Movie Review: “This Is Where I Leave You”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Connie Britton
Director
Shawn Levy

Shawn Levy wants a do-over. The man who carved out a very successful career as a director that, as the Onion A/V Club once joked, you didn’t know you hated, now wants people to take him seriously. Levy actually turned some heads with the underrated “Real Steel” (his best movie by a country mile), but then followed that with last year’s “The Internship” (you had already forgotten about that one, didn’t you?), and in two months, he unleashes a third “Night at the Museum” film upon a public that thought two “Night at the Museum” films was more than enough, thank you. He’s typecast, and he doesn’t like it one bit. In other words, he now knows how it feels to be nearly every actor or actress who’s ever appeared in one of his films.

Levy’s latest attempt to rebrand himself is “This Is Where I Leave You,” a dysfunctional family dramedy that is filled with rapid-fire jokes (funny ones, too) and boasts a pitch-perfect cast. The biggest problem with the movie, sadly, is Levy himself. He seems out of his depth, and derails the momentum at odd times, lingering too long on a shot here and overdoing the camera work there. A director more experienced with the genre would have fared only marginally better, yes, but Levy had a chance to prove himself here, and he comes up short.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is not having a good year. Not long after walking in on his wife cheating on him with his boss (Dax Shepard), his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls to inform him that their father has died. The family isn’t close – their mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) aired the kids’ dirty laundry in the form of a best-selling novel – so the news that their father’s dying wish was for the family to sit Shiva, keeping all four siblings and their significant others in the same house for seven days, is not warmly received. In those seven days, hearts mend, hearts are broken, sibling rivalries both real and imagined rear their ugly heads, and Hilary talks way too openly about, well, everything.

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Movie Review: “A Walk Among the Tombstones”

Starring
Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Adam David Thompson
Director
Scott Frank

It’s not often that there’s a movie set at the turn of the millennium or a truly engaging film released during the limbo months between blockbuster seasons, but Scott Frank’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones” delivers on both counts.

Liam Neeson Stars as Matt Scudder, a former NYPD detective who used to have a very unhealthy habit of chasing booze with as much passion as he chased bad guys. The two intersected with tragic results when he took a booth at his favorite dive just as two thugs were robbing the place, blowing away the bartender in the process. What follows is a shootout that grabs you by the throat and leaves Scudder reexamining his life.

Flash forward to 1999, where we find a clean and sober Scudder. He’s traded in his police title (but still holds on to the badge) for a private eye shingle. Fresh out of an AA meeting, Scudder is approached by drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) whose wife was recently kidnapped and murdered. Scudder is a bit conflicted working with the yuppie junior drug kingpin, but forty grand helps ease his inner turmoil. Just as he’s had enough of Kristo and his business, a young girl (Danielle Rose Russell) is abducted by the kidnappers and Scudder goes all-in on finding them and making sure no one is taken again.

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Movie Review: “The Zero Theorem”

Starring
Christoph Waltz, Melanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedge, Matt Damon
Director
Terry Gilliam

As someone who’s been a disciple of all things Terry Gilliam for the better part of 30 years, it seems pretty obvious that his most innovative filmmaking days are probably behind him. Those of us that continue to return to his well keep our expectations firmly in check. We don’t expect mind blowing “Brazil”-level satirical explorations, or profound science fiction trips such as “12 Monkeys,” but we are happy to indulge our favorite mad uncle when he unveils something a little less groundbreaking, from somewhere in between, and that’s more or less what “The Zero Theorem” is.

Set in some nearby hazy nether-future – a grotesque exaggeration of our own reality – the film revolves around hypochondriacal misanthrope Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz, looking like Bob Geldof after he shaved all his hair off in “The Wall”), a number-crunching programmer working for a soul-sucking mega-corporation called Mancom. He appears to be more than adept at his job, but awful at the rest of life. With virtually no social skills to speak of, Qohen (pronounced “Cohen”), when he isn’t at work, keeps himself holed up in a dilapidated mansion in a sketchy part of town, waiting for a mysterious phone call that he hopes will bring change. His sole desire is to be allowed to work from home, so he can be close to the phone and away from people.

