2015 Movie Reviews – Roundup

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Perhaps one of the most disappointing films of the year, not even the promise and deliverance of TWO Tom Hardy performances can save this would-be London gangster film, written and directed by the same man whom is either half or fully responsible for 42, Man on Fire, Mystic River, and L.A. Confidential. The pieces are all here, but that means nothing if you can't fit them together to make a complete picture. On top of the fact that the dialects aren't always clear, Legend proves to be predominately uninteresting, despite having delicious bursts of violence from the Kray Twin's, once the most powerful men in London. Hardy is pretty great as both brothers, giving a better performance as the more put together Reginald. The conflict of the film lies in the unpredictability of Reggie’s brother, Ronald, who's temper and savagery causes quite a commotion. Tom Hardy does a fine job with both roles and with the dialogue he's given, but even his characters feel unfulfilled in their arcs, which isn't Hardy's fault. Emily Browning narrates the film and when she's present, she and Hardy's Reginald work really well together. Those moments are few and far between, as we also only catch glimpses of Taron Edgerton (who killed it in Kingsman: The Secret Service earlier this year) and his romantic involvement with Reginald. The film pushes the 120-minute mark and it really becomes a chore to get to the end. I know many a critic who have recommended the film for Hardy alone, but even then I wouldn't want to sit through this again, so you probably shouldn't either. (**)

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Tom Hooper has found Oscar love with his last two films, The Kings Speech and Les Miserables, so it's not shocking that The Danish Girl popped up on everyone's must watch list. Eddie Redmayne is fresh off his Best Actor win for The Theory of Everything, while Alicia Vikander has blown up this year in Ex Machina and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Given the level of talent involved and the subject matter of finding yourself and the first transgender operation, I expected a film which would at least put more time into really figuring out what they wanted it to be. For the most part, The Danish Girl is style over substance, anchored by two great performances which somewhat hold your attention. Both Redmayne and Vikander deliver beautiful, complex, and honest performances, treating their characters with lots of care. Tom Hooper, likewise, treated this film and the material with the utmost care and unfortunately, he cared too much. The film follows Redmayne and Vikander's marriage, as Redmayne's Wegener slowly transitions into a woman named Lili, after feeling trapped in his body. As his wife, Vikander is more than just supportive, as she's going so far out of her way to help her husband change his life. Those bits are wonderful, as we see the decency in humans to help those in need. On the other hand, Vikander's character feels too ready to help and rarely pauses to address any conflict she may have with her husband changing his life. What will that mean for their marriage, their love, and their pasts? These questions seem essential to any couple in that situation and rather than ask those questions, Hooper focuses on many lingering, yet stunning shots of Redmayne's body and how he looks at it. Everything about the surgery involving the first sex change is second in this film, which came as a huge shock to me because it's given so little time. The impact and the danger of this operation literally changed the world and it couldn't have felt further from that. This film will garner some nominations, but a best picture it is far from and it's not something you should be rushing to see, given the slew of other wholly complete films out there. (**)

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Will Smith finds himself on the silver screen for the second time after the entertaining slight-of-hand film, focus, earlier this year. This time around, the topic is the NFL and their once negligence in regards to the safety of the helmets used in professional football. Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who studied former NFL players and their cases of brain damage. His findings all pointed to the lack of safety in headwear and the lack of care for helmet-to-helmet contact. His findings weren’t surprising, but he was met with lots of pushback because of the harm they could have on the game. The fact that he was Nigerian also brought him backlash, but the deaths of former NFL players and the decline of current player’s mental states was too great to ignore. Smith and Gugu Mbatha Raw give terrific performances in a film which has interesting moments, but lacks cohesive structure. The film never asserts what it’s going to focus on and because of that it jumps around with different narratives. The NFL approved, shoehorned-in speech Smith gives at the end of the film feels extremely dismissive of everything the film stands for, as the NFL also fought parts of this film when they discovered what the topic was. All that aside, the film also feels overly long and doesn’t leave you feeling any different than you did at the beginning of the film. I mistook my anger at the NFL for liking the film more than I actually did, as a second time through revealed more about the film that I overlooked. I enjoyed it more than I didn’t but I’d wait for DVD on this one. (***)

