Synopsis: A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Bill Burr, Gillian Zinser, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Christina Vidal
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: American remakes of foreign films are a strange beast indeed, especially when the original is one you still are recommending to people when the English version is released for a wide audience. That’s the dilemma I face when a film like The Guilty arrives for its limited theatrical run and streaming debut on Netflix. Here’s a smart, compact, film from the slick streaming service by a popular director (Antoine Fuqua) with an enhanced screenplay courtesy of an in-demand writer known for their pot-boilers (True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto) and starring a red-hot actor (Jake Gyllenhaal) who always attracts attention in any project he attaches himself to. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Of course. The tiny wrinkle is that they’ve remade a 2018 film from Denmark still going strong (on Hulu) and while the 2021 has all the right players, does it improve the game?
At a 911 call center, LAPD officer Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal, End of Watch) is nearing the end of his shift as the wildfires in the Hollywood Hills rages on nearby. Relegated to a desk job as he waits on a trial for something we’ll learn more about as the 91 minutes tick away, Joe is a hot-tempered live wire…not a perfect match for the charged atmosphere he’s working in. In between phone calls to his estranged wife, he receives a call from a teary woman (Riley Keough, The Lodge) who appears to be talking to a small child. Eventually realizing the call to a “child” is a ruse to whomever she is with, Joe confirms the woman has been kidnapped and launches into a one-man mission to save her and reunite her with her children.
To say more of the film might give away one or two of the twists and turns present in the original and thankfully retained here. It’s nice to see that Pizzolatto has kept a hold of much of the solid structure installed by original screenwriters Emil Nygaard Albertsen & Gustav Möller, adding small tweaks for its transport to America along the way. Adding in the pressure of the California fires ups the ante for making Joe such a man on a solo mission, because much of the force is busy attending to that devastation and danger.
Where you have to look at remakes is how they diverge from the initial film and then make your comparisons and as strong as the team is on the 2021 take, it can’t quite make it over the bar set so high by the 2018 Danish thriller. The beauty of the previous film is that it was so simple a set-up which made the events unfolding so breathless and terrible all at once. Here, everything is just awful all around so things start at level 10 and just have nowhere to go. Fuqua and Pizzolatto remade The Magnificent Sevenand, while no classic or in danger of besting the original, it had some fun moments of ingenuity that boosted a few of the characters in interesting ways. Pizzolatto isn’t as successful here with the way they’ve added physical burdens to Baylor to go along with the emotional weight he’s carrying inside. This is especially true in a strangely self-indulgent coda, not present in 2018, that stretches on far too long and is meant to turn our attention from the story to Gyllenhaal’s performance…and that doesn’t feel right. It feels show pony chic and it cheapens the mood.
The Guilty would actually have made a wonderful audiobook or podcast experience since so much of it is just Gyllenhaal onscreen talking to disembodied voices. Keep your ears open and see if you can put some voices with the famous faces of actors and comedians that pop up throughout. By all means, do yourself a favor and watch both films to compare but I’d still give my overall greenlight to the 2018 entry which does a better job with portraying the inner turmoil going on below the surface of the emergency operator and the way that his intervention might wind up doing more harm than good.
Synopsis: After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker and his friends go on summer vacation to Europe and there Peter finds himself trying to save his friends against a villain known as Mysterio.
Stars: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, J.B. Smoove,
Director: Jon Watts
Running Length: 129 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: In some ways, Spider-Man: Far From Home was always bound to be disappointing. Being the follow-up to the biggest movie on the planet and arriving barely two months after it’s release is an unenviable position. Here’s the kicker, though. If you believe the trade papers then it seems Sony, which still owns the rights to Spider-Man and has loaned him out to Marvel Studios for his work in Captain America: Civil War,Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, actually pushed to have this particular release date so close to the final Avengers film. It’s a strange strategy because everyone is bound to compare this to the juggernaut last chapter of Iron Man and his team which is still playing in many theaters and is even being re-released with new footage around the same time Spider-Man is swinging into cinemas.
