American Sniper

This week we take a look at 6-time Oscar nominee American Sniper, directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood. Starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, this movie is rated-R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references.

American Sniper tells the true story of legendary sniper Chris Kyle (Cooper). Originally setting out to be a cowboy, Kyle realized that he wanted something bigger for himself and joined the SEALs to become a sniper. As a result, Kyle struggles to remain connected with his family and life back home while becoming a legend among veterans and soldiers alike.

9.0 out of 10

The war genre has seen a slight revival this year, represented by the good (Fury), the bad- well, bad is a harsh word- (Unbroken), and the ugly (The Monuments Men if you even remember that). But none of this year’s war films looked like they could truly stand their ground against the all time greats. That is, until American Sniper was released.

I saw this film after Oscar nominations were released and was kinda confounded that it was voted over Gone Girl and Nightcrawler, and that Bradley Cooper was voted in over Jake Gyllenhaal and David Oyelowo. But after actually seeing the film, I can see it (Those snubs are still pretty dumb). American Sniper is a riveting, memorable film filled to the brim with tension and emotion, anchored by Bradley Cooper at his best.

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To put it out there, I was not aware of Chris Kyle’s story and how it ends, which apparently was national news back in 2013. As a result, I was really able to enjoy the intensity of this film that much more. And boy was it relevant. From the intensity of the music to the gripping cinematography, the film perfectly displays the grit and, at times, the solidarity of war. It didn’t take long for me to get emotionally invested simply because Eastwood’s direction perfectly developed Kyle’s journey, all the way from the beginning of his life. A lot of films are able to show the difficult conditions of war, but what American Sniper did was particularly incredible: war wasn’t difficult for him, being away from it was.

A lot of the criticism has been directed towards Eastwood’s glorifying of Kyle. Critics feel as though Kyle was actually an arrogant, racist psychopath but is inaccurately portrayed as the perfect American hero. To be honest, I was able to see that Kyle was a little off. He liked killing those opposite him, and that only added to the imperfection of his character. I didn’t feel like they were paving Kyle to be the perfect human being in any way. A hero, perhaps, but perfect? No, I don’t think so. The fact that he wasn’t a psychopath kept us into the movie. So maybe it isn’t the most ACCURATE film, but boy is it still good.

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The fact that he’s not completely a psychopath is also important because the movie is literally all him. From beginning to end he is the driving force of this film. And the only reason that works is because Bradley Cooper is spectacular. Remember when he was acting in all those comedies? Yes Man, Wedding Crashers, The Hangover? Neither do I. He’s rattled off three straight Academy Award nominated performances in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and now this, which is, in my opinion, his best performance. Christian Bale certainly rubbed off on him, as seen through the physical transformation he went through. His dedication to this role was clear. He was passionate and stoic, like Kyle, but also had a lighter side that made him likable. Dare I say best performance of the year? It was definitely up there (perhaps losing out to only Keaton and Gyllenhaal).

The one gripe I had with this movie was that it focused so tightly on Kyle that it detracted from the rest of the film. Some of the other characters of the film were uninteresting because they played second fiddle to the legend of Chris Kyle. Even his wife, who Sienna Miller did a really solid job of portraying, was a little bit uninteresting as a character. I know this is his story- I get that. But it certainly doesn’t help when the characters around him pale in comparison to him. And while the whole storyline with opposing sniper Mustafa, which was apparently ridiculously overblown, was really entertaining, it definitely made the movie more about his personal accomplishments rather than the impact of war on an individual.

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As I’ve said, there’s been a lot of criticism about American Sniper’s glorification of someone who really wasn’t that great a guy. So maybe it isn’t a perfect biopic, but it is a great movie. Ultimately, Clint Eastwood puts together a poignant, moving film that perfectly displays the horrors of war on the veterans who live through it. Supported by a brilliant Bradley Cooper performance, American Sniper hits the mark and is one of the best movies of the year.
~Vig

9.0 out of 10
In light of recent conflicts and criticisms, I’m gonna go ahead and preface this by saying I haven’t read all too much of Chris Kyle’s story so I can not judge the man but instead the movie itself. I’m allowing American Sniper the usual privileges I do for historical: it can have some inaccuracies or streamlined parts because, well, it is a movie and that’s just an occupational hazard of the art form. All that said, Clint Eastwood, the director who crafted Sniper, is a heckuva a talented man. I loved Gran Torino, I’ve heard great things about Million Dollar Baby and I do enjoy his Chrysler commercials. I lean to the Left but I’ve totally absolved him for talking to a chair on stage that one time. And, shocker here, he’s hit it out of the park with American Sniper.
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Sniper has killed it at the box office, its fared well with critics and has been universally praised by audiences. Aside from the controversies mentioned earlier, it has probably earned its place alongside the best war movies of the past few decades. So who’s responsible for this success? Who drives the movie and manifests Eastwood’s directions? As much as I had to boil the success of a huge film like this to one person, I must give that honor to Mr. Bradley Cooper.

