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My film reviews site: www.FilmGateReviews.com
My Favourite Movies of 2014
1. Boyhood (2014)
2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
3. Night Moves (2013)
4. Obvious Child (2014)
5. Whiplash (2014)
Counting movies with sole female leads and movies sold primarily on the female star. Indie and Hollywood - limited release and wide. NOT counting films that had simultaneous VOD and theatrical releases since VOD numbers are rarely published.
The actor/actress is not to be blamed as they are just a child and probably didn't realize that their character was carrying a disease that would infect the host show and eventually kill it.
The following are the known cases of Unknown Child Syndrome. Any additions are greatly welcomed.
Gender equality is a hot topic in Hollywood, with many claiming that very few good roles are written for women.
From these screenwriters who have all written at least two roles that went on to win Oscars for the actresses, who has written the best roles for women?
Both original and adapted screenplays are considered, but the Oscars must have come from two different movies.
The Animal Project (2013)
Loses interest and then loses the point amongst meaningless lives
"The Animal Project" stars Aaron Poole as Leo, a thirty-something acting teacher, who is way too hippie-like in nature to put together coherent thoughts, although I'm sure he thinks he does. He instructs six wannabe actors on how to act, and they are just as insufferable as he is with their pretentious techniques and ideas on how to be successful in life.
The Animal Project is an idea that Leo has, that if actors dress up in animal mascot suits, they can then give hugs out to people on the street. (Grown adult men cannot do this without going to jail, hence the need for the animal costumes). It would have been interesting to see where they take this animal project idea, except Leo and the actors were struggling with "what does it all mean, man," and whatever idea or questions the filmmakers wanted to put out there were lost as I have no clue what the point of any of this was.
The opening scene was fairly well constructed. Leo was asking questions to each of the actors and filming their responses. And each was cut during the opening credits, so we just got a flash of what each of these people were like. But we also got the nagging suspicion that they were acting. After all, they are actors. But then to give further introduction to each of the actors, we got very bleak, slow introductory scenes of random, meaningless moments in their life. In fact, the point could very well be, that as struggling to become actors they feel like they are living meaningless lives and losing themselves in the process. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that idea can carry a slow, bare film about pretentious actors.
The second main theme is Leo's struggle to raise his son. Leo struggles with a lot of things; he probably can't even put a pair of pants on, but that would belong in a comedy, which this is not. The film also loses a lot of interest before we even get to the father- son drama.
"The Animal Project" is a slow, austere drama trying to string together some semblance of meaning to people who either don't have much meaning or deserve to be understood. Even if there was a point to the animal project or the father-son drama, it was lost in a lack of interest.
Manhattan Love Story (2014)
Sweet charm, simple comedy, and lovable leads
The title alone gives the viewers three reasons to hate the show, but the two leads more than make it completely likable. In the acting world, model Analeigh Tipton made heads turn when she played the lovable babysitter in Crazy, Stupid, Love. She had this beautiful essence that allowed her to portray the innocent side of puppy love but also the naughty side as she attempted to explore her sexuality with an older man. I only know Jake McDorman from The Newsroom, but any actor that Aaron Sorkin is willing to take a chance on is fine by me.
This show's hook is the internal monologue as both characters get to narrate their thoughts as they go about their day. It works on a simple comedy level, but it also works by connecting the audience to the leads instead of just falling in love with them. Tipton's Dana represents the insecure side of people. She's awkward, shy, a little lacking in confidence as she likes to avoid confrontation, but speaks up when she needs to. McDorman's Peter represents the cynical side of people. He knows what he likes, he's confident, secure, selfish and can be more than a little abrasive with his sarcastic thoughts and responses. It's not just that opposites attract, but that both Peter and Dana represent most viewers, and are both people that you could fall in love with. In just one episode Tipton and McDorman showed multiple sides to these characters and gave lovable but realistic qualities to both.
The writing had a very quick and modern feel to it. Facebook jokes, economic instability references, and jabs at America's need to reward mediocrity. The jokes are clever and witty enough to make you smile. They also very efficiently introduced us to the supporting characters so we already have a good feel of the ensemble that can be developed. David is Peter's brother, a slightly more level-headed duplicate who is married to Amy, Dana's best friend, a less level-headed and no longer a duplicate of her.
Another choice that I was happy with is that Dana is brand new to New York City. Living here for less than a week, she already has to face her romanticism and idealism slowly slipping away, and she's going to have to harden up if she's going to survive at all. Peter has already let New York's cynicism envelop him, but he truly likes Dana, and will have to find a way to let her keep some of her optimism and generous spirit to ensure that they both still enjoy true moments of love.