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Having not celebrated their 40th anniversary due to his health complications, Geoff and his wife Kate aim to celebrate their 45th anniversary instead. A week out from the party, a letter arrives which begins to alter the mentality and minds of the couple. Without revealing too much, the letter and its contents bring up nostalgia, past romances, and once possible futures, which cause some friction between the two. Kate is keeping herself together as best she can, while Geoff follows the rabbit hole a bit deeper as we all have asked ourselves "What if?" As Kate, Charlotte Rampling delivers one of the strongest, most emotionally demanding females roles of the year as she tries to make it all week never knowing exactly what her husband is thinking, or feeling. Tom Courtenay's Geoffe isn't a man of many words, though his actions certainly speak for themselves. Rampling does the heavy lifting of the film, as what she perceives as her insecurities create conflicts in her head and heart. The film is a subtle examination of marriage, the passage of time, and the realities we once believed for ourselves growing up. I can't even begin to comprehend 45 years of marriage, let alone one, but the film doesn't offer as much as the actors do. The film relies heavily on them and while Rampling is spectacular, she can't help the fact that the film's progression is slow and uneven. Ending on a touching note, the film constantly throws your expectations of the complications of love and marriage for a loop, as the performances and subject matter help to salvage some of the slow-moving, 90-minute movie. (***1/2)

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Ron Howard was the missing piece to my top 10 list in 2013, as Rush blew me away and got better on each viewing. His signature use of attaching his camera to a sliding rig worked well in that film, as we’re confined to the small quarters of an F1 car. His latest endeavor, the reimagining of the Moby Dick story, is full of similar camera shots which make no sense in a film which can’t decide which aspects of the story are more interesting. In the Heart of the Sea, once slated for a release in the first half of the year, was moved to December in hopes that it would garner some Oscar attention. It did, but nothing stuck because this film is divided up into bits and pieces which largely work, and then a ton which don’t.

Chris Hemsworth teamed up with Howard again and this time around he’s sporting some unknown accent, just as the rest of the men in the film switch between a good number of European accents. There’s a lot of attention and focus on whale oil, how it revolutionized lights for some time, and why so many people wanted to go out whaling. There’s good money to be made from whale oil, but it’s a dangerous task to hunt, kill, and salvage the whale oil. Fortunately, Howard brings us right up to the action, following a successful whale kill and then showing us the old processes used to empty a whale. It’s kind of gross, but it’s also fascinating, especially when Howard shows us the humanity in the eyes of young Tom Holland. There’s the usual male ego clash on the ship, as two men fight for control of the vessel, but nothing could prepare them for the great white whale, which destroys their ship and strands them with three life rafts (cue Ron Howard’s better take on being stuck at sea, making Unbroken seem even more frustrating). There are some really human and humane moments which arise in the film and the best portions are spent back on land, as Brendan Gleeson and Ben Wishaw discuss this story, as Gleeson was once the young Holland on said whaling trip. Their conversations are what inspired Whishaw’s character, Herman Melville, to write Moby Dick and they have the most powerful moments in the film. Had there been more time spent with them, or less time spent stranded at sea, In the Heart of the Sea would have played much better. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s still interesting enough and worth the look if you’ve got the extra time. (***1/2)

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Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are the Titans of the comedy world, having found a wealth of success through the various characters, shows, and films they've both been so heavily involved in. Usually, Fey is the responsible adult of the group, while Poehler often loosens the reigns, comparatively. So, what if you swap those roles and make a film about two adult sisters throwing a party in their old childhood home? Well, that's Sisters in the simplest of forms, as that quick explanation ignores the hilarity and heart which comes from the sisters escapades. A film for both adults and their children (of a certain age), this film reaffirms what Hollywood and anyone who considers themselves "old" thinks and feels: We're really not that old, or boring, so let's party and have a hell of a time! As adults should, because they're human like the rest of us and as humans, it's safe to say we enjoy many of the same things. The jokes are raunchy and the humor is certainly more female, which is always refreshing in a world consumed by male humor and the lazy jokes which come with our lives. Sisters is entertaining as hell, while not being much of a movie at the same time. The plot is thin, the characters could use some work and there are certain dramatic beats which don't entirely sell because of the comedy taking center stage. Comedies are always interesting to critique, as even with this films faults and story issues, I still laughed my ass off and enjoyed my time with the film. The humor may feel a bit sophomoric (because it is), but even then the film accomplished its goal. I had a great time and chances are, you will too. (***1/2)

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Quentin Tarantino’s latest endeavor has seen a lot of stalls, going all the way back to the film’s script being leaked years back and Tarantino scrapping the entire film. Well, after he calmed down he announced the film’s cast and hosted a live read of the script which got a lot of people excited. Then we learn he’s shooting in 70mm film and inserting an overture and intermission into this western epic. With many faulty projectors and 70mm film being tough to move and load, many theaters which had been outfitted for the 70mm version have experienced issues displaying the footage, leading to the cancellation of shows (or worse, showing the other half in digital). So, after all this was it worth the wait?

