Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Up next, Sam and Vig take a look at the Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu’s critically acclaimed black-comedy Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone, Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Birdman follows washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Keaton), famously known for playing “Birdman”, as he attempts to re-invent himself as a director by putting on a classic Broadway drama. However, when opening night goes terribly, Riggan must scramble to find a replacement lead actor. Along with the actor, Riggan must juggle the set, his daughter, and a critic who threatens to shut down the show. Overwhelmed with the disaster, Riggan attempts to overcome his struggle to successfully put up aplay and shed his status as a washed up actor.

9.5 out of 10

Being a man of the theater and someone who hopes to go into the business later in life, I was enthralled by Birdman. Not only were the technical aspects spot on, but the themes were interesting and the overall execution was unique, yet perfect. 

Part of what makes Birdman so brilliant is the characters. Every character is original, spontaneous and highly entertaining, and each feature their own way of keeping us interested. Edward Norton was hilarious and even more so into it than his character (a method actor) was. It’s good to see him back at it after a stretch of meaningless performances. Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan were all great as well, and the way the movie gave every individual some sort of storyline raised the overall stakes and kept us interested. Keaton though, as Riggan Thomas, was the shining star. Essentially playing himself in some light (Batman was only three years before the fictional Birdman), Keaton’s struggle with finding a purpose, mixed with hearing the voice of fictional Birdman every corner he turned, acted as a perfect anchor for this film to move around. Riggan Thomas was funny, insane, and driven to revive his pitiful self, setting Keaton up to be one of the best actor candidates to watch this year.

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The camera work, in my opinion, was stunning. The cinematography was worked in a way that the entire film appeared to be one continuous shot. It all looked very fluid, one scene moving directly to another. I was never able to take my eye off the film simply because it never gave me a chance. While this is not always necessarily a good thing, in this case, the strong dialogue and lack of action allowed the non-stop camera to be extremely effective. As a result, the slips between reality and fantasy were all the more convincing.

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The lighting was also manipulated very well to set the tone to however would fit what Riggan was thinking or feeling. For example, the first scene with Mike Shiner (Norton) uses lighting to make Shiner intimidating. The lighting is dim and eerie, and rarely illuminates Riggan. Instead it portrays Mike as a superior talent. Additionally, when Riggan is depressed, the lighting is dim. When he feels resurgent, like in the final scene, the lights are brighter and more hopeful. The lighting is subtle yet powerful in making the message so powerful.

And that message is what drives the film home. The film is a satire on the modern day blockbuster extravaganza and seriously questions the artistic integrity of the actors who star in these films. The decline of true art and the rise of mega action blockbusters is questioned throughout Birdman, specifically calling out Robert Downey Jr., Michael Fassbender, and Jeremy Renner. Don’t get me wrong, I love comic book movies, but the movie’s take on what true artistic talent is– passion-driven motivation– is a breath of fresh air.

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There is no doubt Birdman is a weirdass movie. It can, at times, appear to be a load of pretentious, loopy, bull-crap. But all of this loopiness, presented in the form of Michael Keaton speaking to an imaginary superhero and flying around New York City, gives Keaton his character and the film an awe-inspiring touch. Despite its tendency to seem overly surreal at many points, Birdman is smartly written, curiously crafted, and a straight up entertaining piece of film-making.
~Vig

6.5 out of 10

There were a lot of identifiably “interesting” aspects of Birdman.

The lighting was interesting. The coloring of the film varied from intense, almost monochrome blues, greens, and reds in the theater to the sparkling neon and black of Broadway at night, all the while maintaining a surreal brightness that somehow reminded me of jell-o.

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The camera choices were interesting. Many of the shots moved. In a typical scene, the camera would go from a side view of two people, and then spin to have only one person in the frame and then gradually go very close to the single subject, all in one motion. This rare, fluid type of filming had a strange, almost dizzying effect. The cinematographer also added to this disorienting feeling by occasionally filming characters in an way that resembled a fish eye lens.