I know we've had more than enough stories of love set in Manhattan, but this Manhattan Love Story is a beautiful experience. I can't wait to take more adventures into daily life with Dana and Peter. I encourage other viewers to do the same and find some sweet charm in this simple comedy.
Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
A whimsical air of love and magic
There are two movies within "Magic in the Moonlight." One is a plot- driven, thematically-heavy comedy about a realist magician desperate to unmask the secrets of a spiritualist. The second is like a romantic drama asking if opposites can attract. The former is much better but knowing that Woody Allen isn't going to include unconnected ideas, the film can be quite good for his die hard fans.
The comedy is very much on the light and minimal end, but that just allows for a more interesting element of magic in the air and even an element of simple human relationships drama. It also allows Colin Firth to show his full-range of abilities honed through-out his career. From the romantic comedy of "Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001) to the mature drama of "Devil's Knot" (2014), this is Firth at his comedic best. He opens the film as a rude and arrogant magician never being his true self.
Stanley (Firth) is told about a young woman in France who is a successful spiritualist and becoming quite a celebrity in connecting wealthy people with their loved ones who have passed on to another world. Before even meeting Sophie (Emma Stone), Stanley has already decided that she's making it up along with her scheming mother in an attempt to swindle money out of gullible people. After all, he's a realist. There is no God, there is no other world, and there is no magic.
At this point the typical comedy of Woody Allen should be obvious. The world is made up of two types of people: optimistic spiritualists and pessimistic realists. Or in other words, people who are crazy and people who are right. It also includes his usual witticisms about life and death. In a hopefully-to-be-classic line, he sums up life as: "You're born, you commit no crimes, and then you're sentenced to death."
The film seems to drag in the middle after the plot of Stanley uncovering whatever Sophie is up to is concluded in a seemingly swift manner and then we're left watching a romantic drama. Sophie is supposed to marry the wealthy, appropriate but immature Brice (Hamish Linklater) and Stanley is engaged to the successful, appropriate but emotionless Olivia, but of course nature has other plans. The key in getting through this section is knowing that Stanley is never being his true self and this is a film about illusions, magic, deceit and trickery.
"Magic in the Moonlight" is very light but not as purely funny as most of Allen's previous films. The comedy is there but very much tied into the characters and themes. He has also perfected the art of filmmaking with beautiful shots, some framed scenes that echo the magic shows of the time, great costume design and a jazz score that fits the conservative but fun tone of the setting of the 1920s.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
A beautiful, funny story that is just as smart as it is nonsensical
Wes Anderson's latest film "The Grand Budapest Hotel" opens at the elaborate Grand Budapest Hotel with a storied history located in the fictional former empire Zubrowka in Eastern Europe. Young Zero Moustafa (newcomer Tony Revolori) is an aspiring lobby boy for the famed concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). The elder takes Zero under his wing and the two begin a trek across mythical lands.
As with recent Anderson films, this shares his distinctive artistic sense. Like he's telling a story through pictures. The story here is a quirky, idiosyncratic tale of mischievous and silly whimsicality. Random nonsense could also be a way to describe it. The plot, or a loose semblance of chapters of a related story, literally takes Mr. Gustave and Zero from satisfying old ladies, to art thieves, through a murder plot, to prison, a brief pause to fall in love, to escaped convicts and back to the noted Grand Budapest Hotel. It was quick and playful, also very far removed from any relatable sense of reality.
But the interesting thing about the film is that it does serve as an odd viewpoint to the real, war-torn world of late 1930s Europe. Personally, I found the juxtaposition between the frivolousness of the story and the dark, grandiose themes of life to be too startling and moves the film even closer to random nonsense. However, this is also where the film shows off its unique, incredibly intelligent and endlessly witty dialogue. It is really funny and fits both the quirky, playful nature of the story and the darker tones of the times. The dialogue at least allows you to laugh your way through the film even if you don't form much interest in the story.
As mentioned before, Wes Anderson is telling a story through pictures. Each shot is framed meticulously and symmetrically. I like his "square" way of telling more ludicrous stories. There are also a number of shot set-ups which allow for some funny jokes as the camera pans over to complete the scene. The production design is also very beautiful and fits the grand and eloquent, but also lonely, hotel. The colour palette this time around shifts more than usual, but the story also goes through a lot of phases. The hotel itself is bathed in a dull pink and purple, which is a gorgeous visual imagery for the overcast pall of communism and the lavish and hopeful lifestyles of its residents and employees.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is based on the writings of Stefan Zweig and it opens with a writer telling a story of an older Zero relaying the story of his life. Part of my issues with the film is that these characters don't resemble humans. Zero's motivations aren't clear and are not understandable, and Mr. Gustave is just crazy. And then they embark on an adventure that is just as odd as they are. The dialogue is hilarious and astute, and the landscape it all unfolds on is beautiful and elegantly created. It's a beloved film, but some will be unable to place themselves in that world.
