Movie Review ~ Game Night


The Facts

Synopsis: A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves trying to solve a murder mystery.

Stars: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler

Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Game Night is one of those movies I refer to as a Goldilocks outing. It’s not really great but not really bad, it’s decently funny but isn’t chock full of laughs, it’s more creative than it should be but still oddly formulaic. In the end, it winds up being just right – very much what the doctor ordered for those looking forward to a harmlessly pleasant night out at cinemas.

Meeting and falling in love during a rousing round of bar trivia, Max (Jason Bateman, This is Where I Leave You) and Annie (Rachel McAdams, Passion) have settled into their suburban lifestyle, their ultracompetitive nature placated by a weekly game night with friends. Things are getting a bit staid, though, and when Max’s ultra-cool brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, The Wolf of Wall Street) comes to town and offers to host game night in his new house, the group jumps at the chance to shake things up a bit.   Arriving for a night they think is coordinated by Brooks, they soon find themselves mixed up in the game Brooks orchestrated and real life danger, racing around town in pursuit of kidnappers while avoiding landing in the crosshairs of a deadly criminal.

Doesn’t sound like much of a comedy, right? Well, in the hands of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who also directed the divisive update of Vacation) and screenwriter Mark Perez there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing at what is part of the game and what actually is happening. Think 1997’s cool thriller The Game but not quite as clever. I have to say the movie kept my interest more than I thought it would considering it’s from “the guys that brought you Horrible Bosses.” That earlier film and its gross sequel upped the raunch factor that Game Night was wise to avoid replicating. There’s fairly little overly nasty humor here and what is present feels smartly placed as opposed to relying on cheap shocks for laughs. Sadly, one of the funniest gags involving an airplane engine was totally spoiled in the trailer.

Daley and Goldstein have assembled a crack cast that brings energy to the mix. Bateman is his usually Bateman-y self but with droll McAdams as his partner in crime there’s a nice balance between his snark and her sincerity. Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods), Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, and Kylie Bunbury find some funny moments as Max and Annie’s friends that bring their own baggage along for the crazy ride while Jesse Plemons (The Master) is a riot as a former friend and weird police office neighbor the group has shunned. Plemons is so note perfectly odd that he quite nearly steals the show from his cast mates.

As with most movies with a mystery at its core, the film gets less interesting the more it reveals but then it pivots nicely by pulling the rug out from under you just when you think you’ve got things solved. It’s a silly film but more entertaining than you’d expect just from watching the trailers. Bound to please fans of the actors and creatives involved, the real winners of Game Night are movie-goers that check it out with their expectations set slightly lower.

Movie Review ~ Carol


The Facts:

Synopsis: In 1950s New York, a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman.

Stars: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, Cory Michael Smith

Director: Todd Haynes

Rated: R

Running Length:  118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review:  Looking through our 2016 lens, it’s still hard to imagine a time when being gay was something no one discussed.  No one.  “Committed bachelors” or “spinster aunts” were often coded labels placed on gay men and women when discussed in refined society circles.  Then there were those that struggled with their sexuality and found themselves in loveless marriages, sometimes out of convenience, sometimes out of necessity.

Adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Carol is an examination of two women at different stages of their lives.  A young woman with her life ahead of her becomes enamored with a glamorous married woman a decade or more her senior.  From the moment department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara, Side Effects) meets Carol (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine) during a Christmas season shopping trip, there’s an instant connection the women silently share.  It’s a moment of electricity anyone that’s ever felt the prickle of immediate attraction can relate to.

By accident or on purpose, Carol leaves her gloves behind and when Therese has them returned it gives the women the excuse to meet up.  During their dinner conversation both women examine the other, seemingly wanting to say something more but unsure if their assumptions are correct.  Being the older, more experienced of the two Carol seems to know what comes next and Therese looks to her for guidance as she examines her own desires.

