Song Sung Blue

Song One

By George Wolf

Song One is a lot like the indie folk music that permeates it: pleasant, well-intentioned, and a bit bland.

Anne Hathaway stars as Franny, an anthropology student working overseas who must rush back home to New York after a family tragedy. Her brother Henry, an aspiring musician, is struck by a cab while walking in traffic, and Franny returns to find him in a coma, fighting for his life.

Searching Henry’s apartment for familiar items that might help revive him, Franny finds concert tickets to see a folkie named James Forester (Johnny Flynn). She attends the show, and waits in the autograph line to tell Forester about her brother’s admiration for him. The conversation sparks a sweet friendship, and James is soon visiting Henry and hanging out with Franny and her ex-hippie mom (Mary Steenburgen).

Will friendship turn to romance? Will James find inspiration to cure his songwriter’s block? Bet you can guess.

It’s the debut feature for writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland, and predictability is not what ultimately keeps Song One from resonating. Yes, the terrain is plenty familiar, but this love letter to the power of music suffers most from contrivance and precious few powerful moments.

Flynn’s performance is tender but tentative, and though is he obviously a talented musician, the original songs elicit little more than the nod you give that guy at a party who suddenly finds a guitar. He’s in way over his head alongside Hathaway, who dials it down but can’t keep her natural talent from casting a big shadow over her co star.

There is some promise here. The film is well shot and Barker-Froyland often seems to sense how thin the drama is, pumping it up with enough good intentions to keep any eye-rolling at bay. When her storytelling talent catches up with her technical skills, then she may have a hit on her hands.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

Crime Dramas For Your Queue

Butts did not fill seats when Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini’s small time mobster flick The Drop screened theatrically, which is a shame. But the film releases today for home consumption, so eat up, people! The two play cousins running a bar used to launder Chechan mob money, with Hardy adding layers and layers to a fascinating, maybe simple bartender. Shady characters, double crosses, symbolism and meager redemption keep your attention, plus there’s an incredibly cute dog. It’s worth a look.

The Drop writer Dennis Lehane has penned a number of Boston-based crime dramas, including Shutter Island and Mystic River, but the best of the bunch is Gone Baby Gone. The film that shocked us all with the knowledge that Ben Affleck is a genuinely talented director follows two private investigators working a missing kid case. Morally complicated, brilliantly filmed and boasting a career-best turn from Amy Ryan, this is a surprisingly great crime drama.

Fright Club: Best Horror in 2014

If you think 2014 was a paltry year in horror, you just weren’t looking hard enough. Sure, the big blockbusters – Ouija, Annabelle, etc. – disappointed, but there were independent and foreign gems aplenty. We count downt the best horror had to offer in 2014. You’re welcome!

5. Housebound: Long before Hobbits and dragons, kiwi Peter Jackson filled New Zealand cinemas with laughs and screams while covering their screens in blood and body fluids. The torch has been passed to Gerard Johnstone, whose Housebound is a funny, clever, heart-racing horror flick about a potentially haunted house. It’s also among the very best of the genre released this year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT1KcYiPb4I

4. Big, Bad Wolves: In Isreal’s hypnotic fairy tale nightmare Big Bad Wolves we follow one driven cop, one driven-to-madness father, and one milquetoast teacher who’s been accused of the most heinous acts. Not for the squeamish, the film boasts brilliant performances, nimble writing and disturbing bursts of humor. It treads in dark, dark territory, but repeatedly dares you to look away. It’s a bold and brilliantly realized effort.

3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Ana Lily Amirpour’s first feature – also Iran’s very first vampire film -is a gorgeous, peculiar reimagining of the familiar. Amirpour mixes imagery and themes from a wide range of filmmakers as she updates and twists the common vampire tropes with unique cultural flair. The result is a visually stunning, utterly mesmerizing whole.

2. Only Lovers Left Alive: The great Jim Jarmusch (Ohio boy!) updates the vampire genre with a well conceived twist on the unusual, aided by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful performances as well as his own dry humor and magnificent eye for visuals.

