Can you believe that it's been 13 years since the world was first dazzled by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings saga? So much has happened since then. My wife was in the very early stages of dating me when it came out and I took her to see the midnight screening of it with all my friends. I remember looking over at her during the amazingly action-packed finale and she was completely asleep. I remember thinking, "how could ANYONE fall asleep during a movie that was so well-crafted and spectacular" (completely ignoring the fact that she had traveled 8 hours that day and it was 90 degrees in the theater). It's still a point of contention in our relationship that she couldn't find Peter Jackson's world of hobbits, dwarves, orcs, elves and men to be riveting. After seeing the final film in the franchise I can finally understand how.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in 1937 and is only 300 pages long. Tolkien was a literary genius but also had a bit of an ego and believed that one day his book would be turned into several films so he wrote 125 pages of extra backstory that he published later. Sure enough, he was right and it's a real shame because dividing this book up into three movies that total almost 8 hours of footage is unforgivable and it ruined the entire series for me...at least for a while. Five Armies is the shortest of The Hobbit films by about 20 minutes and it feels 20 minutes longer than the others.
It's impossible for me to blame Jackson or anyone in the cast who've dedicated three years to this and some of them, such as Orlando Bloom and Ian McKellen, six years! This is entirely the fault of MGM Studios and New Line Cinema. These greedy bloodsuckers saw money raining from the sky and Oscars everywhere after the Lord of the Rings series ended and it still wasn't enough. They strong-armed Jackson into doing it again knowing that the returning cast wouldn't do it unless he did (look up the backstory) and forced him to do it by making him offers he couldn't refuse...so I guess there's a little greed there for him too. What we're left with is an unenjoyable mess.
I know that some of you defend it by saying that the Lord of the Rings series was long, tedious and exhausting. Yes, that's true but each film was based on a single book and had a beginning, middle and end. The Hobbit, despite the best efforts to move content around, turned into three films that did not. I know, I know....they're supposed to be enjoyed as a single story. Fine, but if that's the case we're left with an 8-hour-long film that is impossible to enjoy no matter who makes it.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is punishing. The entire thing feels like it's one long battle sequence that goes on and on and on and on and on. It's an absolute shame that one of the greatest film franchises in history has been reduced to this. It's a 2-and-a-half-hour-long death rattle of a director that is exhausted, out of ideas, coloring by numbers and going through the motions. The passion that existed in our first three journeys to Middle Earth has been sucked dry. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Peter Jackson couldn't even stomach Tolkien's books anymore after this. I haven't been a fan of any of The Hobbit films so when the movie began, I said to my friend Dave who went with me, "Well, we started this two years ago, let's just get this over with." The devastating fact is that this final installment feels like Peter Jackson said the same thing to us.
One of the hardest stories to write is one where your hero is a terrible person. I'm not talking about a film that follows the villain as the main character such as Hannibal or Psycho; those films still have good characters to cheer for. What I'm talking about is a true anti-hero, which is a character that lacks conventional heroic attributes. The main character of Nightcrawler not only lacks heroic attributes but is devoid of all morality, gives new meaning to the word creepy and yet is completely enjoyable to watch for two hours. It's an accomplishment that few movies attempt and even fewer have pulled off but Nightcrawler is now one of the finest examples of it.
Jake Gyllenhaal is one of those actors that doesn't get the credit he deserves, at least by me. Despite being absolutely incredible in films like Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain, Prisoners, and End of Watch I still foolishly put him in the column of guys that are too good looking to be good actors. He joins the likes of Ryan Gosling, Colin Farrell and Chris Pine. George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio all used to be in there and it took years for me to remove them. Nightcrawler was the last performance I needed to also remove Gyllenhaal because he is disgustingly slimy and yet so likable. His character of Louis Bloom is one that you hate yourself for liking as he does some truly awful things in the film yet always turns up with a smile that could kill.
