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Friday, October 31, 2014

Nightcrawler 2014 * * * 1/2 Stars

NightcrawlerDirector: Dan Gilroy
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars     Cole's Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Dan Gilroy makes his directorial debut with 2014's Nightcrawler. You wouldn't know it though because he comes off as a veritable, seasoned pro. Take the best neighborhoods in Los Angeles and make them seem unsafe. Take a calculated, free-fall actor and let him roam wild. Film a car chase that gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up, and make the storytelling interesting, absorbing, creepy, disturbing, and even nervously funny. That's what Gilroy does here. For 95% percent of "Crawler's" running time, I was blown away. I laughed, I cringed, and I sat numb and transfixed. Only an undeveloped interrogation by L.A.'s finest and a stomach-flu induced ending could keep me from calling this thing flawless. Would I endorse this exercise as realistic? Probably not. I watch the news everyday and it doesn't seem fathomable that dead bodies with grisly images would actually be shown on television. But you can't deny how fascinating or how original these proceedings are. Nightcrawler is one bitch of a ride. And sadly, I almost feel guilty for recommending it.

With a film score that doesn't always trend towards the dour, a disregard for the L.A.P.D ever pulling over a excessively speeding motorist, and a look/feel that harks back to 2004's Collateral (also taking place in the city of angels), Nightcrawler gets you fixated on Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). He's unemployed, a thief, and a real weird dude. You don't know anything about him except for the fact that he becomes obsessed with filming crime scenes in order to pocket some cold hard cash (through the fictional Channel 6 news). He uses a police monitor, finds out where crimes are committed, and captures the hideous bloodlettings on video camera. He gets paid monster dollars for these trysts but eventually gets in over his head when he gets there before the police. There's an investigation on him, he almost gets charged for murder, but Bloom although lacking in social skills, is smarter than everyone. He starts to blackmail his newswoman, his co-workers, and the whole plank of Southern California. All the while he has his sunglasses on, he puts up a steely face, and gives the middle finger to anyone who might get in his way.

Now the cast for Nightcrawler is proficient and noteworthy. Their roles are equal parts nasty, mean-spirited, unethical, and cold. Bill Paxton is as always, reliable playing a supporting role as a fellow rival to Bloom. He's jealous, angry, and ultimately pays the price for being his videotaping rival. Rene Russo (Gilroy's spouse in real life) is ravishing and frigid as Nina (she manages the news station where Bloom sells his findings). She wants ratings, wants respect, and doesn't give a hoot about what's right and what's wrong. Then we have Riz Ahmed as Rick. As Bloom's sidekick, he's startlingly effective. He may be poor and unwanted, but he still has a sense of decency and with a few un-choice words, goes down in a wave of palatable flames. Oh and did I forget to mention the great Jake Gyllenhaal. So OK, I've always been a huge fan. He never ceases to amaze me of how inventive an actor he is. If you've seen his nerve-endings brilliance in Prisoners and Zodiac, nothing will prepare you for how perfect he is in this role. It's obvious that he lost weight to play Bloom. You can see his cheeks sucked in, his gangly appearance, and his eyeballs looking like flying saucers that might just haunt your dreams. Daniel Day Lewis was in every frame of There Will Be Blood and held the screen in the palm of his hand. Gyllenhaal does it with a similar approach here but he goes a step further. He holds the screen like a molecule that can only be seen by the naked eye. Oscar nom anybody? I sure as heck hope so. Oh and did I mention that Jakey boy channels a little Travis Bickle a la Taxi Driver. He drives around L.A. just like Bickle drove around N.Y.C, is socially inept like Bickle, but he talks a little faster, looks a tad more desperate, and doesn't have a back story or nullified Mohawk like Robert De Niro's infamous, repressed psycho. To endorse Gyllenhaal, I'll give a short dissertation: There is no other actor in world that could have played Lou Bloom and I mean no one. No one!

In conclusion, with superior yet far fetched direction from Gilroy and a social commentary that will cause your jaw to pretty much slam to the ground, Nightcrawler is the type of dark, L.A. based calamity that will "crawl" into one's head and stay there. It's horrifically brilliant because its main lead (Gyllenhaal) is astute in the most creepy, habitual way. For my money, one of the best films of 2014. Let the Oscar race begin!

