Russell Crowe is not a good actor. Sorry, it just had to be said. He gives incredibly flat delivery, poor diction, and just has absolutely no screen charisma. So it's a shame that his bad acting skills had to besmirch the epic story of John Nash, one of the most celebrated mathematical and economic thinkers of the 20th century. Crowe plays Nash from young to old, beginning with his time in college when he thought up a new way of seeing the free market and how greed for both the individual and the group is important if success is to be attained. This is an intriguing part of the story, but it is utterly ruined when the film piles on layer upon layer of confusing and lame subplots that all turn out to be a figment of Nash's imagination.
Nash had paranoid schizophrenia, and instead of actually showing this, the movie allows the audience to be taken in by ludicrous hallucinations that any viewer with their wits about them will know immediately are false. It's not like this guy is actually cracking codes for the US government. Crowe doesn't help, as the only part of his schtick that he bothers to contribute here is his dumb confused face. Not many of the characters are likable, and the only one we actually care about is one of the hallucinations. It also features one of the most mind-blowingly stupid lines of dialogue ever, when the characters are talking about a painting: "God must be a painter. Why else would we have so many colors?" Sometimes there are lines that are so bad, they lower the overall score for the movie a whole point. This would qualify as one of those lines.
Final Score for A Beautiful Mind: 5/10 stars. It tells a worthy story, but haphazard storytelling and remarkably indifferent acting make it a pretty unenjoyable affair. Some skilled director (I'm thinking David Fincher) needs to remake this movie with a talented actor in the lead, as well as a scriptwriter who actually knows what they're doing. But until then, the family of John Nash should be a little insulted that this is the best that Hollywood could do with this story.
The Room has gotten a lot of flak for being the worst movie ever made, and hilariously inept on every level. Who decided this? I think a group of uneducated peons (aka "The Hollywood Elite") got together to ensure that director Tommy Wiseau would never work again, as they didn't want to give a slurring sex addict and possible Russian spy admission to their club. Well, boo-fucking-hoo, Hollywood. Great artists are never understood in their time. And Tommy Wiseau definitely falls into this category, alongside other (yet lesser) geniuses such as Mozart and Da Vinci. This misunderstood masterpiece will one day be appreciated for the work of pure genius it is, but until then, us enlightened few will have to put up with the plebes who purport it to be "unwatchable."
The amazing thing about this film is that it defies every filmmaking convention ever. From the very beginning, Wiseau crafts an unreal, deeply disconcerting world in which people talk only in cliches and extremely incomprehensible sentences. If you do not enjoy thinking while at the movies, please, do not even bother watching this. Go back to mainlining Michael Bay movies and oohing and aahing over the explosions. This is a movie for people who want to be challenged by cinema. Wiseau's dialogue is almost Shakespearian, in the sense that it is nearly incomprehensible. But that's part of its beauty. Much like with Shakespeare, you have to figure out the meaning behind every line of dialogue before you can proceed. It's a stylistic choice, and nobody else could have pulled it off.
Wiseau stars as Johnny, a man who has been tricked by the corporate dream and now must live as a hollow shell of what he could have been. His girlfriend Lisa (a starmaking performance by Juliette Danille) is a sadistic and manipulative harpy who has him by the balls. In this way, Johnny is a metaphor for the fears of the working man in modern America. And yes, this magnificent passion play certainly works in such terms, simplistic as they may be. But dig a little deeper, and you start to see the true meaning behind the character of Johnny: His friend Mark (another starmaking turn, this one by Greg Sestero) stabs him in the back by sleeping with Lisa on numerous occasions. This clearly paints Mark in a fallen-from-grace Judas light, meaning that Johnny is clearly a metaphor for a modern Jesus. Once you understand that, you begin to realize what all the other characters mean-- Lisa is Mary Magdalene, and Wiseau conveys some fascinating theories about Christianity and faith through her character. Her mother, meanwhile, acts as the spiritual center of the film, and is therefore a personification of God. Her cancer is a symbol of humanity. This is merely one example of the multilayered meaning of this film, and it's hard to pick apart the others, as they are so obscure and subliminal that you might not notice them on the first, second, or even tenth viewing.
