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Tuesday: Moneyball

Moneyball satisfies on every level for those searching for excellent filmmaking.

Moneyball
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While the game of baseball is highly popular on television, the films are a very different matter. There are so many out there that manages to have every cliché around. I'm not a big baseball fan, but I'm way less of a fan of the movies that are released regarding the sport. When Moneyball was released, I figured I should give it a shot since I heard so many fantastic things about it. Well, this is one of those times I certainly ate my words. There's so much more to this film than just the sport. This is one of those movies where I found myself saying "Woah, that was fantastic" as the credits started to roll.

An all-star cast brings to life the true story of Billy Beane, a former jock turned general manager who uses unconventional methods to bring the best players to Oakland A's. They're a major league baseball team struggling against financial hardship to overcome the big names. Everything points at Moneyball being yet another baseball flick. Writers Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian have created a piece of cinema with so many more angles than that. While the center of the story is about the sport, there is more focus on the characters, financial troubles, and the statistics behind baseball. The dialogue is absolutely phenomenal. The smallest details pop from the characters due to the screenwriters. There are so many dimensions to these characters that it feels as if we're watching a film where there are no actors and this is all happening live. I expected to see more than a few clichés appearing in the characters, but that was a false claim. There's a backstory, but it never distracts from the primary story line. In fact, they blend so well together that it appears to be seamless.The backstory is utilized to allow viewers to become more familiar with who Beane is successful in doing so. While there are certainly predictable moments of the movie, these scenes are executed so well that you'll end up being too immersed in the story telling to care.

The acting is truly the secret weapon here. Brad Pitt is tremendous as Billy Beane. He captures the essence of the character and brings us a natural Beane. This is possibly one of his best performances of his entire career. Most people evaluate good acting only when they're in characters that are spiraling out of control. Well, that's Pitt's charm. He doesn't need to do that in order to be great. He's often quite tranquil in Moneyball, but he creates such a fantastic atmosphere. In the supporting role is Jonah Hill. If somebody was to tell me that Hill would be in serious and more philosophical filmmaking while comedies such as Superbad were being released, I would think that they were absurd. This is definitely his strongest performance yet. He shines here like he never has before. He's very believable in the role. The well-crafted script is put to good use with these two fantastic performances.

Even though the running time is a bit long, at 130 minutes, it goes by very quickly. There's so much that Moneyball covers that there isn't very much downtime from the exploration of the roles and primary points the film wants to cover. The script is so well-written and the acting is so great that it leaves the audience breathless. You don't need to love baseball to enjoy this. I'm extremely glad that I ended up giving this film the chance that it deserves. Walking into this, I didn't expect to walk out saying that it's one of my favorite movies of the year. Moneyball satisfies on every level for those searching for excellent filmmaking.

My Rating = Four and One Half Stars

Next movie: Shame

Thursday: Shame

Viewers should be aware that this film isn't for everyone and is sure to not be popular with mainstream audiences.

Shame
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The film industry has marked the NC-17 rating with the identity of being the "kiss of death." For those who don't know much about this rating, it means that no admittance for persons under the age of 18 is allowed. Ever since the disaster known as Showgirls was released, film studios have avoided the NC-17 rating as if it's the plague. Shame received an NC-17 rating for its explicit sexual content. However, it's all relevant to the story and the true core of the movie wouldn't deliver as much of a punch without it. Fortunately, Fox Searchlight released it into the theaters it could with the NC-17 rating. While the rating already dooms it to a bad box office, I'm very glad that the decision was made to distribute the film as it's meant to be seen.

Thirtysomething New Yorker Brandon is outwardly reserved, but inside is seething with an overwhelming sexual addiction. When his emotional and much-loved younger sister invades his life, Brandon struggles to escape his self-destructive behavior. The topic of sexual addiction is a controversial one that is almost never deeply explored in film. Shame doesn't sugar-coat it or censor a thing. Viewers see deep into Brandon's addiction and all the horrible effects of it. There are more subtle backstories and subplots that go into topics such as incest. Many viewers may be reading this thinking that Shame is attempting nothing but to shock the audience as many other NC-17 affairs do. However, that isn't correct in the slightest. All of the sex and nudity is absolutely necessary to the plot. This film has a marvelous script. Each time that Brandon interacts with others or has a sexual encounter, we learn more about his addiction and aggression towards everybody around him. Shame displays just how far somebody with this obsession will go to get his or her fix. It works very similar to a drug addiction. They don't care about who they get it from, what they need to do to get it, but they will go as far as it takes to obtain it. There are times that it gets difficult to watch this film as we're watching a man spiral down into the darkness of his sexual addiction. Shame can easily be described as an artsy piece of cinema. There are times where there isn't any dialogue, but utilizes the talent of the actors in order to convey the messages through actions and expressions rather than dialogue. The ending is certainly up for interpretation, as well. This is the type of film that people could have a full discussion about to bring in different perspectives on the events that unfolded on the screen.

