Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Webseries Review: Beth and Charly

I think you all should watch ‘Beth and Charly’. No, but really. There are a ton of webseries out there, but ‘Beth and Charly’ is a well produced, excellently executed, fun six episodes.

Following the comeback attempt of former child star Charly (Shauna Goodgold) and her overwhelmed assistant/friend Beth (Elizabeth Seldin), ‘Beth and Charly’ is easy to consume at the just under 25-minute running time for all six episodes. Sure, you’ve seen this premise done before, but this series successfully dissects it on a smaller scale. And please, you know you just binge watched 13 episodes of ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ and ‘Jessica Jones’ and probably ‘SVU’ on USA, so you have time for this gem.

Goodgold and Seldin, who also wrote and produced the series, are a delight to watch. The easy chemistry and comic timing of the two quickly informs their backstory, which is so important in empathizing with characters in the limited time we spend with them. Goodgold’s quick, under her breath, quips coupled with Seldin’s seemingly apathetic reactions are a great one two punch. The guest spots from Jeremy Jordan (Supergirl/Newsies) and Andrew Chapplle (Hamilton) are a nice treat, but also don’t distract from the two girls as the main event.

Sure, all the jokes don’t land, but the charm of the stars allows for overlooking because when the humor does work, it’s belly laughingly good. It’s a great amount of fun packed into a manageable amount of binging with believable and interesting character arcs. (Sadly that’s missing from many webseries.)  When it comes to the internet, it’s the small, well done things infused with passion that can make your day. ‘Beth and Charly’ is one of them.

Above is the embedded first episode. You can find them all on BroadwayWorld.com. Take a watch. You’ll enjoy the hell out of it.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

A BRYAN MOVIE HACK

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Want to see interesting movies for cheap? I have a solution. A Bryan Movie Hack, if you will.

You will? Great.

Recently, I’ve been catching movies that I might not have hunted out after missing them in theatres. It’s because of the iTunes ‘Movie of the Week’.

Each week, iTunes features a 99 cent, 30-day rental. You have 30 days to keep in in your queue, but only 24 hours when you activate it. It’s perfect, as the rental doesn’t break the bank, allows for viewing flexibility, and provides an eclectic selection from week to week.

The titles have been consistently interesting. I’ve enjoyed everything from ‘Mr. Holmes’, ‘Z Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 10.00.02 PMfor Zachariah’, and ‘The Walk’ to ‘Bone Tomahawk’ and ‘Attack the Block’. This week’s is ‘American Ultra’, which I plan to watch this weekend.

As much as I live to go to the theatre, I frequently miss some of the smaller gems. Thankfully, iTunes uses this feature to get these movies in front of us. (They also get me to transact on a regular basis, but that’s a whole different story.)

You can also purchase a ton of great movies for decent prices, but for the ‘Movie of the Week’ feature, you can take a chance on a smaller film for cheap.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

The Ultimate James Bond Movie Ranking

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You may or may not know this about me, but I am addicted to the James Bond movie series. My dad had a VHS of ‘Dr. No’ in the base of our TV stand and one weekend I found it and watched it. Then I watched it again. I was probably 9 at the time? Then I asked him about it and watched it a third time with him. Every weekend we would go to the local Blockbuster and rent the next movie in the series. At that point we only had to make it to ‘A View To A Kill’, so while Sean Connery was a my first Bond, Pierce Brosnan was my first movie Bond. When a new Bond movie comes out it’s a big deal for us.

Oh, it doesn’t end there. My bar mitzvah theme? You guessed it, James Bond. Every table was named after a different movie and the kid’s table was the Thunderball dias. I currently 209x209own every movie on VHS, DVD, and iTunes, have seen them each over 5 or 6 times (including ‘Spectre’), and yet still watch the holiday Bond marathons on TV. My craziness doesn’t end there. As I kid I read through every single Bond encyclopedia I could get my hands on and memorized every fact possible. So, while the blurbs below are short, I could easily go on and on and on in an obnoxious manner about each movie.

Now that ‘Spectre’ was released a few weeks back, I’ve watched it a few times and realized that I’ve never actually sat down and listed out how I rank the Bond movies. Below is that list. I took all 24 Bond movies, ranked them by actor, then meshed together those six lists. So, I give you, the definitive Bryan’s Not Lyin’ Bond Movie Rankings.

  1. Die Another Day (2002)

It’s a mess of a movie. Brosnan’s final film went so far over the top that it felt like an actual Austin Powers movie. The action sequences are filled with poor GCI and the plot twists aredie-another-day-poster too much, even for a James Bond movie. It also doesn’t help that Madonna’s song and appearance in the film are completely forgettable and that Halle Berry’s Jinx is one of the worst Bond girls to grace the screen. This series needed a true makeover after this dud. MVP: Diamonds in the face and Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost.

  1. Moonraker (1979)

It’s just–stupid. Granted there are some decent action set pieces and the title song is performed by the great Shirley Moonraker_(UK_cinema_poster)Bassey, but Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) isn’t a worthy bad guy and a it’s a whole lot of absurdity with only hints of tongue in cheekiness. A dirty bond girl name, Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) isn’t going to save your whole, extremely slow and stupid, movie. MVP: I mean, I guess Holly Goodhead and Jaw finding love?

  1. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

I have a soft spot in my heart for this movie, despite listing it at 22. Maybe because it’s Bond mano a mano with a three nippled villain or I remember the golden gun fondly from the Goldeneye video game, but regardless of that nostalgia, it’s not the best of theseThe-Man-With-The-Golden-Gun-DI movies. It’s pretty slow all around and the solar panels plot never lands, but it includes a ton of stand out actors (Christopher Lee and Hervé Villechaize), characters (Scaramanga, Nick Nack, J.W. Pepper), and moments (the end duel with a mannequin). Then again, it also features the dumbest, most frustrating bond girl of all time, Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight. MVP: If it’s not J.W. Pepper’s outlandish racism, it’s probably Lulu’s terrible theme song with the lyric, “Love is required/Whenever he’s hired/It comes just before the kill.”

  1. The World Is Not Enough (1999)

The fact that this isn’t a low point in the Brosnan years says more about how bad ‘Die maxresdefaultAnother Day’ is than anything else. The Renard/Elektra King stockholm syndrome situation is a solid baddie duo, the oil pipeline a decent plot base, and another appearance by Robbie Coltrane as Valentin Zukovsky is always welcome. However, there’s Denise Richards as a nuclear weapons expert named Dr. Christmas Jones. Even though there’s some fun action set pieces it’s hard to get over the overt silliness that starts to make fun of James Bond movies. However, the Garbage theme song isn’t garbage. MVP: It pains me to say it, but the last line of the movie needs some sort of shout out. “I thought Christmas only came once a year.” Thanks, James.

  1. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Considering how relatively recent it is, this movie feels incredibly outdated. Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is trying to have his newspaper conglomerate create a world war three? maxresdefaultHe’s in the wrong business. He doesn’t even pretend to not be a bad guy, yet his performance stands out as one of the better parts of the movie. His henchman, Stamper, is pretty ‘blah’, as is the movie’s third act, but the action sequences early on are fantastic. The handcuffed helicopter chase is a highlight. I also have never liked the Sheryl Crow theme and the lame use of Teri Hatcher. MVP: Michelle Yeoh as Chinese secret agent Wai Lin.

  1. License To Kill (1989)

The Timothy Dalton years are never ranked that high for most people, but I think that they licence-to-kill-posterdeserve more credit. This is my least favorite of the two. Robert Davi’s Franz Sanchez, a cameo by Wayne Newton as Professor Joe Butcher, and a young Benicio del Toro (Dario) make fun trio of bad guys, but after the Felix Leiter (David Hedison) shark attack and the Gladys Knight theme opening it’s all forgettable. MVP: Carey Lowell as the kick ass Pam Bouvier and maybe the decompression chamber head explosion.

  1. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Sean Connery’s return (and final stint) as James Bond isn’t his best. It’s clear he’s only doing it for the paycheck because his performance is beyond phoned-in. He’s lucky that diamonds-are-forever-postereverybody else came to play. Jill St. John as Tiffany Case, Charles Gray as Blofeld, and Jimmy Dean as Willard Whyte all play memorable character parts. The Las Vegas setting is fun, the one liners are sharp(ish), and the downtown car chase is great, even if the movie’s diamond plot line loses steam halfway through. MVPs: The gay henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd and the second greatest Bond girl name, Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood).

