Daily Movie

“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” ― Ingmar Bergman

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‘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

Oscar Underdogs: Week Three

Best Actor

Michael Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” has been the talk of Hollywood for months. An Academy award for best actor was a given, but this category has quickly become one of the more competitive races we’ll see at this year’s ceremony.

Staring in a film with the most nominations, Keaton has won a Golden Globe and a Critics choice award for his captivating role as a dwindling celebrity looking for the spotlight one more time. Keaton’s frontrunner status is now in question after Eddie Redmayne won the SAG Award for his role in “The Theory of Everyting,” which adds to his Golden Globe victory in the drama category.

Bradley Cooper’s role in the controversial, yet highly successful box office hit “American Sniper” has earned him a seat at the table, but not many critics were giving him much of a chance at a victory. It’s possible that Keaton and Redmayne will cancel each other out, and Cooper will be sitting there with his arms wide open.

A victory for Cooper would be a tough task. Marcia Gay Harden is the only person to ever win an Oscar without a Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award or a SAG nomination. This has turned into one of the hardest categories to predict, but Keaton will most likely walk away with the award.

The Underdog: Steve Carell

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Steve Carell stars in the critically praised drama “Foxcatcher.” Director Bennett Miller’s latest project is based on true events, telling the tragically twisted story of the relationship between multi-millionaire John Du-Pont (Carell) and two Olympic wrestlers; Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo).

Carell’s most popular role before “Foxcatcher” was the critically sub-par sequel to “Anchorman.” Carell fans will be stunned when they see him as the eccentric Du-Pont. He’s creepy, confused and produces some of the most chilling scenes in any film this past year.

His performance is one thing, but Carell’s physical transformation is shocking in itself. “Foxcatcher” redefined both Tatum and Carell’s career, and we can expect more serious, award-winning roles from both actors in the future.

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons is everywhere right now. Other than staring in the suspenseful hit “Whiplash,” he’s on our television via State Farm, the voice of the yellow M&M and is the most recent host of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. It would be shocking if he doesn’t win this award after his sharp rise in popularity, and not to mention sweeping the supporting actor category in every major award ceremony this year.

The Underdog: Ethan Hawke

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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. 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.

Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play Mason’s parents, who “grow up” throughout the film just as much as Mason. We see flashes of road trips, family dinners and other relationship-driven situations building up to an emotional analysis of human growth. There was no need to research time period clothing or trends, which creates a natural nostalgia. This natural accuracy is just one unique aspect to an already uncommon theme.

The release of “Boyhood” happens to be during a time where Ethan Hawke needs it the most. It’s safe to say this talented actor hasn’t seen the spotlight as much as he should. Watching him perform in “Boyhood” was special, specifically watching him in the early stages of the film when Hawke was a much younger actor with a lot more eccentric confidence. As the film unfolds, Hawke’s character matures and so does his acting. After his impressive showing in “Boyhood,” Hawke will not have any trouble finding more Oscar-worthy roles in the future.

Oscar Underdogs: Week Two

The best actress and best supporting actress categories both have front-runners who look unstoppable, leaving many of the nominees to go unnoticed. Here are the Oscar underdogs for this year’s actress categories.

Best actress

Julianne Moore will more than likely take home the award for best actress after showing the world once again how well she can light up a screen in “Still Alice,” where she plays a woman battling early onset Alzheimer’s. She’s already won a Golden Glove and Critics Choice award for the role, only helping her campaign for the Oscar. Jennifer Aniston’s role in “Cake” was the popular prediction to challenge Moore, but surprisingly the Academy didn’t even award Aniston a nomination.

The underdog – Rosamund Pike

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“Gone Girl” was the first film in a string of Oscar hopefuls, otherwise known as “Oscar season.” As expected, film fans fell in love with director David Fincher’s r

eturn, and Rosamund Pike’s role earned a great amount of hype. Once Oscar season started winding down, the film world realized the “Gone Girl” hype was a product of a sub-par summer at the movies.

Regardless of the film’s best picture miss, Pike is a true treat to watch. Fincher brings out the best in Pike and her co-star Ben Affleck with a dark and intelligent thriller with style to boot. Pike takes the opportunity to shine under great direction and does just that. Unfortunately for Pike, her crazed role as Amy Dunne lost a lot of steam in favor of more somber roles.

The best actress category is one of the more talented groups we’ll see at the ceremony. Felicity Jones stared in “The Theory of Everything,” but any award-winning momentum the film produced came from Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking. From Reese Witherspoon’s emotional performance in “Wild” to Marion Cotillard’s knockout performance in the Dardenne brother’s latest film “Two Days, One Night,” the girls brought the house down this year in both categories.

Best supporting actress

Patricia Arquette is winning just about every award for her role in “Boyhood,” so any other winner in this category will be a surprise. Arquette’s role is just one of many outstanding 12-year performances in director Richard Linklater’s most recent project, and it would be more than fair if Arquette walks away with the award.

The underdog – Emma Stone

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Other than Arquette, the category is full Oscar underdogs. Emma Stone’s performance in “Birdman” has the best chance to pull off an upset, but a win would most likely have to be the result of the Academy choosing her film for best picture.

Stone plays Sam, the daughter of the film’s protagonist, Riggan (Michael Keaton). Her character is quirky, but also intense at just the right moments. One of these moments comes at an important time in the film’s narrative where she verbally attacks her father about his self-image issues. It’s a powerful scene where we get to see the talented actress up close and personal as the camera slowly drifts toward Stone while she rants about society’s idea of relevancy and her father’s ignorance.

Stone has a few of these important heart-to-heart encounters with her father, but also latches on to Edward Norton’s character at times to add to the film’s charming allure. The young actress is taking flight, not only gaining Oscar attention but also starring as Sally on Broadway’s “Caberet.” A role that’s been played by both Judi Dench and Liza Minnelli. It wouldn’t be surprising if we saw Stone back here again next year.

The rest of the pack will need a lot of help to pull off an upset. Laura Dern is nominated for her role in “Wild,” playing the mother of best actress nominee Reese Witherspoon (which is odd because Dern would have had Witherspoon at 9 when considering their real-world age difference, but hey, movies).

Kiera Knightley is nominated for her role in “The Imitation Game” as Joan Clarke, a cryptanalyst who was part of the team trying to crack the Enigma code. Knightley has been nominated once before for her role as Elizabeth Bennett in the 2005 Jane Austen adaption “Pride & Prejudice.” Unfortunately, Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance overshadows Knightley’s achievement.

Meryl Streep is nominated for another Oscar this year for her bewitching role in “Into the Woods.” The 19-time Oscar nominee’s chance to win this category started to dwindle a week after the film’s release. Many critics and Oscar fans gave the film an unnecessary amount of best picture hype, but it just didn’t resonate with film goers.

Watch for next week’s final segment of Oscar Underdogs where we’ll look at some of the talented best actor nominees who will most likely leave the ceremony empty-handed.

Oscar Underdogs: Week One

Whiplash_posterThe 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.

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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.

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

‘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

‘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

‘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

‘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

Nov. 3, 2014

‘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

Oct. 30, 2014

‘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 is offline until Oct. 30, 2014. Thanks for reading!

Oct. 13, 2014

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.

No Daily Movie Oct. 10-12

Oct. 9, 2014

‘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

Oct. 8, 2014

‘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

Oct. 7, 2014

‘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 and 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

Oct. 6, 2014

‘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

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 87 percent

October 3-5 — No Daily Movie

Oct. 2, 2014

‘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

Oct. 1, 2014

TV Edition: ‘Arrow’

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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.

Sept. 30, 2014

‘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

Sept. 29, 2014

‘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

Sept. 27, 2014

‘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

Sept. 26, 2014

‘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 turns 3… months old. Time for a break. See you on Friday.

Sept. 22, 2014

‘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

Sept. 21, 2014

‘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 it’s 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

Sept. 20, 2014

‘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

Sept. 19, 2014

Film Enthusiast Week – Day 5: 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.

Sept. 18, 2014

Film Enthusiast Week – Day 4: ‘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

Sept. 17, 2014

Film Enthusiast Week – Day 3: ‘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

Sept. 16, 2014

Film Enthusiast Week – Day 2: ‘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, Massachusetts. 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

Sept. 15, 2014

Film Enthusiast Week – Day 1: Remembering Roger Ebert

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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 is taking a two day break (Sept. 13-14). Stay tuned for Film Enthusiast week. Starting Monday, five fellow film lovers will share some of their favorite cinema. Thanks for reading!

Sept. 12, 2014

‘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

Sept. 11, 2014

‘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

Sept. 10, 2014

‘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.

Sept. 9, 2014

‘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

Sept. 8, 2014

‘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

Sept. 7, 2014

‘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

Sept. 6, 2014

’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

Sept. 5, 2014

‘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

Sept. 4, 2014

‘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

Sept. 3, 2014

GRAVITY

“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

Sept. 2, 2014

‘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

Sept. 1, 2014

‘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

Aug. 31, 2014

‘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

Aug. 30, 2014

‘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

Aug. 29, 2014

‘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 they 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

Aug. 28, 2014

‘I Love You, Man’ (2009)

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“Peter, I am a man. I have an ocean of testosterone flowing through my veins … Society tells us we’re civilized but the truth is we are animals. Sometimes we just have to let it out.”- Jason Segel as Sydney Fife

Bottom line: We have all been overexposed to the premise of “I Love You, Man,” but Paul Rudd and Jason Segel confidently make this buddy rom-com so much more.

Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) has two things in his life; his real estate work and his girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones). When Peter pops the questions, Zooey’s first response is to call her laundry list of friends about the engagement. While Peter watches his soon-to-be wife unintentionally flaunt her popularity, he can’t help ponder his own outside relationships. Peter doesn’t have any friends to think about, and to him, that means he could be the clingy one in the relationship.

Zooey and her friends, along with Peter’s family, offer their help, but he continues to strike out. Finally, a guest at one of Peter’s open house parties, Sydney (Jason Segel), strikes up an engaging conversation, and the two are soon meeting for drinks. A friendship quickly blossoms, but Sydney’s personality starts to threaten Peter’s career and engagement. Can these contrasting personalities find common ground in time for Peter’s wedding, or will he stand at the alter without a best man?

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Technically, “I Love You, Man” is a romantic comedy, so some plot points are unavoidable. Predictable results ensue when Peter shops for a best friend online, and the movie seems to be holding a cliche formula until Sydney’s arrival. The two hit it off at Peter’s open house, which happens to be the home of Lou Ferrigno. Segel drops in unexpectedly, and the viewer falls for his charisma faster than Peter does.

Sydney is more than comfortable in his own skin and uses his intellect as a weapon. The movie’s purpose is to create an accurate depiction of a best friend falling into the lap of a man without any friends to call his own. Peter, on the other hand, is a man who seems destined to make the room feel uncomfortable. When they’re together, the friendship is a walking contradiction, but that’s what makes “I Love You, Man” so enjoyable.

After the third or fourth viewing, I noticed something I had previously overlooked. Rudd and Jones create one of the more fluent couples I’ve seen in a romantic comedy. They are able to look convincing without much effort. Character chemistry is lacking in many of these films, but these actors are able to easily blend their talents to create a convincing mix of contrasting characters.

I doubt many viewers would dislike this movie. Buried under the raunchy jokes is a warm, heartfelt center making it difficult to find much wrong with director John Hamburg’s witty celebration of friendship. We know where the story is headed, but Rudd and Segel give us an original tour of the classic rom-com tropes.

Fun fact: Rush, who perform during the concert scene, actually played an hour long set for the cast, crew and die-hard fans who found out about the performance through online and radio buzz.

Run time: 105 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 84 percent

Aug. 27, 2014

Daily Movie: TV Edition

When you aren’t at the movies this fall, check out these popular television premieres

‘The Flash’ (CW)

Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014

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The CW will add another superhero series to their fall roster, “The Flash.” Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns bring this “Arrow” spin-off to life. The costumed hero with a need for speed exists in the same universe as The CW’s “Arrow” series, which opens creative doors for the network.

During this year’s Comic-Con in July, The CW premiered a pilot episode, and the reactions were mostly positive. Many “Arrow” fans have already been introduced to the new character, but “The Flash” doesn’t require viewers to catch up on any subject matter. The two shows are separate entities working within the same universe.

The CW is hoping this spin-off will gain the same momentum “Arrow” did upon its release, but considering Barry Allen (The Flash) hasn’t seen a respectable adaptation on a big stage, a large audience could surprise the network.

‘Boardwalk Empire’ (HBO)

Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014

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Terrence Winter’s “Boardwalk Empire” is entering a fifth chapter after one of the most critically praised seasons of the series. The 1920s bootleg drama will conclude this season after a long stretch of successful episodes.

One of the most popular shows on HBO, “Boardwalk Empire” is a period drama set in a Prohibition-era Atlantic City, New Jersey, staring Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson. The visual style and implementation of historical figures is what has earned the show such a warm critical reception.

“Boardwalk Empire” has been nominated for an astounding 40 Primetime Emmy Awards over the years, winning 17. Look for the final season to live up to expectations.

‘Gotham’ (FOX)

Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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It’ll be difficult to watch any Batman-themed films or television shows after Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, but studios will make them regardless. “Gotham” at least attempts to shift the focus to Detective James Gordon and the police department, but Bruce Wayne will still find his way into the story.

Ben McKenzie (“The O.C.”) stars as a young Gordon and his rise to prominence in a city before Batman’s reign. The original idea for the show was to solely focus on Gordon and the Gotham Police Department, but it soon evolved. The writers have not only included Bruce Wayne, but many villain origin stories will now be included. The Riddler, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Harvey Dent, Poison Ivy, The Joker and Mr. Freeze will all be featured in the series.

Bruno Heller is the man behind “Gotham,” and his experience with “The Mentalist” and “Rome” should give this new vision of a tired brand some life.

‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ (FOX)

Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014

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After “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” surprised everyone last year with a hilarious cop comedy after so many had failed, Fox renewed the show for a second season. This time we might even see some Emmy attention with the addition of a few recognizable faces, including the likes of Eva Longoria.

The single-camera series is set in a fictional 99th New York City Police Department precinct in Brooklyn and follows the team of dramatically varied personalities and their newly appointed captain. “BK99” won two Golden Globes in 2014 for Best Television Series – Musical of Comedy and Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy (Andy Samberg).

Andy Samberg, Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti star in one of the more successful “in your face” comedy shows to date. Last year, the TV Academy recognized the show, but was overlooked in favor of comedy big wigs like “Modern Family.” Look for “BK99” to shine all season as one of the funniest shows on television.

‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ (FX)

Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014

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After three successful season, “American Horror Story” returns to highlight one of the few remaining freak shows in a 1950s Jupiter, Fla.

Jessica Lang returns as the consortium manager, Sarah Paulson will pay conjoined sisters and Michael Chiklis stars as a strongman. The talented acting presence is a constant with the critically acclaimed horror series, and this season might be one of the better groups we’ve seen from the show. Needless to say, “American Horror Story” is here to stay.

Season three, “American Horror Story: Coven,” ended up receiving 17 Emmy nominations, including Best Miniseries and a few acting nods. Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange ended up winning their respected categories. Bates won the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries for her performance as Madame Delphin Lalaurie, and Lange’s work as Fiona Goode won her the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries award.

Look for more of the same this season. With “American Horror Story,” the weirder the better.

See trailer here: Freak Show

Aug. 26, 2014

‘Frost/Nixon’ (2008)

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“I’m saying that when the President does it, it’s not illegal.”- Frank Langella as Richard Nixon

Bottom line: “Frost/Nixon” is a well-acted portrayal of a verbal boxing match between two men looking to redefine themselves.

Ron Howard is a mature director, and his experience behind the camera enables him to create a smart film with patience, allowing the acting core to carry the weight.

“Frost/Nixon” is an adaptation of Peter Morgan’s Broadway play, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, and covers the 1977 television interviews between former president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and journalist David Frost (Michael Sheen). It’s unknown how much of the two’s relationship was fictionalized, but because it’s not a documentary, “Frost/Nixon” gets away with fictional subject matter.

During the sessions, Nixon discusses the issues that derailed him from office for the first time in three years. Nixon kept his mouth shut for the most part during those years, which only added gas to the flame. Watergate was still on America’s mind, and Frost was determined to extract a confession.

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Before the interviews, Nixon couldn’t have been more confident about his chance to clear the air. Frost was an up-and-coming British broadcaster looking for an opportunity to advance his career, giving the advantage to the former president. Some of Frost’s own people didn’t believe he was ready for this kind of interview.

The world was stunned to see Nixon drop his guard and discuss the simple truth. A lot of this had to do with Frost aggressively controlling the final interview and not throwing softballs like his critics expected. Their honest exchange between a down-and-out government man and a rising star became a landmark interview, and not only does “Frost/Nixon” embody this powerfully exchange, it outlines what went on behind the scenes leading up to each session.

Morgan’s screenplay is a reflection of his own play, also starring Langella and Sheen, and Ron Howard demanded the two be cast for the screen adaptation, too. He obviously knew what kind of talent the actors can bring to the table. Langella doesn’t resemble Nixon too well, and resemblance between actor and real-life figure is usually important for this type of setting. Langella quickly dives into the character and ends up successfully producing an interpretive character rather than a copy.

Howard uses real locations and implements period details, but style only goes so far. Sheen and Langella embody their characters in a story we are familiar with, and subtly shift from fictionalized biopic to an absorbing drama worthy of the film’s five Oscar Nominations (including best picture).

For some viewers, “Frost/Nixon” is a quick, but effective history lesson, while it triggers flashbacks of a hectic period in American history for others.

Fun fact: Even while off-camera, all of the actors would remain in character and continue the Frost/Nixon rivalry by bickering and making fun of each other.

Run time: 122 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

Aug. 25, 2012

‘Catch Me If You Can’ (2002)

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“There’s no crease in the paper. When your mom hands you a note to miss school, the first thing you do is, you fold it and you put it in your pocket. I mean, if it’s real, where’s the crease?”- Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr. 

Bottom line: For a movie technically labeled as a “crime biography,” Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can” has a sweet, heartfelt way of presenting its cat and mouse themes.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as real-life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., and his excellent performance receives the added benefit of having Tom Hanks play along side him as the FBI agent hunting Abagnale down. Spielberg’s vision for the true story of a teenage criminal prodigy is easy to watch, even with its 140 minute run time.

Before Abagnale graduated high school in the ’60s, he practiced in the field of medicine without any medical school history, traveled thousands of miles impersonating a co-pilot and practiced law without earning a law degree (he passed the bar examination, too).

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While doing all of this, Abagnale also cashed in on millions of dollars worth of bogus checks. “Catch Me If You Can” is a dramatized interpretation of his young endeavors, but the story is captivating nonetheless. DiCaprio and Hanks are the kind of actors who make anyone’s biography look amazing, and their combined efforts provide a convincing fake.

