Captain America – The Winter Soldier: Fun, Interesting and Another Step Forward!

Posted in 8, Action, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2014 by mducoing

Capt America - Winter SoldierDirectors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo have improved on the first Captain Americafilm (an already enjoyable, exciting movie) and keep momentum moving ever forward with the Avengers franchise juggernaut.  This step is remarkable primarily because the other two sequels leading up the next Avengers film were strong, but not improvements on their original chapters (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World)

Premise: In the next Captain America installment, a dark menace has emerged within S.H.I.E.LD. that threatens everything Rogers believes. Result: A strong next addition to the blockbuster franchise certainly worth watching for its entertainment value.

The second CA installment follows the anachronistic Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) as he struggles for relevance in a modern world where right and wrong are cast in a confusing, translucent gray. He fends of mighty terrorist foes for S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about as often as match-making tips from colleague Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). The whole affair is leaving him lost and sullen.

But when Director Fury is taken by the much mythologized Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), he must wade through all he knows and trusts – Secretary Alexander Peirce (Robert Redford), Romanoff, Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), and even neighbor Kate (Emily VanCamp)- to determine how best to understand the nature of the latest threat. But it is only when he stumbles upon the eerie remnants of an old foe -that of the Hydra Dr. Zola (Toby Jones)- that he begins to realize that there is much more to this mystery than meets the eye.

Winter Soldier is a long, but thoroughly exhilarating film. It is interesting, armed with neck-breaking twists and turns and a cavalcade of villains that will surprise. It is an uncanny mystery as well as action film and the juxtaposition of these two elements has been so often disastrous in other films that it is nothing short of delightful when finally executed effectively. And so the scenes of discovery are as powerful for their eerie glow as are the explosions and battle sequences (of which there are plenty) for their engrossing excitement.

Of course, Winter Soldier is limited by the fact that it is ultimately an action film based on a comic book. Unlike The Dark Knight or even the first The Avengers installment -which somehow manage to deliver an intangible sense that they have transcended the genre and become solid, emotional, complex films- Winter Soldier doesn’t quite get there. It is a fantastically fun time, however, and this should not be missed.

But at the end of the day, the necessary emotional injection and investment by audiences just won’t quite make that leap, leaving our experience teetering on the edge of greatness. But, for most, that is perfectly OK (and frankly should be) since for what it is, Winter Soldier is executed masterfully and is bound to leave a wide range of audiences more than satisfied but still asking for more.

The acting in the film, to solidify the above point, is effective. Evans, Jackson and Johansson have all mastered their characters and taken them as far as they can. They are relatively complex and interesting, even though most of the challenge in these roles is stunt-survival, ninja-precision, and comedic timing. But that they all do quite well, thank you very much.

Redford, for his part, is, of course, a master. Having a few more lines to work with than his recent seminal role in All is Lost, we are reminded why he is never quite given enough to say in films. He is precise, deliberate, charismatic and possesses an uncanny ability to never tip his hand, making his role in this action caper undeniably intriguing.

In the end Winter Soldier is a must-see for fans and an unforgettable good time for the rest. Its action is spot on, the excitement undeniable and overall story well-grafted and delivered. Does it reach the Pantheon of perfect films? No. But Winter Soldier doesn’t need to, reminding us that some movies can be great without needing to be GREAT.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

Pompeii: Gladiators, Love, Loss, Abs…oh and that Pesky Volcano

Posted in 5, Action, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2014 by mducoing

PompeiiDirector Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Resident Evil) finally gets a distraction from what has become a Resident Evil franchise catastrophe. Despite all the actual devastation on screen, the film is fairly fun action fluff with a requisite disaster porn finale that, well, I guess we all saw coming.

Premise: A slave-turned-gladiator stumbles upon his true love; but he must battle a corrupt Roman Senator and survive the infamous Mount Vesuvius as it erupts, to save his beloved. Result: Cool fights sequences and an insane volcanic eruption are really on the only reasons to watch.

Pompeii begins with the Roman destruction of the Celtic horse tribes under the cruel lead of Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) something or other, leaving poor young baby Milo (Kit Harington) orphaned and soon enslaved by somebody or something. He then grows to be a famed Gladiator known as The Celt, and due to his prowess is sent off to Pompeii to join the Gladiator AAAs (and for history buffs, just in time I might add!)

