AEOS Double Review: Chef and Birdman (2014)

Having just caught Chef (2014), I decided that it would work well to write a double review of it with Birdman (2014), considering both films deal with artists and critics and their relationship to one another. Here are my reviews for two of the best movies I’ve seen so far in 2014.


 AEOS Review: Chef (2014)

I missed out on all of the Chef hype this past summer, so I recently rented it when I had a free night. Many of your reviews I read echoed that there was no major twist to the story, but that it was just a good story told. So I rented it with the expectation that I would get to watch a simple, but good story unfold.

Chef is Jon Favreau’s movie through and through. He produced, wrote, directed, and starred in it. Favreau has worn all of those hats before, but not usually all at once, and not for a film as successful as Chef has become. So it must have been a pretty important story he wanted to tell in order for him to put that much effort into it. And it really does show in his character, Carl Casper.

Casper’s priority in life is to constantly push boundaries in the kitchen. When food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) arrives at the restaurant, Casper argues with the restaurant’s owner about the menu, decidedly bowing to the owner’s demands to keep the menu simple and the same, which pleases the general crowd of hungry customers. The next day, Casper reads Michel’s words that ultimately rips both his work as well as the restaurant apart.

But the heart of the story of Chef is Carl’s relationship with his estranged family, particularly his son Percy (Emjay Anthony). With his family taking a backseat to his career, this minor setback in receiving a bad review somewhat unites Carl and Percy. When news of the bad review travels online, Percy teaches Carl how to set up a Twitter account, thus sparking a somewhat accidental fight between both Carl and critic Michel. Ultimately, Carl loses his job after a YouTube video of him yelling at Michel goes viral. So he decides to open up his own food truck.

Chef is a movie that has a lot of unexpected funny moments, and I think it would entertain both movie critics and families alike. Chef centers around a relationship between a father and his son, and it shows the repercussions from both when Carl is involved in Percy’s life, and when he’s not present. There are touching moments that remind us viewers that we don’t always need a dramatic tale told in order to be entertained. Failure is an inevitable part of life, and the greatest lessons are often learned in how we react when we experience failure. Carl Caspers is a simple character, but he represents a lot of ordinary people who are talented, yet jobless. But more so than that, Carl Casper is a great representation of an artist who wants to be his own boss, but struggles between working the safe job with a safe paycheck, or taking a risk that could fulfill him or leave him empty-handed.

Social media also plays a significant role in the film, showing both how it can destroy or elevate a person’s reputation. I like that this theme wasn’t constantly repeating itself throughout, but that it acted as a more subtle idea in the background.

All of the acting felt very subdued, which worked well for the tone of Chef. I didn’t really think either Scarlett Johansson’s or Robert Downey Jr.’s roles were that pertinent to the film; most any actor or actress could have filled those roles. It almost seemed to me like they were cashing in favors to Favreau, but I could be reading into it too much.

Overall, I think Chef was a great film for the year, although in a few years will probably be forgotten. That said, I appreciated its simplicity, and I liked the relationship dynamic between Carl and Percy. I give Chef 

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EYES ON SCREEN.

 

What did you think of Chef? Did you think the plot was too simple, or did you think that was the strength of the film?


 AEOS Review: Birdman (2014)

A couple months ago, I read a review on a movie called Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It just looked odd, especially the picture of Emma Stone not looking like Emma Stone. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to see the film, but after all of the high praise for it, I decided I might as well give it a try.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a once hailed and beloved actor who was known best as Birdman, a superhero character he played in not one, but three films. After turning down a fourth Birdman film, Riggan struggles between playing father in his broken family and making himself relevant again in his Broadway debut. Of course, things becomes less simple when theater diva Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) joins his play’s cast.

So many themes are overlapping each other in Birdman, but the primary takeaway is Riggan seeking significance in his career and clarity in his life while trying to come out from under the shadow of his days playing Birdman. Speaking of Birdman, who is he exactly, considering he is the title of the film? I consider Birdman to be Riggan’s alter ego, sitting on his shoulder, shifting between the good and evil sides of Riggan’s conscience.

Usually I would assume a movie with such a multilayered script to gain its strength mostly from its sharp and interesting writing, but Birdman really soars not only because of writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu, but also because of an essential lead and supporting cast who are able to carry Birdman beyond its script.

Michael Keaton makes an astounding comeback, able to access a full range of emotions, but captures the audience in his most vulnerable moments. His conversations with his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), are some of the most wrenching parts of the film, but you’re happy to go along this trip with Riggan because Keaton uses some of his real-life experiences to play Riggan so genuinely on screen. It is no surprised he has received multiple award nominations already.

Emma Stone might not play a large role in Birdman, but hers is an essential one that gives viewers probably the best commentary in the film. I wouldn’t have expected to see Stone tackle as dark a role as rehab druggie Sam, but she’s definitely proven that she can play more than just comedic and light-hearted characters. Edward Norton also seems to play an exaggerated (?) version of himself in Birdman, resulting in some of the most unexpected and amusing scenes I wouldn’t have expected from him. I could continue to mention multiple actors who added to Birdman, but I don’t want to forget to mention Zach Galifianakis, who played straight to the funny and weird and eccentric, using Birdman almost as a stage to show off that he can be funny without being the funny man.

The ending of Birdman is most telling, because it leaves viewers wondering why. It gave Riggan the critical review he sought from theater critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan). It also may or may not reveal what was going on in Riggan’s head, and how he was dealing with everything. I like how it served as the finale of both the play and the film. There was a great build-up, and I was definitely not expecting it.

Complementing the script and acting was a memorable and unique score composed entirely with just a drum set by Antonio Sánchez. Though I wouldn’t listen to it in my free time, I felt like the drumming worked well with the eccentricity of the film, and it set the tone for Keaton’s character and played off his emotions, swelling and diminuendoing as the movie went along.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera work is also the big talk of Birdman, and rightfully so. Viewers really felt the experience of working in Broadway, the camera offering the “one, continuous take” of characters walking down the cramped, claustrophobic setting of a theater backstage.