Some of the most thrilling scenes in the movie happen when Abagnale has to think quickly. He doesn’t plan his cons well, but his strategy when he hits a rough patch is intoxicating. What made him such a successful conman was his ability to have a general approach, but also take advantage of any given opportunity in his path. DiCaprio is clearly in sync with the character from start to finish, and knowing it’s a true story, he eerily feels too authentic at times.

The acting talent is evident. We see Hollywood veterans in almost every scene, and Tom Hanks shines while riding shotgun to DiCaprio. Hanks plays agent Carl Hanratty, who’s mission is to catch Abagnale, but slowly develops a respect for the young criminal’s natural talent.

“Catch Me If You Can” may not be Spielberg’s best, but it’s a phenomenal representation of the filmmaker’s resume depth. Writer Jeff Nathanson adapted the real Frank Abagnale’s memoir in a notably direct way, keeping the story’s timeline intact without reaching for any deeper, hidden meaning. If there is anything that deserves a deeper analysis, it’s the irony that the only person appreciating Abagnale’s work is the FBI agent tracking him down.

What’s the point of this film? Spielberg obviously didn’t want viewers to run out and cash bad checks because one day you’ll work for the FBI and it’ll all be fine. As a whole, “Catch Me If You Can” is the story of a youth realizing reality can quickly catch up with someone, even if you’re a genius.

Fun fact: Abagnale’s first victim was his father, who gave him a gasoline credit card and a truck to assist him in commuting to his part-time job. In order to get date money, Abagnale devised a scheme in which he used the gasoline card to “buy” tires, batteries and other car-related items at gas stations. Then he asked the attendants to give him cash in return for the products. Ultimately, his father was liable for a bill of $3,400. Abagnale was only 15 at the time.

Run time: 141 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent

Aug. 24, 2014

‘The Untouchables’ (1987)

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“You just fulfilled the first rule of law enforcement: make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.”- Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone

Bottom line: Honestly, it’s just a lot of fun. Director Brian De Palma rarely disappoints, even when the narrative is self-aware.

When dissecting “The Untouchables,” the surface layer of the film is slick, clean-cut and elegant. Under that layer is an assortment of artistic flair in one of Brian De Palma’s most notable films. This gangster-era thriller takes a look into Chicago crime during Al Capone’s prominence, and the talented host of characters is what sets it apart.

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“The Untouchables” fictionalizes the battle between gangster Al Capone (Roert De Niro) and federal agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner). The former ’50s television series gets a makeover and a big budget, as a young Costner plays Ness, a lawman who moves to Chicago during the Prohibition era, where police corruption is growing at a rapid pace.

He has a mission to put Al Capone out of business, but due to Capone’s excessive popularity, law enforcement and press alike aren’t taking Ness seriously. Veteran patrolman, Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), runs into Ness one evening where they find common ground. Soon, Malone recruits rookie cop George Stone (Andy Garcia) and accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) to help pursue Capone.

The unique set of characters soon have Capone upset over Ness and Malone’s tactics. The mobster lives up to his reputation and strikes back with a vengeance. Capone’s eventual undoing would be The Untouchables nailing him for tax evasion.

When the credits roll, big names litter the screen, and not all of them are actors. The production crew is top-notch from the Ennio Morricone music to Giorgio Armani’s costume designs. The main attraction might be Sean Connery’s Oscar-winning performance, but this was a breakout performance for Costner. He would go on to win two Oscars and two Golden Globes a couple of years later to match his inconsistent, yet honorable career.

The film is sharp, almost resembling an expertly choreographed Broadway show. Oddly enough, popular playwright David Mamet wrote the script. De Palma’s vision for the action scenes meld with Mamet’s stage mindset to create an almost mythical tone. The accomplished actors dive in head first and respond perfectly to the artistic vision.

De Palma, Connery, De Niro and Costner. What’s not to like in this fantastic period-piece?

Fun fact: Albert H. Wolff, the last survivor of the real-life Untouchables, was a consultant to the film and helped Kevin Costner with his portrayal of Eliot Ness.

Run time: 119 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 80 percent

Aug. 23, 2014

‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991)

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“I know now why you cry. But it’s something I can never do.”- Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator 

Bottom line: Director James Cameron’s second Terminator action flick is visual striking, but the depth of the human and cyborg characters alike is what makes “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” a treat to watch.

“T2” is much more complex than the original, cleverly combining successful elements of its groundbreaking predecessor with new twists and turns to keep the series fresh. There is no lack of tension, mainly due to our constant yearning to answer the obvious; how will Arnold Schwarzenegger’s intimidating, but vulnerable character come out on top again? 

Ten years have passed since The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) attempted to kill Sarah Connor and her unborn son, John, who will eventually lead the human resistance. Now he’s a young boy, but another Terminator called the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) has been sent back in time to finish the job. The T-1000 is much more powerfully than any other cyborg before it, and the mission is to kill John Connor while he’s still a child.

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John and his mother aren’t alone in their fight. Another Terminator is sent back in time, but this one is sent to protect humanity’s only hope. One Terminator with a mission to kill versus another with a mission to protect creates enough action to satisfy any thrill-seeking junkie.

Schwarzenegger is one of the more popular action stars to ever come out of Hollywood. One of the smartest choices the actor made in his career was playing roles that fit his physical and vocal traits. The straightforward, physically authoritative demeanor of the The Terminator is a perfect fit for Schwarzenegger.

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Schwarzenegger is impressive, but the special effects carry this film to another level entirely. Cameron was able to develop a T-1000 cyborg character who was made out of a liquid metal, making him invincible. This was in 1991, people. We can give this creative credit to Industrial Light and Magic (a division of Lucasfilm). The idea was first attempted when Cameron was filming “The Abyss” in 1989, where a creature made entirely out of water invaded an underwater station.

In the simplest explanation possible, Cameron and his special effects team create a computer simulation of a movement they want and then use a computer paintbox system to give the object color and texture. In the case of the T-1000, liquid mercury. When the computer process is over, they combine it with real action. The subject goes from liquid to human through a dissolve effect.

A lot of work goes into changing the special effects culture in Hollywood, and James Cameron has done it several times. All of that work would mean nothing without an actor who can play off the effect. Patrick’s ability to replicate this fearsome villain on paper to the big screen is captivating and slightly uncomfortable. No matter what’s done to him, he heals himself and keeps going about his villainous business.

The inconsistencies of time-travel movies are easy to point out and often ruin the film’s aura, but Cameron keeps us attentive, utilizing his power to technologically impress as a pleasant distraction.

Fun fact: To date, this is the only sequel to win an Academy Award when the previous movie wasn’t even nominated.

Run time: 137 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

Aug. 22, 2014

‘Big Fish’ (2003)

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“There are some fish that cannot be caught. It’s not that they are faster or stronger than other fish, they’re just touched by something extra.”- Ewan McGregor as Ed Bloom

Bottom line: Tim Burton utilizes his fairy tale tone to tell a heartwarming story about a relationship between father and son.

This 2003 fantasy is one of Tim Burton’s more “normal” narratives, but “Big Fish” is still full of aesthetic charm that ignites the imagination. It’s a dramatic movie, but surrounding the heavy subject matter is a sense of humor uplifting the audience without losing sight of our protagonist’s critical journey.

“Big Fish” is an adaptation of author Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel of the same name. Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Albert Finney and Danny DeVito star in Burton’s most subtle fantasia. Edward Bloom (Finney) has a gift for telling stories. Bloom’s past as a traveling salesman flashes before the eyes of the audience while he rests on his deathbed.

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Through a series of tall tales, Bloom describes his eventful journey through life to his estranged son Will (Crudup), who attempts to mend the broken relationship while he still has time. Will has trouble believing many of his dying father’s wild fables, but Edward’s recollection only helps strengthen their relationship.

Screenwriter John August got his hands on a copy of the novel’s manuscript several months before its publication date and was able to persuade Columbia Pictures into acquiring the rights. While August made adjustments to the manuscript, the film’s producers negotiated with Steven Spielberg to head the project after he finished “Minority Report” (2002).

Spielberg reportedly was close to acquiring Jack Nicholson to play Edward Bloom, but Spielberg would eventually drop out in favor of “Catch Me If You Can” starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. With this major loss, Columbia acquired Burton and Richard D. Zanuck after they finished “Planet of the Apes” (2001).

The film was shot in Alabama and employed a heavy Southern Gothic influence. Burton’s striking film earned four Golden Globe nominations, seven nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and Danny Elfman’s original score received an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination.

Burton loves to dive into the our minds and heighten the ability to imagine bigger and brighter worlds we can only dream about. Edward Bloom’s saga might be minuscule next to other fantasy epics, but “Big Fish” is a small tale with a big heart.

Fun fact: Miley Cyrus’s feature film debut.

Run time: 125 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 77 percent

Aug. 21, 2014

‘From Russian With Love’ (1964)

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Bottom line: The best films in the James Bond anthology are at the beginning and the end with a lot of mediocre action in between. “From Russia With Love” is the second Bond appearance and is great example of how the first three films defined 007 as we know him today.

Sean Connery’s is one of the more recognizable Bond actors because of what his films did for the series and the action genre in general. Connery may not have been in his element entirely in “Dr. No,” but there is an obvious improvement to his demeanor in the second installment. His charisma and “masculinity” are thoroughly realized here, where as his previous appearance was much less confident.

Connery helps define the character, but the concise, amusing narrative is also a key contributor to cementing this groundbreaking blueprint for action films that remained prominent for decades.

“From Russia With Love” created the Bond formula with Connery’s sophisticated persona, John Barry’s easily recognizable theme song and many more Bond staples. Former KGB agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) is assigned to steal a Russian decoding device with a couple of other baddies, including an expert chess player.

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The villainous plot targets Bond’s “weakness” for women to acquire the decoding device. The plan is to get Bond in front of Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), a Russian cipher clerk, and once she hands over the decoding device, SPECTRE thug Red Grant (Robert Shaw) will confront and physically take the device from Bond and kill him in the process.

Bond can sense a trap, but falls for the bait and can’t turn down the allurement of an attractive woman. Under the pressure of a possibly dangerous situation, Bond goes to Istanbul to meet with Tatiana. This leads to one of the most popular Bond battles aboard the Orient Express.

It’s enlightening to go back and watch this movie for several reasons. This was the first Bond to feature a pre-title sequence, which is now one of the most traditionally aesthetic components in a modern 007 movie. Personally, when I think of James Bond, one of the first things that comes to mind is gadgets for the cocksure agent to use in the field. “From Russia With Love” introduced audiences to Q’s original gizmos including a deadly briefcase and the “nasty little Christmas present.”

“Goldfinger” has been more critically acclaimed than “From Russia With Love,” but the third installment narrowly beats this 1964 classic. With a powerful mantra unmatched until the latest Daniel Craig saga, this second chapter in a series that may never end severely influenced the subsequent films, including “Goldfinger.”

Fun fact: Sean Connery said that this movie was his personal favorite out of the Bond films he did.

Run time: 115 min.

MPAA rating: PG

Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent

Aug. 20, 2014

‘Seven’ (‘Se7en’) (1995)

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“Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.”- Morgan Freeman as William Somerset 

Bottom line: “Seven” turns 20 next year, and its shocking brutality, powerful acting and ghastly finale easily stands the test of time.

Director David Fincher follows his questionable “Alien 3” release in 1992 with one of the darkest crime thrillers to come out of Hollywood. Before Morgan Freeman was in a movie every weekend, he had many underrated performances, and his superb character in “Seven” comfortably makes the list of undervalued Freeman appearances.

The story isn’t original, but Freeman’s acting, Fincher’s vision and Brad Pitt’s support help us forget about the gimmicky plot. Attention all viewers with queasy stomachs: most thrillers aim to entertain, but “Seven” has more appalling intentions.

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Opinion aside, “Seven” was one of the 90s most dominant box-office successes, which is surprising for a movie with such a dark tone. Fincher casts a shadow over a major city landscape, where Det. William Somerset (Freeman) is one week away from a much-needed retirement.

Before Somerset’s permanent vacation begins, he’s paired with hotshot David Mills (Pitt) to tackle one last case. Mills moved to the city for more important cases, but before he takes Somerset’s place at the end of the week, he has to shadow an urban veteran. The first case for Mills and the last of Somerset’s is more than either of the detectives bargained for, as a serial killer is staging exceptionally heinous murders.

This vicious villain uses the seven deadly sins to get his malicious point across. Each murder is staged to represent one of the deadly sins, including an obese man who was forced to eat himself to death (gluttony), and a defense lawyer paid for his greed with a pound of flesh.

Realizing there are five more gruesome murders waiting for him, Somerset tries to get out of the case, but the detective in him can’t let it go without a fight. Somerset eventually pairs with Mills to see this case out, all the way to its inconceivable conclusion.

What begins as the average detective thriller, “Seven” takes it to the next level, evoking mythological and symbolic themes. Though the film lacks depth, it still arranges the illusion of a profound motif.

Since “Seven,” we have seen how Fincher utilizes saturated settings, darker color schemes and dim interiors in “Zodiac” (2007) and “The Social Network” (2010), but “Seven” is still his darkest and arguably his most engrossing piece.

Fun fact: Denzel Washington turned down the part that went to Brad Pitt, telling Entertainment Weekly that the film was too “dark and evil.” Washington later regretted his decision upon seeing a screening.

Run time: 127 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 79 percent

Aug. 19, 2014

‘Samsara’ (2011)

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Bottom line: “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. Whether you are watching for the challenging themes, the culture study or just for a “head trip,” Ron Fricke’s “Samsara” has something for everyone to enjoy.

If anything, the film is a sensory experience. Director Ron Fricke reunites with producer Mark Magidson after their award-winning films “Baraka” and “Chronos” were praised for the combination of visual art and musical accompaniment. With “Samsara,” the documentary duo search for a current that connects us all, regardless of cultural separation.

Fricke filmed this piece over the course of five years and 25 countries and relies on imagery instead of dialogue or text. “Samsara” takes us to the far corners of the country whether it’s in dangerous disaster zones, indigenous societies or just simply natural wonders.

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The documentary breaks traditional styles to open the viewer up to a new experience, where they can create their own interpretations of the moving images playing out on screen. Like many art forms, the viewer is encouraged to draw their own conclusions without any influential narration.

Fricke and Magidson use “Samsara” to continue their series of meditative imagery, after the 1992 documentary “Baraka” played on similar themes, focusing on the world’s many intriguing abnormalities. Even if the viewer is encouraged to see the documentary in their own way, the film still has certain conclusions it wishes to expose. Both of these films draw similarities between the world’s natural beauty and mankind’s overwhelming existence within its inherent elegance.

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. The cinematography, specifically the time-lapse photography, leaves a permanent impression that makes you ponder the big questions life imposes; society, higher powers, technology, the ecosystem and robotic influence.

When the end finally comes, you will either want to watch it again or move on to something with words, depending on your preferences. For me, it was fascinating to watch everything tie together with the idea that some of the best art the world produces can instantly be destroyed.

Fun fact: Samsara (a Sanskrit word literally meaning “continuous flow”) is the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth (reincarnation) within Hinduism, Buddhism, Bön, Jainism and Yoga. In Sikhism this concept is slightly different and looks at our actions in the present and consequences in the present.

Run time: 102 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 77 percent

Aug. 18, 2014

‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ (1987)

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“It’s like going on a date with a Chatty Cathy doll. I expect you have a little string on your chest, you know, that I pull out and have to snap back. Except I wouldn’t pull it out and snap it back – you would. Agh! Agh! Agh! Agh!”- Steve Martin as Neal Page

Bottom line: Steve Martin and John Candy’s chemistry is the key to the great mix of humor and heart in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

This holiday classic features John Hughes at the helm, who directed, produced and wrote this 1980s slapstick comedy. Man versus machine has always been featured in comedies, and Hughes takes it to the extreme, throwing all of travel’s nasty experiences into one trip across America.

Hughes sticks to his roots and provides his classic mixture of fun banter, adults behaving childish, some dull moments and then a huge dose of sentiment at the end. After his passing in 2009, this underrated filmmaker will be remembered for many movies with this type of tone (“Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Home Alone”).

A Hughes movie is usually fun for the whole family, but the journey of Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy) is full of profanity and adult themes. Page is traveling to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with his family, and his demotion from first-class to coach is the first of many speed bumps for the quick-tempered businessman.

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Page is then forced to sit next to Griffith, a traveling shower curtain ring salesman. When a snowstorm in Chicago grounds the plane in Wichita, Neal accepts an offer from Griffith to spend the night in a cheap motel together after his own attempts at finding a four-star hotel fall short.

When Griffith’s bothersome antics become too much, Page snaps and verbally abuses Griffith, which opens up a responding rant we see in many Hughes films about judging other people. Page comes back to his senses and the two become one as they make their way to Chicago. We know what the end result will be, but Hughes still manages to make us laugh and captivate our human desire for connection in the best possible way.

Hughes basically takes two drastically different personalities and forces them to stay together for several days. Martin and Candy are both well-versed in character-driven comedy, and their experience helps the colliding identities look natural. Martin’s cautious mindset is a perfect counterpoint to Candy’s foolish charisma.

Some movies, especially comedies, fall into a group of forgotten wannabes, but the ones we come back to don’t necessarily have to have complex themes or implications about society. “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is a thrilling adventure for the ages. It’s odd how passion and a heartfelt message can creep out of a film while we’re laughing.

Fun fact: No transportation company wanted to appear inept or deficient in any way, so crews had to rent twenty miles of train track and refurbish old railroad cars, construct a set that looked like an airline terminal, design a rent-a-car company logo and uniforms, and rent 250 cars for the infamous Rent-a-Car sequence.

Run time: 93 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Aug. 17, 2014

‘Punch-Drunk Love’ (2002)

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“I don’t know if there is anything wrong because I don’t know how other people are.”- Adam Sandler as Barry Egan

Bottom line: A fantastic movie, but the massive shock Adam Sandler ignites with his performance is truly a testament to what the usual goofball can do for different genres.

Sandler dives into a serious role two years after starring in “Little Nicky,” and surprises everyone with a deeply emotional performance. He’s still funny. “Punch-Drunk Love” is a comedy with drama and not the other way around, so he is still in his element, which could be one of the reasons Sandler excelled in the dramatic aspects of the film just as much as the humorous ones.

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Barry Egan (Sandler) is the focus of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark comedy. Egan has a problem connecting with people, and his dominating seven sisters, who negotiate his manhood on a regular basis, don’t help with his issues. This owner of a novelty toilet plunger business doesn’t have the most active love life, which drives him to expose his vulnerability.

