Daily Movie: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)

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“So I exist in this wasteland. I am the only one that runs both from the living, and the dead. Hunted by scavengers, haunted by those I could not protect.” – Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky

Bottom line: At first glance, “Mad Max” is your average explosive, male-driven summer blockbuster, but the furious Furiosa easily takes over a film, and more importantly, changed the way filmmakers approach the genre in the future. 

Director George Miller took a while, but after several decades, his return to the world of Mad Max carries an amazing amount of symbolism in the midst of expensive explosions.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” doesn’t play by the big-budget rules. Instead, Miller presents a social experiment, but leaves out any direct notion that it is an experiment. He just let’s us waft in an inviting cloud of feminism and post-apocalyptic mayhem without addressing the fact that Max takes a backseat to a much more riveting story.

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In a vast desert landscape, humanity is crippled. Society has collapsed to the point where water and other basic necessities are a delicacy. Within this broken world are two rebellious characters creating their own path.

Max is man of few words, but the loss of his wife and child drives him to survive. Not only does he roam the sparse desert wasteland enduring like the rest of the world, but his struggle to find peace of mind lingers. Then there’s Furiosa, a woman of action who sees her path to survival can only become a reality if she returns to her childhood homeland. Their paths collide, and they find a similar interest when a warlord is after his “wives” that Furiosa freed before betraying him. Once the narrative stage is set, vehicular warfare takes over as our heroes race to safety.

The film is a lengthy, adrenaline-fueled battle, and Miller methodically staged each sequence to match a comfortable pace for such a thrilling concept. His minimal use of CGI is the talk of the town — and for good reason. We often go to the movies and see a computer-generated spectacle that’s blatantly impossible, but the majority of what happens on screen in “Fury Road” actually happened.

Practical effects in a big-budget action flick such as this take much more thought and consideration to pull off than diluting the story with CGI, but when successful, it provides an inspiring viewing experience. Miller vibrantly delivers everything we need to know about the characters and the world surrounding them without dialogue controlling the narrative.

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The first trailer I saw for “Fury Road” looked wonderful. I was excited for a big-budget, art house action film, but it wasn’t until Entertainment Weekly wrote a piece about Furiosa’s role in the movie in an early May edition that I realized we were in for a special summer treat. Her boiling rage is what drives the film, where Max is much more level-headed and basically takes a supporting role in his own film.

Miller hired Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” to coach many of the women in the film, which is something every male director should take note of — especially in a Hollywood environment where sexism runs rampant (less than two percent of the 100 highest-grossing films from 2013 and 2014 were directed by women.)

“Fury Road” is the fourth film of Miller’s exciting franchise, but it doesn’t seem like a sequel. It stands as its own artistic vision. The societal implications, masterful special effects and shocking imagery doesn’t just add on to a superb anthology, but shakes up the action genre as a whole. 

Fun fact: The film was originally supposed to star Mel Gibson in the title role back in 2003, but George Miller ran into problems with shooting locations, and with Gibson’s interest in The Passion of the Christ (2004), it never happened.

Run time: 120 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 98 percent

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First look at season two of ‘True Detective’

true-detective-season-2-gets-a-moody-teaser-trailerBefore Thursday, the only thing “True Detective” fans knew about season two was the cast, which didn’t mean much considering all of the cast members that made season one unforgettable won’t be returning. HBO’s highly-anticipated second season now has a face to go with the hype.

The first trailer is now available for fans to drool over for the next two months in preparation of the premier on June 21. The trailer is one minute long, disclosing some vital information regarding the show’s tone, which looks much like the first season’s eerie landscape. Though there’s no dialogue to reveal any narrative details, fans get a taste of what they’ve been missing since we saw Rust and Marty close out the compelling first season.

This season, another strange homicide introduces us to three officers and an experienced criminal residing in California. Colin Ferrell plays Ray Velcoro, a detective in a similarly compromised situation we saw from Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) in season one. Vince Vaughn, which is one of the more interesting casting choices this season considering Vaughn’s resume doesn’t necessarily coincide with the tone of “True Detective,” plays a criminal who may end up losing everything he’s built. This could spark a new career path for Vaughn with help from the show’s acclaimed writer Nic Pizzolatto.

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Vaughn isn’t the only cast member who may redefine their career in eight episodes. Rachel McAdams stars as Ani Bezzerides, a detective questioning the system she works for, who finds herself in the middle of a crime that reeks of criminal collusion, not to mention the billions of dollars involved with the case.

The show is built as an anthology, where each season will clean house, bringing in new cast members to fill different roles surrounding a different crime. The trick is providing the same thematic elements that made the first season a hit. For the short amount of time we get to watch, the trailer seems to mirror what the first season did well, but the first season’s story was just as intriguing and intellectually stimulating as the acting, writing and aesthetic treatment. It’s how well all of the show’s captivating elements worked together that earned season one a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Miniseries or Television Film.

The drastic geographical change from a Louisiana State Police force to L.A. County should offer up some entertaining changes to the popular series, but don’t expect season two to deviate too far from what earned it so much praise last time around.

If we are truly in the “Golden Age” of television, which is a buzz that seems to be focused more on extended cable package networks (HBO, AMC, Showtime, etc.) rather than major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.), “True Detective” is sitting comfortably with today’s top-tier shows.

HBO’s “Going Clear” points critical finger at Scientology

Going_Clear_PosterDirector Alex Gibney’s new film “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” won’t present any breaking news for viewers who read Lawrence Wright’s shocking novel of the same name. Similar to many documentaries largely focused on social commentary, seeing is believing, and the film aims to devastate.

Before “Blackfish,” many articles and published journals discussed SeaWorld’s mistreatment. Before “The Inconvenient Truth,” global warming was no stranger to those in the scientific community. There’s something to be said about critical documentary filmmaking that rides the line between journalism and entertainment. After HBO airs “Going Clear” this Sunday at 7 p.m., it will sends shock waves through the media, and Scientology will become a target on a much larger scale than it already is today.

The filmmakers understand this, and so does Scientology, which is why they’ve fired back at the documentary in the weeks leading up to its release. Scientology is notorious for their dealings with the media and their reluctant attitude toward reporters. The church wrote a five-page letter, which The Hollywood Reporter published, stating “the film is biased propaganda that on average includes at least one major error every two minutes.”

The Daily Beast also accused the church this month of using Google ads to discredit the film, claiming they purchased top spots for “Going Clear” searches that would send them to Scientology-sponsored articles about the film.

Regardless of whether Scientology claims the film is propaganda (because why wouldn’t they?), one of the biggest advantages Gibney’s documentary has over reading Wright’s novel is viewers will be able to see real footage of Scientology’s mass “events,” which will be much more compelling.

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“Going Clear” features eight former Scientology members, some of whom were at the top of the pack. Marty Rathbun was the church’s second-in-command at one time as well as the chief enforcer. Rathbun discusses the tactics of Scientology, including how they actively pursue celebrities to generate more “true believers,” and explains what some of them are willing to do in the name of Scientology. Two of the more prominent A-listers active in the church are, of course, actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

There is so much content in the film. Viewers might not be able to find a singular theme, but that’s not relevant. The content doesn’t do well under the time constraints of a feature-length piece. The narrative bounces from celebrity involvement to the individual members who have seen their lives change dramatically because of their involvement with the church.

“Going Clear” doesn’t leave out the most important part in their attempt to expose Scientology, which is what the church actually teaches. When you join the church, it presents itself as a program of sorts that gives a new follower the tools to live a better life, but the core belief system isn’t explained until years of involvement within the church where a member may spend thousands of dollars before learning the core doctrine.

When a member reaches the Operating Thetan level after ascending “The Bridge,” they receive the sacred text of Scientology, which is L. Ron Hubbard’s notes explaining the history of humanity. This handwritten material tells the story of how humans were brought to Earth (a slave planet) billions of years ago by a dictator, Xenu, and thrown into volcanoes where they were blown up with hydrogen explosives.

This backstory is just one of the many things “Going Clear” looks to further expose. The film premiered at Sundance this year, and the powerful documentary quickly became the talk of Hollywood. Gibney’s film outlines the church’s origins and Hubbard’s rise to power, but “Going Clear” mainly looks to overwhelm viewers with themes of exploitation and the desire for power.

A recap of the 2015 Oscars

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“Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” are the popular winners today, but this year’s Academy Awards ceremony was full of heart and politically-charged moments as stars took advantage of their moment in the sun.

Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 87th Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles Sunday night, successfully providing his talent for on-stage entertainment and comic relief.

Although a few of the categories were close calls, the winners were fairly predictable, including the biggest prize of the night. “Birdman” walked away with the Oscar for best picture, but director Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” could have easily won and fans would have been just as pleased.

Eddie Redmayne won best actor for his transformative performance in “The Theory of Everything.” Redmayne gained some serious award-winning momentum before Oscar night, lifting him above Michael Keaton, who was a long-time frontrunner for his role in “Birdman.”

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Julianne Moore was one of the sure bets this year for best actress. Her role in “Still Alice” details the experience of early onset Alzheimer’s and the impact the disease has on the subject and the people around them. Even though this category was full of great performances, Moore was going to win this category. If there were any viewers last night who hadn’t seen any of the performances in this category, the clips before the announcement clearly worked in Moore’s favor, and one could easily see she was the frontrunner.

J.K. Simmons was the other actor locking up a category weeks before the ceremony. Simmons won for best supporting actor in his role as crazed instructor Terrence Fletcher in “Whiplash.” Before the Oscars, Simmons swept the supporting actor categories at every other award ceremony, making this an easy choice and a deserving award.

Patricia Arquette represented “Boyhood” in the core acting category wins, as she has in many award shows this year, but unlike Simmons, this did not grant her a guaranteed victory. Emma Stone was close behind for her role in “Birdman,” but Arquette prevailed and delivered a powerful speech about equal rights for women in the workplace.

Arquette wasn’t the only political voice. John Legend and Common performed their award-winning song “Glory” before the category for best original song was announced. The song is featured in Ava Duvernay’s film “Selma,” and the two artists took the stage to give their own moving speech, declaring “Selma is now.”

After the nominations were announced for the Oscars several weeks ago, “Selma” was the popular topic after only receiving a nomination for best picture and original song. Many expected the film’s leading role, David Oyelowo, to earn a nomination for best actor, and Ava Duvernay was expected to be one of the front-runners for achievement in directing. With all of the “Selma” snub talk leading up to the Oscars, it was clear last night that the film and its messages rightfully stole the show’s spotlight.

Published by The O’Colly: http://www.ocolly.com/blogs/entertainment/article_cb0cfe88-bb86-11e4-a396-ef813511fe3f.html?mode=image&photo=0

Oscar Underdogs: Week One

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The Academy Awards are three weeks away, and with nominees home after the Oscars’ annual luncheon, there are a few categories with predictable winners, while others are up for grabs.

Regardless of what happens, each category is loaded with talented performers and technical masterminds who will leave the ceremony empty-handed.

This week is the first in a three-part weekend edition series highlighting the lesser-known, underdog nominees. This week, we’ll look at director Damien Chazelle’s riveting story about a young musician seemingly willing to put up with anything to become one of the greatest drummers of all time.

“Whiplash” is one of eight films nominated for best picture, but will most likely fall short of the evening’s most anticipated award, regardless of it receiving better reviews than most of the other films in the category.

With films such as “Birdman” and “Boyhood” gaining so much award-winning momentum, it’ll be hard for the rest of the pack to compete.

“Whiplash” squeaked into the category after actor J.K. Simmons started earning some attention for his electrifying role as an abusive jazz band instructor. Simmons’ performance has already earned him a Golden Globe for best supporting actor, and he is the front-runner for the same award at the Oscars.

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Simmons plays alongside the young Miles Teller, an actor who starred in “21 and Over” before “Whiplash.” The casting decision might have been odd at first, but there is little fault in Teller’s captivating performance, one that will no doubt earn him several intriguing roles in the coming years. The 26-year-old has already landed a high-profile role in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot as Mr. Fantastic.

Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a young, up-and-comer at a prestigious music school on the east coast. While his father’s failed writing career lingers in his mind, Neyman is powerfully driven to become one of the greats, even if his own family doesn’t appreciate his craft.

Aggressive instructor Terrence Fletcher (Simmons) roams the halls as a godly figure, one who can stand outside of a lower-level band practice and make each player’s hair stand up at the thought of playing in his distinguished studio band. After infiltrating one of Neyman’s rehearsals looking for players to help him perfect his studio band, Fletcher finds Neyman’s spirit appealing and takes him under his wing, forever changing the young man’s life.

His passionate love for drumming quickly turns into an obsession, and Fletcher’s brutal and often cruel teaching methods don’t help Neyman’s diminishing mental stability. The more Fletcher pushes, the more Neyman tests the limits of the human spirit.

The acting is what gives “Whiplash” its kick, but there’s a lot to be said about the film’s stunning cinematography.

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When a movie about drumming in a studio band can be genuinely stressful, leaving the viewer utterly stunned by the protagonist’s drive to succeed, one can only look at how it’s made.

The camera work is constantly shifting during each musical scene, quickly cutting from musician to teacher at one moment. Then, with one quick halting motion of Fletcher’s hand, paired with a longer take of the forceful instructor’s critique, it instantly changes the mood of the setting.

“Whiplash” offers an insight into the world of competitive jazz playing, but with its own darkly unique twist. Hidden under the unhealthy relationship between teacher and student, master and apprentice, is an odd connection the two of them share, one that binds them together in the pursuit of their individual goals.

“Whiplash” is full of uncomfortable moments and strenuous drama, but the rigorously triumphant finale will without a doubt win over any viewer’s heart.

Next week, don’t miss the second part of “Oscar Underdogs,” where we’ll look at some lesser-known nominees in the best actress and best supporting actress categories.

Fun fact: The director and writer of the film, Damien Chazelle, could not get funding for the movie, so he instead turned it into a short film and submitted it into the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. The short film ended up winning the Short Film Jury Award, and he got funding soon after.

Run time: 107 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent

Published by The O’Colly: http://www.ocolly.com/blogs/article_439f408c-ad9e-11e4-b37e-33499fc8a19e.html

Academy Awards best picture rundown

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony has already seen its fair share of controversy well before the big night, specifically “Selma” not receiving as many nominations as critics and fans expected. One category the film does find itself competing in happens to be the biggest of the ceremony, but the competition is stout. With films such as “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” it will be a long shot for “Selma” and several other impressive cinematic achievements to take home the most coveted award of the evening.

‘American Sniper’

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The cultural controversy Clint Eastwood’s war drama produced doesn’t have much to do with the film itself. Eastwood was more concerned with the trauma that can weigh on veterans when they return home than acts of heroism. The Hollywood icon brings his sure-handed direction to an engrossing story featuring one of the most lethal snipers in American history, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). There’s more to the Kyle than his skill with a rifle. His return home only makes him long for protecting his country and the war heroes still fighting even more. Eastwood’s steady hand and the compelling performance of Cooper have thrown “American Sniper” into the conversation.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 72 percent

‘Birdman’

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“Birdman” is a black comedy that literally follows Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor who earned his fame from starring in a superhero franchise decades earlier, and documents the days leading up to the premier of his Broadway play. The once iconic movie star must battle with his lingering ego while he attempts to repair his broken relationships, career and inevitably himself. The ambitious nature of director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s technical showcase is paired with a captivating story about the human spirit that’s emotionally gratifying, erratic yet warm, and has a funny side that will sneak up on viewers.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

‘Boyhood’

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The attention to technical detail is what makes “Boyhood” one of the best dramas the film world has ever seen. It’s a genuine experiment of the human condition. Filmmakers do their best to make a story come to life, but this new dramatic style is the closest Hollywood has come to living cinema. Director Richard Linklater takes 12 years of footage and is able to create a singular narrative through the eyes of an adolescent boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up as the film progresses.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 98 percent

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

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Wes Anderson’s latest endeavor, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” once again displays Anderson’s unique talent for using creative landscape and obscure, yet delightful set design to develop profoundly emotional concepts. “Budapest” bounces through time, but highlights the story of legendary concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), who become trusted friends not long after their first encounter. During the battle for a family fortune, Gustave is awarded a priceless Renaissance painting, but not before previous successor, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) states his claim. Gustave then finds himself the key suspect in a murder case, and Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton) is the unfortunate soul who has to chase down Gustave and his trusty sidekick.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

‘The Imitation Game’

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If film fans don’t know about mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), “The Imitation Game” is a great place to start. Turing’s discoveries during the Second World War led to the foundation of the modern computer. The story has been altered for cinematic flare as expected, but a compellingly satisfying biopic nonetheless. Cumberbatch and co-star Keira Knightley lift the profound story to another level with their captivating performances.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent

‘Selma’

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Featuring one of David Oyelowo’s most moving roles, “Selma” aims to inspire and succeeds in dramatic fashion. Oyelowo depicts the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a film that reminds the world how far away his dream still is in our modern age. One of the most impressive elements of director Ava DuVernay’s masterpiece is the way it portrays the Selma march but highlights major events without going into extensive explanations of the action. The viewer is subtly asked to consider the ideas for themselves. The film intelligently illuminates the events happening today, whether it’s political or cultural.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 99 percent

‘The Theory of Everything’

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One part biopic, one part love story, “The Theory of Everything” leans on its two lead actors to carry the film, and they do so with brilliant portrayals of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife, fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Director James Marsh highlights the story of two brilliant minds and a disease that leaves Hawking crippled but not defeated. Watching Redmayne transform and mimic Hawking’s gradual handicap throughout the film is a marvel, and makes the viewer easily forget there is any acting involved.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 80 percent

‘Whiplash’

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“Whiplash” is equally intense as it is exhilarating. Director Damien Chazelle’s second film is well-acted, launching young actor Miles Teller into the Hollywood mainstream and defining J.K. Simmons’ extensive resume. Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a young jazz band drummer with a palpable level of ambition that leads him in a pursuit to be one of the greatest of all time. As he rises in one of the most elite music schools in the country, his ambition soon becomes an obsession, and his abusive teacher, Terence Fletcher (Simmons), uses Neyman to test the limits of the human spirit.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent

Don’t miss Neil Patrick Harris host the 87th Academy Awards ceremony at 6 p.m. central time Feb. 22, 2015.

