Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fury (2014) review

War films… can be brutal; there’s no denying it. I really can’t think of any war film (that I’ve seen at least) that wasn’t brutal in some way, shape, or form. I mean, would you ever make a lighthearted film based on some of the darkest moments of human history? Odds are you probably wouldn’t because ‘war is hell’ and we have certainly seen that through other famous war films like ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘Flags of our Fathers’, and arguably the most famous war film of the modern era, ‘Saving Private Ryan’. This idea of the horrors of war is also showcased in the latest war flick, ‘Fury’, the second major film of the year directed by David Ayer (most famous for writing the film ‘Training Day’) following the release of ‘Sabotage’ back in March. ‘Fury’ admittedly can be very brutal at times as is common with war films, and it is also very grim. In fact, this film is arguably grimmer than it is brutal. But even with that in mind, ‘Fury’ is still an extremely riveting war drama featuring a top notch cast of leads and some truly exceptional action sequences. Yes, it’s very hard to watch at times but many other war films have been as well. This one is no exception.

The film takes place in April 1945 near the end of the European Theater section of World War II as the Allied forces begin to make their final push into Nazi Germany. We primarily follow the five-man crew of a Sherman tank nicknamed “Fury” led by Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), with the main crew consisting of himself, Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). Their fifth crew member ends up getting killed in battle and is immediately replaced by Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a typist who had just enlisted a few weeks ago. Due to his inexperience in tank combat and his unwillingness/hesitation to kill any enemy soldiers, Ellison is initially mocked by the rest of the crew of ‘Fury’, who have all been together since the North African campaign. This results in “Wardaddy” having to get him into the ‘warfighting’ spirit as they head off on a mission behind enemy lines where they soon find themselves outnumbered and outgunned against the German army.

Some have said that this film is like having someone come up to you and yell “war is hell” at you for two hours and while I can definitely see where these people are coming from, ‘Fury’ hasn’t been the only war movie to do this. Yes this film is brutal and yes it’s very grim but despite that it does do a really great job at portraying the horrors of war, specifically through the eyes of Ellison, who’s clearly in way over his head due to the fact that he’s a ‘rookie’ of war compared to the rest of the crew of ‘Fury’. Ultimately, he too has to go to some very dark places because that’s what happens in war; Compassion won’t get you anywhere far. This film features some incredible cinematography and the action sequences are phenomenal, some of the best that I’ve seen from a war movie. This helps make it extremely compelling although there is one scene in the film around the midway point that really slows things down, and not entirely in a good way. The scene in question is when the main characters go into a German town and meet a young woman and her cousin in their house. Now for the record, this isn’t exactly a ‘bad’ scene as it does allow for some nice bits of character development, particularly for Wardaddy and Ellison. The problem, however, is that it just goes on for way too long. In what is a two hour movie, this sequence arguably takes up about a quarter of the runtime. Again, it’s not a ‘bad’ scene, but the film would’ve really benefitted from having it trimmed a bit.

One of the key factors to this film’s success relied on whether or not the five leads have great camaraderie with one another given the fact that they’re all cooped up in a tank and are basically the only people on screen for most of the film. Now unfortunately, most of the main characters come off as being rather unlikable at times, primarily due to how they initially treat Ellison, resulting in him being the main one you root for over the course of the film. Jon Bernthal’s character in particular comes off as being particularly dickish, especially during the aforementioned sequence in the German village. Heck, even Wardaddy acts a little extreme at times when he’s working to break Ellison’s innocence, like when he forces him to shoot a prisoner against his will. But as the movie goes on, we do see that there are still ounces of humanity in all of them. Again, that’s war in a nutshell… it turns you into something you don’t want to become but in the end there’s nothing you can do about it. The five leads do have superb camaraderie, resulting in a very effective and genuine sense of brotherhood amongst them. Pitt and Lerman in particular work off each other extremely well in the figurative roles of ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ respectively though LaBeouf (Who dare I say might just be the standout amongst the five?), Pena, and Bernthal all do fantastic jobs as well.

‘Fury’ is a film that isn’t really for the faint of heart. It’s brutal and also very grim in regards to its overall tone and atmosphere. But at the same time, the movie does manage to be an incredibly captivating war drama with some excellent action sequences and phenomenal cinematography. But at its core, the film’s greatest strengths come from how it does a great job at not only portraying the horrors of war through the eyes of an inexperienced soldier but also the brotherhood between soldiers as shown through the five members of the ‘Fury’ crew. Their camaraderie is superb and all five leads do a phenomenal jobs, with Logan Lerman and Shia LaBeouf in particular giving some of the best performances of their careers. It can be argued that this film is more brutal than it ultimately needed to be but really, when has a war film ever not been brutal/grim? That’s the whole point as these films convey to us how dark things can get in the time of war. ‘Fury’ is indeed a hard-hitting movie but at the same time it will also have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Judge (2014) review

About a month ago, I reviewed ‘This is Where I Leave You’, and I noted in that review that the film was a change of pace for director for Shawn Levy, a director who has primarily been known for comedies. The same can be said about ‘The Judge’ in how it’s a far different film than what director David Dobkin usually makes. Dobkin’s directorial career (not counting some of the movies he’s produced/co-written like ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’) has been entirely defined by comedies with his most famous film being the 2005 comedy ‘Wedding Crashers’. ‘The Judge’ is Dobkin’s first drama (as a director) and it has a pretty nice ensemble cast that is headlined by not one, but two Roberts in Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. But at the moment, ‘The Judge’ is currently receiving mixed reviews from critics. And while it’s true that this film is not really the best film to come out this year, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film… not at all. Sure, it has some flaws but it does manage to be pretty entertaining and at times it really does get to you on an emotional level. It seems like the filmmakers were trying to make a movie that would be a real ‘crowd pleaser’ and if you ask me, I think that they did succeed in that regard.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a hot-shot lawyer who is regarded as being one of the best defense attorneys in Chicago. On the day of his latest trial, Hank gets a call from his brother who tells him that their mother has just died. Though rather reluctant to return to his hometown, he does return home to Carlinville, Indiana, where he reunites with his brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) and their father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the town’s local judge with whom Hank has had a difficult relationship with for years. Just a few days after the funeral, Joseph ends up being accused of a hit and run. Also, the victim just so happens to be a former delinquent who he had given a ‘lenient sentence’ years before, which then resulted in the man killing his girlfriend after his sentence was up. With his father’s reputation on the line, Hank ends up becoming his lawyer in court against prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton), who is determined to make sure that Joseph ends up behind bars, leaving Hank in a tough position as he tries to prove that his father is not a murderer.