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The melting of reality and fiction was interesting. The film starts with the main character, Riggan (Michael Keaton), hovering, cross-legged, in his tighty whities, a couple feet off the floor. As the film progresses Riggan reveals his ability to perform more and more spectacular feats, be it getting a light to fall in a theater, or flying over New York City. The film makers leave it up to the audience members to decided what is real and what is fake, although towards the end it definitely appears as if most of these powers are figments of Riggan’s imagination.
A main theme of the film is that people have an unsatisfied desire to be valued and important, and Riggan’s imagined super powers were a childish way to make him feel special and above everyone else (literally). Although the idea of self worth is an pertinent one that many of us can relate to, Riggan’s battle for importance quite honestly bored me. From an intellectual standpoint I feel I should care, but a self absorbed man throwing chairs around his dressing room is simply bland. I found the interactions between Sam (Emma Stone) and Mike (Edward Norton) infinitely more interesting, because it was an exciting situation between two original characters, which kept your interest while making you mildly think, rather than simply forcing an idea about the human condition down your throat. And yet, Sam and Mike’s story was a side plot at best, and was forgotten about when it was time for Riggan’s explosive inner struggle to take the full stage.

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The exploration of the eternal struggle for truth in acting was another redeeming factor of the movie. The battles the actors of the play went through to make their performances real were poignant and interesting. However, ironically, the film itself overall didn’t feel particularly truthful. [Spoiler] There were many plot points where the audience thought Riggan was going to die and then he was miraculously saved, which just seemed like the screenwriters toying with my emotions. All of the “interesting” aspects of the movie, from the lighting to the camera movement to the blending of fiction and reality, didn’t feel as if they were a natural part of the movie. It was done in such a way that all I could think of was some camera man meticulously planning his shots out just to be different. It didn’t feel organic, but rather an added bonus to give more pazzaz. It’s difficult to branch into the more “artistic” side of movie making, and I’m glad Birdman tried, but somehow the jigsaw didn’t fall quite into place, and the film ended up feeling a bit like a middle schooler trying to be avant garde.
~Sam

Like Birdman? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1

Happy Thanksgiving! To celebrate, Zach and Will take a look at the highly anticipated Mockingjay, the third fixture in the Hunger Games series. Directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, this film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

Mockingjay continues the events of Catching Fire, with the Games destroyed and anarchy breaking lose throughout Panam. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), along with a few allies from the Games, finds herself in District 13, a district that was originally thought to have been destroyed. Under President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the counsel of friends, Katniss attempts to become the symbol of rebellion for the people of Panam and take down President Snow and the capital.

6.5 out of 10

It’s no secret that I’m a Hunger Games fan. I’ve read and enjoyed the books and watched and enjoyed the movies. I’ve gotten some flack from my friends about liking the series, but in my opinion it’s absorbing and compelling.

That being said, the third book in the Hunger Games series was borderline awful. It was stale, contrived, and it compromised the strength and appeal of its characters. Katniss, for example, devolved from a headstrong, independent female to a drug-addicted, man-needing complainer.

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The moviemakers of Mockingjay were already going to have a tough time matching the quality of the previous two films, given the disparity in quality of the source material, and Lionsgate’s decision to split the already thin book into a two-part finale, a la Harry Potter, simply exacerbated the situation. I guess, though, Lionsgate is more about making money than about making good movies. Even for a text as thick in pages and story as The Deathly Hallows the result was a meager first act, so it’s no surprise that Mockingjay Part 1 was entirely disappointing.

It was almost completely devoid of action, save for a few split seconds of frenetic camera shaking here and there, which prevented the movie from ever achieving the level of intensity that characterized the first two installments, and Katniss’s touring of the districts with her camera crew felt like 120 minutes of set-up for the next movie. I essentially watched a poorly conceived 2-hour trailer for a movie that I’m not so sure I’m dying to see anymore.

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It’s also no secret that I’m a Jennifer Lawrence fan. I think she was fantastic in Silver Linings Playbook, and she rightly deserves the praise she gets. Her acting in Mockingjay, however, just felt awkward. I don’t know if she was trying to hard, the lines were just cheesy (likely) or whatever, but I actually felt like laughing at how silly she seemed some times, which is a feeling I should definitely not be getting from someone whose boyfriend is being tortured in the Capitol.

The rest of the A-list cast didn’t really help out either. Elizabeth Banks has always been fantastic as Effie Trinket, but she was way underused, Josh Hutcherson seems to only have any worth as an actor when he’s with Lawrence, and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin was just completely cold. The only star worthy of such a distinction was Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the terribleness of the rest of the cast served only to highlight just how good he is.

