Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review: The Lunchbox

                                  The 'Lunchbox' Fails To Satisfy My Appetite

                  Normally, I don't review films that I watch on my Sunday Cinema Club, for some reason, but because one I recently watched just came out this weekend, I figured I'd share my thoughts on it. But, boy do I have some thoughts on this wretched movie.

                 The Lunchbox is about a housewife from India named Ila (Nimrat Kaur) who sends her husband lunch via a special lunchbox delivery service out in India. However, it mistakenly gets sent to a widow named Saajan (Irfan Khan). Once Ila realizes this mistake, she then sends it to Saajan again the next day with a note and eventually they send the lunchbox back and forth each day as means of communication.

                What I Liked About It:
                 I will be nice and say this: I'll give the writers props for coming up with a more original story so they get points for originality. The good stuff ends there.

                What I Didn't Like About It:
               Where do I begin here? I'll start off by saying this: NOTHING. Happens. The film is just literally these two people sending a lunchbox back and forth and the film is just so awfully boring. The film hardly even has any conflict. A film should require conflict, not the idea of conflict. There were apparently plenty of gasps when this film wasn't selected as India's entry into the Foreign Language film category at the Oscars, but after watching this film, I don't see what the problem is as I am in the likely minority of people that just found this film to be the equivalent of a poorly tasting burnt bagel. This is also a rare film that had me wanting to burst out of the theater when it was over and I usually never feel that way. This very much saddens me because I love foreign films, but this is one of the worst I've seen.

               Overall, The Lunchbox is a bland tedious piece of cinema that because of its story looks "delicious" but has a sour taste. I can honestly say, the store brand pizza I usually eat from Target is more tasty than this film. I don't recommend this movie and would say if it is playing at your local theatre, spend it elsewhere on a potentially better film.

Rating: 1/5 (1 star for originality)                 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Retro Review: Jerry Maguire (1996)

                              'Jerry Maguire': A Sports Rom-Com With A Lot of Heart

              Normally, I'm not too much of a romantic comedy guy, but here, we have a rather unique romantic comedy that actually manages to appeal to a much wider audience. It seems audiences really "showed the producers the money" when this film came out and I can see why as it is a masterpiece.

            Jerry Maguire is about a sports agent named Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) who suddenly has his conscience awaken as he writes a mission statement about dishonesty in the sports business which ultimately leads him to be fired by his agency. He is then left with one client, a wide receiver named Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who plays with his head and not his heart and starts his own agency with the help of an accountant at his agency named Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger).

           What I Liked About It:
          One thing that I really liked about this film was how it was able to jam together different film genres. It is a romantic comedy yet it is also a sports movie and is even a look at the sports industry at the agents that push for their clients to have fulfilling careers. I also thought it was interesting how the film examines the relationship between agents and clients as they are usually business rather than personal relationships. There is even a scene in the beginning of the film where one of Jerry's clients becomes injured and he focuses less on his condition and more on him playing again. The film even manages to convey a meaningful message about following your heart and focus on the theme of honesty. To tell the theme of trying to be honest, Cameron Crowe picked the right occupation of entertainment agency to convey it as there are plenty of agents that try to promote their clients and even build hype around them whether they live up to it or not. Speaking of Crowe, I loved the way he wrote it. Crowe wrote my favorite movie, Almost Famous, and that film was also smartly written. My favorite scene in this film. however, is probably the scene where Jerry and his rival agent, Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr), are fighting over control of Jerry's clients by talking to them on the phone and the film cuts back and forth between Maguire and Sugar talking on the phone until Maguire talks to Tidwell resulting in the film's famous "show me the money" scene.

         Another thing that I liked was the performance by Tom Cruise. While the other actors, Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for his supporting work in this film, are splendid, it is Tom Cruise who makes the film. Cruise is just dynamic and even hilarious as the agent with a crisis of conscience. Cruise even has great chemistry with Zellweger and I liked watching the scenes with Cruise and Gooding Jr. where they play off each other.

         What I Didn't Like About It:

        Overall, Jerry Maguire is a unique entry into both the romantic comedy genre and sports movie genre. It features great performances from the cast, especially Tom Cruise, and is smartly written by writer/director Cameron Crowe. I would highly recommend this because this has a little something for everybody and that is what makes it special and the modern day classic that it is.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: August: Osage County

                  'August: Osage County': A Tremendously Acted Yet Somewhat Problematic Film
                    One would think that a film that stars such actresses as Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, as well as a slew of other actors that include Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, and Benedict Cumberbatch would be a rather slam dunk. But while the actors excel, the film is anything but a slam dunk.

                  August: Osage County is about a dysfunctional family led by the cancer-stricken matriarch Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) whose husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) just committed suicide. Violet's family then gathers at her house for the funeral; her daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Barbara's separated husband and daughter Bill and Jean (Ewan McGregor and Abigail Breslin), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis), Violet's sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband and child Charles and Little Charles (Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch). Once they gather together, chaos then ensues as secrets become revealed and tensions run high.

                 What I Liked About It:
               I'll start off by saying that I did love the acting. Meryl Streep once again delivers a strong performance as Violet, the pill-popping, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, cancer stricken matriarch. Her performance was a bit theatrical, but the film is based on a play so I guess it makes sense. Julia Roberts is quite good as Barbara, who is almost like a clone of her mother. Margo Martindale is astounding as Mattie Fae, Violet's sister who has a lack of a filter and either has you chuckling or makes you want to slap her. But some of the other standouts in the ensemble cast I would say are Chris Cooper, who plays Mattie Fae's rather laid back husband Charles and is one of the film's more endearing characters, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays "Little" Charles, and plays a character that is a complete 180 from his earlier role in 12 Years A Slave, and Julianne Nicholson, who gives a rather low key and subtle performance as Ivy.