‘The Judge’ admittedly can be rather predictable at times in terms of where the story is heading. That and the film might just be a bit too overstuffed with characters, as some don’t really get enough character development due to the fact that the film focuses more on the relationship between Hank and Joseph. Still, the movie does manage to be pretty entertaining despite those two issues. While it is primarily a drama, there are quite a few comedic lines (which isn’t that surprising given Dobkin’s experience in comedy) thrown in which do lighten the mood at just the right moments. The film is also incredibly well-shot, with excellent cinematography work by Steven Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski. It could be argued that the film sometimes tries a bit too hard to elicit an emotional response from the audience as it tugs on the heartstrings. It may be true at times, but other times the film does have some genuinely effective emotional moments, particularly between Hank and Joseph. We see how strained their relationship has become, as it is revealed that Hank was a bit of a troublemaker when he was younger. This resulted in Joseph being hard on him but as he puts it, ‘he did what he thought was right’ and really he was right as it meant that Hank was able to turn his life around and become the successful lawyer that he is today.

The film’s biggest strength is easily its cast. Robert Downey Jr. is… well, Robert Downey Jr. He’s one of the best actors currently working today and films like this prove that he can do great in roles other than Iron Man. There is a little bit of the same snarkiness of Tony Stark in the character of Hank but not as much. It’s a much more subdued character but also one with a chip on his shoulder given his past and his relationship with his father and Downey Jr. handles the role perfectly. Speaking of his father, Duvall is also fantastic here as well. The character does come off as a grouchy old man most of the time but other times you do sympathize with him, particularly in scenes where he begins to show his age, like to the point where he even forgets the name of the bailiff who he has worked with for 20 years. The best scenes in the movie are when Downey Jr. and Duvall are on-screen together as they really work off each other incredibly well. But they are backed up by a rock-solid supporting cast as well, including D’Onofrio, Thornton, Dax Shepard as the lawyer that Joseph first hires to defend him in court, and Vera Farmiga as Hank’s former girlfriend from High School.

Robert Downey Jr. has been quoted as saying that ‘The Judge’ is an ‘Audience Movie’ and in the end that perfectly defines this movie. Right now, it’s getting fairly mixed reviews from critics so it probably won’t get any major buzz during awards season. But that’s okay because the film isn’t really trying to be something it’s not. It’s just a nice simple drama that manages to be entertaining. Sure, it’s rather predictable at times. Sure, it’s a little too overlong and overstuffed. Sure, it probably tries a bit too hard at times to tug at the heartstrings. But really, I didn’t mind about this that much. Despite the occasional predictability of the script and the two and a half hour runtime, I was still engrossed in the story and there were some truly effective emotional moments, namely between Hank and his father. Really, whenever Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are on-screen together, that is where the movie really shines. I’m not saying ‘The Judge’ is the best movie that I’ve seen this year but at the same time I don’t think it’s a ‘bad’ movie. It’s a ‘crowd-pleaser’ and those are exactly the kind of movies that I love to watch. In other words, ‘The Judge’ may not be an Oscar-worthy film but it’s worth checking out, primarily for the performances from its two leads.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gone Girl (2014) review

David Fincher is one of the absolute best directors currently working today in Hollywood. Sure, his career may not have gotten off to a good start when he was hired to direct ‘Alien 3’ but that movie isn’t his fault. He was stuck in a terrible situation working on a movie with an infamously hellish production where the studio vetoed every major decision he had. It was such a disaster for Fincher that it’s completely understandable why he doesn’t view that film as ‘his film’. Fortunately that wasn’t the end of his career as since then, he has yet to make a bad film; ‘Se7en’, ‘Fight Club’, ‘The Social Network’, the list goes on and on. For his newest film, Fincher takes on his second straight book-to-film adaptation in a row (after 2011’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’) with ‘Gone Girl’, based off of the best-selling novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. With ‘Gone Girl’, Fincher delivers what may just be his darkest film to date. After all, if there’s one thing he is known for, it’s for making incredibly dark and pessimistic films and this film is no exception. But it’s also an incredibly compelling and sometimes darkly comic mystery thriller that features a terrific cast headlined by its two leads. This makes ‘Gone Girl’ yet another great entry in Fincher’s prestigious post ‘Alien 3’ filmography… even though it is quite messed-up at times.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Elliott (Rosamund Pike) first meet a party and almost immediately develop a romantic connection. They soon marry and two years later, they move from New York to Nick’s hometown in Missouri when his mom is stricken with cancer. On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick returns home after work to find Amy missing as well as signs of an apparent struggle. The police immediately start investigating into the disappearance and possible kidnapping as the case makes headlines nationwide due to the fact that Amy is the inspiration for the best-selling book series ‘Amazing Amy’ written by her parents. However, as the days go on with no sign of Amy, things suddenly take a dark turn for Nick when certain evidence starts to paint him as a possible suspect, revealing that his marriage wasn’t as happy as it looked. As he slowly becomes ‘the most hated man in America’, Nick must find a way to prove to everyone that he didn’t kill his wife. And really, that’s as far as I can go in terms of the film’s plot because otherwise I would be giving away key plot-points. 

Pretty much as soon as the film started, I was immediately hooked by the film. That’s usually the case with Fincher’s films; even when they are nearly three hours long, they always hold your interest from beginning to end. This one in particular really shines because… well, of how messed up it is. With that said, I want to note that I went into this film having not read the book so I didn’t have any idea of how this story was going to play out and as a result, the film was much darker than I expected. Then again, this is a David Fincher movie so that’s not too surprising. But at the same time, as it is also expected from a Fincher film, the story is incredibly compelling and the film is incredibly well-shot. It’s also darkly comic at times and is a biting satire of various aspects of our lives, like how the media interprets certain events without knowing everything about what’s really going on (as shown via the character of Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), a TV host who paints Nick out to be a ‘sociopath’ given his behavior regarding the whole case) and how we as an audience are influenced by this or how the economy can have an effect on a marriage, as at one point Nick and Amy argue over Nick’s spending habits after they both lose their jobs. This all makes ‘Gone Girl’ one of the best written screenplays of this year so far. As for how faithful this film is to the book, from the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the book, it seems pretty faithful right down to the fact that it retains the controversial ending of the book that was allegedly changed by Flynn herself so that it wouldn’t be spoiled.