The short answer is somewhat, as anything Tarantino touches will at the very least be masterfully shot and well-written, as is the case here. Pushing 3 hours with the intermission and overture, The Hateful 8 is broken into chapters and everything in the first act leading up to intermission is brilliant. The setup for our characters and their interactions is not only hilarious, but also cautious as the civil war has recently ended. Tension is still there between black and white, but as we see you can’t really be trusting of anyone. Samuel L. Jackson and Walter Groggins command the screen, each swapping hysterical jabs and waxing truths about the world they live in. Kurt Russell sports the greatest beard and fits in well here, commanding the situations when he has to. The Wyoming winter traps eight patrons in a haberdashery and what unfolds in the second act is where things begin to slow down. The intermission honestly came at the right time, allowing me to process the first act and relax before heading into the stretched out second half, which is full of some unfortunately lazy storytelling. There are only a few ways the second act could go, but Tarantino loses focus of all he’d work to set up and the last 40 minutes especially seem incomplete. You’ve got the likes Michael Masden and Tim Roth, two of Tarantino’s earliest collaborators who are relegated to a few lines here and there. They’re heavily underused and are sort of tossed to the side to make more room for Jenifer Jason Leigh’s character, who’s treatment has some critics up in arms. Tarantino doesn’t care about your race, sex, or political views. If you’re a bad person in his world, you’re going to be treated as such, which leads to lots of debate about the vernacular he uses and how he treats this specific woman in the film. For me, it’s a non-issue because he’s straightforward with the time of the film and how he sees the world. He could have handled certain things better, but I never found myself offended. The biggest issue is in the execution of the second half and though it’s not really that bad, it certainly doesn’t live up to the first half. I’ll be seeing this film again knowing now what it is, but I’m not so sure anything will change. (***1/2)

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Balancing heart-wrenching and heart-warming moments, Room is easily the most emotionally impactful film this year, given the subject matter and execution from the cast and crew. Without getting too bogged down in plot, Room (as it's referred to by its inhabitants) is an 11x11 foot room where Ma and her son, Jack, live. Ma has been there for years and her son was born and has been raised within the walls of Room. As he gets older, Jack grows more curious and is harder to deal with, as he's a young boy confined by 4 walls. As the emotional stakes grow, the bond between mother and son intensifies as Brie Larson displays a range of love-tough love which will leave you weeping. All she does for her son, to keep up an illusion of normalcy and love, is the epitome of the sacrifices parents make for their children. It can't be remotely easy, as she struggles to explain that there's actually an outside world with trees, a sky, rain, and people! Jack, only knowing Room and Ma, is so skeptical of all this and it absolutely tries Larson's patience and own mentality. The film's first half and middle all build extraordinarily well and it's only the final third that left me scratching my head a bit. I wasn't too keen on the direction the film heads and some of the interactions which take place, but even then there's still an immense amount of emotion and love you see continue to the end of the film. Larson will no doubt be receiving an Oscar nomination for this touching performance which can't be appreciated and heralded enough. Just make sure you bring a couple boxes of tissues with you. You know, because allergies... (****)

Brooklyn300
Saoirse Ronan offers a quiet, contemplative performance which has garnered her and the film rave reviews from all across the board. Quite simply, she's great in her role as a young woman leaving her mother and sister in Ireland to find opportunity in America in the 1950's. Her journey is presented in a very straight-forward, old-fashioned film which rarely has any conflict on the surface, as the emotional turmoil lies within. Supporting Ronan beautifully is Emory Cohen, her Italian heartthrob in Brooklyn who undoubtedly gives the strongest performance in the film. The genuine care, respect, and affection he shows her is one of the sweetest things I've seen all year and it's no surprise why her character would fall for him. When they're together, it's like the rest of the film stands still and Cohen's subtle charm and honest heart win you over each second. Domhnall Gleeson plays the son of some great money back in Ireland, but his interests couldn't be further from material possessions and the company of money. His needs aren't monetary, as he's also a very honest and respectable young man. For me, Brooklyn falters whenever Ronan is at her quietest, keeping everything inside when her situations worsen, or intensify. So much is left unsaid and it was enough to bug me, but not nearly enough to sway how I felt watching the film a second time. There are few to no rises and falls in the films progression, so don't expect to see anything extreme. This is one brave woman's tale as she came to find a new life and it couldn't have been easy or quick to make any of the decisions she had to. While it didn't always hold my attention or offer up sentiment for certain situations, Ronan and Cohen's chemistry absolutely rises above all else and makes the film worth the watch. (****)