I found relevance in Birdman in watching actors play characters that loosely mirrored their real lives. Beyond that, we get to witness the relationship between the artist (in this case, actors) and the critic. In addition, we get a behind-the-scenes view of a play, a washed-up actor’s life, and the consequences of how fans, viewers, and critics perceive artists in a different light when an actor seeks relevance in a fictional world where relevance is rarely long-lasting or authentic. Did that end scene give Tabitha Dickinson the sincerity she demanded from Riggan? What was Alejandro González Iñárritu trying to tell viewers in Birdman?

Although Birdman doesn’t dispense the same conversation Interstellar left us with this year, it does ask questions about how artists want to be perceived, and it also points the finger at critics to consider how we critique by offering a look behind the curtain. However, not all critics play hard ball like Ms. Dickinson, and not all actors are looking to be authentic like Riggan.

Birdman will likely make its mark on 2014 awards ceremonies, hitting reviewers’ and critics’ nerves. I found the conversation and thought process following the film to be more eye-opening and interesting than the film itself. Perhaps it’s my own fault. It’s not a movie I want to watch over and over again, but it gained my respect in offering up such a multi-dimensional character as Riggan Thomson in such a sharply edited film that only boosted its already strong writing. I give Birdman 

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1/2 EYES ON SCREEN.

 

What did you think of Birdman? What was the ultimate takeaway of the film for you? What are your theories on the ending?

AEOS Review: Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash is a perfect title for this film, because it made me think it was a great example of onomatopoeia, except instead of Whiplash sounding like what it’s describing, the experience of watching Whiplash makes you feel like you’ve underwent whiplash. Then again, you have to appreciate the metaphorical idea the film presents: watching Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) beat students into beating drums at his tempo provides viewers with an emotional whiplash they get to encounter again and again.

The premise is simple: Andrew (Miles Teller) wants to be the greatest jazz drummer who lived, so much so that he’ll preemptively break up with a girl after having struggled to ask her out in the first place; make a point at a family dinner to educate his extended relatives that becoming part of the core group of a prestigious band ruled by a prestigious conductor at a prestigious conservatory is far greater than making third division on a football team; walk away from a car accident where he’s so badly injured, it’s a wonder he’s able to walk, much less drum; and nearly isolate anyone else who fails to understand his passionate loyalty to drumming.

I think director Damie Chazelle would like viewers to consider that Andrew, himself, is the greatest obstacle he must overcome to achieve his dreams. Yet J.K. Simmons’s best performance-to-date as the dictator-like conductor Terrence Fletcher might prove otherwise. Fletcher knows what Andrew wants. Fletcher’s tactics and attitude bleed brutality. Fletcher appears as a monster to people who are not part of the music world, and yet he’s a true character for many who have climbed the ladder of musical performance at arts schools.

As viewers, we’re waiting for that moment where we see Fletcher shed a moment of vulnerability, and there are even times when we’re convinced that he might have a heart. But his methods are born of madness, possibly drawing from his own insecurities. Fletcher is so set on physically and emotionally driving his students to the edge in order to accomplish . . . what, exactly? Fletcher seeks the best out of his students, right? He’s a teacher, a mode of influence who realizes that saying the words “good job” may be the most harmful to a student’s progress, creating a strain that holds them back from achieving their greatest work. And yet as viewers, we don’t really question whether the lines between his coaching and abusing are blurred, because cussing out a student and hurling furniture at his head would fire many a director, manager, coach, etc. Yet Fletcher believes wholly in his methods, justified or not, if it means getting his way.

Aside from the ending, there are two moments I want to discuss, that I’m willing to allot more time on these points than the rest of the film. Both scenes focus on dialogue instead of the music. The first one I alluded to earlier, when Andrew tries to explain his musical aspirations to his extended family. At a family dinner, family members brush over Andrew’s accomplishments, settling on praising those who have accomplished goals they understand, specifically his cousins’s achievements in sports. Moving up the ranks, going up divisions, getting put on first string, being a starter, catching a ball, making a touchdown, or shooting a basket: all of these ideas are so familiar to us, that they couldn’t help but cheer and acknowledge the accomplishments of an athlete. Similarly in business, a certain protocol is observed and understood: move up the food chain, get promoted, receive a raise, give a presentation, make a sale. Yet in arts, subjectivity plays such a greater role; even more so, being the best has never been enough to make it on Broadway, the Lyric Opera, the Boston Pops, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or to be considered among the greatest musicians and artists in history. Art roles and jobs often don’t pay for college, provide a stable job prospect or salary, or appear as a measurable list of goals that you can check off a list as you climb the rings of the artistic ladder. It’s about attending the best schools, making a big break, talking to all the right people, and offering up all the blood, sweat, and tears possible. And even then, there’s no guarantee one will be successful. So it often confuses those who think in terms of logic and measurable means, because art is not measurable. Liken it to attaining goals in sports or business, and you’ll get a conversation at Andrew’s dinner table. The scene presents the constant misunderstanding between logics and artists, and for Andrew, it acts as only more steam in his heated desire to move forward and prove his desire worthy of Fletcher’s expectations, regardless of his family’s inability to comprehend why being a drummer in the core group of Terrence Fletcher’s band at Shaffer Conservatory is worth praising.

