Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Nightcrawler (2014)

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Image is property of Bold Films and Open Road Films

Nightcrawler – Film Review 

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Kevin Rahm.

Director:  Dan Gilroy

Synopsis: A man desperately seeking work finds himself a unique opportunity to get into the world of LA crime journalism, as he gets more and more into it, he ventures into a dark and dangerous world of crime.

Review: The news, something that many of us pay a very close attention to, and has a deep impact on many lives across the globe. Every day, we see stories from across the globe that trigger reactions in all of us. Crime stories in particular often have the most impact on people as they usually take deep root, particularly when innocent victims are attacked and struck down in what may seem unprovoked assaults. As it is told in the movie “think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the streets with her throat cut.” The media thrives on these sorts of stories, and in particular the TV news plays its part in bringing these stories to life, especially through TV news. In the city of Los Angeles, one man happens to find his calling.

Lou Bloom is a dark and twisted individual, portrayed excellently by Jake Gyllenhaal. This man possesses an incredible personality and an insatiable desire to achieve great things. When he stumbles upon an accident and finds someone filming it for TV news for profit, he finds what he knows he was born to do. Thus he sets out to become a “nightcrawler” and develops a strong ability for this unique career, to the point where he gets too good it at it, so much so that he meddles in criminal activity to get the perfect shot, or sabotage his rivals so it is his shot that gets the news studio’s approval and thus he can get the big story on the TV news and earn that big pay cheque to go with it.

Through his pursuits, he develops a grand ego and spectacular self-delusion, he hires an assistant (Riz Ahmed) and immediately, there is talk of him and his company and his ego just gets bigger and bigger. Through all of his arrogance, you want to hate him, but you really just cannot bring yourself to do so. Through his extreme of confidence, he doesn’t hold back in demanding what he wants, even though in some cases he cannot have it, and in that, there is almost a desire to root for him as he goes from once crime scene to the next. Yet at many points he turns into a dangerous psychopath that you probably should not root for. Enter Rene Russo as TV boss Nina, who’s out looking for any footage she can to splash all over the TV news that day.  When he has what she needs, he senses an opportunity to either get a pay rise or make sexual advances on her and will seek to do anything he can to get that ultimate goal that he desires, to be the best man in his field. His exploits do not make you like him, or the way he treats people particularly Nina, but yet his confidence and sheer self-ambition ensure your interest in him does not waiver and despite his blunt walk of talking to people and his extreme self-confidence, he keeps you interested.

Through his various screenwriter endeavours, writer/director Dan Gilroy in his directorial debut, brings us a dramatic character driven story with a fantastic script that bagged him an Oscar nomination for original screenplay and a well-deserved one at that. The streets of LA are looking vibrant and bright as well as they since 2011’s Drive came along. He handles the intense action scenes very well, it is riveting and pulsating cinema that just keeps the audience engaged and reminds them what it is like to view a film, in a cinema in all of its dazzling glory.

What is more, it reminds you that despite the dominance of superhero movies, young adult novels and reboots and continuation of many a popular franchise that mesmerising, unique and outstanding stories are still being brought to the big screen.  Though it only scooped the one Oscar nod, it arguably could and should have another for Gyllenhaal’s outstanding performance, nevertheless despite its significant lack of award nominations, it has much to say for itself. A magnetic screenplay with terrific acting and exquisite directing, watching the news will never quite be the same again.

With a brilliant screenplay, terrific performances with a career best from Gyllenhaal, this is a visually explosive thriller that ensures the news will never be seen in quite the same light again. 

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Posted in Film Review

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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Image rights belong to American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Babelsberg Studio, Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Film Review 

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum

Director:  Wes Anderson

Synopsis: An elderly gentlemen tells the story to a young writer of how he came to be the owner of the titular hotel

Review: Throughout life, you will probably compare many things and see how much two different things may be alike in a number of ways. This is certainly applicable when it comes to the world of film. Many people compare this film to that film through various criteria, and while some films do share similarities,  when it comes to the filmography of one Wes Anderson, it is almost clutching at straws to compare his works to any other film that graces our screens every year, because there really isn’t anything quite like them, and with his latest picture, that trend continues in glorious fashion.

