Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Guest List: The Cinematic Frontier

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Okay all, this week I am very privileged to have Louis from The Cinematic Frontier contributing his top 10 to The Guest List! If you haven’t already followed/subscribed to his website, do so now! Just click the link on the site name to be redirected.

If you’re interested in submitting your very own top 10 to The Guest List, here’s how! C’mon help me out, I’d love to have every single one of you contribute!

All you need to do is shoot me an e mail (thecinemamonster@gmail.com) with your name, website info (if you have one), and the topic you have chosen for your top 10. If I like what I see, I’ll give you the all clear and you can begin composing your entry. Make sure to include a descriptive, yet brief introduction and a picture or clip for every entry in your top 10. Use my own top 10s and other Guest List entries as references. Then, send it back to me and we will discuss a date of publish.

I’m going to turn things over to Louis now, enjoy!

Top 10 Bruce Campbell Movie Roles: by Louis

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A special thanks to Joseph for allowing me to contribute my top ten list. I present my top ten Bruce Campbell movie roles for movies that actually played in movie theaters (TV movies and direct-to-video films don’t count here; sorry Sam Axe and Alien Apocalypse fans). Go ahead and take a look at this list that celebrates the king of B-movie actors, the immortal Bruce Campbell:

10: Final Shemp: Darkman

Campbell was actually director Sam Raimi’s original choice to play the title character, but Universal vetoed this choice. Raimi was still able to get Campbell in the film with this memorable cameo.

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9: Winkie Gatekeeper: Oz: The Great and Powerful

A pivotal cameo in Raimi’s Oz film, Campbell gets to shine briefly and get tortured by possibly Raimi himself off-camera.

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8: Charles Travis: Congo

Campbell originally auditioned for the role of Dr. Peter Elliott, but was given this smaller role instead.  Nevertheless, he shines in this extended cameo that is central to the plot of the film.

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7: Ring Announcer: Spider Man

The first of three important and hilarious Spider-Man cameos.  In this one, he’s the guy who actually gives Spider-Man his name.

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6: Snooty Usher: Spider Man 2

In this Spider-Man film, Campbell is the guy who doesn’t let Peter Parker into the theater to see Mary Jane’s play.  Campbell rules this scene with his subtle humor.

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5: Maitre d’: Spider Man 3

In this Spider-Man film, Campbell is the guy who tries to help Peter Parker set up his proposal to Mary Jane at a French restaurant. The situation becomes hilariously disastrous.

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4: Mayor Shelbourne: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Campbell brings a villainous streak to this small mayor who becomes a gluttonous control freak.

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3: Smitty: The Hudsucker Proxy

The biggest role he’s had in a Coen brothers movie features Campbell as a 1950s reporter for the Manhattan Argus newspaper.

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2: Elvis Presley: Bubba Ho-Tep

Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley?  Fighting an Egyptian mummy as well?  And assisted by a black JFK?  Count me in.

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1: Ash: Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness

His most famous role, a selfish everyman who’s also a competent Deadite-killing machine with killer one-liners and an eventual chainsaw for a hand.  Hail to the king!

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Alright, that’ll do it for this week’s edition of The Guest List. I want to send a big thank you to Louis and The Cinematic Frontier for contributing. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Have a great weekend!

TIFF 2013: The Green Inferno (2013)

This review is intended for audiences 18 and over. Reader discretion is advised.

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Listen, at one time or another, we’ve all thought about what we, humans, taste like. No, I’m not talking about licking skin, touching lips, or other…mouth-oriented things that provide a bitter, salty surface flavour. I mean really tearing into another’s flesh, you know, slowly cooking and devouring the blood-soaked innards. Now, the first thing that just popped into your head was “like a Zombie.” One who does partake in the consumption and digestion of the human body, but not really by choice. What I’m referring to is willful cannibalism, more specifically, the cold-hearted, Hannibal Lecter-esque cannibal. The one who does it for the pleasure, mere desire, you know, the mentally unstable notion that it’s a healthier, more fulfilling alternative. Of course we’d never actually dive into a severed limb with a knife and fork, but the idea is intriguing to say the least.

Now you’re all thinking, what’s the point of this disturbing introduction? Well, it’s simply meant as a transitional tool, I’d even go as far as to call it a comforting agent. As we all are terrified by this disgusting thought no doubt, it does exist, and it does come to mind every now and then. I’m here to tell you that, you are not alone. Everyone ponders this repulsive act, especially those with a twisted, demented mind like Eli Roth. Who, with his latest outing “The Green Inferno,” takes our darkest ideal and conjures it up into a entertaining manifestation. While the film won’t satisfy our salivating need to swish around a mouth-full of the reddest, metal-tasting bubbly. It will temporarily quench our relentless curiosity or at the very least tide us over until its appropriate to initiate such repugnant behaviour, say…the apocalypse? Now, What do you say we move on past our deepest, abhorrent desire and onto the actual film?

PLOT:

A group of student activists from New York City travel to the Amazon rainforest in order to protest a tribe from being killed by deforestation. On the return journey, their plane crashes into the forest near the tribe’s grounds. Upon searching out the people and seeking help, the group is soon captured and subjected to malicious torture.

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As previously mentioned, “The Green Inferno,” which had its world premiere at TIFF this year as part of the Midnight Madness program, is directed and written by horror veteran Eli Roth, who with the film made his long-awaited return to the directors chair. It’s been 6 long years since Roth officially helmed a full-length feature and I think it’s safe to say that his presence in the genre was sorely missed. That being said, by no means does his absence suggest that I am going to give him a pass to make a sub-par film. If anything, this stretch has made me appreciate his skill-set and craft even more, allowing me to become even more critical and expecting of his flicks. I’ve evolved as a critic since Roth’s last film and I expected nothing less than his usual, gory, fun-filled fright-fests. And for the most part, his lasting outing lives up to his reputation. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, is your opinion.

