Category Archives: Academy Awards

Steve Jobs (2015)

97% of Steve Jobs is nearly perfect. Much like the products borne of the man’s unparalleled creative vision, everything in his latest biographical film is optimized, streamlined, rounded when the edge should be rounded, sharp when the edge should be sharp, forward-thinking, life-changing, and pitched to be perfect. The performances are subtle and explosive, depending on which character you’re dealing with. The drama is heavy-duty; the comedy is excitingly witty. The pacing of the whole film is breathless. And the writing — whew, the writing — Aaron Sorkin has probably never been this good or done this much with a film script. This is ostensibly The Social Network 2.0, a story about a genius/jerk who defined the times for the rest of us, except Steve Jobs has a richer character in the driver’s seat.

And in comparing the two, that leftover 3% only becomes all the more glaring. The structure of the film is unique, built over three days in history: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998. The aforementioned breathlessness of the film is derived from setting each episode immediately before these launches, as that’s probably the most stressful and nerve-wracking collection of hours in any product launcher’s life. No different in Steve Jobs. Jobs needs everything to be perfect, every address to start exactly on time, every personal grievance from his staff and family (of which there are many, and between which the words staff and family mean less and less) to be voiced and dealt with. “It seems like five minutes before every launch, people go to a bar and get drunk and decide to air their grievances,” says Jobs.

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Inside Out (2015): Pixar Goes to Therapy

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Inside Out.

The people have spoken. Original, well-written content is what they want, and they want it now! Down with all of these cliched remakes! I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say–what’s that? Ex-squeeze me? Jurassic World, of all movies, is breaking every box office record? Well then.

It’s hard to express how that makes me feel. I could scream and gag and cry and fall into a deep depression. And there’s no movie that can fix me. What’s that? Another off-screen interjection? I should look no further than Inside Out? So there’s hope after all… Continue reading Inside Out (2015): Pixar Goes to Therapy

Inside Out (2015)

Pixar’s most recent creation, Inside Out, is not a children’s movie as it is advertised to be. The animation and young protagonist, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), may suggest that the movie is for the ten and under crowd, but it most certainly is a movie that is better suited for an older audience. Now, this is not just a long-winded attempt at justifying the fact that I sat in a theater crowded with six-year olds to see this movie; it is a credit to Pixar for their ability to disguise an emotionally complex and subtly humorous film as a children’s movie. They have wisely used this model several times over, which has led to their vast success. Inside Out, even more so than other Pixar films, is able to not only entertain kids, parents, and everyone in between (or just me in between), but also provide a powerful message about the power and role of emotions.

It is no coincidence that Inside Out is a movie entirely about emotions, mostly centered on Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) because throughout the movie, at least the older portion of the audience goes on a journey of emotion as well, mostly between joy and sadness. As the protagonist Riley tries to adjust to her new life after moving from the comfort of her Minnesota home to San Francisco, we see how she and her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) handle the transition.

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Ex Machina (2015)

There’s this dude Nathan. He’s one of the few dudes onscreen in Ex Machina, the directorial debut of 28 Days Later and Sunshine scribe Alex Garland. Nathan is a walking paradox, even in the most perfunctory surface-level characterization of him as a hard-drinking frat boy who also happens to be a veritable technological genius. Caleb, his temporary intern of sorts, at one point compares him to Mozart — likely the first time a Mozart figure has ever spent so much time on abs and forearms. This straightforward incongruity in Nathan would only work with the right actor in his shoes, and Oscar Isaac is the right actor. A force in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, Isaac is utterly convincing throughout Ex Machina. Nathan drains bottles of beer and vodka, yells at his maid, passes out drunk, wakes up to lift weights and beat his punching bag, and soon starts in on the beer and vodka again — and yet he’s always the smartest guy in the room by a longshot.

That somewhat superficial contradiction (or, for the purposes of a review of a film about artificial intelligence: that skin-deep, cosmetic, inorganic contradiction) is only the beginning of Nathan. Isaac is joined by Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, the timid young coder brought to Nathan’s underground tech lair as ostensible winner of a contest to take part in a secret experiment (Isaac and Gleeson are also both in The Force Awakens later this year, which is doubly exciting after seeing Ex Machina). Together they deliberate Ava, Nathan’s advanced A.I. that not only walks exactly like a human and talks exactly like a human but thinks exactly like a human, too. What that means, exactly, is exactly what Ex Machina probes. Maybe. Spoilers follow.

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Leviathan (2014)

Leviathan is chilling. It’s many things, of course — it’s beautiful, stunningly shot by director Andrey Zvyagintsev and cinematographer Mikhail Krichman; it’s grand and sweeping, ceilingless in theme and character; it’s relevant, despite criticism by the Russian government regarding an “unpatriotic” message. But most of all Leviathan is hauntingly realistic, defiant of many of the plot developments one might expect from such a film. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars (and arguably the frontrunner alongside Ida), Leviathan is also Russia’s first appearance at the Academy Awards in nearly a decade.

The plot stems from a land dispute between a corrupt town mayor and a family living by the seashore. After having been harassed by the mayor’s men, the short-fused patriarch Kolia brings in his friend Dmitri, now a lawyer in Moscow, to help fight the takeover. Dmitri digs up some dirt on the mayor that he thinks he can use — but in this tiny Northern town it seems everyone is dirty. Kolia’s life begins to unravel as he watches helplessly, and before long it’s not just his home that lies in jeopardy but his job, his wife, his son, his freedom.