Set in the fictional land of the Republic of Zubrowka in between the First and Second World Wars, it brings us the tale of the titular hotel, and how it fell into the hands of one elderly gentleman (F. Murray Abraham). We then travel to the past to see a younger version of said gentleman, back when he was a lobby boy (Tony Revelori) along side the hotel’s main concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) and the tale of their friendship. His affection for elderly resident Madame D turns sour due to her possession of an invaluable painting which is left to him in her will. Triggering a wild goose chase between her rather peeved family and our lead actors, through museums and ski slopes. With the influx of superhero movies and reboots of popular franchises that were littered throughout 2014, it is refreshing to see that extremely original films like this are still being made, and that they can be uproariously entertaining and just as exciting just like a big budget blockbuster adventure. The sets are full of colour and character, with the costumes also of excellent quality, and it is no surprise that the film bagged Oscars for both Costume and Production design

With a rather large cast in this film, it would seem difficult to stand out, Ralph Fiennes certainly does giving a truly exceptional performance as Gustave H. Prone to outbursts of rather posh sounding expletives aimed at policeman and anyone who dares to be rude to his lobby boy companion, his performance is an undeniable highlight of this picture and was arguably unlucky to miss out on a Best Actor nomination. It is always rather satisfying to hear someone swear in such an elegant manner and through his upper class accent and elegance, he provided some of the most entertaining dialogue of 2014. Newcomer Tony Revelori bursts onto the scene in a terrific debut performance as the lobby boy Zero. The chemistry between the two provides some compelling and extremely entertaining viewing as they go on their adventures of trying to ensure the valuable painting does not fall into the wrong hands. Willem Dafoe is no stranger to the role of a villain, but here he’s not so much Green Goblin, instead channeling a Bond like sort of villain, and here he is again in spectacular form.

Through all the quirkiness and comedy, the film does have some thoughtful and touching moments. The mixture of comedy and touching moments can be a very fine line to walk on, but like a true pro, through Anderson’s masterful direction, the combination of comedy and sadness hits all the right notes, along with the Oscar winning score by Alexandre Desplat. The Grand Budapest Hotel delivers the best service possible, so much so that you will find yourself wanting to book another stay many more times.

Quirky, hilarious, stylish and tremendously acted by the large cast, the latest addition to Wes Anderson’s filmography surely ranks as one of his best

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Birdman (2014)

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Image rights belong to Stephen Mirrione Production companies, Regency Enterprises, New Regency Productions, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Birdman – Film Review 

Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts

Director:  Alejandro González Iñárritu

Synopsis: When a former Hollywood actor seeks to re-establish his stagnating career in the form of a Broadway play, all sorts of things start to go wrong as he battles with family, career troubles and snobby critics…

Review: When hearing of the title of this film, you could be forgiven for thinking this is yet another Hollywood film about superheroes to go along with the domination of Marvel and DC films that we have witnessed in recent years . Yet you would be mistaken (sort of.) This is not an action movie based on a man with extraordinary powers. Instead this story finds itself depicting former Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson (Keaton) the once legendary star of the Birdman superhero franchise, who’s seeking to re-establish himself in the entertainment business via a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

He used to be all about the big bucks and the superhero genre, but not anymore. Yet his efforts are encountering road block after road block, with things going spectacularly wrong. The film has so much to say about superhero movies, actors, critics, life and modern technology among many other things.  Through a wonderful screenplay by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, the messages on the plethora of topics talked about in the film are rammed home in a way that really gets the audience thinking long and hard about who they are and where they stand in society.