Prediction: “Birdman”

Who might win: “Boyhood”

Category snub: “Gone Girl”

Wes Anderson soars, ‘Selma’ snubbed in Oscar nominations

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A long year of ups and downs for Hollywood led up to Thursday morning when The Academy Award nominations were announced in Los Angeles.

Widely known as an art-house director, Wes Anderson and his eccentric film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is gaining a large amount of momentum after taking home the award for best picture at the Golden Globes. Scoring nominations in nine Oscar categories makes Anderson’s film tied for most nominations next to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s groundbreaking technical achievement in “Birdman.”

Ava DuVernay’s dramatic biopic “Selma” was the obvious snub this year. David Oyelowo will miss out on a nomination for his part as Martin Luther King Jr., and DuVernay wasn’t even recognized in the directing category, which would have made her the first African American woman to hold best director nomination.

Best Picture

“American Sniper”

“Birdman”

“Boyhood”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“The Imitation Game”

“Selma”

“The Theory of Everything”

“Whiplash”

Grand Budapest Hotel movie stillIn a category allowing up to 10 films, the best picture nods stopped at eight this year. Many of the films announced were expected such as “Birdman,” “Selma,” “Boyhood,” and the British biopics, “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game.” Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” released in March, and the Academy does not tend to reach that far back in the year to nominate films.

This does not guarantee a win for the indie director’s unique film, but it’s a good sign. Another indie director, Damien Chazelle, finds his directorial debut “Whiplash” in the discussion as well.

Movies that could have made it: “Foxcatcher,” “Into the Woods,” “Unbroken” and the recently popular “A Most Violent Year” was snubbed entirely.

Prediction: “Boyhood”

Actor in a Leading Role

Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”

Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”

Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”

Michael Keaton, “Birdman”

Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

BM1207The Golden Globes barely recognized “American Sniper” even existed. The Academy seems to have different ideas. Both Keaton and Redmayne won at the Globes for acting in the comedy and drama categories, so their presence is no surprise.

Cumberbatch’s performance as World War II enigma cracker Alan Turing was also expected for a nomination, but where is David Oyelowo? Cooper, who plays a Navy SEAL sniper overseas, is now always an Oscar candidate after a string of impressive performances, but Oyelowo was a highly anticipated candidate and a major snub this season.

Prediction: Michael Keaton

Actress in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”

Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”

Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”

Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Still_Alice_StillThis category isn’t as shocking as many of the others, but still carries controversy. Cotillard edged out Jennifer Aniston’s role in “Cake,” who was thought to have a chance at a nomination, but an outside shot at a win.

Amy Adams, who won the award for best actress in a comedy or musical at the Globes is absent as well, but even with the shuffle, Julianne Moore is the favorite for her role as a linguistics professor battling early onset Alzheimer’s. Rosamund Pike has a shot at the victory for her role in the newest David Fincher thrill ride “Gone Girl,” but Moore is gaining much more momentum.

Prediction: Julianne Moore

Directing

Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”

Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”

Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

downloadThe directing category for this year was supposed to see two women in the running, DuVernay for “Selma” and Angelina Jolie for “Unbroken,” but neither were selected. The reasoning behind this could be a number of things, but “Unbroken” did not earn a great critical reception following the release, which was a surprise to many.

This could have easily swayed the Academy, but DuVernay’s achievement will sadly go unrecognized after the film received higher praise than most films released in 2014. Miller’s nomination is the big surprise for the category, while Anderson earned his first directing nomination.

Prediction: Richard Linklater

See more nominations: http://oscar.go.com/nominees

Daily Movie: ‘Spirited Away’ (2001)

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“Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember.”- Mari Natsuki as Zeniba

Bottom line: “Spirited Away” is a dazzling fairy tale drawn to captivate and provoke a better appreciation for the world around us.

Animation director Hayao Miyazaki is known as one of the world’s master animation artists, and “Spirited Away” is just one of the many examples of his enchanting talent. His vision for “Spirited Away” is reminiscent of an early Disney, and oftentimes the depth of Miyazaki’s characters elevate him past the animation mogul.

His beautifully realized fantasy land is safe for kids, as the PG rating suggests, but Miyazaki exudes themes of death and dreadful pain that many films in the genre won’t touch.

Following his award-winning 1997 fable “Princess Mononoke” (1997), Miyazaki returns with another visually stunning Alice in Wonderland-like story about a ten-year-old child, Chihiro, who loses her way after her parents decide to take an unscheduled stop at a mysterious tunnel during a ride along the countryside.

Much to her dismay, Chihiro’s parents investigate the blocked tunnel. Once they walk through, an abandon amusement park awaits, and her anxiety only escalates. Chihiro’s parents soon fall for a “trap” and are unable to move forward, leaving Chihiro alone in a haunting place where monsters and ghoulish happenings surround the frightened child.

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Chihiro quickly realizes she’s stumbled upon a resort for these ghouls and monsters to unwind after their taxing work in the world of humans.

A friendly “boy” finds her and explains the rules of the world she’s found. First, she has to work because laziness is frowned upon. Second, she must take on a new name, Sen, but if she forgets her real name, she will never be able to leave.

Whether it’ spirituality, the significance of words or the power of love, “Spirited Away” has a lot to say. It’s not just a children’s outlet. Miyazaki aims to impress with entertainingly influential dialogue and his persistent need to hand-draw all of his work.

The originality of “Spirited Away” is exposed through this persistence and gives the added CGI visuals a heavenly appeal that should be seen by any appreciative film-goer. The watercolor backdrops and attention to detail will dazzle with ease, especially if you understand the sheer amount of work and talent it takes to produce such magnificent moving art.

Watching the film is more of an event than just a simple movie night. It’s a powerful accomplishment in the world of animation — a world that seems to produce simple, mind-numbing content for children far too often.

Fun fact: First anime film to be nominated for (and win) an Academy Award. It also has the longest run time of any other film nominated or winning in that category (125 minutes).

Run time: 125 min.

MPAA rating: PG

Rotten Tomatoes: 97 percent

Daily Movie: ‘The Babadook’ (2014)

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“You can’t get rid of the Babadook.”- Noah Wiseman as Samuel

Bottom line: In the modern horror genre full of cheap tricks and jumpy scares doubling as punch lines, “The Babadook” is sincere — in a terrifying kind of way.

Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is a chilling work of art that easily finds its way under the skin. Playing the role of writer as well, Kent’s complete vision of “The Babadook” is a prime example of how to make genuine horror while still utilizing the standard tropes of the genre.

Providing a subtle dose of intelligence to match the terror, Kent’s thrill ride pleasantly burrows its way into the psyche. The film’s mixture of brains and horror brawn gives it an obvious advantage over other wannabe fright fests.

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“The Babadook” disturbs with ease, but the dreamlike atmosphere outside of the film’s eerie storybook horror quickly becomes a nightmare, and Kent’s ability to visualize the gradual change is captivating.

Amelia (Essie Davis) lost her husband in a car accident on the way to deliver her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), and she’s still trying to cope several years later. As Samuel’s ever present fear of monsters escalates, Amelia has trouble finding any moment of peace. Samuel’s fear turns into violent reactions, and the friends they once had seem to be slipping away — throwing Amelia into a deeper state of anxiety.

Things get so bad for Amelia and Samuel that they can’t even read a simple children’s book at bedtime. They find a strange book within the house and read it before bed, but the feature character, the Babadook, hides in the shadows and only feeds Samuel’s fears. Amelia begins to sense a looming figure as well and attempts to destroy the book, but that only makes things worse for the two. The finale has yet to be written, and the simple book reading ignites Amelia’s psychosis, and The Babadook’s story can now be completed.

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The terrifying elements of the film are both visual and literary. Amelia’s reading of the Babadook’s book is something I’ve simply never seen before. Samuel’s cringe worthy cries about what will happen to the child are almost background noise to Amelia’s fascination with the book’s disturbing content — frantically reading and flipping through the pages as if to find something more lighthearted.

If there are any modern horror doubters still remaining, “The Babadook” is a true inspiration for the genre, and a testament to what filmmakers are doing in the world of horror. In 93 minutes, Kent uses her grim artistic vision to tap into our childhood fears and the anxiety of adulthood as well.

Wiseman does so well “pretending” to see a terrifying figure it becomes hard to ignore him. His character’s constant violent outbreaks paired with his ongoing persistence to protect himself from the inevitable showdown with the Babadook is often humorous but obviously terrifying for his mother. Davis counters Wiseman’s character antics with a severe state of depression — one that only adds fuel to her psychotic flame.

“The Babadook” is easily my favorite horror film of the year, but that doesn’t do it justice when competing with a Purge sequel and “Annabelle.” Kent has developed a masterpiece, one that’s better than most horror films of this young century.

 

Fun fact: “William Friedkin, director of ‘The Exorcist,’ said “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than ‘The Babadook.'”

Run time: 93 min.

MPAA rating: Unrated

Rotten Tomatoes: 98 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Birdman’ or (‘The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance’) (2014)

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“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”- Edward Norton as Mike Shiner

Bottom line: “Birdman” is ambitious, and director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s impressive technical exhibition is only accentuated by Oscar-worthy performances from Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.

“Birdman” is simply a lot of fun. It’s satisfying to see Michael Keaton perform so brilliantly in 2014 in itself, but Inarritu’s unique vision is more than worthy of the film’s hype — he’s able to create the impression that the entire film was shot during one take.

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The ambitious nature of Inarritu’s technical showcase is paired with a captivating story about the human spirit that’s emotionally gratifying, erratic yet warm, and has a funny side that will sneak up on you.

“Birdman” is a black comedy that literally follows Riggan (Keaton), a washed-up actor who earned his fame from starring in a superhero franchise decades earlier, and documents the days leading up to the premier of his Broadway play. The once iconic movie star must battle with his lingering ego while he attempts to repair his broken relationships, career and inevitably himself.

Inarritu is close friends with “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron, and was able to partner with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who won a technical Oscar for “Gravity”). The end result is a sensational piece of cinematic magic. Flowing from narrow corridors to crowded New York streets, the camera’s lengthy tracking shots are captivating and an example of stylistically orchestrated filmmaking at its finest.

Watching closely, an attentive viewer may be able to locate several instances where there may have been a cut, but doing so will take away much of the enjoyment the imaginative shooting provides. Falling for the magic is the whole point of going to the movies.

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Keaton’s involvement is obviously amusing. He’s an actor who “peaked” more than 20 years ago when he stared in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” much like Riggan. Keaton plays on this, toying with his real-life persona and the somewhat quiet career he’s had since going toe-to-toe with The Joker.

His performance is hyper-active and full of emotion, and at times made me question whether he’s acting — checking the ticket again to make sure I wasn’t watching a Keaton biopic. There is a sense of desperation in his character, visibly building up and weighing on Riggan’s psyche as the play’s premier quickly approaches.

Edward Norton also toys with his real-life reputation of being demanding and difficult on set. His character, Mike Shiner, is Riggan’s co-star and stepped in after an actor was injured during rehearsals. Norton’s performance is calm but electrifying, finding the right balance between pretension and candidness.

For those who enjoy an extravagantly hypnotic visual experience, “Birdman” is more than satisfactory. The compelling nature of the acting core, paired with the exhilarating movie magic makes “Birdman” one of the more intellectually satisfying movies of 2014.

Fun fact: Given the unusual style of filming long takes, Edward Norton and Michael Keaton kept a running tally of each actor’s mistakes. Emma Stone made the most mistakes, Zach Galifianakis made the fewest.

Run time: 119 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Drive’ (2011)

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“You know the story about the scorpion and the frog? Your friend Nino didn’t make it across the river.”- Ryan Gosling as Driver

Bottom line: With a powerfully stylized mix of abrupt violence, fascinating imagery and well placed music, “Drive” is aesthetic action at its finest.

Director Nicholas Winding Refn throws viewers back several decades with a sleek ode to the spirit of 80s action cinema — but with a modern setting. Fast cars and mobsters are everywhere, but somehow a pleasant feminine side finds its way into the action.

The violence escalates at a slow rate, but when it peaks, some might find it off-putting. “Drive” is a sharp shot of adrenaline with an unpredictable nature, and is neither a character study or an inflated action movie. “Drive” is simply a fun ride for both the intellectual viewer and gritty action fanatics.

Ryan Gosling stars as the “Driver,” a hired wheelman in Los Angeles. Whether it’s Hollywood stunt driving or steering getaway vehicles for armed heists, our Driver is talented behind a wheel. Though a loner at heart, he falls for the girl next door, Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother who’s ex-convict husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), drags her into the dangerous criminal underworld of L.A.

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Driver can’t help but throw himself into the equation, volunteering to be the driver in Standard’s next heist. The mission quickly goes wrong, and Driver finds himself frantically trying to protect the girl he loves while a trail of deadly mobsters are after his head.

Gosling has proven he has a gift for finding powerful characters and highlighting the most fascinating aspects about them — even if it’s just their appearance. He’s one of the few actors who can be exceptional without having to say much.

The tone is anything but the same from start to finish. The romanticism of the beginning takes a drastic shift to the artistically suspenseful action film we define it as at the end.

“Drive” has what many “vehicle action” films don’t: A brain. It’s far more astute and imaginative than what’s expected from the genre today. With minimal CGI usage, “Drive” looks more real than you would expect it to as well. There is a high level of respect here for film fans, but the creative writing and talented cast easily satisfy the casual moviegoer.

Fun fact: Despite the driving themes, director Nicolas Winding Refn does not have any interest in cars. He doesn’t hold a driving license and has failed his driving test eight times.

Run time: 101 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Nightcrawler’ (2014)

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically.”- Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom

Bottom line: Pulse-pounding doesn’t do “Nightcrawler” justice — Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a consistently dark but visually welcoming thrill ride with intriguing social commentary to boot.

Gilroy develops a constant sense of distress with Gyllenhaal’s invading charater, Lou Bloom, somehow piecing together scenes with drastically different tones to create a chilling and fluent narrative.

Take a close look at the film, and it becomes a satire, but watching it with a comedic mindset will distract the viewer from how brilliant of a thriller it is at the core.

“Nightcrawler” follows Lou Bloom, a man looking for career stability who winds up finding it in the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism.

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Bloom witnesses freelance, breaking crime journalists –“Nightcrawlers” — filming a crash scene and decides to weasel his way into the cut-throat profession. It’s a job that turns victims and tragedy into the money Lou takes home for the night, and Gilroy doesn’t let us forget that part. The media criticism is blatantly apparent — almost to a fault, but Gyllenhaal’s performance makes up for any misstep, soaking up the viewer’s attention.

Gyllenhaal is in good company. Rene Russo helps out with a desperate character of her own, Nina, a TV media veteran who finds herself on the hot seat. Her ratings must hit an all-time high before the quarter ends to solidify her job security. Lou thrives in her desperation, taking his search for bloody footage to unimaginable extremes.

It’s unpleasant. It’s uncomfortable. Most of all — it doesn’t care. The unrelenting, in-your-face intensity of the film’s dark motif is a sharp parallel to Gyllenhaal’s vivid character — one that could win him an Oscar.

Robert De Niro was an experienced actor at 33 when he starred in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976). De Niro went from gangster in “The Godfather: Part II” (1974) and “Mean Streets” (1973) to psychotic. Gyllenhaal, 33, is also starting to channel his inner-eerie — one that develops over the course of an entire film rather than all at one time.

Fun fact: During the scene where Jake Gyllenhaal talks to himself in the mirror, Gyllenhaal got so into the scene that he punched the mirror. The mirror broke and ended up cutting Gyllenhaal’s hand. He had to go to a hospital and get stitches. He returned to the set right after he got discharged from the hospital.

Run time: 117 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Pontypool’ (2008)

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“Your friend is sick. I’ve seen a lot of this lately. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s hunting us.” Hrant Alianak as Dr. Mendez

Bottom line: Starting off quiet but using restrained comedy to develop an intellectual punch, “Pontypool”is a truly unique low-budget “zombie” flick.

Director Bruce McDonald drops the standard cheap thrills for a metaphorical scare, producing an impressive B-movie that satisfies the intellectual horror fan and gore junkie alike.

Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) finds himself taking a few steps back from his career as a shock jock after taking a radio announcing job in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario. On his way to work one snowy morning, Mazzy encounters a strange woman on the side of the road repeating his words until she simply disappears. A mild encounter compared to what’s in store for him and his radio crew.

After a few hours on the air, helicopter reporter Ken Loney informs listeners about a possible riot outside the office of Dr. Mendez, which quickly turns into much more. Soon after his report, an eerie transmission in French takes over the airways.

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It wasn’t the most informative transmission, warning listeners to not use terms of endearments, phrases that conflict or the English language. It doesn’t seem as if this day could get any more strange, but a quick phone call confirms the town of Pontypool is under quarantine.

