Movie Review: “Demolition”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Heather Lind
Director
Jean-Marc Vallée

Jake Gyllenhaal has really turned around his career over the past few years with character-driven films like “Nightcrawler,” “Enemy” and “Prisoners,” so it only seems natural that he would want to collaborate with Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian-born director who led Matthew McConaughey to Oscar gold in “Dallas Buyers Club” and helped revive Reese Witherspoon’s career with “Wild.” Unfortunately, while Gyllenhaal continues his fine form in “Demolition” – Vallée’s third movie in a row to deal with the subject of grief – the film isn’t as good as the performance at the center of it. Though it’s a refreshingly honest look at coming to terms with the death of a loved one, without Gyllenhaal in the lead role, “Demolition” wouldn’t be nearly as memorable.

The actor stars as Davis Mitchell, a successful New York investment banker who’s become so emotionally numb that he doesn’t know how to react when his wife Julia (Heather Lind) dies in a car accident – one that he escaped with barely a scratch. His father-in-law/boss Phil (Chris Cooper) believes that Davis is in shock and just needs time to process it all, but he can’t even squeeze out a tear at the funeral, instead fixated on the hospital vending machine that failed to dispense the peanut M&Ms he purchased shortly after Julia’s death. Over the following weeks, Davis writes a series of complaint letters to the vending company that take the form of cathartic, soul-baring confessionals filled with intimate details about his life under the assumption that no one will ever read them. But when the company’s lonely customer service representative, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), reaches out to Davis after being touched by his brutally honest letters, the pair forms an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her rebellious teenage son (Judah Lewis), Davis begins to dismantle his old life to understand what went wrong.

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Movie Review: “I Saw the Light”

Starring
Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Maddie Hasson
Director
Marc Abraham

It was only last week that Stephen Frears’ formulaic biopic, “The Program,” arrived in theaters, and hot on the heels of that film, writer-director Marc Abraham delivers a similarly distant and uninvolving biographical drama, this time about troubled country musician Hank Williams. Once again, despite a compelling performance leading the way, “I Saw the Light” is yet another biopic that doesn’t dig deep enough into its subject.

Narratively, “I Saw the Light” is a collection of greatest hits that covers Williams’ (Tom Hiddleston) short and tragic life. Much of Abraham’s script focuses on the singer and songwriter’s testy relationship with his first wife, Audrey Mae Williams (Elizabeth Olsen). Audrey Mae isn’t exactly in the same league as her husband musically, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to sing along with him. She’s also not the healthiest of influences in Hank’s life, which involves plenty of alcoholism and infidelity.

For the first half of “I Saw the Light,” Hank’s marriage makes for a relatively focused glimpse into the singer’s life, but the film soon turns into the rise-and-fall biopic we’re far too accustomed to. Abraham only seems to graze the surface of Williams’ story, which is rarely as emotional as it sounds.

Watching the young Hank Williams waste away his life, family and talent should be dramatic. However, because the movie is just going through the motions, much of the drama comes across as routine. The third act, especially, could’ve been potentially excruciating, but instead, Williams’ death just sort of happens.

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Movie Review: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

Starring
Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Scoot McNairy, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane
Director
Zack Snyder

It’s an idea that sounds like a slam dunk on paper: Pit two of the world’s biggest superheroes against one another in a cinematic battle for the ages and force the audience to choose sides. But while we all wait to see how that fight unfolds in “Captain America: Civil War,” moviegoers can get their fix sooner by trudging through the similarly themed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a disjointed mess of a movie that is occasionally exhilarating, but mostly disappointing. Though it’s scary to think that Warner Bros. is betting the future of its entire DC Comics film slate on this highly-anticipated clash of superhero icons, the real loser is the audience itself.

The warning signs were there for everyone to see in the movie’s convoluted title, but even diehard comic book fans will be surprised by just how overlong, overstuffed and unfocused the film is for such a seemingly straightforward affair. This is Batman versus Superman, for crying out loud – it doesn’t require any extra dressing, and it certainly didn’t need to be turned into a moody rumination on the responsibilities of power that nearly sucks the fun out of its killer premise. After all, didn’t director Zack Snyder already make that movie?

Eighteen months have passed since Superman (Henry Cavill) destroyed half of Metropolis fighting General Zod (Michael Shannon), and while some people have embraced him as a god-like hero, others believe that he’s a dangerous alien who should be held accountable for his actions. Having witnessed the collateral damage first-hand after one of his company’s buildings was destroyed in the battle, Gotham City industrialist Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) – now a seasoned crime-fighter who spends his nights dealing out justice as the vigilante Batman – is terrified of what Superman could do with that kind of power and becomes obsessed with stopping him by any means possible. Meanwhile, billionaire tech genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is building his own weapon to combat the alien threat using a piece of Kryptonite uncovered at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. But when Bruce steals the green rock in an attempt to level the playing field against Superman, Luthor decides to use Batman to do his dirty work for him.

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Movie Review: “The Program”

Starring
Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemmons, Dustin Hoffman, Lee Pace
Director
Stephen Frears

Stephen Fears’ “The Program” is the rise-and-fall story we all expected from a Lance Armstrong biopic, and that’s the biggest issue with this overly familiar tale. Despite a committed lead performance from Ben Foster, Frears’ drama is an obvious and frustrating depiction of ambition and obsession.

We all know the story. Lance Armstrong (Foster) was one of the world’s most beloved heroes, until the cyclist was revealed to be a fraud. Armstrong wasn’t the biggest or fastest racer at the start of his career, but his luck soon changed after using performance-enhancing drugs, only to learn he had cancer following his first major victory. Armstrong ultimately made his grand return to cycling after defeating the cancer against all odds and went on to win more Tour de France titles, but journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) found the comeback awfully questionable.

“The Program” is basically a David vs. Goliath tale between Armstrong and Walsh. Both men love cycling, but Walsh believes that Armstrong is killing the sport, which pains him. To get to the truth, Walsh faces an uphill battle as he takes on the great and mighty Lance Armstrong. In the end, that’s all Frears’ film is really about.

Armstrong is portrayed in the movie as a shark. That’s fine, of course, but John Hodge’s script rarely slows down to let the audience fully empathize with the character. There is one great instance where the story is allowed to unfold more gracefully – when Armstrong comforts an ill child – that makes for a fantastic dichotomy; one of the biggest liars in the world couldn’t be experiencing a more truthful connection. It’s a superb scene that’s played with genuine emotion by Foster, showing Armstrong at his most vulnerable.

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Movie Review: “Midnight Special”

Starring
Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Joel Egerton, Adam Driver
Director
Jeff Nichols

Much of director Jeff Nichols’ work is about fatherhood. “Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter” and “Mud,” in one form or another, show what it means to be responsible for another human being. It should come as no surprise, then, that Nichols explores that theme once again in his biggest film to date, “Midnight Special,” a thrilling throwback that’s both meditative and moving.

Roy (Michael Shannon) needs to get his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) to a specific location at a certain time. He’s not sure why, but he knows he has to for the sake of Alton. Roy’s son has special powers that he nor anyone else can explain, and while a religious cult – led by Sam Shepard – believes that Alton is their savior, to Roy, he’s just his son. With the help of his old friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy will do whatever he must to protect Alton, even if that means running from the government or getting into shootouts with crazy cult members.

“Midnight Special” isn’t exactly “E.T.,” although a few shots and ideas certainly pay tribute to Steven Spielberg’s classic. Like that film, Nichols tells a personal story, with its characters and themes driving the story, not set pieces. Alton might have super powers, but this is far from a superhero movie; it’s about fatherhood, finding one’s place in the world and faith.

Alton has his father and mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), but he’s never lived a normal life. During one quietly heartbreaking exchange, Roy and Sarah hold hands, watching their son play in front of them. It’s a sweet moment, but there’s an inherent sadness to the scene as Lucas cleans his gun in the background, watching the family trying to grasp onto fleeting moments of normalcy.

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