Synopsis: Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Stars: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Debicki, Brian Tyree Henry, Jacki Weaver, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Robert Duvall
Review: If there’s one truly unfortunate thing that happened at the movies this year it’s that Steve McQueen’s Widows failed to catch fire at the box office. The director of 12 Years a Slave and Gillian Flynn, the writer of Gone Girl, have adapted an ‘80s UK crime series and updated it to present day Chicago and cast some of the best actors working today. It’s a gritty, great film and that it went largely unnoticed just totally baffles me. Oscar-winner Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) turns in what I think is the best performance of her career as a woman whose life is totally turned upside down and then is tossed sideways by a series of revelations that shock her and the audience. Gathering together a group of disparate women (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby, Michelle Rodriguez, Furious 7) to follow through on a crime their husbands were planning, just when you think you’ve figured out where the movie is going it throws in multiple twists that I just did not see coming. It’s hard to pull one over on movie-goers but McQueen and Flynn do it twice.
Hopefully, this is one movie that people will rediscover when it arrives on streaming services and then kick themselves for missing it when it was on the big screen. Perhaps it was marketed wrong or maybe it was released at a bad time of year, but something strange happened with Widows because this is one of the best films of the year that just totally vanished way before it should have. Find it, see it…you’ll understand what I’m saying when you do.
Synopsis: Set in contemporary Chicago amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except debts left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities take fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Release Date: November 16, 2018
Thoughts: Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) had a fondness for Widows, a UK television series created by Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect). In fact, McQueen liked it so much that he brought on Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn to modernize the story and signed on top notch talent to bring it stateside. The result can be glimpsed in this trailer, an exciting first look at a hard-boiled crime drama that could be an award contender when all is said and done. The cast is made up of Oscar winners Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) and Robert Duvall (The Paper), Oscar nominees Liam Neeson (The Commuter), Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther), and Jacki Weaver (Life of the Party), not to mention impressive names like Colin Farrell (Saving Mr. Banks), Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby), Michelle Rodriguez (Furious 7), and Cynthia Erivo. If the finished product is as impressively dynamite as this trailer, McQueen and company will have a very good fall.
We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.
I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.
Traditionally, August is the month when the wind-down begins. It never has any of the big tent pole pictures featured earlier in the summer and it can be a time when studios try to burn off some troubled pictures or try to skillfully position a sleeper hit. This August for sure had its share of high and low points, much like the summer that it capped off. I was still in frolic mode so didn’t get to as many reviews as I had wanted but sitting here now, in still sunny September, it’s time to review the movies I missed!
Movie Review ~ Shaun the Sheep Movie The Facts: Synopsis: When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for. A mix up with the Farmer, a caravan and a very steep hill lead them all to the Big City and it’s up to Shaun and the flock to return everyone safely to the green grass of home. Stars: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenall, Emma Tate Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak Rated: PG Running Length: 85 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: I’m not saying that the U.S. doesn’t churn out a fine slate of family friendly films…but there’s a certain aura around the British imports that seem to work time and time again. Like Paddington earlier this year, Shaun the Sheep Movie was an unexpected delight, 85 minutes of smart comedy that’s deep enough for adults to not need a lobotomy to enjoy and zany enough to keep the attention of young tykes. Remarkable when you consider there’s not any dialogue in the movie aside from some rumbles and grumbles from human and animal characters, it’s a big screen adventure adapted from a popular television show. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was surprisingly entertained and quite impressed by the stop-motion animation. The film didn’t have great marketing so it slipped by most people but if it’s at your bargain movie theater, pack those kids up in your minivan and get to it…or treat yourself to a solo show.
Movie Review ~ Dark Places The Facts: Synopsis: Libby Day was only seven years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Twenty-five years later, she agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night. Stars: Charlize Theron, Drea de Matteo, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Corey Stoll, Sterling Jerins, Tye Sheridan, Shannon Kook Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner Rated: R Running Length: 113 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: With the huge success of Gillian Flynn’s third novel Gone Girland seeing how fast the movie rights were snapped up, it’s only natural that her other two other books would take a similar path. Dark Places is the first of these to hit theaters (Sharp Objects is arriving as a television movie) and it shows one of two things, either the third time was the charm for Flynn or something was lost in translation. Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book but I’m inclined to think that it’s the fault of the screenwriter because there are so many hazardous movie mistakes only a Hollywood writer could make. Though the mystery of a decades old killing spree coming back to haunt the sole survivor is initially intriguing, it quickly dissolves into a sticky mess that makes less sense the more secrets are revealed. It also doesn’t help that it’s badly miscast, with the usually impressive Charlize Theron relying on her ever-present trucker hat to do most of the acting for her…or maybe to hide her embarrassment at being looped into this turkey. Though it boasts a cast that typically gets the job done, no one quite seems to know what they’re doing…as if they hadn’t read the book before undertaking their scenes. The only worthwhile performance is Christina Hendricks as Theron’s murdered mom, bringing some dignity to a role that, as written, doesn’t earn it.