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Certainly I think much of the lackluster work from the cast stems from poor source material with ridiculous dialogue, but still, with all the assembled talent and all the funding I’m sure this project received, Mockingjay should have been better. Even so, the movie will certainly gross hundreds of millions of dollars. Hordes of tweens and dashing movie reviewing teens will throng into the theaters and pay a steep $11 dollar ticket price for a decidedly mediocre movie simply because it’s Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (and probably no mention will be played to Banks, Moore, and Hoffman). And I can’t blame Lionsgate for wanting to capitalize on that by splitting the book into two movies for double the profit (early reports show that Mockingjay grossed $123 million in its opening weekend, by far the biggest opening in the last few months), I just wish it had turned out better.

The film’s one redeeming quality was its interesting portrayal of wartime politics and, specifically, propaganda. Throughout Mockingjay, Katniss is pressured into making staged and incendiary propaganda pieces to inspire the rebellion in the districts. Mockingjay’s directors use some intriguing subtext and satirize the abuse of rhetoric that is rampant in politics and military campaigns (which I’m sure amused all my AP Lang buddies out there) but ultimately it wasn’t near enough to save the movie. Still, it warrants a 6.5 simply because I enjoyed it. I am a Hunger Games fan, and so I was more than happy to go see Mockingjay. If you’re not already invested in the series, though, don’t bother fronting the $11 for the ticket. Go see the vastly superior Big Hero 6 instead.

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As one especially keen 12 year old who sat behind me in the theater pointed out when Jennifer Lawrence came on screen for the first time, “That’s Jennifer Lawrence! I love her!” Yes, that is Jennifer Lawrence, and that’s about all you’ll be able to get out of Mockingjay.
~Will

7.0 out of 10

Just how much does context excuse a movie?

With the new trend of final chapters being axed in to two installments, that’s a question I have to ask myself a lot. Just how slow can a first part of the end be, running on the excuse that “It’s only the first part”? Just how necessary is it? Just how many CEOs were jumping for joy and screenwriters’ days were ruined when they announced the end would be split?

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Well, I can’t get that last scenario out of my head. A bunch of my fellow writers laboring over how to pace some first half without slowing to a crawl just kills me. Mockingjay is a film that both defies and perfectly adheres to the tropes that plague “Part One” movies.

We’ll address the pacing first and, yes, it’s pretty languid (After Interstellar, this one felt faster than Barry Allen however). And a byproduct of that sluggishness is a cramped, claustrophobic feeling. In the books, as far as I can tell, Katniss spends the first quarter or so shacked up in a bunker and gets in on the action. Here, she spends 70% of her precious screentime in a base. A base that the movie flat out compares to a prison because it practically is.

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In fact, that’s one of the limiting reagents of Mockingjay. Around the fifty minute mark, I asked myself “Why am I not invested in Katniss’s story? She had my attention the first two movies.” and that query is easily answered: Katniss is a great hero but she’s an awful victim.

The very driving force of Katniss is that she’s “The Girl on Fire”. These movies repeat that ad nauseum. When we’re introduced to her, literature has conditioned us to think that she’ll be either a weak damsel in distress or a hero who will ultimately have to rely on someone else’s (Usually a man’s) help. But, no, she was a determined, strong character and she held up all the way through. In fact, she couldn’t be a damsel in distress for the cameras in-universe. Katniss was constantly shaping the plot and soaring to new heights in survival.

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And how does she spend most of this movie? Begging for a guy to return to her (When did she start caring that much about Peeta above everything else? The extents she goes to are a bit extreme) and staying locked underground.

Now, that being said, I do get what they’re trying to do. This series has often been about interdependence versus independence and it would be interesting to see Katniss have to lean on others for once and subsequently learn about finding strength in humility and compromising personal desires for larger stakes.

But Katniss does not get to learn about it by the end because this isn’t the end. All development seems to be braked by that “Part One” label and the need to stall to get to the “Part Two” label. I recently spoiled Mockingjay for myself in a moment of weakness and, if the producers opted against the two-part structure, it could be an incredibly exciting, tightly plotted movie, packed with mountains of character development.

