombastic action. The action is dull and pointless, but the emotional scenes are even more grating.

For example, Moses has a family in this movie. And I'm sure that Moses did have a family in real life. But in the movie, Scott devotes about twenty to thirty minutes of time to these family members. The film shows Moses getting married, playing with his son and doing other stuff. And it's boring. Nobody cares. I really wish that someone would have said that to Scott or one of the screenwriters. The family just takes up time that isn't necessary. I would have rather seen more time devoted to Moses' internal conflict about killing thousands of Egyptians and less of him throwing rocks in a bucket with his uninteresting son.

The filmmakers also obviously had no idea what to do with Rhamses. He doesn't work as a sympathetic villain or as a dastardly antagonist. Instead, Rhamses ends up being someone that we kinda like, but kinda don't. There's this weird middle ground that I'm not sure even the film understands. They want you to hate Rhamses when he's doing bad guy stuff, but they also want you to cry and feel bad that his kid got killed because of his ignorance. It doesn't work on any level and it's just idiotic.

What we're left with is a film that rushes along, but with no true sense of pacing. Scott moves through the plagues so quickly that they're almost indistinguishable. Crocodiles, frogs, flies, locusts, blood sacrifices, mass warfare- all gorily depicted in crystal clear 3D. It's visually dazzling, yet completely uninteresting. Even as the film moved along to the Red Sea sequence, I found myself unexcited. I was anticipating the show-stopping special effect, but at that point, I knew that there was no way to save this film.

If Exodus were only a tad dull and bland, but still visually awesome, that might be okay. Yet this movie also manages to consistently disappoint on many other levels. Not only are the characters underdeveloped, they also seem to make crucial, life-changing decisions in no time. Moses leaves his family without question, immediately trusting the little boy that claims to be God. Rhamses also attacks Moses after letting him take off with the slaves. Why? I don't know.

Scott's attempt at explaining every disastrous plague fails miserably as well, sucking any of the joy and wonder out of this film. Apparently the Red Sea parting was caused by currents that separated the sea in half. Maybe that's how it really happened. I don't know and nobody really does. But for the sake of a big-budget, entertaining movie, just allow the Red Sea to be parted by God. It's not hard.

In the end, Exodus: Gods and Kings is like Gladiator, except that it's not good. Boring, overlong, underdeveloped, and just a mess of everything, Exodus is exactly what I hoped it wasn't. The script is mediocre and I really don't think that the filmmakers knew what they wanted to do. Christian Bale is solid, but I couldn't get a read on his character nor any of the other characters in the film. All in all, if you're heading out to the movies this Christmas, Exodus is a pretty easy one to cross off your list completely.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.8/10)


Image Credits: Screen Rant, Schmoes Know, The Guardian, We Are Movie Geeks, Hitfix, Screen Rant

SAG and Golden Globe Nominations Announced!

One of the most important awards shows before the Oscars is the Golden Globes, even though they really have no affect on the Oscar race. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association always puts on a fun show and do some interesting things. For example, they split Drama and Comedy, which allows for some weird films to make it into the race. This year, there were some interesting choices as well. Here are this year's Golden Globe nominees:

BEST MOTION PICTURE- DRAMA


Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything

BEST MOTION PICTURE- COMEDY OR MUSICAL


Into the Woods
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
St. Vincent
Pride

BEST ACTOR- DRAMA


Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
David Oyelowo, Selma
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

BEST ACTRESS- DRAMA


Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Jennifer Aniston, Cake

BEST ACTOR- COMEDY OR MUSICAL


Michael Keaton, Birdman
Bill Murray, St. Vincent
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes
Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice

BEST ACTRESS- COMEDY OR MUSICAL


Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
Helen Mirren, The Hundred-foot Journey
Quvenshane Wallis, Annie

BEST DIRECTOR


Ava DuVernay, Selma
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Richard Linklater, Boyhood

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Edward Norton, Birdman
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Emma Stone, Birdman