Of note: (Spoiler alert) I'm gonna warn you, the last twenty minutes of this cynical, pale-hearted vehicle may upset you or leave you with a severely bad taste in your mouth. If you've seen Nightcrawler's trailer, you've probably figured out that Lou Bloom is the perennial bad guy. Well you're right. I for one hate when the bad guy wins and this is exactly what happens. In truth, this is the only stipulation I have for relegating a true four star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Addicted 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

AddictedDirector: Bille Woodruff
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Sharon Leal, William Levy, Boris Kodjoe

Addicted is essentially an uneven facade that in one instance, poses as softcore porn and in another instance, becomes a documented, public service announcement for sex addiction. It's a slick, trashy, yet mildly entertaining soap opera of a movie that unbeknownst to me, goes completely off the rails in its final half hour.

Directed by the guy who made Honey (2003) and Beauty Shop (2005) and based on a best selling novel of the same name, Addicted is like a carbon copy of 2002's Unfaithful. But where Unfaithful had a murder and a sored cover-up to that murder, this limited October release has a silly, kill-free twist at the end (I'm not gonna count a failed suicide as murder in case you're keeping score). It also has many more love scenes in it than Unfaithful not to mention a main character that ends up having more than just one affair.

The story begins with stunning, happily married businesswoman Zoe Reynard (played by Sharon Leal). She has the perfect life. She has two great kids, a husband who thinks the world of her, a loving, caring mother who lives with her (and is quite tolerable), and a beautiful home via the outskirts of Atlanta, GA. But wait a minute, her perfect husband isn't always fulfilling her everyday needs (sexually that is). He's never around and is always working. Her solution: Have a series of romantic trysts with a well revered painter (Quinton Canosa played by William Levy) and a womanizing club hopper (Corey played with minimal dialogue by Tyson Beckford). This leads to her addiction by which she literally ruins her career, fractures her family values, is forced to see a shrink, and decides in anguish, to (spoiler alert) commit freeway suicide. As mentioned earlier, Addicted walks a fine line between glamorizing sexuality and reiterating a certain sickness. As a result, the proceedings are choppy and disjointed despite a surprisingly good level of unpredictability.

Really in truth, this vehicle is almost saved by Sharon Leal. She gives a solid, realistically grim performance in the lead role as Addicted's disturbed test subject. As for the rest of the cast, they are comprised of mostly good looking people who's acting is not as seething or as sharp. In conclusion, this is a poster child for the effects of sex addiction and to be honest, it's not really about infidelity. Addicted in its 106 minute running time, makes two mistakes: It turns a character (Levy's Canosa) who doesn't really seem menacing enough, and makes him psychotic. The second mistake is that this thing climbs too close to becoming a therapeutic healing session for a specific audience (people that go to support groups for sex addiction or don't bother to get help at all for said addiction). And as the plot thickens, it feels less like an actual film going experience and more like a hidden cry for help. Bottom line: Addicted as a drama/thriller, may offer a certain kind of appeal. But for me, it just wasn't that "addicting".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 25, 2014

John Wick 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

John WickDirectors: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe

Liam Neeson has a special set of skills and now it appears that Keanu "whoa" Reeves has them too. So OK, picture this: Guy loses wife to illness, guy gets dog as a present from dying wife, guy then gets beautiful Mustang stolen by Russian mobsters who beat said dog to death, guy who was once a professional killer, goes into vengeance mode by offing tons of paperweight Russkie heavies, and finally, guy gets visited by police officer (at his home) who asks him if he's working again, huh? That guy is John Wick of the movie John Wick and he's played by none other than thespian in hiding, Reeves. "Wick" clocks in as the fourth revenge/hitman thriller to venture into theaters circa 2014. It lacks the startling epiphany of August's The November Man and the high caliber of acting from a certain Denzel Washington in The Equalizer. However, it's much more focused and assured than the totally discombobulated 3 Days to Kill (the weakest of the four).