According to Dr. Mendez, there is a virus infecting the townspeople hidden in human language, and only certain words trigger a reaction. Once the words are said and “understood,” the virus takes over the host.

“Pontypool” is a witty, cerebral horror that plays with the genre’s popular lingo, but lacks a lot of action sequences. When the action does come, it makes up for the dead air with a heavy dose of gore.

Novelist Tony Burgess adapted this screenplay from his own book, “Pontypool Changes Everything,” and according to McDonald, he completed the adaptation in 48 hours. The film was shot as both a movie and a radio play — both of which draw their influence from Orson Welles’ production of “The War of the Worlds.”

“Pontypool” is perplexing at times, but it seems to be made for the second viewing — one that feels surprisingly different than the first. As the film creeps along, the metaphorically packed dialogue seems to shift the nature of the movie itself.

The originality is shocking for a movie with a $1 million budget. The camera work and impressive editing could easily convince a viewer they’re watching grade A Hollywood horror.

Fun fact: Actress Georgina Reilly had a problem with her character’s having to “babble” and was concerned about what the words would mean to her character.

Run time: 93 min.

MPAA rating: NR

Rotten Tomatoes: 82 percent

Daily Movie: The Indie Uprising

Richard Linklater unveiled his independent 12-year project “Boyhood” this year and captivated viewers everywhere. Unlike the majority of popular independent achievements, “Boyhood” is looking at a best picture nomination at the Oscars this year.

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Linklater takes 12 years of footage and creates a singular narrative through the eyes of an adolescent boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up as the film progresses.

It’s a truly authentic cinematic experiment for the ages. It doesn’t just highlight childhood development, it’s an ode to parenting and the constant complications and fulfillment of raising kids.

Linklater’s success is a testament to the flourishing state of the independent film market. Here are a few indie treats to watch at home:

‘Cloud Atlas’

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Since the release of “Cloud Atlas” in 2012, many critics have tried to dissect the film, but like any elegant piece of art, the true experience is original to the viewer. Even so, “Cloud Atlas” wants us to find a meaning in the pile of overbearing rhetoric. Six stories overlap each other between 1849 and 2346, where the actors play several different roles and genders within each story.

Based on David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, “Cloud Atlas” makes one thing clear, there is an echoing concept that our lives are all connected by the desire for liberation. The narrative is complex, told in order but then cycled backward. It can prove to be burdensome for many, but the immense scope and gravity of the film cannot be avoided.

With a budget of more than $100 million, Cloud Atlas is one of the most expensive independent films to date.

‘Samsara’

hfhf1“Samsara” jumps from one culture to the next, capturing the vast range of humankind and the world we inhabit. This image-driven documentary might have convoluted messages, but the gorgeous visuals make up for any of the narrative defects.

Fricke filmed this piece over the course of five years and 25 countries, relying on imagery instead of dialogue. “Samsara” documents the far corners of the world, whether it’s dangerous disaster zones, indigenous societies or natural wonders.

It’s an impressive spectacle, but more importantly, “Samsara” is a vacation from the standard movie. I love getting lost in transfixing films attempting to bridge cultural gaps.

‘Holy Motors’

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Overwhelmingly strange and consistently erratic, “Holy Motors” is something viewers won’t soon forget. It’s visually entrancing and carries a challenging narrative that’s easy to overlook in favor of its stylistic imagery.

The viewer is thrown into the life of Monsieur Oscar, a puzzling character who aimlessly jumps from one life to the next. One hour he’s an assassin, and after a trip in a seemingly ordinary limousine, he’s a captain of industry. Roles are being played, but who is the man behind the many crafts?

Every once in a while we are reminded that filmmakers are still capable of finding obscure ways to be obscure. “Holy Motors” is like a crossword puzzle that’s more fun to play than solve.

Daily Movie: ‘Seabiscuit’ (2003)

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“The horse is too small, the jockey too big, the trainer too old, and I’m too dumb to know the difference.”- Jeff Bridges as Charles Howard

Bottom line: Here’s your basic “overcoming the odds” theme, but “Seabiscuit” thrives on talented camera work and thrilling races — separating it from the pack.

At its center, this is a story about how one small animal can help an entire nation forget about their woes in the midst of a depression. The racing sequences are top notch and do well to complement the majority of the film’s persevering themes.

In his second film, Director Gary Ross brings back the acting duo from his directorial debut “Pleasantville” to recreate a troubling time in American history. “Seabiscuit” is a depression-era sports flick about a storied racehorse. Seabiscuit, a small and often lazy horse, grew up spending his days sleeping, eating and misbehaving.

Three men would shape this bum into one of the most beloved racing legends of all time: Owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), who has a keen eye for talented outcasts, trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), who is an outcast himself for trying to heal injured horses instead of killing them, and jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), who started off cleaning stables.

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Based on Laura Hellenbrand’s best-selling novel, “Seabiscuit” follows these three men in their attempt to create something out of nothing. The country’s financial crisis is the film’s backdrop, contributing its own stressful layer of drama.

The narrative structure is a standard sports timeline. The majority of the film is slower, dialogue-driven content, and the characters face a major setback right before the final event (in this case, a race — no way!). The slow start to “Seabiscuit” is full of leisurely character introductions, but the impressive racing scenes make up for the sluggish character development.

The races are intense because they have to be; it would be tough to make the impact “Seabisuit” does without them. Cinematographer John Schwartzman gets close enough to the action that viewers have to question where the cameras are located. The shots often mimic the rider’s experience, pulling the viewer into every key moment and jockey exchange beautifully.

If there is anything bad to say about the film, it’s the strange lack of gambling. Betting is a major element in the racing world — it always has been. “Seabiscuit” seems to avoid it altogether and almost condemn it when it is seen. There could have been an intriguing subplot diving into the world of gambling at the track, but it seems the crew decided it would be too distracting.

Nevertheless, the lack of gambling doesn’t make the film inaccurate. The content’s powerful themes do the trick well enough. At times it may seem these “true events” are carefully constructed, but nothing will keep the viewer from feeling the emotional impact of “Seabisuit.”

Fun fact: While the movie describes War Admiral as being a huge horse close to eighteen hands tall, the real-life War Admiral was well known for being one of the smallest sons of Man o’ War. War Admiral was actually the same size as Seabiscuit, which was approximately fifteen hands tall.

Run time: 140 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes:77 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Galaxy Quest’ (1999)

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“Don’t open that! It’s an alien planet! Is there air? You don’t know!”- Sam Rockwell as Guy Fleegman

Bottom line: With an excellent cast and intelligent humor, “Galaxy Quest” does so much with so little, cleverly dropping odes to classic science-fiction along the way.

Director Dean Parisot’s cunning comedy may not seem promising on the surface, but “Galaxy Quest” quickly grabs the viewer with amusing, down-to-earth characters and surprisingly impressive special effects.

The film carefully stabs at the popular “Star Trek” franchise it’s honoring, but creates its own charming universe at the same time. Not only are the trek tropes present, but “Galaxy Quest” also spoofs the franchise’s immense fandom. It could have easily poked fun at the trek culture, but instead celebrates the devoted fan base.

For a mere four years, the NSEA Protector carried a fearless crew throughout the galaxy — running into dangerous obstacles and thrilling adventures along the way. As soon as it began, the show was cancelled.

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Skip ahead 20 years, where we see our five courageous space travelers still in costume at quest conventions around the world. Fans flock to see their childhood role models, but some of the fans may be more alien than the average Trekkie.

A group of exotic lifeforms have been slowly intercepting television transmissions from Earth and considering them “historical documents.” When they arrive at the convention to ask the actors for help, the ignorant crew is again sent off into space — for real this time. There’s no director, script or second takes. The actors must bring their characters to life and deliver the most important performance of their careers.

Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub and Sam Rockwell — What’s not to like? These veteran actors all bring their own special dynamic to a narrative with several holes, drastically impacting the film’s predictable subject matter.

The best comedy comes out when the illogical aspects of science fiction get in the character’s way. The film’s effects and set design are easily overlooked for the acting star power and constant wit, but it’s a superb addition to an already unexpected satirical treat.

Fun fact: This film was one of the earliest to have its own internet domain and website, GalaxyQuest.com. However, instead of being a polished part of the film’s marketing campaign, the site (in keeping with the film’s fandom theme) was deliberately designed to look like a fan page, with screen captures and poor HTML coding.

Run time: 102 min.

MPAA rating: PG

Rotten tomatoes: 89 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Holy Motors’ (2012)

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“Your punishment, my poor Angèle, is to be you. To have to live with yourself.”- Denis Lavant as Mr. Oscar

Bottom line: Overwhelmingly strange and consistently erratic, “Holy Motors” is something viewers won’t soon forget. It’s visually entrancing and carries a challenging narrative that’s easy to overlook in favor of its stylistic imagery.

Every once in a while we are reminded that filmmakers are still capable of finding obscure ways to be odd. “Holy Motors” is like a crossword puzzle that’s more fun to play than solve. When reading reviews for this film, you’ll likely find a bunch of critics who are trying to stay away from admitting they don’t quite understand the movie’s mysterious themes.

I’m one of them. I’ve watched this back-to-back, and it almost left me even more confused after round two. From the opening sequence, which begins in a movie theater, “Holy Motors” seems to simply celebrate the magic of movies and their powerful impact on modern culture. That’s the best explanation I can conjure up.

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The viewer is thrown into the life of Monsieur Oscar, a puzzling character who aimlessly jumps from one life to the next. One hour he’s an assassin, and after a trip in a seemingly ordinary limousine, he’s a captain of industry. Roles are being played, but who is the man behind the many crafts?

He’s alone, accompanied only by his limo driver, Céline, a blonde woman transporting him to different locations throughout Paris. Every time Oscar returns to the vehicle, a contract awaits him, like an assassin receiving a new hit assignment. Where is this man’s home? His family?

“Holy Motors” is truly a phenomenal viewing experience. From scene to scene, the viewer is left entirely clueless as to what lies ahead for Oscar. His random lifestyle leaps are unexpected, and the transformations keep the viewer sucked into a story that makes little sense.

This is the “modern art” of film. It can mean whatever the viewer wants it to mean. Oftentimes, this is something to stay away from, but director Leos Carax is talented in the art of visually mesmerizing people. Anyone could watch it and fall for the eye-pleasing fantasy.

When it finally concludes, “Holy Motors” rattles the brain, but ultimately reminds the viewer of the power behind carefully crafted obscurity in film.

Fun fact: The film’s initial concept started with a trend Leos Carax had observed where stretch limousines were being increasingly used for weddings. The director was interested in the cars’ bulkiness. From that grew an idea for a film about the increasing digitization of society; a science fiction scenario where organisms and visible machines share a common superfluity.

Run time: 115 min.

MPAA rating: NR

Rotten Tomatoes: 91 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Gone Girl’ (2014)

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“What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”- Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne

Bottom line: David Fincher, again, masterfully uses an obscure plot and stabs at the media as a platform for a black comedy hidden behind a thrilling mystery.

As long as “Gone Girl” is, it never drags on, nor does the mood falter. Fincher swiftly jumps from overtly subtle humor to hair-raising thrills, creating a crowd-pleasing thriller with depth and unyielding obscurity.

Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, “Gone Girl” unravels the secrets behind a seemingly normal modern marriage. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary.

With the growing pressures from the media spotlight and looming detectives, Nick’s idea of his perfect marriage is quickly changing. Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? Strange incidents add on to the lies and deceitful behavior, making it a popular question.

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Flynn’s story easily matches Fincher’s often twisted vision, helping Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike shine under his artistic direction. In the early stages of Oscar season, Pike looks to be a heavy best actress contender. Her performance manages to be captivating, disturbing and genuine, often at the same time.

Let’s not forget the more than beneficial Affleck, who is no stranger to Oscar contention after directing and staring in 2013’s best picture of the year, “Argo.” Affleck reportedly postponed a film he was directing to star in a Fincher film.

“He’s the only director I’ve met who can do everybody else’s job better than they could,” he said.

Affleck hit the books with “Gone Girl,” researching several men accused and convicted of killing their spouses, particularly Scott Peterson. Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his pregnant wife, Laci, on Nov. 12, 2004. Laci disappeared in December 2002 while Scott claimed to be fishing.

The theory was that Scott murdered his wife because he wished to be rid of his imminent fatherhood. Even though the prosecution lacked physical evidence connecting Peterson to the crime, he was formally sentenced to death on March 16, 2005.

The effort doesn’t go unnoticed in Affleck’s powerful representation of Flynn’s character. Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay, has addressed the slight deviation from the novel toward the end, stating she wanted fans of the book to have a fun viewing experience next to the story’s newcomers.

These deviations are fairly minimal. The film does well to replicate the novel’s timeline, which could be because Flynn wrote the screenplay. For me, this is a negative. When novel becomes movie, they should be separate entities — their own works of art.

These are two drastically different entertainment mediums, and when one attempts to replicate the other, it often seems forced. Luckily, with Fincher at the helm, the subject matter is a side note to larger, often comedic themes.

Fun fact: Ben Affleck would constantly sing ’80s songs in between takes. Impressed, Tyler Perry decided to start a game that ended up lasting the entire duration of filming. Perry would start to sing the most random song he could think of to see if Affleck would start singing along. According to Perry, Affleck knew all of the words to every single song Perry threw at him, including ones by Barbra Streisand.

Run time: 149 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 87 percent

Daily Movie: ‘August: Osage County’ (2013)

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“I dont need your help. I have got myself… I know how this goes. Once all the talking is threw, people just go back to their own nonsenses. I know that so, dont worry about me. I will manage.”- Meryl Streep as Violet Weston

Bottom line: With a long list of veteran cast members, “August: Osage County” nearly overwhelms the viewer with the amount of acting brands looking for the spotlight, but when it’s Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, there isn’t much to complain about.

Based on John Letts’ Broadway play, “August: Osage County” is an acting clinic. Letts adapted the play himself, and the character’s dramatic depth might not have come out in the hands of a second-string cast. Considering the bland “dysfunctional family” content doesn’t offer anything new, “August” features two Oscar-nominated performances from a couple of Hollywood’s most popular actresses, which is more than enough for viewers.

Letts has a history with maniacal characters and odd situations, and he’s good at implementing both with unyielding intensity. This type of tone gives great actors, like Streep and Roberts, the ability to shine in their roles as they deliver Letts’ powerful dialogue. Every little remark or private conversation is skillfully designed, using hurtful language to develop deeper themes.

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Violet Weston (Streep) — ironically — has cancer of the mouth. This daunting fact, along with her many addictions, has added to a stressful mourning process after her husband’s death. Violet’s family must reunite in the midst of tragedy while she’s on the brink of losing her mind.

Emotions are running high, and the stress quickly starts obscure drama and reveals secrets better left hidden. Each family member will be forced to examine themselves and the relationships they hold dear. This is August in Osage County, Oklahoma, and it’s hot.

“Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” dominated last year’s Oscars, but there were many gems hiding in the mix of impressive nominations. Streep was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, but fell short to Cate Blanchett’s commanding performance in “Blue Jasmine.”

Roberts found her way back into Oscar contention for the fourth time in her career, but couldn’t compete with Lupita Nyong’o’s mesmerizing supporting performance in “12 Years a Slave,” which also won Best Picture.

Check out some of the other supporting cast members: Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Streep is often over the top during her drugged-out rants, but there are only a handful of actresses who could get away with it, and she’s one of them. With that being said, Roberts truly steals the show. There is something humble about her approach, quietly delivering potent dialogue. It’s just not the same Julia Roberts we are used to seeing. At this point in her career (it’s been almost 15 years since “Erin Brockovich”) it’s safe to say she could use a re-brand. “August” could be the start of that new image.

The melodrama is tough to avoid with a premise like this, but the acting helps level the playing field and deliver dynamic, character-driven scenes.

Fun fact: Filming at the house took place in the fall. At times it was as chilly as 40 degrees outside. When the leaves around the house began to turn, the production crew painted them green. When the leaves began falling, computer-generated ones were added in post-production.

Run time: 121 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 64 percent

‘Arrow’ season three features new superheroes, villains

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Season 3 of “Arrow” premiers Wednesday, and will look to revitalize the show’s image with the introduction of new superheroes and villains, specifically The Flash, a character securing his own weekly Tuesday night spot on The CW this fall.

The Flash will appear in a two-episode crossover right in the middle of Arrow’s third season. Titled “Flash vs. Arrow” and “The Brave and the Bold,” these two episodes will either give new life to the “Arrow” series or give “The Flash” more momentum. The CW is hoping for both.

One thing is for sure, this crossover will open creative doors for comic book characters on television, especially when a network can acquire the appropriate rights to feature multiple heroes in their own shows.

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Other than the heavily anticipated Flash appearance, other characters will be featured this season including The Atom (Brandon Routh). While The Atom will be an intriguing addition, this season’s main villain, Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable), will introduce the batman universe to the ever-expanding world of “Arrow.”

“Arrow” Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg was promoting this crossover months ago in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. After two seasons, the show has created a formula, and predictability can be a side effect to formalized superheroes. Kreisberg said the staff didn’t want to wait any longer for a crossover, hoping it would create a redefining spark for “Arrow” and develop some deserving momentum for a Flash spin off that could be a whole lot of fun.

