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Hesher is a phenomenal film that is darkly funny, daring, and unique. I have never seen anything quite like this movie. It is the reason I love independent movies because it couldn’t been made otherwise.

Hesher has balls and a distinct sense of self. Joseph Gordon-Levitt transforms himself in this movie to play the titular character, Hesher. With dirty long locks and scruffy facial hair, Joseph Gordon-Levitt embodies a carefree, anarchist spirit who enjoys rolling around in the gutter. Hesher has a badass black van that he basically lives out of while galavanting around town looking for ladies and trouble.

Devin Brochu

But before you even meet Hesher, your heart is broken and trampled on when you’re introduced to T.J.—a young kid who is reeling after the devastating death of his mother. Devin Brochu plays T.J., and the incredible performance of this 13-year old kid is the emotional core of this movie. You truly, deeply feel his loss. Early in the movie, T.J. is obsessed with the car his mother died in and he even tracks it down at a junkyard when it’s towed from his house. His father, Paul (played by Rainn Wilson), is mired in his own depression and self-pity. Instead of being there for his son, Paul tries to swallow his pain by taking pills—often falling asleep on the couch in his filthy clothes. T.J.’s grandmother Madeleine (played by Piper Laurie) is the only stable adult presence in his life, but she can only do so much.

T.J.’s sole refuge is inside that car with the memories of his mother.

Whatever the cost, T.J. just wants to get that car back and gain some semblance of his old life.

Rainn Wilson

While simple, this story is heart-wrenching. All you want to do is reach out and give everyone a hug.

Don’t expect Hesher to give him a hug. If anything, Hesher’s presence makes T.J.’s life more chaotic. Thanks to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hesher is one of the most memorable movie characters. I cannot imagine any other actor pulling off this performance. Hesher lives to party and rage. Calling him unpredictable is an understatement. But Hesher is a shot of life when T.J. desperately needs something, someone.

Surprisingly, Natalie Portman plays third (or possibly even fourth banana) in this movie as Nicole—a homely young grocery store clerk that stops the school bully from bashing T.J.’s head into the pavement after he vandalizes the bully’s car. Her character didn’t need to be great, but Natalie Portman brought a certain credibility to the movie that you can’t buy. Piper Laurie is another great actress as the grandmother who rounds out a great supporting cast that bring elements of comedy and drama to this wonderful story.

Natalie Portman

The best compliment I can pay to a movie is to say that I wish I wrote it. I wish I wrote Hesher.

While Hesher is well-written, the actors and actresses make these characters come to life.

Hesher is not your standard, cookie-cutter movie. The beginning is a slow burn that builds to a faster pace once Hesher is introduced. You have no idea what to expect from Hesher. It is riveting.

For fuck sakes, Hesher has a giant middle finger tattooed on his back and a stick figure blowing his brains out tattooed on his chest. When Hesher follows T.J. and decides to crash at his house, T.J. puts up a mild opposition and Hesher asks him if he’s ever been skull-fucked. Although he’s completely intimidating when he threatens T.J. and has his hand around his neck, Hesher is then in his underwear smoking a cigarette on the couch while watching TV a moment later. Hesher doesn’t give a fuck.

Underwear

In a time when most movies meld together in a bland, colorless line of shit, Hesher stands out. It’s not just all attitude and balls. To Hesher’s credit, this movie is as emotional as another Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie, 50/50 about a writer with cancer—which is also phenomenal in a much different way.

I don’t think Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets proper credit for such fantastic acting range. His body of work is impressive and growing. While most still probably remember him as Tommy from the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has seamlessly transitioned from child actor to accomplished adult movie star. I will continue to watch anything he is in because Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of our finest actors, and he deserves more appreciation and adulation. As a creative spirit that thrives to empower and connect other artists together, we need more genuinely good human beings like Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Jump off the deep end with Hesher and enjoy this off-kilter dark comedy.

Jump

5 out of 5 stars

Cyberbully
Cyberbully is a captivating thriller that’s a shining example of excellent limited storytelling. It’s cliché to claim a movie “keeps you on the edge of your seat” but Cyberbully builds incredible tension despite taking place entirely in a teenage girl’s bedroom. Airing this year on Channel 4 in England, this is only an hour-long movie starring Maisie Williams—best known an Arya Stark from Game of Thrones.