For the most part, John Wick is a silly, ludicrous picture that doesn't really add anything new or reinvent the wheel via the revenge thriller genre. Its look is mirrorball glitter and glitz and its style is reminiscent of a Hong Kong action extravaganza (but with less "Kong" and tons of "ganza"). This is a vehicle where Keanu's Wick dispatches so many bad guys you lose count within the first half hour. He does it with some impressive martial arts (much more polished and realistic than what he did in The Matrix) and guns that suggest laser tag, video game artistry, and Men In Black (I wasn't the only critic who picked up on this). As you watch John Wick, you don't condemn it, but you wonder how it didn't somehow land in the straight-to-DVD category. Basically, the whole point with this October release is that the filmmakers throw in scene after scene of non-stop death and destruction. It's to distract you from realizing how generic and tepid it is.

So OK, here are some things I pondered while viewing this bad boy with an undernourished 101 minute running time: 1. why doesn't anybody in this movie bother to wear a bulletproof vest? I mean Wick shoots a lot of his enemies in the chest. This might bring down the body count a little. 2. why does the antagonist (in this case, Viggo Tarasov played by Michael Nyqvist) not shoot the protagonist when he's defenseless and without weapon? You know he's gonna eventually get ya in the end if you let him live. Jeez! 3. do the lives of 50+ people have to end just because a dog died? I mean, I know the dog was Wick's last gift that reminded him of his dead wife but come on! He knew Daisy (dog's name) for one or two sequences, that's it. And yet, just about everyone that wasn't involved in Daisy's passing gets the death incarnate treatment. In general, I can't help but thinking that John Wick is trying to be a parody of your everyday vindictive, revenge fare. When Wick says the Russian gangsters took everything from him, I guess he left out the fact that he still has his beautiful home, expensive, tailor made suits, and plenty of discretionary wealth.

In conclusion, this thing is mildly mediocre but I found the lead role of a former, humblized contract killer to be a nice fit for Keanu Reeves. He's one of those actors that is better off saying the bare minimum of dialogue in order to get through a movie. His job here is to look cool, act cool, and basically exude a brooding screen presence. In his 42nd feature film, he pulls it off with veritable aplomb.

During the second half of John Wick, Keanu's title character says quote unquote, "people keep asking if I'm back, yeah I'm thinking I'm back." Not entirely Mr. cool breeze. But nice try though. You're getting there.

Of note: In terms of John Wick's stylistic voyeurism, look for a dance club scene where Reeves gets his kill-on Tom Cruise style (a la 2004's Collateral). Also, look for various subtitles in "Wick" that seem akin to the ones used in Tony Scott's Man on Fire (also from 2004). In the realm of casting, be on the lookout for three high profile actors whose roles are underdeveloped (with most of their scenes probably left on the cutting room floor). John Leguizamo plays a chop shop owner, Willem Dafoe plays a fellow hitman and friend of Wick's character, and Bridget Moynahan plays Wick's character's wife. Oh and watch for the goofy guy from the Allstate commercials (Dean Winters, you know Mr. Mayhem) in a small role as the main villain's fruitful lackey.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Top Ten Best Sports Movies

Hey, it's obvious that I like movies. But I also like sports too. Here is my list of my top ten favorite sports flicks of all time. Get ready for some tailgating, get ready to put on your favorite team jersey, get ready for some rah, rah, sis boom bah! And get ready to check out this list. Enjoy.

1. Moneyball (2011) * * * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 94%
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill
Quote: "How can you not get romantic about baseball."
My quote as a critic: "What really stands out is that Moneyball is different from most baseball films. It goes behind the scenes. You don't see a lot of the game being played. You see people talk about baseball. You get the ins and outs of the business. Normally, this would be looked at as some kind of documentary, but the film doesn't let that happen."

2. Hoosiers (1986) * * * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 88%
Cast: Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper
Quote: "I love you guys."

3. Rudy (1993) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 84%
Cast: Sean Astin, Jason Miller
Quote: "No one, and I mean no one, comes into our house and pushes us around."

4. The Natural (1984) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 81%
Cast: Robert Redford, Glenn Close
Quote: "Pick me out a winner Bobby."
My quote as a critic: "The Natural is one of my favorite sports movies of all time not to mention one of the most uplifting films you'll ever see in general. After a quiet sort of mute opening credits sequence, it becomes a poignant, heavenly joy with Randy Newman's hair-raising score pouncing in at all the right moments."