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Yet this is where that conflict I talked about in the beginning of the review comes in to play. Since this is The Hunger Games, I trust the filmmakers a lot more than I usually would and I’m going to allow them to take their time. Until then, this installment still had plenty of creative action scenes to keep us occupied (Even if they didn’t include the characters we care about most).

I’m still impressed by how the films lampoon our insatiable appetite for the carefully-manipulated images that we’re often fed (The interview scenes where the characters have to exaggerate and tap-dance to earn sympathy are as relevant as they were when the series started). And the actors crush the material given to them. I can’t imagine it’s easy to play a character who’s practically playing a character.

So, Hunger Games, impress me with your (actual) final chapter a year from now and maybe this part will be retroactively boosted by its twin. If you haven’t read the books, there’s certainly new territory to see in this film. If you have, get ready to maybe check your watch if bunker-scenes don’t float your boat.
~Zach

Like Mockingjay? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!

Interstellar

Up next (in Zach’s long awaited return) is Christopher Nolan’s latest feature film, Interstellar. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain, the movie is rated PG-13 for intense perilous action and brief strong language.

In Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s bold, daring space adventure, the Earth and its inhabitants face extinction, fueled by drought and famine. When a mysterious rip in the galaxy is discovered, mankind is given the opportunity to explore a new solar system and start life anew. The crew of the journey is led by Cooper (McConaughey), who faces the tough decision of saving the human race or leaving his children forever. Amidst the greatest battle between love and science, the crew embarks on the most difficult, important task in the history of mankind.

8.5 out of 10

I have been waiting for this movie for literally two years. Ever since the credits rolled for The Dark Knight Rises, I’ve been waiting for Nolan’s next feature film. With Memento, The Prestige, Inception, and The Dark Knight Trilogy, he has simply released great film after great film. And even though it sadly does not surpass the expectations Nolan has laid out for us, Interstellar is a very good film in its own light. 

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There are a lot of truly incredible things about this movie. The special effects are on point, the story is intricate and deep, and to top it off, the intensity is as high as it gets. McConaughey delivers a solid performance that drives the film, specifically through the relationship that he forms with his daughter Murph. Throughout the first thirty minutes, we see their similarities, we see the joy they experience when they are together, and we see why their love, the driving force of this film, is so meaningful. It is the reason Cooper is driven to continue his journey to save the Earth and it is the reason Murph is driven to solve the extinction problem. Without this strong relationship, this movie would have gotten really boring really quickly.

Speaking of boring, it would seem that this movie, at two hours and fifty minutes, would end up being mundane at some point. However, it is justified in its length partially because the themes are so compelling. Selfish desire vs the greater good is prevalent throughout the film, as pretty much every character experiences this inner conflict at some point in the movie. This is what makes them so human. You can empathize with every single one of these characters because of how unintentionally selfish they are. Save the universe or stay with your children? It’s a lot harder than you may think. 

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Nolan manages to keep you invested regardless of how damn confusing the subject can be. None of us really understand how black holes and wormholes and blackworms and everything work, but Nolan keeps the explanations short and sweet. Why try and confuse us with intricacy? He does a good job of keeping it simple… until the end that is.

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The ending was not great. Without spoiling anything, the realism of the movie absolutely fell apart. All the science, mixed with the dark tone, set us up for one really nice ending, but instead, Nolan ran off that path. For a long time, I actually sort of believed that the events of this movie could actually happen (except for the whole baloney about a fifth dimensional entity trying to save humanity), especially since the film respected the rules of science. And then, the black hole came and everything fell apart. The story became dilute, the tone shifted way too abruptly, everything became absolutely surreal, and I was left dazed and confused. Lazy writing seems to be the only explanation for this wreck.

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There are a few other problems; some apparent sound mixing issues towards the beginning that Nolan intentionally put in place (sure…) and a relatively unimpressive soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. So is this the best film this year? No way. Is it Nolan’s best film? Not a chance. But is it a good film? No doubt about it. All in all, Interstellar is an exciting, intricate love-driven journey that travels through both space and the human heart and will leave you both rattled and entertained in spite of its imperfections.
~Vig

6.5 out of 10

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” – Albert Einstein

If there was ever a director whose name belongs under that epigraph, it’s Christopher Nolan (Maybe Michael Bay too but this isn’t Transformers). Nolan’s films have grown increasingly convoluted yet well-researched. Maybe strange but definitely deep. About as dry as a desert but still brimming with provoking dialogue. Interstellar is all of the above.