Cooper’s star is rising. The star, once known as “that guy from The Hangover”, has handled some heavy-hitting performances these past few years and damned if his role as the military Chris Kyle ain’t one of them. The challenging thing about portraying Kyle is that, in the best way possible, there isn’t too much to portray. Whereas last review’s subject had his outbursts and even tantrums, Kyle remains quiet. Not out of coldness but out of years of layering over his actual feelings on the pain he’s either suffered through or caused. That’s a welcomed change from the usual heroes Hollywood presents us that gush with feelings: real people rarely just leak out their emotions, especially those who’ve been through numerous tragedies. Cooper plays Kyle as a quiet man but with undercurrents of shakiness and an aura of uneasiness that tenses the audience. Silence is scary.

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Here inlies, I believe, the number one issue many have with Sniper. The film very much trusts its audience to read Kyle and to fill in the blanks of his detached attitude. And, while Cooper does very well with this subtlety, that can be somewhat challenging considering the acts of violence that Kyle carries out in the film. As a result, that detached attitude, paired with Kyle’s incessant desire to assist his SEAL comrades, translates into stone-cold aggression to some. It’s easy to see how many could slip into this opinion but I do believe they’re missing the point.

Similar to The Hurt Locker, Sniper shows the dent that’s slammed into many ex-military men’s lives. This is hole widens and consumes plenty of veterans’ enjoyment of everyday activities. It’s a very challenging thing to portray, especially in a modern movie atmosphere that loves clear-cut arcs and black and white morality when it comes to war. When Kyle often itches to return to his role as a top sniper, its important to realize that the film is not sugarcoating his choices or depicting the relentless battle he fights in a positive way. Instead, it expects us to see how much violence has wrecked Kyle’s capacity for satisfaction with his life at home.

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Aside from Kyle’s development and Cooper’s brilliant performance, the film does provide a very gritty vision of Iraq that helps to fuel the suspense of the film. The Iraq the film portrays is not the usual place for villains to be conquered and fables to be made; it’s a place thoroughly ridden with dangerous, unrelenting terrorists at all turns and citizens tragically caught in the crossfire. It’s obviously, not a nice place to be and it provides the perfect backdrop for Kyle’s development into both a tortured man and a savior to all Marines.

American Sniper’s a very good film that benefits from its strong direction, sturdy lead and sheer intensity. Once again, I can’t really predict its performance with the Academy this year since we’re all looking at a very tight competition but I would not be thrown off if Cooper won. It’s any man’s game and Sniper just may hit a few targets.

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist)
~Zach

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The Imitation Game

Today we take a look at Alan Turing’s biopic and the recipient of 8 Academy Award nominees, The Imitation Game. Directed by Morten Tyldum, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, and Matthew Goode. It is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.

The Imitation Game follows the real life story of brilliant mathematician Alan Turing and his fight against time and the Nazis as they try to break the unsolveable Enigma Code at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

8.0 out of 10

For 110 minutes, The Imitation Game was a fantastic movie. 9.0 or 9.5 out of 10. It was gripping, incredibly well-acted, and unflinching in its portrayal of Alan Turing’s experiences and struggles. For the final four minutes of its 114 running time, it was still gripping and incredibly well-acted, but it lost that truth and faithfulness to Turing’s story, a fact that left me with a really sour taste and the movie with a significantly reduced score.

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For those first 110 minutes, I was enthralled. The movie never lost its tension, each segment of Turing’s struggle to break Enigma flanked by menacing real-life clips of fighting and bombing in 1940’s Europe. But The Imitation Game was not solely monotonous tension and idealistic nationalism; it also featured a central narrative of emotional agony. In the past, we see Turing’s ostracism and persecution by his peers and his inherent lack of ability to connect with other people. In the recent past, we see the contempt his peers have for him as they try to break Enigma. And in the present, we see Turing downtrodden and arrested, again facing the persecution of the people that surround him. This fantastic mix of tension and emotion jived together and moved the plot of the film along swiftly. I have a hard time imagining any viewer to be bored by The Imitation Game.

The acting was superb. Benedict Cumberbatch was absolutely phenomenal as the tortured genius Alan Turing, a role he has had some practice for as the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes. His voice inflections, stammering, and hunched-over walk were all incredibly convincing, and Cumberbatch has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor, the Golden Globe for Best Actor, Drama, and I would be incredibly surprised if he is not nominated for the Best Actor Oscar when Oscar nominations come out later this month. Will he win? It’s possible, but there is some stiff competition this year with Michael Keaton in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.

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Cumberbatch was really the driving the force in The Imitation Game. Keira Knightly added some comedy and insight into the sexism of the forties while also serving as the only character able to connect with Turing, but besides the interplay between these two and Turing’s inner struggles, The Imitation Game doesn’t have much to offer. But what it does it does exceptionally well and it is sure to be an awards show contender, especially with Harvey Weinstein’s campaigning powers at work.

That is where my review would end if the movie had ended after 110 minutes. The Imitation Game would have gotten a 9.0 out of 10, and it would be one of my favorite movies of the year, if not my favorite movie of the year (As it is, I still really enjoyed the film). But then the ending happened, and they got it so incredibly wrong. Spoilers will follow, but the movie is based on the life of a historical and historic figure, so I suppose they aren’t true spoilers.