In any event, a few fun, well-choreographed fight sequences later, Milo comes into random contact with the beautiful merchant’s daughter Cassia (Emily Browning) who is also entering Pompeii by fate. Their attraction is instant but their interaction short-lived.

Instead, audiences get much more from the love-hate relationship between Milo and rival Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Set to fight in a battle to the death, the two exhibit and amusing grace and bravery that somehow humanizes and stabilizes what would otherwise be an absurd turn. This nuanced story is more interesting than virtually any other storyline and helps to keep the rest of the fluff at bay in between chilling murder (umm, fight) sequences.

The remainder of Pompeii is a blender of cool fight sequences, mild throwbacks to better gladiator movies, and, of course, the requisite coincidental spurned love between scary Corvus and the young Cassia, despite the best efforts of her parents Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Severus (Jared Harris).

Admittedly, there is enough in this film to make it slightly more interesting than it may appear on paper; and while it is hardly unique, most of the film has a certain low-budget charm that will actually keep audiences interested in what can only be described as a B-film trapped in a blockbuster-budget body.

The acting is complete enigma. On the one hand, Browning, Harris, and Moss are all fine, sometimes even good, even though they all seem more interested in their next film. Akinnuoye-Agbaje is perhaps the most effective of all the characters since he has the only dilemma approximating any sort of uniqueness and in this venture he performs admirably.

Kit

Oh, hi.

Harrington is actually very good in this film. For what, well that is another matter. It is impossible to say he does a good acting job because it is not clear there is enough time in the film doing just that. Staring, brooding and fighting make up the majority of his role and in if judged on this he deserves an Oscar. But sadly, awesome fight sequences, a wash-board stomach and a chilling stare make for fun to watch, but not an overall great performance. But, meh, we’ll take it!

Sutherland, however, is terrible. His performance almost parodies itself midway through the film. Scene after scene of incongruently delivered lines and preposterously performed scenes reduce much of the film to playhouse theater in a matter of moments. This is not a bad actor but something very bad happened to him in this film.

For anyone who knows anything about Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, or watched a trailer, the eventual outcome of this film should not be a surprise. Although the film deviates from likely historical realities and ventures on fantasy disaster porn, the ending has its own charms. In some ways, it’s the only important remnant of the film itself.

Thus in the end, this film is fun while not being particularly good. Great fight sequences, good visuals and a not completely preposterous plot help make this film a surprise. But a few awful performances, a lingering sense of cliché and a somewhat tacked on finale draw this film back from enjoyable to barely passable.

Rating: 5 – A luke-warm Pinot Grigio

Divergent: Dystopia-Lite.

Posted in 5, Action, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2014 by mducoing

Divergent2Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) has delivered a fairly fun but still painfully reductive film about dystopia as understood by toddlers. This Huxlean Paint-By-Numbers has all the elements of a sappy love story with all the action of Hunger games meets Greek-style Rush. But in the end we party alone.

Premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in to the new Faction-based world. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late. Result: Good acting and some fun action. Also, ridiculous, distracting, pseudo-intellectual drivel.

Based on the novel by Veronica Roth and adapted for the screen by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor , Divergent draws audiences into a dystopian world. There are still humans, living in what’s left of Chicago (apparently no one told them that was the first sign they were actually in Hell) but their lives only vaguely resemble those of today.

In this new world, there are five factions in which most surviving humans sit: there is Abnegation (the Ruling class because they are so selfless everyone trusts them), Amity (the hippies and farmers), Candor (the loud-mouthed, autistics who can’t stop from being too honest), Dauntless (the warrior clan that polices the city), Erudite (the smart people who sit around all day getting smarter). All this, for some reason…

And everyone fits in because of some morbid Myers-Briggs test that induces hallucinations to determine your true personality – although it should be noted, a citizen can decide to go against this test at any time (and risk failure and expulsion from the community).

In any event, our guide through this borderline preposterous tale is Tris (Shailene Woodley), a pretty, shy and ultimately confused girl living with her family – parents, Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew (Tony Goldwyn), and brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort). What is interesting about her is that when she takes the test, she is revealed to be Divergent- that means she doesn’t fit into any of these five, painfully arbitrary factions. But she chooses Dauntless and we get distracted for a bit from this nonsense by the cool Hunger Games-esque training.