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“The Green Inferno” is a hearty homage to cannibal films of the 1980s such as “Cannibal Holocaust” and “Cannibal Ferox.” Roth even went as far as to include a lengthy list of the films that inspired his tribute in the closing credits, just in case you didn’t get your fill of stomach-bursting cannibalism. The film itself takes a little while getting into the gritty, cringe-worthy violence and bone chewing, due in large part to Roth’s growth as a filmmaker. He claimed during the Q and A that working with high-profile directors such as Quentin Tarantino helped him learn to expand and add depth to his characters, allowing for a more meaningful connection with the audience. The first half-hour is a respectable attempt at humanizing his characters, but it can become quite frustrating when you’re waiting for the chaos and carnage to begin.

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Although Roth has matured as a filmmaker, he certainly hasn’t lost his touch. As soon as we cross into the Amazon from the streets of New York, we’re treated to an unbearably tense situation involving chains, guns, and construction equipment…in my opinion one of the best sequences in the film. Not long after that, Roth unleashes his full arsenal: violence, gore, and pitch-black comedy. Granted, the story’s structure isn’t anything overly original and to be honest, it’s rather predictable. But in all honesty, you don’t watch this type of film for its intelligence or inventiveness. With “The Green Inferno” you’re simply along for the journey, nothing more. It’s not an Oscar contender or a film worth constantly revisiting, and it’s not something you watch as a film buff or cinephile…you just enjoy it. It’s the perfect film for Halloween or when you’re lounging around, drunk, in the middle of the night.

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The cast of “The Green Inferno,” compiled of Eli Roth’s co-stars in the mildly entertaining natural disaster flick “Aftershock,” are quite effective. It really is a group effort and the ensemble really do feed off one another, literally and figuratively. The supporting cast, although not memorable, do a reasonable job in the back ground. However, Lorenza Izzo and Ariel Levy are undoubtedly the film’s two leads. They do their best to pull off a serious tone, but it’s relatively transparent. Izzo is terrific however as a new-age scream queen. She’s got the looks and the pipes to consistently and effectively appear in numerous horror flicks to come. Levy, although not very strong dramatically, is down-right hilarious. It’s impossible to dismiss his charm, and there is one scene specifically that’ll leave you gasping for air…because it’s too funny.

It might not be as perverse or deplorable as I had hoped, especially when compared to the films that inspired it. Yet, “The Green Inferno” is a funny, disgusting, violent thrill-ride that’ll leave horror enthusiasts fully satisfied.

The Green Inferno: 7 out of 10.

TIFF 2013: August: Osage County (2013)

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If one is to appreciate anything about this adaptation of Tracey Letts Pulitzer Prize winning play, the immensely staggering performances carried out by the entire ensemble would be a great place to start. Thankfully however, this gloomy comedic-drama directed by John Wells has decidedly more to offer than the undeniable talents of its star-studded cast. Much like its source material, this take of “August: Osage County” is teeming with family turmoil, sly humour, and plenty of heart. That being said, this cinematic adaption isn’t without its own, personal charms. Besides, there’s something you get with film that just blows live theatre out of the water. Say, for example, the stunning, not to mention real, panoramic scenery displayed, or the intended demeanour of a well-thought-out, perfectly captured shot…but that’s just my opinion. Nonetheless, Wells’ “August: Osage County” pays great reverence to its source while effectively differentiating itself from it.

PLOT:

In Oklahoma, in August, Beverly (Shepard), a poet with a drinking problem, lives with his wife Violet (Streep), who suffers from oral cancer and is addicted to prescription drugs. They have three daughters, Barbara (Roberts), Karen (Juliette), and Ivy (Nicholson). Soon after hiring help to assist with the care of Violet, Beverly disappears. This brings the entire family, their significant others, and close relatives to the house. What ensues when this group is brought together is a chaotic melee, and none are exempt.

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Wells faithful adaptation of “August: Osage County” officially launched its Oscar campaign this year at TIFF. And for the most part it was received with praise from its audiences. Granted, the tale’s natural combination of halfhearted self-loathing and perplexing family drama will come off as attention clamouring, even pathetic to some. Especially when the reward isn’t as grand or alluring. Ultimately, those not familiar with the play or those not affected by such issues will feel alienated. Therefore, the film won’t earn many new followers, but that was to be expected. What the film lacks in luring capability via story, reaction, and structure, it more than makes up for with a high-profile cast. And if the cast and their performances don’t drag you in, the tranquil, wondrous landscape alongside a hauntingly atmospheric score is sure to do the trick. However, all of “August: Osage County’s” endearing, upsetting, enthralling attributes aren’t enough to trump the immaculacy of the ensembles performances.

In a sense, “August: Osage County” is exactly what I’d expected and nothing more: darkly hilarious, melancholic, and impeccably performed. However in the same breath, sadly and ironically, my realized expectations still provided a bit of a letdown. Considering that when you’re collaborating a collection of illustrious, Oscar caliber actors, a director who certainly is no stranger to creating and capturing obscure family drama (Wells is the writer and director of possibly my favourite television program “Shameless”), and a story that’s highly relatable and has been proven to be a winner time and time again. The end result should be nothing short of scintillating. And although it surely shines blindingly on occasion, “August: Osage County” is more of a pulsating brightness. But do keep in mind that my preconceived notions about this film were still pretty steep. So even though it doesn’t knock you of your feet, it’ll definitely leave you teetering and stumbling around.

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As eye-catching and captivating as “August: Osage County” is to all the cinematic senses. The cast and their performances is the film’s only true, unarguable strongpoint. Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, and Julianne Nicholson. Wells’ A-list crowd definitely has the chops to tackle this emotional vast and mentally straining adventure. Ewan McGregor perfectly encapsulates the subtle strength of his character and intentionally falls to the backdrop. Dermot Mulroney does much of the same, except his portrayal deals a lot with frustrating and seducing the audience. Still, he can’t help but disappear alongside these acting heavyweights. Breslin is her usual quiet self. I don’t think I’ve seen a performance of her’s in which she utters more than 50 words. That being said, she does a great job absorbing the inward-dwelling habits of her character.

