Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review Roundup - True Stories

I recently wrote an article about all of the awards-contending movies that are based on true stories. As part of that article, I initially planned to include my thoughts/reviews on most of them. That article ran a little long, and it didn't make sense to tack on reviews to the end of it, so I decided to make a separate post.

These are my (thankfully) short opinions about most of the recent "true story" movies. I tried to focus mainly on their qualities as films (which was kind of the point of my article about true story movies). There are a few exceptions. I have already reviewed American Sniper, so I won't repeat any of that here. Also, I was unable to watch Mr. Turner. There might be one or two others I didn't get to see that I'm forgetting, but oh well. Anyway, here are my thoughts on a few year-end movies as I get closer to being done with 2014 films. (I know it's already February, and I'm still finishing up "year-end" stuff, but hey, if the Academy gets to wait until the end of February, why can't I?)

Final note - instead of uploading pictures for each rating, I'm just going to type each rating (because I'm lazy, and who's reading this anyway?).

Unbroken - This film divided critics almost down the middle. Some claimed that it was uninspired and derivative of better work by Spielberg. I'll admit that there's nothing, cinematically speaking, special about this film. Despite that, I was engrossed in the story of Louis Zamperini. If it wasn't based on a true story, you would feel manipulated as bad thing after bad thing happens to him. It isn't a very stylish film, but it is effective. People who wanted more of an explanation for Zamperini's resolve missed the film's point that sheer will is what got him through the hardships. There's no need for some made-up reason for Zamperini to survive while others did not. He's just that rare person who won't give up. I'll give this one a Chigurh.

Selma - This film inspired my previous article because so many people took issue with LBJ's portrayal. I'm not a fan of the changes myself, but I didn't find them all that damning. It seems to me that people are afraid to dislike this movie without having some arbitrary excuse like the legacy of LBJ to back them up. My reaction was lukewarm. It is a well-made depiction of an important part of our history, but it comes across more like a film that is more concerned with being a historical document than a movie. Selma will live on in history classes from here on out, but as a part of cinema, I think it will be largely forgotten. I'll give this one a Commodus (giving the thumbs up).

Foxcatcher - I was expecting to love this movie, but came away underwhelmed. The performances are great all around. Carell and Ruffalo have been rightly nominated, but Tatum deserves some credit too. The film seems to drag, however. It's immediately clear that Carell's John du Pont is strange and probably dangerous. The film plays out for two hours with the viewer waiting for what we is going to happen. Even if you don't know the true story, it's painfully obvious that something bad is going to happen. I found myself wishing for the movie to just hurry up throughout. Perhaps I would feel differently if the film was 30 minutes shorter. Either way, it's worth watching for the performances alone. This one gets a Chigurh.

The Imitation Game - This is one of those historical movies that gets everything right. It features good performances and an interesting, largely untold story from history. Much like Selma, however, there's nothing about it that really stuck with me. A good movie, but not one that should necessarily be discussed as one of the year's best. This one gets a Commodus (giving the thumbs up).

The Theory of Everything - See review of Imitation Game. Oh, and Eddie Redmayne is very good, though I don't think he's better than Keaton or Cooper in this year's Best Actor race. This one gets a Commodus (giving the thumbs up).

Wild - I was expecting great things from this film since it was made by Jean-Marc Vallee, the director of one of my favorites from last year, Dallas Buyers Club. I liked it, but not nearly as much as his previous film. Perhaps it's the subject matter. The story of Cheryl Strayed is interesting, and the film works as a portrait of a woman dealing with a multitude of problems, but it felt a little too much like an exercise in getting Reese Witherspoon another Oscar. That said, this movie is a masterclass in transitions. Vallee effortlessly jumps back in forth in the narrative with great little transitions throughout to creative a very fluid experience. I'll give this one a Chigurh.

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