  1. Quantum of Solace (2008)

You know, this gets a bad rap because it followed such a great movie in ‘Casino Royale’. It UK Final Quadalso takes on a Jason Bourne handheld camera feel during action sequences, which doesn’t play as very Bond. The plot also revolves around stealing water, which isn’t that sexy. However, if you watch it directly after after ‘Casino Royale’ it’s a fantastic companion piece and tracks Daniel Craig’s Bond’s emotional journey extremely well. M’s also got some great one liners, Strawberry Fields’ (Gemma Arterton) death is a unique throwback, and Olga Kurylenko is a strong Bond girl.  So, as a stand alone movie, it’s okay, but works on whole another level when looked at on a macro level. Oh, the theme song by Alicia Keys and Jack White straight up sucks. MVP: The Quantum opera sequence.

  1. Octopussy (1983)

This one is just fun. It’s not great, but fun enough. Truly over the top Bond. It also taught me what a faberge egg is! Maude Adams is unstoppable as the Bond girl and part timeoctopussy villain and the Russian circus portion is quintessential Moore. The scenes in India are beautiful and Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan is as smooth as a bad guy you’ll ever see. However, it’s a really long movie with more convoluted plot than most and is quite boring throughout. Great theme with ‘All Time High’. MVP: Did I mention that Russian circus?

  1. A View To A Kill (1985)

Roger Moore’s last outing as Bond is actually pretty bad, but so incredibly memorable–A_View_to_a_Kill_-_UK_cinema_posterexcept for the plot. It’s pretty similar to ‘Goldfinger’, but with Silicon Valley as the stand in for Fort Knox and with way less stakes. However, Christopher Walken as the charismatic Max Zorin and Grace Jones as the tough as nails Mayday? That’s one of the better Bond duos. Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton? Yeah, try again.  MVP: Bad guy casting and the finale atop the Golden Gate Bridge in a blimp.

  1. The Living Daylights (1987)

Of the two Timothy Dalton movies, this is the better one. The action set pieces are killer, especially the viola case chase sequence, but what really works here is Dalton’s no the-living-daylights-1-1024x768nonsense Bond. While it has its lighter moments, Dalton’s darker Bond feels more at home in this outing than in ‘License to Kill’. KGB, arms dealers, and the defection cold open are made for his type of character. However, in the spectrum of Bond films this one is quite forgettable, albeit a solid movie. MVP: Bond getting help from Al Qaeda and the super 80s ‘A-ha’ theme song.

  1. Thunderball (1965)

I know a few avid James Bond fans that that rank this movie very high on their own lists. I find it a bit boring and uneven. The funeral cold open with the jetpack sets the tempo for a IFfun, fast moving film that never comes to fruition. Domino (Claudine Auger) is a dull female lead and despite the sweet eye patch, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) is a lackluster terrorist. It contains a ton of Bond tropes that would become mockeries staples, like Spectre, a one-eyed bad guy, shark attacks, and holding the world hostage with nuclear warheads, so in hindsight this movie may not read well anymore. Still, it just never comes together as cohesive film. MVP: I think the cold open. It’s so fun!

  1. Spectre (2015)

It’s a great addition to the James Bond canon, especially with a well made opening 12002410_1134539806560929_7647752797114155043_osequence that draws you in immediately. Tying all of the Craig films together, Spectre brings back more than just the evil organization. The bad guys are well cast and have some stand out scenes, especially Dave Bautista as Hinx on the train and Christoph Waltz as Blofeld towards the film’s end. The movie isn’t without fault though: it’s 20 minutes too long, the secondary story with M, Q, Moneypenny, and C is too predictable even for a Bond movie, the love story never feels justified, the Rome and Austria chase scenes are low stakes, and the Sam Smith theme song is a dud. However, with all of it’s old Bond throwbacks at it’s core, Spectre is still a fun and engaging. MVP: The train fight.

  1. You Only Live Twice (1967)

This movie takes what ‘Thunderball’ started to do and dialed it up to 10. Russians being You-Only-Live-Twice-posterpitted against the Americans to start WWIII and Bond works his way to the Sea of Japan to take down the amazing Donald Pleasance as a great Blofeld. It’s so ridiculous that it’s outrageously fun. Volcano lair? Exotic locals? Awesome Nancy Sinatra theme? Roald Dahl screenplay? Sign me up! MVP: Bond having to be disguised as a japanese man, but looks nothing like a Japanese man.

  1. Goldeneye (1995)

Back to the basics. After the Dalton films weren’t received well it took the Bond team a while to regroup, but they nailed it with this one. Pierce Brosnan’s first outing is a smashGoldenEye007box hit. The action sequences are top notch. From the dam pre-credits sequence to tank chase to the finale, they fire on all cylinders. The villains (Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan and Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp) and side characters (Alan Cumming’s Boris and Robbie Coltrane’s Valentin) are all incredibly memorable. It’s too bad Brosnan’s movies went downhill from here. MVP: The N64 video game.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

So this one gets a lot of heat for George Lazenby stepping into the James Bond role post on-her-majestys-secret-service-2Connery, but watch it again. He’s kind of good and the movie is great. Granted the Blofeld plot sways to the mundane side (germ warfare), but it’s not the true focal point of the movie. Diana Rigg as Tracy plays an amazing foil to Bond and their emotional connection allows for the final moments at Bond’s wedding to really hit home. As good as Telly Savalas is as Blofeld, Rigg and Lazenby carry the film. Until the Craig movies, it was the only movie plot point that semi-carried through to most of the Bond films. Plus, the alps are gorgeous. MVP: How truly psychedelic 60s it feels all around.

  1. Live And Let Die (1973)

Roger Moore’s first Bond film is so out of the box for a movie in this series, that it works. With the popularity of the blacksploitation of the time, ‘Live and Let Die’ has Bond takingLive_and_Let_Die-_UK_cinema_poster on Harlem, New Orleans, and Jamaica. Jane Seymour as Solitaire is top 10 Bond girl and Gloria Hendry was the first African American Bond girl, a huge step forward at the time. Sure this movie introduced us to J.W. Pepper, but it also gave us a top five theme song by Sir Paul McCartney and Wings. MVP: Jumping on crocs? Baron Samedi? Kanaga’s exploding head? So many options.

  1. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

It’s a pretty simple Bond movie that fires on all cylinders. From the double crossing of for-your-eyes-only-main-reviewJulian Glover’s Aristotle to every well executed action scene (skiing, pulled through coral, scaling St.Cyrill), the movie moves at a brisk pace with all the twists in all the right places. Sure, there are some drawbacks, Bibi and Margaret Thatcher. But Topol as Milos Columbo, Bond’s one-movie side kick, is one of the more memorable pistachio eating characters in the whole series. MVP: Carole Bouquet’s strong Melina Havelock or Topol.

  1. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ got back to what made Bond movies so popular after its two ‘out-of-the-box’ predecessors split the difference in quality (‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘The Man Spy-who-loved-me-FilmWith The Golden Gun’). Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) attempts to secure world domination, while James Bond (Roger Moore) and his Russian counterpart Anya Amasova aka XXX (Barbara Bach) thwart his evil plans and steel toothed henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel). There’s a lot to love about this kitschy, extremely 70s, Bond iteration–the cars, the spectacle, and action sequences. It’s a little slow in the middle, but overall, a fundamentally great spy adventure. MVP: Jaws. It’s always Jaws.

  1. Skyfall (2012)

It’s so beautifully shot and intimately personal for Bond (Craig) that I can ignore the fact Skyfall-660that he loses on all fronts in the end. He can’t save M (Judi Dench), the true Bond girl of the film, he can’t recover the stolen files, and he blows up his own house, ‘Home Alone’ style. However, director Sam Mendes’ first Bond film captures the suave grit of our favorite spy. The Adele theme song alone makes me love this film. It’s an all time great. The action sequences are excellent, tense in a way that can’t compare to most of the other 23 movies in the series. It’s a haunting film that deals with what makes Bond tick, while it sets up the standard Bond/M/Moneypenny office situation. MVP: Javier Bardem as Silva, especially the one-take monologue.

  1. Dr. No (1962)

The first. The original. The ultimate Bond movie that started it all. It’s sexy and suave with some great sequences and Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) is just ridiculous enough. Quarrel is Dr._No_-_UK_cinema_posterthe inaugural sidekick, a part that these movies usually nail (see ‘For Your Eyes Only’) and the theme song booming through every scene is core rattling. This may be the best Connery Bond performance. MVP: Ursula Andress coming out of the water or how Connery’s hair is never messed up in the finale sequence. Also, his introduction at the card table.

  1. Goldfinger (1964)

This is the one truly iconic Bond film. ‘Goldfinger’ is like Bond’s greatest hits in one movie: A scuba suit into a tux opening, a woman painted in gold, memorable henchman (Oddjob), Goldfinger (1964)an even more memorable Bond girl, and of course, the attack on Ft. Knox by an over the top bad guy. Then there’s the greatest line in maybe even spy movie history. “Do you expect me to talk Goldfinger?” “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Outrageous and fun all the way around. MVP: The laser beam table or the pool table?