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Few movies have frustrated me more this year than Suffragette, mainly because it still seems ludicrous that men and laws treated women as poorly as they did. Granted, films always dramatize events and they're meant to be more emotionally involving, but the dramatizations and treatment were pretty spot on, which just really pissed me off. Anchoring the film and guiding us through the early feminist movement in England, Carey Mulligan's Maud finds herself stuck in a battle of morality at home and at work, as she is a firsthand witness to the poor working conditions and wages for women, especially compared to the men who earn more doing less, risking less, and have the luxury to vote. Maud is thrust into a speaking position on behalf of working women, which affords her the opportunity to speak candidly about the lives many of them lead. When it's decided that her harrowing, true stories aren't enough to change the tide for women, the foot soldiers of the movement attempt to recruit Maud to fighting for the surrogate cause. At home, the word suffragette is poison on the tongue of her husband, who will not have his reputation tarnished by his wife (typing that sentence has my eyes rolled all the way back into my heads). Helena Bonham Carter finds herself far more tame than ever, though constantly encouraging the suffragettes to act out. She doesn't offer too much as a character, which is unfortunate because we also don't get enough of Ben Wishaw, whom plays Mulligan's husband. She's the breadwinner, the survivor of constant sexual abuse and horrific working conditions, yet he still has all the power. The best written male comes in the form of Brendan Gleeson's inspector, tasked to put a stop to the suffragette movement. He's not a terribly evil man without a heart, but he's incredibly good at his job and how he handles the women and their individual circumstances really surprised me. The rest of my frustration stems from the total execution of the movement and the responses we see to the disruption. So many of these events were far more awful than we see or realize and had director Sarah Gavron tightened some stories up and shown a bit more, the reaction to and impact this film would have been greater, in my opinion. I found myself liking this film far more than my fellow critics and despite the few issues I had with it, the film is pretty solid and certainly something that audiences need to be exposed to. (****)

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It took a few watches for me to really get behind Spotlight and some of the love it’s been given. It’s as straight forward as any procedural news investigation can be, with the supporting cast sharing the majority of the screen time. Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo have been getting the majority of the attention, as both manage to stick out among the ensemble. Keaton is the more composed boss and he’s great in the role, but Ruffalo certainly stands out given the character choices he makes. He really invests in his role and his banter with Stanley Tucci provides some really great moments. Live Schreiber was the real standout in the film and if anyone were to receive a nomination for the film, it should be him. As the new head of the paper, his decision to go down the rabbit hole and then pull back the curtain on the Catholic Church was one that would generate a lot of bad press. Schreiber’s outside perspective pits him against the team sometimes and he’s integral to the handling of the information recovered. The best bits in Spotlight highlight the influence and effect the Catholic church had on Boston alone. Nobody wants to believe that there’s evil in the world and it’s even tougher to come to terms with the fact that there is evil within the church. The worst realization is how far the church went to cover things up and the film does a very effective job at hammering home how this changed things in Boston. Rachel McAdams does great work, but just like the others she isn’t given too much opportunity to shine. Spotlight will never have you tensing up or throw any big surprises at you, but for me its simplicity in style and storytelling is what keeps it from making my top list. I will acknowledge that many of my peers hold the film in the highest regard this year and I’d agree that it’s more than worth the watch and discussion. (****)

Star Wars TFA300
Yeah, I’m the guy who enjoyed Star Wars a great deal, but still voiced my displeasure with some of the film’s issues. Midway through the film I was reminded of 22 Jump Street, when Nick Offerman’s character tells Tatum and Hill to do the same thing they did last time, because everyone’s happy that way. J.J. Abrams and co. certainly made a great film and it certainly sets up a lot for the Star Wars universe, but they played it safe by rehashing the original trilogy in this one film. The new characters are terrific, with Daisey Ridley and John Boyega capturing the hearts of film fans everywhere. Oscar Isaac gets to kick ass in an X-Wing, but his character is tossed to the side for the majority of the film. Everything with Han Solo is great, except for the stupid Rathtar film which we really didn’t need. I was even a huge fan of Kylo Ren and his emotional fragility, as that made for a more complex “villain”. BB-8 is too much fun and I really enjoyed all the First Order inclusion, there was just a lot left to be answered. It’s standard now to set up film worlds and I understand that this film was a bridge for fans and to-be fans all around the world and for what it is, The Force Awakens is tons of nostalgic and new fun to be had by all. I guess I’m just looking forward to what’s next, as it will explain more about this film and I’m looking forward to a film that allows this new cast to flourish on their own, as we saw they were capable of in this film. The force is still strong in this childlike heart of mine, though the critical part of my mind just couldn’t let some things slide. No matter what I say, you’ve either already seen this film once/multiple times, or you’re going to see it regardless. Either way, both are smart decisions you won’t regret. (****)