1. The Babadook: A familiar tale given primal urgency, the horror fueled by compassion, the terror unsettling and genuine – this film is more than a scary movie, and it immediately ranks among the freshest and most memorable the genre has to offer.

Listen in to our new Fright Club podcast with Golden Spiral Media!

FC 01-Best Horror in 2014

I Don’t

The Wedding Ringer

by Hope Madden

Kevin Hart bears a terrible burden in Hollywood. After salvaging a number of mediocre-to-poor films by sheer virtue of his manic comic talent, Hart has been sentenced to a lifetime of awful scripts and off-peak release dates. Got a weak-to-terrible comedy? Stick Hart in it and release it in January when there’s nothing else to see. Maybe it can be the next Ride Along.

Such is the case with The Wedding Ringer. In what amounts to I Love You, Man meets Hitch, Hart plays a best man for hire. Josh Gad plays the lovable dork about to marry up who has no friends to speak of. He needs to drum up 7 groomsmen to keep from admitting his loserhood to his bride-to-be (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting).

Oh, but it’s more than that. The Wedding Ringer is the cautionary tale of a man who failed to uphold the sacred man-vow: bros before hos.

How quickly you tire of The Wedding Ringer depends largely on your tolerance for gay jokes and misogynistic humor. Even if you’re a big fan of both, eventually the film’s lazy scripting, derivative plotting and general mean-spiritedness will likely turn you off. It’s hard to believe this dreck came from the same writing/directing team that brought us The Break Up – hardly a masterpiece, but at least a competently written and well acted comedy.

To be fair, this film contains a handful of real laughs, and Hart and Gad – another proven comic talent – have genuine chemistry. But every gag drags on minutes longer than necessary, and most zag into territory too unimaginative to be provocative in its tastelessness.

What if a romantic (or, in this case, bro-mantic) comedy chose not to depict the story of a schlubby guy who deserves help to nab a vacuous hottie? What if, instead, the film paired this decent, funny, worthy-if-overweight and nerdy fella with an equally overweight, worthy, decent woman? I would die of a coronary, that’s what would happen – but I’m probably safe, because where in Hollywood would they find the female lead?

A good movie for Kevin Hart may be just as unlikely, but I would love to see what he could do with a decent script.

 

Verdict-1-5-Stars

2015 Oscar Nominations and Snubs

The Academy takes some punches every January as the rest of us scratch our heads over the films and performances they deem most deserving of recognition, and even more questionable, those they believe are not. 2015 is no different. The Oscar nominations reveal much deserved love for Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but where is Selma?

Yes, Ava DuVernay’s visceral and all too relevant film on Martin Luther King’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery earned – and we mean earned – a best picture nomination, but where was its original screenplay? It should be sitting where Foxcatcher sits.

Equally wrong-headed is the exclusion of the faultless DuVernay among the ranks of directors. Though The Imitation Game was a wonderful film and Morten Tyldum offered superb helmsmanship, that should have been DuVernay’s slot.

Best Actor is usually a loaded category, and 2015 is certainly no exception. Still, Selma’s David Oyelowo and Nightcrawler’s Jake Gyllenhaal deserved spots instead of Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell and perhaps even Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game.

Again, both performances were great and both films were great, but Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal really needed to be noticed, and quite honestly, Oyelowo may have deserved the win.

Perhaps the most baffling exclusion is The LEGO Movie from the best animated film category. How is this even possible? It’s a better animated film than absolutely anything else on the list. We’re thrilled at the inclusion of both The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea and wouldn’t remove those, but Big Hero 6 was one of the blandest and most derivative animated efforts in years and has no business in the same area code as an Oscar nomination.

