‘The Past’ Review

past_ver2_xlgI don’t know how, but unfortunately The Past disappeared during the awards season and I hardly saw it mentioned in any top lists of 2013. It is no doubt one of the best of last year.

Even though it runs over two hours in lengths, the pacing is lifted by the situational tension between our characters, as we want to grow closer and understand each of them better. Every character in this is facing some kind of anger, fear, or doubt. Director/Writer Asghar Farhadi isn’t afraid of judging and punishing his characters. This makes it that much more real for us as an audience, giving us the opportunity of letting us decide how we feel about each one of them.

The Past is one of the most truthful, beautifully acted, and precisely shot films I have ever seen.

10/10

 

‘Noah’ Review

Noah-posterWhen stepping into a movie theater, you as an audience member have decided to be transferred to a different world. This is the world of the director. You cannot bring with you expectations of the world that you are going to be in for the next two and a half hours. It is up to the director to make sure you understand his world and that you will have an entertaining and/or thought provoking time in it. Some movies do a better job at explaining their world. Many fall short, but only few succeed in grabbing its audience, allowing them to step inside some place they may or may not have ever been before.

Darren Aronofsky has succeeded in creating a fascinating pre-flood world. Immediately I was able to forget what I thought I knew about the world before the flood and let Aronofsky invite me to his interpretation of this renowned Biblical story.

Noah lives in a world of filth, hate, violence, and sin. He has chose to live in exile with his family from the rest of the world. He must be strong, wise, and even sometimes ruthless. Noah is a warrior of The Creator. He is taught as a boy that The Creator is sovereign over all. That human are here to serve him, to fear, and love him. Noah is of the descendants of Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son. Opposing Noah and his family are the sons and daughters of Cain, the other son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother Abel.

Noah is given a vision from God, a vision that the world and all living things will be wiped out by water that will cover the earth. Aronofsky uses a startling image of people drowning underwater with Noah in their midst, struggling to reach the surface. He wakes and finds that he must travel to see his Great Grandfather Methuselah.

From here we are introduced to some fascinating characters that I know many have had a problem with. These creatures are the watchers, what I see as Aronfsky’s interpretation of the Nephilim, or fallen angels. I think the inclusion of these characters is fascinating and only adds to his pre flood world.

So often as humans we look at fantasy as myth, that fantasy is furthest away from reality. But so often in the Bible we are told the world, as we perceive it far from actual reality. That world is much closer to fantasy. I don’t find it at all hard to believe that this world was much different they we perceive it today, that there were many “fantastical” things during this time. I can’t help but admire Aronofsky’s inclusion of these fanciful ideas into his graphic novel and now into his film Noah.

Through the rest of the film we see Noah struggling, struggling with the burden of the ark, with protecting his family, facing his advisories, and finally interpreting The Creator’s visions.  In the final half of the film the director starts to pull at our relationship with Noah, we start to question his actions, and maybe even start to hate him as a character. But this is the point in the film that becomes most important. This is when we see Noah at his lowest point, when he is most human. This is when Noah must make a decision, a decision that could change the outcome of the world, as he knows it. A decision we must all make every day of our lives. This is when we can say that God is not a tyrant, that he let’s us make decisions. I find it remarkable that an atheist director can tell such a Christian message.

Thematically Noah has its ups and down. Too often we have characters telling us the themes and motivations of the movies in conversation. I can overlook this as I find many would not try to understand some of the more subtle messages, thus making this film accessibility better, overall. I personally would have liked to see Aronofky’s  more subtle side, but I can see Paramount putting some pressure on him to help out the audience.

We are still given many Aronofsky like sequences, a number of startling images, and even a creation story, much in the likes of Terrance Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’. Many say that he is copying Malick here, but I found his using of frame-by-frame, time-lapse fascinating and one of my favorite parts of the whole film.

The casting is really fascinating, as always Russell Crowe is very believable in this period piece, The inclusion of Emma Watson helps play with how we perceive innocence and womanhood, though she is 24 years old, it is hard to think of Emma Watson as an adult for her youthful looks really pull at us, making us fell for her character even more. The only real comic relief we get is from Anthony Hopkins who plays the mysterious old Methuselah. Ray Winstone has the showiest and maybe even best performance as the film antagonist, Tubal-cain.

