Paddington

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Armed with a red hat, a suitcase, and a love of marmalade, the beloved character from the children’s books, Paddington, has finally made his debut on the big screen.

Paddington (Ben Whishaw), is living happily with his aunt and uncle in darkest Peru, loving life and making marmalade, when his home is suddenly destroyed by an earthquake.  With nothing but a suitcase full of marmalade, a red hat, and a note asking for care, Paddington sets off to England, with hopes of finding an explorer who had befriended his relatives years ago.  Instead, he is taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins) and their children.  The family, new in their area, are already facing issues of their own (work, boys, new school), when Paddington enters their life.  Their intent is to keep him for a day and help him find a home.  What ensues are hilarious mishaps, a taxidermist with an evil agenda (Nicole Kidman), and a heartwarming story of family.

When going into a movie where the target audience is children, one is always skeptical, especially when that film is live-action.  This film, however, does nothing but show exactly how a film that is aimed at the entire family should be made.  It avoids the cheap laughs (animal flatulence, physical pain, etc), and instead lets the audience sit back and enjoy a movie that has is funny in a playful way.  It truly hits the mark in its intent; a film children of all ages can appreciate and find funny.

The acting in this film didn’t need to be superb to carry the story, but it was anyway.  We are treated to a couple that plays the part of the serious father and the carefree mother perfectly.  Nicole Kidman shines as the villain, and Julie Walters steals the show as Mrs. Bird.  The  supporting cast also fits in perfectly, making the story so much more enjoyable because you can see that the actors are enjoying themselves.

The titular character, however, is the true star of the show, as he should be.  Paddington is adorable, charming, and really grabs the emotional side of the viewer as we see he is, after all, just a bear trying to make his way in a big, new world.  The audience is supposed to empathize with the bear, as he shows that just because he is a different species, he still has the same problems that we as humans face.  The fact that he is such a polite bear doesn’t hurt either, as his charm is what makes the movie so heartwarming, but really funny at the same time.

This is a movie that needs to be seen by all.  Whether you’re a fan of the books (I’m more of a Corduroy fan) or just a fan of cinema in general, you can go and treat yourself to a very nice time at the movies.  That seems to be the intended mark for all those who were involved in making this film, and they succeeded on all counts.

Rating:
9/10

Selma

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With Martin Luther King Jr. day fast approaching, now is the perfect time to release a film chornicling one of the most important men in the Civil Rights movement and one of the most important events in the movement itself.  Biopics like this have the opportunity to inspire, or the possibility of falling flat.  In Selma, the outcome is inspiring.

With King and the SCLC growing frustrated with the lack of voting rights in Alabama, they decide that action has to be taken. What we see in Selma is the arguments, the discussions, and the results of the decision to stage a peaceful protest in the form of a march from Selma to Montgomery.  We are given an inside view at the discussions between King (David Oyelowo) and Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), the members of the SCLC amongst themselves, and the nastiness of the hate that stemmed from some of Alabama’s residents.  While not entirely pretty, Selma shows us the struggles that America, as an entire nation, struggled with while we were at war in Vietnam.

The acting in this film is tremendous.  Oyelowo has been garnering a lot of praise for his turn as Dr. King, and it is well deserved.  Wilkinson’s performance as Lyndon Johnson and Tim Roth’s performance as Alabama governor George Wallace are also fantastic, but this is to be expected.  The real scene stealer in this movie is Stephan James as activist John Lewis.  It is James who really evokes the passion and shows just how the community was rallying around each other.  If James doesn’t garner at least a nomination in some format, then it is a shame.

There is also a lot to be said about Ava DuVernay’s direction of the film.  This is a story that would require a storyteller that wasn’t afraid to show the whole story, and not just to parts that make Dr. King look like a saint, and this was done in beautiful fashion.  We see the struggles that King had to face on a personal level, all while struggling with the national problem of earning equality for the cause he fought so valiantly for.  In Selma, we are not show the story of a saint or a martyr, but are show the story of a man, which makes the audience really see the importance of this march, and the man that was responsible for getting everyone to believe in it.