“It’s really going to be an adventure with the Arrow and Flash on both episodes,” he said. “Watching the two teams come together and fight alongside each other, it’s one of the most fun parts. We just don’t believe in waiting. We really believe in accelerated storytelling and especially for those first nine episodes of the season—for both shows—hopefully we’ve designed it so that none of these [make you say], ‘Well, I missed that one, it’s fine.’”

Nable’s appearance as Ra’s al Ghul won’t be what we’ve seen at the movies. The character will be featured in the fourth episode, “The Magician,” and “Arrow” showrunner Marc Guggenheim discussed the villain’s surprising introduction to the series during Comic-Con in July. Guggenheim said the latest Batman trilogy was influential to the series, but the Ra’s al Ghul we will see this fall on The CW won’t be like what we’ve seen in the past.

“Arrow” premiers its third season Wednesday at 7 p.m. on The CW, while “The Flash” will premier Tuesday at 7 p.m. When each series reaches their eighth episode, they will come together for this special crossover event.

Daily Movie: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012)

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“Yeah, uh, I had to dismember that guy with a trowel. What have you been up to?”- Fran Kranz as Marty

Bottom line: With a seemingly predictable premise, this satirical ode to horror offers much more than advertised.

“The Cabin in the Woods” is able to be funny, obscure and frightening — often all at once. Director Drew Goddard’s unique meta-movie drastically shifts tones at least three times, but gains more momentum with every twist.

Reflecting themes from Wes Craven’s “Scream” and Machael Haneke’s disturbing sideshow “Funny Games,” the film is an examination of why horror fans enjoy the genre’s “unpleasant” nature.

A group of typecast teenagers head off to a cabin in the woods for a weekend away. Shortly after they arrive, a sense of isolation starts to set in after attempts to interact with the outside world.

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When a cellar door blasts open, the obvious explanation would be the investigate, right? The cellar is packed with ancient relics and random gadgets. When one of the genre’s standard characters reads from an old diary, she raises a family of zombie killers from the ground. With the obvious threat roaming the cabin, a mysterious entity is keeping tabs on the action.

“The Cabin in the Woods” is as self-aware as it can be, capitalizing on the overused themes of the horror genre, but doing something much more in the process. It attempts to display organized free will, questioning whether the characters make choices because of the genre’s requirements or because they truly decide their own path. Bold themes — but the direction and careful attention to the genre’s roots make “The Cabin in the Woods” a rare piece of art not to be missed.

One big question that arises when a horror film tests the genre’s boundaries is whether it’s effective. Are we scared? “The Cabin in the Woods” does have it’s scary moments, but that’s not the point. The film is essentially a horror genre fanboy exam.

Perfection isn’t the best way to describe this one. The tone is often disjointed and the story seems to make itself up as the narrative moves along, but “The Cabin in the Woods” seems to tie everything together with a dramatic, dream-like finale.

Fun fact: The movie’s opening was a deliberate attempt by filmmakers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon to confuse the audience and make them think they walked in to see the wrong movie.

Run time: 94 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Tusk’ (2014)

Fellow O’Colly Entertainment writer Brandon Schmitz reviews one of the more shocking films of 2014, “Tusk.”

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“Are you really mourning your humanity? I don’t understand, who in the hell would want to be human?”- Michael Parks as Howard Howe

Bottom line: This is a tough one. “Tusk,” director Kevin Smith’s first foray into horror comedy, has haunted me since I left the theater.

Brandon Schmitz -- contributing writer

Brandon Schmitz — contributing writer

For better or worse, this movie is unforgettable.

Based on a conversation from Smith’s show SModcast, the film appropriately follows Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), a famous podcaster who travels to the woods of Manitoba, Canada.

While interviewing the mysterious Howard Howe (Michael Parks) about his storied life, Wallace’s situation takes a turn for the macabre.

Meanwhile, Wallace’s best friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) go searching for him.

The cast shines across the board. Although I’m indifferent toward many of Long’s previous roles, “Tusk’s” script accentuates his strengths as an actor.

His deplorable narcissism coupled with Park’s off-putting eloquence makes for some riveting dialogue during the film’s first act.

Smith successfully blends palpable atmosphere with subtle comedic undertones early on. The snappy dialogue may not be on par with Tarantino’s, but the fact that I’m even making that comparison is a testament to how solid the film’s first third is.

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It isn’t until the second act that “Tusk” goes bonkers; from then on, it’s an escalation of madness. It’s definitely a gamble on Smith’s part for shifting gears so deliberately, for he will either lose his audience or take it along for the ride.

Although a quick Google search would reveal the film’s major hook, I won’t spoil it here. Suffice it to say, this hook entails some of the most disturbing images I’ve seen in a movie. Some may dismiss the twist as pure shock value — a couple of people at my screening even laughed — but I was horrified. It’s psychological horror at its best.

Unfortunately, this is also where the movie starts to lose its tonal consistency. The comedic elements are heightened tenfold, but given how dark the story had just gotten, I was too disturbed to laugh.

Honestly, these scenes sound funnier when Smith describes them on his show. There is a glorified cameo that comes into play around the third act, and the responses have been polarizing.

I tend to groan at this actor’s over reliance on playing unrestrained caricatures, but he does deliver a handful of chuckle-worthy lines. It’s conflicting; his performance is the only comedic element that sort of works throughout the film’s latter half, and yet he is distractingly out-of-place.

That said, “Tusk” excels as a cerebral horror film, with twisted imagery and minimal gore. I’m not sure whether it’s for me, but I admire Smith’s willingness to cross certain lines.

Although I’ll never watch this movie again, I definitely won’t forget it, either.

Fun fact: Quentin Tarantino was offered the role of Guy Lapointe, but turned it down saying he dug the script and “couldn’t wait to watch Michael Parks let loose his internal Kraken,” but he had no interest in acting at the moment.

Run time: 102 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 42 percent

Sony winning next-generation gaming war

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After almost a year of next-generation gaming, Sony’s PlayStation 4 has proven to be superior to Microsoft’s Xbox One where sales are concerned.

The $100 price difference was a main contributor to the totals, but when Microsoft finally offered a Kinect-free version of the Xbox One at the same price of the PS4, the playing field started to level out and has continued that trend into the fall.

PlayStation 4 has sold more than 10 million units worldwide, while the Xbox One has barely hit 5 million. The separation was substantially greater before Microsoft released their $399 model, which ended up doubling its sales number without the Kinect feature.

Microsoft is on the comeback trail. Recently launching several “Only on Xbox” titles including the highly anticipated Titanfall, the Xbox One will soon find common financial ground with its competitor.

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While Microsoft joins the party, Sony is busy looking to the future. The PS4 will soon have streaming and virtual reality capabilities with the introduction of PlayStation Now and the Oculus Rift. We will see this technology as soon as 2015 with Uncharted 4 and The Order 1886.

Both companies will claim their product has the power to lead this generation of console gaming to new, innovative heights. With Xbox One’s price drop helping the console find a wider audience, it would be appropriate to start comparing the two once more.

When deciding between the two systems, gamers have different preferences. Some will buy based on the game selection, while others will dissect the design and functionality of the consoles. The Xbox One is a mammoth at 13.5″ by 10.4″ and has a ventilated exterior, as the Red Ring of Death (overheating) was a scenario many gamers had to deal with last generation.

The PS4 has distinct angular dimensions and is obviously going for style with its half-matte, half-gloss finish. The stylish design measures at 10.8″ by 12.” The PS4 has dimensions more appropriate for entertainment centers and media cabinets, whereas the Xbox aimed for functionality.

The PS4 doesn’t hold all of the advantages. Sony decided to conceal the ports, making it more difficult to plug cables into the back. These little details could mean a lot for gamers looking to acquire next-gen hardware. The internal specs are comparable, but the two powerhouse companies found originality in their designs this time around.

Both systems have 500GB hard drives, but the PS4 allows the gamer to replace internal drives at their own convenience. The Xbox One has a standard hard drive, but replacing it can result in a voided warranty. Microsoft took a massive leap when their Xbox One June update allowed gamers to add external storage, but the drive has to be 256GB or larger. Sony on the other hand isn’t concerned with external storage, boasting a massive internal drive to begin with.

Conclusion: The PS4 looks to have a better future. Though both systems are similar in the graphics department, Sony is simply ahead of the curve. Testing the water with virtual reality is something that could launch Sony to the top of the pack for good. Microsoft needs to do something special to catch up, and dropping their price is a short term solution.

Featured Games

Xbox One

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Titanfall

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Halo 5

PS4

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MLB ’14: The Show

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Daily Movie: ‘Skyfall’ (2012)

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“Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.”- Daniel Craig as James Bond

Bottom line: Director Sam Medes revitalizes the Bond brand with an intelligent thriller — one that’s easily in the best Bond conversation.

The Bond franchise celebrated it’s 50th anniversary with “Skyfall,” which was the perfect time to pull of something huge. After “Quantum of Solace” didn’t find much favor with viewers, Medes created an action thriller that’s easy to watch and finds a lot more common ground with the origins of James Bond than its predecessor.

One of the more ambitious Bond films to date, “Skyfall” is dark, subtle and full of visual brilliance. It’s a recovery that could buy the franchise at least another 10 years.

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Bond’s origins and emotional love for country are exposed after an assignment goes awry, and the identities of MI6 agents around the globe become compromised. After an attack on MI6, M (Judi Dench) is forced to relocate the agency. Her job security is soon questioned after Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, challenges her decision-making abilities.

It’s now difficult to trust anyone within a heavily compromised MI6, but M has one ally: James Bond (Daniel Craig). Eve (Naomie Harris), MI6 field agent, accompanies Bond as they follow a trail leading to the mysterious and deadly Silva (Javier Bardem), who has a ruthless motive that’s yet to be revealed.

Craig and Bardem shine, but that’s no surprise. Both are proven veteran actors in this genre and beyond. The great thing about “Skyfall” isn’t so much the impressive acting, but how the film pays attention to those actors. Medes is elegant in his approach to Bond, keeping the spastic editing and blurry images to a minimum and letting the characters come to life.

It’s simply a different kind of Bond movie. From the opening Istanbul chase to the emotional finale in the Scottish Highlands, “Skyfall” is sentimental in its representation of James Bond, the person. The emotion perfectly melds with the superb acting and riveting visuals.

Fun fact: Judi Dench has more screen time in this film alone than Desmond Llewelyn had in his 17 films as Q, making her portrayal of M the most common character in the series after Bond himself.

Run time: 143 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

Daily Movie: ‘The Conspiracy’ (2012)

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Bottom line: In a film culture where money often takes over the box office, “The Conspiracy” is a worthy low-budget thriller that takes a dying found-footage premise and gives it an engaging twist.

“The Conspiracy” is more of a faux-documentary than a mockumentary and is able to keep the audience committed to the story with a short 84 minute run time, while making real-world conspiracies fun again. Director Christopher MacBride utilizes the found-footage thematic device with this movie better than any filmmaker since Daniel Myrick’s “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999.

Two filmmakers set out to document the life of a crazed conspiracy theorist, but what they don’t know is where one of his most convincing theories will take them. When the man disappears without a trace, the filmmakers turn the documentary into an obsessive quest to uncover the truth behind his theories.

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When they discovers recurring trends they can’t ignore, a secretive group called Tarsus pops up on their radar. The group is an eerie combination of the Parallax Corporation from Alan J. Pakula’s “The Parallax View,” and the disturbing cult group seen in Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” (there’s even a few fun odes to Kubrick’s final film).

What’s electrifying about “The Conspiracy” is it could be a true documentary if the final 30 minutes were edited out of the final cut. The fact that it’s based on real conspiracy theories is what makes the film so thought-provoking, often blurring the line between fact and fiction.

MacBride stated a friend introduced him to conspiracy theories, and, according to him, “For several months I got lost down that rabbit hole and eventually a light bulb just went off, and I realized there was a really compelling story to tell set in that world.” MacBride went on to say how he doesn’t want people to see the film as a “found-footage” spectacle, but something of its own.

This is MacBride’s directorial debut, and even though we’ve seen this type of film so many times over the past decade, “The Conspiracy” is refreshingly original and a genuine shocker toward the chilling finale. The plausible aspect the first half of the film proposes is what makes the creative ending so compelling.

The closing sequence is long, and impressively combines high-tech gimmicks with effective faux-documentary devices, all adding up to a thrilling third act.

Overall, “The Conspiracy” does two things well: it provides a fascinating examination of modern and ancient conspiracy theories, linking them to the film’s already pulse- pounding subject matter, and revives a dwindling found-footage genre.

Fun fact: Tie clip footage was shot with a Canon 7D DSLR strapped to the cinematographer’s chest. He was then guided by the actors.

Run time: 84 min.

MPAA rating: NR

Rotten Tomatoes: 86 percent

Daily Movie: ‘The Sandlot’ (1993)

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“You know, if my dog was as ugly as you. I’d shave his butt and tell him to walk backwards.”- Patrick Renna as Ham Porter

Bottom line: Even though “The Sandlot” thrives on borrowed content, its nostalgic sensationalism with continue to resonate as the years pass.

Placing the derivative themes aside, “Sandlot” director David Evans was able to connect with a large group of kids and children at heart with a mix of genuine charm and humorous coming-of-age subject matter.

Many childhood struggles are presented in this 1990s backyard comedy. Looking for acceptance after moving into a new neighborhood, trying to connect with a stepfather and simply growing up are all covered with sensitivity in “The Sandlot.” The best thing going for this film is how many people connect with its themes, but just as many people will find it overly nostalgic to the point of annoyance.

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For those who enjoy tones similar to “Stand by Me” or “American Graffiti” — even though both are superior films — will find comfort in “The Sandlot.” The kid-friendly narrative strategy often resonates with more than children, and that’s the case here.

Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) finds himself in a new community after his mother and stepfather decided to relocate the family. His new location sparks an interest in baseball, and the neighborhood hotshot, Rodriquez (Mike Vitar), takes him under his wing. 

Soon, Smalls is part of the local baseball scene. Their adventures include treehouse parties, swooning lifeguards, trash talking rival baseball teams and even trying something “taboo” at the traveling fair.

The drama starts when a valuable baseball drifts beyond the sandlot’s fence, where a ball-eating dog is the subject of a local legend. The ball sports Babe Ruth’s autograph, and knowing how valuable that is, the kids realize the only option is retrieval.

Without the nostalgia, “The Sandlot” is mediocre to poor, but the film’s sentimentality is hard to avoid. At a basic level, it’s “Field of Dreams” for young teens, but extends far beyond tween territory.

The world will have a tough time forgetting “The Sandlot.” After more than 20 years, it’s still something most film fans and sports fanatics can easily watch and thoroughly enjoy.

Fun fact: In order to establish the close bond between Smalls and Benny, the director had Tom Guiry and Mike Vitar meet and rehearse together weeks before the rest of the kids showed up to film. It worked so well that the other kids genuinely believed the two actors had been friends for a long time.

Run time: 101 min.

MPAA rating: PG

Rotten Tomatoes: 57 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (2014)

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Bottom line: The second installment to the most recent “Apes” reboot loses one of its leading actors, but makes up for it with smart special effects and emotional appeal.

“Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves adds “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” to an already historic franchise. “Dawn” had a mission for this sequel, make it better than the original. Its predecessor, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), was a critical and financial success. This was a relief to many viewers tired of gritty disappointing reboots, but the film found success with a solid mixture of special effects and actor James Franco leading the way.

In “Dawn,” Franco is out of the picture, but ape lovers need not worry. Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight Rises”), Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Keri Russell (“Mission: Impossible 3″) provide an even better arsenal of acting power. We cannot forget about the brilliant Andy Serkis, who we have seen play some of the most popular creatures, including Gollum in ” The Lord of the Rings” series. Serkis will throw on the CGI suit and reprise his role as Caesar, king of the apes. His success in reflecting animal movements in one of the brighter sides of a film world caught up in computer generated images.

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At the end of “Rise” we were left with an image of Caesar and his band of merry apes hiding out in the woods, looking over a city with an expiration date. In “Dawn,” this developing nation of genetically evolved apes finds a group of humans who are threatening their way of life after a deadly virus wipes out a vast amount of humans. As peace agreement is made, but the treaty is short-lived and war will determine who will inhabit Earth as the dominant species in the wake of this disaster.

“Dawn” finds success in several aspects. Each one is hard enough to find success individually. For the entire two hour duration, the film is able to keep a high level of tension in every scene. Even in the scenes with heavy dialogue, the interspecies conflict is always looming, as the brink of war is frightening for both sides.

Constant tension is difficult to keep for this amount of time in any film, but the fact that it’s successful doing so in a sequel is one of the most impressive aspects of the film. This is not a minor improvement, the sequel is exponentially better than its predecessor, and “Rise” was an impressive film in itself.

Serkis steals the show with his ability to display a passionate and thoughtful non-human performance. Though we have seen Serkis and other actors play the physical canvas for CGI, his role hasn’t necessarily been invented yet in film, so this style is beginning to break ground, which makes “Dawn” that much more of an exciting gift. It’s a great performance in general, one that many viewers will overlook thinking he is just an animation. There is someone behind that computer generated image making those movements, and it’s one of the most impressive acting achievements in recent memory.

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Though these apes are highly evolved, speaking is not something they have mastered yet. Subtitles throughout the movie creatively give us words for their intricate sign language. The smooth dialect transition between apes and homo sapiens keeps the viewer informed and interested in the narrative.