While Carol and Therese begin to hone in on their feelings, the men in their lives struggle with the loss of connection.  Carol’s estranged husband (Kyle Chandler, The Spectacular Now) loves his wife…or does he love the idea of her more?  They share a daughter and over the course of the film the husband tries everything to get his wife back, no matter how desperate the measures are.  Therese’s boyfriend (Jake Lacy, Love the Coopers) is a man with a plan…he sees the life, the wife, and the family society says he should have.  The parallels between the younger unattached couple and the older married couple aren’t hard to see.

Director Todd Haynes delivers an achingly complex tale of love that has no easy answers or pat solutions.  There isn’t a sweeping miracle finale where everyone winds up happy, to present that response would be to alter a history that has seen gay rights and acceptance evolve at a creeping pace over the next half century after Carol takes place.

Blanchett and Mara are luminous in their roles and acting within the exquisite production design captured elegantly by cinematographer Edward Lachman, the performances live and breathe with ease.  Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave) has a brief but powerful turn as a former flame of Blanchett while Chandler and Lacy make their men a product of the ideals of the time, yet not without a brain or a heart.

We’ve evolved a lot as a society, especially in the last decade, getting ever closer to a parity between individuals at a human level.  There won’t ever be consensus on what is acceptable but the first step is understanding.  Carol shows a beauty of a relationship damaged by societal norms, and the fight to reclaim what’s true.

Movie Review ~ The Wolf of Wall Street



The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Pj Byrne, Kenneth Choi

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rated: R

Running Length: 179 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)


Review:  After making a brief detour to PG-rated family friendly fare with 2011’s wondrous Hugo, director Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear) makes up for lost time with the ribald and very R rated The Wolf of Wall Street, a film arriving with much buzz due to the pedigree of the director, its starry cast, and its butt-numbing running length that will test the bladders of even the strongest leg crossers amongst us.

When asked by a few friends what my initial opinion of the film was, I responded with “it’s an entertaining 135 minute movie that unfortunately runs for 179 minutes” and that’s probably the most succinct review I can offer for Scorsese’s excessive and excessively long opus looking into the boom of Wall Street in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

Let’s start with the good, shall we?  That would be Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic), an actor I usually have little patience for due to his penchant for playing variations on the same role.  With 2012’s Django Unchained, however, the actor showed some sinister dexterity that was appealing to watch and which should have netted him an Oscar nomination.  Though earlier in 2013 audiences and critics were divided on Baz Lurhman’s 3D take on The Great Gatsby, it was generally agreed that DiCaprio’s vulnerability in the leading role was one of its saving graces.

So it’s nice to see that DiCaprio once again shines as Jordan Belfort, an upstart stockbroker that easily is sucked into the dizzying world of money and all the trappings (booze, drugs, women, etc) that seemed to go with it.  The layers DiCaprio adds in addition to Terrence Winter’s hefty dialogue are admirable and more than a few times I found myself getting lost in the film thanks to the conviction and brio DiCaprio brings to the role.

Also making a good showing is Margot Robbie (About Time) as Belfort’s second wife that isn’t much of a pushover.  It’s nice to see a female character in a Scorcese film portrayed as more than just a wife or sex object (though Robbie is one of many, many, many actresses in the film that is seen fully nude) and there’s a dynamic chemistry between Robbie and DiCaprio that gives the film some extra oomph when needed.

In addition to DiCaprio and Robbie I also enjoyed some comically dry turns from Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud), Kyle Chandler (The Spectacular Now), Rob Reiner (The Mystery of Belle Isle), and Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist)…actors that Scorsese uses to his advantage whenever the movie needs a boost of energy (which happens quite often in the bloated second and third acts).

I’m leaving Jonah Hill (This Is the End) for last because now we’re into the elements of the movie that didn’t work for me.  Hill’s puffy stockbroker colleague of DiCaprio is nearly governed by his costume choices (day-glo sweaters, loafers, large glasses), his impeccably white teeth that give him a beaver-esque quality, and a nasally New Yah-k whine that started to give me stroke symptoms as the move droned on.  The early word was that Hill was set for another Supporting Actor Oscar nomination (after 2011’s Moneyball) and if that’s the case then I’m clearly missing something because I found Hill to be drastically out of place, however believable his connection to DiCaprio’s character was.

