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Updated on October 11, 2015

The Martian

The Red Planet; it evokes such mystery. Is there water on it? Could it have been home to life? Are there little green men hiding beneath the surface, plotting our destruction?

When the moon was conquered, we set our hearts further. Mars became the next step in humanity's manifest destiny. A manned mission to mars boosts our ego. It reaffirms our growing dominance over the universe. It thrills us to action in a way only grand adventure can.

It's the perfect stage for a truly captivating drama. And while The Martian certainly builds itself up as such, it fails to deliver, falling short of anything more than a mildly entertaining crowdpleaser.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is one of six astronauts sent to Mars as part of the Ares III mission. While on the ground, a major storm hits. The crew is making their way back to the ship when a piece of debris flies off and strikes Watney, rendering him unconscious.

The hit also breaks his communication devices, and because of the storm, Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is unable to see his body. With the storm intensifying, Lewis is forced to decide between continuing her search for Watney, or boarding the ship and leaving with the rest of the crew before conditions worsen and become unflyable.

Lewis chooses to leave, presuming, along with the rest of the crew, that Watney is dead.

But of course, Watney is not. He regains consciousness after the storm passes and makes his way over to the base camp, where he begins preparing to survive until the arrival of the Ares IV, which is not expected for another three years.

The film's primary settings are on Mars with Watney, and in Houston with NASA. As soon as NASA becomes aware of Watney's survival, they do everything within their power to bring him home.

Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) is the head of NASA, and is the one coming up with no ideas and calling all the shots. Other key contributes are Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), one of NASA's mission directors and most proactive member, Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean), another mission director who serves as the grizzly old veteran; too old to go in space, but a hell of a lot smarter than any of the suits around him, and, for some reason, Kristen Wiig is there, running around in the background, telling no jokes.

The Martian features a ton of familiar faces and sets up an intriguing plot, but fails to make use of either. All of these extraordinary events seem to have no effect on the characters. Everyone remains stagnant. Even Watney, thrust into the most daunting task imaginable, takes it all in stride.

He struts around like a wannabe cowboy, conquering one impossible task after the other, all with a smile and corny jokes with just the right amount of profanity.

The only character who develops at even a surface level is Watney. Three years later, the characters at NASA look and act exactly the same; the same haircuts, the same clothes, the same everything.

Obviously, having zero character development is a major flaw, but what may be even more egregious is the movie's lack of meaning. Everything about The Martian screams Homecoming Queen. It takes no risks, and its goal seems to be to get as many people's approval as possible.

It's not a bad movie. It looks nice and the acting isn't poor. It will make you chuckle a few times (It often felt more like a comedy than a drama), but at the end, it had no point; no significance.

Get him home? Cooperation? Was that what this movie was about? We had to strand a man on Mars, move Heaven and Earth to save him, and spend two and a half hours watching for a story as funny and evocative as a Hallmark card?

No thanks. Cinemaniac score: 2/5

Love & Mercy

Wouldn't it be nice if we could get through this review without any Beach Boy song titles awkwardly slid in? God only knows what a tired tactic that is. We get it, this review is for a movie about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.

Well, do not fret Cinemanic fans, that's not me. Even without resorting to such lowly tactics, we'll find a way to make this review fun. And I mean really fun. Like, so much fun you'll want to say it twice, heck, maybe even three times.

Love & Mercy is the story of Beach Boy, and musical genius, Brian Wilson. Like the man it profiles, the film bounces off the walls, roaming between the ordinary and the extraordinary with both grace and friction.

In the opening credits, we see a young Brian Wilson (Paul Dano), with the rest of the Beach Boys, performing snippets of the band's early, massively popular pop songs. Always laughing and smiling, Brain and the band go from show to show, beach to beach, girl to girl, having the time of their lives.

But on a plane ride back home, we see another side of Brian. He begins clutching his chest and looking around frantically. He tells his brother that he thinks he's having a heart attack. He grabs a pillow, covers his face and goes to the floor screaming. After being comforted by his brothers and arriving home, Brian tells the band that he doesn't want to tour anymore. He insists that he should stay home and begin work on the next album.

