Batman vs. Superman: Who Won?

It helps going into the theater with low expectations, especially when the concessions worker handing you popcorn has only the phrase “it could have been better” to offer when you realize the next 2 1/2 hours and $8.74 of your life might have been better spent elsewhere.

Perhaps diehard DC Comics fans, or just average moviegoers anticipated Zack Snyder’s latest film to hit theaters. With all of the negative attention surrounding this film (Sad Affleck, that Rotten Tomatoes score, and who could forget DC surrendering its original set theater release date to Civil War?), I couldn’t possibly rev myself up enough to even fake excitement to see this film. I anticipated some mild entertainment at best, but I think what made me really want to see the movie was curiosity.

Curious about how 32-year-old Jesse Eisenberg would fare as Lex Luthor. Or how Wonder Woman would be making her first live appearance in film in the form of Gal Gadot. Or if Amy Adams might actually step up to the plate and give us a performance worthy of the character she’s portraying (spoiler alert: she didn’t).

The best way to judge this Batman vs. Superman is to determine the winners and losers, like the format MSN presents those of the GOP debates. Shall we begin?

Winners

Hans Zimmer

Music Composition may not be the hottest topic discussed among friends, even in major film nerd circles. But Hans Zimmer has established himself as a household name. And while he lent his talents to Christopher Nolan’s batman films that were suits those films, he creates a score for Batman vs. Superman that transcends the film, making some wonder why he would agree to a project so unworthy of his talents.

Wonder Woman / Gal Gadot

In some respects, Ms. Gadot could pose as a loser. It’s not her performance that’s lacking as much as her limited screen time. Batman vs. Superman was in desperate need for a strong female character, and we get way too little of her. She brings the only element of mystery to the screen, and gets placed in scenes only when the script demands her presence.

Joker from The Dark Knight

Jesse Eisenberg didn’t play the typical Lex Luthor many filmgoers aren used to seeing. And that’s OK. Technically, he doesn’t make this list, and it’s not for giving us a bad performance. In many respects, he made the movie slightly more bearable to sit through. Apparently Zack Snyder likes to borrow from preceding Batman films. And while this isn’t a sin committed on screen, it reveals a lack of originality. Presenting the villain as maniacal, interesting, “thinks 10 steps ahead of heroes,” character, what we’re getting is a tiny version of the Joker character in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The main difference is that in this adaptation, Jesse Eisenberg is playing the only intelligent primary character in the film.

Marvel

Marvel’s reasons for winning are twofold. One, DC Comics lacks a foundation, for all of the Superman and Batman movies made over the past two decades. The people at Marvel thought things through before laying out their foundation, bringing their ideas to screen, and showing moviegoers that superhero movies didn’t have to be boring. They could be funny, interesting, compelling, and completely ridiculous, all at the same time. And in the end, we care about the characters because we’ve gotten to know them after seeing them in multiple successful films, both with critics and viewers. Two, Batman vs. Superman’s lackluster performance at the box office has proven that if it attempted to compete with Captain America: Civil War, well, you already know the end of this sentence.

Iron Man

If there’s something Batman vs. Superman prevailed at, it was borrowing from its predecessors as well as its enemies. And this isn’t a bad move when making a movie. It’s arguably smarter. So how does Iron Man benefit overall? If you compare the dynamics of Tony Stark coming into leadership with Batman vs. Superman’s Bruce Wayne helming the ship of the Justice League, you’ll notice similarities. Earlier adaptations of Iron Man don’t always portray the snarky billionaire as the original leader of the Avengers, but the first Iron Man film and Robert Downy Jr changed all of that. RDJ might be the oldest of the gang, but he fits that leadership model, even if Captain America was the more common leader in both the comics and cartoons of the past. And then you have Ben Affleck playing Grandpa Batman, posing as a leader for the Justice League, a group that doesn’t really play by the same rules Batman does. So for this Superman “sequel,” we get Ben Affleck handed top billing, attempts to recreate the beginning scenes in Batman Begins, and an aged, washed-up version of Batman claiming the leadership position for the next gang of crime-fighting superheroes. Tony Stark 1, Bruce Wayne 0.

Harry Lennix

Because he has to make this list. Any other person who’s a fan of his (he’s rocking on The Blacklist right now) would be happy to see him hit the big screen again.

Batman and Superman’s grandparents

Thank God they both named their daughters “Martha.” Imagine Batman needing an additional reason to not hear out Superman!

