It’s hard to be objective when talking about the remarkable documentary “Life Itself” as a critic who admired it’s subject very much, the world’s most famous film aficionado Roger Ebert, as I imagine it has been for many sitting down to review this film. Director Steve James, of “Hoop Dreams” and” The Interrupters” fame, takes us through the life of Mr Ebert, but also manages to be the benefactor of opportunistic timing as he takes the audience all the way through the end of his subject’s life as well. The stories of his long lasting feud that eventually turned to friendship with co-host Gene Siskel, his public speaking and movie deconstructions along with the love of his life Chaz, who he met at 50, are all examined, but they are juxtaposed between the documenting of the final months of Ebert’s life, caught on film by James himself.
Life Itself is at times heart wrenching, inspiring and revelatory throughout the film as James never shies away from Ebert’s very combative and unlikeable side, showing us a true portrait of the entire man. Starting off as a brash, outspoken and over confident young man, who at 21 inherited his movie review column at the Chicago Sun-Times that he never let go over the next 46 years, Ebert also quickly became an out of control alcoholic. Winning his Pulitzer Prize at a young age did not help either, as James examines all this material and shows us a much darker and angry Roger Ebert, light years away from the one most of the public knew. (more…)
Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) tells his friends/colleagues Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), correspondents for media giant Vice, about the strange letter he receives from his estranged sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) and it sets in motion events that will change the lives of all of them. The trio decide her story, and the story of the “sober commune” she is living at, would be a great subject for a documentary. Patrick reunites with his serene, former wild child, sister while Sam and Jake investigate why members of the isolated community have followed their mysterious leader known simply as “Father” off American soil. Extremely skeptical at first, the guys slowly come around to the at least respect group’s utopian claims, until the cracks below the surface reveal a different picture all together.
As we have come to expect from Ti West, The Sacrament starts off with a fiercely methodical pace, building his characters and setting before adding in the many layers of creeping dread. The film kicks into gear, and does not let up until the end, with the first introduction of Father (a brilliantly menacing Gene Jones). Jones dominates the screen from the first second he appears, His Father is consciously measuring every twitch and calculating every body movement as the answers he gives and speeches he delivers are all meant to dissuade any truth while enamoring himself to his flock. The interview between the journalist and Father, which occurs live in front of the whole commune, is just another exercise of control and power for Father as he keeps his entire flock in the palm of his hand. The script and dialogue are extremely well written with Father’s double talk and rhetoric, making the insane actions of the third act feel believable. (more…)
Director Lukas Moodysson adapts his wife Coco’s graphic novel “We Are The Best”, a story about three young misfits girls growing up in early 1980’s Stockholm, determined to start their own punk band. The trio consists of mohawk-sporting live wire Klara (Mira Grosin), her spiky haired best friend Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and their newest recruit the shy, god fearing classical guitar-playing outcast from their school Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne). Hedvig manages to help the best friends become competent as a band, despite having no instruments or discernible musical talent from the start. The trio eventually have their inseparable nature threatened by the discovery of some boys that share the same desire for punk music that the girls do.
We Are the Best relies heavily on the performances of its 3 young ingénues and the girls are up to the task. In particular Mira Grosin’s Klara is fantastic as a domineering personality that overpowers the shy and soft spoken Bobo, Grosin infects Klara with an unstoppable spirit that draws audiences in form the very start. It a very accomplished performance from a young actress, who like the rest of the trio of girls, is making her feature film debut. In an equally impressive yet completely different low key performance Barkhammar is perfectly cast as Bobo, the heart of the film and the character that goes through the biggest transformation, as she delivers real emotional impact with Bobo finally starting to ask and fight for what she really wants
Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac (Seth Rogen) were content to settle down in their nice and quiet neighborhood with their newborn child, until the house next door was taken over by a rowdy fraternity. Teddy (Zac Efron) is the President, Pete (Dave Franco) is his right hand man and chapter vice president, and the duo is quick to attempt to win over their new neighbors. But after a string of sleepless nights due to insanely loud parties, Mac calls the cops, who promptly out him as the complainant to the frat…then the war begins.
The premise for Neighbors is as simple and generic as revenge comedies go, the antics keep building and building to preposterous levels that stretch the lengths of believability and eventually ignore any sense, logic or reason all together. Often the one difference that makes comedies like this work is the chemistry between the film’s leads and Rogen and Efron do have great chemistry on screen, but this time it’s the supporting parts of their duos who steal the show. Byrne shows a great knack for comedy, getting to play against her normal type and her Kelly instigates more than enough trouble. But the real standout is Dave Franco who practically rips the screen away from Efron every time they appear together. His performance is the highlight of the film. (more…)
X-Men: Days of Future Past features the biggest ensemble of mutants put together on film to date as both the original cast and the newer cast from X-Men: First Class join together to fight a war for the survival of both human and mutant kind across two time periods. When the future war between mutant/mankind and the treacherous sentinels near its darkest hour the small but steadfast group of X-Men still alive –Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Magneto (Ian McKellen) – meet up with former students Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and their compatriots to form one last ditch effort to save all their lives. Wolverine is sent back in time to join the then rival Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) together to stop the events that lead to the mass destruction to come.
The star studded cast also brings backs Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and introduces Peter Dinklage as the man responsible for the sentinels, Bolivar Trask. Director Bryan Singer manages to coordinate all of this chaos into a complex yet balanced story that features the entire mutant cast getting enough exposure that they are not wasted while still feature the few that audiences really want to see. The film also packs some effective twists and some memorable cameos from other mutants that will delight audiences. The script ingeniously leaves room for multiple follow ups involving either cast and manages to reset the entire mutant universe in one shot.
After losing his last chance at a his only major client, JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) concocts a scheme to find baseball’s next great pitching ace as a last ditch effort to save his career. Hoping to tap into the last untouched market for baseball, India, JB hopes to find a young cricket pitcher that he can turn into a major league star. JB concocts a reality show competition called “Million Dollar Arm”, that with the help of investors he travels to India to launch with the help of a cantankerous but eagle-eyed retired baseball scout (Alan Arkin). The competition produces Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma), two 18 year old boys who have no idea about playing baseball, yet possess a raw talent for throwing a fastball. As the boys learn the finer points of baseball, JB, with the help of his pool house tenant Brenda (Lake Bell), starts to learn valuable lessons about teamwork, commitment and what it means to be a family.
Million Dollar Arm is a predictable and formulaic sports tale that happens to be based on a true story. A harmless tale that lacks any staying power, the film is almost forgettable immediately after exiting the theater, Million Dollar Arm wastes the talents of many talented people involved while producing the most plain and dull product it can. Most of the cast seem to be slumming here; Hamm tries his best despite the cookie cutter script but really has nothing to deliver. The normally reliable and talented Arkin, Bill Paxton and Lake Bell seem to be barely even attempting to produce anything, partially due to the script but also because they all look bored and uninterested for the duration of the film.