Here, we are introduced to her motley crew, that of Christina (Zoë Kravitz), Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), and Al (Christian Madsen) now vying for limited positions in Dauntless. The prize of what will be the competition ensuing over the next months of their lives: not being punted from Dauntless to a life of a “factionl-less” zombie, wandering aimlessly and faction-less-ly around the city (also, for some reason).

They are “led” by the Eric (Jai Courtney), a tormenting trainer and rival to equally tough but somehow less a-holey Four (Theo James). And as competition heats up, there is a very intriguing series of competitions and trainings that the band must face to pass stage one, not the least of which is torment from Peter (Miles Teller) and other difficult members of their class.

The Sexy Poster

The Sexy Poster

In some ways, this is the most fun part of the film. Tris fights, she gets her butt kicked, she uses her brain and cunning to make her character relevant, and she even manages to catch the eye of trainer Four – thus ushering in the requisite teen angst/love component of the film. This alone makes the film a fun time; but, of course, Burger couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Instead, he forces us all to remember that there are other factions and worse, that something is very amiss amongst the factions, something that Jeanine (Kate Winslet), Marcus (Ray Stevenson), and Max (Mekhi Phifer) are somehow a part of – willingly or not. This ends up dragging audiences into a resolution that has a few fun and gratifying moments but which somehow feels both unnecessary and frankly pathetic.

This film, largely based on the story, is trying far too hard to be important. Its premise is not as interesting or as plausible as The Hunger Games (and that says A LOT) due to the absence of actual discourse; explanations that might serve to support the plot are either completely absent or worse, actually present, and fall completely into the nearest, convenient ravine.

It is not enough to exclaim over and over again that “Being divergent makes you harder to control” and all sorts of other drivel about non-conformity and its uncanny ability make your brain “work in a billion different ways.” The whole thing becomes utterly unbearable as the story attempts to be both scientific and metaphorical in the same breath, and so inevitably inhales the proverbial “bug.”

The acting in the film helps the absurd story hobble along. Woodley manages to be adorable, vulnerable, powerful, and mysterious. She is interesting and real and audiences will actually care about her character, astoundingly. James is equally up to the task, redefining terse to his advantage, making silence a seductive weapon. His mystery and hidden warmth just below his cool surface is powerful and necessary.

Kravitz takes some time to settle in but ultimately becomes a relevant part of the plot and Judd, well, it’s good to see her back in parts that last longer than the opening credits. Teller and Courtney make some great villains, even if Teller’s role seems unusually forced (not his doing, the writing for him was super clichéd!)

Ultimately, Divergent has a lot of fun elements with some talented actors who deliver good performances – that have also made too many movies together already (see below trailers as weird examples). The issue lies with the story – the first act is confusing and it’s hard to get past; the second, is pretty fun and almost makes observers forget how poorly thought out the concept is; the third act, reminds us that we may have better spent our money elsewhere.

Rating: 5 – A luke-warm Pinot Grigio

 

The Specatcular Now

The Fault in Our Stars

Non-Stop: Taken 2 on a Plane but Less Interesting

Posted in 5, Action, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2014 by mducoing

Non-StopDirector Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Unkonwn)  has delivered a sometimes exciting, but ultimately flimsy film with his latest Neeson-fest, Non-Stop.  Essentially, he provides audiences with a film we have already seen, albeit a more claustrophobic setting, and while there are a few exhilarating moments, the film falls largely flat.

Premise: An air marshal springs into action after receiving a series of text messages that threatens passengers unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account. Result: A feisty, but less compelling version of Neeson’s bad-ass-self floundering under a much weaker script, with ultimately horrifying results.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) has a problem.  No, not his hardly hidden alcoholism or his recent bout with his boss, although sure, those might come back to haunt him later <cough, cough>.  Marks is confronted with the possibility of terrorism aboard his aircraft; what’s worse, he is the target as the flight’s air marshal.

His terror quickly rubs off on incidental flight-mate Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) and flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery).  It appears as if someone has managed to crack the code to his secure phone and proceeds to threaten passengers.  As the threats are realized, Marks is also confronted by some strange conspiracy to discredit and, in fact, frame him for the assault.