                Another thing that I liked was how the film focuses on all the actors and how they interact with each other. Even though Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are technically the leads, they are hardly the leads as this is everybody's movie and I liked that part a lot about this movie.

              What I Didn't Like About It:
             While I loved the acting in the film, I would still say I had some problems with the film. One is that the story is a bit clich├ęd, as it deals with a dysfunctional family with a bunch of secrets that start to get revealed. Another is how half of the characters are so unlikable and that almost ruined the film for me. The actors did a good job at portraying them, but this flaw has more to do with the characters they are portraying than the actors themselves.

             Overall, August: Osage County is a solid yet flawed film about family dysfunction that features tremendous performances from the cast. If you are a fan of anyone from the cast, Streep and Roberts especially, I would say give it a watch. But if not, then I would say give it a watch. I didn't feel like I wasted time watching it, yet I wouldn't say it is a tremendous film.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review: Divergent

                        'Divergent': A Unique Sci-Fi Film That Almost Surpasses Its Source Material

                 Nowadays, whenever there is an adaptation of a YA book, it either prospers into a franchise like The Hunger Games and Twilight, or flounders like Beautiful Creatures, The Host, and to some degree The Mortal Instruments. But after reading the book Divergent, and seeing the film adaptation, I hope that it ends up in the former rather than the latter category.

              Divergent is set in a dystopian version of Chicago that is divided into five factions that were created to resolve human errors and are based on personality traits: Amity for the peaceful, Candor for the honest, Erudite for the intelligent, Dauntless for the courageous, and Abnegation for the selfless. The main protagonist, Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley), live in Abnegation even though selflessness hasn't been her strongest quality. At the age of 16, kids are assigned to take an aptitude test to see which faction they are best suited in and are given the choice to either stay in their faction or transfer. When Beatrice takes the test, her results are inconclusive and is labeled Divergent, which is said to be dangerous as those who are Divergent are able to exercise their independent will. Eventually, Beatrice uncovers a conspiracy going on to cause anarchy within the factions.

            What I Liked About It:
           First off, I loved how the film was able to stay truthful to the book even with some changes done. In the beginning, Beatrice gives a voiceover narration to give a rundown of the different factions, which wasn't in the book, but definitely was a nice touch to introduce those who haven't read the book to this different world. The ending was even slightly changed, but I liked that as well. Plus, I liked how the actors capture the characters they portray exactly how I pictured them in the book. Shailene Woodley plays Beatrice, or Tris, perfectly. She brilliantly portrays this character who is timid at first, but slowly transcends into a warrior. Theo James, who plays Four, her love interest, is also very good and both Woodley and James have great chemistry. Hopefully, those two go places after this movie or franchise. Another actress I'd love to bring up is Kate Winslet, who plays Jeanine Matthews, the film's main antagonist. What was great about her performance is that even though you kind of know she is the bad guy, she still has an enigmatic quality to her that makes you unsure about her. It is very interesting to see Winslet do a film like this, but I'm actually quite happy to. All the actors play their roles very well. Another thing that I would say is interesting is how even though it is a sci-fi film, the action doesn't really happen until the end and like the book, takes its time with its story and keeps the same themes that the book has, including wondering where you belong and how having different personalities is a part of human nature.

           Another thing I liked was the costume design and set pieces. I loved how the different factions are color coded so that you can tell who is in what faction. While I was watching it, I actually played a fun little game of wondering which faction I would belong in. It's definitely not Dauntless, that's for sure.

         What I Didn't Like About It:

        Overall, Divergent is a solid adaptation of the book that I hope is among the ranks of Hunger Games and Harry Potter. It features a unique concept, has a great futuristic look, and great performances from the cast. I would highly recommend this because it has a little something for everybody. It's got romance and eye candy for the ladies and some action and sci-fi for the men.

Rating: 4/5


Trailer Talk #14: Draft Day, Oculus, The Giver, The Quiet Ones, The Purge 2: Anarchy, The Maze Runner

Hello, Bloggers, I went and saw Divergent yesterday and I have a new set of trailers to review for you. A couple of the trailers I saw I actually reviewed already, so I'll discuss the ones I saw in the theaters that I haven't reviewed yet and one I saw online. Here we go:

Draft Day: First up is the trailer for the upcoming football drama Draft Day starring Kevin Costner. Now, I am not the biggest football fan, nor I am interested in what goes on with the football draft, so it seems less likely I will see this in theaters. Kevin Costner is pretty good and even though Jennifer Garner who co-stars is a great actress, she's never really been a big draw for me. But one scene in the trailer that I loved was with Ellen Burstyn, who calls Costner's character about she tweeted a news story. More than likely will catch this on TV.

Oculus: Next is the trailer for the horror film Oculus. Normally, I LOVE horror films, but this one just looks too confusing. I couldn't really make out what was going on and it was to the point that I just won't see this. I definitely won't see it in theaters anyway. But watch the trailer and see for yourself.