Yet here we are, with another comic book superhero movie and, if you count the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, our fourth big-screen appearance of Spider-Man in a year. Sony is playing chicken with audiences and betting they aren’t suffering from Spidey fatigue yet and based on the genial but oddly underwhelming Spider-Man: Far From Home I’m guessing they made the right call at express shipping this next chapter into theaters right in time for the July 4th holiday. Though flawed in the action department and failing to provide a showcase for an A-list actor trying his hand at playing an evil genius villain, the film succeeds best when it focuses on the people and not the effects.
As this site is spoiler-free as much as possible, a caveat that while the plot secrets of Spider-Man: Far From Home will remain hidden there are elements from Avengers: Endgame I’ll have to discuss.
So, if you don’t want the end of Avengers: Endgame spoiled for you then it’s best to turn back now.
Seriously. This is your last chance.
I’m going to spoil something, don’t be mad.
OK…here we go.
Picking up where Avengers: Endgame left off, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, The Impossible) is still mourning the deaths of Captain America, Black Widow, Vision, and his mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man. With the rest of the Avengers dispersed on their own missions around the world and in other galaxies, Peter is getting back to a routine in school and making the occasional appearance as Spider-Man to help raise funds with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, The Paper) to support the population vaporized in The Snap that were returned in what came to be known as The Blip. As the school year winds to a close, Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) prepare for their science trip abroad which will take them across Europe. Ned is looking forward to spending time with his friend as bachelors overseas while Peter is more interested in getting closer to MJ (Zendaya, The Greatest Showman).
The group has barely arrived in Venice when the floating city is attacked by one of four elementals, a creature made of water that goes about destroying everything in its path. Before Peter can jump into action and save the day, Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners) appears and helps vanquish the threat with some marginal assistance from your friendly traveling neighborhood Spider-Man. Recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Shaft), Beck teams up with Peter to take on the final elemental who is due to show up in Prague, where Fury reroutes Peter’s class trip (though what his school is doing in Europe is a mystery, it’s never clear why they’ve traveled overseas) so he can believably stay part of the action. Dubbed Mysterio by the press, Beck quickly (too quickly) becomes a new Stark-ish figure to Peter, establishing a trust that hides a darker agenda. When Beck’s true nature is revealed it’s up to Peter and his friends (including Jon Favreau, The Wolf of Wall Street, as Tony Stark’s former bodyguard) to eventually save London and its key landmarks from danger.
What may surprise viewers is how long director Jon Watts takes to get to the first round of action in the film. Aside from a very brief prologue there’s not another major action scene for nearly a half hour and, truthfully, I didn’t mind at all. The characters established so well in Spider-Man: Homecoming have been brought back fully realized and we’re dropped right back into their mix without much adjustment needed. When the action does start, in that first battle in Venice, the film gets less interesting almost immediately and it’s because we’re focused less on the people and more on the sturm und drang of it all. It doesn’t help the action sequences are curiously flat and rarely edge-of-your-seat exciting like previous Marvel (and Sony Spider-Man) films have been. Even the effects seem off and uneven, like the film wasn’t quite ready by time it had to go to theaters.
Another stumbling block is, surprisingly, Gyllenhaal as Beck/Mysterio. I had high hopes for the actor entering this universe and lending some of his trademark intensity to a character. Usually, Gyllenhaal has an interesting way into inhabiting whatever role he’s taking on but he was either stymied by the studio heads or just opted for the wrong approach because he’s dramatically inert here. Watch the movie and see if you can spot how many times Gyllenhaal moves throughout – you rarely seem him walking or making any kind of actionable movement, the majority of his performance he’s sitting or standing still. It’s like he was performing injured or filming his scenes in one soundstage over the course of two days. What should have been a nice match of actor and fan favorite villain was a whiff and a miss for me, extra disappointing because I am a big fan of the actor.
The movie is saved in no small part due to the performances given by Holland and Zendaya, both of whom were appealing in their first film paired together but now have honest to goodness chemistry that is entirely palpable. In Holland, we finally have a Spider-Man/Peter Parker that feels like he’s the right age and the actor plays him as more than an angsty teen longing to be more than the sum of his Spidey parts. He knows the great responsibility he has and understands why Tony chose him, but doesn’t want to continue to miss out on the life that doesn’t include inter-galactic wars and infinity stones. Zendaya isn’t your cookie-cutter MJ and mores the better. I like her awkwardness and affinity for the darker side of history. Like she did with Zac Efron in The Greatest Showman, she plays well off her costar and helps them to shine.