If you love the character of Arya Stark, then I consider this a must-watch movie.

Maisie Williams is fucking amazing as Casey Jacobs. It’s quite impressive to see Maisie’s acting range on display. This movie wouldn’t work if Maisie could not seamlessly transition between emotions and provide enough charisma and charm to make this character likable and believable.

For 99.9% of the runtime, Casey is staring at her computer screen while a creepy mysterious hacker is pulling the strings and treating her like a marionette doll. At several points, this person threatens to ruin her life by posting her nude selfies online for her school and the rest of the world. In a sense, this movie is like Compliance minus the gratuitous nudity because Maisie thankfully hasn’t turned 18 yet.

In the same vein as Black Mirror (an absolutely astounding British TV show), Cyberbully is an introspective look at how the Internet has impacted our society. Specifically, social media plays a pivotal role in this movie as it shows the way kids now communicate with one another online. We live in the Age of Trolls.

Cyberbully wastes no time delving into the story by artfully starting with a shot from the perspective of Casey’s webcam. In this age, never trust webcams. I’ve always covered my webcam with a Band-Aid or piece of tape for this very reason. It is way too easy and convenient for hackers to fuck with people. This is a lesson that Casey learns relatively quickly when she becomes the victim of the attack.

Cyberbully is smart enough to what it is and what it isn’t. Sit back and enjoy this thrilling mystery.

Written by Ben Chanan and David Lobatto, this is a beautifully simple story about bullying.

Basically, Cyberbully is the best public service announcement ever made. But that’s praise with faint damning because this movie certainly pulls some punches to fit a more family-friendly narrative. I understand the reasoning, but I like my stories darker with a bit more dirt rubbed on them.

Valar Morghulis

4 out of 5 stars

I almost forgot that I scrambled together a last-minute list of Oscar predictions last year. Out of the most significant categories, I ended up with an oversized 7-11 slushie. As with last year, these predictions aren’t necessarily who I think deserves the award, but who I think will win the award. I’m already preparing myself for the onslaught of underserved praise heaped onto Boyhood while Whiplash (the best movie of 2014) goes unrecognized except for J.K. Simmons’ shining achievement as Best Supporting Actor.

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

And the winner is…Birdman – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo

Last Year’s Prediction: Her – Spike Jonze
Last Year’s Winner: Her – Spike Jonze

Best Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper – Jason Hall
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten
Whiplash – Damien Chazelle

And the winner is…Whiplash – Damien Chazelle

Last Year’s Prediction: 12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
Last Year’s Winner: 12 Years a Slave – John Ridley

Best Foreign Feature

Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

And the winner is…Ida (Poland)

Last Year’s Prediction: The Hunt (Denmark)
Last Year’s Winner: The Great Beauty (Italy)

Best Cinematography

Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Robert Yeoman
Ida – Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
Mr. Turner – Dick Pope
Unbroken – Roger Deakins

And the winner is… Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki

Last Year’s Prediction: Nebraska – Phedon Papamichael
Last Year’s Winner: Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Film Editing

American Sniper – Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
Boyhood – Sandra Adair
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Barney Pilling
The Imitation Game – William Goldenberg
Whiplash – Tom Cross

And the winner is… Boyhood – Sandra Adair

Last Year’s Prediction: American Hustle – Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
Last Year’s Winner: Gravity – Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger

Best Actor

Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton – Birdman
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

And the winner is… Michael Keaton – Birdman

Last Year’s Prediction: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Last Year’s Winner: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon – Wild

And the winner is… Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Last Year’s Prediction: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Last Year’s Winner: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall – The Judge
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Edward Norton – Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

And the winner is… J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Last Year’s Prediction: Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Last Year’s Winner: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyer’s Club

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Laura Dern – Wild
Keira Knightley – The Imitation game
Emma Stone – Birdman
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

And the winner is… Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

Last Year’s Prediction: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Last Year’s Winner: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Best Director

Birdman – Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher – Bennett Miller
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum

And the winner is… Boyhood – Richard Linklater

Last Year’s Prediction: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Last Year’s Winner: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

Best Picture

American Sniper
Birdman: 4.5-star review
Boyhood: 1.5-star review
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game: 3-star review
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash: 5-star review

And the winner is…Birdman

Last Years’ Prediction: 12 Years a Slave
Last Years’ Winner: 12 Years a Slave

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Still Alice is a heartbreaking story about a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University who discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. If you’ve had family or friends with Alzheimer’s disease, this movie might be a difficult watch. Still Alice is a heavy drama that aims to give the audience a glimpse of what it is like to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and the impact it also has on family.

