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'Arrival' Is a Masterclass in Filmmaking With Amy Adams Magnified
The science fiction genre has evolved into some of the most prolific imagery and storytelling of the silver screen. Denis Villeneuve's splendid "Arrival" has the foreign director taking on uncharted territory and putting forth his finest film of his career yet.
Starring Academy Award nominee Amy Adams, "Arrival" tells the story of unidentified spacecrafts that enter the earth's atmosphere. Just hovering over the ground in dozens of locations around the world, it is up to a linguist and a scientist to break the language barrier and find out if their intentions are honorable or hostile.
Natural comparisons will emerge to Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar," and while that film's ambition was generally accepted and positive, "Arrival" taps into something Nolan's film only hoped to achieve. The exquisite class in which Villeneuve's film exists is such a daunting and audacious triumph. Eric Heisserer's script may at first feel familiar, perhaps too much so, as the first half of the film seems like the same foundation we saw with Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity." When the story is turned on itself in a soft and credible fashion, "Arrival" opens itself up as one of the year's most brilliant feats.
With performances that have spanned a vast net of quirky and strong supporting players (i.e. "Junebug" and "The Fighter"), Amy Adams has emerged as a fully realized leading lady. While some will attest her previous lead roles in "Enchanted" and to a lesser extent "American Hustle" as proof that she's already mounted this campaign, discovering what she does here will make you change your perception. She is a talented artist, sensitive and endowed with the tools of a legendary actress. It is a beautiful work.
Co-stars Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker are served well in their minimal roles. As the slick but engaged scientist, Renner approaches his role with the utmost candor. Whitaker, as an army leader, is blunt, honest and frank everything you would want in anyone playing a character such as this.
Cinematographer Bradford Young is utterly suave in his usage with the lens. Already capturing our hearts with his works on "Selma" and "A Most Violent Year," Young's glossy and poised framework is not only exciting, but visually moving.
For the third year in a row, composer Johann Johansson raises the bar for nearly all creators of the musical language. "The Theory of Everything" and "Sicario" were just the beginning for him. He mounts an orchestra of vast sensations. The sentiment of each scene is built within Johansson's response to the words on screen. He not only has respect for the visual works being created, he compliments the details in which the expressions and languages endure. It's another Oscar-worthy work that will undoubtedly bring him another nomination.
"Arrival" is a film that can seem bigger than itself. Perhaps it's even "too smart." However, movies should challenge the viewer. The stamina of a film rests on its tenacity and persistence to dare the viewer to explore new thoughts and feelings. "Arrival" achieves just that. It is a film that should be noted in multiple Oscar categories and revered by all except the most impudent viewer. This film is not to be missed.
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
'Deepwater Horizon' Shows Fury and Technique from Director Peter Berg
Real stories about tragic events have the advantage of being harrowing without much effort because the accounts of the truth do much of the job for them. It takes a distinct type of filmmaker to raise the film above the standard. While director Peter Berg doesn't completely connect the dots, he promotes a tale of responsibility that will antagonize the wrath inside of all of us. "Deepwater Horizon" rallies emotion in the wake of truth.
"Deepwater Horizon" tells the tragic true story of the oil driller that due to negligence and fault of the BP Oil Company, created the worst oil spill in history.
Mark Wahlberg is an actor I've tended to be harder on than most lately with his choice of roles. Here he puts forth a genuine, heartfelt portrayal. Always placing himself in the "hero" position, he manages to tap into a delicate enactment of a man desperate to survive. He gets to show off a new accent that isn't south Boston, while digging deep to show real emotion. It's his best performance since "The Fighter."
The film boasts an all-star cast, some of which are doing adequate work. As the ship's captain, Kurt Russell continues to explore lively, vigorous roles in his later career. John Malkovich does all but twirl his mustache as the corrupt and pushy executive. Gina Rodriguez steps out of her "Jane the Virgin" motif to investigate a new, compassionate character and achieves a noble offering. Oscar nominee Kate Hudson plays the famed "woman on phone," but in some cases, just "woman on Skype."
Berg's direction has been problematic on bigger blockbusters like "Battleship," but with penetrating and vital material he gets to show the world what he can truly attain. Arguably not as emotionally resourceful as "Lone Survivor," it is perhaps cleaner in its assimilation of story and filmmaking technique. He runs the bases with his editing and sound team. They pulsate tension like there is an unlimited supply. Ingesting the central concept will undoubtedly infuriate the viewer as we're shown another key example of money corrupting our beloved Mother Earth. It provokes a sense of a revolution within yourself in exchange for liberating your own customary ideals of the standard "based on a true story" movie. It just presents the facts, and not much else.
