THRS Movie Reviews

Awards Season will feel the “Fury”

October 27th, 2014 at 4:51 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for the film FURY.

Fury opened last week but had such buzz — I had to check it out.  And I can see why it does!

The film’s namesake Fury — is the name of a World War II tank and the film tells the story of her crew battling Nazi forces near the end of the war.  This tank and crew has been in service since Africa three years before. Nearly every body in the tank, of course has a war name.   They consist of “Wardaddy” played by Brad Pitt, “Bible” played by Shia Lebeuff, “Gordo” played by Michael Pena, John Bernthall is Grady, and Norman — the new arrival and should-have-been-clerk-typist-now-a-gunner played by Logan Lerman.
They roll through battles and into country side and cities alike, and as they do, we learn what makes the tank tick, it’s limitations and the crews.
The middle of the film is among some of the tense and most true character development I’ve seen in a war film.  They take a break in a German city and Wardaddy takes a bath, enjoys the company of a lady and her cooking… and teaches a few lessons along the way… But this film is as brutal as they come. It’s practically a horror movie.  The realities of war will make you flinch — as they should.  The depiction of the aftermath of surviving a mean battle… makes you feel like you were there.

Brad Pitt as the Colonel is absolutely perfect.  His tension and build, softness and brutality are amazing to watch.  He reminds me a bit of the old school actors in a film that could have been made fifty years ago.  LeBeouf and Pena are stellar as well, and the green Norman played by Lerman gives just the thing we needed to see to make us understand where all these soldiers came from to get to where they are.  Award season will surely feel this FURY.  David Ayers directs with a steady and grim hand.  Nominations are coming for this director and Pitt for sure.

FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE COOKIES

Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout.

Alive Inside documentary shows at the NARO

October 20th, 2014 at 3:31 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for Alive Inside.

That’s right we are lucky that the Tidewater Arts Outreach is bringing this documentary to the NARO this Wednesday night for a special showing.  And I am lucky to have gotten to see it in advance so I could tell you about it.

Alive Inside: the Story of Music and Memory is an award-winning documentary that literally feels like a medical magic show.  As the film points out – five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia — many of them alone in nursing homes.

Over three years filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett follows social worker Dan Cohen capturing on camera the magic that seems to happen when music from a patient’s life is introduced to them via iPods and earphones..

We watch as songs from a patient’s past awaken memories and emotions that have been sleeping in the recesses of their minds for years, decades for some of them. Patients who are withdrawn, never speak or recognize anyone — suddenly — with earphones and a song from their past — look up and have a completely lucid conversation — relaying memories, singing every word of the song.  The film is shot so well.  As a good documentary should, it let’s the people being film breath in their space and cuts together the right scenes at the right times, intermixing memory-esque scenes from the past jarred free by the music we hear and see them react to at the same time.

Is this the answer, the cure? Probably not. Could it lead to something new in the industry and how we treat these patients? Hopefully.

It won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and I can see why.  It’s heart breaking and heart warming all at once.  It’s a commentary on dementia and Alzheimer’s and how we treat it.  If this is something close to you (and even if it’s not),  you’ll want to consider making time to see this remarkable film.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE COOKIES FOR ME

Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory
Special Showing in partnership with Tidewater Arts Outreach
Wednesday Night, October 22nd at 7:15
NARO Cinema – Norfolk
For Tickets & Information, Visit TidewaterArtsOutreach.org

Showing will also include a healthcare panel on arts programs like this in Hampton Roads.


You be THE JUDGE

October 20th, 2014 at 3:21 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for The Judge.

The Judge is another story of a scattered dysfunctional family brought together thanks to a death and the remaining members forced to deal with each other again.  The difference between This Is Where I Leave You — which we talked about a few weeks ago–  and The Judge is that there’s very little comedy and instead a lot of legal drama.

Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Hank, the son who left the small town and his family behind to become a big city lawyer. When his mother dies, he comes home to face the ghosts that have been chasing him in his difficult relationship with his father Judge Palmer (Robert Duvall).  Also in play are the other ghosts chasing Hank —the high school accident that ended the promising baseball career of Hank’s brother Glen (Vincent D’onofrio), the disability of his little brother Dale (jeremy Strong), and his high school girlfriend (Vera Farmiga).

But it’s really all about the father-son relationship.  Ultimately the Judge has to allow his son to defend him with the help of another local lawyer not up to the task (played by Dax Shepard) and against a great local lawyer — played by Billy Bob Thornton.

The screenplay is by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque and it has so much crammed in you can barely keep it straight. It’s directed (a bit self-indulgently for me) by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Change Up and Shanghai Knights).

The acting is what’s worth seeing here.  I really enjoy Downey, Jr. so much better in real, challenging acting like we see in this film as opposed to donning the sarcasm and superhero suits (although he is what made me love Iron Man).  But Robert Duvall’s complete submission and commitment to this role was exceptional.  As a senior facing the loss of his love, his career, and fighting for his life  — he gives a spectacular performance.

It’s too long and there’s too much going on, but you have to be The Judge.

I couldn’t give it FOUR, and THREE seemed unfair to the amazing acting going on here.

THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE COOKIES

Rated R for language including some sexual references. 

Gone Girl stays in theaters

October 20th, 2014 at 3:14 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for Gone Girl.
Gone Girl is the latest thriller from Oscar-nominated (Social Network, Curious Case of Benjamin Button)/Emmy-winning (House of Cards) director David Fincher.   It’s a love story gone wrong — a dysfunctional marriage of the highest caliber.

As things unfold we also get the back story of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike, Pride & Prejudice; Jack Reacher)– how they met, Amy’s childhood as the inspiration of her mother’s “Amazing Amy” children’s books, and their move  from New York to the heartland to take care of Nick’s ailing mother. Meanwhile back in the present — police are all over the evidence in Amy’s disappearance, the media is going crazy and with all of that going on — it doesn’t take long for suspicions to turn to Nick.  His own lies start to reveal themselves and paint him as a suspect to Detective Boney, played by Kim Dickens (Footloose, The Blind Side).

Nick and the in-laws turn to the media for help, which backfires on Nick. He becomes — as one news host said — “the most hated man in America”.  Desperate to prove he didn’t do anything, and on the advice of his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), he seeks the help of a star defense attorney named Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) and starts an investigation of his own.  He starts with a visit to old boyfriends of Amy’s — including Desi, played by Neil Patrick Harris.

As the clues to what happened begin to materialize, twists and turns keep coming. We’re getting the narrative from Nick at some points, and from Amy at others.  I’m not giving away the twists, but my mouth was hanging open on some of the turns the film takes.  There are apparently no surprises here if you happened to have read the novel (six million hard copies were sold before paperback!), because Flynn — who adapted it for the screen — stayed meticulously true to the novel, and, in my opinion, to a fault.  Flynn appears to me to have been uninterested in sacrificing parts of the book for the good of the film.

Affleck and Pike have great turns at their characters, but surprisingly to me — Tyler Perry had the performance of the film.  His understated short turn on camera was just what was needed.

Fincher with his dark and moody structure is gripping for 2 hours of the film, but it’s nearly two and a half hours long.  That’s about 20 minutes too long for my taste.  It could have — and should have — ended a bit earlier.

Nevertheless, Gone Girl will certainly be staying in the hunt for award nominations later this year — and given the numbers at the box office… it should be staying in the top ten for awhile.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE COOKIES

Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.


This Is Where I Leave You leaves much to be desired in a film

October 20th, 2014 at 2:34 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for This is Where I Leave You.

Based on the best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper, This Is Where I Leave You is a drama/comedy with an all-star cast that seems ready for box office gold. The adult children of this dysfunctional (somewhat Jewish) family come together to bury their atheist father. ..Let the drama and hilarity begin!

