Written by: Steven Mullaney
“I’m an experimentalist. I’m the girl that says yes instead of no.”
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was a 2012 memoir penned by one Cheryl Strayed about her journey of self-discovery during a three month trek up the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Mexico to Canada. Cheryl is a twenty-something who, after a series of spoilerific events I won’t go into, finds herself homeless, jobless, and emotionally destitute. After a particularly traumatic wake-up call, she decides to hike the PCT more-or-less on a whim so that she can stop living her terrible life for a few months, equipped with a much too heavy backpack and a determination that waxes and wanes like the moon during the actual length of her trip.
The non-fiction aspect should tell you some very important things about the movie. Obviously, Cheryl survived to write the book, so it’s not a prolonged tale of person-against-nature. Less obviously, all of the peaks of Cheryl’s personal drama have already happened by the time she sets foot on the mountain path. This trip isn’t about an infusion of excitement into a droll life, it’s about someone reconciling a life that’s fallen to pieces.
Contrary to what you’re probably imagining, there aren’t all that many scenes of Cheryl just straight walking along the scenic wilderness. The PCT more often than not runs adjacent to civilization rather than completely apart from it, so there are semi-frequent rest stops and conversations with other human beings, and that isn’t even going into the other people that are on the trail. It is with these characters that the symbolism suffers, mostly due to not being symbolism at all. Quirky strangers that Cheryl meets aren’t characters with opinions designed to reinforce, challenge, or promote a specific worldview; they’re just actual people that Cheryl literally met on the trail. This wouldn’t be something worth commenting on if it weren’t for a) the amount of symbolism used when recounting her past—exposition about said backstory is handled through a neat little trick where Cheryl flashes back to important events in her life after she experiences stimuli on the trail that could believably remind her of such—and b) how downright bizarre some of the encounters are. My personal favorite is when one of Cheryl’s hitchhiking attempts flags down a journalist that interviews hobos, and how all of Cheryl’s denials of being a hobo just dig her deeper.
Aside from an admittedly difficult to watch first few minutes where it is shown in explicit detail what the too small boots can do to your toenails, the movie is fairly ambivalent in showing the hike as a positive or negative thing. It’s simply a thing that Cheryl is doing at that particular moment, for no reason other than she thinks she needs to, and she is not wrong for thinking that. Wild is a drama like you don’t see very often, subdued in its message and more potent because of it. Cheryl’s backstory isn’t particularly elaborate, with little in the way of complex dramatic reveals and overall detailing a rather straightforward tale of grief and self-destructive behavior. The authenticity of Wild serves as the lynchpin to the whole enterprise; to me, taken on its own, the movie seems ever so slightly hokey, and less slightly emotionally manipulative, with a handful of elements that are often incorporated in movies like this for no reason other than to garner cheap sympathy or shock points. But the beauty of Wild is that it absolutely, 100% happened. It makes the characters shine brighter, it makes the backstory even more shocking, and it makes the ultimate resolution more inspiring than it could ever be if it was a story constructed piece by piece. If it’s true that reality is stranger than fiction, Wild is proof that it can also be more inspiring.
If you’re in the market for an ultimately feel-good movie that you definitely can’t take your kids to, and that will also teach you everything you never wanted to know about what hiking does to the human body, Wild might be for you. It’s funny, sweet, emotional, and encourages the thought that both the best and the worst journeys have an end. In all of the ways that matter, Wild isn’t a movie about a woman going into the wilderness—it’s about a woman finding her way out of it.
The Imitation Game
Written by: Steven Mullaney
“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
In 1939, the Allies found themselves in a bit of a bind. Yes, yes, World War II, but more specifically, the German had in their possession the greatest message encryption device the world had ever seen, known as the Enigma. With settings that changed every day at midnight, 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 potential settings, and detailed descriptions of every prospective German attack, British intelligence found itself equal parts desperate and unable to make any progress. This persisted until the affair captured the interest of a Cambridge professor named Alan Turing, who posed a revolutionary idea: what if the only thing that could outwit a machine was another machine?
Alan Turing’s life is a tale of crossed lines, crossed hearts, and crossed wires that ended with one of modern civilization’s great unsung tragedies. The Imitation Game is an attempt to bring that story to life, while also kind of being an awards grab. It would be a stretch to call it great, but it eventually gets enough right to be called a success.