There has been some controversy surrounding the historical accuracy of the film.  At times, Johnson is depicted as an opponent of the movement, and also is shown conspiring with the FBI to discredit Dr. King as a man.  While these aspects are historically untrue, it doesn’t detract from the film.  The purpose of it is not to vilify Johnson, but to show the uphill battle that King faced.  Johnson’s task of facing a war, trying to accomplish The Great Society and fight for civil rights isn’t shown, so the demeanor of Johnson in the film isn’t to show him negatively, but to give the view of him from the SCLC’s eyes, even if it was misunderstood.  Don’t let the factual inaccuracies deter your from seeing and appreciating this film for what it is: a fantastic biopic.

Rating:
9/10

Wild

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The idea of getting rid of all earthly possessions and becoming one with nature is one that seems to grow in popularity in today’s culture, with technology being as prevalent as it is.  But in the 90’s, people got away for different reasons.  Sometimes it was just to say that they could do it.  But in the film Wild, we see sometimes, getting away can be so much more.

In Wild, we see Cheryl Strayed at her worst.  She has lost her mother (to cancer).  She has lost her husband (to divorce).  Her siblings are distant.  She is struggling with a heroin/sex addiction.  She decides to leave everything behind, and with no history of hiking, sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, an 1,100 mile hike that spans the west coast.  The audience gets a look at Strayed’s past and how it shapes her to overcome the present.  A series of flashbacks gives us an inside look at just how low Strayed had to go before she realized it was time for a change.

This is a coming of age tale, but more importantly, this is a character driven film.  A film like this will live and die by the acting, and in this case, it is carried by Reese Witherspoon.  This film is a statement by Reese, who seems to be evolving from the sweet, lovable princess and growing into the strong, independent woman.  She is taking on roles that don’t focus on her being the pretty girl, but focus on her talent, and this is a film where that is truly on display.  We get to see a wide range of emotion from Reese, and really get to see how great she truly is.  Laura Dern and Thomas Sadoski play secondary roles, but their performances only enhance that of Reese, not take away from it.

The story itself is an uplifting one, in a variety of ways.  The audience sees the woes of loss, divorce, and addiction, but also sees just how strong the human spirit is when pushed.  Jean-Marc Vallée follows his direction of Dallas Buyer’s Club with another character piece, and his way of telling the story, with the help of Nick Hornby, really shines through not only with the performances, but with the way the story is pieced together.  The move from past to present is a flawless one, and it really sets the tone and pacing of the film.  Hornby and Vallée really use what Strayed has given them in her memoir and turn it into a film that pulls the viewer into the hike, instead of just telling them about it.

This is a film that needs to be seen, over and over again.  For those who have faced hardships in life, this film will provide inspiration to face their issues head on and overcome their obstacles.  For those who have lost a parent, you will truly empathize with Strayed and begin to embrace what you truly have, and not what you have lost.  For fans of cinema in general, you will be wowed by Witherspoon’s performance and appreciate the story being told.  And for those just looking for two hours of entertainment, you will not be disappointed.  This is one of the better films of 2014, and one that shouldn’t be missed.

Rating:
10/10

The Gambler

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The problem with remakes is that they are rarely as good as the original.  In most cases, directors think they can take a new, fresher take on an already successful film and turn it into something that modern audiences will love.  Sometimes this works.  Other times, it falls flat on its face.  In the case of The Gambler, the director bet the house, and crapped out.

What happens when a literature professor, who is also a gambling addict, gets involved with the wrong people and can’t seem to get his way out?  Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is said teacher, who is also a novelist, who is swimming in debt because he never seems to know when to cash out, instead wasting his riches (both his own and his families) with the hopes of…I’m not sure.  When he finds himself in debt to two ruthless loan sharks (Alvin Ing, Michael K. Williams) for $260,000, Bennett finds himself doing all he can, seemingly, to not repay the debt, but instead to get himself in deeper.  What results is a 2 hour yawnfest with no real direction.

