Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Lazarus Effect / * (2015)

“The Lazarus Effect” doesn’t register so much as a film as it does a filmed exercise, and somewhere within that framework are the bits and pieces of an idea that would theoretically inspire something interesting on a base level of observation. As an experiment in that sentiment, alas, it is both incompetent and lazy, and during a moment when one of the characters demands that another to explain what is actually going on, we mirror his frustration and uncertainty. That is not to suggest that the movie is intricate to any degree of tangible insight, or at least smart enough to have a grasp on its material. A lot of the people on screen spend a good duration of time using big words to explain their scientific reasoning – and inevitably set up the chaos of the conflict – but the screenplay is not perceptive enough to supply them with focal points; they merely convey their thoughts like political figures spouting clichés and technical terms to create the illusion they really know what they are talking about, even as the actors themselves look like they are wincing under their clenched jowls.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The 87th Academy Awards: A Muted Celebration

It all began with a bang of nostalgic fanfare – a brief and curiously overpowering one. Host Neil Patrick Harris emerged from a stage decorated in floating lights and Oscar statuettes that seemed borrowed right from one of his treasured musicals, and broke into the kind of song and dance routine we have come to expect of such a vivacious showman: the sort that was equal parts energetic and colorful while still holding its own within context of the night’s purpose, which was to celebrate another year’s worth of moving pictures. As he danced in unison with silhouetted projections on a backdrop that emphasized the famous moments of “Singing in the Rain” and “North by Northwest,” he (along with supporting vocalists Anna Kendrick and Jack Black) brought a sense of much-needed unity to a room where political ideologies and cutthroat voting campaigns often reduce onlookers to feigning cordial platitudes. Yes, Harris was going to make everyone in this auditorium beam with the same sense of joy that good movies are supposed to leave us with, and it was clear from that brilliant opening note that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Boys, Birds and Budapest Hotels – 2015 Oscar Predictions

As enthusiasts of the movies, there are certain rituals we partake in that are equal parts amusing and infuriating. The annual ceremony of the Academy Awards is the most definitive of those traditions. Each year they seem to creep up on us without warning or rhythm, and in nearly all instances our enthusiasm is evenly matched by a sense of exhausted de ja vu, as if to imply not enough time has gone by to warrant yet another exercise in public popularity contests. Yet we watch on without reservation like spectators at a game of chance, knowing full well that the outcome is always the same even as the selections of movies evolve creatively and artistically through the pass of time.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Whiplash / **** (2014)

A talent that lacks management is a talent easily led astray, but he who is consumed by it will pursue perfection to the zenith of psychological collapse. The young hero in Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” teeters on this tightrope with silent contemplation, pushed there not because he really cares all that much about being great, but because he has something to prove to all those within his sphere of awareness. His problem is that the one standing at the focal point of observation also happens to be the most toxic. His name is Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), and he walks with almost predatory authority through the halls of the Shaffer Conservatory of Music. All those within sight of his piercing gaze dare not stare back or instigate conversation; they are clearly all spare parts in his toolbox of supplies, to be used at whim if he ever deems it necessary. Young Andrew (Miles Teller) does not wonder where such a man managed to acquire such commanding influence over so many subjects, and the results speak for themselves: he is a champion competitor with a long line of achievements cementing his power, and all who play jazz in the lower echelons foolishly wait for the day when he will wander into their midst and offer a nod of acceptance.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Concerning Beginnings

The movie critic in me came to fruition in the fall of 1997, during a moment that now seems like the seed of a pivotal destiny. At the time, the industry was in the middle of a thriving creative thrust; scarcely a week was going by when something original was not opening at the local multiplex, and the influence of art-house cinema was just beginning to infiltrate the consciousness of casual moviegoers as local chains began adding them to the line-up of major first-run releases. Knowing this reality, and armed with it in a class of eager high school reporters waiting for assignments, my voice shot over in a room when the Editor asked: “who wants to write the movie review?” Writing was as natural to me as breathing well before the demands of school turned it into a prerequisite, but now it was more than just that: it would provide me a voice for opinions over storytelling, and the impulse inspired just as much fear as it did enthusiasm.