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Films of 2014, #117: Nine (Marshall, 2009)

Fellini’s 8 1/2 is possibly my all time favorite film. So how does a musical version add up? Well, less than 8 1/2, that’s for sure. More like 3 1/2.

Rob Marshall’s version of the 1982 Broadway musical has plenty of punch with the help of Daniel Day Lewis giving another good role. But the entire film feels lost. The people who love 8 1/2 aren’t going to like this, and the people who don’t know 8 1/2 aren’t going to get it. Nine is an odd film that mixes plot from Fellini’s classic and slaps some musical numbers around them that are done exactly like in Marshall’s Chicago. Nine is nothing more than 8 1/2/Chicago mashup.

Lewis does the best he can as Guido, the film director that can’t make up his mind on what his new picture is about. There’s plenty of aspects of 8 1/2 and Fellini’s own life thrown in from his difficulty with the press to his womanizing. But it’s all been done before. The music is where the problems really start. With Marshall doing exactly what he did with Chicago by taking the songs and separating them out from the story. While this was genius in Chicago, it’s clumsy here and feels like a cop-out. The transitions are awkward and always take you out of the movie. Plus, none of the songs are that good.

There’s so many supporting actors here that don’t matter, so when they all gather together in the end, it’s all deflated. The final moments should resonate, even after dealing with some bland songs. It’s the one scene that should have been pulled off well. Instead it’s a mess of people that don’t add up to much. Nine is a very bad film that takes “inspiration” from one of the greatest ever made, a bad call from everyone involved.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #116: RoboCop (Padilha, 2014)

The original RoboCop wasn’t a bad movie, but it hasn’t aged well. The entire film seems dated today with tons of unnecessary violence and language, I’m not a prude, but if there’s tons of language and violence just to seal in an R rating, then you’re doing it wrong. The new RoboCop is an improvement in every single way, and it’s rated PG-13.

The main story is still in place with a cop who gets badly injured after an attempt on his life and he gets a second chance by becoming RoboCop, although he’s the first one made and the company behind it treats the entire thing as an experiment. With the exception of the main actor, played by Joel Kinneman, everyone gives some really good acting jobs for an action film. Samuel L. Jackson plays a television reporter who churns the propaganda of the government. Gary Oldman is a scientist that helps build RoboCop. But the best performance here comes from Michael Keaton as the head boss of Omnicorp, he’s great here and I can’t help but wonder where he’s been over the past fifteen years.

This update gives RoboCop the reboot it needed with great design, good acting and a thoughtful script that fits in with our times. It’s a darker film that takes itself seriously and still has plenty of good action scenes to be entertaining.

Rating: 7 out of 10. 

Films of 2014, #115: Under The Skin (Glazer, 2014)

It’s not often that a sci-fi film actually makes you think, and Under The Skin leaves many questions by not spelling anything out. It’s not a complicated movie either, everything that happens is done through the power of visuals, and there’s little dialogue. Scarlett Johannson gives a very good performance, and she hits the right notes of humanity and cold, disconnect. It’s the first film from director Jonathan Glazer since 2004’s Birth, and it’s a much stronger film. There’s touches of Kubrick’s 2001 in the opening sequence, but most of the film is so simple that I can’t even go into plot details without giving away something. The ending was perfect, and while it was very close to what I thought was going to happen, it was still a powerful way to close the film.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #114: Hitchcock (Gervasi, 2012)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is undisputedly one of the greatest, most suspenseful movies ever made. And it’s making wasn’t an easy task, as displayed by this film. From Hitchcock financing the movie himself to his famous harassment of his actresses, to the genius marketing campaign, this film covers all the grounds of everything that went on behind the scenes. It’s interesting, but it’s highly frustrating to hear all the angry studio heads complaining about unconventional Psycho is, while sitting through such a conventional film. There’s nothing wrong with Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, actually, it’s quite good for an actor of such stature. But there’s not enough here and most of the scenes seem like a TV movie of the week. 

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #113: Pain & Gain (Bay, 2013)

I have a hatred for director Michael Bay, like every other logical thinking film goer. He’s put out four Transformers movies and plenty of other dreadfully bloated action films. Bay’s 2013 film, Pain & Gain is a more than a step up for Bay, it should serve as an artistic revelation (although it might not look that way with Bay working on an upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie). This a stupid film that’s aware of the outlandishness of the plot and characters and runs with it all the way. It’s dumb, but it has just enough smart things to say about American dream. The Rock and Mark Walberg have great comedic timing throughout the entire film, and Bay’s sharp, colorful direction works through almost every frame. It’s a true story about some body builders who kidnap a sandwich shop owner and plan to embezzle his money. The film’s themes of opportunity, masculinity, and the wealthy isn’t “smart” or “eye opening”, but it’s all infused with enough humor that its’ one of the smartest dumb movies I’ve seen.

Rating: 7 out of 10. 