Based on the reactions of the audience at my screening, maybe I’m the one that’s fatigued at the present moment with these films. Perhaps my attraction to the pieces of Spider-Man: Far From Home that had nothing to do with action or effects say something about were my attention is at this point and time. I still don’t think Gyllenhaal is doing anywhere near his best work and the previous Spider-Man film was, in my opinion, more focused, unexpected, and heads and tails more entertaining from start to finish. We’re all trained by this point to stay through the credits but the mid-credit stinger and post-credit scene are absolutely essential. The final scene actually changes something about the movie entirely – don’t miss it or you’ve missed a huge piece of the story.
Synopsis: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: On the drive home after the screening of Life, I ran afoul of my partner after repeatedly referring to it as an ‘odd, little movie’. At first thinking I was just lazily falling back on a casual turn of phrase, I began to agree with myself that for all its A-List star power, occasional scares, and well-executed special effects the film was a strange, small endeavor for all involved. Not tiny enough to be a direct-to-video tax write-off and not big enough to be a major player in the summer months (though it was intended for a May 2017 release until Alien: Covenant moved its release date in close proximity), Life fits decently into the grey area between Oscar season and the mid-year blockbuster event films.
In an unusually long pre-title sequence, we meet the crew occupying the International Space Station as they intercept a satellite returning from Mars containing a specimen from the red planet. As the camera glides from person to person, it feels less like an introduction and more like a location tour to help orient the audience for the action to come. Macho Rory (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool) is the wise-cracking dude of the team, Army vet David (Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners) is about to break the world record for most consecutive days in space which worries quarantine officer Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation). They join commanding officer Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya), scientist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare, Jupiter Ascending), and pilot Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada, 47 Ronin) in marveling at the extraterrestrial life discovered when the Mars sample is thawed out.
Fascination turns to horror as the specimen, dubbed “Calvin”, begins to grow rapidly in mind and body, eventually escaping the confines of the lab and hunting down the crew one by one. It’s Alien-like premise aside, there are a few surprises to be had in Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s script for Life as it takes some turns you may not be expecting. Director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44) is no Ridley Scott, however, and the workmanlike way Life is compiled and its odd pacing gives it the feeling of a movie that desperately wants to be better than it is.
When Reynolds, Ferguson, and Gyllenhaal signed on, I’m betting they were counting on this being a summer release but truth be told the way the film is structured and performed it feels more like an art-house alternative to a sci-fi horror tent-pole picture. Reynolds is on cruise control as his usual cool as a cucumber self while Gyllenhaal surprisingly rests a bit on his laurels and goes only halfway in crafting the haunted character he’s perfected in films like Enemy and Nightcrawler. Only Ferguson seems to lock into her role, never over-doing the “company man” attitude or under-selling her rising terror that this creature may somehow find its way back to earth.
Had the movie only had three characters, it may have felt a bit less cramped…and been a bit easier to understand. Dihovichnaya & Sanada’s thick accents make it difficult to understand them at times, which becomes a problem anytime they’re tasked with delivering key bits of information. There’s an attempt to give Bakare an interesting back story in a briefly mentioned tangent as to how the wheelchair bound man is living out his dream of mobility in the anti-gravity playground above earth. Alas, any deeper development is jettisoned in favor of more scenes of peril inflicted by the bloodthirsty fast evolving being that’s taken over the ISS.
While there are some solid special effects sequences that take place outside of the station, anything that happens inside had me alternately rolling my eyes and raising my eyebrows. Calvin flirts between an animated starfish-like object and a questionably created CGI monster that looks like an evil cousin to the benign alien creatures from The Abyss. Espinosa films so much of the movie in tight close-up or without any establishing shots that it’s often hard to tell where anyone is in relation to each other and voiceovers are used as a cheap gimmick to tell what they can’t show. I definitely got a couple of guffaws from the way the astronauts kept bobbing up and down (some more violently than others) as a way to show the zero-gravity atmosphere.
So yeah…it’s an odd little (big-ish) movie and while it may carve out some decent box office numbers by being released in a movie climate that’s been largely earthbound, Life isn’t going to be on the calling card for anyone involved. It’s bound to be forgotten entirely by the time Alien: Covenant is released in two short months. Perhaps this will find greater value on Netflix which, come to think of it, would have been an ideal release platform instead.
