The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl on the Train

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Synopsis: Rachel spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day, until one morning she sees something shocking happen there and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds

Release Date:  October 7, 2016

Thoughts: For several years now I find myself thinking at the end of most movies “Emily Blunt should have been in this…Emily Blunt makes everything good.” and it’s an opinion I hold fast to. Luckily, Blunt (Into the Woods) is front and center in this new trailer for the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel The Girl on the Train.  Sure it shares not only an October release date but a plot kinship with 2014’s nice and twisted Gone Girl, but if this first look is any indication (and, I know, it’s not) Blunt could find herself with an Oscar nomination like Rosamund Pike did for Gone Girl.  Plus…I mean, look at the cast: Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back), Justin Theroux (Wanderlust), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Lisa Kudrow (Neighbors)…just a roster of dependable, stellar talent. October is a great month for mystery and I’m ready for my ticket to ride this Train.

Movie Review ~ Joy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Röhm, Bradley Cooper

Director: David O. Russell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The good news to report about Joy is that it’s eons better than American Hustle, the last film that teamed up director David O. Russell with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro.  The bad news is that, like American Hustle, it’s largely a watch it and forget it kind of experience with only Lawrence’s performance lingering in the memory after the credits have rolled and the lights have come up.

Working with the same three actors for his last three pictures, one could argue that Russell is gathering a bit of a cinematic repertory of talent that he finds a way to plug into his films.  That’s an interesting concept and one I’m not totally opposed to, but the problem arises when the roles being offered to these stars don’t fit them, forcing them to be the square peg valiantly sucking in their guts to fit into Russell’s round hole.

Touted as being “loosely” based on the life of Joy Mangano (c’mon Russell, it’s either based on her life or it isn’t…you can’t ride the middle ground), Joy is all over the map when it comes to its narrative.  Much of the movie is recounted by Joy’s grandmother (a divine Diane Ladd)…except when it’s not.  Long stretches of the movie go by without the grandmother’s guiding voice so the narrative device becomes a tool to assist in transitions when simple filmmaking alone can’t do the trick.

Mangano’s life plays like an ‘80s sitcom: she’s a divorcee living in her mother’s house and her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez, Point Break) lives in the basement.  Her mom (Virginia Madsen) hides away from the world, losing herself in her soap operas (hilariously recreated by the likes of Susan Lucci and Donna Mills) and letting her daughter do most of the household upkeep.  When Joy’s hot-tempered father (De Niro, Cape Fear) moves in after his longtime girlfriend kicks him out, the dynamic of the already erratic household is thrown into disarray.

The first hour or so of Joy is an awkward mix of family situational comedy and pallid drama.  Joy’s airline job is going nowhere and her attempts at promoting a new kind of mop of her own invention isn’t attracting any business.  When her dad starts dating a rich Italian widow (Isabella Rossellini, Enemy), Joy sees a potential investor for her creation and enters into a business deal with the woman, along with her father and half-sister (Elisabeth Röhm)

It isn’t until Joy winds up in the offices of upstart company QVC that the movie starts to take some kind of shape.  Meeting the brainchild behind the business (Bradley Cooper, American Sniper), she’s encouraged to go big with her idea, leading to her becoming the first “real” person to pitch a product on the network.  The scene where Joy first appears in front of the camera to demonstrate her Miracle Mop was the only time in the entire movie that I felt something magical was happening.  That’s largely due to Lawrence’s ability to shed the skins of her previous roles and totally disappear into this woman.  A relatively short scene, it’s stuck with me in the weeks since I first saw it.

Sadly, the film reaches its peak at that moment and the rest of the time is spent tracking Joy’s bumpy ride to the top, complete with epic failures and miracle reversals of fortune.  How much of it is actually accurate I couldn’t tell you but in the eyes of Russell and co-writer Annie Mumalo (This is 40) the journey is one of pure will and unflinching drive.

The main issue I had with the movie is also the one thing that makes it worth seeing…Jennifer Lawrence.  Though she’s entirely believable as a young mother looking to make ends meet, she becomes less successful as the years go by and her character has to move into the early stages of midlife.  By the time we see her in a power suit and French manicure, all plausibility has left the room and it comes across as a great actress playing dress-up for her favorite director.  I know Lawrence and Russell have a deep fondness for each other, but both need to see that there are limits to the roles they can work on together.