Movie Review ~ Fantastic Four The Facts: Synopsis: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy. Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson, Reg E. Cathey Director: Josh Trank Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 100 minutes TMMM Score: (4/10) Review: Well, what can I saw bout the Fantastic Four that hasn’t been said (loudly) already? Is it a lousy movie? Yeah, probably. Could it have been better? After two attempts to bring these characters to the big screen I’m not sure we’ll ever get a decent adaptation. What went so wrong? If you believe the outspoken director, it was studio interference that took his movie from a rich origin story to an overstuffed thundercloud of action movie clichés and fairly terrible special effects. If you are to believe the studio, it was that director Josh Trank (who debuted with the surprise hit Chronicle) disconnected from the material, a development that was costing time and money. Watching the film with this knowledge you can see the moment that something went awry. Because the thing is, the first 20-30 minutes of Fantastic Four is quite good, sensitive even. It’s a slow start and, let’s face it, audiences these days don’t want a slow start. They want their action and they want it now. The studio was happy to oblige and when it becomes a standard summer superhero movie my interest took a nosedive and it became a waiting game of the good guys defeating the bad guys so I could go home. I think the colossal outcry from fans and critics was a little on the dramatic side, even for a superhero film, but it’s not wholly unwarranted.
Movie Review ~ Ricki and the Flash The Facts: Synopsis: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. Stars: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald, Rick Springfield Director: Jonathan Demme Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 102 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: So we’ve all long agreed to the fact that Meryl Streep can do no wrong. You can love her for it or hate her for it, but she never fails to impressive me with each new role she takes on. From starring in The Iron Lady to taking a supporting role (cameo, really) in The Homesman, Streep seems to take a role if it speaks to her, no matter the size or commitment. It’s not hard to see why she was attracted to the rough rocker Ricki with her tattoos and braided hair, here was another opportunity for Streep to strip away the classical actress aura and go barefoot into the wild. She’s ably aided by Diablo Cody’s middling script, Jonathan Demme’s careful direction, and a supporting cast that don’t just play second fiddle to Streep’s lead guitar. I think there’s one too many musical numbers allowed to play longer than they should and Cody’s dialogue doesn’t have the snap that it used to. The whole thing is worth it though for a stellar scene between Streep and Audra McDonald, the new wife of Streep’s ex-husband. A sparring match spoken with calm and some care, the two women have an electricity between them that the film needed more of. It falls apart swiftly in its second half, but it’s not a totally out of tune affair.
Movie Review ~ The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The Facts: Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. Stars: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant Director: Guy Ritchie Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 116 minutes TMMM Score: (7.5/10) Review: I never watched the television series on which this cool-as-can-be spy movie was based on but I’m pretty sure there weren’t the same amount of homoerotic jokes during the weekly adventures of Solo and Kuryakin. While I feel that director Guy Ritchie relied a bit too heavily on his similar experience at the helm of two Sherlock Holmes films, he brings his A game to this big screen adaption, sparing no expense when it came to production design. And that’s a good thing because though it’s never truly predictable, the plot is pretty thin. So it’s up to Ritchie and his cast to sell the film and they are more than up for the challenge. Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) is perfectly cast as the smooth Solo and he’s well matched with Armie Hammer’s (Mirror Mirror) simmering Kuryakin. The two trade barbs rich with double entendre while protecting Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) from falling into the hands of a sinister villainess (the scene stealing Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gastby). The film looks and sounds amazing, here’s hoping costume designer Joanna Johnston gets an Oscar nomination for her impeccable suits and stunning dresses.