The second moment is especially memorable, because it sums up Fletcher’s character for the entire film. After being let go at the conservatory for his mistreatment of students, Fletcher is playing piano in a small jazz band in a bar. Andrew’s curiosity leads him to the bar, where he fails to avoid eye contact with Fletcher when the song is over. So the two start chatting, and when the conversation leads to Fletcher’s forced exit from Shaffer, Fletcher defends his brutal methods for helping students achieve their goals. Yet Andrew suggests that such actions could actually depress a student, and drive one away from becoming great if a teacher comes down too harsh. Fletcher responds that one determined to succeed would never get depressed and give up. It’s an interesting perspective, to consider that any student would never grow tired, depressed, or frustrated enough to actually give up if a teacher were regularly cussing them out, seeking to emotionally and physically injure them, in an effort to break a student so far down that they could achieve the best. But sometimes breaking a student – a human being – down to that point isn’t as inspirational as most movies make it, and even Fletcher himself believes here. Because for all the realism a movie like Whiplash is staked in, with a hardcore teacher that students across the globe have sat at the heels of, experienced the torture of being made to feel so little in order to accomplish the goals the teacher has set out for them, it is a line like Fletcher’s that reminds us that taking some of the most emotional people in the world (those involved in the arts, for those who haven’t caught on), and expecting them to not emotionally respond, is actually counter to both what he hopes to accomplish by said methods. Artists are not excluded from depression, feelings of failure, or giving up.

*Phew* OK, taking a breath from all of that heavy talk. I know I have to get in a word or two about the ending . . . some loved it, some hated it, some felt indifferent. I thought it was an interesting choice, and honestly, I respect the decision to have an ending like it: you don’t see it coming. That said, I can’t pretend that I didn’t uncomfortably shift in my seat, trying to sort out what exactly was happening, and wondering what would happen next.

Whiplash opens up a lot of discussion about a lot of things, but I think I’d be doing this review a disservice by not mentioning that similarly to the journey Andrew experienced in developing his drumming skills to become one of the greats, Whiplash started off as writer-director Damien Chazelle’s dream project, the script having sat on the 2012 Black List of best “not yet produced” screenplays. Thanks to producers Right of Way Films and Blumhouse Productions, Chazelle was able to translate his motion picture into a 18-minute short film, which garnered enough attention at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival that Bold Films picked up the original screenplay, giving us what is now Whiplash.

Miles Teller

Andrew’s breakthrough into Terrence Fletcher’s band at the fictional, distinguished Shaffer Conservatory truly mirrors Miles Teller’s graduation into raw, adult performances in film. While he has certainly shined in smaller films or YA adaptations that have him playing the villain (Divergent, 2014), or even occasionally playing an interesting role with promise (The Spectacular Now, 2013), it is Teller’s turn in Whiplash that brings him front and center. What’s more fascinating about his role is that he did a lot of his own drumming after attending a drumming boot camp for two months before filming. However, Teller can’t take all the credit, thanks to the already award-winning editing skills of Tom Cross, who convinced viewers Teller was that good of a jazz drummer. (Fun fact: according to this article, it took two full days to shoot the drum solo in Caravan.)

There isn’t much more I can say about J.K. Simmons other than that this is some of the finest acting he’s ever given. Perhaps he just hasn’t been offered such a meaty role before, but I’d be surprised if his performance in Whiplash didn’t attract at least an Oscar nomination.

Whiplash, however, has more than just career-changing performances. With an impressive jazz soundtrack, sharp editing, and beautiful camera work thanks to cinematographer Sharone Meir, I’d recommend Whiplash to anyone who wants to witness what I believe is one of 2014’s best films, even if I don’t want to see Whiplash again any time soon. (It had that 12 Years a Slave (2013) impact on me that assured me of its greatness, but didn’t make me want to watch it over again.)

I give Whiplash 

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EYES ON SCREEN.

 

It’s your turn now. What did you think of Whiplash? Do you think it will receive any Oscar nominations? Please share your thoughts below.

Shame List #25: The Shining (1980)

Shame List Introduction

The Shining is one of 31 films on my Shame List, a list composed of multiple classics and “must-see”- considered films for anyone who likes to consider him/herself a film buff. I created this list with only twenty films, and have added eleven films since by recommendations from friends and fellow movie fans. I’m always looking for recommendations, and my Shame List is my accountability to the movie blogging community that I have – and will – start watching these movies to earn my film buff status. A copy of the list can be found at my post here, and I’m updating per your recommendations, so please keep them coming!


Here’s my review of the third film I can cross off my Shame List:

I feel like I can wash my hands of the “shame” a bit after finally viewing The Shining (1980) for the first time. I always wondered where that haunting image of young Jack Nicholson originated. For someone who has seen movies of him only in his older years when he’s sporting gray hair, it was both a pleasure and a horror to see Nicholson in action in this classic horror film.

So I caught this movie back in October, right around Halloween. But I missed out on posting about it right when it was trendy to do so. So as Thanksgiving approaches with Christmas directly on its heels, here’s just a little summary of my thoughts on the classic horror film, The Shining.

Everyone has stuff to say about this movie. And nothing in this post is going to be purely original regarding the film. I truly wasn’t expecting what I saw, and that was probably what gave me the most joy in seeing it. It’s about a madman portrayed by Jack Nicholson, and frankly, with his balding head and crazy eyes, he seemed to have the role down pat.

It’s common knowledge that Stephen King didn’t care for this film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick. Having not read the book myself, I could only naively say that this is a good stand-alone film. Give me the original source material, and perhaps I could say otherwise. But at the end of the day, we’re talking two different mediums, two different viewpoints, and two different pieces of art. And I liked The Shining, even if didn’t pay the proper homage King was expecting or hoping for from Kubrick.

I think what makes the film so good, so iconic, are the performances alongside the eery score and setting. While there ought to be plenty of praise for the lead Jack Nicholson, I was most moved by Danny Lloyd’s performance of Danny, especially when his “friend in his mouth” took over. Children certainly have the chops to play multi-dimensional characters, and Lloyd’s portrayal was chilling.

I’ve wondered if Shelley Duvall has received as much praise as her costars, because she really does play the character that the audience relates with and roots for. For a while, I chalked her up to a simple housewife who didn’t know how to stand on her own. But of course, as time goes by and her husband has truly cracked and gone over to the side of madness, her character, Wendy, does take charge. It was so refreshing to see another female character be strong and courageous.

The Shining Maze

The maze played one of the most interesting set pieces I’ve seen in a film. We get to see it in both the fall and winter seasons, and I think the contrast in seeing it in both weathers really characterized the maze as either fun or terrifying. The hotel plays its own role in the film as both a haven and a terror for the characters, by playing monster to Wendy and Danny, and partner-in-crime to Jack when he starts to see visions of those who used to run the hotel.