The film’s cast is pitch-perfect, particularly in regards to its two leads. As Nick, Ben Affleck is perfectly cast in the role of a man who becomes highly scrutinized by the media, which of course is something that Affleck experienced quite a lot in not only the years before his big comeback in 2007 but even recently after he was cast in ‘Batman v. Superman’. Here he gives the best performance of his career. But ultimately this movie belongs to Rosamund Pike as Amy. Like I said before, I hadn’t read the book going in and I didn’t realize how complicated of a character Amy really was. Going in, I thought she was just going to be the innocent victim but, without really giving anyway here, it turns out that she’s not as innocent as we thought. Amy’s transformation over the course of the story is fascinating and Pike absolutely owns the role. I’ll be genuinely shocked if she’s not nominated for Best Actress at this year’s Oscars because this is one of the best performances that I’ve seen this year. Affleck and Pike lead a talented cast which also includes Neil Patrick Harris in a very much against type role as one of Amy’s ex-boyfriends, Tyler Perry as Nick’s attorney, Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister, and Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as the two lead cops in the case of Amy’s disappearance.

‘Gone Girl’ is, in many ways, a very messed-up movie and yet it manages to be an incredibly compelling mystery story which of course, as a director, is where Fincher is truly at his best as proven through films like ‘Se7en’ and ‘Zodiac’. But in all seriousness, I legitimately did not expect some of the dark turns that the story took, particularly in regards to Amy and the journey her character takes in this film. The marketing thankfully hasn’t given any of this away so those who go in who haven’t read the book will certainly be surprised by the dark turns that this story takes. As for those who have read, it seems like it stays true to the book, even featuring the same ending and while I may be in the minority on this, I kind of admire the ending for being just as messed up as the story; in other words, I think it actually fits rather perfectly with the tone of the film. In short, ‘Gone Girl’ features great direction from David Fincher, a terrific cast headlined by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike giving the best performances of their careers, and a smartly-written dark and satirical screenplay by author Gillian Flynn. Is this Fincher’s best film? That may be up for debate at the moment but one thing is for certain; Fincher’s hot streak following his initial mishap of ‘Alien 3’ continues with yet another outstanding film.

Rating: 5/5!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Director Retrospective: David Fincher

With the impending release of ‘Gone Girl’ this weekend, it’s time for another directorial retrospective. Today, we’ll be looking at the filmography of ‘Gone Girl’s director, David Fincher. Before he became a director, Fincher actually got his start in Hollywood working for ILM on films like ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’. He then started directing music videos for artists like Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Paula Abdul. Then, in 1992, he made his directorial debut though unfortunately it didn’t turn out so good. But as we’ll soon see, that wasn’t really his fault and thankfully, his career managed to rebound after that. Overall, Fincher has one of the best track records of any director currently working in Hollywood. Excluding his first film, he has not made a bad film and given the current critical reception for ‘Gone Girl’, it looks like Fincher has yet another success on his hands. But for now, it’s time to look back on his filmography. I’ve already briefly discussed two of these films, ‘Social Network’ and ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, in my lists for my top 10 favorite films of 2010 and 2011, respectively, so I’ll just be expanding on what I said in those two posts here. So now without further ado, here are the films of director David Fincher.

ALIEN 3 (1992)

Fincher’s directing career unfortunately got off to a fairly rocky start when he was hired to direct ‘Alien 3’, the third film in the highly successful ‘Alien’ franchise. It all started in 1979 with Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’, a film that stands as not only a phenomenal sci-fi film but also a very effective horror film. It utilized the cramped nature of its locales to great effect, establishing a sense of claustrophobia and anxiety. That film was followed in 1986 with ‘Aliens’, directed by James Cameron, fresh off of 1984’s ‘The Terminator’. ‘Aliens’ took a different approach than ‘Alien’, opting instead for a more action-based aesthetic and it too is one of the best of its genre. Sigourney Weaver established herself as one of the great female action heroes but the film also had a great cast of memorable characters, something that isn’t always easy to do when it comes to these kinds of movies. So as you can see, Fincher had two incredibly tough acts to follow and ultimately ‘Alien 3’ ended up being a fairly mediocre threequel. But in the end, it isn’t Fincher’s fault the film didn’t turn out that good. This is a case of a film that had an infamously hellish production and that certainly shows when watching the final product.

During pre-production, the film saw numerous rewrites occur, each of which saw major changes to the film’s plot. One draft apparently had the action set on Earth. While this ultimately wasn’t what the film was about, an early teaser of the film had the tagline ‘On Earth, Everyone can hear you Scream’, making it one of the misleading teasers ever. Another draft was to have the film be set on a ‘Wooden Monastery’ full of monks. There were also numerous directors considered for the film, including David Twohy, Renny Harlin, and Vincent Ward (who came up with the ‘Wooden Monastery’ concept). When Fincher was brought on, the experience wasn’t very pleasant for him. He had little time to prepare for the film before it was to start shooting, and once shooting did begin, the script wasn’t even complete yet. It had to be worked on as shooting was going on. But even worse is that pretty much every major idea that Fincher had about the film was shot down by the execs at Fox. With all of this in mind, it’s very much clear why Fincher now disowns the film… seriously, can you blame him? I’d disown the film too if I was in his situation. But anyway, time to get to the actual film itself.

First off, the movie pulls the incredibly stupid move of killing off all of the remaining characters from ‘Aliens’ except for Ripley. As I stated earlier, ‘Aliens’ had a great cast of characters and to see most of them killed off is, to quote James Cameron, ‘a Temple of Doom slap in the face’ to the fans. To make matters worse, Ripley ends up on an all-male prison planet; to put it simply, there is no ‘silver lining’ for Ripley here. This film has an incredibly bleak tone to it and while that is something that Fincher is really good at doing as proven by his later films, here it is a little bit too much. You’d think that after all that she had gone through in both ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’, you would think that Ripley would catch a break but that’s not the case here. Also, on another note, due to the fact that this is an all-male prison planet where all of the men have shaved heads, it is incredibly hard to tell them apart from one another because they all look the frigging same so you don’t really care about any of them because you’ll be spending more time trying to remember who’s who.

Despite all of this, there are two legitimately great things about this movie. The first is Sigourney Weaver, who is once again fantastic as Ellen Ripley. She carries the movie on her back though the rest of the cast is pretty good as well. It’s just that, as I noted earlier, the majority of them look exactly the same so this is more in regards to their performances than the characters themselves. The other great part of this film is the ending (so… Spoilers!). After defeating the Alien of the film, Ripley learns that she has the embryo of an Alien queen inside of her. When the Weyland Corporation offers to remove it from her body, Ripley sacrifices herself knowing that they are going to use it for biological weaponry. It’s an incredibly bold move on behalf of the filmmakers to kill off the main character of the franchise and it looked as if this was going to be the final film in the series, though that ultimately wasn’t the case with the release of ‘Alien: Resurrection’ five years later (which for the record I haven’t seen yet). And unfortunately, despite those two great aspects of ‘Alien 3’, they don’t help it that much as it is still a very inferior follow-up to the first two ‘Alien’ films that came before it. But of course this isn’t the fault of Fincher given the situation that he was in while it was being made. I’m aware of the film’s ‘Assembly Cut’, which is viewed as the superior cut of the film, which is also notably very different from the original theatrical cut, but I haven’t seen it and even with that in mind, I’m not sure how it much it improves the theatrical cut.