The Imitation Game’s shortcomings are really specific. For the first, say, 30-40 minutes, The Imitation Game suffers from a perplexing an ultimately debilitating problem; it wants to be The Big Bang Theory. Yes, the comedy on TBS, I’m serious. It’s not just that Turing is depicted as a Sheldon Cooper type social misfit that takes everything literally and blissfully speaks aloud his every insensitive and narcissistic thought. There are also countless comedy set pieces and setups that are meant to capitalize on that. For example, in an early scene, Alan gets frustrated with the chain of command that he’s forced to work under. So, naturally, he complains about his situation in a letter and sends it to Winston Churchill. And it works! Not to mention how every third scene has somebody remarking sarcastically about how Turing must have been popular in school, or how people keep emphasizing that if he’s going to work on this project, his coworkers need to like him.
Now, you know, comedy is subjective, and my tastes are probably different than yours. So for what it’s worth, I found the early Turing character annoying instead of funny or endearing. His social ineptitude speeds past awkward and lands directly on “how has this person functioned as an adult until now?”
But the worst thing about this early part is how it supplants and suppresses the serious dramatic elements, which are far and away the most interesting. Turing’s crew more or less won the war, completely in secret, and in doing so accumulated a lot of great dramatic baggage. Turing was also secretly homosexual, which in 1940s Britain carried a severity that is literally equated to being a Soviet spy. The breadth of power that the Turing Machine carries weighs on Alan’s conscience; even with all the knowledge in the world, you can’t save everyone. There’s even a poignant and prevailing message about normality, what it means, and ultimately, if you need it. The culmination of that last one legitimately brought a tear to my eye.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch slips as far away from his traditional smooth talking persona as possible with playing Turing’s stuttering wall of awkwardness. The movie plays with his cryptographic competency as coming from his utter befuddlement with everyday conversation, thus viewing most every human interaction as some form or another of code breaking. Kiera Knightly plays second fiddle as both the only woman on the team and the only one who can serve as Turing’s intellectual equal. As a woman doing a man’s job in a man’s world, she relies on her social graces and her sheer competency to keep her head above water. Rounding out the cast from the shadows is Mark Strong, who plays an MI6 agent that steadily becomes more important as the protagonists accept what needs to be done. The story lives and dies by the interactions of these characters and the rest of the conscripted experts, and once the “Alan Turing Comedy Hour” ends (not even kidding when I say that it’s topped off with Turing telling a joke), the extraordinary impact of the events begins to take hold. The Imitation Game never really gets over its dodgy CGI or its tendency to lapse Turing into a cartoon character, but it conveys adequately enough the story of incredible people doing incredible things under incredible circumstances.
Into The Woods
Written by: Steven Mullaney
“I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”
Wicked just swept into town with all of the force of a house-carrying cyclone, trailing a tale of moral ambiguity and a treatise on what it means to do the right thing. On the ruby red heels of such a classic, it seems only appropriate to dive into another lambasted fairy tale, the stage-to-screen adaptation of Into the Woods.
Into the Woods is the story about a witch (from Rapunzel) who makes a deal with a couple trying to have children. She promises to remove the curse preventing them from doing so in exchange for collecting a handful of items that she can use to make herself young and beautiful again. They are sent to collect the white cow from Jack and the Beanstalk, one of Cinderella’s golden slippers, Red Riding Hood’s cape, and some of Rapunzel’s hair.
The main gimmick of Into the Woods is that all four of these fairy tales are happening concurrently in the woods just outside the protagonist’s town, and the protagonists are only aware of them as events rather than fairy tales. This kind of intertwining allows for some interesting overlap. Cinderella and Rapunzel’s princes are brothers, the Jack’s magic beans are from the Witch’s garden, etc. In addition nearly all of the characters are given a major personality overhaul to match what a person in those situations might be like in real life. Cinderella is depicted as a surly abused child ready to blow at any moment, Red Riding Hood is a kleptomaniac sweets fiend, and Jack is now someone actually stupid enough to trade a cow for magic beans.
Unfortunately, those aspects, along with a great deal of the setting’s premise and themes, are wasted under the direction of a movie that has no idea what it’s doing.
Into the Woods holds on to two equally valid but ultimately incompatible worldviews: that fairy tales are hilarious, and that fairy tales are horrifying. This is a big problem, one that the movie never resolves, and that ultimately destroys it. This is best portrayed in a scene where an oft-ignored aspect of the Cinderella myth—namely, where the stepsisters use knives to mutilate their own feet so that they can fit in the glass slipper—is played both completely straight and, somehow, for laughs. Obviously, it isn’t funny, but the movie thinks it is, and that kind of fundamental ignorance colors the entire experience. The film attempts to have a comedic musical number about the Wolf waxing on about how delicious Little Red Riding Hood is. But from the very first utterance of “Little girl…” the number transforms into a cavalcade of blissfully ignorant pedophilic subtext that makes it unbelievably uncomfortable to watch. The film tries to make a joke about how the problem of the main characters was caused by an arbitrary and hilariously meaningless transgression by the husband’s father, but abruptly becomes terrifying once the witch casually reveals she abducted the husband’s infant sister as recompense. From scene to scene, and occasionally from line to line, the film is unable to decide whether or not it wants to satirize the conventions and situations of these well-worn myths or take the situations to their logical conclusions and milk the results for every terrifying drop.
