Thank goodness I didn’t read the book, because watching the new film of “Gone Girl” gave me an evening full of shocks, surprises, and delights. The shocks I can’t reveal because I don’t want to spoil things for you. All I can tell you is the story begins five years after Ben Affleck marries beautiful Rosamund Pike, whose childhood her parents made famous in a series of children’s books. Things go well and then money gets tight and they leave their fabulous life in Manhattan for the suburbs of Missouri. One morning Ben leaves the house and when he returns his wife is missing and the living room looks like a crime scene. Rosamund Pike — who has done some fine work in the past without achieving the stardom she deserves — tells us her side of the marriage in a series of flashbacks. The pitch perfect cast includes Tyler Perry (yeah that Tyler Perry) as a slick lawyer, Kim Dickens as a detective trying to get to the bottom of things, Carrie Coon as Affleck’s sister and Neil Patrick Harris as a former lover. The combination of script and acting make “Gone Girl” a movie delight — so good I didn’t want it to end. Does it deliver what it promises? Thrilling thriller. Is it entertaining? Will keep you alert and guessing. Is it worth the price of admission? A must see movie.
Reece Witherspoon takes a page from “The Blind Side” as a young woman trying to help a group of Sudanese “Lost Children” adjust to life in America. Casting real refugees as actors gives this story heart, even though recreating their experience feels a little less than real. Once in America, they struggle to adjust and struggle with the weight of their chaotic former lives. The story could have turned overly sentimental but manages to avoid that trap and has a twist that few will resist. Does it deliver what it promises? Uplifting story that deserves telling. Is it entertaining? Well told. Is it worth the price of admission? Worth the effort.
Denzel Washington plays it cool in “The Equalizer”—a kind quiet older man working in a large hardware store. On late night visits to a local diner, he makes friends with young street-walker Chloe Grace Moretz. She runs afoul of the Russian mob and winds up in intensive care. Our hero can’t have this — so he goes after the mob in a series of thrilling, jaw dropping, violent encounters that build to a midnight climax in a Home Depot topped off with an even more outrageous dose of revenge. Washington’s the perfect guy to play this cool cucumber. “The Equalizer” reminds me of the “Dirty Harry” series and like that series could well turn into a string of films. Not the greatest movie ever made but Denzel makes it watchable. Does it deliver what it promises? Denzel Washington gets his revenge. Is it entertaining? Thrilling but violent. Is it worth the price of admission? For action fans.
In the 1970′s before cell phones and GPS, Robyn Davidson made a journey across 1700 miles of Australian desert sponsored by National Geographic. Davidson turned the article into a best selling memoir. The event took place so long ago I am wondering why the movie arrives only now. Mia Wasikouska leads four camels and a dog across the desert in quiet believable fashion. Adam Driver — who continues to make an impact in his appearances — plays the National Geographic photographer assigned to connect and photograph the project — and Davidson’s unlikely love interest. “Tracks” serves up beautiful photography and a woman’s determination. I wondered why they didn’t make more of setting the stage of the 1970′s pre technology world. Sometimes the film feels like an “Award” effort which makes it an effort to watch. Does it deliver what it promises? One woman’s journey across the Australian desert. Is it entertaining? Slow and quiet and sometimes boring and sometimes awesome. Is it worth the price of admission? For the serious that’s for sure.
Two Night Stand merits a mention because of its director Max Nichols–son of Mike Nichols. Unfortunately “Two Night Stand” tells a generic boy meets girl story with a contemporary twist. But I guess you have to start somewhere. Analeigh Tipton finds herself jobless and boy-friend less so she goes on line and hooks up with Miles Teller — the young actor so many people liked in “The Spectacular Now.” The couple spends the night not knowing a major blizzard has trapped them in his apartment. They argue and can’t leave. The movie feels like a two character play and might have worked better on a small stage done live. Don’t go looking for sexy. “Two Night Stand” comes off blah and boring. Does it deliver what it promises? Not even close. Is it entertaining? Not even close. Is it worth the price of admission? You’ll hate yourself in the morning.
Jason Bateman begins this story discovering his wife in bed with his boss, which explains the title “This is Where I Leave You.” Then he receives the call most grown ups dread: his father has died. The funeral brings him back to his loud boisterous dysfunctional family headed by Jane Fonda including Tina Fey as his sister, and Adam Driver and Corey Stoll as his brothers. To spice things up and keep the family together, Jane, a non-Jew, insists on the family sitting Shiva for the traditional seven days to honor their dead father, an avowed atheist. The siblings share and act out their various issues which include immaturity, infertility, unhappy marriage, sibling rivalry, and the tug of ex boyfriends and girlfriends. Some of the issues are serious and some not so much, but the blend makes for an entertaining mostly comic story. The set up makes you care about Bateman and as the movie goes on his family. The ending doesn’t tie things up neatly and therefore feels realistic. “This is Where I Leave You” tells an easy to like story in an easy to watch manner. Does it deliver what it promises? family comedy. Is it entertaining? Very funny at times. Is it worth the price of admission? Just to see Jane Fonda hit it out of the park.