I usually fall in Nolan’s favor. He’s made two of my favorite movies ever, leveled the landscape of action movies and brought complex pieces to the forefront (For better or worse). But poor Chris has suffered a bit of a backlash in the wake of Dark Knight Rises. Many now say he chronically writes himself into corners, relies heavily on leaps and jumps in plot and that he paints his colorful characters in dull greys and blacks.

And (sigh) I’d be lying if I said Interstellar didn’t embody all (Yes, all) of these criticisms. All of them. It’s a very languid movie that presents us with a pretty unexciting earth (Was this the same guy  that gave us the dreams from Inception?). The characters are one-note and the plot crawls from hour to hour until it grunts, drowsily shakes the tired out of its head and roars to some life in the final twenty minutes.

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But hold on there. I said unexciting earth. Let’s not forget people, this is Christopher Nolan. And when Nolan likes something he cradles, nurtures and develops it to fruition. Maybe in a complicated way that some people disagree with but he does it anyhow. And, in this movie, his love is space. This movie is a love-letter to astronomy, time and quantum mechanics. He really did his homework here and I appreciate that to no end.
Nolan’s space feels scary yet intriguing like a monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Almost this film’s spiritual ancestor). It’s beautiful and new territory but both the audience and the characters know it could kill them at any time. It’s a vast, vast vacuum. The cold technology that surrounds our characters compounds this feeling. The planets also feel this foreign.
So what about those pesky characters that get Nolan’s script’s way occasionally? Well, I can’t really lengthily dive into them because there isn’t too much to dive into. They’re bland. They spout that dry wit and emanate that stoicness we expect from Nolan. They’re cogs in the script’s intricate machine and not much else. Occasionally, we’ll touch on an interesting trait but these moments are fleeting and barely enough to excuse the three hour runtime.

In fact, if Nolan shaved off an hour or so, I may have been writing a very different review. And, though the research he seems very legitimate and interesting, it too serves to suffocate all the breaths of humanity (You know, the thing the movie’s supposed to be about saving) coming from the film. From there, it’s left to gasp for character development in its later quiet moments and it doesn’t get that much.

There are moments where this casts shine though. Nolan’s actors aren’t given a lot but they’re occasionally tossed a few bones and, boy, do they make the most of them. McConaughey’s star is rising and he plays a solid, ten minute one-man scene in this movie in such a way that it earned some mercy from me (I won’t dare spoil the specifics).

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And the plot, though convoluted, had some neat twists and turns that half-resuscitate the plot. It’s just hard to follow those twists when you’re too fatigued to invest and the roads that led you to them were tiring. But if you could follow those curvey roads, good for you. You probably had helluva better ride than I did.
Nolan, I still love you. This film shines like a supernova every so often and occasionally escapes the blackness of the world it has framed for itself. Those moments are few and far between but had they been closer, I’m sure we’d be hailing this as another astronomical masterpiece, akin to Gravity or 2001.

As always, I still can’t wait for Nolan’s next feature however. But I won’t be rushing into any blackholes or time-space portals to get there.
~Zach

Like Interstellar? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!

Big Hero 6

This week we’ll be taking a look at Big Hero 6, Marvel’s first animated superhero film. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, it stars Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit and Jamie Chung. It is rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.

Big Hero 6 follows young genius Hiro Hamada, who develops a close bond with a inflatable robot named Baymax. When an “accident” destroys his greatest invention and takes away his closest friend, Hiro turns to Baymax and his close, genius friends to help solve the mystery that lies behind the accident.

8.5 out of 10

Before I start, a side note: Will cannot write a post without making a snarky comment about me, so I don’t think you should take anything he says too seriously

However, I would be lying if I told you he was wrong about Big Hero 6. It is exciting, funny, and heartwarming and never relents. While it does get a little bit silly here or there, its execution is perfect.

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The animation is among the best I’ve ever seen. Every character is so interesting, thanks a lot to their unique, subtle features. For example, each of their hairstyles are so different, a detail small but important in creating the chemistry that is crucial to enjoying the film. The actions and movements are so smooth, creating an exciting and intense environment that is filled with entertaining action sequences. Each of the characters’ superpowers is so unique, and the incredible animation only aids in making the movie so entertaining.