While it seems like multiple people contributed to both the score and soundtrack, a large part of the job fell on the shoulders of music editor Gordon Stainforth, and I think he really delivered in matching the music passages to the scenes in the film.

Kubrick truly doesn’t let any one part of the film go to waste, having pulled out the stops in every area. It’s clear why The Shining has reached its iconic status. While it wasn’t necessarily my favorite film, it is one I would definitely revisit over the Halloween holiday. I recently read there were multiple scenes cut from the film, and I think that was a wise decision. At nearly two and a half hours, the run time had me getting a little impatient as the story built to its final act, and the race for Wendy and Danny to escape came to a halt.

I give The Shining

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ON SCREEN.

 

It’s your turn now. What do you think of The Shining? Do you think King is justified in his disdain for this film adaptation? Where does The Shining rank on Stanley Kubrick’s filmography? And last, but certainly not least, what movie should I watch and cross off my Shame List next (list here)?

Matinee Podcast: Big Hero 6 (2014)

Hello all! Apparently I’ve taken off yet another week from blogging without even having realized it. That said, I haven’t taken a break from my TV and movie-watching, and I have several posts I’m planning to put up over the next several days, so stay tuned for posts on The Shining (1980), Interstellar (2014), Whiplash (2014), and the most recent The Walking Dead episode coming your way soon.

That said, I got to see one of the most fun movies of the year . . . and it happened to be animated. Big Hero 6 was one of those films that totally caught me off-guard. It wasn’t that the trailer didn’t make it look appealing. I just didn’t know a whole lot about it. I have never been a huge fan of animated films, although I do have ones that I love (Beauty and the Beast [1991], Aladdin [1992], Monsters University [2013], How to Train Your Dragon [2010], Toy Story 3 [2010] anyone?). But Big Hero 6 not only won me over; it joins the ranks of the ones I love.

Instead of writing my usual style of review for a film, I’m going to direct you over to a podcast I got to be a guest speaker on, because it really sums up my overall feelings for the film better than how I could put it into words for a post.

The Matinee is one of the best organized movie sites I frequently visit. Ryan McNeil is the brains behind the site, and he’s been podcasting for years. About two and a half years ago, I got to meet the Canadian-native only forty-five minutes away from my hometown in Chicago, where we got to talk film with a group of movie-loving nerds.

If you have yet to visit Ryan’s site, I urge you to take this opportunity to do so. You can listen to the episode I spoke on here.

Overall, Big Hero 6 has been one of my favorite films of 2014 so far. It strikes that balance between action, humor, and drama . . . in a kids film. And yet at the same time, I wouldn’t call Big Hero 6 just a kids film. It’s a great movie. I give Big Hero 6

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1/2 EYES ON SCREEN.

 

It’s your turn now. Have you seen Big Hero 6? If so, what did you think of it? Where do you think it stands on the spectrum for animated films? Please share your thoughts below, because as always, I’d love to know them.

Fairy Tale Blogathon: Sabrina (1995)

I’m so happy and thankful to participate in this awesome blogathon created and hosted by Fritizi Kramer at her awesome site, Movies SilentlyBeauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairytales. It stars Belle, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing the original French film the Disney animated film was very loosely based off. Unfortunately, I found out about the blogathon late enough that someone had already selected every possible Beauty and the Beast-based film, that I almost decided not to participate. However, neither the 1954 nor 1995 Sabrina films, paying homage to Cinderella, had been selected yet. I had heard from a few people that they preferred the remake over the original, so I chose that movie, looking forward to being introduced to something new. And truly, the film didn’t disappoint.

Sabrina (1995) doesn’t exactly mirror the beloved animated Disney film, but it has all the bearings necessary to make it a fairytale without it getting into too corny of material. Julia Ormond plays Sabrina Fairchild, the Cinderella of the story. She’s highly relatable as the girl with a crush who simply has no impression of the man of her dreams . . . at the beginning. But after a trip to Paris to forget the man she’s convinced she’s in love with, she returns home with a new look, a new understanding of self, and wave of confidence.

As the chauffeur’s daughter of David Larrabee (Greg Kinnear) and his family, the man who she’s trying to look past, Sabrina is settled on moving forward with her life after returning home. But David and Sabrina share a meet cute when David notices Sabrina at the train station returning home, and unbeknownst to him, Sabrina is this gorgeous woman without a ride in need of his services. As David drives Sabrina home, he begs her to reveal her identity. Sabrina enjoys this newfound attention from the man she never seemed to be able to convince to notice her; that is, until they arrive home and David’s older brother, Linus (Harrison Ford), abruptly interrupts their conversation and announces that it’s Sabrina.

But the plot truly doesn’t thicken until later that evening when Sabrina falls under David’s spell David falls under Sabrina’s spell and announces to his mother and Linus that he no longer wants to be with Elizabeth Tyson, the woman to whom he is engaged. But it’s not just an engagement David would be breaking: it’s a billion-dollar merger forged between the Larrabees and the Tysons, if David were to snub Elizabeth, and thus the Tyson family’s company, with whom the merger was formed. As the calculating, business-only brother he is, Linus sees the situation as an opportunity: deceive Sabrina into liking him, convince David to stay with Elizabeth, and ultimately keep the billion-dollar merger in tack.

For a movie considered within the romantic genre, occasionally gesturing to the story of Cinderella, Sabrina contains a well-formed plot that while it moves a little slow in some parts, ultimately fits under the classic love-story scenario, and is driven home with three strong performances that pull at viewers’s heartstrings throughout.

Paris is used as the “place to get away,” the place to find one’s self, and it works so well in Sabrina. While she struggles to adjust to her short time away in a new place, Sabrina eventually makes friends, learns photography, and finds her place in Paris. It becomes the place that she looks back at fondly and loves, and it fully confirms what many Americans have always believed about Paris: it’s always a place to get away.