Not since Spring Breaker’s last year, and Tree of Life the Year Before have thought so much about a movie. Noah is the movie that people should be seeing right now. Even if you think you will not like it, it needs to be seen, just so you can take part in its conversation. I would really encourage everyone of every belief to seek it out and discuss it. I can already say that it is one of the best films of the year.

9/10

 

‘Free to Play’ Review

free to play docFree to Play is a documentary that tells the story of three professional gamers as they virtually battle it out in a Computer based game called Dota 2, to win a 1.6 million dollar prize. This film was made by Valve, a video game development and digital distribution company that created the game. They set out 3 cinematographers to tell the three different stories that take place in Free to Play. These accounts are edited and brought together by the Dota 2 tournament. Their narratives are decently interesting, but what mainly kept me going was my interest in this new world or competitive gaming.

As someone who knows little about Dota 2, the game that the documentary focuses on, I felt like they did a decent job in explaining how the game operates, but I still felt lost when it came to more technical elements. I may just have to pick up the game to truly understand how it works. But for audiences who already take part in the world of Dota 2, I am sure they will have no problem keeping up with the logistics.

Overall the visuals look good, and I even like how Valve went to extra lengths to do some CGI animation that would represent the some of the action taking place.

Gaming may very well be a as popular as some major professional sports one day, but I do think it will take a few years. Once my generation is grown up, with teenage kids of their own, I believe that competitive gaming will sweep the world.

6.8/10

Top 10 Favorite Films of 2013

As usual, I am always way behind on posting my top 10 list. I always want to make sure and see all the movie that I was most anticipating and because of obstacles such as limited releases, I usually never get to making my list until March. Hey look…it’s March! Though my top 10 hasn’t changed since probably December, I was still too lazy to put it up. As usual, these are my favorites of the year, not what I necessarily think were the best. If you would like to see all the movies I saw in 2013 ranked in order of favorite to least, you can look here: http://letterboxd.com/fitzgeraldgrant/list/2013-ranked/

 

10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching Fire Complete

No one could be more surprised than me that this made it into my top 10. With such a great year as 2013, I expected this to be nowhere near my top favorite. What Catching Fire did better than the first film was telling an emotionally engaging story that helped me really love, understand, and feel for the characters. The first film left me emotionally unattached, which was it’s downfall in the end.  The new direction by Frances Lawrence worked much better for me in terms of storytelling and visual style. Though I loved this movie, it doesn’t make me anymore excited for the terrible third book being made in two parts,  but I will be interested to see if they will be able to make an intriguing film out of a first half of a book where almost nothing happens.

9. Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks Complete

This was one of my most anticipated films from last year. I was especially intrigued to be told the story behind the making of Mary Poppins, one of Walt Disney Pictures’ best films. What Saving Mr. Banks did was tell an emotionally engaging story about art, life, and fantasy. There was a great spiritual presence that my mom and I found very appealing. The story of P.L. Travers travels from London to Hollywood is both comic and sad. We really get to dig deep into both her and Walt Disney’s psyche.

8. Spring Breakers
Spring Breakers Complete

No film made me think more this year than Spring Breakers. So many form 2013 hit on the theme of the American Dream, (The Bling Ring, The Wolf of Wallstreet, This is the End, etc.), but I found Spring Breakers to be the essential film pushing this theme. I have written decently in depth about it in my review and on a recent re-watch over Spring Break, I found that it held up in every way. Everything from the colors to what I believe is wonderful acting by James Franco as Alien and even what I thought was a surprisingly fascinating performance by Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson. It even had one of my favorite shots of the year. The truck perspective tracking shot of the diners robbery. Spring Breakers is truly a fascinating film and there is no doubt that I will be watching this one at least once a year. Spring Break Forever.

7. Before Midnight

Before Midnight Complete

The Before Trilogy snuck its way into my heart in late summer of 2013 when I watched the first two films (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) with my girlfriend. I found them both to be fabulously written and shot films about relationships. Before Midnight continued this same conversation style of storytelling. Each film has been about this couple in certain periods of there lives, none seemed more true this third film. It touched on some hard emotional subjects that many couples would face during this time of their relationship. Though Before Sunrise is my favorite (Right Now) I can see my favorite changing over time as I grow to understand and become more in tune with how this fictional couple act and react in each film.