The cast in this film is one that was very promising.  When you have Mark Wahlberg and the always fantastic John Goodman in a film, there is a lot to be desired in terms of the performances.  Unfortunately, with this remake, the acting falls short of the story that is changed quite a bit from the original.  Instead of focusing more on the relationship between John and his lover, in this case  a student (Brie Larson), the film decides instead to show the inner struggles of the protagonist, which really takes away from what made the original work.  Instead of finding yourself feeling for the protagonist who is struggling with an addiction, you find yourself hoping he loses everything because he doesn’t deserve what he already has.  This is the problem with films that focus on a flawed character; when you get rid of all the likable qualities, you’re left with someone the audiences don’t want to triumph.

What this movie tries to be is not at all like the original, but instead like Rounders, if Rounders focused on the Ed Norton character and not the Matt Damon character.  By the end of the film, the audience is left with an empty feeling not because we want everything to work out, but because we know it is going to, and that is unfulfilling.  Instead of showing the addict in all his peril, like the original, we are shown an addict who doesn’t seem to be suffering in his addiction, but relishing in it, and not in a way that translates from the screen.  Instead, the story is tedious and lackluster, without any charm.

The film, acting, story, directing, all leave a lot to be desired in the end.  This is a film that tries to be too clever for its own good, when it already had a great foundation and instead of embracing the parts that worked, it focused on the parts that didn’t.  This film should be avoided, as there are better versions of it already available, and with less time spent watching.

Rating:
2/10

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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It is finally here.  The epic conclusion to the epic story that was so incredibly detailed, it had to be broken into three parts in order to do it justice.  Peter Jackson finally wraps up The Hobbit trilogy with this third installment, The Battle of the Five Armies.

We pick up where we left off in The Desolation of Smaug, with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the army of dwarves watching Smaug descend upon Laketown to get revenge for the ills he feels have been directed upon him.  What follows is the destruction of the village and, as the title suggests, a battle between five different armies (though this comes much later).  In typical Peter Jackson fashion, a lot of character back story and scene buildup is scattered in between these two battles and a long homage to the characters follows them.  This is not me complaining; this is me appreciating Peter Jackson taking the time to tell a wonderful story and making the viewers truly care about each individual character.

This trilogy has been met largely with criticism, for all sorts of different reasons, but Peter Jackson really goes all out with the final installment.  He shows how invested he truly is in Tolkien’s world, and how much he cares about the characters, the villages, the story itself.  The end result is a beautifully crafted final piece of a story that really did need to be three parts, because the details we receive in each of the films lead to the fantastic finish, and the audience is that much more invested.  We are introduced to multiple back stories, and because of this, the conclusion is fulfilling, if not heartbreaking.

The acting in this installment is phenomenal, as each actor/actress seems to be truly one with their characters.  Just like in the second movie, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) steals the show.  Freeman gives another stellar performance as Bilbo, and Richard Armitage does a fantastic job of playing the tormented Thorin, king of the dwarves.  Ian McKellan, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, and Orlando Bloom round out the rest of the main cast.

What really should be mentioned is the nonstop action of the movie, which will satisfy the critics of Jackson’s usual slow-paced setup.  The battle scenes, which at times can seem tedious, are in the end spectacular and lay a strong base for what we know will come in the following trilogy.  It seems as though the main goal of the battle is to entertain, and this is exactly what happens.  In the end, the audience is left with a satisfied emotional feeling.

This is a film that needs to be seen in theaters to truly appreciate everything that went into making it.  The battles leap off the screen, the characters come to life more than in any of the other films, and the drama at the end is truly felt by the audience as Jackson brings this tale to a close.  Fans of the book will appreciate his craft, but even the general movie-goer will see what he is trying to accomplish and will leave the theaters sensing that he succeeded.

Rating:
9/10

Into the Woods

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The adaptation from stage to screen is a tricky one.  It helps to already have a following, to generate interest to a film version of a beloved play/musical, but at the same time, there is a risk of losing something in that adaptation.  Disney decides to put their own twist on Into the Woods, the musical that combines numerous beloved fables into one spectacular music event.

Into the Woods is the story of a Baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), a couple desperate to have a child, but first must overcome a spell placed on the Baker’s family by their neighbor, the Witch (Meryl Streep).  Baker sets out on the quest to gather items requested by the Witch, begrudgingly accepting help along the way from his wife, Jack (of Beanstalk Fame), Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick).  Oh, and there’s singing, too.  Like, a lot of singing.