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Without question, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep steal the show. Although I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Meryl Streep’s track record, for the majority at least. I don’t deny her talent and I feel she deserves the recognition she’s garnered thus far in her career, for the most part. In all honesty however, her performance in “August Osage County” is only the second time I’ve been blown away by one of her portrayals, the first being her performance in “Adaptation”.  Somehow, Streep completely dissolves into her character, both mentally and physically. She pulls off the accent, appearance, cold-blooded personality, and inevitable vulnerability incredibly. As for Roberts, she valiantly struts alongside Streep’s masterful performance with confidence and control. She might not disappear into the role as physically well as Streep does, but she does offer up more of a visceral performance. She portrays a stoic, ticking time-bomb astoundingly. I have high expectations that both will earn an Oscar nomination come award season.

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The very moment “August: Osage County” begins, you’re hit with the raspy, calming voice of Sam Shepard. Being the fictional husband to Streep’s character is no easy task, but Shepard does a phenomenal job exuding the patience, understanding, and heart. Benedict Cumberbatch, despite being sparsely used, amazingly bursts with such love, earnestness, and truth. The scene in which Cumberbatch’s character plays an original composition on a small, run-down keyboard to Julianne Nicholson’s character is heart-achingly effective and undeniably enchanting. Speaking of Nicholson, she does a fantastic job with Juliette Lewis and the aforementioned Julia Roberts completing this trio of sisters who have to deal with their mean-spirited, yet oddly nurturing mother. Chris Cooper continues to astound me with his kind, compassionate performance here. I found myself wishing he was my biological Father again and again.

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Disheartening, elemental, and decidedly truthful. “August: Osage County” is directed with a firm, honest hand and performed with the utmost talent and accuracy. If anything, the cast alone is worth the price of admission.

August: Osage County: 8.5 out of 10.

TIFF 2013: The Sacrament (2013)

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For the most part, Ti West’s latest outing “The Sacrament” avoids falling back on the tired, stereotypical ploys that have given the genre a bad reputation as of late. It’s an attempt at something different, an experiment that at the very least is respectable for simply daring to try something new. It’s a breath of fresh air for those of us who’ve been drowning amidst the congested, diluted, uninspired, synthetic blood-filled cesspool that modern horror has become. That being said, I expected nothing less from West who has slowly worked his way to becoming one of the brightest, most inventive, well-versed saviours of the genre. Granted, “The Sacrament” may fit better under the “thriller” label, even if it is only to satisfy the occasional horror die-hard. Nonetheless, this slow-burning walk through hell provides the tension, turbulence, and terror you’d expect from the creator of “The Innkeepers” and “The House of the Devil.”

PLOT:

Jake (Swanberg), Sam (Bowen), and Patrick (Audley) are correspondents for a news affiliate known as Vice. One day, when Patrick receives a strange letter from his sister Caroline (Seimetz), who lives in a sober community as part of her rehab. The three decide to investigate the story surrounding the settlement from which the letter originated. Upon arriving, the group is stunned to see the beauty, serenity, and wholesomeness radiating from the community. However, upon realizing that the settlement has an intelligent, persuasive, charismatic leader whom the people call “Father.” The investigators soon come to understand that everything is not as it appears and that their lives might be in terrible danger.

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Today, where a majority of the genre falters, Ti West and his films, such as “The Sacrament,” impress. It seems nowadays that horror flicks and their creators try their best to separate themselves from any connection to past or present filmmakers and films. They conjure up their own unique premise or murder weapon and simply try to one-up their peers. What this leads to is an intriguing, entertaining first-half to a film that will eventually wind up resorting to cliches and a hackneyed finale. Yet, so far in his career, West seemingly has no problem with being the one to tidy up the genre. His flicks evoke a wonderful sense of nostalgia and lovingly embrace the homage label bestowed upon them. He willingly trades in the buckets of gore, which are currently a standard-issue to all horror filmmakers, for genuine fright, tense situations, and eerie sounds or objects. This is precisely the type of old-school terror you can expect with West’s latest outing. Except, much like his other full-length features, it brandishes a satisfying twist.

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Now, there might not be anything overly original about the style and story West has chosen to utilize in “The Sacrament.” For example. It’s premise orbits around a few journalists who travel a long way to investigate a secluded, cult-like community… essentially nothing we haven’t heard or seen before. Even the found-footage format used to unveil the film’s events is something that’s been eccentrically used and dulled over time. However, while the techniques and tactics employed by West aren’t unheard of or by any means revolutionary. The way in which West manages and manipulates them is anything but conventional. Through the hand-held camera, West better encapsulates the spontaneity, authenticity, and disheartening horror of this faux-documentary. And the moments when you feel as if the scenarios are unfolding right in front of you just further attest to West’s ingenuity and prowess when it comes to handling these common facets.

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The film itself bares a striking resemblance to the 1978 massacre at the settlement of Jonestown, in which 918 people died of cyanide poisoning. The events that took place are widely recognized, however, whether or not the massacre was a mass murder or mass suicide is still very much up for debate. While “The Sacrament” does share similarities with this terribly unfortunate tragedy, West seems to have merely used it as a motivational tool, inspiration if you will. Although some of you may consider this information to be somewhat of a spoiler, I beg to differ. Where the film and its apparent counterpart line up is nothing compared to where the two differentiate. I am simply stating the commonalities between fact and fiction. If you happened to read up on the film at all, the shared traits are fairly obvious…but I digress. If this topic has peeked your interest, I suggest reading into the Jonestown Massacre in preparation for the film.