  1. Casino Royale (2006)

Four years after Brosnan’s lackluster run of Bond films were finished, we were surprised by this reboot. More than surprised, thrilled and reinvigorated. Directed by Martin CampbellCasino_Royale_2_-_UK_cinema_poster (Goldeneye), Daniel Craig’s first movie is injected with so much energy that it oozes off of the screen. The parkour opening sequence, the runway debacle, and the car flip, and the Venice finale act could all be placed in a best of Bond action list. The balance between these action movie staples and the emotionally charged Vesper (Eva Green) and Bond relationship is where the true success of this movie lies. Their chemistry is electric and gives this movie a layer that other films just don’t even come close to matching. MVP: The very end where Monty Norman’s Bond theme finally enters.

  1. From Russia With Love (1963)

There’s a lot that’s done right with this film. It introduces SPECTRE, Blofeld, Q, and his from-russia-with-love-postergadgets while Bond is being hunted as he tries to maneuver his way through Europe with the lovely Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) and the Lektor machine. I mean, who can forget Rosa Klebb’s poison shoe knife and the great boat chase gasoline escape? The movie is low key as compared to the eccentricities this series is known for and yet it’s always thrilling. It’s an excellent spy yarn that is capped off by the one of the best henchmen, Red Grant (Robert Shaw), and the best fight scene in Bond history. MVP: The entire train sequence.

Let me know how this may or may not compare to your favorites!

Keep On Watchin’!

-Plofsky, Bryan Plofsky.

Movie Day 2015-16

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Once again, movie day has come and gone. The tradition began in 2007 as a way to see a few movies I was dying to see the day before I left to study abroad. Now, eight years later, it has evolved into a full day of movie-going in an attempt to make a dent in the overwhelmingly saturated holiday/awards season.

Aside from my stamina, I’d like to thank the following people. Feel free to click through and follow them on Instagram! Marco Chieffalo, Josh Rothberg, Leigh Cesiro, Caitlin Northcote, Hana Katen, Jay Schmidt, Kimberly Cooper, Erica Plofsky, Jillian Shaw, Lucy Vallejo-Anderson, and Erica Anderman.

So, with tickets in hand, I headed to my favorite multiplex in the city: AMC Lincoln Square 13.

9am Movie #1: The Revenant

Regardless of the early time, it was a pretty packed theatre. Finding our seats on the right side of the auditorium, I was surprised to see how diverse in age the audience was at this showtime. It’s usually a much older crowd. This long, mostly intense film seemed like the best way to thrust my way into the day.

The Revenant, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman), is the story of a direly injured tracker, Huge Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), attempting to make imageshis way back to the men who left him to die in the bleak wilderness of 1823 Montana and South Dakota. Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the film was beautiful from start to finish, as the wilderness served as one of the main characters. The acting is superb, led by Dicaprio, who is sure to be nominated and maybe get his first oscar win. Personally, I’m never blown away by him, but here he is very good.

Clocking in at just over two and a half hours, the film is brutal, punishing, and 15 minutes too long. That being said, it’s pretty special and a perfect start to movie day.

1:10pm Movie #2: The Big Short

Since The Revenant had taken up most of the morning, I had plenty of time scheduled for lunch and a leg stretch. If I’ve learned anything from past movie days, it’s that absorption time, especially after the more intense features, is a necessity. So after a walk and a chicken shwarma, I was right back in another theatre for The Big Short. Then, the movie day scare happened.

Apparently, there was a false alarm in the AMC’s fire system that shut down all of the in-progress movies. From what I heard, part of the theatre was evacuated and new movie goers were stuck outside, attempting to get in. I images-4started to panic because the jump from this movie to the next movie was my tightest of the day and a failure on movie day sets up the whole year for failure. The whole year, I tell you! However, after it all played out, the movie was completely full and started only five minutes late. Pretty lucky stuff.

As the previews started, a massive amount of people were still trying to find seats after the delay. The house lights went out as the screen began to glow with the trailers’ green images, which caused a bit of chaos in the crowd. People were still looking to see what seats were available with no lights. This was not a good move by AMC. Even if the lights were on an auto dim, that should have been changed for this situation. A very frustrating moment for many audience members.

Adam McKay (Anchorman) is the perfect director to handle this heavy, somewhat depressing, material. The Big Short follows three groups of hedge fund managers who foresaw the 2007 financial crisis and bet against the housing market to make a considerable profit. Starring Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, and an incredible Steve Carell, the movie is a home run. It attempts to teach the audience about the specifics of why the economy crashed, while profiling the men who benefited from it all. In what could have been a boring, sad, and mundane prestige picture, The Big Short in McKay’s hands is filled with humor, heart, and a morality. The substance of this film is inherently depressing, but the movie is a colorful portrait of our times that doesn’t dumb down the cynical feelings.

4:00pm Movie #3: Sisters

Despite the late start for my most attended movie of the day, The Big Short, I made it to Sisters with time to spare. Once again, it was another packed images-1house. Friends had saved a seat for me, so that made everything a little bit easier and less stressful. Sisters was chosen as the comedy to break up the day, so I wasn’t expecting much from it.

When sisters Kate (Tiny Fey) and Maura (Amy Poehler), find out that their parents are selling their childhood home, they throw one last party to top all parties. I love Fey and Poehler, as the majority of the world does now, but the movie starts off pretty laughless, only to be saved by a decently funny 2nd and 3rd act. Overall, the movie wouldn’t work without the two stars and their chemistry, but having gone in with low expectations, I enjoyed it for what it. It’s not great, but I laughed enough. I know that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but Sisters is the definition of ‘meh’.

7:50pm Movie #4: Anomalisa

After Sisters, I grabbed a little dinner and took a brisk walk to the new theatre, Lincoln Plaza Cinema 6, for the final two of the day. This theatre, featuring some of the best indie pictures out, is a cozy relic of yesteryear. The screens are small, the carpets are old, but the movies are so good. It was packed.

As a big fan of all of Charlie Kaufman’s work, I was very excited to be able to include Anomalisa in this year’s movie day. Told through stop motion images-2animation, Anomalisa (directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson) is about a customer service guru, Michael Stone (David Thewlis), in the midst of a midlife crisis. Away for a speaking engagement in Cincinnati, Michael attempts to fill the holes in his life on his night at the hotel. I didn’t know what to expect from this one, but I was not ready for what I got.

It’s an extremely intimate hour and a half deconstruction of the loneliness and sadness of a man in a seemingly lost place in his life. The fact that he’s a stop motion character makes no difference in conveying the humanity of the film. It goes places that most live action pictures can’t, as it wouldn’t have as much impact. Jennifer Jason Leigh voices a timid and insecure Lisa, who is wooed by Michael in his whirlwind of a night. Perhaps the most important performance in the film is Tom Noonan who voices everybody else. Man or woman, he brings a monotonous, yet specific, characterization to the world around Michael.

I had a hard time empathizing (or sympathizing) with Michael, as his type of sadness and how he handles it is beyond my true understanding, but both he and Lisa’s short journey is fascinating and deep. There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this film, but I’m not going to spoil it here. I’m still absorbing it all and will be for a while.

10:25pm Movie #5: 45 Years

Well, we made it to the last movie and fittingly the theatre was empty. It was me, Leigh, and maybe eight other strangers. After a long day of retina burning fun, I’m glad the it ended with 45 Years because it was quite the slow burn of a film.

While planning for their 45th wedding anniversary, Geoff and Kate receive a letter that changes the dynamic of their relationship. Told over the course images-3of a handful of days, we watch uncertainty and insecurity creep into their everyday lives. Is 45 years enough time to fully know a person? This film is held up by its two leads’ performances and while Tom Courtnay as Geoff Mercer is wonderful, Charlotte Rampling as Kate is one of the best performances of the year. The journey of her character from beginning to end is so life shattering, yet all of it is internally conveyed. From her use of subtext to the dying glow in her eyes, it’s a performances that isn’t showy, but overwhelmingly captivating. The last ten minutes, without any confrontation, is incredibly fiery and tension filled. This slow and rewarding film is dynamite.

Well, we did it again! Movie day was a complete and total success. Timing, quality, and attendance all lined up to create one of the better days in its eight year history. Here’s my rough list of best to worst films of the day:

  1. The Big Short
  2. 45 Years
  3. Anomalisa
  4. The Revenant
  5. Sisters

There are always aspects I question, for instance: Should I end the day with such depressing material? Should I have saved certain movies for this day to round out the diversity? Is 5 or 6 films too many and would 4 at better showtimes be a more solid day? These are things I’ll consider for next year, but for now, I’ll happily take this one as a win. And even after 5 movies in a row, I was ready for another. Happy Movie Day to all!