Richard Roeper, the film critic

OK, I know what you’re thinking . . . he wrote some awesome review for the film, right? Actually, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t checked it out yet. But if you ever make it the theater before the previews, you get to see those other previews about upcoming TV shows, or interviews with actors. And there’s this neat miniseries to preview on AMC featuring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, one of whom plays a character named “Richard Roper.” You can’t pay for that good of marketing, am I right?

Sad Affleck

Because it’s Sad Affleck.

Losers

Ben Affleck

This was a given, right? I’ll save you some reading time and just ask one question: what happened to the guy who gave us Argo?

Lois Lane

What happened to this great female character? I think Amy Adams is a great actress, but she really doesn’t play the strong character Lois Lane was written as. In this film adaptation, we get a weak, helpless woman who resorts to relying on Superman to rescue her every time she makes a thoughtless mistake. Is there a petition to hire Erica Durance? Or maybe just some new writers?

Batman and Superman

Where’s a hero to root for when you have two guys whining over the other making him look bad? Oh right, there’s Grant Gustin from The Flash (tsk, tsk, Zack).

Final Thoughts

There are actually some positive things to say about this film. It really wasn’t all bad. I thought the special effects were great. Visually, it’s a powerful film. And it brings up some very thoughtful ideas about how the world views a higher being, a god, and how it affects their worldview. I wish Batman vs. Superman would have dug deeper into this idea, because we might have gotten a superhero film that was more than subpar.

Who do you declare the winner and loser for Batman vs. Superman? What did you think of the movie?

The Best TV Shows in 2014

I realize I have been AWOL from blogging for the past two weeks, thanks to a busier work schedule, a cold, and getting ready to go on a mini-vacation tomorrow. That said, I’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read the posts I’ve published, as well as who have left comments and feedback. My goal is to get back to my now 200+ feed first thing next week . . . so expect a flurry of likes/comments from me in the upcoming weeks, folks.


Now let’s get back to this post . . . last week I wrote about my favorite books I read in 2014. Now I’m going to mention the best TV shows – some old and some new – that I watched last year.

Best Returning Show

24- Live Another Day

Despite it’s sad and open-ended finale, I totally dug 24‘s (2001-2010) return to the small screen. I think everyone was hoping for some more Jack Bauer, so it was nice to see Keifer Sutherland give in and share some of his alter-ego with us. The idea of the show returning in a mini-series format worked well, offering the same cliff-hanging episodes that kept us on the edge of our seats. Switching the location added to the freshness of the show’s return, and a cast filled with vetted actors and actresses (which included three familiar faces from previous seasons) made longtime fans of the show like myself that much more excited to tune in. And if there’s every a takeaway from 24, it’s that you shouldn’t get close to Jack . . . because you’ll probably end up captured, tortured, dead, or all three.

Best Comedy

While the final season of Arrested Development (2003-2013) arrived on Netflix in 2013, I had never seen a single episode until last year. It’s probably the most off-beat show I’ve ever watched, and yet the writing keeps me coming back for more. Even for a show where multiple characters are unlikable, Arrested Development still knows how to make people laugh. The show runs on a continuous gag reel, forcing new viewers to start from the beginning of the show if they want to appreciate the ongoing jokes. What makes the show work so well is its ability to subtly hint at being funny without announcing the punch line. The fourth season surely received its fair share of criticism for its format, but for me, I felt like the storyline suffered more by not returning to what made everyone laugh about it in the first place. Regardless, I think the first three seasons are worth multiple viewings.

Best Drama

The Killing‘s (2011-2014) final season hit Netflix in 2014, after the streaming service picked up the original AMC show. Perhaps it was all just luck that I discovered the show one day while I was looking through Netflix titles, and I’m so thankful I did. Rarely do crime dramas feel as rough, believable, and original as The Killing. Although it’s based off a Danish show with the same name, this American re-make works as if it was wholly original, at least for American audiences. While I enjoy The Walking Dead (2010-) more than most shows, it was The Killing that had me binge-watching (to my shame) until I completed it. The two leads – played by Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman – is what makes The Killing, particularly the latter. It’s certainly some of the most compelling TV I have seen in a long time. If you want to watch a great crime show, check out The Killing. It’s that good.