Sniping at real life Hollywood events such as Robert Downey Jr in the Iron Man franchise, Ryan Gosling and Jeremy Renner. He sneers vehemently at the former, or rather his somewhat wacky alter ego does, “that clown doesn’t have half your talent” snarls the Birdman with such strong disdain. The contempt for the state of the modern movie industry he has is raw and although many modern superhero films are fantastic pieces of cinema loved by audiences the world over, the audience almost always connects with our lead man and his wing wearing alter ego. It delves deep into art, and what is art, how good an actor are you if you make over-the-top superhero movies? Or are you a better actor if you choose those smaller, not-so-big budget roles?

Michael Keaton, once the wearer of the great cape and cowl of the Batman, is on top form in a role that finally landed him his first Oscar nomination. His performance is invigorating and refreshing, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of what was once a stagnating career. Edward Norton, likewise is equally fascinating to watch. A method actor who really gets into the part he plays, in more ways than one. His back and forth with Keaton is some of the most enthralling dialogue that emerged from cinema in 2014. With two excellent male performances, one Emma Stone fights the ladies corner, and she definitely more than holds her own against these two accomplished actors, giving the performance of her career. The other key cast were all equally excellent in their roles, including a remarkably more laid back turn from Hangover funny man Zach Galifianakis. Keaton, Norton and Stone were well deserving of their nominations, with Stone arguably the most unlucky to lose out.

Visually, the film is extremely engaging and in many ways, revolutionary as it is made to look as if it is one single shot. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is magnificent, following on from his magnificent work on the Oscar winning Gravity. Lubezki is again on form here, delivering another visual sensation, and deservedly added another Oscar on top of the one he bagged for Alfonso Cuaron’s space drama. Evocative and incredible imagery are packed throughout the two hour run time. There are more than a few scenes that will get your mind racing and leave you breathless with the incredible technical skill that is on show.

The theatre setting would make the audience believe that the film is taking a stance on the theatre industry, but the messages are without a doubt about the film industry. Birdman is a must see for any fans of film, as it is smart, intelligent, original and humorous. The script packs lots of punches and provides audiences with a film going experience like nothing else we have ever seen before, and may never see again.

Funny, original, emotional, visually mesmerising, acted and directed to perfection, Birdman takes flight and soars into cinematic history, and a significant amount of well deserved awards. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

American Sniper (2014)

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Image rights belong to Village Roadshow Pictures, Mad Chance Productions, 22nd & Indiana Pictures, Malpaso Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures

American Sniper  – Film Review 

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Director: Clint Eastwood

Synopsis: An account of the American solider and sniper, Chris Kyle who went on to become one of the most deadly snipers ever in history.

Review: War,  a topic that is never far from the news and one that dominates many lives on this planet. We all read about events such as World War 1 and World War 2 through our history classes, and the documentaries that we watched in school. It comes to life through pictures and documentaries. Yet with a story focusing on a war that is ongoing featuring events such as 9/11 that are still fresh in the minds of many, that is treading a fine line as controversy is bound to ensue with certain things. Without question this film has had its fair share of controversy. Zero Dark Thirty a similar film focusing on the Iraq War, also attracted criticism and controversy over certain elements. Yet through all of the controversy, it was a storming success, the same can be said for American Sniper. 

The film focuses on real life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle played incredibly by Bradley Cooper who scooped his third consecutive Oscar nomination for the role. When 9/11 happens, we see a man who becomes enraged and seeks to go out there and defend what he believes to be “the best country on Earth.” He is very patriotic and a firm believer in honour and duty. Through extensive tours in Iraq and many many kills later, he firmly establishes himself as a US military hero. Yet through all his tours and military exploits, there are consequences that he must deal with. Namely that war will take its toll on you, chip away at your life and the lives of your family members.

