Gone Girl (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: October 3, 2014
Director: David Fincher

Author Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home on the eve of his 5th wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing under mysterious circumstances. After calling the police, Nick finds himself in the middle of an intense media circus as the search for Amy goes underway. Soon, the clues begin to pile up and fingers begin to point Nick’s way.

I went to see this film with a couple of friends last night as I’d been hearing good things about it. I’ve never read the novel it’s based on by Gillian Flynn (who also penned the screenplay) but according to online sources, the movie differs only slightly in some ways from the book version. Movies always differ from their book counterparts, though, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone.

It’s rare for me to want to watch a hyper-realistic crime movie – they aren’t my thing. Still, all the good things I heard about the various performances given by the actors made me want to check it out, so that’s what I did. Every single one of the actors in this movie, even Ben Affleck, really turned it up a notch. Affleck kept his cool just enough during the film to make me waffle on whether or not he had anything to do with Amy’s disappearance. Rosamund Pike, however, carried this movie with her role (in my opinion). She is not only accessible and sexy – but also terrifying. Another surprise was Neil Patrick Harris in his short role which added a lot of subtext to the film, regardless of how small a part his character played in the overall story.

The direction was great – Fincher hardly ever fails at that (except maybe with Mulholland Drive). The music was low-key enough to not interfere but still added just enough mood for a thriller. The length was a bit too long, however, clocking in at a whopping 149 minutes. The only real reason I’m giving this film four stars instead of five is the ending – which I felt was maybe a little rushed. I dunno if it was due to time, or due to something else – but the entire movie built up the characters to be solid and absolutely believable within the context of the story, except for the last half hour or so, which was unbelievable and completely took me out of the movie. I’d love to see a director’s cut in the future to see if maybe the motivations of the characters were a little more clear before some of the film hit the cutting room floor.

All in all this is one worth watching at least a couple times so you can catch all the little “easter eggs” (like the Scott Peterson novel one of the characters are reading at one point) and nuances in background scenes and in the subtleties of the characters and their actions. Good job again, Fincher – you do great work.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Gone Girl

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Red State (2011)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: September 01, 2011
Director: Kevin Smith

In middle-America, all is not as sleepy and peaceful as it would seem. A fundamentalist church called The Five Points Church, led by pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), preaches anti-gay and almost anti-everything hate gospel. Unfortunately, their bite is worse than their bark and when three teenage boys; Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) – find an older woman soliciting sex on an internet site similar to Craigslist – they agree to meeting up with her for a foursome, which lands them squarely in the hungry religious jaws of the Cooper clan.

This movie blew me away. If you’re a Kevin Smith/View Askew fan like myself, you’ve come to expect a certain quality and tone of movie from the man and the studio behind him which produced films such as Clerks, Dogma and Chasing Amy. Red State is NOTHING like those other films. This is intense, this is gritty. As Smith himself points out – the Jay and Silent Bob films are like a smooth milkshake while Red State is like drinking straight whiskey. This is a film that none other than Quentin Tarantino strongly endorses, if that gives you any sort of idea as to what the tone is.

First of all, the film is especially poignant and is almost like a satire of the Westboro Baptist Church. We see it in the news every day, but in reality – the crazy religious zeal of some of these people is one incident away from an actual, real-life horror film. Red State is part horror film, part thriller and absolutely riveting.

With Michael Parks as Abin Cooper – the charismatic and terrifying patriarch of the Five Points Church – Smith hit gold. Everyone cast in this film not only does their jobs, but does them well. This movie is often overlooked because it goes beyond the fandoms of the Jay And Silent Bob/View Askew universe, which is understandable in some ways because Red State is so different from those others that it’s almost like another director is at the helm – though Smith can definitely be felt within the context of the film by the acerbic dialogue.

This film is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Do yourself a favor and go watch it. You’ll be uneasy for a long while and it’s perfect for a Halloween horror movie night.

JOE Rating:  ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Red State

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: September 19, 2014
Director: Shawn Levy

The Altman family siblings; Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver), and Paul (Corey Stoll) – are summoned by their mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), to sit in mourning together for a week in a traditional Jewish practice called Shiva (which literally means ‘Seven’ in Hebrew) at their father’s dying request. This, despite their father being an atheist, brings them all together under one roof and into contact with people from their collective pasts. What ensues is loads of family antics.

I saw this film in the theater with my own siblings. It wasn’t really on my list of movies to see, but it turned out to be an okay film and I’m glad I went with my own brother and sister to see it because it really gave some nods to the sibling dynamics that we’ve all experienced.