Synopsis: A successful investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash.
Release Date: April 8, 2016
Review: With his last two movies bringing two Oscar wins (Dallas Buyers Club) and two nominations (Wild), it’s no wonder that many A-List movie stars and studios are making director Jean-Marc Vallée a much sought-after commodity in Hollywood. While he readies a starry television adaptation of popular novel Big Little Lies for HBO, his latest film is flying uncomfortably under the radar. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible), the little buzz being generated from Demolition isn’t a great sign. And it’s too bad because Gyllenhaal makes for a fascinating anti-hero and he’s one of the best at approaching the haunted “come undone” character. Releasing in April, the film could have positioned itself for the Oscar season but opted for an early release…another ominous sign. No matter, the stars and the director are enough to get me inside the theater, we’ll wait and see if it’s built on less than solid ground.
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.
I just wasn’t prepared for July. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a wave of cinematic excursions that made my head spin. So many movies were released that it was hard to keep track from week to week what was arriving and what was still waiting for its release date. As you can see below, I had a lot of catching-up to do
The month began with the disappointment of Terminator Genisys. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger but it for sure wasn’t the muddled misfire that was supposed to reboot this franchise. Badly cast with shoddy special effects, this was supposed to be the beginning of something but should likely be the end (though it did do well overseas so we may yet get another one of these in a few years).
A few summers back I lamented how bad the original Magic Mike was. Trading eye candy entertainment for any semblance of watchable narrative, it was another dud (for me) from Steven Soderbergh. So you’d understand why I wasn’t keen on Magic Mike XXL because I felt we’d already been there done that. Much to my delight, the sequel was much better than its predecessor, maintaining the fun frivolity of the world of male strippers while injecting some personality into the proceedings. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the summer for me.
I learned a lot from the wise documentary Amy, chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, the singer with the bluesy voice and broken butterfly backstory. She had a lot to overcome and the film made a compelling argument that she would still be here today had she had a better support system.
Though I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, I didn’t care for their solo outing with its half-baked story and less that inspired vocal work. It felt like a quick cash-grab and it looks like it accomplished its goal. Hopefully next time they’ll come back with a better story and more convincing actors.
The found footage horror movie had its death knell with The Gallows, a brainless exercise in tedium peppered with cheap scares and lousy acting. Could have (and should have) been much better.
Now we approach a stretch where I checked out for a bit – but I’m atoning for it now with these mini-reviews.
Movie Review ~ Batkid Begins The Facts: Synopsis: On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5-year-old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon. Stars: Miles Scott Director: Dana Nachman Rated: PG Running Length: 87 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: Can I admit something to you and not have you hate me? When I first saw the media frenzy around this back in 2013 I remember rolling my eyes are the saccharine nature of the whole endeavor. Why would an entire city be brought to a screeching halt because of one kid’s wish to be Batman for a day? Well, the documentary Batkid Begins showed me why and by the end I was feeling like a lout for my initial feelings and wiping away the happy tears the film easily brings forth from the viewer. Following the planning and execution by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a 5 year old leukemia survivor the day of his dreams, viewers get a glimpse at what goes into even the smallest wish granted by the organization. While it at times comes off like a big advertisement, it’s heart is most certainly in the right place and I found myself getting choked up with each good deed and promise fulfilled by a host of people involved in making the day come off without a hitch. An audience-pleasing winner.
Movie Review ~ The Overnight The Facts: Synopsis: A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. Stars: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche Director: Patrick Brice Rated: R Running Length: 79 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: There and gone in an instant, The Overnight is a film better suited for home viewing anyway. A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) new to the area meet Jason Schwartzman at a local playground where both of their children are playing. Their kids have hit it off so Schwartzmann invites the family over for more fun, but when the kids go to bed Schwartzman and his wife Judith Godrèche have more interesting games to play for the unsuspecting couple. Saying more would spoil the fun but it’s an adults only evening with oodles of twists and turns as both couples bare their secrets (and their bodies) before the night is over. Already famous for its full frontal shots of Schwartzman and Scott (sorry, both are wearing prosthetics), at 79 minutes the movie is short but does start to feel long in the middle section. It helps immensely that all four actors are competent and comfortable with the material…the story doesn’t hold back and neither do they.