Throughout the film we see how once he comes home from another tour, he is not the same man he was when he went away. With each tour he goes on, he comes back almost a completely new person, becoming increasingly cut off from society. Through Cooper’s excellent performance, we see that the man is hailed as a hero by his comrades, but the film does not bask him in complete glory, what we have is a man who is troubled by his exploits. he is joined by his wife Taya Kyle (Sienna Miller) We see through her eyes how the man she married is not the same through each tour that he embarked upon, and every time he returns, the distance between the couple grows wider and wider. The nature of war and the damaging effect it can have on any person who fights are very well realised both in the performances of Cooper and Miller and in the screenplay, adapted from Kyle’s autobiography, penned by Jason Hall.

Through the hands of veteran director Eastwood, the film like its titular character, found its aim, and he was right on target. The man and the legend has gone through a mixed spell recently with Jersey Boys and J. Edgar not receiving the best of receptions critically. However, he has delivered an emotional war story. The action scenes packed throughout the film are directed very well, some of which are particularly intense. A decision that could result in the deaths of 20 US soldiers rests in his hands and it is nerve-racking viewing. The action scenes are accompanied by a fantastic score composed by The film has been blasted by some as nothing more than American propaganda, yet the film does not glorify the events you see on screen.

It really highlights the ugly, brutal side of war that as previously mentioned will take its toll on a person. The film could have explored numerous other themes of the Iraq War, yet it chooses to narrow its focus about this one man, and the effects that go along with going to war, and what having over 160 confirmed kills to your name will do to your life and the lives of your family. With a very sombre conclusion given what happened to Chris Kyle, the audience is reminded that fighting in a war will have its far reaching consequences, and in some cases it will have a melancholic and heart breaking ending.

Anchored by another superb Bradley Cooper performance, and top notch directing by Eastwood, it provides a tense and heart breaking story of one man and the damaging effects of war.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Boyhood (2014)

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Images rights belong to IFC Films

Boyhood – Film Review

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Director: Richard Linklater

Synopsis:  The story of one boy’s journey from childhood to adulthood

Review: Benjamin Franklin once said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” While it is true that these are a certainty in anyone’s life, there is much more to life on this earth then these two things. Thus, it is an unprecedented feat indeed that a film that was 12 years in the making that sought to capture life, all the trials and tribulations that we as human beings go through. Richard Linklater has pulled off a remarkable feat in this respect. The sheer ambition of the project, and the hard work and effort that undoubtedly went into the production of this film does deserve praise. This film was a gamble and for plenty of people it paid off big time, for others, not so much…

The film follows six year old Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane growing up in the USA with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and his mother (Patricia Arquette) while his dad, portrayed by long time Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke as they go about their lives. There are certain things that audience members can relate to, particularly if they had a sibling growing up. Pop culture references are there in abundance and in that the film does have things that we can all relate to as the years go by. The actors naturally age as their characters evolve on screen and it is intriguing to watch as they naturally age.

However, despite this innovative idea, the movie falls flat as there is no plot to speak of. The key job of a film is to tell a good story, but that good story is really lacking here, rendering it is difficult to maintain interest in what is happening on screen. The film trickles along from one scene to the next with very little coherency and painfully boring scenes in which characters just tend to talk, mope around, whine or be abusive. The scenes are at times painfully tedious. There is no powerful emotional punch, no hard-hitting moment that leaves you reeling. Life is full of those key moments, the moments that will stay with a person forever.

For instance, completing school, graduation, getting a job for the first time, moving away from home. These moments are usually full of emotion for people and their families and they should have an impact here, as everyone goes through what Mason goes through but they don’t, they really really do not, and that is a major disappointment.

With 12 years to shoot the film you would think the acting on show here could and maybe should be top notch, yet in many of the performances, there was no spark. Being cast as a six year old was probably a daunting task for the young lead and in all fairness he does get better as the years go by, but in spite of this, his acting still felt a bit wooden at times, almost as if he was reading lines. Lorelei Linklater is equally a bit lacklustre at first but she too does grow in her role.  Patricia Arquette gives what some would say is the strongest performance here but again there is no spark, no really hard hitting moment that blows the audience away. Furthermore, her choice in the men she marries leaves a lot to be desired.