The story being told here is interesting and the actors are attention-grabbing in and of themselves.  Yet something kept everything from gelling in a way that made a lasting impression.  Russell is known for his quirky tone and unexpected performances…it’s why Silver Linings Playbook worked so damn well…but his two follow-up films haven’t been able to latch onto that same magic.

Movie Review ~ Point Break (2015)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young FBI agent infiltrates an extraordinary team of extreme sports athletes he suspects of masterminding a string of unprecedented, sophisticated corporate heists. “Point Break” is inspired by the classic 1991 hit.

Stars: Édgar Ramírez, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo, Ray Winstone

Director: Ericson Core

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 113 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When the first trailer for this remake surfaced back in May, I went against the popular opinon that decried its very existence and said “here’s hoping the boys of summer bring some heat to the holidays.”  Little did I know that the heat I was hoping for came in the form of pure fury.  In retrospect, calling that early preview ‘kinda fun’ makes me shiver in my snowboots that I ever truly had faith that the 2015 Point Break could ever hold a candle to the original from 1991.

Now, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that that Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze led action film was any kind of classic.  It’s very much a product of its time and capitalized on what both stars brought to the table, the laid-back (nigh sleepy) performance of Reeves and the dangerous-but-I’d-still-like-to-be-his-friend vibe Swayze was great at delivering.  That it was helmed by a female director (future Best Director Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow) with more macho bravado than any five films directed by her male peers only made it more of an attractive property over the years, strangely fascinating with each subsequent viewing.

So yeah, I kind of get why a remake of Point Break looked somewhat appealing.  The original wasn’t so much of a blockbuster that it felt untouchable and its slight cult status in the years following its release didn’t give off a feeling that a remake would be outright condemned.  And I can imagine that the studio heads over at Warner Brothers cooed when they hired director Ericson Core to not only direct the film but serve as the cinematographer as well.   Add in a script updated by Kurt Wimmer (who also delivered a new treatment for Total Recall in 2012), lock in some hunky but cheap talent, and decide to release it in 3D and call it a day.

If only they had quit while they were ahead.

Moved from an intended summer release date to Christmas Day, instead of riding the wave to holiday thrills this remake is hanging ten on my worst of the year list.  It’s an abysmally conceived action film with hardly any action that winds up taking itself so seriously that you can’t help but laugh every time a character waxes poetic about nature and our place in the ecosystem of life.

Opening with a stunt sequence that changes the career course for extreme action star Johnny “Utah” (we learn Utah is his nickname, related to his Native American heritage…oy), it features an accident handled so awkwardly it’s hard to fathom how it winds up playing such a big part of Utah’s later mission with the FBI.  Morphing from his extreme sports career to an FBI trainee in danger of being cut, Utah discovers a connection between a series of bank robberies and the test of the wills sort of vision quest he believes the burglars to be embarking upon.

Before you know it, Utah (remember, he’s not even a full FBI agent yet) is given carte blanche by his superior (Delroy Lindo, phoning it in like a pro) to cozy up to the men he believes are behind the daring swindles.  It brings him on a globe-trotting adventure where he forges a sort of kinship with the adrenaline junkies and their leader, Bodhi.  Lines between right and wrong get blurred for a period until it disintegrates into a stilted chase picture that wants to fly but never takes wing.

The film strays so far from its source material that I almost wished it had ditched the title and went on its own merry path, shrugging off obvious comparisons to certain touchstone elements of the original.  Making the film less about robberies and more about conservation of resources, it becomes a new age-y garbage dump of plot holes and extended action sequences that feel far too long.

There’s some praise to be had here, though, and that has to do with Core’s thrilling cinematography that takes audiences through mountains, waves, alpine slopes, and through the streets of its European locations.  Seen in 3D, there are some mighty impressive sights to behold, all filmed with elaborate flair from someone that obviously knows what he’s doing.

Where Core succeeds in cinematography, he outright fails as the overall director of the piece.  Aside from the aforementioned chuckle-headed script, the acting in Point Break is maybe the most offensive thing of all.  I can tell that Luke Bracey (The November Man) wants to make his character multi-dimensional but the way he plays it feels like an acting exercise gone horribly wrong.  Attaching the wrong emotion to nearly every one of his hysterically inane line readings, Bracey’s future looks bleak as an actor let alone a leading man.  He’s covered in some of the most atrocious tattoos ever put on film, making him look like a complete douchebag (the man-bun doesn’t help), offering him no chance to be someone the audience can root for.  Speaking of bad tattoos, nearly everyone in the movie sports some sort of heinous skin art…the kind of ink you wake up with after a drunken night in Cabo San Lucas.

