‘Pennies From Heaven’ Review

penniesThe film that I correlated most similar to Pennies From Heaven was O’ Brother Where Art Thou. They are both musical films that aren’t real musical in the classic sense. Each plays with the idea telling a narrative story by using music to drive the plot. The major difference between these two lip sync musical is that O’ Brother is fun and delightful and Pennies is rather tragic and sad.

Musicals in before this time were known for their upbeat tones, Pennies clashes its’ dark plot with bright and happy music interludes. This perfectly establishes the difference between the character’s reality and want they dream of

The musical numbers are lavish, well choreographed and performed. My favorite number may have been the school children’s upbeat baby grand piano dance, or the Christopher Walken’s solo, or the Vaudeville trio was mighty impressive.

I think the film would be mostly enjoyed for its musical numbers alone. I love watching a good musical with my mother but I would never feel comfortable watching this one with her. I would show her the musical numbers as stand alones.

But the film is rather genius in portraying the time in US history. This is a film about the American dream and one faithless man who does all the wrong things to achieve this dream. Sadly he looks for sex and money to make him happy and in the end he achieves none of these things. HE is one of the most unlikable characters I have ever scene on the screen, but still I wanted to see him succeed. From the start we see that his idea of life is so twisted and convoluted that nothing good could come from his life style.

Pennies From Heaven is a film that made very uncomfortable at times, but after each uncomfortable moment I was met with another grand musical sequence. I would love to see a movie with this same period and style take on a more upbeat tone. I think it is a movie that could relate to certain kind of person who is conflicted with some of the same struggles; I just am not that person. Pennies From Heaven took a risk that was both entertaining and thought provoking. Tragically, I think it will push away the average audience member.

7/10

‘Paddington’ Review

Paddington_Teaser2_900The first “Paddington” Bear book, written and published by Michael Bond in October 1958, grew into a collection of over 20 titles. Paddington is as much an icon as any popular children’s book character, so it seems inevitable they would make this beloved character’s story come to life – surprisingly as one of the best CGI to live-action crossover movies to date.

Paddington’s story starts with a newsreel that is reminiscent of the open prologue to Pixar’s “Up.” The Geographer’s Guild of Great Britain has traveled into darkest Peru where an explorer discovers a new species of bear. His life is saved by these bears, and in turn, he teaches the bears of civilized life in London.

Years later, the bears known as Uncle Pastuzo and Aunt Lucy celebrate marmalade day with their young nephew. But all too soon, disaster strikes. An earthquake destroys their home and the young bear sets out for the explorer’s home in London. Aunt Lucy leaves a tag around the young bear’s neck that reads “Please look after the bear. Thank You.”

This small bear makes his way to Waterloo Station and is found by the Brown family. Immediately charmed by the bear, both Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) and their son and decide to call him Paddington. Understanding Paddington had no place to go, Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) reluctantly allows the family to take in the bear for the night. Almost immediately, however, Paddington ignorantly floods the Brown’s bathroom, thus initiating a movie full of both laugh-out-loud funny and charmingly-innocent incidents.

Of course, where there is a cute and cuddly animal, there must be a cold antagonist. Our Cruella-de-Vil-like villain is museum curator Millicent, who desires to turn Paddington into taxidermy art.

Paddington is memorably brought to life through the use of CG. This mix of CGI and live-action children’s movie has been going around for some years now and this may have been the best implementation of the duo I have seen to date.

Much like the “Smurfs” or “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” our story follows a CG model. But unlike the former two films, “Paddington” beats out the competition with a well-paced, memorably acted and stunningly shot film.

Paddington is voiced by Ben Wishaw (Skyfall, Cloud Atlas). His voice suites the charming demeanor of our small bear friend. Hugh Bonneville does a splendid job as the eccentric Mr. Brown, who is constantly worrying about the statistics involved with accidents. Then we have Nichole Kidman as our villainous Millicent, who does a great job at keeping her character both cruel and alluring.

The script is chock-full of sidesplitting jokes and physical gags. There never is a dull moment in the entire film. The only downfall to the story was the generic three act structure that makes up most modern children films. However, this in no way takes away from the cheerful screenplay and bubbly character writing.

Much like the CG bear himself, the movie as a whole is simply stunning. It is great to see that even though this was a children’s film, it didn’t skip out on the visual storytelling. I found myself locking in gorgeous image after image not wanting to forget how precisely framed each shot was. The costume and production design only helped with the beauty of each scene in “Paddington.”

Paddington is best enjoyed with the family or a theater filled with youngsters. I had a great time watching the charming antics of the duffle coat wearing bear. I hope we see more children’s films this exceptionally crafted in the near future.

7.75/10

‘American Sniper’ Review

American-Sniper-Movie-PosterAmerican Sniper could be mistaken as a military action film about a patriot soldier who will do anything to be with and save his brothers in arms. Really, it is a tale of masculinity and the true duty of a man.

This biopic tells the story of Chris Kyle, a want to be cowboy who decides that his talents and time would be best suited by joining the military. When meeting with a recruiting officers Kyle decides he would like to join the Navy Seals, one of hardest group of fighters in the military.

The movie opens most memorably in a high stake sniping situation. Kyle; a marksman who soon earn the title “The Legend”, lies on the rooftop as his fellow troupes move along the streets somewhere in Iraq. Suddenly a mother and son appear from a house along the street and we see the mother hand over a grenade, half the size of the boy himself. From here we must watch, as Kyle must make the judgment to end the boys life or to save his comrades.

This opening scene encompasses much of the struggle with Chris Kyle. He must constantly decide whether to save his friends or damage his psyche further, to stay home with his devoted wife and family or avenge his friend’s death. These are the decisions that define Kyle’s character.

Besides the scenes that take place in wartime Iraq we get a number of flash backs to when Kyle was a child. His father teaches both him and his brother that there are three types of people in this world, sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs. That they must not be wolves and that they must never be sheep. It is these lessons that drive Kyle to be the great marksman he will become.

Four time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper has been nominated for his role as Chris Kyle and deservedly so. We really see the struggle that wells up inside Kyle as he continues in each of his four tours in Iraq. Though some of the best scenes come when Kyle is at home from Iraq, in particular a bar scene when he returns from his final tour. Kyle soon starts to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and we see that like many veterans he tries to shake it off. His marriage becomes strained and damaged because of his reluctance to acknowledge this problem. What becomes really heroic to me is how he deals with his PTSD. He decides to spend time with other veterans and giving them support they need. It turns aiding himself and helping to heal his broken relationship with his family.

Director Clint Eastwood has done a really good Job with American Sniper. It is one of his best films after a number of poorly received movies of the last few years. American Sniper often becomes a bit too indulgent in the action portions of the films. Especially during the end of Kyle’s final tour in Iraq. We get a high-risk sequence that sadly results in a cheesy, clichéd slow-motion bullet point of view shot that really strips away the authentic appeal of the film.

At times Sniper struggles to find a genuine voice in terms of dialogue, especially involving scenes with Kyle’s wife. But this was only a slight annoyance throughout the whole film. American Sniper will no doubt do well in the box office as well as pull at the patriotic heartstrings of its audience. It wouldn’t have been half the movie it is without Cooper’s superb performance and great visual pacing.

7/10

‘Nightcrawler’ Review

nightcrawlerposterOne night, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) – also known as Lou –  stumbles across the rapidly beating heart of LA crime journalism. Driving around the city, he comes across a team of freelance cameramen at the site of a terrible car accident. From this moment, he is determined to acquire a job in this fascinating, high-stake world. Buying a cheap camera and police scanner, Lou is unwavering in his pursuit for footage of victims that he sells in turn for his own capital.

As it turns out, this career is perfect for a man like Lou, a man determined to make his place in the world – a man willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. He is intelligent, edgy and uncomfortably honest. By my diagnosis, he would most certainly be autistic because of his impaired social skills, rigid behavior and the particular care he gives to his work. But it is hard to label him under such a broad title.

At its core “Nightcrawler” is a character study, a psychological dive, inside the mind of Louis Bloom. Personally, I would consider him sociopathic. Every minute I sat in the theater, I yearned to understand his psyche a little more. Although the screenplay fed me what I wanted most, I became more and more disgusted with the man.

“Nightcrawler” is an exceptional piece of cinema. Finely tuned, the film executes a perfect balance of entertainment and craft, encompassing illustrious acting, writing and visual presentation. Gyllenhaal in particular is captivating as Louis Bloom. His performance as a horrific yet likable character is brilliant. I would compare his character to someone like Walter White (“Breaking Bad”) or Patrick Bateman (“American Psycho”). Much like Christian Bale’s performance in “American Psycho,” Gyllenhaal is so creepy, we would be appalled if he weren’t so finely dressed, intelligent and brutally (sometimes comically) honest.

The supporting actors were also terrific. Riz Ahmed’s performance as Rick, for example, is so beautifully nuanced, it is hard to really think of him as a character. Rather, he is an embodiment of the audience, acting and reacting to situations just as we might have in his position. The way Elswit and director/writer Dan Gilroy lingered on the characters – waiting to show us what they were seeing or observing – was genius. By withholding the truth, there were a number of times where they visually heightened the thrill of the revelation.

Cinematographer Robert Elswit’s camera work in “Nightcrawler” may very well be my favorite work of the year. Most of the film takes place at night under the gritty city lights. This immediately makes the film that much more uncomfortable. I must also note that they use of Lou’s camera footage is superb. Once again, it heightens the thrills and credibility of “Nightcrawler.”

“Nightcrawler” is a near masterpiece. It is comparable to the recent “Gone Girl.” I would go as far to say it is nearly as good. They are both different beasts, however, in the way that “Nightcrawler” isn’t as much a mystery as it is a psychological thriller. However, it is nonetheless a film that I think will be analyzed and more deeply appreciated within the upcoming years.

9.5/10

‘The Source Family’ Review

7G45VzeThe Source Family is masterwork in documentation. It is really a miracle this film could be made in the way it was. The story of the Source family is told through a beautifully edited telling of Jim Baker’s cult group know as the Source Family. The directors of the documentary keep their opinions out of the picture. They take a great approach by interviewing members of the family and having them tell their versions of the story.

This is all grouped together with a plethora of 16mm footage and photography. This is the highlight of the film for me that a small time in history could be so well archived as it was. The use of actual footage gives the story that much more reality. It is hard to believe that some of these things happened had we not seen actually footage of the events that took place. I don’t know what was more remarkable, the stillborn birth or Father Yod’s paragliding flight that would eventually lead to his death.

Another mentionable aspect of this film is its soundtrack. The songs are taken directly from The Source Family’s music albums that were released over their time as a group. The music is rather good, sometimes strange, but there is definitely quality in the music.

This documentary is far from forgettable, a remarkable work of documentation and editing.

7.75/10

‘Gone Girl’ Review

enhanced-buzz-wide-384-1406873867-8On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) came home to find furniture turned over, glass tables shattered, and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. It’s not long before Nick found himself blamed for the disappearance and possible murder of his wife. These accusations led to national media frenzy, making him question both his character and innocence.

At its core, “Gone Girl” is a mystery. Initially, the classic question “whodunnit?” is proposed. This is why we come to see the film – to sit through two hours of obscurity and eventually get a good pay off. But writer Gillian Flynn and director David Fincher – director of films including “Fight Club” (1999) and “The Social Network” (2010) – have other ideas up their sleeves.

The opening shot of the film illustrates a picture of marital perfection. As Amy lies in Nick’s lap, she stares lovingly into his eyes – the eyes of the audience. But this picture is quickly distorted by Nick’s foundational narrative quote:

“When I think of my wife, I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brains. Trying to get answers. What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other?”

The rest of the film reflects this moment.

Initially, Nick and Amy – by all appearances – seem flawless. Underneath their façade, however, is something raw, naked and ugly. It takes our preliminary expectation of love and textbook relationships and flips them on their head.

Much of the film goes back and forth between the past and present. Amy narrates her side of the story through a number of diary entries, which become important to the overall narrative. With every entry, we understand more about the nuances of Nick and Amy’s relationship and the effect it has on the present, ongoing story.

The film cleverly touches on a number of themes by blurring the line between feminism and misogyny. The biggest of these themes revolves around gender relations. One moment, Nick appears narcissistic and aggressive. In the next, we find Amy appalling and sadistic. Although it helps that the story’s narration is shared between both sexes, it’s nearly impossible to determine the antagonist or pinpoint how we feel about either character throughout the film.

Fincher has always been known for his dark tone and visual exactitude. This remains true with “Gone Girl.” Not only does the story deal with challenging themes, the photographic aesthetic is consistently dark and mysterious. We never struggle to understand the motivation behind the camera. It’s apparent that Fincher worked closely with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth to get the most out of this visual medium.

Fincher’s reach for visual perfection, however, doesn’t end with the camera. It continues with the editing. Although the story evolves from a basic premise into a complex narrative, we never lose track of any of the character’s development. Likewise, the editing never takes away from what has been framed in the camera. Rather, it adds to the overall pacing and optical grace of the picture.

I must also comment on the beguiling score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The track “Appearances,” for example, skillfully reflects the outward beauty of the two main characters and the underlying fakery of their relationship. The soundtrack regularly interchanges between unnervingly eerie to pulsating, tension-building beats. It has earned its equitable spot as one of my favorite soundtracks of the year.

There is plenty to be said about “Gone Girl.” Similarly, the film has a lot to say. The world Fincher and Flynn crafted is ingeniously melodramatic. As a mystery-thriller, I have no criticisms. Every objection I had was illegitimate as it was vindicated by the end of the film. It is both a classic – reminding me of “Vertigo,” my favorite Hitchcock film – and modern in relevancy.

“Gone Girl” is one of the best mysteries in years.

10/10

‘The Boxtrolls’ (Review)

My first review to be featured in my school’s newspaper site. http://www.huntingtonian.com/?p=24327boxtrolls_xlg

One night in the towering town of Cheeseville, the young son of Mr. Trubshaw is kidnapped by monsters. The vile Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), a pest exterminator, makes a deal with Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) — a cheese-consuming, pompous fool — to rid the town of every one of these brutes in exchange for membership to the White Hats, a group of noble men who serve as the town council. Contrary to Snatcher’s misguided opinion, although mischievous, these creatures are actually a peaceful group of subterranean dwellers known as Boxtrolls.

“The Boxtrolls” was produced by the stop-motion animation studio Laika. This is Laika’s third animated feature, the first two being “Coraline” (2009) — which I consider a near masterpiece — and “Paranorman” (2012). Sadly, “The Boxtrolls” is most definitely the weakest of the three films.

The Boxtrolls themselves can best be described as cute but unorthodox. Every night, this silly group of trolls wander around town in search of items to use for their inventions, all the while wearing their signature cardboard boxes. Among these trolls lives a boy named Eggs (Isaac Wright), watched over by a Boxtroll named Fish (Dee Baker).

As he grows up, Eggs faces the the threat of Archibald and his men Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan), Mr. Trout (Nick Frost), and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade) — a group of fumbling idiots who are ironically deeply philosophical, constantly debating the difference between good and evil. Through the years, Egg watches as more and more Boxtrolls are captured by this group. On the 10th anniversary of the Trubshaw baby kidnapping, Egg decides to surface and find out the mystery revolving around these kidnappings.

From here, “The Boxtrolls” becomes rather formulaic. At the end of the first act, I was able to predict the pace of the story nearly beat by beat. Much of the story is pushed along by our villain, Archibald Snatcher, who much like the Boxtrolls themselves, fights for his own sense of place in this world of upper class aristocracy. Eggs as our protagonist stumbles around a lot, befriends Lord Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning), and shows us his lack of human etiquette. Even with its cliché plot line, there is still a chance it could appeal to certain audiences with its humor and visuals.

The only thing I really loved about this film was its visuals. The world is fully realized, and each character model is either strikingly grotesque or cute — in an ugly sort of way. I have always been impressed with Laika’s display of animation, and with “The Boxtrolls,” I was won over once again.

The humor of “The Boxtrolls” won’t be for everyone. The gross-out humor was dished out far too often. I definitely found myself chuckling at dialogue from time to time, but there was only one moment during the film that I heard the whole theater laughing together. Personally, I found the funniest, most genuine moments came by use of satire.

At it’s core, “The Boxtrolls” is a movie about identity and finding one’s place in the world. Few scenes really shine in this film, and as a whole, the movie doesn’t always work. However, it still gets by with its great use of stop-motion and tremendous cast of voice actors.

Is the movie worth the price of a ticket? Maybe, if you get a student discounted matinee.

6.5/10

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