Movie Review ~ End of the Tour The Facts: Synopsis: The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’ Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer, Anna Chlumsky, Mickey Sumner Director: James Ponsoldt Rated: R Running Length: 106 minutes TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: I never thought I’d say the words “potential Oscar nominee Jason Segel” in a work of non-fiction…but then again I didn’t think two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill was possible either and look what happened there. Yes, Segel’s work as tormented writer David Foster Wallace is worthy of acclaim as the actor digs deep within and bypasses his comedic instincts to find the truth of the man behind the epic novel Infinite Jest. Jesse Eisenberg (who also pops up in American Ultra) turns in strong work as well, though he’s really just a prop for Segel to react off of. Their five day road trip interview for Rolling Stone is the basis for the movie and it leads the men and the audience into interesting territory. It’s a movie you watch once, appreciate, then file away as something you can recommend to people and feel like you’ve done them a favor. One thing that must be said…Eisenberg needs to learn how to smoke a cigarette. Here and in American Ultra he looks a child does when they are mimicking their parent. Many things about Eisenberg annoy me and this is just another thing to add to the list.
Movie Review ~ The Diary of a Teenage Girl The Facts: Synopsis: A teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Stars: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig Director: Marielle Heller Rated: R Running Length: 102 minutes TMMM Score: (7.5/10) Review: It’s nice to go into a movie with only a basic logline and a list of the actors featured. I didn’t know what to expect from The Diary of a Teenage Girl but whatever I thought, the movie surprised me in the best ways. The story of a young girl’s sexual awakening in San Francisco is gloriously set in the mid ‘70s, an era of freedom and discovery. While some may be off put by the relationship between an older man and an underage girl (star-in-the-making Bel Powley is older than she looks, thankfully), they’d be missing the point of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel on which the film is based. It’s a frank flick that frequently finds its actors in the buff but doesn’t feel gratuitous because these characters are coming into themselves, marveling at a new experience they never knew existed. I appreciated that the film pulled no punches in showing nudity and discussing sexual situations and director Marielle Heller shows respect for all people involved. It’s a bold film with animated sequences, a killer soundtrack, and splendid performances.
The dog days of summer brought three other notable releases to theaters, though I’m guessing by the poor box office returns of two of them that the studios (and actors) wish the films had just quietly gone away.
I hadn’t heard a thing about American Ultra until two weeks before it was due to arrive, strange considering it starred Kirsten Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. The two aren’t serious box office draws but they do have a fanbase that might have helped build more buzz for the stoner comedy. Not that it would have made the film any better because at its best it was a mildly diverting mix of comedy and gratuitous violence and at its worst it was a merely the thing you watched because you’d seen everything else at the theater and wanted some time in the air conditioning. It’s bad when you don’t know what the movie is about, but it’s worse when it feels like the filmmakers don’t have a clue either.
I’ve gone on record as no fan of director Noah Baumbach and very on the fence for actress Greta Gerwig so I wasn’t at all looking forward to their latest collaboration, Mistress America. Once again, the universe has a way of loving to see me humbled and I emerged from the screening not only in a damn fine mood but the desire to see it again. That rarely happens with any movie, let alone a Baumbach/Gerwig joint so that should tell you something about the quality of this movie that is firmly in a New York state of mind. Sure, it has its share of problems but they don’t ultimately detract from the overall enjoyment the film brings.
Finally, there’s the sad, sad case of We Are Your Friends, Zac Efron’s latest attempt to be a serious dramatic actor. While I think it’s Efron’s best dramatic performance to date and didn’t totally hate the film, audiences sure did and it became the third biggest box office failure of all time…pretty stunning considering how many other bad movies have been released and made at least a few million during its opening weekend. I think the film got a bum rap and just was released at the wrong time, but it should hopefully send a message to Efron that he needs to spend some time figuring out exactly where his place is in Hollywood because he is, like his character here, totally lost.
Review: I’ve been trying hard lately to catch up on my reading…especially with so many page to screen adaptations coming out in the next few months. Even more challenging is that I try to time my finishing of a book as close to the release date as possible so the elements of the story are still fresh in my mind. Recently, I finished the disappointing This Is Where I Leave You a few weeks before the slightly less disappointing film was released but with Gone Girl I was down to the wire, catching the film when the book’s pages were still warm from me blazing through them.
This actually helped me more than I could have ever dreamed because it afforded me the opportunity to pinpoint exactly where screenwriter Gillian Flynn improved upon her own novel. By combining characters or excising them all together, Flynn has tightened what was already a taut narrative…and the end result is a film as razor sharp as they come. Of course it helps that she had David Fincher as her director because he’s all about economical delivery, ready and willing to trim the fat to ensure his work is as lean and direct as can be.