In some ways, this conspiracy element adds an exciting nuance to a familiar story, exasperating audiences as they watch Marks teeter on the edge of sanity while also failing to stop the chaos.  It is little help that passengers, ever aware of 9/11 events, become less than complacent; Austin Reilly (Corey Stoll), Tom Bowen (Scoot McNairy), Zack White (Nate Parker) and even the Captain himself seem convinced that Marks is a homicidal lunatic.

For much of the film, this anarchy and the plausibility of Mark’s own complicity keep tensions high.  And while the dialogue and Marks’ actions are inherently frustrating and sometimes boarder on mild incompetence, interest remains slightly greater than neutral.

That is until the eventual resolution of the film.  Despite a series of twists and turns that coinsure all sorts of unconfirmed theory, the actual revelation manages to deflate any interest entirely.  So clichéd, preposterous and lazy is the resolution itself, and so ineffective its delivery on screen, that shrieks of protest and demands for refunds will crash against theater walls. The only thought more horrifying than the nonsensical end to this film is that someone, somewhere, somehow thought it was good.

Until this cataclysmic conclusion, the acting in the film was fair, helping to keep the anxiety to near boil.  Neeson, is well, Neeson, simply a minor permutation of the character we loved in Taken, slightly less so in Taken 2, significantly less in Unknown, and confusingly so in The Grey. But the point is, if you liked him before, you’ll still mostly like him here.

Stoll, McNary and Parker are all strong enough in their own respective, rather fluffy action parts.  The violent, visceral reactions they have to the danger at hand is easy to identify with and so, despite a sort of shallowness to the roles, they still help heighten the tension to relatively enjoyable ends.

Dockery and Moore are good, but somehow feel wasted in this film.  They certainly deliver what is expected of them, but knowing their respective ranges, far better characters could have been demanded. In fact, contrasted with their male counterparts, this actually serves to discredit the film, where flimsy male characters are somehow better written than their wooden women equivalents.

There she is.

There she is.

It should be mentioned that recent Academy Award Winner Lupita Nyong’o is also in this film.  Somewhere.  Don’t blink or you’ll miss her; a fact that producers will no doubt be kicking themselves over for years to come and, which somehow furthers the allegation that writers John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle don’t seem interested in writing relevant female roles.

In the end, Non-Stop is moderately entertaining for much of the way in a rainy-day rental sort of way.  There is anxiety, tempered excitement and even some welcome intrigue for the first half with  characters that serve their purposes and not much more.  However, this just isn’t enough to keep audiences at bay after a catastrophic ending.

Rating:  5 – A luke-warm Pinot Grigio

RoboCop: A Fun, If Limited, Reboot

Posted in 7, Action, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2014 by mducoing

RoboCopDirector José Padilha delivers the remake no one was asking for with his latest film, RoboCop. Yet, despite much trepidation, RoboCop is fairly interesting and overall entertaining, if different enough from the original to lose the cult-classic status it so guardedly maintained.

Premise: In 2028 Detroit, when cop Alex Murphy is critically injured in the line of duty, OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer. Result: A fair reboot with enough entertainment value to keep audiences watching until the end.

Amidst a domestic wasteland that is 2028 Detroit (you may not need to travel to the future to imagine this scenario), lies the hope of something new.  Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) of OmniCorp and his band of henchmen in Liz Kline (Jennifer Ehle) and Tom Pope (Jay Baruchel), are determined to bring their military-grade robotic enforcers from foreign peacekeeping missions to use domestically to manage local crime lords.

But it is not until Det. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) and his partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are subjected to dangers of a local king pin and the corrupt forces of their police department, that the real opportunity reveals itself.  When Murphy is nearly killed in a car-bombing, left in virtual pieces by the side of his home, it is only the technology of OmniCorp and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) that can save him.  And so, RoboCop is born.

The rest of the film focuses on the realities of a “real” RoboCop.  First, the nature of the advancing technology itself, as the machine requires consistent evolution and training at the hands of Sellers’ team, notably his Robot-keeper, Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley). Here, Murphy as RoboCop must continuously advance to defeat the rising criminal element; this is actually quite entertaining throughout, if simplistic.