6. The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines Complete

Watching a movie with a great group of people can often make the film/experience that much better. This was definitely the case when I saw The Place Beyond the Pines with some truly passionate film lovers. The discussion I had about The Place Beyond the Pines was the best I had from 2013. We stood outside the theater for 15 minutes touching on anything related to the film we could. On the half hour ride home we continued to talk about how deep, and beautiful it was. The Place Beyond the Pines had a lot of mixed responses, many liking only the first third or 2/3 of the film. But I thought it was a near masterpiece as a whole.

5. Her

Her Complete

I thought Her was a tremendous accomplishment, one of the undisputed best of the year. Sadly the row of girls behind me thought differently, laughing and scoffing almost non stop from start to finish. I was appalled at their reaction to such a beautiful and timely film as this. What they thought was utter nonsense, I saw a reflection of life as we know it. Maybe someday they will come to realize it. Her is an exceptionally written, acting, and photographed sci-fi romance drama. One of the best of 2013.

4. 12 Years A Slave 

12 Years a Slave Complete

12 Years A Slave deserves it’s Best Picture win. Though I was rooting for Gravity and wished it had won, I think it is great they they honored such a well crafted film. I believe that it will be seen as the essential film on slavery from here on out. Until this time, I don’t believe we have ever seen such a humbling and truthful telling of this terrible time in history. Not only is it successful in terms of historical film making but it terms of its craft. This had three of my favorite performances of the year as well my a number of my top cinematic shots of 2013. 12 Years A Slave deserves all the credit it has earned.

3. Short Term 12

Short Term 12 Complete

Isn’t it interesting that two movies with the number 12 made it into my top 10? Short Term 12 is one of the most emotionally taxing films of the year, (This The Spectacular Now and 12 Years). I fell in love with all the characters in this film. I had never heard of foster communities like this before and was completely engrossed by how the worked and operated in this film. Short Term 12 was one of the most acclaimed of the year, but sadly by the time the year came to a close, I felt that it was sorely forgotten. How the main character Grace lives and learns through these foster children is beautifully written and acted. Short Term 12 is a diamond in the rough.

2. Gravity

Gravity Complete

Gravity was the cinematic event of the year. If there was one movie you had to see in your local theater or IMAX, this was it. I can honestly say was the best experience I have ever had in the cinema. I feel terribly for all the people who will be watching this for the first time at home on there little 32inch TVs. Please, please, please, hold off watching it until you can project or watch it on something around 60inches or bigger.

There was not one thing I didn’t love about this film, The cinematography was mind blowing, the Special Effects were engrossing, Sandra Bullock gave the best performance of her career in her emotionally and physically draining role. Did I mention the score or that fetus shot? Oh, and did I mention that Clooney in space is my favorite thing ever.

1. The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now Complete

To get an adequate telling of how much i loved this movie you should read my review. But I will say this, The Spectacular Now grabbed my by the heart, ran away with it, and never looked back.

‘The LEGO Movie’ Review (Post #140)

the-lego-movie-posterThe LEGO Movie is not only the most I have ever laughed in a theater, but is probably the most I have ever laughed during any movie period.

The LEGO Movie is one of the best animated films in recent history, if not of all time. It is creative accomplishment. The LEGO Movie succeeds in everything the creators (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller) set out to do.

First the have imagined a bright and beautiful world that we immediately except and love. I think it helps that nostalgia kicks in and brings us to a place many of us haven’t visited since our childhood. Not only are we given a grand LEGO city of our dreams. But beyond that we are gradually introduced to more genre specific LEGO styles that continue to drive our imagination and make us yearn for a chance to jump into our childhood and start building. But the amazing thing is we can, are LEGOs only for kids? Absolutely not. This movie teaches us that our childhood is always there if we just let go of this life we call adulthood and grab onto it.

Second we are given a chance to let go of all preconceived ideas of how a comedy works, look at these toys presented to us and have a good time. And I mean a really good time. Not a minute goes by without a funny joke, pun, or comedic physical ploy. Not many movies make me guffaw, but The LEGO Movie made me release laughter like hardly any movie has done before. There is something about LEGOs making certain jokes and acting in certain way that would not have worked with a live action film. (Or even be possible?)