After breaking Enigma, Turing returns home and continues to work on developing the first computer, Christopher. He is later arrested for “public indecency”, for attempting to have sex with another man. He is, in essence, arrested for being gay. He is then forced to endure hormone therapy to “chemically castrate” him and “reverse his homosexual predilections”.

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In real life, Turing endures this therapy for a year before committing a suicide via a cyanide-laced apple, a rhetorical omen of sorts. He is so persecuted by the very society that he saved through shortening the war and saving 14 million lives and creating the foundations for the modern computer that he ends his life. There is no Disney happy ending, but in reel life (in the movie), the screenwriters attempt to create one. In the film, Turing is visited by Knightley’s character and she supports him and he seems to find some semblance of inner peace. In a sense, he accepts his character, his situation, and what he’s done. His suicide and decent into widespread physical issues brought on by the hormones are reduced to after-credit epilogue fodder.

Had The Imitation Game stayed true to Turing’s story and showed the society’s persecution of the very man who saved them, I could very well be sitting here writing my first 10 out of 10 reviews and forecasting an Oscar sweep. But they messed it up and they messed it up badly. Rumor has it Weinstein thought it would be more appealing to the masses and more likely to win awards, but in my opinion it has had the opposite effect.

The Imitation Game was great, but damn, it could have been a cinematic landmark.
~Will

9.5 out of 10

World War II often dominates any historical/historical-fiction entries for the Academy Awards and it’s not hard to see why: it’s a blend of violent yet cerebral battles, there’s a closely shaved right and wrong with no room for dispute. Most of all, its sheer scale automatically ties it with billions of heard and unheard biographies that our writers will be excavating for the next few decades.
THE IMITATION GAME Alan Turing’s story is one of those brilliant yet buried biographies. Imitation Game knows this and tunes its writing, set pieces and pacing accordingly. It’s a memoir that packs a punch and slams its audience with a firecracker anecdote about one of the most exciting things ever, of course: the creation of one of the first basic computers that occupies a good quarter of an entire office.

The last film that I can think of that made coding riveting is The Social Network which is, in a small way, a twin to this movie. They both grab from a similar bag of tricks, using streamlined visuals and relying on a small circle of skilled actors. Moreover, they’re both handed the problem of making an antisocial, misanthropic genius the audience’s hero for a solid two hours and both are not afraid to show that hero’s ugly side.

imitation 1 This is where Cumberbatch hits his target with frightening precision (Insert American Sniper joke here). He keeps up that soft air of entitlement and condescension that vectors us all in pretty quickly. And his coldness makes it all the more special for those seconds where he lashes out, trust me. He drives the film by modeling his actions after the robots his character actively worships and injects just enough humanity at all the right moments to keep us all invested. That humanity is very much weaved around the structure of the entire movie which bounces between Turing’s construction of his code-cracking computer (Affectionately referred to as “Christopher” by our boy for some pretty intriguing reasons that are uncovered throughout) and his past at boarding school.

But we all know Mr. Cumberbatch has a knack for playing near-mechanical men with a concentrated dose of background, what about our supporting cast? Well, they do very well for themselves too especially since they have to hold their own against their dynamic lead. There aren’t a lot of large roles besides Turing but Keira Knightley pulls off an intelligent yet somewhat vulnerable portrait of Turing’s fiance and colleague, Joan Clarke. She is able to work with Cumberbatch and genuinely portrays the problems of working with an irritable intellect. The supporting cast of Turing’s workers do the same as they’re gradually forced to adhere to his intellect. Every actor here is pretty much brimming with the era as well.
Which brings us to our next point: the sets, clothing and atmosphere are all far up to snuff. In this era where audiences love to pick and chew at small inaccuracies, Imitation is up to the task and keeps its environment small yet accurate. Set pieces and wardrobe can sometimes go unnoticed with historical movies especially with actors like this but they provide a solid backdrop here.

THE IMITATION GAME This is a smaller matter but I’m also enamored with how smart this movie is and how much trust it does in fact put in its audience. As mentioned before, early computer models aren’t exactly the most exciting things on the planet and, yes, the viewer has to fight their way through technobabble every once and a while and maybe pretend that they understand how Enigma works but this adaptation does through a good amount of puzzles at the viewer. It’s always extremely important to me that a film like this doesn’t get corrupted by downplaying its complexity to the audience.

imitation 6 Cumberbatch has gotten the role he deserves and all of the nominations that go with it. Since he is a little new to this tier of film, I suspect that he won’t get all of the awards he’s earned but then again there’s no very little rhyme or reason to the Academy (Usually the one you forgot to see yet keep vaguely hearing about wins, almost inevitably). No matter what though, his role as Turing was an exceptional exercise in dramatic strength that’ll land him (even more) weighty roles in the future. Bravo, Mr. Cumberbatch. Oh, and bravo Mr. Turing as well. Amateurs like me wouldn’t be able to spout their opinions without the descendants of your invention.
~Zach

Unbroken

Happy Oscars! This week we take atAngelina Jolie’s second fixture as a director in Unbroken, nominated for three Academy Awards. Starring Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund and Jai Courtney, Unbroken is rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.

