‘Two Days, One Night’ Review (dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)


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In a year full of truly great films of all sizes & shapes, only the Dardenne brothers could make such a subtle and slight film that still manages to make all other releases seem completely insignificant to me. Once again they tell a small, emotional and naturalistic story whose themes and situations manage to be as universal as they are singular. The effect the film has is slow but powerful. I walked out of the theater thoroughly loving what I had just seen – and a bit speechless – but on the ride home it hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t want to get too personal – but I suffer from depression and the emotional weight on the shoulders of the film’s main character so perfectly mirrored those I have felt that to even think about some of her smaller personal moments takes my breath away, and leaves a pit in my stomach. And yet, I can’t help but look back on the film with a smile. It is beautiful and honest in ways very few are.

It stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a married mother or two who is on leave from work because of a battle with clinical depression. She was just beginning to recover but is on the verge of relapsing when she learns that her coworkers were forced to vote on whether they wanted to receive a year end bonus – but only if Sandra was fired. They chose the money – and so Sandra must spend the weekend visiting each of them to try to convince them to change their minds when they vote a second time on the upcoming Monday. Each end up having their own reasons for wanting the money – and the encounters often end in tears, rejection and in once instance violence. But Sandra must do it – for bother her family and herself.

The result is a portrait of a woman facing seemingly insurmountable emotional, moral and social odds – a humanistic view of all things good and bad about human nature; and an examination of the devastating affect of depression. Its structure covers greed, love, survival, regret, self worth – and a whole multitude of other themes. There is also a current of economic commentary on the wealth gap and struggles of the working class. In other words – it is the Dardenne brothers doing what they do best – in what is perhaps their best work.

The core of the film is Marion Cotillard who gives what I think is far and away the best performance of the year. She is a magnificent actress and brings great physicality to the role. Her head hangs. Her arms and shoulders are pulled in tight – closing herself off to the world – and her eyes are always on the verge of tears. She perfectly emulates the apathy, anxiety and sadness her illness inflicts – and it is equal parts mesmerizing and excruciating watching her have to face her family, co-workers and herself through it all; something that I know from experience is very hard to do.

The ending is incredibly beautiful and down right perfect in my eyes. After such a long journey that ran the gauntlet of emotions and themes, it all circles back and ends looking inwards – as it should. This isn’t just one woman’s struggle to save her job, but also one to save herself – an attempt to rediscover the person her depression has refused to allow her to be. It is hopeful in ways those who have not suffered from depression might not quite understand. It ultimately didn’t matter what the result of the vote was, the fact that she was able to keep fighting – that she was able to find moments of pure happiness amongst it all – was what touched me most. More importantly, the fact that she spends the whole film questioning her worth – whether she even deserves to exist – and was able to make the final decision her own meant so much to me. Depression doesn’t just go away and Sandra may never truly get “better”…but that she was able to walk away with a smile – instead of fighting back tears – was a glimmer of hope that she (we all) will, even if just a little bit.

Looking at the few films from 2014 I still want to see, I think I can safely say this is my favorite from last year. Why? Aside from everything I mentioned above, this is perhaps the only film in which after it settled in I didn’t sit there wondering where on my top ten list it would appear – I just knew. That is how much it meant to me.

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Twitter.

‘Life Itself’ Review (dir. Steve James)


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“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” – Roger Ebert

I’ve enjoyed film for pretty much all my life, but I didn’t truly come to appreciate and love it as an art form – as something more than simply entertainment – until my first year of college (I know, how cliché). I didn’t just come to love watching film, but (as you can obviously see as I write this) I came to love reviewing and discussing the medium with others as well. The first critic who introduced me to film criticism was Roger Ebert. His reviews were the first to really click with me. It wasn’t because I always agreed with him (because I definitely didn’t); but it was because I truly, truly admired his love of film. It was a contagious sort of love, a passion I never knew could be had for motion pictures. Following his example I too began writing about films and discussing them on forums and blogs. These discussions opened up the door really, and I charged head first, exploring the medium more deeply than I ever imagined I could.

