Movie Review: Wild

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Twitview: fascinating look at one woman’s fall and redemption. Witherspoon is a wonder.  B+

Fluffy foxes.  Heroin.  Toenails.  Quickies on a dumpster.  Corn mush and Snapple.  Wild is a glorious, fascinating mess of a story, detailing a woman’s quest to right her glorious, fascinating, messy life.  Taken from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail , Wild is a look at how completely a devastating life event can destroy you, and how picking yourself back up is a matter of sheer will and determination that can give you back yourself.  A good pair of Danner hikers thrown into the mix doesn’t hurt.

Cheryl Strayed’s life began a downward spiral after her mother’s sudden death from cancer at 45 (spinal in the film, lung IRL).  Strayed began “experimenting” with heroin and schtupping every guy she came across in an attempt to ease the pain of loss, which caused the death of her marriage.  After all that loss, she tries to pick herself back up by trying to become the woman her mother believed her to be…and she begins getting herself back on that track by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  As someone who’s never, ever hiked before.  Ever.  Spoiler alert: she succeeds.

Wild’s crazy blend of voice-over inner monologue, classic rock and timeline slight-of-hand works perfectly, and gets viewers into the heart of Strayed’s torment and her redemption.  Vallée uses the same seamless editing style that made Dallas Buyers Club so gripping, and Wild is just as captivating.  Though this is no 127 Hours, it’s Strayed’s story, and while there are others on-screen, they’re definitely the backing band here.  That said, performances by Laura Dern (as momma Bobbi), Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski (as ex-hubby Paul) and Gaby Hoffmann (as BFF Aimee) stand out.  Witherspoon has already been tapped for a Golden Globe, and I’m sure an Oscar nod will be in her future.

But the real tip-of-the-hat goes to Nick Hornsby, who took Strayed’s memoir and turned it into a story that translates perfectly onscreen.  Shocked he wasn’t tapped for a Best Screenplay ‘Globe.  Because even with the tiny hiccups here and there, gotta say I was riveted for 99.9% of the film.  There were a few spots where the stream-of-consciousness caused a “wait — what” moment (was she pregnant at her low point?  What happened?) But otherwise Wild is less a story than it is a look inside the mind of a woman trying to pull herself out of the pit, and what happened in her life that put her there.  And though I’m too much of a wimp to hike the PCT, this film is a journey I’d take again.

Movie Screening: Unbroken (2014) – Where’s Geek For E?

Academy Award® winner Angelina Jolie directs and produces UNBROKEN, an epic drama that follows the incredible life of olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII – only to be caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s (“Seabiscuit: An American Legend”) enormously popular book UNBROKEN brings to the big screen Zamperini’s unbelievable and inspiring true story about the resilient power of the human spirit.

Starring alongside O’Connell are Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock as Phil and Mac – the airmen with whom Zamperini endured perilous weeks adrift in the open Pacific – Garrett Hedlund and John Magaro as fellow POWs who find an unexpected camaraderie during their internment, Alex Russell as Zamperini’s brother, Pete, and in his English-language feature debut, Japanese actor Miyavi as the brutal camp guard known only to the men as “The Bird.”

 http://www.unbrokenfilm.com/

 

Jolie directs this powerful true story of the enduring human spirit

Jolie directs this powerful true story of the enduring human spirit

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Movie Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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TwitView: Fans will rejoice!  Casual viewers may find the editing patchy.  Still, a worthy entry in an excellent series.  B+

Seems like forever since we’ve seen Katniss, Peeta, Gayle and the gang fight against the man President Snow in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Heck, I’ve even watched Catching Fire on Netflix a time or two already.  But it’s only been a year.  Time flies, don’t it?  But it seems like the filmmakers have taken their time and crafted a compelling film with Mockingjay Part 1.  Screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong (yes, Buffy‘s Jonathan) do an excellent job breaking the novel in two, ending Part 1 with a nice cliffhanger of sorts; the Districts readying for civil war (not a spoiler if you’ve been paying any kind of attention).