Julianne Moore will win Best Actress at the Oscars for her portrayal of Alice. This is a truly great performance, which shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone familiar with Julianne Moore’s career. Has she ever sucked in anything? Boogie Nights doesn’t count—I’m not talking about that kind of sucking. Julianne Moore is the best working actress and she should be more appreciated for her incredible range.

From start to finish, Julianne Moore shows you the progression of this terrible disease as it takes a toll on her personal and professional life. As a linguistics professor, Alice’s identity is her brain and handle on language. You experience the transformation as Alice is not so slowly losing her mind.

Nothing in Alice’s life is staying the same—not even her family.

Tear

The supporting cast is decent, but no one else will be remembered for this movie. Alec Baldwin is the best you can hope for as Alice’s husband who is struggling with how to live his life while still care for his wife. Unfortunately, their children are just dreadful. Kate Bosworth is completely forgettable as Alice’s oldest daughter and Hunter Parrish (only known as Silas from the TV show Weeds) is just sort of there. Kristen Stewart is hit-and-miss as Alice’s youngest daughter who dreams of becoming an actress.

To the detriment of the movie overall and its story, Still Alice mostly uses the family members as objects in the background (albeit playing important parts at times) rather than bringing them to the forefront. Only Kristen Stewart really gets a significant opportunity to develop a more dimensional character than her bland siblings. Alec Baldwin’s character has more depth because of his acting ability.

Still, Alice is the focus even though everything is going out of focus from her perspective.

Julianne Moore

Still Alice is a very depressing movie. This isn’t a fantasy, things don’t just get better because you want it to go back to normal. It’s real life. You or someone you love will struggle through a similar experience regardless of the affliction. Still Alice provides insight specifically on Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s a universal experience we all will inevitably face—especially with the prevalence of cancer. We all go through it and survive in our own ways. Still Alice is a good movie, but the story is unremarkable without Julianne Moore’s extraordinary performance. While this is likely the seminal movie on Alzheimer’s disease, I feel doomed to forget nearly everything except my love of Julianne Moore.

Forgetful

3 out of 5 stars

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I don’t like Benedict Cumberbatch’s face. His name alone induces yawns of boredom.

After looking at his IMDb page, I’ve mostly avoided his movies aside from limited roles in Four Lions, 12 Years a Slave, and the voice of Smaug in The Hobbit. Clearly, Cumberbatch is talented, but he hasn’t found the appropriate leading vehicle. Until now with a perfectly suited starring role in The Imitation Game.

Cumberbatch makes this movie compelling with his performance as Alan Turing, a British cryptanalyst tasked with breaking Nazi Germany’s infamous Enigma code. Cumberbatch’s presence is felt in every scene even though his character isn’t the loud, audacious type. Essentially, Alan Turing is played as a troubled genius with extreme social issues. Michael Fassbender is the only other actor I can imagine pulling off this captivating performance to make a rather bland biopic spy thriller story tolerable.

In an attempt to inflate the degree of story-telling difficulty, director Morten Tyldum juggles three separate timelines in The Imitation Game. In 1951, police are investigating a break-in at Alan Turing’s home and he starts to discuss his work in the military during World War II. In 1927, a young Alan Turing is being relentlessly bullied at boarding school and his only friend is a classmate named Christopher. In 1939, the heart of the movie focuses on Turing’s involvement in Britain’s effort to decrypt the Enigma code.

Top Secret Team

Traveling through these different decades is an interesting decision, but it’s an odd self-imposed obstacle that doesn’t always work. The aesthetic choice to leave Cumberbatch’s appearance basically unchanged from 1939 to 1951 is bewildering. A little old age make-up would have done wonders to clarify the time period because it’s not always immediately clear, which becomes increasingly distracting.

The most egregious aspect of this movie is how much it is in love with its own writing. The following line is repeated three times by different characters: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” Each time it comes off as sentimental mugging for the camera. You don’t need to insult the audience by telling people how to feel—particularly with an annoying score.

Despite fumbling a few parts, The Imitation Game is a well-crafted movie that whisks by for an hour before the train starts losing momentum. In my opinion, the train completely breaks down and dies on the tracks during the plodding third act. The Imitation Game isn’t a great movie, but it’s not bad either.

