Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Movie Review: Nightcrawler (2014) | A Slick Piece of Cinema

Underneath the dim lights of a nocturnal Los Angeles, a hollow eyed creature claws out of the ether. He is a predator equipped with cunning, ambition and a chillingly calm demeanor. He is Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a driven man whose most dangerous weapon is his mind and it might be coming unhinged. Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a thrilling character study that plunges viewers into the seedy underworld of television journalism alongside an engrossingly strange character.

Bloom is looking to make a sizeable income and when he follows police cruisers to the scene of an accident, he sets his sights on a promising new career opportunity. With his curiosity peeked by what he witnesses, he begins asking questions and learns about “nightcrawling”, the business of capturing video footage of horrific crime or accident scenes, to sell to television stations for airing on the news. There is a competitive angle to it and Bloom has his eyes set on dominating the field, which is bad news for Joe Loder (a flawlessly cast Bill Paxton), the nightcrawler who supplies Bloom with his initial intel.

When the film opens, it’s clear that something is amiss with Lou. It’s just unclear what exactly that is. He’s quick witted, hyper intelligent, blisteringly motivated and exceptionally odd. Whether these attributes are the makings for someone outright sinister is the central hook of the film. Not one to inundate its audience with answers, there are numerous questions left open to interpretation, which gives the audience room to speculate. 

Bloom is an entity that sweeps into existence out of nowhere. He’s presented as a sort of crash landed alien, fascinated with the world around him and appalled over its continued unawareness of his existence. While Bloom’s ego is reminiscent of Patrick Bateman’s in “American Psycho”, he comes across far more diabolical and frighteningly plausible than the caricature Bateman is presented as, which is a major plus in the “Nightcrawler” column.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Movie Review Assembly: The 2015 Oscar Nominees

Brush up on Eclectic Pop’s movie reviews of the Oscar nominated films battling it out for glory by clicking the title you wish to read. Be sure to check back, as the list will be populated further as more reviews are published. The movies are listed in alphabetical order.

American Sniper | Nominated for 6 Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jason Hall), Best Achievement in Film Editing (Joel Cox, Gary Roach), Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Walt Martin) and Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman)

Begin Again | Nominated for 1 Award: Best Original Song (“Lost Stars”, Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois)

Gone Girl | Nominated for 1 Award: Nominated for Best Actress (Rosamund Pike)

Into the Woods | Nominated for 3 Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Achievement in Production Design (Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock), Best Achievement in Costume Design (Colleen Atwood)

Maleficent | Nominated for 1 Award: Best Achievement in Costume Design (Anna B. Sheppard)

Nightcrawler | Nominated for 1 Award: Best Original Screenplay (Dan Gilroy)
The Theory of Everything | Nominated for 5 Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Actress (Felicity Jones), Best Adapted Screenplay (Anthony McCarten) and Best Original Score (Johann Johannsson)

Wild | Nominated for 2 Awards: Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon) and Best Supporting Actor (Laura Dern)

X-Men: Days of Future Past | Nominated for 1 Award: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie, Cameron Waldbauer)

2015 Oscar Predictions: Best Actor

Predicted Winner: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything | This is the only suspenseful category in the acting portion of the Oscars. The competition between Michael Keaton and Redmayne has been intensely close. Ever since the release of “Birdman” at Cannes, Keaton had been leading the pack. Then the SAGs took place and they proved to be a game changer. The edge is Redmayne’s coming into tonight.

Why He Will Win | Physically transformative performances tend to be the Academy’s soft spot. You don’t have to look any further than last year’s winner (Matthew McConaughey) to notice the trend. While critics might’ve had varying responses to “The Theory of Everything” (it currently has a 72 grade on MetaScore), the one thing they all tended to agree on was the power of Redmayne’s turn. 

About the Other Nominees | Michael Keaton could just as easily win for his portrayal of a stressed out, faded actor struggling to regain control of his life and career with a last ditch effort for resurgence. Being that Keaton is a veteran and this is his comeback film, it would be hard to imagine that not striking an emotional chord with voters. For his role as Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”, Benedict Cumberbatch worthily received a first-time nod. 

Steve Carell lost momentum in this race early on. Originally expected to campaign in the supporting category; he moved to the more open field of Best Actor. After a series of publicized struggles, “Foxcatcher” has gone from the overnight sensation of Cannes and early Oscar front runner to having its awards hopes rendered relatively moot. The only actor further away from the podium is Bradley Cooper. With his nomination for the controversial “American Sniper”, Cooper is the category’s biggest long shot.

Category Factoids | Keaton is the lone nominee to play an original character. All of his fellow nominees star in biopics (Redmayne, Cumberbatch, Carell and Cooper).

The Toughest Loss | In all of the chatter surrounding the Redmayne vs. Keaton photo finish, Cooper’s divisive nomination and the “Foxcatcher” hubbub; it was Cumberbatch’s breakthrough film performance as Alan Turing that has personally been the most overlooked in the awards conversation.