Next, we are taken approximately 20 years into the future, where we meet another Brian Wilson (John Cusack). This Brain is much different. He's timid, spaced out and unbearably lonely. Our first scene with him is in a Cadillac dealership, where he meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). The two quickly form a relationship, and almost all of the scenes with the older Brian document their complicated involvement. The complications arise because of Brian's mental instability and his overbearing psychiatrist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).

Clearly, Brian is in need of mental assistance. His actions in the past show us that. As he creates his masterpiece, Pet Sounds, he puts his uniqueness on full display; laying down as the music comes to his head, bringing in dogs, horses, sleigh bells, french horns and clarinets to get his perfect sound. He also spends two hours staring at the walls, fearing the hostile vibes, and only talking when he's in the deep end of his swimming pool, because he's certain Phil Specter has the rest of his house bugged.

The strength of Love & Mercy lies in the performances of Paul Dano and John Cusack. Both paint a captivating portrait of the unfortunate artist. Paul Gimatti is also wonderful as Dr. Landy. He is nauseatingly despicable, truly a villain no viewer could like.

In a story with so much sad, it is important to have moments of levity, and this was accomplished with a few black humor one-liners.

Melinda Ledbetter: "You hear voices in your head?"

Brian Wilson: "Yeah"

Melinda: "For how long?"

Brian: "Since 1963"

Despite the strong performances from the two leads, Love & Mercy was hurt by it's length. With a running time of two hours, this wouldn't seem to be the case, but after about an hour and half, enough of the story had been told to begin wrapping it up. Whether you're a fan of the Beach Boys' music or not, the film is a great look into the struggles of one of rock n' roll's iconic figures, especially for those unfamiliar with his story. Cinemaniac score: 3/5 stars.

Ex Machina

She really is quite spectacular. Ava (Alicia Vikander) is a beautifully brilliant robot. She is also the world's first Artificial Intelligence system with consciousness. At least, that's what her creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), hopes.

To test his majestic machine, Nathan has put together a contest, the winner of which will be flown out to his private estate to interact with Ava and see if her intelligence is truly human. The contest is random, and the lucky winner is 26-year-old programmer, Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson).

Caleb is taken over miles of secluded, unscathed land before arriving at Nathan's door. After wandering around the impressive domicile, Caleb finds Nathan punching a heavy bag set up on his porch, overlooking a pristine waterfall.

Nathan explains he had a little too much fun last night and is trying to properly detox. From there, Caleb and Nathan's interactions only get more awkward. Nathan forces Caleb to sign an intricate confidentiality agreement before showing him the crown jewel of his little paradise: Ava.

Once Caleb and Ava meet, Ex Machina begins its transformation into a bona fide thriller. The driving force behind the suspense is isolation. The movie only has four central characters, and all of them are set apart by physical and psychological boundaries.

Ava lives in a glass room from which there is no escape, Caleb is only allowed access to certain parts of Nathan's home, Nathan is always cunningly abridged, with a secret seemingly lurking behind every locked door, and Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), the fourth resident, is Nathan's mute servant, unable to speak or understand English.

Caleb struggles with morality and trust as he begins to discover his true role in Nathan's experiment, and this is what makes Ex Machina special. In a movie about robots and consciousness, its themes do not revolve around the tired, "What constitutes a soul" question. Rather, it focuses on personal themes, such as why and how our own souls work.

As haunting as it is beautiful, Ex Machina proves to be a wonderful thriller. Cinemaniac score: 4/5 stars.

2015 Oscar Predictions

Get your popcorn ready, print out those Oscar bingo cards, pull up Twitter and find a comfortable seat because tonight is the night. Nominations are great, but holding that little gold man is what it's all about. Tonight is what separates American Hustle (10 nominations, 0 wins) from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (11 nominations, 11 wins). Tonight is the night that makes Leonardo DiCaprio die a little bit inside -sorry buddy.- This is the night that launches people who pretend for a living, into the gilded air of American Royalty. This is it. Let's get started.

Best Picture

I've got doubts about this prediction coming to fruition, but the best film I saw in 2014 was Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. I know Boyhood is getting all the love, but it seems that audiences are more enamored with director Richard Linklater's quest to shoot a film over 12 years than they are with the actual story.

