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.
Graphic novel legend Frank Miller and exuberant violent director Robert Rodriguez pour on the sex and violence in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” Clearly they want to pay tribute to the “B” movies of the 40′s and 50′s — while celebrating the graphic novels that stand in today for the pulp fiction of yesterday. The movie requires a lot of getting used to — real actors move and snarl and speak against computer generated backgrounds in black and white. The movie spins several stories, including Mickey Roark’s night he can’t remember, Josh Brolin’s unhealthy attraction to femme fatale Eva Green (who incidentally spends most of her time swimming, bathing, or reclining nude), Joseph Gordon Levitt’s unhappy try at fatherly revenge involving Powers Booth, and Jessica Alba as a stripper with a heart of steel. For all of the sex and violence and tough talking, I found myself checking my watch. This story arrives in 3 D and mostly black and white — a little old school and high-tech. I wish I could tell you I loved it. Instead “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” took more energy to watch than I wanted to spend. Four stories feel like too many and they all take longer than they deserve. Does it deliver what it promises? 3 D movie of a graphic novel. Is it entertaining? I’d rather read the book. Is it worth the price of admission? I pass.
“The Giver” does a bit of re-gifting in this familiar plot. Set in the future when the world has started over and society has eliminated passion and emotion. Jeff Bridges plays the giver–the elder and only person allowed to hold the memories of the past. In a scene that feels like the choosing scene in “Divergent” or “The Hunger Games” or even the sorting hat in “Harry Potter”–young Brenton Thwaites is selected as apprentice to “The Giver.” The old man and his new disciple bond over the loss of love and hate and pain and joy and life and death, and the kid embarks on a journey to return them to society. Taylor Swift has a creepy moment or two as a departed daughter. Meryl Streep gets more creepy as the all-seeing hologram intent on keeping life safe. I also liked seeing Katie Holmes as Brenton’s concerned mother. The plot feels like a lot of other movies, but it tells its familiar story in an easily watchable manner. Does it deliver what it promises? Youth in rebellion. Is it entertaining? Easy to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? Some who love the book will love this.
Well you should know going in what you get in “The Expendables 3″–geezer action. The old-timer line up includes Sly Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, and Mel Gibson as the bad guy — a former member of the team now gone rogue. ”The Expendables 3″ goes beyond over the top–not that anyone plans to take any of this seriously. I suppose this project kept Sly and his friends out of trouble for a while. Does it deliver what it promises? Over the hill stars acting like they’re 21. Is it entertaining? Lots of car crashes, helicopter crashes, guns and explosions. Is it worth the price of admission? I think I’ll read a good book.
Helen Mirren stars as a serious French restaurant owner non too happy with her new neighbors from India. The newcomers — a family headed by Om Puri — immigrate to France after a tragedy leaves the father widowed and the children scarred. But their love of cooking nourishes their soul in spite of the haughty French woman across the street who looks down on their cuisine. “The Hundred Foot Journey” sticks to a tried and true formula. Young son Manish Dayal woos the rival restaurants sous chef. And he dreams of cooking at the highest levels. Those dreams end the culture war and take him to an unexpected level. “The Hundred Foot Journey: combines food and romance in the winning way of other successful movies including “Big Night” “Babette’s Feast” and “Chocolate.” Does it deliver what it promises? Don’t expect anything new but do expect a pleasant experience. Is it entertaining? Easy to watch and enjoy. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes and dinner afterward.
“Calvary” works on two levels — as a deeply religious story of sin and forgiveness and as a semi comic who done it with a shocking ending. Either way “Calvary” qualifies as one of the year’s great movies. Brendan Gleeson plays a priest assigned to a small Irish parish. One day in confession, he hears the anguished story of a man remembering his boyhood abuse by a priest. The confessor goes on to say that he will pay back the bad priest by killing a good priest. And with that he tells Gleeson he will murder him in two weeks. From here we follow Gleeson as he goes on his rounds. We meet several suspects, including a guilt ridden wealthy banker, a bitter doctor, an unhappy youth, plus the men involved with a deeply unhappy promiscuous wife. The priest indicates he knows the identity of his future killer. We settle on one suspect or the other. The story gets deeper with the appearance of Kelly Reilly, Gleeson’s daughter from his earlier marriage. Imagine this: a father who really is a father. His late wife’s death leads Gleeson to the priesthood. The ending shocks me still and leads to a deeper twist that made “Calvary” one of my favorites this year. “Calvary” goes way beyond the ordinary and that’s a rare compliment. Does it deliver what it promises? Small movie with a big punch. Is it entertaining? Funny and mysterious and shocking. Is it worth the price of admission? Most certainly.