Rating: 2/5

SE7EN (1995)

Thankfully, ‘Alien 3’ didn’t sink Fincher’s career as a director as he immediately rebounded with ‘Se7en’, a film in which two detectives (played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) investigate a series of bizarre murders that are inspired by the seven deadly sins: Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Pride, Envy, Sloth, and Wrath. This film is a much better example of how Fincher does a great job at establishing dark environments, with the film being set in a city that is slowly falling apart where it’s always raining. This fits well with the murders that occur in this film. The majority of them aren’t actually seen happening on screen, but the descriptions of them (e.g. an obese man eating until his stomach burst or a woman whose face was heavily disfigured, resulting in her choosing to end her life instead of having to live with the scars for the rest of her life) certainly hit you hard in how graphic/disgusting they are. But the best part of the film is its two leads, Pitt and Freeman. There is an excellent dynamic between them with Pitt’s character being the hot-headed rookie while Freeman’s character is the calm and collected veteran who is nearing retirement.

And of course, there is the film’s infamous twist ending, which I won’t dare spoil here for those of you who haven’t seen it. Needless to say, it is a fantastic ending. The best way I can describe it without actually talking about what happens in it is that it takes a much darker turn that one might expect but at the same time it fits perfectly given the atmosphere and tone that the film establishes. It’s a good thing that New Line Cinema didn’t reject this ending which they were originally going to do, which would’ve resulted in a much more straight-forward ‘mystery thriller’ ending. But thankfully Pitt declared that he wouldn’t do the film if this ending wasn’t kept in the movie. In the end, it was and ultimately this is why ‘Se7en’ is such a great crime thriller. Fincher’s style matches perfectly with the story and the film holds your interest from beginning to end with a compelling mystery and a truly jaw-dropping finale (‘What’s in the Box??’). Of course, it’s also thanks to a terrific cast headlined by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. In short, ‘Se7en’ is easily one of Fincher’s best films, if not his absolute best.

Rating: 5/5!

THE GAME (1997)

Sandwiched in between the two films that are arguably still David Fincher’s most notable films to date is 1997’s ‘The Game’. In the film, Michael Douglas stars as Nicholas Van Orton, a successful but cold banker who, on his 48th birthday, receives a present from his brother Conrad (Sean Penn). This present is a ‘voucher’ for a ‘game’ run by a new company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). He ends up using the voucher and soon finds that this ‘game’ begins to take over his life. As one would expect from a Fincher film, ‘The Game’ is an incredibly suspenseful thriller that has you on the edge of your seat as we see how this game takes over Nicholas’ life. Michael Douglas is fantastic in the lead role as is Sean Penn in his fairly brief appearance in the film (probably about only 10 minutes of screen-time). But unfortunately there is one major thing holding this film back from being one of Fincher’s best films and that is the one thing that has been pretty much universally criticized by almost everyone who seen it; the ending. Even Fincher admits that it wasn’t that good. For those who haven’t seen the film yet, I won’t spoil anything major but I will try and describe to the best of my ability why the ending is so mediocre.

As the movie goes on, Nicholas begins to get very paranoid due to how much ‘the Game’ has affected his life. He loses his house, his money, etc. He begins to suspect that there’s this major ‘conspiracy’ behind the whole thing and confronts the workers of CRS for answers. But he finds out too late that there wasn’t any ‘conspiracy’ going on and does something terrible. Immediately feeling regret for it, he does something out of despair. This climax definitely feels like the ending to a David Fincher film… and then all of a sudden that’s not how it all ends. Instead, it ends more on a ‘happy ending’ where everything is fine. I’m sorry, but this doesn’t really gel well with the shocking conclusion we had just witnessed which, as I just noted, is very much in line with how most of Fincher’s films usually end. I feel that the movie should’ve ended ten minutes earlier because as is, to quote my friend Matt, the ‘true’ ending sort of feels like a major ‘copout’. Now with that said, I still think that the movie is still a very solid mystery thriller but while some may feel that it is Fincher’s most underrated film, I feel that it’s actually his weakest film not counting Alien 3. I do think it is underrated but as for his most underrated… that one would come a decade later. But overall ‘The Game’ is still very much worth checking out.

Rating: 4/5


As crazy as it may seem, ‘Fight Club’, based off of the novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, wasn’t as well-regarded upon its initial release as it is today. When it was first released in theaters, it was arguably the most controversial film of 1999. There were those who loved it for its thought-provoking script while those who hated it believed that it was overly excessive in regards to its brutal violence. But since then, this negative reception towards the film has died down considerably and ‘Fight Club’ is now considered to not only be a cult classic, but is also regarded as one of the ultimate ‘guy movies’. Even Palahniuk has admitted that he thinks the film is an improvement over the book. Now when it comes to this film, there has been quite a lot of analysis towards it by those who are much better than I am when it comes to this sort of thing. So because of this, I’m not going into too much detail when it comes to ‘analyzing’ this film’s themes and messages. Instead, I’m just going to talk about my overall thoughts on the film.

‘Fight Club’ is a visual assault on all of the senses, what some may call a ‘mindf***’… and it is frigging awesome. It’s a film that, yes, is full of violence, mostly via the titular ‘Fight Club’ but at the same time it’s a very smartly written film. It’s a biting satire on the consumerist culture and the ‘lost generation’. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this film but like I said, that’s about as far as I go with that stuff. The film features terrific performances from Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. Pitt especially steals the show here as one of the best characters ever to be put onto film; the one and only Tyler Durden. Yes, he may be very extreme at times but he’s also incredibly charismatic and very smart. This was the film that really got me into being a fan of Pitt as an actor. I’ll admit that before I saw this I wasn’t really that big a fan of his, which I guess was mostly because I got really sick of the fact that he was always in the headlines due to his relationship with Angelina Jolie. But this film thankfully changed my mind about all of that. After all, most of the time you should just ‘separate the art from the artist’ like I do with other actors like Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson. Really, what else more is there needed to be said about ‘Fight Club’? It may not have made a big splash initially but in the years since it has earned its rightful place as one of the all-time classics.

Rating: 5/5!


