Year: 2014

January 12, 2014

Simplistic Reviews Oscar Preview Podcast Trailer

Julie tries to fill in for ScarJo in the Spike Jonze Film Her.  Yeah…it’s as bad as it sounds. 

January 11, 2014

August: Osage County

FAMILY
Of all the films being discussed during award season, August: Osage County seems to be the one being forgotten.  It has the award recognition somewhat, but it is hard to hear anything about it over the publicity noise of films like Wolf Of Wall Street, American Hustle, and Gravity.  And this is a film with Meryl Streep and Julia f@%king Roberts!  Two of the most iconic female actresses I’ve watched in my lifetime.  What was it about this film that keeps it flying under the radar?  Then I thought about the subject matter.  It isn’t as captivating as a sexy scheme set up by quirky con artists in the 70s.  It isn’t as outrageous as a cocaine fueled crook living to excess in the 80s and 90s.  It definitely isn’t as thrilling as watching a woman struggling to survive in an endless abyss in the present.  It is merely about FAMILY.  All the love and hate and insane dysfunction of FAMILY.  It isn’t a two hour long dose of good ol’ escapism.  It shines a light on an all too familiar life that most would try and have tried to escape from.  
Don’t get me wrong.  This is not a fun for the whole FAMILY film.  August: Osage County is the film adaptation of writer Tracy Letts’ play of the same name.  It centers around a small town FAMILY reuniting after the sudden disappearance of the FAMILY‘s patriarch.  And the fact that this film was a play will not come as a shock once you watch it.  At the end of several scenes, you’ll catch yourself waiting for the curtain the drop and the applause to start before you realize you’re still sitting in a cineplex.  I made a critique of the aforementioned Wolf Of Wall Street in my review a few weeks back.  That critique was that the film seemed more like a collection of amazing scenes instead of a well structured story.  Yet, I wasn’t sure if that was entirely a bad thing for me.  August: Osage County made me start to feel the same way.  But that way of storytelling works fine for a novel or a play.  That is what’s tricky to me about adaptations.  Do you want them to stick with the same format the novel or play or television show had at the expense of structure?  Or do you want to mold it into something more film friendly?  I personally don’t know.  It changes for me on a case to case basis.  I do know I loved both Wolf Of Wall Street and August: Osage County because of the TREMENDOUS scenes and TREMENDOUS performances in them.  I just feel that their previous roots show a little too much for me to call them perfect “film” adaptations.

I’ve been watching John Wells work for a majority of my life.   Shows like ER and Southland and now Shameless really show how the man can make real people just feel real on screen.  How he can create dramatic tension through stillness and subtlety instead of jarringly acrobatic camera moves or set ups.  One might assume that his visual technique for this film was just a “point the camera and walk away” style because of the actors he had it his disposal.  However, there is a slick sense of simplicity and sneakiness in how he shoots these scenes, puts you in that house, and puts you in those moments.  For a film like this, it is all about creating an environment where actors can flourish and bring their characters to life.

Who are the actors at his disposal?  Holy crap!  Well, I’ve already mentioned the two cinema Godzillas of Meryl Streep and Julie Roberts.  And trust me, it is their film to own.  But the top notch performances here are ubiquitous.  Yeah…I said ubiquitous.  It means “everywhere”.  I looked it up because I wanted to find a word that could properly illustrate how great everyone is in this film.  I haven’t seen Roberts this strong and fearless since Closer.  And Streep literally roars reminders at you that she is the best actress walking the planet.  But then you have Chris Cooper chewing scenery throughout the film, with Margo Martindale chewing it up right alongside him.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Juliette Lewis show up out of nowhere and devour every line they have.  Abigail Breslin knocks one out of the park for kicks.  Ewan McGegor and Dermot Mulroney slides in great showings too.  Hell, Sam Shepard gets one scene and delivers some of the film’s best lines in that time.  It is practically a smorgasbord of acting on display.  Though, I wanted to single out Julianne Nicholson’s performance because it may be the one overlooked the most.  She isn’t the biggest name in the cast but she holds her own with everyone.  Before you know it, Nicholson will be the one you feel for the most and the one who will pull your heartstrings the hardest.

August: Osage County is not only deserving of its praise, but deserving of more attention.  It might be better suited as a play than a film.  However, there is no doubt that the writing, directing, and acting are still good enough for you to enjoy the hell out of it.  Sit down with your FAMILY…if you dare…watch it…hope to God that your FAMILY isn’t as crazy as theirs…then tell me I’m wrong.  

  

January 10, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club – Breakout

BREAKOUT

It’s funny when you follow the career of certain actors.  Some start strong, and fizzle out.  Others start weak, and grow to have a great career.  Others decide to confound you for years and suddenly make you open your eyes and realize, “Wow, so that’s what they could do?”  Two actors in particular have shown that in recent years.  One is Woody Harrelson.  Sure, he plays a goofy white guy most of the time, but after an Academy Award nomination a few years ago, and a string of hits at the box office, you can say Harrelson is one of those guys who’s come a long way from where he started.  The other actor is Matthew McConaughey, another Texas hick who was mostly known for chick flicks early in his career.  But after two straight years of critically acclaimed films, you can say he’s one of those guys that definitely can act.  See “Fraility” and “Lone Star” for early proof.  Now you have, “Dallas Buyers Club” a breakout for McConaughey, and for one my money, one of the best performances in all of 2013.