Movie Review ~ Ant-Man The Facts: Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian, T.I. , Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Martin Donovan, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Gregg Turkington, Abby Ryder Fortson Director: Peyton Reed Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 117 minutes TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: Early troubles with the start of production with Ant-Man and some seriously questionable teasers/trailers didn’t get me very excited for this mid-summer superhero movie. I think Marvel was hoping that Ant-Man would score along the lines of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxybut it’s sadly missing the humor that made Guardians so much fun. It’s not a total wash though because for every 10 minutes of standard origin-story developments, there’s a solid 5 minutes of exciting action sequences to wake audiences up from their slumber. I know that with an origin story you need to cover a lot of ground and Ant-Man, to its additional credit, doesn’t waste much time in getting to the goods…but it’s a cheap-o undertaking and one that feels like a second-string entry in Marvel’s blockbuster universe. Paul Rudd makes for a surprisingly solid action lead as does Corey Stoll as Rudd’s nemesis, but Evangeline Lilly labors too much under her severe wig (that seems to change lengths multiple times, in the middle of scenes) and isn’t a good enough actress to carry some weighty responsibilities. A decent entry as far as Marvel films go…but I’m not clamoring for a sequel any time soon.
Movie Review ~ Irrational Man The Facts: Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg Director: Woody Allen Rated: R Running Length: 96 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: It happens every year and every year you never quite know what to expect. I’m speaking, of course, of the annual Woody Allen release and like many of the directors works, it’s a hit or miss affair. I’m constantly in awe that Allen has churned out a film a year (sometimes two a year) for the last three decades and even the really bad ones aren’t as terrible as the other dreck dumped on us during the summer. Last year Magic in the Moonlight was dismissed as too slight even for Allen but I enjoyed its frothy charm…something that was missing from the more serious-minded Irrational Man. As a boozy professor that gets into hot water in his New England college town, Joaquin Phoenix was perhaps the wrong choice because the actor plagues himself far too much for Allen’s light material. At least co-star Emma Stone helps keep Phoenix from the quicksand of his own creation but she can’t be in every scene and it’s when Phoenix is on his own that the film goes slack. Then there’s Parker Posey who I’m becoming convinced is simply not of this earth and doesn’t try to hide it anymore. Bizarre line readings and the tendency to let her mouth hang open are only the tip of Posey’s strange acting iceberg. Very much in line with the dark humor of Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man should hold your interest for a time but it’s quickie ending feels like Allen was ready to move on to his next film rather than put a period at the end things.
Movie Review ~ Trainwreck The Facts: Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, LeBron James, Method Man Director: Judd Apatow Rated: R Running Length: 125 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: One of the true success stories of the summer has to have been Amy Schumer, not so much for writing and starring in Trainwreck but the collective impact she’s had on the comedy scene. Unapologetic in her crassness and wise in her observations, Schumer is a comic moving like a shooting star and it’s nice to report that I think she’s a pretty decent actress as well. As much as I enjoy Schumer I was nervous that she was attaching herself to director Judd Apatow because Apatow, as we all know, has a way of turning in muddled work. Unfortunately, Apatow’s influence led the film to be about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and ultimately overstaying its welcome. I don’t care what anyone says about the appearance of LeBron James as a bona fide supporting player, his entire storyline should have been excised and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all. The problems get worse because Apatow likes to cast non-actors in his film and put in cameos when you least expect it…to the detriment of the flow of the narrative. He stumbles badly in several places here but is saved by Schumer and Bill Hader as the opposites attract duo that confidently lead the film. Special mention must, again, be made to Tilda Swinton for disappearing within her role as Schumer’s glam yet grim boss. Worth it for Schumer, Swinton, and Hader…but watch it at home so you can fast forward through the slow Apatow-ish parts.