Funny, clever and charming enough to get past the cheesy rom-com elements
"Barefoot", also released as "The Wedding Guest", is about, fittingly enough, a barefooted wedding guest. Well, that's a plot point. As with a lot of indie romantic comedies, it's about two mis-matched people (or two people not well suited for life in general) who find each other and figure out what love is. It's probably best to avoid any plot descriptions as it's going to be hard to make this sound good, when, in fact, it actually is.
Jay (Scott Speedman) is our hero. He has little respect for women, less respect for the law, and no regard for rules governing life. He ends up serving as a great protagonist because the rather hilarious dialogue allows this dark start to turn comedic. One woman oblivious to his desperate charms claims that he's single because he's an asshole. He knows this. "Well, yeah, but an interesting and fun asshole." Jay does actually have a heart beneath his sarcastic and irresponsible demeanor, but he just hasn't met anybody that it's worth having a heart for.
After the really funny, darkly comedic start, it takes a sudden turn for the dramatic with the introduction of Daisy. Daisy (Evan Rachel Wood) has just been admitted to the psychiatric hospital after her mother has died and she has nobody and no understanding of where she is, what day it is, or of herself. She is as literally naïve as one could possibly be, which lends her an air of innocence whether she is or not.
Jay needs a date to his brother's wedding, Daisy needs a hero, and a shoeless Daisy follows the reckless Jay out of the hospital and onto a plane to New Orleans. Now we get to meet Jay's Southern, upper-class family and a subtle clash of cultures subtle because it's not so much a clash of cultures as it is a clash of people who value their culture and two people who just don't have a particular culture of their own.
The dialogue remains good and funny as Jay and Daisy are getting to know each other and we get to know both of them a little bit better than we thought we did. But then comes the ill-advised decision to run. The film goes for the over-used road trip element and takes us farther away from characters that were quite interesting. It's also the main plot of the film, and as I said, it's hard to make it good. But by this point, we've grown to care about the characters, been entertained by some well written dialogue, and it becomes easier to forgive some of the film's cheesier choices.
Overall, I was fairly impressed with this independent film. It had high production quality, clever writing in parts (dialogue in particular), some clever edits, and great music. None of this generic indie crap, each song had an identifiable rhythm, and more importantly, identifiable lyrics which directly related to our main characters Jay and Daisy. I repeated their names as it's a cute little nod (including some lines in the film to help you get there) to the classic novel "The Great Gatsby".
These characters will not be anywhere near as legendary as their namesakes; Daisy in particular is a tad too extreme as the sweetly naïve, innocent waif. And the ending takes both of them to locations outside of reality. But because "Barefoot" is comedy first, it really only matters if it makes you laugh. I laughed a lot at the beginning, less so when it was plot heavy, but the characters that make you laugh the most should be able to keep you hooked.
Veronica Mars (2014)
Pulls you in with the dark comedy stylings of Veronica Mars and her crime-solving ways
Veronica Mars is back! She thought she had escaped Neptune, California for the calmer, grown-up world of New York City; she thought she had escaped her bad boy past for the calmer, drama-less college boyfriend, Piz; but then they pulled her right back in. Even after nine years, one phone call from Logan Echolls is all it took; after all, their love is epic. It can span years and continents, lives ruined and bloodshed.
It's probably not a good idea to answer a phone call from the son of a Hollywood actor who had murdered his girlfriend, the son of a Hollywood wife who jumped off a bridge, and has a penchant for getting himself accused of murder. But Jason Dohring plays Logan Echolls. One of the most promising actors to come out of TV who has still not "made it", he has a way with words and a charisma which evokes a passion that makes otherwise good girls fall for bad boys.
Luckily for us, unfortunately for Veronica, Logan's most recent murder charge coincides with her high school reunion, and it reunites us with all the Neptune High characters we loved to hate (Madison Sinclair, Gia Goodman), everybody we loved to love (Weevil, Wallace) and everybody we forgot how much we loved (Mr. Clemmons, Corny). It's been eight years since we've last seen most of these people. Some actors didn't change (Jason Dohring), some characters didn't change (Dick Casablancas), and some scenes didn't change. And those were the great parts. Veronica tricking the Sheriff again, Veronica flirting with a certain Deputy with a pizza in hand again, and Keith scolding his number one daughter again were hilarious.
