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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

Like a lot of people (judging by the film's tepid box office) I didn't catch Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow as it has been rebranded) when it was in theaters. I missed out by not making time for it because the film - whatever you want to call it; a rose by any other name, and all that - is one of the year's best pure entertainments. A smart science fiction action movie which has confidence enough in the audience not to spoon feed the plot, and instead to trust that the audience will keep up and follow along, Edge of Tomorrow is the sort of popcorn movie that most of us always say we want - but, based on the fact that it grossed less than half of what the last Transformers movie made, it is perhaps not the popcorn movie we deserve. If you haven't caught up with it yet, I highly recommend it. It's a film that is entertaining and intelligent in equal measure.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Netflix Recommends... Warrior (2011)

* * * 1/2

Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte

Today's Netflix recommendation comes as a result of three films that I've watched: The Warriors, The Dark Knight Rises, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Warrior really isn't anything like any of those movies, except that it has a similar title to one and shares a star in Tom Hardy with the other two. Once again, Netflix's algorithms baffle me, but on this particular occasion the ill-thought correlation actually made for an excellent recommendation. I had vaguely recalled Warrior as a film that scored Nick Nolte a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination a couple of years ago, but the only other thing I knew about it was that the plot revolved around mixed martial arts. Not being into UFC, I wasn't sure how much Warrior was going to appeal to me, but it's actually a very classic type of Hollywood story and so emotionally engaging that any reservations I had were quickly dispensed with.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: We Own the Night (2007)

* * 1/2

Director: James Gray
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendez, Robert Duvall

Writer/director James Gray's We Own the Night is an utterly gorgeous film to look at and when it works, it both looks and feels like a masterpiece. Unfortunately it doesn't work the whole way through. The first third is solid, near perfect. As the story goes on, though, it starts to lose something, be it focus or purpose or energy - it's hard to articulate exactly what happens, but the film starts to become more muted at precisely the moment when it needs to ratchet things up. It is, throughout, beautiful to look at - Gray, who here collaborates with cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay (who also photographed Gray's 2008 film Two Lovers), is one of the most painterly directors working right now - but looking great can only take a film so far, even if it's also built around a wonderful leading performance.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Further Thoughts on Gone Girl

It's possible that I underrated Gone Girl in my review. After all, it's a week later and I find myself still thinking about the movie, going over bits and pieces of it, trying to tease out its subtleties, thinking about what it all means. For a film that seems, on the surface, like just another lurid thriller (albeit one expertly put together), Gone Girl leaves you with a lot to think about and a lot to debate. So, with that in mind, here's a few more thoughts about the film that I've been turning over in my head since writing my review.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

21st Century Essentials: Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Andrew Jarecki
Country: United States

Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans is one of the most fascinating and controversial documentaries of the young millennium. The story of a father and son tried and convicted of sexual abuse charges, the film came under fire from victims in the case due to evidence that was skimmed over or left out entirely, and Friedmans certainly can’t make any strong claim to being unbiased given how intensely Jarecki tries to tear apart the case against his subjects. That said, though the film adopts a “did they or didn’t they” legal narrative to give itself structure, it’s really an examination of family dysfunction and how stress can both bring the members of a family together and tear them apart. Even if Capturing the Friedmans does not tell the whole story, the story that it does tell is compelling, captivating, and devastating.