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

Movie Review: The Last Five Years


I was genuinely nervous that Richard LaGravenese’s film version of Jason Robert Brown’s beloved ‘The Last Five Years’ was going to dilute the original source material for a more general audience. I was admittedly scared that it was going to be dumbed down and cut to pieces in order to serve the perceived needs of American movie goers. Thankfully, this is not the case at all. It still stands as one of the most detailed dissections of a relationship that I’ve ever seen.

The film sticks true to its fully sung and structurally out of order premise, so, as you can guess, ‘The Last Five Years’ is not for everybody. It doesn’t pretend to be either. It is made for lovers of musical theatre. With its fun cameos, inside jokes, audition situations, and rehearsal scenes, the movie plays to a theatre loving audience. Despite all of this specificity, it is still remains a story about heartbreak, the choices we make, drive, how moments define you, and the evolution of love in a relationship. It is a universal story told through two specific characters, Cathy Hiatt (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy Jordan).

If you aren’t familiar with Robert Brown’s show, ‘The Last Five Years’ tells the story of Jamie, a newly successful writer, and Cathy, a struggling actress, and their relationship from beginning to end. (And end to beginning.) Fully sung, their time together is told from Cathy’s reverse point of view and Jamie’s chronological perspective with the story weaving the two memory tapestries together.

This is Jordan and Kendrick’s best work to date. Their raw talent is on full display here. They are the reason the movie works so well. They are the movie. The actors’ chemistry is TheLastFiveYearson point, even when they aren’t on the same page character-wise. There’s always a sense of love present. Cathy and Jamie are fully realized people with flaws and positive attributes that we can all connect with and understand. Every choice they make is justified, whether it is the right one or not. They both sound great. Vocally the two voices are mixed well together and the depth they bring to every choice in every song is natural, real, subtle, and piercing. The humor they infuse throughout balances the soul crushing nature of the material well.  Anna Kendrick’s “A Part of That” and “Summer in Ohio” are absolute highlights. As for Jeremy Jordan, his “If I Didn’t Believe In You” and “Nobody Needs to Know” are both beautifully authentic, layered, and haunting. Together, they both capture the empty façade of their relationship in “See I’m Smiling”. Enough can’t be said about their work in this piece, as they ARE this piece.

Most of the singing was done live onset and that organic aspect of the scenes show, but ultimately, I can’t say much for the sound design of this movie musical. The screening was at the Minetta Lane theatre, the space where the original NYC Off-Broadway production opened in 2002. (In his introduction, Jason Robert Brown mentioned that he was having an intensely surreal evening.)  For the premiere, the space was converted into a movie theatre, so the sound quality we heard wasn’t top notch, but got the job done.

Richard LaGravenese’s adapted screenplay translates pretty well (with some curses left last5bigout), especially now that the characters interact throughout. (In the musical, Jamie and Cathy’s only direct interaction onstage is midway through the show when their timelines cross.) There is very little dialogue from the “non-singing party” in each scene–it’s mostly reaction shots and sporadic lines. This allows the focus to fall on the singer and their point of view. Jamie and Cathy are listening to what the other has to say, but not truly listening to each other at all. Their communication is all one sided, a clear sign of things to come. Amazingly, to the director and casts’ credit, the middle sequence, “The Next Ten Minutes,” still feels incredibly special.  (This is that direct interaction song I mentioned above.) LaGravenese’s ‘Hitchcockian’ camera spin in the Central Park gazebo works to isolate these characters and highlight their importance to each other in that intimate timeline moment.

Elsewhere, his visual direction leaves something to be desired. Sure, the happy moments are bright and the downhill moments are dark, but some of the intimacy he attempts to create with sharp close-ups feel claustrophobic. His shaky-cam techniques work as distractions instead of highlighting the raw tension and pure love in sequences.  In contrast, some numbers seem extremely blocked for the camera, that they verge on inorganic. (They never get to that point though.) The cinematography was oddly inconsistent, even with a score that is perfectly all over the place, style-wise. It felt sloppy in places. Overall transitions from song to song work with the use of white outs and pans. The mid-point, when the story flips, seemed to beg for a stronger visual choice, but the timeline redirection still reads. (On another note: I’m not so sure about the random ‘almost dance’ in “Moving Too Fast.” You’ll know it when you see it.)

This all being said, his work with the actors and clear passion for the piece is plastered 1.170427everywhere. That’s a huge part of why the movie works. LaGravenese clearly loves musical theatre, this show, these characters, and the audience for whom this move was made. His eye for how this relationship worked and then didn’t, and how to highlight that in an in-depth musical study is on point. As an audience, we are allowed to take a peak into these character’s minds, hearts, and outer masks to make our own decisions about what went wrong with out an overwhelming bias one way or the other. The core of Jason Robert Brown’s truth-filled deconstruction of Jamie and Cathy is well served on screen by all parties involved.

This type of musical is an acquired taste, especially on film. I have a DNA-based taste for it. Kendrick and Jordan are stars in their respective mediums and the two powerhouses come together perfectly in the exact right movie musical. I understand that adapted musicals like this are incredibly subjective. As you’ve read, this movie really worked for me. I genuinely hope it works for you too.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

‘The Last Five Years’ opens in limited distribution and VOD this Friday, February 13th.

Moore, Cotillard–Please!: Reviews of ‘Still Alice’ and ‘Two Days, One Night’

Julianne Moore and Marion Cotillard are the best. They continually choose tough, challenging, thoughtful parts in interesting movies that seem to always fly under the radar. marioncotillard1(‘A Single Man’, ‘Don Jon’, ‘The Immigrant’, ‘Rust and Bone’) When they do appear in a larger scale films, they bring so much to their roles that it’s hard to pay attention to anybody else (‘Mockingjay’, ‘Inception’). They mesmerize. As Cate Blanchett proclaimed in her ‘Blue Jasmine’ Oscar acceptance speech, “…and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the 405bdcd4d7d479c6b515bf49242cb7ec_largecenter are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.” These two woman prove this powerful sentiment over and over. Sorry Meryl, along with Blancett and Chastain, they’ve been the best for a while now. Recently, I had the pleasure to sit through two excellent, nuanced performances from these actresses.

Still Alice

Based on Lisa Genova’s novel of the same name, ‘Still Alice’ chronicles an accomplished Columbia University linguistics professor, Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), as her mind slowly deteriorates due to a rare case of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. So, yeah, this is a rough one.

Nobody is better than Julianne Moore this year. I hate to chalk up an entire movie’s quality to one performance, as ‘Still Alice’ is beautifully filmed with a natural touch, and wonderfully acted by her co-stars, but it really is Moore’s show. They all supporting this movie’s, and Hollywood’s, true star. Her performance is so delicate, layered, and heartbreaking, that there is room to mistake this for a documentary of sorts.

Alice’s determination to fight the deterioration of her mind, body, and family is put on full display. Moore conveys such a sense of acceptance, denial, and pure fight throughout the MV5BMjIzNzAxNjY1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDg4ODQxMzE@._V1_SX214_AL_entity of the film that when, eventually, hope starts to evaporate, it’s all the more gut-wrenching. Even in her attempts to stall the speed of the disease through different memory methods, Alice knows it’s only a momentary win; her disease is destined to worsen quickly. As Alice loses bits and pieces of herself, which is mapped out with incredbile detail by Moore and the directors, her husband and children reluctantly see the end and, sadly, begin to plan their new beginning in some matter of fact, hard to swallow scenes.

Alice’s fade is hardest on her youngest child, Lydia (Kristen Stewart) and husband John (Alec Baldwin), respectively. Stewart and Baldwin are featured heavily (as far as anybody can be featured in this one woman show) and are excellent. The use of these two characters’ different reactions to the circumstance add insightful and necessary padding around the central character’s journey.

I think that Lydia sees a more stripped down version of her mother—who she used to be or truly is at heart. John just doesn’t see his wife anymore after being her sole caretaker. He lives with, and is taking care of, a pod creature. To deal with his sorrow, he separates himself in an attempt to move on. Lydia gets closer, knowing that a crushing blow is coming. Haunted by the thought: “This wasn’t supposed to happen to us”– John and Lydia’s reactions are surprising to even themselves.

I won’t go into detail of some of my favorite moments, as I want you to see them for the Alec+Baldwin+Alec+Baldwin+Julianne+Moore+Film+NcKfQ3L5Qfolfirst time in context. However I will say that these mishaps and moments never plateau the film, they are strung together to create a natural evolution of the story and overwhelming loss of, and for, Alice.

Directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer deserve a lot of credit that they kept this film from crossing the threshold into melodramatic territory. There is a grounded reality to the work. Told within a simple framework of hazy old films (memories?) of Alice’s long deceased sister and mother, the film’s thematic elements of love, memory, and self-preservation are beautifully, but not abundantly, highlighted as we follow Alice through her devastating final act. Yes, you will cry for two hours–maybe even after. Julianne Moore’s performance will break your heart because Alice is always there, even in her eyes, but at the same time there’s a vacancy that can’t be filled. Once again, Mr. Oscar is Moore’s to lose — and she won’t.