It became a journey that I can honestly say made me the person I am today. Film was, and always will be, what I turn too when I am happy, bored and most importantly when I am sad. The best example I have of this was when my grandfather passed away years ago. It was a special sort of hurt, and no discussions with family or friends could do much to quell that pain. I remember sitting down the night it happened, alone in my dark room, and deciding to watch ‘Amelie’. It is a film I adored, one of the few films that truly moved me with every viewing. When it ended, as it had done many times before, I had a huge smile on my face. It did it again. Film did it again; it was once again one of the few things in my life that could heal, or overshadow, any hurt I happened to be feeling. I don’t think I would have known about or adored ‘Amelie’ if not for the journey my love for film had created – a love that wouldn’t have blossomed without the analysis and discussions I had about them – discussions I would never have started if I hadn’t read Roger’s reviews religiously and decided to start writing some myself.

That is why I was deeply saddened when Roger Ebert passed away. He is one of those rare people for me who although I never actually met or spoke with him, he still managed to have a profound effect on my life. An effect that still moves me, as I learned today as I finally watched ‘Life Itself’. I shamefully had put it off for far too long, partly because I think I knew the sort of emotional response I would have towards it. But as the quote I began this posts says, film helps us “identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us”, and it was about time I took a look at the journey that was the life of Roger Ebert.

And boy, was it rough. It did bring me to the verge of tears, as I expected, but I loved every minute of it. ‘Life Itself’ is an honest and in depth portrait of a man who wasn’t without his faults. But no matter what battles he encountered – either with alcohol, his colleagues, or cancer – he still faced everyday ready for what came next. He had a passion for life that was reflected in his passion for film – or maybe the other way around. This for me is what shined through the documentary, handled with such care and attention by Steve James. It is an affectionate tribute to a man who moved so many, generating the very same empathy that Ebert himself loved about film, and for that I think it deserves two big thumbs up.

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‘Interstellar’ Trailer #3


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(Trailer pulled from the official website where it can also be accessed with code: 7201969)

‘Interstellar’, directed by Christopher Nolan (‘Inception’, ‘The Dark Knight’), stars Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine and many others. It is set in a not so distant future in which resources on earth are running low and a group of astronauts/explorers blast off to utilize “wormholes” to find habitable and resource rich planets outside of our solar system. The music is by Nolan’s go-to composer Hans Zimmer, and the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (‘Her’, ‘Let The Right One In’).

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I personally love astronomy and astrophysics. I love space, and have a mild obsession with Saturn. So when I say I am excited for ‘Interstellar’ it isn’t just because I am a fan of Nolan, or I am wrapped up in the wave of hype that tends to surround his films. I have a genuine personal interest in the science and themes involved here and so my expectations for this, even with all the confidence I have in its (amazing) cast and crew, are probably higher than any other release in 2014. Luckily the first full length trailer was beautifully made and was exactly what I wanted to see; and now this new trailer (which showed at Comic-Con) expands on the first, offering us even more of a glimpse as to what we are to expect…and boy oh boy does it look amazing. It has a genuine ‘Inception’ meets ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ tone and look to it; and I can not wait to see those visuals in IMAX. Sadly it doesn’t hit theaters until November 6th…but until then I’ll be sitting here, with the trailer on loop *cries*.

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‘Lucy’ Review (dir. Luc Besson)


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You should probably be forewarned – ‘Lucy’ is nothing like the film the marketing would make you believe. It requires one to go in with an open mind…just also be prepared for that mind to be set of fire and stomped into a mush…for better or worse.

The film stars Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, a young American student in Taiwan, who is kidnapped and forced to be a drug mule. The drug she must transport is a new one named CPH4, derived from the chemicals that a mother’s body sends its developing baby, which is surgically placed into her lower abdomen. During the transport she is beaten, causing the bag holding it to puncture, and the drug to be released into her system. The drug begins to change her at a cellular level giving her access to more of her brains potential.