The Giver: Now onto another film I already know I will skip, which is the adaptation of the book The Giver. One thing that's weird is that even though I read the book back in middle school and I don't remember much of it, after watching the trailer, the film doesn't remind me at all of the book. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't faithful. I'm not sure, it's been a while since I read the book. But what I'm sure of is that I'm skipping this. Despite the fact that it has Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep of all people, I am going to 'give' my green benjamins to another movie.

The Quiet Ones: Onto a trailer for another horror film known as The Quiet Ones. Now, this movie looks scary! I don't know a whole lot about the story, but wow, does it have me sold. Plus, it stars Finnick Odair himself, Sam Claflin, so being a huge Hunger Games fan, that's definitely an added bonus. Hopefully, it plays near me because I'm not sure of how wide a release it will get.

The Purge 2: Anarchy: Now onto the only sequel on this list, The Purge 2: Anarchy. I sadly haven't seen the first one yet, but after watching the trailer for the sequel, I think it looks terrifying. It looks like it'll be terrifying yet action-packed. I was actually shaken when I was watching this trailer. That to me is an early sign of how great this might be. If I were to see this in theaters, I would watch the first one first.

The Maze Runner: Finally, is the trailer that I watched online for the upcoming adaptation of the book The Maze Runner. Before watching this trailer, I didn't know a whole lot about the book, but after watching the trailer, I now want to read the book. The film looks pretty intense and even stars Dylan O'Brien, who plays Stiles on Teen Wolf and although it's been a while since I saw that show, he's great in it. Plus, even though she's not in the trailer, it has Patricia Clarkson and she's always fantastic. I definitely want to check it out in theaters but I want to read the book first as I did with Divergent.

So, that was my new episode of Trailer Talk, and my next episode will come up either when I go to the movies again or when I watch more new trailers online or even both. Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Indie Review: Winter's Bone (2010)

                                           A Rather 'Wintry' Mix of Brilliant And Just Meh

                                Usually, when a movie leaves me speechless, it is because of how amazing it is. However, Winter's Bone just left me speechless because of how amazingly ok it is. The film is like watching snow fall from the ground on a cold winter's day. It seems wondrous to look at, but other than that, it doesn't have too much to offer.

                     Winter's Bone is about a 17-year-old girl named Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) who is like the mother of her household as she practically raises her two siblings and her mother is very sick. She is then told by the police that her father Jessup, who is in the meth business, has to show up for court within a week and if he doesn't show, they lose the house because he put it up for collateral. She then goes on a pursuit to find him, only to be warned to not poke into other people's business or she could end up in peril.

                     What I Liked About It:
                   First off, I did love Jennifer Lawrence's performance. In this film, Lawrence gives a rather silent performance and lets her eyes and face do the acting. I honestly didn't even feel like I was watching Jennifer Lawrence on screen, just her character. But that of course is the genius of her acting ability and it's no surprise that she landed an Oscar nod for her brilliant performance. I also liked the film's direction from Debra Granik, who also did Down to the Bone. While this film has the same kind of bleakness that Down to the Bone has, Granik directed this much differently and I even liked how she hardly incorporates any music into the film. The sound effects that you here are mostly just an axe chopping wood or wind blowing and it gives the film almost a rather chilling feel.

                   What I Didn't Like About It:
                 Honestly, my biggest issue with this film is that while it has brilliant direction and even showcases the theme of not knowing when to "back off" when told to, there isn't a whole lot that happens. Other than the scenes where Ree is going from house to house asking around about her father, we just see scenes of her with her family and such.

                 Overall, Winter's Bone is a film that features brilliant direction and a wonderful performance from Jennifer Lawrence as well as intense thematic material, but there honestly isn't much else. I wouldn't recommend this to everybody, but if you are a Jennifer Lawrence fan, I would say give it a watch to see her performance.

Rating: 3/5

Indie Review: Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

                              A Masterful Comedy That Leaves You 'Happy' Yet Speechless

                       Before I watched this film online, I thought as the title suggested, I would be left with a big smile on my face in the end, but surprisingly not. It didn't leave me sad or anything like that because it is a funny movie, but I was stunned and I couldn't come out with words by the time it was over.

                    Happy-Go-Lucky follows the life of Poppy (Sally Hawkins) who is a schoolteacher that is cheerfully optimistic and always tries to be positive. However, those around her, including her driving teacher Scott (Eddie Marsan), aren't as positive as she is. The film follows Poppy and how she interacts with those around her as well as how she observes the neuroticism of others.

                    What I Liked About It:
                  First off, I absolutely LOVED Sally Hawkins' performance. She is not only funny and smiley, but there are very poignant scenes where she interacts with others the way she doesn't normally does and she shows a more humanistic side to her character. Another performance that I thought was amazing was Eddie Marsan as Scott. Marsan really excels as a man who is essentially the yin to Poppy's yang since Scott is much more pessimistic and views the world differently than Poppy does. Whatever Marsan says will either have you laughing or have you going "Aww" like you almost feel sorry for him.

                I also really liked the direction from director Mike Leigh. I liked how in some scenes, he shoots a long take and that to me allows the film to maintain its artistic integrity. One of the best scenes where Leigh does a long tracking shot is where Poppy's dance instructor is having a breakdown and going on about frustrations going on with her personal life and the camera just keeps focusing on her. I even thought it was amazing how Leigh was able to take a comedic film and create underlying drama, which works because it is funny at the right parts and poignantly dramatic at the right parts. But what left me speechless about this film is just how in ways I felt like I could relate to Poppy. The way she observes people's pessimisms reminds me of how I observe people's pessimisms. We both just try to stay optimistic and sometimes it doesn't help others feel the same way. That just made the character of Poppy more realistic.

