Movie Review: “The Drop”

Starring
Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director
Michaël R. Roskam

Though it comes with the undesirable label of being James Gandolfini’s final screen appearance, “The Drop” has all the makings of a dark horse awards contender. Adapted by esteemed crime writer Dennis Lehane from his short story “Animal Rescue,” the movie doesn’t have the same cynicism as past adaptions of the author’s work (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone”), but it’s a grimy little crime drama that harkens back to the great Sidney Lumet films of the 1970s. This is a movie that places mood and character above all else, and while that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Michaël R. Roskam’s “The Drop” is a well-paced and expertly acted film that serves as a fitting end to one actor’s career and the exciting emergence of another.

Tom Hardy stars as Bob Saginowski, a quiet, well-meaning bartender at the Brooklyn watering hole previously owned by his cousin Marv (Gandolfini), who still runs the day-to-day operations. But while Marv is the face of the business (his name even adorns the outside of the building), it really belongs to a group of Chechen mobsters that use it as one of the city’s many drop bars, a place chosen at random to hold all of the day’s illegal bookmaking money. When the bar is robbed by some amateur thieves, the two cousins are put in charge of finding those responsible, leading Marv (who helped plan the whole thing) to resort to desperate measures. Meanwhile, Bob finds a wounded pit bull in a trash can and decides to adopt it, but when the previous owner (Matthias Schoenaerts) resurfaces looking for trouble, he must decide how far he’s willing to go to protect the mutt and the woman (Noomi Rapace) helping him care for it.

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Movie Review: “God Help the Girl”

Starring
Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, Pierre Boulanger
Director
Stuart Murdoch

If “God Help the Girl” were any more precious, Gollum would steal it.

This is to be expected, of course. The writer and director is Stuart Murdoch, singer and principal songwriter of Scottish twee factory Belle and Sebastian; there was no way this movie wasn’t going to be precious. If only it weren’t so slight, but slight it is. The story, the acting (though Emily Browning is lovely), and God help him, even a lot of the songs are lacking. If there is one good thing to come from the movie, it’s that you can use it as an acid test; if someone likes it, they’re a hipster. No exceptions.

Eve (Browning) is a troubled audiophile. She’s in a rehab center (anorexia), but occasionally escapes to check out new bands, and catches the eye of Anton (Pierre Boulanger), the singer of an up-and-coming band. Eve is weak from hunger, though, and is rescued at the end of the night by aspiring singer/songwriter James (Olly Alexander, whom you’ll swear is related to one of the Proclaimers), whose own gig went less well than Anton’s. Upon her return to the rehab center, Eve begins writing songs about her feelings, and turns out to be quite good at it. She finds James and shares some of her ideas with him, and instantly he wants to form a band. He invites her to meet Cassie (Hannah Murray), who’s taking guitar lessons from James, and after a quick number, the band is set. The problem (one of many) is that James and Cassie don’t know that Eve is a runaway rehab patient. Do you think they’ll find out?

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Movie Review: “Life After Beth”

Starring
Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler
Director
Jeff Baena

It’s incredible to think that in the short 10 years since the release of “Shaun of the Dead,” the zombie comedy has practically become its own subgenre, even spawning several “rom-zom-coms” (romantic zombie comedies, a term coined during the marketing for that film) in the process. But while Edgar Wright’s 2004 debut was a blisteringly funny homage to zombie movies, there’s yet to be another film that even comes close to matching its genre-bending wit and sense of fun. Which brings me to “Life After Beth,” the latest rom-zom-com to try and fail at duplicating that success. Surprisingly dull and unfunny for the talent involved, “Life After Beth” is a dead-on-arrival comedy that’s just as much in need of some brains as its title character.

Dane DeHaan stars as Zach, a gloomy teenager mourning the death of his girlfriend, Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza), after she was killed by a snakebite while hiking alone in the woods. Depressed and seeking comfort from Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), Zach is offended when the couple suddenly cuts him off without so much as an explanation. So when Zach goes to their house looking for answers, he’s shocked to discover that Beth is very much alive, although without any memory of the past few days. While they’re not exactly sure how it happened (the possibility of a Jesus-like resurrection is debated), the Slocums are just happy to have their daughter back, and they’re willing to let Zach continue to see her if he promises to keep Beth’s return from the grave a secret. But as Zach attempts to rekindle their relationship, he can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right with her.

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Movie Review: “The November Man”

Starring
Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Will Patton, Bill Smitrovich
Director
Roger Donaldson

Think of “The November Man” as “Mission: Impossible” with extreme prejudice. Ethan Hunt wouldn’t kill anyone that he didn’t absolutely have to kill, but Pierce Brosnan’s ex-CIA spook Peter Devereaux lives by no such code. If anything, he’s a “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of guy, which would normally make someone an antihero, but we’re talking about Pierce Brosnan here. He doesn’t know how to do antihero: even as he steals booze and downs it like it’s his last night on Earth, he’s just too damn likeable. Ultimately, this works in the movie’s favor, as Brosnan’s presence excuses a fair amount of shortcomings. The end result is boilerplate, but entertaining, just twisty enough to keep the audience guessing.

The movie opens in 2008 with Devereaux showing the ropes to new recruit David Mason (Luke Bracey) on a mission. Mason doesn’t follow Devereaux’s instructions to the letter, and though the two accomplish their mission, a civilian dies in the process. Fast forward five years, and a now-retired Devereaux is roped in by former colleague John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to help extract a CIA contact who has valuable intel on Russian general and soon-to-be president Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). The extraction is botched on a number of levels, but Devereaux is able to get the name of the person the contact is protecting. Devereaux discovers that the mystery person is a refugee, and contacts a local shelter to ask for help. Shelter employee Alice (Olga Kurylenko) doesn’t have any answers, but Devereaux knows that her life is now in danger and that if he doesn’t protect her, she will be dead by sunset. In a second, Devereaux inherits three tasks: find the mystery girl, protect Alice, and continue to play cat and mouse with Mason, who’s clearly out to prove himself to his former mentor.

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Movie Review: “Starred Up”

Starring
Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Peter Ferdinando, Sam Spruell
Director
David Mackenzie

Anyone that watches movies for a living must constantly keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in cinema, but it’s easy for one to slip through the cracks, which is why it’s so exhilarating when a small indie like “Starred Up” comes out of nowhere and knocks you flat on your ass. Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser, who spent time working as a therapist within the British prison system, the film is scary in just how realistic it feels at times. From the cell block politics, to the crooked authorities supposedly in charge of keeping the peace, “Starred Up” doesn’t pull any punches in its tough and gritty depiction of prison life.

The movie’s title refers to the act of transferring a young offender from a juvenile detention center to an adult penitentiary prematurely, and in the case of 19-year-old Eric Love (Jack O’Connell), he’s been relocated two years early due to the frequency and severity of his violent outbursts. When his volatile temper quickly earns him enemies among both the guards and fellow inmates, Eric is approached by a volunteer psychotherapist (Rupert Friend) about attending his anger management class, which he believes will provide hope to the young man that he can someday function normally in society. But while his estranged father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who also happens to be doing time in the same prison, encourages him to accept the free help, his constant meddling causes Eric to wonder whether he’s actually there to protect him or contribute to the abuse.

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