Tag Archives: 2014 films

Maps To The Stars (2014)

4 Mar

Ah, to be David Cronenberg.

The Provocateur’s 21st (!!!) feature film Maps To The Stars marks a true return to form for the director, after his previous film Cosmopolis underperformed critically and commercially back in 2012.  Ever since 2006’s excellent A History of Violence, Mr. Cronenberg seems to have abandoned his gore-filled fascination with bodily horror in favor of darkly and subtly examining the psychological horror embedded deep within ourselves. Maps To The Stars is no different. 

The Film focuses on an atypical hollywood family, particularly when Agatha Weiss (played brilliantly by Mia Wasikowska) comes back home from a mysterious Florida trip. Her mother and father (played by Olivia Williams and John Cusack) each have their own set of issues at play, most of which become increasingly complicated with Agatha’s unwelcome return.  Thier troubles don’t hold a candle to actress Havana’s (Julianne Moore) however, as she is on the brink of scoring the film role of a lifetime, and in a strange coincidence, hires Agatha as her personal assistant or self described “chore-whore”. 

One of Maps’ greatest highlights is in it’s casting. Appearances by Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon round out a wonderfully dark and amusing bunch of performances, and newcomer Evan Bird provides a very unorthodox look at child acting.  At times the script wanders aimlessly into rants about love, destiny, and forgiveness. At other times it divulges into vigana jokes.

Darkly bizarre and completely entrancing, Maps To The Stars certainly is poised to stir up quite the talk among hollywood circles, and deserves our full attention. Cronenberg has a knack for exposing and reveling in the hidden fears and desires of his characters and this film is one of his best examinations of the egocentric and conflicted mind at work. With an obvious distain (possibly even hatred) for the hollywood lifestyle Maps effectively disseminates the frail and futile search for personal fulfillment in a land riddled with commercial exploitation and extravagance.

This film is 100% Cronenberg at his most cynical best. The ugly characters manipulate, control and exploit one another, in the convoluted, erratic, and thorny environment that is the modern film industry. While the film does speak at multiple levels, it becomes clear early on that Cronenberg has developed a singular message: despite its glitzy and star-gazed appeal, there is a treacherous, cold, and violent facet of hollywood lurking just beneath surface.

Bottom Line: With an ensemble cast, Maps To The Stars makes for some ugly but fascinating viewing and a true return-to-form for Cronenberg.

Rating – 7/10 

Film Recipie: Cosmopolis (2012) + Nightcrawler (2014) + Mulholland Dr. (2001) 

 

The best of 2014 (so far)

23 Jun

With June winding down, the year is nearly reaching its halfway point. Now it’s time to sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly, and take a look at my favorite 15 films of the year so far. Keep in mind there are a few films released with a lot of good buzz I have yet to see (Ida, Tom at the Farm, Hellion, Cold in July, Night Moves, Obvious Child and Snowpiercer). Note I am also using the word favorite as opposed to best or greatest – these are simply the ones I enjoyed most. So without further delay:

 

15 – Edge of Tomorrow 

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Why? – I was pleasantly surprised by how tight and free-flowing this film was. It has a great time with the whole time-loop ting but still manages to be kickass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 – Grand Piano

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Why? It’s so refreshing to see a “concept horror” that actually knows how to have a good time and not suck. Plus Elijah Wood playing a non-hobbit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 – The Grand Budapest Hotel 

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 Why? Wes Anderson has outdone himself again and created an enchanting film with an all-star cast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 – X-Men: Days of Future Past 

Why? –  The action is playful and fun and character dynamic between Magneto, Prof. X, and Mystique is great stuff. Plus – time travel. What could have been a TOTAL mess-up ended up becoming my favorite summer blockbuster.

11 – The Immigrant 

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Why? Great performances all around, but Marion Cotillard absolutely steals the show and gives her finest performance to date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 – Joe 

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          Why? Because Nic Cage is still a total badass (seriously).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 – The Babadook 

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Why? Australian horror gets a makeover with a genuinely terrifying film that satisfies with smarts as well as scares.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8-  Infinitely Polar Bear 

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Why? This heartfelt film shows the ups and downs of mental illness and boasts some of the best child acting I have seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 – Whiplash 

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Why? With great performances from J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller  make this is an absolute must see for music fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 – The Double 

Why? A clever, dark comedy from Richard Ayode brings an introspective examination of identity, corporatism, and fate.\

5 – Borgman

Why? This weird, surreal tale about a mysterious vagabond probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s still an incredibly bold exercise in filmmaking.

 4 – Blue Ruin            

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  Why? A new arthouse take on the homestyle revenge thriller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 – Enemy

Why? Jake Gyllenhaal stars in this trippy, Freudian story of the dual nature of sexuality and manipulation.

2 – Under The Skin 

Why? A beautifully creepy film featuring aliens, sexual tension, and jaw-dropping cinematography. Oh – and that haunting score by Mica Levi is genius.

1 – Boyhood 

Why? Richard Linklater delivers the year’s best emotional high with his 12-year film which lets us follow a child who literally grows up right before our eyes.

So there ya go. Let me know in the comments of via email what films you think deserve a spot here, as well as any titles I might have missed out on.

Enemy (2014)

5 Jun

Filmed before but released after 2013’s breakout thriller Prisoners and also starring Jake Gyllenhaal, director Denis Villeneuve takes the road of the arthouse in his new film EnemyBased on a similar premise to this year’s fantastic comedy The Double, Enemy focuses on one man who comes across what appears to be his exact copy.  Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a university professor who spends his days teaching history and his nights with his lover Mary (Melanie Laurent).  His life is one of repetition; a cycle of rhythms  consisting of school, food and sex. His cyclical and comfortable lifestyle is interrupted when a coworker recommends a film that has an exact lookalike as Adam in the background. We soon find out this actor is named Anthony (who is also played by Gyllenhaal), and he curiously doesn’t live too far from where Adam works. The rest of the film becomes a hazy mess of events that spiral out through the interactions between Anthony the actor and Adam the spectator, and eventually concludes with a complex examination of the duality inherent in everyone.

Enemy is a dark, cryptic, and brooding film that relies heavily on atmosphere and tone. Lying somewhere in between the styles of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg, Villeneuve makes incredible use of lighting, music, and color to give us a mysterious and puzzling look into the lives of these duplicate characters.  The film becomes a sort of Freudian gaze into the subconscious when Gyllenhaal’s two characters each try to manipulate each other and each other’s woman. Wrought symbolism, tension, and the ongoing threat of violence, Enemy is not your everyday film, and many people will be frustrated by the film’s lack of focus on plot and character. I think the film has more to say that it initially lets on however, and multiple viewings and discussions will prove to be useful.  Enemy is an artful delight filled with various puzzles and meanings, and while it might prove to be too complex for some, it’s still provocatively thoughtful in its execution.

Rating 9/10 

Similar to: Mulholland Drive, Cosmopolis, Under The Skin

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Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

3 Jun

 

I’m sure we all have experienced that sense of cinematic deja vu when we watch a movie and think to ourselves “I have seen this all before”.  Edge of Tomorrow, the filmic adaptation of the popular manga All You Need Is Killis based around this very premise. A man, stuck in a time loop, repeats the last 24 hours to himself everytime he dies. He sees the same people, fights the same battles, and dies the same deaths over and over. Our lead in the film, General Cage (Tom Cruise) is a military media specialist who gets cast in the front line of battle after an unfortunate mix up.  The earth is at war with a mysterious alien species, who through some unexplained phenomena, have the ability to rewind the clocks. When this ability is transferred to Cage, he inherits the potential to learn – via trial and error – how to essentially be the best super-soldier and kick some serious alien butt with a new cyberkinetic military suit. Of course part of this learning experience means he must team up with another super-soldier named Rita (Emily Blunt in her most bad-ass role to date) who has her own mysterious past and motivations.

Edge of Tomorrow then essentially becomes a visual videogame. Our characters are placed in the futuristic battlefield and are only allowed to progress up to a certain point before the plug is pulled and everyone starts over on square one again. The film has so much fun with this time-looping concept it becomes impossible not to get sucked in.  Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Jumper) controls the action so fluidly and the visuals are top-notch. In a film like this, it is nearly impossible not to advance the plot through expository dialogue, but the script by Christopher McQuarry (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie) and Jez Butterworth (Fair Game) feels lively and energetic enough that you barely notice the majority of the plot is being explained directly to audience through Cruise’s character (to give him a break, he has seen this all before).

Things do get a little messy in the final act, and the climax feels a bit rushed and comes on too soon. However, Edge of Tomorrow really shows off what Cruise does best: shooting up stuff with style (watching him go from PR boy to mad killing machine is an absolute blast) and Blunt is impressively cool throughout. Overall, the movie is a fresh and fun edition to the summer blockbuster with guts, action, and intellect.

Rating: 7/10 

Similar to: Source Code (2011),  Pacific Rim (2013),  Avatar (2009), 
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Blue Ruin (2014)

28 Apr

Not all revenge thrillers are created equal.  Some, like the recently released Blue Ruin, are told with enough knowledge and understanding of the genre so well, they are able to redefine it.

The film focuses on Dwight, a Beach-bum drifter who spends his days rummaging through trash and sleeping in his car. He soon realizes that the person responsible for murdering his parents will soon be released from jail, ensuring that Dwight must now kill or be killed. The film takes several dark turns along it’s path, with most of them putting our protagonist in terribly violent situations. There is an overarching sense of dread in the film, which is occasionally interrupted by short bits of well-executed humor. It’s bold, suspenseful filmmaking with rich and engaging characters and enough twists to make multiple viewings a necessity.  Simply put, Blue Ruin is easily one of the best films of its kind and will stand out among the genre for years to come.

 

 

 

Rating: 9/10 

Similar to: No Country for Old Men, Drive, Animal Kingdom 

Under The Skin (2014)

27 Apr

Under The Skin is the new thriller/sci-fi/horror from Jonathan Glazer, a director known mostly for his work in music videos though he did direct the feature films Sexy Beast and Birth. Voluptuous leading lady Scarlett Johanson stars in this trippy, abstract, and provocative story about a space creature who roams the Scottish countryside preying upon innocent male victims.

The film starts out with a very impressive montage of bizarre imagery set to a screeching musical piece as Scarlett’s character soon makes her entrance unto the earth, and into the lives of those unfortunate enough to cross her path.  The rest of the movie is a slow-burning and often dark examination into the nature of love, loneliness, sexuality and the value of connectedness.  While some sequences Glazer directs with a pin-point meticulousness, others seem entirely spontaneous and impulsive resulting in a film rich with a variety of atmospheric tones.  Boasting a wonderful score from Mica Levi, and featuring some of the best visuals of the year, Under The Skin makes for a sublime and rewarding cinematic experience.

My biggest issue with the film is that it puts too much style over substance, and unfortunately borders on the fine line between being artful and being pretentious. A forty-second shot of a mountain – though gorgeously shot – is still just a forty-second shot of a mountain, and adds little to the film’s rhythm or narrative. If you are looking for an artsy and experimental take on the genre, Under The Skin is bound to satisfy, while those looking for something a bit less cryptic are best left to check out Scarlett in Captain America 2. I was completely spellbound.

Rating: 9/10 

Similar to: Enemy (2014), The Master (2012), Upstream Color (2013)