When I first saw the poster for Universal’s Dracula Untold I instantly was fooled into thinking this was some kind of fan made poster art for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, at least it looked like it belonged to that particular franchise. My opinion on the matter still holds true even today when I look at the movie’s poster art as shown at the bottom of this review. It has the making of a really good Batman concept poster, at least in my opinion it does. However, I digress. I won’t waste your time by selfishly going off on a tangent bickering as to why I hate the poster art so much for Dracula Untold, but instead I’m going to forget the fact that I even mentioned it (despite it being embedded in print now) and move along because we have much bigger fish or should I say bats to fry here in this movie review. So whether you believe that Universal intends this film to be a reboot of the Universal Monsters franchise or not is your prerogative. Mine is to report on everything that simply goes down in this “first entry.” Shall we get started?
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At its best, St. Vincent is a solid comedy-drama that features Bill Murray working at the best of his abilities as an actor to convey the sadness behind the guise of a smartass who has had a rough decline in later life. When the film does not work as well, it is because writer/director Theodore Melfi relies on a proven formula to do the work for him, despite the tonal balance one must carefully work with in order to succeed. Even with the problems in mind though, St. Vincent succeeds overall thanks to the casting of Murray and the nice level of chemistry he has with the cast around him, even if they are all on the path of a paint-by-numbers plot.
Being a great drummer is clearly no easy feat. One would not think a young jazz musician wanting to play drum at a music school would be the source for a gripping thriller, but then again, writer/director Damien Chazelle was responsible for writing the film Grand Piano, which was a thriller about a man forced to play the piano (or else!). That in mind, Whiplash is not a guilty pleasure take on a Hitchcockian thriller; it is an intensely focused drama that matches its ace lead performances with striking cinematic visuals to deliver a pretty fantastic film. This is a film that pushes its characters to their limits, in an effort to show what it means to be talented, passionate, and transfixed by getting something exactly right.
There is a scene in The Judge that features the big city lawyer and his estranged father having a huge argument during a violent wind storm. It is just one of the many scenes that really want to hammer home the emotions on display. Despite featuring a solid cast and moments where they can shine, The Judge is a film that goes way overboard, when it comes to spelling out exactly how an audience should feel. Not helping is the very sentimental screenplay that must have read, “Go big,” at the end of a good majority of the scenes, as a note to both the actors and director. The film is a huge pile of clichés that seem to have been filmed in an effort to rake in awards consideration for the two acting Roberts featured. It is the kind of contrived courtroom drama that is designed to get an obvious audience response, despite a lack of any sort of real weight behind the film.
Initially, I think I was more interested in how I would be writing the title of this film for the review, rather than what I was hoping to get out of actually seeing it. I have settled on ‘Alexander’ or ‘ATHNGVBD,’ but really, I am happy to write about this actual film as well, because it is harmless fun. Adapting a feature length film from a 32-page children’s novel can only lead to so much success, depending on who is involved, but Rob Lieber’s script manages to extend the novel’s idea into a fun family comedy that does not celebrate the misfortune of Alexander and his family, but instead embraces the optimism required to hold a family together, despite the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that happen to them. As a result, the film works both as a broad comedy and as a family comedy with good things to take away from it.
Annabelle is the cinematic equivalent of, “who cares,” which I was tempted to write as the lone words to describe my thoughts on the film. There is nothing offensively bad about this film, but there is really just nothing here. With very few original ideas and the amount of story that could be seen as a twenty minute short that serves as an opener to The Conjuring 2: Still Conjuring, Annabelle is unfortunately the kind of film that will serve its true purpose, which is to take in more earnings based solely on the success of the film that inspired it. The bonus for this film is that it can achieve mild praise from the teens that have never seen the horror movies it is ripping off, aside from Insidious, which is a much better film, as far as taking from the old and making new again, before similarly being saddled with an inferior follow-up. But yeah, I will see how much more I can write about this ‘who cares’ film.
While I have never read the novel of the same name, and despite this movie being directed by one of my favorites, Gone Girl simply looks on the cover like a movie I would eat up and relish every bite of it. I mean let’s examine everything it has going for it. It stars Ben Affleck and we all know he’s worth his weight in gold as of late. He’s also Batman too in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. And then there’s this guy who’s directing it that just happens to have helmed my favorite film of all time. Of course we’re talking about David Fincher and that film being Fight Club. This aforementioned ammunition in conjunction with a novel that everyone I know that has read has done nothing but rave about it has all the right ingredients for something really special. You can even sprinkle a little Trent Reznor on the top with his contributions in the scoring department making this his third collaboration with Fincher. The only thing uneasy about this one going in is knowing Reese Witherspoon is a producer, but like in Fight Club I’ll let things that truly do not matter, for the sake of this review of course, slide. Continue reading ‘‘Gone Girl’ Is Sick, Twisted Fun To Be Had (Movie Review)’
Part mystery-thriller, part sly commentary, Gone Girl finds director David Fincher working hard to bring Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel to life. The result is a very entertaining feature that is able to straddle the line of darkness thanks to its many twists and turns, strong performances, a great amount of dark humor, and the sort of technical excellence expected from David Fincher and his crew. For whatever reason, just because this film seems to stem from the more serious, prestigious side of Hollywood, many want to stack it next to its Oscar potential. I do not quite see that, but what I did see was a modern film imbued with the spirit of pulpy crime novels, resulting in a fine example of what can come out of Hollywood, when a great amount of talent is involved and put to good use.
It is great to go retro, when being guided by filmmakers who know what they are doing. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett clearly have plenty of retro inspirations for their films. Having found success in the realm of genre filmmaking, particularly with their previous collaboration, You’re Next, playing as a slasher film with a twisted comic edge, The Guest is another dip into familiar territory, enhanced by the sense of style and humor that oozes throughout the film. Making note of which films have been mined for ideas may be going a bit too far, but suffice it to say that The Guest has surprises up its sleeve that come less from the reveals and more from what underlines those reveals, as this film is a lot of fun.
One certainly cannot accuse the V/H/S series of not wanting to evolve. Each film serves as a horror anthology based around the idea of genre directors using the ‘found footage’ to put together some extremely messed up films, but this series has also attempted to grow its mythology and find new and wilder approaches to the short films. The first V/H/S was marred by its long runtime and general nastiness as far as a majority of the characters, both protagonists and antagonists were concerned. V/H/S 2 was a major step up, as it was shorter, scary, well-produced, and still very extreme. Now we have this third feature which is a bit of mixed bag. On the one hand, it is very well-produced and shows a lot of creativity. On the other, a large focus on the connective tissue between the individual films really brings things down, along with the very evolution of the central conceit, which may be controversial to ‘found footage purists.’
I find there to be a lot of beauty in Los Angeles at night. It is a bit odd, as I find most films that portray LA primarily at night tend to be centered on crime. Something about the way this city is illuminated by its street lights, cars, and various other forms of activity just does something for me. Certain films and filmmakers have proven to have quite the handle on filming this sort of thing. I think of a director like Michael Mann, who seems to understand exactly how to shoot LA at night, given what he brought to films like Heat or Collateral. With Nightcrawler, a dark, satirical neo-noir, writer/director Dan Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit seemed to want to do all they could to capture amazing photography of this city at night. As a result, we watch a slimy character do all he can to get great footage, while in turn finding something sublime in how wonderfully shot the whole thing is.
What do you see when you look at these older actors taking care of business? A week after writing about Liam Neeson’s latest foray into the realm of B-movie thrillers, I now get to write about Denzel Washington’s latest action/thriller. All I can say is The Equalizer certainly takes its time. By the end of this 130 minute feature, it felt like I had watched a whole season of the CBS series that inspired this film and I would not exactly call that a good thing. Denzel Washington may radiate confidence and director Antoine Fuqua may know how to stage stylish action sequences, but The Equalizer is a film that misunderstands how to balance a sense of poignancy with the slaughterfest that occurs anytime Denzel’s spider senses start tingling. It also goes on to pad itself with a lot of dull material.
It is one thing to put out a film that is a film that shows off the hundreds of hours of work that went into crafting a wholly unique world and set of characters, but it is another thing to merge that craftsmanship with a wonderful story about identity and societal roles of all things. Of course, it would be easier to just say The Boxtrolls is a high-spirited, mad-cap adventure-comedy that may not be as complex or tinged with darkness in the same way that Laika’s previous films, Coraline and ParaNorman, were, but still another fine entry from a studio that has done wonders in the stop-animation world in recent years.
A Walk Among the Tombstones is a nice change of pace as far Liam Neeson’s career as a B-movie action star goes. While the film may be sold as another chance to see Neeson use a particular set of skills to beat up some bad guys, it is really more of a detective story that flirts with noir-ish elements, with some grisly thriller aspects thrown in for good measure. Based on a series of novels by Lawrence Bock, which is focused on the character Matthew Scudder, Neeson’s performance not only keeps this film together overall, but establishes a new potential franchise, which would be more interesting than watching him rescuing various kidnapped members of his family from European gangsters over and over again.
Director Terry Gilliam falls into the category of filmmakers that make movies that fit entirely into their own genres. Quentin Tarantino makes Tarantino movies rather than straight comedies or action movies. Tim Burton used to not really make horror or fantasy films, but instead he made Tim Burton films (hopefully he gets back to that soon). I could go on, but Terry Gilliam does not really make science fiction films, he makes Terry Gilliam films, and that is what The Zero Theorem amounts to. While the film feels like it has too much indebted to his own past work, specifically his best film (arguably), Brazil, The Zero Theorem is still unlike any sort of traditional take on dystopian sci-fi worlds, because Gilliam operates on his very own level, even while battling studios to preserve his vision. As a result, while visually arresting and well-acted, it is not as conceptually interesting as it is a fun polish on some old ideas.
A Walk Among The Tombstones movie trailer could initially fool someone into thinking they should be expecting Taken 3. The trailer for A Walk Among The Tombstones shares some of the similar DNA to Taken with the same leading man, Liam Neeson, as well as familiar plot devices such as a tape recorder. However, the cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” by Nouela (it can be heard here) reminds us that this is a much more darker and grizzlier crime drama tale than the Taken films. It’s also based on a novel by Lawrence Block of the same name, and believe it or not, once upon a time in 2002 Harrison Ford was attached to star. So I honestly don’t feel tooted now that my movie has been in development for some three years now, but I digress. Continue reading ‘‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ Mostly Thrills (Movie Review)’
At this point, seeing another YA novel adapted into a film only brings up so much excitement. Part of it comes from there being only so many of these types of books I want to see as films and the other part is pretty simple: lots of these films are fairly dull and too focused on being a franchise-starter first, an enjoyable film second. I had no real opinion on The Maze Runner going into it. I have not read this book series, the cast is made up of younger actors I have seen in some things, but haven’t regarded as ‘the next big thing’, and there is a rookie director at the helm. Keeping all of this in mind, it would be easy for me to go into the flaws of the logic in a movie like this or even how it could have handled certain aspects regarding dramatic tension better, but honestly, I had a good time watching this film. The Maze Runner has a key thing going for it and that is consistency. It is not overlong, it is decently acted, features effective enough visuals, builds its tension and mystery well, and has a serious tone that does not come off as cheesy. This may not be the next big triumph for YA novel film adaptations, but it is far from the worst.
I have large doubts that 20 years ago, following the debut of writer/director Kevin Smith’s Clerks, anyone predicted that one day this man would make a film about a mysterious man turning an unknowing participant into a walrus, but here we are. Based on an idea that stemmed from an episode of one of Smith’s podcasts, SModcast, which he hosts with his best friend and former producer pal Scott Mosier, Tusk is a twisted horror-comedy that certainly features some memorable images, but mainly serves as a way of telling us that Smith has no desire to really move beyond entertaining his own fanbase, despite stepping away from his comfort zone, from a filmmaking standpoint. Given that I am a fan of Smith’s and hold a few of his films in high regard, I was certainly happy to go along with seeing how this film turned out, but if I had no clue about what this film was, I am pretty certain I would have thought Tusk was a film made as some sort of dare.