Second, there is the morality of this technology, this half-man/half-robot reality.  This is actually quite an interesting storyline and divergent from the original film. Here, the film focuses not only on the technological advances and limitations of the suit and its link to Humanity, but focuses on those things that make a person human, such as a relationship with family, including his son and wife Clara (Abbie Cornish).

Ultimately, this film is quite a different experience from the original 80s camp-fest; this film focuses significantly more on the moral dilemmas of technology in human life and the dangers that it brings to the table.  It is a more visceral, violent depiction of this future world sure to pack a lasting punch.

On the other hand, both deliver a certain critique of consumerist society using contemporary aspects of culture to provide humor and deeper criticism.  In this latest version, Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson)’s show is so blatantly a knock-off of a Fox Talking Head as to be hilarious.  This coupled with all the preposterous OmniCorp strategy conversations and you have a thinly veiled reproach of modern society.

The acting in the film is surprisingly strong throughout.  Kinnaman manages to maintain a certain rugged, visceral realism as RoboCop that keep the film from plummeting into unbearable camp.  Additionally, Cornish’s constant bleating and tears may, on some level, serve to annoy, but it also adds to this rather moody realism.

Keaton, for his part, effectively leads a band of scoundrels with a complex portrayal of a clichéd business man, forever bent on choosing profit over people.  An actor of lesser talent may have come off flat and ineffective, but Keaton is mesmerizing, hilarious and utterly real as the callous arch-villain.  Oldman also delivers a strong performance of his own as the torn, morally compromised doctor, whose own judgment must be put to the final test.

In the end, RoboCop is a fun film, even if it brings little more to the table.  It is most certainly a visual upgrade and takes advantage of this fact to construct its version of a futuristic world, to fair effect.  And its deeper portrayal into the nature of man and machine adds a certain Asimovian depth that ultimately will keep the film afloat through the final credits.

Rating: 7- A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!

In Case you miss the first film, here is a refresher:

The Lego Movie: Awesome – For Humans of All Ages!

Posted in 8, Animation, Comedy, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2014 by mducoing

Lego MovieDirector team Phil Lord  and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) have struck cinematic comedy gold with The Lego Movie, a film that seeks to bring to life the childhood building block/toy that enchanted millions of children for the better part of the last few decades.  But equipped with a funny, inventive premise, a multi-layered plot and awesome visuals, Lego exceeds expectations in every way.

Premise: An ordinary LEGO man, mistakenly thought to be a Master Builder savior, is recruited to join a quest to stop the evil Lord Business from destroying their universe. Result: A hilarious, deep film that will require frequent revisits.

The film begins with the arch-villain Lord Business (Will Ferrell), as he attacks and blinds Master Builder Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), stealing away the mysterious “Kragle”.   As we progress years later and Lord Business has evolved into “President Business”, we are introduced to the sprawling metropolis of Bricksburg, where sun and over-priced lattés are plentiful.

The story centers on Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and it soon becomes hilariously obvious that the world in which they live is a not too subtle satire of our human world, where corporate interests have suffocated human imagination beneath consumerist ideology and nonsensical entertainment (shows like “What happened to my pants?” and uber-catchy singles like “Everything is awesome!”).  Here audiences will begin to understand the allegorical nature of our Lego world while also becoming deeply intrigued by the deep-seeded humor.

Soon after Emmett becomes acquainted with Master Builders Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Vituvius as he inadvertently discovers the “Piece de Resistance” – the only item in the Lego world that can stop Lord Business.

UniKitty!!

UniKitty!!

On this troubled journey there are many dangers like Bad Cop/ Good Cop (Liam Neeson) and Business’ army of Octan Robots (David Burrows) that must be overcome in addition to Lord Business himself.  Thankfully, there are countless hilarious allies in this battle including Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), Superman (Channing Tatum) and countless others.

The characters serve to deliver intense hilarity and all the eccentricity you might expect from a film about miniature blocks used to create worlds that largely live in the imaginations of small children and odd adults. Each one is unique and interesting, and although Batman brings a certain suave hilarity to the picture, Unikitty simply cannot be overlooked!!

The film is simply bursting with amusement and hoisted by stunning stop-motion/animation that will often boggle the mind.  It is often astounding how different worlds are literally constructed on screen, combining all the finesse of typical animated beauty with all the brutal, intimate frankness of a Robot-Chicken stop-motion.