Best British Show

So there’s a good chance I created this category just to throw a little of Sherlock into the mix. The third series arrived on Americans’ TV screens in January of 2014, a long two-year wait since the previous series. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat fail to disappoint, attempting to top the series two finale that left everybody’s mouths gaping. There are always shocks and thrills in Sherlock, but never the cheap kind. We find out what’s happened since Sherlock’s fall, and we get to witness Sherlock and Watson’s bromance grow deeper, while yet another one of their major nemeses reveals himself in the third episode. Most everyone is familiar with the show’s lead, Benedict Cumberbatch, who has recreated a modern-day Sherlock whom everyone loves, despite his sociopathic tendencies.

In regards to British shows, I also thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Broadchurch (2013), which appears to have a second season in the works for later this year. I was not the biggest fan of Doctor Who‘s (2005-) latest outing, despite the actors’ best efforts. I am also a newbie to Orphan Black (2013-) this year, so I’ll get to see what all the fuss is about.

Best New-to-Me Show

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what category Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) ought to go in, given its balanced mix of drama and comedy. So I created a category for this show, because it’s absolutely one of my favorites from 2014. (Note – I’m not finished with the show yet [middle of season 5], so please don’t include any spoilers in the comments.) Where to start? The pop culture references, the offbeat townspeople of Stars Hollow, Kirk?!, Lane’s hilarious bandmates . . . Gilmore Girls seems to have that perfect balance of intertwining multiple storylines while still keeping its focus on the two main girls: Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel). Netflix has given the show a brand new generation of fans just discovering it. I highly recommend Gilmore Girls, especially if you want to see a show that has Alexis Bledel’s, Lauren Graham’s, and Melissa McCarthy’s best roles-to-date.

What were your favorite shows you saw in 2014?

Rapid Eye Reviews: The Hobbit, Into the Woods, The Imitation Game, and Annie (2014)

Following what I did for my last post, I wanted to include another set of Rapid Eye Reviews for four movies I saw in 2014 . . .

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

With the lowest of expectations, I walked into the theater seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. And while the film may not be worthy of the score I am giving it, I couldn’t help but praise this part of The Hobbit for being more than what I found the first two parts lacking in: an actual story. I could spend this entire rapid review easily complaining about Peter Jackson destroying Tolkien’s classic novel by dividing it into three overly long films, but instead, I’d like to point out what did work in this final offering. A driven plot, a shorter film, a score that brings fans of the Lord of the Rings films back to the best moments, and a cast who delivers their best work (Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, and Luke Evans) kept me fully engaged during the entire screen time. Of course, I had several issues with the addition of characters, major plot points rewrites, and the poor decision to change too much of the source material, which gave viewers three underwhelming films that could have made one incredibly compelling and worthwhile movie. But I felt like The Battle of the Five Armies‘s greatest boo boos were made in the preceding two films, allowing this third chapter to not be overshadowed with the blatant errors An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Desolation of Smaug (2013) suffered from.

I realize I set myself apart from the majority by claiming The Battle of the Five Armies delivered more than the first two films, but I cautiously award the last chapter of The Hobbit with

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ON SCREEN.

 

Into the Woods

Into the Woods worked on a musical level, because the talent hired to sing did exceptionally well. A well-rounded cast led by Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, and Anna Kendrick made Into the Woods better than your average stage-adapted-to-screen musical. And while the story is a bit weird, it wasn’t until it hit clunky territory in Act 3 (of what I deem to be a musical divided into three parts) that I really started to lose faith in the production. Without explanation, a couple of characters seem to experience bi-polar disorder, and the witch disappears . . . but is she really dead, or just gone? A secondary plot takes over the story near the end, and the story doesn’t bother filling in some pretty glaring blanks. While viewers can handle a sad ending, the way by which the story reached its conclusion felt oddly unsatisfying, breaching a territory that makes you almost not care. From what I’ve talked about with friends more familiar with the musical, certain songs were cut from the film adaptation, while the narrator, the protagonist, and perhaps a few plot points were changed. Into the Woods missteps at the climax of the story, leaving no possibility of coming back.

If I were judging on the casting, music, subtle sense of humor, and costumes alone, I’d consider bumping the score up. But the script issues leave me no choice but to give Into the Woods 

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1/2 ON SCREEN.