BEST ANIMATED FILM


The LEGO Movie
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM


Ida
Force Majeure
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Tangerines
Leviathan

BEST SCREENPLAY


Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE


Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Johann Johannson, The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez, Birdman
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar

BEST ORIGINAL SONG


"Big Eyes" from Big Eyes
"Glory" from Selma
"Mercy Is" from Noah
"Opportunity" from Annie
"Yellow Flicker Beat" from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1

That is an interesting and eclectic group of nominees. I noted a few things that could have a major impact on the Oscar race. For starters, Foxcatcher is not out of this yet. The film picked up several nominations and I think that it's still in the heat of the race. Also, The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely a contender, after these nominations and its multiple wins at the LA Film Critics Awards last weekend. It's one to look out for. I'm slightly surprised by all the snubs for Interstellar and Unbroken, but they're not the contenders we initially thought they were. All in all, there are a few weeks to go before things heat up again, but a lot of movies are in good shape at this point.

The SAG awards were also announced this week. Check them out below!

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A CAST IN A MOTION PICTURE


Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE


Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE


Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE


Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE


Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Naomi Watts, St. Vincent

Some more interesting choices here. The fact that Duvall and Watts made it into the supporting categories is surprising to me. However, it looks like Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Jake Gyllenhaal are definitely here to stay for the long haul. All will become even clearer soon.

Image Credits: Sundance, Forbes, Digital Spy, Variety, The Guardian, The Guardian, Screen Crave, Mashable, MTV, Flickering Myth, Roger Ebert, Flavor Wire, Movie Pilot, The Hollywood Reporter, Indie Wire, Youtube, Yahoo, Mashable, Huffington Post 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Insane trailer for 'Mad Max: Fury Road' will pump you up

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of my most anticipated films of 2015, simply based off of the first teaser trailer that was released during Comic-Con. With Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and a bunch of crazy stunts, Fury Road looks like a great time at the movies. Yesterday, Warner Bros. released another trailer for the film, which will surely play in front of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies next week. Fan reaction to the trailer has been uproariously positive thus far. Check out the trailer for the latest Mad Max film below:


That movie looks awesome. That's honestly all I can really say after watching the latest trailer for Fury Road. Tom Hardy is one of my favorite actors and I can't wait to see how he does in the role that Mel Gibson made famous. Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult look great as well, but what really has impressed me about Fury Road from the trailers is the practical stunt work that seems to be involved. Those stunts look bonkers and all of the characters look absolutely insane. Mix that with the funny, yet slightly unsettling classic music that plays throughout the trailer, and you have a movie that looks fantastic. I can't wait to see what director George Miller (who made the first three films) has in store for us here. Mad Max: Fury Road stars Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Riley Keough and will hit theaters on May 15, 2015.


Image Credit: Screen Rant

Nightcrawler review

Since the massive video game adaptation misfire Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in 2010, Jake Gyllenhaal has completely reshaped his career. He starred in the sci-fi thriller Source Code, the acclaimed cop drama End of of Watch, and last year's creepy child abduction thriller Prisoners (one of the best crime dramas in recent memory). This year, Gyllenhaal's career revival continued with Denis Villeneuve's mindbender Enemy and finally, Nightcrawler, which tops off the Gyllenhaal renaissance with a bang. His performance in Nightcrawler is creepy and controlled, yet frighteningly dangerous. Gyllenhaal fully creates the character of Louis Bloom and it makes for one fantastic ride. Nightcrawler is a total descent into the seedy side of Los Angeles, with vile, cold characters that continue to drive the film to new levels of madness.


Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a small-time thief, who steals copper wire, fences and manholes just to get by. When he sees a brutal accident on the side of the road, accompanied by cameramen filming every single gruesome detail of the crash, Lou decides that's a job that he wants to do. He buys a camera and some equipment in exchange for a bike that he stole and begins his descent into the "nightcrawling" life. What separates Lou from the other nightcrawlers is his closeness to the crash- he'll get up close and personal with the disturbing accidents like nobody else. Eventually, Lou becomes an expert and starts selling his footage to a local news station, headed up by Nina (Rene Russo). However, Lou's dedication and willingness to do anything and everything to reach the top starts to become problematic as his true nature starts to come into play.