That works well for Flynn’s tricky tale of marriage and murder where everyone seems to have a secret ready to be exploited. Her novel was a blockbuster hit when released in 2012 and it’s truly a wonder it made such a seamless transition to the screen, largely keeping its twists under wraps until the moment of impact. Even knowing where the film was heading, I was engaged enough that I was on the edge of my seat right along with those in the audience that weren’t prepared for the journey Flynn and Fincher were about to take us.
It’s 2012 and the morning of the fifth anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne. Transplants from New York, they’ve been living in Nick’s Missouri hometown thanks to the economic downturn that saw both lose their jobs and reexamine their financial future. Instead of celebrating, however, Nick is plunged into a nightmare when he returns home to find Amy has seemingly vanished into thin air. As the police, media, friends, and family descend upon the town and start to examine the crime and, by proxy, the Dunne’s marriage we learn that some secrets won’t stay hidden for long.
Like the novel, the movie jumps between Nick’s present day narrative and Amy’s diary entries written from the time they met up until she goes missing that paint a different picture of the happy couple. So far the marketing of the film has kept Flynn’s surprising twists in check and you won’t get a spoiler out of me…but let’s just say that through some clever bits of storytelling the film is far from over just when you think you’ve reached the end.
As is typical with Fincher’s work, the casting is pretty spot-on even if several choices are quite different from the original novel. Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the blond-haired tanned creation on the page but he’s wholly convincing as a husband on the edge, trapped by evidence that suggests he should be more concerned with his wife’s whereabouts than he appears to be. Same goes for Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) as the vanished Amy who has an even more delicate balance to play. Pike’s always been an interesting actress but I was wondering if she was perhaps too chilly to play Amy, and boy was I wrong. Her steel gaze turns out to be a major advantage here and Pike handily swipes the movie away from her more famous co-star every chance she gets.
In supporting roles, Fincher scored with Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister caught between what she knows is true about her sibling and the evidence that suggests more and more he knows where his wife is. Another fine performance comes from Kim Dickens as a local cop assigned to the case with good instincts that she doesn’t quite know what to do with. Both Coon and Dickens represent Fincher thinking out of the casting box — here’s hoping their work elevates them as it should. Also, I should add as a longtime fan it’s also nice to see Sela Ward cameo as a scoop hungry television personality.
Surprisingly, Fincher makes two unfortunate mistakes with the casting of Neil Patrick Harris (A Million Ways to Die in the West) as a man from Amy’s past and Tyler Perry (Alex Cross) as Nick’s high-powered attorney. Harris seems too slight and off the mark for where the character needed to be, though admittedly he’s saddled with the least successful dialogue Flynn transported over from her book. Perry, meanwhile, looks positively giddy to be out of his Madea garb and into some power suits…though his unconvincing acting still borders on atrocious. These two distractions could be written off had they not been so pivotal to the story. Too bad.
At 149 minutes, I was worried the movie wouldn’t be able to keep its momentum going strong but Fincher has never met a film he couldn’t move along at a breathless pace. Like the book, the movie is pleasing enough for the first 45 minutes or so but really hits its stride around the hour mark before making a full out sprint to the finish line. There’s some devious work afoot here and it’s incredibly satisfying.
I realized about halfway through Gone Girl how starved I’d been for a sophisticated, adult thriller. Though it seemed to go out of style in the late 90s and been replaced by the political/espionage mystery fare Fincher has made his second bid (after 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) for its resurgence. When the story is so good, the lead performances so on the money, and the direction this precise, the bar has been raised again for any takers that wish to challenge themselves to rise to Fincher and Co.’s level.
Synopsis: A woman mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary.
Release Date: October 3, 2014
Thoughts: I’ve yet to meet a David Fincher film or marketing campaign I haven’t liked and it appears as though Gone Girl will be no different. From the clever poster to this simple first trailer for the drama/thriller adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, this looks like the dark material that Fincher thrives in. Another thing Fincher always seems to have going for him is surprising casting and while Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the most out of the box choice for the role of the husband suspected of being involved with his wife’s disappearance, it would appear he fits the role quite well. Though multiple A-list actresses sought the titular role, Fincher opted to go with the lesser known Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, Die Another Day) and if early buzz is to be believed, she’s a revelation. I’m waiting until later in the summer to give the book a look-see but have every confidence Fincher and Flynn will deliver the goods.