Denny, Johnny's young ward, is clearly a personification of the twelve apostles all roped into one. But here's a fascinating aspect to the film: Towards the end, Lisa lies about being pregnant because she wanted "To make it interesting." But of course, Mary Magdalene and Jesus never had a baby... or did they? And don't worry, I won't go all Da Vinci Code on you here. No, I am of the belief that the nonexistent baby in The Room actually signifies the Christian religion itself. Perhaps Wiseau became jaded and angry with the church due to his hard early life somewhere in eastern Europe, but he clearly works through that anger here. If the baby is not real, what does that mean? That faith is not real? That belief is not real? That hope is not real? That GOD HIMSELF is not real? This masterful craftsmanship raises so many incredible questions about what it means to be human and what it means to have true faith, I couldn't possibly mention them all in this review.
Really, the film is just a way for Wiseau to put his incredible philosophy into layman's terms. But for us small-minded lesser beings, it works perfectly. The film also masterfully concocts what life is really like-- In real life, not every moment has meaning, and not every conversation you have will be important later on. It's the same with The Room. Random moments in which footballs are tossed around, characters are brought in without explanation, and story arcs abruptly end are peppered throughout the film in order to keep it grounded and realistic. But the masterfully written dialogue and ethereal performances keep it from being TOO realistic. It takes on a quality of detached, superflutive surrealism, making for incredible entertainment.
The camerawork is also genius. Working with a minimal budget, Wiseau crafts some of the most powerful images ever put to film. He truly brings to life the startling images of a tape recorder he conveniently carries around with him, a group of grown men doing poor chicken impressions in tuxedos, and his own bare naked asshole. These images, although mostly frightening and unpleasant, also help create the aura of fear, self-loathing, and despair in the film. It's a powerful love story for the age of paranoia, and Wiseau really makes it pop out at you. Several camera shots in which you can literally see the gaps between the sets also contribute to the sense that Johnny's world is quite literally crumbling around him.
But so many questions about this great piece of cinema remain unanswered. Why does Johnny choose humping Lisa's dress as the last act he will perform on this Earth before his suicide? Why does Mark smoke weed on the roof of Johnny's building? Why do two of Johnny's friends choose to have sex in his apartment, when they surely have a perfectly serviceable one themselves? Why does the flower lady not recognize Johnny at first, even though nobody else in the world looks even remotely like Johnny? And why, at the end of the film, does Johnny (who we have already established as Jesus) perform his OWN crucifixion? What is Wiseau trying to tell us here? Better men than I have spent their lives racking their brains, trying to come up with some meaning behind these strangely compelling scenes, but sadly to no avail. The tragic figure of Johnny, and the masterwork that is the Room, may never reveal their full secrets. For now, we will have to be satisfied with the mere speculation of the best thinkers of our time... although they will never be able to skim the surface of the mystery that is Tommy Wiseau.
Final Score for The Room: 10/10 stars. This powerful dramatic opera is one of the greatest films ever made, and will surely one day be looked back on as the best film of the 21st century. It is beyond spectacular-- It is God. The Room is love. The Room is life. If you have not yet experienced this dark and mysterious film about faith and hope, do so as soon as you possibly can. I am embarrassed for Hollywood, because one of these days, the elitists who inconceivably dissed this fantastic work of art will have to own up to their mistake, and admit that The Room is one of the greatest movies ever made. Move over, Spielberg. Step aside, Coppola. Tommy Wiseau is the best director of all fucking time.
The biggest surprise of the year is that a sequel to a mediocre movie has actually improved on the original. Catching Fire, the second in a quadrilogy of films based off of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games series of books, is a vast improvement upon 2012's The Hunger Games in terms of plot, dialogue, camerawork, characterization-- Really, everything. However, this is only possible because the original Hunger Games movie failed on all of those fronts, so really this isn't saying much. But this installment is fast-paced, witty, and (most importantly) is capable of entertaining both the fangirls and their boyfriends who were dragged to see it. Which I would call a win.
Picking up where The Hunger Games left off, Catching Fire tells the story of the post-Hunger Games Catpiss Everdeen. Having been traumatized by the atrocities committed in the games and the fact that she was forced to make out with an albino midget for the cameras, she is a hollow shell of her former self. Jennifer Lawrence actually bothers to act in this installment, and the difference is quite palpable. Also, very little attention was paid to the fact that her relationship with the aforementioned albino midget (PETA) was fake in the original film, and that was expanded upon a lot more in this sequel. Altogether, the character of Catpiss is given far more motivation and backstory, making her character a lot more relatable.
After seeing her act of defiance at the end of the first film, the twelve districts in the dystopian nation called Panem have rallied together to form a resistance movement against the evil Capitol. I also enjoyed this aspect of the movie a lot, as it shows that some people will end up becoming symbols or heroes, whether they like it or not. Unlike the first movie, there's actually some social commentary, and the political edge of the first half of the movie is its greatest asset. However... this social commentary seems a little weird at some points. For instance, in the cotton-picking district where every single citizen is black. These black cotton-pickers are then assaulted by "Peace Officers" who wield batons and are dressed all in white. Really? You know, while you're at it, why not have them use fire hoses? You might as well if you're going to be that on-the-nose about it.
However, after she becomes a symbol of hope for the plebeians, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) decides that this shit can't go on. So he declares that the 75th Hunger Games will be made up of former winners from the previous games, in order to get rid of Catpiss and PETA, as well as the other winners, whom he now views as a threat. This is where the film starts going downhill; it started out as a great political allegory, and then it devolved into a movie about Jennifer Lawrence battling raging baboons and being attacked by a gas that causes zits. And no, that is not a joke. It can't seem to find a consistent tone, as it juggles its political commentary side, its action side, and...
THE BULLSHIT LOVE TRIANGLE. I swear to God, is it just written into law now that every single Young Adult novel has to have a love triangle for the main character? The character of Gale (also known as Thor's brother) is clearly wedged into the movie just to give the whole "Catpiss doesn't actually love PETA" aspect some credibility. The film tries to give both of them enough screen time for character development, and as a result doesn't give EITHER of them enough, making them come off as boring, one-dimensional, and incredibly obnoxious. They both only show up when the plot demands it, and when they do, they are utterly interchangeable.
However, the film does have some great supporting characters. Sutherland's turn as the vindictive, ice-cold President Snow is one for the ages (even if the movie isn't). Woody Harrelson reprises his role from the first film as the drunken comic relief and mentor to Catpiss and PETA. And it also has the welcome addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new game-master... after the previous one had an unfortunate "accident." Of course, the movie also features Elizabeth Banks as Nicki Minaj and Stan Tucci as the biggest flamer of all time, but I can overlook them, as they're SUPPOSED to be over-the-top flamboyant. Still... that doesn't make me cringe any less when they show up onscreen.
My complaint with this series is not that it spends too much time on the romance, or that it skimps on the action, or any of the bullshit reasons that people give for disliking these movies. It's that they can't figure out what they want to be. One minute they're an excitingly deep political allegory about an utterly corrupt government gone mad with power... and the next minute, we're seeing the aforementioned Loki fucker pushing Jennifer Lawrence's hair behind her ears and calling her "Catnip." Ten minutes later, people are getting flogged in the streets. Given that, it's pretty surprising that this movie has actually found a good target audience, because it's really all over the map when it comes to theme. But this was altogether a startlingly good movie and a vast improvement over the original, which was a piece of shit.
Final Score for The Hunger Lames: Catching Flame: 6/10 stars. Good (but not as good as it could have been), this second installment raises the stakes from the first movie while simultaneously delivering a fun and invigorating story about a dystopian society. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling in the theater that I had seen everything in this movie before. If you want to talk carbon-copy sequels (like Die Hard 2), well... look no further than this. But it also didn't feel like it was just bridging the gap between the first and final installments (like The Two Towers), so I have to give it points for that. This isn't a movie where I can tell you to turn off your brain and have a good time, but at the same time, if you overthink it you won't enjoy it. Just pay rapt attention for the first half... and then have fun for the second. Three words: Dat water scene.