Nightcrawler is a dark and intense film, yet it's not necessarily a graphic one. The crash and murder scenes are bloody, but it's the way that the characters act and how the violence serves as nothing but fodder for news headlines. Director Dan Gilroy makes news media seem like a disgusting business and he allows two morally empty characters to drive the plot of this film. Mix that with the terrific cinematography, the brilliant soundtrack and the spot-on ending, and you have one of the year's most topical and interesting films.

Gyllenhaal anchors this film with a brilliant performance, creating one of the most memorable movie characters in recent memory. Louis Bloom is a driven, socially awkward, yet undeniably cunning man, with no moral compass whatsoever. He's going to do whatever it takes to pursue his own twisted vision of the American Dream. Just when you think that Lou can't sink any lower, he does and by the end, he's almost purely evil.

Most of this movie is focused on Lou and his behavior, but the supporting cast still gets a chance to shine. Rene Russo's Nina is almost as psychopathic as Lou, with no sense of what's right and what's wrong. Whatever will keep her in the ranks at her job. She eats up Lou's nasty footage even when other members of her team are much more skeptical about Lou's slimy intentions. Nina is a fascinating character and makes the film much more interesting.

While the performances are extremely strong, it's the script that gives these individual characters the layers that they need to be completely engrossing. Dan Gilroy's spectacular script allows us to understand Lou's twisted intentions. He's a lonely man who just wants to get to the top. It's a rather simple goal, but Lou is willing to do anything, and that's always a problem. He's like a mentally troubled version of the iconic Jay Gatsby: someone who's always striving to achieve something that will take them down a dark path.

The thing is, Lou is willing to go down that path, and frankly, he might even be guilty of enjoying it. He takes out anybody that is in his way and doesn't even try to help the victims of the crimes that he films. "Maybe I don't like people." Lou says to his partner Rick (Riz Ahmed) towards the end of the film. His emotional coldness is deeply ingrained in his personality and I truly believe that Lou is a perfect mix of psychopath and cold, calculating and cunning killer.

Like all brilliant killers, Lou puts on a facade of being a socially awkward man. He is both sexually and socially insecure, having to buy his way into relationships. He's quite charismatic at times, with his unnerving smile, but uncomfortable at others, especially when he goes on extreme business tangents about stuff he learned online. He fascinates and puzzles people in equal measure, but the smart ones always seem wary (like one of Nina's TV contemporaries).

Another intriguing thing about this movie is the way that it portrays network television news. Lou and Nina are obviously cold individuals, but one of the more disturbing scenes takes place when the news anchors at Nina's station are reading about a grisly triple homicide. The news managers feed them bits of information in the ear, telling them to build up certain aspects of the crime, and reinforce the fact that the killers are still one the loose. It's sickly funny satire and makes Nightcrawler's achievement even more impressive.

Dan Gilroy obviously took a lot of care creating the characters of this film, and he also manages to create an interesting and unique movie. The score, with pulsing electric guitars and invigorating rock music, is terrific and I'm still listening to it days after watching the film. The cinematography is dark and nasty, highlighting the beauty and inherent terror of Los Angeles. This is a film with a flow and rhythm and it works perfectly.

Nightcrawler is a film that delights instantly because of the awesome score, the completely bonkers car chase and the frighteningly amazing ending, and manages to continue to spark intense thought and conversation days later simply because of the fascinating characters. Gyllenhaal is brilliant and Gilroy manages to create a complex and fantastic vision of a unforgiving world where people will do anything to get to the top.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                 (9/10)


Image Credits: Huffington Post, Huffington Post, Neon Reels, Washington Times, Youtube, Reddit