It can be a bit weird going from the small screen to the big screen. A different actor playing the same character doesn't help and old characters that we never actually met doesn't help either. Logan wearing the Navy dress whites seemed a joke at first, and then when it turned out to not be a joke, I was still waiting for the joke to play out. The jokes came when Veronica finally made it to the reunion and when Dick was helping Veronica help Logan. But then it got dark, and they pulled me right back in.
The comedy is primarily inside jokes, and yes it is very funny, but probably not hilarious to non-fans. The plot can be easily followed by anyone, and we and Veronica set out to solve who really murdered Logan's pop-star girlfriend. Well, actually, Veronica sets out to solve the crime. One of the biggest differences between the TV version and the movie is that we don't get 20 episodes worth of clues to solve it ourselves. We just get to sit back and watch Veronica get pulled back to the Hellmouth that is Neptune, California.
An overly abstract psychological relationship drama that is not the thriller it's supposed to be
Presented as a psychological thriller, "Enemy" stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a University professor of political history. Adam isn't a particularly happy individual he has hurtful sex with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) and avoids conversations with coworkers. But one unsuccessful avoidance leads him to an interesting discovery. When watching a recommended movie (even though he doesn't like watching movies), he sees a small bit actor who is identical to himself.
Thus begins the tracking down, or hunting (if you will), of Anthony Clair (also Jake Gyllenhaal) A rather angry man who drives a motorcycle and has a pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon). I liked Gyllenhaal playing both parts as I never once got confused if we were with Anthony or Adam even though they looked identical. The big problem with the movie is that it's not a thriller. It's a psychological relationship drama structured (with corresponding creepy music) as a thriller with no suspenseful or thrilling moments. And it doesn't lead anywhere thrilling. Relationship dramas don't need to lead anywhere per se, but if they're presented as a thriller, then they probably should.
Part of the intrigue of this movie is figuring it out. When the final scene fades to black, the predominant question will be, "What the &^$#% was that?" Occam's razor suggests the simplest explanation is the correct one. I feel that applies in this case as there really is only two possibilities of what was going on and the clues lead to only one solution. That is the correct one. Some clues to help you out are the thankfully small number of characters in the film, and the small number of character interactions, and spiders.
It's the type of movie that is told abstractly and symbolically. Just keep in mind some of the meanings behind spider symbolism: they can refer to the illusory nature of appearances and protection against storms. And yes, I know I'm being abstract and cursory, but the filmmakers wouldn't want it any other way. Because if you already know what the movie means or what it's about, then there is absolutely no point to it.
The handful of other people who saw "Enemy" and understood it, loved it. I did not. Other than two crucial scenes to help me understand what was going on the first of which was muffled and the second one came really late in the film, nothing was happening. Or at least nothing if you never cared about Adam. I was too busy trying to figure out if this took place on Earth and what supernatural elements were in play to really get to know Adam. But even on reflection, Adam was an unhappy person who had hurtful sex and didn't like people, places or things.
The other problem with the movie is that it's not "Prisoners 2". It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and it's directed by Denis Villeneuve, but the comparisons end there. It's not photographed by master cinematographer Roger Deakins and the muted sepia tones get annoying. Villeneuve decided to go abstract rather than interesting, and Gyllenhaal decided to return to his acting roots where strange doesn't always equate with good.
"Enemy" starts out really slow with a strange, overly intense fascination with orgy sex and weird symbolism of spiders and creatures. It finally looks like it's going to lead somewhere with the introduction of Anthony, but it just doesn't. Probably because it's not a thriller. The figuring out of what is going on can provide you with some entertainment for awhile, but then it's over.
The Right Kind of Wrong (2013)
A typical romantic comedy that loses the comedy and then loses its way
"The Right Kind of Wrong" features a man, Leo Palamino (Ryan Kwanten), broken and worthless after his ex-wife left him. And wrote a blog called "Why You Suck." And wrote a book based on the massively successful blog. Leo isn't necessarily heartbroken, just annoyed. But then he meets a girl, one who can kick a football. He watched her get married and still decided he was going to win her over.