If you’ve forgotten, when last we left Katniss, she was being air-lifted out of her second Hunger Games, the 75th Quarter Quell.  Rebellion is on the horizon for the Districts, and megalomaniacal President Coin (Donald Sutherland, obviously enjoying his eeeee-vil) bent on her destruction.  In Mockingjay Part 1, she wakes up in District 13, the District that was supposedly burned to the ground.  But they’ve been waiting for a leader to rise, and Katniss looks like their dream come true.  ¡Viva la Revolución!  But where’s Peeta…?

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Movie Review: Dumb And Dumber To

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As a child of ’90s era comedies, Dumb and Dumber stood atop the mountain for me. The Farrelly Brothers had arguably the best run of smash comedies in the 90’s. They were unstoppable,  directing such classics as Dumb and Dumber (1994), Kingpin (1996),  There’s Something About Mary (1998), and Me, Myself & Irene (2000), not to mention producing the extremely underrated Outside Providence (1999). So to say I was pumped about Dumb and Dumber To is an understatement. I was full throttle excited, I re-watched the original for about the l000th time and made sure I was at the theater about two hours early. From the opening scene, I was hooked. Seeing my boys Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunn (Jeff Daniels) on the big screen again after 20 years was a feeling of pure joy. Then, about 5-10 minutes in, I realized what was about to happen: 105 minutes of tired jokes, worn down gimmicks, and reused plot lines. Now, does that make it a bad movie? Hell no! At least not to anyone who still quotes and watches the original anytime they accidentally pass it channel surfing, and to this day still watches all the Farrelly brothers movies in hopes they will one day recapture the glory of the ’90s. Dumb and Dumber To may not be their second coming, but it is the closest thing we have had for 14 years.

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Movie Review: Whiplash

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Twitview: A fever dream of a film that sucks you into the lives of those that would do anything for their art.  Riveting performances by Simmons and Teller. A-

Who hasn’t taken some sort of music class?  Whether you shook a tambourine in kindergarten, or headed out for piano classes every Saturday for 13 years (just me?), we all have that moment where we’ve tried to coax beauty out of an instrument.  Most of us walk away, choosing other paths, but those that decide to stick with it and strive for greatness?  Gotta give ‘em credit; talent and dedication is tough to come by.  And it’s tough to live with, if Whiplash is any indication.  Director Damien Chazelle takes his Sundance-award winning short film to full-length and it’s a helluva watch.

Young Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first year drummer at a prestigious NYC conservatory, when he gets tapped for a position in “studio band” in the school. (Think Glee, but with more instruments and less buffoonery.)  But conductor/professor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) isn’t anywhere near the touchy-feely type.  Unless your idea of touchy-feely is a teacher that wings chairs at your head and hurls emotional abuse that would make Joan Crawford blush.  Soon, Andrew must ask himself, is all of the blood, sweat and tears worth it?  Are moments of transcendental bliss on the part of your listeners worth your pain as a musician?  Or is he too far gone to decide?

Teller and Simmons are outstanding.  Their performances are as real as you can get onscreen, and are sure to make many sit up and take notice come awards season.  In fact, Whiplash has already raked in a few top kudos, including the coveted Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Chazelle — whose own experience as a student drummer helped shape this story — has a deft touch with the material, knowing when to pull back and when to zoom in.  At first, “Studio Band” seems like a group of the best, flying high.  Closer in, and you see the cracks in the façade, the fear in the eyes of the students.  There’s also the determination, bordering on obsession, as each instrumentalist strives to be the best, and to win Fletcher’s elusive approval.  Chazelle shapes this film with a keen eye, and the result is a film that you can’t tear your eyes away from, even when the emotions are so raw you’d really like a break.  As with Fletcher, there’s no quarter given.