Truly the forgotten comedic gem of this year, Spy proves to be another variation of a spy film which entertains and surpasses audience expectations. Directed and written by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids and The Heat), the film centers around Melissa McCarthy and her CIA character… Well, by CIA I mean she works there, but she isn’t in the field, unlike Jude Law (whom she feeds info to through an earpiece). When Law goes missing at the hands of Rose Byrne’s evil villainess, McCarthy is put undercover in the worst possible disguises in order to remain undetected while making observations and reports. Jason Statham’s hardheaded Spy associate has a lot of issues with this and a ton of hilarious quips which are one of the many highlights in this film. McCarthy is often using her appearance in the discussion at some point in any film she’s done recently, so it was great to see her and Feig flip people’s expectations as she totally owns her no-so-spy look and kicks ass along the way. Not only that, but she’s also the funniest she’s been since Bridesmaids, unloading jokes and insults on an audience which only grows more rowdy as the hilarity increases. The story is refreshing and offers up a lot of opportunity for laughter and sincerity. Despite being a comedy, the film is directed masterfully and feels like some big Spy thriller that you’d get from someone else. Feig had said it’s the closest he’ll ever come to directing a Bond film and this year, Spy is better than the Bond film. The women run the world in this film and I’m here for it, because I had a phenomenal time watching and rewatching this film, as most people will and should! (****)

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Todd Hayne's CAROL offers viewers two of the most powerful female characters of the year in a film which examines the love affair between store clerk Therese and the married Carol, who's lingering stare could make you feel like the most important person in the world. Well, that's how Rooney Mara plays Therese, a young woman who's in a relationship at the time, but begins to uncover more about herself as she gets to know Cate Blanchett's Carol. The two exist in a time where that type of love is socially unacceptable and the fact that both women are involved with men who love them makes their situation harder. Carol is no stranger to expressing her affections for women, but this is all new and intimidating to Therese. Especially considering that she's only ever been with men, and here's this woman who is creating these new feelings inside of her. Their interactions are sometimes mesmerizing, as you see Therese and Carol find a comfort in one another and their ability to feel safe in their expressions of love/lust. Kyle Chandler continues his streak of terrific performances playing Carol's husband, whom is trying to keep his marriage and life together, while struggling with the realization that Carol might not love him the way he loves her. The men in this film are complex, as they're never choose one attitude about the women they're close with. There's the trying to understand the complexity of the situation and never really being able to know how it feels to hide your love and true self for so long. The use of red throughout the film is something to note, as Hayne's style of film reveals a lot within the scenery. Having never seen a Todd Hayne's film, the soap-sequel approach to the drama irked me a bit here and there, but a second viewing certainly had me praising the film's performances and what it gets across to the audience. Carol is a wonderful film to discuss and it truly is something beautiful to behold, even if the film style is a bit questionable. (****)

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David O’Russell has kept my trust over the course of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and even American Hustle (which made my Top 20, despite uneven reviews from some critics). An actor’s director at the top of his game, O’Russell’s bond with his casts shows through the terrific work they put out. Joy is a film all about women with Jennifer Lawrence commanding the screen for the third time alongside Bradley Cooper, whose somewhat minor role is nonetheless impressive and a huge factor in this film. Centered on women, how men have kept women down, and how one woman took charge of her life, Joy navigates us through another dysfunctional family which complicates our protagonists ability to do what they want. The greatest thing about Joy is how Lawrence plays the character, one whom will go above and beyond for anyone in need despite it stalling her progress and one who grows more comfortable with asserting herself and challenging the notions of old. In the business world, many people tried to take advantage of her business and her idea for a more efficient mop, believing it’d be easy to manipulate her because she was just some woman who worked at home. O’Russell is a bit on the nose with what he has his characters say and infer about women and Robert DeNiro’s fatherly figure bugged me because of how he’s written, but Joy is mostly a celebration of innovation and the drive to create something for yourself and I had a wonderful time with it. The film will frustrate the hell out of you, but trust me when I say that’s a good thing because the end resolve makes for one of the better endings in a film this year. Come for the performances, stay for the interesting and creative story. (****)

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Everyone’s favorite T.V. meth cook Bryan Cranston has really outdone himself in Trumbo, a film which depicts the blacklisting of Hollywood screenwriters due to their “communist” affiliations. Trumbo was prolific in fighting back against the discrimination within Hollywood and was only labeled a communist because he supported equal pay for everyone outside the actors, writers, and directors. So many more people are integral to making a film and they’re not being paid what they deserve to make an honest living. Set in the late 40’s and early 50’s, the film is styled as if it were shot back then with cutaways akin to those in 50’s T.V. broadcast’s. Louis C.K. gives an emotionally honest supporting performance which asks questions about which influences us more; ego or the want to help everyone else? The film navigates the politics behind the film industry and we get an entertaining look at the writing processes and struggles of some of Hollywood’s greatest writers. Hellen Mirren is convincingly evil with her gossip columnist Hedda Hopper breathing down the neck of Hollywood executives. Elle Fanning, though not on screen for long, makes the most of her time in a touching role which works well alongside Cranston’s. The politics of the film industry are particularly fascinating to learn about and watching the blacklisted writers get around the ban was even more intriguing. It seems ludicrous that people’s beliefs were once considered so outlandish and that people would seek to actively oppose and even attack said person for having different beliefs. Trumbo is the perfect amount of entertainment for the story it tells and it’s got a brilliant cast to boot. (****1/2)