The movie is completely tone deaf in pretty much everything, up to and including a good deal of the actual songs. Now, if you’d only been watching the trailer, you would have no idea that this movie was a musical. I can only imagine that this was left out of the marketing because the trailer people took one look at the musical score and realized there was little of the soundtrack that they could actually turn into a selling point. There are a few good numbers—there’s a bit where the two princes get into a spot of passive-aggressive warfare about which one of their romantic conflicts is giving them the most emotional pain, appropriately titled “Agony”, and almost everything sung by the wife character is either touching or adorable—but the vast majority are mediocre or just plain bad. The song the play takes its name from (or maybe vice versa) is the worst offender, being reprised something like three times and having the distinction of being an arrhythmic mess that rhymes words with themselves as often as it doesn’t bother rhyming at all.
As for the plot, the whole thing plays out like the TV movie of a mediocre Syfy original series, where pointless things happen for cheap drama that underdeveloped characters deal with and then forget about. The crux of the film’s drama deals with the relationship between the main couple, where the husband is inconsiderate because he’s worried, the wife chews him out, they make up, promptly forget about it, and repeat the dance five minutes later. In the second half things get particularly bad, where tragic things just start happening one after another out of a misguided desire to defy convention, no matter how much the convention was there for a good reason.
But it’s not all terrible. The Cinderella side of the affair gets the best development, with Chris Pine’s Prince Charming stealing every scene he’s in and Cinderella having a subdued but satisfying revelation about how princes in faraway castles are more poignant than they could ever be face-to-face. What’s more, the movie toys around with a handful of interesting themes. “The Woods” are used to symbolize everything from relationships to the dangers of the world around you, and there’s even a little bit in there about how life is just a series of in-betweens. But for every thought-provoking theme there are two or three more that come in for one musical number and leave to never be seen again.
In summary, Into the Woods is a handful of good ideas handled very, very poorly. Big Hero 6 is a better fantasy adventure, Annie is most likely a better musical, and Wicked is an infinitely better fairy tale deconstruction. Go watch any or all of those, and leave this one in the woods where it belongs.
HUSH, it’s time for a scare with the new short film by writer and director Michael G. Kehoe
By Cosimo D’Aleo
Being a self prescribed movie buff, I generally appreciate all types of film. Sci-fi, romantic, drama, I’m down for them all. One genre I usually shy away from (much to my girlfriend’s dismay) is Horror.
As far back as I can remember Horror films have never been that interesting to me. The protagonists are usually very two-dimensional and their motives seem as transparent as cellophane. So, imagine my delight when I came across a new Short in the Horror genre that didn’t throw blood around to get my attention.
HUSH, a new Short by writer and director Michael G. Kehoe, starts off with all the effects and eerie delight a fan of the genre might expect, but what transpires in the span of a mere 7 minutes is astounding. Rarely do I find myself at the edge of my seat waiting for something to happen, and yet HUSH had me mesmerized the entire time. I’m pretty good at guessing what comes next in most of the flicks I see, but every once in a while there comes a film that literally knocks the breath out of you.
The actors, Alexandra Grace and Riley Connor, portray their characters with the appropriateness seldom seen in a film such as this. I immediately bought into Grace’s character’s annoyance for having to “hush” the little girl upstairs due to the power outage at the house. There’s a fine line between rushing and dragging out an interior shot, and as Grace makes her way up the stairs to where the little girl is, I noticed (and applauded) the director’s constraint in making us wait to get to the landing, while not forgetting the subtle sense of urgency to quell the fears of the young girl.
I’m not sure how much more I can say without giving away too much, but I will say this. Kehoe’s take on the genre has certainly made me rethink my position that I cannot be genuinely surprised by what takes place within it. The twist at the end has M. Night Shyamalan taking notes, and the rest of us uncomfortably seated to find out what is next. Being scared never felt so good.
Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1
By Steven Mullaney
“Everyone’s either going to want to kiss you, kill you, or be you.”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve always thought the weakest part of the Hunger Games was, well, the Hunger Games. The action scenes in the games themselves were never that well done; they weren’t gruesome or stylized enough to contend with the shock factor of Battle Royale, they were endlessly fascinated with completely incapacitating Katniss no matter how minor the skirmish, and most perplexingly, the narrative frequently got bored with the combat narrative entirely and forced the protagonists to go up against environmental hazards that they always, always, always survived through pure dumb luck. The fight scenes always ended up getting in the way of the much more interesting character interaction and the political maneuvering between the various factions. All of that was never clearer than in last year’s startlingly improved sequel, Catching Fire, which was positively fantastic right up until the relevant parties had to start murdering each other again.
