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Oscar-Baiting the Hook: "Out of the Furnace," "The Book Thief," and "Philomena" PDF Print E-mail
Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Sunday, 08 December 2013 11:05

Woody Harrelson and Christian Bale in Out of the FurnaceOUT OF THE FURNACE, THE BOOK THIEF, and PHILOMENA

When it comes to films vying for Academy Awards attention, there are several themes and subjects generally guaranteed to pique voters’ interest: post-war trauma; post-incarceration estrangement; the Holocaust; Judi Dench. Yet while a trio of recently released titles collectively addresses these and other Oscar-bait-y topics, I can’t help feeling that the talents behind all three might wind up disappointed come nominations-announcement morning. Well, except for Judi Dench. There’s just no stopping that Dame.

 
Disney on Ice: "Frozen," "Black Nativity," and "Homefront" PDF Print E-mail
Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 02 December 2013 09:57

FrozenFROZEN

As its fans (and I’m one of them) will gladly attest, Disney’s Frozen is a bit of a throwback to the studio’s recent golden age of animated entertainments – that period from the late ’80s to the mid-’90s that found more-or-less traditional fairy and folk tales goosed with healthy portions of Broadway razzmatazz. (Those in the press championing this new work as a welcome and rather bold return to form, however, do seem to have conveniently forgotten about 2009’s excellent The Princess & the Frog and 2010’s near-excellent Tangled.) But while much of the film follows the standard Disney-in-its-prime formula to the letter – big-eyed ingénue heroine, check; wacky animal sidekick, check; rafter-shaking power ballad destined to win an Oscar, check – there is one aspect to Frozen that separates it from the Little Mermaid/Beauty & the Beast/Lion King herd: The movie is kind of bonkers.

 
Kat-and-Mouse Game: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" PDF Print E-mail
Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Sunday, 24 November 2013 21:44

Stanley Tucci and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching FireTHE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

My unfamiliarity with its source material was, I’m convinced, a large part of why I enjoyed last year’s The Hunger Games movie so much. To be sure, I dug the film itself, with its exciting and moving survival-of-the-fittest encounters, and its fierce Jennifer Lawrence performance, and its bevy of grandly outré supporting figures (and, in the Capitol sequences, beyond-outré production design). But not having read any of the three books in Suzanne Collins’ seminal young-adult adventure series, what I was most taken with was the surprise of the experience. Hunger Games newbies such as myself were allowed to take in Collins’ richly imagined dystopian saga with gradual understanding and horror, much the way (I’m presuming) the books’ readers did, and while we had every reason to expect Lawrence’s teen warrior Katniss Everdeen to survive, the storyline was just spiky and unpredictable enough to make us wonder how, exactly, she ever would.

 
True Romance: "Enough Said," "Dallas Buyers Club," and "Delivery Man" PDF Print E-mail
Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Sunday, 24 November 2013 21:37

James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in EnoughENOUGH SAID

It should go without saying that romantic comedies are generally more enjoyable if you enter them with already-fond feelings for their leads, which is why it was more fun to sit through, say, one of Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s 1990s outings than the ugly one that transpired, in 2009, between Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. But until writer/director Nicole Holefcener’s Enough Said – which finally landed locally at Moline’s Nova 6 Cinemas two months after its original nationwide release – I’m not sure I’d ever seen a rom-com with quite this much built-in goodwill before. Then again, no one until Holefcener had designed a rom-com for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini before, either.

 
Song of Solomon: "12 Years a Slave" and "The Best Man Holiday" PDF Print E-mail
Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 18 November 2013 13:20

Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave12 YEARS A SLAVE

It’s impossible to imagine any viewer of director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave not haunted for hours, if not days or weeks, by its potent, frequently horrific imagery. Be it the protracted sight of protagonist Solomon Northrup hanging from a tree, his wiggling toes barely touching the dirt, or the early shot of Northrup caged in a Washington, D.C., prison with the camera slowly tilting upward to implicate Capitol Hill in his (and all slaves’) ordeal, McQueen continually delivers wrenching visual representations to match this already-wrenching tale. Yet if pressed for the one image that I find lingering above all others in this magnificent, devastating film, it would simply be the face of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who, in one unbroken take near the finale, almost seems to encapsulate hundreds of years of injustice in one anguished stare.

 
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