                What I Didn't Like About It:

              Overall, Happy-Go-Lucky is a poignant and realistic comedy that offers something unique to the comedy genre and features an outstanding performance from Sally Hawkins. This one I would highly recommend to anyone as it is funny yet dramatic without cheap sentiment.

Rating: 5/5

Indie Review: Antichrist (2009)

                 'Antichrist': A Uniquely Disturbing Cabin-In-The-Woods Movie With A Twist

              They say the point of art is to make you feel emotion once you observe it, whether it'd be a painting or a book or a movie. Even if observing different pieces of art upsets you, then the artists behind those pieces of art have done their job. Although Antichrist is very disturbing and left me somewhat shaken after watching it, it is a true work of art.

             Antichrist is about a couple who just lost their child and the woman in the couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is grief stricken. Her husband (Willem Dafoe) then takes her up to a cabin in the woods named "Eden" for them to resolve their troubles. Eventually, nature from within and outside begins to take a toll on them and the woman develops increasingly violent sexual behavior.

            What I Liked About It:
           One thing that I found interesting was how it is essentially a horror film that is both a "cabin-in the-woods" movie and a religious horror movie, as their is plenty of religious symbolism to be found. The main characters are almost a parallel to that of Adam and Eve, as they are retreating to a place called "Eden" and are succumbing to their guilty sins. There is even one scene where the couple are having sex under a tree that is a possible representation of the Tree of Knowledge.

           I also liked the performances from the two lead actors. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are outstanding as the couple known only as He and She, that are two characters that over the course of the film blur the line between victim and aggressor as they slowly unleash the dark side of nature within. Gainsbourg especially excels as she plays a female character that not only feels guilty over the death of her son, but even feels the need to punish herself for being a woman in general. The direction from Lars Von Trier is also astounding. The way he shoots it is so realistic even in scenes where there are special effects involved like scenes with a deer, fox, and crow that are known in the film as the "three beggars" and are symbols for grief, pain, and despair.

          What I Didn't Like About It:

        Overall, Antichrist is a uniquely artistic horror film that demonstrates the violent nature of both man and woman as well as nature, both on the outside and within. This is definitely not a film I would recommend to everybody, I'll admit, since there are some violent scenes and a good amount of sex scenes. But, it is a true piece of art and astonishing filmmaking.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Indie Review: Down to the Bone (2004)

                                  A Portrait of Addiction With 'Bone'-Chilling Realism

The true beauty about independent cinema is that it proves that you don't need a 100 million budget to have a good idea. Indie films prove that with a good idea and only some cash, you can tell a powerful story. The film that I am about to review is very low-budget yet is a piece of powerful storytelling. This film is known as Down to the Bone.

                 Down to the Bone is a story set in upstate New York about a working-class woman named Irene (Vera Farmiga) who is a mother of two and also has a cocaine addiction. When she realizes how her life has turned out after she tries to give her dealer money for her kid's birthday present, she then commits herself to rehab. But once she gets out of rehab and forms a relationship with a male nurse who is also a recovering addict named Bob (Hugh Dillon), she realizes that once you get off, it's hard to stop.

                What I Liked About It:
             One thing that I really liked was the way it was shot. The director, Debra Granik, shot it on digital video and I thought that was a very interesting move. I also liked how she showed shots of a pet snake, which I feel represents the drugs and how they are venomous, yet seem harmless at first. There is even a scene where the snake eats a white mouse, which could be representative of Irene and how the drug takes over her. I also thought the film's bleak look was interesting. The film is set in the winter and the color scheme seems to be very gray and that just fits the grim tone of the film.

             Next, I want to get into Vera Farmiga's performance. She is just amazing in this. She gives a performance that is emotionally vulnerable and is rather subtle and restrained instead of over-the-top. This film came out a few years before her big break in The Departed and because she did win a few awards for her performance, that was a foreshadowing that moviegoers would slowly be introduced to a very special talent that she is.

             What I Didn't Like About It:
           I did have one minor gripe with this film, I admit. It does get slow at times, but it wasn't slow to the point where I almost fell asleep. Just on a side note, because this film is rather slow-paced, it definitely isn't for everyone, but it is meant to somewhat be a documentation on the brutal realities of drug addiction.

           Overall, Down to the Bone is a very grim yet realistic portrait of the horrors of drug addiction and features a bravura performance from Vera Farmiga. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone because as I said, it is very slow-paced but takes time with its story. But if you are a fan of indie films like I am, I would highly recommend it. It's now on YouTube, where I watched it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Top 10 Best On-Screen Transformations

Hello, Bloggers, I have yet another top 10 list today. This one acknowledges the rather physical dedication that actors bring to their art, whether it'd involve makeup or gaining and losing weight. This is my list of the Top 10 On-Screen Acting Transformations:

10. Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich (1999): While Cameron Diaz may be known as gorgeous comedic blonde, in Being John Malkovich, she plays a rather plain Jane character that is the pet-loving yet sensual Lotte Schwartz. She is nearly unrecognizable with her frizzy hair, contact lenses, and pale face.

9. Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter series (2005-2011): As we all know, Ralph Fiennes can emotionally transform into a villain. But as Voldemort, he proves he can not only pull off a villainous role emotionally, but physically as well, as his character has pale white skin and a snakelike nose.

