Friday, October 24, 2014

BIRDMAN (A)

Bottom Line: Michael Keaton hits a stylistically twisted homerun without even using a bat, man…  Certain to garner a slew of nominations come Oscar time, BIRDMAN is a master class in storytelling – a darkly comedic examination of the search for relevancy at the cost of celebrity.  Soul searching ensues with dashes of purpose, legacy and public perception all played out to perfection. Playfully bizarre, dazzlingly layered, hilariously energetic and elegantly schizophrenic – this expertly crafted flick teasingly zigs and turbulently zags at its examination of artistic integrity, self realization and the ongoing battle between high art and blockbuster gold.  Its seemingly unedited, one-continuous-shot approach lends itself brilliantly to the freestyle jazz-like vibe of the film – a whirligig, center stage circus of complex human emotions given depth and life by career defining (and career echoing) performances from both Keaton and Edward Norton.  It should also be noted that Stone, Galifianakis, Riseborough, Ryan and Watts all give standout performances in their supporting roles.  In a (mostly) unanimous moment of critiquing clarity, BIRDMAN is indeed one of the must see movies of the year.  There’s something to enjoy here for both 'snob' and 'sheep'.  Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s…  Oh wait, it actually is a bird – and this BIRDMAN soars!
 
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Naomi Watts
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu (BIUTIFUL, BABEL, 21 GRAMS and AMORES PERROS)
Rated: R
Running time: 119 minutes
Studio description: BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) - famous for portraying an iconic superhero - as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. (c) Fox Searchlight
 
Official site: www.bridmanthemovie.com

JOHN WICK (B)

 
Bottom Line: Keanu Reeves delivers the butt kicking goods in this stylistically gritty, testosterone-fueled flick.  It’s a relatively excellent adventure made moderately bogus journey due to the overall lack of story and character depth.  But, come to think of it, the Russians piss him off – so…  The motives here are fairly flimsy but set forth a course for destruction that’s so singularly focused you’ll willingly light the fuse, take a step or two back and watch the bare bones, head cracking action unfold.  The acting is solid, the comic book/video game action is fluidly swift and the dialogue is sparse yet shockingly and creatively on point.  At just over 90 minutes, though, the story still feels a little overplayed.  I’d still happily watch Keanu reprise the role should the box office take here warrant a sequel.  It’s more fun than you might expect.  If you’re purposely looking for bloody style over substance, no other movie this year can hold a candle to JOHN WICK.
 
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Rated: R
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio description: An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him. With New York City as his bullet-riddled playground, JOHN WICK (Keanu Reeves) is a fresh and stylized take on the "assassin genre". (C) Lionsgate
 
Official site: www.johnwickthemovie.com 

Friday, October 10, 2014

THE JUDGE (B)

Bottom Line: This pleasantly clichéd, small town courtroom/family dramedy gets bailed out of mediocrity from two familiar yet winning performances from the Robert D’s.  Downey Jr. (the sharp-witted slickster) and Duvall (the cantankerously crotchety curmudgeon) are a thrill to watch as they bombastically bond on screen.  It may be a tad predictable and the way-too-many endings lend themselves to an overlong running time, but buried just beneath this kitchen sink approach to storytelling lies a beautifully filmed, competently directed and wholly heartfelt tale of fathers, family, honor and letting go of the past.  It’s a quirky, clever and emotionally charged flick that worked more often than not – it’s just, again, too darn long.  Many critics will predictably dread THE JUDGE, so you’ll just have to object to their out-of-touch tastes, take a stand and witness if for yourself.  This is a good natured movie that should easily appeal to mass audiences…
 
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by: David Dobkin (WEDDING CRASHERS and MR. WOODCOCK)
Rated: R
Running time: 142 minutes
Studio description: Robert Downey Jr. stars as big city lawyer Hank Palmer, who returns to his childhood home where his estranged father, the town's judge (Robert Duvall), is suspected of murder. He sets out to discover the truth and along the way reconnects with the family he walked away from years before. -- (C) Warner Bros.
Official site: www.thejudgemovie.com 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

GONE GIRL (B+)


Bottom Line: Director David Fincher (FIGHT CLUB, THE SOCIAL NETWORK) delivers a meticulously wicked tale on modern marriage and the meddling media.  A gut punch of a film that fiendishly swoons and squirms viewers through a nightmare scenario as if told through the generically dreamlike pages of US magazine.  It’s a ready-for-cable-news-network nail-biter that’ll have you switching alliances with all the grace of a square-wheeled baby stroller.  A few inconsistent, surface-level touches and all too abrupt ending that I understood but was less than pleased with may be keeping this from A grade status - but it’s tension-headache inducing suspense, brilliant direction, superb acting across the board, razor-sharp Reznor score, charbroiled charm and sinister sense of humor makes this an easy-to-recommend success.  A movie that’ll easily have a shot at making my top ten list come December…  Having not read the insanely popular novel from author Gillian Flynn (who also adapted it for the screen), I can honestly say I saw nothing coming – no tells, no giveaways – it’s an accessibly twisted story that should have you talking for days and, possibly, sleeping with one eye open for weeks.  Sure to brew up oodles of distrust between genders, this suburbia slasher flick still remains the most weirdly perverse must-see date night movie of the year.  Get GONE!
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris
Directed by: David Fincher (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN, ZODIAC, THE GAME and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO)
Running time: 145 minutes
Studio description: On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his beautiful wife, Amy, has gone missing.  Under pressure from the police and growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble.  Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? © Fox
Official site: www.gonegirlmovie.com

