Posts Tagged ‘2014’

cake__2014__by_myrmorko-d8bq6psAttending another meeting of her support group, Claire Bennett initially avoids talking about the recent loss of one of their members. When finally pressured to speak, she chooses to avoid her feelings and simply point out the physical nature of Nina’s suicide and talks about how messed up she was to abandon her family. Getting subsequently kicked out of said group, she is left to her own devices and the support of her hired help. As her chronic pain continues to eat away at her emotional stability, she loses the support of her physical therapist and begins to run out of her prescription medicine. The stress also seems to be causing hallucinations of being haunted by Nina’s ghost, who seems more interested in taunting Claire than trying to scare her.

Review: As a venture away from her typical film roles, Jennifer Aniston (Claire Bennett) stretched herself to play a woman with chronic pain, both externally and internally. While her acting mixed with the storytelling kept the reality of her situation a mystery until later in the film, the pain was truly palpable and Jennifer’s physical transformation made her acting of the condition truly believable. Just as engaging was Adriana Barraza (Silvana). While her job was to take care of Jennifer’s character no matter how difficult the situation, she was able to show a different type of unconditional love and care that may have been just a bit difficult to believe. Sam Worthington (Roy Collins) was a little less interesting, mostly because his story seemed to be out of sync with the loss of his wife (played by Anna Kendrick). He seemed to have a solemn sense about him, but there was a lack of realistic struggle portrayed through his interactions with Claire.

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The film was in competition with a few other interesting personal dramas during 2014, but the transformation of Jennifer Aniston and a story less told in comparison to other stories of illness and loss made this one particularly intriguing. Claire’s pain was clearly a physical one, with intense muscle and joint soreness, as well as sensitive nerves. The physical trauma clearly showed itself on her face and upper chest. Besides the physical, the psychological pain seemed to be much worse. Claire was stuck in a stasis of hate against the world. She tried her best to avoid anything that reminded her of the loss of her son, but she also refused to leave her life and home behind. Meeting Roy felt like something new to break her from her slump, but it also served as a reminder of her obsession with what it would be like to simply let go like Nina did.

Cake may not be straightforward about its story or about why it is titled as it is, but it feels authentic in the way that Claire struggles through her pain and how she begins to find resolution through some eye-opening experiences.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5


Fury (2014): War Never Ends Quietly

Posted: April 12, 2015 in Action, Drama, War

fury_ver6_xxlgThe Second World War is coming to a close and a squad of American troops continues its assault through the European theatre. Having survived a long string of battles and losing only one of his tank operators, Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier readies his troops for the next leg of their journey. While still at base camp, Don is informed that he must take on a new member to his team, a young typing clerk named Norman. While not initially welcomed into the team, Norman ends up operating one of the front machine guns and serving as a lookout from his post. While they end up in a tank battle, Norman freezes under pressure and gets punished for it. Following the fight, they press forward to a nearby town to take refuge before finding out that a US supply base is in trouble.

Review: With a flurry of different war movies out there projecting the drama and tragedy of World War II, Fury focused more directly on a single storyline of conflict with the conclusion being surrounded by insurmountable odds and no way out. The cast was led by Brad Pitt (Don Collier), Shia LaBeouf (Boyd Swan), Logan Lerman (Norman Ellison), Michael Pena (Trini Garcia), and Jon Bernthal (Grady Travis). For Pitt, it was clear that he had his time with Inglorious Basterds to help him prepare for additional war films, but this was a bit of a grittier role. The characters seemed to be a strange fluctuation between wartime focus, unnecessary aggression, and odd acceptance. The overall tone and the character dynamics made it tougher to connect with the cast in these roles.

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The story itself was a rather remarkable one. While the actual storytelling was a bit imbalanced, the survival for Norman was captivating. Ending up with a unit after having only minimal combat training, he found himself in the mix of several firefights, including the final battle against nearly 300 opposing Nazi soldiers. Sergeant Collier forced Norman to grow stronger through each experience of war, even forcing him to kill a Nazi soldier to finally break through that barrier. This prepared Norman for the final conflict and brought him just enough of the confidence needed to try to survive.

While the film has some interesting moments of conflict and personal growth, David Ayer fell a little short on being able to create a connection with the characters.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

the-boxtrolls-poster1After failing to find a solution for the boxtroll problem of the town, Lord Portley-Rind decides to hire Archibald Snatcher to save his people. Snatcher highlights one catch: if he rids the town of the boxtrolls, he must be allowed to earn a white hat and sit with the other distinguished members for their regular cheese tasting. One night, the lord’s daughter, Winnie, gets angry at her father for ignoring her, causing her to throw his hat out into the street. Cautiously going to retrieve it, she comes face to face with a couple of boxtrolls and a young boy who seems to be traveling with them. Curious about the boy, she finds him again out in the market and discovers that he is the missing Trapshaw Baby. She also discovers that Snatcher and the Boxtrolls are not what they all appear to be.

