Friday, October 24, 2014


**1/2 out of ****

Fury is a World War II film about the crew of a U.S.Sherman Tank making their way through Nazi Germany. It stars Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Shia LaBeouf and Jon Bernthal. The film is directed by David Ayer and like his End of Watch, it tends to have a rather confused voice. He likes to show us the life and work of tough guys from a perspective that is informed and mature at one moment, but then ridiculous and exploitative the next.

Fury may be an augmentation of Ayer’s strengths and weaknesses in one film. His cinematographer, Roman Vasyanov, goes for a comparatively grounded and rich aesthetic. The first shot of the film had my complete attention and respect. Some scenes, especially one set in the invaded home of a German woman, are full of the kind of lengthy awkward unpredictable tension you would expect to find in a John Cassavettes film. Most of the film’s acting is emotionally believable but there are a distracting amount of instances where contemporary language and modality feel very out-of-place for the nineteen-forties.

Some of the battle scenes are terrifyingly compelling, but they have the tendency to go overboard and the melodramatic score by Steven Price is no help. His contribution is a tacky contrast to such gritty and bleak material. I found myself wishing this movie had no music at all.

By the time it concluded with an unbelievable standoff and the stylized end credits were rolling, I knew that I’d been shown an idea of the nightmarish ugliness of war but I also felt as though I was exiting a deranged theme park ride.

The Best of Me

* out of ****

Was there any sincerity behind the making of this film? There must have been an ounce or two or it would have been one very interesting comedy. Alas, this is a romantic drama from a novel by Nicholas Sparks -and a bad movie for people who don’t know any better.

While directed by Michael Hoffman, who made the respectable 2009 film, The Last Station, The Best of Me has little to no personal touch. This is like a manufactured melodrama with clichés in all the typical places.

It follows the rekindled romance between two attractive people after their mentor passes away. The movie slowly explains what got in the way of their love during their youth and how fate has brought them back together.

At the beginning, the two lead characters are played by James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan. But they are soon to share the movie with their younger selves in flashbacks, played by Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato. I am hard pressed to think of another movie where I was more distracted by older/younger counterparts who look nothing alike.

This is only one of many elements, which makes it difficult to feel invested in the film’s characters. Their development is weak and the development for the film’s supporting characters is almost laughably nonexistent. Good people are good. Bad people are bad.

It’s set in a small Louisiana town where a young clean handsome man is the black sheep in a family of vicious lunatic drug-dealing rednecks. He is admired by a local rich girl whose family has little screen time, except for a scene late in the film where the father attempts to bribe the young man to stay away from his respectable daughter (Sigh).

Their reunion followed by a near-death experience provokes the Him to wonder if he is meant to be with Her. I understand the allure of mysticism in romantic dramas revolving around fate and coincidences. It’s the kind of escapism that fuels a good movie when conveyed on a subtextual level. However, when all that business is on the surface -when characters are openly talking about destiny like it's the main character in the film and I barely feel like I’ve gotten to know the real characters... I could care less what cosmic forces are looking out for the love between these two multi-cellular organisms.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ANTICIPATION: Fall/Winter 2014

Now that the mostly-unsuccessful summer lineup is finished and the compellingly sinister experience of David Fincher’s Gone Girl has just started the fall season with great success at the Box Office, I have to wonder what other movies will be worth our while in the months leading up to the closing of 2014.

It is safe to assume that the new science fiction, Interstellar will be an amazing cinematic experience through visionary Christopher Nolan’s sincere lens. One has to wonder how the film’s terrifying theme of humanity facing realistic endangerment will work with audiences seeking sensationalism.   

I feel a strange combination of excitement and skepticism regarding The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay –Part 1. Both feel like desirable returns to their fantasy worlds and both are needlessly augmented products of what I feel to be the least interesting stage of their respective stories. I simply hope that their filmmakers have found good ways to put a clever spin on their potentially trite experiences.

I think The Bible has so much movie-worthy drama that I’m surprised the Cecil B. DeMilles of today’s Hollywood don’t try to cash on it more. Sir Ridley Scott is quite adept in productions on a grand scale and I’m surprised that Exodus: Gods and Kings is his first Biblical outing. Though, he may be a little too traditional here. Those sure are a lot of white people playing Egyptians.

In the area of non-fiction, there will be quite a few interesting selections. While the The Theory of Everything has a chance of moving audiences through the telling of Stephen Hawking’s life story, I’m going to be very wary of this one. More often than not, biopics leave me wishing that I’d just watched a documentary instead. I believe that serious biopics about important people are challenging and I am turned off when the filmmakers simplify complex material with the glamor of attractive players while focusing on a romantic angle in order to pander to viewers. Let’s hope that’s not the case here.

The Immitation Game is the second big-screen movie (to my knowledge) about the Enigma code breakers during World War II and looks to be a good vehicle for Benedict Cumberbatch in a leading role. Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer's Club) will be bringing Cheryl Strayed’s memoir to the big screen in Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon about a woman whose life-crisis inspires a 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest trail.

Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller’s (Moneyball and Capote) award-winning film at Cannes, will find distribution this November. It stars Channing Tatum and Steve Carell -in unusual form. It’s based on the true story of an Olympic wrestler (Tatum) whose paranoid schizophrenic sponsor (Carell) brings about a terrible event in his life.

In the area of dark fiction with a deep artistic drive, there is Babel director, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, which takes place in a Times Square theater where we follow an actor (in what will appear to be only two long continuous takes) trying to make a comeback as his perception of reality breaks down. He's appropriately played by Michael Keaton.

There is also Nightcrawlerstarring Jake Gyllenhaal, about shady crime journalism and Whiplash –about an aspiring jazz drummer (Miles Teller) pushed to painful extremes by a psychotic teacher (J.K. Simmons). Let’s not forget about P.T. Anderson’s newest film, Inherent Vice, based on a Thomas Pynchon novel -with Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and an extensive all-star cast. The trailer makes the film look intolerably excessive but Anderson is an artist for whom I have little doubt.

As far as family films for the holidays go, I’m thinking that the animated Big Hero 6 may be delightful. For the new version of Annie, I’m sure that Quvenzhané Wallis is perfect casting, but I’ve never liked this musical.

In the way of comedies, we’ve got plenty of sequels. Horrible Bosses 2 and Dumb and Dumber To may have some faithful fans ready to throw away money on a movie ticket. Let’s get real. No matter how funny you thought the first one was or how long-awaited the sequel is, comedies rarely grow better when they become a franchise. Rarely! I will seek psychiatric help if Night at the Museum: Secret of the Cash-in is worth a damn to anyone this Christmas.

As always, I’ll try and review every one of these films and stay sane in the process.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gone Girl

***1/2 out of ****

Gone Girl is based on Gillian Flynn’s critically acclaimed mystery novel about a seemingly perfect couple who cause a media frenzy when the gorgeous wife vanishes and the charming husband starts to lose his charm with a skeptical community in the suburbs of Missouri. Is it good? Well, the screenplay duties were assumed by the Flynn herself. Her knowledge of cinema should be rather infinite, given her experience as a writer for Entertainment Weekly. It also doesn’t hurt that the film is directed by the meticulous David Fincher with a moody atmosphere enhanced by his dependable collaborators; cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth and musicians, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Are you getting the idea?

No? Are you one of those people whose disdain for Ben Affleck hasn’t allowed his comeback to win you over to a film in which he stars? Without wasting space, ranting about my belief that star-power is the most superficial aspect to observe when estimating a movie’s quality, I will tell you that Affleck is great for this movie.

There’s a significant point in the film when his character, Nick Dunne stands before the press and the people of his community in order to dispel rumors suggesting his responsibility in his wife’s disappearance. As he wins over some of the crowd, we see two teenage girls. One whispers that he’s hot and the other cringes, arguing that he’s a creep. It is a moment where it seems clear why Ben Affleck, a celebrity who has been loved and hated, took this role.

This is a story that is heavy on drama and contains some implausible twists that work only because they are conveyed through such poetic scenarios and flavorful narration by Affleck’s co-star, Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne.

Let me stop to say that I love this woman. Her acting career hasn’t demonstrated a lot of range, but to call her screen presence stunning would be an understatement. Pike and Affleck have a tough job in this film. They both need to win our sympathies at some point and they need to betray that sympathy at another.

Like most Fincher films, we are given a lot of atypical casting choices that payoff, including Neil Patrick Harris as a sinister ex-boyfriend, Casey Wilson as a gossiping housewife and Tyler Perry as a big-name criminal attorney. Notable choices in the cast are Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as local detectives. These are two actors who had probably missed out on the attention they deserved due to the understated performances of their careers. The big find for this movie, however, is Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister Margo, who steals a lot of scenes. I had not seen this actress before and hope to see more of her.

As always, I encourage you to see this movie in a dark theater on a large screen with great sound. Fincher films always have a technical power that is in best form at a movie theater. He harnesses so much potential energy through details to seek out in the dim imagery and the surround sound mix. 

Earlier this year, when I got around to binge-watching all eight episodes of True Detective, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be seeing any new mystery movie, anytime soon, that could rival its intrigue and quality. I’m not sure if David Fincher matches the power of that amazing TV show, but it feels pretty close. Like True Detective, Gone Girl has a structure similar to that of a miniseries. Its two-hour and thirty-minute runtime is utilized quite well to deliver more than three acts. There are multiple scenes where a mind accustomed to movie viewing is expecting things to wrap-up and when they don’t you still sit there wondering, with endless curiosity, as to where things are headed.

Gone Girl is essentially a horror movie. Not for its violence and gore (which is brief), but for its psychological journey, similar to David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence where the idea of a private life doomed to unsettling uncertainty haunts us. This movie is dark, cynical, absurd and strange. Is it good? You bet.

For a spoiler-filled criticism from a fan of the novel, check out this interesting AV Club Article.