Ilya Naishuller's Hardcore (watch the trailer) is a movie so violent, loud and fun it's guaranteed to offend and entertain in equal numbers. It's also the first of its kind, a first-person action adventure that plays out like a cinematic video game. Think of it as a hybrid of Crank and Robocop and you'll start to get an idea of how unique and insane this movie truly is. Those looking for plot and structure in their cinematic diet will have to look elsewhere because Hardcore is visual fast food all the way. The movie opens from your POV as "Henry", a man with a disfigured body and no memory of how he got knocked out in the first place.
A punk rock concert goes horrible awry in the violent new suspense thriller Green Room, a movie filled with loud music, buckets of blood and white supremacists. The film has a cat-and-mouse structure for most of its running time but thankfully is smart and entertaining enough to have more tricks up its sleeve. The "Ain't Rights" are a punk band on the verge of breaking up for good. As they're introduced, they constantly bicker, continue to play dead-end gigs and as a result are ready to throw in the towel and go home. A last minute opportunity to play a final show in rural Oregon has them reconsider their plans and off they go.
Country music legend Hank Williams was a tortured man plagued by his own success and exuberance. Dying way too young and leaving behind a treasure trove of inspiration, many musicians still credit him to his day. These facts are given a very light touch in Marc Abraham's new biopic I Saw the Light, a movie that tries to encapsulate what made Williams so special but never digs deep enough to get any real answers. British actor Tom Hiddleston slips on a cowboy hat and gives it his all as Williams and the result is a surprising knockout. He is fully devoted to the part so it's a shame the rest of the film can't keep up with him.
The true story of transgender leader Lili Erbe has been watered down for the big screen in Tom Hooper's new film The Danish Girl. What should have been a pioneering story of change and acceptance instead plays it safe and wastes a golden opportunity. Hot off his Oscar win last year for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne tackles the difficult role of Einar Wegener, a 1920's Danish painter living with his artist wife Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander). In a moment of happenstance she asks him to step in for a model who is running late, the only catch is he's supposed to model women's clothes.
The glamour of 1960's London underworld is captured with varying degrees of success in Brian Helgeland's new film Legend, the story of notorious East end gangsters Ron and Reggie Kray. The fact that both twins are played via CGI by versatile actor Tom Hardy should sweeten the film's appeal were if not for the uneven craftsmanship behind the camera. Celebrated screenwriter Brian Helgeland (of L.A. Confidential, director of 42 and A Knight's Tale) wrote and directed Legend and although many of the tales told in the film have been covered before, his screenplay manages to make them fresh again. The 1990 film The Krays scratched the surface on the volatile brothers' past but Legend digs much deeper.
Caught in an ambiguous middle ground between a political drama and comedy, the new film Our Brand Is Crisis manages to balance itself adequately for most of its running time. Most of the film's charm and power however is due to actress Sandra Bullock, who is clearly gunning for her second Oscar. Bullock commands the lead role originally intended for male counterpart (and the film's producer) George Clooney as a tough-talking political strategist who has seen better days and is now staging an overdue comeback. Inspired by Rachel Boynton's documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis has all the story beats and rhythms of many underdog movies but the cast and direction are what set it apart from the clutter.
A privileged white collar worker literally decides to tear his old life apart in order to start a new one in Jean-Marc Vallee's Demolition, a movie whose agenda is muddled due to heavy-handed writing and an uneven style behind the camera. Jake Gyllenhaal continues his recent streak of great performances as Davis, a confused financial employee who is introduced at the beginning of the film getting into a head-on collision with his equally confused wife Julia (played by Heather Lind). He survives the crash but is left with little direction in terms of how to move forward. This is a man who at the center of his core refuses to mourn his wife's death and instead channels his grief in other areas.
Continuing the current trend of inspirational science fiction (Interstellar, Tomorrowland), Ridley Scott's latest offering is The Martian, an adaptation of Andy Weir's bestselling novel of the same name. The story is about an astronaut, one of the first to set foot on Mars as part of a small NASA exploration team, who is deserted on the planet and must figure out a way to survive. It's a film about figuring out how to make the impossible possible. And it's a story that is meant to inspire the next generation to dream big, to let their imaginations run wild, and not let anything or any obstacle stop them from pushing on. I loved this movie.
I love this documentary. It's beautifully made, with so much breathtaking and remarkable footage. Sherpa, directed by Jennifer Peedom, is a doc about the sherpas of Nepal. Most people have heard of them (the most famous being Tenzing Norgay, who was first to reach the summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary), maybe seen a few photos, but they're rarely seen in movies - even ones about climbing Everest. But in reality the sherpas do all of the work, carrying massive loads of supplies up/down the mountain while western "clients" sit in heated tents waiting for their trek upwards. This documentary about the sherpas is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, and I genuinely mean that. It's an exhilarating and moving experience.
Cary Fukunaga. If you don't know that name yet, now is the time to learn it. Cary Fukunaga is a filmmaker who previously directed Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, "True Detective" (Season 1), and most recently, Beasts of No Nation. His latest is Netflix's first "Netflix Original Film" release but it just premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, where I was lucky enough to catch it on the big screen (which I highly recommend despite its availability on Netflix). Beasts of No Nation is a spectacular experience, telling an intimate, powerful story with extraordinary scope about a young African boy trained to be a guerrilla fighter. The film totally blew me away, it's a masterful work of cinema. One of Fukunaga's major achievements in cinematic storytelling.
I'm still not sure what to make of it. Anomalisa is a stop-motion animated film co-directed by the genius Charlie Kaufman and animator Duke Johnson. It's sort of Kaufman's attempt at romance, following a depressed main character tired of the mundanity of life around him, delving head first into the theme of identity. Along the way he meets a woman that, for reasons he can't really explain, he's attracted to. She's unique, different than everyone else, there's just something about her. I'm unsure if Anomalisa is simply brilliant, or brilliantly simple, in showing the importance of the connections we make with other people.
This isn't the story of "tech innovator" Steve Jobs that we all know already. It's something else entirely, an incredibly unique and brilliant creation that encapsulates decades of true stories and distills them down into one glorious three-act performance. An opera, or a Shakespearean play. And it's a phenomenal performance, one for the ages. It's a performance filled with an incredible ensemble, not a weak link anywhere, and some of the best dialogue and discussion you'll ever hear. Thanks to Aaron Sorkin, one the finest screenwriters today, who crafts a beautiful script with so much depth in every single sentence. It's almost overwhelming how much there is going on in every exchange, but it is so delightful to experience. This is one for the ages.
Whether all of modern society has accepted it yet or not, we are living in the age of whistleblowers, lead by the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Tom McCarthy's new film Spotlight is another great reminder of the power of people who speak out, who speak up, when everyone else won't. The film profiles the Boston Globe's intensive investigation into systemic rape in the Catholic Church, which they uncovered and confirmed through multiple sources, and published in multiple shocking articles throughout 2002. The film starts slow, but builds to immensity throughout the investigation, resulting in a riveting look at the power of hard-working journalists who won't let a story go no matter how much resistance they receive.
American Ultra is a cool, stoner action/comedy with a healthy serving of heart, a prime candidate in 2015 for coolest kid on the block. However, the film is never quite as cool as it, or the filmmakers behind it, wants to be. There's plenty of action. There's an abundance of stoner-related comedy. All the parts that make up a rousing success for hip cinema are present, but the results, the endgame American Ultra offers up, is somewhat less-than. A highly enjoyable time at the movies to be fair, it never quite transcends that category to be something ultimately memorable. Instead, we have to make due with the surface-level entertainment the film delivers in droves, an ultra fun, movie-going experience that feels like it could have been more.