Sure, the acting is solid and the shots are clean, but as a story, Boyhood fails to say anything significant. The only wisdom passed on from watching this boy and his dysfunctional family for 2 hours and 45 minutes is that life doesn't actually mean anything, you just have to go with the flow and try to be as happy as you can. Wow, thanks.

I also had problems with the boy himself, not the actor but the character. He goes through a lot of crap as a kid. His parents split up, his mother's second marriage is to an abusive drunk and the person who loves him the most -his dad- isn't able to take care of him the way he'd like. All of this and I don't think I saw the boy cry once. His attitude towards everything just seems to be "whatever."

Through his high school years, the movie tries to paint the picture that this boy is "weird." He likes art and employs half-baked wisdom. However, pretty girls arrive on his doorstep and he never suffers from the social anxieties of being an outcast or misunderstood. It's like someone only heard what "weird" kids were like.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, on the other hand, got it right. Unlike Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn't set itself up as some grand epic. It merely tells a story. It's charmingly absurd at times, and displays its heart with a subtle touch. It manages to create its own world, and through all of the silliness, honest human emotion comes through.

There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity... The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of them. What more is there to say?

What film will win the Academy Award for best picture?

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Best Director

For many of the reasons listed above, my selection for best director is Wes Anderson. He's been nominated for best original screenplay twice (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom) and best animated feature (Fantastic Mr. Fox), but has failed to win an Oscar. This year, his film is tied with Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) for the most nominations with nine. After tonight, Anderson should be able to walk away with at least one of those little gold men.

Stylistically, Anderson is in a class by himself. The Grand Budapest Hotel showcases that style perfectly, using steady pans and meticulous craftsmanship that make you feel as if you are looking into a pristine dollhouse. It's time for the Academy to award Mr. Anderson.

Who will win the Academy Award for best director?

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Best Actor

My second favorite movie from 2014 was Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). A large reason for that was the wonderful performance by Michael Keaton. As funny as he was narcissistic, Keaton's performance as past-his-prime, box office star Riggan Thomson was brilliant.

In the 90s, he was Birdman. He raked in cash almost as quickly as the public admiration. Now, he's just a washed up old man trying to revitalize his career with a Broadway play. The film is a jab at all those in the entertainment idustry; from the actors who think the world revolves around them, to the critics who think they have the power to decide what art is.

From marching down 42nd street in his underwear to his arguments with the Birdman voice in his head, Keaton highlights his character's insanity masterfully.

Who will win the Academy Award best actor?

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Best Actress

I know that Julianne Moore is getting all of the attention for her performance in Still Alice and she'll probably win tonight. Unfortunately, I didn't see Still Alice. However, I did see Gone Girl, and let me tell you, Rosamund Pike sent chills up my spine.

She was the perfect wife: beautiful, smart, classy and cool. The only problem was that she was a deranged psychopath behind closed doors. It was scary how cold she was and how she had everyone wrapped around her pretty little finger.

There may not have been a better moment than when she gave "The Cool Girl" speech, riding down the freeway with that smug, sadistic confidence plastered on her face. And the way she sliced up Neil Patrick Harris wasn't half bad either.

Who will win the Academy Award for best actress?

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Best Supporting Actor

Sadly, this is the category I know the least about. I saw several of the performances mentioned, but none of them were Oscar worthy. The two I would have liked to have seen, -Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash- I never got around to.

So, it looks like I'm just going to have to go the way the critics seem to be leaning. Simmons won the Golden Globe for best supporting actor, and every critic I read says he's the hands-down favorite to come away with the gold.

Honestly, he's overdue for an Oscar anyway. Who else could have brought J. Jonah Jameson to life like that? And those Farmers Insurance commercials are pretty catchy too.

Who will win the Academy Award for best supporting actor?

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Best Supporting Actress

Besides Michael Keaton, the other performance that made Birdman an achievement, was the outstanding work by Emma Stone as Keaton's down-on-her-luck, sarcastic daughter, Sam Thomson.

Fresh out of rehab, Sam is now working as her dad's assistant. She never cares about the play and proves to be the voice of reason when she rips into her dad about the true significance of his career. She's off-kilter, and clearly a mess, but she loves her father, showing more and more of that as the film progresses.