Faring ever so slightly better is Édgar Ramírez (Joy) as the earthy Bodhi, a kind of spiritual father figure to Bracey’s lost boy.  Ramírez is a better actor than Bracey (actually Pauly Shore is a better actor) but is taxed with delivering the most grueling of the zen fortune cookie lines.  Ramírez and Bracey have several ab-offs as they flex, surf, and punch their way through a series of high stakes tests of their mettle.  At one point, I was wondering if they’d ever get back to robbing banks.

Thrown in for dictation is a lame love interest for Utah named Samsara (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies) and though I’m sure sparks are meant to fly here, Bracey and Palmer can’t rub their two sticks together to create anything more than a frustrated puff of smoke.  Palmer’s character waltzes in and out of the proceedings seemingly at will, only showing up when the testosterone level reaches its max peak.  At least the original film had Lori Petty as the love interest, Petty and Reeves had little chemistry too but she was such an interesting actress that you wanted to see more…here I couldn’t wait for Palmer to exit stage right.

I’m guessing by some poorly dubbed lines that the movie was filmed as an R-rated action flick but edited down to a more box-office friendly PG-13.  How else would you explain Bracey calling a group of thugs ‘funny a-holes’…a line that doesn’t match what his mouth is saying.

An endurance test to be sure, this remake of Point Break surfs shallow waters and sinks like a stone early on.  It never can overcome its shortcomings in the acting department, even if some parts are beautifully shot.  With so many better movies to see at your local theater, this is one to avoid at all costs…

The Silver Bullet ~ Joy

Joy

Synopsis: Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

Release Date:  December 25, 2015

Thoughts: Here’s the deal: I loved Silver Linings Playbook, the first film that brought together Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Bradley Cooper (Aloha), and director David O. Russell and I hated American Hustle, the film that reunited the three.  So my interest in Joy is marked with more than a little trepidation.  On the one hand, it places the best thing about Playbook and Hustle (Lawrence) front and center, telling the true life tale of the woman that invented the Miracle Mop.  On the other, I’d hate to see it drown in its own love of self which was what torpedoed Hustle for me.  It looks like a wild ride, one everyone in Hollywood is waiting for to see if Lawrence finds herself in the Oscar race yet again.

The Silver Bullet ~ Point Break (2015)

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Synopsis: A young FBI agent infiltrates an extraordinary team of extreme sports athletes he suspects of masterminding a string of unprecedented, sophisticated corporate heists.

Release Date: December 25, 2015

Thoughts: I realize that this is going to make me sound like a tremendous hypocrite after decrying the recent remake of Poltergeist but I kinda think this reboot of the 1991 Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze action hit looks kinda…fun.  Sure, it seems to have precious little to do with surfing and stars Luke Bracey (The November Man) and Edgar Ramirez (Zero Dark Thirty) will never replace the memorable stars but just as the original was a product of its early ‘90s time, so does this remake look like it’s squarely set in the high adrenaline, tech-savvy new millennium.  Moved from its planned summer 2015 release date to a competition heavy bow on Christmas, here’s hoping the boys of summer bring some heat to the holidays.

The Silver Bullet ~ Deliver Us From Evil

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBxTF_DxN8k

Synopsis: A NYC police officer joins forces with an unconventional priest schooled in the rituals of exorcism to combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city.

Release Date:  July 2, 2014

Thoughts: I can’t help it.  I eat these based on a true-story-demonic-horror-films up with glee.  I appreciate that it appears we’ve moved past the B-movie trash filmmaking these slick horror films have employed for years and into a more sophisticated take on the scare.  Scott Derrickson earned high praise from me for directing two of the more superior horror films in the last decade, Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, so I’m inclined to have faith that Deliver Us From Evil will follow suit.  This first teaser trailer may be longer than I’d have liked but it has a nice little payoff.