So imagine my feelings when it turn out the next movie gets rid of the arena stuff altogether in favor of non-stop political maneuvering. Sure, the Part 1 thing is weird, but it doesn’t necessarily preclude a movie from being good just because it’s only half done by the time the credits roll. More than simply waiting for the series to impress me, I was holding out for greatness.
Greatness, I am happy to say, is what we received.
Mockingjay follows Katniss Everdeen, fresh from her lightning stunt at the last movie’s Quarter Quell and rescued by the heretofore unknown District 13. District 13 and their leader, President Coin, want to use Katniss as a symbol of their revolution to inspire the other Districts to their side, a task that becomes somewhat more difficult once a captured Peeta begins appearing on the airwaves begging the revolution to stop.
Mockingjay Part 1 proves that the whole “deadliest game” structure was just holding this series back. Rather than all that children vs children action anyone could never want, Mockingjay indulges in a different, cooler type of warfare—information warfare. Since Katniss can’t act, the only way the revolution can properly use her as a symbol is to throw her into the thick of things and film her genuine reactions. The result is an inverse of last movie’s tour of the various districts, replacing roaring crowds with hollowed out buildings and elaborate parties with understaffed military hospitals. The Capital counters with varying levels of psychological warfare, particularly Peeta’s seemingly turncoat presence. The movie does a great job of showcasing Katniss’s emotional fragility at this stage. It basically takes a team of her friends and family to keep her going at any given time, and Jennifer Lawrence sells the hell out of her breakdowns. Sometimes a little too well; I’d never use the words “whiny hysterics” to describe a grieving teenage girl, buuuuuuut…
In addition, no more are interesting characters introduced with flourish only to die unceremoniously and anti-climactically. Instead, characters both new and old thrive and contribute character action to the plot. I dare say that character action is the plot, and without traditional action beats or structure, the sequence of events becomes highly unpredictable. When it departs from the propaganda formula, it does so by endangering characters that are minor enough to actually conceivably die, ratcheting up the tension. After two movies of being carted around by forces beyond the main character’s control, it’s refreshing to see them in an adventure that lives and dies by the actions of its characters.
In a series with such spectacles as gratuitous child death and poisonous fog that melts your skin off, Mockingjay Part 1 somehow manages to be even more child-unfriendly than its predecessor. Expressed desire for suicide, televised executions, and a field full of charred skeletons all make an appearance in the first twenty minutes alone (remember when the series was aimed at teenagers?). But that’s the closest thing I can level when it comes to a complaint. Mockingjay is dark without being depressing. It is intelligent without being obtuse. It is conservative without being inert. It gets rid of the series’ tendency towards violence and comes out better for it.
Highly intelligent and unpredictable—when was the last time you watched a movie about a heroic dystopian misinformation campaign?—Mockingjay is a joy to behold. Provided you’ve navigated through the slog of a first movie and the mixed bag that was the sequel, there is no reason to pass this one up.
By Neil Hazel | Follow @IamNeilHazel
The idea of space travel is equal parts terrifying and exciting. Being all-alone in the drifts of space, discovering places that very few have even dreamed of exploring. Christopher Nolan, director of films such as Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy, gives us a glimpse into what might actually be out beyond the stars with Interstellar. This film really is a powerhouse in many categories, including it’s storyline, and because of this I will attempt to keep this review as spoiler free as possible.
Interstellar is set at an undisclosed amount of time into the future, a future that is distinct yet familiar. As the Earth begins to become uninhabitable, a group of explorers sets out to find a new planet that the people living on Earth can call home. What follows is an exhausting (in a good way) journey, as we follow both the crew, and their families back home. From the very beginning of the film you are sucked into its world, while it slowly begins to open up more and more details. Rather than throw everything at you all at once, Interstellar allows us to discover it’s world in a natural manner, making it more relatable and believable, despite its futuristic setting. Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, is our eye into this world. He is a hard working, family man that is trying to provide a perfect life for his kids. He delivers an emotional performance that is both entertaining and heartbreaking to watch.
As the film leaves Earth and heads into space it becomes even more awe-inspiring. Over the course of the entire film there are countless scenes that left my heart racing, and not in the typical Hollywood fashion. While many films claim to be science-fiction are just action movies in a futuristic setting, Interstellar is truly science-fiction. The events that take place are all grounded in science and seem plausible, despite the wondrous connotations behind it all. The film does a good job of making its heavy science, understandable to the general audience. There are no epic fight scenes, the film is not riddled with explosions like most other blockbusters, but that does not make it any less exciting, entertaining, or powerful. Several moments are downright chill inducing and jaw dropping. The visuals are amazing, provided an intelligent and accurate look into the outer reaches of space, so too is the storyline, with several revelations occurring that stuck with me long after I left the theatre.
