Blue Is The Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color is an exhaustingly raw and intimate story of a high school girl’s coming of age and sexual awakening. French newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos stars and gives a stunning performance as a teen feeling her way through a new world opening up around her. This is a coming of age story that rises above with an emphasis on intimacy and the emotional tightrope that must be walked when everything is new, foreign, and a bit taboo. There are faults, to be sure, and most will lie at the feet of the director Abdellatif Kechiche, however, the two leads played by Adele and Lea Seydoux are electric and mesmerizing.

The story follows Adele and her relationship with the blue haired Emma whom she glances on a chance encounter and never quite forgets about, but is completely taken with when she sees her again on a visit to a gay bar with a friend. A relationship blossoms and we are led through their lives as they begin to intertwine. There is no plot, as much as there is no plot to everyday life. We are watching their lives and from the first moments of the film the audience must face the reality that we are standing next to them. We are there with them at their most intimate and most distressed. With a few exceptions, this tactic makes the story feel far more personal and leaves us with an emotional connection that is usually missing from films with similar subject matter. This doesn’t feel like a story about their lives. This feels like their lives.

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Much has, can, and will be said about the amazing performances from Exarchopoulos and Seydoux. I can do very little but to add to the praise. They are astounding and brilliant in every breath and every moment. It is as simple as that. This film is worth watching because of them.

The film does stumble a few times due to artistic and editing choices which keep it from being the essential viewing it had the possibility to be. The film’s running time is a full three hours. Every scene between Adele and Emma is essential, but the length starts to weigh heavily around the two to two and a half hour mark. Long shots of people dancing, for example, could have been cut to tone down the length and tighten up the middle section when things start to get a bit loose. Three hour films can be fine, but when you start to check your watch you know the pacing has a bit of a problem.

Blue is the Warmest Color has made waves for the controversial decision to show explicit sex scenes in the film. The explicit nature of the scenes doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the director’s choice in how he filmed them. Nearly the entire movie is shot in close up, with an emphasis on the faces of our leads. This brings us closer to them and increases our intimacy. We feel like we are there with them and going through everything together. Our connection with them is emotional. The sex scenes, however, are shot wider. We see their bodies and all the explicitness involved with the emotional connection being exchanged for a physical one. That’s the decision that bugs me. We go from feeling like we’re there with them to feeling like we’re watching them. There is a voyeuristic tone to those scenes and it is off-putting and jarring. Personally, cutting the fifteen minutes of sex scenes would have served the movie better and also helped with the running time issue.

Sex scenes aside, there is beauty to found in Blue is the Warmest Color. The beauty is in the naturalness and comfort of Excharchopoulos and Seydoux. They are an immensely believable couple and bring every frame of this film to a level beyond that which I was expecting. The performances are stellar, which makes it all the more of a shame that Kechiche got in the way a few times and knocked down what could have been a masterpiece. Grade: B

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3 Days to Kill

The opening scene of 3 Days to Kill takes place in a hotel. If those walls could talk they would express their deep embarrassment to be involved in this film. I’ve been searching for any kind of justification for the existence of this film and I’ve come up with nothing. No redeeming qualities of any kind. No plot, no script, no coherent direction, no attempt to act. Nothing. Just nothing.

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Kevin Costner plays a CIA hitman that is attempting to track down and eliminate a pair of bad guys known only as the Albino and the Wolf. He has the Albino in his sights when he is stricken with brain cancer. It’s a very specific kind of brain cancer- the kind that only flares up when he is in the vicinity of really really bad guys. That’s the worst kind. A doctor tells him that he has three months to live and he should sort his affairs so he is off to Paris to reconnect with his ex-wife and teenage daughter.

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His ex-wife is reluctant to see him and doesn’t want him to get involved in their lives unless he’s really done with all his super secret spy stuff. He assures her that he is totally done with the super secret spy stuff so she zips off for three days leaving care of their daughter to this man that is untrustworthy and dying. He does not tell her that he has been contacted by a high level CIA agent, played by Amber Heard who looks all of 24, who has a new drug that happens to cure brain cancer. The catch is that he has to complete one last job or he doesn’t get the medicine. Now he must hunt down and kill terrorists while trying to reconnect with a daughter that barely knows him.