Friday, September 26, 2014

THE EQUALIZER (C+)

Bottom Line: Uncomfortably packed with a slew of 80’s-esque action movie clichés and cheeseball slow-mo antics, this overlong and yet occasionally fun flick scoots by on the charm and badass-itude of its always charismatic A-list star.  A friendly, hardworking man who minds his own business until bad business crosses the path of those who’ve been wronged, Denzel’s Robert McCall is a man with an entire movie on his shoulders – a movie that, without his swagger and Jason Bournian presence, would be forgotten the second it ended and you rushed for the restroom.  He’s a methodically focused, mysteriously skillful sledgehammer of swift Hulk-like justice with an affable, Bruce Banner manner and pleasant daytime demeanor.  And aside from a sadistically (and entertainingly) prim-and-proper villain, the movie only really comes to life when Denzel’s rampaging Robin Hood is talking trash or taking it out.  Drug lords, henchmen, street thugs, dirty cops and Russian pimps don’t stand a chance…  Running over two-hours, however, the seams on this overstuffed flick tend to burst from lazy writing where nonsensical setups never pay off and way too many ends are left loose…  Add to it a load of self indulgently loopy directorial choices that never truly shed interesting light on our main character and your left with a whole lot of empty cinematic calories.  This mystery man may be able to take on the East Coast hub of the Russian mafia, but keeping this movie from being anything better than barely above average is a task he’s not just equal to…

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN)
Running time: 131 minutes
Studio description: In The Equalizer, Denzel Washington plays McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when McCall meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can't stand idly by - he has to help her. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened. If someone has a problem, if the odds are stacked against them, if they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help. He is The Equalizer. (c) Sony

Official site: www.equalizerthemovie.com

Thursday, September 18, 2014

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (B)

Bottom Line: Jason Bateman anchors an extremely talented cast in this depressingly fluffy yet still somewhat effective family dramedy.  It’s an all too common case of the actors being above the material but still being professional enough to deliver the best product they can…  For a cinematic touchstone, think of THE FAMILY STONE meeting AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and having that union documented by some of the most average, vanilla-like sitcom writers in Hollywood.  That’s not a terrible thing (I know, it sounds pretty terrible) – yes, it coulda been better – but it never really breaks any new ground.  Someone just died, someone is going through a divorce, someone is in an empty marriage, someone can’t have kids, someone is cheating on someone else, someone will never grow up…  You get the idea.  There’s so much comedic misery under one family roof I’m pretty sure the filmmakers toyed with the idea of adding computer-generated rain clouds over everyone’s head.  With all the negativity swirling about however, this still remains a decently hearted, good natured flick.  It ultimately embraces hope and letting go in time for its surface-level themes on family, parenthood and siblingship to take hold.  Bateman, Fey, Driver, Fonda, Stole, Shepard and Byrne – pro’s that they are – also deliver the requisite amount of laughs to make this a riotous slam dunk for the right audience. 

Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Timothy Olyphant, Rose Byrne and Jane Fonda
Directed by: Shawn Levy (THE INTERNSHIP, REAL STEEL, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, DATE NIGHT and NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 1 & 2)
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio description: Based on the hilarious and poignant best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper.  
(c) Warner Bros

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (B)

Bottom Line: I know the trailers have been selling this like it’s basically TAKEN 3 – but it’s not – and anyone expecting the level of action a TAKEN 3 might deliver will be sorely disappointed…which they fully deserve for even wanting a TAKEN 3 movie in the first place.  Based on the popular series of books from author Lawrence Block, this is a hard-nosed, wearily gritty and deliberately disciplined piece of slow-burn, detective story-noir cinema.  Seemingly the best he’s been in years, Liam Neeson – as an eight years sober, cop-turned-loner detective, confidently shuffles us through a no frills storyline of danger, drugs and grizzly abductions  - a no man’s land of corruption inhabited by kingpins, crypt-keepers and street-living kids.  Light on gun-play and perhaps a tad too long, this is nevertheless an extremely violent and fairly enthralling, character-driven, low-key story that coasts on the always-at-the-ready stoicism of its A-list star.  This isn’t another below average, no brain Neeson action flick – TOMBSTONES digs a little deeper.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens and David Harbour
Directed by: Scott Frank (wrote and directed THE LOOKOUT; wrote DEAD AGAIN, MALICE, GET SHORTY, OUT OF SIGHT, MINORITY REPORT and THE WOLVERINE)
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio description: Based on Lawrence Block's bestselling series of mystery novels, A Walk among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator operating just outside the law. When Scudder reluctantly agrees to help a heroin trafficker (Dan Stevens) hunt down the men who kidnapped and then brutally murdered his wife, the PI learns that this is not the first time these men have committed this sort of twisted crime...nor will it be the last. Blurring the lines between right and wrong, Scudder races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again. (C) Universal