In a movie with so many wild characters, Stone's ability to make hers stand out is quite a feat. She proves that she's more than just a pretty face and deserves to walk away with the Oscar at the end of the night.

Who will win the Academy Award for best supporting actress?

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Best Animated Feature

The real winner should be The LEGO Movie, but since the Academy failed to even nominate it, this looks to be a two-horse race between How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6.

I wouldn't be surprised to see either walk away with the Oscar, but since I have to pick, I'll go with How to Train Your Dragon 2.

Big Hero 6 was good, but having all of the supporting characters be cardboard cut-out cliches was disheartening. How to Train Your Dragon 2 wasn't a landmark film in its own right, but it seemed to get more right. It's characters are more endearing and it was more visually stimulating.

What film will win the Academy Award for best animated feature?

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Top 5 Romance Movies

Nothing says "Valentine's Day" quite like your friendly neighborhood Spiderman... right? Maybe not, but America's favorite neurotic superhero did have some pretty memorable quotes on love. In Spider-Man (2002), Peter Parker opens the film by saying, "This, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl."

Is it an exaggeration? Maybe, but that's part of the point. Some of the best parts of any love story are the extremes you allow yourself to go to; that place of delusion you allow yourself to fall, where you thoroughly believe that no greater being has ever existed, or could ever exist, other than the person your love story is about.

Valentine's Day itself may not actually mean anything, but it's a day to celebrate love, and love should be celebrated as often as it can. So, for Valentine's Day 2015, Cinemaniac has decided to put together its list of the five greatest romance movies.

This will not be your run-of-the-mill Valentine's list. There will be no Nicholas Sparks or softcore porn passed off as legitimate film -cough, cough, Fifty Shades of Grey-. No, this list has been put together by a 22 year old man, so it may be unconventional. However, those who fear the worst can relax a little. Spider-Man did not make the cut.

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

One of the great things about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is its inventiveness. The concept is old, -man and woman love each other, but drift apart over time and break up- but it is told in a remarkably fresh way.

Distraught after breaking up with his girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), Joel Barish (Jim Carey) makes up his mind to get back together with her. He plans to visit her at her work and give her a gift before then asking for a second chance, but the opportunity never arises. To his horror, when he approaches her, she acts as if she has never seen him before.

After some investigating, he discovers that she has gone to a doctor's office and wiped her mind of every memory involving him and their relationship. Angry and upset, Barish decides to have the same surgery done.

The majority of the film takes place inside Barish's mind, during the night of the operation. As he loses memory after memory, he begins to regret his decision. Tagging along with his Clementine projection, Barish rushes to the far reaches of his memory in hopes of hiding her away.

The movie's title come from Elosia to Abelard; a beautiful, sweeping poem by Alexander Pope about Héloïse d'Argenteuil and her illicit love and secret marriage to her teacher, Pierre Abélard, perhaps the most popular teacher and philosopher in Paris at the time.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

What I love most about this film is how it never glosses over the negative aspects of their relationship. There was a reason they broke up, and the movie doesn't let you forget that. Love is messy, and sometimes heart-wrenchingly ugly, but it's up to each person to decide how much of that pain is worth it. Often times it's not, but that doesn't mean the love wasn't real, at least at some point. We may want to wipe our minds clear of heartache, but that would be a mistake. Heartache forces us to grow, and, hopefully, shows us where we need to be.

4. Silver Linings Playbook

I always love Bradley Cooper when he plays a guy who's slightly off his rocker, and in Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper's character, Pat Solatano Jr., is certainly that.

After catching his wife in an affair with one of her co-workers, Solatano goes off the deep end. He is forced to check in to a mental health facility for several months, after which he is released into the care of his mother (Jacki Weaver).

Solatano suffers from bipolar disorder, but has decided to adopt a philosophy of positive attitude. "This is what I learned at the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining."

He believes his shot at a sliver lining is to get back together with his wife. He spends his nights reading the books she has assigned to her high school students and thinking of ways to maneuver around the restraining order and contact her.

One of these ways is to give her a letter. But because he isn't allowed to deliver the letter himself, he seeks out the help of Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), the younger sister of his friend's wife.

From there, Solatano and Maxwell's relationship grows. It starts with her bombarding him during his daily runs and ends with an agreement. Maxwell agrees to deliver his letter if he will be her dance partner in an upcoming competition. Reluctantly, Solatano agrees.