Amy Adams and Jennifer Aniston could be miffed at being left off the best actress list, but to be honest, it wasn’t an especially strong year for that category. Either could be swapped in or out for almost anyone else on the list, with the exception of Julianne Moore. While Still Alice is not the strongest performance of her career, and it not actually an exceptional film outside of her work, she’ll finally win an Oscar this year, so thank God for that. Quite honestly, We’d have given one of the nominations to Essie Davis for her superior work in The Babadook, but that’s just dreaming on our part.

And while we’re in fantasyland, We’d have given Tilda Swinton a nom in the best supporting actress category for her turn in Snowpiercer. It may be simply tradition to offer Meryl Streep a seat at the table every year, and she certainly was fun to watch as the witch in Into the Woods, but Swinton was more fun and more deserving.

The major nominations are below.

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
JK Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightly, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

DIRECTOR
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Ass Hat Also Works

Blackhat

by Hope Madden

It’s early. Too early to get excited. Blackhat will face a lot of competition as 2015 journeys onward, but it is as strong a contender for worst film of the year as any movie could be. Jesus, is it bad.

Yes, it’s January and the film is about hackers – that’s two big strikes against any major studio film. Remind me, when was the last time a cybercrime film was interesting? You can squeeze only so much tension from shots of fingers on a keyboard and anxious expressions reflecting the blue light of a computer screen. Worse still are those self-indulgent shots of the digital journey inside the hardware – kind of the Tron’s eye view. Unfortunately, director Michael Mann has nothing fresher than these ideas up his sleeve.

Chris Hemsworth plays the world’s greatest hacker, because hackers generally look like Chris Hemsworth. So, right there, authenticity is clearly key to the once capable Mann. As it happens, the Chinese and US governments are working together to solve a convoluted – even asinine – cybercrime, and they need the help of this uncharacteristically fit computer nerd, so they furlough him from prison. If he helps them catch the baddies, he’s free; if not, it’s back to the pen, and something tells me he’s pretty popular on the inside.

Bonus: he’s an expert marksman. Who knew? Must be all those first-person shooter games.

Hemsworth affects some kind of diluted Bronx accent – is that it? Boy, it’s hard to tell just what he’s trying to do with it, and in another film that would be a real distraction. But Blackhat is so loaded with bewildering ridiculousness – from the needlessly overwrought visual style to the utterly incompetent sound editing to the laughable storyline to the astonishingly weak and wooden performances – that an awkwardly unrealistic accent goes almost unnoticed.

Thor isn’t outright terrible, and that’s a real feat. Even the great Viola Davis chokes on this screenplay, and the usually solid Wei Tang (Lust, Caution) struggles too mightily with English to deliver a professional performance. Still, all three are outshone by the listless to the point of parody work of Leehom Wang.

It has been ten long years since Michael Mann made a good movie. The real distinction of his newest effort is simply that it is his worst.

Verdict-1-0-Star

No Absolutes

American Sniper

by George Wolf

Clint Eastwood has the reputation of a low maintenance, “let’s not overthink this” type of director. Sometimes that’s much too apparent, with films lacking in structure, passion and detail.

American Sniper is not one of those films.

This one is tense, heartfelt, wise and weighty, driven by a revelatory lead performance and crafted by a director deeply invested in doing justice to his subject.

It’s based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL credited with being “the deadliest sniper in American history.” The very nature of the story is rife with opportunities for manipulation, be them jingoistic or judgmental, but credit Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall with sidestepping them all.

They grab you by the throat with a breathless opening, then expertly work alternating periods of deafening brutality and quiet stillness. In fact, the silence in American Sniper could be easily be regarded as part of the original score, as it is utilized just as effectively as any stirring music.

As Kyle, Bradley Cooper is astonishing and a well-deserved Oscar nominee. Anyone who still thinks he’s just a pretty boy needs to put down People magazine and pay attention to the career Cooper’s been putting together. He’s turned in one stellar, varied performance after another the last few years, and here he commands the screen like never before.

More than just adding weight or adopting Kyle’s Texas drawl, Cooper completely embodies Kyle from the inside out. We see his early determination to fight America’s enemies just as sincerely as we feel the paradox of a man ravaged by the battlefield who can’t feel at home anywhere else. Eastwood smartly gives Cooper many tight close ups and the actor doesn’t flinch, letting his face speak volumes on duty and conflict.

Are there sad ironies in the fact that many who were driven to military service by the events of 9/11 were sent to Iraq? Of course, but this is not the film to explore them, or appease those who will be satisfied only if Kyle is painted as a merciless monster or, conversely, an untouchable hero.  By avoiding these absolutes, American Sniper becomes a gripping look at the other side of The Hurt Locker. It’s an intensely personal story that manages to feel like part of America’s very fabric without selling its soul to do so.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

Central Ohio Film Critics Association 2014 Awards

Selma triumphs at 13th annual Central Ohio Film Critics Association awards

 

(Columbus, January 8, 2015) Ava DuVernay’s civil rights drama Selma has been named Best Film in the Central Ohio Film Critics Association’s 13th annual awards, which recognize excellence in the film industry for 2014. The film also claimed four other awards. DuVernay was honored as Best Director and Breakthrough Film Artist. David Oyelowo was named Best Actor for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Paul Webb won for Best Original Screenplay.

Columbus-area critics recognized these other individual screen performers: Best Actress Essie Davis (The Babadook); Best Supporting Actor J.K. Simmons (Whiplash); Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer); and Actor of the Year Jake Gyllenhaal for his exemplary body of work in Enemy and Nightcrawler.

The Grand Budapest Hotel received three awards, including Best Ensemble, Best Cinematography for Director of Photography Robert Yeoman, and Best Score for composer Alexandre Desplat. Desplat is a repeat COFCA winner, having also won Best Score in 2008 for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and in 2012 for Moonrise Kingdom.

Other winners include: Whiplash’s Tom Cross for Best Film Editing; The Imitation Game’s Graham Moore for Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Documentary Finding Vivian Maier; Best Foreign Language Film We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!); Best Animated Film The LEGO Movie; and The Babadook as Best Overlooked Film.

Founded in 2002, the Central Ohio Film Critics Association is comprised of film critics based in Columbus, Ohio and the surrounding areas. Its membership consists of 21 print, radio, television, and internet critics. COFCA’s official website at www.cofca.org contains links to member reviews and past award winners.

Winners were announced at a private party on January 8.

Complete list of awards:

Best Film
1. Selma
2. Whiplash
3. Snowpiercer
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
5. Nightcrawler
6. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
7. The Imitation Game
8. Boyhood
9. A Most Violent Year
10. Gone Girl

Best Director
-Ava DuVernay, Selma
-Runner-up: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Actor
-David Oyelowo, Selma
-Runners-up: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler and Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Best Actress
-Essie Davis, The Babadook
-Runner-up: Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin

Best Supporting Actor
-J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
-Runners-up: Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice and Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

Best Supporting Actress
-Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer
-Runner-up: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Best Ensemble
The Grand Budapest Hotel
-Runners-up: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and Foxcatcher

Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)
-Jake Gyllenhaal, Enemy, and Nightcrawler
-Runner-up: Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, and The
Zero Theorem

Breakthrough Film Artist
-Ava DuVernay, Selma (for directing)
-Runner-up: Jennifer Kent, The Babadook (for directing and screenwriting)

Best Cinematography
-Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
-Runner-up: Daniel Landin, Under the Skin

Best Film Editing
-Tom Cross, Whiplash
-Runner-up: Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Best Adapted Screenplay
-Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
-Runner-up: Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson, Snowpiercer

Best Original Screenplay
-Paul Webb, Selma
-Runner-up: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Score
-Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
-Runner-up: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl

Best Documentary
Finding Vivian Maier
-Runner-up: Citizenfour

Best Foreign Language Film
We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)
-Runner-up: Ida

Best Animated Film
The LEGO Movie
-Runner-up: Big Hero 6

Best Overlooked Film
The Babadook
-Runner-up: Edge of Tomorrow

COFCA offers its congratulations to the winners.

Previous Best Film winners:

2002: Punch-Drunk Love
2003: Lost in Translation
2004: Million Dollar Baby
2005: A History of Violence
2006: Children of Men
2007: No Country for Old Men
2008: WALL•E
2009: Up in the Air
2010: Inception
2011: Drive
2012: Moonrise Kingdom
2013: Gravity

For more information about the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, please visit www.cofca.org or e-mail info@cofca.org.

The complete list of members and their affiliations:

Richard Ades (Columbus Free Press); Kevin Carr (www.7mpictures.com, FilmSchoolRejects.com); Bill Clark (www.fromthebalcony.com); Olie Coen (Archer Avenue, DVD Talk); John DeSando (90.5 WCBE); Frank Gabrenya (The Columbus Dispatch); James Hansen (Out 1 Film Journal); Nicholas Herum (Columbus Underground; Movies Hate You Too); Brad Keefe (Columbus Alive); Kristin Dreyer Kramer (NightsAndWeekends.com, 90.5 WCBE); Joyce Long (Freelance); Rico Long (Freelance); Hope Madden (Columbus Underground and MaddWolf.com); Paul Markoff (WOCC-TV3; Otterbein TV); David Medsker (Bullz-Eye.com); Lori Pearson (Kids-in-Mind.com, critics.com); Mark Pfeiffer (Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema; WOCC-TV3; Otterbein TV); Melissa Starker (Columbus Alive, The Columbus Dispatch); George Wolf (Columbus Radio Group and MaddWolf.com); Jason Zingale (Bullz-Eye.com); Nathan Zoebl (PictureShowPundits.com).

The following information is not for publication:

If you would like comments about COFCA and these awards, please contact:

Mark Pfeiffer (mark.pfeiffer@gmail.com)
Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema and Co-host/co-producer, Now Playing, WOCC-TV3 and Otterbein TV

The Master Returns

Inherent Vice

by Hope Madden

Where Inherent Vice most succeeds is in proving that both Joaquin Phoenix and filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson can do anything.

Phoenix and Anderson collaborated on their 2012 masterpiece The Master, but the spawn of their latest partnership couldn’t be any more different. You know Phoenix – brooding, troubled, powerful – but comedic? Likeable? Sort of weirdly adorable, even?

That’s what you’ll find in this film.

Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, an inebriated private detective working LA in 1970. Sweeter than Hunter S. Thompson, edgier than Dude Lebowski, Doc swims in the vaporous haze of every drug he can grab while he muddles through a series of interconnected and apparently non-paying cases.

Though the screen mostly brims with light hearted debauchery, expect a handful of truly powerful, even difficult scenes. Such tonal shifts can become cinematic weaknesses, but in hands like Anderson’s they pull in the darkness that underlies the choice or circumstances that delivers a person to this life on the fringes.

It comes as no surprise that Anderson can work magic where other directors might falter; the man’s a flawless filmmaker. He’s never made a film that was anything shy of brilliant. Even the Coen brothers made a handful of only-adequate films (The Hudsucker Proxy, The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty). Not Anderson.

Not only can he direct, he can cast. Inherent Vice is an ensemble piece boasting a host of memorable if often tiny (and in some cases possibly imaginary) roles. Reese Witherspoon is a stitch as a straight laced assistant DA. She has a soft spot for loopy hippie PI’s, but draws the line at dirty feet.

Equally fun are Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone and Martin Short. (Martin Short!) But Josh Brolin steals the show.

What each is doing can be a bit fuzzy, but then Doc’s usually a bit fuzzy, and therein lies the genius of this film. It opens, hardboiled noir-style, with a dame from the past showing up on this dick’s doormat with a story to peddle and a request to make.

But from there, puzzling out the details and conspiracies becomes as tough for the viewer as it is for the detective because Doc is as high as a kite.

Rather than a true mystery, the film offers a wonderful image of the political, social and cultural tensions of an era without pointing out that intention. It’s nutty, brilliant stuff.

Verdict-4-0-Stars