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Though its name is code for “orgasm”, The Little Death is a lovely Australian feature from Josh Lawson, dealing with different sets of couples and the fetishes they’re a bit too afraid of revealing. In a similar vein to Love Actually, we follow these funny couples through their daily love lives and learn about their individual fetishes, which they worry will freak their partner out. The film is full of outrageously funny discussions and jokes related to the wide range of sexual fetishes people have, but there’s also a lot of heart in this film and its exploration of why some relationships fail. Centered around fetishes, I’m sure many are already wondering just how bizarre and sexual this film is. While it’s both of those things, the film looks at communication and the lack thereof in modern relationships and the fact that when you don’t voice what you’re interested in, the love and connection you have with someone can dwindle. No one should feel bad for enjoying something that is taboo to the rest of the world, as everyone is strange in their personal tastes. The film seeks to dispel the notion that fetishes are some crazy request, as most of them make sense on a human and physical level. Watching the different couples interact is often sweet too, as Lawson balances his focus between comedy and drama. Much like Love Actually, not everything works out the way people want it to and the film deals in realities which strike even harder, given how truthful many of the reactions are. I laughed, I cried, and got weirdly emotional during what has to be one of the better films of 2015. This film shouldn’t be weird and neither should the subject matter, so I can only hope that you watch this film and enjoy it for what it is (aka one of the best film’s this year). (****1/2)

The Man from Uncle 300
Sleek, stylish, and full of tongue-in-cheek humor, Guy Ritchie’s reboot of the Soviet/American spy television show proves to be one of the best experiences I had in a theater this year. Boasting three terrific lead performances, Henry Cavil and Armie Hammer trade blows and jests as one of the best on-screen pairs in the form of enemies turned comrades. When the Soviets and CIA must team up to defeat a rogue terrorist with nuclear capabilities, Alicia Vikander (this year’s new golden girl in Ex Machina and The Danish Girl) comes into play as the German undercover help they need. Packed with dozens of Guy Ritchie’s signature directorial styles, this film looks and feels like the best day off, as it’s pacing matches perfectly with the quickness of Ritchie’s lens. There’s a heavy amount of focus on the relationships within the film and that’s its strongest suit, as Cavil and Hammer charm your socks off with their bickering and fighting. Elizabeth Debicki (a standout in the recent The Great Gatsby) and her powers of persuasion only make you love the film more, as my favorite Brit Hugh Grant rounds out the supporting cast. In terms of story, the film really only dips in the final third, but it’s just one specific chase which felt off compared to the rest of the film. Whether you’re seeking a good time, a great film, or an entertaining spy adventure, you get all that and more in this splendid film. (****1/2)

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Sleeping With Other People is a film that’s going to work for a lot of different ways, all centered around the fact that this is a very honest and realistic romantic comedy. So often the romantic comedy genre is clouded with unrealistic people working unrealistic jobs and holding ridiculous expectations for love. Jason Sudeikis and Allison Brie represent a very modern millennial duo who have strong feelings about monogamy and how society shapes our views of what relationships can be. Both sleep around with other people, until they find each other after 12 years and begin to become friends with an unbelievable amount of chemistry. Sudeikis with his quick wit and repartee and Brie with her vulnerable and fun-loving performance make this film standout this year, as I’ve yet to see this genre done so well. I constantly found myself laughing and giggling at what was being said/done and the film leaves you feeling hopeful and more than satisfied with what yous saw. Writer/Director Leslye Headland has effectively dismantled the problematic rom-com and has revived it in a fun and provocative way. Sudeikis and Brie work beautifully together, blending lighthearted romantic seriousness and a 21st century approach to sex and how we talk about it. It's really hard not to fall for these characters and have one of the best times while watching the film. Whether you make a nice date night, view on your own, or with a group of people, this Sundance hit is an absolute must. (****1/2)

The Big Short 300
Adam McKay, the director known for Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and Anchorman, blends his comedy brilliance with the serious topic of the 2008 U.S. economic collapse. The film centers around Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team, analyst Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling), and Charlie Geller (John Margo), Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), and their business partner Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). All these men identified that the housing market would collapse because it’s propped up on faulty loans, so they bet thousands of dollars against the banks to fail in order to profit. The film uses countless analogies and metaphors to break down the specifics of how the housing market crashed, including celebrity cameo cutaways to help drive home the point. At first, the film almost feels like a parody of the wolf of wall street and Scorsese’s film style, with characters narrating and freeze frames everywhere. Where this film really departs from the wolf of wall street is the way they handle the information your gather. Rather than admit the audience has no clue what anything means, The Big Short dumbs it down in brilliant scenes which not only make thing crystal clear, but their simplicity really angers you after you learn how stupid and evil some of the banks were. The film has the best and most accessible supporting cast and director Adam McKay really shuts any naysayers up with his ability to add humor into what turns into a rather upsetting reality. Margin Call is a more serious take on this matter, though The Big Short is more accessible and enjoyable to sit through. The performances are strong and the film leaves you more educated and motivated to educate yourself than most I’ve seen this year. On top of all that, it’s an awesome time at the movies which makes it the triple threat of the year. This film is not to be missed based off of the sheer brilliance of its storytelling. (****1/2)