“Dawn” was filmed mostly in Vancouver and New Orleans, and the 3D viewing experience throws you right into the wet, misty greenery of a convincing California setting. Though 3D viewing is not a necessity, “Dawn” is one of the films where your $15 would be a smart investment. Most of the time the 3D element is promotional and therefor unimpressive, but “Dawn” manages to engulf you in the world of apes on the rise.

Reeves lays on the imagery, but instead of pushing for the geeky, scientific route, he manages to promote a deep, philosophical narrative that’s intelligent as it is thought-provoking. He does this without overwhelming the viewer, which is popular in today’s cinema.

“Dawn” is heavy on the CGI, but if you are going to use it in a world where nearly every movie has some sort of computer generated image, make sure it’s done in a smart way. “Dawn” excels in the intelligence column and provides a profitable and intriguing spectacle.

Fun fact: Koba, Caesar’s first assistant ape, bears the name that Joseph Stalin used as a nickname. Their personalities are somewhat similar, and the ascent to power bears a resemblance to Stalin’s.

Run time: 130 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent

Daily Movie: ‘The Blues Brothers’ (1980)

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“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”- Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues

Bottom line: Jake and Elwood’s chaotic adventure is too overblown, but in the end, the charming cast is able to sew everything together with a string of powerful musical numbers and pure wit.

Today, watching “The Blues Brothers” is more of a nostalgia trip than anything, but thanks to the chemistry between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, it’s a daft comedy worth revisiting.

The musical sequences are captivating for many reasons. They’re fun and obviously thought-out, but the film offers surprising cameos from the likes of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, who get to take over the screen with their iconic talents. Before “Blues Brothers,” we just hadn’t seen such a super-charged musical comedy like this one.

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Belushi and Aykroyd star as Jake and Elwood, characters created on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” but ended up defining themselves elsewhere. When Jake is released from prison, he and Elwood visit “The Penguin,” a nun who raised them in boarding school. The brothers discover the Archdiocese won’t support the school any longer and sell the facility to Education Authority. Their only option to keep it up and running is paying a $5000 tax within 11 days.

Jake and Elwood feel the urge to help, so they decide to get their blues band back together, with hopes of earning the money at a big gig. Their “mission from God” turns out to be anything but heavenly, picking up a new enemy at every turn.

As director John Landis (“Animal House”) kept throwing money at it, the film almost lost control of itself. Somehow, the casting saved the day with two killer performances from Belushi and Aykroyd, strategic cameos and a laundry list of capable support. The brothers come off as slightly rough around the edges with cynical personalities and a simplistic outlook on life, and their mood perfectly complements the film’s outlandish themes.

The chase sequences are simply incredible. Under elevated train tracks, on overpasses, flying over a separating bridge, tearing up Daley Center and a lengthy police car pileup are just a few instances we get to see where some of the film’s extensive budget comes into play.

First appearing on “Saturday Night Live” in 1976, The Blues Brothers appeared only two more times on television. The band stretched far beyond the comedy show, releasing an album and going on several tours. Even after Belushi’s death, and to this day, The Blues Brothers are an active band. They “reformed” in 1988 for a world tour with rotating guests and band members, and again in 1998 to film the sequel, “Blues Brothers 2000.”

With all of the dynamics on display in “The Blues Brothers,” it’s turbulent and lazy, but that’s what makes it truly brilliant.

Fun fact: 103 cars were wrecked during filming, a world record at that time. This feat was exceeded two years later, when 150 cars (and a plane) were crashed for H.B. Halicki’s “The Junkman” (1982). That record in turn held for two decades, until over 300 cars were wrecked during the filming of “The Matrix Revolutions” (2003).

Run time: 133 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 87 percent

Daily Movie: Film Enthusiast Week – Friday: Robert Redford – Our Man

Michael Sloyka, Oklahoma State PhD student and English Department Professor, is this week’s final film enthusiast. Check out his Robert Redford feature below.

About me

1918621_438782594357_3546062_n_editedMy love for film came from my deprivation of it.

I grew up in a small upstate New York town with the nearest movie theater about thirty minutes away. My parents absolutely hated going to the theater so my trips to the movies were probably about every two or three years.

Going to the movies became an event, something extra special (it still feels that way today.) Once I was old enough to drive, my friends and I would travel the same distance to go to a movie rental place where old releases were two for a dollar. I began, indiscriminately, to watch any and every movie I could get my hands on.

This carried on into college and I began my movie collection, first with VHS, then DVD and Blu-Ray. Today, I own about 3,000 movies. I’ll still drive long distances to get to a movie I want to see. I’d still rather go to the movies on Friday night more than anything else. I judge my movie collection by how many Criterion Collection I own.

The only difference: today I’m a PhD student in the English Department at Oklahoma State, working in Film Studies and Creative Writing, which I’d like to think is my access pass to being a film nerd for the rest of my life.

Our Man
by: Michael Sloyka
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People like to watch Robert Redford do things. I understand the vagueness in this statement, but I mean pretty much that. There’s something innately intriguing in watching the golden boy actor at any age toiling in a specific labor. The more he toils, the less written the film seems; we’re watching a stripping away of any acting tics until we’re simply watching Redford professionally ski in “Downhill Racer” or making his life as a mountain man in “Jeremiah Johnson.”

These films feature spectacularly inward performances from Redford, sparse in dialogue, great directors such as Michael Ritchie and Sydney Pollack relying on the unique hardness of his flawless face. This is an actor that defied his own Hollywood beauty with the steeliness of sly intelligence and blue collar work ethic. He’s always been at his best when he lets Hollywood be Hollywood around him—Redford never changes, always taking in a room, interpreting it in his own worldview, while letting the star system project its own needs on him.

Redford, in top form, is a rogue matinee idol, political and intellectual, without the pedantic sermonizing, all while allowing his lottery genetics to placate the system. Like a lot of beautiful people, good looks may have opened the door for Redford, but once he was in the house, he was rearranging the furniture and kicking his shoed feet up on the coffee table.

Redford is at his most taciturnly active in the recent film, “All is Lost,” the sophomore directorial effort from J.C. Chandor (the worthwhile “Margin Call.”) By now, much has been made of Redford’s performance, of which contains perhaps 20-25 words at best. It is mostly a silent film, where even the score creeps in for a minute or two before bowing out, leaving the septuagenarian actor to dominate the screen.

allislost1Redford plays “Our Man” left without any proper name. He’s a man on the last stretch of years, confining himself to a long solo sailing voyage on the ocean. We have no sense of background beyond a letter he writes to his family read via voiceover (making up about half of Redford’s total dialogue.) While we might ascertain that he’s a man who has made mistakes, isolating himself from his family, we’re also free to spend the duration of the film projecting our own notions of what this character may be. Chandor claims that he wrote the film with Redford in mind, and it shows.

The marvel of the film lies in watching a legendary actor think and work his way through the dire situation as his boat suffers damage and things spiral from there. Our Man never makes any specific mistake in trying to keep alive. If anything, Redford’s natural intelligence is the real star of the film, as we see Our Man work through each problem with matter-of-fact efficiency. We only get the sense late in the film that Our Man might even consider death being a very real possibility in all the chaos.

It’s Redford’s confidence and positive arrogance that comes across on screen; watching him think through situations is engrossing. Only after a run of shitty luck, does Redford lean back in his life raft, sputter with rage, and utter the single most-earned “f-bomb” in cinematic history.

If the highly physical, yet minimalistic role seems like a mighty challenge for an actor in his seventies with nothing left to prove, one only has to go back to the aforementioned films, “Downhill Racer” and “Jeremiah Johnson,” Redford’s other two taciturn roles. After the crazy success of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in 1969, solidifying him as a massive, matinee-idol level star, Redford resisted the obvious follow-up, choosing the Michael Ritchie helmed, “Downhill Racer.” One of the most criminally overlooked sports film, Redford plays a young, arrogant competitive downhill skier who makes the American team after another athlete is injured. Redford’s David Chappellet practically forces himself onto an island, barely talking and when he does, seething with righteousness, as if he can’t believe that everyone else can’t see how great he knows he is.

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It’s a terrific performance, one not talked about enough in the era of late 60’s and 70’s iconic roles. Redford doesn’t bother with trying to be likeable; what many would consider a mistake after “Butch Cassidy.” Chappellet only becomes sympathetic when returning home to Idaho to visit his farmer father, a man even more spiteful and less talkative than himself. A great scene, we watch as Chappellet tries to talk about his success in the sport, even as an adult, desperately trying to get approval from a man who’s never given him any.

Redford’s performance works so well, because he never seems to act out to any one person, the film lacking any true antagonist. He’s so singularly obsessed with his own skills in skiing, that he appears to only be competing with himself.

Perhaps Redford was only competing with himself in Hollywood. The consummate pretty boy, Redford never wanted to be known for his looks and successfully managed to buck any stereotyping by so obsessively seeking out more difficult roles. One only needs to look at Brad Pitt to see this problem repeated. Although, I would suggest that Pitt embraced stardom a bit more, and despite some tricky film roles, never quite navigated the star system quite as effectively.

It’s no surprise that Redford and Pitt worked together on multiple occasions. Redford rattled off a series of complicated roles in the seventies, from his difficult politician in “The Candidate” to his paranoia thriller, “Three Days of the Condor,” before settling in one of his most iconic roles in Sydney Pollack’s “Jeremiah Johnson.” And like “Downhill Racer” and “All is Lost,” Redford turns to isolation for his greatest performances. A classic western in one sense, the film works better as a character portrait of someone not meant for the world as it is.

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Watching Redford learn survival skills, being changed by chance encounters before morphing into a true hermit, mountain man is to watch a master at work. Consider the scenes where he’s forced to marry a Native American woman and begrudgingly accepts her and a boy as family. When they’re murdered by a warring tribe, Redford becomes focused, murderous rage, energy radiating inward-out.

What these three roles really have in common, is that we see Redford resisting traditional Hollywood. Earlier, I called Redford’s arrogance as positive and by that, I mean he has an unnatural self-awareness of both his perceived skill-set and actual skill-set. In other words, while for so many years, audiences and producers saw an actor with golden looks and decent acting skills, Redford saw himself as an outsider with adaptable skills who just happened to have appealing looks. This dichotomy works in building a completely unique movie star, one that even as he enters the final round of his career, we can watch him one month in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” (another round of inspired casting) and then “All is Lost” in another. Both performances are uniquely Redford, confident, quiet and grounded by both our perceptions of the star and his acknowledgement of our perceptions of him.

Daily Movie: Film Enthusiast Week – Thursday: ‘Cape Fear’ (1962)

Megan Porter, aspiring screenwriter studying Filmmaking at the University of Oklahoma, is today’s film enthusiast. Check out her review of the 60’s classic, “Cape Fear,” below.

About me

10456777_10202367762542879_8266622987251922944_n_editedMovies have been a part of my life since I can remember, whether it was hiding behind a couch scared because my brother wouldn’t turn off “Child’s Play,” or watching “The Lost Boys” every day until I finally became sick of it. I’ve always had a passion for film because it can have so many different effects on your life.

There is always that movie you turn on when you’re having a bad day – the movie you must introduce to every new person you meet – the movie you need for a day where thinking just feels like a lost cause, and then there are the movies you watch when you need a fictional character to relate to.

As a screenwriter, I am drawn most to the movies that people can relate to. While watching a movie that is an escape is always great, there is just something special that comes with watching a movie that feels familiar. With that being said, I am not going to write about one of those films.

‘Cape Fear’ (1962)

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“You just put the law in my hands and I’m gonna break your heart with it. Ain’t nothin’ can stop me. You understand that don’t you? That house and that car and that wife and that kid they ain’t nothing to you now. I got somethin’ planned for your wife and kid that they ain’t nevah gonna forget. They ain’t nevah gonna forget it… and neither will you, Counselor!” –Robert Mitchum as Max Cady

In 1961, Gregory Peck read a book titled “The Executioners” and immediately knew he wanted to make it into a film. At that time, he was filming “The Guns of Navarone” with director J. Lee Thompson. He liked what he had seen from Thompson, gave him the book, and told him that if he liked it then he wanted him to direct the movie. Thus began the process of making one of the best psychological thrillers, “Cape Fear.”

The film follows Sam Bowden, a lawyer whose happy life comes to a halt once convicted rapist Max Cady comes back into town with a vengeance. Bowden was the key witness that put Cady away for 8 years on an assault charge, and Cady has yet to forget it. As Cady continues to taunt Bowden with threats against his wife and daughter, Bowden becomes more and more desperate to get rid of him as the film goes on.

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Thompson and Peck knew that Cady’s character was going to steal the show, and casting had to be perfect. Their thought of perfection lied with Robert Mitchum. Their choice was right, because the movie wouldn’t have been the same without Mitchum’s portrayal of the drunken, terrifying miscreant. The film also brought in familiar faces like Martin Balsam (“Psycho”) and Telly Savalas (“Kojak”) as the supporting cast. However, the star of the film might be the score composed by the infamous Bernard Herrmann, who was most famous for his work on several Alfred Hitchcock films including “Psycho.”

As they finished filming, the studios told Thompson that they didn’t want any blood, violence or violence against women in the film. So what’s a director supposed to do when the entire movie is set around violence against women? Thompson had to cut down scenes considerably throughout the film which left more imagination up to the audience. Rather than a film that shows everything, it held it’s enticement in the suggested intentions of Max Cady, and they cut it together very well.

This film set the bar for psychological thrillers and is still a popular film today. In 1991, Martin Scorsese remade “Cape Fear” with Nick Nolte portraying Bowden and Robert De Niro as Cady. While Scorsese can do no wrong, there are just some aspects of his rendition that don’t compete with the original. The performances by Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum are two of them.

Fun Fact: Gregory Peck thought that the original title, “The Executioners,” wouldn’t sell tickets. He thought that geographical names had more of a selling point such as films like Casablanca. Peck put his finger on a map and traced up the Atlantic Coast until he came across Cape Fear River in North Carolina. He decided it was the perfect title for the film.

Run time: 105 min.

MPAA rating: NR

Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent

Daily Movie: Film Enthusiast Week – Wednesday: ‘Team America: World Police’ (2004)

Brandon Schmitz, Entertainment writer for Oklahoma State’s student newspaper, is today’s film enthusiast. Check out his review of Trey Parker’s “Team America: World Police” below. 

About me

Brandon SchmitzRegardless of whether it’s at home or in a theater, watching a movie is often a social experience for me. Most movies — even bad ones — at least give my friends and me something to discuss.

More than that, though, movies are a legitimate art form, and — next to video games — my favorite storytelling medium.

‘Team America: World Police’ (2004)

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“I’ve got five terrorists going southeast on Bakalakadaka Street!” – Trey Parker as Joe

Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s subversive “there’s-no-line-we-won’t-cross” brand of humor has helped “South Park” remain successful for nearly 20 years. And though 2004’s “Team America: World Police” isn’t exactly a hidden gem, it is among their most underappreciated works. Not only that, but I believe it’s the duo’s best.

Featuring an all-marionette puppet cast, the film follows Gary Johnston, a popular Broadway actor recruited by America’s most elite military team. His acting skills are instrumental in rooting out Kim Jong Il’s terrorist plot. Meanwhile, Hollywood’s most famous actors have an agenda of their own.

The synopsis almost speaks for itself, for “Team America” is a biting satire of over-the-top summer blockbusters, particularly those directed by Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay. It hits all of the right notes, from the reluctant hero to the edgy rival with a dark past to the overtly manipulative musical score.

Speaking of which, the musical numbers are among the film’s highlights, and arguably the most enduring aspect of its legacy. “America, F*** Yeah,” with its crude macho-posturing, is the obvious standout, but the others are worthy of just as much praise.

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“Freedom isn’t Free” highlights the extreme nationalism of Toby Keith’s work, while “End of Act” is both a send-up of the obligatory boy-loses-girl song and a rant against Bay’s “Pearl Harbor.” Additionally, “Montage” is, well, perfect exercising music.

The puppets are also used to remarkable comedic effect. Character expressions veer into uncanny valley territory in the best possible way, while fight choreography often boils down to two puppets flailing their arms around each other.

Parker and Stone don’t hesitate to mock both sides of the political spectrum, either. Although liberal Hollywood is a primary target, the basis of Team America itself is a satire on the United States military’s constant interference in international crises. As a result, the movie never comes across as heavy-handed.

The movie turns 10 next month, and it has steadily grown on me as one of my favorite comedies. Its lampooning of the Hollywood blockbuster is spot-on, while its treasure trove of memorable quotes rivals that of “The Big Lebowski.”

Fun fact: The opening scene in Paris includes several subtle details, including the streets themselves, which are paved with croissants.

Run time: 98 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 77 percent

Pilot review: ‘Gotham’

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Unless you’ve been cooped up in a bat cave, there is a good chance FOX’s new police drama, “Gotham,” has appeared on your radar.

With the monotone state of major network, non-premium television being what it is, there is bound to be a show that slips through the barricade of mediocrity and resonates with a wider range of people.

“Gotham” is that show.

Regardless of whether “Gotham” turns out to be a fantastic addition to the Batman universe, the pilot will satisfy fans of the caped vigilantly and attract casual viewers at the same time. At least until the second episode.

Set during Bruce Wayne’s childhood and James Gordon’s rookie days, “Gotham” is an origin story of sorts, but without Batman. The pilot introduces several familiar villains of the Dark Knight and Gordon’s involvement in their world of crime.

Essentially, we get to see the world that spawns what we know to be Batman, and it’s better than it sounds. The show begins with the fateful night where young Bruce and his parents are walking home from a movie, and a random act of street robbery leaves Bruce an orphan. Enter James Gordon.

Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is assigned to the case with his street-smart partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), who enjoys tossing the rookie through the standard initiation process.

Gotham-TV-Show-Cast-PhotoIf anything, “Gotham” will be an excellent look at where Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue are in their acting career. Ever since McKenzie’s days on “The O.C.,” he’s been out of the spotlight for the most part. McKenzie’s most popular role since “The O.C.” ended in 2007 with TNT’s “Southland,” where he also played a police officer.

On the other hand, Logue is a veteran actor. His recent string of television appearances in “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Vikings” and “Sons of Anarchy” proves well enough that he can contribute to a successful network show.

As the show progresses, the two actors will most likely find comfort in each other’s characters, but the pilot says otherwise. Their chemistry needs work, but like I said, the 16-episode season provides ample time to improve, and their individual performances show promise.

The best thing I did while watching the pilot was forget about Batman altogether – with the exception of his villains – and take the show for what it is: a gritty cop show in an aesthetically designed, fictional city.

The cop routine we’ve seen in one too many dramas is almost an afterthought thanks to the impressive design of the setting. The gritty city streets and sharp effects provide a setting that distracts the viewer enough to forget about the bland cop story introduction.

The quasi-mythic cities we see in superhero films gives a television show the depth and originality it needs to push away from the pack, at least where advertising is concerned.

Even with borrowed content, “Gotham” looks as if it could be something impressive in its own right – that’s if the show gets the chance it deserves. The familiar fictional content, dry sense of humor and palpable action sequences give this otherwise tedious show an advantage over other basic cable cop dramas.

Air date: Sept. 22, 2014.

Daily Movie: Film Enthusiast Week – Tuesday: ‘The Fighter’ (2010)

Tim Ahrens, design editor for Oklahoma State University’s student newspaper, is today’s film enthusiast. Check out his review of David O. Russell’s Oscar-winning drama below.

About Me

Tim A - ColorMany of my friends in high school happened to be film enthusiasts as well, and we made a few short films ourselves and showed them in our school. Looking back they were just weird comedies and nothing more, but it was fun being able to make a movie.

My desire to watch movies, good or bad, influenced my decision to start a Blu-ray collection the summer before my senior year of high school. The goal has been to increase my collection by at least 100 films or seasons of TV series each year.

I have 260 as of a little more than three years of collecting (thanks for making me broke, college), and it’s something I take a lot of pride in and will continue to do as I grow older.

More than anything, movies are a chance to escape from reality and the stresses of the world. Whether a comedy, horror or drama, a good movie can be captivating. After all, as a journalist, I’m drawn to good storytelling, and I watch movies hoping to find that.

‘The Fighter’ (2010)

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“Are you like me? Huh? Was this good enough to fight Sugar Ray? Never had to win, did I? You gotta do more in there. You gotta win a title. For you, for me, for Lowell. This is your time, all right? You take it.”- Christian Bale as Dickie Eklund

David O. Russell’s past three films (“The Fighter”, “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle”) have combined to win three Oscars and nominated for 22 more. That alone speaks to his directing prowess, and it all began with this 2010 hit.

Based on a true story, the film follows boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a working-class man trying to become a success story out of Lowell, Mass. Micky is known to be a good boxer, but it’s hard to make a name for yourself when you’re the half-brother of “the pride of Lowell,” Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). Dickie’s fame comes from his fight against Sugar Ray Leonard when he “knocked down” the boxing great.

While Wahlberg stars as Micky, it’s Bale who steals the show with his portrayal of Dickie. Bale’s ability to transform both physically and in character between roles shines in this film, the primary reason he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2011. It doesn’t take long to see Dickie for who he really is: a has-been who fell on hard times but acts as if his glory days are ongoing. It’s a cliché among former athletes, but it’s truth all the same.

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Dickie can’t share all the blame for the inflation of his ego. His family, led by matriarch Alice Eklund (Melissa Leo, 2011 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), treats Dickie as if he is a god, all the while choosing to cast aside their knowledge of Dickie’s crack addiction. Only stepfather George Ward (Jack McGee) and friendly police officer Micky O’Keefe (as self) see Dickie will acknowledge Dickie for what he truly is. Bartender Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) offers an escape from Micky’s living nightmare of constantly standing in Dickie’s shadow.

Boxing movies as a whole tend to tell a universal story. It’s one of redemption, of men who have hit the lowest points of life only to make the most of an unlikely opportunity to come their way.

This film has all of that, but the kicker lies in its truth. Micky Ward is close to being a real-life Rocky as you can get, and his story is one worth exploring through film. Even more authentic is the location and abilities of the cast to blend in with the northeastern background. My father is from outside New York, and I heard enough of the accents, attitudes and vulgarities associated with the area growing up to admire “The Fighter’s” authenticity.

More than anything, this film brings out in its audience what sports movies tend to do: The desire to root for the underdog and see him persevere to conquer his troubles. With a strong cast, it’s well worth a viewing.

Fun fact: Christian Bale spent hours of time with the real Dicky Eklund to learn how to emulate him properly. He had to lose 30 pounds of weight because Eklund was a crack addict at the time. Director David O. Russell said it was much more than mimicry. He remarked: “Dicky has a rhythm to him, a music. Christian had to understand how his mind works.”

Run time: 116 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 91 percent

Daily Movie: Film Enthusiast Week – Monday: Roger Ebert and ‘Raging Bull’ (1980)

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To open up Film Enthusiast Week, I can’t think of featuring anyone other than the ultimate film fan boy himself: the late Roger Ebert.

Ebert was a film critic, journalist and screenwriter, but we will always remember Ebert for his contribution to what we now know as the mainstream film culture. Ebert’s reviews and television presence gave the movies a more mainstream audience. From 1967 until his death in 2013, Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times and was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. His reviews reached 200 newspapers in the U.S. and abroad, while publishing 20 books and several review collections at the same time.

Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel teamed up with Ebert and popularized television film reviewing with their show “Sneak Previews.” When Siskel died in 1999, Ebert continued the show with co-hosts and special guests. The term “Two Thumbs Up” originated from this show. It was used when the two critics had the same positive review.

From 2002 until his death in 2013, Ebert lived with thyroid and salivary gland cancer that required lower jaw-removing treatment, which left him without the ability to speak or eat normally. Even with his handicap, Ebert continued to share his film critiques with the world until his final day.

Ebert created a top ten favorites list in 1991, and “Raging Bull” made the cut right next to “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane.” Even though “Raging Bull” is widely known as a masterpiece, it’s obvious this was a personal pick for Ebert.

In honor of Ebert, here is his “Raging Bull” review written on May 10, 1998.

‘Raging Bull’ (1980)

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“Get ’em all in a back room, smack ’em around, no more big shot, without his gun. They’re tough guys. They’re all tough guys.”- Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta

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Author: Roger Ebert

“Raging Bull” is not a film about boxing but about a man with paralyzing jealousy and sexual insecurity, for whom being punished in the ring serves as confession, penance and absolution. It is no accident that the screenplay never concerns itself with fight strategy. For Jake LaMotta, what happens during a fight is controlled not by tactics but by his fears and drives.

Consumed by rage after his wife, Vickie, unwisely describes one of his opponents as “good-looking,” he pounds the man’s face into a pulp, and in the audience a Mafia boss leans over to his lieutenant and observes, “He ain’t pretty no more.” After the punishment has been delivered, Jake (Robert De Niro) looks not at his opponent, but into the eyes of his wife (Cathy Moriarty), who gets the message.

Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film was voted in three polls as the greatest film of the decade, but when he was making it, he seriously wondered if it would ever be released: “We felt like we were making it for ourselves.” Scorsese and De Niro had been reading the autobiography of Jake LaMotta, the middleweight champion whose duels with Sugar Ray Robinson were a legend in the 1940s and ’50s. They asked Paul Schrader, who wrote “Taxi Driver,” to do a screenplay. The project languished while Scorsese and De Niro made the ambitious but unfocused musical “New York, New York,” and then languished some more as Scorsese’s drug use led to a crisis. De Niro visited his friend in the hospital, threw the book on his bed, and said, “I think we should make this.” And the making of “Raging Bull,” with a screenplay further sculpted byMardik Martin (“Mean Streets”), became therapy and rebirth for the filmmaker.

The movie won Oscars for De Niro and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and also was nominated for best picture, director, sound, and supporting actor (Joe Pesci) and actress (Moriarty). It lost for best picture to “Ordinary People,” but time has rendered a different verdict.

For Scorsese, the life of LaMotta was like an illustration of a theme always present in his work, the inability of his characters to trust and relate with women. The engine that drives the LaMotta character in the film is not boxing, but a jealous obsession with his wife, Vickie, and a fear of sexuality. From the time he first sees her, as a girl of 15, LaMotta is mesmerized by the cool, distant blond goddess, who seems so much older than her age, and in many shots seems taller and even stronger than the boxer.

Although there is no direct evidence in the film that she has ever cheated on him, she is a woman who at 15 was already on friendly terms with mobsters, who knew the score, whose level gaze, directed at LaMotta during their first date, shows a woman completely confident as she waits for Jake to awkwardly make his moves. It is remarkable that Moriarty, herself 19, had the presence to so convincingly portray the later stages of a woman in a bad marriage.

Jake has an ambivalence toward women that Freud famously named the “Madonna-whore complex.” For LaMotta, women are unapproachable, virginal ideals–until they are sullied by physical contact (with him), after which they become suspect. During the film he tortures himself with fantasies that Vickie is cheating on him. Every word, every glance, is twisted by his scrutiny. He never catches her, but he beats her as if he had; his suspicion is proof of her guilt.

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The closest relationship in the film is between Jake and his brother Joey (Joe Pesci). Pesci’s casting was a stroke of luck; he had decided to give up acting, when he was asked to audition after De Niro saw him in a B movie. Pesci’s performance is the counterpoint to De Niro’s, and its equal; their verbal sparring has a kind of crazy music to it, as in the scene where Jake loses the drift of Joey’s argument as he explains, “You lose, you win. You win, you win. Either way, you win.” And the scene where Jake adjusts the TV and accuses Joey of cheating with Vickie: “Maybe you don’t know what you mean.” The dialogue reflects the Little Italy of Scorsese’s childhood, as when Jake tells his first wife that overcooking the steak “defeats its own purpose.”

The fight scenes took Scorsese 10 weeks to shoot instead of the planned two. They use, in their way, as many special effects as a science fiction film. The soundtrack subtly combines crowd noise with animal cries, bird shrieks and the grating explosions of flashbulbs (actually panes of glass being smashed). We aren’t consciously aware of all we’re listening to, but we feel it.

The fights are broken down into dozens of shots, edited by Schoonmaker into duels consisting not of strategy, but simply of punishing blows. The camera is sometimes only inches from the fists; Scorsese broke the rules of boxing pictures by staying inside the ring, and by freely changing its shape and size to suit his needs–sometimes it’s claustrophobic, sometimes unnaturally elongated.

The brutality of the fights is also new; LaMotta makes Rocky look tame. Blows are underlined by thudding impacts on the soundtrack, and Scorsese uses sponges concealed in the gloves and tiny tubes in the boxers’ hair to deliver spurts and sprays of sweat and blood; this is the wettest of boxing pictures, drenched in the fluids of battle. One reason for filming in black and white was Scorsese’s reluctance to show all that blood in a color picture.

The most effective visual strategy in the film is the use of slow motion to suggest a heightened awareness. Just as “Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickle saw the sidewalks of New York in slow motion, so LaMotta sees Vickie so intently that time seems to expand around her. Normal movement is shot at 24 frames a second; slow motion uses more frames per second, so that it takes longer for them to be projected; Scorsese uses subtle speeds such as 30 or 36 frames per second, and we internalize the device so that we feel the tension of narrowed eyes and mounting anger when Jake is triggered by paranoia over Vickie’s behavior.

The film is bookmarked by scenes in which the older Jake LaMotta, balding and overweight, makes a living giving “readings,” running a nightclub, even emceeing at a Manhattan strip club. It was De Niro’s idea to interrupt the filming while he put on weight for these scenes, in which his belly hangs over his belt. The closing passages include Jake’s crisis of pure despair, in which he punches the walls of his Miami jail cell, crying out, “Why! Why! Why!”

Not long after, he pursues his brother down a New York street, to embrace him tenderly in a parking garage, in what passes for the character’s redemption–that, and the extraordinary moment where he looks at himself in a dressing room mirror and recites from “On the Waterfront” (“I coulda been a contender”). It’s not De Niro doing Brando, as is often mistakenly said, but De Niro doing LaMotta doing Brando doing Terry Malloy. De Niro could do a “better” Brando imitation, but what would be the point?

“Raging Bull” is the most painful and heartrending portrait of jealousy in the cinema–an “Othello” for our times. It’s the best film I’ve seen about the low self-esteem, sexual inadequacy and fear that lead some men to abuse women. Boxing is the arena, not the subject. LaMotta was famous for refusing to be knocked down in the ring. There are scenes where he stands passively, his hands at his side, allowing himself to be hammered. We sense why he didn’t go down. He hurt too much to allow the pain to stop.

Daily Movie: ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ (2008)

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“She got me this, okay because I would always leave my cereal boxes open, and the cereal would get stale, and so one day I came home, and she had this waiting for me, because it keeps my cereal fresh. And now I have the freshest cereal.”- Jason Segel as Peter Bretter

Bottom line: With a comical blend of romantic comedy and raunchy appeal, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a watchable satire worthy of its lofty cast.

Even with its familiar tune, “Sarah Marshall” still has memorable scenes and plenty of hilarity. The absurd moments and eccentric characters provide just enough catchy one-liners without killing the wacky tone.

Other than being extremely easy to relate to, “Sarah Marshall” benefits from thought-out characters, unpredictability and Jason Segel’s hilarious script.

Peter (Segel) is a composer and often lethargic, but when his 5-year girlfriend, television star Sarah Marshall, dumps him, he’s forced to make a change for the sake of his sanity. When his brother suggest a Hawaiian vacation, Peter heads for a resort on the island of Oahu.

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Upon checking in, he runs into Sarah and her new boyfriend, Aldus Snow (Russell Brand), an eccentric English rock star. Peter falls into a deep pit of depression until he meets a hotel clerk, Rachel (Mila Kunis), who invites him to a luau. Even with his ex-girlfriend so close to his recovery experience, Peter still begins to feel alive again.

“Sarah Marshall” is a film containing a daring display of full-frontal male nudity, but even so, it manages to play it safe concerning graphic content. With such a veteran script, the result is quite appealing.

Many comedies boast about their improvised dialogue to appear original and genuine. “Sarah Marshall” is one of the few films that truly looks and feels improvised, and with the experienced on-screen talent reading the lines, its hilarious as advertised. Director Nicholas Stoller says the improvised content takes up around 35 percent of the entire dialogue.

Russell Brand and Jonah Hill stared in a spin-off of “Sarah Marshall” in 2010, “Get Him to the Greek.” Brand reprises his Aldus Snow role, but Hill plays an entirely different character as Brand’s support. The connection between the two films is minimal, including a Kristen Bell cameo where she appears in a promo for a new television show, “Blind Medicine.”

Stoller doesn’t do well to shed producer Judd Apatow’s arguably tired stylistic tendencies, but writer and star Jason Segel carries the right amount of potent creativity within his script to win an audience over.

Fun fact: Kristen Bell injured her knee while filming one of the horse scenes for the movie, which didn’t end up making it into the final cut. However, she can still be seen walking with a light limp in scenes towards the end of the movie.

Run time: 111 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 84 percent

Daily Movie: ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007)

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“We’re gonna dig water wells here and, uh, water wells means irrigation. Irrigation means cultivation. We’re gonna raise crops here where before it just simply wasn’t impossible… If we do find oil here – and I think there’s a very good chance that we will – this community of yours will not only survive, it will flourish.”- Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview

Bottom line: The cultural impact of American oil, and the people discovering it, is what makes “There Will Be Blood” so captivating.

One of Paul Anderson’s greatest achievements is widely recognized as a modern masterpiece. “There Will Be Blood” is a slow-paced epic reflecting on the early contributors to American capitalism, and Daniel Day-Lewis’ dazzling performance is as close to perfection as we’ll get at the movies.

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Some of Anderson’s previous work (“Punch Drunk Love” (2002), “Magnolia” (1999)) proved to be aesthetically charming, but nothing on his resume prepared fans for “There Will Be Blood.” The film’s cultural themes are both precise and often incriminating, but the subtle wit carefully placed in the mix is a great addition to a dramatically-driven story.

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an oilman. Eli Sunday is a eccentric, self-proclaimed prophet. Both are trying to create revolutions, and they’re getting in each other’s way.

Their paths often intersect throughout the film. Daniel is pumping oil from purchased property, and he’s looking to acquire the surrounding land at an inexpensive rate so he can build a pipeline. While Daniel is busy trying to kick-start the American economy, Eli is slowly building his own religious empire.

This has the style and tone of a biblical epic, taking an ordinary event and lifting it to a game-changing level through the brilliant implementation of powerful music and thought-provoking ideologies.

If Day-Lewis doesn’t win over the viewers, well-crafted themes such as oil versus religion and cutthroat greed will do the trick. The visual style, perfect pace and gripping subject matter is just the first layer of this contemporary classic.