He begrudgingly attends a party thrown by his obnoxious, clueless supervisor Joby (David Thewlis), where a chance encounter with Management (Matt Damon playing over 50) allows him to plead his case, only to seemingly fall on deaf ears. Later, he’s saved from choking by a comely partygoer named Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry). Curiously, not long after the party, his request to work from home is inexplicably granted, only there’s a catch: He must try to crack the zero theorem, a mathematical formula that when solved could reveal the meaning of life. To aid him in his work, Management sends his teenage son Bob (Lucas Hedges) to assist, and before long, Bainsley reappears as well.

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Blu Tuesday: Godzilla and Arrow

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Godzilla”

WHAT: 15 years after the mysterious demolition of a nuclear power plant in Japan, American scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) remains adamant that it was more than just an earthquake, and he’s determined to prove it. But before he can convince the government that it’s about to happen again, a pair of insect-like monsters burst from their cocoons to wreak havoc on the planet, awakening the long-dormant Godzilla, whom Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) believes has been created by nature to restore balance.

WHY: How can a movie about giant monsters be so boring? That’s the biggest question surrounding Hollywood’s latest attempt to bring the King of the Monsters stateside. Though not as bad as Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version, “Godzilla” is a bewildering piece of blockbuster filmmaking, stuck somewhere between an old-school monster extravaganza and a po-faced thriller that’s afraid to have too much fun. Director Gareth Edwards delivers some great money shots by the end, but it’s a long, mostly dull slog to get there, relying more on the one-dimensional human drama and generic MUTOs to drive the action. In fact, just about everyone gets more screen time than Godzilla, who takes nearly an hour to make his first, full-fledged appearance before going MIA again until the final climactic battle. There’s nothing wrong with teasing the audience using a slow burn approach (“Jaws” does it masterfully), but you need actual suspense and interesting characters for it to be successful, and “Godzilla” has neither, instead packed with a bunch of unnecessary filler that does nothing to further the story. The one thing that Edwards gets right is Godzilla himself. He looks and sounds incredible, and you’re left wanting more when it’s all over. Sadly, that’s not because the movie is any good, but rather because you see so little of Godzilla that it feels more like an appetizer than the main course.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes featurettes on creature design, the HALO jump sequence and the Godzilla legacy, as well as some fictional videos about Project Monarch that provide additional backstory.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Arrow: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: Following the destruction of the Glades, Oliver (Stephen Arnell) ditches his vigilante ways to become the protector that Starling City so desperately needs. But when his old friend Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), whom he thought had perished on the island, resurfaces under the guise of Deathstroke, Oliver becomes the target of his vengeful plot.

WHY: It’s hard to imagine anything good coming out of The CW, but other networks should take note, because “Arrow” is exactly how you adapt a comic book character for the small screen. Though the first season was pretty hit-and-miss, the series really starts to find its groove in Season Two, focusing more on the superhero elements than the silly love triangles and soapy subplots. Granted, they’re not done away with completely (otherwise there’d be nothing for characters like Moira, Thea and Laurel to do on the show), but this season feels much more like the comic book series that fans were promised than just another a CW drama that happens to be about a superhero, which is an important distinction to make. Stephen Arnell continues to shine as the green-hooded protagonist, and David Ramsey and Emily Bett Rickards provide excellent support, but the show’s real MVP isn’t an individual at all, but rather the rotating cast of characters plucked from Green Arrow’s rich, 60-year history. The stunt work is also some of the best on TV, and the production team does a really good job of grounding everything in reality. “Arrow” still manages to be a little cheesy at times, but it’s almost always good fun, and that’s all you can ask for from a series like this.

EXTRAS: In addition to a featurette on Oliver’s character arc for the season, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the show’s visual effects and stunts, the 2013 Comic-Con panel, a recap of Season One, some deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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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