Most of the movie has some decent moments but overall, there wasn’t much substance to grasp onto or to really sink your teeth into. It felt almost more like an episode of a long-running television show than it did a feature film. I think what really saved this was the comedian actors and actresses who headlined this movie – especially Tina Fey and Jason Bateman.

Is this a bad film? Not by any means. It just didn’t pack much punch. It wasn’t especially funny, nor especially deep or poignant. There are definitely enough laughs to merit at least one watch-through and I’m sure there are some people out there who will genuinely connect with the film more than I did. For me, it just didn’t go anywhere new. We’ve seen this movie before in multiple incarnations.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For This Is Where I Leave You

Guardians Of The Galaxy – (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: August 01, 2014
Director: James Gunn

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is an intergalactic outlaw and treasure hunter who calls himself Star-Lord. When he nabs a mysterious artifact in the form of a powerful orb, he discovers that it is being sought after by a powerful individual known as Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), who will stop at nothing to get it. The orb, as well as Peter’s outlaw status, puts him in contact with other misfits like Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) – all of whom must band together to survive Ronan’s crusade.

Guardians of the Galaxy was always a fringe title. It never really registered with me. I was pretty familiar with most of the characters, especially Rocket, Gamora, and Groot – but Spider-Man was usually the title I gravitated toward with mainstream comics. Maybe some Avengers or X-Men stuff. But not Guardians of the Galaxy. And if they are lesser-known to me and I’ve been reading comics since I was a wee lad, I can only imagine the reactions of some folks to these characters who are new to comics or who have no idea about the franchise. A musclebound killer? A green-skinned femme fatale? A walking tree in desperate need of a dictionary? An angry, anthropomorphic raccoon who fires guns? A sarcastic, egotistical human male flying around space like he’s a badass? Who knew it’d be so good and work so well as a film?

The key to the whole film’s success is the fact that the above characters sure ARE cool – but also the film’s resonance with our pop culture psyches via Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix-Tape that he plays on his Sony Walkman. (He was abducted by aliens in the late 1980’s – long story, and I don’t want to give anything away – so go see the film and see for yourself). The soundtrack had people swaying and bopping their heads in their seats during the showing I went to. It also makes Peter Quill accessibly human. Music is an access point that knows no language boundaries to be enjoyed.

Aside from the interesting characters and the amazing soundtrack, the casting was well done. The only complaints that I really had about the film were actually the villains. The heroes were well-established and had screen time together so that we really felt like they bonded, but Ronan’s motivation was flat and predictable. Ditto with Nebula (Karen Gillan). I would have liked to see more established backstory and/or screen time for those characters. As it is, they are very generic “we want ALL the power” villains. That is a really small gripe, though, because the main focus was really supposed to be on the Guardians themselves –  and Gunn (as well as the cast) not only excelled at that but as of right now, this is my favorite Marvel film to date.

Go see it, and make sure to stay for the end credits for a surprise cameo!

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Guardians Of The Galaxy

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: June 13, 2014
Director: Jean DeBlois

Five years have gone by on the Viking island of Berk since the heroic deeds of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless resulted in the once-feared beasts becoming allies and pets. During a training flight to help train Toothless to maneuver better, Hiccup discovers a sect of dragon hunters who are led by the insane Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who has a desire to subjugate dragons at any cost, including all-out war.  Add that to pressures from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) to take on the throne and the appearance of a mysterious dragon rider who steals dragons in the night and young Hiccup certainly has his hands full.

This is obviously a sequel and I loved How To Train Your Dragon so much that it was out of the question for me to miss this movie. I haven’t read the books by Cressida Cowell, but I hope to check them out soon.

The animation, as always, was fantastic. Toothless has never been cuter and there were some new things to look at in the form of new armor, new weapons and new dragons. All the old cast has returned including the aforementioned Hiccup and Stoick, and aside from the sinister Drago there are a handful of new characters as well.

The best part of this film is that it has more complexity to it than the original. In the last one, both Hiccup and Toothless were younger. Though it’s only five years that have gone by, the characters have grown. As a result, the mood of this sequel is a bit darker than the previous entry. There are darker themes and concepts and I think it provides a richer film experience. The relationships between characters have also grown, with Stoick becoming warmer toward Hiccup as well as Astrid and Hiccup being more mature in their romantic relationship – which is not overdone and sappy but you can still tell how much they care for one another. Hiccup’s mother is introduced, as well – which provides for a new dynamic between Hiccup and his parents. (Not giving anything away…it’s in the trailer.)