Fun fact: While on location in Marfa, Texas, “No Country for Old Men” (2007) was the neighboring film production. One day, Paul Thomas Anderson and his crew tested the pyrotechnical effects of the oil derrick fire, causing an enormous billowing of smoke, intruding the shot that Joel Coen and Ethan Coen were shooting. This caused them to delay filming until the next day when the smoke dissipated. Both this film and “No Country for Old Men” (2007) would eventually become the leading contenders at the Academy Awards a year and a half later.

Run time: 158 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 91 percent

Daily Movie: Bollywood Edition

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Bollywood, often referred to as the “awkward cousin” of Hollywood, can easily be misunderstood and unfairly compared to American cinema.

The popular Hindi-language industry is based in India, but Bollywood is only a small part of Indian cinema. The larger business includes many other production hubs shooting projects in multiple languages. With that being said, Bollywood is still one of the largest film producers in India and a major nerve center of the global cinema network.

Hollywood is an actual place where fans can visit, and it’s where they can see major American production company’s greenlit film projects, but Hindi movie culture is more of an unseen entity.

From the late 1940s to the 1960s, following India’s independence, Bollywood experienced what historians call the “Golden Age” of Hindi cinema. Many of the industry’s most critically-acclaimed films were produced during this time including “Pyaasa” (1957), “Awaara” (1951) and “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959). The social-themed content within these films featured a working-class Indian lifestyle, launching Bollywood into a new realm of popularity around the world.

What’s hot in Bollywood today?

‘Mary Kom’

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“Mary Kom” is the cinematic retelling of Indian boxer Mary Kom (Priyanka Chopra), who jumped through several stress-inducing hoops to boldly accomplish her dream. Nicknamed “Magnificent Mary,” she was the only female Indian boxer to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Competing in the flyweight category, Kom walked away from London with a bronze medal and has earned an AIBA World Women’s No. 4 Flyweight ranking.

The film premiered this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is receiving positive reviews across the board. Mary Kom’s home state, Manipur, will miss out on a screening due to insurgent groups banning the film.

‘Mardaani’

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Director Pradeep Sarkar and producer Aditya Chopra’s contribution to the 2014 Bollywood scene stars Rani Mukerji, Jisshu Sengupta and Tahir Bhasin. “Mardaani” is the story about a female officer pursuing leads regarding a kidnapped teenage girl, but what she didn’t expect was to uncover the Indian mafia’s hidden human trafficking culture.

Due to the movie’s social message and the impact it will make for Indian women, the Chief Minister of Madya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is giving the film a tax-free status during its opening week. This positive recognition is something we just don’t see in American film culture. If anything, Hollywood limits the release range and edits the content of a complicated film for revenue purposes.

‘Raja Natwarlal’

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Director Kunal Deshmukh, under UTV Motion Pictures, delivers a romantic crime film for the broad, enthusiastic Bollywood audience this fall. Staring Emraan Hashmi, Humaima Malick, Paresh Rawal, Kay Kay Menon and Deepak Tijori, “Raja Natwarlal” follows a small-time con artist, Raja (Hashmi) and his partner Raghav (Tijori).

When Raja falls for a bartender, Ziya (Malick), he decides to do a massive con and earn enough money to marry his new love interest. When trouble starts, it seems doubtful he will come out on top and provide a better life for the couple.

The film’s premise can be convoluted at times. Some of the con tricks are overly complex and difficult to follow, but it’s worth trying to figure out.

Daily Movie: ‘American Beauty’ (1999)

“Remember those posters that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”? Well, that’s true of every day but one – the day you die.”- Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham

Bottom line: This provocative best picture-winning drama is skillfully cast, and with its dark concoction of carefully utilized wit and often uncomfortable themes, “American Beauty” is the pinnacle of 1990s Hollywood cinema.

Though it’s not technically a comedy, “American Beauty” charms us with our hero’s absurd dilemmas. The drama comes from how we identify with these misfortunes. The film’s tone is almost cartoonish in its depiction of modern suburbia, nearly falling into a fantasy category.

Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening play Lester and Carolyn Burnham, a seemingly perfect couple, but under their false upper-class coating lies a much more depressing truth. Both characters reach a critical breaking point, but Lester is at the heart of “American Beauty.” When he eventually snaps, it’s due to a sudden infatuation with one of his daughters high school friends.

Spacey and Bening produce a fantastic conflicting chemistry, playing off of their individual character’s downward spiral. When they’re apart, we witness personal struggle, but when they’re together we get to see clashing personas on the brink of complete collapse.

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The film’s title truly encompasses the meaning of this distressing story. It refers to a breed of roses that are appealing on the outside but are prone to rotting at the roots and branches of the plant. The film is constantly telling the viewer to “look closer” and see beyond the sublime suburban lifestyle.

Sam Mendes’ directorial debut earned eight Oscar nominations, winning seven. He would go on to accumulate even more critical praise with his direction in films like “The Road to Perdition” and “Skyfall.”

When discussing “American Beauty,” the acting deserves the most attention. The performances are reflect both parody and realism, focusing on happiness; or lack thereof.

Mainly due to his normal personality and sharp facial features, Spacey’s characters all seem to naturally come off as intelligent, but there is something more when it comes to Lester. His recklessness is evident throughout the film, but he never lies to himself. He knows what he’s doing, and he knows he’s slowly falling off the wagon but decides to continue anyway. When the credits roll, no matter what he’s lost, Lester won’t see himself as a loser anymore.

“American Beauty” will subtly toy with your emotions, making you uncomfortable at times, but the oddly charming aspect of Spacey’s character is unavoidable.

Fun fact: Sam Mendes designed the two girls’ look to change over the course of the film, with Thora Birch gradually using less makeup and Mena Suvari gradually using more, to emphasize his view of their shifting perceptions of themselves.

Run time: 122 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 88 percent

Daily Movie: ‘No Country for Old Men’ (2007)

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“The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”- Tommy Lee Jones as Ed Tom Bell

Bottom line: “No Country for Old Men” is a character study at it’s core, looking into the nature of evil, but features a breathtaking theme at the same time.

The Coen brothers spit out another masterpiece in 2007, a full decade after stunning the film world with the release of “Fargo.” Based on Cormac McCarthy’s gloomy, often comical novel of the same name, “No Country for Old Men” benefits from powerfully commanding roles from Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem.

Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) stumbles upon a horrific post-shootout scene on a simple hunting expedition in rural Texas. The dry, dessert ground is littered with bodies, and a truck full of drugs paint the picture of an exchange gone violently wrong. Instead of calling the local authorities, Moss takes $2 million he found at the scene for himself.

Soon, psychotic killer Anton Chigurh is hot on his trail, leaving a heavy blood trail in his wake. Moss tries to stay one step ahead of Chigurh, but the relentless killer is slowly inching closer.

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While Moss deals with things in his own way, Sherrif Ed Tom Bell (Jones) is leading the investigation, but soon the body count becomes higher than Bell could have ever anticipated. Bell quickly realizes he’s losing control, as Chirgurh seems to continue his mission without much resistance.

“No Country” was the only film in the 2000s to gross under $2 million during its opening weekend and go on to win best picture at the Oscars. The film ended up winning three more, including best supporting actor (Bardem), and was nominated for four more.

Joel and Ethan Coen were established filmmakers well before “No Country,” but that’s what makes it so astonishing. The directing duo just continues to impress critics and fans alike with their aesthetic charm and powerful subject matter.

This time, they examine the common citizen’s reaction in the face of pure evil. Chigurh is so calm and collected while he toys with his victims before continuing his mission. Bardem’s performance is simply masterful, as he takes the face of a hauntingly malevolent being.

Each scene is so well done you wish they would never end. The characters draw you in and the eerie tone keeps you intrigued. It can be emotionally draining at times, but this spellbinding thriller is a unique viewing experience worthy of its hype.

The Western setting, and the Coen brother’s ability to build tension allows the viewer to fill this world with their own imagination, but “No Country”  truly shines when the cat and mouse game subtly shifts into fable territory.

Fun fact: When Joel Coen and Ethan Coen approached Javier Bardem about playing Chigurh, he said “I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.” The Coens responded, “That’s why we called you.” Bardem said he took the role because his dream was to be in a Coen Brothers film.

Run time: 122 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Foxcatcher’ (Release date: 11/14/14)

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“Coach is the father. Coach is a mentor. Coach has great power on athlete’s life.”- Steve Carell as John du Pont

Bottom line: The intense study of a twisted mind featuring two career-changing performances is both thought-provoking and uniquely disturbing.

“Foxcatcher” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and gained a wealth of support and Internet popularity. The film is based on the story of Olympic Wrestling Champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and paranoid schizophrenic John du Pont (Steve Carell), who murdered Schultz’s brother, Olympic champion Dave Shultz (Mark Ruffalo). The film premiers worldwide November 14 and should be prevalent at next year’s Oscars.

Tatum’s performance may change the way viewers see him and his typically comical “jock” persona. Like his “Jump Street” counterpart Jonah Hill, Tatum could be in the process of molding into a dynamic actor worthy of Oscar attention.

Steve Carell’s dark performance shouldn’t go unrecognized. Though Carell has proven himself as a dynamic actor, this is a haunting character we haven’t seen from him before. Needless to say, “Foxcatcher” will be on the 2014 Hollywood highlight reel.

Fun fact: Steve Carell studied video footage of John du Pont for hours. Carell told reporters after the film’s screening at the Cannes Film Festival “I watched as much as I could, I read as much as I could about him and tried to get semblance about the type of person he was.” According to director Bennett Miller, Carell’s career as a comic actor hadn’t suggested that he was right for the role until he had lunch with the actor. Miller said upon Carell’s casting “I think all comedians are dark.”

Run time: 130 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent

Daily Movie: ’22 Jump Street’ (2014)

“Do the same thing as last time. Everyone’s happy.”- Nick Offerman as Deputy Chief Hardy

Bottom line: It’s almost identical to “21 Jump Street.” We know this, the film knows this, and it knows we know. That’s the brilliance of “22 Jump Street.”

Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller made us laugh again after a successful “21 Jump Street” reboot paved the way for the must-see bromance blockbuster of 2014.

The film’s title says it all. Lord and Miller set out to create a mock-comedy, playing on the sequel-driven movie culture that’s been alive for years.

The plot for “22” carries the same tone as it’s predecessor: it’s simple. Officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) go back undercover, but this time as college students. When Jenko finds a new friend on the football team, Schmidt starts to question their relationship and turns to the art major scene. Soon, they’re trying to solve a case, while simultaneously repairing a torn friendship.

Some of the best jokes that came out of the 2012 hit “21 Jump Street” were when the characters made light of the fact they were in a cheesy reboot of the late ’80s television show. The sequel does the same, cracking subtle jokes about the trite premise, and it works.

Hill and Tatum’s chemistry is alive and well, proving the “bromance” genre we’ve seen in “I Love You, Man,” and the “Rush Hour” series, isn’t dead either.

Like the first film, Jonah Hill isn’t just a leading actor. His writing contributions to the film are an important aspect to the film’s success. Hill doesn’t seem to have any desire to leave his raunchy roots, even after receiving his second Oscar nomination for his role as Donnie Azoff in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” last year. His journey to prove he can do it all on the screen is quickly becoming a fact.

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One of his breakout performances was “Superbad,” alongside Michael Cera. His character’s explicit, carefree lifestyle arguably defined his career until his role in the 2011 hit “Moneyball” earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, changing the way moviegoers saw Jonah Hill.

Hill is in great company with the rising Channing Tatum, and we get to see their comical chemistry once more. Tatum had a hot streak after the release of “21 Jump Street,” starring in the 2012 hit “Magic Mike” that earned more than $113 million, and “Side Effects” in 2013 (which didn’t do well at the box office, but Tatum delivered a stout performance that stepped away from the perceived “Jock” stereotype he’s developed).

Earlier this year, “Foxcatcher” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and gained a wealth of support and Internet popularity. The film is based on the story of Olympic Wrestling Champion Mark Schultz (Tatum) and how paranoid schizophrenic John du Pont (Steve Carell) killed Schultz’s brother, Olympic champion Dave Shultz (Mark Ruffalo). The film premiers worldwide November 14 and should be prevalent at next year’s Oscars. Is it Tatum’s turn for Oscar attention?

Lord and Miller aren’t new to the comedy scene, nor are they new to the sequel scene. Both filmmakers have collaborated on several recent projects including “The Lego Movie” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” In 2017, “Lego” will get a sequel, while “Cloudy” received its sequel in 2013. Success is something the filmmakers are used to as well. “Lego” eared rave reviews for its quirky characters and fun play on the classic toy franchise. Loosely based on the children’s novel of the same name, the “Cloudy” series became a hit with the kids.

The directing duo’s first R-rated comedy, “21 Jump Street,” quickly proved they could split the sides of any age group. The self-referential irony is a reoccurring, often flawed box office device, but rarely do we see this style done with such sincerity as “22 Jump Street.”

Fun fact: Kurt Russell mentioned that his son Wyatt turned down a role for The Hunger Games sequels to star in 22 Jump Street.

Run time: 112 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 84 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Aliens’ (1986)

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“We’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly.”- Carrie Henn as Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jorden

Bottom line: Ridley Scott’s “Alien” in 1979 remains one of the greater achievements in science fiction cinema, but the next film in the series, “Aliens,” is one of those rare occasions where the sequel steps away from the tropes of the first and becomes something brilliant of its own.

Director James Cameron holds the horror with the second installment of the Alien series. After “The Terminator” in 1984, Cameron was well-established in the action genre, and he implemented his style rather than replicating Scott’s themes.

The slow pace of “Aliens” is tension-induced and packs a more natural punch. Sigourney Weaver’s typically robust performance can take most of the credit for this vividly spontaneous tone.

Other than Weaver’s arguably career-defining role, “Aliens” is an excellent example of cutting edge science fiction, mainly because Cameron never takes an arrogant step throughout the whole process. It’s just pure, thrilling science fiction working around a talented actress.

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After losing communication with a colonial civilization, Ellen Ripley (Weaver) is persuaded to return to the planet where her crew ran into a belligerent Alien creature, but this time she has a unit of Colonial Marines at her back.

Ripley doesn’t feel comfortable about the mission from the beginning. Sure enough, Aliens attacked the colony and left one young survivor, Newt (Carrie Henn). As soldiers fall, a final battle between Ripley and the alien queen quickly becomes a reality.

Many eventual stars made early appearances in “Aliens” including Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser. Their supporting efforts are genuinely inspired, which is hard to find in sequels.

The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including a best actress nomination for Weaver. On the winning end, “Aliens” took home awards for visual effects and sound editing.

The second installment in the series answered many questions “Alien” created, but more importantly, it expanded special effects culture while simultaneously creating a plot even more exciting than its predecessor.

Fun fact: When filming the scene with Newt in the duct, Carrie Henn kept deliberately blowing her scene so she could slide down the vent, which she later called a slide three stories tall. James Cameron finally dissuaded her by saying that if she completed the shot, she could play on it as much as she wanted. She did, and he kept his promise.

Run time: 137 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 98 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

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“Do you know more people die in the East Bay commute every three months than that idiot ever killed? He offed a few citizens, wrote a few letters, then faded into footnote.”- Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery

Bottom line: “Zodiac” is dialogue-heavy, but the quietly powerful depiction of a brutal story carries a truly gut-wrenching tone.

When the end finally comes, there won’t be any plot twists or unexpected endings. In Zodiac, the viewer focusing on some of the most disciplined film work in the history of cinema is what makes it such a thrilling ride.

“Zodiac” is a thematic representation of the San Francisco Zodiac killings during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The killer taunted the police and newspapers with blood-stained clothes of the victims and eerie ciphers.

A cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), molds himself into a determined detective obsessed with tracking down the complex serial killer. The Zodiac killings still remain one of Northern California’s most infamous cases. 

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Director David Fincher brings his critically-acclaimed aesthetic tastes to a savage topic. Fincher and his screenwriter, James Vanderbilt, spent more than 18 months investigating the Zodiac murders for themselves. The attention to detail paired with Fincher’s ability to wow an audience create one of the better crime dramas in modern film history.

The impressive laundry list of veteran actors doesn’t hurt the film’s ambiance. Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Anthony Edwards are just a few prominent actors supporting Gyllenhaal’s brilliant, obsessive Boy Scout character. 

Hollywood has its newspaper themed films and its police movies, but “Zodiac” combines the two, and they both seem to navigate away from the standard tropes each theme usually possess. It’s impressive when you can blend two film motifs that could easily be phenomenal movies in their own right. It makes the true “Zodiac” journey that much more powerful, and just as frightening.

Fincher places times and dates at the bottom of the screen throughout the movie, allowing the audience to see how this case truly felt like an eternity for those involved. Looking past the ominous subject matter, Fincher’s elegant style could carry any film to another level. He produces a troublesome movie with perfect pacing and a visibly creative touch about persisting in the face of pure evil.

In summary, “Zodiac” is a crime drama with little action. The mastery of the film is the patient filmmakers saving the fast-paced sequences for when it creates the greatest impact.

Fun fact: The Zodiac case was reopened after the release of the film.

Run time: 157 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 89 percent

 

Daily Movie: ‘Gravity’ (2013)

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“I get it. It’s nice up here. You can just shut down all the systems, turn out all the lights, and just close your eyes and tune out everyone. There’s nobody up here that can hurt you. It’s safe.”- George Clooney as Matt Kowalsky

Bottom line: “Gravity” displays the power CGI can have when it’s utilized properly.

The popularity of Alfonso Cuarón’s cinematic spectacle doesn’t go unwarranted. It’s truly a jaw-dropping technical masterpiece carrying a rigid tone, even with a simplistic story.