Even furthermore, beyond simple animation, these characters are remarkable in their own individual light. Each of them is different, both in powers and in personality. The difference between Baymax (a silly little blob shaped robot) and Hiro (a brash, intelligent, and scrawny human-being) is what makes the movie so heartwarming. The connection they form is gradual and we are watching every step of the way, which is what keeps us so invested in the movie. Big Hero 6 is entertaining and emotionally grasping because its characters are just that.

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The plot is really well done The concept isn’t too innovative or stunningly brilliant– I predicted the supposedly surprise twist towards the beginning of the movie– but all the aforementioned details of the story, characters, etc behind it make it incredibly interesting. As a result, the storytelling is easy and smooth as silk. Everything is in the (relative) realm of believability. There are virtually no plot holes or random plot details that make absolutely no sense. The only time I was annoyed was when I was a bit confused as to why Hiro, an alleged super genius, couldn’t even come up with a theory about who the antagonist was, but this took away nothing from the movie.

I do agree with what Will said when he claimed that the first half of the movie is better than the second half. It trends towards being repetitive with the action sequences and dialogue. Mix that with the silliness of the movie in general, which was acceptable during the first half, and the movie got a little incredulous. It definitely could have been worse, which is why I’m not up in arms over it. It only accounts for why I didn’t enjoy the second half of the movie nearly as much as I enjoyed the first half, and why I chose to gave it an 8.5. However, this really says more about how good the first half of the movie was rather than how poor the second half was.

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Overall, this movie was excellent and definitely worth a watch in theaters. The environment–one that featured 200 children laughing every second– was great (though I’m not sure if I was laughing at the kids or laughing at the movie). While I personally don’t feel it is as good as The Lego Movie simply because it isn’t as smart or relentlessly entertaining, Big Hero 6 is still a great movie nonetheless. It was definitely a movie I didn’t expect to see myself paying to see in theaters, but I’m glad I did end up seeing it anyway.
~Vig

9.0 out of 10

Yes, I know that this is the third straight nine that I’ve given. I don’t want you or anyone else in the hordes of Screenwars readers to think that I’m not critical enough or that I whitewash my reviews. I just watched Braveheart, a Best Picture Winner, on Netflix and would rate it a 5. Gladiator, another Best Picture winner, is, in my opinion, a 6.5. The string of nines is due to one and only one reason: the last three films I’ve watched have all been fantastic.


First I want to talk about Feast, the animated short that precedes Big Hero 6. In it, a dog rescued off the street comes home to live with a man and rejoices in the largely human and greasy food that his owner gives him. One day, though, the man gets a girlfriend and they start eating the finer foods, like roasted Brussels sprout, much to the dogs understandable dismay (take a hint, Mom). I don’t want to spoil the ending, but throughout Feast I was laughing and thoroughly enjoying the quick allegory of the dog’s experiences and choices. The only thing that might hold it back from winning the Best Animated Short Oscar is its similarities to last year’s winner, Mr. Hublot. Both involve compromise and both involve dogs. But, overall, bravo Disney.

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Feast was fantastic, but Big Hero 6 was the main event. The first thing that struck me was its animation. It was absolutely gorgeous, from the details in the characters to the sprawling cityscapes of San Fransokyo (yes, it’s a corny name). It was really the best animation I’ve ever seen, much like The Incredibles was way back in 2004. The character movement was smooth and the environmental details sharp. The animation was truly top-notch.

What really shined the Big Hero 6 were its characters. Baymax, Hiro’s big, squishy, marshmallow looking robot was simultaneously hilarious and endearing. I can’t count how many times I was bellowing with laughter at Baymax’s oblivious comments and heartfelt sentiments towards Hiro, a young boy distraught after a familial tragedy. Hiro, too, was awesome, full of humor and teenage exasperation. Scott Adsit and Ryan Potter really did fantastic work as Baymax and Hiro.

Through the first hour of the movie I was in love. I was thinking that, just maybe, this might be the best animated movie of all time. It was that good. Unfortunately, towards the middle and end the plot development and character decisions started to get a little bit muddled and ridiculous (even for an animated movie), and it felt like the movie was trying to shove its message down you throat. The only reason that this movie isn’t at a 10.0 is because of the heavy-handedness of the last third of the film.

