When we look back on our lives, there are always key individuals who have an immeasurable influence on us. Not just our family (and relatives), but friends, mentors, teachers, those with learned wisdom to impart and lessons to teach. If they say the right things they can alter our destiny forever, or remind us why/how life is worth living in the midst of the constant stress and chaos of this world. Seymour: An Introduction is a documentary by actor Ethan Hawke introducing us to his inspiration - the piano legend Seymour Bernstein, who is such a humble, charming, considerate man. This wonderful doc spends intimate time with him, showing us his own history, who he is, and how much the emotion of music is important to life.
Does our ego control us, or do we control our ego? Where can it/where does it take us? Will we fly or will we fall? Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest film Birdman is easily lovable for many reasons - from its honest characters and original story to the technical prowess behind the lens and many layers of its style. It's also one of those films where there are so many moments, so many lines, so many scenes where as soon as I've watched them, I want to pause, rewind, and watch them again to delve deeper into the context. Birdman is a sensational, extraordinary creation of artistic elegance that examines the great struggle of growing older.
You never know who will change the world, it might be someone we can't imagine. There's nothing like that feeling of euphoria after sitting through an outstanding film, one that surpasses expectations and provides so much more on top of any/everything one could imagine. That's how I felt at the end of The Imitation Game, a film by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) about British mathematician Alan Turing, who helped crack the uncrackable Engima code during World War II. The film tells his life story jumping between his youth, his work during WWII, and time after when he was prosecuted for "indecency" because he was "a homosexual". It's an exceptionally compelling film lead by remarkable performances.
Premiering at the 2014 Telluride Film Festival is Jon Stewart's Rosewater, his directorial debut based on a true story he was involved in about Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, played by Gael García Bernal. The film tells a rather straightforward version of the story, focusing on the weeks leading up to and surrounding Bahari's arrest, eventually leading to his time in prison. While the film has some impressive creative choices (including a hashtag moment and some other sleek visuals) it's obviously made by a first-time director, and lacks a bit of the nuances that more experienced directors include. That said, its heart is in the right place.
The use of found footage has become a bit of an eye-rolling endeavor in horror, almost nearly as much as the penchant that iconic horror slashers like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees have for defying death. It has become hard for horror films to use the narrative style effectively without just being a gimmick, and the explanation for this approach is usually weak, with characters inexplicably never putting down a video camera in moments of terror or being shown in what couldn't possibly be "found" footage. But with As Above, So Below, an engrossing adventure plot mixed with familiar horror elements from Legendary Pictures, those problems are not only explained, but make for some real suspense and terror. More below!
What's that? Pierce Brosnan needs a new action franchise now, 12 years after his James Bond stint ended? There's a series of novels ripe for the action genre taking that would suit him perfectly? Let's make that deal. But The November Man, from the novels by Bill Granger, ends up being more than a run-of-the-mill spy thriller. Aided by some superb action directing from Roger Donaldson and a nice turn from its charismatic lead, the film trumps most of the recently standard "old guy in an action flick" turns we've gotten. Brosnan joins the ranks of Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner, and the former 007 prevails.
Like Marv and the people in The Projects or the girls of Old Town, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is slumming it. The long-gestating sequel to Robert Rodriguez 's 2005 adaptation of the gritty and profane comic series from Frank Miller, you may be fooled into thinking it's more of the same, low-brow fun. You'd be wrong and probably a little disappointed. Sin City was a stylish and sadistic twist of the knife that laid its gallows humor on thicker than water. This one has the markings of a quality follow-up for fans of the first, it ultimately fails, its super serious attitude producing extremely dull results that border on tedium.
The Expendables 3 is so adorable you'd want to pinch its little cheeks if the average age of the crew weren't higher than 50. Once again lead by Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross it's a new mission, a new team, and a new attitude, or so the tagline for this latest film implies. That new attitude must have something to do with entertainment, since The Expendables 3, for its been-there-done-that narrative and paint-by-numbers action set-pieces, ends up as the most enjoyable. It's lighter than the previous two, and though the self-indulgence among the cast is at an all-time high, the genuine fun being had bleeds through.
Harry Potter was the spark that began the latest flame of movies based on young adult novels. The Twilight and The Hunger Games films have kept the sub-genre thriving at full potential, studios buying up properties left and right to get in on the mix. The latest of these, The Giver, is not the go-to novel for the big screen, at least not as much as wizards and vampires, and the results are good reasoning for that. The story comes preloaded with its message, which the film paints in broad strokes, and no amount of quality execution or solid performances (there's both) can get around the hokey and cliched subtext it provides.
Two of 2014's best art films focus on disabilities - Blind, directed by Eskil Vogt, an exceptional film about a woman going blind that I reviewed from Berlinale; and The Tribe, directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, a brutal but incredible Ukrainian film about a group of deaf students. The Tribe first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Critic's Week sidebar, winning multiple awards at the end of that fest. I caught the film at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland - it is disturbing but powerful. The film is presented entirely in sign language, without any subtitles or translation or dialogue. It's the beginning of sign language cinema.
At one point in the latest iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, our heroes in a half-shell are flying through the sewers on their way back home after a victory against the Foot Clan. After some quick sliding, flipping, skateboarding and more they all go flying towards the entrance back to their home pipe, but all four of them end up getting stuck in the doorway, and Michelangelo farts. That's what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feels like amidst an onslaught of remakes, reboots and sequels: another fart from the studio system that churns out films like this as if they were delivery pizzas that not even the turtles will eat.
"Ain't no thing like me, 'cept me." So says Rocket Racoon, a genetically modified racoon with a bad attitude and a fair point. The same can be said for the movie he's in, Guardians of the Galaxy, the cosmic superhero epic that continues the Marvel cinematic universe. For that matter, you can lay that dialogue and its meaning at the feet of the film's writer/director, James Gunn, who has spent his days since Troma delivering hard-edged horror and unbelievably cool superhero stories. This is his first chance at a big comic book story, and the sci-fi action, comedy extraveganza within Guardians of the Galaxy is cool, comical, and a cracking great time. One could almost be inclined to call it the best Marvel Studios film yet. More below!
What would happen if you found a time machine when you were in high school. What would you change? How would you use it? And what would be the ramifications of its use? These are some of the questions that a new film called Project Almanac tries to address. Following in the footsteps of the found footage film Chronicle, this film has a similar style and feel, but is about a group of teens who discover plans for a time travel device and put it together on their own (like Primer). They start testing it, using it, and improving its powers, until everything starts to go wrong. It's a blast, an original and energetic creation with a few issues.
Whether suiting up as Black Widow or luring oafish, young men to their otherworldly demise in Under the Skin, or wrangling Joaquin Phoenix with her voice alone in Her, Scarlett Johansson appears to be the ideal choice to play the next-level woman, a female character made supernatural with all the powers she beholds. So thank goodness writer/director Luc Besson has her front and center in Lucy, his latest sci-fi, evolutionary actioner that promises to blow your mind as well as your entertainment meter. Without Johansson, the film would slip by as pretty thin on both excitement and existentialism. Thankfully, Lucy doesn't fail in either department, but the frustration that the whole, messy ordeal leaves behind is far too noticable. Not quite as noticable as someone as stunning and talented as Johansson, but it's there. Read on!