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Guiding the viewer through this self-proclaimed utopia are some familiar faces. The cast of “The Sacrament” features Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, and Gene Jones. And everyone, with the exception of Gene Jones has worked with Ti West on another film in some way. So the chemistry between the cast and director is plentiful and undeniable. Bowen and Swanberg lead the way and maintain the viewers gazes like a magnet, as if they are holding our hand, waking us through and protecting us from harm. The duo is remarkably fascinating to watch as they stroll warily amongst the calm uneasiness, radiating this feeling of impending chaos. Gene Jones, without any doubt gives the best performance. His portrayal of the mentally unstable, abusive, persuasive community leader is hypnotic. You’ll slowly begin to feel yourself gravitate towards his inviting, albeit insane notions, it’s supremely effective. Seimetz is equally as seductive. Her demeanour and beliefs are contagious. Overall, the ensemble really sells the premise and fully deliver unnerving obliviousness.

Despite trailing off into a few familiar, bloody tendencies towards the end. Ti West’s “The Sacrament” is chilling, horrifying, and down-right entertaining.

The Sacrament: 8 out of 10.

The Guest List: Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings

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Well, it might be only the third edition of The Guest List, but I think it’s already a huge success. It’s accomplished exactly what I had hope, introduced fellow film lovers to one another, spurred on some debate, and definitely stirred the pot. And I can already tell that this week’s edition featuring James from Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings is only going to improve upon the segment. If you don’t know who James is or haven’t already followed/subscribed to his website, I highly recommend you do so right now. You’ll find some solid reviews, terrific articles, and a lovely segment entitled “Who’s That?” when you head on over. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!

Now, I have to get some administrative stuff out of the way. For those of you who have signed up for The Guest List segment, could you please post a comment below on when I can be expecting your article. I am very organized about my posting and would love to get a schedule going with this segment.

If you’d like to submit your very own top 10 to The Guest List, here’s how to do it! First, shoot me an e mail (thecinemamonster@gmail.com) with your name, website info (if you have one), and the topic you have chosen for your top 10. If I like what I see, I’ll give you the all clear and you can begin composing your entry. Make sure to include a descriptive, yet brief introduction and a picture or clip for every entry in your top 10. Use my own top 10s as references. Then, send it back to me and we will discuss a date of publish.

Also guys, please if you haven’t already, check out my TIFF 2013 reviews. I wouldn’t usually beg like this, but I worked extremely hard on them. It is totally worth your while, there are a bunch of films reviewed that haven’t even be released yet with plenty more write-ups to come. So head on over to a review or two by clicking on the picture under the sidebar entitled TIFF 2013.

Okay, now that the boring stuff is all taken care of, I am going to turn things over to James, enjoy!

Top 10 Films of the 2000s: by James

Thanks Joseph for allowing me to spread my opinions out across your blog here! This is my pick of the top ten films of the last decade. There are endless films which could have made it into here but didn’t, such as Oldboy, so feel free to criticise, praise, rant or rave at me and my choices in the comment section below! For now though, take a look at what I did pick out:

10: Spirited Away

This charming tale of a young girl who ends up in a mysterious place inhabited by gods and monsters is the only animated film to make it onto this list, and it truly deserves its place here. It’s some of the finest animated storytelling of all time, and a personal favourite to re-watch.

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9: Battle Royale

Shockingly different to the previous entry; Battle Royale has kids killing each other off in all sorts of ways after being forced into a nightmarish situation. For its satirical commentary and also sheer entertaining spectacle Battle Royale makes it onto this list.

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8: Volver

One of the first films that introduced me to Almodóvar, Volver quickly became one of my favourite films for it’s well handled and performed story of loss and redemption. If I said any more I would spoil it, but please do seek it out if you haven’t already seen it.

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7: Kill Bill: Volume 1

I often describe the final third of this film as being perfect cinema; and anyone who listens long enough will hear me rant and rave about the use of colour and music, the well-handled action, and the enormous sense of fun that Tarantino seems to be having which then crosses on over to the audience. The rest of the film isn’t too far off this level of entertainment either, making Kill Bill an obvious entrant into my list here.

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6: The Pianist

Adrien Brody is incredible here as he takes us through the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. This isn’t an easy or an uplifting watch, but it’s certainly one that lingers in your mind for a long time after the credits roll.

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5: Hero

This is one stunning film. The focus on the splendour of the visuals may not be for everyone, but Hero really deserves more praise than it often gets. It is not a fast paced action film; rather it’s an exploration of movement.

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4: City of God

Now this is where the list becomes really tricky, I can play around with the ordering of these last four movies endlessly and quite happily put any four of them in first place. City of God is a tale of violence set in Rio de Janeiro and is essential viewing if you haven’t already seen it. The directing style and rawness to the film makes it a pretty special watch.

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3: No Country for Old Men

Javier Bardem is an unforgettable presence in what is arguably the Cohen brothers’ best film, and yet its success is not all down to those three. Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Kelly Macdonald all contribute fantastic work and collectively make this one of the best and most important films of the decade.

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2: Lost in Translation

My personal favourite out of all the films on this list, or in this decade, Lost in Translation is the deceptively simple story of two people who meet in Tokyo and form a relationship that’s more meaningful than they could have previously imagined. It features excellent performances by both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, who have brought characters to life here that I have grown far too attached to and fond of. This is easily one of my absolute favourite films.

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1: Adaptation

I know of no other film which so confidently, nor so successfully breaks itself apart and exposes itself. This is unquestionably a fantastically handled film that is about film; it’s about itself, the creation of itself and then the evolution of itself. Not only is it incredibly clever though, it doesn’t come across as pretentious but is instead warm hearted, funny and occasionally touching with great performances given by Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper. I cannot recommend Adaptation enough.

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What an outstanding list. A BIG thank you to James for contributing his list this week. Remember, check out the criteria for submitting your own list above. Have a great weekend!