The film follows a real profession called Nightcrawlers, who are free-lance people who spend the night listening to police scanners, rushing to horrific crime scenes, shooting bloody footage and selling it to local news organizations. The movie suggests that some of these guys rearrange murder scenes to be more dramatic. It's shocking but nothing new. One of the most famous photos from the Civil War is called The Sharpshooter's Nest and it was revealed that the photographer totally staged the entire thing. I spoke to some friends who work in local news and they're appalled by the film and say it's not accurate at all but regardless of the truth, the film is excellent.
This is writer/director Dan Gilroy's first film behind the camera and it's so good that I expect him to have a very long career. (You can hear my full interview with him below) His script is oringinal and provocative. His direction is haunting and thrilling. The movie paces extremely well for being two hours and never once judges you liking Bloom or influences your opinions of him. It's a small film that feels big and I hope it finds its audience because it's Gyllenhaal's finest performance and given the career he's given us so far, that's a bold statement.
Listen to Gavin's interview with the writer/director of Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy:
Three years ago we all gathered in theaters to watch the antics of Nick, Kurt and Dale and laughed our asses off. It was a very cathartic and relatable story about three guys with horrible bosses (not just a clever title) who were so bad they tried to kill them. I loved it and so did a lot of other people. I think I speak for everyone when I say that not for a single second did I leave the theater thinking, "I wonder what happens next!" I'm not totally against the unnecesary sequel to a very successful film but it certainly does make it harder to justify its existence. Horrible Bosses 2 is that unnecessary sequel and although it's funny as hell at times, it's hard to justify its existence.
So what is it about this movie that makes it so lousy compared to the original? I crunched the numbers and I came down to two things. One is a concept for a sequel that as close to stupid as you can get without officially being so. The other is a change in director. See, you can have two different race car drivers drive the same car and one can lose and one can win. That's what happened here. Seth Gordon directed the first one and it was his first fictional film; his first was one of the greatest documentaries of all time called The King of Kong. He also directed several episodes of the funniest shows on TV in the last decade such as Modern Family, The Office, The Goldbergs and Parks and Recreation. Horrible Bosses 2 is directed by Sean Anders who's movies are terrible. They consist of Sex Drive and That's My Boy. If you ever seen either of those you'll understand why I don't need to elaborate.
Yes, it's true that the cast of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis (SNL, Meet the Millers) and Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Pacific Rim) are back. Yes, they're joined again by supporting characters played by Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey. Yes, the new cast members of Chris Pine (Star Trek, This Means War) and Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained) are both great. But despite noble efforts from all involved it's not enough to make this a really enjoyable film.
I think a bigger reason why this one doesn't work as well is because we were still kind of naive in 2011 with these guys. Sudeikis and Day were new to mainstream audiences and they overlooked the fact that they're basically playing the same character in the film making one of them completely pointless. Bateman hadn't annoyed us by that point but now his "Bateman" character he plays in every single film he does is just so predictable and unfunny. Anistan is as vulgar as she was in the first one but the shock of hearing Rachel say filthy things is so tired at this point that her scenes go over like lead balloons. The only shining performance that's fresh is Pine who swings for the fences and makes it work.
I understand that when Hollywood gets a taste of a good thing they want to suck from it until it's shriveled up and dead. They've done that with Horrible Bosses. It's a lousy story with witty dialogue only because the core cast is great at making stuff up. The comedic tone and timing is awful due to a director who takes his playbook pages from Adam Sandler. Massive jumps in logic are needed in order for all the returning cast members to be part of the story. The whole thing feels desparate and needy despite moments of humor; a far cry from the charming and hilarious comedy the original was.
It's a rare thing when a film version of a book is better than the book it's based on. I can only think of it happening one or two times. I read the entire Hunger Games series and found that the last book, the one this film is based on, was the worst. Maybe it's not enjoying a book that made the film seem so much better. Maybe it's because they split the book in half and were able to include far more than they ever could had they not done that. Maybe it was a seasoned cast and crew that's been together long enough that they're building a healthy stride. I don't know what it is but I'm thrilled because Mockingjay Part 1 is the best in the Hunger Games series so far.