Whiplash is a drama, but there are times when it feels like it’d find a home in the emotional horror genre.  Musicians play until their hands bleed, then they plunge into bowls of ice, turning the clear water deep red.  They practice over and over and over for hours, sweat dripping and pain evident.  Teller’s Andrew walks a fine line between insanity and the drive to achieve, and he’s brilliant.  “Star making turn” has been bandied about, and I agree; this will be the film that fans will point to as the film where Miles Teller showed the world what he’s got.  And Simmons, as the calculating Fletcher, is Machiavellian in his drive to “create” the perfect musician.  Chazelle has said that “…I wanted to make a movie about music that felt like a war movie, or a gangster movie — where instruments replaced weapons…”, and scenes where musicians are performing elicit those same painful, heart-rending emotions.

My only problem with Whiplash is that it focuses so deeply on the Andrew/Fletcher dynamic that all secondary characters fall by the wayside.  Andrew’s father, played by Paul Reiser, is a guy that comes by to give Andrew a hug or some popcorn.  And a dinner scene with Andrew, dad and a handful of other people is a real WTF moment, as there’s no exposition to link these new characters with the ones we know.  IMDb lists ‘em as Aunt Emma and Uncle Frank, and I’d assumed they were family or friends of some sort, but they’re dropped in, and then never heard from again.  Andrew’s love interest Nicole (Melissa Benoist, Glee) fares better, but is little more than a side note to the main melody.  At least Nicole’s lack of presence is justified in the storyline, but the family dinner?  A puzzler that only seems to serve as a bit to show how out of touch Andrew is with The Real World.  Something viewers could have picked up on easily with a sentence or two from Andrew any other moment in the film.

Whiplash is the kind of Deep Thoughts film that will have you scratching your head and wanting to talk about motives, drives and the quest for success long after the credits roll.  Is Andrew using his drumming to escape into a world of music, or to avoid the world altogether?  Does Fletcher have any right to push his students to such extremes; can any good come of such violent behaviour?  As for me, I’d love to discuss this film with a few musicians I know, and hear what they have to say.  And to find out if their talents are thanks to someone else pushing them harder than anyone had a right to.  All I know right now is that the next time I put on some jazz, I’ll be listening with a different ear.

Movie Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Twitview: A beautiful mess, with unanswered questions and characters in all the shades of grey. But Keaton is magnetic. B+

Michael Keaton was a heckuva great Batman.  And then he kind of dropped off the face of the blockbuster earth.  So of course the synopsis of Birdman — actor who played a famous superhero tries for relevancy in his senior years — got folks talking when Keaton signed on.  And though I have to admit that was a prime reason for me signing up for this screening, once the film started rolling, I was sucked into the life of Keaton’s Riggan Thompson, washed-up Hollywood trivia tidbit turned Broadway wannabe.  Most of that is thanks to Keaton’s amazing performance that ditches every scrap of dignity, but director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams) deserves praise as well.

Riggan Thompson is a washed-up former superhero superstar, but perhaps there’s more to that portrayal than anyone realized.  When he’s alone he levitates, moves things with his mind, and even soars through the air.  But is that real, or in his heartbroken, world-weary imagination?  I love that Birdman flipped my expectations not once, but several times throughout the story.  I thought I’d had the ending nailed down early on, but things sway and melt away under Iñárritu’s gentle guidance.  Something else that also changes throughout the film is New York City itself; it’s a glorious greasepaint wonderland, then it’s a gritty, ugly, bleak wasteland.  It’s a small shop filled with fairy lights, and then it’s a cold world where nobody wants to do anything but look at it through the lens of their Instagram account.  Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Oscar winner for last year’s Gravity) manages to show all the sides of The City That Never Sleeps, and they don’t all add up to a picture postcard.  It’s the most “real” cinematic interpretation I’ve ever seen of that city, and I’m betting Lubezki will get another nod come Academy time.

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Movie Screening: Dumb and Dumber To (WED 11.12.14 @ 7:30PM)

Doh! Lloyd and Harry return to the big screen in search of Harry’s long lost daughter.  You can bet with these two that won’t be a simple homecoming.  Wanna check out the Baltimore screening with us on the 12th?  Sure you do, just read beyond the banner to find out how to score your Admit Two tix!

Stupid is as Lloyd and Harry does...

Stupid is as Lloyd and Harry does…

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