Movie Review: “The Judge”

Starring
Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thorton, Dax Shepard
Director
David Dobkin

The person who edited the trailers for “The Judge” should get an award. They made this movie look fantastic, an edge-of-your-seat legal thriller with an estranged father and son at the center. Then we see the director’s cut, as it were, and discover what it really is: one the flimsiest courtroom cases ever filmed, and the father/son story is a smoke screen for a much, much worse plot line: the yuppie who finds his soul. This was a popular theme in the early ‘90s (“Regarding Henry,” “The Doctor”). I will drive to California and burn Hollywood to the ground if they try to make this a thing again.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a stereotypical soulless big city defense attorney who discovers that his mother has passed away. Staring down a divorce (due, naturally, to his workaholism), Hank takes a solo trip to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana to pay his respects and play friendly with his estranged family. Hank and his father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the town judge, haven’t spoken in years, and not even Hank’s mom’s death can soften things. Hank plans to leave the day after the funeral, but as he’s packing up, he discovers that his father’s car is damaged, showing signs that he was in an accident the night before. It turns out that Joseph struck and killed someone with his car, and knowing that his father needs a rock solid defense, Hank stays behind to give him one. Hank’s biggest obstacle to properly defending his father, is, of course, his father.

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Movie Review: “Dracula Untold”

Starring
Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Godon, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance
Director
Gary Shore

It seems like everyone is getting an origin story these days, so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood treated its original bad boy to one of his own. Unfortunately, the last thing that anyone needed was another film that tries to humanize a classic villain with a backstory explaining why they broke bad, especially one as iconic as Dracula. Whoever thought it was a good idea to turn the Prince of Darkness into a romantic hero clearly doesn’t understand the essence of the character, because it completely undermines everything that makes him so fascinating. There isn’t a whole lot of the Dracula we know and love in “Dracula Untold,” and although that means very little blood-sucking from the man himself, that hasn’t stopped director Gary Shore from sucking the fun out of cinema’s greatest villain.

Inspired by the real-life story of Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), who was taken hostage as a teenager and forced to fight for the Ottoman Empire, the movie picks up decades later after the Transylvanian prince has put down his sword in order to rule his people. But when Turkish sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) demands 1,000 Transylvanian youths for his army – including Vlad’s only son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson) – Vlad refuses to submit, resulting in a Turkish retaliation that reduces Castle Dracula to a pile of rubble. Grossly outnumbered and desperate to protect his people, Vlad makes a deal with an ancient vampire (Charles Dance) who lives in the nearby mountains by drinking his blood in exchange for ultimate power. If Vlad can resist the overwhelming thirst for blood for three days, he’ll revert back to his mortal self, but of course, we already know that isn’t going to happen.

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Movie Review: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”

Starring
Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Megan Mullally
Director
Miguel Arteta

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day” is not a good movie, but it’s a damn likable one. The dialogue is snappy, and the performances by the family members are spot-on (this movie does not work without Steve Carell), but the plotting is, well, bad. All characters outside of the family are gross stereotypes, seemingly because it’s easier to make an example of them that way. The pro-family vibe of the movie is so strong, though, that it makes the predictable storytelling easier to forgive.

Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is about to turn 12, and per middle school protocol, he’s having an awful day. He wakes up with gum in his hair (sadly, one of only a few nods to the 1972 book on which the movie is based), and proceeds to get humiliated at a school-wide level via text bomb, and is crushed to discover that even his best friend is going to skip his birthday party the next day in order to attend the party of a much cooler kid. Alexander, convinced that he is all but invisible to his family and frustrated that they can’t relate to what he’s going through, wishes on a candle-lit cupcake at midnight on his birthday that they could know how it feels to be him for a day. From the moment they wake up the next morning, Alexander’s entire family experiences a “Liar Liar” form of karmic payback.

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Movie Review: “Gone Girl”

Starring
Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson
Director
David Fincher

It’s tough to take a ‘holy shit’ book and make a ‘holy shit’ movie out of it, especially one with an unconventional narrative structure like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” (two points of view, two timelines). Challenge accepted, says David Fincher (yes, that casting in-joke was intentional), and thank God for that, because it’s hard to imagine anyone else capturing the essence of “Gone Girl” quite like he does. It doesn’t plumb the depths of the two lead characters’ minds as well as the book does, but how could it? Flynn’s novel was a master class analysis of psychopathology; to get the full effect on film, it would have had a runtime of over three hours, which would have been borderline unbearable. Peeling back fewer layers for the sake of an already lengthy runtime is the smart play here. If the movie makes any mistake, it’s with the handling of the third act, which had the potential to make for an even bigger ‘holy shit’ moment than the one that the movie already has.

Midwesterner Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) moves to New York to be a writer, where he meets and marries Amy Elliott (Rosamund Pike), a NYC born and bred trust fund princess courtesy of a best-selling children’s book series that her parents have written about her (“Amazing Amy”). The recession of the late ‘00s is hard on the creative class, and both struggle to find work. When Nick’s mom becomes ill, the two move back to Nick’s Missouri hometown to take care of her. As their financial situation grows direr, Nick and Amy’s relationship is strained to the breaking point. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears, and the circumstantial evidence suggests that Nick is involved in her disappearance and/or murder. And we should probably stop there.

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Movie Review: “Annabelle”

Starring
Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard
Director
John R. Leonetti

If “Annabelle” had any sense of when to let up on the throttle, it could have been one of the truly great horror movies of the past few decades. Instead, it chooses to mentally exhaust the audience by turning every single thing on screen into a weapon of one form or another, and it ramps up the already unnecessary tension with sound design that turns a sewing machine into a thunderstorm. It makes sense, in a way: they’re trying to make the audience as paranoid as the protagonist, but the one thing that “The Conjuring,” the film in which evil doll Annabelle made her feature debut, did so well was balance the light with the dark. “Annabelle” is nothing but darkness, and a lot of that darkness is been-there-done-that darkness. Indeed, the story line is largely borrowed from “Rosemary’s Baby,” with nods to “The Omen,” “Witchboard,” and even “Poltergeist.” Those are good to great sources, but Annabelle deserved a story of her own, not one stitched together from the carcasses of others.

Set in California one year before the opening scene of “The Conjuring,” Mia (Annabelle Wallis. Yes, the lead actress in this movie is named Annabelle, God love her) and her husband/doctor-in-training John (Ward Horton) are expecting their first child. Soon after we meet John and Mia, their next door neighbors the Higgins are murdered by their daughter Annabelle, now a member of a satanic cult. Annabelle and her accomplice friend try to kill John and Mia as well, but are not successful. Annabelle kills herself in their nursery, holding one of Mia’s porcelain dolls. Annabelle’s blood spills into the eye socket of the doll. The doll, naturally, is now a conduit to evil.

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