Based on a true story, Unbroken follows the life of Louis Zamperini (O’Connell), an Olympic athlete who joined the army during the second world war. However, after a plane crash in the Pacific, Zamperini is caught by the Japanese and becomes a prisoner of war, almost collapsing under the pressure of surviving.

8.5 out of 10

For the life of me I can’t figure out why this movie has been panned by audiences and critics alike. It sits at a paltry 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, a cautionary 59/100 on Metacritic, and a palatable 7.1 on IMDb. In other words, if you listen to what’s out there online (or Zach over on my right there), Unbroken is terrible. Simply put, they’re wrong. Terribly wrong. Maybe in breaking down the movie to its components I can find this mysterious fatal flaw, but I’m telling you it doesn’t exist.

I’ve been inspired by Zamperini’s story since I read his book just a few years ago (something, by the way, that Zach has not done), and it was a pleasure to see his story adapted to the big screen. Laura Hillenbrand did a fantastic job with the book, in my opinion an even better job than the movie. However, just like Hillenbrand’s book, Angelina Jolie’s movie was fraught with tension. There was a sense of impending doom throughout the first third of the movie, with the whole audience knowing what was coming yet hoping, for everyone’s sake, that it never did. It reminded me of Titanic, another movie with a tragic historical backdrop. And once Louis’s plane crashed and he was stranded on that raft through his ultimate capture and torture at the hands of the Japanese, the tension never abated. There were very few bullets flying but Unbroken is one of the most intense war movies I’ve seen, even among Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan (Just because I know Zach is going to try to chew me out about that last statement, I will state explicitly that no, Unbroken is not as good as Saving Private Ryan). Zach will try to tell you that the pacing was horrible and that the part where Zamperini is stranded on his raft drags. Well, Zach, he was on that raft for 45 days. I don’t imagine he was exhilarated being on that raft either. Even still, Angelina Jolie, Unbroken’s director, is able to develop Zamperini’s character while simultaneously showing his comparative mental strength as his other raft-mates slowly descend into defeat while Louis still rambles on about his mother’s gnocchi. It’s an integral facet to his character and a massive reason of why he was able to survive. Another complaint I’ve heard is that parts of Unbroken are essentially “torture porn”, a direct quote from a friend and also suspiciously from the second Rotten Tomatoes review. In my opinion, like with the pacing complaints this so-called flaw is horribly unfounded. Jolie does not glorify Zamperini’s suffering – something that Zamperini wouldn’t have allowed – but instead provides an unflinching look at what Zamperini had to endure and the attention and abuse that his celebrity and his unwillingness to be subjected brought him. “Torture porn” implies that there are people enjoying his suffering and his abuse. From what I could see in the theater, this simply wasn’t the case. I, for one, had my hands on my face and my jaw dropped watching in awe and what this man could do. Zach was in the same position and was audibly gasping at certain points throughout the film. Featuring any less of the abuse Zamperini faced would be whitewashing what he endured, rather than respecting his strength and idealistic loyalty to his nation.

A final major complaint I’ve seen propagated is that Jack O’Connell doesn’t give enough insights into Zamperini’s humanity and character. Again, I scoff. Simply through his ability to overcome all the abuses and tragedies that are pervasive around him gives the audience far reaching insights into who Louis is and the strength he possesses. And in terms of more dramatic manifestations of his character, I go back to the scene on the raft. He knows that the other two men on the raft are growing weak and going crazy and that sooner or later he will follow. He attempts to comfort them, to ease their pain and to keep talking with them about better times and their lives when they get back home. He is strong enough and caring to give to other people something that he doesn’t have much of himself: hope. And in terms of O’Connell’s acting, I think he was great. Sure, he didn’t have the most involved of speaking roles, but in terms of delivering on what was most impactful about Louis, he was a rousing success. Takamasa Ishihara, the actor who played the Bird and who I recently learned is a Japanese rock star was also fantastic. The iciness and envy that emanated from his character were visible in his eyes and his face, and he really starred in the POW camp scenes.

My one major criticism with the film is that it missed out on one of Louis’s greatest achievements. Not running in the Olympics, not getting off the raft, not returning home to his family, but finding forgiveness. Years after his return home, he returns to those POW camps and meets the men who abused him, and rather than retaliating, he shakes their hands and has conversations with them. This shows Zamperini’s trademark strength and compassion while also illustrating the ultimate contrast between him and the Bird: while Zamperini is willing to meet with the man who singled him out and abused him endlessly, the Bird will not meet him. What a fitting end to Zamperini’s chapter as a national inspiration.

I genuinely hope this movie gets a best picture nod. In my opinion it certainly deserves. Given that fact that it has been panned virtually across the board I’d say the prospects are dubious, but then again, with Hollywood royalty like Jolie in the director’s chair, Zamperini’s recent passing, and the fact that a significant portion of the Academy is white men who lived through World War Two, it’s certainly a possibility.
~Will

6.0 out of 10

I am going to write about five hundred words on this film but I really can’t review it much better than the older man (Adorned in Army apparel, could’ve been a veteran) in front me. About halfway through the film, he leaned towards the guy he came with and said: “They should stop showing this stuff. It’s masochistic.”
There you have it, folks. Unbroken featured so much torture that the average Gitmo guard would get queasy. This is probably the most we as a nation have enjoyed watching war crimes since…ever, hopefully. Is it well made torture? Why yes, it is! Ms, Jolie certainly can direct her way around a few lashings with a dash of crimes against humanities.