"Deepwater Horizon" has heart. It has passion. It has a willingness to take the viewer into the dark and terrifying scene of that fateful day. With a more comprehensive script or more deeply natured approach in the future, Berg may be able to create his masterpiece, whatever that may end up being.
'Silence' Flourishes With Respect and Martin Scorsese's Ultimate Legacy
Martin Scorsese has been a master of his craft for decades. It's hard not to consider him our single finest director working today. With films like "Raging Bull," "Goodfellas," "The Wolf of Wall Street," and now his newest endeavor "Silence," we must now relish with the fact that we are witnessing a grand master of sorts working right in front of our eyes. History has remembered "Citizen Kane" and "Vertigo." These were two films not wholeheartedly recognized as masterpieces of their time. History now, however, will remember "Silence," a marvelous and inspiring cinematic experience not to be forgotten.
"Silence" tells the story of two Jesuit priests (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), who in the seventeenth century, face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor, Father Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson), and propagate Catholicism.
"Silence" is Scorsese's most personal and beautiful film of his modern career. Labeling it just a "passion project" does it no justice. It has etched out a new avenue in which we can explore film forever. He has explored some of the most enigmatic themes in film, whether it be about revenge, family or a general exercise to push the boundaries of the medium.
With "Silence," he writes his most heartaching letter yet. There are filmmakers who are quickly trapped into the corner of "indulgence" when taking on a production this personal to them. Scorsese gets into the trenches of the story, mysteriously performing his own deconstruction of his faith and what it has meant to him. You can't ask a director to be more involved in the house of his film. He builds the foundation, drawing from the soul of his spiritual ancestors, and gives them his most devoted respect. Scorsese gives the viewer the weight of the message and lets it rest upon us. We are desperately and quietly screaming for justice, in a land that isn't allowing such things. Simply put, it's awe-inspiring.
Andrew Garfield is divinely spectacular. With a year that has included another strong turn in "Hacksaw Ridge," Garfield has shown himself to be one of the next generation's most gifted thespians. Adam Driver's vulnerability has never been matched in all his previous roles. He becomes the audience's spokesperson of doubt and logic, as Scorsese and writer Jay Cocks make him our voice of reason in a rich and layered dynamic.
Issey Ogata is one of the year's vivid findings. Acting as the "Hans Landa" of Catholic persecution, Ogata's Inquisitor Inoue nearly reinvents the spiritual nature of the film, stealing every scene he shares with another actor. It's been 32 years since Haing S. Ngor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for "The Killing Fields" and it's about time the Academy rewards a deserving Asian actor. With Ogata, a new Supporting Actor contender has emerged. Liam Neeson's work, though integral to the story, is a bit too brief to make a lasting impact.
It's easy to write "masterpiece" for a film, and let it be generally understood by the casual movie-goer that reads it. The word left by itself doesn't fully explain the film's technical mastery. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and Thelma Schoonmaker are masters of their crafts. Prieto frames the film to utter perfection, utilizing fog and blue-grey hues to capture the film's undying message of faith. Schoonmaker lets the story evolve into a construction of time, allowing the viewer to feel the "weight" of the "waiting."
"Silence" is epic, poignant and inventive. It must be said: As someone who was raised Catholic, used to be a high school religion teacher, and had his own personal qualms with his Lord and Savior, "Silence" spoke to me in a way I was not anticipating. I do recognize that there could be a large portion of the world, especially those who don't have strong feelings about any Christian religion, that may not be fully invested in the weight of its message. Scorsese set out to make a film about the ecstasy of one's own faith.
How much do you value it? Why are there others so thirsty and hungry for its divine meanings and teachings? These are just two of many questions that the film dares to ask, and you really don't get the clear answer you may be searching for. For a select group, it could infuriate you, for others, it was just the tip of the iceberg of the glacier that lies beneath.
The language of cinema is universal. The frames tell everything you need it to. Without words, a single image can change the world. What if "Silence" was a silent film? What would that have offered in its quest for answers? It's remarkably creative, and on the surface, you can say it's repetitive in what it displays to the viewer. The continuous striking of faith beats you down, submitting to the film's own moral compass, and developing a new wave of art that we have only dreamed.