Two Days, One Night

After taking time off due to depression, a wife and mother of two, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), loses her job at the local factory. Her co-workers have collectively chosen to let her go and each take a bonus. Hesitantly, Sandra takes the weekend to convince the majority to change their minds before a second vote on Monday morning. Once again, not light content.

‘Two Days, One Night’ is simple in its premise, but complex it in its ideas and morals. It’s a film not only about finding happiness and inner strength in a world that seemingly hands MV5BMjIyMzczMDI0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjI5Nzk3MTE@._V1_SY1200_CR126,0,630,1200_AL_out raw deals, but about decision making as an individual versus in a group setting and how these decisions genuinely affect the well-being of others. If Sandra can effectively convince the majority to vote for her, she will have discovered that she can have a more direct control over her circumstances–all of them. The opportunity to course correct your own life and potentially succeed is terrifying. For a movie that is about these very moral dilemmas,‘Two Days, One Night’ never gets preachy or over the top. It is all executed well by directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne–beautiful shots of isolation mixed with straight-forward static shots to not distract from Cotillard playing the nervous saleswoman trying to convert voters.

Cotillard’s subtle, big-when-it-needs-to-be, performance holds the narrative together so tightly that it never seems to unravel as she visits co-worker after co-worker. Her husband (Fabrizio Rongione), full of sadness, love and obligation, is the supportive fire that she needs to get going. He’s both looking out for his, her, and their well being and it’s abundantly clear that there are three sources of motivation. They are broken team on completely different pages, clawing to make it all work. There is a layer of their relationship that is only discussed once, three-fourths of the way through the film, but it weighs heavily on everything this family is fighting for throughout the film.

As Sandra struggles to allow herself to fight for her own (and family’s) survival, her co-workers’ justifications for their choices and their willingness to listen to her side vary. It’s Two Days, One Nightan interesting study into what a little extra money does to people. Is the ability to help my fellow man override the need to care for my own family? Is this my money or am I taking it? When given these two options, who does a person become? It’s a high stakes situation that determines the outcome for an entire slew of families in a tough economy. The decision is not as easy as one thinks and the movie doesn’t make look that way.

The third act is very straightforward with some predictable moments, but the outcome is justified and lovely in a way I didn’t expect. The feelings you’re left with kind of sneak up on you. There is a scene (you’ll know it when you see it) that despite the dire circumstances and seriousness of the actions, seems rushed and inconsequential. It incorporated character beats that needed to be included, but didn’t organically flow into the next portion of the story. However, what could have been an below average, run of the mill film, is elevated through Cotillard’s performance, a nicely paced script, and thoughtful direction. It’s not one of my favorite films of this past year, but it’s quite memorable, thanks to its leading lady.

If you go out of your way to enjoy both of these films (which you should), you’ll see how similar these women’s characters are, albeit in very different circumstances. They draw two-days-one-night-cannes-2014-5hope from the same places and they need to find or maintain their own personhood before it’s gone. These films should not only be categorized as “female films,” but explorations of any persons’ identity and strength.

Cotillard already has her Oscar statue for 2007’s ‘La Vie En Rose’ and Moore is sure to win this year. How does she not have a little golden man already?! Fun Fact That Doesn’t Really Matter: Interestingly, Cotillard beat out front runner Julie Christie for ‘Away From Her’ in ‘07, another well-made film about the effect of Alzheimer’s disease. This year, she only has an outside shot to break into the field, which is ashame. Hopefully we will see both of these women in this year’s ‘Best Actress’ article-0-1C4CD36E00000578-831_634x424category (a category that should be considered stronger year to year). Regardless of what “The Academy” thinks, we’ll get to absorb and ruminate about these two women’s strong work for years to come. As Cate Blanchett pointed out, I am ready to see and happy to spend my money on movies that feature these women. The best of the best.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

MOVIE DAY 2015

WARNING: This is a long one…

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Woooo Weeee! I am incredibly high right now.  The adrenaline of movie day is still pumping through my veins. It went as well as it possibly could, as it included my three favorite Fs: Films, Family, and Friends. Not only was it an operational success, but also the turn out was the best to date. Eleven people showed up for ‘American Sniper’ alone, a record for a single movie day movie. Even my mom, dad, and sister partook in some movie day festivities! Another first!

Before I get into the nitty gritty of it all, I want to thank the following people for coming out: My mom, dad and sister. Leigh, Josh, Gary, and Jay. Julie and her husband. Lee, Erica, Joe, Lucy, Brett, and Caitlin. I really appreciate you enjoying at least some of the day with me. I loved having you there.

Something I learned yesterday: I should check the movie day weather. Seats were a bit scarce, as most theatres were sold out due to the inclement weather. That made transitioning from theatre to theatre a little harder, but I was also lucky that all of the films were in the same building for the first year ever, my favorite theatre in the city: AMC Lincoln Square 13.

Two notes before I begin:

  • The majority of the films I saw are based on true stories. I am not a historian. My opinions of these films are based solely on the movies themselves, not how I think they accurately depicted the true events. (ie: I have no idea what LBJ and Martin Luther King Jr’s actually relationship was in the mid 60s)
  • The recaps and ranking below are based on these movies’ relation to each other, not everything I’ve seen this holiday season. This is by no means my favorite or best films list of 2014. It’s just movie day. The final list will be included in my epilogue next week. (Oh yeah, there’s an epilogue—sorry, epi-blogue.)

Now, with out further banter, my day:

I arrived at the partially empty theatre at 9am, picked up my paper towel roll of tickets from the kiosk, and got to work in a half full theatre.

MOVIE ONE, 9:15 am – A Most Violent Year

Director JC Chandor’s ‘All is Lost’ was one of my favorite (and most interesting) movies of last year and ‘A Most Violent Year’ adds to the filmmakers’ run of unique “man vs the url-1world” stories. Set in the winter of 1981, AMVY follows Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), as they try to expand their oil business during the, statistically, most violent year in NYC history. It is a thesis-based story that revolves around how far a man can go while taking, or believing that he is taking, the right path to success in a time that seemingly calls for other, more amoral, methods of action.

AMVY’s tension and pacing matched the incredible slow burning performances by Chastain and Isaac. They are powerhouses and this movie doesn’t work without them. (Odd Tangent: in a fantasy film actress draft, I would take Chastain, Julianne Moore, or Marion Cotillard over Meryl Streep any day of the week.) There’s a true love and admiration between the two characters and it infuses itself into every conversation and fight that many films, especially in the recent ‘gangster’ genre, don’t ever capture. I would not call this a gangster movie. It’s a pre-gangster/mob movie. It depicts the moments in time where Morales is at the precipice of deciding if he morally can go to the place that he is seemingly destined to end up.

There’s something extremely raw and primal at the core of all of Chandor’s films, and this is no exception. The 1981 setting is not only executed well, but is a perfect background to the moral dilemmas that each character faces. Yes, it is slow at some points, and I don’t know if it every truly achieves certain guttural reactions from the audience that it is working for, but it’s a true thinking man’s semi-gangster movie and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Now, as the weather kicked up into high gear, the movie theatre was visibly more crowded then when I arrived at nine. I had about 20 minutes until the next start time. To my genuine surprise, the next movie, ‘American Sniper’, had a myriad of friends and family attending. Even though it was in the largest (and my favorite) of the AMC theatre spaces, it was pretty difficult to find a seat in the packed mezzanine. Most of us sat together, as the next movie began:

MOVIE TWO, 11:45am – American Sniper

Bradley Cooper is amazing. He is hitting the highest performance quality stride of his career, but it’s unfortunate that this subtle performance is in a heavy-handed Americana movie. ‘American Sniper’ follows the true story of Chris Kyle (Cooper), lauded as the greatest American sniper, as he navigates his four Iraq tours and familial responsibilities.

Most of the set pieces and action sequences are well staged, but there is something missing from the overall narrative. What Chris Kyle achieved is amazing and I am so in awe urlof how he mentally and physically handled it. Over 160 kills in combat is heavy thing to comprehend. He is a true hero, but the movie about him is a little overlong, redundant, and devoid of anything other than surface level emotion and thematic exploration. That is an unfortunate staple of Clint Eastwood directed films and because of that I have never been a fan of his work behind the camera.

Without Cooper, this film is more or less a flop with excellent production value. The thing is, he really is great enough to save this movie. Sienna Miller (who I really do enjoy as an actress, Re: Factory Girl) is fine as his wife, Taya—the character’s bar introduction being her strongest scene. Beyond those moments, Taya and Chris’ conversations during the war never feel organic. Families all over the country deal, on a daily basis, with the issues of emotional and physical distance, but we never are shown enough of how difficult their lives apart are—we are only told in conversation and sweeping generalizations. This element of contemporary war/soldier films has been presented so much more effectively in better movies. We see plenty of shoot ‘em up action, which adds very little to the narrative of Chris when it feels more like space filler than important information.