Interstellar also presents several powerful and hard-hitting themes. Life and death, hope and loss, these themes are put on display, often at parallel times, which helps ramp up the emotional impact of them. At several periods a number of members in the audience were left in tears, only to be leaning forward in their seat with excitement minutes later. It is in this way that the film is exhausting. Nolan does not just want the viewer to be a passive bystander, the film is engaging from beginning to end, making you think and feel, making you put yourself into the situations of the characters, and thinking of how you would deal with them.
As the film neared its conclusion I began to worry that it would not be able to wrap up in a satisfying matter, but by the time the final scene is done I felt completely satisfied. Interstellar is a marvelous film, one that I advise you see on the biggest screen possible. It allows us to step away from our world and into a brand new one. Fueled by great performances, fantastic set-pieces, and emotional power, Interstellar is an intelligent blockbuster.
Big Hero 6
By Neil Hazel
When Marvel released Guardians of The Galaxy earlier this year they showed their willingness to put some of their more obscure characters on display. With Big Hero 6 they have reached further into that obscurity, and pulled out another successful film. Disney acquired Marvel for a hefty sum back in 2009; many wondered just what they would do with the characters and their respective universe. Since then, films like The Avengers have found both commercial and critical success, but none of them truly felt like Disney films. Big Hero 6 presents the first film that represents the best of both Disney and Marvel.
Big Hero 6 tells the story of Hiro, a boy genius living in San Fransokyo, a beautiful mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo. When disaster strikes and a strange villain appears in the city, Hiro enlists the help of some of his friends and the adorable, marshmallow-esque robot Baymax in order to stop him. While the plot does start to fall off into the predictable Disney realm, it is still bunches of fun going from point A to B with the cast of characters that make up the titular group, all of which are perfectly animated and voice acted. Each character is unique and memorable in personality, appearance, and super power, but it is Baymax (voiced by 30 Rocks Scott Adsit) that most viewers will be drawn to. He is adorable, hilarious, and downright awesome.
The animation is flawless, as is usual with Disney films. Some of the action scenes rival that of Marvels standard fare films, while also packing the emotional punch that is common for Disney. San Fransokyo is a wonderful backdrop for the film featuring cherry blossom trees commonly seen in Tokyo coupled with the steep hills and cable cars that San Francisco are known for. Even the Golden Gate Bridge is given some Asian accents to help make the setting stand out. These features, while they may seem minor, are a great touch, seeing as the original Big Hero 6 comic book featured an all-Japanese group of characters.
Big Hero 6 is the perfect blend of Disney and Marvel for both kids and adults. It is action packed, touching, and hilarious. One of the funniest scenes of the movie is when Baymax runs low on batteries and begins acting like that person at the party who has had one too many to drink. While it will go over most kid’s heads, it is a joke that most adults can relate too. In typical Marvel fashion there is a Stan-Lee Cameo, and as usual make sure you stay after the credits for the hidden scene. In a year that has put out some awesome animated films, Big Hero 6 can stand with the best of them.
By Steven Mullaney
“Can we run this?”
“No, morally. Yes, legally.”
Nightcrawler is a thriller that comes to us as a complete inverse of last week’s box office offering, with never ending parade of things to talk about. Nightcrawler’s particular focus is in the field of crime journalism: Where is the line between reporting a story to the masses and watching someone die instead of helping them? Is it okay to pay people for gratuitous footage, thus basically incentivizing the depiction of human suffering? What happens when you accept that as your career in life? I mean, really accept it? What happens when a ratings philosophy is interpreted as a mission statement? What happens when people are valued more dead than alive? Can you put a price on watching a person die? Should you?
Detached from fundamental human empathy, everything that goes in to crime journalism becomes bloated and ugly, fear mongering dedicated to herding viewers in front of their TV screens. It’s somewhat ironic that this movie happens to have the name of one of the X-Men characters, because this movie is basically about a man’s descent (ascent?) into supervillainy.
Nightcrawler would like you to meet Louis Bloom, phenomenally played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Louis is a petty thief teetering on the edge of the functional autistic spectrum and society as a whole. Educated entirely on internet business articles and ostracized by the people he does business with because of, you know, the stealing, Louis is a bundle of raw nerves always on the lookout for a way to worm (hah!) his way into society and something he can call a career. Louis’s “lab accident” happens one night when he sees some men filming a car accident so they can sell the footage to morning news networks. Starting with nothing but a camcorder, a police scanner, and a willingness to go to lengths no one else will, Louis begins working his way up the crime journalism totem pole. For a long, long time it isn’t clear what Louis is actually after, and the narrative becomes just as much about unraveling Louis’s mental processes as it is his journey to the top. Much like the characters in the movie, the audience doesn’t catch on to Louis’s true nature until it is much too late.
To say more would be to rob you of the experience, but this next part is important to emphasize. Your enjoyment of Nightcrawler is predicated on one of two things; your ability to watch Louis Bloom for two hours, or your receptiveness to the movie’s central metaphor. Personally, Louis does nothing for me. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great character, and there’s nothing wrong with the way he’s built, but I just don’t like watching him do things. There’s a particular scene in a Mexican restaurant where Louis reveals his true colors, and it will either have you squirming in your seat or nail your jaw to the floor with its audacity. For me, that part marked where the movie became an exercise in putting up with Louis until the movie could deliver its ultimate message.
That message happens to be fantastic. It’s an endlessly clever hat trick that turns everything you thought the movie was on its head. But on that front, Nightcrawler is like a joke that takes two hours to tell. You can’t skip any of the set-up because it’s all vital to the punchline, and you can’t skip to the punchline because it doesn’t make any sense without the set-up. I can’t even imagine what this movie would look like if you tuned in halfway through; it would be like getting air-lifted halfway up the Matterhorn. It can only function as a complete whole.
As for the allegations that this movie is funny, I imagine they’re kind of people who find the humor in Full Metal Jacket. Out of context, yeah, Louis threatening to fire someone because they dripped a little gasoline on his car could be funny, and that opening quote could certainly generate a hearty chuckle. But while watching the actual movie of Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey comes off as terrifying and oppressive to me as he probably does to the cadets. When it comes to Nightcrawler and all of the things that are apparently supposed to be satire, for me the atmosphere and delivery buries the line between what’s exaggerated and what’s supposed to be taken at face value. It all reads the same from down here.
I’d like to reiterate that where Nightcrawler ends up going is pretty great. But if you’re not interested in the metaphor, the only thing left to chew on is the spectacle of watching Louis Bloom navigate the tumultuous world of crime journalism, and I simply don’t have the mindset to care about his problems. Without that, Nightcrawler is left to squirm in the dark, eyeless and surrounded by society’s dirt. If only there was a name for that.
By Steven Mullaney
“It’s not what you did, son. It’s who you did it to.”
John Wick is an action movie’s action movie. Beyond the events that make up the story, beyond what is actually, literally happening on-screen, there is no deeper activity going on. John Wick is purposefully and aggressively about absolutely nothing. I dare say it’s the action movie that every other action movie quietly dreams about becoming before being injected with the prejudices of its creator or a message to convey. John Wick has no thematic subtext, just bullet-ridden regular text. Every possible moral statement or guiding philosophy is flushed away like a juice cleanse.
But all of that is a calculated bid on all sides of the production to cultivate the purity of the action movie experience. John Wick may be empty of messages, but not emotion. It doesn’t have inner complexity, but it has a deep sense of fun. John Wick isn’t a story about themes, it’s a story about people.
People who get shot in the head by John Wick.
The plot of John Wick is structured like an Olympic swimmer, with all of the fat burned off until nothing is left but lean efficiency. John’s wife has died of cancer. John isn’t doing too great until a package shows up on his doorstep, containing a puppy his wife bought to keep John company after she passed away. For a minute it looks like life could return to normal—until a local mob boss’s son named Iosef decides he likes John’s car, and kills the dog during the process of stealing it.
The pace briefly runs out of steam midway through before catching a second wind, but other than that, there are no faulty parts in the John Wick machine. All of John Wick’s attention is focused inward in order to get the best mileage possible out of its somewhat limiting premise. John Wick is a movie that will never need to be remade—no matter how much future executives may want to—because it did everything it set out to do the first time, with no room for improvement. It is an evolutionary cul-de-sac action movie at the peak of its development. Historians may very well point to John Wick and go “There. That’s when we stopped being able to do actionized revenge thrillers. They’d come as far as they would go.”
As stated earlier, aside from a steadfast pro-live dog/anti-dead dog message, there’s nothing to glean and no central motivating message. This is as empty as an action movie can possibly get without losing function. Just like John himself, the movie made a difficult lifestyle choice and then worked as hard as it could to make it possible. As the saying goes, it takes a lot of effort to look this effortless; you could write a thesis paper about how this movie manages to be so polished while only rarely coming off as stale.
I’m not saying John Wick is a perfect movie. But John Wick is the perfect realization of what it is trying to be. What that is is a great action movie dedicated to nothing but the pure joy of being an action movie. If you like action movies, this is a must see. If you don’t, skip it. It is exactly as distilled as that, because it just doesn’t get more distilled than John Wick.
By Neil Hazel | Follow @IamNeilHazel
While most of the years biggest blockbusters come out in the summertime, fall and winter are considered Oscar season, the time when movie studios release their films most likely to receive Oscar nominations. Gone Girl is one of the first movies of the year to truly be considered Oscar worthy. Because the film is packed with so many twists and turns I will try to keep this review light on details and spoiler free.
Gone Girl is about Nick (Ben Afflek) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) Dunn, a couple celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary. When Amy suddenly goes missing, both the police, and the media begin to accuse Nick. What follows is a series of plot twists and revelations, many of them extremely shocking. The movie runs at just over two hours, but I never found myself bored. The pacing of the film is on point thanks to director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) who specializes in telling creating thrillers that never let up.
The film is enthralling from the opening shot to the closing. This is due to not only great directing, but also great acting and a phenomenal score. The storyline tells a perfect story, slowly giving away details until the big reveal. But the film doesn’t stop there, where other films might rush to the conclusion, Gone Girl takes its time to really show the impact of the events that have taken place. The media circus that surrounds Nick after his wife’s disappearance gives an insightful look at how events are portrayed in today’s media, delivering a powerful message on top of the exciting story. The acting is also superb, with each character, from the main couple to the supporting cast, giving captivating performances. Tyler Perry plays Nicks defense lawyer and, despite his reputation as the goofy grandma in the Madea series, delivers a solid performance. Neil Patrick Harris also gives a strong showing as Amy’s ex-lover. Both characters help provide some comedic relief, albeit dark comedic relief, to the story. But it is Rosamund Pike that steals the show. Without giving too much away, I would be extremely surprised if she did not receive an Oscar nomination for her performance. Speaking of Oscars, the music that helps create the tension in Gone Girl is also worthy. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame once again teams up with Atticus Ross to score the movie. It is difficult to describe the impact that the music has without seeing it for yourself, but it is spot on, invoking the perfect feelings for every scene.
Gone Girl does not break any new ground in film, but it does perform perfectly in nearly every manner. It is an entertaining ride from start to finish and a film that is certain to create buzz around Oscar time. I can whole-heartedly recommend this movie, and urge anyone considering seeing the film to do so before hearing any spoilers.
Guardians of the Galaxy
By Neil Hazel | Follow @IamNeilHazel
Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie that may seem strange for a Marvel movie at first thought. Marvel has been slowly building a cinematic universe with big name heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. Guardians of the Galaxy flips that idea on its head, starring a band of misfit anti-heroes that are just as likely to crack a joke and fight with each other as they are to save the day. None of the 5 primary members of the Guardians have ever been in the spotlight, but after their amazing run in this film that is certain to change.
Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) also known as Star-Lord, who after being abducted by aliens as a child, becomes a treasure hunting, Indiana Jones type character in space. Just like Marvels first big team up movie, The Avengers, Guardians features a team of heroes, but because each member didn’t have its own film to establish the character, it is great to see how naturally they are introduced. That is no small task considering the range of characters that make up the Guardians. Other than Star-Lord there is a wise-cracking, heavy weapons loving raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a 7 foot tall sentient tree, Groot (Vin Diesel), a ruthless fighter, Drax (Dave Bautista), and a tough as nails alien out for revenge, Gamora (Zoe Saldana). These characters all interact in unique ways, both in conversations and in the fight scenes. Each character is given several individual moments to shine. There were several laugh out loud moments, and several one liners that I found kept coming back to me and making me laugh days later.
Director James Gunn has made not only one of the best, but also one of the most fun movies of the year. Guardians of the Galaxy is a refreshing take on the summer blockbuster. One of the biggest standouts of the film is the color palette. Almost every scene is gorgeous to look at, especially in 3D. Bright blue, yellow, purple, neon green, and crimson red are just a few of the colors that are used vibrantly throughout the film. While it may have been easy to force in a romantic subplot like so many other films have recently done, it is nice to see that it was skipped over in favor of more action set pieces which are great. There are aerial ship battles, up close and personal fistfights (or branch fights in Groot’s case), and dramatic standoffs, all dripping in the personality and character that only the Guardians can bring. The only real downsides that I can think of are the villain and the ending. There’s nothing wrong with Ronan (Lee Pace) as the villain, it just seems like the character is a little less entertaining than what Marvel has supplied in the past with the likes of Loki and The Winter Soldier. As for the ending, it may seem cheesy to some, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that it was a great way for the film to end, given the events that led up to the finale.
It is hard to talk about Guardians of the Galaxy without mentioning the soundtrack. The tracks are comprised of songs from the 1970’s that Star-Lord listens to on a mixtape from his childhood, featuring hits such as The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirt In The Sky”.
Guardians of the Galaxy is not only a great film, but a refreshing one. It is easily one of Marvel’s best films, as well as being one of the best films of the summer. If you are a fan of Marvel movies, superhero movies, sci-fi movies, funny movies, action movies, or adventure movies, you have no excuse to not see this film. Guardians exhibits some of the funniest dialogue, interesting characters and exciting action pieces of any movie this year. It is one of most entertaining movies I’ve ever seen, and with a sequel already confirmed it is exciting to see what Gunn and the rest of the crew will come up with next.
By Neil Hazel | Follow @IamNeilHazel
Boyhood is one of the more ambitious films released in recent memory, showcasing the journey of a young child into early adulthood. What makes Boyhood so special is that it was filmed over 12 years with the same cast and crew. The film starts in the early 2000’s with the boy, (Ellar Coltrane), as a young, carefree child and follows him all the way through his high school graduation and into college. Boyhood serves as a compelling look back through the past decade in terms of pop culture, showcasing how music, videogames, fashion and technology can all change drastically in a relatively short amount of time. In the beginning of the film, the boys mother, (Patricia Arquette), ensures the boy that he will be able to keep in touch with family and friends after moving by writing letters or e-mailing them. Fast forward ten years, and we see the boy using facetime to instantly connect with his father, (Ethan Hawke). It is also amazing to see the foresight that the film displays, when the addressing topics that seem both nostalgic and relevant. Harry Potter, Twilight, and Halo are all put on display. At one point, in the boys pre-teen years, he discusses with his father how it could be possible to make a sequels to Star Wars.
Throughout Boyhoods 160 minute runtime we see the boy and his family slowly age and develop, not only in appearance, but also in their relationships with each other, and in their own personal character. There is never a big emphasis placed on showing a time jump for him and his family, making the film flow naturally from one event into the next. One of the most pleasant aspects of Boyhood is how it succeeds in making the mundane exciting and emotional. While watching Boyhood I kept expecting for something overly dramatic and tragic to happen to him or his family, but it never does. That’s not to say that the boy and his family have an easy walk through life, there are bad things that happen, but nothing that doesn’t seem like it couldn’t have happened to any family. Boyhood is almost self-aware of the fact that the audience wants to see something tragic happen, foreshadowing it in several scenes, including one that had the entire audience holding their breath in anticipation. They are several moments in the film that will leave you feeling downtrodden, as the family struggles through their hardships, but there are also moments of joy as the family pulls together through all of the tragedy. Simple occurrences, such as long car rides, doing homework, or laundry, become laugh out loud moments.
After watching Boyhood it was hard not to reflect back on my own life. It is a trek through the highs and lows of life, showing that what may seem like the smallest moments of life can have importance. Boyhood is not a film to be missed. Not only because it is an achievement in filmmaking, but also because it is simply an entertaining movie.
Transformers: Age of Extinction
By Johnny “Yondie” Kassab | Follow @JohnnyKassab
I was going to post this review as soon as it came to theaters, but I wanted to wait until I saw it for a second time. I did this because I saw a handful of negative reviews for the Michael Bay film, despite how passionate I was when I saw it for the first time. The complaints in these reviews were along the lines of “the characters were unecessary” and “the plot was boring”, but I think that people aren’t looking at the big picture. Transformers knows that it isn’t the best movie out there, it isn’t aiming to claim your heart and get you emotionally attached. Transformers: Age of Extinction is a piece of cinema that involves Marky Mark, TJ Miller, Kelsey Grammer, and a whole lot of robots. If you want to see robots destroy other robots while hearing Marky Mark talk his way out of most stuff, this is the movie for you. Another complaint seemed to be the length, which I personally don’t understand. The plot in Transformers added a large chunk of depth to the story of The Transformers, which I couldn’t get enough of. If I’m paying for a $10 movie, I want as much robot action as I can get.
Well, that’s about all I can say about Transformers: Age of Extinction without ruining too much, but if you’re one that enjoys large robots fighting while Marky Mark makes tough decisions, this is a movie you don’t want to miss. I mean, just look at the picture above, why wouldn’t you want to see that?
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Trailer
By Johnny “Yondie” Kassab | Follow @JohnnyKassab
If you’re looking for a great movie to see this fall, get ready (but not too ready) for the 3rd installment in the Hunger Games movie series. This movie will pick up where the critically acclaimed Hunger Games: Catching Fire left off. Hopefully this movie won’t leave us with a cliffhanger like its predecessor did. Above is the trailer for the new movie, which can send chills down your body.