Third The LEGO Movie has heart. Through this story we are taught lessons about being special, and knowing that no idea is terrible. As every LEGO’s favorite song says, “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME”.

The voice talent here is spot on. The comic delivery by these actors is nothing short of genius. I know a lot of this has to do with the pacing in editing as well as the staggeringly creative visuals, but every aspect of The LEGO Movies melds together together to make a bang-up product.

The LEGO Movie will remain to be one of the best movies of the year, I have little doubt that it will make my top 10 films of the year, and we are hardly into February. It is one of the best animated movie I have ever seen, and I would place it among the best of Dreamworks, Disney, Pixar, and Studio Ghibli, as it succeeds in everything it set out to accomplish. Best of hopes for 2015′s Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

10/10

‘Ratatouille’ Review (Post #139)

ratatouille_xlgI feel as though Ratatouille has been Pixar’s overlooked gem. When many bring up their favorite Pixar movies, their minds always go to the Toy Story trilogy, Up, Finding Nemo, or Monsters Inc., and rightly so. These are all number of Pixar’s crowning achievements, but if I could state one Pixar movie that has been swept under the rug, it has been Ratatouille.

My girlfriend is a huge fan of Pixar, she would watch any of their 14 films, but the thing is she has missed on on too of Pixar’s greatest, Wall-E, arguably Pixar masterpiece and Ratatouille. It astonishes me that she has never seen either, but has such a love for the animation studio. So I found it to be my duty to show her this film.

Having not seen Ratatouille for nearly two years, I was glad to revisit it. Ratatouille is near perfection. The story is tremendously creative, the story of a rat who wants to be a cook and his journey in Paris and how he unites with a lowly garbage boy. This is fascinating stuff that only an animation could bring to life.

The romanticism of Paris is evident from start to finish. The beautiful lights and music of the city join together to make this world seem true.

Food is always the main focus here, I was always hungry for just a taste of what Remy is cooking up. (I have never wanted soup so badly in all my life.)

I was drawn nearly to tears when Ego was lead around the kitchen at the end of the movie. The change of his cold heart was very evident after he eats his Ratatouille. There has been such a large buildup to this moment that his transformation of character makes for the most beautiful moment in the film.

Pixar is not only telling a story in Ratatouille, but teaching a lesson about art. Who can be an artist, what is art, and what makes it good or bad. From act one, Gusto is teaching us that “Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*.”

As a reviewer this teaches me a lesson, a lesson to not condemn those who make movies that I don’t like/or agree with but help discuss what was at fault and how it can be fixed for next time. In the end, does me opinion matter, well maybe only to me. Let’s hope we can all learn to appreciate what is before laid before us. Because much hard work was done by many.

9.5/10

‘Only God Forgives’ Review (Post #138)

only god forgivesThe conversation I had over text while watching Only God Forgives.

Me- I’ll give you some descriptive terms, you guess the movie I’m watching.
Sam- Deal!
Me- Beauty, revenge, portraits, abuse, violence
Sam- Oh man. Sounds Kubricky but I know it’s not. Dragon Tattoo? lol
Me- Nope, Nope, 2013
Sam- Stoker?
Me- *Shakes Head*
Sam- Have I seen it?
Me- Yes. You liked it enough
Sam- Only God Forgives
Me- “That’s a bingo”
Sam- So good!!!!
Me- I am pretty engrossed
Sam- Should’ve said colorporn
Me- Shoot, that was one, color, but I forgot.
Sam- Amazing that Refn is colorblind.
Me- Is he? This cop is fucked.
Sam- Oh my god yeah the cop is infuriating! But mystifying.
Me- At this point, indestructible and the ultimate power. He’s so still. Ugh this movie!
Sam- Only God Forgives, indeed
Me- Right? Ok I must watch now. Then fucking Karaoke.
Sam- I know!!! Haha I have no idea what to make of that
Me- And everyone is watching. This is nuts!

(Insert talk about Sherlock and Downton Abbey)

Me- The symbolism. That movie will be on my mind a while.
Sam- Seriously. A different type of cinema (that) I’ve never seen before.
Me- Wow, I really liked it. Glad that it was only an hour and a half, but I think I would have watched more.
Sam- Yeah, I think 90 minutes is the perfect length lately.

7.75/10

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