Still, though, Big Hero 6 is definitely worth a trip to the movie theater. It is sure to entertain all audiences; it’s colorful, slapstick moments will entertain younger crowds and its deeper, occasionally inappropriate humor will keep the parents interested (while flying safely over the heads of any children present). At the theater when Vig and I were watching the movie, a mother and son sat right in front of us. Throughout the entire film, both were laughing uncontrollably, as was the rest of the theater, which is a true testament to just how effective Big Hero 6 was.

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Any other year, this movie would be the frontrunner for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. It is right up there in my opinion with the Incredibles, Shrek, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and The Lego Movie. The problem, though, is that The Lego Movie will also be contending for top dog at the Oscars this year. I would cast a ballot in favor of Big Hero 6, but I know Vig will probably lean towards the Lego Movie. Just keep in mind that his favorite movie is the flat, problematic, and laughable Forrest Gump.
~Will

Like Big Hero 6? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below.

Nightcrawler

Hey viewers! This week we’ll be taking a look at Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, and Bill Paxton, Nightcrawler is rated R for graphic images and explicit language.

In Nightcrawler, a thriller set in contemporary Los Angeles, Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a calculated sociopath who is desperate for work. Bloom delves into the world of crime journalism, muscling into the dangerous, sketchy realm of nightcrawling. Striving to be the best at his work, every victim of a cold crime becomes nothing more than money to him. Caught up in the moment, Lou transcends the line between right and wrong, foregoing all morals to be the best in his business.

8.5 out of 10

At first glance, I thought this movie was about the X-Men character and my initial reaction was something along the lines of “Oh s**t, another superhero movie I have to see?”. But then I watched the trailer. And I was excited. And then I saw the movie. And I really enjoyed it.

First, let me establish something; everything great about this movie comes from Jake Gyllenhaal. He is the rock of this film. If he had delivered a weak performance, then this movie would have flopped. There were no other big name actors, so it was up to Gyllenhaal to deliver. Without him, Nightcrawler would have failed critically and in the box office. God Bless him.

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Gyllenhaal plays a man named Louis Bloom, a hard working yet cold, calculated man desperate for a job. Everything about Gyllenhaal’s performance is stunning; his desperation, his utter lack of humanity, and even his figure– he lost 30 pounds for this role and it definitely helped with giving his character the sliminess that made him so sketchy.

There is no development of his character. There is no substantial transformation where Bloom realizes that he’s been doing everything wrong and changes his ways, and this is what makes the film so great. I guess I’m spoiling a bit, but there are no repercussions for his actions. Not only does he cross the line between right and wrong, but he completely demolishes it. At the end of the film, I was convinced that there are real people like Bloom. A plot that could have felt surreal came off as incredibly realistic thanks to imperfections of Gyllenhaal’s character. He wasn’t empathetic or even sympathetic for that matter, he was just evil. Gyllenhaal produced a character who was truly insane.

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Dan Gilroy did a very good job in his directorial debut as well, utilizing various techniques that enhanced his film. One thing that stood out to me was his use of light, which subtly provided the movie with its tone. The opening sequence of the film established the city of Los Angeles; the nice parts were lit up by natural light and the bad parts were lit up artificially, by streetlights. The complete lack of light was relevant too, since most of the movie took place at night (hence the title, Nightcrawler). On other occasions, the only light is coming from the his camera, something I thought was really cool. In that situation, the only things you could see were his face or what he was filming, providing the impression that his train of thought circulated around the image he was filming rather than the situation he was in.

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All of this equates to an exciting, intense story that hardly relents. The movie is intriguing from the opening scene, in which Louis essentially beats a man for money to the closing scene, where he drives off into the Los Angeles night, glowing with chaos and terror. While there are points that drag and the pacing does get off at points, almost every scene is meaningful for one thing or another, whether it furthers the plot or gives us another glimpse of Bloom’s insanity.

I do think that the movie could have taken itself a little less seriously at points. While the grittiness and grotesqueness kept it interesting, I felt like moments of humor were left to be desired There is a bit of comedy in Louis’ character himself, simply due to the utter bizarreness of his character, but it’s never intentional and the moment never lasts. Nightcrawler doesn’t have the same feel as a straight-up drama, where two hours of seriousness can play. Instead, it trends towards being very one-sided, saturated with darkness and grit. The incorporation of a comedic flair would have given it a dimension that would have made the film even greater. A bit of black comedy would have been really cool.