Movie Review ~ Mr. Holmes The Facts: Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Philip Davis, Milo Parker Director: Bill Condon Rated: PG Running Length: 104 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: In reality, I probably should have given Mr. Holmes a more thorough review than I’m about to give here…but I have a feeling I’ll have a chance to discuss it more over the next few months because if all is right with the world Ian McKellen will find himself nominated in a few Best Actor categories during the end of the year awards round-up. McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes living in the country, attended to by a no-nonsense housekeeper (Laura Linney) and entertained by her young son. There’s actually three Holmes on display here as the present Holmes recalls two previous cases he was involved with that had an impact on his life. With a smart script from Jeffrey Hatcher adapted from a popular novel, it’s directed with a mellow grandeur by Bill Condon. Condon and McKellen scored before with the fascinating Gods and Monsters and here’s hoping they go the distance with this one too. An interesting tidbit, at one point Holmes ventures out to see a Sherlock Holmes movie…and the actor playing Holmes on screen (Nicholas Rowe) played the detective in 1986’s fun frolic Young Sherlock Holmes.
Movie Review ~ Paper Towns The Facts: Synopsis: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door. Stars: Nat Wolff, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith Director: Jake Schreir Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 109 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: After The Fault in Our Stars became a runaway hit last summer movie studios were looking for the next big alt-teen romance that could lure YA audiences away from summer action flicks. Turns out they didn’t have to look far because Paper Towns was adapted from the novel by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars. While Paper Towns doesn’t center around a disease that threatens to tear our lovebirds apart, it has its own mystery about it as Nat Wolff goes looking for his recently vanished neighbor (Cara Delevingne) that he’s been enamored with (or more like fascinated by) since they were children. Following the clues she seemingly left for him, Wolff and his friends embark on a journey of discovery where they Learn Life Lessons. The film kept my interest for most of the running length and it’s only in the final passages when all is explained does it feel a little like a letdown. Still, there’s a smart air of riskiness that elevates the film and more often than not it lands on the good side of taking that risky step.
Movie Review ~ Pixels The Facts: Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games. Stars: Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad Director: Chris Columbus Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 105 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: A movie where everyone involved should hang their head in shame. There’s actually some semblance of a good idea here with aliens attacking earth with classic arcade games but unfortunately it gets trampled by Adam Sandler’s lazy acting, Kevin James bad acting, and Josh Gad’s awful everything. Michelle Monaghan looks positively embarrassed to be sharing scenes (especially romantic ones) with Sandler and only Peter Dinklage comes out relatively unscathed in a campy, mullet wearing performance. For fans of ‘80s nostalgia there are some pleasant diversions as video game characters pop up in (supposedly) comical ways and I think that director Chirs Columbus really did give the material a chance to be something interesting…but Sandler and his crew suck the life out of everything and are so devoid of any vested interest that you wonder why you should care at all either.
Movie Review ~ Southpaw The Facts: Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track. Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Clare Foley, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris Director: Antoine Fuqua Rated: R Running Length: 123 minutes TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: By now, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart actor. With role after role from Prisoners to Nightcrawler to End of Watch we’ve seen that he’s up for most any challenge and likes to dive deep into his roles. So it’s not surprising that he was drawn to this tale of redemption concerning a famous boxer at the top of his game dealt a series of terrible blows (in more ways than one) and his eventual path back to himself. What is surprising is that while the performances are very good you can’t get away from the fact that the story feels recycled and originally intended for a different set of lower string stars. I’m always on the fence regarding Forest Whitaker but as the wise boxing manager that grudgingly comes to Gyllenhaal’s aid, the actor reminds us why he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. Also turning in a great performance in Rachel McAdams (The Vow) as Gyllenhaal’s high school sweetheart, mother of his daughter, and the only one that seems to have his best interest at heart.
Southpaw was also at the center of some controversy that arose this summer about movie trailers that give away too much of the film. If you have seen the trailer for Southpaw you know what I’m talking about…if you haven’t, please go into the movie blind. I had a faint idea what the spoiler was and even that made the first ¼ of the film much less involving. Worth it for the performances but gets knocked out by an also-ran plot.
