for no good reason

Amazon Link

The Basics:  The illustrator/collaborator/friend of Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs, Ralph Steadman’s iconic work is examined and explained first person in this documentary.

The Bottom Line:  When this hits its stride in showing the shocking artwork and letting the artist speak, it is mesmerizing.  It attempts to be too stylized at times – gilding the lily or forcing talking heads where they needn’t be – but the core of this doc remains fascinating.

Rating:  7 (of 10).

misery

Amazon Link

The Basics:  The life of a writer is in the hands of his biggest fan, who happens to be devastated at the reveal of his most recent plot twist.

The Bottom Line:  After seeing this movie, I took immediately to Twitter with the following plea for corroboration:  “People besides me think this is a comedy, right?”

Because viewing it in this light makes it so much more enjoyable than thinking of it as a straight thriller.  Kathy Bates’s over the top performance is even more brilliant when taken with a humorous slant.  Her surprise attacks are a lesson in comedic timing.  The premise alone may be scary, but there’s so much fun to be had here.

Black humor is still humor and this one is wickedly good.

Rating:  8 (of 10).

white bird in a blizzard

Amazon Link

The Basics:  On the eve of her 18th birthday, Kat’s mother disappears under mysterious circumstances.

The Bottom Line:  The pain of loving Shailene Woodley is knowing she appears in bad movies from time to time.  Every ounce of her young talent is left to carry White Bird In A Blizzard, but it’s not enough to make it a good movie.  Heck, even the appearance of Christopher Meloni and Gabourey Sidibe isn’t enough to do that, which is just a darn shame all around.

It’s haphazard, stark, stilted, aesthetically concerned and absolutely, lifelessly messy.  There’s not much reason to care about these characters, their mysteries or the inevitable twist.

Rating:  4 (of 10).

2015 best picture nominees

Pasted directly from an e-mail to my friends:

This is the second year in a row I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees before the annual congratulation festivities.  Yay for ticking boxes!  Anyway, should you care:

01 Birdman

01a Birdman
01b Birdman
01c Birdman
01d Birdman
01∞ Birdman

02 Whiplash
03 Boyhood
04 The Imitation Game
05 The Grand Budapest Hotel
06 The Theory of Everything
07 Selma
08 American Sniper

PS, Birdman is underrepresented in this chart.

the theory of everything

Amazon Link

The Basics:  The story of renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking as told by way of the autobiography of his wife, Jane Wilde Hawking.

The Bottom Line:  This has the distinction of possessing the first trailer (of my adult life, anyway) that made me cry.  A trailer.  Oof.

While yes, this could be considered a saccharine made-for-TV movie version of Professor Hawking’s life – brightly filtered, predictable and Vaseline lensed – it is also sweet, subtly acted and moving.

I witnessed a cluster of teenagers as I left the theater (on their way in to something else – hopefully not Mortdecai) and very sincerely wished I’d had the pleasure of seeing this at an earlier age.  I think it might well be a perfect match for youthful optimism and an unguarded heart.

Rating:  7 (of 10).

selma

Amazon Link

The Basics:  This film chronicles the struggles of Black Americans to gain unrestricted voting rights, culminating in the march from Selma to Montgomery, AL in 1965.

The Bottom Line:  It should be clear by now it is my goal to see all of the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night.  I thought for sure I would save Selma for last if only because it would be the most difficult to get through.  I mean this honestly.  To call it an unfortunate part of our nation’s history is to put it triflingly.  As 12 Years A Slave was so excruciating last year, I expected the same of Selma.  I anticipated wrought rumination.  Not that there’s some human atrocity scale by which to measure horror, but feelings don’t discriminate.

In the flat and distant terms of movie watching, it is not nearly as strong as 12 Years A Slave.  And since that crushing film is only one year in cinematic hindsight, it’s hard not to remember its power when faced with a somewhat caricaturistic parallel.  I mean no disparagement by this statement.

Selma is important.  It is not as complex or harrowing as it could be.  On one hand, this is a relief.  However, I expected to be stirred.  I expected to cry.  I expected guilt and disgust to wash over me in waves so forceful I had to fall.  I did feel these requisite drives, but was not overwhelmed.

And it was not just me.  The theater I was in held little more than a dozen audience members and many checked their phones, chatted during lulls and fidgeted in their seats.  Its simple poignancy at times felt more appropriate to a classroom setting; I could imagine my high school government teacher breaking it up in place of two days’ lessons.

Again this is not meant as criticism.  Selma was made in one manner while I was envisioning something else.  There was clumsiness – perhaps it was the glower on the evilly painted lawmen’s faces, perhaps it was the jarring swipes to Oprah’s famous countenance.  Yet when the quieter scenes on the Pettus Bridge took hold – and it became, as it well should have, more about the movement than its central figure - Selma did not let go.

Rating:  6 (of 10).

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