The Silver Bullet ~ A Most Violent Year

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Synopsis: A crime drama set in New York City during the winter of 1981 centered on a the lives of an immigrant and his family trying to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities as the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built.

Release Date:  December 31, 2014

Thoughts: Writer/director J.C. Chandor has had a most prosperous last few years after receiving an Oscar nomination for his debut feature Margin Call in 2011. He followed that up last year by giving Robert Redford one of the best roles of his career in All Is Lost which I loved but divided many a moviegoer. Chandor is back in 2014 with this highly anticipated crime drama starring Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them) that looks like an intriguing mix of styles that have echoes of of Scorcese, De Palma, & Cassavetes. Could be a sleeper hit thanks to its distinguished pedigree.

Movie Review ~ The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

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The Facts:

Synopsis: One couple’s story as they try to reclaim the life and love they once knew and pick up the pieces of a past that may be too far gone.

Stars: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, Isabelle Huppert, Jess Weixler, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Ned Benson

Rated: R

Running Length: 122 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  I’m going to try my hardest to get through this review without working in a quote from The Beatles song featured in the title of this brittle drama. However, I may wind up resorting to cheap references to talking about “all the lonely people” and questioning “where do they all come from?” because aside from two strong performances from the leads, there’s not a whole lot more to discuss.

Originally filmed and intended to be released as two movies told from the male and female perspective of a crumbling marriage, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby feels familiar from the get-go.  There’s a mystery surrounding why our titular character (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty) has fled her marriage to Conor (James McAvoy, Trance) and returned home to mommy, daddy, and single-mom sis but Ned Benson’s script isn’t malleable enough to allow Chastain and McAvoy to rise above some overly dramatic sequences that feel like scenes out of a training video on grief counseling.

I’m growing less enamored with Chastain as I see more of her work.  After scoring so big in 2011 & 2012 with a slew of memorable roles (like The Help, Lawless, Mama, and The Tree of Life), she’s now seemed to have slipped into that groove of making emotion filled movies as she waits on her next Oscar nomination.  McAvoy. too, doesn’t seem all that challenged by the material, largely letting Benson’s cliché set-ups win out over the actors usually interesting instinct.  It was a brilliant choice to pair Isabelle Huppert (Dead Man Down) and William Hurt (The Host) as Chastain’s parents because I actually believed they produced this character…but Huppert is stuck with a lot of out of the blue observances meant to be revelatory but wind up as mere devices to explain where some of Eleanor’s hurt comes from.  Speaking of hurt, Hurt takes on another soft-spoken sage seemingly capable of one quizzical facial expression that indicates he’s just seen a sockeye salmon driving a dune buggy wearing a Versace dress.  Then there’s Viola Davis (Beautiful Creatures) as a grumpy college professor and colleague of Hurt’s that takes a liking to Chastain after she audits her class.  Davis is as strong an actor as they come, but her performance here is so ice cold that it seems impossible someone like Eleanor could melt her.

Perhaps editing the two movies into one damaged the overall effect Benson was going for in showing there are two sides to every argument and some arguments are more interesting than others.  The whole central conceit of the film was (and this may be a minor spoiler) done better in Rabbit Hole, providing nearly the exact same set-up but arriving at its final destination with its characters in row…rather than leaving them in the dust as Benson’s writing and direction is often wont to do.

The Silver Bullet ~ Interstellar (Trailer #3)

interstellar

Synopsis: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

Release Date: November 7, 2014

Thoughts: I’m so ready to see Interstellar. Not that I needed any more convincing after the teaser and first trailer for Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi drama, but this recently released preview shown at Comic-Con definitely ramps up my anticipation.  I cringed a bit when I saw how long the trailer was but thankfully Nolan (Batman Begins) remains a cagey filmmaker and doesn’t let go of many plotlines and important pieces of info that could spoil the overall experience.  Bolstered by a truly A-list cast featuring Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Jessica Chastain (Mama), Ellen Burstyn (Draft Day), and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises), the rocket boosters are starting to truly heat up to send this one into orbit come November.  Can’t wait.

The Silver Bullet ~ Interstellar (Trailer #2)

interstellar

Synopsis: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

Release Date: November 7, 2014

Thoughts: Now at the point where the mere mention of his name guarantees you’ll buy a ticket to his films, director Christopher Nolan steps out of the shadow of The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) and looks upward into space. The first teaser for Interstellar had tongues a-waggin’ though it had next to no original footage and while this second look reveals a tad bit more about what the film is all about, it’s still more intriguing than verifiably interesting in my book. Then again, Nolan’s trailers have historically been as spoiler-free as possible so that’s par for the course. Make no doubt about it, this is one of the most highly anticipated films of the year and it doesn’t hurt Nolan has the star power of Oscar darlings Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Michael Caine (Jaws: The Revenge) and Ellen Burstyn (Draft Day) to escalate this to warp speed. I expect big things from this one…and I’ll bet we get ‘em.