2015 Oscar Predictions: Best Actress

Predicted Winner: Julianne Moore, Still Alice | This category is an absolute lock. Withstanding one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history, the four-time nominee should claim the prize on her fifth nod. Given Moore is a veteran and long-deserving recipient, none of her other competitors have really posed a viable threat throughout the season. Her performance as a professor suffering from early on-set Alzheimer’s disease has been at the center of critical raves since the film’s debut. Curiously, Moore’s is the only nomination the film garnered. You would think a film containing the Best Actress winner would also be among the Best Picture contenders.

Why She Will Win | She's long overdue for a victory. Moore has long been one of the finest actresses working and she’s done it through a broad range of characters that have run the genre gamut. From her roles in hilarious comedies and dark dramas to edge of your seat thrillers, she’s nailed them all. 

About the Other Nominees | Felicity Jones’ heart wrenching portrayal of Jane Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” was tantamount to the film’s sentimental firestorm. Jones is an actress who improves with every performance she gives so rest assured this won’t be her last nomination. Fellow Briton Rosamund Pike’s performance as the sociopathic Amy Dunne in the fall smash “Gone Girl” earned her raves in the pop culture zeitgeist. Personally, the icy demeanor of the character left her with little to portray in the complexity department. 

Reese Witherspoon’s role in "Wild", while physically laborious, lacked the oomph factor of an Oscar winner and the film’s garbled direction drew away from anything that could’ve been profound because the movie simply wasn’t. Marion Cotillard who many had pegged for a Lead Actress nod early last year for her performance in “The Immigrant” came in under the radar with her surprise nod for the Cannes favorite “Deux jours, une nuit” (“Two Days, One Night”). While a win would be a long shot; it’s nice to see her recognized all the same.

Category Factoids | Of the nominees, 2 are previous winners (Marion Cotillard and Reese Witherspoon), 2 are first timers (Felicity Jones and Rosamund Pike) and one currently has 5 nominations combined in the Supporting and Lead categories (Julianne Moore). 

The Toughest Loss | Of the actors who will potentially lose to Moore, Felicity Jones’ loss is the hardest to reconcile. It was her integral performance in “The Theory of Everything” that enhanced that of co-star Eddie Redmayne's. For her to not share in the Oscar glory on a singular level is confounding. The film is a definitive two-hander and each couldn’t have had made their respective performances work without the other. To potentially reward Redmayne (he’s the front runner) without also acknowledging Jones is an apparent oxymoron.

2015 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Winner: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash | This is another category that’s winner is a no brainer. Ever since “Whiplash” burst onto the scene at last year’s Sundance Film Festival it has been the buzz of awards observers with Simmons’ performance as a relentless and brutal music teacher, earning early raves. His winning momentum has only gotten stronger throughout the year.

Why He Will Win | When you think of an outstanding supporting actor, the top thing that comes to mind is a talent who makes the surrounding cast better and Simmons always manages to do that. As a consistent presence in movies and television; Simmons has proved to be a rare breed of thespian. So for him to get this kind of well-earned acknowledgment is a feel good moment for those who’ve been so thoroughly entertained by his work through the years.

About the Other Nominees | Robert Duvall’s role as the ornery title character in “The Judge” was a grand reminder that Duvall is one of cinema’s finest treasures. While the movie received a mixed reception among critics, his performance was a noted highlight. Duvall’s awards run is heavily reminiscent of Nick Nolte’s in 2011 for “Warrior” as both were the dark horses in their respective races and Duvall is predicted to experience the same results. In an interesting parallel, both actors' nominated films saw them play fathers brought back together with their estranged sons to pursue a shared goal as they sort through their troubled past. 

Ethan Hawke earned his fourth Oscar nomination (his third in the acting department) for his role as an ordinary dad to an ordinary son in “Boyhood”. Having earned a previous nomination for the hilarious comedy “The Kids Are Alright”, Mark Ruffalo returns to the Oscars with his nod for the gritty drama “Foxcatcher”, in which he plays doomed wrestler David Shultz. Playing off an apparent parody of his Hollywood persona in “Birdman”, Edward Norton earned his third Oscar nomination.

Category Factoids | Three of the five nominees have previously starred in comic book movies. Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo have both starred as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. While J.K. Simmons rose to pop culture prominence with his pitch perfect casting as Peter Parker’s boss J. Jonah Jameson in the original “Spider-Man” franchise.

The Toughest Loss | As aggravated as movie fans have been over Leonardo DiCaprio’s repeated snubs, Edward Norton’s lack of appreciation ranks right up there. One of the most mercurial actors to grace the screen, Norton has proven to be spellbinding no matter the acting challenge. While his "Birdman" nod isn’t likely to land him the elusive golden statue, it’s a step in the right direction.