Review: In the tradition of the Laika Entertainment films, The Boxtrolls took the strange and produced the magic on-screen. While Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks may have more recognizable stories with stronger followings, Laika has brought forth a more creative sort of pictures. In this story, the animators gave heart to a bunch of sewer-dwelling monsters living in boxes, while making the human characters significantly more flawed than the monsters they fear. While the Boxtrolls cannot fully speak  like the humans, Dee Bradley Baker (Fish), Steve Blum (Shoe), and Nika Futterman (Oil Can) make them appear more human than the people above ground.

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While the Boxtrolls are clearly trying just to survive and live peacefully off of the scraps and trash that people through away, the humans above are either fearful or vengeful against the monsters. Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) was more concerned with his cheese than the Boxtroll problem or even his own daughter. This is what sent Winnie (Elle Fanning) searching for something more. Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) had a similar obsession to Portley-Rind but failed to achieve the upper-crust status. Capturing the Boxtrolls was his in with the ruling class. As for Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), he was “captured” as a child and raised to live like a Boxtroll. While his adoptive family knew who he really was, they were protecting him from the true villains of Cheesebridge.

It was quirky and intriguing, but probably did not get the attention it should have deserved. For an animated feature aimed at children, it may not have had the best hook to keep a wide audience interested, even though it actually was a solid film.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

71ubEWUG4VL._SL1136_With Detroit falling into the category of most violent, crime-ridden city in the US, the most dangerous section has been walled-off and segregated. Within its borders, unrest is brewing with the surrounding city and its politicians. After Brick Mansions leader Tremaine Alexander pulls off a heist to steal a bomb, the city sends in Officer Damien Collier to try and shut it down. To help him with his mission, he is partnered up with a convict, Lino, who has incredible physical ability and agility to get close to Tremaine. With thoughts of revenge a desire to bring him to justice, Damien’s focus on Tremaine serves as both a motivation and a potential challenge toward the success of his mission.

Review: While the tribute to the late Paul Walker (Officer Damien Collier) was certainly a nice touch, this felt like a film without clear direction or development. For Walker, his character had a basic obsession for revenge and flashes between moments of overconfidence and out-of-nowhere anger. David Belle (Lino) had nearly no character development at all, with the exception of his clear desire to rescue his girlfriend. He played the character recklessly and with a brutish demeanor. RZA (Tremaine Alexander) was a mixed bag. As the advertised villain, he wavered between aggressiveness and tempered cunning. He felt less like a maniacal villain than a more complicated antagonist. Unfortunately, there was little more to the actual character than what was presented initially.

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This film promoted strong action sequences that mixed together free-running with some martial arts. While the scenes themselves were well choreographed, the story was weak and none of the characters were all that interesting. The plot mixed together a kidnapping, a bomb, a missile, and a lot of corrupted activities. The film essentially taught that politics are corrupt and everyone is at least a little dirty. While Tremaine may have seemed like the villainous center, his minions seemed to be quite aggressive without his direction and the corruption within the Detroit police and government systems appeared to be the bigger threats. The conclusion also seemed to try to hard to finish the story with a nice neat bow without actually explaining how the events actually got the city to that point.

While not his best work, Paul Walker was able to notch another action film to his resume. There was plenty of activity…just no substance.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5

nightwalker3Louis Bloom is not the most honest man. Stealing items to sell in scrapyards and pawn shops, he gets by on these devious actions. While driving late at night, he sees an accident, stops, and observes the emergency personnel and the camera crew documenting the scene. Living by his motto “if you want to win the lottery, you gotta have the money to buy a ticket,” he picks up a camera and a police scanner and begins to roam the streets at night for footage to sell to Channel 6 News. Eventually striking a deal with producer Nina Romina, Louis expands his business by adding an intern, upgrading his equipment, and seeking out the deadliest stories in the Los Angeles area. As he starts tracking more serious incidents, he begins to put himself and his intern into murkier and more dangerous waters.

Review: This gritty, dark thriller boasted a team of unlikeable characters that were difficult to stop watching because of the compelling nature of the storytelling. Jake Gyllenhaal (Louis Bloom) turned in a very unlikeable but remarkable performance as the thief turned nightcrawler. As Louis, he is nothing but dedicated to his craft, and quite the quick learner. Rene Russo (Nina Romina) provided an essence of the seedy side of the news, focusing more on sensationalism over substance. Riz Ahmed (Rick) was also the surprise of the film. While he was a supporting character and was meant to help elevate the sleaziness of Gyllenhaal, he was able to make Rick the only character that you would want to connect with and see succeed.

