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The Drop (2014)
'They never see you coming; do they Bob?', 25 January 2015

Dennis Lehane wrote the screenplay of his short story 'Animal Rescue' and Michaël R. Roskam directs. The film is a difficult one to classify – in part it is a family drama, a love story, a gang drama, and a mystery. But no matter how you chose to label it, it is a very, very fine little film. The cast is excellent down to the smallest part, the manner in which the 'mystery' unwinds is mesmerizing and surprising, and the cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis and the musical score by Marco Beltrami and Raf Keunen are particularly fine.

Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy in very fine form with a terrific Brooklyn accent) seems a bit slow witted (or does he simply have something to hide?) tends bar in his cousin Marv's (James Gandolfini, superb as always) bar. This run down Brooklyn bar is actually a drop bar for a Chechnya gang headed by Chovka (Michael Aronov): money made at night from drugs, gambling and prostitution get dropped off at a random bar, sometimes this bar. One night the bar gets robbed, which happened to be a drop night. Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood's past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living - no matter the cost. There appears to be a moment of softness in the story when Bob rescues a beaten puppy that belongs to Nadia (Noomi Repace) and Nadia nurses the dog to health and insists Bob adopt the dog – which he does. The surprises begin – an evil guy Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts, a brilliant Belgian actor) raises threats, Detective Torres (John Ortiz) investigates the family, the bar, and the gang, and various people pop in and out of the story line, not the least of which is Marv's sister Dottie (Ann Dowd), and as a major surprise the end of the story uncovers secrets we have not expected.

This is a thinking person's film: you must stay with all the subtle clues during all the machinations of the story. But the cast – particularly Hardy and Gandolfini – are brilliant. Recommended.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
'I believe the world is a better place if people aren't lying.', 17 January 2015

Writer/Director Ira Sachs and writer Mauricio Zacharias have teamed together before ('Keep the Lights On') and have an understanding about same sex relationships. They have gathered a group of sensitive actors and address issues very much in the news today and do so in a manner that respects individuality and the universal problem of aging.

After nearly four decades together as partners, artist Ben (John Lithgow) and musician and music teacher George (Alfred Molina) get married in an idyllic wedding ceremony in lower Manhattan. But when George loses his teaching job in the parochial school because the Catholic Church cannot tolerate openly gay faculty, the couple must sell their apartment and - victims of the relentless New York City real estate market - temporarily live apart until they can find an affordable new home. While George moves in with two gay cops – Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez) who live down stairs, Ben lands in Brooklyn with his film director nephew (Darren Burrows), his author wife (Marisa Tomei), their temperamental teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan) - with whom Ben shares a bunk bed - and his ever present friend Vlad (Eric Tabach). While struggling with the pain of separation, Ben and George are further challenged by the intergenerational tensions and capricious family dynamics of their new living arrangements. The influence George has on Joey's maturation is especially touching in the closing moments.

This is a strong work, gentle, understated, tender and beautifully acted film, but there is a serious problem with the sound track: the ever present piano music (mostly Chopin and well played) as well as the ambient noise of New York covers the quiet dialogue, making us miss some of the exquisite lines the script offers. Still, this is a film that addresses the problems of same sex couples aging and the still present prejudices that hamper living a comfortable life.

'If we find anymore mistresses I'm going to have to send her to rehab.', 14 January 2015

Director Nick Cassavetes and writer Melissa seem to have jumped on the 'Hangover 1 – 3' etc line of thinking and made a film that tries very hard to make having numerous mistresses seem a thousand laughs. If you like the potty mouth slapstick comedy type film populated with pretty people then you may (if you're in the right mood) like this naughty little 'men are beasts' story.

After discovering her boyfriend (Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau – 'Game of Thrones') is married, Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz – 'Bad Teacher', 'Sex Tape', etc) tries to get her ruined life back on track. But when she accidentally meets the wife (Leslie Mann –'Knocked up', '17 Again', 'The 40 Year-Old Virgin', etc) he's been cheating on, she realizes they have much in common, and her sworn enemy becomes her greatest friend. When yet another affair is discovered – Amber (Kate Upton - model), all three women team up to plot mutual revenge on their cheating, lying, three-timing SOB.

Lots of drinking, lots of crusty one liners, and lots of wasted talent here, but it is a chick flick that obviously has a definite audience. Don Johnson, Taylor Kinney represent the men's side, and the supporting cast is huge.

Gone Girl (2014)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
'My God, this place literally smells like feces.', 8 January 2015

Gillian Flynn wrote the best selling novel and then adapted his own success to the screen. David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, etc) directs this twisted tale of hate and anger and passion and deceit and obsession and the minds of sociopaths, and out comes a film being considered for an Oscar. Wow, are we all really into this?