The film makers of 3 Days to Kill have a fundamental misunderstanding of how nearly everything works: human relationships, elevators, spying, driving, gravity. Director McG stages not one but two raves and a tattoo parlor scene that would stand well with his early music video work, however, they stand in direct contrast to every other scene in the film. Nothing fits together in any way except for the brash stupidity of every character involved. The only way this film works is if it takes place in some sort of alternate dimension where the average IQ is 25 and the known rules of physics and medicine of our world don’t apply. There is no need for this film to exist and I imagine everyone involved in its production is hoping to sweep this under the rug as quickly as possible. Embarrassing on all fronts. Grade: D-

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Robocop (2014)

Robocop is flashy, frenetic, and filled to the brink with ideas that it doesn’t quite do anything with. It’s here and there with a bit of this and a bit of that. What’s left is a hodgepodge of what could have been really great, but just ends up being a let down. There are definitely elements of fun throughout and the action sequences are technically proficient, but this remake misses one crucial element present in the original. The original had something to say. This Robocop comes close to saying something and then backs away. Toeing at the line of meaningful conversation without crossing it. Timidity doesn’t suit a story about a robotic superman with a badge.

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The story loosely follows the original with a police officer on the brink of death and then merged into a robotic body to deliver justice. The updated version stars Joel Kinnamen, who was very good in The Killing, as the cop who this time is blown up in a car bomb. He has a wife and child whose primary roles in the film are to indicate that he has a wife and child. Gary Oldman is the scientist whose research provides the framework that makes the Robocop possible and serves as the moral compass throughout the film. He stands in a sort of opposition to his boss, played by Michael Keaton, who owns Omnicorp, the company responsible for robotics worldwide. Everyone else is tangential and fairly unnecessary with each actor responsible for bringing one characteristic to the screen and one only. For instance, Jackie Earle Haley is an Omnicorp military man in charge of the robots whose primary character trait is to be a prick to everyone. The script requires him to act that way and so he does even in the face of logic and common sense.

Robocop begins in Tehran where a news crew is filming a puff piece about the wonders of a robotic military. The scene is tense and thought provoking with questions being raised about drone warfare. If the film had kept up the tone and feel of that scene it would have been much better for it. Unfortunately, the film abandons the drone aspect and focuses on Joel Kinnamen’s Alex Murphy. His attempted murder storyline is not nearly as engaging or original. Insanely, the movie gets another chance at an intriguing plotline when it is revealed that Omnicorp can manipulate the brain chemicals in Alex Murphy and can more or less alter his level of humanity. Sadly, this also turns out to merely be a plot point rather than a theme. It seems that just as the film hints that it has something to say it backs off and settles for a ho hum action set piece.

I wanted this to be better than it was and I was left feeling disappointed. It is a fine enough diversion for two hours I suppose, but it could have been so much more. It feels like it got focus-grouped to death and ends up hinting at things without taking stands. While the original 1987 Robocop is no cinematic wonder it had something to say and is still being talked about, whereas this remake hedges too much and will struggle to be remembered as the lights come up. Grade: C

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Oscar Predictions

My predictions for the top 8 categories at this year’s Oscars.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

The Monuments Men

When George Clooney sat down to flesh out the story of Monuments Men he had two distinct paths he could take. Either he could make a slightly light-hearted comic romp, or he could deal with the realism of a story that involves Nazi Germany. Unfortunately he chose both which makes neither work. Clooney clearly struggled with finding a tone for the film and it is apparent throughout. It’s almost as if he watched Saving Private Ryan and decided that what it really needed was a dash of Danny Ocean.

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The Monuments Men features Clooney and an all star cast scouring Europe during World War II for all of the art that Hitler had been stealing so that they can return it to the rightful owners. The film goes to great lengths to attempt to convince us that the loss of art is the ultimate peril of war and it does this by shoehorning in Clooney himself orating about the significance of culture in between jokes about Matt Damon’s broken French. The Damon French joke is almost amusing the first time but quickly wears out its welcome, and the Clooney speechifying is ridiculously grating and also features some of the most hideous voice over work ever committed to film. The constant shifting in tone sabotages any gravitas the film thinks it has and wastes the potential that the true life story held. A waste on all fronts.

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The Monuments stars the previously mentioned writer/director George Clooney and Matt Damon along with John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Ballaban, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dejardin, and Cate Blanchette. An embarrassment of cast riches, however there is little for any of them to do. Ballaban and Murray are fairly good in their roles, but their scenes seem to be in a different film from the rest. Blanchette is rather one note and an odd choice as a French woman, but continues the Hollywood trend of putting her in roles that require an accent. Bonneville, Dejardin and Goodman are virtually non-existent with their only valuable contribution being to the cast list. The waste of talent is extraordinary.

