Enemy

“Here’s a Jake Gyllenhaal film that was released under the radar within the past year or two. I’d heard it was supposta be good, and I’m starting to really like him again, so here we are. Here he plays the dual roles of Adam, a history professor who is bored with his life, and Anthony, a struggling actor trying to make something of his. Adam sees Anthony in a movie and given their uncanny resemblance, he tries to track them down. THen things get weird.

Or at least they’re supposed to. The movie sort of lost me. It’s meant to be a thriller, but it had such a slow pace and minimal action (not that I was expecting shoot ’em up action, I mean events happening) I got bored. By the time we reached what I assume as the thrilling conclusion, I’d already fallen down the rabbit hole of Candy Crush and Fail Blog, so I really don’t know how it ended.

Better luck next time, Jake”

Mr Turner

“I didn’t have much interest in this to begin with, other than it’s place in the awards conversation. Timothy Spall had made it into some early predictions, but as the nominations neared, he was losing ground. I was mostly thankful that it meant that I probably wouldn’t have to see this movie that didn’t seem like it’d do it for me. The morning that nominations came out, I heard this called for a below the line award. Then another. And another. Huh, this really racked them up, with a total of 4. Crap, I’m gonna hafta go see this now am I?

It actually took some doing. I tried to go on MLK day, dashed out from my yoga class and ran as fast as I could in the very very cold (picking up a power bar on the way) only to arrive ten minutes late to a sold out show, and then had to trek back another 25 min in the cold to go home. Scheduling constraints and higher priority films pushed it out, until finally I made it.

My suspicions proved correct. I didn’t like this movie at all. Visually, sure it was pretty. Yes, Spall gave a great performance (anyone else feel like God purposely placed him in the wrong time period, specifically so that he could act in period films?). But there was really no plot (which is a lot to ask your audience to sit thru for 2.5 hours) and our title character really isn’t very likeable (again, not something ideal for 2.5 hours).

There were some side characters I liked, although for everyone that I liked (such as his maid) there was another that annoyed me (such as his over talkative hotel owner lady friend). It’s up for cinematography, production design, costumes, and score. The first I didn’t notice too much. The next two make total sense (period piece with lots of bright colors). The fourth, ugh, I did not like that score at all. It sounded dismal.

Let’s just be real here. This was never gonna be my movie. While it may have impressed those that go for your prestige art house pics, it didn’t fit with this entertainment driven viewer.

Mr Turner – \m/ \n”

Project Almanac

“Wasn’t too sure what to make of this at first glance. It seemed kinda amateurish, and I’m also not a big fan of found footage. Still, it gave off a Chronicle vibe, and that one turned out really well (and also propelled Dane DeHaan and Michael B Jordan into the spotlight). Besides, what else was I gonna go see, Mortdecai? *shudder*

It didn’t even take five minutes to hook me. The film introduced our characters by showing a video they were putting together for admission to MIT. Sitting next to a fellow MIT alum, the two of us were laughing hysterically, recognizing the same nerd qualities we see in ourselves. That illusion busted a few minutes later, when upon being accepted he lamented that he didn’t get enough of a scholarship to be able to afford it. The driving force behind much of the film was him trying to impress the school into giving him more money. Why did that bust the illusion? MIT financial aid is all need based. If you’re good enough to get in, that’s enough. And if this kid is the child of an unemployed single mother, they school is sure as heck gonna award him more than the meager amount in the film. But really that was just a slight hiccup.

Right so our kids find the blueprints for a time machine in their basement, left behind by our leader kid’s dead dad. So of course, they build it (gotta impress MIT afterall!). After a few initial jumps back in time, they start going further and further back, returning to find things changed in their world. Now they have to go back and fix it.

Sure, there were some flaws in the film, some logic issues around time travel and around the found footage format (a usual problem, which is why I typically don’t care for it). But what really sold it were the kids. This was a group I would love to hang around. They were smart and funny and just really enjoyable to watch. And yes, they (or at least the one who cared to) would have gotten along just fine at my old MIT dorm. Is this film gonna be a big awards winner? No. Never. Was it a worthy way to kill two hours? Absolutely. Nerds rule.