Tina Fey is the not-so-happily married sister Wendy.  Judd (Jason Bateman) is the middle brother who found out his wife is cheating on him just before heading to the funeral.  Cory Stoll plays Paul, the brother who runs the family business.  And Adam Driver is Phillip, the baby of the family who still — despite being an adult — hasn’t really grown up yet.  I cannot forget to mention that Jane Fonda plays their mother Hillary – a psychologist who has shared all of their childhood secrets and her best-selling how-to books.  Imagine the surprise when the siblings learn their atheist father’s last wish is for them all to observe the Jewish tradition and sit Shiva.

This Is Where I Leave You is directed by Shawn Levy.  We know him from the Night at the Museum series fame and — then two polar opposites: Date Night — which was great — and The Internship — which was NOT.  The best thing about This Is Where I Leave You is the cast, which works sometimes and sometimes doesn’t.  Tina Fey’s and Justin Bateman’s characters are clearly the best defined, and the actors do a good job with them.  Bateman and Fey really click in their scenes together.

Jane Fonda lobbied for this role and the Oscar-winner even called for an audition.  I didn’t read the book, but I have to believe that the character in the book had to have been better written than the film version of Hillary.  She’s mostly relegated to sitcom-ish lines and, while she delivers for the most part, there are poorly written scenes that she seems to struggle through.

The biggest problem I had was that there are so many storylines running around it just becomes a bit of a mess, before finally working itself out.  It almost feels more like a first draft of a script than a final one.  The novelist Tropper adapted the book for the screen.  His first try at a screenplay.  And for me — it shows.

This Is Where I Leave You is somewhat entertaining while at the same time a bit boring.  I checked the time three times during the film — a film I was really looking forward to seeing.  Sometimes books are better left that way.

THREE OUT OF FIVE COOKIES

Rated R for language, sexual content and some drug use.


No Good Deed not very good

October 20th, 2014 at 2:20 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for No Good Deed.

No Good Deed has SO much potential.  In fact, I mentioned it in the fall movie preview we did on Labor Day. With the Academy Award nominated acting talents on Taraji P. Henson and Idris Elba — I was really looking forward to this one.

Elba plays Collin — a criminal serving time for manslaughter and suspected of killing five other women.  He escapes and goes looking for the girlfriend he hasn’t heard from while he’s been serving time the last five years. They have a conversation and a little more –that I won’t give away — and before you know it, he is crashing a stolen vehicle on a stormy, rainy night in the Atlanta suberbs.

Meanwhile — Terri (Henson’s character) — a former domestic violence prosecutor turned stay-at-home mom is alone with the kids for the weekend while her husband is on a golf weekend.  She is busy feeding and getting them settled and expecting her friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) for girl’s night. Ultimately she lets him in to wait for a tow truck and things go wrong almost immediately.

Surprisingly, Terri isn’t sensing many warning signs, and the ones she does pick up on she tends to ignore until it’s too late.  Her friend Meg is onto him and that’s not a good thing for her.

Elba uses much of his talent to conjure up this eerie sociopath.  He does a pretty good job despite a very lame script.  His southern accent drifts in and out though and that can be distracting.  Henson holds our attention and makes us very angry when she doesn’t do the things we feel she should be doing — again scripting problems.

Some things really made it feel more like a made-for-TV movie than a major box office thriller with starpower like Henson and Elba — a branch through the window at just the right moment among them. Sam Miller directs — he directed Elba in some episodes of the British TV series Luther.

SONY/ScreenGems canceled press screenings of No Good Deed at the last minute in advance of the release — they said to prevent the exposure of a major plot twist at the end of the film.  Not even the twist saved it for me.  On a sheerly entertaining level — I would give it a few more points, but despite the fact that it made me jump once, this film is a real waste of talent to me.

JUST THREE OUT OF FIVE COOKIES.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language.


When the Game Stands Tall shares life lessons

August 26th, 2014 at 2:03 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for When the Game Stands Tall.

Football season is coming!  Full disclosure here – I am a huge football fan. I love the game and all the teamwork, hard hits, wins losses and growth that goes with it.  I love an underdog story and a dominant successful team story.  When the Game Stands Tall brings both of those together.