I think it needs to be said that the film is not trying to say we only use 10% of the physical brain (which is the debunked myth) but rather that we only utilize 10% of its potential. Think of it not as an engine only using 10% of its parts, but rather an engine that uses 100% of its parts but only outputs 10% of the power it should and can produce. Then think of the drug, like a more powerful engine fuel, allowing the brain to generate 100% power.

As her knowledge and cerebral capacity grows the film takes some really weird turns as it plays around with the idea of what exactly the human mind could achieve once its full potential is unlocked. Could we control all the cells in our body? Could we control others? Could we feel and manipulate matter and energy? Once you can control both, can you then control time? She begins to be able to see through people, enter their memories, see the energy output of cells, change her hair color, control radio waves…and a whole lot of other crazy stuff. To better understand what is happening to her, and to help pass on the knowledge she is beginning to learn, she sets out to meet a professor who studied and theorized the very changes she is undergoing.

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During all this Lucy is also being hunted by the gangsters who want their drug back. This is where the film is arguably at its worst. It leads to some ridiculous shoot outs – and one somewhat out of the blue car chase – which don’t really add much to the overall film. They do create a slight feeling of suspense, but once you get into the scientific and philosophical areas that ‘Lucy’ ventures into, then all the cliché action movie stuff just seems to get in the way.

Luckily none of that really matters as the film’s end approaches and it goes straight past ludicrous speed right into plaid as Lucy, now able to control time, cycles through the history of the earth, right past its creation all the way up to the big bang and beyond. To what end? Perhaps it is to better understand the universe or maybe it is just because she (and Luc Besson) can…there is a lot here that will make you scratch your head. The film definitely tries to be a lot smarter than it is and is built on theories based on theories based on pipe dreams. Still, it never gets any more ridiculous than most superhero-esque films.

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The thing that drives it all ( and really keeps it all together) is Scarlet Johansson’s performance. She once again proves to me that she is one of the most interesting actors working right now. She has chosen so many diverse roles in recent years; and as weird as it may sound there are few actors working right now who can express so much through being so completely expressionless in the way she can. She brought more life and emotion to a computer A.I. than most actors did in live action roles last year; and here, as in ‘Under the Skin’, there is quite a lot going on behind her seemingly blank stare.

Her co-star Morgan Freeman sadly does little more than offer exposition. He plays a professor who studies neuroscience and evolution and spends most of the film explaining how and why particular things are happening to Lucy. Freeman seems to be the go to for this sort of role. But that voice really is the only thing that can make this sort of pseudoscience seem convincing.

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I have to say it truly is amazing that the film works at all. ‘Lucy’ manages to be just as dumb at times as it is smart. But I was able to overlook the silliness of much of it simply for the fact that the film does attempt to ask some interesting questions, even if they don’t make much sense. From start to finish the film travels down such a fun and exciting tongue in cheek rabbit hole of explosions and trippy visuals and I loved every minute of it. It gets so crazy that at one point Benjamin Franklin’s head literally explodes. It is a mishmash of so many ideas and themes, done with such excitement and ambition, that it is hard to hate any of it. As some critics have mentioned, it really is a Besson action film smashed together with ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and parts of ‘The Tree of Life’. Even better is that ‘Lucy’ has a fast enough pace and short enough running time to never leave you bored. It is entertainment, definitely not at its best, but surely at its purest and I highly recommend it.

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‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Prequel Shorts


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(Above is an exclusive poster found on Collider.com)

I am having a hard time remembering the last time I made a post like this that wasn’t a review, so I think you can use this article as a measure of just how excited I am for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. I, like a lot of people, was completely surprised by how good ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was. It rejuvenated a franchise (one I really enjoy) that was most recently tarnished by a really, really bad remake. It was so good that a sequel was not only inevitable, but desired.

