December 2014


Monthly Archives: December 2014

Into the Woods (2014)

Into-The-Woods-e1415275006650DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall

CAST: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Mackenzie Mauzy, Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp


Into the Woods doesn’t make the journey worth taking.  Perhaps part of the blame lies with Disney neutering Stephen Sondheim’s original play, a dark-edged satire of classic fairy tales, toning down darker and more sexually suggestive moments in the name of “family friendliness”, but the generic musical numbers, with nary a catchy tune to be found (just compare it to the list of memorable songs in, say, Les Miserables) aren’t a promising advertisement for Sondheim’s original material either.  Satire only fully works when it’s a razor-sharp, incisive blade.  Whether or not the fault lies with Disney softening its edges, the movie adaptation of Sondheim’s play is a dull butter knife. Continue reading

Selma (2014)

selma-bridgeDIRECTOR: Ava DuVernay

CAST: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding Jr., Martin Sheen


An uneven but sporadically stirring slice of a turbulent period in American history, Selma does not quite achieve the greatness it reaches for as a film, but serves as an important historical document chronicling events beginning in January 1965 in Selma, Alabama and climaxing with Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Montgomery and President Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Voting Rights Act.  Given recent events in the news, Selma feels more timely than ever, and can inspire both reflection on dark aspects of America’s past, and a questioning of how far we’ve truly come. Continue reading

Unbroken (2014)

UNBROKEN [Movie Review]

DIRECTOR: Angelina Jolie

CAST: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, Miyavi


Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s second time in the director’s chair (following 2011’s In the Land of Blood and Honey), is a good-but-not-great docudrama adapted from the same-named non-fiction book by Lauren Hillenbrand (author of the less harrowing but similarly earnest and “inspiring true story” Seabiscuit) telling in competent but somewhat unremarkable fashion the true story of Olympic athlete and WWII POW Louis Zamperini.

Continue reading

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

exodusDIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde


Previously in his sometimes acclaimed but uneven career, Ridley Scott has directed two other lengthy historical epics in a desert setting.  The first, 2000’s Gladiator, was a rollicking throwback to the likes of Spartacus and other sword-and-sandal epics from Hollywood’s glory days.  The second, 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven, did not live up to the same standards, likewise epically-mounted but narratively fragmented (apparently due to large chunks of the movie ending up on the cutting room floor, which Scott attempted to rectify in a reportedly superior director’s cut, but feeling so underwhelmed by what I saw gave me no motivation to seek out more).  Unfortunately, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Scott’s take on the Biblical story of Moses (with a healthy helping of “dramatic license”), bears more resemblance to Kingdom of Heaven than Gladiator.  In fact, 1998’s animated movie The Prince of Egypt is a better version.  Exodus is marred by some of the same flaws as Kingdom of Heaven; visually epic but narratively fragmented, sporting some stirring scenes but not enough to consistently maintain interest over its 2 1/2 hour runtime.  Considering this is actually too short to tell the whole Exodus story (various elements are truncated or left out here), that’s even more telling of Scott again showing his troubling recurring issues with narrative focus and cohesion. Continue reading

The Giver (2014)

giverDIRECTOR: Philip Noyce

CAST: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift


The Giver has taken a long, winding road to seeing the inside of a theater since Jeff Bridges (who serves here as both star and producer) bought the movie rights to Lois Lowry’s 1993 young adult novel (which won the 1994 Newberry Medal).  Bridges’ original casting for the title role (his father Lloyd Bridges) passed away in the meantime, and funding was difficult to find.  But, over twenty years later, Bridges’ determination to get the film adaptation made has paid off, and while sticklers for accuracy to the book, a staple of middle school literature classes (I have vague memories of being assigned to read it in school), may grumble at some changes, overall it was worth the effort.  The Giver, while with some narrative weaknesses, is a thought-provoking and visually striking motion picture that proves “young adult” doesn’t have to be synonymous with the vapidity of something like the Twilight series.  In fact, this is a thoughtful movie with well-developed themes and something meaningful to say.  While the film soups up the book’s thin narrative with some tacked-on action and suspense, with mixed results, it gives equally important focus to the book’s messages of the dangers of conformity, the importance of individuality, and the need for emotion, even with all the pain it can bring, to live a truly full life. Continue reading