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Ultimately, in the big picture, Nightcrawler is a pretty good movie in a year of really good movies, sadly enough. Though I hope it gets nominated for Best Picture, I doubt it will. Gyllenhaal has a shot at a Best Actor nomination, but again, there are quite a few stellar performances this year. Overall, Nightcrawler is interesting and compelling, but lacks the necessary diversity in tone and flair that would have put it over the top.
~Vig

9.0 out of 10

Jake Gyllenhaal deserves an Oscar. Not an Oscar nomination and not a little gold star that he can post on his fridge. He deserves the Oscar for best actor in a leading role.

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But knowing the Academy he isn’t going to get it.

This is the same Academy that denied Saving Private Ryan a best picture prize in favor of Shakespeare in Love, nominated Adam Sandler’s Click for an Oscar but not Casino Royale, and for some mysterious reason thought Argo was better than Silver Linings Playbook. Oh, and Leonardo DiCaprio still doesn’t have an Oscar (but Nicholas Cage and Whoopi Goldberg do).

In other words, Gyllenhaal deserves an Oscar, but Nightcrawler isn’t artsy or pompous enough for the Academy to actually give him one.

His portrayal of Louis Bloom was more convincing and more absorbing than anything I’ve seen for a while. He managed to be cunning and deranged while simultaneously spewing out business ethics and strategies to anyone who would or wouldn’t listen.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Rick, Louis’s protégé / mule panics about the morality of their actions as they are leaving a crime scene at which Louis has crossed many lines, both moral and legal. Louis, for his part, ignores Rick’s cries and gives a rehearsed tirade about how Rick needs to make himself indispensible for the company and about his long-term views for the arc of his business. The contrast between Louis’s calm, controlled speech and Rick’s panicked cries brilliantly highlights just how deranged and sociopathic Louis is. It’s awesome.

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And by the time we get to the finale, Louis’s disregard of human life and his single-minded pursuit of success and domination seem almost sensible, almost human. It’s both chilling and fascinating.

Aside from Gyllenhaal, the plot of Nightcrawler is also exceptional. It’s inventive, dangerous, and darkly comical, three things that jive together very well in this film. It manages to critique the culture of journalism and self-help while not losing its crackling intensity. As always, though, the plot has its drawbacks. Some points seem underdeveloped, like Louis’s manipulation of Nina and his clashes with police, while others seem unnecessary, like some of the plethora of crime scenes that Louis and Rick visit.

Had Gyllenhaal and the story been supported by other complimentary pieces, this movie may very well have been a 10 out of 10, my first as a distinguished ScreenWars reviewer. But, unfortunately, there really wasn’t much else there. Rene Russo had a solid role as Nina, a station manager that Louis continually manipulates, but her relationship with Louis seemed undercooked and cold. As I said, the police looked into Louis for only about 10 minutes, but I feel like that could have and even should have been blown into a larger element of the story.

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Riz Ahmed had a nice first mainstream performance as Rick, Louis’s sidekick, but he too felt underused. The relationship between him and Louis should have, in my opinion, been played up more because it offered insight into the latter’s mind and personality which, as I said, was the main force driving the movie.

And that’s basically it with Nightcrawler. It doesn’t boast any artsy significance like other Oscar winners (The Artist), but what it does do is offer chilling reflections of our society. We unknowingly ingest everyday on the news everything that Louis goes out there to film. We crave the violence and the gore just as much as he does, even if we mask it better than he does. And, at the end of the day, we all have a desire to be successful and be dominant over others that is eerily reminiscent of Louis’s willingness to exploit other people.

So no, Nightcrawler might not win an Oscar and it might not even be nominated. Movies have been snubbed with as much substance as Nightcrawler and sometimes even more (Reservoir Dogs wasn’t nominated for anything) but they’ve sure as hell won with quite a bit less too (Forrest Gump). Nevertheless, Nightcrawler might just be a sleeper in the race for the Oscars. Maybe the Academy will wake up this year.
~Will

Like Nightcrawler? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!