Luckily Fox is fulfilling that desire next week with the release of the sequel, which has received universal praise from the few reviews that have already been released. The out-pour of this praise definitely has me more excited than I was beforehand…but it is not the true source of the hype that has me ready to buy a ticket for a Thursday night showing for the first time since ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. No, the source of that hype is a series of short films that act as a bridge between ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’, examining (quite artistically, surprisingly) the events that occurred after the outbreak of the Simian Flu at the end of ‘Rise’. These shorts are a collaboration of 20th Century Fox and Motherboard and can be viewed below:

‘Spread of Simian Flu: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 1)’ (dir. Isaiah Seret)

‘Struggling to Survive: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 5)’ (dir. Daniel Thron)

‘Story of the Gun: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 10)’ (dir. “thirtytwo”)

What I love most about these is how they are so unlike most “viral” shorts. These aren’t straight forward stories like you see with the Marvel One-Shots. These are actually artistic, emotional and thought provoking films, to the point in which I saw people commenting on them being pretentious…music to my ears to be honest with you. Each explore themes of their own while also wonderfully adding to the atmosphere and mythos of the new ‘Apes’ series. Furthermore, the very fact that the studio clearly gave the writers and directors of each liberty to not “play it safe” with a piece of marketing revolving around a multi-million dollar franchise just gives me a ton of confidence in the franchise on the whole. It is this, more than the reviews, that has me excited to see ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ next week, and maybe they will do the same for you.

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Along with the prequel shorts, which are directly related to the events of the film, they also released a documentary which can be seen below. It too is incredibly well made, and is a surprisingly poignant true story of apes and human interactions during and after the events of medical testing and human warfare.

‘The Real Planet of the Apes’ 

Quick Reviews: ‘Ida’ (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski) & ‘We Are The Best!’ (dir. Lukas Moodysson)


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“Ida”, the best looking film so far this year, is the bittersweet story of a young woman named Anna living in a convent in Poland, waiting for the day when she will take her vows. Before that can happen, a Nun asks her to visit her aunt, the only known relative she has. During that visit she learns that her parents were Jewish and died during the events of WWII. Anna wants to know where they are buried, and so goes on a road trip with her aunt to their old family home to find answers. The journey opens her eyes to the joys and also sorrows of the world as she struggles with coming to terms with the past, present and her future. She now must decide whether she should stick with her devotion to god and err on the side of tranquility and solitude; or to live the life her mother couldn’t, risking pain and loss but possibly finding love and freedom.

It is an already beautiful story made more so through gorgeous cinematography and imagery. The sort that says more in each frame than its dialogue could ever hope to say. It is also the sort of Bergman-esque, quiet and contemplative, European film that I can only imagine will be more rewarding on multiple viewings. The performances are also wonderfully reserved, especially Agata Trzebuchowska who played Anna and has possibly the most mesmerizing eyes I have ever seen. It all adds up to an incredibly rewarding experience. Go see it if you get the chance.

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“We Are The Best!”, one of the best films I have seen so far this year, is a wonderful story of youth, rebellion and friendship that perfectly captures the ups and downs of adolescences.

The film revolves around three young girls in Sweden during 1982. They are fans of punk, though all their classmates make a habit of telling them it is dead. One winter, after playing around in their youth club’s rehearsal space, they decide to make their own punk band to spread their own message…mainly how much they hate sports.

Their conflicts throughout this process are rather inconsequential. One of their parents is divorced and focuses more on men than her daughter; another’s is overly religious and restrictive. They are also often picked on in school, question their looks, and have the usual boy trouble one would expect from a film about a group of thirteen-year-olds. What sets this apart from those other films is that these conflicts, as I mentioned, are shown as just minor bumps in the road for these three; it is their love of music and each other, love that could see them through anything, that shines through. Plus, it is all just a whole lot of fun.

It is that wonderful and relatable portrayal of friendship and youth that fills “We Are The Best!” to the brim with warmth and heart. Honestly, if you don’t walk out of the theater with a smile on your face then I can only hope your cold icy heart sees you through the hot summer ahead!!

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So, with that said, now that June is almost over here is my list of favorite films so far in 2014 (with trailers!):

1)      Boyhood

2)      We Are The Best!

3)      Under The Skin

4)      Edge of Tomorrow

5)      Ida

6)      The Trip to Italy

7)      The Grand Budapest Hotel

8)      Enemy