Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review: Whiplash (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

When do the ends stop justifying the means? If you shape a young talent into a star, but crush his spirit in the process, is his ascension to that next plateau still a win? Damien Chezelle's Whiplash is the story of an abusive relationship, but it's also a story about the atmosphere and attitudes that foster that kind of abuse and enshrine the abuser in a position of institutional power. The result is a brutal duet played out between actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons and a story with madness at its core, the madness of men so driven towards the highest level of achievement that they're willing to destroy themselves and others to get there. It is a film of sometimes unbearable emotional intensity and so tightly coiled for so much of its running time that when it finally and fully explodes in its finale, it leaves you breathless.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

21st Century Essentials: Blue Valentine (2010)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling
Country: USA

Where does love go? Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine does not attempt to answer that question, but instead offers a frank, sometimes brutal, meditation on the vacuum created once affection spends itself. This is a portrait of a relationship on the precipice, of two people torn apart by their personal disappointments and struggling to keep their heads above water, to keep things together, to find some scrap of happiness that would make it all worthwhile. That description probably makes the film sound harsh and depressing, but while Blue Valentine is definitely a very serious piece, it’s also one that can be surprisingly funny, and one which contains two stellar performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Beautifully crafted and executed, Blue Valentine is an affecting and dramatically rich film that resonates.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday's Top 5... 2014's Underseen Gems

Before the holiday movie season kicks into high gear, take some time to check out these underseen films from earlier in the year, now available on video and on demand

#5: Locke

Because Locke is basically just Tom Hardy driving around for 80 minutes, talking to various people on the phone, it's easy to understand why few people have taken a chance on it. It sounds... boring. But a description doesn't really do justice to how good the film is as a character driven drama (even if most of the characters only exist off-screen), and Hardy's performance is phenomenal.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Birdman (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zack Galifianakis, Naomi Watts

Gimmicks are a double-edged sword. On the one hand a gimmick can bring attention to a film which, in a crowded marketplace, might otherwise get lost in the shuffle. On the other hand, a gimmick can dominate conversation in such a way that the movie itself gets lost even as people are talking about it. Designed to look like it is unfolding in one long, continuous take, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman has a gimmick that can't be ignored, but it is more than a mere exercise in form. A vital and exciting film as much for its technical wizardry as for the bravura performance as its center, Birdman is a singularly entertaining movie and an experience that shouldn't be missed.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday's Top 5... Behind the Music Movies

(fictional musicians edition)

#5: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

At the risk of engaging in hyperbole, Walk Hard is one of the funniest movies of the last decade. A satire of musical biopics that follows its title character through several decades and musical styles, and riffs on the personas of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Brian Wilson (just to name a few), Walk Hard is sharp and highly quotable. It's shocking how often the phrase "I'm cut in half pretty bad" comes in handy in real life.