Keira Knightley

Unfortunately, there’s not much to this movie except for Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance—which is critical since you’re with his character in every scene. The supporting cast has some good actors with Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Mark Strong, and Charles Dance. But these talented people are largely wasted because their characters are rather unimportant without any memorable moments.

The Imitation Game will not win Best Picture at this weekend’s Oscars, but I’m not outraged at its nomination. However, the award campaign’s attempt to capitalize off of Turing’s sexuality appears in poor taste since the movie itself isn’t oriented around gay rights. There’s no need to run away from The Imitation Game, but it’s an interesting movie that I will never watch again.

Running

3 out of 5 stars

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Shia LaBeouf is not an artist…even if he was raped for the sake of art during his stupid exhibit.

Regardless of what you think about LaBeowulf’s antics, there’s no arguing that he’s capable of a great acting performance. There’s something deep down in there. Shia LaBeouf rises to the occasion in Charlie Countryman—currently streaming on Netflix. With a certain undeniable charm and charisma, LaBeouf plays the titular character dealing with the devastating loss of his mother in the beginning of the movie.

Charlie is a weird fellow. After his mother dies, a grieving Charlie envisions her spirit so that they can have one last conversation. When he asks what he should do now, his mother (played by Melissa Leo) tells him to go to Bucharest. It’s an obvious hallucination, but it reveals Charlie’s rather fragile mental state.

Shia LaBeouf

But there’s a beautiful message hidden in that interaction between Charlie and his dead mother. The lasting image in Charlie’s head was his mother sick and suffering with tubes running through her in the hospital. No one wants to remember a loved on that way. Instead of that painful memory, his dead mother replaces it with a happier time when they were fishing off a dock and having fun during a bright summer day.

It’s a lesson we should all learn: don’t dwell on the bad and truly treasure the good times.

From that moment, I was hooked on this movie.

Charlie Countryman is somewhat unconventional. In a classic sense, this movie is about a budding romance between Charlie and Gabi Ibanescu (played by Evan Rachel Wood). But make no mistake, this is not a romantic comedy. Why? Because there’s a dark, dangerous presence looming over Gabi.

And he goes by the name Nigel (played by Mads Mikkelsen).

Unbeknownst to Charlie, Gabi is still kinda married to Nigel—a dangerous gangster that gives zero fucks about anything. Mads Mikkelsen is magnificent in this movie and everything else I’ve ever watched him in—namely, the TV version of Hannibal and what should have been last year’s Foreign Film winner, The Hunt. Words cannot do justice to Mikkelsen’s performance in Charlie Countryman.

From his fucking eyes, you instantly feel the intensity burning inside Mads Mikkelsen. The rage is right there simmering under the surface and waiting for an excuse to release its ferocity. Even as an audience, you’re scared of him. Nigel is a brutal man and his presence makes this movie great.

Public Beating

“Enjoy your new mates and your recreational drugs and the rest of it while you can. God knows it can all turn into blood in a blink of an eye.” – Nigel

Amazingly, Charlie doesn’t blink. Despite several warnings from Gabi, Charlie doesn’t back down from Nigel and impending peril. Both Shia LaBeouf and the character Charlie are putting their hearts out there. Undeniably, this is LaBeouf’s greatest acting performance. I am appalled that Zac Efron was briefly given this role—thankfully, LaBeouf returned after initially dropping out. You feel everything that Charlie feels because of Shia LaBeouf, and I wish he would just get his shit together once and for all.

Shia LaBeouf and Mads Mikkelsen certainly elevate Charlie Countryman, but there’s an entire supporting cast of characters that are also worth mentioning. On his way to Bucharest, Charlie is unknowingly sitting next Gabi’s father, Victor Ibanescu (played by Ion Caramitru). Victor’s character and Ion Caramitru’s performance are very memorable albeit very brief. Darko (played by Til Schweiger) is another menacing gangster—though of the Russian persuasion. At the hostel where Charlie is staying, his two roommates are Karl (played by Rupert Grint) and Luc (played by James Buckley). During the middle of this movie, these two characters provide much-needed comic relief as Charlie’s friends. Melissa Leo is good as Charlie’s crazy mom, Kate. Even Vincent D’Onofrio makes a cameo in the beginning as Charlie’s stepdad, Bill.