‘Panic Room’ is another one of the forgotten entries in David Fincher’s filmography probably because, on the surface, it’s not as thought-provoking as something like ‘Fight Club’ or ‘Se7en’. Instead, it’s more like your straight-forward thriller film; it’s a ‘popcorn flick’. And according to Fincher, that’s exactly the kind of movie he wanted to make so in short, he definitely delivers on that front. But at the same time, Fincher does, once again, establish an effectively dark atmosphere that fits well with this story of a home invasion. Jodie Foster does a fantastic job in the lead role of Meg Altman, a recently divorced mother who has just moved into a new house with her daughter Sarah (pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart) but who then has to deal with robbers on just the first night they’re there. But really, the major standouts of this film are Jared Leto and Forest Whitaker as two of the three robbers (the other played by Dwight Yoakam). Leto’s an absolute scene-stealer as Junior, the hot-headed member of the group, while Whitaker gives an excellent reserved performance as Burnham, who had a hand in designing the titular ‘Panic Room’ in which Meg and Sarah hide in for most of the film. All in all, ‘Panic Room’ may be the simplest of Fincher’s films in terms of its ideas but it is still a very solid and tense thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Rating: 4/5

ZODIAC (2007)

‘Zodiac’ is quite frankly David Fincher’s most underrated film to date, at least from a commercial standpoint. While the film did get glowing reviews from critics, it wasn’t too successful at the U.S. box office. It only grossed about 33 million stateside, which was only about half of its $65 million budget. Thankfully, it made enough overseas to make its budget back at the box office but still it’s a shame that this film didn’t do so well here. Why is that, you ask? Well, it’s probably because this is a two and a half hour movie that mostly consists of characters talking with one another. There’s not exactly a lot of ‘action’ and pretty much all of that action occurs within the first 45 minutes. But in this case it’s not a problem because the story is just so incredibly compelling. This is based off of the real-life murder case of the ‘Zodiac Killer’, who terrorized northern California in the 60’s and 70’s. The crazy thing about this whole story is that this case has never been solved and while that does technically mean we kind of already know going in how this will all turn out, we’re still engrossed in the movie and we feel the same frustration that those investigating the case are going through. And once you think they’re finally going to solve the case, the film ends with a caption stating that their prime suspect died before he could be questioned and that a DNA test conducted a few years after that was unable to link him to their evidence.

But at its heart, this story is mainly about the obsession of cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who worked for years trying to figure out the identity of the Zodiac killer, even years after the Zodiac killings occurred. It’s interesting how someone like Graysmith, who really shouldn’t even be involved in this case (he is described by many people as a ‘boy scout’) but we do follow him as this investigation consumes every aspect of his life to the point where he loses his job and his wife divorces him. It’s an interesting look into a character’s psyche and Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the best performances of his career in this movie but he is also backed up by a really solid supporting cast. This includes Robert Downey Jr. as reporter Paul Avery and sure if you really look at it, it’s just Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark (a year before ‘Iron Man’ came out) but you now what? I don’t mind that at all because he’s so damn good when it comes to portraying characters with a ‘cocky/destructive’ personality. And then you factor in the rest of the cast, which includes the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, and Brian Cox and you have yourselves one fine ensemble cast. The film is well-shot (and yes, I’m aware that a lot of the scenes were mostly CGI but it’s still some pretty good-looking CGI), well-acted, and has a very engaging story to follow. I highly recommend this one for you all; sure it’s mostly a dialogue movie but it’s still a very intriguing look into one of the most infamous unsolved cases in American history.

Rating: 4.5/5


Some probably like to refer to this movie as David Fincher’s ‘Forrest Gump’ and it’s understandable why. While this film is based (albeit loosely) off of a different source material, in this case a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, both films center around the main character living his life over many years. Heck, both films even have the same screenwriter, Eric Roth. However, while I do still really like ‘Forrest Gump’, I think ‘Benjamin Button’ is the better film. While ‘Gump’ is more about nostalgia and American history, this film focuses more on the idea of life and how ultimately nothing lasts forever. The main character of Benjamin Button, who was born with a condition where, at birth, he appears to be an old man and as he gets older, he begins to look much younger, meets a lot of people over the course of his life… and most of them end up dying. Death is a common theme in the film as Benjamin lives his life; he is raised in a nursing home by his surrogate mother Queenie (who later dies), he works on a tugboat that gets caught up in World War II, and he falls in love with a girl named Daisy even though they’re on different life paths. This film really handles this whole situation perfectly and because of that, the film really gets to you on an emotional level.

It’s an incredibly beautiful looking film. The cinematography is absolutely spectacular (what else would you expect from a Fincher film?) and then you also factor in the incredible special effects used in portraying Benjamin as he goes from an ‘older-looking’ child to a ‘younger-looking’ old man. It’s been noted that if this movie had been done at an earlier time than when it finally got made, the role would have required more than one actor in regards to the various periods of life. But thanks to advances in technology, Brad Pitt was able to play the role as much as possible and because of that, he gives one of the absolute best performances of his entire career here. Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson are also fantastic in this film as well and at the film’s core is the love story between Benjamin and Daisy, executed brilliantly here by both Fincher’s directing and the chemistry between Pitt and Blanchett. I’m just going to say it… this is my favorite Fincher film and it’s slowly becoming one of my favorite films of all time. I absolutely love this movie. Not only is it an incredibly beautiful looking film in regards to its visual look but it also does a phenomenal job in its handling of the concept of life and death. I’ll even admit that I get a little teary-eyed at certain points. That’s how great this film is.

Rating: 5/5!


On the surface, a movie about Facebook sort of seems like a really stupid idea… at least that’s what I thought when I first heard about this film getting made. At that time, I remember that I had recently watched this video from which was a Facebook-themed parody of the film ‘Face/Off’ in which two guys hacked each other’s Facebook account in order to vie for the affections of this one girl they both liked. Back then, I thought that this was the best way anyone could even make a movie about Facebook… and it wasn’t even a real movie. But the great thing about ‘The Social Network’ is that while it is centered on the origins of Facebook, this movie has much more to it than that. It’s also about the legal battles that occurred due to Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) actions during the initial years of the website. In one lawsuit, he’s being sued by the Winklevoss twins (amazingly, both of them are portrayed by the same actor, Armie Hammer), who claim that he ‘stole their idea’ for the website when they had approached him to help them make their own website, ‘Harvard Connection’. And in another lawsuit, he is being sued by his best friend and Facebook co-founder, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) after Saverin finds out that he was getting screwed out of his shares of the website.

It’s pretty much a Greek tragedy; Zuckerberg is someone who is undeniably a genius but at the same time, his general lack of social skills and his tendency to judge people end up costing him the value of companion-ship. It’s even sadder when looking at the relationship between him and Saverin; they were best friends and yet Zuckerberg ends up destroying that friendship. Eisenberg and Garfield really sell that friendship and as a result, you really sympathize with Eduardo when he learns he got screwed over. Now on that note, that may seem like the movie ‘vilifies’ Zuckerberg but that’s not entirely the case as, noted earlier, there’s no denying that he’s a smart guy. And for the record yes I am very much aware that the film isn’t entirely accurate in regards to the whole story about the creation of Facebook (namely that Zuckerberg wasn’t really as big of an asshole as this movie may paint him as). Still, with Fincher’s directing, Aaron Sorkin’s smart and snappy screenplay, and brilliant performances from all involved, ‘The Social Network’ is one truly compelling drama and that is why I listed it as my favorite film of 2010.

Rating: 5/5!


Finally we come to Fincher’s adaptation of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, based off of the first book in the Millennium trilogy by author Steig Larsson. The series was previously adapted into a trilogy in Sweden starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander and Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist. In Fincher’s film, Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig portray these roles and overall I must say that I do prefer Fincher’s film to the Swedish film. Now for the record, I don’t want this to look like I’m biased because I’m American but I do think that Fincher’s version is superior for one main reason; it does a better job in regards to the darker elements of the story. To put it quite simply, this is one very dark story and while the Swedish film did do a good job at adapting the story, Fincher was ultimately the perfect choice to direct this story. After all, as we’ve already established, Fincher is really great when it comes to creating gloomy and unsettling environments and that style fits perfectly with the story. Fincher isn’t afraid to show off some of the more disturbing moments of the book. Yes that does mean that this movie can be really hard to watch at times but at the same time it’s also a very compelling murder mystery.

The film also benefits from terrific performances from its two main leads. As it has been noted by pretty much everyone, Rooney Mara absolutely steals the show here as Lisbeth Salander. This character is an incredibly interesting character that is shrouded in mystery. Mara completely disappears into the role, resulting in an incredibly mesmerizing performance. But at the same time, Daniel Craig also does a fantastic job as Mikael Blomkvist. Craig made sure that the character felt different than James Bond; he’s someone who wants to expose corruption but can occasionally go a little too far, as shown in the opening when he is seen after losing a libel case. Watching him, I didn’t see James Bond; I saw Mikael Blomkvist. Both Mara and Craig really get into their roles and work off each other well when they’re on-screen together. Overall, Fincher delivered a brutal, unapologetic but ultimately very engaging take on this story and I’m hoping that this version of the trilogy will continue on with film adaptations of ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’ and ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’. The status of those two proposed films is currently up in the air right now but I for one hope they do get made.

Rating: 4.5/5

And now I close out with a list ranking all of Fincher’s films to date.

9. Alien 3

8. The Game

7. Panic Room

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

5. Zodiac

4. Se7en

3. Fight Club

2. The Social Network

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 Preview: October

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s year-long preview of the films that are set to come out in 2014. This is Part 9 of 11 (previously 12) and today we’ll be looking at the films that will be hitting theaters this October. And I must say… after looking through this month, there is quite a lot to talk about in regards to what is coming out this month. So let’s not waste any time and get started looking at the October 2014 schedule.

OCTOBER 3- 3 new wide releases will open up the month, including the latest from director David Fincher and a spin-off of one of 2013’s biggest hits.

*David Fincher’s latest film, ‘Gone Girl’, is based off of the best-selling book of the same name by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the film’s screenplay (allegedly altering the ending, although current reports say that the ending is the same as it was in the book). The story centers on the investigation into the disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) but soon the case takes a different turn when her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) becomes the prime suspect. The film also stars Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, and Kim Dickens.

*When it was released in July of last year, director James Wan’s ‘The Conjuring’ was a major hit both critically and commercially. A sequel is currently in production for a planned October 2015 release but before that, a spin-off hits theaters this October in the form of ‘Annabelle’, based around the creepy doll of the same name featured in ‘The Conjuring’. In this film, a family purchases a vintage doll but soon find themselves dealing with an evil entity after their home is invaded by a satanic cult.

*The next film is actually a reboot of a series of Christian films starring Kirk Cameron that were released from 2000 to 2005; ‘Left Behind’, based off of the book series of the same name by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The film focuses on a group of people who try to survive after millions of people suddenly disappear without a trace and the world is thrown into chaos. Nicolas Cage stars as a pilot caught up in the whole situation.

OCTOBER 10- Another trio of new films this weekend including a new Dracula film.

*Taking the title as one of the longest film titles you’ve ever seen is ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’, based off of the book of the same incredibly long name by Judith Viorst. The titular Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is a 11-year old kid who has one very bad day compared to the rest of his family (the parents played by Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) but then they too start to experience their own ‘bad day’.

*Universal is currently in the works of rebooting their classic monster franchises and that journey begins with ‘Dracula Untold’. Based, of course, on Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, the film tells the story of Vlad the Impaler, a prince from Transylvania who becomes endowed with supernatural powers as he looks to protect both his kingdom and his family when it is threatened by an Ottoman sultan. Luke Evans stars in the title role alongside Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, and Charles Dance.

*Robert Downey Jr. stars in ‘The Judge’, a rare dramatic turn for director David Dobkin (‘Wedding Crashers’). In the film, Downey Jr. stars as a successful lawyer named Hank Palmer who returns to his hometown in Indiana when he learns that his mother has just died. However, when he returns, he finds out that his father Joe (Robert Duvall), the town’s local judge, is being suspected of murder resulting in Hank now looking to defend his father in court. The film also stars Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, and Dax Shepard.

OCTOBER 17- Once again, another trio of three new wide releases (it’s sort of the main pattern this month) along with a film that is expanding nationwide. I’ll also throw in one limited release.

*The latest adaptation of a best-selling Nicolas Sparks novel, ‘The Best of Me’ stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan as a pair of old high-school sweethearts who reunite with each other when they return to their hometown for a friend’s funeral.

*Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, ‘The Book of Life’ is an animated film centered on a rivalry between two men, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum), for the affections of Maria (Zoe Saldana). But when Manolo ends up getting killed as the result of a spirit who is trying to make it so that Joaquin will become Maria’s lover, he must embark on a quest in order to face his greatest fears and to return to the human world. The film also stars Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, and Ice Cube.

*Director David Ayer’s second film of the year following March’s ‘Sabotage’, ‘Fury’ is a war film starring Brad Pitt as the commander of a tank crew that find themselves outnumbered and outgunned when they embark on a mission behind enemy lines during the last few months of World War II. The film also stars Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, and Jon Bernthal as the other members of the crew.