Harrison Ford plays Harrison Ford, but he does it so well under the guise of “Linus Larrabee,” that it’s easy to forgive him for playing a version of himself. The chemistry he shares with Julia Ormond is played convincingly, that you know from the moment they meet and he insults her – and she tells him that she knows what he’s doing – that they’ll certainly end up together, even if Cinderella’s story was significantly sweeter in nature. I really enjoyed Greg Kinnear’s performance as the playboy younger brother David who lacked all the responsibility in the world, but relied wholly on his heart to lead him from one woman to another. The contrast between Linus’s and David’s personality and actions is played out so well on screen, and it seems that only Sabrina is best able to point out each man’s lack of balance between work and play. The lines are blurred among the three titular characters when Linus can’t deny his attraction to Sabrina, and in David discovering his brother really isn’t “the only living heart donor,” David realized he must put on his suit, find where his office is, and play the responsible, logical brother in order to keep the merger in play and rescue his brother’s heart from breaking.

While I didn’t automatically think “Cinderella” when I was watching Sabrina, I did appreciate small cues here and there, such as Sabrina playing the role of a poor, unknown girl, the parties the Larabees threw feeling like the ball Cinderella never got invited to, and the sparkles in the gorgeous shrug Sabrina wore when she showed up to her first ball, earning the compliment of “dazzling” from David. And while Linus isn’t necessary a prince who rescues Sabrina, he does get to be in that overused scene in movies where there’s so much traffic, one is forced to run to said location in order to make it in time. And in time, he makes it to Paris, where Sabrina and he kiss to the fairytale ending of happily ever after.

Of course, Sabrina was one of the best movies I’ve seen that had a fairytale flair on an altogether overdone character story, but its most touching moments were aided greatly with an Oscar-nominated score composed by the legendary John Williams. And while it didn’t strike critics who couldn’t help but compare it the original film, I gladly give Sabrina 

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1/2 EYES ON SCREEN
.

 

Huge thanks again to Fritizi for creating and hosting this fun event! Please do check out her post that links to all those participating in the Fairy Tale Blogathon.

It’s your turn now. Have you seen Sabrina, or its original counterpart? What were your thoughts on the film? Please join in the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts.

AEOS Review: John Wick (2014)

I made a spontaneous trip to the theater to see John Wick (2014) last night, knowing very little going in, and only half-excited after viewing the trailer. Tom from Digital Shortbread probably offers a more knowledgeable review on the film than I can, but based off my somewhat limited viewing of action flicks and Keanu Reeves movies, here is my very subjective review on the film.

I’m not sure if I missed all the ads, or John Wick just sneaked up on me. I don’t recall seeing previews for the film before I saw any other movies in theater, so I imagine there wasn’t as much push for John Wick as previous other actions movies to have come out this year.

For those of you who don’t know what John Wick is about, the story can be summed up simply as a revenge action flick. John (Keanu Reeves) has lost everything important to him. The movie opens with us watching his wife’s life flash before his eyes, leading to her eventual death when the doctor pulled the plug. It’s not entirely explained how or why she died, but early on we get a glimpse of John’s vulnerable side as he’s deals with his wife’s passing. After her funeral, John arrives home and receives a dog: a final gift from his wife, with a letter, offering another life to help him cope with his grief.

What appears to be the next day, John is filling up his ’69 Mustang with gas at a station when Iosef (Alfie Allen) and a couple of his friends approach him, offering to buy his car. John refuses, and of course, that’s not the end of it. Later that evening, Iosef and his buddies break into John’s home, beat him up, murder his dog, and steal his car.

And then we’re on to act two of the film, which makes up the majority of the film’s 96-minute run-time.

I won’t mention any spoilers beyond that, because it’s for viewers to enjoy who haven’t seen the film yet. What I will say is that the film takes off with adrenaline, yet as viewers, we don’t feel out of breath. It’s not an original idea for a man to seek vengeance for that kind of act, or for us to see a new hero arise that was living “on the other side” for the past five years. But what we get out of John Wick is a hyper-violent revenge story that introduces the action prowess of Keanu Reeves to a new generation. Reeves is no stranger to the action genre, but John Wick might be his most successful action film since The Matrix (2000), if I dare cross a line in saying so. This isn’t the first time Reeves’s acrobatic skills have been on display, but it’s what he does with a gun that makes everyone keenly aware that his character is not to be dealt with. It is not simply a killing spree when John Wick enters the room. He knows how to make a gun dance, and the scenes where he is in action, killing all those who get in his way, is not just a killing: it’s an art.

Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), Iosef’s father, describes John Wick as “the man who takes care of the boogeyman.” It’s a funny title to hold, but Reeves is adept at playing a believably violent, revengeful man on the hunt. John Wick is certainly Reeves’s movie through and through. The choreographed fight scenes reminded of Jason Bourne in the Bourne series. The film is slickly edited thanks to Elísabet Ronalds’s handy work, who was able to make the action scenes even more interesting to watch on screen. It also seems possible to suggest that “John Wick” could become a action franchise name included with the likes of Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne if producers decide to turn it into a franchise.

My greatest fear in going in to see John Wick was that I’d see a stylistically-engaging film that was low on substance. The style was definitely present, but the movie did fail to offer a very memorable storyline. Despite that, I still really liked John Wick. Keanu Reeves carried the movie, and there were decent, though somewhat unmemorable performances by Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist. I wish they would have given these guys more to do as they’re both talented actors, but the screenplay lacked the necessary pull to make these characters come alive on screen, even with the actors’s best efforts.

My desire is that producers bank off the critical success of John Wick and turn him into a franchise and build on his story, past the revenge aspect. Lurking behind the scenes is a compelling story that would probably clue us in on Wick’s past, before he was married, and about the world that involves a mysterious hotel with its own private club that deals only in gold coins and proffers a very generous compensation for its limited cliental.

