The Silver Bullet ~ The Night Before

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Synopsis: In New York City for their annual tradition of Christmas Eve debauchery, three lifelong best friends set out to find the Holy Grail of Christmas parties since their yearly reunion might be coming to an end.

Release Date:  November 25, 2015

Thoughts: I think I’m really getting old…because at one time I think this trailer might have generated some excitement in my movie-going bones.  As it is, it looks like another exhaustive exercise in excess from the team that brought you This Is The End, Neighbors, and (shudder) The Interview.  As annoying as Seth Rogen (The Guilt Trip) is, I know that he’s capable of more than these types of dumb-ass stoner roles and I surely know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) can do better.  Rogen and Gordon-Levitt reteam with their 50/50 director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) for this act-your-age comedy and Anthony Mackie (Pain & Gain) completes the triumvirate of stars.  This foul-mouthed red-band trailer lets us know that audiences are in for some drug-fueled ribaldry this holiday season…joy to the world.  Wake me up when these three actors find a worthier project to peddle their wares in.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Walk (Trailer #2)

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Synopsis: The story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

Release Date: October 2, 2015

Thoughts: After the first true teaser, I can see a viewer watching the newest trailer for The Walk on their computer screen, tablet, or iPhone and thinking that the biopic is another technically proficient film from Robert Zemeckis (Flight). However, my first experience with the trailer was on a 7 story tall IMAX screen in 3D and the effect was, as intended, impressively dizzying. Inspired by the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, Zemeckis looks to be using every cinematic trick in his repertoire to its fullest advantage as he brings audiences sky high for this true life tale of one man’s attempt to do the impossible. Those familiar with the documentary will know there’s more to the story than just stringing a wire between two buildings and with Zemeckis at the helm and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) in the leading role, I think the transition from documentary to biographical narrative will be a smooth one…one that’s required viewing in IMAX 3D.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Walk

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Synopsis: The story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

Release Date:  October 2, 2015

Thoughts: Inspired by the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire, this is the true story of a high-wire daredevil that pushed the limits of his technique.  The original documentary was a nail-biting bit of wonderment, easily deserving of its Academy Award and I’m interested to see what director Robert Zemeckis (Flight) makes of the material that was already told so well.  Zemeckis isn’t as formidable as he once was, opting to produce more films that he directs but when he does the results have been unique and defined by real storytelling.  Featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) as Philippe Petit, our first look at The Walk doesn’t give away much…but at least you’ll have time to check out Man on Wire before The Walk arrives in October

The Silver Bullet ~ Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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Synopsis: The town’s most hard-boiled citizens cross paths with some of its more reviled inhabitants.

Release Date: August 24, 2014

Thoughts: Not exactly striking while the iron was hot, this sequel to 2005’s technically sound but pretty darn moody Sin City finally makes it to the big screen after almost a decade of false starts and other production delays. Again directed by Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Frank Miller (also at the pen for 300 and 300: Rise of an Empire) this looks to have the same dark flash as its predecessor while introducing a new roster of shady characters like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), Eva Green (Cracks, Dark Shadows), and Josh Brolin (Oldboy, Labor Day) along with returning stars Bruce Willis (Color of Night), Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2), and Jessica Alba. The first film broke new ground with its visuals…but it’s 10 years later and what was one revolutionary is now standard. What more does this film have to offer…and will it be too little, too late?

Movie Review ~ The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, William H. Macy, Werner Herzog, Mae Whitman, Jennifer Grey, Darren Criss, Elijah Wood, Ronan Farrow

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: After all these years of going to the movies it took The Wind Rises to finally get me to ask myself the question…can you truly appreciate a movie and not wholly like it?  If so, then legendary Oscar winning animator (and driving force behind Japan’s animation juggernaut Studio Ghibli) Hayao Miyazaki has wrapped up his storied career with a highly respectable and deeply personal tale that’s free of the whimsy of fantasia found in his early work and one that’s more grounded in historical reality.

Though the film is a highly fictionalized work, its central character Jiro Horikoshi was no figment of Miyazaki’s imagination.  Known today for creating the Zero fighter plane, Horikoshi served as chief engineer of many of Japans fighter planes during World War II.  Miyazaki takes the idea of the character of Horikoshi and his life’s work and fashions a biographical tale that has its share of moments that soar into the heavens but more often than not feels too earth bound.

A story that could have (and should have?  and will?) be told as a live-action film, it falls victim to the Miyazaki style of animation favors featureless characters that unfortunately all start to blend together after a while.  Even the animals have odd human-like faces that are more than a tad off-putting for a picture that seems to resist going for a mythical element as is found in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro

Yet even though Miyazaki is going for something more naturalistic, he finds ways to let his imagination run wild such as in the sequences of Horikoshi’s dreams that find him commiserating with Carponi, an Italian aeronautical architect who conjured up some awe-inspiring designs for the future of travel.  Accompanied by a soundtrack made up of human voices that stand in for an orchestra or sound effects, these passages may be cool to the touch but are warm in spirit.

Between earthquakes, sickness, the threat of war, and a love affair with a girl from his past, Horikoshi’s story is revealed in metered bits that somehow manage not to feel choppy or overly episodic.  As with most of Miyazaki’s work, the film runs over two hours and this one feels like it…so I could have done with the film clocking in twenty minutes shorter.  Even so, the value of seeing the final work of Japan’s master makes it worth the extra time in your seat.

Nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2014 Oscars, several theaters will be showing The Wind Rises in its original subtitled version or in a dubbed edition for those that are averse to hearing a film in its native tongue.  I saw the film with the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), Emily Blunt (The Five Year Engagement), John Krasinski (Promised Land, Big Miracle), Martin Short (Frankenweenie), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Darren Criss (Girl Most Likely), though none of the Hollywood voices add much to the mix.

A work to be respected, I’m still not sure if I truly liked the film.  It’s slow and a bit of a slog to get through.  Still, like walking through a museum of fine art, I came out of the screening appreciative to have taken the journey.

Movie Review ~ Don Jon

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review: The early promise of Don Jon came in the form of a confident trailer for the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush, Looper, The Dark Knight Rises) but the good will sadly stops there.  Though I can say that the movie is directed with a certain flair and knowledge of what makes a modern film tick, the overall substance is lacking and the lasting effect is a close-but-no-cigar exercise of great sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Certainly on paper the film looked intriguing.  Gordon-Levitt directs his own script about a New Jersey ladies man with a future that’s not really going places but who is still happy in the circle of routine he’s settled into.  Aside from his family, his car, his workout, and his weekly Sunday confessional, the one thing that our leading man can’t get enough of is porn.  Porn in the morning, porn in the evening, porn at suppertime.  His constant reliance on being aroused by the taboo medium has led to a loss of true intimacy in his relationships because he feels like nothing will ever be as good as what he watches on his computer screen.

An interesting concept to be sure and a valid discussion point for the age of technology we live in when connection is just a mouse click away.  The problem I have with Don Jon is it never really says anything more than that.  Ok, so maybe by following Jon through his less than perfect relationship with no-nonsense gum smacking  beauty Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, Marvel’s The Avengers, Hitchcock) helps him understand some greater lessons about himself but it isn’t that pleasant of a journey for the audience to go along with.

From the opening credits the movie is unleashed on our senses at Level 10 and rarely does it turn the dial down.  Perhaps it was just the sound system at the theater where I saw the movie but the soundtrack and visuals had an overwhelming effect…so much so that I felt like covering my ears at times.  Gordon-Levitt captures the high velocity nightlife of the Jersey town where the action takes place and his routine is captured nicely (ala All That Jazz) with a repetitive style that’s edited with slick verve.

So Gordon-Levitt makes for a nice director and a less than realized screenwriter but what of his acting?  Though he’s takes on a De Niro-esque squint and wears white tank tops in a way that would make Channing Tatum jealous, there’s a glimmer of vulnerability underneath it all that helps his character not stray too far from our good graces.  Johansson’s role is considerably more shrewish than you’d think but she balances the good/bad sides nicely.  Tony Danza and Glenne Headly cut the image of typical Jersey parents…but Gordon-Levitt has scripted them to be shouting the majority of their lines and they become aggravating.  Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now) has but a few sentences as Gordon-Levitt’s tuned out sister but when she speaks it’s worth the wait.

Then we have Julianne Moore (2013’s Carrie) as a woman Jon meets in night school.  This is a puzzling character, not because Moore doesn’t shine in it because she’s the best thing in the whole movie, but that it’s created solely to provide an out for Jon that’s more convenient than true.  It’s a smaller role for Moore but it isn’t hard to see what drew her to the damaged goods mystery woman.

Interesting only in brief passages, overall this was a let-down in my book.  It’s one of the rare movies that I like less the more I think about it…mostly because it’s pretty average but also because with the talent involved I know it could have been better.

The Silver Bullet ~ Don Jon

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Synopsis: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

Release Date:  October 18, 2013

Thoughts: You may not know it but crafting a solid movie trailer is really an art form.  Sure, anyone can make a bad movie look good if left in the hands of a master editor…but delivering a truly enjoyable trailer is a rare feat.  So it’s with a wee bit of glee that I present the first trailer for Don Jon, the writing/directing debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Premium Rush) and it looks like a slam-dunk winner for the dependable star.  With ample amounts of laughs that I believe don’t give away the best parts, the preview is engaging and energetic as it clearly lays out what type of movie audiences can expect to find when it’s released in October.  I’ll be one of the first in line.