The Silver Bullet ~ Interstellar

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Synopsis: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

Release Date:  November 7, 2014

Thoughts: With a director that has yet to make a bad film and a, well, stellar cast of A-Listers it’s not hard to see why Interstellar is already one of the most highly anticipated films of 2014.  Director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) has tapped Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Jessica Chastian (Zero Dark Thirty), Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine (Jaws: The Revenge), and Casey Affleck for his new film, details of which are still being kept tightly under wraps.  Sources say it has to do with time travel and the race to save the food supply of our planet but if I know Nolan it’s about so much more.  The first look doesn’t have a lot of footage to it (and you know I love my teasers) but it nicely places its stake in the ground as the movie we’ll be talking about in about a year.

Movie Review ~ Mama

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years…. but how alone were they?

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nellsse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat

Director: Andy Muschietti

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  When it comes to horror films, I find that I’m pretty forgiving.  I’ll sidle up to a cheesy direct to video scare flick and happily pass the chainsaw-lovin’ night away just as easily as I’ll plunk down my money for the latest sequel to whatever is the current popular horror trend.  All I ask is that the people behind the scares have their hearts in the right place and can provide a few decent spook-outs along the way. 

With Mama, the latest production from Spanish filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, what we have is a strong creepshow that bursts out of the gate early on and maintains a strong hold over its audience for about 2/3 of its 100 minutes.  It’s the final third that threatens to squander the good will that director Andy Muschietti has built up but thankfully even that doesn’t become a deal breaker.

What I’ve come to appreciate about del Toro’s productions (The Orphanage, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) is a commanding sense of atmosphere that trumps trivial plot developments.  Even more than that, Spanish horror films in general seem less interested in producing franchise funding killers than it does about providing its audience a entertaining and chilling ride (see Julia’s Eyes, Tesis, The Uninvited Guest).   

The brother and sister team of Andy and Barbara Muschietti first came to the attention of del Toro when their short film of Mama was released in 2008.  Less than three minutes long, the short managed to elicit a more solid scare than countless Hollywood films.  Check it out here to see what I mean.  The concept intrigued del Toro enough to come on board as producer of a feature length version…and this 2013 film is the result.

Even with a relatively small budget, the film looks incredible with fine attention to detail and strong cinematography by Antonio Riestra.  There’s a tendency for these kinds of horror films to use dark corners as easy scares but there seems to be a pointed effort to avoid such trappings.  On several occasions you think a character is going to venture into a spot we know they shouldn’t…only to be the wiser person like we hope they would be.   

Muschietti expands on his short film with engaging characters and strong performances from a game cast.  Even though I knew the lead was played by Chastain (who scored a nice coup recently by having Mama open at #1 at the box office followed by her Oscar nominated work in Zero Dark Thirty taking the #2 spot) the actress is virtually unrecognizable with her famous flame locks tucked under a black mop of a haircut.  The actress also physically transforms herself into something quite different than we’ve seen her do before.  She’s an intelligent heroine for most of the film and believably freaked out when scary things start to occur when the nieces of her boyfriend (Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones and Headhunters) turn up after living in the woods for five years. 

The girls are played remarkably by two young actresses that get pushed to the brink both physically and emotionally.  I sometimes bristle at child actors who wear their craft on their sleeve but both Charpentier and Nellsse are chameleons…huge assets to the success of the film.  Supporting players Kash and Moffat are slight oddities but there’s something sorta old school about the way they sink their teeth into their roles.

When the scares begin (and they begin early) they are achieved via fairly simple methods that don’t always come with the aid of a large music jolt or random cat thrown into frame.  What the Muschietti’s instead create are terrors springing from things slightly off screen or that come into focus at the right moment.  More than a few times the camera lingers just long enough on a slow burn scare to send a chill down your spine.

The problem with the film is that the more that the secret behind the ghostly apparition Mama is uncovered, the less involving the film becomes.  I say involving because it’s not for lack of interest that the final twenty minutes sputters…it’s just that the filmmakers seemingly reached their max of creativity and settle for standard conventions to get the characters where they need to be for an admittedly unconventional (but welcome) ending. 

Those final twenty minutes should not deter you from visiting Mama in the theater, though.  It’s a handsomely made, well assembled horror that isn’t dumbed down for maximum consumption by the masses.  With a boatload of spine-tingles to be had it’s a strong scare fest that just misses the mark by a few feet.

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.