While I really enjoyed John Wick, it did have its issues. Lack of originality is one of them, although despite its generic storyline, it seemed to successfully play the “typical action movie” stereotype and still be interesting. Tyler Bates composed the soundtrack, which while at times, felt like a hardcore gangster soundtrack, managed to work . . . although it was unsteady in parts, making you question exactly what type of movie John Wick really was.

While John Wick is far from perfect, I had such a great time with it from beginning to end, that I am boldly giving it

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1/2 ON SCREEN.

 

(Sorry, Tom :-/)

*Note – I never totally figured out how to make “half an eye,” so I will be updating scores for previous movies I have reviewed to either slightly higher or lower, based off what I originally wanted to score them.

Now it’s your turn. What did you guys think of John Wick? Am I crazy for liking it as much as I did? Please share your thoughts below, because as always, I would love to know your thoughts.

AEOS Review: The Skeleton Twins (2014)

The Skeleton Twins (2014) is a movie that originally I wasn’t anticipating. I saw the trailer in a long list of previews before seeing a film, and it didn’t strike me as a movie with a chance of moving me or appealing to me. After Tom over at Digital Shortbread wrote a very nice review on the film, he convinced me otherwise that I needed to give this movie a try. So I did.

Because it didn’t stay in theaters long, and I’ve seen few reviews on the film, here’s a short summary of the film for those of you unfamiliar with the story:

Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) are estranged twins, each who happen to attempt suicide on the same day. Before Maggie can go through with it, she receives a phone call notifying her that Milo is in the hospital, healing after a suicide attempt. In light of this news, Maggie welcomes Milo back into her life, inviting him to stay with her and her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson) in their New York home. As Maggie and Milo start to reconnect, catching up over the past decade and reminiscing over their passed father, high school, and growing up years, each have secrets come to the surface that maybe they weren’t planning to spill.

There were moments when I connected with this story, and other times I felt like I was sitting on the outside looking in. What I wasn’t expecting to see was Bill Hader portraying a hardened, flamboyant, complicated character who could make you laugh in one scene, and be emotionally moved the next. Hader lost himself in Milo, and while it was obvious that his Saturday Night Live run influenced certain scenes, it also aided his chemistry with his co-lead, Kristen Wiig, who turned in one of her best film performances to date.

These two comedians successfully depict an estranged set of twins who honestly tell each other how it is while still connecting in a way neither know how to connect with anyone else. They play siblings convincingly enough that no one would question otherwise.

But even after witnessing this turn in two well-known comedians, The Skeleton Twins seems to shock again with unexpectedly good performances from the resurrected Luke Wilson and Modern Family‘s lovably clueless father, Ty Burell. Wilson might play a familiar and simple character, but he has the tricky job of playing a likable yet naive husband devoid of passion. It is his lack of passion, thereof, that probably helps sets off another major plot point (which I will not spoil for those of you who plan to watch this).

Burell also displays his more dramatic acting chops as Milo’s previous English teacher who was inappropriately involved in his teacher-student relationship with his former student. Milo is still processing, reacting, and trying to figure out himself, even years after the discretion.

Like most movies, things start out bad. Things may get worse, but eventually a light is shining at the end of the tunnel and the film has resolved, be it positive or negative. With The Skeleton Twins, there’s really no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a story of two adults who have muddled through life over the past decade, from one failure to the next, each turning to suicide as an escape from the difficulties life has thrown them. While one might expect this movie to be cheery, it really isn’t, even amidst the occasional laughs. What The Skeleton Twins does successfully present viewers with are great, emotionally complex characters who feel lost and are searching for something, even if they’re not sure what. It’s what made me both like and dislike the movie’s ending.

Early October is an odd time for a character-driven drama to be released, and with it not turning a major profit, it’s no surprise that it’s exiting theaters and entering your nearest Redbox machine in the next few weeks. But that isn’t a reason to not see this movie. I have personal quibbles with some of the writing, but I have great respect for writer-director Craig Johnson, who was able to churn out such moving performances from a set of actors no one was expecting them to offer.

I give The Skeleton Twins 

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ON SCREEN.

 

It’s your turn now. Have you seen The Skeleton Twins? If so, what did you think of it? If not, are you planning to see it? Please share your thoughts below, because I would love to know your thoughts.

Ten Critically-Acclaimed Films I Just Don’t Like

It might sound like a bad thing, but truly, you just can’t like every movie, regardless of its popularity with critics, film buffs, or even your casual viewers. While there are positive things I could say about each of these movies (and I will!), I just didn’t care for them, and I don’t imagine I’ll revisit any of them in the future. I got this idea after reading Abbi’s post about Ten Movies People Seem to Love That [She] Just Didn’t Get, over at her site Where the Wild Things Are. She got the idea from Film Nerd Blog. I thought it was a great idea, and just turned it into a list of films most critics (and many viewers) loved (that I didn’t dig).

Here are ten critically-acclaimed films I just don’t like:

Almost Made the List . . .

The Town (2010)

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metascore: 74/100

The Town nearly misses the list, even considering it’s the only movie in the list I turned off in the middle of viewing. I loved the cast, excluding Blake Lively. I think Ben Affleck has established himself as a director not to be toyed with. My issue with the film was the overabundant drug use and language. It’s not that I’m not interested in seeing a town, a group of people, realistically displayed. It just took over the film for me, overshadowing the story.


 10) Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Rotten Tomatoes: 87% RT
Metascore: 76/100

The fashion is stunning. It’s Audrey Hepburn, how could it not be stunning? I know I just reviewed Roman Holiday (1953) and loved it! There’s no doubt there are some great elements in this film that make it the memorable movie it is today. For me, however, I just didn’t feel like there was a great story there, and I couldn’t get into it. Sorry, Holly Golighty.

9) The Graduate (1967)

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Metascore: 77/100

The Graduate – another classic I just didn’t care for. It’s one of the first coming-of-age stories that explores a territory not yet tackled in film. Dustin Hoffman gets famous off of The Graduate. The music is great, and the end scene is emotional. But for me, watching it decades later, I just didn’t connect with the film at all.

8) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Metascore: 86/100

Considered a must-see by anyone who considers him/herself a film buff, I know some heads are shaking as they see this one on my list. It’s a highly influential science fiction film crafted by Stanley Kubrick. I should like this. I should want to watch this, include it on my top ten lists, boast of its greatness. But I missed it . . . even knowing that this film is a work of art, I don’t care for it.

7) The Exorcist (1973)

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Metascore: 82/100

Now we enter the horror genre. A movie that I watched in high school, The Exorcist scared the crap out of me. It’s a mark on the horror film genre, and I can understand why. But I don’t feel apologetic for disliking this movie. It’s not that I think it’s bad; I just don’t like movies that deal with devil/demon possession. It’s not a fun movie for this film fan.

6) Pulp Fiction (1994)

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metascore: 94/100

Perhaps one of the most controversial films on my list, Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction wasn’t a fun ride for me. I won’t say there weren’t moments when I laughed, or thought I had witnessed something very cool in the film. It’s certainly a well-made piece of cinema; I, however, struggled to enjoy it amidst the overt sexual scenes and language, even knowing it was a Tarantino film.

5) Lost in Translation (2003)

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Metascore: 89/100

Yet another one of the more controversial films on this list, Lost in Translation is a deep film that does succeed to tell its story. I’m not arguing that. It’s just one of those movies I watched and was done with. It includes one of Scarlet Johansson’s best performances, and the movie shows how you can strike up a friendship with the unlikeliest of people. But this movie depressed me to the degree that I have no need to see it again.

4) Avatar (2009)

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Metascore: 83/100

James Cameron brought us Titanic (1997), and of course, he had to bring another enormous budget, technologically ground-breaking film called Avatar. It’s not that I don’t respect the art, the technology, the scope of the film. It’s a feat in movie history. But for all of the special effects and millions of dollars poured into the project, I felt like maybe they could have had a shake down in the writers room and come up with a more original, engaging story. According to my Intro to Film teacher, Avatar was just a rip-off of Dances with Wolves (1990). I haven’t seen it, so I couldn’t tell you. But the movie never stayed with me, no matter how many sequels Cameron’s team has promised.

3) The Tree of Life (2011)

Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Metascore: 85/100

Jessica Chastain was in four movies in 2011, and this was the only one I really didn’t like. It wasn’t that the cinematography wasn’t gorgeous, because it was. I can’t think of a movie in this decade that is more beautiful to watch unfold on screen. But the idea of being metaphorical doesn’t hold up for me in this movie. I know The Tree of Life aimed to be deep, but Terrance Malick’s film didn’t win me over. To this day, I still don’t understand the appeal. Perhaps I just wasn’t meant to understand.

2) Melancholia (2011)

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Metascore: 80/100

Perhaps the must unmemorable movie on this list for me, Melancholia bored me to no end. I distinctly remember forcing myself to sit through this film just so I could watch all of the Oscar-nominated films that year. Like The Tree of Life, it offers some of the most beautiful scenes to watch. But I missed out on watching an actual story. I just remember Kirsten Dunst getting angry, and Kiefer Sutherland popping up in a movie after his 24 (2001-2010) run.

1) Prisoners (2013)

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Metascore: 74/100

It’s difficult for me to find words for how much I disliked Prisoners, especially considering how big a fan I was of the cast. Jake Gyllenhaal, Wolverine, and Viola Davis – it’s got to be good, right? The plot is interesting: someone’s kidnapped children. But it was painful for me to watch Hugh Jackman torture Paul Dano. From start to finish, it was disturbing for me to watch, and I have no desire to revisit it ever again, regardless of its critical success.

It’s your turn now. What critically-acclaimed movies do you not dig? Which ones on my list do you think I need to watch again to consider otherwise? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts.

Shame List #8: Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman Holiday is one of 31 films on my Shame List, a list composed of multiple classics and “must-see”- considered films for anyone who likes to consider him/herself a film buff. I created this list with only twenty films, and have added eleven films since by recommendations from friends and fellow movie fans. I’m always looking for recommendations, and my Shame List is my accountability to the moving blogging community that I have – and will – start watching these movies to earn my film buff status. A copy of the list can be found at my post here, and I’m updating per your recommendations, so please keep them coming!


Onto my review of the first film I can cross of my Shame List is Roman Holiday (1953):

When I was watching Roman Holiday, I couldn’t help but enjoy each scene, taking in everything I could. No doubt, it’s a movie I’ll revisit again and again, which confirms my purchase of a DVD copy before I had even seen it.

Growing up, I fondly remember watching Audrey Hepburn play the infamous role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1964), and the image of a dirty, cockney woman turned into a stately, prim and proper socialite was burned into my memory. Years later, following my college years, I decided to give Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) a try given its reputation. I got to see another well-known side of Hepburn, although I couldn’t help but wonder what the “wow” factor was of the film. But that’s a whole other post altogether.

My only knowledge of Roman Holiday before viewing it is that it starred Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck as the leads, and that they fell in love but never got together. I was excited to see this movie for that little insight alone, yet I was shocked when the movie opened and Hepburn was playing a princess and Peck was working for the press.

The opening scene, as no doubt many have recalled and talked about, is famous for its simplicity: Princess Ann is on the last leg of her European tour. She’s exhausted, yet she knows how to paste on her happy face and polite voice because she’s so accustomed to doing so. She’s just arrived in Rome, about to sit down when a huge line of Roman higher ups and citizens await to greet this famous princess who’s just arrived in town. She’s plays it calm, only occasionally lifting her right foot out of her shoe to ease the strain of standing and walking in heels, when she accidentally nicks her shoe, unable to retrieve it without drawing attention. One by one, her assistants emote looks of panic as they realize the gravity of the situation: with all eyes on the princess, no one can subtly collect her shoe.

And that is just the first of many memorable scenes that make Roman Holiday so sweet, enjoyable, and of course a staple in classic film history and a model for so many romantic comedies. Multiple modern romantic comedies came to mind as I watched Roman Holiday, explaining the inspiration directors and actors have aspired to imitating in the last few decades.