This isn't the first time that Director Steve McQueen and lead actor Michael Fassbender have worked together on a film. They released another movie by the name of Hunger back in 2008. They are an excellent team. I have enjoyed Fassbender in films such he starred in movies such as Eden Lake. His popularity has finally reached the United States since he has starred in movies such as X-Men: First Class as Magneto. Well, this is a very different role. Fassbender displays what surely is the strongest performance from any actor of this year. Not only does he deliver dialogue to perfection, but he adds so much dimensions to Brandon. Even when he isn't given any dialogue, his expressions and body language doesn't even make it feel as if he's acting. Fassbender is utterly in tune with his role. He definitely deserved to win the Golden Globe for his performance and even an Academy Award. Such a disappointment that the Academy didn't even nominate him. Playing Brandon's sister, Sissy, is Carey Mulligan. She is absolutely excellent alongside Fassbender. They're both captivating as they feed off of each other's energy on screen as the arguments and discussions unfold. These are two ground-breaking performances, especially by Michael Fassbender, which deserve quite a bit of recognition.

Every director has his or her style that makes them unique, or at least they should. Steven McQueen has one that not all viewers will understand. It's a very artsy and different one. It's raw and dark, which fits the atmosphere of the plot. Shame offers incredibly beautiful cinematography. The sex sequences are shot absolutely fantastically. They're breath-taking and show the true nature of the film. Steve McQueen is brilliant behind the camera, which is quite evident with Shame.

This is one of the heavier films to be released this year. However, both Fox Searchlight as well as the cast and crew took a bold chance with this. I find it to be horrible that Shame wasn't nominated for any Oscars. This film easily deserves multiple nominations. However, I'm betting that this is due to the controversial subject of the movie. This movie isn't trying to be as shocking as possible, but is telling a truly devastating story. It feels all too real. There isn't a single moment that the movie lets up until the credits roll. This is an artistic venture that doesn't show the joy in sex, but the despair that Brandon is attempting to cover up. Shame is one of the best films of the year, but is difficult to shake off. Viewers should be aware that this film isn't for everyone and is sure to not be popular with mainstream audiences.

My Rating = Four and One Half Stars

Next movie: Chronicle

Saturday: Chronicle

Chronicle is entertaining, thrilling, and a lot of fun to watch.

Chronicle
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Instead of speaking about the background of films utilizing found footage, I will simply state that Chronicle is in this sub-genre. That isn't too important. What's important is what it brings to the table. Before I walked into the press screening, I wasn't quite sure what genre would be primarily holding its ground. Drama? Sci-fi? Action? Well, to be quite honest, the filmmakers use all three genres. Sure, one could state that Chronicle is a science fiction flick due to the fact that it has to do with superpowers, along with other elements. The drama department certainly kicks in from the get-go, before any superpowers are acquired. The action should be expected, although it doesn't kick into high gear until the final act. In conclusion, Chronicle meshes the three genres together, yet manages to create something rather interesting.

Three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery. Soon, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides. There have been a lot of superhero movies trying to think outside the box since the generic comic book heroes and villains are becoming a bit stale over the years. There have been many superhero flicks with teenagers having the abilities. I realize that the concept isn't very realistic, but try to rationalize it. If a teenager was to have super abilities, what would they use it for? Good? Evil? I see a teenager using his or her abilities selfishly for themselves and could spiral out of control just like ones emotions during that troubling time. This is what Chronicle explores. Surprisingly, the script is well-crafted. It isn't a masterpiece, but the pacing is spot-on. This isn't for those looking for a pure-blooded action flick, but somebody who wants to explore the characters a bit more and have one hell of a finale. The super abilities that have been obtained are much more like a muscle than just powers. They aren't able to simply use them on the spot. Characters Andrew, Matt, and Steve have to exercise this "muscle" in order to strengthen it. Once the final act approaches, all hell breaks loose. The lines between good and evil are certainly blurred. However, this final action sequence is extremely entertaining and is sure to have moviegoers engrossed. The ending is sure to be split. Some will say that it's unnecessary while others will think that it has its place in the story. I believe that it has connections to our modern day society with mistreated, misunderstood, and depressed teenagers losing control without asking for help. The final moments of the movie shows how somebody cares, but it's too late.

If you're expecting to see a well-known cast, as many superhero movies are advertised, you'll be disappointed. The main three leads won't be recognized. This initially worried me since I didn't know what these three actors could do without them having very much experience. They took me by surprise. This is certainly a talented young cast. They're all believable in the given roles and will easily convince audiences worldwide of the characters. Dane DeHaan plays the unwinding character, Andrew. He really relates to the audience in a more unsettling fashion than the other characters. I felt sympathy for him, but at the same time was aware that he was drunk with power. The dynamics between the two extremes are done naturally by DeHann. Alex Russell performs as a more reserved character, Andrew's cousin Matt. His range isn't called upon as much as for the character of Andrew, but he still is just as believable in his role. Michael B. Jordan does well with Steve, although viewers don't get the chance to explore his character as much as Andrew and Matt.