*Expanding nationwide after its initial release on October 1st, ‘Men, Women, and Children’ is directed by Jason Reitman (‘Juno’) and is based on the novel of the same name by Chad Kultgen. The film centers on a group of teenagers and their families who all try to deal with the rise of technology and how it is having a major impact on all of their lives. The film’s ensemble cast includes Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, and Dean Norris.

*Opening in limited release is ‘Birdman’ AKA ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (‘21 Grams’). Michael Keaton stars as a former actor, who was famous for playing the famous superhero Birdman, who tries to start up a new Broadway while also dealing with his ego and his family. The film also stars Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough.

OCTOBER 24- Same as last week. Three new films, one nationwide expansion and a noteworthy limited release.

*Keanu Reeves stars in ‘John Wick’, in which he stars as the titular character, a hit man who goes on the run from an old friend of his who is tasked with killing him by a crime boss. The film also stars Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, and Bridget Moynahan.

*In ‘Laggies’, Keira Knightley stars as a woman who goes on a week-long ‘vacation’ from her life, including dealing with having her boyfriend propose to her, after meeting a high-school student (Chloe Grace Moretz) sometime after returning home for her high school reunion.

*A new horror film from producers Jason Blum and Michael Bay, ‘Ouija’ centers on a group of friends who awaken an ancient spirit when they try to use an Ouija board to contact their recently deceased friend.

*Bill Murray stars in ‘St. Vincent’ in which he plays a war veteran who is recruited by his neighbor (Melissa McCarthy) to watch her kid. The film, expanding nationwide this weekend, also stars Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, and Terrance Howard.

*Opening in limited release, ‘White Bird in a Blizzard’ is based off of the novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke. Shailene Woodley stars as a young girl in 1988 whose life is turned upside down when her mother (played by Eva Green) suddenly disappears. The film also stars Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, and Angela Bassett.

OCTOBER 31- Two major wide releases will be closing out the month and I’ll include one major limited release.

*In ‘Before I Go to Sleep’, based off of the novel of the same name by S.J. Watson, Nicole Kidman stars a woman who ends up in a car accident but years later she starts to wonder what really happened to her. Colin Firth and Mark Strong co-star.

*Dan Gilroy, brother of ‘Bourne’ writer Tony Gilroy, makes his directorial debut with ‘Nightcrawler’. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a man who takes up a job in the world of freelance crime journalism. The film also stars Rene Russo and Bill Paxton.

*Finally we have ‘Horns’, directed by Alexandre Aja (‘Piranha 3D’) and starring Daniel Radcliffe as a man who is accused of murdering his girlfriend (Juno Temple), resulting in him trying to find out who really killed her with the help of some new paranormal powers.

And those are the films that are set to come out this October. Check back next month when we’ll look at the month of November, a month that certainly has some big-name releases coming out.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014) review (250th Post!!)

One of the big film genres currently dominating Hollywood is the ‘Young Adult’ genre AKA films based off of best-selling books. I guess you could say it really got started when the first ‘Harry Potter’ film was released in 2001. Of course we all know how successful that franchise was and in the early years of its existence, other studios tried to cash in on the success of ‘Potter’ by adapting other best-selling book series to film like the ‘Inheritance’ trilogy, the ‘Alex Rider’ series, and ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’. However, none of those series were really able to match the success of ‘Potter’. The first real franchise to do this was the ‘Twilight’ series though really that’s more from a commercial standpoint because well, to put it quite simply, those movies are straight-up terrible. And once Twilight become popular, the ‘Young Adult’ genre cycle started up again and once again we saw numerous franchises like ‘The Mortal Instruments’ and ‘Beautiful Creatures’ attempt to cash in on ‘Twilight’ and of course most of them struck out big time. Now that ‘Twilight’ is over, ‘The Hunger Games’ has become the next major successful ‘Young Adult’ film series. ‘Divergent’, released back in March, managed to be successful enough for a follow-up and this month it looks we have another new franchise on our hands in the form of ‘The Maze Runner’, based off of the 2009 book of the same name by James Dashner and I can safely say that this is easily one of the better films of the ‘Young Adult’ genre.

The film begins as a boy named Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) finds himself in a dark elevator with absolutely no memory of who he is or what has happened to him. He ends up in a mysterious grassy area where he comes across a group of other boys who have established their own community in this area, which they refer to as ‘The Glade’. Thomas learns that they have been trying to escape via the large maze surrounding ‘The Glade’. However, for the last three years they have been unable to find a way out for two main reasons. First of all, the maze changes every day but what’s worse is that at night the doors leading into the maze close. Those who end up trapped inside then have to deal with a bunch of strange creatures known as Grievers that inhabit the maze. Thomas soon manages to prove himself when he becomes one of the first Gladers to ever survive a night in the maze and as he gains the trust of the others, he soon begins to try and figure out not only why they are all here but to also find a way to escape this place with the help of some of the other Gladers, including ‘Runner’ (The term used to describe the Gladers who try and figure out a way out of the maze) Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and the one and only female Glader Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), who apparently connected to Thomas in some way.

I just want to preface this review with a quick disclaimer: I have not read ‘The Maze Runner’ so this film basically served as my official introduction to the franchise and overall I must say that it was a very satisfying first look. One of the biggest reasons for this is that the story is pretty compelling. You are as much in the dark as Thomas is when it comes to why he and the other Gladers were put in the Glade so you’re interested in finding out the truth. Without giving anything major away, the final payoff may be hit or miss for some people but I found it to be pretty intriguing even though it does sort of introduce a major plot-point in just the final few minutes of the film and from what I’ve read online, this plot-point isn’t even introduced in the books until the second novel, ‘The Scorch Trials’ (that and the film does have one of the more obvious ‘sequel-baiting’ final lines in recent memory). Still, the movie does hold your interest from beginning to end and I am very much interested in seeing how the rest of the story is going to play out. The visuals are pretty solid in regards to the overall production design, especially when it comes to ‘the Maze’. And that’s not that surprising considering that the film’s director, Wes Ball, has mostly been known for his work in visual effects. Ball makes his feature-length directorial debut with this film and overall he makes a pretty solid first impression in regards to his directing.

Another one of the film’s biggest strengths is its cast. The character of Thomas is a pretty likable lead character and O’Brien certainly has the right amounts of charm and likability that makes him perfect for the role. As for the rest of the cast, one of the big things about the story is how the rest of the boys in the Glade have established a perfectly functioning society. The arrival of Thomas in the Glade results in some of the Gladers, most notably Gally (Will Poulter), believing that Thomas’ behavior/actions will end up ruining the peaceful existence that they have been living for the last few years. It’s an interesting story dynamic and the main members of the cast do have excellent camaraderie with each other. It really does sell the whole idea of these boys having made their own personal society in a way that has been described as ‘Lord of the Flies mixed with Lost’. Also, it is pretty nice to have a Young Adult film franchise centered on a male lead for once whereas other films in the genre (especially in recent years) have primarily been led by female leads (e.g. ‘Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent’, ‘Twilight’, etc.). That’s not the case of ‘The Maze Runner’, which features a pre-dominantly male cast save for two female characters. In other words, you can sort of refer to this film as ‘Hunger Games for boys’ and I’m perfectly fine with that.

So unlike ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Hunger Games’, I went into ‘The Maze Runner’ having not read not the book beforehand. But after seeing the film, I can safely say that I am now very much interested in checking it out because ‘The Maze Runner’ is certainly one of the better films of the ‘Young Adult’ genre. Of course having not read the book I can’t really say anything about how faithful this film is to the source material. However, I can say that the film greatly benefits from having a story that is pretty compelling that will keep you wondering what’s happening until the very end. Plus, the film has a pretty solid cast, with an excellent lead in Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas and a group of boys with great camaraderie with one another. And like I said earlier, it is good that the ‘Young Adult Book Adaptation’ film genre will now be a little more balanced thanks to this film being centered on a male lead and featuring a mostly-male cast. I assure you that I will be there next year when the second film of this series, ‘The Scorch Trials’, hits theaters and I’m glad to see that one of the better films of the Young Adult genre is experiencing the success that not every Young Adult film franchise has had.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

This is Where I Leave You (2014) review

Dysfunctional families have been a key element of a lot of films. Last year, there was the multiple award-nominated film ‘August: Osage County’ and it has also been prevalent in films like ‘The Fighter’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. This concept has also been a part of multiple TV shows. In fact, it’s pretty much a given that almost every major TV sitcom, whether it be live-action or animated, will center on a dysfunctional family as it has been proven by shows like ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Arrested Development’, and ‘Family Guy’. And of course, the dysfunctional family plotline is the key focus of ‘This is Where I Leave You’, directed by Shawn Levy (with a film that is a definite change of pace for him as it is his first R-rated film after working on multiple family-friendly films like the ‘Night at the Museum’ movies) and based off of the 2009 book of the same name by Jonathan Tropper. The family of this film is very much a dysfunctional family so if you’re not a fan of a whole heck of a lot of arguing, this film is probably not for you. But ‘This is Where I Leave You’ does manage to provide a really solid amount of laughs primarily thanks to its great ensemble cast. But what’s even better is how this movie manages to find a good balance of comedy and drama, something that’s not exactly that easy to do. But this film manages to do it and do it pretty well.

On the day of his 3rd wedding anniversary, Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) unfortunately finds out the hard way that his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) is having an affair with his boss Wade (Dax Shepard) when he walks in on them having sex in their apartment. As if things couldn’t get any worse, a few weeks later he gets a call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) who tells him that their father has just died. They then return to their hometown where they reunite with their mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) and their two brothers, Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver). After the funeral, they learn that as his last request, their father wanted them to mourn him through the Jewish tradition of Shiva, in which the family of the deceased gather and sit for a period of seven days in mourning. Even though the family isn’t actually Jewish, the siblings find themselves forced into doing it anyway when their mom ends up grounding them. So now that they’re all stuck under the same roof again having to honor the period of Shiva, the dysfunctional siblings end up starting to reconnect with one another as each member finds themselves having to deal with not only the loss of their father but also the current conflicts in their lives.

As is common in any dysfunctional family story, there is quite a lot of bickering amongst the Altman siblings and most of the film’s humor comes from the awkward moments that usually occur during these scenes. Overall, the film does have a pretty solid amount of humor though of course like with every comedy not all of the jokes hit. In the case of this film, it’s mostly in regards to the ‘gross-out’ moments in the film, like this one recurring gag in which the young son of one of the siblings keeps going to the bathroom in this little portable toilet that he always carries around. Thankfully, these moments don’t dominate the film’s humor. But ultimately the film’s greatest strength is that even amidst all of the arguing and gross-out moments, it plays things seriously when it needs to be. After all, this is a ‘dramedy’ about a family coping with the death of a loved one, a subject that isn’t and never will be funny. Thankfully this is not where the film’s humor comes from and the film manages to find a good balance of the humor and the drama, something that isn’t always easy to do when it comes to dramedies. Even though there are quite a lot of scenes where the Altman family is arguing with each other, there are also plenty of scenes in which they bond and these scenes are actually really touching and sweet.

Of course, this is mostly thanks to the film’s terrific ensemble cast. Their camaraderie with one another is superb and their relationships with each other feel genuine, hence why the scenes of them bonding are as strong as they are. Bateman and Fey’s more straight-faced attitudes help bring a nice balance to the crazier characters in the film, like Phillip for instance. Driver is easily one of the biggest standouts of the film in the role of the youngest of the Altman siblings which of course means that he doesn’t always act mature and Driver has quite a lot of charisma in the role. Fonda is also one of the film’s major standouts; most of her material is in relation to her character’s recent boob job which of course is a recurring joke throughout the film. But she also brings the proper motherly instinct that the role requires. As for the rest of the cast, some admittedly could’ve been given larger roles in the film, like Rose Byrne, who has really proven himself to be an excellent comedic talent earlier this year in ‘Neighbors’, as Judd’s former love interest from high school (Byrne and Bateman do have really nice chemistry) and even Corey Stoll, who kind of makes the smallest impression compared to his three sibling co-stars, but overall the cast is superb from top to bottom.

‘This is Where I Leave You’ can be quite wacky at times, as one would expect from a film centered on a dysfunctional family. But when it needs to, the film smartly tones down the craziness and as for this film being a dramedy, it’s one of the better ones that I’ve seen because it does do a really great job at balancing the humorous moments with the more serious moments. And those serious moments when the usually bickering Altmans start to reconnect with one another provide the heart of the film. Of course, this is primarily thanks to the film’s terrific ensemble cast. Not only do they have great camaraderie with one another but that also makes the relationships between their characters feel very much genuine from an emotional standpoint. Despite the occasional immature or gross-out moment, this is easily one of director Shawn Levy’s most mature films to date, if not the most. I haven’t read the book this was based on so I can’t say much about how faithful it is to the book (although I have heard about a scene from the book that got cut involving a cake that seems like a really funny situation but sadly it’s not in the film) but overall ‘This is Where I Leave You’ is a nice solid piece of entertainment that not only has a good amount of laughs but also a really good amount of heart as well.

Rating: 4/5