2013 Oscar Nominations – Predictions

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Forget Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are now officially in my favorite holiday season…Awards Season.  This Sunday are the Golden Globe Awards and you can click HERE for a full listing of nominees.   I enjoy the Golden Globes for what they are…the slightly tipsy foreign exchange student to the Oscars.  A few weeks later on January 27th the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards are given out and these are enjoyable because they are only given for performance categories and are voted on by the true peers of the nominees/winners.  That’s true somewhat for the Oscars but there’s something about the SAG Awards that make them feel like a valued win and not a popularity contest.  The day before the Oscars are the Spirit Awards given out to independent films from the past year.  If you’ve never watched these awards I highly encourage it…they are very much like the films they celebrate…independent and rough around the edges.

All of these are merely appetizers for the Academy Awards which will be given out on February 24, 2013.  Sure to be a lavish affair (even if they are being hosted by the mostly funny but ego-centric Seth McFarlane, Ted), I’ve yet to miss an Academy Awards telecast or the live announcement of the official nominees.

Before the nominations are announced at 7:38 am tomorrow morning, let me go out on a limb and give my predictions as to what is going to be up for major awards and who is going to wake up an Oscar nominee.

Best Picture

Ever since the field was changed from 5 nominees to a possible 10, this one is always hard to predict…so let me start with five nominees and then go up from there….

Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty
Argo
Les
Misérables
Silver Linings Playbook

Life of Pi

Moonrise Kingdom

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Amour

Close Calls – While The Master was a huge buzz film before it was released, its actual reception was so chilly I’m not sure it will earn a place on the list. 

If there’s any justice… Skyfall will be the first James Bond film to be nominated for Best Picture.  One of the best films of the year and most definitely the best Bond film ever produced, this was a full serving of entertainment with more to it than just cool cars and spy adventures.

Best Director

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ben Affleck, Argo
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Tom Hooper, Les Misérables

Close Calls – With The Life of Pi sitting just outside the top five Best Picture nominees, director Ang Lee may have a tough time locking down a nomination.

If there’s any justice… Actually, this list is pretty complete.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Close Calls – Again, The Master is popping up as a close call…but potential Best Actor nominee Joaquin Phoenix is such a puzzle in and of himself, he may have hurt his chances at a nomination by starring in an equally puzzling film.

If there’s any justice… Poor Richard Gere…he just can’t catch a break.  Though he could possibly unseat Jackman, his work in Arbitage probably will go un-nominated.

Best Actress

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Close Calls – Helen Mirren is also being mentioned in this category…and while she was wonderful in Hitchcock the film itself wasn’t well liked.  I think there are enough women who did great work in better films that should wind up with a nomination.

If there’s any justice… PLEASE let Quvenzhane Wallis be nominated!  If anyone should go from this list it’s Watts…I’ve heard her film is strong as is her performance but let’s have the youngest ever nominee (Wallis) up against the oldest ever nominee (Emmanuelle Riva, Amour)

Best Supporting Actor

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Alan Arkin, Argo
Javier Bardem, Skyfall

Close Calls – Leonardo DiCaprio may miss the boat on this, his work in Django Unchained was better than his last five films but he’s in good company with his co-stars Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson…both of whom could wind up here.  Bardem might be the one to miss the mark if DiCaprio love fills the hearts of voters…but I wouldn’t count out Bardem’s recent surge of support.

If there’s any justice… Tom Cruise would get some love for putting it all out there in Rock of Ages.  Yes, the film was a total mess but his performance is still one of the most memorable (in a good way) for me at the end of the year.  It’s never going to happen but I had to go on record saying he deserves it.

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Sally Field, Lincoln
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Amy Adams, The Master
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Close Calls – I haven’t seen The Paperboy but boy is Nicole Kidman getting surprising recognition for her steamy work.  Though it came and went pretty fast, Kidman may just pop up here, replacing Adams or Smith.

If there’s any justice… the Supporting categories are always where Oscar tends to throw a few nice curveballs so here’s hoping that Brit Kelly Reilly scores her first nomination for her haunting work alongside Denzel Washington in Flight.  Director Robert Zemeckis could have cast any Hollywood female for the role but he made a killer choice by going with Reilly.

The Silver Bullet ~ Mama

Synopsis: Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years…. but how alone were they?

Release Date:  January 18, 2013

Thoughts: It’s been my experience that anything producer Guillermo del Toro gets his hands on has some value to it.  Though not sitting in the director’s chair, you can absolutely see what drew him to this stylized type of horror film.  We all know that a good editor can make even the friendliest of family film look like a slasher flick but the trailer presented here produces some nice tingles on the spine.  Jessica Chastain is proving to be quite a layered actress – her turn as a rough around the edges surrogate mom to two creepy girls looks to be a nice departure from that flame haired performer she’s been seen as so far.  I’m hoping that its January release date (typically a dumping ground for duds) doesn’t mean it’s a dog because it looks like a wonderfully scary tale.