8. Gary Oldman in Dracula (1992): Gary Oldman has proven his versatility as an acting chameleon, but in Bram Stoker's Dracula, he proves himself to be a rather physical chameleon. However, unlike Ralph Fiennes in the Harry Potter series, Gary Oldman dons different looks, ranging from an old man to a bat-like creature. It's no wonder the people who made him look monstrous won the Best Makeup Oscar.

7. Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands (1990): Although Johnny Depp has blended into a variety of different characters over the years, like Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka, I'm going with what I consider to be his best performance, and that is his work in Edward Scissorhands. Despite the fact his character is pale, scarred, frizzy-haired and has scissors instead of hands, he is very endearing.

6. Rooney Mara in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011): One of the more recent entries on this list, Rooney Mara, who is quite a beauty in real life, plays a character in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo that has qualities that are anything but beautiful. Mara is virtually unrecognizable as bisexual goth computer hacker Lisbeth Salander.

5. Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor (1996): Not only does Eddie Murphy play multiple characters in Nutty Professor, but honestly, makes you forget that it's him playing all those characters. To me, that is a testament to his comedic genius. I am a fan of his work, but I am quite fond of his multiple character work in The Nutty Professor.

4. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008): The genius of Heath Ledger's performance is that even though I know it is him playing the role of The Joker, whenever I watch this film, I always forget that I'm watching Heath Ledger on screen. The makeup brought to his performance was definitely a beneficial factor to helping Ledger immerse himself into the crazed clownish character. May he rest in peace.

3. Christian Bale in The Fighter (2010): I remember when I saw a few pictures of Bale in The Fighter where he was all emaciated and was shocked by his physical transformation. But I forget that is how dedicated Bale is to his craft. He manages to pull off skeletal like in not just The Fighter, but The Machinist, muscular in Nolan's Batman films as well as American Psycho, and even pudgy in American Hustle. Like other actors on this list, he is very much an actor's actor.

2. Charlize Theron in Monster (2003): I've always marveled at how amazing this performance is, but here, I will discuss at how astonishing Theron's physical transformation from glamorous model-actress to trashy prostitute turned serial killer Aileen Wuornos is. Theron is virtually unrecognizable with her contact lenses as well as her crooked teeth and the serious poundage she put into the role. I've always liked Theron as an actress, but here, she proves that she is not only a versatile performer, but physically dedicated to her craft as well.

1. Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980): Nowadays, it is easy for an actor to fake gaining weight by putting on a fat suit, but back when De Niro did Raging Bull, he actually had to gain the serious amount of weight that he did. In the scenes towards the end where he is overweight, I honestly was shocked that I was still watching Robert De Niro on screen. With his physical and emotional dedication to his performance, it should come as no surprise De Niro walked away with an Oscar for his performance.

Now, here are a few honorable mentions that didn't quite make the list, but I want to acknowledge:

Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (1993)
Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club/Chapter 27/Requiem For A Dream (2013/2007/2000)
Elizabeth Banks in The Hunger Games (2012)
Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice (1988)
Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011)
Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (2012)

So, that was my list of the Top 10 Best On-Screen Transformations. Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top 10 Character Actresses

There is the famous line "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride". But for these ladies, the bridesmaid gig is somewhat more enjoyable as they steal the show from their leading male and female counterparts. Here is my list of the top 10 character actresses:

10. Patricia Clarkson: Patricia Clarkson may not be as prolific as some of the actresses on this list, but you may be very familiar with her work, ranging from small indie pics like her Oscar-nominated turn in Pieces of April and Far From Heaven to more mainstream fare like Shutter Island and Easy A. Clarkson proves herself to be a very dynamic actress as she plays roles that range from downright cold like her role as the chilly townswoman Vera in Dogville to the spunky hipster mom in Easy A. Even in her smallest roles, she always manages to make an impression.

9. Vera Farmiga: Vera Farmiga is interesting because she is gorgeous enough to be a leading lady, yet she plays roles that are anything but glamorous and have plenty of substance. Whether it'd be her leading turn in the horror flick Orphan as the recovering alcoholic mom with a killer adoptive child to her supporting turn in her breakout role as the conflicted girlfriend Madolyn in The Departed, Farmiga never disappoints and even though I haven't seen her work on Bates Motel, I'm positive she is amazing in it.

8. Michelle Williams: Similarly to Vera Farmiga, Michelle Williams seems like the kind of beauty that could be a leading lady, but goes for much grittier material. Since she threw away the oars at Dawson's Creek, Williams has been able to prove her versatility as an actress by successfully going the indie route, with films like The Station Agent, Land of Plenty, The Hottest State, and her Oscar-nominated work in Blue Valentine. There is also her work as Leonardo DiCaprio's manic depressive wife in Shutter Island, as well as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn, and Heath Ledger's wife in Brokeback Mountain who is yet isn't an antagonist. Hopefully we will see her collect Oscar gold one day.

7. Chloe Sevigny: Once deservingly earning a reputation as an indie queen, Chloe Sevigny has even taken her talents to more mainstream fare as well, including the film Zodiac and the HBO series Big Love. The fact that she goes for more controversial material as well, like Kids, American Psycho, and Boys Don't Cry, proves not only how versatile she is, but that she is a fearless performer who isn't afraid to step out her comfort zone.