In addition, the film does a fantastic job of entertaining both those crowds that come for the nostalgia as those just in for a new ride. Lord and Miller create a mystifying world with plenty of acute angles and sharp edges that will keep audiences thoroughly entertained from moment one (the use of household items as deadly objects in this world is often hysterical!). It is not often in comedies meant to reach children that adults can feel that their minds were also blown.

Fortunately for audiences, the story itself is layered and captivating, allowing even the most cynical among us to sit back and smile.  Even its final few scenes, as the characters literally break into a new dimension, there is a depth and caring to the developments that help elevate these fragile moments past several potential disappointments.

Indeed, there is a subtle vulnerability to the film that marks it as one of the best animated comedies of the past several decades, if not of all time. And so, replete with brilliant, unique characters, hilarious, oblique moments and a multifaceted story, Lego exceeds all expectations from moment one.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

Golden Chalice Award – Top Performances of 2013

Posted in Articles, movieMixology Awards, The Golden Chalice Awards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by mducoing

GoldenChaliceLogoWhile there were certainly many phenomenal films in 2013, there is little doubt that many of these would have been nothing without the mesmerizing, often stupefying performances that defined them.  This year’s winners of the Golden Chalice, as well as their nominated peers, gave us some of the best acting in recent memory.

Below you will find those impressive performances divided by male and female performances (although the distinction between supporting or lead is not part of the criteria.)  You can see last year’s winners (2012), dominated by The Master.

Best Female Performances of 2013

GoldenChaliceIcon (2)Cate Blanchette as Jasmine (Blue Jasmine)

“Blanchett’s performance is inspired, almost transcendent.  She delivers every line with devastating realism, and she manages expression and movements that tell multiple stories in a single moment: she is walking calamity and audiences will loathe and pity her character while adoring her for it.

Blanchette is aBlue Jas - CBlways in control on screen even if her character is the farthest thing from it.  She is loathsome in her opaque selfishness, yet somehow Blanchette manages to make the character someone audiences will root for, even as they reproach her.  Her performance is master-class at every level. (See Full Review)

 

Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey (12 Years a Slave)

“At the other edge of this horrific extreme is the phenomenal performance Nyong’o as a woman trapped squarely in between these two crazies and subjected to a life of utter hopelessness and misery.  There are moments in this film where observers cannot help but fallen into melancholy watching what becomes of Lupita 12 Yearsher.

Nyong’o calls on a depth of emotion that is rare in actors in general, much less someone who only recently graduated from Yale Drama.  She is more than believable in her role; audiences will see true despair in her eyes and in her plaintive, vulnerable bellows for mercy.  (See Full Review)

 

Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser (American Hustle)

“Adams,AA Sydney for her part, is magnetic delivering what may be the best performance of her career (at least since The Fighter)...”

Last year’s Golden Chalice Award Winner falls to number three this year simply because of the power of the other performances, but by no fault of Adams.  Her acting is as good as it has ever been and she continues to be one of the most brilliant actresses on screen with the most diverse of roles.  I would not be surprised to see her in this mix again next year.  (See Full Review)

Judi Dench as Philomena (Philomena)

“…Dench, as usual, is remarkable but what may be so impressive is just how surprisingly charming she is as a kind woman delighting in simple pleasures and the beauty of the world around her even as she faces this nightmare. She is stunning in each scene, demonstrating an uncanny range of emotion and JD Philomenaunlike in typical Dench roles, her power comes not from a force of will and wit, but from a place of vulnerability and gentleness that will have audiences rising to her defense.”

Dench is a marvel in this film.  Having built a solid career as the strong, often frightening, always witty character that can out think her nearest opponent by multiple moves, her turn as Philomena is a delightful change.  Here she exhibits her true range, not only playing a sweet, endearing protagonist, but doing so in a manner that melts away any previous conception of her brand or talent.  It is a stunning performance for an actress who has already made a habit of doing just so.   (See Full Review)

 

Brie Larson as Grace (Short Term12)

“…Larson is unstoppable in this role.  She is the seamless blend of sunshine and darkened damage; twisted, turbulent and yet somehow, when required, tranquil.  Her range and depth of character make her believable and unforgettable.

