Review: Live by Night


After winning the Oscar for Best Picture for his film Argo, Ben Affleck is finally back in the director’s chair again. And he’s gone back to his directing roots, if you will, adapting another Dennis Lehane novel (Gone, Baby, Gone was also a Lehane book).

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Defending Batman v Superman

Defending Batman v Superman

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!! DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN BATMAN V SUPERMAN!

A friend of mine showed me an article today that was titled “22 Things That Are Super Wrong with Batman v Superman.” It obnoxiously listed several things that, in my opinion, made sense within the film. If you just paid attention. It helps if you’re a comic book fan (but it’s not a necessity), and based on the response from most critics, I’d say they don’t fall under that category.

Let’s go through some of the points the author brought up.

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Review: Nightcrawler

Review: Nightcrawler

nightcrawler posterDan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a good one. With already a healthy amount of screenwriting experience (The Fall, Real Steel, and The Bourne Legacy) Gilroy decided to step behind the camera as well this time to deliver a nail-biting thriller with a creepy, creepy protagonist.

Nightcrawler (rated R) follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a thief and sociopath as he discovers the world of freelance news photography. These guys are similar to paparazzi but they are more interested in car crashes, house burglaries, murders. “If it bleeds, it leads,” Bill Paxton’s character Joe Loder tells him. Soon Bloom is caught up in the fast paced lifestyle and realizes he’s actually pretty good at it. But that’s because he doesn’t have a conscious.

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Review: Birdman

Review: Birdman

Birdman PosterWhen I first heard of Birdman (rated R) I thought it was a great vehicle for Michael Keaton. It seemed to reflect his own life of a great actor who was mostly remembered for playing a superhero. When I saw that it was co-written and directed by Alejandra González Iñárritu, I thought it didn’t sound like his type of movie at all. It seemed more like a comedy and Iñárritu’s films tend to be heavy. Super heavy. Remember Biutiful? Yeah. Heavy. I remember seeing a behind-the-scenes picture of Birdman. Michael Keaton was standing on the street in a trench coat with a man dressed in a superhero bird costume standing behind him. It looked… well, kinda silly. That just goes to show you can’t judge a movie based on it’s behind-the-scenes photo because Birdman isn’t silly. It’s a well acted, well crafted film that is sure to see some nominations come awards time.

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Review: John Wick

Review: John Wick

John WickThis is a story we are all familiar with. In fact, I had a screenplay idea similar to this a long time ago. Keanu Reeves plays John Wick, an assassin who left the business to be with a woman. She is eventually diagnosed with a terminal illness and after she passes away, a gift is delivered to John’s home. It’s a puppy with a note from his wife. A final gift to help him through the grieving process.  But when the son of a gangster breaks in to John’s house, steals his car and murders the dog, John decides it might be time to come out of retirement.

The gangster’s son has no idea who he’s messed with but everyone else in town does. And they know John Wick is coming after him.

This is probably one of the most entertaining action/revenge films I’ve seen in quite a while. Directed by Reeve’s old stuntman, Chad Stahelski, the film is one great action set piece after another.

The gangster’s name is Viggo and is played by Michael Nyqvist from the Swedish Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series and was also the villain in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. When he finds out his son stole John’s car and murdered his dog, he tries to talk John out of doing anything rash. When that doesn’t work, he puts a $2 million contract out on his head. So now, John is being hunted down while he tries to find and kill Viggo’s son.

Reeve’s plays Wick with a quiet intensity. He’s channeling Clint Eastwood and Jason Bourne and seems to have no problems fighting off bad guy after bad guy. At 50 years old Reeve’s looks just as comfortable in this action role as he did back in 1999 in The Matrix.

Featuring Willem Dafoe as one of John’s old colleagues and friends and John Leguizamo in a small cameo as a body-shop owner who works for Viggo as well. Adrianne Palicki also plays an assassin who knows John from his past and is intent on cashing in on that $2 million.

The film’s story is simple and there’s a cheesy line here and there but overall John Wick (rated R) is one heck of a ride.

I give it an A-

Review: Fury

Review: Fury

FuryBrad Pitt takes on the World War II genre yet again but this time with a film that’s more serious in tone. Inglourious Basterds was a fun Tarantino ride that received a Best Picture nomination but Fury (rated R) feels more like what you’d expect from an Oscar nominee. Could Fury be nominated for a Best Picture award? Possibly. I definitely think it’s worthy of one. Brad Pitt could possibly see his next Best Actor nomination (his last being 2011’s Moneyball). Pitt’s been nominated three times for acting and twice as a producer, winning last year’s Oscar for Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave.

Fury follows a group of five men who all operate an American tank which they’ve nicknamed (or codenamed) Fury. Their newest member is Norman (Logan Lerman), a young man who’s never seen battle and has only been in the army eight weeks. Pitt plays their leader Don, nicknamed “Wardaddy”, Shia Labeouf is “Bible”, Michael Pena is “Gordo” and Jon Bernthal is “Coon-Ass”. They’ve all been together for years and are a little unnerved by their newest (and by far, youngest) member. When Norman’s hesitation to shoot the enemy puts the lives of his men in danger, Don is quick to teach him a lesson.

The tank and it’s crew make it’s way through Germany and we see battle after horrific battle. There is one particularly tense scene involving Fury battling a German tank.

The film’s characters are rich and the acting is superb. Pitt is at his finest with this role and LaBeouf is the best I’ve ever seen him. Bernthal plays his character somewhat over the top, but I can’t help but think it was written that way. His character is a redneck southerner sociopath who, at times, is hard to root for.

David Ayer’s direction is also the best I’ve seen of his so far. The visuals are grim and dark. Often the German soldiers’ faces are in shadow or hidden behind masks, giving the enemy a less-than human appearance.

Fury is a great character piece with solid acting and intense action sequences that place it near the top of the year’s best list.

I give it an A-

Review: Gone Girl

Review: Gone Girl

Gone GirlDavid Fincher is at it again with his new thriller/mystery Gone Girl (rated R), based on the novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay). The film follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) who comes home on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary to find his home broken in to and his wife missing. Once the police get involved it becomes clear that not everything is at seems and Nick Dunne may or may not be telling the truth.

Having read the novel, I was curious to see how it would be translated to film and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. Gone Girl is one of this year’s best thrillers and one of the most well crafted movies of the year.

The film has Fincher’s signature dark, color-muted look to it and features a score from his now regular collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who won an Oscar for their score for Fincher’s The Social Network). The score isn’t exactly memorable in the sense that I couldn’t hum a single bar for you, if you asked, but it serves the story perfectly. It’s haunting in some scenes and adds to the tension in others. It’s a soundtrack I may have to look in to purchasing.

Ben Affleck gives one of his best performances but the real scene-stealer is Rosamund Pike, who plays Nick’s missing wife (mostly seen in flashback). Her performance is Oscar worthy and I hope she gets the acclaim she deserves.

David Fincher is one of my favorite directors, with a notorious shooting style (remember how he shot the opening scene for The Social Network 99 times? Apparently that’s normal for him.) but his methods work for him. He’s crafted a near perfect thriller that races through it’s 150 minute run time. Fans of the book (like me) won’t be disappointed and folks who haven’t read the book are in for a real treat. I almost wish I hadn’t read the book so that I could have experienced the unfolding mystery for the first time in the theater. Gone Girl marks the beginning of Oscar season and it starts it off with a bang.

I give it an A.