Movie Review ~ Samba The Facts: Synopsis: Samba migrated to France ten years ago from Senegal, and has since been plugging away at various lowly jobs. Alice is a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Both struggle to get out of their dead-end lives. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers, while Alice tries to get her life back on track until fate draws them together. Stars: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Isaka Sawadogo Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano Rated: R Running Length: 118 minutes TMMM Score: (5.5/10) Review: Of all the movies I’m talking about in this wrap-up this is one I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard of. And you couldn’t be blamed because this barely made a blip on the usually forgiving art-house circuit. From the star and directors of 2012’s dynamite The Intouchables comes this story of an immigrant man living in France who crosses paths with a burned out executive when the man is discovered to be an illegal alien. Omar Sy (Jurassic World) and Charlotte Gainsbourg don’t have that much chemistry but in a weird way it works for the oddball romance that develops over the course of the film. I never could get a real feel if the movie was a comedy, drama, or something in between…and neither could most of the people involved. Slightly recommended but only if the plot or stars appeal to you.
That almost did it for July…but there was still one weekend to go! Moving up several months from its planned December release, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise had its brains in the right place but at times forgot to bring its brawn. I still prefer Ghost Protocol to Rogue Nation but as long as star Tom Cruise keeps making these films interesting I’ll keep accepting future missions. Here’s hoping he brings along Rebecca Ferguson again because finally there is a female that is every bit a match to Cruise’s daring agent.
I wasn’t sold at all when I heard that Warner Brothers was planning on remaking National Lampoon’s Vacation but as time went on I heard more that it was more of a sequel than a reboot (resequel?) and I started coming around to the idea of a new Vacation. I enjoyed Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the hapless couple traveling cross-country with their children…but audiences and most critics didn’t. It wasn’t a great movie and was probably too crude to be part of your Vacation marathons…but I have to say the worst part about it was when original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo showed up. Still, I’m hoping it made enough money to warrant a holiday themed sequel. In any event…it’s a damn sight better than European Vacation.
Wow – July didn’t skimp on variety, did it? Arguably the hottest month for releases, it carried over the promise of May and June and laid a path for August to do quite well…but could it top the three months that came before it?
Synopsis: A climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm.
Release Date: September 18, 2015
Thoughts: Director Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband) has gone big with his IMAX 3D adventure Everest, from the impressive vistas right down to its imposing cast. Based on various novels/accounts detailing the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, just watching the trailer is enough to send summer audiences reaching for their winter jackets thanks to an immersive visual style. Boasting a roster of the most in-demand stars in Hollywood right now like Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Robin Wright (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Jason Clarke (Lawless), Sam Worthington (Man on a Ledge), John Hawkes (The Sessions), and Emily Watson (The Theory of Everything) the anticipation surrounding this is a high as the titular mountain itself.
Synopsis: When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmad
Review: The best horror film of 2014 wasn’t even marketed as a horror film at all…it’s this nail-biter of a tale from writer Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy) who also makes his feature film directing debut.
Over the past decade I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal, turning up my nose at his more straight-forward/commercial fare (Love and Other Drugs) and having my socks knocked off at this recent penchant for flawed anti-heroes (End of Watch, Prisoners). With the arrival of Nightcrawler my cinematic romance with the star is in full bloom.
Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a nobody that happens upon a way to become a real somebody…at the high cost of life and livelihood of others that have the misfortune of being in his dangerous hemisphere. Taking place in the seedy world of crime journalists/photographers, Nightcrawler documents how ever-the-opportunist Bloom moves quickly up the ranks from slimy outside observer of the crimes and accidents occurring in Los Angeles to orchestrator of the right angles that will help him advance his star and bank account.
He’s aided and abetted by hungry news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo, Thor, also Gilroy’s spouse) who is also fighting to keep her head above the ever rising waters of crowded newsroom politics. In many ways, Lou and Nina are the perfect pair…he supplies what she needs to maintain her station while her willingness to buy what he’s selling only helps to encourage Lou to brush off any moral dilemmas the sleazy work could present.
What I’ve come to appreciate about Gyllenhaal’s movie choices is his willingness to take a character, craft a backstory, and then not let anyone else in to this knowledge he has. Like his haunted detective in Prisoners, Gyllenhaal makes Bloom a fractured loner. We don’t know where this guy came from or what troubles he’s had so far in life…making him all the more dangerous because we have no idea of what he stands to lose as he falls deeper and deeper under fame’s spell.