The daBL Short Term 12rkness and damage exuded by this character is stunning.  Larson is able to develop a depth in this character that truly stands out even amidst peer performances that mesmerize.  It is her true power expressed in shocking vulnerability that pushes this film from great to simply dazzling.  (See Full Review)

Honorable Mention – Female Performances

Julia Roberts as Barbara Weston (August: Osage County)

Sally Hawkins as Ginger (Blue Jasmine)

Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn (American Hustle)

Meryl Streep as Violet Weston (August: Osage County)

 

Best Male Performances of 2013

GoldenChaliceIcon (2)Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps (12 Years a Slave)

“…Fassbender’s equally stunning madness, a catastrophic whirlwind on screen that is equal parts cruelty, vulnerability, wrath and animal instinct..”

It is impossibFassbender 12le to look away from Fassbender in this film, despite the horrors his character bestows on others.  He is a real-life monstrosity with ferocity that will intimidate even observers through the screen.  He is calculated and cruel, and yet somehow his character is far from caricature, etched in complex stone that radiates.  It is a brilliant performance that simply went unrivaled this year. (See Full Review)

 

Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant (Fruitvale Station)

Jordan is perfect as Oscar, delivering a requisite endless range of emotions, transforming himself not into just a character but a real man we won’t soon forget.  It should be noted that Jordan is being considered for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for uttering the word “Bruh” a record Jordan Fruitvale7,876,345 separate times in this film.*”

*Note: May not be true

One of the most powerful performances of the year, Jordan is only slightly bested by Fassbender.  In this case, Jordan’s greatest weapon on screen is his remarkable range; he is very much multiple characters in this film, despite playing only one.  Yet, each character is really no more than a subtle nuance of the complicated person Grant truly was.  Jordan managed to make the victim of a tragedy somehow even more tragic, transforming him into a lost companion to us all, rather than simply a forgotten headline. (See Full Review)

 

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof (Dallas Buyers Club)

“…The peA disheveled Matthew McConaughey gets arrested in scenes for 'The Dallas Buyers Club' in New Orleansrformance…from McConaughey … (is) mesmerizing…filled with dark complexity that cannot be imitated, only felt and delivered…misery is real misery…love is real love….real people, not actors, for much of this film, and his transformation, both physical and emotional (is) gripping..”

McConaughey’s physical transformation in this film is impressive; losing more than 40 pounds to portray Woodroof is astounding to watch on screen.  Yet it is his emotional transformation that is far more powerful.  His deeply complex character transforms on screen into a force for good from a useless, tragic SOB; by the end of this film we know Woodroof and in some ways, wish we could know more. (See Full Review)

 

Bruhl RushDaniel Brühl as Niki Lauda (Rush)

“…Brühl, for his part, plays the part of robotic, rude, precision-obsessed outcast with remarkable skill.  You love him and hate him simultaneously and his hold over observers is sorcery, plain and simple.

Sharp, precise and spirited: these are strong words to describe Brühl’s portrayal of the racing champion Niki Lauda.  One half of the infamous racing rivalry that captivated the sport, Brühl is stunning on screen, etching his character indelibly in the minds of audiences.  He is a staggering three-dimensional portrayal of a deep, complex man with all the nuances observers will crave.  (See Full Review)

 

Hugh Jackman as Keller Dovers (Prisoners)

“Jackman is perhaps the most transformative: he somehow manages to be odious and terrifying while still retaining some semblance of humanity and a lock on our collective sympathy.  It is a stunning transmutatiJackman Prisonerson into some hybrid half-human, half-horror that is essential to destabilizing audiences and their understanding of on-screen occurrences.”

For the second straight year, Jackman rounds out the top five with his stellar performance.  Even better than last year’s turn as Valjean in Les Mis, his performance as Kellar Dovers is haunting in deeply unsettling ways.  He is vicious and visceral in his manic attempts to recover his daughter; had his performance been any less magnetic, there would have been little way to make the deep complexity of this film’s moral argument so impactful and lasting.  But fortunately for us, it was.  (See Full Review)

Honorable Mention – Male Performances

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Andrew Dice Clay as Augie (Blue Jasmine)

Jared Leto as Rayon (Dallas Buyers Club)

Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff (The Wolf of Wall Street)

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