Cuarón and his regular cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, continue their trend of long takes, but they aim for the stars this time around, creating a unique viewing experience. We’ve never been so close to the read deal, especially for those who were lucky enough to see this in IMAX 3D.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalsky, matching their acting star power with the technical expertise. Stone is a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, and Kowalsky is her veteran guide. When this routine spacewalk becomes a nightmare, Stone’s inexperience may be her downfall.

Orbiting debris destroys their shuttle, leaving the two alone with only the Earth’s majestic aura and the stars to keep them company. The radio silence only makes the stillness of space that much more deafening.

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As the accessible oxygen quickly begins to dissipate, and the chance of rescue seems improbable, the only visible option might be traveling further into space.

“Gravity” displays the fragility of the human body throughout the whole movie. At any moment, one simple action or hesitation could result in the death of our protagonist. We know how easy this could happen as Stone’s colleagues drop like flies around her.

Deeper interpretations aside, many critics have called “Gravity” too simple and melodramatic, even after the film’s heavy Oscar attention. Regardless of it’s basic premise, “Gravity” is a rare moviegoing experience promoting the mastery of modern filmmaking.

Cuarón’s vision won seven Oscars last year and was the popular kid after the ceremony. “Gravity” was nominated for three more Oscars, including best picture.

The film is genuinely its own thing. The story is just as elementary as the visuals are inventive. Many of the movie’s scenes are heart-to-heart conversations between people with the aesthetic power of the technical crew surrounding the actors and their often moving dialogue.

There’s no need to be a sci-fi addict to enjoy “Gravity.” All you need is the ability to accept what a film can offer artistically.

Fun fact: Because of Alfonso Cuarón’s lengthy takes, Sandra Bullock had to memorize long combinations of precise movements to hit her marks at different points in the shot. She often had to coordinate her own moves with those of the wire rig attached to her and the camera.

Run time: 91 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 97 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Fargo’ (1996)

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“There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.”- Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson

Bottom line: “Fargo” takes place far from the bright lights of America’s major cities, where the cold northern atmosphere sets the stage for a bloody, yet humorous affair. It’s a prime example of American film-making at its finest.

Director Joel Coen and producer Ethan Coen tag-teamed the writing efforts to produce an upper Midwest crime drama with an entertaining comedic twist. The prominent Coen brothers grew up in this setting, adding their own insight to the all important Scandinavian-American backdrop.

Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) works for his father-in-law’s car dealership and finds himself in a serious financial dilemma. The reasons for his money woes are never fully addressed, but we soon forget about this background neglect when he hires two men to kidnap his own wife.

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According to Jerry’s plan, the men must offer a ransom for the father-in-law to pay, but the arrangement quickly spirals out of control. What was supposed to be a non-violent affair soon turns into a blood bath. Jerry’s edgy response to the issue only motivates pregnant Brainerd sheriff Marge Gunderson to solve the string of murders popping up in her jurisdiction.

The snowy setting provided the Coen brothers ample room for imagery. The cold atmosphere seems to weigh down everything we see happening, but Chief Marge and her duck-painting husband are the warm center giving the story a firm moral ground. “Fargo” comes down hard on many of the character’s actions, shedding a negative light on their immoral compass, but Marge is always seen as a kind figure looking to restore order, and the audience easily falls in love with her.

The Coen brothers wrote the Gunderson character specifically for McDormand, and their talent for casting is evident. She rewarded them with a brilliantly calculated performance with the added comedic benefit.

There are some graphic scenes in this film, but you still will walk away feeling good. The Coen brother’s ability to creating daunting tension, set a unique mood and color heinous crimes in a absurdly comedic blanket is, needless to say, impressive.

The chic storytelling of the Coen brothers takes a mess of different characters and blends them together in one simple world, developing a story where some characters kill in cold blood, while others lie in bed at night watching television as the cold wind howls outside the window.

Fun fact: None of the movie scenes, either exterior or interior, were actually filmed in Fargo. The bar exterior shown at the beginning of the movie is located in Northeast Minneapolis.

Run time: 98 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Daily Movie: ‘Garden State’ (2004)

“You changed my life. You changed my life, and I’ve known you four days. This is the start of something really big, but right now, I gotta go.”- Zach Braff as Andrew Largeman

Bottom line: What makes “Garden State” fun to watch isn’t so much the story but director Zach Braff’s creative ability to depict such a seemingly plain tale.

Braff puts a peculiar spin on young adulthood tropes in his directorial debut, and with the infusion of a meaningful soundtrack, “Garden State” is one of the more charming 20-something dramedies.

Braff’s direction and writing talents give the narrative the flair it needs to make the film’s dry subtlety work, and the perfect pace keeps us hooked.

Natalie Portman, Ian Holm and Peter Sarsgaard star next to Braff himself, who plays the film’s feature character, Andrew Largeman. The 26-year-old aspiring actor/waiter returns to his hometown in New Jersey after the death of his mother. Andrew hasn’t been home in nine years, and when he steps away from his pills to experience life without being overmedicated, his world starts to shift once more.

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Andrew runs into the high school friends he left behind, and his new life begins soon after his mother’s funeral. A night of ecstasy and spin-the-bottle lead to romance when Andrew meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a local who is available, alluring and willing to give him a shot.

We never learn much about Portman’s character. What’s impressive is how much we still like the character. She is able to only portray an adorable partner with positive attributes, making us forget we barely know who she is or where she’s been. Braff’s character is slowly waking up from a sedated state and attempts to communicate with his father, reconnect with who is his and on top of everything, Sam’s personality gives him a puzzle to solve.

Upon its release, “Garden State” earned positive reviews, but has grown into a cult classic over the years. It was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and Braff’s hand-picked soundtrack won a Grammy award.

The film is sweet at its core, and the skill is evident. If there is anything wrong with “Garden State,” it’s Braff’s confidence in himself to lead the cast and star as a flat character. With that being said, Braff’s debut isn’t perfect. There are strange distractions from the narrative and it can be sluggish at times, but it’s a crafty, unorthodox story told with great attention to detail.

Fun fact: Based partly on Zach Braff’s own childhood in New Jersey, as well as his days as a struggling actor in Los Angeles before the success of “Scrubs” (2001).

Run time: 102 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 86 percent

Daily Movie: ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)

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“You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? Why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.”- Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling

Bottom line: “The Silence of the Lambs” is a sharp thriller with a side of ghastly horror, and its premise is both a psychological examination and a disturbing sideshow.

Director Jonathan Demme’s exceedingly popular masterpiece is proof that some thrillers only get better with age. As long as there are fright fans, “The Silence of the Lambs” will remain prominent.

It’s not just a terrifying thrill ride. Sharing the spotlight, Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter’s strange relationship after a series of encounters made them two of Hollywood’s most memorable characters.

The story follows Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), an FBI agent in training, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), an astute criminal known for his cannibalism. Starling is our protagonist, and the narrative rarely deviates from her timeline, but Lecter’s malevolent aura looms at the heart of the story. His character is likable, mainly because he enjoys his chats with Clarice and is ready to help her, but only if she jumps through his psychological hoops first.

Demme’s most memorable film found its inspiration from the real-life relationship between Robert Kepple, a University of Washington criminology professor, and serial killer Ted Bundy. With Bundy’s help, Kepple led an investigation into Washington’s Green River Serial Killings. The case was eventually solved in 2001, long after Bundy’s 1989 execution. Gary Ridgway plead guilty to 48 counts of aggravated first degree murder in the wake of Kepple’s investigation.

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Clarice and Lecter share a common trait; they’ve been ostracized by their own worlds. Lecter’s public image is one of hatred and disdain because of his life as a cannibal, and Clarice is constantly oppressed and ogled at because of her gender. Persuasion is the only visible escape from the traps holding them down.

The feature performance is Hopkins’ alarmingly ghoulish character, but Foster is our outright guide. She is controlled and collected throughout, adding a brilliant characterization to her laundry list of impressive roles.

The Academy loves this one, and we know this because of the film’s February release (a whole year before the Oscar board selects their nominations). Votes usually pour in for films later on in the year that are still in theaters or have just been released on video when the award show airs, but “The Silence of the Lambs” was just too unique to ignore. Foster and Hopkins both won Oscars for best actor and actress, the film won best picture and was also featured in the sound and editing categories.

It scares us because of the way the film manipulates the image we see and the story we find ourselves fully immersed in, but the most resonating aspect of this historical thriller is how easily we identify with Clarice and the fear Lecter hauntingly draws out of her.

Fun fact: Jodie Foster claims that during the first meeting between Lecter and Starling, Anthony Hopkins’s mocking of her southern accent was improvised on the spot. Foster’s horrified reaction was genuine; she felt personally attacked. She later thanked Hopkins for generating such an honest reaction.

Run time: 118 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Daily Movie: ‘The Bourne Identity’ (2002)

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“I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?”- Matt Damon as Jason Bourne

Bottom line: “The Bourne Identity” blends the classic action formula with unforeseen charm to create a stunning thriller worthy of Robert Ludlum’s lofty novel.

Every few minutes, the film drops efficient narrative sequences to keep the audience engaged during the slower dialogue scenes, which is something many action movies fail to accomplish. The European backdrop offers a classy setting to a basic plot construction. The pieces are set, and Matt Damon’s confused but focused mental state is a welcoming addition.

Ludlum’s best-selling novel gets a second on-screen depiction after the 1988 television movie. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is barely alive after taking two bullet wounds to the back. When Italian fisherman pull him out of the Mediterranean, he is clueless as to who he is and how he received his wounds. The only thing connecting him to his life before the accident is a bank account number etched into a capsule implant.

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At the Zurich bank, the safe deposit box linked to the capsule’s number contained money, a weapon and passports to several countries. When security officers at the American consulate  pursue Bourne, he realizes he can’t trust anyone and offers a German woman, Marie (Franka Potente), money for a ride to Paris.

During his journey to remember his identity, Bourne runs into multiple professional killers and realizes he has advanced martial arts combat training. These handy and seemingly natural abilities clearly reflect the talents of an assassin, and with the help of his new friend, Bourne slowly inches toward understanding who he was trained to kill and why.

“The Bourne Identity” is littered with fantastic fighting sequences. Many action films shoot their fight scenes with extreme close-ups and quick cuts to hide the actor’s lack of hand-to-hand combat, but “Bourne” is edited so we can see the entire fight as it progresses. The actor’s impressive training and choreography create realistic, fast-paced skirmish sequences. Damon doesn’t come of as a tough, physical presence, but he worked hard for this film, and it shows in these scenes.

The movie is essentially about nothing. It’s about a man who is trying to find out who he was before a traumatic incident, but you can look past this because director Doug Liman understands his limitations, and doesn’t try to make the film something it’s not. “The Bourne Identity” isn’t necessary, but the skill behind the story is what makes it sincere.

Fun fact: The name Bourne came from Ansel Bourne, a preacher in Rhode Island, the first documented case of “dissociative fugue,” a condition not unlike dissociative amnesia or dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder). One day in 1887 he forgot who he was, started a new life in Pennsylvania under the name Brown, and opened a convenience store. About three months later, he woke up and not only remembered his life as Bourne, but forgot all of his life as Brown, and needless to say was quite confused as to why he was in Pennsylvania.

Run time: 119 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 83 percent

 

Daily Movie: ‘The Descent’ (2005)

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“The noise she’s making, she’ll bring every one of those things down on her head.”- Saskia Mulder as Rebecca

Bottom line: Unlike many of today’s popular horror flicks, “The Descent” is able to maintain a high level of intensity from beginning to end.

With intelligent direction and solid performances from an impressive all-female cast, “The Descent” is a purely absorbing horror experience. This low-budget claustrophobic nightmare comes to us from Scotland, where director Neil Marshall puts a nasty spin on a seemingly ordinary spelunking adventure.

Not only is this film about a terrifying entrapment, but as the title suggests, it’s a compelling investigation of revenge, morality and the depths we sometimes go to survive.

“The Descent” is Marshall’s second horror endeavor after “Dog Soldiers” (2002), and his return is arguably the highlight of his resume. One year after a devastating car wreck leaves Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) in shambles, her friend, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), persuades her to visit the States for a special spelunking trip.

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Two of Juno’s acquaintances tag along and they are soon repelling into an uncharted cavern. Not long after the expedition begins, a rock slide leaves them trapped without a map and only a handful of supplies. Tension soon mounts among the friends, but they quickly find out there is another danger worse than entrapment lurking in the shadows.

“The Descent” opened in the U.K. in July 2005, and went on to show at the Venice Film Festival and Sweden’s Fantastic Film Festival, where it won top prize for Euro feature. Eventually, U.S. distributor Lion’s Gate acquired the rights, and in 2006 the film was released in the U.S.

Dissecting this film will lead to the idea of the human psyche’s ability to change dramatically when prompted a life-threatening situation, but “The Descent” is also brutally physical. These women’s bodies are pushed to the breaking point, and their strenuous experience tests their bones, their relationships and their personal convictions.

There is also a mythic energy within the film’s images. Subliminal messages are laid carefully throughout the story, grasping at dreadful themes about hallucination and fear. Many movies in the horror genre are derivative, but “The Descent” is able to borrow intelligently without being pretentious.

The best way to view this captivating experience is to essentially watch it blind. Don’t let anyone ruin what lies within the darkness. It’s a lot more fun when you have no idea what to expect.

Fun fact: The filmmakers considered it too dangerous to film in an actual cave. It also would have been far too time-consuming, so they opted to build one instead.

Run time: 99 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 85 percent

 

Weekend Movie Preview 8/29/14

What’s the trend?

Both of the nationwide release options have promising themes, but each one unfortunately falls back into their genre’s familiar tune.

If you want to find a fun movie to watch this weekend (or the entire month of September), you’ll have to dig deep. Hollywood is experiencing an awkward phase before unloading an arsenal of Oscar-worthy films before 2014 concludes. With that being said, one of the most exciting films hitting theaters this Labor Day weekend came out 30 years ago. “Ghostbusters” is celebrating its anniversary, and if there’s a nationwide release to go see with the family, Ivan Reitman’s classic paranormal comedy will pleasantly suffice.

Two films (not including “Ghostbusters”) release nationwide today, while six more come out on a limited basis. Check out your options below.

Recommendation: “Starred Up” hit UK theaters earlier this year and received an immensely positive response from critics. This story about a troubled teenager that gets transferred to an adult prison is both hard-hitting and uncomfortably realistic. Check your local showtimes for this limited US re-release.

Keep up with the latest movies and more on twitter @MilesDailyMovie

The November Man’ (Wide)

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All the ingredients for an above-average spy thriller are present in “The November Man,” but the film quickly slips into a cliched mess. Serving as a late-night television spectacle, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with Pierce Brosnan’s return. The issue is that there isn’t much right about it either. When the end finally comes, the audience isn’t left with much to write home about. “The November Man” is unnecessary and banks on borrowed motifs.

Rotten Tomatoes: 35 percent

R, 108 min.

“The November Man is one of those thrillers that grows progressively more incoherent, and it simply isn’t fast enough to glide over its gaping narrative holes.”- Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail

‘As Above/So Below’ (Wide)

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Much like “The November Man,” “As Above/So Below” starts off with a valuable narrative outline, but spirals into the pit of mediocrity toward its disappointing conclusion. It’s safe to say the found-footage spectacle is in its overkill stage, and John Dowdle’s latest horror show doesn’t break any new ground. For viewers looking for a disturbing underground thriller, track down “The Descent” (2005). Neil Marshall’s most positively reviewed film traps a group of cave explorers in, well, a cave. I can’t say much more about the plot without ruining the film’s aura, but “The Descent” drops the found-footage gimmick in favor of proper aesthetic touch, which is a benefit “As Above/So Below” failed to realize.

Rotten Tomatoes: 25 percent

R, 93 min.

“Like other movies of its ilk, it’s missing a very simple bit of next-level Hollywood technology: a tripod.”- Kyle Anderson, Entertainment Weekly

Notable limited release

‘Starred Up’

Jack O'Connell as Eric in a film still from Starred Up

David Mackenzie’s “Starred Up” has several advantages over other rough-and-tough prison features. First, the realistic setting is gripping. Realism often (not always) makes for a more engaging drama versus a montage-themed film. Film critic Andre Bazin once wrote an article, “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema,” discussing the weight of realistic-driven style. Longer shots and stepping away from hidden messages through a series of images are just two examples of this style.

Second, Jonathan Asser wrote the script, and he happened to work as a counselor in a tough London prison. His real-world experience gives “Starred Up” the juice it needs to resemble a culture the free world knows little about. Even though we are exposed to fictitious jailhouse content all the time (e.g. “The Green Mile,” “Prison Break,” etc.), movies like “Starred Up” tend to surprise us.

This hard-nosed drama dives into cell block politics and crooked authority figures. “Starred Up” doesn’t hold back any gritty content in its mission to accurately depict prison life. For the queasy, stick to the comedic “Orange is the New Black.”

Rotten Tomatoes: 98 percent

Unrated, 106 min.

“Starred Up is a small indie film in danger of slipping through the cracks at the Hollywood-driven multiplex. Finding it – in theaters or on VOD – is well worth the effort.”- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Other limited releases

“The Congress” (RT rating: 76 percent)

“Life of Crime” (RT rating: 60 percent)

“The Calling” (RT rating: 46 percent)

“The Last of Robin Hood” (RT rating: 27 percent)

“Patema Inverted” (RT rating: 91 percent)