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The Theory of Everything (2014)

Eddie Redmayne becomes Stephen Hawking in a rare and exciting way in The Theory of Everything, giving a performance that extends far beyond simply mimicking Hawking’s look. He’s a young actor — currently 33 — but already has a sizable body of film work under his belt, in addition to a Tony Award and an Olivier Award for his work in the play Red alongside Alfred Molina. In short: it’s a good time to be Eddie Redmayne. His success in this role will doubtless launch him onto the international stage, and judging by his next role (a part in Jupiter Ascending, his first big-budget action film) he’s already there.

And yet it’s all he and co-star Felicity Jones can do to drag The Theory of Everything out of the tired, trodden mud in which the film itself is set. To claim outright that a certain biographical film is “boring” isn’t necessarily the equivalent of deeming the life of the subject to be similarly boring, but it’s close enough to warrant a perfunctory disclaimer: Hawking had a life that was anything but boring. Sure, everyone knows that math and science themselves are really incredibly boring — certainly no one is denying that. But Theory can’t even fall back on that, because there’s surprisingly little math or science in the film.

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Birdman (2014)

Birdman is not your typical Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film. Correction: Birdman is not your typical anyone film — which is part of what makes it so good. Iñárritu’s inventive cinematography combined with exceptional dialogue between intriguing, fantastically-acted characters make Birdman a masterpiece, and one that deserves all of the praise it is receiving in terms of Academy Award nominations.

The film follows Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson, a past-his-prime actor who was once famous for playing the titular superhero Birdman (Keaton himself knows a thing or two about formerly playing a superhero). Riggan’s past character haunts him throughout the film as he tries to become relevant as an actor outside of just the superhero role. He attempts to shake loose of Birdman by directing and starring in Raymond Carver’s play “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Carver’s play provides an appropriate backdrop for Riggan’s attempt at a career revival. Carver, himself, is quoted to start the movie in what reveals a central theme of the movie: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth”.

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American Sniper (2014)

Around the 30-minute mark of American Sniper there’s something that’s not quite a montage, not quite a self-contained series of events, not quite comfortable in that first half-hour of the film. Sniper Chris Kyle spots an insurgent in his scope and he takes him out. A few more lone insurrectionaries crop up, and Kyle fires again. Again. Again. It sounds like a montage, but director Clint Eastwood doesn’t let it play out as such. And it’s fairly quick, cutting from one shot to the next inside the space of a minute and a half. Still, though, there’s something brutal and cold and darkly affecting about this life-of-Kyle in 90 seconds, something that almost singlehandedly elevates American Sniper to the level of a modern classic war film.

I assumed that Sniper would be a lot like The Hurt Locker, judging from the trailers and a few reviews and my admittedly vague knowledge of Chris Kyle’s story. Sniper is a lot like Hurt Locker, to be sure, but it’s not exactly in the way I expected. The similarities, really, are resigned mostly to the aesthetic — and visually, they’re so similar that you might expect Kyle to peek through his scope and spot Will James strutting down the sandy street in his EOD blast suit.

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The Imitation Game (2014)

There is a scene in The Imitation Game where a young Alan Turing is introduced to a book of codes and cyphers by his classmate and friend Christopher. The significance of this moment is obvious (Look, it’s the exact moment Alan Turing became the Alan Turing we all know!!!). But Graham Moore’s script plays this moment as a different kind of discovery. There’s no glint in Alan’s eye as he catches a glimpse of a future in which he fathers computer science while cracking the Nazi’s Enigma code, wins the war, and is later played beautifully by Benedict Cumberbatch. Instead,  Alan recognizes a comparison between cyphers and the way people talk. Turing, who is thought to have had Aspergers Syndrome, cannot process metaphors and irony because of his extreme literalism. The concept of coded communication gives him a better understanding of how people don’t say what they mean and don’t mean what they say. This, not his mathematical genius, is his gateway into code-breaking, and it’s one of many beautiful nuances in the film.

Unfortunately, the rest of The Imitation Game, like Turing, is overly formulaic. The film adapts Andrew Hodges’ biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma, about the mathematical savant who was the biggest contributor to deciphering Nazi communications with his cryptanalytic machine. This true story could have been an otherwise simple and inspiring tale about an extraordinary Brit, alongside the likes of The Theory of Everything and The King’s Speech, if it weren’t for one major tarnish. In 1952, Turing was convicted of indecency (read: homosexual acts) and made to take hormone treatments in place of a prison sentence. He killed himself two years later. This understandably requires a different kind of film.

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Ida (2014)

The most impressive aspect of Ida, the 2014 EFA champion and Polish Golden Globe nominee from director Pawel Pawlikowski, is without a doubt the stark visual staging and meticulous shot composition. Unlike Andreas Prochaska’s The Dark Valley — another awards season foreign language contender — the visual beauty of Ida meshes seamlessly with the story rather than overwhelming it. Newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska plays the young nun-in-training of the film’s title, and her forays from the convent into what some might call “the real world” provide the framework for Ida.

Ida was essentially born into her role in the convent, abandoned as a child and only now old enough to venture out. She’s nearly ready to take her final vows and become a full-fledged nun (“It’s morphin’ time!”) but before she does, she leaves the convent to track down her estranged aunt and get a little taste of the outside world. It’s not long before this Catholic nun discovers a truth about her past: she’s Jewish. This is only the first of many threats to Ida’s identity, one focused squarely in the past and in the present, and the revelation of the love and struggle and verve of the world outside the convent shakes up Ida’s future.

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