This is supposed to be a story about one of the greatest men who ever served this country, but it only feels like just another Iraqi War movie—especially in the depiction of the “evil” Mustafa sniper character. It crosses the border into cartoonish supervillian, effectively diminishing the reality of what Kyle was accomplished on his tours. In a weird way, by making his need to return to Iraqi hinge on this specific plot point, his dramatic struggle seem less genuine.

The movie loses itself at the end of the first act. In the opening sequence, just as Kyle is about to pull the trigger on his first kill, we flashback to how he got there. The journey behind his kills is a genuinely interesting way to tell this story. How did this great man get to this moment to make these decisions? Eastwood sets us up for a psychological film that we never truly get. When the movie catches up with itself about 45 minutes later, it becomes a straightforward, mediocre war film about a great man, played by a great actor.

Next up was my hardest transition of the day. ‘Sniper’ ended at 2:10pm and I stayed around to talk to all of the amazing people who showed up. I had a seat saved for me by friends who were already in the next theatre, so I sat down just as the opening credits rolled for movie three.

MOVIE THREE, 2:15pm – Top Five

Luckily, I planned my schedule with Chris Rock’s ‘Top Five’ to break up the day because that had been a pretty intense five-hour morning of movie watching. ‘Top Five’ follows comedy superstar Andre Allen (Chris Rock) during a NYC press tour for his new movie opening the week before his impending nuptials to reality show superstar Erica Long (Gabriella Union). Joined by Chelsea Brown (an absolutely charming Rosario Dawson), a journalist trying to get to the core of the real Andre Allen, the two relive and attempt to exercise their personal and career demons.

This movie is not for everybody, but I really enjoyed the a gem of a meta-statement from Rock, even if many of his top five lists went over my head. While this is by no means an auto-biopic, it is clearly crafted by a man who has lived and experienced these aspects of celebrity. From the commentary on reality tv, technology, the movie business, and o-TOP-FIVE-POSTER-570sobriety, this is a poignant (if not always funny) portrait of a seemingly successful comedian in our changing times. Rock is truly expressing himself in a way he hasn’t been able to since his highly successful stand-up days.

The first half of the movie tries a little too hard with insight and topical jokes, but never apologizes for its liberal point of view. As Allen relives some of his past mistakes and reconnects with his rambunctious family (it was refreshing to see Tracy Morgan again, even if it was pre-car accident), the actors in these scenes are having so much fun, it’s hard to not be intoxicated by it all. It’s always a true delight to belly laugh with a fully packed theatre. The second half of the movie, while hitting familiar ‘you’re not who I thought you were’ plot points, elevates this movie to something greater than your expected Chris Rock comedy. He presents so many unanswered questions dealing with expectation, happiness, and judgment in today’s ever-changing world that sear into your mind.

There is a scene close to the end of the film, where Allen experiences a high and euphoria that no drug could ever bring him. It’s such a life affirming moment for the character—one that I very much connected to on a deeper level. For me, this scene is, almost, weirdly comparable to the final 10 minutes of ‘Whiplash,’ but not nearly as intense.

Stuffed with incredibly effective cameos, an appearance in the very Lincoln Center AMC that we were sitting in (HAPPY MOVIE DAY), and a wonderful second act, ‘Top Five’ achieves exactly what it set out to do with some moments that go above and beyond.

I wouldn’t say that the second half of the day involved quick transitions like the morning, but because of busy theatre, seating was limited. I had eaten in ‘Top Five’ (thanks Jay for the McDonald’s McChicken!) and made quick water fountain/bathroom runs in between movies, so there was always enough time in general. For the next movie we sat a bit too close to the screen for my liking, but it wasn’t close enough to ruin the overall experience.

MOVIE FOUR, 4:30pm – Unbroken

‘Unbroken’ is the true story about an Olympic athlete who was lost at sea in WWII, only to be held in a Japanese POW camp. It is adapted by the Cohen brothers from a best selling novel and it should be way more effective than the film I saw. Unfortunately, the blame for has to fall on its director, Angelina Jolie.

Based on the cinematography, by the always fantastic Roger Deakins, Jolie has a good eye for composition, but that’s like going to a play and saying, “Well, the set was nice.” By no means do I want to downplay the amazing courage, strength, and pure will power that the real Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) had to call upon in order to endure this torturous portion of his life. I just don’t think that this movie did it justice. All of the acting was fineurl-2 enough, but each character had no true personality. All Louis’ fellow prisoners started to blend into one another, including Louis himself. His pain and suffering seemed no different than anybody else, even though we were shown all aspect of his suffering. I think that this can be attributed to the poor depiction of the passage of time once they entered the POW camp.

‘Unbroken’ feels like three different movies rolled up into one with the only connecting factor being Louis. There is no flow or build from one dire situation to the next. It was a movie of plot point after plot point, with no emotional depth. I saw Forest Gump/Chariots of Fire, Open Water/Cast Away/All Is Lost, and Fill-In-The-Blank POW camp movie at once. It hit all the notes that need to be hit to qualify as one of these types of films above without capturing any of the characterization. As an audience member, I was left to empathize and sympathize based on recognizing that what was happening on screen, to a character I have been watching with apathy, was “bad.” Honestly, there was so much violence in the camp sequences with no dramatic through line or cinematic subtly that it felt like torture for torture’s sake. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I got to know Louie on anything more than surface level and therefore the real videos and pictures at the film’s end was unearned and wasted.

Similar to ‘American Sniper’, the film starts off with flashbacks to and from the main character’s hell of a present and informative past. Once the movie lost that structure, it lost its way. So much of the opening was dedicated to Louis relationship with God and mysteriously that threat is completely missing in the movie’s second half, only to come back at the very end. If this is the point of the film, why didn’t I see more of that, as it was clearly a character arc priority?

I didn’t like this film, but I recognize that Jolie has an incredible amount of potential as a filmmaker. There are well-executed moments of suspense, grandeur, and feeling and I hope she evolves into director that I’d like to see on a regular basis. For now, I’ll settle for others. However, I would love for somebody to explain to me how Louis shaved and kept is hair so short and perfectly quaffed in a prisoner of war camp for that long.

 ‘Big Eyes’ ended up being sold out (good thing I had my tickets), so as we entered the theatre, I found the only seats available, two rows back from the screen. Those were going to be some very big eyes, indeed.

MOVIE FIVE, 7:15pm – Big Eyes

While not for the reasons I originally thought (‘Unbroken ended up being broken), I’m glad that ‘Big Eyes’ was here for a little breathing room. Recounting the true story of artist Margret Keane (Amy Adams), ‘Big Eyes’ is Tim Burton’s take on Walter Keane’s (Christoph Waltz) fraudulent claims that he painted his wife’s big eyed waif artwork. Bottom line, it was really nice to see Tim Burton not directing an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘Dark Shadows’. The best parts of this enjoyable, but forgettable, film come from the “Burton-esqe” moments and strong performances.

Waltz is a kick to watch. His con-man antics, while despicable, are such a great contrast to Amy Adam’s timid, inspired, and tortured artist. What could have been the movie’s deal big_eyes.15ce0090408.originalbreaker, failing to justify why Margaret would allow Walter to carry on using her artwork as his goldmine, doesn’t derail the movie, but becomes its believable center.

As I mentioned, the film’s best moments are the clear Tim Burton choices. Margret’s trip to the grocery store (where she, of course, passes the Campbell’s soup display) is probably the deepest we get into the psyche of any of the characters. We are finally treated to how she views the world, as the food shoppers display their waif-like big eyes to her in her time of panic. If this is how she sees the world, people, and their souls, then of course this lie has been eating at her all of these years.

It’s no ‘Big Fish’, but has hints of ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and ‘Ed Wood’. (And that’s aside from color palettes and time period). As an Oscar attempt, ‘Big Eyes’ is weak and forgettable overall. Burton seems a little out of practice with this smaller scale type of movie, but it was a pleasure to sit through, especially the outrageous final scenes.

At this point the whole theatre emptied out a bit. We had the most transition time of the day, a half hour, so I took a well deserved breather in the lobby as we waiting to be let into the next showing. We sat in our best seats of the day and buckled up for the final film. (Note: These seat did not have buckles.)

MOVIE SIX, 9:50pm – Selma

I am so happy that I ended with ‘Selma’, as it was by far the best of the day. Depicting only a small portion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s (David Oyelowo) life, ‘Selma’ focuses on the march from Selma, AL to the capital building in Montgomery, to ensure the right to vote for the black population in the state and country. Among other elements, it was incredibly refreshing to see a biopic set in the 1960’s, in which dramatic tension wasn’t building to an assassination.  ‘Selma’ shows the true courage, fear, bravery, and flaws of one of the most important American men of all time. Where other films on movie day lacked depth of character, ‘Selma’ made up for it.