However, Ethan Hawke’s turn as the father provides the film with comfortably its strongest performance. An anchor of emotional support when his children needed it most, given the fact that a lot of the time they’re surrounded by deplorable alternative father figures that make you want to throw bricks at the screen. Arquette did sweep the board among the major award ceremonies, but there were lots of better performances that were far more deserving of the prizes.

Much of the praise for this film has been that there isn’t anything like this that has been attempted in cinematic history, and it is true that this film is an unprecedented feat. Yet for all the scope and ambition, the twelve years of hard graft and effort that went into the production of the film, you would hope for a golden end product. The film is relatable in proportions but with all these events that we as human beings go through, you would hope for that emotional moment. The ambition and over a decade of work is an undeniably impressive feat but the quality is severely lacking.

An extremely ambitious idea from Richard Linklater, but great ambition does not always mean great storytelling. One great performance  does not save the film from its tedious scenes, a complete lack of plot and dearth of emotional moments. 

D+

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Whiplash (2014)

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Image is property of Sierra/Affinity, Bold Films, Blumhouse Productions, Right of Way, Films Sony Pictures Classics

Whiplash  – Film Review 

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser

Director: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis:  A story of an aspiring young drummer who gets his chance to enrol at a music school as he seeks to impress a brilliant but maniacal music coach who will push his students to breaking point…

Review: Jazz music, a sweet and relaxing genre of music that you put on after a difficult day’s work,  or to the background music for a beautiful date. It’s the perfect music for a laid back occasion, right? Normally yes but under the guidance of one music teacher, a day’s work for a young upcoming drummer, the jazz music will involve your teacher screaming in your face, sweating buckets, and also throwing objects at you after a mistake.

That young drummer is Andrew played by Miles Teller, a young man who’s determined to make the grade as a drummer and in style. He will do whatever it takes to be the best, and that includes dumping his poor girlfriend along the way as he sees her as an obstacle on his path to success. Teller is fantastic in this role that is a breakthrough performance for him. With the Fantastic 4 reboot on the way later this year, this was his chance to shine, and boy did he hit every note spot on. The frustration, the joy and the tears of a young man doing everything he can to be the best, is some of the most riveting and suspenseful cinema you will ever see.Anyone watching can empathise as we all would go through anything to achieve our hopes and dreams to be the best in our profession. With one masterful performance on board, it is matched by another superb performance by J.K Simmons as Terence Fletcher.

This man is a HARDCORE instructor, screaming expletives, hurling chairs, and making his musicians perform until blood is dripping from their hands and they cannot play any more. A real psychiatric war breaks out between our two main stars, and it is flawless in its delivery and execution. Teller is absolutely on point no question, yet this is the performance of a career from Simmons. You want to hate him for the way he treats his students, and his harsh and somewhat brutal methods, but you understand the drive and passion he has for the craft and wanting to see his students achieve success. Simmons swept the board in this year’s awards season and fully deserved every gong that came his way, which included the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Through the scenes where Andrew is performing and Fletcher is conducting, there is an incredible amount of tension. Arm rests are gripped tight as you pray for our resolute and determined young performer to not make a mistake. You would think that this sort of scene would not create a terrible feeling of nervousness and dread among the audience, but it certainly did this and with great aplomb. It pulls at your heart strings and tears them out violently and as the film reaches its intense climax, heart rates will only get faster and faster, kind of like the beating of the drums, faster and faster until you are completely out of breath and blown away with what you have seen and you need a minute or two to calm down once the film has reached its nail biting finale. The film also offers one of the best endings we have seen in the past year of cinema. With no action, it packs anxiety and tension in more than a few scenes, as much as any hostage scenario or high octane thriller that has graced our screens in years gone by. However as the film reaches its crescendo,  you find yourself hoping for an encore.

Pulsating and nerve-racking throughout combined with two outstanding performances that will leave you breathless, this is the Mozart of film-making, incredible genius and perfection

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