The love story blossoms as the two practice for the upcoming recital, but the meat of the film lies in the honest, often harsh and shockingly funny dialogue between the two characters. Both are "crazy;" Solatano with his bipolar disorder, and Maxwell dealing with the effects of her husband's death.

This movie is also about heartbreak, but it's about moving on from it. The effects can be devastating, but you've got to keep going. You've got to find your silver lining.

3. Garden State

In preparing for this list, I tried to watch some older romance movies that have spent years on my mental queue. The best was Garden State.

After learning of his mother's death, Andrew Largeman (Zack Braff), an actor living in Los Angeles, flies to his home state of New Jersey to attend the funeral. Once home, Largeman meets his father, but avoids spending any prolonged time with him.

Instead, he chooses to hang out with his old friends and visit a doctor about his nagging headaches. In the waiting room, he meets Sam (Natalie Portman). She helps Largeman get a humping dog off his leg, and from there, the love story ensues.

Like Silver Linings Playbook, Garden State features main characters with disabilities. Sam suffers from epilepsy and Largeman with depression. Largeman has been taking lithium every since he was a child, under the orders of his father. When he returns home, he decides that he doesn't want to take the medicine anymore. This decision, in part, leads to his desire to avoid him.

After meeting Sam, the whole movie builds up to the confrontation between Largeman and his father. He explores the often shady New Jersey underbelly with Sam and his friend Mark, all the while trying to figure out exactly what he wants out of life. When the confrontation finally occurs, Largeman lets his father know sentiments that have been building for years.

"I'm not gonna take those drugs anymore, because they have left me completely fucking numb. I have felt so fucking numb to everything I have experienced in my life, OK? And for that... for that I'm here to forgive you. You've always said that all you wanted was for us to have whatever it is we wanted, right? Well, maybe, what Mom wanted more than anything is for it to all be over, and for me, what I want more then anything in the world, is for it to be OK with you for me to feel something again, even if it's pain."

Garden State was an independent film, so the quality of shots and supporting cast aren't stellar, but the story and performance of the film's two leads are exceptional. It's not a laugh riot, but the film's low-key humor supports its somber heart in a beautiful way.

2. Her

Spike Jonez's 2013 film Her is definitely the most wackadoo movie on this list, and I love it for that. Set in the not-too-distant future, Her tells the unlikely love story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) and his operating system (Scarlett Johansson), who has designated herself with the name Samantha.

Twombly is your prototypical nice guy. He's quiet and ultra-sensitive. A former writer for the LA Times, he now works for a company writing other people's personal letters. It's a funny job, and a not too subtle jab at greeting cards, and Twombly is perfect for it.

His co-worker, Paul (Chris Pratt), is always enamored by his work. He gives the best explanation of Twombly's personality after reading a love letter he wrote for someone.

"I would be really stoked to get a letter like that. Like, if it was from a chick, but written by a dude, and still from a chick. That would still be sick. But it would have to be from a sensitive dude. A dude like you. You are part man and part woman. Like, there's an inner part that's woman. It's a compliment"

Twombly lives alone and is still recovering from the separation from his wife. He has put off signing the divorce papers and often dreams of her. However, his life changes when he buys the latest operating system.

Immediately, the machine's intellect is noticeable. It quickly picks up on nuances in Twombly's voice and can read through the longest book in a nano-second. The two begin conversing on normal computer matters, files, writings and hard drives, but soon, the machine proves that it is capable of processing things at a much deeper level.

Twombly starts to reveal deep and personal emotions to Samantha, and to his pleasant surprise, she is fully capable of understanding them, and begins to share problems of her own in return. It's a perfect match, and it doesn't take long before the two are dating.

The ridiculousness of the situation leads to some very funny moments, but it never takes away from the movie's heart. In the end, the relationship doesn't work out because, well, she's a computer and he's a human.

At its core, Her is all about man's ever evolving relationships, with technology and, more importantly, with each other.

1. Good Will Hunting

The film that launched Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into stardom, and earned Robin Williams the Academy Award for best supporting actor, is one of my favorite films of all time. The movie is great because it tells two love stories at the same time. The first, between Will Hunting (Matt Damon) and his girlfriend Skylar (Minnie Driver), and the second, between Hunting's therapist and his deceased wife.

Hunting is a genius, but has great difficulty challenging his intellect into something positive. He has many run-ins with the law, but usually is able to outsmart the judge and the prosecution so he can weasel his way out of trouble. However, when one judge refuses to let him off the hook, Hunting is approached by Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), a professor at MIT.

He offers Hunting a deal. The court is willing to drop the charges if Hunting will spend an allotted time with the professor, performing advanced mathematics and looking for a full-time job, while also attending therapy.

Hunting scoffs at the idea of therapy, and does his best to run out every therapist they throw at him. Finally, Lambeau calls up his old college roommate Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), a psychology professor at a local community college.

Hunting begins his lessons with Maguire with the same attitude, but after initial turbulence, the two begin to bond. Hunting begins to date Skylar, a student at Harvard, and he hears the love story of Maguire and his late wife.

One of the great things about Good Will Hunting is the way it views love from a step back. While it does often show intimate scenes between Hunting and Skylar, the bulk of the film is spent in the therapist's office. Hunting is at the beginning of his love story, and that frightens him. By listening to Maguire, a man whose love story has run its course, he soaks in all of the good and the bad, as he tries to decide if he's willing to allow himself to be that vulnerable.

Good Will Hunting is a movie about bravery, and about sacrificing the comfortability of the known for the promise of love.


David Oyelowo earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in "Selma."
David Oyelowo earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in "Selma."

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Selma tells the story of the freedom march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama. The march lasted from March 7 to March 25, 1965, and was held as a protest against the laws infringing upon the voting rights of African-Americans.

At the start of the movie, King is already a national figure. He has won the Nobel Peace Prize of 1964 and is on speaking terms with President Lyndon B. Johnson. The battle for segregation has been won, and the next focus for King is the vote.

Legally, African-Americans have already earned that right, the 15th amendment granting the right to men and the 19th to women. However, Jim Crow laws such as grandfather clauses, literacy tests and poll taxes have been put in place to keep African-Americans from enacting that right.

Inspired by the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and other hate crimes against African-Americans where the white perpetrators go unpunished, King feels that African-Americans can wait no longer for the security that their legal right to vote provides.

While the film focuses most of its time on King (David Oyelowo), Selma is not a biopic. It is the story of a movement. A large supporting cast is left largely in the shadows, though Stephan James' portrayal of SNCC leader John Lewis, and Tim Roth's performance as despicable Alabama governor George Wallace were exceptional.

There were far too many shots of Oprah Winfrey's largely irrelevant character, Annie Lee Cooper, and the portrayal of President Johnson may have been a touch too harsh. Still, these moments do not detract from the power of the film. This power lies in the visual displays of hatred that were overcome and the moving words of Dr. King.

Whether at the pulpit or in a prison cell, Oyelowo was able to channel the struggle and power of King, using his words to paint a stirring picture of the great civil rights leader.

In the end, Selma proves to be a thoughtful and deserving tribute to the men and women who fought and sacrificed in the uphill battle for freedom. Cinemaniac score: 4/5 stars.

American Sniper

Bradley Cooper shines as U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
Bradley Cooper shines as U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." --G.K. Chesterson

American Sniper tells the story of the most lethal sniper in American history: U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Born in Texas, Kyle is raised with a strong sense of justice, but struggles to channel that into purpose. He spends his early twenties at the rodeo, riding bulls and getting drunk with his younger brother (Keir O'Donnell).

It is not until he sees the terror attacks on the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi that he decides to join the military. After the September 11 attacks, Kyle is deployed to Iraq, where he serves his first of four tours.

The film is about the life of a soldier, not just in combat, but at home as well. Kyle's wife --played by Sienna Miller-- struggles in his long absences, raising their young son and daughter virtually alone. Even when Kyle is home, his mind wanders back to the firefights and his friends.

The film's strength rests in Cooper's strong performance of the Navy SEAL. Sporting a thick Southern accent and significant muscle build up, Cooper masterfully exemplifies the strength, bravery and vulnerability of his character; a difficult task considering Kyle speaks rarely and guards his emotions.

Sienna Miller's performance as Taya Renae Kyle is fine, but the most impressive supporting performances are those of Luke Grimes (Marc Lee) and Jake McDorman (Biggles). Grimes and McDorman play members of Kyle's SEAL team, named "The Punishers" after the Marvel comic anti-hero. Sporting The Punisher's logo on all their gear, this team develops a close bond and their relationships are what gives American Sniper its heart.

Recently nominated for best picture, American Sniper delivers a heartfelt glimpse at the hardship and heroism in the life of a soldier. It exudes patriotism, --almost to a fault-- but the film is about much more than the United States of America, or even Chris Kyle. It's about humanity, and the necessary evil that is war. Cinemaniac score: 4.5/5 stars

2015 Academy Award Nominations

The big winners on nomination day were "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Birdman," both scoring nine nominations.
The big winners on nomination day were "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Birdman," both scoring nine nominations.

Every cinemaniac awaits this day. All year long they pack into theaters, scour the internet for the hottest independent films and debate about actors and cinematography; all the time wondering if what they saw was enough to earn one of the Academy's coveted nominations. An Oscar changes everything for those in the film industry. Even a nomination can turn a career around. This is it. It's The Show. It's the Super Bowl. It's the crème de la crème.

All of the nominations are important, but Cinemaniac will be looking at best picture, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, director and animated feature film. The complete list of nominations can be seen here.

Best Picture:

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

Coming off a win at the Golden Globes, Boyhood appears to be the early favorite. A grand undertaking, Boyhood was filmed over twelve years with the same cast. Comedies aren't usually nominated for Best Picture, but Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel both have legitimate shots at winning. Notable films that were left off include Gone Girl, Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher.

Best Actor:

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

Many were surprised David Oyelowo failed to receive a nomination. His performance of Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma was well-received by fans and critics. As a whole, Selma had an underwhelming day, receiving only two nominations. Keaton, Cooper and Cumberbatch appear to be the front-runners in what will be a close call for the Academy. It may be a surprise to some to see Steve Carell on this list, but the former regional manager of Dunder Mifflin turns in a great, dramatic performance as multi-millionaire wrestling enthusiast John du Pont in Foxcatcher.

Best Actress:

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

A couple surprises here, the most shocking being the absence of Amy Adams. The actress had just won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a comedy or musical, and while many didn't expect her to win the Oscar, most expected her earn a nomination. Another unexpected missing face is Jennifer Aniston. Her performance in Cake garnered a lot of attention, but apparently she just missed the cut. The early favorite is Moore, but I'll be keeping my eye on dark horse candidates Pike and Witherspoon.

Best Supporting Actor:

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

No surprises here, as the nominees are the same as the Golden Globes. All of the candidates have legitimate shots at winning, though if a front-runner has to be picked, best to go with J.K. Simmons. His portrayal of crazed and violent jazz instructor Terence Fletcher earned him the Golden Globe.

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Laura Dern, Wild
  • Emma Stone, Birdman
  • Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  • Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

It just wouldn't be the Academy Awards without Meryl Streep, would it? The Hollywood veteran snagged her record 19th Oscar nomination, though she appears to be a longshot to win the category. Patricia Arquette looks to have little competition here, although Dern may have an outside shot.

Best Director:

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
  • Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
  • Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

It seems almost cliché at this point to use the word "meticulous" and Wes Anderson in the same sentence. The veteran director's impeccable craft and flawless design create such beautifully rich worlds, and it is high time that he receive his first Oscar nomination for directing. My personal affinity for Anderson aside, it seems unlikely that Linklater will not walk away with the award. His 12 year vision for Boyhood is truly remarkable and unlike anything attempted on the big screen.

Best Animated Feature Film:

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The big story here is the absence of The LEGO Movie. The film was a massive hit when it came out in February, and most expected it to contend for the Oscar. A nomination was almost an afterthought. The snub clears the way for How to Train Your Dragon 2, which recently took home the Golden Globe.

Inherent Vice

Joaquin Phoenix as Larry "Doc" Sportello
Joaquin Phoenix as Larry "Doc" Sportello

This unconventional crime drama is experienced from the point of view of lead character Larry Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). Known as Doc, this hippie private investigator holds court in a doctor's office where he smokes a variety of herbal supplements and takes cases from LA's most desperate. Far from the most reliable of sources, Doc's experiences are always left in question, making for a suspenseful journey.

Early in the film, we are introduced to one of Doc's old girlfriends, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). Late one night, she shows up on his doorstep in a vintage 1960s micro mini-dress asking Doc for help. Like Jenny from Forrest Gump, Shasta is lost and gotten herself mixed up with the wrong sorts of people. Still in love, Doc takes the case, and from there, run-ins with the LAPD, FBI, Indo-Chinese heroin cartels and the Aryan Brotherhood ensue.

Much like the haze that is Sportello's mind, Inherent Vice meanders through a drug-fueled fog of uncertainty. Never focusing on any one of its multitude of characters, other than Sportello, the film gets lost in the intricacies of its plot. However, its strong lead performance, shockingly funny moments and shroud of mystery will keep viewers entertained through the film's flaws.

An all-star supporting cast featuring Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Martin Short and Benicio del Toro feels somewhat wasted, though Brolin's portrayal of unhinged, hippie-hating LAPD detective Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen is noteworthy. Still, the film would have benefited from further advancement of its minor characters, Wilson's and Witherspoon's particularly.

Overall, Inherent Vice is a fun, albeit long movie, --2 hr. 28 min.-- that is worth watching once, but maybe not twice. Cinemaniac score: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas' inspiring words were re-introduced to the pop-culture conscious recently thanks to Christopher Nolan and Interstellar. Sending Matthew McConaughey out into the eerie emptiness of deep space required the strong, purpose-fueled challenge issued in Thomas' poem.

Now, it may have taken him a long time, and yes, these words of inspiration came from a man who lied and wanted McConaughey to abandon his children, but nevertheless, they proved to be the driving force behind the survival of the human race.

While it may not have as much riding on it, --though, really, who's to say-- I also find myself on the brink of grand and noble mission: the beginning of my movie blog. Impending doom is all around me, and the echoes of a thousand failed bloggers haunt my fingertips. Brave soul that I am, I will push forward and begin my long anticipated march through the mindless muck of the internet, in an attempt to create something worthwhile.

Galaxies may not be discovered here --nor any scientific advancement of any kind-- but the answers to much more pertinent questions will be. You've seen the trailer and you know some of the actors in it, but you just can't tell if it's worth watching. Now, in times of trouble such as these, you have a place to go. Cinemaniac is ready to deliver you comprehensive movie reviews that will save you from seeing Grown Ups 2 and direct you to Inside Llewyn Davis instead.

Movies matter, and the journeys they take us on are important. But not all journeys are worth the price of admission. The pain endured from watching a bad movie can never be taken away, and for that reason, Cinemaniac exists. Our journey begins today, so I urge you to join me and rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The Poem

© 2015 Spencer Harrison


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    • Spencer Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

      Spencer Harrison 

      3 years ago from Lexington, SC

      I love and hate that Cool Girl speech. I totally get where she's coming from. There are so many fake women and men who want a woman to be their object more than an individual person, but the part of me that hates the speech is the way that she paints men with one brush.

      There's a part of me that likes Cool Girl. Not necessarily the Cool Girl that she paints, but a girl who likes some of the things I like. It doesn't have to do with wanting a woman to always agree with me and never complain, but someone who has shared interests.

      Also, the line, "Because he says things like: 'I like strong women.' If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because 'I like strong women' is code for 'I hate strong women.'" is just stupid. It sounds like bitterness more than anything else. There are plenty of men who like for a woman to be independent and strong-willed. That doesn't mean they like every strong woman, but the way she says her statement as fact is annoying.

    • profile image

      Kate B 

      3 years ago

      I have to admit, I didn't see too many movies this year (I tend to wait until they hit Redbox.) I did see Gone Girl, mainly because I loved the book, and I thought it was great. The "cool girl speech" was so real and so true and as a female I resonated with it completely. I really liked the ending too- I felt like they deserved their fate.

      I haven't seen Boyhood yet, but the concept was intriguing. Based on your review, it sounds like so many indie movies- great acting but leaves me feeling a little hopeless.

      Glad I found your page- I will be checking in before I head to the movies/Redbox.


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