On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, chubby and out of shape) reports that his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police (a very well cast Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit et al) and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? Nick's sister Margo (Carrie Coon, excellent) is supportive and grounded, Nick's lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry, never better), Amy's previous lover Desi (Neil Patrick Harris), and a television interviewer Sharon Schieber (Sela Ward) and other actors who can't be mentioned because doing so would give the plot away make this very long and sick film work.

So, very superb acting from everyone involved, careful direction that makes sure the audience is able to witness all the disgusting twists and turns of this warped story make it obvious why this is an Oscar contender. As a story it is a profoundly sad commentary on marriage, the paparazzi, gossip, television news casting, and our current hunger for sick stories that fail to resolve anything. Watch it at your own risk – and with an antiemetic handy.

'Is a man worth more than his words, a woman worth more than her pictures?', 4 January 2015

Gerald Di Pego's script for WORDS AND PICTURES deserves to be published as a book, so sensitive are his musings about art and literature. This film is filled with some unforgettable thoughts that should challenge teachers of writing and art and their students as well.

Fred Schepisi directs this lovely little film with restraint and sensitivity, allowing the brilliance of the performances by Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen to shine. Though the school kids are a bit cookie cutter and thwart the momentum of the film at times, the overall response is one of pure pleasure in the drive of the story.

A flamboyant English teacher Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) and a new, stoic art teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) collide at an upscale prep school in Maine. A high-spirited courtship begins and she finds herself enjoying the battle. Another battle they begin has the students trying to prove which is more powerful, the word or the picture. But the true war is against their own demons, as two troubled souls struggle for connection – Jack is a chronic alcoholic who has distanced his son and Dina is an artist hampered by the insidious progression of her Rheumatoid Arthritis. The banter of battle is one of words in a game that is fascinating to all: the tenderness of their mutual needs sculpts the poetry of the script. Superb acting, excellent script, Oscar deserving recognition for many concerned in this refreshingly nuanced film. See it and memorize it.

Noah (2014)
'Watchers have learned to fear men.', 3 January 2015

What Darren Aronofsky had in mind when he wrote and subsequently directed this parody of Noah and the Flood defies imagination. The aspect that seems a conundrum is why actors of the caliber of Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Nick Nolte, Marton Csokas, Ray Winstone et at would be able to get through this film without breaking character and laughing at the whole thing.

Some people like the film – the apparent current elucidation of the great flood, the arc, and the re-beginning of life – but it seems those people who are biblically motivated would be the most verbal in their objections to the CGI effects of the clunky silly rock monsters called the Watchers and other very bizarre ideas with which Aronofsky frosts this flimsy cake. It is a mess from beginning to end.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
'You can be a human, or a killer of humans, but not both.', 3 January 2015

Based on Bill Granger's book "There Are No Spies' and adapted for the screen by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, THE November MAN has all the ingredients for a James Bondesque adventure film – even using a previous Bon (Pierce Brosnan) as the lead character. Roger Donaldson directs and at times confusing mélange of events but in the end the film lives up to the standards of foreign intrigue thriller.

The cast is an international one and everyone fills the duties assigned to a T. Of special note is new Australian hunk Luke Bracey (who needs to hit the gym….), a welcome newcomer for the secondary lead roles that result in stardom.

Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is a former CIA super spy, retired. He worked for the CIA and trained David Mason (Luke Bracey). Peter is asked by the man he worked for to extract a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who is in Russia and is presently close to a man Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski) running for President, who is believed to have committed crimes during the Chechen war. She can give them the name of someone who can prove it. His friend says that she will only come to him. So he goes and she gets the info and tries to get out but the man finds out and tries to stop her. Peter arrives and saves her but as they are getting away they're shot at. She is killed but tells Peter the name before she dies. Peter kills the men who attacked them but when he sees the leader, Mason (Luke Bracey), a man he trained, he realizes the CIA is involved. He tries to find the person and the only one who might know where she is is Alice Fournier, the social worker who helped her when she came to the West. A CIA bigwig (Bill Smitrovich) steps in and orders that Devereaux be taken off the case and wants Mason to take care of it. The Presidential candidate sends an assassin to make sure no one wrecks his chances of becoming President. Devereaux finds Alice and tries to protect her while trying to find the mole.

The film spreads over time frames and many gorgeous European cities and keeps a breathtaking pace, delivering a spy film that should please all who love this genre.

'When you pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too.', 2 January 2015

Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, Olympus has Fallen, etc) has rethought and adopted the television series by the same name (Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim) with a script by Richard Wenk into a movie that is so well made that it shows every actor in the film at his/her best. Yes, it is violent, but the violence is directed at those evil men who benefit from the misery of others, never being arrested and never submitting to punishment.