6. Judy Greer: Here is someone that is always a bridesmaid, never a bride, yet proves just how exciting the bridesmaid occupation can be. Judy Greer is usually a supporting player that steals the show, whether it'd be as a frenemy in romantic comedies like 13 Going on 30 or as the ugly duckling turned high school vixen in Jawbreaker. Whether it'd be on film or the small screen, Judy Greer is always a treat to watch.

5. Tilda Swinton: Swinton's range of roles over the years have proven herself to be a true acting chameleon. Like many other actresses on this list, Swinton has proven her versatility in smaller indie fare like Moonrise Kingdom, Julia, I Am Love, and We Need To Talk About Kevin, as well as more mainstream films like the Narnia films as The White Witch, Constantine as the androgynous archangel Gabriel, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Honestly, if I was an actor, I would want her agent because she picks very interesting work.

4. Kathy Bates: One of the more prolific character actresses in recent memory, Kathy Bates always never fails to leave an impression. She had us shaking in our boots with her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery and plays more sympathetic characters like in her small but memorable performance as Miss Sue in The Blind Side. Plus, she also owns as Delphine La Laurie in the third season of American Horror Story. So, whenever she pops on screen, whether it'd be the big screen or small, the audience can expect her to always successfully deliver.

3. Jane Lynch: While Jane Lynch has showcased some dramatic work over recent years, like as the schizophrenic mom in Criminal Minds, it is in comedies where she truly shines. With her rather deadpan sense of humor, Jane Lynch never fails to make me laugh. Even when she does voice work in films like Wreck-It Ralph, she still shines. So, whenever she pops up in a film, I tend to get excited.

2. Frances McDormand: While we may all be familiar with her iconic, Oscar-winning turn as quirky pregnant cop Marge Gunderson in Fargo, Frances McDormand has even pulled off characters that are anything but quirky over the years. Some of whom include her role as the overbearing mother in Almost Famous, which is the film that made me such a fan of hers and a performance where she carries both comedic and dramatic weight, as well as her performance as the wife of a KKK member in Mississippi Burning. She was even the best thing about Madagascar 3 as the film's main antagonist Chantal DuBois. If someone were to ask me if I were to watch a film or TV show she was in, I would say "Oh, you betcha, ya!"

1. Helena Bonham Carter: One thing that makes Helena Bonham Carter so great is how she manages to go from playing completely despicable characters like Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter to making a villain one of her film's more enjoyable aspects, like with the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Plus, she has proven her versatility by tackling period pieces (The King's Speech), musicals (Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables), and even dark satires (Fight Club). She tends to not only play one role different from the other, but make the roles she plays her own.

Here are a few honorable mentions that didn't quite make the list:
Melissa Leo (Prisoners, The Fighter)
Mary-Louise Parker (TV's Weeds, Red)
Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, 40-Year-Old Virgin)
Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, Red Dragon)
Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine)
Allison Janney (TV's The West Wing, Finding Nemo)
Ellen Page (Juno, Inception)
Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go-Lucky)
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, Capote)
Missi Pyle (Dodgeball, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Holly Hunter (The Piano, The Incredibles)
Carol Kane (Scrooged, When A Stranger Calls)

So, that was my list of the top 10 character actresses working today. Please feel free to write down your thoughts in the comments section, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Top 10 Movies That Should Be Shown in School

In some ways, movies are the new books. In fact, movies can teach people about life as much as books can. Here is a list of the top 10 movies that could be used to educate students at school, and reasons why they should be shown. Here we go:

10. Thirteen (2003): Starting off my list is the 2003 indie pic Thirteen. This film I could picture being shown in Health class as it deals with a 13-year-old girl who matures a little too early and experiments with drugs, sex, and alcohol. This movie's basic message is to remind adolescents to not grow up too fast and I feel it could be essential viewing at high schools.

9. Precious (2009): This film may be a more outside-the-box choice on my list, but I feel it could be shown at schools because it basically tells people "If you think you have it rough, look at this girl" and could give students a new perspective on their own lives. I could see it being shown in Sociology class.

8. City of God (2003): Next is the foreign language film City of God, also known as Cidade De Deus. Similarly to how Precious showcases life in the ghetto, City of God portrays life in the slums of Rio De Janeiro as well as violent gangs. The film's main character distances himself from the gang member lifestyle and I feel that with his story, it could inspire students who watch the film to not go down the wrong path. Plus, the film will make plenty of students appreciate the life they have once they watch how awful slum life is.

7. Super Size Me (2004): The only documentary on this list, Super Size Me could very well be essential viewing at schools because of how many adolescents are accustomed to always eating fast food. But the film tells us that once in a blue moon, fast food is okay, but if you eat it excessively, like the man in the film did, your body will slowly shut down. I could definitely see this being shown in Health class.

6. Saving Private Ryan (1998): War is hell, and films like Saving Private Ryan show how war is like the eighth circle of hell. I feel that the film not only showcases the horrors of war, but could make those who watch the film appreciate the soldiers who risk their lives in battle for our country. So, I personally feel it would be a fitting movie to show in school.

5. 12 Years A Slave (2013): The newest entry on this list, 12 Years A Slave brings us back to one of America's guiltiest crimes: slavery. Now, this film is NOT an easy watch. At times, it is very brutal, but that's because it doesn't sugarcoat how badly slavery was or cut away from the sheer horror. I remember when I saw this in theaters, I couldn't hold back my tears. But that is how amazing it is.