When the film starts the De La Salle high school football team is on an incredible record-shattering win streak – the most wins by any sports team ever of any kind.  Graduating seniors are riding the wave, college offers are coming in, and everybody is thrilled with the streak!

The head football coach is Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviesel).  He preaches, he inspires, he teaches, and he does it all with his Assistant Coach Teddy (Michael Chicklis) by his side.  But when a health crisis sidelines the coach, he has to focus on his family (some great scenes with his wife — played by Laura Dern) and the team…  has to find it’s way again.  And so does the coach.

The movie is not about the streak it’s about what happens when the streak ends. The emotion, the humanity, the love of the game and what it teaches you… that’s what the movie is about. It is very heavy handed on the preaching and inspiring, to the point of sappy in a screenplay written by Neil Hayes.  I recognize the sappy, especially when the melodramatic score signals a sappy scene.

But! Being a fan of the game, I’m also a fan of football movies. This particular film is probably the best shot film in terms of actual football that I have seen. The hits are hard, the plays are real.  Kudos to the director Thomas Carter for bringing the realness of the game to the screen. The audience in my theater were cheering as if they were watching a real game… that’s how real it felt.

Be prepared -there are a lot of storylines flying around and a lot of locker room speeches.  Technically — in terms of good movie-making — it fails more than it succeeds, but in my book it’s still a winner.

THREE OUT OF FIVE COOKIES.

Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking.


The Giver needs more

August 26th, 2014 at 12:34 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for THE GIVER.

The Giver is based on the 1993 young adult novel by Lois Lowery.  As it starts we see a world several generations removed from something called “the Ruin”.

It’s really an imagined Utopia that is void of color and emotion.  When the film gets underway we meet Jonas, Asher, and Fiona — the three best friends about to transition to “their purpose” or their job, something that is selected for them by the elders.

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected to be the keeper of all the memories — so that he may advise the elders.  In order to do this he must receive them from the giver (Jeff Bridges).  And that is something the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) is very concerned about… When The Giver begins giving the memories, Jonas is amazed at the memories he receives and, at first, can’t get enough.

But when he stops taking his daily morning mood injections, he begins to realize the injections are keeping him from feeling, understanding and growing. So he stops the injections and encourages Fiona (Odeya Rush) to do the same.  When he finds out the life of his baby brother is threatened, Jonas knows it’s up to him to save the entire community.

In addition to the star power of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes plays Jonas’ mother and Alexander Skarsgard stars as his father.  And Taylor Swift plays The Giver’s daughter Rosemary. But with all of the star power running around, The Giver can’t seem to pull together an entertaining feature.  It talks more than it tells a story and never quite manages to grab us the way an audience should be grabbed.  The only actor worth his weight here is Bridges as the title character.  But even that was a bit too weighty and philisophical.  That’s right — I’m not even giving my darling Meryl a shout out here.  I was really left wondering why she was in this film.

Director Phillip Noyce relies too heavily on narration, and it’s not as necessary as you’d think.  With more meat it could have been longer, clocking in at just one hour, 40 minutes.  The Giver spends more time telling us the story than it does giving it to us.

THREE OUT OF FIVE COOKIES

Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.

 

 


Not loving Lucy

July 28th, 2014 at 5:32 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

LUCY is an action-thriller of monumental proportions.  In fact the themes explored in the movie are so big — too big — it’s hard to wrap your mind around.
It starts by questioning what we — humanity that is — have accomplished since life began.  The questioning comes as voice over from Lucy, while visually we see another Lucy — Australopithecus in her natural habitat…. and then the advancement of time to busy cityscapes.  Wow.  I think to myself — we’ve accomplished a lot.  Apparently not Lucy doesn’t think so.