There were a couple of things I felt could have been improved, but they are sort of trifling. It was a bit too long for my tastes, and the pacing felt chunky at times but mostly because of all the interwoven narratives happening simultaneously. I took my young nephew and he sort of needed to get up and move around before the movie had ended, so watch out if you bring the kiddos. It may be too long for them to sit still. However, with all the cool dragons flying around on screen it’s hard for anyone to not be captivated.

Overall it was a great film and a sequel that I believe is mostly superior to the original, which is rare in many cases. It’s fun, it’s rich, it’s exciting. It’s definitely an adventure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For How To Train Your Dragon 2

 

12 O’Clock Boys (2013)

12 O'Clock Boys (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: January 31, 2014
Director: Lofty Nathan

Pug, a young man from a dangerous block in Baltimore, Maryland is enthralled by a band of people who partake in illegal street riding calling themselves the 12 O’Clock Boys. When his older brother, Tibba, dies – Pug looks to the Boys for guidance, much to the worry of his mother, Coco, and others in Pug’s family. Pug must weigh his obsession with bikes and this group against a rising police response to the riding and his inner desires to become a veterinarian.

To be clear – I kind of accidentally stumbled into this documentary. I went with my girlfriend to a place called the Space Gallery in Portland, Maine – and we were supposed to be going to a women’s writer group Q&A seminar. As we sat down and waited, we wondered why the audience was overwhelmingly male. We had our answer in a few minutes as the documentary started. We had come on the wrong day, and we already paid so we stayed – and I’m glad we did.

First off, the style was fresh and kinetic. Lofty Nathan, the director, filled the frame with choice morsels that assisted the narrative in telling the deep and complicated story that is Pug’s life and upbringing. Not once did he delve into stereotypical urban characters – but let each person identify themselves through their own ways. Some were gangsters, some were struggling parents, some were police officers, some were just kids.

Rather than glamorize the dangerous lifestyle led by the 12 O’Clock Boys, Nathan portrayed them as human beings in a tough situation relying on what they feel is their only release other than gang activity, drugs or other less-positive things. Through Pug and his own tough life, we understand that belonging to a group and being good at something (even if it’s just being able to wheelie really well) is what we all strive for. We all secretly want to be a 12 O’Clock Boy.

A good documentarian holds a mirror up to the rest of us and says “Look. This is you – this is your reality” and makes us reflect on it, think about it. I felt that way when watching this film. I do love documentaries but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. Lofty Nathan does not insert himself directly into the narrative as is sometimes the case with other documentarians, but we see through his eyes the disarray that this suburb, inner-city culture has become and all the problems that stem from it.

In Pug we have someone who is truly likable and easy to care about. We see his struggles and we want him to get on that bike. We see him training and we root for him as he gets better and better at riding and doing wheelies. We see the danger and we wish someone would stop him before he gets in over his head. It’s a really complicated emotional response evoked, at least in my case. Pug starts out somewhat innocent but then slowly evolves (or de-volves, possibly) once his world view perspective is changed over and over again.

On the other side of things, just visually it’s entertaining to watch. There are many dynamic shots and kinetic images on display for the visually-oriented folks out there like me. There are lots of slow-motion shots of the riding as well as fast-paced chase scenes and tension-ridden conflicts between police and the Boys.

12 O’Clock Boys is the total package. Go watch it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For 12 O’Clock Boys

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

After Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is fired by his boss – Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford) and Ron’s wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is given a promotion, Ron is unexpectedly asked by Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) to head one of the news teams on the new 24-hour Global News Network. To do so, he gathers his old team – Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) – but finds that maybe he’s bitten off more than he can chew.

I went with a bunch of my friends to see this. I figured it was going to be one of those kind of movies, and I was right. So, let me start things off with the obvious: It was a funny movie. However, it wasn’t quite as consistently funny (in my opinion) as the first film.

Most of the jokes we see in this second installment of the legend of Ron Burgundy are recycled from the first flick and beefed up a little more. It’s not a terrible thing, but I would have liked to have seen more original material as well as more play on the fact that this takes place in the 1980’s. In the first film, the sense of 1970’s style was pervasive, but you barely notice the time period in this film and at times, could even be interchangeable. Also, Anchorman 2 is a little bit longer so it’s pretty noticeable.

Still, there are enough genuinely funny parts involved, and there was an effort made to up the ante so that counts for something. If you didn’t like the first film – don’t bother….because it basically is the first film in new trappings. If you loved the first film, try to be content with how great the first one was and look at this second film as a separate entity. Don’t have crazy expectations and you’ll have a good time.

Also, one other thing – the amount of cameos in this film was impressive and worth watching for that alone.

JOE Rating: ★★★★