4. Requiem For A Dream (2000): Next is a film that I wouldn't categorize as a horror film, but is a real-life one: Requiem For A Dream. Normally, in Health class or with the DARE program, they always just give lectures on how drugs are bad, but by showing this film, it will do most of the talking on why drugs are bad. Like 12 Years, this film is very difficult to watch, but I feel it should be shown at schools to warn students "If you don't do drugs, don't start".

3. Brokeback Mountain (2005): Nowadays, there is plenty of discrimination against the LGBT community, especially in schools. But, I feel that by showing this film in school, it could maybe teach students to be more accepting of gays and lesbians, as it portrays two gay cowboys who are torn apart by society itself. Not only that, but it showcases its message on being more accepting of gays in a more subtle and less patronizing way. Some may be uncomfortable by the film's sexual content, but the film doesn't too much on that.

2. American History X (1998): Not only does American History X showcase how awful racism is, but how it affects the family. So, any student who watches this film and has a few racists in their family may break the chain and not go down the same path. So, this film really hits close to home and like many of the films on this list, is not an easy watch, but it should definitely be watched, especially by adolescents.

1. Schindler's List (1993): Finally is the emotional powerhouse that is known as Schindler's List. A film that reminds us to never forget the past and brings us back to one of humanity's guiltiest crimes: The Holocaust. Not only does this film showcase the horrors of the Holocaust, but it reminds us that there are decent people who can make a difference, like Oskar Schindler, who helped save the lives of 1,200 Jews. I don't just think this film should be mandatory viewing at schools, but mandatory viewing by anybody that has a beating heart.

So, that is my list of the top 10 films that should be shown in schools. If there is any film you'd like to add with a reason as to why it should be shown at school, please feel free to write in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Trailer Talk #13: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Only Lovers Left Alive, Nymphomaniac, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Guardians of the Galaxy, A Million Ways to Die in the West

Hello, Bloggers, welcome to another episode of Trailer Talk. For today's episode, I figured I'd do a blend of both smaller scale films and more larger scale films. I'll start off with the reviews of the trailers for three smaller indie films. Here we go:

The Grand Budapest Hotel: I'll start off with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is directed by indie king Wes Anderson, who also did Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Moonrise Kingdom. Now, the film looks cool because it is very colorful and has a terrific cast (Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, etc.), but the reason I have mixed feelings about seeing this one is because of how much I loathed Moonrise Kingdom. I might watch some of Anderson's earlier work and give him another shot, or maybe keep an open mind and see this, but I'm not holding my breath on seeing it in theaters.

Only Lovers Left Alive: Next is the indie vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive, also starring Tilda Swinton and stars Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston. Now, this is a film that I would love to see. It looks very interesting and it is pretty neat that since we had the whole vampire craze thanks to Twilight, this film takes vampires and brings them to the arthouse genre. Hopefully, this plays at the indie film theatre near me.

Nymphomaniac: The last small scale film I will discuss is Nymphomaniac, which is directed by the amazing yet highly controversial Lars Von Trier. I am quite fond of Lars Von Trier's work and one of his films, Breaking the Waves, is one of my favorite movies, so I am quite intrigued by this film. By looking at the title, you can get the sense of what it is about. The film's main character is a nymphomaniac who tells a psychiatrist her life story. It has some recognizable names like Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen, Christian Slater, Shia LaBeouf, and even Uma Thurman. I don't know whether it'll play near me, but I hope to give it a view one of these days.

Transformers: Age of Extinction: Now on to slightly more familiar territory, starting off with Transformers: Age of Extinction. I'll be honest, I am not a HUGE fan of Transformers and I never played with the toys growing up. I saw the first and third films, but parts of the second one. They are amazing to look at, but I wouldn't they are the best things since sliced bread. They got Mark Wahlberg this time around, who I like as an actor, and the film looks amazing, but I worry that the special effects will be the only thing going for it and it'll be like a cake that looks delicious but has no taste. I might skip it.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Next is the upcoming Marvel pic Guardians of the Galaxy. This one I am actually very excited about. I grew up on Marvel more than I did on DC and I am interested by almost anything Marvel comes out with on the silver screen. For you superhero fans who don't know who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, they are an eclectic group of intergalactic warriors: Star-Lord, a human with space heritage, Gamora, a deadly sword-wielding female assassin, Groot, a living tree, Rocket Raccoon, a foul-mouthed gun-wielding alien whose species resembles raccoons, and Drax, a green-skinned alien with brutal strength. Not only do I want to see this because it looks cool and I am interested by the whole Guardians of the Galaxy mythos, but Rocket Raccoon is being voiced by Bradley Cooper, and I'll watch almost anything he is in these days. No doubt I am seeing this in theaters.

A Million Ways to Die in the West: Finally, I'll get into the upcoming comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West, which is being made by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. Like with Bradley Cooper, I'll watch anything done by Seth MacFarlane at this point. I watch Family Guy reruns religiously, and I loved Ted and can't wait for Ted 2. Plus, I don't give a crap what anyone says, he was an awesome Oscar host and I would love to see him host the Oscars again. Anyways, not only does this film look funny, but it has quite a cast also: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, and Sarah Silverman. Not normally a fan of westerns, but if it is a Western done by Seth MacFarlane, there is no doubt I am seeing it in theaters.