Films of 2014, #112: Life Itself (James, 2014)

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An article in the March 2010 issue of Esquire by Chris Jones detailed the recent health issues of Chicago Sun Times film critic, Roger Ebert. At this point, he had had several surgeries to remove cancer, and this included his jawbone, leaving Ebert, a man known for voicing his opinion on television every week, silenced. This kind of event would have torn down anyone else, but Roger kept right on going and writing film film reviews until his death on April 4th, 2013.

Roger’s writing and the way he looked at film was inspiring, and upon reading the article in Esquire, I was compelled to start writing. It’s easy to say that Roger Ebert is one of the main reasons that I ended up writing today. From the way he wrote about movies, with a very simple language, not afraid to call a film crap, while still enjoying movies just for being entertaining. Ebert’s criticism was always above others in my mind. Unlike Pauline Kael, Ebert’s simplistic view was perfect, and will always be something that I strive for in my writing.

Life Itself gives a very full, and inspiring look at Roger Ebert. The film focuses heavily on Roger’s battle with cancer, and there’s plenty of moments where Life Itself is more like a wake than a film. Friends and family give interviews and tell tales of Roger’s start, through his alcoholism, to his love-hate relationship with TV co-star, Gene Siskel. It’s all here.

Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams), gives Life Itself a perfect treatment by putting in parts of Ebert’s autobiography (also called Life Itself), footage from Ebert and Roper, and putting in some of Ebert’s criticism over the films he reviewed (Bonnie and Clyde, Raging Bull, Tree of Life). While Ebert’s story is stunning, it could have been a mess, as many documentaries are. There’s no denying the passion involved here, with all the love that James shows Ebert over the course of the film, there’s also no sort of illusion to hide the rougher parts of Ebert’s life, as several friends say Ebert wasn’t the nicest person.

Ebert’s voice was a strong one, and he was admired more than any other film critic out there. He used his popularity to bring attention to films that wouldn’t have otherwise, as mentioned by filmmaker Errol Morris and Ebert’s love for Morris’s film, Gates of Heaven. And Ebert’s voice wasn’t weakened by the loss of his jaw. Instead, he embraced social media and took to his blog and made it a massive journal filled with memories, social and film critique.

I’m not going to say that Life Itself is a perfect movie, there’s very seldom a perfect one. The films that really matter are the ones that feel and are felt by the audience. And while I might be bias in my review because what Roger’s life and writing meant to me, I felt that Life Itself did a great job at putting Roger’s life on screen, leaving back nothing and presenting a moving film that stands apart that most movies.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #111: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Ramsay, 2012)

Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a disturbing film that puts the audience into the mind of a mother who’s son has committed a terrible crime at his school. Through the film’s loose structure, we see everything through Tilda Swinton’s eyes, as she goes through her day by day after the events to find her alone and ostracized by other parents (by everything from breaking her eggs in the supermarket to vandalizing her house). We find out through flashbacks that she always realized that her son was, for lack of a better word, evil. The theme of nature vs. nurture is the primary thing here, and it’s not easy to arrive at a solid conclusion.

We see Kevin (played as a teenager by Ezra Miller) show nothing but contempt for his mother while he always appears happy around his father (John C. Reilly). We Need To Talk About Kevin could have ended up being a bad, TV movie of the week because of the subject matter. Instead director Lynne Ramsay takes away all the cliches that should have come with a story like this and focuses solely on the relationship between mother and son and how the mother tries to understand why her son ended up the way he is. Swinton gives her strongest acting here as she is stricken over and over with shock. It’s not an easy film, and it’s not a short film either, but it’s all there for a reason.

Rating: 8 out of 10. 

Films of 2014, #110: Enemy (Villeneuve, 2014)

Based on Jose Saramago’s 2002 novel, The Double, this thriller takes a page or two from Hitchcock without being a rip-off and ends up being one of the most thrilling films to come out this year. Starring Jack Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a professor who upon watching a DVD of a little known film comes across an extra that looks exactly like him. He starts to do some research and finds out that the actor is named Anthony St. Claire and he then tries to find him, and things get out of hand as the movie keeps going.

Are they brothers? Are they the same person? There’s never anything plainly said, things are left up to the viewer. Enemy not only gives Gyllenhaal some great acting to chew on with two roles, but it gives the man one of his best roles. I was hesitant going into Enemy because of director, Dennis Vinneneuve’s previous film, Prisoners, but this was surprising film that worked with some great direction. The use of yellow tents and shadows in the cinematography stood out and fit the mood of the film perfectly.

While it’s a very simple film, there’s enough left open for people to ponder over with a handful of scenes that come out of “nowhere” and an odd ending. Although it’s quite obvious to me what this imagery means, I imagine there’s some confusion with viewers. But I won’t give anything away, just see Enemy and discover for yourself the greatest film to borrow from Alfred Hitchcock while still retaining a very original film that’s one of the most arresting films of the years.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #109: The Uninvited (Allen, 1944)

A pair of siblings buy a massive house for relatively cheap and it ends up being haunted. There’s some good scares for a film this old, and it’s quite entertaining. One thing that makes The Uninvited stand out from other horror films, is it’s use of comedy. It’s a well written film with plenty of good dialogue that has a nice ending and good acting from everyone.

Rating: 7 out of 10.