TIFF 2013: 12 Years a Slave (2013)

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Illuminated by the dazzling and substantially detailed imagery typically associated with up-and-coming director Steve McQueen, in addition to a slew of electrifying, immensely powerful performances. “12 Years a Slave” is ironically every bit as watchable as it is difficult to witness. Anchored by a true story so harrowing and unbelievable that it’s hard to acknowledge the source material as fact. It is a tale surrounding abduction, inhumanity, and slavery, and is without question not for the squeamish or faint-hearted. That being said, its content, although delicate, is extremely important and should be absorbed and remembered by all those with a shred of compassion. Very rarely does a film triumph not only as a motion picture, but as a piece of history come alive. “12 Years a Slave” is a prime example of this achievement.

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Of course, we’d all like to forget what is easily one of our species shadiest, most ignorant times. Which can be grounds for the reason why there are so little films of any real substance regarding this subject. It’s a shame considering how vital the mistakes we make are to our insight and progression. Thankfully, the director of “12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen has provided a veritable, unflinching look at what is perhaps humankind’s greatest error. It may not be easy to watch or sit well with those of us who don’t like to be reminded of our weaknesses. To see what we are all capable of when we lose our humanity isn’t pretty after all. However, it is impossible for light to exist without darkness and vice versa. McQueen comprehends this truth fully and displays both valiantly. These opposites might not be balanced throughout, but when faced with the choice, we will always search out the bright spots, no matter how arduous the journey. Positive will always trump negative, no matter how heavily outmatched or discouraged.

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PLOT:

Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free black man living with his family in upstate New York. A skilled carpenter and excellent fiddler, Solomon is approached by two men hoping to lure him into accepting a job offer in Washington DC. Upon agreeing and travelling to Washington with the two men. Northup performs as instructed and is paid for his work. One night while out celebrating with his newly found friends, Northup is drugged. Waking up the following day, he slowly comes to the realization that he has been kidnapped and sold into slavery. Transported on a ship to New Orleans, Solomon has no idea how long he will remain captive, or when or if he will ever see his family again.

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For a majority of the cinema going public, director Steve McQueen has seemingly rose to these dizzying heights out of no where. But for those of us who have been with the immensely talented director since his inception in 2008 with “Hunger,” his skyrocket to stardom is no surprise. McQueen looks poised to finally garner an Oscar nomination with “12 Years a Slave,” although his previous outings such as the aforementioned “Hunger” and more recently “Shame” are equally as impressive.

One thing McQueen has consistently made apparent throughout his first two full-length features is that his ability to handle uncomfortable material knows no bounds. And with “12 Years a Slave,” McQueen not only maintains his stance, but asserts it with an exclamation point. There was no shortage of questionable, unsettling, hazardous, or even controversial topics for McQueen to tackle while adapting Solomon Northup’s memoir, whether it be violence, racism, slavery, sexual abuse, and so on. With this dramatized biopic, McQueen certainly didn’t cut corners or leave any distressing issues out. He’s managed to put together a disturbing, upsetting, cringe-worthy, endearing epic without compromising the integrity or authenticity of its source material. Although I have to admit, the uplifting moments are undeniably bittersweet.

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As impressive and truthful as the adaptation is, thematically and structurally. The film’s technological facets and cinematic aspects are equally astounding. In my opinion, McQueen’s work behind the camera has never been this seamless. The division and pacing of “12 Years a Slave” is remarkably complex and he works it flawlessly. There’s one scene where essentially what McQueen is filming is utter stillness, say for a few minor movements and the vividness he evokes is breathtaking. The colour scheme, panoramic shots, and detailed violence is so faithful and captivating, it practically leaps forth from the screen. I also want to mention the incredible score composed by the masterful Hans Zimmer who continues to churn out masterpieces. If there’s anything in the film that takes the harsh edge off, it’s Zimmer’s atmospheric, enthralling soundtrack.

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Now, aside from the lead role of Solomon Northup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave” is very much the beneficiary of a superlative group effort. The film oozes with outstanding performances from its entire ensemble. Which, in addition to Ejiofor features Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Taram Killam, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, and Lupita Nyong’o. And luckily for those who can’t stomach the violence, inhumanity, or the film’s content as a whole. The performances throughout “12 Years a Slave” are alone worth the price of admission.

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Without any doubt, Chiwetel Ejiofor shines brightest. He completely astounds with an enthralling, mesmerizing, heartbreaking performance full of emotion and a thirst for life. I would be completely flabbergasted if Ejiofor does not at least earn an Oscar Nomination for best actor with his performance here. That being said, he certainly isn’t the only actor in “12 Years a Slave” who appears to have punched their ticket to the Academy Awards. I feel that Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o are sure-shots to be nominated in the supporting actor categories. Both are just amazing, pure scene-stealers. Benedict Cumeberbatch, although remarkable when on screen, is a long-shot to earn a nomination for “12 Years a Slave,” especially considering all the other incredible performances his given so far this year. Finally, the other members of this immaculate supporting cast, Pitt, Paulson, McNairy. Killam, Dano, and Giamatti deserve a great amount of recognition.

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When a film has Oscar written all over it, much like Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” does, it’s usually for good reason. Trust me, this is one of the best of the year and is a must see, cinephile or not.

12 Years a Slave: 9.5 out of 10.

TIFF 2013: Gravity (2013)

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Visually striking, unfathomably straining, and performed to near perfection. In space, no one may be able to hear you scream, but the Oscar buzz surrounding Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” travels infinitely and is completely deafening. It’s consistently destructive, awe-inspiring, and unbearably tense. The flick’s climactic nature makes for a non-stop thrill-ride that will leave you craving the solidarity and silence of the void, when or if you are able to survive. Undoubtedly, this will be the most physically and mentally draining 90 minutes you’ll ever spend in a cinema. If you’ve never felt the insignificance of your own life, you’ll surely feel microscopic against the staggering backdrop that is our universe. Cuaron’s visual effects and relentless action are tremendously enthralling, but are a mere bonus to “Gravity’s” true brilliance… Which is the inevitable, disconcerting truth that no matter how far we stretch from the bounds of Earth, we will never truly leave the atmosphere.

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PLOT:

Engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first space shuttle mission. Accompanying her is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) who is on his final expedition. During a routine spacewalk to issue some repairs to the Hubble telescope, debris from a satellite collides with the space shuttle Explorer. The impact delivers catastrophic damage to the ship, kills the other astronauts on board the ship, and leaves Stone spinning alone in space. Now, with no means of communication to Earth, Kowalsky must retrieve Stone and the two must figure out a way to return to Earth.

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Listen, I’m a sucker when it comes to specific sub-genres, and none more so than sci-fi driven by actual science, space, and drama. Granted, there isn’t exactly a name for this particular tangent, but we all know the films that fall into the category. They are astonishing feats of cinema that reach out and connect with our humanity, leave us in awe of the universe and marvelling at our technological advances. Films such as Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” Duncan Jones’ “Moon,” and more recently Sebastian Cordero’s “Europa Report.” These films capture the very essence of science-fiction while never forgetting our benevolence, flaws, and irrelevance. The visuals are unprecedented and leave the audience winded. It’s nearly impossible to find a cinematic experience that rivals this strand’s immaculacy and for good reason. I can tell you with pure confidence that “Gravity” is the newest and possible best member of my favourite genre.

Now, you might think that my passion for this very precise sub-genre hampers my ability to distinguish the truly brilliant from the utterly lacking. When in actuality, it’s quite the contrary. If anything, my fascination has made me even more skeptical and critical of new entries. I respect the art too much to compromise it with childish crushes. So when I tell you that Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is resplendent, heart-stopping, and impassioned…you better believe I am telling you the truth. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. Which is why I can deem it the best film I saw at TIFF 2013 without hesitation. And the argument could be made that I attended a majority of the screenings for Oscar favourites at the festival, such as “12 Years a Slave,” “The Fifth Estate,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “August: Osage County,” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” So it’s not like I’m comparing it to mediocrity. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will not see a better film than “Gravity” released so far this year. As for November and December releases, only time will tell, but I can’t see it being trumped.

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The film itself literally has no weaknesses. From the soundtrack, the story, its graphics and performances. “Gravity” is as completely and structurally sound as they come. Even more astonishing is the scientific, visual, and technological authenticity. And of course with astronaut Chris Hadfield on hand to verify the film’s successes at the screening, I rendered it pointless to argue. The story is not overly complex, but it is real and believable. Which is why I feel it is so effective and relatable. With “Gravity,” Cuaron definitely understands that less is more. Once you’ve settled in for the ride, there is no escaping. You might as well strap yourself into a spacesuit, buckle up, and prepare for the physically and mentally draining journey that is “Gravity.”

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From the get go, two things hit you, the music and the imagery. And there’s this beautiful dissonance between the two that you have to experience to believe. The original score shifts, swiftly I might add from a sweet, atmospheric hum to a terrifying, exploding, tense onslaught that wreaks havoc on your nerves. It’s similar to an ascending, ear-piercing rumble that, at a point becomes impossible to withstand. It is undeniably one of the most definitive, creative soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Alongside the score in this intoxicating concoction is Cuaron’s stunning, panoramic imagery that’ll leave you breathless and in disbelief. All I can say is that it’s sure to resonate with you long after the closing credits. Above all however, is the genuine interpretation of the space just outside our planet. All the beauty that the universe has to offer present in “Gravity” is no substitute for the authenticity on display here.

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As revolutionary, engaging, and stunning as Cuaron’s sci-fi thriller is, the fact of the matter is that “Gravity” would be totally lost without its two phenomenal stars. Leads George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are thoroughly outstanding and remind us all of their deep talent and why they are so revered in the first place. The truth is that it’s been a while since either have tastefully and fully wowed cinephiles, but no longer. Even more remarkable is what makes their performances so compelling and down-right impressive. It’s not merely the conventional dramatic element, although they do provide that abundantly. The duo’s physical maneuvers and delicate mannerisms in the vacuum is what really stupefies. It is immensely strenuous and difficult to make it look like your floating and working in space. Yet Clooney and Bullock pull it off with sheer immaculacy and make it look so easy. Their performances are just another facet  in “Gravity’s” long line of sublime accomplishments.

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As totally immersive of an experience that you’ll likely ever be apart of in a cinema. Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is performed flawlessly, visually impeccable, and as a whole, matchless.

Gravity: 10 out of 10.

TIFF 2013: Don Jon (2013)

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It’s about as close to the perverse truth as any romantic-comedy has come close to depicting. It delivers the goods on its premise and is unique enough to distance itself from the genre. There is no denying the chemistry between its two wonderful, handsome leads and the laughs are consistent and real. Yet, one can’t help but feel that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut “Don Jon” is missing that certain climactic element. Essentially, there is nothing utterly wrong with the film itself. The fault lies in its inability to provoke any kind of meaningful reaction or reward the viewer for tagging along in the journey. Granted, the plots skeletal structure is anything but common and Levitt isn’t afraid to show a little skin, so to speak. However, the point in which the viewer joins the protagonist never diverts or scatters, resulting in a linear, anti-climactic, albeit impressive debut for Levitt.

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Jon Martello (Levitt) is a present day Don Juan who objectifies everything in his life, specifically women. His friends call him Don Jon because he is consistently able to pull “10s” every week. Soon, Jon’s addiction to internet pornography renders his sex life less than fulfilling and eventually his relationships begin to falter because of it. On his journey to discover a more satisfying love life, Jon falls for Barbara (Johansson), a beautiful woman who is obsessed with control.

Much like Joss Whedon did to the horror genre with “The Cabin in the Woods,” Levitt has disassembled, dissected, and rebuilt the conventional stereotypes and outlook of the romantic comedy. However, when blatantly poking fun at countless years of tradition and canon, the revolt better be a game changer. And for the most part, Levitt has this transformation pointed in the right direction. His outing is a raunchy, veracious, satirical romp…of course not to the same height, success, or effectiveness as Whedon and Goddard’s comedic fright-fest. However, with “Don Jon,” Levitt has genuinely created something brash, original, and straightforward. It definitely bursts with the usual charisma and wit that typically defines films of this genre and manages to lure the viewer in with likeable, terrifically performed, over-the-top characters.

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Although for the majority of its runtime, “Don Jon” is severely superficial. This reinvented concoction does offer more insight, intelligence, and endearing qualities than the majority of the genre’s entries. “Don Jon” is merely a half-realized revelation for the rom-com genre and is heavily directed at the male populous. It’s sure to not sit as well with the female market, but for those who can handle the harsh fact of differing motivations in opposite-gender relationships. It’ll conjure up some big body-aching laughs and a veritable gaze into the logical and emotional differences that continuously baffle our co-existing genders. Compared to its counterparts, “Don Jon” is a breath of fresh, sexually charged air into a genre that would rather play pretend than focus on truth-telling and authentic, situational humour.

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It’s rather comical, yet seriously obscure that I’m having this much difficulty writing up this review. As I previously stated, there isn’t anything actually wrong with the film. It’s funny, different, and Levitt, again for the most part, has done everything with his usual flair and charm. I just feel that with “Don Jon,” Levitt errs on the side of caution. As if he has intentionally pushed the envelope, but got cold feet halfway to his destination. You’ll find yourself watching the film and feel a bit naughty and excited by this new, uncharted cinematic territory. And then, when you’ve finally reached the end, flustered and gleeful, the slow realization that you weren’t overly wowed begins to take over. However, all this being said, “Don Jon” truly is an impassioned, touching, respectable debut for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. So long as he keeps chugging along this road of ingenuity and continues to carve out his own way. Levitt will have a long, prosperous career behind the camera.

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The one thing you can rely on when heading into the theatre to experience “Don Jon” is the consistent cleverness and turbulent coexistence of all the characters. Which are incredibly and ably performed by the entire cast, which features Scarlett Johansson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza.

Marred in heavy makeup and a thick New Jersey accent, Scarlett Johansson is as striking as ever, even though she maybe a tad incoherent. Nonetheless, in a role that significantly depends on superficiality and surface pleasures. It’s her ability to transform and power through the external distractions in order to reach internal importance that is truly remarkable. Tony Danza is down-right hilarious in his supporting role. Hopefully this will lead to his emergence from the shadows and launch him back into the mainstream. Moore is just phenomenal in her supporting role, she hasn’t been this effective and stunning in a long while. As for Levitt, he’s as effective and suave as ever, but we shouldn’t have expected anything less. Levitt does a phenomenal job while pulling double duty and really adapted both physically and mentally, not only to play and capture the role, but create it. Although I have to admit, Levitt’s portrayal here is quite the oddity when you associate him with the heartbroken romantic from “500 Days of Summer,” quite the contrast.

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It might dwell a little to close to safety, but its excess of honesty and hilarity is enough for “Don Jon” to overcome its faults. It is a respectable inception for director/writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Don Jon: 7.5 out of 10.

The Guest List: Cinema Parrot Disco

Hi all, I am temporarily back to bring you the newest post in The Cinema Monster’s newest segment, The Guest List! As for TCM, things should return to business as usual next week. TIFF officially ends this coming Sunday, so expect reviews and regular posts starting on Monday.

For those who do not know, The Guest List is a segment in which fellow bloggers or guests compile a top 10 on whatever subject they choose. They then send the article to myself and I publish it, it’s that easy! This week, I am really excited to have Cinema Parrot Disco submit her very own top 10! If you haven’t checked out her site and followed, do so now. If you don’t you’ll regret it every day for the rest of your life. You can find her site by clicking on the link provided here.

If you’d like to contribute your own top 10 to The Cinema Monster’s Guest List segment. All you need to do is shoot me an e mail (thecinemamonster@gmail.com) with your name, website info (if you have one), and the topic you have chosen for your top 10. If I like what I see, I’ll give you the all clear and you can begin composing your entry. Then, send it back to me and we will discuss a date of publish. Sound good? I’m really trying to get this segment jumpstarted, so if you all could compose an entry and send it my way, I would be forever grateful.

Now, I’m going to turn it over to Cinema Parrot Disco. Enjoy!

 

Top 10 Films of the 21st Century: by Cinema Parrot Disco

When Joseph asked me to do a guest Top Ten list I was like…. “Sure!”. Because, like the character of Rob in “High Fidelity,” I’m obsessed with making Top Five (or Top Ten) lists.

I’ve chosen to do my Top Ten films since the year 2000 as I myself was curious as to what would make the list. I kind of know what my all-time top 100 films are & very few of those are from the past decade or so (with most being from the 70s or 80s).

 

10. Lost In Translation

Not sure what it is about this one but I really enjoyed it and it made me want to travel to Tokyo someday.

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9. School Of Rock

Jack Black teaching today’s youth about classic rock & metal – LOVE IT!

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8. Despicable Me

The minions are hilarious, it’s Steve Carell’s funniest role, and the girls are sweet yet not annoyingly so and have attitude without being “kid film bratty”. Oh, and the soundtrack is great too. Fun for all ages – not many kids’ films (outside of Pixar) achieve this.

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7. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

I was also in high school in the year this movie was set. I wish this had been my group of friends. But no teenagers are actually this cool. (But how could they not know the Bowie song Heroes?!)

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6. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

It’s The Lord Of The Rings. It’s awesome.

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5. Dawn Of The Dead

The original is one of my all-time favorite movies. Remakes usually get me very angry and I start ranting and raving about how Hollywood makes nothing original anymore blah blah blah. But THIS was good! Obviously doesn’t live up to Romero’s classics but it’s still a great zombie flick.

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4. The Lives Of Others

Excellent foreign film set in 1984 East Berlin. Highly recommend this one!

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3. The Artist

Love everything about this. I feel happy just thinking about this film.

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2. The Prestige

Someday people will realize that this is Christopher Nolan’s best film.

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1. Pixar Films

Okay – I’ve cheated a little. But WALL-E, Monsters Inc, Toy Story 3, and Finding Nemo are all, really, my favorite films of the 21st century so far. Thank you, Pixar!

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Alright, that’ll do it! I want to send a big thank you to Cinema Parrot Disco for contributing. Everyone have a great weekend! I know I will, I’m seeing The Sacrament tonight and 12 Years a Slave tomorrow!

TIFF 2013: The Fifth Estate (2013)

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Although it deserved stronger direction and a more structurally sound script. “The Fifth Estate” is lifted above mediocrity thanks to sublime performances from its entire cast and truly captivating, at times unsettling source material. This Bill Condon thriller, despite all the hype and speculation, has fizzled amongst the high-profile Oscar contenders at this years TIFF. Which really shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider the plethora of high-quality films in the race this year. That being said, it is this very unfortunate circumstance that puts “The Fifth Estate” on the receiving end of some seriously negative and potentially irrefutably damaging, undeserved cynical criticism. Thankfully, the essence of film is to forge an opinion of one’s own. Mine is here to tell you not to believe in the bad-mouthing and reputation smashing being directed at “The Fifth Estate.” While definitely not a sure-shot when it comes to award season, it certainly isn’t as abhorrent as critics are making it seem.

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To expand, it’s extremely difficult to go into a screening without any preconceived notions. And as hard as you may try to weed out bias and judgement, whether it be positive or negative, inevitably some influence will sink in. This undeniable logic swirled around my mind throughout “The Fifth Estate” as I tussled with my masculine infatuation and deep admiration for the film’s star Benedict Cumberbatch. I tried, valiantly I might add, to focus on the film and details surrounding him and to distance myself from the other interpretations of the film. While I was able to fight off the majority of my weakness, Cumberbatch’s seemingly immaculate prowess and pure devotion, amongst the film’s other infaliable qualities were just too alluring and impressive to ignore. That being said, I succeeded in forging my own opinion. The film isn’t without faults, and it just so happens that Cumberbatch is arguably the only Oscar contender to emerge from this specific film, slim chances for the outstanding Daniel Bruhl. However, we don’t simply condemn films that don’t garner nominations, so by no means avoid this flick.

For those who don’t know. “The Fifth Estate” is the story of how the news-leaking website Wikileaks came to existence. Created by Julian Assange (Cumberbatch) with the help of Daniel Domsheit-Berg (Bruhl).

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There are more than a few bright spots throughout the film that don’t revolve around the performances, just to insure my words don’t mislead you. Director Bill Condon occasionally spurts the innovation and brilliance that solidified his high status and previous flicks like “Gods and Monsters,” managing to sporadically encompass the sheer immensity of the film and find the core of its true story. However, Condon consistently struggles to make the transitional aspect of his vision smooth, resulting in a bumpy, divided entity. The film rises and dips far too often to ignore and the highs aren’t nearly impressive enough to discard the lows. I’m sure that the “The Fifth Estate” appeared much more alluring on paper and it’s a pity that the structure and story didn’t translate to the big screen. Regardless, the source material remains as hypnotic, honest, and horrid as ever, toss in some terrific, astonishing performances and “The Fifth Estate” is strong enough to overcome its faults.

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Perhaps what ultimately led to the high-standard and unreal expectations of “The Fifth Estate,” aside from the trailer and Cumberbatch’s remarkable portrayal and resemblance to Julian Assange, is the astounding success of David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” The two films share more than a few similarities which can be easily spotted while watching the film. Additionally, the film is no where near as symbolic or deceptive. Everything is laid out, flat on the table. “The Fifth Estate” comes off a bit to modernized and contrived. As if Condon and crew modelled the film after Fincher’s Facebook masterpiece, with good reason. I mean, if you could capture some of “The Social Network’s” Oscar winning astuteness, why wouldn’t you? There’s nothing wrong with being inspired and influenced, but masquerading these mind-sets and commonalities with cheap ploys and abstract techniques didn’t pay off for Condon.

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Even though “The Fifth Estate” is stifled mightily by skeletal simplicity and seemingly forced direction. The film’s performances burst forth from the screen and are the only thing standing in the way of this flick from being thrown into an incinerator. The film stars the preposterously immaculate Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, who is absolutely sky-rocketing to stardom, David Thewlis who continues to thrive despite being underused, and a plethora of high-profile supporting talent that features Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, and Anthony Mackie.

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Off the top of my head, there is no one who impressed me more than Daniel Bruhl (I’ve simply come to expect perfection from Cumberbatch). After launching his career into orbit with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,” it’s been nothing but full-throttle ahead for Bruhl, who has two films premiering at this year’s festival. Bruhl does everything in his power to upstage Cumberbatch and salvage this film from its free-fall. I don’t think I can issue much higher praise than declaring his performance just under that of Cumberbatch’s. Speaking of Benedict, his portrayal of Assange is nothing short of spectacular. His mannerisms, voice, hair, literally everything about Assange is captured perfectly. There’s really nothing else to say. Cumberbatch’s performance alone is enough to make “The Fifth Estate” recommended viewing.

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“The Fifth Estate” is fortunate enough to have its spellbinding cast come to the rescue. Other than its performances, which I highly insist you check out, and its source material, there isn’t anything here you haven’t been previously exposed to. This being said, do not take my rough dissection as hatred, I rather enjoyed this flick…even if I am a tad bias.

The FIfth Estate: 7.5 out of 10.