“Dallas” is the true story of Ron Woodroof, an electrician and hustler who might come off a bit racist, homophobic, and womanizing.  All in all, he’s one of the worst human beings you’d be unlucky enough to meet.  Woodroof contracts the HIV virus which eventually turns into AIDS and leads him down a road of not only self-discovery, but also redemption as he fights the FDA while trying to bring in unapproved medicine from out of the country to not only help himself, but an entire sub-community in the Dallas-area suffering from HIV and AIDS.

Within the first 16 minutes of “Dallas” I was drawn in by McConaughey’s performance.  I found myself both hating him, and feeling extreme sympathy for his situation.  His portrayal of Woodroof was haunting and his dedication to the characters was on the level of Christan Bale’s performance in “The Machinist” which is a parallel that a lot of people are currently making.  The difference between Bale and McConaughey’s performances is the characterization.  I never felt anything really for Bale’s Trevor Reznor, whereas with Woodroof I found myself hating him, and come the end, complete compassion.

Aside from McConaughey’s standout performance, I’d also go as far as saying this is Jennifer Garner’s best acting since “The Kingdom” and it’s nice to see that Steve Zahn is still getting work.  But, you also have a star-making performance by Jared Leto, who plays Rayon; a transgender man with AIDS who befriends Woodroof and helps him open The Dallas Buyers Club.  Leto, who also fronts the band “30 Seconds to Mars,” is the perfect foil to Woodroof and his acting really surprised me.  I’m left to wonder why he doesn’t try his hand at Hollywood films more often, but I guess band groupies are more lucrative.  The relationship between Rayon and Woodroof is the heartbeat of the film and you’ll be crushed by Leto’s performance.

“Dallas” is a film that depends on it’s actors’ performances, and it won’t disappoint.  It explores one of the unsung “heroes” during the 1980s AIDS epidemic and casts a light on how there really isn’t any money in the CURE for diseases, only the medicine that is “HELPING” the disease.  There is no doubt that McConaughey will be a heavy favorite when the Oscars are announced later this month, along with Leto in a supporting role.  Acting doesn’t get much better than in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Fun Fact:  “Dallas” is Jared Leto’s first film in four years, since 2009’s “Mr. Nobody.”   

January 7, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

RESURGENCE

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Resurgence

Two films down, one to go.  Peter Jackson’s second epic trilogy where he re-visits Middle Earth continues as Bilbo Baggins and his gang of dwarves travel ever closer to The Lonely Mountain and their encounter with the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug.  In “The Desolation of Smaug” you see glimpses of what Jackson did with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  There is a resurgence if you will, in this penultimate film that features some great action set pieces, and little more dwarf history, and the best performance by a dragon you’ll see all year.

“Smaug” is a vast improvement over the first film, “An Unexpected Journey” which was a slave to having to re-create a world where there was no fellowship, no imminent danger, and for lack of a better term, no real protagonist that you can relate to.  Granted, it might be hard to relate to a reluctant king, an elf princess, or a hard drinking dwarf, but at least there were recognizable characters that you could root for.  To be honest, I have a hard time remembering any of the dwarves in Thorin Oakenshield’s company outside of the aforementioned dwarf leader.

I think one of the traps this trilogy has fallen into is its reliance on fanboy love.  The beauty of “LotR” was the fact that even if you didn’t read the books, or knew little of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, the story was strong enough to bring moviegoers who were dying for an epic three-part adventure, that for my money, still can’t be beat.  “The Hobbit” trilogy lacks what made “LotR” magical.  At times it lacks any originality for the most part where you find yourself visiting many places you saw before, and the pacing is painful at times.  However, Jackson certainly learned his lesson from his first film in the trilogy, and while it might piss off die-hard fans of the book, he;s made “Smaug” a far more entertaining watch.

First of all, the action is pumped up quite a bit.  While the escape from The Goblin King and his minions might have been exciting in “Journey” it was the highlighted action piece.  In “Smaug” there is the wine barrel chase, a ton of hot Elf-on-Orc action, you get to see Gandalf be a bad-ass again, and of course all of the scenes with Smaug, voiced excellently by Benedict Cumberbatch.  The film also marks the “return” of Legolas and the introduction of a new character, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly.  People have been pissed about the addition of these two, but I’m trying to understand why.  Legolas brings something to these “Hobbit” films; nostalgia, whereas as Lilly brings a little sex appeal to the proceedings, and I might add, she does make a sexy elf and I wouldn’t be surprised if “female elf” is one of the top Halloween costumes in 2014.

The biggest gripe that many people have is the fact that Jackson strayed too far away from Tolkien’s material.  I’d respond with “Thank God!”  Without these additions to the film, I might go as far as saying these films are pretty unwatchable.  They are tedious exercises in exploiting a beloved book while trying to extort more money from nerds who can’t get enough of The Shire and Hobbit feet.  You might think, “Matt!  I thought you liked this film better than the first one?!”  I do like “Smaug” better than “Journey” but that still doesn’t make either one great.

All in all, “Smaug” is the shot in the arm the trilogy needed.  It finally introduced the aforementioned Smaug with all the bravado that it deserved, and it ended in a way that will FORCE people who have already invested over five hours of their time into investing another nearly three hours later this December.  “The Hobbit” films might have their problems and shortcomings, but at least Jackson got this one right, even if he had to piss some book fanboys off in the process.

Fun Fact:  Published in 1937,  many critics believe that Tolkien’s novel, “The Hobbit” was based on his experiences in World War I.   

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