Found footage flicks, such as Cloverfield, turned a lot of viewers off due to the excessive camera movements. It caused many to feel sick and not able to see what's even going on. Viewers won't have any problems with this for Chronicle. In fact, it's quite interesting how the camera angles are set. Andrew often uses his abilities to control the camera's position with his abilities in order to capture everything that's going on. In the final act, audiences get to experience switching cameras numerous times. One moment we will be looking through a cop car's camera and another a helicopter's. Director Josh Trank effectively used the different cameras to his advantage. I am very glad to report that this isn't a complete CGI affair. While there are some expected green screens used during the flying sequences, the action scenes that were done in front of the camera as opposed to being edited in. Cars are being pushed, flipped, and blown up without the use of CGI. However, the visual effects that did call upon CGI did appear to be a bit dodgy at times, but it isn't much to complain about. The final action scene in specific looks and sound phenomenal.

I found myself enjoying Chronicle even more than I imagined I would. It's entertaining, thrilling, and a lot of fun to watch. The film takes its time to introduce the characters and set the story before the portions with the super abilities kick in. The screenplay is good and its represented by a talented, young cast. Even though this is Director Josh Trank's film debut, he has provided us with a good film. I look forward to see what else he may have in store for moviegoers. Chronicle isn't perfect, but it's definitely a solid movie that comes recommended.

My Rating = Four Stars

Next movie: Hostel: Part III

Sunday: Hostel: Part III

Hostel: Part III is an absolute piece of garbage.

Hostel: Part III
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Writer/Director Eli Roth created both Hostel and Hostel: Part II, which got quite a bit of buzz going. Some was positive and a lot was negative, but at least it got people talking and curious to check the movies out. The followers who did enjoy the first two movies craved a third entry. However, Eli Roth wasn't interested in creating another sequel. This is when a series should end. Unfortunately, Hostel: Part III still was put into production. Once the synopsis and cast were announced, it was quite clear that it wouldn't be released into theaters. It received a direct-to-DVD release without being advertised.

While attending a bachelor party is Las Vegas, four friends are enticed by two sexy escorts to join them at a private party way off the Strip. Once there, they are horrified to find themselves the subjects of a perverse game of torture, where members of the Elite Hunting Club are hosting the most sadistic show in town. It actually sounded cool for the Elite Hunting Club to take the torture to Las Vegas. So much could have been done with this concept. Unfortunately, it's a missed opportunity. Both of the first entries into this trilogy are reasonably fast paced and doesn't take too long to get to the point. However, Hostel: Part III feels like an eternity until the film kicks into high gear. Instead, audiences are forced to sit through a majority of the running time watching drama between idiotic characters. These are the most unlikable roles in the entire trilogy. Not only do they make dumb decisions, but I never once cared about any of the fates of the characters. For those who thought the dialogue in the other movies was bad, Hostel: Part III has cringe-worthy writing. One huge issue the flick has is that it focuses way too much on these awful lead roles instead of the Elite Hunting Club. The gambling aspect of the torture is actually interesting, but it isn't shown very much and is never expanded upon. The primary reasons people watch this series is to watch the torture sequences. Well, they're unbearably disappointing. Gore hounds will find it very underwhelming. The ending is extraordinarily tacky and over-the-top that it left me rolling my eyes.

With such a crappy script, no self-respecting actor who is getting work would sign up for this. Instead, we have a cast that is unknown for the most part. Even if this was to be an Oscar-winning cast, nothing could have saved the screenplay. This is the type of acting that one would expect to see in a B-movie flick. The actors highly contributed, especially in Hostel: Part II, to the shock value of some of the torture sequences. Well, this isn't true in the third entry. Instead, I found myself laughing on several occasions at the acting. Oh, what a great comedy this has become.

Eli Roth's style is what truly completed the atmosphere for these flicks. WIth him gone, so is the ambiance. Just by looking at the visuals, you can tell how small the budget is. The dark filters and whatnot are all gone and a cheesy, soft look is introduced. The shoestring budget is especially shown during the torture scenes. They look very fake and there are many times that the camera simply cuts out what happens and leaves it to your imagination. This works in a thriller, but when it comes to a series where the entire part of watching is to see carnage it becomes pointless. There's only one torture sequence that is decent. This is the very first one to be seen. Every single one after that is either bloodless or very underwhelming. The audio on the disc is just as awful as the visuals. For most of the film, the sound remains in the front stage. The surround speakers aren't utilized until the final act.

Unlike the last two films, this isn't even entertaining. I found myself bored and my mind wandering several times. I didn't expect to have a thrilling plot or characters with layers of depth, but at least roles that I found fun to follow and a lot of violence. Well, this flick doesn't offer very much of that. The first two Hostel flicks are quite brutal and doesn't cut away from what's going on very much. In the third entry, the camera constantly leaves the violence to the imagination. This eliminates the entire point of watching a movie that focuses on shock value. The ending is over-the-top, in a bad way. The acting is so bad at times that you'll find yourself laughing. Hostel: Part III is an absolute piece of garbage. Whether you're a fan of the series or not, avoid this at all costs.

My Rating = One Star

Next movie: Apollo 18

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