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And don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware the movie isn’t portraying a walk in a park. Of course, there’s always a very difficult balance whenever somebody’s depicting real, traumatic events within the boundaries of a story. You have to have an arc but also exhibit the brutality the subject has experienced in a way that sheds light on those the audience calls history. The book Unbroken, from what I hear, does this very, very well. Well enough to land it on the New York Times Bestseller List for a rock-solid 190 weeks (Right below Bill O’Reilly’s billionth “Killing” book!).

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But what have I said a billion times? Films have a lot to do in a few hours that aren’t afforded any intermissions and pacing is everything. Books are given several breaks even if they’re page turner. Thus, when veteran Louis Zamperini was penning his memoir, he could have separated chapters on the problems he faced and there would be breathers in between but here, we’re barraged with about seven torture scenes or so in a row.

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The funny thing is, I didn’t really realize that until I was describing the plot hours after seeing it. I actually was really impressed by the actors (Our lead and his Japanese enforcer in the film command a lot of attention), the set pieces and the costumes (Which build the world perfectly). But when somebody asked me what exactly happened in the movie, I think I pretty much repeated the same thing over and over: “He was tortured, he stood up, he was tortured again but he stood up again”. The scenes were powerful, put each one taxed the following’s significance. In short, it all numbs the audience out after a while.

What kills me the most, though, is that there are about a billion great stories about Zamperini that are just waved by. For example, and this isn’t much of a spoiler since he obviously lived on to write his story but still, before the end credits, the usual “Where are they now?” stories were flashed. One of them involved a pretty small, interesting anecdote about Zamperini and his captor decades after the war that was practically begging for a film. It lent itself perfectly well to the flashback-flashforward structure they used relatively well throughout this one.

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For what it’s worth, though, I don’t dislike the movie. It was a genuine effort which does count for a lot when adapting a story from history. Plus, Jolie has to be allowed some form a learner’s curve, right? She does do pretty well with the more dramatic/kinetic scenes in this one. If one goes in with the precaution that they’re about to witness less of an arc and more Hollywood-grade stomach-churning moments, then they’ll like it just fine. If you think you can endure the more indulgent scenes or if you’re plain curious out of interest for the time period, then check it out and it shouldn’t be a waste.

For now, though, I’m afraid I’ll have to stick to Saving Private Ryan as far as World War II in the wonderful world of modern cinema goes.
~Zach

Thoughts on… Oscar Nominations

Oscar Nominations are finally here! As we countdown to the ceremonies, with about a month left to go, we will try and review all the films we have yet to for Best Picture, followed by films that received other nominations. Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel led the way with nine nominations a piece, and Boyhood claimed six. But for right now, here are our first glance thoughts.

Eight Best Picture Nominees

For reference, this year’s nominees are The Imitation Game, Theory Of Everything, Birdman, Boyhood, American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, and Whiplash. In a year with so many great movies and the option to pick 10 films, why would the Academy choose to go with 8? Nightcrawler, Gone Girl, and Foxcatcher were all snubbed. Even Into the Woods could have slipped in there.

Bradley Cooper Snipes Last Spot

Not many people saw this coming. Cooper beat out Selma‘s David Oyelowo and Nightcrawler‘s Jake Gyllenhaal for this last spot in Best Lead Actor. I personally would have loved to see Gyllenhaal here; he was my favorite performance of the year. The other four nominees are Steve Carrell, Eddie Redmayne, Michael Keaton and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Selma’s March on the Academy Proves Unsuccessful

Though I (Vig) have yet to see it, I’ve heard it’s powerful and David Oyelowo is absolutely incredible. I (Will) have seen it and it’s fantastic. It’s the movie of the moment, given everything that has been going on in New York and Ferguson. However, Oyelowo, director Ava Duvarnay, and cinematographer Brad Young were all left on the outside looking in.

Racial Representation at the Oscars

I don’t mean to get political, but of the 20 actors nominated, all of them were white. Of the 5 directors, Alejandro G. Inarritu is latino, and that’s it. The Academy is notorious for being white and old but this is a particularly homogenous group of nominees in a year with incredibly diverse movies. Not gonna make a huge fit about it, just had to comment on it.

Biggest Snub of the Day:
Selma got two nominations, Nightcrawler and Gone Girl had one, and A Most Violent Year had none. But the fact that The Lego Movie did not get nominated of Best Animated Feature is maybe the most horrendous snub in the history of the Oscars. You heard it here folks. It’s official: white and old people don’t know how to have fun. How can The Boxtrolls and The Book of Life be nominated over The Lego Movie? Who the hell knows.

Thoughts on… Golden Globes 2015

The 2015 Golden Globes have passed! While some criticize the Globes as the sloppier and more inappropriate cousins of the Oscars, they are actually enjoyable for these very reasons. They don’t have the stuffiness of the Oscars, and while the awards may not mean nearly as much, it’s always great fun to have hosts not afraid to poke fun at Hollywood, and something is bound to happen when there are so many famous and self-absorbed people in one room. So here’s our reaction to the 2015 Golden Globes.

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey go out in major style:
Globes monologues have always been rowdy and somewhat controversial, most notably with Ricky Gervais’ raucous openings in recent years, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have successfully continued that condition during their three years of hosting. This year, the duo’s last year, they tackled George Clooney’s marriage (which was absolutely hilarious), The Interview, and Bill Cosby’s rape allegations.

Jeremy Renner makes the best joke of the night:
While Renner and Jennifer Lopez were presenting, Lopez said that she had the envelope containing the result, to which Renner replied “and you’ve got the globes”. Queue the laughs.

How to Train Your Dragon upsets The Lego Movie:
I’ve gotten some major flak for my love of How to Train Your Dragon 2 and my insistence that it’s better than The Lego Movie. Vig says it doesn’t even compare and my other friend says its borderline terrible. Well, my friends, How to Train Your Dragon 2 took the win, and here’s to hoping that this trend continues in February at the Oscars.

No one was more surprised than Amy Adams:
That she took down Emily Blunt for actress musical or comedy. She looked absolutely shocked, (genuinely though, for often at these shows the actors fake surprise) and her speech was a little bit all over the place. Unfortunately for her, she’ll be denied the Oscar again in favor of Julianne Moore. She is definitely Leonardo DiCaprio’s counterpart.

Amazon wins multiple awards:
For it’s comedy show Transparent, a groundbreaking show about a transsexual parent. Poehler and Fey’s quip from a few years ago that Snapchat will soon be accepting Best Picture seems frighteningly relevant.

Neither Leonardo DiCaprio nor Jennifer Lawrence attend:
There were some great movies this year, some fantastic movies really, but you can’t help but feel a bit of a void without arguably the most popular actress and actor producing any cirtically lauded work this year. Next year both should make returns, Lawrence for Joy and DiCaprio for The Revenant.

The Grand Budapest Hotel upsets Birdman to take Best Picture Comedy or Musical:
Does this mean Birdman’s Oscar Hopes are out the window? The path certainly seems clear for Boyhood (or perhaps Selma) to take Best Picture in February, especially considering that it took Best Picture Drama. I’d say it’s the odds on favorite at this point.

Movies that nobody’s seen are nominated once again:
Julianne Moore won best actress drama for her performance in Still Alice. I’m sure it’s great, at least that’s what I’ve read, but damn it would be nice to actually be able to see it for myself. But it’s not out in theaters yet. Neither is Cake. So given that Moore was a lock for best actress and Aniston was one of the only ones with some upset potential, I essentially had no reason to watch or care about the best actress category, one of the most important of the night.

The Interview

Amid all the controversy, we take a look at the infamous comedy The Interview. Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and starring James Franco, Rogen, and Randall Park, it is rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence.

If you’ve been living in a hole the past few weeks and don’t know what the film is about, The Interview follows celebrity talk show host Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) as they land an interview with avid fan and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. As the duo prepares for their interview, the CIA prepares them, two of the most unqualified men alive, to assasinate the totalitarian leader.

5 out of 10

Let’s be honest, the only reason any of us saw this movie is because of the huge stir it caused. In case you’ve been living under a rock for weeks, The Interview is, in a nutshell, about assassinating North Korean dictator Kim-Jong Un. No problem, right? Yeah, until terrorist threats were made on theaters that show the film. As a result, most theaters refused to show it. So Sony decided to put it online for people to stream. Maybe they realized how stupid the movie was and that they weren’t going to make much money from it, so might as well milk some controversy out of it (jokes). That concludes the extent of my current event knowledge. To be clear, there is no way this was a stunt, so get that out of your heads. Anyway, on to the movie. The Interview is definitely not Rogen or Franco’s best (This Is The End was golden), though it did provide a good laugh here and there.

interview 1

The first twenty minutes are pitifully terrible. The jokes aren’t funny. The opening image (a young Korean girl singing a song about raping women while a missile launches, at least I think) is kinda funny, but also kind of tasteless. The writers had to heavily rely on being offensive rather than being clever, which is, in retrospect perfectly okay, but only to a limit. Which this film had none of. The bit with Eminem put a smile on my face, but nothing sustained. My point is, there was absolutely nothing special about the beginning of the film. James Franco character was, to put it nicely, a dumbass. He wasn’t even a funny dumbass, he was just a dumbass.

interview 6

However, it did pick up, albeit slightly. The satirical nature of Kim Jong Un and the relationship that him and Dave Skylark (Franco) was really funny at moments– the Katy Perry part was a fun little reference. I guess the stupidity of Skylark’s character did lead to a lot of humorous moments, but at the same time, it was overkill. That was this film’s main problem; it didn’t know its limits. It overused and overkilled just about every single joke. Everything became stale and unoriginal. To put the cherry on top, there was some really excessive violence towards the end, in the form of a Korean graphically biting off Seth Rogen’s hand. That was a little much, an example of the film not knowing its limitations. The ending was ridiculous, a little bit anticlimactic but *spoiler* Kim-Jong Un blows up in incredulous fashion, so I’m not sure what else you can ask for.

interview 2

I’ll be honest here (lot of honesty in this post), I’m kind of struggling with figuring out what to say at this point. The jokes were mediocre, James Franco’s character was dumb, rinse and repeat. It’s silly, immature, weird, whacky, crazy, etc. etc. etc. It’s really a hit or miss. This is the kind of movie I would watch at Zach’s house at three in the morning when we don’t have anything else to do. You could think its funny, you could think its very unfunny. So my verdict is this: it’s worth a view if you have nothing else to do, and six bucks is a nice price to pay if you can watch it with all your friends in the luxury of your home. But, if this movie was in theaters, no way I’m paying to go see it. This is no Horrible Bosses or 21 Jump Street, but hey, Go America right?
~Vig

4.5 out of 10

Let me preface this by saying that I love free speech so much. It’s probably one of the reasons that our revolution was successful when so many others haven’t been. It’s probably the reason that we don’t have to call ourselves the Democratic Peoples Republic of the United States. It’s most definitely the reason that unqualified idiot like us can start a WordPress and just kinda write our thoughts.
interview 5
I say all of this because the GOP is about 90% why we’re talking about this film as a nation. Terrorism is great publicity, folks, and using fear to strip an entire population of its liberties worked startlingly well in this case. So if you really do want to see this and let freedom reign, do it! By all means, stick it to the all those Juches. But my task here isn’t to defend free speech, it’s to review a movie which is why I have to say: The Interview sucked for the most part.

I love it when North Korea tries to intimidate and it all just blows up in its face but this pretty forgettable film isn’t really worth all of the conversation swirling around it that’s drawing in the masses. It’s pretty stupid. It’s like if That’s My Boy, Hangover III or any of their mediocre peers just won some political controversy lottery and got about $15 million worth and a whole week of nonstop publicity.

What do I look at as the model for modern political satire? Borat. Borat is very, very stupid yes but it’s also very smart in that it uses that stupidity to show how ignorant both the Americans Borat interacts with and the culture he pretends to hail from can be. The Interview is a slew of pretty cheap shots at North Korea that have all been covered: Kim Jong Un is supposed to be a God but he’s really a tubby, overgrown kid; the entire nation purports that it’s a utopia but it’s crappy etc.

interview 4

It’s almost like a Sony executive sat down and surfed Youtube for a solid day and figured out that people love to hate the tiny country. The problem with that is that it’s kind of odd to just pick on North Korea right now for political satire. With everything going on and all of the cartoonish enemies we have against us, they chose the DPRK? Why not a movie where Franco and Rogen spy on Putin? I would legitimately watch the hell out of that.

Notice I haven’t really lampooned either of our two leads here. Even though they don’t have a lot of material to work with, they rock it. Whenever they’re working together, it feels very eased and genuine since they have a friendship to build on. They do excellent work here but it isn’t enough to cave the movie from all of its hackneyed humor. The plot that surrounds them is pretty predictable as well; it was one of those plots where you could slowly predict more and more about as it unraveled.

interview 3

See it? Unless you really care about democracy and our liberties, I would take a pass on this. Let’s just say Kim Jong Un is extremely lucky that the first widespread satire of his rule wasn’t quite pitch-perfect.

**The 0.5 is because I love my country.
~Zach

Thoughts on… 2015!

Hey readers!

2014 was a great year for movies, both in action blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy and indie dramas like Nightcrawler, and in less than two months the Oscars will crown Hollywood’s best. Some of Screenwars favorite movies of the year include Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Captain America 2, Gone Girl, and Birdman. But as we ring in the new year, it’s time to look ahead and check Vig and Will’s seven most anticipated films of 2015. (because five wasn’t enough for Will)

Number 7

St. James Place
First, I’d like to briefly acknowledge the films that didn’t make it. Joy, Spectre, Mockingjay Part 2. All are movies I will definitely see, but just didn’t make the list. St. James Place, on the other hand, did make the list. With Tom Hanks leading, Stephen Spielberg directing, The Coen Brothers writing, and an incredibly interesting premise about a Cold War spy, what isn’t there to like about the film? It should definitely be in the running for the top awards in 2015.
Joy
Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a struggling housewife turned entrepreneur, in this upcoming film from golden director David O. Russell. In recent years Russell has helmed such films as The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, all character driven dramas with fantastic casts. And with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro joining Lawrence here, Joy should prove to be one of 2015’s rousing successes.

Number 6

Ant-Man
Honestly, anticipation for Ant-Man may be a bit of a strong word. Nervous may be the better word. If Marvel is going to slip up anytime soon, it will probably be with Ant-Man. With creative differences endangering the film early on, it looked as though the film would be a disaster. Nevertheless, it recovered, and Paul Rudd, Michael Douglass, and Evangeline Lilly headline the hopefully successful final sequence of Marvel’s phase two.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
Though Mockingjay Part 1 was a critical disappointment due largely to its dearth of action and tension, the second part of the Hunger Games’ final installment will hopefully be the action-packed finale we are all hoping for. Harry Potter arguably reached its greatest heights with the concluding Deathly Hallows Part 2 and given the unbelievable cast assembled for this new Hunger Games film, here’s to hoping we will see the same thing mirrored in Mockingjay. At the very least, teens will come out in droves for this one.

Number 5

Jurassic World
We have been witness to three Jurassic Park films, with only one of them being remotely good. Luckily for the series, the first one is a classic and its legacy is, for the most part, still in tact, still making 2015’s Jurassic World so heavily anticipated. Chris Pratt stars, hot off his breakout year with starring roles in The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, and will be sure to give this film the star power and comedic touch it needs. He will be supported by Bryce Dallas Howard and Jake Johnson in a movie that looks to bring relevance back to the Jurassic universe after two straight duds in the series. 
Inside Out
There were some fantastic animated films this year – most notably The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, and How to Train Your Dragon 2—but we were robbed of the yearly Pixar feature. In Inside Out, we get a look at the inner working of the mind of a teenage girl and the emotions that battle for control of her head. Featuring the vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, and Lewis Black, all comedy stars, Inside Out will surely be a massive hit for all ages and a film that will contend for Academy Awards next year. We should expect nothing less from the creator of Monsters Inc. and Up.

Number 4

The Hateful Eight
This is tentatively put on here because after Tarantino’s outburst about the script leaking, who knows if this will actually come out this year. Regardless, this film looks to be great. Samuel Jackson and Quentin Tarantino always produce gold, from Pulp Fiction to Django Unchained. Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, and Tim Roth join Jackson to give this film a superb cast, one that will give Tarantino plenty of talent to work with. The Hateful Eight, at least in concept, will continue Tarantino’s string of great films and perhaps be a contender for Best Picture. 
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Avengers is the third-highest grossing film of all time, and I fully expect Age of Ultron to gross even higher, given the seemingly ever-increasing desire for superhero tent poles. Marvel studios has had a string of massive financial and critical successes, including Captain American: The Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy and with Joss Whedon directing Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth, look for Age of Ultron to be a critical success and the highest grossing film of the year, the decade, and maybe of all time.

Number 3

The Revenant
Could Leo finally get that Oscar? It looks possibly with The Revenant. The film is about fur trapper Hugh Glass, who is robbed and abandoned by his companions after being mauled by a bear. Surviving and out for vengeance, the film follows Glass, played by Dicaprio, on his quest for vengeance against his companions who left him to die. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu, coming off a hit in Birdman and starring DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domnhall Gleeson, this film certainly has the star power to be great. Supported by an extremely interesting premise, watch for The Revenant in best picture discussions next year.
Spectre 
Spectre will be the 24th Bond movie and will ostensibly begin the exploration of the criminal organization that dominated the first – and the consensus best – Bond movies that starred Sean Connery. My major complaint with Skyfall was that it felt too much like a typical action film rather than the suave Bond films that we’ve been accustomed to, but with the throwback to the original films that we saw at the end of Skyfall, Spectre has the potential to be one of the best Bonds yet. Oh, and joining Daniel Craig and Ralph Fiennes will be Blue is the Warmest Color lead Lea Seydoux and Quentin Tarantino-favorite 2-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz.

Number 2

Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens
Of course this is on here, it was just a matter of whether it was first or not. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanatic in the world, but the original trilogy is arguably the best series of all time. I wholeheartedly trust JJ Abrams with this film, who has directed two great Star Trek films and definitely has a great grasp on the sci-fi genre (he also built a replica of Millennium Falcon, so yay practical effects!). By the looks of the first trailer, Episode VII will not follow the path of prequels and disappoint us all.
The Hateful Eight 
Quentin Tarantino will make his return to the big screen with 2015’s The Hateful Eight. Tarantino’s story will feature two bounty hunters, betrayal, deception, and, knowing Tarantino, a massive amount of violence. Featuring Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth, the legendary Bruce Dern, and global superstar Channing Tatum, who just found his first fantastic dramatic role in Foxcatcher, The Hateful Eight will undoubtedly be one of the finest movies of the year and an almost definite Best Picture contender.

Number 1

Avengers: Age of Ulton
Drumroll please! The new Avengers is a hands down number 1 on this list. You all know my affection for superhero films, and with the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolling at full force, Age of Ultron looks to be one of the best Marvel films yet. Following perhaps Marvel’s best year yet, one that featured Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers 2 heralds a star-studded cast that adds Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen to the mix. Joss Whedon is also back at the helm directing what looks to be Marvel’s biggest film yet. The first trailer was sick, and the leaked details about storylines (CIVIL WAR!!!) regarding Marvel’s phase three only make this movie all the better, making it my most anticipated film of 2015.
Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens
Words can’t describe just how excited I am for this movie. Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite films of all time, featuring fantastic characters, a compelling story, and groundbreaking visual effects. Despite the trilogy of prequels that did all they could to ruin the Star Wars legacy, with JJ. Abrams at the helm and Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, and Andy Serkis joining the original cast of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, I’m confident The Force Awakens will be more reminiscent of the original trilogy rather than the prequels. In a year full of sequels to blockbuster franchises, three of which are on this list, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is by far the most anticipated movie of 2015.

 

What movies are you most excited for in 2015? Let us know in the comment section below. Happy New Year!