The problem with musicals is that there needs to be at least one catchy tune early on to draw the audience in.  We never get this with Into the Woods.  Instead we are given about 76 songs that all sound the same, they are just sung by different cast members. And this is where the film falters.  Because while the premise of intertwining beloved classic stories into one new twist is a promising one, it is bogged down by the tediousness of the singing.  Instead of saying, “Oh, awesome!  Rapunzel is here!”, we are saying “Oh, another song.”

The acting is what will generate the most praise from this film, and it should.  The entire cast is fantastic, as they’ve employed actors who can actually sing, instead of hoping for the best with well known talents, as some directors have done in the past.  Instead we are given strong performances by Streep, Kendrick, and Daniel Huttlestone as Jack, who last wowed us as Gavroche in Les Miserables.  We also get comedic relief from Christopher Pine (surprising) and Johnny Depp (brief).

The scenery is also very impressive, and Rob Marshall does a great job of bringing these imagined worlds to life.  The titular woods themselves become a character of the story, seeming to come to life and doing their part to move the story along and to add certain elements of emotion to each character individually.  And while the acting and scenery should be enough to make an enjoyable film, and may in the case of young children, they are unfortunately overshadowed by the constant need to break into song.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of musicals, and have enjoyed some in the past that have been criticized.  I am also a fan of the majority of the actors and actresses in this film, and I wanted badly to enjoy this film.  But it drags on a bit too long, and in the end, just doesn’t seem to be as strong as the producers were hoping.  Fans of the original musical will also be disappointed that some of the darker tones of the story have been eliminated in order to make it a more family friendly film.

This is a movie that should be avoided in theaters, instead waiting to watch in the comfort of your own home, so you can take time to do other things as you watch.  You will appreciate the scenery as well as the acting, it’s unfortunate that so much effort was wasted on a film that just never seemed to get out its own way.

Rating:
3/10

I, Frankenstein

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The story of Frankenstein’s monster is one that has been done a number of times.  He’s had his own films, he’s been a minor character in others, but for the most part he is a beloved horror icon.  The problem with modern cinema using beloved classics is that sometimes they take something great and try to make it their own.  Occasionally this works; often times, it doesn’t work.  Unfortunately, Stewart Beattie’s I, Frankenstein, based on Kevin Grevioux’s graphic novel of the same name, falls flat.

This version of the story shows a new twist to the ending of Mary Shelley’s novel, and ending where Victor Frankenstein dies after chasing his monster (Aaron Eckhart) into the arctic.  The monster, unable to die because he has no soul, is then attacked by demons, able to fight a few of them off before being rescued by gargoyles.  The monster, dubbed Adam by the Gargoyle queen, learns that the gargoyles were created by the archangel Michael in order to fight off demons.  He is given the opportunity to join their group, but he declines and leaves to wander the earth, armed with weapons that will protect him from demons should he be attacked again.

Finding no peace nor escape from the demons, Adam decides that instead of running his whole existence, he will hunt and fight the demons before they have a chance to hunt him.  He continues this quest for over 200 times, brining them to modern civilization.  When a battle with demons goes awry, Adam is brought back to the Gargoyles to be held onto, unaware that there is a larger sect looking for him, led by Naberius (Bill Nighy).  Naberius is looking for Adam, or Dr. Frankenstein’s journal, as he believes that those two things are the only thing keeping his scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) from enacting his master plan.

This movie tries very hard to be many things, and because of that, it just ends up being one really bad movie.  The special effects are cheesy, the story is empty and lacks direction, and the acting is just dialed in by the stars, and overexerted by the rest of the cast.  I had high hopes for this film, as I am a big fan of Strahovski, Eckhart, and Nighy, but the three of them seem disinterested in the story and don’t put much emotion into their characters.

The battle scenes and special effects should have been able to compensate for the terrible story that was being told, but I found myself laughing at them more than anything else.  We get not emotional attachment to any of the characters, and for most of the movie, it isn’t clear just whose side we’re supposed to be on.  This is a movie that shouldn’t have been made, but was, and as a result, it will only serve as a blemish on three impressive careers.

Rating:
1/10