THE GUEST (B)

Bottom Line: Purposely throwing back to the low budget, churn-em-and-burn-em slasher flicks of the 80’s, this hilariously (and knowingly) cheesy home invasion B-movie thriller is a breath of fresh, post-summer blockbuster, pre-Oscar season air.  Devilishly serious in its intent and downright quirky in its execution, this bare bones and bonkers thrill ride soars on the charismatic and Bradley Cooper-esque wings of Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey).  Without his involvement, this would have easily played like a lazy and unwarranted DRIVE meets FRIDAY THE 13th meets THE LOST BOYS by way of THE BOURNE IDENTITY wannabe.  He’s gets it and is never afraid to let us in on the joke as well…  Plus, the ham-fisted over-acting, under-written script, thinly plotted twists and super-synthesized soundtrack all gloriously lend themselves to the thick-as-molasses, 80’s action/horror vibe.  It’ll turn some on, it’ll turn others off.  Decisively familiar and still deliciously unique, THE GUEST is a move worth letting in.

Starring: Dan Stevens, Brendan Meyer and Maika Monroe
Directed by: Simon Barrett (YOU’RE NEXT)
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio description: A tense, action-packed and unpredictable film like everything and nothing you've ever seen before. (c) Picturehouse


Official site: www.theguestmovie.com

Friday, September 12, 2014

THE DROP (B)

Bottom Line: This slice of decidedly slow-burn cinema is a the bleakly depressed, working class second cousin to the flash, glitz and grit of, say, a movie like GOODFELLAS. Where the latter continually bobs, weaves and walks confident and cocky in its execution, the scope and setting of THE DROP is happily slouched atop a bar stool – half empty pint in front of it, Giants game on the TV. This is its blissful state of no-rush being. It’s a punch-drunk petty crime caper with little sense of urgency. …and in lieu of a thoroughly compelling storyline (it’s not bad, just familiar), the focus here is primarily on characters. Powder keg shades of Tony Soprano effectively creep into Gandolfini’s (his final film role) tired, glory-day-remembering performance and Tom Hardy is phenomenally riveting as the Brooklyn-raised barkeep that may or may not be smarter than his soft spoken, mumbling, methodically routine character might let on… With a snail pace that may prove tiresome for some, the first two-thirds deliberately lumber along but introduce some thoroughly intriguing, bitterly cold characters – as well as a tension-fueled finale that almost completely makes up for the meandering that proceeded it… A solid entry in to the American mob canon (primarily due to Hardy’s performance), this purposely distant flick is a should-see-at-some-point for lovers of the genre and a must-see-now for fans of great acting.


Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace and Matthais Schoenaerts
Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam (BULLHEAD)
Running time: 106 minutes
Studio description: THE DROP follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski through a covert scheme of funneling cash to local gangsters - "money drops" in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv, Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood's past. (C) Fox Searchlight

Official site: www.foxsearchlight.com/thedrop

Friday, August 15, 2014

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (B)


Bottom Line: I get what Stallone has been trying to do with this franchise – bring in a crew of well-known actors, character artists, cinema strongmen – turn on the camera, blow stuff up and the story will virtually write itself.  His efforts have been hit or miss (mostly miss) the past two outings – so no reason to think this would be any more enjoyable, right?  That’s what I thought until Sly himself wrapped my brain around a well written and surprisingly enjoyable little action flick that pits Rambo, Indiana Jones, Blade, The Terminator, Zorro and Frasier Crane (?!) against one particularly snarly William Wallace/Martin Riggs.  They got my attention, and along the way delivered a boots-to-the-ground, kick-to-the-pants, testosterone-powered adventure that (for the most part) had me (shockingly) smiling from ear-to-ear for the better part of two-hours.  Playing out like some maniacally insane, moderately gritty, gung-ho inbred offspring of a BLACK HAWK DOWN and powerless AVENGERS love tryst, this make-war-not-love, summer season bookender fires heavily on most of its geriatricly roided-out cylinders.  The edge may have been softened considerably with the removal of blood (to easily warrant a more consumer friendly, PG-13 rating) and the middle might droop with a little too much time focused on the recruitment of fresh-faced, newbies – but this movie still finds an agreeable groove and hums along at a brisk pace.  Agile and efficient, this is an energetically action-packed, cheerfully gut-busting, stoically gun-toting cavalcade of action stars doing what they do best.  THE EXPENDABLES 3 is a brilliantly and ballistically buffoonish blast that should leave you begging for 4.
 
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz and Kelsey Grammer
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio description: In THE EXPENDABLES 3, Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the team come face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney. Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill... or so he thought. Stonebanks, who eluded death once before, now is making it his mission to end The Expendables -- but Barney has other plans. Barney decides that he has to fight old blood with new blood, and brings in a new era of Expendables team members, recruiting individuals who are younger, faster and more tech-savvy. The latest mission becomes a clash of classic old-school style versus high-tech expertise in the Expendables' most personal battle yet. (C) Lionsgate