Equally outstanding is Russo in the best role she’s ever been given…no surprise that her husband wrote it specifically for her. A female news director in a largely male climate, she’s desperate to hold on to her role and is willing to overlook some clear indicators that Bloom is off his rocker and may in fact be creating some of the crimes he’s delivering to her as news pieces.
In supporting roles, Bill Paxton (Million Dollar Arm) plays an old dog of a crime journalist that Lou first comes to for advice and Riz Ahmad (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) makes a strong showing as Lou’s dimbulb assistant. Both men underestimate the length to which Lou will go to lock down his place in the food chain and Gilroy’s Oscar nominated script cleverly works out a doozy of a finale that is as frighteningly perfect as it is maddening.
Nightcrawler was an unexpected treat for me, I hadn’t planned on it being so skillfully constructed or so breathlessly paced. It truly is a horror film masquerading as a psychological drama and one that should have gotten more love from The Academy when the nominations were announced. Maybe it wouldn’t quite have made the cut for Best Picture but recognizing the work of Gyllenhaal or Russo would have been absolutely justified.
Synopsis: A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.
Release Date: October 17. 2014
Thoughts: Every time I’ve heard this movie mentioned in the last few months I instantly think that Jake Gyllenhaal is joining the X-Men crew. So it’s helpful to have this teaser trailer for the fall release to remind me that this is a hard-boiled drama that looks to sit comfortably within Gyllenhaal’s wheelhouse. I find that Gyllenhaal is making the kind of movies that Leonardo DiCaprio should be making, both are gifted actors but Gyllenhaal has the good sense to pick movies that are as interesting to audiences (End of Watch, Prisoners) as they are to himself. Nice to see Rene Russo and Bill Paxton as supporting characters here – this is one I’ll keep my eyes on. Also…what’s with fall movie posters having their Oscar nominated leads wearing sunglasses at night? See Kill the Messenger for another example.
Review: After Prisoners became one of my favorite films of 2013, I could not have been more on board for this second pairing of star Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve. Actually, Enemy is really their first project together because it was on this film the two began discussing joining forces on the dark kidnapping mystery. Though I find Prisoners to be the superior of their two collaborations, Gyllenhaal & Villeneuve have cooked up a patience testing mystery that may not be your cup of tea but was fine red wine to me.
Based on Portuguese writer José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double and reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller Sisters, Enemy finds Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) in sullen form as a college professor going about the routine of someone that’s settled in for an unfulfilled life. He goes to work, comes home to his barely furnished apartment, and often spends the night with a woman (Mélanie Laurent) that rarely stays the night.
One day a random colleague makes an even more random movie suggestion and what Gyllenhaal sees on in the movie is someone that looks an awful lot like him…setting into motion a tricky mystery with layers upon layers to uncover and can’t be revealed here. What I can say is that the movie holds its cards so close to its chest that it will be difficult for some to accept that not everything has (or deserves) an answer/explanation.
Making good use of its Canadian setting (Toronto has never looked so foreboding even in the beige tones and glowing amber palette Villeneuve and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc employ), Enemy started to feel like a Where’s Waldo book after a while as I sought meaning in almost everything seen on screen. Doing the same when you see the movie (and you should) would be a mistake because you’ll may miss Gyllenhaal’s rich performance and good supporting work from the intriguing Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rossellini who pops up in a role that sets the movie on its ear in such a way that it would make David Lynch drool.
You’ll hear a lot about Enemy’s ending and it’s admittedly a doozy of a WTF moment that left me impressed with its moxie rather than baffled at its meaning. At a trim 90 minutes, the film flies by so that when the ending does come it’s a shock in its execution and that the film has run its course. Worthy of your time and your intelligence, this is one to take you identical twin to.
Synopsis: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.
Release Date: March 14, 2014
Thoughts: It was on the set of Enemy that star Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve discussed the A-list actor coming on board Villeneuve’s next project: 2013’s highly effective (and high up on my best of the year list) Prisoners. So even though it was completed first, Enemy is just getting ready for a release in early March. A much smaller film that the Hollywood studio-backed Prisoners, Enemy suggests another moody puzzle of a film the director seems to have such a knack for. I wasn’t always the biggest Gyllenhaal fan but he’s taken on some dynamite roles in the last few years (see End of Watch if Prisoners didn’t convince you) and I’m getting a friendly vibe from this first look at Enemy.