 

The Imitation Game

If I had time, I would have written a double review on both The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, considering all the similarities the two films share. A lot has been said for Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation of Alan Turing. For those familiar with his more popular work, one would expect him to played a tortured genius, channeling his inner-Sherlockian methods and falling back on his experience from playing Julian Assange in 2013’s The Fifth Estate. Turing, however, is an altogether different type of genius, and I can only imagine producers picturing Cumberbatch as the perfect actor to fit the stereotype the writers developed in their version of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Research shows how far from the civilization the film’s writers traveled when penning a screenplay that doesn’t mirror the person of Alan Turing, the circumstances that surrounded Bletchley Park, and the actual story of how Turing creates his machine. But if you can pardon all of the serious liberties taken in telling the story, then you can probably enjoy The Imitation Game. The supporting performances from Kiera Knightly and Matthew Goode ought not to be overlooked in a review that praises the film.

Wishing it could have decoded a little more, but still impressed with the results, I found it necessary to rate The Imitation Game with

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ON SCREEN.

 

Annie

It’s a hard-knock experience for those who venture to enjoy themselves during the abominable remake of Annie. I struggle to admit I was actually excited for this film when it was first announced, given my love for Jamie Foxx, whom I was convinced could do very little wrong on screen. It is not his, nor little Q’s fault for why Annie struck out at every curve. Music should breathe life into a musical, not suffocate and torture its viewers/listeners. Even if most of the actors have decent voices, the songs are bogged down by over-editing, forced pacing, heavy beats, and an overindulgent hip-hop/remix vibe that utterly destroys the classic songs that defined the original film, earning its beloved seat in musical history. Had I been offered a reprieve from one disastrous number to the next, I may have appreciated a small percentage of the changes the writers and producers applied to the remake. By the end of the film, it seemed not like the modern-day Annie that could have introduced an entirely new generation to the story, but a confused film that felt so grossly out of its own league. And don’t get me started on Cameron Diaz’s over-the-top acting . . .

I give my lowest score of 2014 to this sad, sad version of Annie, a disappointing

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ON SCREEN.

 

What did you think of these movies? Would you have rated them any higher/lower?

Rapid Eye Reviews: The Theory of Everything, Wild, and Nightcrawler (2014)

I’ve finished posting about my resolutions for 2015. Before I wrap up last year by posting all of my best and worst lists, I wanted to post some Rapid Eye Reviews for three of 2014’s films that I ran out of time to review during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.


 The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything suffers from falling into the all-too-familiar territory of offering nothing more than an average film on the story of a famous person. What makes the film worth seeing are the performances. Eddie Redmayne is truly the star of the film, and I imagine it will thrust him forward in his career towards bigger and better gigs. Of course, I can’t leave out Felicity Jones, because as viewers, we often saw things from her perspective, whether they were for better or for worse, similar to the feelings that erupt from a confused and tired marriage between Stephen and Jane. You won’t find inspiration from the obstacles both Stephen and Jane overcome as much as you’ll contently sit and observe the lives of two adults struggling to cope with Stephen’s deteriorating health, which slowly drives a wedge between Jane and himself. Don’t be fooled by the title: The Theory of Everything is much more of a relational drama than a history of Stephen Hawking’s findings or belief system.

Thanks to some worthwhile performances, I think The Theory of Everything deserves

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ON SCREEN.

 

Wild

I read multiple reviews on Wild before seeing it in theaters, and after seeing it, I think I felt less assured about my own feelings on it. It’s one of those movies that I felt like missed the mark, but not so far that I would call it bad. It fits within the vein of 127 Hours (2010), but it doesn’t hit quite all the right notes like the latter. Yes, it is the story of one Cheryl Strayed, who strayed so far from the straight and narrow that she changed her last name. I can’t discount the film for my dislike of Cheryl, who ultimately tried to redeem herself by hiking over a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail instead of painfully facing her demons by confronting them rather than hiking to reflect over them. I have to give props to Reese Witherspoon, who admitted herself how difficult the filming was. She convincingly plays Cheryl, both in her older and her younger years. One of my biggest issues with Wild, however, is that it tends to jump all over the place, often forgetting where the focus of the film ought to be. Wild seeks to be in the inspirational hit of the year, but it fails, even with Witherspoon’s transformative performance.

Wild remains in good, but not great territory, earning

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1/2 ON SCREEN.

 

Nightcrawler

I’m grateful to everyone who urged me to check out rookie director Dan Gilroy’s noir night thriller Nightcrawler, because I consider it one of the best films of 2014. Nightcrawler, with its simple plot and focus on a singular character whose shades of gray fade to black as he accurately earns the title of a “nightcrawler,” both in career and literal terms, is a thrilling ride from beginning to end. Nightcrawler is Jake Gyllenhaal’s head-turning film that urges serious film fans and critics to take his acting more seriously in recent years. His changed appearance and his dedication to the slimy character of Lou Bloom makes for one of the most memorable performances of the year. Nightcrawler engages viewers from the beginning and doesn’t let go, similar to Bloom’s grasp on receiving confirmation and attention from others. What makes Nightcrawler barely lose it’s FOUR EYES ON SCREEN rating for me was the less-than-believable actions by Nina Romina (Rene Russo) throughout the film.

Both a thrill and a horror to watch, I’m glad to give Nightcrawler

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1/2 ON SCREEN.

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: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 (2014)

What’s interesting about Mockingjay Pt 1 (2014) is the criticism its received for being a movie adaptation of half a book more than being critiqued for the movie it is. That’s not to say I’m hating on my fellow critics and movie fans as much as I’m saying that the film got a bad rap before it even screened.

Of course, there’s nothing the movie could do to repair itself from its already negative standing among critics. To offer up only a first half of a story and leave the audience hanging for a year is a cruel move. But I think punishing the film for this is like pointing the finger at the victim rather than the wrong-doer. Historically speaking, Twilight and Harry Potter started the trend of YA book series being adapted into films, and then slicing the epic finale into two films. The short version we understand this as? A cash grab.

The cash grab has become the center of discussion revolving around Mockingjay Pt 1, thus painting it black and predicting its future location on FYE clearance shelves next to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1 (2011) for years to come.

David Yates let me read only the first half of the Deathly Hallows before shooting this pointless film . . .

Personally, I walked into the theater expecting what everyone predicted: a cash grab that left me bored, disappointed, and unimpressed. But I’ll get back to that in a little bit.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now bunkered in District 13, where she’s demanding for the rescue of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), walking around angry and confused, and desperately hoping she can finally be left alone after suffering and surviving two Hunger Games.

As fellow readers and fans of the book series, we all know that Katniss will still be put on display in the third book. But instead of fighting to the death for public entertainment, instead she’ll become the official symbol of hope, representing the good in this battle against the evil Capitol, run by dictatorial President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

And it’s “moves and countermoves,” as Mr. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) reminds viewers. It’s all about how Katniss is perceived. She’s to be an ally for District 13, a glimmer of hope for fighting districts, a threat to the Capitol, a demand to come home for Peeta, and perhaps a pillar of strength both for herself and Finnick (Sam Claflin), as they seek strength in knowing they’re loved ones are suffering at the hands of Snow.

RIP, Mr. Hoffman.

Seeing Mockingjay Pt 1 has really made me want to reread the book upon which its based. I wasn’t expecting the action, the blanks to be filled in, and the perspectives outside of Katniss’s to entertain me the way writers Peter Craig, Danny Strong, and book author Suzanne Collins presented them in this third film installment.

This new dark chunk in the dystopian cake seemed to present a new layer of young adult film adaptations to movie viewers. For me, the message was sent that for being a film based off a popular young adult series, that Mockingjay Pt 1 wasn’t required to sit in a box labeled “YA adaptations.” Mockingjay Pt 1 played to its strengths and took risks, not just because studios required the book to be split into two films, but because both the writers and director Francis Lawrence actually seemed to want to make a good movie.

While the previous movies showed Katniss’s struggle to deal with the hypocrisy of the Capitol and ultimately survive in the hunger games, Mockingjay focused its time on how Heavensbee, President Coin (Julianne Moore), and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) along with Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and an entire camera team presenting Katniss to the public, which proved to be a greater struggle than fighting in the games for Katniss. In the games, Katniss could be her true self among strangers, because she understood she needed to survive, and she felt comfortable with a bow and arrow. But force her in front of a camera and ask her to rally the districts while she was still suffering PTSD and desiring to recover Peeta wasn’t working. So they took her to the ruins of District 12 and a makeshift hospital of other districts’s survivors.

It seems like more and more seasoned actors and actresses join The Hunger Games (2012) universe with each movie, and they support the foundation of an already solid script and coherent direction. While Jennifer Lawrence plays the star, it is the supporting cast that ultimately sells the film, from Woody Harrelson to Stanley Tucci, to newcomer Julianne Moore.

I actually pull off the gray hair rather well, yes?

James Newton Howard scores this third film, playing off the original themes he created in the first Hunger Games film. The special effects are even amped up, including explosions and some exciting action scenes. One particular scene had me especially fascinated and on edge, as we got to see some District 13 soldiers go on a rescue mission inside the Capitol while Katniss kept Snow on the line to “distract” him. The additions the movie offers that readers missed out on seem to work well for movie audiences, filling in the holes instead of confusing viewers who haven’t read the books.

Mockingjay Pt 1 did include a few things that bothered me, such as the wigs Jennifer Lawrence donned. It was obvious it wasn’t her real hair, and I found it distracting throughout the film. I also felt like Gale (Liam Hemsworth) wasn’t given enough to do, so he seemed to just be walking around, hoping to add to the film with his good Aussie looks since he rarely got any lines.

Despite those issues, I left the theater much more impressed than I expected to be when I walked in. I think if viewers and critics alike can overlook the obvious cash grab ordeal that has hovered over the film, I think many people can agree that Mockingjay Pt 1 is a solid installment in Collins’s epic book-to-screen adaptations. While the odds were certainly not in the film’s favor to succeed with critics, I give Mockingjay Pt 1

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1/2 EYES ON SCREEN.

It’s your turn now. What did you think of Mockingjay Part 1? Do you think it deserves a place beside the first two films? Sound off in the comments below.

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.

Not a Review: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar really is the second film of 2014 to garner this much attention and discussion. Gone Girl struck most people with awe and terrifyingly great casting, performances, and storytelling. Interstellar, however, seems to elicit more conversation, more discussion, more disagreement, more studies, more generated lists of plot holes and questions and subtexts and metaphors linked to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

And that’s all good and grand. Because, folks, even though Interstellar may not be Christopher Nolan’s best film, or considered his best work, it is grand, both on figurative scale to be viewed on seven different possible formats, as well as massive in its ambitious subject matter, as well as tremendous in the spark of conversation and criticism that has quickly followed its release into theaters.

I could continue talking about its reception among film critics, writers, fans, and talkers like myself, who can continue to talk and talk and talk about this film, and yet not really create anything original, or offer any new information that is going to keep you reading beyond this sentence.

It is for that reason I have decided not to review Interstellar for All Eyes On Screen. My common consensus? A great movie. My rating? THREE OUT OF FOUR EYES ON SCREEN. My thoughts in summary? Nothing that hasn’t already been said by so many people.

It’s not that I don’t want to share my opinion, or join the masses of everyone out there who has already graciously and meticulously put into words what I haven’t yet done. It’s that in this case, how I feel about Interstellar truly can’t be put into words in a way that would satisfy me, because it evoked so many feelings, included so many ideas, transcended space and time the same way it transcended my own understanding of what was taking place on screen.

I could talk about about how much I was blown away by the scene in which there is this massive wave, bigger than any wave I’ve ever seen, and how it took over the theater screen the same way it almost took out their space craft.

I could talk about Matthew McConaughey re-entering film fans’s lives with his stellar (pun intended) performance that reminded each of us once again that this man is in the acting business for a reason.

I could talk about how Hans Zimmer has the best relationship with lightning strikes, because he continues to hit them every time he produces yet another electrifying score, yet here he is, still breathing. And this time it features an organ, an instrument capable of sounding so powerful and terrifying as being imprisoned in deep space without a ride home.

I could talk about the actors who seemed like they weren’t given enough to do, or how the heck Topher Grace landed himself a most unimportant role in such an important film with such a popular filmmaker.

I could talk about the “controversy” over who younger Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) looked more like: Jessica Chastain or Anne Hathaway. I mean, I’m all Team Chastain here, but seriously, how did this make it into the top list of questions for this film?!

I could talk about scientific jargon, the plot holes that may or may not necessarily play their role in science fiction, or about how Interstellar was never set on being just a scientific film, but more a study on the science of love’s transcendence that just happened to take place in space.

Then again, I could talk and talk and talk about my observations, but at the end of the day, Interstellar has found its place in critics’s reviews and bloggers’s posts, in discussion and questions swirling around in our minds, begging for more conclusion and understanding.

And a film that could spark that kind of response is a very special film indeed.

So to conclude this totally not a review, but a mixed bag of feelings brought to you by Kristin, I kindly ask each of you who leave a comment to include one to three words to describe your overall description or feelings on this film. Because God knows we’ve all been littering the Internet with our extensive musings on a film that has so much to be said about it. And yet Nolan used only one word: Interstellar.

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.