Project Almanac – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Black Sea

“Oh my goodness this was one of the most intense two hour periods I’ve ever sat thru, at least at the movies. Jude Law leads this claustrophobic thriller about a team in a submarine searching for lost Nazi treasure. The sense of danger built and built and built throughout the film as one thing after another would go wrong.

It began just with tension between the group: half of them Russian, half of them British, all of them untrusting of the others. Then, of course, the old submarine started to have issues. Then the tensions got higher, then there were more issues, and it was just non-stop. Even when it was over, I still couldn’t catch my breath.

Law was incredible. I expected his character to follow a certain path, but he went to dark places I didn’t expect, which raised the stakes and set all bets off. I went from early in the movie marveling at how they made him not hot (combination of receding hairline and harsh accent) to being in awe of the way he commanded the screen in unexpected ways. Not that it was unexpected that he could command a screen, just again, unexpected where his character went.

With it’s limited run and unfortunate January release date, this movie is likely to get lost in the shuffle. I know I barely had it on my radar, and even then couldn’t get a good handle on when it’d be out. But it’s worth seeking out if you’re tired of prestige pictures and need to find some solid entertainment in this graveyard release period.

Black Sea – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Two Days, One Night

“As much as I pore over Oscar predictions beforehand, there’s always at least one big surprise. The person that no one was expecting or really talking about that manages to sneak into a big race. This year, it was Academy darling Marion Cotillard. Although when conferring with IMDB just now, it seems her win for La Vie En Rose was her only previous nomination. I could have sworn she had a couple others. I suppose she’s been in the conversations in recent years, and this year when she wasn’t being talked about that much, she snuck in stealing the contested 5th spot when the first 4 were pretty much set for a while.

In this foreign film (right, not easy to land a nod when you’re speaking French instead of English throughout), Cotillard plays Sandra, a woman who has just been let go from her job. She finds out that a vote that was taken by all the remaining employees to either allow her to remain or reward them all with a bonus, may have been negatively influenced by the management. She’s granted a chance at a new vote, and spends the weekend knocking on the doors of every one of those employees, imploring them to change their minds.

I thought the film was very thought provoking. Such a difficult choice that lay ahead of her, and she was constantly struggling to convince herself what she was doing was right. She desperately needed her job to make ends meet and support her family, but all these people she was approaching also desperately needed the bonuses that they’d otherwise be awarded. It took so much courage to go up to them all, and place everyone in an impossible situation.

What I liked was meeting all of the various colleagues she had to persuade. Every time she walked up to a new door, I was curious to see who’d be on the other side. Their reactions to her were all different. Some were sympathetic, others hostile. For some the decision to vote one way or the other came easy, for others it was a struggle. Such a seemingly simple little film was filled with universal issues.

Two Days One Night – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Bronson

“A lot of people refer to this as Tom Hardy’s break through movie. He wasn’t introduced to the mainstream world until Inception not too long after (which is when he first caught my eye), but Bronson put him on the radar of lots of important people.

Hardy plays the titular true life character Charles Bronson, one of Britain’s most famous and violent prisoners. From the look of it and the description, I had a certain expectation of what it would be. I thought it’d be a dark and gritty macho movie, tough and serious. While there were certainly some elements of that, for the most part the film was a whole mess of crazy that came out of nowhere…And I absolutely loved it.

There was a level of theatricality that you don’t tend to see often, especially not in films with this type of subject matter. From the first moment that Hardy was staring at the audience narrating his story, I knew this would be something different and special. He would go on to act like a Cabaret MC, displaying a playful showmanship that I would have never associated with this usually stoic actor. Honestly, no words I could use to describe would do it justice. It’s on Netflix, only 90 minutes, GO!”

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/”