SteveJobs300
Aaron Sorking and Danny Boyle’s decision to film three, 40-minute conversations and lead-ups to large Apple releases, specifically the Apple LISA, NeXT, and the iMac. Sorkin, perhaps one of the greatest writers of our time, brings his signature snappy and intelligent dialogue to a film full of complex characters. The film is all about relationships, specifically Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) relationships with Apple Co-Founder/best friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels), and original Apple member Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). Fassbender is magnetic as the egomaniac genius asshole who, like him or not, changed the world. His interactions with each of these men reveals more about his own insecurities and the process by which he got things accomplished. No one saw the world like Steve Jobs did and it’s through his actions and how he treated people and situation that we have the technology we do today. All three supporting men are outstanding in their own right. Jeff Daniels works closely with Aaron Sorkin on The Newsroom and his comfort level with Sorkin’s dialogue shows in the ease of his character’s actions. Stuhlbarg comes out of nowhere and brings an honest and heartfelt performance as an integral member to the team who was often mistreated and undervalued by Jobs. Seth Rogen really stands out, as he transitions from comedian to dramatic star in a turn which floored me in one scene in particular. Kate Winslet really rounds things out as Joanna Hoffman, Job’s marketing executive and close friend. Winslet adds a lot of brevity with her character, which only compliments Sorkin’s Oscar-worthy dialogue. Boyle’s direction is perhaps the least noticeable thing in the film, as the direction feels fairly routine, aside from a few cool shots. That’s not a major concern though, as this film’s pace works to solidify the entire experience. You learn a lot of information about Jobs and the people around him and it’s entertaining in numerous ways. The number of quotable lines it staggering and it’s even better that they stick out in one of the year’s best written and best films. (*****)

Sicario300
Dennis Villenueve found himself in my Top 15 twice last year, with the eerie and mysterious Enemy coming in ahead of the creepy Prisoners. Villenueve has a knack for exploring the dark reaches of humanity and the mind, so it’s only natural that he chooses to explore the darkness of the cartel’s right across our border. Emily Blunt leads the FBI team tasked to raid a Cartel house in Arizona, finding dozens of decaying hostages in the walls and a bomb rigged in the shed. As the tension escalates, Blunt is recruited by Josh Brolin’s special task force to eliminate the cartel at any cost. As the legality and morality of their missions reach a very grey area, Benecio Del Toro’s cartel specialist is brought in to help interrogate (read: torture) and track down the cartel leader they’re after. Aided by the steady and grim camerawork of Roger Deakins, the mood and feel of the film leave goosebumps on your body as your nerves ramp up higher with each passing minute. The tension created throughout the film is unlike anything I’ve felt in a film this year and the progression of the story is insane, as Villenueve goes places most people wouldn’t dare touch. The warfare we see take place is terrifying as it’s all too real in areas right across the border. The cartels are nasty and ruthless, so it’s only fitting that the team show that same behavior while attempting to eradicate them. Emily Blunt’s character is at the center of everything, as we see how she’s treated in this all male world, despite having put in the same work and time as her male counterparts, if not more. Nothing is off limits and no treatment or torture will be hidden, as this film illuminates a terrifying aspect of the world we live in. It also treats its characters with the urgency of the situation they’re handling, providing as realistic reactions and conversations as their can be. As far as warfare films go this year, Sicario is easily the best on every level, especially as it manages to be so much more with all it offers. (*****)

The End of the Tour300
Intelligently and emotionally charged by the masterful James Pondsolt (The Spectacular Now), The End of the Tour has you overcome with emotion and self-reflection as you observe two men in very different places hold the greatest conversation of their lives. Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace, esteemed author of Infinite Jest, delivers the first performance I think could win the Oscar this year. The loneliness and yearning for companionship which he conveys so naturally only deepen the reality of the world he lives in in; a world where everyone wants something from him. Opposite Segel is the insecure and morally conflicted Jesse Eisenberg, who expertly communicates the uncertain nature of interviewing and befriending someone held in a higher regard in society. Ego is a massive factor in this film and all you’re asked to do is be honest with how you feel and to see people for who they are, not what they are. Having seen the film thrice now and having read Infinite Jest, the portrayal of Foster Wallace in this film is by far the greatest thing Segel has ever done. The honesty and sincerity in his words and actions resonate well throughout the film and it may even change your approach to certain aspects of life. The film has stuck with me since the summer and the more I think about it, the more it offers me and so many others. There's something so wonderful about listening to these men's discussions, as you come to realize that some of the people we often idolize don't live the life we imagine they do. Celebrities are human and dealing with fame is something that no one has quite figured out yet. For it's terrific performances and realistic approach, The End of the Tour solidifies itself as one of the year's best and most thought-provoking films that is in need of your viewership. You won't regret it. (*****)