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington in one of his finest roles) believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life in Boston, Massachusetts. He is methodical and supportive and works at the Home Mart store, frequently helping his co-workers. Every night, McCall goes to a diner to read a book and drink tea, and he befriends the teenager Russian prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), the alias of Alina. One night, Alina's pimp Slavi (David Meunier) brutally beats her and she goes to the intensive care unit (ICU) of the local hospital. McCall goes to the Russian restaurant where Slavi is and offers US$ 9,800.00 for the freedom of Alina. However Slavi does not accept the offer and McCall kills him and his four bodyguards. The Russian mafia kingpin Vladimir Pushkin sends the cruel enforcer Teddy (Marton Csokas – in an exceptionally fine performance) to find who killed his men. Soon he finds that McCall is the one who killed the mobster and Teddy begins a war against him. McCall may have a mysterious past but he has become a 'Robin Hood' hit man who destroys those people who prey on others and in doing so he changes the lives of those for whom he is the benefactor.

The plot is appropriately complex, involving bad cops, the FBI, the Russian gangs and their multiple crime influences of human and drug and oil trafficking. The excellent cast includes Johnny Skourtis as Ralphie – the obese lad Robert McCall guides to a better life, Melissa Leo in a very brief but poignant role, Bill Pullman, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, etc. After a fine and tense drama the film is all but ruined by the wholly unnecessary noisy Rap music that destroys the mood during the credits. Despite this, this is a very fine film, overlooked for some reason.

'How can you've live for so long and still not get it? This self obsession is a waste of living.', 30 December 2014

'How can you've live for so long and still not get it? This self obsession is a waste of living.' Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog, Broken Flowers, Dead Man, Coffee and Cigarettes, etc) enters the bloody vampire realm in this very long and tedious film he both wrote and directs. He did assemble a respectable cast and relies heavily on dark atmosphere and bad hair but despite all the clever historic references this is a film that appeals to a certain audience – a VERY big certain audience who can't seem to reach satiety for blood consumption.

The ONLY TOW LOVERS LEFT ALIVE are the centuries old Adam and Eve. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a musician and electric guitar collector (his source is another vampire Ian - Anton Yelchin) and Adam has grown weary with the world, having lived in it for too long and is disenchanted with the manner in which his current station in Detroit is moving: he request Ian to create a bullet with a hard wooden nose that he plans to use as a suicide tool. Eve (Tilda Swinton, always excellent) lives in Tangiers, friends with Marlowe (John Hurt), and is concerned about Adam's countenance as viewed on Skype. She flies to Detroit to comfort her long lasting lover offering O Negative blood Popsicles and other tidbits to brighten his life. Adam and Eve no longer gain their life source from living individuals but from blood taken form the blood bank in the hospital – with the kind assistance of Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright). All seems to be progressing smoothly until Eve's sister Ava (Miz Wasikowska) moves in and all hell breaks loose.

This is a genre film and will likely satisfy vampire story fans. The film is well photographed and maintains its creepy premise to the end. There is some witty writing about art, science, and love and were it not for the presence of this specific cast the chief complaint would be ennui.

'We're all mad Dr. Newgate. Some are simply not mad enough to admit it.', 29 December 2014

Edgar Allan Poe initiated this 'which side of madness are you on' tale in a short story that was adapted for the screen by Joe Gangemi and directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, The Call, Transsiberian,etc) . It is a period piece, very dark in theme and in cinematic transformation, and it boasts a huge cast of very highly respected actors.

The time is turn of the century (1899-2000) and a recent medical school grad Doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives at Stonehearst Asylum in search of an apprenticeship, he is warmly welcomed by superintendent Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley) and a mesmerizing woman by the name of Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale). Edward is intrigued by Lamb's modern methods of treating the insane until a series of unusual events leads him to make a horrifying discovery, exposing Lamb's utopia and pushing Edward to the limits of his conscience - a recent, horrifying staffing change. Lamb is the mad one and the true staff of the asylum are locked in the boiler room as Lamb's prisoners. How Newgate discovers and addresses this issue is the gist of the bizarre story. And there are some terrific surprises in store….

LIkrly the film would not have worked so well under less competent actors hands, but Anderson was wise in casting David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Kingsley, Michael Cain, Sinéad Cusack, Jason Flemyng, as well as Kate Beckinsale and Jim Sturgess. It may at firs seem like another Brad Anderson thriller, but there are some twist and turns that alter the story into a truly psychological examination of just what is insanity.

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