David Oyelowo captures what we can understand to be the true essence of Dr. King Jr., as his confidence and passion oozed off of the screen. In every moment he carried the tangible weight of the lives of his entire race on his shoulders. His vulnerability and search for strength are the more powerful because of it. Everybody from Oprah to Common to Tim Roth to Tom Wilskinson brought their A game, regardless of screen time. Carmen Ejogo, asselma-movie-poster Coretta Scott King, is dynamite, especially in what may have been the best scene of the movie. As she and King Jr. discuss his infidelities and the fog of death that clouds their marriage, you could only hear a pin drop if your goosebumps weren’t loud enough. King Jr. wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a man who fought for much more than any person can realistically take on himself. The film is so bold in encompassing all of what made the man, elevating the stakes tenfold.

Ava DuVernay’s direction is so full of passion, love, and a well-executed CIA framework structure, that it may very well be one the best of the year—joining Wes, Alejandro, and Richard. I’m in awe of the power she infuses into every conversation, bridge march, and tender moment without every tipping over into melodramatic territory. These were real people—faults and all—dealing with real issues.

Obviously, it cannot be overlooked that, aside from being a great historical period piece, ‘Selma’ and its message directly correlates to our current state of American social affairs. This makes the film twice as powerful. It is a truly skilled director who can draw parallels to today without losing the narrative of a film. The end credits song choice clarifies her intentions, but it’s impossible to not draw comparisons while watching all two hours of film. I want to note that the violence in the film was purposeful, a nice change from the movies before this one. Hopefully ‘Selma’ will be seen by as many people as possible and used as some sort of a teaching tool. Please, see this movie.

What a day! The funny, as well as crazy, thing is, I easily could have sat through another movie. And, I kind of, sort of did…

During a writing break from this very recap you’re reading, I ventured out into the world to, yes, see another movie. Originally, I had saved ‘The Imitation Game’ to be include during this years’ movie day, but theaters and showtimes didn’t allow it to fit in to the plans. So, with out further ado, I bring you:

A Bonus Review!

 MOVIE SEVEN? 4:10pm – The Imitation Game

What ‘Unbroken’ and ‘American Sniper’ lacked in the cohesive flashback department, ‘The Imitation Game’ made up for in spades. To win World War II, mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) led a team of the greatest British minds to break the unbreakable Nazi code. The film not only depicts the frustrating process to crack the transmissions, but Turing’s childhood, and his post war life. These three interwoven portions of his story are told in a well-paced, dramatically effective narrative that never feels overlong.

Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly are fantastic. While Cumberbatch stands out, as he is the sole lead of the film, Knightly makes the most of her scenes. She really has become an Poster-art-for-The-Imitation-Game-film-Alan-Turing-Enigma-codebreaking-movieexcellent actress—making smart film choices along the way. The two bring a smart sense to these roles and the movie in general. Cumberbatch’s “on the spectrum” Turing is so understandably unlikable and charming in the same breath, while Knightly’s Joan Clarke interacts with him with such grace and genuine interest, that their screen presence, apart or together, is magnetic. Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, and Alex Lawther all leave memorable impressions, despite this being the Benedict Cumberbatch show.

The movie hits all of the usual plot and emotional points that a British historical drama should, but even with guessing certain inevitable outcomes, every moment feels organic, earned, and character driven. The three separate time frames were very easy to follow and never overwhelmed or complicated the character study.  I’m not familiar with the director, Morten Tyldon, and his work, but he certainly tells a concise, nicely structured story.

The well balanced film is infused with a wonderful sense of humor and perfectly placed twists that add layers to the excellent final act. The take away is informative and heartbreaking on so many levels—never seeming to come out of nowhere. This is one of the better “true story” films I’ve seen this year and would have ranked very high had it been included on movie day.

So yeah. Wow. A lot of true stories and violence. Hmmm. Interesting. Needless to say, I am well prepared for the awards season, among other things (insane asylum? corrective eye surgery? professional Netlflix watcher? I mean this is my version of a Netflix binge.)

Here’s my “Summary List” in order from worst to best:

6. Unbroken – Boo Urns.
5. Big Eyes – Fine, but forgettable.
4. American Sniper – Movie? Meh. Cooper? Great enough to be better than ‘Big Eyes’.
3. Top Five – Funny and Poignant.
2. A Most Violent Year – Excellent film.
2* (The Imitation Game) – It would be ranked 2nd had it been seen within the marathon.
1. Selma – Run to see it.

I love the movies. I love them so much. If you’ve made it this far down the blog page, I want to thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and passion with you. Perhaps I’ll see you next year on movie day?

Anyway, I’m off to watch a movie… (not a joke)

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

Movie Day 2015: Prologue Blog (Pro-blogue?) #bpmovieday

 

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Hello All,

Yes, you guessed it! It’s that time of year again. MOVIE DAY. A day when anything can happen! (Anything is a relative statement–the schedule is below.)

I love going to the movies. Nothing is better. Growing up in a household where the Oscars were (and still are) arguably bigger than any high holiday, I love being 100% prepared for the February event. ‘Movie Day’ grew from that need to see everything released during the holiday/awards season to be ready to get all of the jokes, pick all of the winners, and absorb as much content as possible.

Not much has changed. While I have grown to understand the trivial and subjective nature of the Oscars, I still can’t get enough. I eat, breath, and sleep movies (and tv). ‘Movie Day’ has since evolved into a full day, over-saturated with film enjoyment, friends, and burnt out retinas.  While I base my choices on what may or may not be up for Oscar contention, it really comes down to what will make for an fun, well balanced day of the films I haven’t seen yet. If I really had my way, I’d see every movie that comes out over the 365 days. Every last frame. (Maybe one day I’ll a ‘Movie Day’ once a month–wait, I really want to do that…)

So, I’ve learned my lesson from years passed. Some days have been too long (starting your 6th movie at 12:30 the next morning is a chore), extremely boring (two mediocre foreign imgres-1language films in a row after a forgettable movie about fracking is never fun), and others heartbreaking (sitting alone for three straight tear jerkers is something I would never suggest). I now try and save certain movies for my favorite day, as I navigate my end of year theatrical experiences. I started just going for me and now I love going with all of you.

For instance, I’ve already seen Birdman, Into the Woods, Inherent Vice, Still Alice, One Day, Two Nights, The Theory of Everything, The Hobbit, Whiplash, Wild, Foxcatcher, St Vincent, Nightcrawler, The Interview, and a few more. I do my best to make sure that with what is left, I can make the day interesting.

This year, while a little heavy in the morning, ‘Movie Day’ should prove to be  a balanced day. Additionally. All the showings are in the same theatre for the first year ever–a movie day miracle.

MOVIE DAY 2015 – Saturday, January 3rd

AMC Lincoln Square 13

9:15 am – A Most Violent Year

11:45am – American Sniper

2:15pm – Top Five

4:30pm – Unbroken

7:15pm – Big Eyes

9:50pm – Selma

imagesFilm and what it can bring to us as individuals and a society is very important to me. Yes, Hollywood isn’t the same and blah, blah, blah–I know all of that. I just love the movies with everything in my being. The marathon of ‘Movie Day’ is a simple extension of that and always becomes a highlight of my year.  I hope that I get to sit in the theater next to you today! If not, read my recap tomorrow and it’ll be just like you were there! (But really, it’s gonna be so specific and detailed.) Can’t wait to see you. I’ll be the one in the comfortable clothes with a fried brain and swollen eyes. #bpmovieday

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

Movie Day

Movie Day was a huge success this year. HUGE, I say!

The planning, flow of movies, execution of the A picture taken on January 19, 2011 in Pday, and friend-turnout was on point.  It wasn’t overloaded with too many movies in order to digest the movies and truly have a good time.  It was nice to see no true fatigue from theatre hopping.

Below is the promised run down of movie day. I hope it helps you in anyway and every way possible to plan your own movie day experience. I’d also love to see you next year. But for now, this year.

*Note: I’m not sure why the formatting is off, but I wanted to make sure it was posted anyway. Enjoy.

10:05am  – THE WOLF OF WALL STREET – amc empire 25

I started off the day with The Wolf of Wall Street, as it had the longest running time. I wanted to be as alert as possible.  It was supposed to be long, over the top, long, ridiculous, and long. It was all of these things, including excellent.
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It begins with a voice over introducing the concept that we are watching Jordan Belfort’s memory of these events.  Like Gene Wilder’s fake limp entrance in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’, Martin Scorsese’s change of the Porsche color makes us question what is actually real. Are these the events as they actually happened or an exaggerated sales pitch from the Wolf himself? This adds to the allure of the movie ten fold.
The themes, story, editing, and cinematography are all excellent here, as we should expect from a Scorsese movie.  The acting is especially great.  The first to point out are of course Leonardo Dicaprio and Jonah Hill, who are the best I’ve ever seen them–comedy and/or drama.  Aside from some of the most intense scenes I’ve seen all year, they are responsible new-wolf-of-wall-street-trailer-leonardo-dicaprio-is-the-wealthiest-stockbroker-in-the-worldfor the best slapstick too.  I do want to also highlight Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, and Matthew McConaughey’s performances. Robbie’s Naomi wasn’t just your average bimbo/second wife.  There was actual character growth throughout with an understanding of how she found herself in this situation.  Additionally, her ability to “sell” to the greatest salesman using what she knew best was a great foil (similar to Jennifer Lawrence in ‘American Hustle’).  At this point in his career, Chandler has become synonymous with “good ol’ American values,” but it works because of how sharp and focused he is throughout his performances.  His scene with Leo on the yacht at the end of the film’s Act II was easily the best in the film if only from a pure acting standpoint. Interestingly enough, for me at least, McConaughey is the reason this film works at the ground floor. If Jordan’s ‘mentor’ isn’t as awful, wonderful, larger than life, and magnetic as McConaughy’s Mark Hanna, the rest of the movie and the tackling of his ambition is subject.
I find it interesting how much controversy surrounds this film. Sure, there is a ton of sex, drug use, swear words, and ridiculousness, but unlike other movies that come out with similar content, it all serves a true purpose.  By no means it is condoning what these guys did, but the movie is told from the heightened memoirs of Belfort. If this was a Michael Bay or Bret Ratner movie, I would understand the issues.  In the hands of the very established Scorsese, it’s a masterpiece depicting a part of our contemporary financial and social world.
2:00pm – BIG – amc empire 25  
Post holiday season it’s very hard to get in two movies before noon and because I lockedbig-official-movie-poster in Big at 2pm, it informed my The Wolf of Wall Street placement.  The role that earned Tom Hanks his first Oscar nomination was a nice follow up to Wolf in order to break up the day.
The thing is, as good as Hanks has been over his long and wonderful career, Josh Baskin is still one of his best performances to date. Now, aside from the things that are VERY 1980s (the hair, clothes, floppy disks, jargon) this movie holds up pretty well.  The plot, themes, and performances are all still there and in top form.
In today’s market, this movie would have a hard time finding a true niche, as I think it couldn’t be the same movie if it was to be intended for kids or younger adults.  In today’s movie world, Josh’s transformation would be this big, hulk-like- CGI extravaganza.  In this perfect version, it’s all it needs to be, as it’s Tom Hanks’ performance that makes it all believable.
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The movie wastes no time in getting to the premise allowing for little set up and more fun. The floor piano scene, baby corn eating, and final sequence are still as effective as ever. The idea of growing up and trying to keep that child in side of us alive, even if you’re an actual child is a theme that’s never going away soon. How do we preserve who we are, as well as enjoy what you have when you have it hit hard and fast through out the film. This is a classic for a reason.  Also, I want a Zoltar machine.
*Note: When you type in ‘Big’ to google image search, you get a lot of actresses with large breasts.
4:20pm – HER – amc empire 25
her_xlgMovie day was a week ago and I think this is the film that has stuck with me the most. It’s aesthetic, Arcade Fire soundtrack, and performances are so vibrant in such a seemingly melancholy film that it hasn’t let me. I wouldn’t say that it blew me away by any means. I did have trouble getting into it in places, but it posed some interesting questions that other movies or directors wouldn’t dare explore.
In the distant future, a Los Angeles letter writer falls in love with his human-esque operating system. Basically, Joaquin Phoenix is the movie and he’s incredible. His performance is haunting and full of a bitter sweet hope. Scarlett Johansson is also stunning in the film, even only as a voice over. She creates a full character with whom you can relate with without even seeing. Their connection is real and powerful.
In the world we live in our obsessions with technology is taking over the way we relate to others and socialize. This movie takes that to another level and does it well. I did have a hard time emotionally connecting to Phoenix’s character here and there, but I understood what the intention was throughout. He’s a sad, lonely, damaged man, who can be  _DSC2097.tifunenjoyable to watch. Amy Adam’s character was a nice foil to his character, but was clearly used as a emotional plot device for him and never felt like an organic part of the environment (until the very end). In presenting this topic to us, his ex wife, Rooney Mara, is the outside opinion and her scenes with him, both flashbacks and lunch scene are the most important in addressing all of the thematic questions. Her limited screen time is put to good use, as it informs so much of his current situation.
I know that there are two schools of thought on this movie, which I saw in person during the viewing. A surprising amount of people walked out half way through. While I enjoyed it, I understand the distaste for the film. I appreciated what it was saying, how it said it, and why it was talking about it in the first place. There is so much emotional and thematic depth, I could talk about this movie for days, but it wasn’t active enough in the story telling. While that didn’t bother me, I can see it verging on boring for some people. I was a big fan of all the visual symbolism. Overall, I understand that it all can feel a little put on and, well, stupid, but I believe that Spike Jones has made something wonderful from it all. Yes, I think it’s worth seeing.

7:20 – ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES – amc lincoln plaza 13

I’m going to keep this one short because there isn’t much to say about this sequel. Since I 52b4dbd5a2a3c.imagewalked in with only one expectation, to laugh a lot, I have to say I walked out pleased. Inherently, the first one is better, as it was new and, in turn, much more quotable.  They weren’t trying to create “quotes” and the sequel was attempting to left and right. I went in looking to spend a good time with these characters in their world and I got it.

The plot was all over the place, but so was the original’s, so that’s not a good enough complaint for me. I didn’t think that the character of Linda Johnson was memorable enough (or funny enough) to make an impact, therefore the middle of the film fell a little flat. The commenting on their own jokes didn’t work for me.  When Ron or Brick said something ridiculous, everybody would comment on it’s lack of sense.  For me, it diffused the first joke, buy stacking too many jokes on top of one another.
MOVIE: ANCHORMANThe long and short of it is that it was funny, I laughed, and would see another one. Brick, Brian, Champ, and Ron are back and still making that sweet, sweet news.  The lack of plot wasn’t a big enough deterrent. I mean, can you even really remember the plot from the first movie?  The fight scene cameos were worth the price of admission. So was the shark song. Plus, I’m also a sucker for Christina Applegate. As the day’s penultimate film, this was the perfect choice to follow ‘Her’ and lead into the last movie of the day.

10:15p – AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY – amc lincoln plaza 13

Aside from showing at a reasonable time, August was chosen as the last for it’s raw material and showcase of acting. I have seen the play, so I was excited to see what the film would bring.

August-Osage-County-Movie-Still-2-630x393 And in most places, it ‘brought it’. Obviously, the acting was excellent all around. Meryl was Meryl and Julia Roberts, although not as layered as I’d like to see, was very powerful in her role. The stand out performances were Chris Cooper, Juliet Lewis, and Margot Martindale. Infused with an extra bit of umph, their scenes pop off the screen.  The other actors were all excellent, but with a jam packed cast, there’s little room for major shining. They all served their purpose plus a little more.

Tracy Letts adapted his own play and kept the major plot structures and story flow, but because he turned a three hour play into a two hour movie it had trouble breathing. All of the scenes, intense or not, felt stacked on on top of another, so many of the ‘twists’ didn’t land because too much had to be absorbed too quickly. The lack of tension throughout was a big issue as well. The power of these relationships and the craziness that ensues is partly a august-osage-county2product of the packed house. Sure, the establishing shots truly show how isolated they are out in Oklahoma , but the tension in the house is diffused a lot by the editing. The dinner scene is fantastic, but would have been more effective with less editing and more wide shots. The editing took some of the wind out of the sails.

Finally, it’s called AUGUST: Osage County. Many of these people’s quick breaking points have to do with the heat. While they talk about it a lot, they don’t really, well, sweat. I needed more of a visceral heat to be a part of it all. Still, I enjoyed it very much.

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It was a very solid movie day. The ups and downs were well paced and the breaks in between movies allowed for film digestion. It also helps that there weren’t any true duds, like last year. Realistically, what makes movie day work, is all of you guys out there.  Your support by either reading my blog, liking my movie day statuses, using #movieday, or actually coming out makes it all the more fun.

I’d like to give a very special shout out to the following people:

Leigh Cesiro, Meg Doherty-Scannell, Jaime Bernstein-Ansaldi, Evan Most, Dave Alter & friends, Will Blashka, and Josh Rothberg. Thanks for coming out and making a day of it. You are more than appreciated. I hope you win all of your Oscar pools.

Well, there’s still more films to see, but until next movie day…

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan