Sex, drugs and more sex, this is the life that Cheryl Strayed is trying to leave behind. She does so by hiking more than 1,000 miles cross-country on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). Vallée gives us another honest and hard film of the human condition as he did in Dallas Buyers Club and Witherspoon is with him every step of the way. Based on the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, scriptwriter Nick Hornby (About a Boy) takes Strayed’s very own memoir and blossoms it right on screen. Through this trek of trial and error Witherspoon gives us a gritty and emotionally resonant performance. It’s her best achievement of her career.
Following her divorce and death of her beloved mother (a poignant Laura Dern), Cheryl spirals down to a life recklessness and destructive behavior. She’ll screw any guy that comes in her path and snort or shoot up any drug that is given to her. Cheryl hits an all time low and needs to get her life back together. The answer? Walk a 1,000 miles on the trail to recovery. But Cheryl really doesn’t know much about hiking. Her pack is too big and her shoes are too small. This makes her expedition ever more difficult. And Vallée doesn’t just make you watch this heartbreaking journey; instead you walk and suffer through it with her. He makes you feel Cheryl’s pain in your bones.
We’re there through every bruise or cut our hurting heroine gets on this rocky path. Sometimes it’s difficult to endure but in all of the grief and despair Witherspoon’s optimism keeps us going. Through heart and determination Witherspoon cuts you deep and gives hope to anyone who is or has struggled with addiction. Wild is powerful, inspiring and at times agonizing. You feel for Cheryl and want her to succeed. Wild takes you to a place of hope and wonder. It’s a hike worth taking.
Completely stupid U.S. Archeologists team up to uncover hidden secrets within the Egyptian desert. But what they discover is a lost pyramid that should have never been opened. The scariest part about The Pyramid was my sentience above describing the films plot. The rest of the plot slums down to cheap scares, horrendous acting (Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley, Amir K and Christa Nicola) and the wretched dialog. You can’t take anything seriously when watching this film, which is the exact opposite of what a horror film is supposed to do.
And if you thought that the falls pervious horror crap fest, Ouija, was bad wait until you see The Pyramid. Director Grégory Levasseur (screenwriter of Mirrors and The Hills Have Eyes, joy) fails to bring any direction to the film and curses the plot into complete hilarity. To make matters worst, The Pyramid tries to act like a found-footage film but every scene in the pyramid is so poorly lit you can’t see what the hell is going on. I could go on but this silly horror film is a waste of my time and yours. In the end, some secrets shouldn’t be uncovered including this film. Is it bad that halfway through the film I was wishing for Christian Bale to show up as Moses and send plagues to the entire cast?
Watching Interstellar reminded me of why I love sci-fi and brought me back to the glory days of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But where Kubrick used music and art to incorporated his film, here Nolan used emotion and heart. Nolan’s filming and execution were done beautifully throughout this film. This is probably his most inspiring film to date. 2001 wasn’t the only film that inspired him; Alien, Blade Runner and Star Wars (1977) all played a part for his inspiration. Now, there’s no UFO’s or aliens from another planets here. Interstellar is simply mankind racing through the cosmos in order to save the human race. Haters are going to hate and what they are missing out on is how thought-provoking and graciously blended this film is. It’s also a visually splendor that captures the soul of our universe. Where Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity showed us the fears of space. Instead, Nolan showed us the search for hope in the cosmos.
Shot in glorious IMAX 70 mm, Interstellar is a journey waiting to be ridden and a plot full of surprises, which I will not spoil. We are introduced to earth now as a mere Dust Bowl. In this near future, food and natural resources are at an all time low, while its citizens are starving and choking from this catastrophe. Nolan’s first act explores the American farm belt and introduces us to widower Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), former test pilot. Cooper lives with his father-in-law ( John Lithgow) who helps him raise his two kids, Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murphy (Mackenzie Foy, outstanding). Murph is a rebel and outsider just like her dad because she refuses to believe that the Apollo space landing was a lie. In act two, Cooper and Murph end up finding NASA, but only in smaller form. Here, Cooper meets his former boss Professor Brand (Michael Caine). Professor Brand convinces Cooper to help lead a mission to space in order to find a new world, the Lazarus missions, to colonizes on. Cooper agrees, leaving behind two kids who may never forgive him, but this is where our journey begins.
On the Endurance, Cooper teams up with astronauts Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Brand’s daughter; Romilly (David Gyasi); and Doyle (Wes Bentley). Ex-military robots TARS (voiced by the great Bill Irwin) and CASE also join the crew. TARS and CASE pay homage to a HAL type figure from Kubrick’s 2001. This is where Nolan and his crew of specialist set in play the awe moments for the film. From traveling through black holes, to escaping waves the size of skyscrapers, to fighting on the icy scopes of the tundra. Movie lovers alike will simply applauded Nolan and his vision. But this vision couldn’t have been completed without the help of his brother and co-writer Jonathan Nolan, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, VFX supervisor Paul J. Franklin and Hans Zimmer’s exhilarating score. They all played a part in getting Interstellar to take flight. The thing that I loved most about this film is how realistic is truly was. Like in 2001, Nolan completely silenced anything out in space and incorporates music with it. This gives the film a since of realism and wonder.
Next on the list are black holes, wormholes and the space-time continuum. The final act of the film shows Cooper coming to the realization that his two years in space are 23 years on earth. Cooper watches decades of video messages pour out in front of him from his children now adults (Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain). McConaughey is incredibly moving in this scene and completely breaks down. His performance is raw and will hit you hard in the heart. McConaughey has been on fire over the last couple of years with his tour de force performances in Killer Joe, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective, The Wolf of Wall Street and now Interstellar.
This heartbreaking performance from him will deeply sadden you as you see time with his children slip away in seconds. Chastain and Hathaway also give award worthy roles as a daughter anxious to see her long lost dad again and another daughter wanting to accomplish something for her father. Although, at times, the film’s intellect exceed its grasp Nolan always makes you think. Interstellar is never the less visually moving and breathes life into future sci-fi films. In the end, Interstellar is a must-take ride. So join the crew and explore the cosmos through space and time.
It’s sad to see the once comedic duo, the Farrlley brothers (Kingpin, Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary), loose their touch and Dumb and Dumber To proves this case even more. I knew that when I went into this film I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but knowing the Farrlley bros. brand humor, I was expecting the sequel to be as funny as the original. Sadly, it didn’t even come close. Nothing seemed refreshing throughout the film, including the most important aspect … the jokes. This is where most sequels fall short (for any genre) because they can’t come up with anything new.
The original brought us so much laugher when it debut in 1994. The reason being is that Dumb and Dumber brought slapstick back to existence in the ‘90s and evenly placed its gross out humor throughout the film. Who could forget Harry’s (Daniels) famous toilet scene where he overdosed on laxatives and suffered a massive blow out? Or when Lloyd inflicted pain upon himself with hot peppers? Or when the two morons gave a blind kid their headless bird? These gags were all performed well behind the comedic direction of the Farrlley bros and by the hilarious duo themselves, Carrey and Daniels.
Cue 20 years later where we meet Lloyd who is institutionalized, but Harry still comes up to visit him. Now, another journey a waits the two when they set off to find Harry’s long lost daughter (Rachel Melvin) in order to gift Lloyd with a new kidney. I was happy to see Carrey and Daniels finally return to the big screen in their signature roles. They’ll do anything on screen to get their rear ends kicked around just for the audience’s sheer pleasure in watching their own stupidity.
But unfortunately, so many of the jokes fell flat throughout this film it was hard to endure. Where the Farrlley bros once reigned high in comedy are now in a slum. And some of the similar gags that worked so well in the original felt dated here. Carrey and Daniels give it their all and will make you chuckle every once in a while, but you don’t get the same vibe like you did from the original. Pity.
The Judge had great potential in the beginning: A big city Chicago lawyer, Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.), returns to his hometown where his father, the town’s judge (Duvall), is suspected of murder. Here we have an intriguing plot with two great veteran actors and yet The Judge still turned out to be a dud. How do you ask? It all comes down to director David Dobkin’s (Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus) decision to fill his film with too much melodrama and clichés galore.
While this film is beautifully filmed and skillfully acted (to the best of their abilities), The Judge, sadly, still can’t scrap up enough evidence to prove its worthiness. There’s also way too many subplots that didn’t’ need to be explored. Downey gets mixed with his ex-lover (Vera Farmiga) and butts heads with legal nemesis (Billy Bob Thornton). If you just want to see this film for sheer pleasure of Downey and Duvall go ahead because you may find some satisfaction there. In the end, The Judge disappoints and ironically it should be judged for its own damn faults.
Yes, there is less action in this Hunger Games but NEWS FLASH PEOPLE: Action does not make a movie! Now that we have come to that realization we can move on and see what this new adaption to the series offers. In this film, director Francis Lawrence (no relation) (I Am Legend and Catching Fire) explores emotion and character development. And by gosh it’s a knockout for this stellar cast consisting of Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Sam Claflin, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland. Wherever film lacks in action, instead is replaced with strong performances by these actors who continue to add their depth overall.
Mockingjay Part 1 leaves off exactly where we last saw Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) in Catching Fire. To catch you up from the previous film: Katniss destroyed the domes forcefield with her electrifying arrow and now has caused a rebellion to breakout in all of Panem. President Snow (Sutherland) obliterated her hometown of District 12 and has captured her BFF lover boy Peeta (Hutcherson). Plutarch (Hoffman) rescues Katniss and she finds out that District 13 does actually exists. This is where the film differs from the previous two because there are not more Games. Here we see the beginning of the rebellion forming to take down the Capitol. From the opening scene to the last this film has a darker undertone hidden beneath it. Most of the film takes place underground in District 13 and Cinematographer Jo Willems’ yellow tint helps give us a sense of loneliness and isolation. Rebel leader Coin (Moore) doesn’t think Katniss has what it takes to become a living Mockingjay, the bird that symbolizes the revolution.
But Plutarch has faith in her along with a sober Haymitch (Harrelson) and an intelligent Beetee (Wright). Katniss fails at reading the script for propaganda so it’s off to the war zone where videographer specialist, Cressida (Natalie Dormer, from Game of Thrones), films her every move to help give the rebels hope. Lawrence has already shown her skills in the previous two films. Here she continues too build upon them and strips away every part of her humanity. From the explosive arrows that take down planes to the infuriating speech of “If we burn, you burn with us!” Lawrence does it all. And Hemsworth finally breaks out of his role. We have seen him grow and mature through these last couple of years and this by far is his best performance of the three.
For all those who still really want Gale be with Katniss … keep dreaming! I’ve read the books. There are also plenty of other juice performances here by a vulnerable Peeta, a delightful Effie (Banks, cheers to her), an emotionally unstable Finnick (Claflin), a wicked Snow and a final performance from the master himself, Hoffman. Seeing him in one of his final performances on the screen is one of the mere joys this film has to offer. Yes, Mockingjay Part 1 probably could have been in one film, but that’s Hollywood for ya! They want the money. So see you next fall and “May the odds ever be in your favor.”
The Skeleton Twins is a film about depression, love, struggles and most importantly family. Like a shot in the gut, this film will hit you hard. Don’t get me wrong, at times this film is hilarious, but at other times it will leave you a hot wet mess cleaning up the tissues. Wiig and Hader show their comedic tour de force throughout this film and finally excel pass the early years of SNL sketches. Meet Milo Dean (Hader), a gay washed up L.A. actor and Maggie Dean, an unhappy married New York dental hygienist.
Milo and Maggie haven’t talked in a decade and what brings them back together is, oddly enough, suicide. Milo tries to attempt suicide by slitting his wrist in a bathtub. At the same time, Maggie is thinking about swallowing pills when she gets the call about Milo. Maggie flies cross-country to California to see her brother. She tells him that he needs to come stay with her in New York for a while and he reluctantly agrees. What makes this film so intriguing is Wiig and Hader’s star struck chemistry. They improv off each other so effectively that it helps bring the lighter notes of the film up to surface and pass its darker undertone:
Milo: “Have you read Marley and Me?”
Maggie: “Yeah. It’s sad.”
Milo: “Why is it sad?”
Maggie: “You don’t know what happens?”
Milo: No, that’s why I’m reading it. What?”
Milo: “Does the dog die at the end?”
Maggie: “No. I didn’t say that.”
Milo: [sighs] “Maggie, I know the dog dies. Everyone knows the dog dies. It’s the book where the dog dies.”
Maggie: “I see you’re getting your sense of humor back.”
Milo: “Yeah, they can’t take that away from me.”
It’s moments like this in the film where we see Wiig and Hader’s relationship truly blossom. Milo goes back with Maggie where he meets her puppy lovin’ husband, Lance (Luke Wilson, nicely fitting role). Lance means well and really does care for Maggie. Unfortunately, he comes off a little bit obnoxious at times. Lance really wants to become a father, but Maggie doesn’t want a child right now. Sadly, she still hasn’t worked up the nerve to tell him and is still sneaking birth control behind his back. The script (directed by Craig Johnson and co-written by Mark Heyman) really compact the film when we find out that Maggie is also sleeping with her scuba instructor (Boyd Holbrook).
We also learn that Milo is secretly stalking his old English teacher, Rich (Ty Burrell, Emmy winner for Modern Family), who seduced him back in high school. Rich now has a wife and son, but this scandalous affair has caused a wedge between Milo and Maggie’s relationship. And Rich thinks that having sex with Milo again will get him a chance at selling his script to Hollywood. With all the family issues, sleeping around and craziness here, there’s enough drama to fill up daytime television. But Wiig and Hader never leave us astray. They’re potent and perfectly matched for this film.
Some of the best scenes in this film are when the twins are inhaling nitrous oxide in Maggie’s office or when Milo talks Maggie into lip-syncing a duet to Starship’s “Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now.” It’s a glorious scene between the two. They’ll make you laugh and they’ll make you cry. That’s why The Skeleton Twins is one of my favorite films of the year. Definitely, earned a spot in the top ten. Wiig and Hader are always funny, but what makes this film so powerful is when they strip all that away and show us how badly they’re really hurting. They are just like everyone else struggling in this world … human.
Meet Vincent McKenna (Murray) a drinker, smoker, gambler, curser and a saint? Let me explain. So Brooklyn born and Nam vet Vincent lives life to its fullest, in his eyes, by going to the local bar, race tracks and shagging his pregnant Russian Hooker, Daka (Naomi Watts, terrific). At times he seems to be a misunderstood angry old man and at other times he seems to just not give a damn. Either way, Murray is hilarious in one of his best roles since Lost in Translation (2002). He’ll make you laugh out loud until you sides hurt. Vincent lives at his rundown home with his cat and doesn’t want to be disturbed, but that’s all going to change when single mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), and her 12-year-old dorky yet charming son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), move in next door.
McCarthy finally breaks away from the obnoxious foul-mouth character she has been label with for far too long. Maggie works at the local hospital, but can’t watch Oliver after he gets done with catholic school. Being in financial trouble, Vincent makes an offer to babysit Oliver after school until Maggie gets home to make some extra money. What Maggie doesn’t know is while Oliver is with Vincent; they’re hitting up the race tracks, local bars and strip clubs. Vincent also teaches Oliver how to be a man and fight against bullies at his school. Lieberher is charming as Oliver and his character helps shed a little more light to Vincent’s life. This witty duo is a blast to watch on the big screen together as they grow and mature.
First time director Theodore Melfi does a great job evenly placing the comedy at the beginning of the film, unfortunately, halfway through the film takes a right turn down sentimental road. It drifts dangerously close to sappiness, but thanks to Murray’s comedic force he’s able to single-handedly keep the film on the right track. In the end, Oliver begins to see something in Vincent that no one else is able to see and that’s a misunderstood man with a good heart.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but lets just say that Oliver does prove Vincent to be, in fact, a saint. And that scene will tug at your heartstrings until you can’t hold back on those tears any longer. St. Vincent does have a good message and that’s not to judge a book its cover because deep down it may turn out to be pretty good. P.S. make sure you stick around for the ending credits with Murray watering his dirt yard and singing to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm.” It will put a smile on your face.
“If it bleeds, it leads.” Every broadcaster and journalist knows this sentence in the media world, but Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) takes this sentence to heart and then some. First time writer and director Dan Gilroy gives us an eerie story of broadcasting gone mad. Yes, it’s media satire but that’s what makes this film so compelling. It draws you in slowing and never lets you go. Bloom is a freelance TV news cameraman who takes pleasure in other people’s nightmare. Bloom has no morals and doesn’t care who it is or how badly they’re hurt. He just wants to get the ‘perfect shot’ to tell the L.A. audience a powerful story. He'll do what ever it takes to get to the top of the newsroom and that’s what makes him so morbid.
The fact is, throughout the film we never know how far Bloom will push to get what he wants. He’ll move bodies for better camera angles or go into crime scenes before the police get there just to film someone bleeding out. It’s scary, intelligent and couldn’t have been done with out a provocative performance from Gyllenhaal. From the moment Bloom puts his hair up into a man bun and slimes down to the L.A. nightlife of bloody car wrecks/shootouts, you're hooked. Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic performance will also creep the hell out of you big-time. His eerie acting reminded me of other star-struck sociopath’s on film like Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Taxi Driver.
In addition, there are other great performances by an ethically corrupt Rene Russo (Bloom’s news director) and a skittish Riz Ahmed (Bloom’s camera assistant). Nightcrawler is sleek, thought-provoking and will have you grappling on the edge of your seat throughout the film. The film also sheds light to the brilliant side of broadcasting lingo, film junkies will eat it up. Gilroy displays his potential as a first time director and Gyllenhaal rises to the occasion in a potent performance. It’s truly a breakthrough in acting for him. In the media world how far would you go to push your agenda and throw ethics out the window? Lou Bloom showed us how far he’d go in the end and it’s definitely haunting.
For Your Consideration:
In Their Own League
Mashley at the Movies
Mike, Mike, and Oscar
Next Best Picture
The Movie Oracle
Untitled Cinema Gals Project