2015 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Winner: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood | Arquette’s role as a single mom raising a boy who grows into young adulthood, has earned her every award she’s been in contention for. Her win is as inevitable as her Leading Actress counterpart, Julianne Moore.

Why She Will Win | There’s no way the Oscars would put an end to her winning streak. Of particular interest with Arquette’s awards sweep is the character she portrays is the most ordinary of the lot. The Academy breaks a tradition of sorts with this vote, given their propensity to recognize the performances of actors who portray characters dealing with larger than life tribulations. “Boyhood” as a whole breaks that pattern.

About the Other Nominees | Keira Knightley’s compelling turn in “The Imitation Game” earned her the second Oscar nomination of her career and her first in Supporting. Laura Dern’s brief and crucial performance in “Wild” was fantastic. She just didn’t have enough screen time to really justify a win. Meryl Streep’s textured performance as a blue-haired witch in the dreadful musical “Into the Woods” was one of the few bright spots for a movie that saw its Oscar hopes quickly fade. Emma Stone received her first nomination for her role as Michael Keaton’s troubled daughter in “Birdman”. 

Category Factoids | Keira Knightly and Laura Dern are the only nominees who play real-life people in their respective films. While Patricia Arquette and Emma Stone share the distinction of being the group’s first-time nominees.

The Toughest Loss | Keira Knightley’s tender and utterly divine performance as Joan Clarke, a genius female code breaker defying gender prejudice in WWII. It marks one of her finest turns to date, as she brings the spirited woman who befriends the thorny Alan Turing to life with a vivacity that’s beyond memorable. Together, Knightley and Cumberbatch share several scenes that are among the more moving in recent movie memory with a depiction of a male/female friendship that's particularly stirring. Her performance only enhances that of her ensemble and that’s what being an outstanding supporting actor, is all about.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TV Rundown: Feb 8 - 13 | Part 2: Power Struggles on "Reign", "Blacklist" Stalls & "Vampire Diaries" Loses Again

Reign | Narcisse was a busy man in “The End of Mourning” as he made huge inroads into reclaiming his status by finagling a save for Antoine and an unwitting Conde, as the brothers stood accused of poisoning the king. It deserves reiterating that Craig Parker (Narcisse) is an absolute delight as the machinating Narcisse. He and Toby Regbo (Francis) played especially well off each other in the episode’s opening; as Francis entertainingly conveyed his irritation with his adversary.

Francis’ romantic rival, Conde, needs to back off on the love proclamations. Not only is he jeopardizing Mary’s reputation by his continued flirtation with her, he is also taking advantage of her vulnerability to do so. He feigned sadness over Frary’s recent troubles and still continues to pursue her, rendering his protest a falsehood. The Conde/Mary connection is heavily reminiscent of hers and Bash’s. Why she could let go of him and not Conde is a strange query. Despite some major dramas in the past, her yearning for Francis has always superseded any interest she’s had in other suitors. Why not now? Given the fragile state of the Frary union, one would think that Catherine would’ve stepped in by now. While it’s understandable she’s been sidetracked by her poisoning, the meddlesome mom should be sensing something is amiss with her favorite son’s marriage. At this point, a heart to heart talk between the two queens is a must.

In an unexpected and humorous twist, Greer became an incidental Madame. Whether she embraces this role as a possible route back to court should be interesting. The one glaring omission in all of this, were the whereabouts of Castleroy. Shouldn’t they be leaning on each other now? We don’t even know how he feels in the aftermath of his entire life being upended. Plus, Greer shouldn’t be running around all by her lonesome. She is a married woman and one would think it’d invite further scandal on her name to be cavorting around alone. One can hope a Greer/Castleroy reunion is not far off.

The Blacklist | “Ruslan Denisov” was one of the most convoluted and hard to follow episodes of the series. After making some headway with the overarching storyline in the two-part Super Bowl special, any progress made into the mystery of the Liz/Red connection and the fulcrum was relegated to the back burner. Lately, "The Blacklist" seems to have become too consumed in its procedural component. Taking down the bad guy of the week has its appeal but what made season 1 so compelling was that it all took a back seat to the character driven stories surrounding Red, Liz, Tom and fellow team members. This episode felt like “Captain Planet” on steroids and not in a good way. Red is starting to give off the vibe that he’s a fringe political radical as opposed to a government rogue. Something about it rings hollow to the character audiences were introduced to last season.

The Vampire Diaries | Full disclosure, I could’ve watched last week’s episode and chose not too after getting spoiled online about the fate of Mama Forbes. All interest in seeing the episode was subsequently vanquished. Why TVD? Why? What purpose does this storyline serve? Are TPTB satisfied now that 99% of the show’s characters are orphans? Instead of killing off the latest super villain nuisance (Kai) or pointless hanger-on (Enzo), the show has went above and beyond to kill off every character’s parental unit. It’s revolting. Calling it now, Liv’s dad will be the next and last to go, for a while. Have never been more tempted to stop watching this show.