When reviewing Roman Holiday, as well as others on my Shame List, I know I’ll run into a problem Dan realized when he recently reviewed Fight Club (1999) at his blog: it’s hard not to reiterate in a review what everyone else has already said about a critically-revered film that’s already had everything discussed and dissected in it. Roman Holiday is a beloved film, and I’m so happy to experience why everyone else who has seen it appreciates it for its beauty, simplicity, and mark on film history.

Of course, Gregory Peck stands out in this film, not only for his acting skills and his tall, dark handsomeness, but also because he stands head and shoulders above all the other guys. This is especially noticeable in the end scene when he’s standing in the middle of the front line of press writers and photographers. I imagine William Wyler purposefully set the scene so that Peck stood out in the group. That scene also captured how well both lead performers were able to express their characters with just their eyes, and it made me wonder when the last time I was so moved by a scene that said so much without many words.

When Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) leaves the royal hall, the scene shows one man taking his time as he strides down the beautiful, rich walls that make up just the hall of where royalty presides. After this end scene, I think of the contrast of the earlier scene with Princess Ann entering Bradley’s room for the first time, and even under the influence of a heavy drug that’s taken its toll, she still inquires if his room is the elevator.

Both leads know how to employ physical comedy, and I can imagine Eddie Albert received his share of scrapes and bruises from constantly getting knocked down or pushed over. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Hepburn impaling a guitar by smashing it over the head over a Secret Service agent while fleeing a dance party.

Despite their best efforts and logical influences, Joe and Ann fall in love in front of us, even if it’s just for a few hours. True love isn’t on display until Bradley pretends he never got the story, because he cherishes his time with Ann more than winning a bet and making some much-needed extra cash. Extending the photos as “scenic photos from Rome” as a gift to Ann reveals Irving’s (Eddie Albert) sincerity as well.

I also really enjoyed all of the fashion, especially on Hepburn (no wonder she’s considered a fashion icon). The dress she wears in the final scene is a great example of how beautiful an outfit can be in black and white. Even with her sporting long and short hair styles throughout the film, her face shines without a single imperfection to be spotted, and it’s assuring that’s her fashionable status is well-earned if she just cracks a smile. I doubt her barber (Claudio Ermelli) really acted too much when melting over the gorgeous actress, like most men did in the film.

Roman Holiday is my favorite Audrey Hepburn film I’ve viewed thus far, and it makes me want to see more of her films. I don’t need any more encouragement to view more Gregory Peck films, although Roman Holiday only confirms my need to see him in more.

All images found via Google Images.

I give Roman Holiday 

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ON SCREEN, crossing my first film off my Shame List.

It’s your turn now. What did you think of Roman Holiday? Would you consider it a classic or a must-see film? Or does it make it on your Shame List? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

“You Call Yourself a Film Buff?” Movies I Still Haven’t Seen [Updated 10/3]

I confess: there are many classic, must-see (but I haven’t yet) films I have never seen, and yet I call myself a “film buff.” Call me hypocritical, but at least I’m willing to publicize this shortcoming. I decided that this post will act as my accountability to fellow movie bloggers, readers, and friends out there, to encourage me to dust off movie by movie until I’ve seen each of these.

I got the idea to make this list from Mettel Ray, who was inspired by Film Flare to make a “Shame List” (or list of movies she hasn’t seen but wants to) of her own. I have decided to narrow my list down to twenty movies, to make it more or less achievable for myself. After I watch one of these movies and cross it off the list, I’ll review it on AEOS, titling the review with a title that has “Shame List” and its number on the list. [Recent update: I made to this post includes recommended films friends have offered in the comment section that I included on the list with their names!] In order from earliest to latest, here is my “shame list” of movies I’ve never seen, but plan to watch over the next several months:

  1. Frankenstein (1931)
  2. Gone with the Wind (1939) – recommended by Mark B.
  3. His Girl Friday (1940)
  4. Citizen Kane (1941)
  5. Casablanca (1942)
  6. The Red Shoes (1948) – recommended by Matt R.
  7. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  8. Roman Holiday (1953) Review here.
  9. 12 Angry Men (1957) – recommended by Mark B.
  10. North by Northwest (1959)
  11. Some Like It Hot (1959)
  12. The 400 Blows (1959) – recommended by Matt R.
  13. The Apartment (1960) – recommended by Jaina M.
  14. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
  15. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  16. The French Connection (1971) – recommended by Jaina M.
  17. Solaris (1972) – recommended by Matt R.
  18. The Godfather (1972)
  19. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
  20. The Conversation (1974) – recommended by Jaina M.
  21. Annie Hall (1977) Review here.
  22. Manhattan (1979)
  23. Apocalypse Now (1979) – recommended by Matt R.
  24. The Warriors (1979) – recommended by Jaina M.
  25. The Shining (1980) Review here.
  26. Blade Runner (1982)
  27. Amadeus (1984) – recommended by Jenn G.
  28. Schindler’s List (1993)
  29. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
  30. American Beauty (1999)
  31. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I added several of Stanley Kubrick’s films, because unfortunately, I haven’t seen many of his. I know Christopher Nolan was highly influenced by Kubrick’s work, and being a big fan of Nolan’s films, I can’t help but want to see what inspired Nolan’s filmmaking style. Most of the list’s additions are considered classics, and that’s always a genre that I’ve strayed from due to lack of opportunity, time, or interest. I know there are a great many classics out there, and with streaming services like Netflix at my disposal, the only thing truly holding me back has been time.

Image found via Google Images.

I normally turn the end of a post over to everyone else, asking a question or two. I’m hoping to gain more feedback than normal, just because I’m really wanting to know . . .

For those of you who have seen any of these movies, would you recommend it as a must-see film? What classics or must-seen movies would you recommend I view (if they don’t make it on the list)? Which movie(s) would be on your “shame list”? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts.