Still Alice

“This past Sunday was all about seeing Best Actress nominees, thus rounding out the last of the above the line nominated films I was missing. It started with current frontrunner Julianne Moore in Still Alice, where she played a woman diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s.

Moore was fantastic. She had a real sincerity and humanity to what she was doing, instead of simply mugging for the camera as many in this type of role would be likely to do. She got what it was about. it wasn’t about seeing the physical effects, or even the mental effects of the disease. It was about the emotional impact of it. What it’s like to lose who you are and what effect it has on your relationships. She had a determination to hold on to everything she loved, and it was both beautiful and heartbreaking to watch.

There was a strong supporting cast, and I truly mean supporting as they were playing her family, trying to take care of her thru the ordeal. Alec Baldwin, in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role (well uncharacteristic for me who knows him best as Jack Donaghy) as her husband. He was such a sweetheart, equally frustrated by the turn of events, with a stubborn will to not accept defeat. Her children, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish (*swoon*) (and in a second turn as Baldwin’s kid after It’s Complicated), and Kristin Stewart. Now, early on, I’d heard some compliments for Stewart’s work, even some long shot award possibilities. I made skepticism face. But it turns out, she is able to add some depth to the angsty face she perfected in Twilight. When I wrote up Panic Room a few months ago, one of her earliest acting jobs, I decried the potential that was later wasted. She’s starting to get it back, and I really hope that she does.

At times, this wasn’t an easy film to get thru, but I feel it’s an important one. It’s a story that’s becoming more and more common in our lives, and deserved to be explored on screen with the level of dignity and care that it was given.

Still Alice – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

“Hedwig is one of the more recent additions to my very long list of obsessions. I’d known about her for a while, but it wasn’t until NPH took on the role on Broadway that it started for me. I went to a show soon after previews were ended and absolutely loved it. So completely different from anything I’d ever seen on Broadway, and wonderful in every way possible. As soon as his version of the soundtrack was out, I played it constantly. I went back to see Michael C Hall when he took over the role and fell even more in love with the show. Don’t ask me to compare the two though because both had such different approaches and both were amazing. I’d been meaning to watch the movie, and for a while it just hung out on my wishlists. What finally put me over the edge and made me get it was in thinking about my upcoming birthday. I thought it’d make a good movie night movie candidate. I’m still not 100% decided on that front, but it is still the frontrunner for the late timeslot (Aladdin taking the usual opening, followed by 22 Jump Street since 21 Jump Street was a big hit last year, and of course with Doctor Horrible’s in between each).

The movie was everything I’d hoped for. I got to relive some of the stage how and get some new insight into this wonderful diva. I saw moments that I recognized that were recreated on Broadway (possibly recreated from the original off broadway show), dialog, staging, etc. The structure is very different though, which is to be expected. The show is more intimate, and all takes place at once, with Hedwig retelling her life. The movie had a combination of flashback and forward time, and of course, we actually saw the flashbacks. Biggest difference was having a separate actor playing Tommy Gnosis, since we actually saw scenes with him. (Sidebar: Why didn’t anyone ever tell me Michael Pitt was Tommy Gnosis? I would have seen this sooooo much sooner!). The show is something I could (and would love to) experience over and over again, but this is an acceptable substitute.

I completely love John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig. She’s so beautiful and vulnerable, in a way that I didn’t get as much from Harris or Hall. When pics started coming out this past week of Mitchell stepping into her Broadway heels, I really could not get over how stunning he looked. So natural and at ease. I am kinda tempted to run back to NYC to see his take, but at this point I think I’m going to have to make do with just the movie.

The one thing missing is Yitzhak. I mean, he’s here, but we don’t get his story, just his sad expressions as things play out. On Broadway, Lena Hall’s Yitzhak is such an integral part of the show, but he’s more easily overlooked here. Oh we also don’t get the Hurt Locker song but that’s to be expected, for obvious reasons of timeline. Still, Hedwig has my heart forever.”

Cake

“Jennifer Aniston was quite the talk of Hollywood over the past few weeks. Could the former Friends star and usually comedic actress actually pull off an Oscar nomination? Despite other major nominations and accolades, she didn’t score the big one. Still, I had to see it as she portrayed a woman living with severe chronic pain in Cake.

Honestly, I thought she was trying a little too hard in an obviously Oscar bait-y role. It pains to me say it, because I don’t want to knock one of the stronger female characters we’ve seen in the past year (that was incredibly lacking in that area in general), and she really did commit to the role fully, but something was off. Maybe there was a lack of sincerity somewhere, maybe the idea wasn’t as fleshed out as it could have been, maybe the motivation wasn’t right. I’m not sure. It was good and captivating, but not the type of moving performance I was led to expect.

That said, the one that I was enthralled with was Adriana Barraza as Aniston’s caretaker. I hadn’t even recognized her until I saw her name in the end credits. She was Oscar nominated a few years back for Babel, and pretty much the only thing that stuck with me from that movie was her performance. I know, I know, I put way too much stock in this whole Academy Awards thing, but we’ve all got our obsessions. Anyways, she was the one to watch here, giving a fuller range of emotion and what I thought was the more sympathetic performance.

I wonder if part of what turned me off from this film was that it was very difficult to watch, at least for the beginning. As we’re getting to know Aniston’s Claire, we’re seeing glimpses into her daily struggle. With every wince and grimmace you feel some of the pain. I was shifting around in my seat, unable to find a comfortable position. And then, her attitude makes it hard to sympathize with her, another factor that may have turned me (and awards voters) off. She takes a shut-out-the-world approach to dealing, and while you know that bristly exterior is a coping mechanism, it’s still effective.

Still, I’ve gotta give the film props for being unique, at least as far as the issue it’s tackling. Also, it wasn’t afraid to dip its toe into some dark places. The performances were good, but again something was still off somewhere. For me it was worth having seen once, but I don’t know that it’s worth specifically seeking out

Cake – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Paddington

“Up until two weeks ago, I had zero intentions of seeing this. I’m sure I had a Paddington stuftie somewhere on my overpacked shelf, but I’m not particularly attached to him. And the initial trailer of his bathroom hijinks did not appeal to me. the Creepy Paddington meme didn’t help matters either. The news of Colin Firth dropping out as the voice of the bear didn’t quite concern me. The reports that his suave older voice didn’t really fit made sense. Nicole Kidman being involved didn’t really give it the cred you’d expect, since she has a soft spot for the bear. Side note: it is kind of cute (in an aww honey sort of way) that her agent initially passed on the film for her and only briefly mentioned it as an aside later, when she pounced on it, proclaiming her childhood love of Paddington. Right, point is, I didn’t care much. Then the reviews and such started coming out and people were saying it was good. Like really good. Suuuuure, let’s give this a try.

Was it good, really good? Eh. It was fine. None of the magic of a truly great children’s film, but it didn’t talk down to the kiddies either. I could see how those who grew up with this fluffball would appreciate it. Again, I don’t know him well enough to know how true to character it was, but he did come off as very British and very sincere. Ben Whishaw was a good vocal choice, I think, with the right blend of wonder and whimsy with a proper accent. My biggest joy, however, was seeing the current doctor, Peter Capaldi in a scene stealing small role. Well, scene stealing for me because I really wanted to see him.

So it still might not have been quite for me, though I found things to appreciate. The kids in the audience seemed to enjoy it. There was much high pitched laughter and a few very audible gasps at key moments. And really, it’s all for them, isn’t it?

Paddington – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Blackhat

“””I wanted to love this movie.”” How many times have I included that sentiment in a write up? I was about to open this one with that line, when I realized that it wasn’t really true. I wanted to be optimistic about it, and at some points may have even convinced myself this would be great, but really, the odds were stacked against it. I think the combination of Michael Mann’s street cred and the novelty of sexiest man alive Chris Hemsworth playing an MIT grad gave me hope. The sad reality is how often do these super genius movies or hacker movies ever really get it right? Not too often, and this wasn’t one of them.

So Hemsworth is a convicted felon, in prison for something hacker related. His old MIT roommate works for the Chinese government and is tasked to find the hacker that shut down a nuclear power plant. The bad, or blackhat, hacker borrowed some code that Hemsworth and roomie wrote, so roomie makes a deal with the US government to furlough Hemsworth and hunt down this baddie. And Viola Davis is hanging around as his handler and CIA liasons. Seriously, this is the plot, and I honestly was trying to look past the silliness and try to find a good movie in there somewhere.

It actually started off pretty decent. Things played out too fast to really notice any bad technobabble. Actually with my limited knowledge, nothing seemed too far off or too far fetched. The story was moving fast and there was a lot happening, and then it slowed to a crawl. Right. It’s a Michael Mann film. Pretty much everyone of his films that I’ve sat thru has that signature slowdown (and subsequent longer than necessary run time). It all started coming back to me as I spaced out. At one point, I remember thinking that I was giving the movie one last chance to turn itself around. There was still time to wow me, and leave me feeling happy with the film. No joke, within about 30 seconds, there were game changing jaw dropping events. Hope had returned. And then it didn’t really develop into anything special, just sorta trudged along to a somewhat anticlimactic resolution. Oh well.

Still not sure how much I believe Hemsworth as a hacker, although his character was just written to be way different from any of the computer nerds I work with. So it was more in the writing than in the acting. At least he’s still pretty.

Oh and Viola Davis, you’re a phenomenal actress and I adore you. Let’s just forget this film existed and leave it off your resume going forward, kay? No harm done.

Blackhat – \m/ \m/ \n”

The Spectacular Now

“I don’t typically go for these teeny rom-y flicks (well established fact), but this one had a good rep and leads that I really like (Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley). The aimless and party-heavy high school boy and the nice quiet girl get together at the end of high school. There was also some good help on the supporting side: Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bob Odenkirk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler. I did think that it felt a bit more real than movie relationships (especially with the young uns) tend to, and our leads were very good, but still not really my thing.

At the very least, still a better love story than Twilight.”

A Most Violent Year

“Writer/director JC Chandor has really just exploded on the scene, coming out of nowhere. I first found him because his friend and collaborator Zachary Quinto was plugging him pretty hard. Margin Call wowed everyone (me included) and then won him an Academy Award nod for screenplay right out of the gate. He followed up with All is Lost, which while maybe not the most entertaining film (for me at least), was certainly a masterpiece in it’s own right. This year, he brings us A Most Violent year.

Set in New York 1981, a year where the city was overrun with more violence than it had ever seen before, we follow Oscar Isaac’s Abel, as he tries to move his business forward in the midsts of terror and tensions. As was the case with Margin Call, I was enthralled throughout. The wordy but intricate (yet not confusing) screenplay kept me hanging on for what was going to happen. I grew to care for Abel, and his wife Anna (a fiery Jessica Chastain who should have garnered an Oscar nod *sigh*). The one complain story side is that maybe Chandor hit the foreshadowing a little too hard. In an early scene, the man on the other end of Abel’s business deal stresses multiple times that he only has 30 days to get the requisite funds. You just know somewhere down the line he’s gonna be on his knees asking for an extension. There were a couple other moments like that, but otherwise, it was pretty flawless.

Isaac and Chastain were incredible. I’d been hearing much praise for Isaac, but was taking it all with a grain of salt. It was coming from many of the same sources who praised him last year in Inside Llewyn Davis, which while a good performance, I didn’t like the film at all. But no, the acclaim here was worth it in its own right. He was a Don Corleone without the blatant corruption (there were hints that some corruption may have existed, but it was never surfaced). When I heard one scene where he was speaking perfect Spanish, I knew he must be some form of Hispanic (Guatemalan, I later found out) and I loved him even more.

And wow Jessica. I tend to like her more when she’s feisty (more Zero Dark Thirty than The Help) and oh man did she deliver here. I’d read that she started the basis of her character from her nails. She had long nails that suggested a feminine fragility, but when provoked, you realized those were her claws. Everytime I noticed that manicure, I’d just smirk to myself, knowing we’d see her light up soon, and boy did she.

Walking out, I overheard a pair discussing the film. Saying how it was wonderfully acted and very well done, etc etc etc. I concur wholeheartedly.

A Most Violent Year – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

American Sniper

“Wow. I can’t remember the last time I was so moved by a film. This was just intense and incredible. I love that we’ve been getting films showcasing and celebrating our real life American heroes. Last year, we had Lone Survivor. Before that, Zero Dark Thirty (although there was less focus on the soldiers). I wish that every serviceman could get such a worthy tribute and moment in the spotlight.

I’d been surprised by how many Academy Award nominations this film scored last week as it had barely been in the conversations. Within a few minutes of watching the film, it was clear why the accolades were so well deserved.

Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, the real life Navy SEAL who served multiple tours in Iraq and picked up more confirmed kills than any US sniper in history. After a brief glimpse into his early life, we see him in Iraq and at home between stops. The film really gets into his emotion state, showing what a different person he is before serving, while serving, at home in between tours, and the aftermath. We’ve gotten into this psychology a bit with the fictional Hurt Locker a few years back, but seeing the truth of how it plays out, well, it’s impossible not to feel something.

No question, this is Cooper’s best performance to date. At first, I was kind of blindsided by him picking up the Best Actor nod, but I quickly understood why. He’s tough. He’s distant. He’s fearless. He’s damaged. He’s caring. He’s cold. He’s all over the place. Cooper made it his personal mission to get this story told (as a producer as well as actor), and has made a point to be sure that Kyle gets the attention he deserves. Job well done, Mr Cooper.

Thank you for your service, Mr Kyle

American Sniper – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Wedding Ringer

“There is no reason I should have been so looking forward to this movie. January comedies are usually the worst (and some early reviews reaffirmed that fear), and I’ve yet to be sold on Kevin Hart. Who I am sold on, however, is Josh Gad, and the wonderful charisma he brings to the screen every time. The premise (friendless dude hires suave dude to be the best man at his wedding) could have gone either way. I honestly did not expect to enjoy this nearly as much as I did.

Admittedly, the humor wasn’t quite there for me, but it often isn’t. I had a couple chuckle out loud moments (and maybe would have had a few more if I weren’t spoilt by the trailer), but otherwise, mostly just smiles instead of full out laughs. That’s just me though. The chick behind me couldn’t stop roaring with laughter thru the whole thing. What the movie did have, and the reason I was so absorbed in it, was that it had so much heart.

In a way, this film is the ultimate bromance. The same way that chick flicks give you a meet cute, turning towards will they won’t they, and all the ups and downs to make the relationship happen, that’s the scenario we had with these guys. Not unlike the idea behind the beloved I Love You Man, but coming from the opposite angle (hiring best man and maybe gaining friend vs gaining friend and hopefully acquiring best man), and beyond the basic story they were very much different. The role the women in these friendless men’s lives played was different as well.

I think a big part of why I connected with this movie was that I sympathize so much with Josh Gad’s Doug. I may not be friendless like he is, but I do have some trouble in that area. Those things don’t come easy to me, and I’ve faced a lot of the same rejections. Combine that with the aforementioned charisma of Gad, and I just loved him. I was rooting for him the same way one roots for Rudy or The Goonies. He’s simply a good guy who deserves a better break.

I’ll admit that I haven’t seen much of Kevin Hart, at least not in leading roles. None of his other stuff has really appealed to me, but he was fantastic here. Just toeing the line between just right and too much. Actually, that was another big win for this movie. The guys were real, or at least as real as you can get in comedy. Where a lot of current comedies lose me is when they get too absurd (I’m looking at you Anchorman 2). Some parts of Ringer did of course stretch the suspension of disbelief, but those moments were never the point, and the Gad/Hart relationship grounded everything.

Some (okay, many) critics may have panned it, but all I know is I left the theater with the biggest smile and the warmest of fuzzy feelings.

The Wedding Ringer – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Inherent Vice

“I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. I mean, it’s PT Anderson, the guy who made Magnolia, one of the greatest (and among my favoritest) movies of all time. Not to mention There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights. But then I didn’t care too much for his last offering, The Master, and I couldn’t really get a good handle on what Inherent Vice was (not to mention the fact that I don’t typically care much for Joaquin Phoenix). I just knew I was skeptical of the 2.5 hour run time.

I was hooked in the first five minutes. Turns out, it was a smoky film noir set in the hazy lesser known neighborhoods of 1970 LA. I loved it. Anderson was back at top form. The story was baiting me, unfolding slowly as I salivated over it. More favorite faces kept on popping up.

And then…it kept going. The plot went from twisty to convoluted as the pace dropped. Phoenix started to annoy me, partly due to his character being a little too drug happy. I grasped on to a few plot points that came in early on, but couldn’t maintain interest in the others being introduced. Oh and then I got really distracted by one scene that kinda stuck with me, but it sent my brain to all sorts of places that weren’t the movie, and it never came back.

I wouldn’t consider this a second strike for Anderson. I think there was some good stuff here, I just need to give it a second watch. I didn’t get all of Magnolia the first time around either (although I at least felt that one intensely).

Inherent Vice – \m/ \m/ \m/”