Scarlett Johansson is Lucy — an American woman in Taipei, apparently as a student (at one point she says she has exams tomorrow).  Her new boyfriend wants her to help him out by delivering a case to a “Mr. Jang” in a hotel.  Of course she refuses.  He forces her to do it, and soon everything goes bad, and Lucy is taken away by thugs to meet with the said Mr. Jang.
After beatings and killings and washing of hands in the middle of the hotel room, Lucy becomes a drug mule — she’s knocked out and has a bag of a very new, very powerful drug surgically inserted into her stomach.  She has to carry this where they want her to or else.
Bad things happen; the bag begins to leak inside her body and her brain is accessing more and more of her cerebral space allowing her to do some pretty amazing things.  She can read entire volumes in seconds; she can control technology, people, her hair color and so much more.
With Mr Jang’s gang hot on her heels — Lucy recruits a policeman in Paris (Amr Waked) to help her get to an American professor there (Morgan Freeman).  I’m still not sure entirely why.

There are car chases; there are explosions; there are fights that are useless, because as Lucy accesses more and more of her “cerebral capacity” she’s unstoppable.  That gives away the end of the movie… kind of?  NO! not unless you were expecting worm holes, meteor showers, and melting humans becoming computers???  What?
Writer/director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita and The Professional to The Fifth Element) has launched some pretty bad movies into theaters — this is one weird movie.  Odd nature scenes intercut at random times.  The plot is weak; the characters are weaker.
Scarlett Johansson does an adequate job trying to hold together the character that doesn’t seem to really come together as a character.  And sadly — this is not Morgan Freeman’s best work… largely because of the weak professor character.
When it was over I felt like I’d been in the theater for two hours, and when I checked the clock… It had been just 89 minutes!
If you watch the trailers — it looks like we are in for an amazing action flick with a dominant female hero.  What we get seems more like a Indy-wannabe film made by a dude that loves to create special effects and not characters to drive the film.

TWO OUT OF FIVE COOKIES.  The two are for the special effects… I am a story person — and this story gets ZERO cookies from me.

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality.


Planes: Fire & Rescue has rough landing

July 25th, 2014 at 3:49 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

   Planes: Fire & Rescue is the sequel to last year’s Planes which wasn’t quite up to par. But Dusty Crophopper has new challenges to face and just how will he fare in his new gig?  That is the question.
Dusty (voiced again by Dane Cook) is back at his home airstrip after his racing champion ways of the last movie… only to discover that his aging mechanics aren’t as reliable as he’d like (welcome to your forties).  He refuses to accept his diagnosis and when he pushes things too far, a bad landing ends up shutting down the airstrip.
Before long he has to face facts: his racing days may be over.  Which leads him to travel far away for training in his new job as a fire and rescue plane.  The world of fire and rescue is dangerous and exciting, and Dusty has of course taken his he can do everything attitude with him.

Soon faced with a very dangerous fire at the park… the team has to really come together to save lives, save property and save themselves.
And there’s also a bit of love in the air… on of the fire planes is Dipper (voiced by Modern Family‘s Julie Bowen).  Dipper is very taken with her DUST MUFFIN. She has some fun lines sprinkled about.
And Planes: Fire & Rescue is chock full of celebrity voices… here’s a taste… Ed Harris, Curtis Armstrong, Hal Holbrook, Teri Hatcher, Regina King, Cedric the Entertainer, Fred WIllard, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Erik Estrada, Brent Musberger amd of course as all disney animations must…. John Ratzenberger.
After saving the day and learning some lessons, Dusty is soon headed for home and helping to transform the airstrip.

The film is full of the standard puns we’ve seen before in Planes and it’s predecessors in the CARS series.  Even though some lines got a chuckle out of the grown ups, they are really beginning to get tiring.
The story is a bit fresher than last year’s Planes, it’s still not classic material… and it’s presented in 3D.  And for my money — 3D is a useless purchase.  Very few moments even warrant the glasses and certainly no need for the extra layer.
Planes: Fire & Rescue got a thumbs from most of the under-10 set of audience members — my son included.  But for me — while it was mildly entertaining — and I only thought about my to-do list twice — this sequel hit me much like Dusty’s problem in the film — Pushing for success so much that the engine can’t take it — Disney needs to consider falling back or risk stalling at the box office.

THREE OUT OF FIVE COOKIES

Rated PG for action and some peril.