Movie Review ~ Zero Dark Thirty

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Jeremy Strong, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez, Mark Strong

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Rated: R

Running Length: 157 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Ever since September 11, 2001 there has been a dark cloud over our country as we continue to rebuild our body, minds, and spirit after the devastating attack on our freedom.  Over a decade later, we’re a more aware society, less likely to go through our lives with blinders on having been forced to wake up that real evil does exist in our world.  The man responsible for the attacks was public enemy number one, a sign and signal for evil and his death in May of 2011 at the hands of a Navy S.E.A.L. team allowed a small exhale from a country that had been holding its breath for ten years.

How this man was killed and how he was located is the subject of Zero Dark Thirty, a film that has arrived with a fair share of controversy and end of the year award recognition.  It’s an intelligent movie for adults that asks its audience to snap to attention and come along for a real life manhunt as it teeters between globe-hopping intrigue, government double talk, and questions on the price of justice.

The film rests on the very capable shoulders of Chastain (who won a Golden Globe for her work and is nominated for an Oscar and SAG Award as well) as CIA analyst Maya that becomes obsessed with her decade long search for the man known as UBL (Usama bin Laden).  Like a bumper car, with every dead end she reaches she changes course without losing sight of what’s at stake.  As the years go by and multiple set-backs (some of them deadly) occur, Maya uses considerable intelligence to piece together the puzzle until everything falls into place in a fashion that doesn’t feel too forced or too cinematic to be believable. 

Oscar winning director Bigelow teams again with her The Hurt Locker collaborator Mark Boal to direct his well researched script with a strong arm.  Bigelow has never shied away from making what many would consider “male” films and with Zero Dark Thirty she again doesn’t make the film about gender roles but focuses on the subject at hand.  It would have been easy to inject some misogynistic scenes to further burden Maya with not only doing her job but proving she’s worthy of it in the first place.  Bigelow keeps the nearly three hour movie trucking along until an outstanding finale shot in near real time as the team of S.E.A.L.’s descended upon the compound where they will eventually eliminate one of the biggest threats ever in the war on terror.

I admit I didn’t read too much about this strike on UBL’s compound when it happened so was surprised at some of the details that were new to me.  I, like many, assumed that it was a blitz of bullets that was over quickly but the film takes us through every second of these 20 some odd minutes with painstaking tension.  Aided by Alexandre Desplat’s eerie music, I’m not sure I breathed much in the final thirty minutes of the movie…it’s hard to say it was “entertaining” but my attention was raptly devout to what Bigelow and cinematographer Greig Fraser put together.

The film has taken a lot of hits for its sequences showing the various torture methods used by our intelligence agents to extract information on the location of UBL.  To leave these scenes out would be inaccurate and the director herself said it best that “depiction is not endorsement”.  Torture happened, we know it did and we all have to have our own internal discussions on how far is too far – to fault the movie for these scenes would be doing a disservice to the story it’s highlighting.

Along with Chastain there are strong performances from Clarke (Lawless) and Ehle as colleagues of Maya…both of whom could have easily landed on nomination list in the Best Supporting Oscar category.  It’s mostly Chastain’s show and she executes her role with an assurance that never feels false.  It’s a restrained, intelligent portrayal of a restrained, intelligent woman that believes in her heart she is the one that must be responsible for finding this man. 

Zero Dark Thirty refers to the very dark hour before dawn – a metaphor not lost on audiences for the extreme darkness that was felt by many before the man responsible for it was wiped out.  It didn’t back bring the lives that were lost on that day or in the war that has been raging on for a decade but, speaking for myself, the elimination of UBL offered a small glimmer of hope that justice had been done.  How we came to that point is a very debatable issue but Zero Dark Thirty is a fascinating and involving film that makes the conversation timeless.

The Silver Bullet ~ Zero Dark Thirty

Synopsis: The Navy SEAL Team 6 tracks down wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Release Date:  December 19, 2012                          

Thoughts: After becoming the first female ever to win an Academy Award for Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow knew that all eyes would be on her when she selected her next project.  With the release of the trailer for Zero Dark Thirty, it looks like Bigelow has stayed close to her Hurt Locker wartime influences with the dramatization of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  Bigelow has always more than held her own with the big boys so I’d expect nothing less than a gruff, no holds barred examination of the tactical individuals involved whether they be on the ground or behind the scenes.  It’s a teaser trailer and count me expertly teased by Zero Dark Thirty.