I liked the premise. It seemed like a typical romantic comedy, which it is, but the set-up in the opening scenes was all executed. His ex, Julie, is reading his faults from her blog-turned-book his goals are unattainable dreams, just as he decides he's going to marry Colette at her wedding. He then tells his friends that he has met a new girl. They are all happy for him. Where did he meet her? At a wedding. That's nice; they're still happy for him. Whose wedding? Hers! His friends' happiness fades into concern, but Leo remains happy.
The problem isn't that the movie doesn't live up to expectations, but more that it doesn't remain funny as the film executes exactly as it's supposed to. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, and boy attempts to win girl over. And the movie spends exactly an hour and a half on the boy attempts to win girl over part. I didn't see the appeal of Colette, but one of Leo's faults is that he makes snap judgements. So I suppose one doesn't need to like Colette, just Leo.
Kwanten's Leo was enjoyable. A little more pitiful than your typical everyman, and a little less likely to succeed with his unattainable romantic goals. Perhaps it's only fitting that the movie doesn't succeed with its romantic comedy aspirations. It's a Canadian production of a typical Hollywood movie. Shot on location in Alberta, the mountains, creeks and woods were beautiful, but the writing also had its hills and valleys. The quirky comedy wasn't funny, the expected storyline drags a little long, and then the ending wasn't anything new. "The Right Kind of Wrong" was supposed to be a different kind of romantic comedy, but when the humour fades away, it just doesn't work.
Girl Most Likely (2012)
A girl has lost her way and comes back home with quirky comedy
"Girl Most Likely" is Imogene (Kristen Wiig); a girl once likely to become the next big playwright in New York City, now she's desperately hanging on to the upper-class lifestyle convinced that it's all about who you know, where you live, and who you are with. A failed attempt of a fake suicide attempt sends Imogene back where she came from. All the way to New Jersey.
It's an indie film with a fairly minimal distribution, which generally means the film is going to try to survive on quirky comedy. Luckily, Wiig has had a decade's worth of experience doing quirky comedy on "Saturday Night Live". Also, luckily the film is more than just a quirky indie comedy. It's very much a character study, and a bit of a quarter- life crisis dramedy thrown in for good measure. Imogene doesn't know herself very well. She once knew she was a good writer, now she just thinks she's a good writer. She once knew she was better than the family she came from, now she just thinks she's better. She also thinks her life will be better if she gets to know her great and successful father whom she doesn't know.
Her home life features comedy from her weird and bizarre mother, Zelda, her weirder and more bizarre new-step-father-like figure, George, and her weird but well-intentioned younger brother, Ralph. There's also a strange man sleeping in her bed.
This strange man is Lee (Darren Criss), who is actually not strange at all. He is a young man mired in a quarter-life crisis who has rented out her room as a place to stay. He represents the romantic angle of Imogene's attempt to get her life back on track, and was actually a very welcome addition to the movie. Lee was much more sane, understanding, and more aware of his place in life than any of the characters. He was exactly the type of guy who could keep Imogene more grounded with her distorted life views.
The comedy is sweet, although at times it can become to quirky to be all that funny. The writing is good, even though at times it can be a little too self-aware to be all the great. But "Girl Most Likely" is a fairly enjoyable journey of a girl who has completely lost her way in life. It focuses on family, ambition and ties it all up with quirky comedy.
The Monuments Men (2014)
Telling an historical story comedically and missing a level of entertainment
"The Monuments Men" is a group of men (in real life around 350, and in this film 7) who are tasked with saving the historically and culturally significant monuments, fine arts and archives during World War II. They have to find and return that which the French hid and the Germans were finding and stealing and then hiding. And the film decided to tell this story comedically.
The film took a really long time to get going as they wanted it to be about the men that took on this task. But they changed their names and I also couldn't tell you a single characteristic of any of them. The men were paired off so they each had their own region to investigate, but none of that was interesting. The worst part was giving James Granger (Matt Damon) and Claire Simon (Cate Blanchett, representing the real- life heroine Rose Valland) a love story. They did have a reason for such nonsense, or how about just sticking with how it actually happened.
George Clooney has said the film is about 80% accurate, and that seems fair enough. But the problem isn't the historical inaccuracy; the problem is that the cheap humour diminishes the very people and story they're trying to empower. The humour was just a handful of lines wanting to kill Hitler and standing on a landmine. It just didn't make the film entertaining. The story could have done that but it didn't become interesting until they started discovering where the Germans hid the art. Coincidentally, the same point when the film started following the real story.
"The Monuments Men" very clearly wanted to help remember an important part of history and spark a debate about the cost of war on soldiers, civilians, and history and society. The debate is raging on, but the film missed the level of entertainment by not trusting its audience to be interested in exactly what happened.