I was thrilled when director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine) took over the series from the original director Gary Ross (Big, Seabiscuit). I think we all agree that the first Hunger Games film was a let down. The series by Suzanne Collins is so incredibly dark and he did a subpar job of making that feel dystopian. But with Catching Fire, Lawrence gave it the edge and action the series lacked so badly. It also didn't hurt that it was a much better book than the first one. In Mockingjay, Lawrence kicks everything up a notch and that's impressive considering how slow and boring the book was.
Since Jennifer Lawrence has taken the role of Katniss, she's been nominated for two Oscars. No doubt that she's kicked ass in other films but as far as The Hunger Games goes, she's been very unimpressive. It's almost like she was giving us a performance we expected to see in a film based on a Young Adult novel. In Mockingjay, however, she finally shows us why she's got a gold statue. Her performance in Mockingjay is the most heartbreak and emotion we've seen in the Katniss character in the entire series.
The rest of the cast helps that along as well since the caliber of actor is at a peak for Mockingjay. It's emotional watching the late Phillip Seymore Hoffman in one of his last roles because his performance is great! He's subtle but delivers some much-needed levity and power to a story that often lacks both. Julianne Moore (Children of Men, Boogie Nights) joins the cast as President Coin. She makes the character a lot warmer than it read in the book and that's good because it's one of the many things that makes this far better than the source material.
Critics, including myself, have often accused Hollywood of bleeding books dry of every last drop of box office profit when they split them into several movies. Sometimes it works as in the last Harry Potter book and other times it's a terrible and tragic failure like in The Hobbit. In the case of Mockingjay, it's wonderful! Letting this story play out like a chess game is exactly what it needed. They also take the liberty in showing us things that aren't in the book at all. I very suspenseful scene at the end is talked about in a few sentences in the book yet puts us on the edge of our seats in the film; and sequences of uprisings in other Districts are shown and are some of the highlights of the film.
I understand that some people may call this boring because there is downtime building up to a revolution. But as someone who's read the book, I can assure you that it's better this way. Francis Lawrence is making the absolute best film one can make from a book that let down most of the its readers. His cast is committed to his vision and are executing it with precision. Even as a fan, I didn't look forward to this and now that I've seen it, I can't wait to see what he does with Mockingjay Part 2.
What has happened to The Farrelly Brothers? These guys were not only responsible for making three of the funniest movies of the '90s but three of the funniest movies in the last 25 years! Dumb and Dumber, Something About Mary and Kingpin are amazing and never seem to totally lose their luster. After that it was flop after flop after flop. Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, Fever Pitch, The Heartbreak Kid, The Three Stooges...these are some of the worst comedies of the last 25 years. A lot of people thought that a sequel to Dumb and Dumber looked desperate but, you know, these guys could use a little desperation.
First thing that needs to be addressed is that it's been 20 freaking years since the original. When we first met Lloyd and Harry they were harmless halfwits that were bumbling innocents that tried really hard not to screw things up but did because they didn't know any better. Now they look old and are still just as stupid but there seems to be a level of deviousness to them. I didn't mind that as much as I did the age of Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels. They're both in their 50s (Daniels in his late 50s) and it's sad because it looks like two autistic adults that have been abandoned by society and family.
The good news is that the Farrelly Brothers swing for the fences on every joke and when you do that you either strike out big or hit a home run; that's exactly what happens. Most of what we get treated to are strike outs but those home runs make it worth sitting through. Carey is back in the saddle and it's so nice to see. Don't get me wrong, I love serious Jim Carey. His performances in Man on the Moon, The Majestic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are so great to see. But there's also something refreshing and nostalgic about seeing him acting like a total moron. Daniels on the other hand always felt forced in that role but because the guy is so talented he makes it work.
The plot for Dumb and Dumber To actually works. It follows the boys across the country on a quest to reunite Harry with his estranged daughter but end up, once again, getting tangled in a murder plot fueled by greed. It's not Shakespeare but it's what you expect. The Farrellys don't try to reinvent the wheel, which is good because we came to see dumb comedy done right. A third of the time we get it too and that's enough for me to recommend people give it a viewing. It's nice to have something where you can remove your brain for 90 minutes and laugh; I just wish I laughed a little more often.
The end credits may have suckered a better rating out of me than this deserves. It shows clips of the 1994 film with scenes from the 2014 one and you can hear an audible "awe" coming from the audience when you see it. Sure it's cheesy but I was 14-years-old when I saw it the summer before my sophomore year of high school with my best friends. If I'm duped into feeling that age again for a split second while I laugh at the same two idiots that made me do it back then, so be it!
When you see a movie that you have a profound interest in it makes it difficult to review it. One reason is because you're biased from the beginning because you want a film about the subject you love to be great. The other reason is you're too hard on it because you're too close to the subject to begin with. In the case of The Theory of Everything the subject is the astrophysicist and one of the smartest people to ever live, Stephen Hawking. I've been obsessed with him for many years now and watching a film about his life was thankfully better than I thought it would be and more thrilling than I could've imagined.
What's interesting about The Theory of Everything is that it's directed by James Marsh. The reason why is because Marsh is a documentarian. Granted, his films feature far more recreation than actual footage (like his Oscar-winner Man on Wire) but he's still someone who loves to tell a true story from the people who lived it. In the case of The Theory of Everything it was based on the book by Hawking's ex-wife Jane, who's played amazingly subtle by Felicity Jones (Amazing Spider-man 2, Like Crazy). She's charming, beautiful and strong as one of the best roles of her career but it doesn't hold a candle to Eddie Redmayne.
Stephen Hawking is a very challenging character to portray. It's not just the physical limitations but it's everything else about him. The man has a warm and inspiring soul the exudes even though he can no longer talk. Redmayne gives the performance of his career playing Hawking before and after his disease takes hold. He is unrecognizable and absolutely worthy of an Oscar nomination. His previous roles in mostly British period films and most notably in Les Miserables have been impressive but nothing like this. (LISTEN TO MY INTERVIEW WITH HIM BELOW)
The one thing that's disappointing is that the film moves very slowly; stretching a two-hour run time into feeling more like three. It held my attention but that was due to my fascination with Hawking. I doubt that someone who knew nothing about it would be as entertained. Marsh misses opportunities by zipping right past some of the only dramatic moments in Hawking's life, aside from his disease, and doesn't develop them at all. Lots of attention is paid to so much of his early life and developing relationship with Jane Hawking that once we get into the really interesting aspects of his career and their marriage we're ushered along at a quicker and disappointing pace. Because of that the film feels pretty lopsided.
Some films come along that act as a tribute to some of the greatest people in history. Some films do that and are still very entertaining. The Theory of Everything is a wonderful, touching tribute but lacks in the scope of entertainment it could have fulfilled. But the performances are so great that a viewing should be necessary to help people appreciate one of the smartest men to ever live and the love he shared with a patient woman.
Listen to Gavin's interview with one of the stars from "The Theory of Everything," Eddie Redmayne:
When Disney releases a movie the world takes notice and can't wait to see it. It's hard to believe that that wasn't the case there for a while. After Walt's death the studio had a series of bombs and was in financial trouble until The Little Mermaid. They then had another recession, not making a single massive animated hit from 1994 till 2010's release with Tangled. Sure, Pixar films kept the studio alive but Pixar makes Pixar and Disney just releases them. The good news for the world though is that Disney animation is back on top since then releasing films that keep getting better and better. I'm happy to say that Big Hero 6 keeps the streak alive.
I don't know anyone who thought that Frozen was not only going to be one of the top grossing films of 2013 but THE top grossing animated film of all time. It was a massive success and it was a cultural impact. You can't expect the next time up to the plate to be a Grand Slam on that scale but many people did. Big Hero 6 was released in the unfairly massive shadow of Frozen but still does a stellar job of casting its own. Since Disney alternates making films (stereotypically) for boys and girls, this one is obviously geared toward boys and hits the target true.
The film follows a boy who continues the robotics work of his older brother in cultivating a healthcare robot named Baymax, who is brilantly designed as a large, loving marshmallow. After his older brother is killed and a villain reveals himself, Baymax is used as a weapon to fight evil. This creates all kinds of parables that mostly stick the landing. The film teaches right from wrong, coping with the death of a loved one, revenge and doing what's right. None of it is heavy-handed and all are lessons that translate.
What's the most impressive to me is that it's the first collaboration between Disney and Marvel since Disney purchased them for $3 billion a few years ago. Both are companies that have a long and prolific history of molding the minds of children and seeing the two empires work together is the stuff of dreams! Aside the creation of Baymax are several of Hiro's friends who all are given special powers based on actual science that exists. When each character is revealed in a montage the 10-year-old boy inside me got goosebumps and wanted to be one of the members of the Big Hero 6.
I'm not 100% sure why Disney excludes songs from their films for boys but I wish they wouldn't. Maybe I'm comparing it to Frozen too much but Big Hero 6 had a small amount of emptiness and I wonder if that was because there was no show-stopping "Let It Go" moment. That being said, the action sequences are pretty intense and amazing which helps you overlook the flabby and weak justifications for a bad guy. The whole film feels like a comic book movie for kids told by the masters of children's storytelling. My two-year-old son loved it so I can only imagine that 10-year-old boys everywhere will wet themselves.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t get jazz music. I understand the art and history that dwells deep in its DNA but it was never for me. That being said, Whiplash is a film that is not just a send-up but a true love letter to the genre. It’s basically porn for anyone who’s ever been into jazz or tried to get really good at playing an instrument. Neither of those are me and I enjoyed Whiplash so much that it might be one of my favorite films of the year.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for actor JK Simmons. You, sadly, know him as “that guy that played that guy in that thing” or, even worse, the guy from the State Farm commercials. I have always known him as an extremely talented character actor that has been long, long overdue for his shot at being A-list. He’s been amazing in comedies like Juno, the Spider-man films, and I Love You, Man. He’s also turned in great dramatic performances in movies like Up in the Air, Young Adult and True Grit. If you add up all of his performances, they don’t equal the power of his in Whiplash.
The other star of the film is Miles Teller who is rapidly a young rising star in Hollywood. He’s been in Divergent, That Awkward Moment and 21 & Over, all of which were absolutely dismal. I decided (for whatever reason) that he was too cocky to be likable and not talented enough to take seriously. His performance in Whiplash has changed my mind on both. He goes toe-to-toe with Simmons in ways that astound and the physical torture he subjects his body to is impressive.
Sure there are other people in the film but they are completely unimportant. This story is ONLY about two people — the student and the teacher. We’ve all had that person in our lives that terrified and intimidated us so much that they made us feel less than an inch big yet we wanted their approval and admiration more than anything. That person also had ways of yelling at you where you didn’t know what answer to give because both seemed like it would rain retribution of a biblical level down upon you. Simmons is that person! He is a complete monster yet you can never fully hate him. Just like Teller’s character, you want him to notice you, like you, be impressed by you. He is the sun that Icarus flies toward.
The character wouldn’t exist though without the absolutely brilliant direction and script from first-timer Damien Chazelle who based the movie off his short film by the same name and cast. He deserves just as much credit as the other two for making a small and simple film about a student at a music college trying to be the best more exciting than any action film to come out this year. To call Whiplash “pulse-pounding” is a disservice to one of the best films of 2014.
Many things can be said about director Christopher Nolan. The man is responsible for some true cinematic marvels and masterpieces. He not only made the greatest superhero film of all time but made two others as part of the Dark Knight trilogy that were almost as good. He's a man of vast vision and superb scope that aims for the stars and, at times, delivers the galaxy. In the case of Interstellar, he literally does that and delivers one of the most challenging and visually splendid films of the last decade but still may have overshot his destination and gone way beyond the realm of entertainment.
Interstellar is a near three-hour sci-fi epic that makes Gravity look like child's play. That's not to say that it's better than Gravity in any way. Gravity was a space adventure that was small, simple and thrilling. Interstellar is a space adventure that is as big as the galaxy and just as chaotic and confusing. See, there is a wonderful show on the Science Channel called Through the Worm Hole and it’s hosted by Morgan Freeman. The show is a way to feel high without drugs because it covers some of the most complex aspects of astrophysics. Interstellar was as if Nolan watched that show and said I’m gonna make that a movie with a bigger budget, crying and some action.
The film stars Matthew McConaughey and further proves that the man is on a hot streak as far as turning in top shelf performances. He is the only performance worth watching in the film which is shocking because it also stars Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon. Everyone else has paper-thin characters written for them and they are in the film as mere scenery. Disappointing since Nolan has a history of making very interesting supporting characters.
It’s strange to say this about a movie that I was personally bored and confused by but Interstellar is still a sight to be seen; especially on the IMAX screen since over half of it was shot in that format. The imagery of deep space is so realistic that they could have been shot by the Hubble. The musical score by Hans Zimmer is his greatest and it’s absolutely haunting using massive pipe organs. The story is way ambitious but that’s the problem. The movie is sci-fi that has so much “sci” it forgot the “fi” and ends up talking over and around its audience so much so it doesn’t make sense. (Anyone who says they fully understand it is a liar!)
At almost three hours long it’s crazy to say that a film like this feels rushed but it does. When you try to spin a tale that tackles the science that Interstellar does while still trying to take moments of human emotion, which it has here and there, you have to cut it back somewhere. Sadly for Nolan those cuts consist of moments that would help explain what’s happening and care about what’s going on. In the case of Interstellar, it is a perfect example of large ambition mixed with high expectations that turned out to be a black hole…makes time feel slower than it is while sucking you in just to crush you inside.
When I was a kid, Michael Keaton ruled supreme in the box office. He was pretty amazing. It seemed like he was in hit after hit after hit and every role, every film was completely different than the last. He would murder audiences in comedies like Gung Ho, Beetlejuice, Mr. Mom and The Dream Team. He would impress us with his dramatic work in My Life, Clean and Sober and The Paper. Yet would still pump blood faster through our veins with villains like in Pacific Heights and heroes like in Batman. Regardless of all the films he's done in his life that were huge successes, Birdman is the film that he'll be remembered for after his death.
The character Keaton plays in the film is named Riggan but it might as well be Michael Keaton. It's about a washed up actor who's famous for playing the superhero Birdman in movies but now he's old and searching for validation so he's sunk all of his money into a very self-important Broadway play. What starts off feeling too close to home to be enjoyable for anyone who enjoys Keaton ends up being one of the most spectacular character studies I've seen in a long time.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has a huge following although I was never one of them. The Mexican director has been nominated for Oscars and is responsible for Biutiful, Babel and 21 Grams. None of them really blew my skirt up but I could see the appeal. His approach to the dark comedy of Birdman was pure genius though. The entire film gives the impression it was shot in one single two-hour-long take. It actually wasn't though; it has hidden cuts but not many and was actually shot in about 10-15 takes. The purpose of doing long takes is to build suspense or make things feel real. Applying that difficult task to a comedy is very interesting and the end result is one that mesmerizes anyone who's paying attention.
Perhaps one of the agendas behind that is to reflect the film's central argument of live theater versus film. Because it's about a Hollywood action star putting on a Broadway show, there is a belief from many characters about how real performances are only found in live theater and he's nothing more than a hack. So doing takes that are 15-minutes-long with major Hollywood actors is a funny irony that accomplishes both. Everyone in the film is at the top of their games including Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis. I wouldn't be shocked if we saw a couple Best Supporting nominations thrown at a couple of those names.
But speaking of the Oscars, Birdman isn't Best Picture material, although I fully expect it to be nominated. It's not mass appeal and many people will walk away from it shaking their heads because they didn't quite "get it." However, it IS the kind of role that wins an actor who has never even been nominated despite turning in an impressive and diverse career that has spanned 30 years an Oscar. I look forward to the rest of the performances we'll see this year but as of right now, Keaton has set the bar for Best Actor.