Then there’s the length…good lord the film is overlong.  Even the casual moviegoer would have been able to edit at least 30-35 minutes off of this monster and I’d challenge anyone to sit through the film twice and not find the exact moments where Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker should have excised large passages of dialogue and story that had no bearing on what happens later in the film.  I don’t mind long movies…but they have to have a reason for being long and there’s absolutely no rationale for the movie to lumber on as long as it does.  And keep in mind the film was already edited down from an even longer cut…a task that moved the original release date from its original Thanksgiving release schedule.

Scorsese is truly one of the most legendary filmmakers out there and while The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t a turkey, it’s not one of the director’s best thanks to a curious lack/slack of pace.  I’ve always found Scorsese’s films to be taut experiences, no matter the genre but I get the feeling Scorsese couldn’t come to a decision on what he was trying to reveal in the life story of Belfort so he simply left in most everything that he captured during filming.  Removing 30 minutes would have made Scorsese’s film truly howl and been an even better showcase for DiCaprio’s well thought out performance.  It also would have monumentally reduced Hill’s role which is what the film very much needed…a sacrificial lamb for this Wolf to be a winner.

Movie Review ~ The Spectacular Now


The Facts:

Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”

Stars: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Director: James Ponsoldt

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: The best thing about seeing July’s The Bling Ring was getting to see the first preview of The Spectacular Now and ever since that time I’d been counting down the days until I’d be able to get my butt into the seat.  Harkening back to the early days of John Hughes (I’m talking Pretty in Pink era, not Curly Sue thank you very much) yet possessing a style and confidence all its own, The Spectacular Now may not have wound up being the perfect film of 2013 (that honor still goes to The Way, Way Back) but it makes it to the winner circle thanks to two incredible lead performances and director James Ponsoldt’s smart, attention-to-details direction.

Based on the novel by Tim Tharp and coming armed with an observant screenplay by (500) Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, there’s a lot to like within the 95 minute journey that The Spectacular Now takes viewers on.  “Like” may be just too…easy of a word.  “Relate to”, “empathize with”, “agree upon” could be the better way to say it because there seems to be something at the core of the movie and the lives of the people we meet that will speak to anyone regardless if you’ve been home schooled or passed through the walls of the famed “high school experience” so often put on celluloid.

What sets this movie apart from its contemporaries is how un-clichéd the story develops and how impressive it is that it manages to maintain this for all but a scintilla of time as it nears its conclusion.  Though it does rely on the oft-used voiceover narration/college essay as a framing device, I didn’t mind the commentary as much as I normally do because the narration makes sense in the context of the story being told.

High school charmer Sutter (Miles Teller, Rabbit Hole) is living the teenage dream.  He’s popular, has a great girlfriend, has a long leash of freedom from his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and generally deals with each new life situation with a can-do spirit.  The trouble is, all of that positive energy and care for others is masking some inner conflict he’s not ready to deal with.  We’ve all had to face these moments when we look around to see that we may possess everything we could ever want yet are frightened to recognize that maybe having it all doesn’t equal happiness…or at least what we thought happiness was meant to be.

Sutter is also an alcoholic…a hard subject for a teen romance to deal with yet an important one to call out as it’s a growing problem in our schools.  In their small town, Sutter has no trouble finding liquor or going to work with a flask to freshen up what’s really being held in his Big Gulp.  As the movie begins, a misunderstanding has caused a rift between Sutter and his girlfriend (Brie Larson) and after a night of hard partying he wakes up on the lawn of a home on Aimee’s (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants)  paper route.

A classmate he’s never noticed, Sutter befriends Aimee and a relationship soon develops.  Is Sutter using Aimee as a rebound, as a way to get back at his girlfriend who has moved on, or does Aimee’s understanding and sensitivity to the pain she sees beneath his surface mean that Sutter can finally be seen and loved for who he truly is?  These are the very adult questions being asked in a movie that could be carelessly classified as just another trivial teen romance.

It’s Teller and Woodley’s dynamic chemistry together and apart that make the movie really ignite.  Teller fits the bill for his character but never lets Sutter drift into maudlin sentimentality just because he’s finding new corners of himself.  Woodley too shows an introspective maturity that far exceeds her years as she takes Aimee through first love to heartache and back again.  Though Aimee takes some selfless, hard turns that are tough to watch and may be frustrating to some, they all feel like they are coming from the right place and have an earthy truth that side-steps hitting a false note.

If anything, it’s the supporting characters that don’t live up to the performances of Teller and Woodley.  The young actors that portray other members of Sutter and Aimee’s social circle don’t come across with the same confidence and it’s not just how they’re written.  They seemed to be playing catch-up in a race that Teller and Woodley were always destined to win.  Leigh has a nice turn as Sutter’s sometimes distant mom and Kyle Chandler gets the job done as Sutter’s estranged father.

The movie trips a bit when it gets to these scenes with Sutter and his father because it appears the writing is on the wall as to the cycle that Sutter seems to be on.  Thankfully, the script is smart enough to take a flimsy contrivance and spin it into, if not gold, a solid silver of an ending.

With a few genuinely surprising elements, The Spectacular Now is absolutely a movie to seek out and soak in.  The lead performances are some of the best you’ll see all year from two rising stars and Ponsoldt is quickly establishing himself as a director with depth and a keen eye for casting.  Worth a serious look from viewers that don’t mind a little heartbreak at the hands of honest men and women.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Wolf of Wall Street


Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Release Date:  November 15, 2013

Thoughts: I know I should be more excited about this one and perhaps I’ve just seen this overly ADD trailer one too many times but I find myself exhausted by the time the preview ends.  There’s no doubt that DiCaprio is Scorsese’s modern day De Niro and the two have collaborated on several strong films (The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, The Departed).  This adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s raucous memoir is said to be Scorsese’s most explicit movie to date, probably because it’s so very easy to go all out when you’re documenting the lives lived in excess during the 80’s.  DiCaprio has had two good showings in his latest films (Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby) and unless the zany supporting work of Jonah Hill (This is the End) or Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike, Mud), overshadow him he could be looking at another Oscar nomination.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Spectacular Now


Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”

Release Date: August 2, 2013 

Thoughts: Yet another reason why you should never be late for a movie…because you may wind up missing a preview like The Spectacular Now.  Like The Way, Way Back the preview suggests a film that feels fresh and bold with a strong cast of young talent that doesn’t wind up feeling like something we’ve seen before.  Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Shailene Woodly (a knockout in The Descendants) are the romantic leads in a cast that also includes Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyle Chandler.  From the same writers as the dynamite (500) Days of Summer, I found a certain magic to the trailer…leading me to think/hope this could turn out to be a sleeper hit come August.

Movie Review ~ Zero Dark Thirty


The Facts:

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

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

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Rated: R

Running Length: 157 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Silver Bullet ~ Broken City

Synopsis: An ex-cop trailing the wife of New York City’s mayor finds himself immersed in a larger scandal.

Release Date:  January 18, 2013

Thoughts:  It’s not as if Russell Crowe doesn’t have enough to worry about.  Already taking a (semi-deserved) drubbing for his lackluster vocal performance in Les Misérables, now he is showing up with a questionable hairstyle in Broken City.  From the looks of the trailer, it’s a Hitchcock-lite tale of crime and betrayal also starring Mark Wahlberg and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  While Zeta-Jones looks like an interesting star to be attached to the project, Wahlberg and Crowe seem to be playing versions of characters they’ve take on several times before. While this might make for a satisfying rental when it has left theaters, I’m not sure it’s January release date or late in the game marketing push bodes well for all involved.

The Silver Bullet ~ Zero Dark Thirty

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

Release Date:  December 19, 2012                          

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