TheMartian300
Perhaps the best human experience film I saw this year, The Martian exceeded my expectations and set me up for one of my favorite films of the year. Matt Damon is just terrify is astronaut Mark Watney, who becomes stranded on Mars when his team is forced to evacuate due to weather. Thinking him dead, Jessica Chastain and the rest of her crew (including Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie) plot their return to Earth, where NASA head Jeff Daniels and Chiwitel Ejiofor, one of NASA’s greatest analysts, handle the press of a deceased astronaut (or so they thought). On Mars, Damon does live streams each SOL (one day on Mars in that time) and manages to start salvaging the technology and food/resources around him. As he manages to keep alive and even thrive on Mars, he manages to make communication with NASA on Earth which starts the conversation of what to do next. The rapid and high-minded thinking coming from NASA makes for some exhilarating and awesome scenes as we see them replicate Damon’s conditions in order to help Damon survive. The writing is too much fun, as there is a lightness to Damon’s performance and the mentality of everyone involved. You state of mind will allow you to persevere if you keep your spirits up and that’s exactly what Damon does, often injecting some humor to the either mundane or near-impossible tasks he has to do to stay alive. As the planet comes together in unison to rescue this human from another planet, the themes and the mood of the film really take over. The waves of emotions which kept overcoming me were great, as you truly become emotionally invested in these characters and the lengths they’d go to in order to save one of our own. And by one of our own, I mean a human, as the collective world drops their issues in order to come together. The performances in the film are among the year’s best, with this ensemble sticking out among other strong ensembles during this year. Ridley Scott’s direction is precise and engaging, as he takes us between the Mars landscape and NASA headquarters. To me, this is the definitive space film of the year and it only helps that it’s also one of the most human. The Martian is the best of film experiences and an absolute necessity this holiday season. (*****)

Revenant300
The most polarizing and vastly different film that you’ll see all year, The Revenant is a marriage of history and authenticity as director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu brings the unflinching lens and style which won him the Oscar for Birdman last year. Set in the 1800’s, a group of fur trappers led by frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) encounter native American attacks which force them to chart a new path home. After being mauled by a bear, Glass sustains near-death injuries but is cared for, much to the displeasure of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a man who is ready to be paid and go home. The tension intensifies between Fitzgerald and the head of the expedition, Andrew Henry (Dohmall Gleeson), as Fitzgerald wishes to ditch Glass in order to make it home quicker. When tasked to watch Glass while the rest of the group finds a new way around the mountains, Fitzgerald assaults Glass’s native American son and leaves him for dead, stranded and injured in the unforgiving cold of winter. This is the setup that leads to DiCaprio’s most physical and emotional performance, as he travels to the edge of death in back on a quest for revenge. Shot in all natural light (only 4 hours of filming could take place in one day), back-to-back Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman, The Tree of Life) captures the beauty and horror of the frozen landscapes and the open air. His shots are gorgeous, as they look more real and up-close than anything you’ve seen this year. With DiCaprio’s breathing ever-present in the speakers, tracking his movements is almost grueling to watch. Language barriers are and were a huge problem for anyone back then, which makes his interactions with anyone potentially life or death, as he attempts to bring himself back to some strength. Perhaps the best aspect of the film is how deep everyone got into making it, braving impossibly cold weather and short shooting days out in the cold and snow. DiCaprio went to great lengths with this role, eating raw bison and even sleeping inside a horses’ carcass all for the sake of making this a real film. The mentality of the men at this time is heavily focused on, as you can’t necessarily blame Hardy’s character for wanting to be paid and returned home. Those times were practically lawless and the grittiness of the battle they did is spectacular, as everything is so raw and flawed. Fingers are being chopped, arrows are piercing legs, and slashes are being made even if the person still stands. The film gets real bloody and intense, so it’s certainly not for the faint of heart and it’s really interesting for anyone with a remote interest in history and that time period. This film is an epic in every sense of the word and there’s not a doubt in my mind that DiCaprio should and will win the Oscar this year, as he certainly deserves it for this insane performance. The Revenant is a must see this holiday season, purely for the fact that there hasn’t been anything like it in a long time. It only helps that it happens to be one of the best films of the year. (*****)

 

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