"Silence" is imperative to our landscape. It is the crown jewel of Martin Scorsese's modern career, and in time, could be the defining film that history will use to represent him his magnum opus.
Hidden Figures (2016)
'Hidden Figures' Is Pure Goodness Featuring a Stellar Cast
There's much to admire in Theodore Melfi's newest uplifting venture "Hidden Figures." His ability to tap into the human condition and spirit has been proved with efforts like "St. Vincent." Boasting an all-star cast that includes the talents of Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer, the 20th Century Fox feature emerges as one of the feel good films of the holiday season. Just one year after #OscarSoWhite dominated the internet, pointing out the Academy's lack of diversity, the timely themes explored here resonate more than ever.
"Hidden Figures" tells the story of a team of African-American women who provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program's first successful space missions.
Melfi is a competent and distinguished filmmaker, and despite only two features under his belt, he really knows how to tell a story and tell it well. He invites the audience into the tale, allowing his sensibilities to take hold of the viewer. The top-notch direction in which he leads his actors are some of the finest of the year. Taraji P. Henson's Katherine Johnson, one of the brightest minds to ever walk through NASA, delivers her best film performance since "Hustle & Flow." She is finally given an opportunity to play something different than her ever-popular Cookie from FOX's "Empire." While she overplays her hand slightly in key moments, her natural charisma is on full display for the audience to behold.
The professional and stoic presence of Octavia Spencer tends to be overlooked in film because she's always so great without even really trying. As Dorothy Vaughan, Spencer delivers some of her same ticks that won her an Academy Award for "The Help" and that could be too familiar for some on the surface. When seen on multiple viewings, you can see Spencer's interpretation of her character really evolve throughout the film's runtime.
The highlights of "Hidden Figures" are in the two show-stopping performances of musical artist turned actress Janelle Monae and Academy Award winner Kevin Costner. Monae taps into the fight and spunk of Mary Jackson, showcasing the determination and frustration of a brilliant mind, desperate to finally explore her full academic and professional potential. While Monae's external beauty is front and center, she bares her soul to the viewer, virtually giving us a warm nuzzle and allowing us to get peeks into her sophisticated and heartbreaking aura.
In recent years, Costner has found it difficult for audiences to remember how great of an actor he really is. We've received brief glimpses in films like "The Upside of Anger," but rest assured, Costner magnifies his abilities here, likely delivering his finest performance yet. His Al Harrison's leadership is a comfort for the film, acting like cinematic scissors to cut through the barrier between movie and person.
The film is a major threat for the Cast Ensemble award at the upcoming Screen Actors Guild awards, with supporting players like Mahershala Ali (charming as ever), Jim Parsons (playing an against- type), Kirsten Dunst (feverishly addictive in her mean woman role), and Glen Powell (playing the late John Glenn) all crucial to the film's inevitable success.
Brimming and refreshing, Melfi's technical team truly shines with slick production and costume design, and a soundtrack that is sure to go down as one of the year's best. Producer and songwriter Pharrell Williams' two numbers "I See Victory" and "Runnin'" are just two more examples of the Original Song Oscar being the most competitive in the history of the category. In terms of the film itself, it does the job and does it well. Not necessarily pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, it's just pleasant and wonderful in every sense of the word.
Precisely marketed as terrific adult entertainment for the Christmas season, "Hidden Figures" is a faithful and truly beautiful portrait of our country's consistent gloss over the racial tensions that have divided and continue to plague the fabric our existence. Lavishly engaging from start to finish, "Hidden Figures" may be able to catch the most inopportune movie-goer off guard and cause them to fall for its undeniable and classic storytelling. The film is not to be missed.
Rogue One (2016)
'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' Is an Arresting New Chapter for Fans and Newcomers to Relish
The "Star Wars" universe is a world of endless possibilities about what stories you can explore, with an unprecedented amount of quality thematic elements that can be examined. With "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," Lucas Films and Walt Disney Pictures have started the analyzing elements of looking at different ways to tell the stories of some of our most beloved characters, while introducing new ones. Gareth Edwards' firm direction, in partnership with Greig Fraser's stunning cinematography, makes for a lavish and intense new chapter in the "Star Wars" mythology.
The first of the Star Wars standalone films, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" tells the story of a group of unlikely heroes that band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction.
Boasting an impressive cast that is led by Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones, it is one of the film's best attributes. Diversity in film has been called upon by every corner of the cinematic community and "Star Wars," Lucas Films, and Walt Disney do not get enough credit in being of the first to fully embrace this notion into its most profitable franchise. As Jyn Erso, Jones leads with intensity, delivering a near heartbreaking interpretation of the most unlikely hero.
Of the players, the fanboys of the universe will scream the names of Chirru Imwe, played exquisitely by Donnie Yen, or K-2SO, played with spunk by Alan Tudyk. You'll have your fill with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), whose stern presence isn't always a standout, but Bodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed) seems like a spirit animal of Poe from "The Force Awakens."
Villains here have no shortage of complexities, as Ben Mendelsohn's Orson Krennic is sensational, given alongside some other "amazing" surprises. I'll leave them for you to experience yourself.
Technically speaking, this is one of the franchise's most vivacious productions. The aforementioned Greig Fraser delivers grit and action in his abilities to capture them with the lens. John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen cut the film to an impeccable action- adventure that stands toe-to-toe with anything delivered in 2016.
Having big shoes to fill in John Williams' illustrious classic score, Michael Giacchino rises to the occasion and then some with his compositions. It's one of the year's best works. Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont's production design opens the doors to a new world that doesn't feel too familiar or too standard for the average fan.
"Star Wars" is only as good as its story and script. Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll and Gary Whitta lay the foundation down for an alluring tale. On paper, hearing about how the rebels acquire the Death Star plans is not particularly compelling cinema that we are running to see, but this group accepts the challenge. With the exception of some shoehorned entries of new and classic characters, "Rogue One" finds its balance in presenting this world to an avid die-hard fan and a casual movie-goer that is walking into this universe for the very first time.
Early reports of a "darker" and "more gritty" film have been around for months. We definitely have that here, but the insert of comedic beats often feel inserted so the audience can feel some joy in this tragic tale. It's safe to say that we are more than prepared for a devastation story that wrecks the minds of viewers everywhere perhaps with "Episode VIII?"
Here is the main takeaway: this film has perhaps the best Darth Vader scene in franchise history. Let's talk about it in the comments after you see it.
"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" successfully achieves everything it sets out to do. Action-packed and glorious in its engaging and oftentimes exotic dimensions of storytelling, it is absolutely stirring. Fans will be overjoyed and it becomes another classic chapter that we will be able to revisit in a weekend-long marathon somewhere in a galaxy far, far away.
Live by Night (2016)
'Live By Night' Has Luscious Looks That Can't Save Its Numbing Plot
With an impressive trio of films that any working director would be lucky to have on their résumé, Ben Affleck has proved to be a powerful force in Hollywood. Winning an Original Screenplay Oscar for 1997's masterpiece "Good Will Hunting" with pal Matt Damon, he returned to the ceremony in 2012 for his Best Picture-winning "Argo." His newest outing "Live By Night," in which he also stars and adapts the Dennis Lehane novel, is the filmmaker's first career misfire behind the camera.
Thoroughly ambitious in its technical construction, Affleck has a handle on capturing a time and paying homage to old Hollywood movies, but has very little control of its narrative sensibilities and what keeps an audience invested in a movie. While "Live By Night" is surely stylish, and features a set of terrific performances, it's deprived of inspiration and misplaced in a year that was full of it.
"Live By Night" is a story that is set in the Prohibition Era and centered around a group of individuals and their dealings in the world of organized crime. At the center of it is Joe Coughlin (played by Affleck), whose own moralities are tested by family, friends, and both past and present love interests.
Affleck's ambitions are on full display. He chases the classics such as "Chinatown" and "L.A. Confidential," as well as modern-day classics, but comes up short in almost every regard. Characters are sorely underdeveloped, even down to Joe Coughlin himself. Despite being structured as a crime epic, it's staggering how little we know about Joe, and how little we care. Affleck focuses on nodding towards nostalgia rather than reinventing it. Visually, the film is quite impressive, but on all other fronts, it nearly drags its audience through a muddy swamp that probably sounds more interesting than the toothless tale that was told.
There are quite a few positives to take away. First and foremost, the outstanding and bountiful turn from Chris Messina stands as one of the year's most undervalued turns. He makes the most of every moment he's given, while interpreting the sidekick role like nothing we've seen over the last few years.
Jess Gonchor's vivacious production design in partnership with Jacqueline West's fiery costumes place us right in the time. Editor William Goldenberg, who won the Academy Award for "Argo," makes poor choices in trying to put together a story so that it doesn't feel like a 12-hour mini-series. The action sequences are well put together, but we have to credit the sound teams for their impeccable work. DP Robert Richardson's lighting and lens choices give the film its 1920s-era feel, but if it can't match an equally inventive script, then there's little we can get excited about.
All the women in the film feel like they're from a different movie and stumbled onto the set. Sienna Miller's inconsistent accent, littered with her facial expressions that look like she was plucked out of Tim Burton's "Batman," have her delivering some of her worst choices to date. A talent is being wasted and we need a more challenging director to save her.
Zoe Saldana is shoehorned, not only in character but in just mere existence in the picture. From inception to exit, it would take a miracle for anyone to repeat her story arc and what she offered in terms of progression and motivation.
Elle Fanning, who just knocks everything she touches out of the park, is solidly invested in her Loretta Figgis, a born again Christian causing a stir. While she has a great exchange with Affleck in one scene in particular, it's too little too late for us to get wrapped in her luscious words.
The appetite of "Live By Night" is welcomed in any landscape of cinema, but in the wake of many filmmakers and studios raising the conventions of what a movie is these days, the film is simply decades too late. It's misjudged with unclear villains and a misshapen story. Audiences may mildly enjoy it but quickly forget it by end credits.
Patriots Day (2016)
'Patriots Day' Is a Poignant and Affecting Portrait of a National Tragedy
Peter Berg knows the power of suspense, but even more than that, he knows the virtue of the human spirit, as is demonstrated by his work in "Patriots Day." In a year that has already included an exhilarating demonstration with "Deepwater Horizon," Berg has found his niche and comfort zone within filmmaking. Compelling and sobering, the film pays an homage to not only the great city of Boston and its victims, but to law enforcement officials everywhere. It's an upsetting and uncomfortable experience but lingers with its gripping storytelling quality. It very well may be Berg's best film to date.
Closer to "United 93" than "World Trade Center" in terms of high- profile national tragedies on the big screen, "Patriots Day" packs a wallop of emotion, bringing to light details that the average citizen may not have been aware of during the events. Berg's attention to detail, especially in the narrative cohesion and editing is the film's supreme achievement. He recreates the attacks of this harrowing chronicle in American history, utilizing existing footage, only scarcely giving us hints of Hollywood in the production. The film is much more difficult to recommend to the average movie-goer for a casual Friday date night, but it is sure to start some much needed conversations that should be happening daily about the human spirit.
"Patriots Day" is an account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis' actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.
What Berg does extremely well is assemble a stellar ensemble cast, giving everyone their own assignment, each operating at their very best. With Mark Wahlberg in the lead role as Sgt. Tommy Saunders, he lifts the jarring presence of himself that was littered throughout "Lone Survivor." He manages to convey the hurt and pain of a city in one scene, and then be the beacon of hope and endurance the next. It's his best performance since his Oscar-nominated work in "The Departed."
Co-stars Kevin Bacon and John Goodman, both grossly ignored by the Academy for their entire careers, are both champions of their craft, unrivaled by their dedication to bringing these true men to life.
Playing the villain of a movie can be challenging. Playing the real- life person who committed one of the most vile acts of terrorism seen on our soil in recent memory is another hurdle on its own.
Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev deliver immaculate work that stands toe-to-toe with some of the great supporting performances of 2016. They tap not only into evil as seen by the acts of the day, but by the vanity and hatred of motivation that drove these brothers to not only act but plan to continue their reign. They're also key examples of why we are in desperate need of a casting Oscar at the moment, because the sheer imagery of them both in comparison to the real individuals is staggering.
Most of the time, when critics name an MVP in a film, it goes to an actor or the director. In "Patriots Day," film editors Gabriel Fleming and Colby Parker, Jr. rise to their professions with respect and excellence. Cutting together heart-stopping action sequences littered with emotionally resonate beats, the team just hits a home run. That's also thanks to the talented sound team, who partnered with Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to blend the two elements beautifully.
The main flaw in "Patriots Day" is the film not quite knowing when it has its audience. With a collage of interviews with real-life survivors following the end of the film, it makes a strange shift from narrative feature to an almost documentary-like structure that just feels misplaced.
"Patriots Day" has lots to celebrate. An unblemished ensemble, partnered with a near perfect crafts team, makes for a pure sentimental outing at the movies.
Miss Sloane (2016)
'Miss Sloane' Is Ruthless With a Monstrous Turn by Jessica Chastain
In a time of fiery debate, just following a tumultuous election year, nothing is as timely or educational as John Madden's politically charged "Miss Sloane." Constructed by a crackling script by Jonathan Perera, in his boisterous debut, the film is rich in words and helmed by an enigmatic turn by Jessica Chastain. Emulating a second coming of Aaron Sorkin in his prime, Perera, in partnership with Madden's distinct vision, creates an orchestra of dialogue and story, all leading to a genuinely surprising finale.
"Miss Sloane" tells the story of a brilliant and ruthless lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane. She is notorious for her unparalleled talent and her desire to win at all costs. When she goes rogue to push a gun control measure in America, her career and morals are put at risk.
Firmly entrenched as Elizabeth Sloane, Chastain manages one of her finest performances yet. Nimble in movements but nearly paralyzing in line delivery, the Oscar-nominated actress is unparalleled in her sheer excellence and commitment to the craft. The twist and turns of the tale allow her to precisely land each punch to the stomach with advancing intensity. It's a complete and marvelously unstoppable force that is worthy of Academy Awards consideration.
Not acting alone, Chastain is supported by a strong cast. Gugu Mbatha- Raw's sensitive and affirming work is magnetic, even if the character's opportunities are not fully discovered. As the vulgar but intriguing opponent, Sam Waterston makes a case for Hollywood to remember that he still remains Oscar-less after an impressive career. Staying in the lane of "sleazy challenger," Michael Stuhlbarg is able to do this role in his sleep and just make it look too easy.
Sprinkle in a love interest from Jake Lacy, a corrupt senator from John Lithgow, and a revenge seeking former employee from Alison Pill, and you have one of the year's most snappy and creative ensembles.
"Miss Sloane" is an intelligent and informed look into the corruption of politics. It shows the vigorous nature in which politicians yearn to keep their positions and how our leaders are often picked and sabotaged. Engaging the audience with its chilling resonance, the film is often beautiful in its slick and smooth exterior, blended with its dark, and even at times creepy undertones of American politics. Weighty and ardent, its reduction of emotion can be a distance for some, perhaps even off-putting. The cynical and vivacious storytelling method could even be pushed as outrageous to a general movie goer or critic. Its hypnosis is darn strong in every frame. Chastain fills each scene with a fervency, delicate in which she lays them from her luscious lips and all too stylish business suits.
"Miss Sloane" crackles with excitement and performances. A riveting game of cat-and-mouse, standing toe-to-toe with other political machinery films of the last few decades. It unmasks the raw, honest truth of the system. As a portrait of power, the high tension and cynicism can be hauntingly charming. You can get wrapped up in its webbed-up world of civics and government. It is a simmering gem to the year.
The Light Between Oceans (2016)
'The Light Between Oceans' has class but falters the message of love
A film full of class, and one of the most aesthetically beautiful films to grace the screens this year, Derek Cianfrance's "The Light Between Oceans" manages some tender and enchanting moments. With that said, it stumbles and falters in certain executions of character motivation and generic story structure. Cianfrance has performed remarkably well in his other two efforts ("Blue Valentine" and "The Place Beyond the Pines") however, this is probably his weakest overall outing yet.
"The Light Between Oceans" tells the story of Tom and Isabel, who live on a remote island. Tom works as a lighthouse keeper, and is trying to come out of the horrors of World War I. As the couple begin to find happiness in their solitude, their inability to have children begins to plague their fairy tale. Isabel's hopes and prayers are believed to be answered when a dead man and an infant baby girl wash ashore. While Tom grapples with the reality of reporting the incident, or making the woman he loves happy, he ends up choosing the former, kicking into motion some heart wrenching consequences.
The high marks are present and littered frequently throughout. It begins with the heartbreaking turn from Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz as the devastating Hannah, a grief-stricken mother whose arc goes into interesting territories. Michael Fassbender as the stoic and tortured Tom, has the actor showcasing another effortless and engaging presence that proves he's got plenty more to offer the realm of cinema.
Co-star Alicia Vikander, recently just crowned for her riveting turn in Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl" earlier this year, is as capable as ever in portraying a difficult and unlikable character. The problem is the script doesn't particularly offer her an opportunity for the audience to tap into the soul of Isabel. Her behavior at times is so despicable, it's hard to wrap your head around any her actions and why she chooses to do them. What's worse, it that we can't understand why her husband Tom would love someone like her. It feels even at times, unnatural. Everything from the inception of their love, to the finding of their baby, and the surrounding events that follow.
Technically, the romantic drama is wholeheartedly intact. Composer Alexandre Desplat continues to deliver score after score, with strings and chords that tug at the heart. Desplat's choice of swells and subtlety are quite remarkable. They are choices that can once again, land him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.
Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw ("Animal Kingdom" and "MacBeth") glosses the screen with invigorating colors and breathtaking imagery. When the word "class" is associated with any work of art, Arkapaw is the epitome of understanding in that regard. He frames a scene with respect and adoration, fixating on the not so obvious objects and movements of a scene. He allows us to travel graciously through the picture, enriching a methodical and lavish wonder of screen shots.
With all these great high points provided, there's a very visible and apparent weakness in the script. Constructed by Cianfrance, and adapted from the novel of the same name, he attempts to build a vivacious love story. He gives us two people who he is saying to the audience are "meant for each other." Cianfrance ends up failing in establishing a believable and unique take on these two individuals from different walks of life. Tom, a veteran and tortured man of war is drawn to the passion and energy of the young Isabel. On paper, that can be sufficient but you must give the viewer motivation, action steps, and beats that prove the point you're trying to make. There's an elephant sized hole in the house that our director and writer tries to build.
The writer/director truly fumbles in the final third of the film. He chases ideas that are leisurely shoehorned in the story. Cianfrance chases suspense, nostalgia, heartbreak, and resolution. All of these things seem like they're thrown together in a ten-minute scene reel. The filmmaker also manages to go down "J. Edgar" territory of bad makeup, aging characters that end up just becoming beautiful distractions of their former selves. There's even an abrupt ending that manages to raise eyebrows.
Consequently, "The Light Between Oceans" doesn't totally fail. It's ambitious but unbalanced, desperately attempting to make a modern-day John Cassavettes. His fixation with love, and the dismal look at the reactions of people in a relationship is evident. Perhaps in the future, he'll put a much more focused effort on the sub-stories and actions that surround them.
Sausage Party (2016)
'Sausage Party' Brings Raunchy Laughs and an Oscar Worthy Song
Animation has never been such a fantastic blend of fun and dirty as seen in "Sausage Party" from Sony Pictures. Created as the movie your perverted older brother made in high school but you can't help but love him for it, the definitely offensive but enthusiastically rapturous romp is the surprise hit of the summer.
Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan helm the ship that was written by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir with a steady hand as they play off social and racial stereotypes in the vein of something we would have seen on "South Park." Trickle in a talented voice cast that includes Rogen, Oscar nominees Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Edward Norton, and Salma Hayek, and you got a formula for something downright hilarious.
"Sausage Party" takes no prisoners as the profanity and graphic nature makes an educated film-goer wonder "how the hell did this just get an 'R' rating from the MPAA?" Shock value will bubble to the brim and likely spill over as we see food make sexual advances, dirty and used condoms interact with a smaller hotdog, and an orgy that might manage to trump any movie in the last 15 years.
Taking the "Toy Story" premise and asking the question, what if food could talk? "Sausage" gives its characters a dynamic range of emotions as they mix in the very questions of today that marry the ideas of religion, purpose, and tolerance. I'm sure somewhere deep in the bones of every Pixar writer in the world, they've wanted to make THIS kind of movie. Why wouldn't they? The animation is tenderly bright and vibrant, creating a world of chaos but clarity. They work through the material with a bold and fearless nature that the Academy Awards would feel so lucky to be included among their Animated Feature nominees in 2017.
Stepping outside the box with a raunchy song, Alan Menken's compositions and work stand just as high as anything delivered this year so far. Vivaciously alive in every beat, you can't help but smile ear to ear as the party rolls on. I'd surely say Menken is the hunt for an Oscar nomination in Original Song.
The rest of the voice works of Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, and ESPECIALLY Nick Kroll are purely delightful.
This is not the movie for Mom, unless your mother is awesome in every way. This is not the movie for your kids, because I can't wait to hear the headlines of the general audience goers that brought their kids to see thinking it was just a "cute cartoon." This is not the movie for your sophisticated movie friend because he or she is probably going to call you dumb for laughing at the jokes. This IS the movie for the Friday night, bring your girlfriend or boyfriend, watch their jaws drop, and enjoy the company of just plain old fun at the movies.