One lonely night, Egan calls a phone sex operator, who then threatened him with blackmail. Egan’s paranoia becomes a reality when the “operator” sends a few thugs to follow and extort him.

While all this is going on in Egan’s head, his sisters set him up with a girl who happens to be his type. His emotions are violently fluctuating, where one minute he could feel lustful and then another minute later he’s in an uncontrollable frenzy. His longing for finding romance is on the top of Egan’s priority list. He’ll do whatever it takes in the name of love, even if it’s questioning his own sanity.

Enraged, dismal and desperate wouldn’t be the way you would describe the average Sandler character. In “Punch-Drunk,” Sandler’s Egan character conveys a man who masks his fury with a nervous smile. Anderson looks past the wacky facade and lets Sandler’s dramatic flag fly. This performance is so compelling, it makes you want to revisit many nutty roles Sandler’s played and dissect the character further.

Apart from Sandler’s revelation, the direction makes this movie special. Anderson pushes the boundaries of cinema once again, and serious film addicts will continue to follow his work, even if it stars the lead role in ‘The Waterboy.”

This type of flick reminds me of how much I love the movies. This wonderful art form should be challenging, inspirational, surprising, and breathtaking. “Punch-Drunk Love” breaks the rules, but somehow gets it all right.

Fun fact: Paul Thomas Anderson first announced that his follow-up to Magnolia (1999) would be anAdam Sandler comedy at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival. The news was greeted with laughter by the assembled press. When “Punch-Drunk Love” eventually played at Cannes, Anderson won the Best Director Palm d’Or.

Run time: 95 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 79 percent

Aug. 16, 2014

‘The Terminal’ (2004)

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“Sometimes you land a small fish. You unhook him very carefully. You place him back in the water. You set him free so that somebody else can have the pleasure of catching him.”- Stanley Tucci as Frank Dixon

Bottom line: Tom Hanks provides an acting clinic, lifting this basic story from the pit of mediocrity.

If you’ve spent time in an airport terminal, you understand how unpleasant it can be sometimes. Imagine living in one.

Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal” throws us into a seemingly permanent layover, but Spielberg’s cinematic touch with the camera and elegant lighting techniques are just a couple of things helping us enjoy our stay.

“The Terminal” is a lighthearted comedy with an emotionally fragile undertone. It will make some laugh and others cry, but will do so with little effort. Tom Hanks dives deep into a role others might look past and makes it something uniquely brilliant.

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Viktor Navorski (Hanks) is traveling from Europe to New York, but when his homeland turns into a war zone while he’s in Kennedy airport, Navorski cannot legally enter the United States and essentially has a passport to nowhere. While stranded, the man without a country must improvise his living situation within the terminal until the war is over.

During Norvorski’s lengthy stay, he finds himself immersed in an airport culture he never knew existed. He discovers this culture is full of people with gleaming generosity, strong ambition and delightful humor. Airport official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) calls Navorski’s situation a “bureaucratic glitch” and wants nothing to do with the dilemma.

Hanks and Spielberg have worked on plenty of successful films together (“Catch Me If You Can,” “Saving Private Ryan”), and the trend continued with this original story in 2004. The tricky material may have been diminished because of this relationship, allowing them to relax and let the film play out in its own way.

Hanks is without a doubt one of the most prominent film stars in the history of Hollywood. The way he adapts to fit different roles is truly textbook, and any aspiring actors can look at his resume and understand what true role-playing means. In this film, Hanks carries a thick foreign accent without wavering, and it never feels as if he’s coming off too strong or going for laughs. It’s funny, but the writing, and the chameleon styles of Tom Hanks are so well done it seems entirely natural.

Fun fact: The terminal set was a near-full-size replica built in a former hangar, with three working sets of escalators, and populated by many familiar stores (e.g. Burger King, Mrs. Fields, W.H. Smith). Dreamworks recruited some of these stores, while others approached the studio when word of the production got out. The construction crews that build actual mall and airport stores for the respective companies were hired to build the set, and some had fully-functioning equipment (e.g. ovens, cash registers, etc).

Run time: 128 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 61 percent

Aug. 15, 2014

‘Revenge of the Green Dragons’ (Release date: 8/11/14)

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The power of Martin Scorsese and a violent new trailer has lifted “Revenge of the Green Dragons” into the spotlight this week.

“Revenge of the Green Dragons” stars Ray Liotta, Justin Chon and Harry Shum, Jr. and is set in the criminal underworld of a 1980s New York City. Chon and Kevin Wu play two immigrant brothers who join a Chinatown gang called “The Green Dragons” to break out of poverty.

When they quickly rise up the ranks, they draw plenty of unwanted attention from tenacious cops.

It seems Scorsese is at the point in his career where he can put his name on a film and make it drastically more intriguing. Directors Wai-keung Lau and Andrew Loo receive plenty of Hollywood star power from Scorsese as their producer, but they have working relationship. Lau’s “Hong Kong” crime flick was Scorsese’s framework for his Oscar-winning 2006 film, “The Departed.”

I wouldn’t throw “The Departed” in the same category as “Dragons” quite yet, but it’s an intriguing connection that could win over Scorsesean lovers and maybe more. Our first look into the film this week gives us an overbearingly violent perception of the tone, but there are hints of promising Scorsese flair.

The trailer’s release is timed well. “Dragons” will premier at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 4, 2014 and hits major markets a few days later.

Check out the trailer, and decide for yourself whether we’ll see another quintessential Scorsese crime drama.

 

Aug. 14, 2014

‘Boyhood’ (2014)

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Bottom line: A truly authentic cinematic experiment for the ages.

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 worth 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.

Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play Mason’s parents, who “grow up” throughout the film just as much as Mason. We see flashes of road trips, family dinners and other relationship-driven situations building up to an emotional analysis of human growth. There was no need to research time period clothing or trends, which creates a natural nostalgia. This natural accuracy is just one unique aspect to an already uncommon theme.

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Linklater is a self-taught filmmaker who broke out of the 1990s American independent scene. In the past, Linklater has successfully presented timelines spanning a 24-hour period, and he’s dubbed his style “the youth rebellion continuum.” This time, he’s created a new way to present an authentic timetable. We’ve all seen still photo time progression, but Linklater takes it to new level with a ground-breaking 12-year journey highlighting the fleeting aspects of life we sometimes take for granted.

“Harry Potter” is arguably the closest film series we can compare this to, but we see Potter and his friends grow over the period of eight movies with several directing changes. In “Boyhood,” we get all of that emotion consolidated into a 2-hour feature film.

This style clearly separates “Boyhood” from any other drama in the history of cinema. We can draw similarities from “Harry Potter” or many television characters, but there is no direct comparison, making this movie sincerely one of a kind.

After this experiment, the genre with never be the same. The critical praise alone will spark countless copycat creations, and “Boyhood” will be the landmark for this production method. It doesn’t just highlight childhood development, it’s an ode to parenting and the constant complications and fulfillment of raising kids.

Fun fact: As it is illegal in the US to sign contracts lasting longer than 7 years, nobody could sign a contract for their 12 year commitment.

Run time: 165 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 99 percent

Aug. 13, 2014

‘The Prestige’ (2006)

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“Are you watching closely?”- Christian Bale as Alfred Borden

Bottom line: An engaging period piece that challenges the viewer at every turn.

According to the film, there are three parts to complete a successful magic trick. First, “the pledge” shows you something ordinary, like a deck of cards. Second, “the turn” takes that ordinary something and makes it extraordinary. Now the audience is grasping at straws, attempting to figure out the trick. “The prestige” is the ultimate reveal, but can sometimes raise more questions than answers.

For a film named after the sensational element at the end of a magic trick, “The Prestige” falls short of its lofty name, but manages to keep the viewer busy with inspiring acting and the feeling of the unknown.

Christopher Nolan took a break in 2006 from Batman flicks to recreate a supernatural thriller based on author Christopher Priest’s award-winning novel of the same name. Taking place in Victorian London where the unsophisticated type are alone in their black magic beliefs, “The Prestige” features stage magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). Their rivalry consists mainly of trying to create the best illusion, which results in a series of lofty tricks, one-upmanship and fatal consequences.

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Co-staring Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and Andy Serkis, “The Prestige” is loaded with crowd-pleasing talent and is one of three magician-themed blockbusters released in 2006. Neil Burger’s “The Illusionist” and Woody Allen’s “Scoop” both featured magic elements, but “The Prestige” found more success at the box office and won over the hearts of critics.

Receiving Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography and Art Direction, “The Prestige” asks how far someone would go for the love of art. Obsession would be the film’s central theme, but deception and the science behind stage magic are evident topics as well. “The Prestige” is flawed because Nolan implements too many themes into one narrative, but Jackman and Bale’s on-screen presence distracts the viewer from the movie’s weaknesses all too well.

The two experienced actors standout in their ability to display a rivalry, but at the same time highlighting the negative aspects of an obsessive mindset. It’s a satisfactory analysis of magical strife.

Even with its flaws, “The Prestige” is a thrilling and imaginative in its own right. The journey is sometimes more important than the final resting place.

Fun fact: Alfred Borden takes on the stage name of “The Professor.” This is the nickname that was given to Dai Vernon, the man many consider to be the best modern day sleight of hand magician.

Run time: 130 min.

MPAA rating:PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 76 percent

Aug. 12, 2014

‘October Sky’ (1999)

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“Man, we should be trying to get into that science fair instead of sitting around here like a bunch of hillbillies.” Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer Hickam

Bottom line: A heartwarming story about a teenager breaking away from his family’s fixed expectations regarding his future.

Director John Johnston uses old-fashioned theatrics to tell an old-fashioned story. “October Sky” is sincerely crafty and intelligent, but more importantly, this coming-of-age story has just as much heart as it does intellect.

The true story of Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a 1950s son of a coal miner, highlights the importance of education and how it can launch an adolescent into the realm of occupational freedom. The movie does well to feature this passport to freedom without forgetting to recognize the honest, blue-collar worker.

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It’s 1957, and most boys in Coalwood, W. Va. follow in the footsteps of their coal-mining fathers. Homer has no reason to believe he will be any different. He loves football, but his size keeps him from earning an athletic scholarship. His predetermined life seems to become more definite each day, but when Homer and the rest of the world watch the soviet Sputnik satellite fly across the night sky, he finds the desire to reach for something more.

His father is mine superintendent and expects his son to follow his lead, but Homer is more interested in launching rockets with friends. The kids make mistakes, but their exciting achievements enlighten the town. If there is any tension, it has nothing to do with rockets. Instead, the drama is found in the home, where fathers believe their sons belong in the mines and not in space.

“October Sky” isn’t like the average teenager flick. Even some of the great teen film narratives get caught up in popularity and sex appeal, but the kids from Coalwood remind us how rare it is to see high school movies about school.

When a film is made commending a teenager’s capacity to think for themselves, we should take notice. The story was already written, but “October Sky” benefits from the acting power of Jake Gyllenhaal and effective filmmakers.

Fun fact: The town of Coalwood, W. Va. has lost so many residents that it no longer holds the annual October Sky Festival. The event was moved to Beckley, W. Va. in 2012 due to the lack of able-bodied volunteers remaining in Coalwood.

Run time: 108 min.

MPAA rating: PG

Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent

Aug. 11, 2014

‘World War Z’ (2013)

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“If you can fight, fight. Be prepared for anything. Our war has just begun.”- Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane

Bottom line: An impressive flick for what it is; a typical zombie survival guide.

Max Brook’s 2006 novel “World War Z” gets a big screen makeover with director Marc Forster at the helm. At times, it diverts from the source material, but it’s all fun and zombie games.

Brooks has publicly claimed the novel has little to do with his book other than the basic narrative outline, but Forster’s version is its own tense beast with effective Hollywood glamour.

If I never see another zombie film, I won’t complain, but it’s still nice to watch a tasteful spin with intriguing plot construction. More importantly, superb acting from Brad Pitt helps the film’s image exponentially.

“World War Z” features a more deadly type of zombie. They’re fast, and the disease spreads at a more rapid pace than other flesh eating films. At times, it’s almost as if the zombie hoard works together to form a natural disaster. Instead of tornadoes or a meteor strike, walking (or running) man-eaters slowly eradicate the human race.

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When the outbreak commences in metropolitan hot spots around the globe, former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt), his wife Karin, and their daughters have to find a way out of Philadelphia. The viciously agile zombies will turn a person within seconds of biting them.

Lane is called into duty once again to travel the world in a race against time. His journey to find a cure to the epidemic throws him in the face of constant danger that seems to increase at every hair-raising turn.

Forster’s adaptation works much like a video game. Lane bounces through scenes, where all indicators for each one predict a grizzly outcome. Weapons are picked up along the way, but the mind proves to be the strongest defense against the hoard.

With all of the flair “World War Z” provides, sometimes more can be less. Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” provided a terrifying zombie experience with a side of creatively political allegory, and that was more than 10 years ago. Around the same time, Edgar Wright gave us “Shaun of the Dead,” which amplified witty satire in a genre devoid of humor.

These film innovators were able to do a lot more than “Z” with a lot less, but each thrilling sequence provides enough turbulence to compensate for its many flawed concepts.

Fun fact: A side story that was deleted featured Gerry’s wife having an affair with the para jumper (Matthew Fox) in the helicopter from the rescue scene earlier in the film. The popular “Lost” actor basically turns into an extra after the cut.

Run time: 116 min.

MPAA rating: PG- 13

Rotten Tomatoes: 68 percent

Aug. 10, 2014

‘Kill Bill: Vol. 1’ (2003)

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” [In Japanese] Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”- Uma Thurman as The Bride

Bottom line: A revenge- fueled bloodfest with classic Tarantino flair.

The first volume of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” franchise packs a ferocious and violent punch. Uma Thurman’s striking performance as The Bride is the highlight of Tarantino’s fourth film, where his use of genre mixing is once again used as a stylistic element.

Volume one plays out much like a novel, where the narrative is presented through a series of chapters boasting their own specific genre. Tarantino’s creative use of music, costumes, pop culture and literary references help define the geographic tone whether it’s American or otherwise.

When a wedding party is slaughtered during a dress rehearsal, The Bride, also know as Black Mamba, falls into a coma after taking a bullet to the head. The shooter, Bill, and his circle of assassins become targets after The Bride wakes up four years later with vengeance on her mind.

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Focused on leaving a trail of enemy blood on the road to Bill’s doorstep, Black Mamba fights her way through several members of the deadly assassin group, The Vipers, who left her for dead. Saving Bill for last, this first chapter features only a few of Black Mamba’s assassin encounters, leaving the final showdown for the sequel.

Much like Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” the movie is a series of stories without much depth or narrative weight. They are simply plot points existing in a world we know little about. There is a suggestion that all of the important context and background for these characters exists in another universe. We quickly accept the the messy plot construction in favor of Tarantino’s brilliant design, offering both aesthetic value and oddly appealing violence.

Many of the live-action sequences are ridiculous in nature. It takes a certain charm and elegance to play characters in this type of setting. Thurman, with the support of Lucy Liu and Vivica Fox, gracefully engulf themselves in this fictional world of excessive bloodshed and unyielding retribution.

For every flaw, there are 10 fascinating elements helping us look past each fault. Tarantino’s fourth film is a phenomenal representation of how a heavy aesthetic formula can pay off with the right vision.

Fun fact: Jack Nicholson, Kurt Russell, Mickey Rourke and Burt Reynolds passed on playing Bill.

Run time: 111 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 85 percent

 

Aug. 9, 2014

‘The Road’ (2009)

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“I told the boy when you dream about bad things happening, it means you’re still fighting and you’re still alive. It’s when you start to dream about good things that you should start to worry.”- Viggo Mortensen as The Man

Bottom line: With a premise we see every year, “The Road” takes the focus away from the post-apocalyptic elements and aims for the heart.

If viewers let “The Road” frighten them, it will. It’s painfully emotional, and at times uncomfortable to the point of no return. Even when it’s disturbing, “The Road” is strangely intoxicating.

America is in an apocalyptic wasteland. Nature is slowly eradicating itself from the earth, and the vegetation has become non-existent. The crops are failing with civilization, and many have taken to cannibalism. A man (Viggo Mortensen) and his boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) fend for themselves in a world where people are held prisoners for fresh meat.

The young boy was born in a healthy world, which means this post-apocalyptic world is young and still dying. In such a short period of time, most of the trees and wildlife have been ravaged, and all that’s left are savage survivalists and human slaves kept for food.

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Based on author Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, “The Road” may not live up to the novel’s standards, but it’s a marvel in itself. We enjoy comparison, and a novel often surpasses a film adaptation in popular opinion, as if Hollywood somehow dilutes written literature.

Many film’s are ruined for fans of the novel it’s based on because they expect an accurate depiction. The book and the movie are separate entities and should be viewed as such. Regardless of this idea, director and writer, John Hillcoat and Joe Penhall do well to reflect McCarthy’s poetic style.

McCarthy’s prize-winning prose may be hard to replicate on screen, but the visual design proves to be well-representative. The world is glazed over with a dark, grainy filter. The ashy style helps build a depressing mood to match the film’s tone.

There is no apparent cause for the apocalypse, and maybe that’s the best option. We get to see the decaying world through the eyes of our protagonists. Their sad stroll through a barely inhabitable gray marsh bypasses apocalyptic tropes to tell a story about family, conviction and sympathy.

Fun fact: To live the role, Viggo Mortensen would sleep in his clothes and deliberately starve himself. At one point he was thrown out of a shop in Pittsburgh because they thought he was a homeless man.

Run time: 111 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 75 percent

Aug. 8, 2014

‘In Bruges’ (2008)

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“There’s a Christmas tree somewhere in London with a bunch of presents underneath it that’ll never be opened. And I thought, if I survive all of this, I’d go to that house, apologize to the mother there, and accept whatever punishment she chose for me. Prison… death… didn’t matter. Because at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn’t be in f***in’ Bruges.”- Colin Farrell as Ray

Bottom line: A thoughtful film that seamlessly blends dark satire with gripping tragedy.

It’s rare to see such a fluid mixture of wit and darkness within a narrative and come out successful at the other end. “In Bruges” perfectly provides a fierce crime thriller with hilarious dialogue.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh pulls off a magnificent feat, and it happens to be his directorial debut. “In Bruges” explores the depths of human honor and the deadly consequences that can come from disregarding this principle.

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Bruges is a medieval city in Belgium that welcomes visitors from all over the world, but for Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) it could be their final resting place. The two hit men are ordered to keep quiet in the fairy tale city after a job goes awry. The two play tourist for a couple weeks to cool their heels, but admiring the gothic buildings and cobbled streets isn’t on the agenda for Ray. The bloodshed of their last job haunts the sarcastic Irishman, but Ken is enjoying every bit of his “vacation.”

Their London boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), is a man of principle and expects the same of his employees. As the two await his call, they quickly become caught up in the strange tourist culture of the foreign city. Their drastically different opinions of how to spend time in the city provide several obscure encounters. When Harry’s call eventually comes, the dynamic of the vacation shifts to a life-and-death conflict of comical proportions.

The city is captivating, but not in a touristy way. The cobblestone and canals somehow keep the characters as the subject, helping them come to life convincingly. There are many instances where we forget where the characters are, but a subtle alteration of the camera reminds us of the gorgeous setting. 

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The narrative doesn’t jump from mood to mood, but easily holds both a laughable and grievous tone at the same time. It’s truly a treat to experience, and it’s one of the few settings where Colin Ferrell has a chance to show his funny side and yet stay true to the film’s overall premise. “In Burges” allows him to relax and be himself quite often, which makes this performances one of the highlights on his resume.

The plot is so character-driven that we grow with Ray and Ken as they battle sadness, abandonment and personal principles. The constant humor grows on the viewer, too. As we grow with the characters and observe them closely, the comical nature of the movie shines and becomes genuinely hilarious.

At the end, after the laughter subsides and blood has been shed, you realize a powerful proclamation was subtly etched into your brain amidst the chaos.

Fun fact: In the original script, Ray and Ken are English, but when Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson came on board, the characters were changed to Irish as to suit their natural sensibilities.

Run time: 107 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 82 percent

 

Aug. 7, 2014

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ (2014)

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Bottom line: We get to see the “Transformers” version of TMNT, and it’s a lot worse than it sounds.

Is there an antonym for Cowabunga?

For all the loyal TMNT fans, nostalgia just isn’t enough to enjoy this slightly insulting reboot. The entire film seems lukewarm, as if the production crew didn’t make it for pleasure, but just did it because they could. Sounds like another popular Michael Bay franchise, doesn’t it?

Bay produced “Turtles,” while Jonathan Liebesman sat in the director’s chair. Would this visual stimuli have been more successful with Bay at the helm? Probably not, but we’ll never truly know for sure. Liebesman’s style can be seen in his previous films, “Battle: Los Angeles” and “Wrath of the Titans,” but “Turtles” has the look and feel of Bay. The tone is stale and the humor is premature, but the chaotic action scenes offer a brief release from the noise.

Based on Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters, this reboot features Shredder, one of the more popular villains of the franchise. From the police to the politicians, his Foot Clan has seized control of the city. Reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her audacious camera man Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) team up with the unlikely sewer heroes to save the city and decipher Shredder’s master plan.

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Bay has proven himself as a master of special effects, but he consistently lacks the character element in his films. Style over substance is becoming uniform in his cinematic endeavors. The turtles have almost ape-like characteristics, which is drastically different from the shell dwellers we’ve seen in the past, and the lack of character development makes it difficult to differentiate one chelonian from another.

The screenplay can be clumsy in favor of visual flash, and cliches are more than evident throughout this unfortunate modern blockbuster. Playful, amusing and inventive would be everything this turtle reboot isn’t, but it’s not all bad. Though it may be meager praise, “Turtles” is more enjoyable than “Transformers,” but not by much.

In classic Bay fashion, it’s deafening, frenzied and tiresome. The violent content is too graphic for children and the substance is too dull for adults. This makes me question who the target audience is, because they missed the mark with classic fans of the series looking for a nostalgic thrill ride.

The 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking TMNT saga deserved a much more sophisticated celebration.

Fun fact: Producer Michael Bay stated that the Turtles in this film would be presented as having an extraterrestrial origin. This statement caused a great furor and was met with harsh criticism from much of the fan base. However, the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” co-creator Kevin Eastman has expressed their support in the alien concept, saying he believes the concept to be “awesome” and pointed out that the ooze that created the Turtles was in fact an alien substance.

Run time: 120 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 19 percent

Aug. 6, 2014

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ (2012)

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“When daddy kill me I won’t be forgotten. I’m recording my story for the scientists in the future. In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.”- Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy

Bottom line: Prepare for a moving experience that displays the power of film.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a powerful cinematic experience about hardship-inspired motivation. This little girl’s journey is a prime example of filmmakers valuing ingenuity over money.

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In a bayou community, a massive levee separates a 6-year-old girl and her small, “bathtub” from the rest of civilization. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) has a father who flows in and out of her life without warning. Her extraordinary imagination keeps her busy, but her belief that the universe is in balance with her own tangible world comes crashing down in the form of a ferocious storm.

When her father becomes ill, this miniature hero must fight to survive and repair her broken world. This world is located off the shores of New Orleans behind the levees and is alive with its own bustling community abiding by their own rules. Hushpuppy calls it the prettiest place on Earth and being that it’s below see level, the community is almost part of the Earth itself.

Like many of the cast members, Wallis had no film experience before her Hushpuppy role. She was 5 when they began shooting and 7 when they finished. At such a young age and no film experience, it would be hard for any child to act out another personality. Wallis is so genuinely herself, making it hard to believe the movie would work without her moving performance.

This is Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film. His experiences was solely short films, but that didn’t stop Zeitlin produce such an imaginative film and accumulate such heavy Oscar attention including a Best Picture nomination. Along with his screenplay writer and film collaborator, Lucy Alibar, Zeitlin found several post-Katrina locations to construct a detailed settlement on a small budget.

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Wallis worked closely with New Orleans resident Dwight Henry. Henry plays Hushpuppy’s father, Wink, who isn’t the father of the year, but some of the most powerful scenes are when the two are on screen together. Henry had no film experience before “Beasts” either. He owns Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Cafe in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans and found out about the film through a casting flier. The crew came to the bakery in the middle of the night to meet Henry and eventually gave him the job.

The film has a constant sense of fantasy, but it doesn’t take away the crew’s attention to the project’s details. The untrained actors and masterful direction make the fantasia efficiently convincing. Sometimes a movie is made with actors you have never heard of, and sometimes those films are so moving we get to experience creative flair at its finest.

Fun fact: On the film’s very first day of shooting in the fictional “Bathtub” location outside of New Orleans, the BP oil rig explosion and the start of the massive spill occurred. For most of the shoot in nearby waters, Benh Zeitlin and his crew had to maneuver in and around the clean-up operations.

Run time: 93 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 86 percent

Aug. 5, 2014

‘American Hustle’ (2013)

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“Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, but you had to survive?”- Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

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Bottom line: A perfect character study that makes us embrace this lengthy con game.

David O. Russell has a knack for taking a group of talented, well-known actors and presenting them in a way we haven’t seen before. “American Hustle” is just as thoughtful as it is funny, but the highlight of this work of art is Russell’s vision and how he captures his veteran cast in a new light.

Scorcesean signatures are evident throughout the film. The immediate zooming of the camera, flashy mobster personas (clothing included), deceptive narration and popular songs of the era highlighting emotional moments are all Scorsese favorites, but Russell adds his own unique brand to the mix.

“American Hustle” is a fictional film but features one of the more shocking scandals the country has seen; Abscam. The film tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his new love interest Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Their schemes eventually get them into trouble with the FBI and are forced to cooperate with agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). The two are thrown into New Jersey’s dangerous mafia community where they must incriminate elected officials and aim for the underworld’s heavy hitters without breaking character.

Jeremy Renner plays Carmine Polito, the people-pleasing New Jersey governor who ends up in the midst of con men and federal agents. His involvement is merely a gateway to reaching the truly crooked individuals in society, but DiMaso quickly becomes too caught up in the “operation,” losing sight of his occupational duties.

Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), has an unpredictable personality that could bring the operation down in an instant. Russell is able to shift character intentions as the film progresses, providing an intricate con for the impressive finale.

Russell combines several actors from his previous films and is able to display a cohesive collaboration, but also giving each actor their own original character we haven’t seen before. It’s an impressive feat that can only be attributed to Russell’s working relationship with these skilled actors.

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The characters wear their heart on their sleeves, literally. The ostentatious wardrobe each actor possess reflects their character’s powerful ambition and is also an interpretation of the powerful surge to reach the American dream.

Russell opens his film with the title card, “Some of this actually happened.” Usually, this hinders the effectiveness of the narrative, but Russell seems to have a new trick up his sleeve at every turn. Much like the Abscam con itself, the movie is convincing amusement, and it’s so well done that we stop caring whether it’s real not.

One year after Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” took over the Oscars, “American Hustle” found itself nominated for 10 awards, but walked out empty handed. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what the future holds for this impressive filmmaker.

Fun fact: According to Christian Bale, much of the movie was improvised. During the shooting of the film he noted to David O. Russell, “You realize that this is going to change the plot greatly down track.” To which the director replied, “Christian, I hate plots. I am all about characters, that’s it.”

Run time: 138 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent

Aug. 4, 2014

‘American History X’ (1998)

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“Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it.”- Edward Furlong as Danny Vinyard

Bottom line: A gritty social document addressing the often evil side of humanity.

Before “American History X,” Director Tony Kaye was shooting car commercials for television. His film debut might not have been expertly crafted, but Edward Norton takes the subject matter to new heights with his dominant performance.

Norton keeps the focus away from the often preachy narrative with the way he personifies racism within his character. It’s truly a must-watch just for the sake of Norton’s superior execution.

Kaye used his directorial debut to dramatically explore the roots of racism in America. Derek (Norton) is a neo-Nazi with plenty of opinions to share with his impressionable younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong). After Danny tells Derek about a group of black youth breaking into his car outside, Derek quickly grabs a weapon and assaults the kids.

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Tried and convicted, Derek is sent to prison for three years where his ideals change dramatically. His outlook on racial differences shifts after experiencing white-power prisoners and befriending Lamont, a black inmate who works with Derek in the laundry room. While Derek does his time, Danny is busy shaving his head and building a rebellious persona and is set on following in his brother’s footsteps.

At school, Danny writes a favorable review for Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kapf,” and his black principle forces him to take a private course, American History X. During the course, Danny must write a paper about his brother, which produces a flood of flashbacks and personal reflection. Once Derek is released, his agenda is to steer Danny away from the white supremacist group Derek used to call his own.

“American History X” is flawed, but it’s also well-made. The violent atmosphere provides a compelling depiction of the damaging nature of racism, and the road to redemption. The overarching flaw is how the film tricks the viewer into believing it’s something more. From the beginning, we see the film as a beautiful caterpillar. Then we see it wrap itself in an aesthetic cocoon, but we never see the extravagant wings of the butterfly.

Regardless of its flaws, “American History X” is a powerful social archive and should be part of every film lover’s Hollywood education. If there is any dissatisfaction, it’s because it promises to be more than it is as a whole.

Fun fact: Edward Norton turned down Saving Private Ryan (1998) to do this film. Joaquin Phoenix was initially offered the role of Derek but found the subject matter of the film distasteful and passed on the project.

Run time: 119 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 83 percent

 

Aug. 3, 2014

‘The Lego Movie’ (2014)

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Bottom line: Everything is, truly, awesome.

Lego is a household name today, and with the recent success of Lego’s in the gaming community with titles such as “Lego Star Wars” and “Lego Indiana Jones,” it was only plausible to anticipate a film.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller bring to life a computer-animated spectacle, which follows construction worker Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and his quest to defeat the wicked Lord Business (Will Ferrell) after learning he has been chosen to save the uniform world he calls home.

Lord Business plans to glue the world together, but with the help of the Master Builders and popular Lego characters, Emmet poses a serious threat to Lord Business.

Crushing the box office with a $69 million opening weekend, “The Lego Movie” attracts children and adults alike with its impressive animation. The attention to detail is a key to the film’s success. With spectacular visuals, “The Lego Movie” uses beautiful 3D technology and a laundry list of one-liners to reach any age demographic. The jokes are thrown at the viewer so rapidly it can be difficult to catch everything, but it won’t be difficult to find the motivation to watch Emmet’s adventure again and again.

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It’s the first ever full-length Lego film to hit theaters, and the three-dimensional animation will impress even the most critical spectators. Kids and kids at heart will fall in love with their favorite Lego characters playing hero in a gorgeous setting.

Pratt isn’t alone in this star-studded adventure. Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Will Forte, Morgan Freeman, Dave Franco and Jonah Hill help make this side-splitting nostalgic thrill ride a film to be remembered.

Since 1949, The Lego Group in Denmark has been manufacturing toys and developing movies, games and theme parks like Lego Land in California. Five hundred and sixty billion Lego parts have been manufactured since the construction toys hit the market.

In 1997 the group branched out to video game development. “Lego Island” was the first computer game to be released and won “Family Game of the Year” at the Interactive Achievement Awards.

Lego is a brand most people can relate to, and “The Lego Movie” pulls on those nostalgic heartstrings with full force. Not only is “The Lego Movie” a fun and entertaining film in general, but it will easily expose the viewer’s inner child.

Fun fact: The term “Master Builder” is actually an official designation by the Lego Company; per their website, “Lego Master Builders are the highly-trained and super-creative builders who design all of the official Lego sets. Other Lego Master Builders create giant, detailed sculptures out of Lego bricks for Legoland Parks and special events all around the world.”

Run time: 100 min.

MPAA rating: PG

Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent

 

Aug. 2, 2014

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014)

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“So here we are: a thief, two thugs, an assassin and a maniac. But we’re not going to stand by as evil wipes out the galaxy. I guess we’re stuck together, partners.”- Chris Pratt as Peter Quill

Bottom line: Fun, creative writing makes this basic story playfully entertaining.

Director James Gunn unveiled the tenth film in the Marvel cinematic universe this weekend, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The film is based on the Marvel comic of the same name. The first “Guardians” issue was released in 1969, but the movie is based on the “modern guardians” of the 2008 series. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning formed the team in 2008 from existing 60s characters and previously unrelated characters. The initial roster included Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Quasar, Adam Warlock, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer and Groot.

“Guardians” is just as cheeky as the fans of the eccentric comic book would expect. The heart-filled, thrilling space epic is a visual delight and fun for all ages.

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Adventure- seeker Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) recovers a mysterious orb on an abandon planet, but he finds himself the subject of a bounty hunt when a powerful villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), wants the orb for himself. To keep Ronan off his trail, Quill has to make a truce with several galactic misfits. A trigger-happy raccoon, Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a tree-like humanoid, Groot (Vin Diesel), a vindictive personality, Drax (Dave Bautista), and the cryptic Gamora (Zoe Saldana) eventually fight trough their differences, forming a team to rally against Ronan and his forces with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.

The persistent humor factor comes from Pratt’s comical demeanor. The “Parks and Recreation” goofball brings the same energetic, nutty characteristics to his role as Star-Lord, and it turns up the comedy to another level entirely. Without Pratt’s charisma, the film would be dry, and the basic plot would be exposed.

There is a certain charm brought to the table, and it’s not Pratt. “Guardians” stretches the imagination with a lovable, humanoid tree and a raccoon who loves him. The relationship between the two of them is a sweet sentiment and an intriguing dynamic to the team’s already unusual set of cast members.

The plot might not be elegant, but it’s easy to look past. The amusing dialogue and 1970s undertones help keep this entertaining sci-fi afloat.

Fun fact: According to Vin Diesel, the voice of Groot, he recorded Groot’s iconic line, “I am Groot,” more than 1,000 times.

Run time: 121 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

Aug. 1, 2014

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ (2012)

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Bottom line: Finally, a Spider-Man blockbuster worthy of the beloved comic series on which it’s based.

The quick layover between web-slinger reboots was an item of question until the first trailer hit the web. The preview showed off what eventually would be one of the better representations of Spider-Man on the big screen.

Director Marc Webb didn’t take long to bring Peter Parker back to life. Five years after Sam Raimi finished his trilogy in 2007, Webb focused on the man behind the mask instead of the world around him.

We all know the story. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is your classic outcast high school student. His parents abandoned him as a boy, leaving him with his aunt and uncle to pick up the pieces when he grows older. Parker, like many teenagers, is trying to figure out who he is as a person. After finding his father’s briefcase, Parker begins a quest to answer his lingering questions about his parents. His journey leads him to Oscorp and the start of a heated rivalry between Parker and Dr. Curt Connors, also known as The Lizard. Parker will make decisions that will alter his life, and he will use his powers to shape his future and become a hero.

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What makes this reboot substantially better than its predecessor is the focus on Peter Parker and making sure the theme aligns with what made the comic book series so enjoyable. The problem with Raimi’s vision was how much Spider-Man lacked the human element. When Spider-Man was fighting crime, we forgot who was wearing suit.

 

With Webb’s reboot, he payed careful attention to detail regarding Parker’s mannerisms and style. He made sure all of the technical details regarding Peter’s powers lined up with the comics. Garfield responded well to Webb’s vision, producing a Peter Parker most webheads can respect.

For example, Raimi decided to make the webs somehow come out of Parker’s body, which takes away an important element of Spider-Man. Webb made sure these technical errors were repaired, and it changed the whole dynamic of the story. Whenever we saw Parker in his suit, we always remember who is wearing it and why. Other than making sure the obvious details are considered, Webb also highlights Parker’s everyday life, his relationships and who he is as a person. His convincing ability to remind us this is a kid playing hero is what Spider-Man is all about.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is fresh and carries a serious tone that seemed to be missing in Raimi’s 2002 reboot. Parker’s demeanor has improved from wide-eyed fascination to emotional sincerity with a side of fun, cartoon violence.

Fun fact: Andrew Garfield requested that the song “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971) be played when filming the otherwise silent scene in which Peter goes into the web harvesting room with the spiders.

Run time: 136 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 73 percent

After one month of a movie every day, Daily Movie will be on a brief hiatus from July 27- July 31.

Thanks for reading!

July 26, 2014

‘The Conjuring’ (2013)

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“Sometimes it’s better to keep the genie in the bottle.”- Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren

Bottom line: The movie version of a frightening haunted house exploration, throwing the viewer effective scares at every turn.

“The Conjuring” uses basic, traditional scare tactics in response to the unimpressive modern horror scene. Director James Wan’s ability to spark terror helps the film evolve from tired cliche to retro fun.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. When a family moves into town, their new home quickly becomes undesirable after several paranormal encounters threaten their safety. The Warrens are called to the home and unknowingly begin one of the most terrifying cases of their career.

Since 2004, Wan created a gory “Saw” franchise that won’t be forgotten any time soon, but lately the talented filmmaker has diverted from mindless carnage to a more psychological brand of horror. In 2010, he released “Insidious,” which had surprisingly subtle scare factors compared to his previous work.

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We would see the same trend from Wan through 2013, as critics praised the refreshing terrors of “The Conjuring” and “Insidious: Chapter 2.” Wan announced an eighth “Saw” film this year, so we may see him fall back into his old ways, or he might find a way to reboot a worn out brand.

Wan’s most impressive work with “The Conjuring” is the eerie sensation the cinematography creates. The camera acts spooked, much like the characters, with its uneasy movements and lengthly takes. This all contributes to the feeling of hyper awareness we would feel under the same circumstances. That’s the true trick of pulling off a horror film today. If you can’t put the viewer into the scene, the fear factor will remain non-existent. Wan proves to fright fans that the genre can still be legitimate even with old-fashioned horror tropes.

There isn’t much to say about the acting performances. Wilson and Farmiga are fun to watch, but their supporting cast weighs down the movie at times. Regardless of whether the acting is awe-inspiring, Wan’s intriguing style will hold the viewer’s interest throughout.

Wan steps away from bloody slashers in favor of the supernatural in “The Conjuring,” broadening the director’s talents and shifting the horror genre once more.

Fun fact: Eight generations of families lived and died in the house before the Perrons moved in. Andrea Perron suggests that some of the spirits from the families never left. Deaths include two documented suicides, a poisoning death, the rape and murder of an 11-year old girl, two drownings and the passing of four men who froze to death. Most deaths occurred within the Arnold family from which Bathsheba Sherman was descended.

Run time: 112

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 86 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 25, 2014

‘The Abyss’ (1989)

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Bottom line: When special effects are properly utilized in Hollywood.

When “The Abyss” was released, Cameron was still feeling the waves his remarkable sequel to “Alien” created in 1986. The attention “The Abyss” earned was aimed at the film’s stunning special effects, but having the ability to watch it after the effects have become outdated shifts the focus to director James Cameron’s ability to provide a gripping thriller with a host of talented acting performances.

A high-tech submersible takes a crew into the depths of the ocean to investigate an intriguing nuclear submarine accident. After encountering strange events, the crew suspects the incident had something to do with an extraterrestrial craft. They soon realize they may be on the brink of confronting an alien species.

To make contact with this species, the crew must brave the abyss of an underwater canyon. High tension sparks violent outbursts among the crew members, which doesn’t help their dangerous situation.

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Since the release of the film 25 years ago, much has been made about the difference between the special and theatrical editions. The special edition adds 30 minutes of original footage the studio cut from the already lengthy flick. The added content is mainly political, where the crew’s actions become a factor in the tense nuclear situation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The special edition is widely known to be a better version, but good luck finding a theatrical edition of the film to compare for yourself.

This was the “Gravity” of 1989, lighting up the effects categories. “Gravity” took home more awards in 2013, but “The Abyss” was nominated for four effects-driven categories and winning Best Visual Effects.

Ed Harris, who happens to star in “Gravity,” provides an outstanding performance, requiring him to go through physically strenuous filming sessions. His ability to push his fatigue aside and maintain a superior level of acting is a success for the movie in itself without even mentioning the visual experience of “The Abyss.”

As you watch Harris take his journey, the labor of love is evident in every shot. Cameron’s ability turn basic characters and banal dialogue into a genuine story with smart and attractive entertainment is a testament to a director who is still prominent today.

Fun fact: Ed Harris has publicly refused to speak about his experiences working on the film, saying “I’m not talking about The Abyss and I never will.” The only register with Harris speaking about his experiences doing the movie is in the documentary “Under Pressure: Making ‘The Abyss”” (1993). Similarly, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio said “The Abyss was a lot of things. Fun to make was not one of them.”

Run time: 139 min. (special edition: 171 min.)

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 88 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 24, 2014

‘Snowpiercer’ (2013)

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“Know your place. Accept your place. Be a shoe.”- Tilda Swinton as Mason

Bottom line: A massive ark full of allegory and a thought-provoking class war.

Actor Chris Evans gets an image makeover with his gritty performance in one of the better films this year, but the limited release for “Snowpiercer” has hindered the movie’s well-deserved praise.

Viewers who have grown numb to the computer generated blockbusters will find this unique sci-fi thriller pleasing. The action is spread out and calculated, so the film may come off stagnant, but it’s critical to the pace of story. This fight for a new order is an adventure, exploring ideas and pushing political buttons with original cinematography and a bizarre tone.

The Weinstein Company wanted to cut 20 minutes worth of dialogue so that the film “will be understood by audiences in Iowa and Oklahoma.” Luckily, director Bong Joon Ho held his ground but had to settle for the limited release. The film was released in August 2013 in South Korea, but hit large American markets this summer.

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“Snowpiercer” starts off in 2014, as a global warming experiment goes awry and causes another ice age, killing most of the world’s inhabitants. A premise that may seem a bit bleak, because we have seen one-too-many post-apocalypse films, but “Snowpiercer” covers new ground in a worn out genre. The only survivors are aboard the Snowpiercer, a massive, perpetual-motion powered train, traveling on a track that surrounds the globe. A class system is created through the separate train cars, which evolves throughout the film.

The train was originally built as the railway equivalent of a cruise ship, but turns into a life raft, as the inhabitants cruise through a frozen world they once called home. The poor inhabit the tail of the train, and the class rises as you move toward the front. In 2031, the poor inhabitants of the tail prepare for another rebellion, even though several have failed in the past. Mysterious messages incite Curtis (Chris Evans) to lead the rebellion after a routine guard’s visit, pushing their way to the prison section to free Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song), the man who built the dividing doors of the train, and his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko). With Minsu’s help, the group pushes forward, hoping to force a new world order.

Based on author Jacques Lob’s French graphic novel, the film boasts an impressively diverse, award-winning cast with Evans at the helm. Tilda Swinton (“Moonrise Kingdom”), John Hurt (“V for Vendetta”), Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), Jamie Bell (“Adventures of Tin-Tin”), Ed Harris (“A Beautiful Mind”), Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko (both appeared in Bong’s 2007 international hit “The Host”) join Evans, as they live in a giant metaphor bound for nowhere. This may be a sci-fi film, but it also features a story about a violent class war and the things humans do to survive when resources become scarce.

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Director Bong Joon Ho is used to critic praise for his films. With his flawless use of subtle comedy in any genre he takes on, he pleases crowds all over the world. His big budget creature feature, “The Host,” found American popularity soon after its release and is available to stream on Netflix.

“The Host” will give American, mainstream moviegoers an idea of what they’ll get with “Snowpiercer.” “The Host,” along with his other critically praised film “Mother” (2010), are both horror flicks, but Bong has successfully created a film that’s part drama, part social experiment. This is the first English film for Bong, and much like his other work, it’s been a critical success.

“Snowpiercer” may have a far-fetched plot line, but much like Bong’s lake monster in “The Host,” it creates many thought-provoking circumstances, allowing no easy solutions.

Fun fact: Director Joon-ho Bong says he got the idea from 70s nuclear-powered submarine. The train and nuclear-powered submarine in the 70s have a similar average speed of 50 km per hour.

Run time: 126 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

July 23, 2014

‘Jackie Brown’ (1997)

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Bottom line: A film where everyone is cheated except the viewer.

In Quentin Tarantino’s third film, “Jackie Brown” bleeds typical Tarantino. It’s stuffed with intrigue and pop culture statements, hidden behind drastically separate characters conspiring against each other. The film’s star, Pam Grier, was launched back into the spotlight after Tarantino arguably produced his best work.

Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel, “Jackie Brown” is intelligent, but more importantly the characters are as well. Every character has a motive, some are questionably hidden and others are genuine. It’s the survival of the smartest.

Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) is an arms dealer in Los Angeles, and he’s waiting for Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) to return from Mexico with his money. Brown works as a stewardess, smuggling money into the states for Robbie, but this time she gets caught with thousands of dollars and cocaine in her purse. The police propose a deal, where Brown helps them arrest Ordell in exchange for her freedom.

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Ordell goes to bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) and asks him to release Brown so Ordell can eliminate the loose end. Brown expects Ordell to have this motive and plots a complex confidence game with Cherry to steal half a million dollars from Oredell.

Forster and Grier were not unknown when this film came out, but it had been many years that either of them had played a leading role. It would not have been a stretch of the imagination to say they were on the decline in Hollywood, but Tarantino threw both of them back into stardom instantly. Forster earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and both Grier and Forster earned nominations at the Golden Globes.

Tarantino gives his fans a much slower pace in “Jackie Brown” than he’s produced in the past, but it doesn’t hinder the movie’s effectiveness. The moody tone, witty dialogue and energetic characters keep the film from collapsing under the weight of the many layers of conspiracy.

Tarantino is a filmmaker who is exceptionally good at adapting other people’s work, but what’s amazing is he subtly makes it his own. In “Jackie Brown,” he is delicate with the plot, hiding his moves and cloaking his grand design in plain sight, while providing a lively and pure dialogue for his characters.

Fun fact: Widely known as one of the least violent of all Quentin Tarantino’s movies, as only nine shots are fired, and four squibs of blood are seen used.

Run time: 154 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 86 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 22, 2014

‘Children of Men’ (2006)

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“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.”- Pam Ferris as Miriam

Bottom line: Political rhetoric and engaging acting combine for a moving statement about the nature of humankind.

There are enough elements in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” to satisfy any film fan. It has a chase atmosphere, violent setting, sophistication and dramatic statements about the future of humanity. It’s a thought-provoking cautionary tale without the flashy special effect you might find in this genre. The movie doesn’t need the effects to keep your attention. Once the profound narrative starts gaining momentum, you won’t mind the lack of effects.

Cuarón had a hand in the writing and editing to help his vision come full circle. “Children of Men” is a science fiction film loosely based on P. D. Jame’s 1992 novel of the same name, but the execution of the film has dwarfed the popularity of the novel.

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In 2027, two decades of human infertility have played a key role in the decaying state of society. The last functioning government is located in the United Kingdom, and many immigrants flee to the sanctuary, but the United Kingdom’s oppression toward illegal immigrants and refugees creates a state of chaos. Clive Owen (“The Bourne Identity”) plays a civil servant, Theo Faron, who meets a pregnant West African refugee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and must protect her from the dangerous entities who want to use her situation for political gain.

This monster of a movie is a dazzling mess. It’s a concoction of political drama, action film, religious parable and science fiction thriller. It’s full of artistic flare and carries stylish, but heavy subject matter. The story is great, but the setting is what I found most impressive.

The narrative becomes a secondary element to the set, where we see the state of the homeless community and guerrilla fighters occupying abandon buildings. The main characters can’t rely on the anything. The utilities are less than impressive and immigrant suffrage is constantly thrown at the viewer. Also, the absence of children is daunting, and you can see how it affects the people on screen.

The acting is what makes this powerful setting possible. You can create massive, gorgeous sets, but without great actors to respond to it, you have nothing. It’s a lot like when actors have to play a role with prosthetic elements and heavy makeup. They have to learn how to move and use the pieces on their face to help the character come to life. We see Owen and his supporting cast react beautifully to their environment, performing with the setting instead of running aimlessly through the motions.

Julianne Moore (“Magnolia”), Michael Caine (“The Prestige”), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) make Owen’s job much easier with their veteran support.  Their performances are so essential to the narrative, because they have embodied their world so well that we start to believe it exists or could exist.

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It’s not all about the flare in this thriller, but when we see action sequences, it’s not how we usually see them. Many action films have a choreographed feel to them where some elements don’t seem possible. Cuarón works so well with his acting core, creating a sense of dread and desperation where none of their actions create a sense of disbelief.

Futuristic fiction is often littered with the director’s prediction of the future, using the film to blast their artistic vision. Sometimes this gets out of hand and the meaning of the setting gets lost among the allure. Cuarón doesn’t lose sight of the purpose of his magnificent setting, which greatly benefits to creating this masterpiece. The world looks much like it does today, but worn out and shabby. He shows us a world that has slowly decayed over time instead of ending in a bang, which we see all to often in this genre.

Sure, the lack of children and the protection of a newborn is the focal point of the narrative, but the film means something more in a broader sense. It’s about humankind and their place in civilization, whether it’s in a world where freedom rings or a ruling police state.

Fun fact: In the movie, the infertility crisis is the result of all women being infertile. In the original novel by P.D. James, it’s the result of all men producing no sperm.

Run time: 109 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian. 

 

July 21, 2014

‘Prisoners’ (2013)

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“Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.”- Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover

Bottom line: A fictional, gloomy thriller about a real, terrifying threat.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” is emotionally complex, perspiring a sense of bleak dread making it just as entertaining as it is disturbing.

The cliche kidnapping film tends to pull the viewer into a safety net toward the beginning of the film, giving us the “normal” life of our protagonists, which will soon be destroyed. This film throws that idea out, opening the scene in a snowy forest where a father proudly looks on as his son shoots down a deer.

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The Oscar-winning director features a couple of Oscar nominees for a star-studded arsenal of dramatic oomph. Hugh Jackman (“Wolverine”) plays Keller Dover, the father of a young girl kidnapped with her friend on Thanksgiving. His actions constantly pose a question to the viewer: How far would you go to protect your child? Jake Gyllenhaal (“Zodiac”) plays the detective heading the investigation, David Loki. His failed attempts to find the kidnapper drives Dover to act on his own, leading him down a questionable path where his moral compass might shift.

Loki apprehends a possible suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who has an IQ of a 10-year-old. Dover begins to take matters into his own hands when Loki can’t find enough evidence to hold Jones for any longer.

“Prisoner” takes a horrible crime and spreads it among several characters like a disease. The resolution for peace seems to only move farther away from reach, making many of the characters fall into a pit of despair and obsession.

The opening sequence with Dover and his son is so heavy, you almost doubt the film will be able to carry the tone for the whole movie. Cinematographer Roger Deakins made sure we weren’t disappointed. The Coen brothers regular saturated the setting with rain and depleted coloration. The gloomy environment is perfect for the dark subject matter, and Deakins takes full advantage of the artistic freedom his resume buys him.

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Gyllenhaal is the best thing about this movie by far. I’m surprised the talented actor took the role after reading the script. On paper, this could not have seemed intriguing, but I’m guessing this guy knows what he’s doing. He showed up to perform magnificently as a troubled cop with a possibly bleak past we never get to know about, which is fine with me. The only time we see him away from work is the first time he’s on screen in a Chinese restaurant discussing the Chinese Zodiac with the waitress. Loki has his stressful moments, but he is still one of the more calm and collected actors on screen, which is a relief to all the panic and delusional actions everyone else on screen seems to be doing.

The movie doesn’t back off with the morality questions. Dover’s actions are pushing the envelope, sometimes stepping over the line, and our job is to question what we would do in his shoes. “Prisoners” grabs your focus right away and doesn’t let go until the chilling end.

Fun fact: The first time it was submitted to the MPAA, it received an NC-17 rating due to its tone and subject matter. The film’s torture scenes were later cut by a couple of frames along with scenes suggesting pedophilia and it then received the R rating.

Run time: 153 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 82 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

July 20, 2014

‘Midnight in Paris’ (2011)

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“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”- Corey Stoll as Earnest Hemingway 

Bottom line: A delightful plunge into every writer’s utopia.

Woody Allen’s 41st film, “Midnight in Paris,” is a fantasy that could possibly be his own, transporting the audience into a dream come true for any fan of classic literature.

This romantic comedy is about Gil (Owen Wilson), a writer in Paris on business with his girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) and her parents, and his journey to connect with a beautifully artistic city. The couple is engaged to be married, but Paris changes their perspective on life and relationships.

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Allen uses Gil’s love for the city to describe the illusion some people have, where they feel a previous life would have been a better fit for them instead of the time and place they inhabit. Gil would love to move to Paris, but Inez can’t stand the idea of leaving upper-class America where her parents raised her.

Searching for an creative spark, Gil wanders the streets of Paris, picturing great writers like Hemingway or Fitzgerald hanging out in the passing cafes. He finds himself lost and sits on a nearby staircase, soaking up the scenery when an old Peugeot pulls up and he’s motioned to join the lively bunch dwelling inside.

Gil finds himself plunged into the Jazz Age and the legends it produced. His struggling novel features a man who works in a nostalgia shop, and here he is experience the era he is most nostalgic toward.

The key to the film’s charm is Wilson. In many of Allen’s movies, the director provides an “Allen stand-in,” emulating the classic style and witty nuances Allen expresses himself. Wilson is able to fully commit to this idea and it pays of marvelously. He gives Gil a look of sincerity and passion when he stands in awe of his literary heroes. Wilson convinces us Gil is shocked at every turn, meeting artistic legend after legend without missing a beat.

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Allen never explains how Gil is thrown back in time, which is smart. There isn’t any useless explanatory dialogue weighing down the narrative and shifting the smooth pace.

The supporting roles are unique. Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers,” 2012) plays F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kathy Bates (“Misery,” 1990) steps into the shoes of Gertrude Stein and Adrien Brody (“The Pianist,” 2002) plays Salvador Dali. Allen enjoys implementing his slightly depressing outlook on human existence within his cast, but it’s not overbearing and he keeps in humorous.

This one may not be the highlight of Allen’s resume, but it’s easy to fall into. It’s full of subtle wit and elegant romanticism, but for some reason it quickly falls apart toward the end. There is closure, but there is a slight urge for more when the credits roll. It’s almost as if Allen has a “Gil” slump of his own at the end of the screenplay, wishing he had his own Stein to read his work.

Even so, Allen’s writing still produces enough grace to satisfy his fans and beyond with his homage to Pairs and its artistic history.

Fun fact: Woody Allen won a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for this film. The Oscar was Allen’s fourth and the first he had won since “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986) 25 years earlier. Allen received two Oscar nominations for this movie, the other being for Best Director. They were his 22nd and 23rd nominations. Additionally, this is his first film since “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986) to earn a Best Picture nomination.

Run time: 100 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 19, 2014

‘3:10 to Yuma’ (2007)

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“Twenty-two robberies. Over four hundred thousand dollars in losses. More in delays. The Southern Pacific will have Ben Wade convicted in a federal court. Hanged in public. An example made. And we will pay to make it happen.”- Dallas Roberts as railroad businessman Grayson Butterfield

Bottom line: A Western with all the modern action flare.

Elmore Leonard gets a second adaption to the author’s story, which was featured in a 1950’s edition of Dime Magazine titled “Three-ten to Yuma.” This remake of the classic Western improves Leonard’s straightforward short story with effective acting performances and a sharp screenplay.

Leonard’s short story is simple, but director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) delivers two hours of powerful content featuring noble heroes and bold bad guys.

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Dan Evans (Christian Bale) lost his leg in the Civil War and traveled to Arizona to test his luck as a rancher. It doesn’t go well, and a local bully attempts to force Evans off his land. The people of the territory are on their toes, waiting for any possible Native American raids, but some are more afraid of a lawless gang and its leader Ben Wade (Russell Crow). The group robs banks, kills at will and are known to have some of the best shooters in the land.

Through a series of plot developments, Evans finds himself in a group assigned to escort Wade to the town of Contention, where a 3:10 train will transport Wade to a Yuma prison and, eventually, the hangman’s noose.

This highly entertaining modern Western rebuilds the dying genre. Mangold’s focus on more than just meaningless violence is the main contributor to the rehabilitation. Morality in Bale’s character helps create a story about human values and the lawless nature of the frontier.

Even the casual film patron understands the dominant acting Bale and Crow can contribute to a film. They each play their role without imposing or attempting to steal the spotlight, but instead cohesively produce a classic bad vs good narrative with some depth. This would be a great film regardless of genre. The Western setting is just a bonus.

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Bale’s character is no dare devil. He hasn’t taken much risk in his life, but now finds himself risking more than just his life. He can hardly describe why he’s transport such a dangerous man, but keeps returning to his family and the support he feels obligated to provide, even if it means losing his life. It’s a compelling performance, but what else to you expect from Christian Bale?

Crow plays a killer, but you wouldn’t guess it after hearing him talk. He’s intelligent and has a certain confidence about him, which is severely unnerving. His character is a testament to the film itself. You expect the classic Western antagonist to act a certain way, but Wade contradicts most tropes associated with Western villains. Much like the movie pushes the boundaries of what a Western can do in cinema.

Mangold’s “Walk the Line” in 2005 won Reese Witherspoon an Oscar. The jump to a film such as this would not have been the first choice for many directors, but remaking this vintage story took heart for the director of “Girl, Interrupted.” He delivers and conserves the “High Noon” motif, which is doing the right thing no matter what the cost, but he succeeds because of his infusion of a modern pace without killing the theme.

Fun fact: When Russell Crowe was no longer committed to Baz Luhrmann’s next film, he actively pursued this film as his next project. James Mangold immediately signed Crowe when Tom Cruise, who was in talks to play Ben Wade, bowed out.

Run time: 122 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 88 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 18, 2014

‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (2012)

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“I ordered raisin bran because I didn’t want there to be any mistaking it for a date.”- Bradley Cooper as Pat Solatano

Bottom line: A romantic comedy that cuts the sap and aims for the heart.

David O. Russell’s sensitive 2012 Best Picture nominee, “Silver Linings Playbook,” tugs at the heartstrings, making some of us laugh and others bawl. Either way, if you need a pick-me-up, there is no need to look any further.

Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) is released from a psychiatric hospital and moves back in with his parents. His quest to win back the love of his estranged wife becomes complicated when he meets widowed Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence). She offers her assistance, but Pat has to repay the favor. He is forced into entering a dance competition with her, and during their training the two become closer than either had expected. Together, they address their issues and the relationships in each other’s lives.

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In a hilarious plot point toward the finale, everything builds up to an argument among the majority of the cast where two bets are the result. One involves the ballroom dancing contest and another is on an Eagles-Cowboys football game.

It’s tricky to have emotional, troubling, funny and romantic content thrown together, which is why it took Russell five years to put it together and 25 rewrites. He directed the movie but also wrote the screenplay, which was adapted from author Matthew Quick’s successful novel debut of the same name. What’s great about Quick’s novel is he plugs the reader into the head of a man with bipolar disorder.

Pat narrates the film, and we get a front row seat to his emotional fluctuations causing him to battle his own psyche. If there was one thing Russell had to do right, it was to emulate this theme. Russell’s use of the camera is what helps him achieve this feat.

There is a scene where Pat enters a waiting room, and it is a prime example of this achievement and also why Russell is one of the better modern directors. Right away we have a close up on Pat’s face. He obviously does not want to be there, and the camera moves with his demeanor. A song becomes audible, and it just happens to be Pat’s trigger. The handheld camera ingeniously circles Pat, and the shaky movements of the camera lend a more stressful look to the picture. We can almost visualize his wavering thoughts, much like how it reads in the novel.

Of course, as you can see, Russell can’t recreate such a powerful story without the help of Bradley Cooper. For me, this changed the way I saw him as a screen actor. The way he makes you believe the condition isn’t an act is a marvel worth all the attention this film received at the Oscars. Each major acting category had a nominee from this film.

Lawrence’s performance earned her an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, which was the only acting category the film won at the Oscars.  This is somewhat of a transformation for the popular actress. When we saw her in “Winter’s Bone,” she had a hardened persona, and in “The Hunger Games,” she plays the celebrated heroine. For this film, she had to play someone with angst and a slightly psychotic personality. The performance is humorous, emotional and moving all at the same time. A well-deserved Oscar in a heavy category.

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Oh, and not to mention Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver play Pat’s parents. To say their performance was charming would undervalue this proven duo.

This one of my favorite films of all time, and one that will no doubt become a classic within the genre. I love strong acting, and I admire a film that can develop an emotional family element. Pat and his father eventually have to confront their dwindling relationship and address their mental flaws together.

Sure, this narrative context has been covered before, but Russell’s careful attention to the character’s relationships, the striking dialogue and the emotional subject matter show us how a proper romantic comedy should be dramatically portrayed.

Fun fact: Anne Hathaway was originally cast opposite Bradley Cooper, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Mark Wahlberg was cast in the lead role, but director David O. Russell decided to go with Bradley Cooper instead, even though Wahlberg had both produced and co-starred in Russell’s last film, the critically acclaimed smash “The Fighter” (2010).

Run time: 122 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

 

July 17, 2014

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (2011)

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“I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”- Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist

Bottom line: Viewer beware; this is brutal way to tell a captivating story.

When the film started gaining momentum, the novel’s graphic elements began to spread as well, so most viewers knew what they signed up for when they bought a ticket for David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

The disturbing moments in the film are sexually fueled, so stay away if this is a deal-breaker, but I suggest fighting through the content because the importance of the impact it generates is what makes this movie so powerful.

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Stepping away for the slightly traumatizes parts of the film, it’s exciting to see an action hero hit the mainstream film world who isn’t a middle-aged white guy. Rooney Mara executes with this role, as she intelligently gives us a glaring portrayal of an emotionally wrecked heroine.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a Swedish-mystery based on Stieg Larsson’s novel of the same name. Writer Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) lends director David Fincher (“Fight Club”) a hand in adapting this story for the screen on a bigger scale than the 2009 film of the same name.

Daniel Craig (“Casino Royale”) stars as Mikael Blomkvist’s, a journalist in the middle of a heavy libel case against him, who partners up with troubled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Mara, “The Social Network”) to find out what happened to a woman from a wealthy family who vanished 40 years ago.

“Fun” is not a way I would describe any part of this movie. It’s dark, troubling and not for the faint of heart, but one of the brighter elements is the progressive harmony between Blomkvist and Lisbeth, but don’t expect a romantic conclusion even if “sparks fly.” The fact that she doesn’t mind being in the same room as him is a compliment to his character.

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Noomi Rapace stars as Lisbeth in the 2009 film. She, like Mara, plays an authentic and strong Lisbeth, but gives off more of an anxious and vulnerable scent, where Mara is stone cold even when she is beat down. Michael Nyqvist plays Blomkvist in the 2009 film, and he too seems less bold, unlike the James Bond demeanor Craig brings to the table.

This new adaption’s tone can be seen in this bold acting. Personally, with subject matter as troubling as this, the darker the better. I enjoyed Fincher’s more, but I have unfortunately not read the books, so that could be the decisive factor in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the 2009 film is dark, but the characters come off as victims who have trouble fighting back, whereas Fincher’s characters hold a “bring it on” perspective.

One is not “worse” than the other, they are uniquely different even though they carry the same subject matter and plot development. Whatever suits your fancy, but I’m a sucker for acting, and this one is packed with talent.

Robin Wright (“The Princess Bride”), Stellan Skarsgard (“Good Will Hunting”) and Christopher Plummer (“A Beautiful Mind”) support the stellar lead roles for a shocking thrill ride that may effect your sleep schedule.

Fun fact: The film opened at number three at the US box office, behind “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” “Ghost Protocol” featured Michael Nyqvist, and “Game of Shadows” featured Noomi Rapace, who played Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander in the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Run time: 158 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 86 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 16, 2014

‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012)

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“Yesterday, my life was headed in one direction. Today, it is headed in another. Yesterday I believed that I would never have done what I did today. These forces that often remake time and space, that can shape and alter who we imagine ourselves to be, begin long before we are born and continue after we perish.”- Tom Hanks as Isaac Sachs

Bottom line: A magnificent example of cinematic enchantment.

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. For me, I knew I would want to watch this one multiple times, and I was right.

After several viewings it became clear to me it would take forever to understand the film by its individual parts, which is why many critics are not praising the film but others won’t stop talking about it. Many people search through a movie for hidden meanings or content they can relate to other pieces of work, but this is truly a masterpiece in its own right.

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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. The fact that they do so is creatively charming because each story seems to recycle the previous but with a different thrill and unique tone setting it apart.

The makeup and acting is so well done it’s difficult to differentiate the actors from one another. If you have questioned the quality of Halle Berry’s brand before, this will change how you see the dynamic actress. Tom Hanks once again proves he is one of the best screen actors the world has ever seen, and we are reminded how effective Hugo Weaving can be with flawless writing and acting support.

Based on David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, “Cloud Atlas” makes one thing clear, there is a 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.

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Upon my first viewing, I tried to understand what was going on throughout each story individually, but it’s impossible the first time around. By the end, I was just in awe of how a movie like this can impact someone, which is a testament to the dreamlike quality the world of film can produce.

This was a huge risk for the directors, and their leap to create a movie with such a frenzied narrative is a treat for anyone willing to take the time to appreciate their efforts.

Even when I watched it for a third viewing, there were times I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out everything, but that just means I was never bored. After a while I just end up sitting back and soaking it all up as it is; a natural and artistic treasure.

Fun fact: With a budget of more than $100,000,000, Cloud Atlas is one of the most expensive independent films to date, and is of the few films in history that has three directors working together as an original team who equally share directing credit.

Run time: 172 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 66 percent

Published by The Daily O’Collegian: http://www.ocolly.com/news/article_188c564c-0dfc-11e4-81c2-001a4bcf6878.html

 

July 15, 2014

‘Falling Down’ (1993)

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“I’ve passed the point of no return. Do you know what that is, Beth? That’s the point in a journey where it’s longer to go back to the beginning. It’s like when those astronauts got in trouble. They were on the other side of the moon and were out of contact for like hours. Everybody waited to see if a bunch of dead guys in a can would pop out the other side. Well, that’s me. I’m on the other side of the moon now and everybody is going to have to wait until I pop out.”- Michael Douglas playing William Foster

Bottom line: 85 cents for a soda?

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“Falling Down” is a critically misunderstood film about a man who snaps after the pressures and frustrations of society become too much. Since the release of the film in 1992, reviews have been mixed because of its slightly racist appeal, but overall it has received decent to positive reviews. The unemployed, but clean-cut Caucasian hero’s villain is society, but he takes out his frustration of Latinos, Koreans and African-Americans.

There are some white victims, but it is obvious their presence is just to keep it “balanced.” This is a simple, easy dissection of the film, which is much more complex. It’s about a depression that quickly switches to lunacy. This reaction is one that can happen to anyone who realizes they are irrelevant within their society, regardless of the film’s stereotypes.

Michael Douglas (“The Game”) stars in “Falling Down,” where he plays Bill Foster, who once upon a time had it all. Years before our trouble hero’s opening scene, he was a well- paid defense worker with a happy family and nothing to worry about. As the movie progresses, we learn it wasn’t so kosher. He was violent toward his family, he isn’t married anymore and the court has ordered him to stay away from his ex-wife and child.

The first scene opens up with our protagonist stuck in Los Angeles traffic. The car horns, uncomfortable heat and neighboring music all bear down on him until he snaps and gets out of his vehicle, walking to an unknown location. Through a series of confrontations with Latino gang members who want to steal from him, a neo-Nazi shop owner, a manager who won’t serve him breakfast because it’s five minutes into the lunch menu and several other “societal annoyances,” he slowly begins to unravel with the constant mantra of “I’m going home.”

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The problem is he’s not supposed to go “home” either. After calling his ex-wife, he sparks panic and she anxiously awaits an undesired appearance from him.

The Bill Foster character is well written and acted, and the most compelling aspect is the pure dejection and heartbreak at the core of his sole. He is genuine in his disappointment with the state of the world, and Douglas never falters in his depiction of the discouraged American citizen. Another interesting detail about the Douglas character is how he never explodes. He’s calm about his rampage, which makes it that much more uncomfortable.

Director Joel Schumacher does not aim to please the viewer at the end, but rather displays reality. The conclusion of this character is a lot like what we would see in real life.

“Falling Down” succeeds in portraying some important societal issues many people experience on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many people will accept it for what they see on the surface without further contemplation.

Fun fact: Detective Brian (Steve Park) says that he can’t translate for Mr. Lee (Michael Paul Chan) because he is Japanese and Mr. Lee is Korean. In real life, Park is Korean and Chan is Chinese.

Run time: 113 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 73 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 14, 2014

‘A Beautiful Mind’ (2001)

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“I still see things that are not here. I just choose not to acknowledge them. Like a diet of the mind, I just choose not to indulge certain appetites; like my appetite for patterns; perhaps my appetite to imagine and to dream.“- Russell Crow as John Nash

Bottom line: Where intelligence and schizophrenia merge.

John Nash is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and world renowned mathematician, but at one point in his life he believed the Russians were sending him messages on the cover of the New York Times.

Director Ron Howard highlights this and many other aspects of Nash’s tangled psyche in “A Beautiful Mind,” starring Russell Crow. The film is both a gripping love story and a revealing, extensive study of mental illness.

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Based on author Sylvia Nasar’s Pulitzer-nominated book, “A Beautiful Mind” dives into the brain of John Forbes Nash Jr., a math wizard able to solve problems that puzzle even the world’s brightest. We follow Nash through his many years of battling schizophrenia and the journey to winning one of society’s most coveted achievements.

Crow receives aide from fascinating acting performances from Ed Harris (“The Abyss”) and Jennifer Connelly (“Requiem for a Dream”). Harris plays Parcher, Nash’s “contact” within the U.S. Department of Defense, who often pops up to request his help in finding Soviet codes and ciphers in popular newspapers and magazines. He is the face of the disease, one that displays the power it can have over its host. Connelly wonderfully portrays the domestic affect Nash’s ailment can produce, and the resilience it takes to stay loyal.

As a viewer, we are along for the ride from Nash’s point of view. Whether what he is experiencing is real isn’t directly evident throughout most of the film. The seasoned acting core help the vividly adapted screenplay come to life in a powerful depiction of a brilliant person’s battle with mental illness. a-beautiful-mind-ed-harris

Howard establishes Nash as someone of good nature, which is why his friends and family support him for so long. As the viewer, we see Nash’s “undercover work” as fact, just as he does. There is not dream-like veil. Howard takes a realistic approach, throwing us into a schizophrenic mindset.

The film highlights every aspect of this disease. His treatment process is covered, including intense scenes of shock therapy. The medication helped him improve slightly, but this only applies if he takes the pills. Breakthroughs in the medical field eventually produced better drugs and Nash slowly re-entered his academic life at Princeton.

When Nash won the Pulitzer, many called for him to write some sort of biography, but he always said there was little in his story people would find “joyous.” It’s a tragic story, but also one of promise and perseverance. The film presents his disease as just that, a disease, which shifts the life of Nash and his family dramatically, but it isn’t necessarily catastrophic.

At the end, we are left with the conclusion that Nash was one of the lucky ones who came out of a downward spiral. Whether Nash would detail his experience in such a way is something we may never know.

Fun fact: According to a 2001 Entertainment Weekly article on this film, the filmmakers originally wanted to mention Nash’s homosexuality, but they feared the film would make the wrong connection between homosexuality and schizophrenia, so they abandoned it. This connection, according to the article, was based on several now-discredited psychological studies that first appeared in the late 1950s.

Run time: 135 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 76 percent

Published by The Daily O’Collegian: http://www.ocolly.com/article_ce0b2094-0c34-11e4-9b88-0017a43b2370.html

 

July 13, 2014

‘Ocean’s Eleven’ (2001)

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Bottom line: The more you watch, the better it gets.

Just one year into the 21st century, director Steven Soderbergh gave the world one of the better heist movies in film history. Containing some of the most famous stars of the modern era,  “Ocean’s Eleven” has enough replay value to remain prominent until the next millennium.

Based on the 1960 Rat Pack classic, “Ocean’s Eleven” shares the film’s title and names of lead characters, but that’s where the similarities end. Con and ex-con alike team up to form an 11-man team with Danny Ocean (George Clooney) at the helm.

After Ocean is released from prison, he is quick to begin conspiring with his old friend Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt). They travel the country picking up special talents for their risky project, where they plan to rob a vault serving three, high-profile Las Vegas casinos. The two pull together nine other men with their own criminal facets.

Without a dull moment, “Ocean’s Eleven” uniquely personifies the heist sub-genre with a staunch acting cast and comprehensive plot. The stylish supporting cast includes Elliot Gould (“MASH”), Matt Damon (“The Bourne Identity”), Julia Roberts (“Erin Brockovich”) and Andy Garcia (“The Untouchables”), but you could go on all day listing this big-league cast.

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After coming of his Oscar-winning hit “Traffic” (2000), which tackled ethical boundaries, this is play time for Soderbergh. The heist premise isn’t where a director of this caliber belongs, but nevertheless, his cinematic competence is the reason he pulled it off.

The slick characters pair well with the cool, calm and collected camera work. It’s almost as if Soderbergh knew he was treading on tired ground, but wanted the film to prove itself as it progressed.

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The heist tropes are evident. We see overwhelming external shots of heavily guarded areas, the voice-overs when we dive into the blue prints and casino layouts, guards going about their business and some inside information. After garnishing a plan that requires perfect timing, they’re off to get their pay dirt.

There are more clever heist plans in films of the past, but that’s not what “Ocean’s Eleven” is about. The headline for this flick is how sleek and stylish it is as a whole with a witty dialogue to boot. For the viewer who enjoys contemplation, this polished piece isn’t all jazzy appearance. It’s a good exercise of the mind, and you will always catch something new every time you watch.

Fun fact: Soderbergh originally wanted to shoot the movie in black and white. Warner Brothers said he could if he drastically reduced the filming costs, so Soderbergh changed his mind.

Run time: 118 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 82 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

July 12, 2014

‘Place Beyond the Pines’ (2012)

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Bottom line: Where the characters and filmmakers take equal risks.

Director Derek Cianfrance flips lead characters several times in his 2012 dramatic crime piece “Place Beyond the Pines.” The change can seem like a mess at times, but the overall story is compelling and keeps the audience on their toes for more than two hours of content.

Cianfrance’s inventive writing and direction, with the help of some beautiful cinematography, constructed a film displaying themes of family, fate and corruption. This is all creatively wrapped up in one, intertwining narrative where everyone shares the leading role.

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Luke (Ryan Gosling), is a motorcycle stunt rider who quits his job to pair up with an ex-bank robber to support his infant son, but it goes awry when a heist places him at the mercy of an ambitious rookie cop (Bradley Cooper) looking to move up in a corrupted department.

At the beginning of the movie, we see a lengthy tracking shot following a ruff, heavily tattooed wild child as he walks through a circus crowd toward his stunt job. It resembles the filming styles of Martin Scorsese, and gives a hint we might see some of the same ambition.

This somewhat cocky, but courageous film focuses on the working-class type, who find themselves in troubling situations, while they’re already battling with making ends meet.

“Place Beyond the Pines” is split among three acts. All three share an energetic desire to twist the narrative and do so in a shockingly gratifying way. Each one is so drastically different you sometimes forget it’s the same story, but when those separate stories collide, it’s movie magic at its finest.

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Cooper and Gosling share a stage with an astounding supporting cast. Eva Mendes produces one of the most emotional roles of her career, playing Luke’s estranged love affair. The rising star Dane DeHaan adds his recent success to the group, and not to mention what Ray Liotta’s charisma can do, playing a dominantly terrifying corrupt cop.

A lengthy time span within the film eventually develops characters trying to avoid their past, but others racing toward it.

Clianfrance and his writers announce their intention in the first minute of the film, and the inspiring 140- minute emotional thrill ride backs up the ambition. The soundtrack, dazzling cinematography, and narrative shifts are uniquely bold and dangerous.

Fun fact: The method Luke and Robin use to rob the banks was the actual method ‘Friday Night Robber’ Carl Gugasian successfully used for more than 30 years.

Run time: 140 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 81 percent

Published by The Daily O’Collegian: http://www.ocolly.com/article_57e32ef6-0aaf-11e4-9506-001a4bcf6878.html

July 11, 2014

‘Flight’ (2012)

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Bottom line: A fictional plot with all the signs of a “based on true events” flick.

Robert Zemeckis returns to live-action film with a bang. He gives us one of the most fascinating opening scenes, where the lead character wakes up after an all night love fest full of drugs and alcohol to more drugs and alcohol before he hops on a plane where he’s not a passenger, he’s the pilot.

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an alcoholic airline pilot and habitual drug user, but after his plane malfunctions and takes a dive, he saves almost all his passengers with a “safe” crash while intoxicated. The problem is a resulting investigation about the events during the hours leading up to the flight finds Washington in a courtroom pleading for his freedom.

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Washington conveys a tortured soul with his daring character, and we cheer for him through the best and worst of times throughout the film. Our sympathy goes only so far before Whitaker must address his issues. The stoned life is more important for him the majority of the movie, but it doesn’t come without cost. His marriage falls through the cracks and his son has lost all respect for his lifestyle. Washington’s acting stands out in his reaction to these pitfalls. His false front to deflect the negative energy is emotionless, giving us a stonewall character we can’t predict.

The first flying sequence is powerful to say the least. Whitaker takes off in questionable weather, powering through a storm attempting to hit a clear pocket in the sky. Zemeckis creates unbearable tension through stretching out the sequence, showing us passenger panic as the plane takes heavy turbulence, but the co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) is what sparks the heaviest tension. His skepticism about Whitaker’s condition is evident through his own state of panic. This tension is doubled later on when Whitaker has to make a crash landing, but saves the majority of the passengers.

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Support for Washington comes from a tenured acting cast. Don Cheadle (Crash) plays Hugh Lang, Whitaker’s attorney with clouded motives, and Bruce Greenwood is the supporting friend, Charlie Anderson (“Star Trek”). John Goodman (“The Big Lebowski”) offers one of the more interesting performances playing the impromptu medic, Harling Mays. His presence provides comic relief with his Hawaiian shirts and go-lucky drug dealer attitude, but reminds us why Goodman is so valuable in a supporting role.

This is one of the most thoughtful and original character studies in film. The hero becomes his own villain, as Washington’s Oscar-nominated, captivating performance may be one of the better highlights of the actor’s historic resume.

Fun fact: Denzel Washington’s first Oscar-nominated role in more than 10 years. His last Oscar-nominated role was for “Training Day” (2001).

Run time: 138 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 78 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 10, 2014

‘Antz’ (1998)

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Bottom line: A fun picnic for kids and adults.

This carefree animated gem was questionable in my house growing up. Eventually, with much debate, a VHS was purchased and “Antz” played on a loop for days, regardless of whether I understood it for what it was.

I’m sure there were other families shunning this Dreamworks instant classic for its questionable subject matter, but as a kid it’s merely fun and games.

Directing duo Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson turned the life of ants into a political punch line. The animated film can show us anything, and this one revels in that fact. The carefree, adult content is hidden in an ant colony under Central Park under the alias of animation.

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These age-hybrid films work much like an elevator. As it moves upward and the content becomes more in-depth, the older viewers end up staying on longer, where the younger children were pleased with the entertainment the first few floors had to offer.

Kids will enjoy it for the hero element, and the older crowd will enjoy the latent political satire. This is mainly a political fable, much like an animated “Star Wars.” Every ant has their duty in the colony, and they never question their assignments that have been assigned to ants for generations. Some ants become warriors and some are workers, but only one can be queen.

Woody Allen voices Z, a worker ant with a brain. He quickly understands his role in the colony, to do his work, keep his mouth shut and do not have a mind of your own. The colony has no time for ants who have a individualist agenda. They are in the process of an emergency digging project, which is how Z spends most of his days until he meets a warrior ant (Sylvester Stallone) and they switch jobs. Z’s plan was to impress his love interest, Bala (Sharon Stone), but it quickly goes awry when he finds himself in the midst of a battle against superior termites.

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With so many big names, “Antz” is fun to listen to as it is to watch. The entire film is computer- generated, the second of its kind after “Toy Story” in 1995, and when this was released, the implementation of actor’s facial traits and mannerisms into their animated characters was uncommon. It set new standards in animation, pushing boundaries and coming out on top.

A key to films staring another species is getting the details right. “Antz” provides facts about real ants within the plot. Ants get decapitated, but continue a conversation, and the queen delivers a newborn every few seconds.

These clever reflections of ant society are mirrored flawlessly. The addition of comedic quips with Allen’s sarcastic tone provide a whimsical and amusing dialogue, taking punches to modern culture.

Fun fact: Woody Allen felt uncomfortable watching Z because he was reminded so much of himself. This is why he can never watch any of the films he makes that he has a role in.

Run time: 83 min.

MPAA rating: PG

Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent

Published by The Daily O’Collegian: http://www.ocolly.com/news/article_8fe9382a-084f-11e4-b5ad-001a4bcf6878.html

 

July 9, 2014

‘Her’ (2013)

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Bottom line: Love in many aesthetic forms.

In one of Joaquin Phoenix’s most impressive performances since his awkward hiatus from film, “Her” is one of the more artistic romantic dramas you’ll ever see.

Director Spike Jonze uses a slightly science-fiction setting to place his emotional characters. “Her” focuses on our relationships with our devices in the present, but does so by showing us a scenario in the not-so-distant future.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) purchased the latest and most intelligent operating system the market has to offer, but his relationship with her becomes more than casual with a system created to meet the customer’s every need.

Next to Phoenix is an impressive supporting cast. Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Scarlett Johansson contribute to a sensitive but powerful story that highlights American tech culture and the evolving human connection.

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Phoenix is back with one of his stronger performances and also a more basic but profound acting role. He has a certain sincerity about him, carrying a tortured spirit, which we have seen in the past from him. For some actors, repeat personas don’t offer anything fresh, but Phoenix produces in this 2013 best picture nominee.

The movie begins showing the sensitive side of Twombly and his greeting card writing, but we quickly learn he’s an average guy who’s interested in the latest celebrity gossip and checking his e-mail on the ride home from work. Jonze playfully embraces the audience and gives us an idea of where our technological society is headed and how it impacts the human experience.

With its desire to pull the audience into an unlikely relationship, “Her” takes artificial intelligence and gives it simulated human emotion. Just like Twombly, we begin to believe the connection is human.

Phoenix is able to build a relationship with his operating system, Samantha (Johansson), and it’s convincing as it is moving. The normal ups and downs in a standard relationship are developed and Phoenix takes them in stride, giving us one of his strongest and most emotional performances on his resume.

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If there is one thing wrong about this smart movie is it can be too satisfied with itself. The charm can come off as arrogant at times, but easily can be overlooked because of the impressive acting and cinematography.

Regardless of how the film sees itself, “Her” is still one of the most attractive and purely inciting movies of 2013, and though it may be a difficult date movie because of its more sexually awkward scenes, the film is still an elegant wonder.

Fun fact: Samantha is the name of a text-to-speech setting on Macintosh computers that closely resembles the voice of pre-iOS7 Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant for iPhone. It’s more than likely that the name of OS1’s virtual assistant being Samantha as well is a reference to this.

Run time: 126 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

July 8, 2014

‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006)

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Bottom line: The perfect “Alice in Wonderland” for adults.

Before his questionable but popular “Pacific Rim” (2013) release, director Guillermo del Toro gave the world a Spanish delight with his 2006 fantasy masterpiece, “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

The film accurately depicts a 1940s fascist Spain, but the war becomes background noise to the stepdaughter of a heinous army officer, who elopes into a fairy tale much like her beloved books.

This fable highlights the horrors of the real world and young Ofelia’s fantasy into one compellingly fluent narrative about tragedy and the fierce, youthful desire for adventure.

Ofelia’s world is full of things that could harm her, whether it is her fantasy world or a world where her stepfather kills on a whim. They are both presented as equally legitimate.

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The Mexican director took the hidden horror in most of our bedtime stories and made it the focal point. From the start, he had no interest in making this tale for children. Blood, gore and terror are all distinct entities in both of Ofelia’s nightmares.

Del Toro reportedly shut down Hollywood producers when they offered him double the budget if he made the film in English. He did not want to change any aspect of the film to suit the market’s needs. This is a lacking element in the film world and why it’s getting more difficult to find pure works of art in mainstream American cinema.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” gained popularity at the Oscars regardless, winning three of the five nominations it received. The crew walked out of the awards ceremony with best achievements in cinematography, art direction and makeup.

Del Toro plays camera games throughout the film, such as wiping over a tree in the foreground or a darkened area to the next scene, cycling between Ofelia’s realistic fantasy and her stepfather’s military world. This gives the viewer a sense that the two worlds are not isolated, but are all part of the same frame.

The film’s visuals are impressive and radiate a sort of psychedelic nature. Del Toro stays away from the classic fairy tale characters, opting for darker and more unique torments. The only bunny in this film is limp and pulled out of a hunter’s pouch after Ofelia’s stepfather smashed his face in with a liquor bottle.

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Del Toro’s twisted world consists of a repulsive frog, a trusting faun, and a pale man with dangling skin and eyes located in the palms of his hands. These creatures do not appear to be fairy tale creations, but have more of a nightmare quality. Even the faun’s sanctuary is one of the more frightening settings in film history, and Ofelia bravely enters it with a sense of confident curiosity.

Before viewing this film, I knew it was visually stunning, but the story was more captivating than the visuals. What makes it a success is how easily Del Toro blends Ofelia’s two contrasting worlds, presenting them both as fact until the striking finale.

Fun fact: Received 22 minutes of applause at the Cannes Film Festival.

Run time: 118 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent

Pending publication by the Daily O’Collegian. 

July 7, 2014

‘Brick’ (2005)

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Bottom line: Kids at play in a noir kind of way.

In director Rian Johnson’s homage to classic noir, “Brick” follows a teenage loner who forces himself into the teenage crime underworld to find out what happened to his ex-girlfriend.

The film features a teenage cast, but their dialogue mirrors that of crime novels from the 1920s and 1930s, possessing intimate trends from a previous generation. It is an entertaining ride and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s young performance is refreshing, for the film premise “Brick” carries is quite risky.

Mixing styles and ages is not a new idea, but it is still daring and imaginative. “Bugsy Malone” in 1976 had a 1930s setting, but the cast was full of pre-teens. As a viewer, accepting the idea is key to enjoying such a compelling story. It worked for “Bugsy” just as it does for “Brick.”

Much like most of his films, the success story in this film is Rian Johnson’s writing. He sticks to the noir theme and doesn’t waiver. If he did, it might come off as a joke or as if the kids are just in a magnificent game, but that is not the case. The characters never surrender their roles, making the savage and climactic scenes that much more spectacular.

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Johnson pulls from the styles of writers such as Dashiell Hammett in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This classic detective fiction is reflected in the contemporary Southern California high school students, making “Brick” a classic gangster flick, but with an odd audience. The classic noir fan will certainly appreciate this style, but younger film goers who may not even know of “The Maltese Falcon” will enjoy the film for its originality and dynamic characters regardless of the nostalgic element.

Rian Johnson’s confident resolve helped make this film happen, because it surely was not the budget. Johnson edited the entire film on his Macintosh, which is not a big deal in the present day, for many modern blockbusters are made on standard computers, but it was harder and more tedious in 2005. He also wrote the screenplay for the film in 1997, and it took him six years to earn enough money to start shooting.

“Brick” benefits from Johnson’s dedication to the film’s core ideals, where the high school character’s dialogue and behavior hoist them to the classic archetypes we’ve seen so many times. The actors should be given credit, too. They jump into their roles effortlessly, giving viewers the rigid vigor that would make Bugsy proud.

Fun fact: The film was shot in Rian Johnson’s home town, and the high school featured is the one he attended himself.

Run time: 110 minutes

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 80 percent

Pending publication by the Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 6, 2014

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ (2011)

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Bottom line: Where discrepancy between the book and film doesn’t matter.

In 2011 we received a thrilling and satisfying end to an 8-part saga after a decade of over-packed midnight screenings and some of the most lovable characters the film world will ever produce.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” was a finale that produced a pure concoction of wonder and seriousness to appropriately sum up the entire Potter universe. With a series seeing several directors, fans were lucky enough to see a finale who’s director, David Yates, had been directing the series since the fifth installment, “Order of the Phoenix.”

Picking up where part one left off, our beloved Harry, Ron and Hermione search for the remaining Horcruxes containing pieces of a Dark Lord’s soul before he wins a battle years in the making.

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Like many long film series, the actors usually develop into their characters, and this series epitomizes that ideal. The actors all started filming the series around the age of 11, and like many of the film’s viewers, grew up with the story. This is the key to the series’ success. There is heart in the acting performances, almost as if the story wasn’t fictional. The emotional impact on the fans and actors after the finale’s release was evident, and appropriately magical.

That being said, returning actors can’t produce the most profitable series in movie history alone. The staging and set design are stunning, capping an impressive run of beautiful recreations of author J.K. Rowling’s vision for the world of young Harry.

The Hogwarts castle we watched the studious trio mischievously go about their business is slowly destroyed before our eyes, leaving the children and school staff to fend off  Voldemort’s followers in its ash and rubble. This picture is a drastic opposition to the playful, innocent world of Harry Potter we saw many years ago in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” This is pleasingly fitting for the dynamic changes the Potter universe endures throughout the eight films.

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This apocalyptic final chapter can be picked apart and compared to the novel, but at the end of the day it could have been a lot worse. The film manages to give us a great setting for an epic finale, and it seems as if every word spoken in the dialogue carries a tremendous amount of weight toward the story. A few years later, we are able to look back and see a fitting end to such an important franchise in film history and the arts in general.

Fun fact: Daniel Radcliffe reportedly broke 80 wands throughout the series because he used them as drumsticks.

Run time: 130 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent

Pending publication by The Daily O’Collegian.

 

July 5, 2014

‘Looper’ (2012)

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Bottom line: Answering the many questions of time travel with, “Who cares?”

Director Rian Johnson intelligently maneuvers around the many paradoxes of time travel by simply deciding to embrace them.

Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play the old and young version of Joe, a hired gun for a future mod squad. In 2074, if you wanted to dispose a body it’s next to impossible, but the invention of time travel makes it easy. When the mob wants a body taken care of, they send it back in time where mercenaries, such as Joe, are waiting to eliminate the subject.

When Joe’s future self is sent back for him to kill, which is called ‘closing your loop,’ nothing goes as planned, splitting the plot line and giving the viewer multiple realities to experience.

With the perfect blend of classic action and uncommonly original sci-fi time traveling, “Looper” is what we want at the movies.

Gordon-Levitt is the Joe of 2044 and Willis is the Joe of 2074. Both time periods look like plausible variations of our own present date, which is one of the many things keeping the viewer’s mind churning throughout the film.

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One of the best treats this film has to offer is the relationship between the two Joe’s. It’s the physical form of a mental debate with yourself; one side wanting to act drastically, while the other patiently weighs the options.

The two actors are brilliant in their own ways. Willis plays his standard run and gun, tough guy role, but his ‘off the deep end’ mentality is something worth watching. Gordon-Levitt steals the show, though. The way he mirrors Willis’ mannerisms creates an impersonation that’s wonderfully imaginative and direct. The viewer seamlessly believes the two characters are the same person. Their fluid relationship is defined through their constant bickering and state of impasse.

Gordon-Levitt may have provided us with a wonderful performance, but a lot of the credit goes to his makeup artist Jamie Kelman. There is a montage in the film, quickly going through one of Joe’s future realities, and the way his facial features change to resemble the Willis is shocking. No one can do this better than Kelman, who has contributed to more films than you can count, most notably his work with the apes in the 2001 epic “Planet of the Apes.”

Director Rian Johnson broke through with his indie release of “Brick,” also starring Gordon-Levitt, in 2005 where his writing style dazzled with ease, for he was able to develop a film narrative where the lead characters were children at play time, but spoke in an adult, noir tyle dialect. It’s as fascinating as it sounds. He went on to direct “Brothers Bloom” in 2009 and then “Looper” followed suit.

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In all of his films, Johnson tends to give the viewer a basic idea of how the story will flow, but somewhere down the line he drastically shifts the narrative in a perplexing and dynamic way. Johnson has directed several episodes of “Breaking Bad” as well and is set to write and direct episode eight and nine of the newest “Star Wars” trilogy.

It’s all about his writing. In “Looper,” he snakes through past and present, giving the talented actors the power to make this thriller shine.

Fun fact: The scene where Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls off the fire escape was filmed on the actor’s 30th birthday. Gordon-Levitt was left hanging on the stunt wires while the crew sang “Happy Birthday” and wheeled out birthday cake.

Run time: 119 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent

Published by The Daily O’Collegian: http://www.ocolly.com/news/article_e5db9ed8-0563-11e4-bbb9-001a4bcf6878.html

 

July 4, 2014

‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012)

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Bottom line: A storybook adventure where big things happen in a small world.

Director Wes Anderson is at his best in this 2012 pubescent love story about the ups and downs of love with a side of adversity and death.

“Moonrise Kingdom” features two young lovers who escape from their “dire” circumstances and set out on an adventure together in a small New England town. This causes a trouble law man, a dysfunctional family and a scout troop to construct a search and rescue mission.

Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play Sam and Suzy, for their quest to find the meaning of love at such a young age is a beautiful viewing experience. Once they have escaped, the world is their own and so are the rules. Their growing relationship through adversity and conquest is magical in every way.

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As Sam and Suzy enjoy their venture, a foreshadowing storm approaches the coast. Bob Balaban plays a narrator who breaks the fourth wall, updating the viewer, much like a weatherman. The inevitable storm lingers in the mind of the viewer and is a wonderful example of the turbulence that comes with growing up and dealing with life’s little disasters.

The magnificent young actors have plenty of support. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton lend a hand to help create another visually epic Anderson standard.

The film is set in the 1960s, but without knowing, the viewer would likely guess any number of dates. It has a majestic tone with a warm feeling in a dimension of its own.

This dimension is split into two viewpoints throughout the majority of the film; the wildly imaginative adolescent world of Sam and Suzy and the contrasting world of the adults. Some on the best scenes are when they collide, attempting to tackle some of life’s biggest questions.

Like many of his films, Anderson fills his enchanting universe with vibrant colors to entice emotional reactions as viewers watch the film. “Moonrise Kingdom” blends the fresh greens of nature and khaki, like Sam’s uniform, to create a comfortable and pleasing visual. A dominant red also pushes its way into the canvas, lending a passionate hand to an already beautiful landscape.

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The film is a comedy, but the brilliance lies in the acting and Anderson’s eye for artistic framing. None of the characters play a comedic role. The actors present their roles in a dramatic nature, but the characters reside in a magical world. This clash of contrasting cinematic elements creates an uplifting and genuine comedy worth watching on a loop.

Fun fact: During filming, Bill Murray taught Jared Gilman how to tie a necktie for the first time.

Run time: 94 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Published by The Daily O’Collegian: http://www.ocolly.com/news/article_ff1b68bc-04b2-11e4-96e2-0017a43b2370.html

July 3, 2014

‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999)

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Bottom line: What scares us the most is what we can’t see.

In 1999, one of the most effective horror movies of all time blew open a new sub-genre with a mere $22,000 budget.

“The Blair Witch Project” is a prime example of a horror film taking advantage of a worn out genre. Using creative and fresh filming techniques, the movie created a ripple effect that can still be seen in today’s horror flicks.

Heather, Josh and Mike are three 20- somethings setting out to film a documentary about mysterious child abductions and their eventual killings. The town’s citizens believe it has something to do with a witch, who according to legend, captured unsuspecting children and took them into the woods for her personal rituals.

The three friends quickly clash heads after losing their bearings and the eerie paranormal activity taking place at night doesn’t help their sense of despair and helplessness.

“Blair Witch” has your basic horror plot line, but the behind the scenes elements, and the post project hype make this film terrifying. This was the film that made the “recovered documentary” horror an institution. The “shaky cam” was defined in director Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” in 1981, but “Blair Witch” created infinite copycats. “Cloverfield” and “Project X” are two examples of modern film styles emulating the “Blair Witch” technique.

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Heather, Josh and Mike film the majority of the movie, and the crew left them to wander the woods with a 35-page script and a just a mere general direction of where to go each day. The crew would continuously toy with the actors and surprise them with obstacles to create genuine reactions and even go so far as to give them less food each day as filming progressed to agitate the relationships among the characters.

The film was so successful with horror fans, many people flocked to Maryland, where it was filmed, hoping to catch a glimpse of the legend for themselves. How many horror movies today create that type of response?

A lot of this post hype was due to the production team. During the Cannes Film Festival, the team set up missing flies all over the theater and lobby with the three character’s faces on them. These are the original thinkers who are, for the most part, non-existent in today’s horror movie culture.

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The movie is full of nothing. It is the epitome of psychological horror, which is one of the most effective ways to get an audience cringing.

Out of all these game-changing factors, the most important is “Blair Witch” proved we can be terrified with a only shoe string budget.

Fun fact: This film was in the Guinness Book Of World Records for “Top Budget: Box Office Ratio” (for a mainstream feature film). The film cost $22,000 to make and made back $240.5 million, a ratio of $1 spent for every $10,931 made.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 87 percent

Published by The Daily O’Collegian: http://www.ocolly.com/news/article_77a2737a-03b9-11e4-b729-001a4bcf6878.html

 

July 2, 2014

‘Superbad’ (2007)

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Bottom line: This one carries a foul mouth, but a big heart.

“Superbad” features the writing styles of Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, who create an engaging and fluid dialogue that traps an audience with an awkwardly perfect balance of vulgarity and heart.

The awkward nature of high school is highlighted in director Greg Mottola’s first attempt at a comedic film. His balance of profanity and wholeheartedness fully reflect the high school experience.

This may have been Mottola’s first stab at a comedy film, but his television experience provided laughs for fans before the hit film. “Undeclared” and “Arrested Development” are two major projects Mottola was involved with before “Superbad.”

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Jonah Hill and Michael Cera star as best friends Seth and Evan, who are dealing with the unfortunate situation of separating, which many high school friends have to address. Their co- dependency is the problem. When the two agree to supply a house party with booze, nothing goes as planned, and they have to face their inevitable detachment sooner than expected.

I cannot say for sure, but Rogan and Goldberg named the characters after themselves, which gives the world a big hint that their own high school experience may have been implemented into the script. I’m glad they decided to share.

At its soul, the film is raunchy, but finds an honest lesson between the lines. When you move past the foul content, you realize why it’s there in the first place.

“Superbad” gives viewers an understanding of youthful anxieties, desires and friendship using characters who have no idea how to approach the opposite sex.

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The taboo personality Jonah Hill has been known to produce finds its home in Hill’s “Superbad” character. Paired with Cera’s flustered persona, the two provide a convincing high school duo.

Seth and Evan begin the night believing the most important aspect in life lies between the sheets, but before the sun rises they gain an idea of the world outside of their own pants.

Fun fact: Michael Cera’s mother read the script before he did, and she was the one who convinced him to try out for the part.

Run time: 113 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 88 percent

*This post is not affiliated with The Lawton Constitution

July 1, 2014

‘Scream’ (1996)

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Bottom line: Don’t say “I’ll be right back.”

Wes Craven’s “Scream” went against everything a normal film narrative stood for at the time, but most importantly, Craven’s masterpiece was about the knowledge of the horror genre being a key aspect in the film’s script.

The plot is mundane and conventional, which is the point. A masked murder is on the loose, killing teenagers in a small town. Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) leads her horror buff friends in a quest to find the real-life killer.

“Scream” is not about the plot. It is about the film itself and the characters who know they’re in a plot.

Many films look for ways to deconstruct themselves, meaning the point of the film is to identify it’s a film. The “Jump Street” franchise is a perfect example of what films like “Scream” did for the movie industry. “Jump Street” picks on itself, making the film’s existence the true comedy.

With a great writing team, featuring Jonah Hill, “Jump Street” was able to make successful comedy this way, but when a film like this is made in the horror genre, the deconstruction technique is difficult to grasp. Craven was able to do it in a way where he emphasized the classic horror film tropes, without directly making fun of them.

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The “Scary Movie” franchise is an example of making fun of horror films directly. What’s special about “Scream” is the concise and creative way in which Craven creates a legitimate horror film while keeping the stereotypical characters and plot points we see in the average horror film.

 

The film is classified as a horror, but comedy isn’t completely absent. An average movie goer could watch the film, without knowing Craven’s intention, and just think it was another horrifically horrible horror.

Craven presents the cliches before the audience can anticipate them, and it’s a unparalleled viewing experience. His knowledge of the horror genre comes from an impressive resume. He directed “A Nightmare of Elm Street” in 1984, which created one of the horror genre’s most popular characters, Freddy Krueger.

Only a few movies have come close to Craven’s work with the “Scream” films, most notably “Cabin in the Woods” in 2012. There have also been failed attempts to recreate this sub-genre, such as the 2011 flop “You’re Next,” proving not everyone can deconstruct a horror film seriously.

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Craven went on to write and direct four “Scream” films, all deconstructing the horror genre during the time in which they were released. “Scream 2” (1997) aimed at the sequel culture of the millennium, “Scream 3” (2000) poked fun at Hollywood fanaticism and “Scream 4” (2011) highlighted the recent trend of reboots, appropriately released 11 years after the third installment.

“Scream,” and its sequels, is a film lover’s delight. The self-aware characters and horror genre stabs are a wonderful treat for a tired genre that stands the test of time.

Run time: 111 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 80 percent

Published by The Daily O’Collegian: http://www.ocolly.com/news/article_514aa0b4-021d-11e4-8a70-001a4bcf6878.html

June 30, 2014

‘Moon’ (2009)

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Bottom line: Unplug your deviant machines.

Director Duncan Jones gives us “Moon,” a space odyssey for everyone (children excluded), playing on context from Kubrick’s “2001,” it evokes a sharp sense of solidarity and the human element in a way that’s suitable for the most movie fans.

Lunar Industries hires Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) to a three year contract to man a lunar station on his own. Earth has found a clean and abundant fuel source on the Moon, helium-3, and Bell’s primary job is so harvest the element and send supplies back to earth periodically.

Direct communication with Earth is seemingly out of the question for most of the three-year expedition. His only live communication is with GERTY (Kevin Spacey), the toned down version of the “2001” intelligent computer, HAL 9000. Bell slowly slips in a state of delusion and begins hallucinating toward the end of his contract. Realizing he has been alone for too long, the only thing on his mind is returning home to his wife and infant daughter.

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Much like HAL in “2001,” GERTY becomes the object of suspicion after Bell is knocked unconcious after a harvesting accident, waking up in the lunar station, confused as to how he got there. With two weeks left on his contract, this is the last thing he expected to happen. GERTY reassures Bell with tales of a rescue team, but Bell’s trust in the machine quickly diminishes, and his sole task becomes making it back to Earth on his own terms.

“2001” is all over this film, but anyone can enjoy “Moon” without seeing the brain-melting Kubrick film. It’s fun to see the comparisons, though. The station is built to resemble Kubrick’s and the programmers for Kevin Spacey’s “GERTY” also programmed HAL’s. We could talk all day about the similarities, but “Moon” is a joy ride in its own right.

It’s an intelligent film about human ideals and emotions, that GERTY infringes upon. Bell must battle with his own delusions, while GERTY plays a waiting game. The film begs the question of how fragile our minds can be and how easy it is to lose sight of reality. GERTY is real, but how real is he? Bell’s hallucinations are visible to him, but how real are they?

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“Moon” is a smart film. It won’t bugger the mind entirely, much like “2001” did for everyone the first time, but it is a thinker. The rigid science fiction film is a dying breed, but every now and then we get a movie, such as “Moon,” that keeps us on our toes.

Fun fact: Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, was able to shoot the film in 33 days on a $5 million dollar budget during a writers strike.

Run time: 97 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 89 percent

*This post is not affiliated with The Lawton Constitution

 

June 29, 2014

‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999)

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In one of his lesser known films, Stanley Kubrick explores the human psyche in the dreamy, spine-tingling 1999 dramatic mystery “Eyes Wide Shut.”

The mesmerizing cinematic accomplishment features a New York City doctor, William Harford (Tom Cruise), who is married to an art curator, Alice (Nicole Kidman). William throws himself into a sexually charged odyssey spanning the course of an entire night, which turns into an unexpected and dangerous adventure.

Without actually committing any major acts of adultery, William pushes the envelope during his adventure, which began after his wife admitted she once almost cheated on him. The scene is which she does so is both awkward and eerily captivating.

William, who should be horrified while she tells him of her lustful desires, seems to welcome his own thoughts of erotic mischief, sparking his dormant imagination.

Cruise is more than impressive, and personally, it makes me wonder where this type of performance fell off Cruise’s radar. Why haven’t we seen more of this? Possibly because Kubrick’s vision for the character played a part, but we’ll never know for sure. One thing is for sure, Cruise and Kidman’s chemistry is golden.

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Kubrick is known for his superior intellect and use of staunch imagery, and that’s still the case in “Eyes Wide Shut.” The film was his final piece of cinematic art before his passing, and it unfortunately missed out on reaching a wide audience because of the adult subject matter and ratings battle it had to endure.

The film is for adults at its core. Kubrick’s risky attempt to examine human desire pays off exceptionally. As a whole, the film is a thriller, but murder and fluky conspiracies litter the dream-like world. Kubrick develops this dream in a wonderful way, throwing wildly diverse characters at William throughout his adventure. These characters jump in and out of focus in a way that puzzles him, much like a dream, unclear of where he came from or what the next stage will bring.

In each scene, a stimulating and bothersome tone is presented. This is Kubrick’s greatest triumph in the film. His use of back-lighting, indoors and on the street, complements the gritty, high-contrast film style. Primary colors are everywhere, and the holiday season helps Kubrick bring in lights that wouldn’t normally be there. It all comes together for a bizarre, metropolitan spectacle.

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The film ends on a harsh and abrupt note, answering most questions, but leaving the overall mystery of the film unanswered, which is strikingly satisfying.

Fun fact: The thirteen-and-a-half minute billiard room scene between Tom Cruise and Sydney Pollack took about three weeks of filming with nearly 200 takes. The film appeared in the Guinness Book of Records with the record for “The Longest Constant Movie Shoot,” at four hundred days.

Run time: 159 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 77 percent

*This post is not affiliated with The Lawton Constitution

June 28, 2014

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014)

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Wes Anderson’s latest endeavor, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) once again displays his unique talent for using creative landscape and obscure, yet delightful set design to develop profoundly emotional concepts.

Anderson’s visual expertise is one thing, but in “Budapest,” the acting core is so strong, making the film a breeze to sit through. Even the casual cinema lover will recognize the majority of this expensive cast.

The big name appearances, such as Bill Murray and Owen Wilson are short lived, but provide pleasantly humorous sound bites. The long list of prominent cast members can be daunting on paper, but they each provide their own special flair, blending well with Anderson’s creative world.

“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.

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Anderson’s vision dances through several time periods, while the hotel evolves with the film’s story and its characters. Starting in the present day, to 1985 and, finally, 1932. “Budapest” takes place primarily during the rise of Nazism and the German occupation throughout many parts of Europe, and the hotel is located in an extinct Central European Country, Zubrowka. The political situation isn’t overlooked in the film. Soldiers barge in on the story several times, and their presence is a chance for Anderson to implement his aesthetic touch in a different way, using Gustave’s reaction to evoke political metaphors.

Watching Anderson’s art is an experience. Many viewers will find themselves starting this one over as soon as it ends. “Budapest” is the Anderson standard, showcasing his common aptitude for creating a visually thoughtful comedy.

This comedy strives for something more and succeeds. In a time where comedies lean on one-liners for a side-splitting experience, Anderson intelligently builds a comedy, relying on the clash of subject matter, colorful visuals and steady acting to draw fresh hoopla.

Fun fact: Johnny Depp was Wes Anderson’s initial choice for the role of M. Gustave.

Run time: 100 min.

MPPA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

*This post is not affiliated with The Lawton Constitution

June 27, 2014

‘Stoker’ (2013)

Matthew-Goode-Nicole-Kidman-and-Mia-Wasikowska-in-Stoker-2013

If ice cream and frozen bodies aren’t your thing, watch “Stoker” anyway.

To say Korean director Chan-Wook Park’s 2013 film is a mystery-thriller would be an understatement. It’s thrillingly mysterious in every sense and will leave you pleasantly disturbed. The film aggressively highlights every sinister detail, overloading the viewer’s senses.

On India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday, her father dies in car accident, leaving her in the hands of her unstable mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Evelyn, the eerie pleasures dwelling in India’s thoughts, and the introduction of uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) make up a tantalizing brew.

Chan-wook’s first English-language film creates the perfect balance of unbearable tension and unique sense of panic, making you question why you’re enjoying the film. The 2003 hit “Oldboy” was his most popular film prior to “Stoker,” which showed the same signs of dark intrigue.

“Stoker” is much more calm and collected, using longer takes, unique angles and tense silence to create an artistically pungent environment. It’s also in English, unlike “Oldboy,” making it slightly easier for casual film fans to enjoy Chan-wook’s work.

The film was a financial failure. Worldwide, the film made a $77,000 profit at the box office, which means Fox Searchlight lost a lot of money. Don’t let that deter you.

Murder, mystery, intrigue, passion; it’s all there. Chan-wook sparks the goosebumps and shows no signs of letting up as the movie progresses, proving he can come out to play in any language.

stoker-goode

“Stoker” is much more than a movie for dark film seekers. It’s more frightening, bringing to light the idea that people can easily kill, and it can start as early as childhood.

Wasikowska, Kidman and Goode harmonize on another level entirely. The complex family scene the three characters represent is blended with an unbearably awkward sexual tension. There may be several times where your finger hovers over the television’s power button, but resit the urge to put out the fire. It’s all part of the “Stoker” experience.

Fun fact: Tied with “Alice and Wonderland” (2010) co-star Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska was the second highest-grossing actor of 2010, behind Leonardo DiCaprio.

Run time: 99 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 68 percent

*This post is not affiliated with The Lawton Constitution

June 26, 2014

‘Star Trek’ (2009)

star-trek-2009-11

The Romulans are back… from the future.

In this 2009 space epic, director J.J Abrams provides a reboot to a franchise in desperate need of one. The universe was becoming slowly defined on the television screen, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but to create a popular, modern presence for the franchise was something fans were looking for.

James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), with his charmingly cocky attitude, finds himself battling time-traveling Romulan, Nero (Eric Bana), as the change of command on the U.S.S Enterprise seems to be changing at will, giving Kirk the perfect opportunity to lead.

Abrams didn’t disappoint. With a $75 million weekend debut, “Star Trek” redefined the deep space brand without doing too much harm to the original series, pleasing die hard fans, but also creating new ones.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, staring as the Kirk/Spock duo, are popular names today, but before this film’s release, you may not have even heard of them. Making “Star Trek” an arguable launching pad for the talented actors.

Pine spent most of his time on television, but after “Star Trek,” he has strictly been a film actor, starring in films such as “Unstoppable” (2010) and “This Means War” (2012).

Quinto was slightly more popular before “Trek,” but still didn’t carry a lot of acting baggage. A role in season 3 of “24” helped Quinto move into the spotlight. After “Trek,” Quinto didn’t stray away from television. Starring in season 2 of “American Horror Story” solidified the actor’s resume, proving he can do it all.

STAR TREK

The film has the entire package. It’s suspenseful when called for, humorous when the need for relief arises, and the special effects are captivating still to this day.

Fun fact: Quinto played a director in an episode of Disney Channel’s “Lizzy McGuire” in 2002, titled “Party Over Here.”

Run time: 2 hrs. 6 min.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent

*This post is not affiliated with The Lawton Constitution

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