Jessica Chastain plays a young woman with an unfortunate name: Eleanor Rigby. The movie opens with a breathtaking act which I won’t reveal but which is explained for the rest of the story. Originally shot as part of a two-part back to back story of a marriage through a woman’s view and through a man’s —”Eleanor Rigby” also called “Them” combines the two tales into one long look at a failed relationship. I found the characters hard to appreciate and that may be the result of combining the two viewpoints. The very likeable James McAvoy spends most of his time trying to win back his wife who leaves him to move back in with the parents William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert. I liked the interesting casting of Huppert as Chastain’s mother. Most of the time, this story feels depressed as it should because it examines two people going through a depressing time. Possibly the original idea of telling the story of “Him” and of “Her” could redeem this material. But I left the screening wondering why I should care about these two. Does it deliver what it promises? A marriage fails with little hope. Is it entertaining? Not in the least. Is it worth the price of admission? I’m mixed but go if you want to view an interesting failure.
“The Drop” reminds me of the great gritty Film Noir crime pictures of the 1940′s. Tom Hardy plays a quiet bartender working for his cousin James Gandolfini, who once owned the joint but lost it to the Russian mob. Now, among other things, the mob uses the bar to stash various piles of dirty money. One night two punks come in and rob the joint. The mob doesn’t like that. Gandolfini, in his final film performance, knows he’s under the gun and on the line for the missing money. Meanwhile, Hardy, on a walk home, saves a pit bull puppy he finds in Noomi Repace’s garbage. They strike up a tenuous friendship angering her ex boyfriend. The story takes place in pre gentrified Brooklyn, when neighborhoods including dying churches, overly friendly policemen and really bad guys. Tom Hardy won a lot of praise early this summer for “Locke” in which he holds our attention while driving a car and talking on the phone for ninety minutes. He’s equally as good in “The Drop” thanks in part to an excellent script by Dennis Lehane of “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River.” Hardy makes a blind side plot twist believable and makes “The Drop” a gritty classic. Does it deliver what it promises? Mean streets crime drama. Is it entertaining? Great acting with a twist. Is it worth the price of admission? For sure.
Pierce Brosnan returns in the kind of role that made him famous — a former C I A super spy brought back into the field because nobody else can do what needs doing. For those of us who like Brosnan, this is relatively good news except, this guy’s no James Bond. After an opening scene of an op gone terribly wrong, Brosnan returns only to have yet another op go bad. And this time it’s a woman he loves who loses her life. Then things really get complicated, including a Russian politician, a beautiful East European social worker with a secret played by Olga Kurylenko who later dresses as a girl for hire just for the sake of visual interest. “The November Man” has lots of shooting, plenty of explosions, and a crossed double cross storyline involving Brosnan and a former pupil. But the movie has a problem. We’ve seen this all before, so much so that we can practically predict the next scene. Brosnan looks great but the movie requires more from the viewer than it gives back. I pass. Does it deliver what it promises? No–just another ordinary predictable spy flick. Is it entertaining? No, slow and complicated. Is it worth the price of admission? No, I want these two hours back.
I came to the screening of “When the Game Stands Tall” with high expectations because the filmmakers take an interesting angle for a sports movie. They tell a story about an unbeatable team that finally loses. Here’s the set up: Between 1992 and 2004 Concord, California’s De La Salle High School won 151 football games in a row. To this day they hold the record for a winning streak and may hold it forever. The movie takes us to the game where they lose. I love the idea that if winning isn’t everything, but you win all the time anyway, what do you do when you lose. The story answers: teach teamwork and live it and realize there’s more to life than a football game. Jim Caviezel plays the high school coach with Michael Chiklis as his assistant. Laura Dern has a nice turn as Caviezel’s understanding wife. The players look good but it’s hard to sort them out. The filmmakers don’t quite trust us to buy their idea of a movie about an unbeatable football that loses. They lay on the heavy music. They throw in various tragic events from almost every sports movie ever made. The acting is earnest and sometimes cartoonish. And they build to a sentimental twist that left the audience I watched with laughing. The lessons about teamwork and working for a greater goal rise above the rest. But I hoped for something better. Does it deliver what it promises? High School football movie. Is it entertaining? Drags out too many clichés. Is it worth the price of admission? Not a great sports movie, but maybe for some.