A movie is that much better when the supporting cast actually fulfills its role to support the movie.

Mads Mikkelsen

Charlie Countryman was written by Matt Drake and directed by Frederik Bond in his debut.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the movie doesn’t feel polished. The pace wanes a bit in the second act and the ending isn’t handled as well as it could/should be, but it still doesn’t detract from your overall enjoyment of the movie. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like Charlie Countryman will find the audience that it deserves. Hopefully, this review will lead some people to put it in their queue (My List or whatever the fuck Netflix is calling it these days) and enjoy the experience that is Charlie Countryman.

Even if this movie is forgotten by most, I’m convinced there will be a movie in the near future where Mads Mikkelsen gets an opportunity to once again shine as a vicious, menacing character. If you learn nothing else, learn that you don’t want to cross paths with Mads Mikkelsen in a dark alley.

Cool Way to Go

4.5 out of 5 stars

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Yesterday was Friday the 13th. Today is Valentine’s Day. Tom Waits is awesome.

For these reasons, I present you with a review of Wristcutters: A Love Story.

In 2006, Wristcutters: A Love Story premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. A year later, it gained widespread distribution. At this point, I’ve probably watched this movie 4 or 5 times.

Wristcutters: A Love Story is indeed a love story (albeit a delightfully odd one) starring Patrick Fugit—from Almost Famous fame. Patrick Fugit does Patrick Fugit things. Playing the character Zia, the movie opens with Fugit meticulously cleaning his home. Not only is he cleaning his home, Zia is also cleaning up his life. A fresh new start is on the horizon. And then you see a pool of blood in the sink after Zia cut his wrists.

It’s an aptly named movie.

From the opening scene, Wristcutters is fucking fantastic. Instead of moving on to your typical afterlife, committing suicide sends you into limbo where you continue to live your shitty life for no reason. You have no joy. Literally, you can’t smile. Everything looks bleak and dreary. There are no stars in the night sky.

Patrick Fugit

Limbo sounds like a punishment worse than hell. This would be my own personal version of hell.

Oh, and anything that falls under the passenger seat of Zia’s best friend’s car is lost forever because it is a black hole. If this doesn’t sound like a movie you want to watch, then go away. Get off my lawn.

Although I’ve never met anyone else who has even heard about this movie, there seems to be a mild cult following building up slowly over time like a silt deposit. A big part of the appeal appears to be Tom Waits. I love Tom Waits. If you have a brain in your head, you should too—the man is an incredible artist.

Tom Waits does not disappoint in Wristcutters. As always, Waits brings the beautifully weird.

Tom Waits

With the Tom Waits song in that superb opening scene, the tone of Wristcutters remains constant throughout the scant 88 minutes. However, the same cannot be said for the pacing. While the first 45 minutes of the movie breeze by with several laughs and such an intriguing portrait of an afterlife, the second half of Wristcutters drags in certain places—leaning too heavily on the drama.

If the comedy didn’t die in the third act, Wristcutters: A Love Story would be a perfect movie.

Despite its flaws, I love this movie and acknowledge that others may not share my viewpoint. There are so many aspects to love about this movie. As mentioned earlier, this version of an afterlife is beautiful and dark at the same time. From my perspective, this world itself is worth the price of admission.

Patrick Fugit puts forth his typical performance, which is above average. The casting process must work because he’s perfect for his roles in movies. Surprisingly, the star for the first half of this movie is the character Eugene—a crazy Russian musician who killed himself on stage by pouring a beer on his electric guitar. Shea Whigham outshines Patrick Fugit in this supporting role as Zia’s best friend.

Shea Whigham

In the second half, it is the Tom Waits show as he plays a character named Kneller. His introduction is outstanding and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone interested in watching this movie. As a mysterious stranger who is anti-authority (because he’s Tom Waits), Kneller is the driving force of the story.

I won’t say anything else about the story because you need to discover this movie for yourself. With a unique story and quality supporting characters, Wristcutters: A Love Story is not your typical cookie-cutter love story. This movie is thoughtful and creative, which is increasingly rare for most movies—and damn near extinct for comedies. Treasure the off the beaten path miracle that is this movie.

In a forest of straight trees, Wristcutters is the crooked tree that’s still growing strong and strange.

Smile

4.5 out of 5 stars