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The theme of the film was about that attraction to sensationalism of which people cannot get enough. While Louis was doing less harm (at least initially) with his transition from thievery to nightcrawling, he was still dealing with the underbelly of LA. Fighting for position amongst other established nightcrawlers, he studied and showed tenacity to wedge his way into the crowd and start to establish himself above the rest. In order to win out, he pushed the envelope to get the edge, even manipulating scenes and putting himself and Rick in danger to get the perfect footage.

The tension is gripping and compelling. The characters are seedy but impossible to ignore. The film may not be a revelation, but it is a great story.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

unbroken__2014__by_myrmorko-d78zol0As a young child, Louis Zamperini found a way to regularly get into trouble, but he also became aware of his opportunity as an athlete. He shifted his focus to running, finding incredible success and attention. Entering in to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, he found himself in last place, but a burst of speed near the end allowed him to still break an American record. Jumping ahead to World War II, Louis is now enlisted in the military and stationed in Hawaii awaiting reassignment. On his next mission, his plane is shot down, leaving him and two other survivors stuck in the open waters of the Pacific. While they are found by a passing ship, they are taken prisoner and await their fate at the hands of an evil Japanese officer nicknamed The Bird.

Review: Although not Angelina Jolie’s first film, there seems to still be a lot of work left to do to establish herself as one the directing stars in Hollywood. She appears to have an interest in telling war stories and tales of strife, but her pacing and imagery still has not met the scale of her storytelling. While the time on the open water and in the POW camps was long, the film seemed to drag out certain experiences while allowing others to be glazed over a bit unexpectedly. In contrast, the cinematography is stunning. Lost on the open seas, the scenes are bold with a vast, unforgiving environment. Once captured, the conditions of the POW camps are bleak and devastating. There was a real sense of horror and hopelessness that was projected throughout the film, following the initial track and military scenes.

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The film was headlined by two very strong acting performances. Jack O’Connell (Louis Zamperini) went through quite the transformation as his character developed into a survivor on the open seas and in the POW camps. While his character’s will was being tested, he was able to project a clear sense of hope and belief that he could survive. More impressive was the performance by Takamasa Ishihara (Watanabe/The Bird). Takamasa brought fear into every scene. It was not because of his size or physical appearance, but rather the way he carried himself with confidence and control.

It was interesting to see this film and expect much more out of the intensity of the torture and harshness of Louis’s trials. There were a number of strong moments and individual performances, but the overall film fell just a bit short of expectations.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

men_women_and_children_ver2_xlgHigh school is hard enough, but the expectations around social status and identity make it enough tougher. For Allison Doss, all she wants is to be noticed by Brandon Lender, even if it means starving herself to feel more attractive. Brandy Beltmeyer is less concerned about a boy, but rather the intense control her mother has over her online access and general whereabouts. With Hannah Clint, her image is more important than anything, even if it means lying about her experiences or posting truly personal pics online. Tim Mooney seems to have it the toughest. While the recent divorce of his parents was hard enough, he feels like he is going through it alone and has fallen into the world of his gaming rather than dealing with it in real life. Will the parents figure out how to help their children find their way or suffer their own shortcomings?

Review: While Jason Reitman looked to make a film that balanced the complications of life in a digital age against the backdrop of the lack of worldly impact of individual actions, it was left with a lack of focus or closure for any of the individual storylines. That said, there were some redeeming elements of the movie. The concept of life in a digital age is a complicated one, which led to trying to highlight a number of different challenges associated with obsessing over or communicating through digital means. Whether it was the backlash on Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) and Donna (Judy Greer) for getting too risqué with Hannah’s website, the conflict between Don (Adam Sandler) and Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) ignoring each other to pursue affairs through online dating sites, or the pain of Tim (Ansel Elgort) learning about his mother’s engagement through Facebook, life has gotten more complicated.

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The film really fell short because none of the storylines had a sense of completion. Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) neary caused someone to commit suicide because she was controlling her daughter’s digital life. Other than cleaning up the mess she created in Brandy’s (Kaitlyn Dever) room and disconnecting the tracker on the router, she was not exposed for the pain she caused. After the fight between Hannah and Donna over the attempt at being discovered for Hollywood, there was no reconciliation. Don and Helen had an interaction about their affairs and a speech that helped to at least attempt to confront the issues, but the fight was left with a simple solution of “ignore it” and “let’s just make breakfast.” Their entire storyline just seemed to be misplaced compared to the rest of the film, as if Reitman wanted to include everything he could think of. Even the narration by Emma Thompson felt sad and depressing, diminishing the way people watching the movie might look at their significance in their lives.

While the film had an interesting concept and some promise, it just fell short of being truly compelling and impactful.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5