5. Any Given Sunday (1999) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 50%
Cast: Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx
Quote: "No intensity, no victory."
My quote as a critic: "In the 90's, Oliver Stone was one heck of a filmmaker. Any Given Sunday represents the last great film he made from that era. He takes his flashy, disorienting, off the cuff style from his movies JFKThe Doors, and U-Turn, and applies it to the bone crunching game of football."

6. The Color of Money (1986) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 92%
Cast: Tom Cruise, Paul Newman
Quote: "The balls roll funny for everybody, kiddo."
My quote as a critic: "As a sort of sequel to The Hustler, The Color of Money fashions a bleak, dirty fascination with pool halls and hustling. The plot is a little thin, but again, this is a Scorsese movie. It's about the exuberant scenes of freewheeling direction complete with Tom Cruise's Vincent Lauria coming off as a pool shark's version of a Samurai warrior."

7. Tin Cup (1996) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 69%
Cast: Kevin Costner, Rene Russo
Quote: "Greatness courts failure."

8. The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 43%
Cast: Matt Damon, Will Smith
Quote: "You gonna hit the ball or you gonna dance with it."

9. Rocky (1976) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 92%
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire
Quote: "You're a bum."

10. Two for the Money (2005) * * * Stars

Rotten Tomatometer Score: 22%
Cast: Al Pacino, Rene Russo
Quote: "I'm married to Walter."
My quote as a critic: "What starts off as a high energy romp turns dark and restless. Granted, this is not your ordinary sports flick. Its non-linear storytelling works because of the performances (Rene Russo is also effective in a supporting role as Pacino's character's wife). If you revel in the idea of Pacino playing himself, this is a must see."

List compiled by Jesse Burleson

Fury 2014 * * * Stars

Director: David Ayer
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal

War is hell. And in the case of 2014's Fury (my latest review), war is sometimes a popcorn flick. In other words, this thing is not gonna wow the Academy nor is it gonna garner any award nominations come January. It is alas, just another battlefield relic, a sort of second tier Saving Private Ryan that also lacks any sort of poetic grandeur from other WWII vehicles such as 1998's The Thin Red Line. Granted, my halfhearted recommendation will stem from it having a few decent performances and a compelling, final thirty minutes involving the protective stand of a broken down Sherman tank. But my bar for scope and sophistication via war movies has always been set very high, and Director David Ayer, who was once in the armed forces himself, unfortunately only raises it a couple of notches here.

Edited by Dody Dorn who handled Ayer's last picture in Sabotage, filmed primarily in England, UK (masquerading as East Germany), and having an opening shot that is equal parts scintillating and downright horrific, Fury is an October release that could possibly be labeled as true fact (that's if in the 1940's, killing a defenseless, innocent man wasn't a war crime and head decapitation was how every soldier bit the dust). But come on, does it really matter? As you view it, this dirty, grimy, overcast looking flick is almost plotless in its otherwise two hour-plus running time. What precludes is something minimal about a time during WWII (April of 1945 to be exact), where a five-man tank crew must take on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. They must stop hundreds of German Nazis (who else?) at all cost. So in retrospect, watching Fury made me wonder two things: 1. could what have transpired in this movie succeed more as a sort of documentary shot by an ancient TV crew patiently following a bunch of soldiers around? 2. why is director David Ayer so hellbent on having his characters one up each other, measure each other's manhood (figuratively speaking of course), and having their scenes of conflict being taken way too far (beyond the point of reason)? There's a sequence where these five grubby tankers sit down at a dinner table to eat with two German woman. It's drawn out, cruel, boring, and unnecessary.

Regardless, the cast in Fury is for the most part, pretty decent besides the clunky dialogue that they sometimes have to belt out. Sure, they are your typical war stereotypes with lousy attitudes, born to kill instincts, somewhat fake southern accents, and plenty of nasty battle scars. But their acting is way better than in any John Wayne war film (The Green Berets, ugh!) or any John Woo war film (Windtalkers, double ugh!). First off, there's Brad Pitt looking Kelly's Heroes chic in the title role as Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier. His character is the leader of the five-man crew and his performance sort of riffs off his Nazi-hating role in Inglorious Basterds. Is it entirely similar? Sort of. But where his Lieutenant Raine in "Basterds" was more of a cartoonish impersonation, this is something much deeper. Then we have young Logan Lerman playing effectively, the rookie US Army Private Norman Ellison. He's been a working actor for fourteen years (and he's only 22). Here's hoping this role is a sure-fire breakout one for him. And for the record, his frightened, bewildered military rook reminded me solely of Jeremy Davies as Tim Upham in "Ryan". Finally, we have Shia LaBeouf giving Fury its strongest performance. I've always thought of him as being extremely overrated as an actor. But when you put a mustache on him, he totally immerses himself into his role as a bible-thumping Technician 5th Grade. His Boyd Swan is a stultified standout. As for the other two thespians that make it up the gritty five-men crew, well we've got Michael Pena (an Ayer veteran) and Jon Bernthal. Their roles are equal parts token, bigoted, and misogynistic.

Performances and direction are key, but when Fury is about to reach its forgone conclusion, the film score actually becomes the main star. It's stirring and it deviates from the pedestrian battle scenes that clearly lack the brilliant technicality of the similar themed (and similar looking) Saving Private Ryan. As mentioned earlier, Fury is sadly, a unintentional popcorn flick rooted in the concept of being non-monumental. It will entertain you like any other vague action film. But the battle sequences depicted (and there are many) are not that compelling. I mean, they are violent but they are laughably rooted in midnight horror fare more than anything else. Case in point: an M4 Sherman tank runs over an already dead corpse and it's the equivalent of a motorcycle squishing a pop can. Also, the outside, facial imprint of a mutilated assistant bow gunner is shown in detail and it would make Hannibal Lecter (or even Nic Cage's Castor Troy from Face/Off) supremely jealous. Anyway, towards the end of Fury's exhausting third act, Pitt's Collier grabs a bottle of liquor, takes a long, slow drink out of it and says, "that's better than good." The same can't quite be said about this rollicking grimfest. It's just good enough so I'll roll with a three star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Calling 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

The CallingDirector: Jason Stone
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Topher Grace, Susan Sarandon

Before viewing 2014's The Calling, I did some research on whether or not it had a theatrical release. It did but the screen count was so small that nothing in terms of box office receipts, even registered. Basically, what's being reviewed here is yet again another generically titled thriller (isn't The Calling a band?) with a real good cast and a novice, unknown director to go along with it. That smells like straight-to-DVD right out of the gate. Time to plug in the microwave and fire up the Pop Secret. It's movie night people!

Shot entirely in Ontario, Canada, taking place in Ontario, Canada (the town of Fort Dundas to be exact) and having virtually no actors/actresses with any smidgen of a Canadian accent, The Calling subjugates itself as a serial killer vehicle mixing religious mumbo jumbo with the vanity arc of Jack Kevorkian. The proceedings begin by establishing a main character who is an alcoholic, pill-popping, suicidal policewoman (one of the all-time most used cop movie cliches in the book, the protagonist who is quote unquote "battling demons"). Susan Sarandon (as Hazel Micallef) plays said deputy. She lives with her mother, goes through a daily routine where virtually no crime ever occurs in her precinct, and shares her job with a rather pessimistic fellow detective (Ray Green played by Gil Bellows). She also works with a secretary (Katy Breier as Melanie Cartright) who basically exists to answer phones and break the tension by lightening the mood (another heavily used cop movie cliche, I looked it up).

As things progress, a series of murders occurs in Fort Dundas (the first set of them in four years) prompting detective Micallef to sense that it's the same person who committed all of them. She eventually acquires a new partner in Ben Wingate (Topher Grace) and so begins an investigation about a killer who is believed to have an interesting set of motives. When this person dispatches their victims, their mouths are left wide open. And along with this sicko's overly creepy MO, the crime scenes involved, are at times uniquely gruesome (a women's neck is virtually cut clean through, a man's stomach is extracted from him and thrown to a bunch of dogs, another dead man lies in a trailer park bed with a serious case of rigor mortis setting in, oy vey!).

Essentially, this is a routine thriller that borrows heavily from stuff like 1995's Se7en (the whole crime scene aftermath thing occurs without Se7en's haunting film score) and Fargo (the wintry setting, the identical looking police uniforms, the exterior shots that if you squint hard enough, look as if you're actually watching the Coen brothers 1996 Oscar nominee). There are some effectively chilling moments and I like the fact that "Calling" is a slow burning exercise that really takes its time. However, the antagonist is revealed way too early (Simon played by Christopher Heyerdahl who looks like a cross between a bloodshot Woody Harrelson and Jeff Daniels) and when you find out that his victims actually want to die, well the creepiness and mystery (that existed early on) eventually become a non-factor. As for "Calling's" ending, I won't reveal what happens but I will tell that what's on screen is laughable. It's tacked on and provides a mild shock. But really, it just feels like the filmmakers ran out of fresh ideas.

In conclusion, The Calling has decent acting and is passable for a weekend rental (or you could save five dollars by watching Criminal Minds reruns instead). At a running time of 108 minutes, I would "call" 40-45 of them worthy. Result: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Judge 2014 * * * Stars

The JudgeDirector: David Dobkin
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga

Taking place in Southern Indiana (you can tell because the landscape is full of foothills) and directed by a guy who is known chiefly for making comedies, The Judge is a long yet briskly paced courtroom drama. The overall plot concerns a hot shot Chicago lawyer who must defend his own father (a longtime judge presiding in a small town via the Hoosier state) against a stone cold murder charge. This mean-spirited, resentful (you could throw in spiteful too) lawyer flies into town initially to go to his mother's funeral. He ends up staying longer than needed when his father's dim-witted counsel can't handle the intensity of the case, a case involving a death by hit-and-run. Robert Downey Jr. plays the big city attorney (Henry "Hank" Palmer) while the legendary Robert Duvall plays his tough as nails, not to mention bullheaded judge father (Joseph Palmer).

As an originally conceived film with a title that averts to something John Grisham would approve of, The Judge didn't really remind me of any other dramas except for its mild sentiment towards certain cliches. You know, the aspects of a rich, well-off lad who comes back to his small hometown after he abandons his family and leaves behind the high school sweetheart that he once loved. And oh yeah, you can also throw in the cranky old timer who wasn't a good father and may or may not be a recovering alcoholic (a la 1982's The Verdict). No matter though. In essence, this is an absorbing, chaotic, messy, yet powerfully realized downer of a movie. It's depressing in its dysfunctional family dynamic and its ending is clearly anti-Hollywood (really not what you'd except). However, there is never a dull moment and at roughly two hours and twenty plus minutes, there's a lot of movie in this movie. You get what you paid for and then some.

The acting is top drawer, all down the line. Downey Jr. and Duvall have only been in the same flick one other time (1998's The Gingerbread Man) and clearly don't look related. But they work well together. Their performances in the lead roles hit you like a ton of bricks. Watching them spar in scene after gut wrenching scene, you feel as if they were actually bear and cub in real life. It's truly intense. And I gotta admit, Robert Downey Jr.'s "Hank" was tough to put up with for the majority of the running time. There's a lot of pent up anger there. There's also lots of moodiness, regret, and narcissism going on. Downey Jr. with his fast talking mannerisms and blatant Tony Starkness (you know, his character from Iron Man), looks like he's going to a bad place with this character. You feel like he could just explode at any minute. His performance is no doubt brilliant but gee-whiz, he could have possibly lightened up a bit. As for the rest of cast, they are solid especially Billy Bob Thornton exuding a sort of menacing cool. He plays the prosecutor in Duvall's character's case who is bent on justice (and the prospect of issuing a murder one charge to boot). Finally, we have Vera Farmiga effectively channeling the token, long lost love interest and Vincent D'Onofrio riffing off his The Break Up role by playing "Hank's" otherwise nervous older brother (Glen Palmer). Oh and by the way, did I mention the hard R language these characters carry off with totally relentless aplomb? This ain't no People's Court. This is indeed 12 Angry Men (and you can maybe count some woman too).

In conclusion, The Judge is pretty meaty entertainment despite a few hiccups along the way. I mean I could have done without a couple of scenes involving projectile vomiting and the sight of runny poop coming out of an 80 plus year old man (note to director David Dobkin: you're not making The Change-Up here. You're making a full-fledged, human drama). Also, I couldn't figure out why Downey Jr.'s "Hank" stayed at his father's storage room (at the Harper family home) during the opening funeral. I mean initially they hated each other, right? So I'm thinking that "Hank" could have at least found a hotel room (even in the small, fictitious hick town of Carlinville, Indiana). Regardless, this early fall release gets a recommendation from me. If you decide to take in a viewing, remind yourself that this film is not just a farce about the fate of a dying man through a handful of jurors. Think of what's on screen as a rekindling of fathers and sons by which the characters have extremely strong personalities and for the most part, are just too bad for each other. My final verdict on The Judge: Guilty, as in you're guilty if you don't check it out at a theater near you.

Written by Jesse Burleson

(Cole's Take) Gone Girl 2014

Gone GirlDirector: David Fincher
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: N/A (Click on the rating link to see Cole's on-site review)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris

Written by Cole Pollyea

Ah, hello film lovers. It feels good to be basking in the love of filmmaking again; forgive my absence, as I have been busy, but I thought I'd share with you some of my obsessive thoughts on a very recent film, Gone Girl. Something in this movie is so invigorating and genius that I couldn't avoid writing about it. Until next time, keep watching.

        Gone Girl

If you're thinking about seeing Gone Girl, think big. Think really big. Think Kubrick meets Frigidaire (that's right, I'm talking about the appliance manufacturer). Think satire and think deep. Think well coached, because that's exactly what every actor in this movie is. Think disturbing beyond anything he's made before. Think scenes that hurt to watch, and think scenes that make you shiver in awe of what you're watching. Think brutally honest themes packed into one outlandish debauchery of human nature. Think modernism, and think beyond the surface. Most importantly: think, because if you don't, Gone Girl will rip you apart, and you'll hate every second of it.

To answer your first question, is this Oscar Worthy material? You bet. I'm thinking a Best Screenplay nomination, and Best Actor nom for Ben Affleck, the man with the plan (from, you know, that one movie, Argo). The question is, is he playing another guy that contemplates what he's doing 100% of the time? The answer is no; no he's not. He's a guy whose wife goes missing. He's not a deep thinker. In so many instances, he is seen committing acts that a more composed, more intelligent man in his shoes would not. The problem is that we don't really see Ben Affleck as that guy. 

On a sidenote, I was recently enlightened on behalf of the difference between a problem and a predicament; a predicament is something that you're forced to compensate for, and a problem is something you can do something about. Ben Affleck's presumptuous complexion, behavior patterns in preceding movies that all point to an intelligent individual is not a predicament, and genius and previously praised (by myself and others) David Fincher has got the skills to re-articulate his manners, and it's just that he does. He coaches Affleck's character so incredibly well that I can't decide who deserves the real credit here. One thing's for sure, Affleck's stellar acting and even better coaching gets attention, gets the job done, and does exactly what this movie was aiming to.

What a vivid and beautiful movie Gone Girl is. It's a real pleasure to watch (or, in this respect, see); every other shot is a pan that captures seemingly perfect peoples' dazzling complexions or interior decorating that would knock the socks off of any decorator in the modern world.

Speaking of the modern world, I better stop speaking. I'm not a fan of spoilers and neither are you, but I'll say this in regards to what this movie is saying about the today's society: it's unsettling. So while I'm going to shut up, the movie won't. And don't let it, because it's got a lot to say. Those of you looking for a literal film, go watch Zodiac or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (both Fincher films that I highly recommend). You won't find one here, and if you do, you should take another trip to the theater. Gone Girl is a seething satire that stings like a serrated blade when it clicks in.

As for the star rating, which I've completely abandoned in regards to this movie, my enjoyment can be exemplified by a three star rating, and the brilliance can be exemplified by a four star rating. I guess, then, my official rating is somewhere in between. You decide.

Written by Cole Pollyea

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones 2014 * * * Stars

A Walk Among the TombstonesDirector: Scott Frank
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook

In Liam Neeson's latest endeavor A Walk Among the Tombstones, he does in fact do a lot of walking. He walks along sidewalks, past street corners, through graveyards (I'm thinking that's how the film got its title), and up on rooftops. He still gives you a daily dose of badassery, Neeson style. But this time it's not about the action, it's more about the emoting or fleshing out of his character. Don't worry, it's still his type of movie. He has a special set of skills, we know this. And you still get the obligatory phone call in which he tells off the villains kidnapping his friend, or his daughter, or his acquaintance, or whatever. Oh and by the way, he will find you, he will kill you, and so on and so on. Yeah, it's time to get Neesoned again and now, it's planned out in a sort of conventional, routine way.

Directed by the guy that wrote 1998's critically acclaimed Out of Sight and featuring a couple of psychopaths cutting off a woman's breast and amputating two fingers from a 14 year old (to get a certain amount of ransom money, oy vey), A Walk Among the Tombstones is a warped character study involving a retired cop in Matthew Scudder (Neeson). The film takes place circa 1991 and then fast forwards to fall of 1999, the Y2K era. Scudder is a private investigator who no longer works for any law enforcement. He's out on his own, doing quote unquote "favors" for people who need their loved ones found and their enemies brought to justice. Scudder's assignment: to find the killers of a drug dealer's wife (newcomer Dan Stevens plays the half-rich trafficker) who demanded $400,000 all the while eventually killing said wife.

Despite harnessing a hard R rating, "Tombstone" has a sick and twisted side without being as grotesque as most critics have led you to believe. Most of the torture scenes are masked. You think about them but you're spared the sight of the debauchery. That's a good thing because director Scott Frank is more geared toward being a mild film noir storyteller than anything else. His screenplay is deft and intelligent and although he exhibits some noir tendencies, he avoids filming anything in black and white (that makes sense because "Tombstone" wouldn't work as a 1940's/50's relic).

Now if you haven't seen A Walk Among the Tombstones yet, know that you're going to be taken back by its mild nostalgia. The opening credits have an old school feel about them, like a font from the 1970's or 80's. Then there's the film score that although written by Carlos Rafael Rivera, feels like something the late Michael Small would have thought up when he wrote the music to The Parallax View and Marathon Man. You also get to see its star the way you see other actors become human while taking a beating like a normal, vulnerable person. Remember when Clint Eastwood took a break from being Dirty Harry to be a mountaineer in The Eiger Sanction? Or when Harrison Ford donned his butt-kicking persona in Raiders of the Lost Ark to getting pushed around in Blade Runner? If you're a fan of Neeson's indestructible menace in Taken, you might view "Tombstone" and think "bummer". I say phooey! This is Liam emoting more so than breaking some paper villain's neck. It's him doing the Philip Marlowe thing, the Law and Order thing, the you know, detective thing. It's refreshing and it rises above the stale, sort of cliched material (another anti-hero, ex-cop who used to drink and has past demons) that "Tombstone" abbreviates for a majority of its running time.

Of note: I dug the spot-on, clean cut direction of "Tombstone" by Floridian Frank. And as much as I worship my favorite Irish actor, I couldn't get over the missteps in his stance as a independent, non-affiliated private investigator. Within the film's conclusion (spoiler alerts), he kills a bunch of bad guys, leaves a bloody mess, and doesn't get questioned by real cops with badges. He eludes them, gets on a subway, and goes to his apartment as if nothing ever happened. Whatever. And what's with him using a twelve-step program as a mindset to infiltrate the maimed killers? The familiar or better yet similar concept worked in Frank's The Lookout (you know, the phrase, "whoever has the money, has the power!"). Here, it just feels out of place and juvenile by comparison.

All in all, despite silent flashbacks that somewhat deflate any dramatic tension, a couple of irrelevant side plots involving alcoholism, and the slight befriending of a homeless kid by the protagonist, I'm gonna recommend this thing strictly because of the ripe, 62 year-old Neeson. As long as he stays away from comedy, I feel that his performances in action/crime dramas are as reliable as daylight savings time and as comfortable as a pair of worn out loafers. If you wanna see another Taken, you won't get that here. You'll have to wait for the third one which is coming out in January of 2015. In regards to his current release, A Walk Among the Tombstones, it's not going to blow you away or change your view of sadistic, gloom and doom crime thrillers. It is however, a form of normalcy when it comes to your everyday genre conventions. What we have here is for the most part, a solid "walk" to remember.

Written by Jesse Burleson