The tonal problems are felt throughout. There is a scene involving Matt Damon and a land mine that is played for laughs and there is a scene where everyone stops as they realize they’ve just found a barrel of gold teeth from holocaust victims. These scenes shouldn’t be in the same movie. The Monuments Men is a mess from start to finish as it jumps from melodrama to broad comedy with no character development in between, yet an insistence that we should care and care deeply. As I left the theater I couldn’t recall the name of a single character which ultimately mirrors my feelings of the film as a whole. Boring and forgettable. Grade: C-
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The LEGO Movie

The best thing about the LEGO Movie is how much more work was put into it than was absolutely necessary. This could have very easily been a cash grab banking on product recognition with zero effort put into the film much in the vein as last years Planes. Instead what we get is a consistently funny kids movie that will win over as many parents as children.

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The plot is very basic with the hero Emmet being a nobody that does exactly what he’s told and is thrust into a world that he didn’t know existed so that he can find out how to be the special he was foretold he’d be. It is essentially the LEGO version of the Matrix. The themes of the film, such as conformity versus individuality and creativity, are not entirely subtle, but there are a couple of twists and turns along the way with a particular one near the end being, perhaps, a make or break moment for the audience’s enjoyment of the film. The moment worked for me and I applaud the daringness of the filmmakers on their risk taking.

The LEGO Movie does nothing wrong. It is exactly the kind of kids movie that children will love without parents wanting to bash their heads in. (I’m looking at you Smurfs 2.) It incorporates characters from DC Comics, Harry Potter, and Star Wars with wit and some of the cameos are genuinely inspired. Batman is featured heavily and has some of the best laughs of the film. It also has the distinction of being the first film to unite Batman and Superman. Sorry Zack Snyder.

The only drawback to the LEGO Movie is that it is a kids film in a slew of kids films. Even the best of the genre is still just a kids movie and will likely be forgotten in a couple of years, which is a shame because there is solid voice work done by Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, and Liam Neeson. Some of the gags are truly inspired and this deserves to be remembered as more of a spiritual kin to the great spoof films such as Airplane and Spaceballs. While its not up to the heights of those movies that is where the comparisons should begin. The LEGO Movie should be discussed with the likes of Mel Brooks and less with the likes of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. It dares to go beyond the pun and and was fun from start to finish which earns it an enthusiastic recommendation from me. Grade: A-

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Enough Said

Enough Said was a bit of an anomaly for me. I was interested in it solely because of the two main actors and my history with those actors is relatively slim. I know much of James Gandolfini’s history while never having seen any of his most famous role in The Sopranos. I know of Julia Louis-Dreyfus almost exclusively from Seinfeld while never having seen Old Christine or Veep. Still, I was excited for Enough Said, if for no other reason than to see Louis-Dreyfus with solid material and Gandolfini play against type. Interestingly, Enough Said managed to both succeed and fail because no one told Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus that they were in a horrible movie.

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Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus play divorced single parents of kids about to go off to college. They meet-cute at a party and one of the more realistic relationships in recent memory blossoms. This is the part of the movie that works. The two leads are fully fleshed out and recognizable characters. There are subtleties and nuances that shade the relationship which feel wholly natural. These are also the qualities missing from every other character in the film. For instance, Louis-Dreyfus has two friends; one of which is high-strung and shrill, the other is hippy-dippy all natural. That is what defines them and that is all they are. The nuance that the leads bring to their characters was sadly not utilized on the script.

If Enough Said had been just Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus scenes I would have loved it even if it had only been forty-five minutes long. There is a first date dinner scene that is so brilliant and charming that if extended to feature length would have been a masterpiece. Gandolfini in particular is so wonderful in that scene that it makes his tragic passing hurt that much more. His tough guy demeanor is absent and in its place is a lonely man with a quiet pride. Heartfelt and endearing.

I’ve prattled on about the lead characters for too long, but the problem is that everything else falls apart. There are plot contrivances that are blatantly obvious and ridiculous on all fronts. There are stereotypes instead of characters with each one being unlikable. It is both amazing and absurd how natural Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus are in the midst of all the rubbish. For those with an addiction to romantic comedies you can do far worse than this, but that’s a far cry from calling it good. Two wonderful performances elevate this to mediocre at best. Grade: C-

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