So, that was episode #13 of Trailer Talk, and episode #14 will come up either when I see a bunch of new trailers on the Internet or after I see Divergent because as of now, there is NOTHING out I want to see. Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Oscars 2014: My Review

Hello, Bloggers, I am a little late on this, but I figured I'd run down my review of the Oscars Sunday night and discuss what I thought of the ceremony and the winners. Here we go:

I'll start off with the ceremony. One thing that I loved about the ceremony was how nobody there took themselves too seriously. Like when Ellen had her pizza bit and when she posted the most retweeted selfie with all the stars in the photo. Plus, when Pharrell Williams performed the song "Happy", the crowd seemed to be into it and dancing along. So, while the awards themselves are pretty serious, the crowd looked to not take themselves too seriously and I liked that a lot. I also liked Ellen as the host. I thought her opening monologue was pretty funny, even the jab she took at Jennifer Lawrence with her tumble she took as she walked to the stage last year. The musical performances I thought were excellent. Just on a side note, whenever I talk about what I think of an awards show, I never pay much attention to the musical performances. But here, I really liked the performances, especially Pink's cover of "Over the Rainbow" and Idina Menzel's, or should I say Adele Dazeem's, performance of the song "Let It Go" even if it seemed a bit rush. Plus, I liked how they made special tributes to Heroes On Film. I thought that was very nice, and how the orchestra didn't play the winners off when they were making speeches, since that is one of my pet peeves with awards shows.

Now onto what I thought of the winners. This is one of the rare years where the Academy and I agree with the same choice for Best Picture. I loved that 12 Years A Slave won Best Picture. I hope that it holds up well five to ten years down the line, and it is not only a great movie, but it is an important film that I feel does for slavery what Schindler's List did for the Holocaust. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto expectedly won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor but those wins were well-deserved I would say. McConaughey has delivered interesting work over the past few years and has done a complete 180 with his career and his performance was amazing so his win was deserved. I am sure plenty of people were hoping for Leonardo DiCaprio but if he were to win an Oscar, he would maybe have to take the same route that McConaughey and even Brad Pitt has since Pitt won Best Picture as a producer at the Oscars and Indie Spirit Awards for 12 Years A Slave. Also, Jared Leto is an actor that I have always wanted to see get the kind of recognition for his character work that he has gotten now so his win was richly deserved. Lupita Nyong'o won Best Supporting Actress and I also liked that win and I hope that she goes places after her win. I can honestly say I was glad they didn't give it to Jennifer Lawrence because it would've been "too much too soon" for her. I wouldn't mind seeing her win a 2nd Oscar, but not now since she already had her previous win and has her box office clout, so she already has her cake and can eat it too. But, the great Cate Blanchett finally won Best Actress for Blue Jasmine and with her Best Actress and Supporting Actress win, she is now among the likes of Maggie Smith, Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep, and Jessica Lange. So, congratulations to Cate the Great! One thing that actually surprised me was how American Hustle, which has 10 nominations, got shut out completely. I figured maybe it would upset Her for Best Original Screenplay or at least win Best Costume Design, but I was stunned since the movie got plenty of hype. However, on the flip side, Gravity won 7 out of 10 Oscars and those were richly deserved since most of them were technical awards. This reminds me of 1972 where the musical Cabaret won 8 Oscars yet The Godfather won 3 Oscars, including the top prize for Best Picture. Spike Jonze also won Best Original Screenplay for Her and I was quite happy about that since I am a fan of his work. The Great Beauty may have won Best Foreign Film over my pick The Hunt but I can't get upset for that win since I haven't seen it yet. But another win I was most excited about was 20 Feet From Stardom winning Best Documentary Feature. I normally am not fond of documentaries, but I really liked this one.

Overall, I really enjoyed the ceremony and I was quite thrilled with the winners. If you agree or disagree with me, please feel free to write in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oscars 2014: My Final Oscar Ballot

Hello, Bloggers! Today, I am putting my Oscar coverage to a close. It's been really fun covering the Oscars all the way back to last summer, but until we get closer to the next awards season, I will do my own personal Oscar ballot. These picks are not based on who I think will win or what could win, but only based on who I want to win. I am leaving out the short subject and animated feature categories and because I haven't seen any of those. Anyways, here is my final Oscar ballot and let's hope for a great ceremony tomorrow night!:
* The asterisk is my pick in each category

Best Picture:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years A Slave*
Wolf of Wall Street

Best Director:
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity*
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Martin Scorsese, Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor:
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, Wolf of Wall Street*
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress:
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine*
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Best Supporting Actor:
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle*
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
Jonah Hill, Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress:
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave*
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
12 Years A Slave*
Wolf of Wall Street

Best Original Screenplay:
American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club

Best Foreign Language Film:
Broken Circle Breakdown
The Great Beauty
The Hunt*
The Missing Picture

Best Documentary:
The Act of Killing
20 Feet From Stardom*
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square

Best Original Score:
The Book Thief
Saving Mr. Banks

Best Original Song:
"Happy" from Despicable Me 2
"Let It Go" from Frozen
"The Moon Song" from Her*
"Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Best Cinematography:
The Grandmaster
Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Sound Mixing:
Captain Phillips
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

Best Sound Editing:
All Is Lost
Captain Phillips*
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
Long Survivor

Best Production Design:
American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
12 Years A Slave

Best Makeup:Dallas Buyers Club*
Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Best Costume Design:
American Hustle*
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years A Slave

Best Film Editing:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years A Slave

Best Visual Effects:
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness