Quick Movie Review: Concussion (2015)

concussion

Will Smith can carry a movie as well as anyone in Hollywood, and he’s been doing it for about the last 20 years. In Concussion he plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian pathologist working in Pittsburgh, who notices something he’s never seen before when conducting an autopsy on former NFL player Mike Webster. It turns out that it’s a new brain condition that causes its victim to enter a deep depression. He names it chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Smith does an amazing job as Omalu. He doesn’t use his lilt robotically, but commits to every inflection along the way, providing a very natural delivery that makes us believe he is Nigerian.

The filmmakers may not take a lot of risks with Smith’s character, pinning him as the interminable hero–which he undeniably is. But I think many people would have wanted to visit his weaknesses a little bit more, other than the first 15 minutes when it is merely stated that he has no human relationships. This gets taken care of fairly quickly with the introduction of Prema, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a Kenyan nurse who needs a place to live and develops a relationship with Omalu.

Even though Smith’s character doesn’t face a whole lot of moral dilemma, he is so earnest that he becomes honorable–a personage to cherish in cinema. Smith brings his own personality to the film, and although he’s fully committed, you are comforted knowing that it’s him donning those grey sideburns.

There are a plethora of self-aware dialogue that may rub people the wrong way, but it’s paced very very well so as to not discount the script. With all the science that the story surrounds, it never makes itself confusing or convoluted by over-explaining the details.

Not that I was already fond of the NFL organization, but watching this movie makes me dislike them even more. I know the film tries to be unbiased at times, but the facts are all there pointing the other way.

But Concussion is about more than just football. It’s about the misconception of the American dream. The realization that that dream is rooted in monetary gain by any means necessary. And as Omalu discovers it, we do too. An organization that our society is loyally infatuated with isn’t all that we romanticize it to be.

Driven by Peter Landesman’s honest direction and a score composed by James Newton Howard, which helps drive the intensity of the film, Concussion is one of my favorite films of the year. It isn’t perfect, but it’s very good. And more than anything, it’s powerful–which, in this case, may be the most important factor of all.

Twizard Rating: 94

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Quick Movie Review: Foxcatcher (2014)

foxcatcher

The only problem with Foxcatcher is that Bennett Miller deliberately creates such a gloomy ambiance that the film has a hard time getting away from it enough to give it any energy. With all the slow building throughout the film, the climax manages to still feel unwarranted. The direction surpasses the script in many ways. You can see Miller wanting to make this film bigger than it is, and more meaningful. But there is just not a whole lot to work with. There are scenes that seem important, but ultimately lead to nowhere. Then finally, after 2 hours, you have a murder.

While the film may be long, it’s not poorly made. We see a brilliant comparison between two types of people who long for the same thing–camaraderie. The acting of the three leads is fantastic–especially Steve Carell, who channels nodes of Michael Scott here and there.

You also have to appreciate very deliberate and conscious direction and pacing. Miller does this thing in the film where he likes to keep certain things out of sight (the tops of character’s heads or significant objects being referred to)–almost to draw comparisons to the fact that with these characters there is more than meets the eye.

Just don’t go into this movie expecting a story about wrestling, because while it touches upon the basic routines, it’s not what Hoosiers is to basketball. The sport of wrestling isn’t used as a metaphor for anything really. The film is a character study.

Twizard Rating: 84

Quick Movie Review: Big Eyes (2014)

big eyes

Big Eyes will be seen as one of Tim Burton’s best achievements–not because it’s such a different film than anything he’s made before, but because he doesn’t lose his signature style in the process. It’s all there. Excellently paced and well-acted, this movie offers us a unique and weird story. It makes us laugh out loud and also feel for the characters. The ending is redeeming and well worth the journey.

The writers don’t do anything fancy with the dialogue, but the stage direction is terrific. Burton works so well with all of his collaborators here and as a result gives us a movie to smile at. The art and set designs capture the era in a way that makes you forget that our world no longer looks like that.

At its core this film is about art and expression. Although artists share their work, they still create it and need credit where it is due–not just for their pride or their egos, but because they need reassurance that what they are doing means something.

Buton outdoes himself with Big Eyes. Their aren’t any mistakes in this film that are distracting and it all flows together very evenly. A great watch!

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

exodus

When a movie starts, especially an epic like this, you want an opening that will draw you in. Peter Jackson has mastered that with his Lord of the Rings film series. And although Ridley Scott is capable of doing that with his films, he provides us with a somewhat dry opening sequence. At the start of this movie you see a long dialogue between Moses, Ramses, and the Pharaoh. Then there’s a battle scene immediately after, which is great for fans of shaky cam, but otherwise feels like a shameful way of making a boring first act “more entertaining”.

Although this new take on the Passover story is pretty secular, it keeps itself respectful. However, I would have liked to see it have stronger religious themes. Without them, the point of the story is lost. And aside from reading the story in the Bible, there is no evidence that Ridley Scott actually understands the significance. In fact, the tone and style are unestablished altogether.

The film may have been more effective and less confusing if it had actually opened with Moses being found in the water as an infant. The tone would have felt more complete and we would have known right away what this film is about. Instead, we’re torn between a story about the relationship between Moses and Ramses, and a story about freedom–with no commitment to either.

The film is somewhat saved by the time the 3rd act hits, when we get to see the plagues, along with a fun chase out of town and across the Red Sea.

The biggest problem with this film is the reliance of the audience already knowing the story. Little is explained and significant events become downgraded to superfluous as they feel like they’re just thrown in there without any reason other than the fact that they’re written in the original text. But while we are treated like we already know the story, the filmmakers take certain liberties with the original story as if they think we don’t know the story at all.

The visuals are breathtaking and the acting is superb, but with a dumbed down script and a slow and confusing first act, this film loses some credibility.

Twizard Rating: 72

Quick Movie Review: The Theory of Everything (2014)

theory of everything

Biopics are tough. They’re tough to review and they’re tough to present in a proper fashion. You don’t want to blatantly glorify a human being and not show their flaws, and you also don’t want to just display a bunch of events. The events have to all tie together for a common purpose–to show growth or to make the audience think or to prove a point. While this movie definitely makes us think, I don’t think it fully utilizes its other desired purposes.

One of my main criticisms of this film is that we don’t see enough of Stephen’s personal transitions. We obviously see his adaptations to his increasing situation, but internally we don’t really see him grow. And it’s not that there isn’t growth of character, but it just isn’t pointed to. We see him just as human in the end as we do in the beginning. But what has he learned? This leads me to my next criticism, which is that the thematic conclusions were left open-ended and ambiguous. For instance, the religious theme is way too prominent throughout the film to just be left up to our imagination. If he is unsure in the end, then let us know–but sadly it doesn’t make it clear.

The acting is the most noticeable thing about this film. And Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking is going to go down as one of the great acting achievements in cinema. Besides its acting, the most impressive accomplishment of this film is its direction. No decision that director James Marsh leaves you scratching your head. This provides us with a distraction-less viewing of the film to appreciate it for what it is. While it’s a love story, it’s completely depressing. Marsh does a great job of putting us into Stephen Hawking’s shoes and making us really feel for him. It shows inside the mind of someone who you don’t expect to be able to relate. And through limited facial expressions, he displays such complex internal conflicts.

While the acting was phenomenal, I do wish for a more believable initial chemistry between Redmayne and Felicity Jones (Jane). It would have helped the audience relate to their relationship a bit more, since it’s already a rare circumstance.

Although it might not be a film that I would watch over again, there’s no denying that it’s really well done–especially on the technical front. It’s a strange effect to see the character that many people may find unlikeable in the beginning become the most likable character in the whole film.

Twizard Rating: 89