Directed by: Daniel Espinosa Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman Rated: R for violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality “Child 44” is based on a novel by a British writer (Tom Rob Smith) and was adapted by an American (Richard Price) and directed by a Swede (Daniel Espinosa). It has that fatalism, that “well of course things are awful, that’s just life” despair that runs through so many Russian works of literature, art, and film. It makes it likely to be a challenging film for American audiences. This is the story of a government agent trying to stop a man who tortures and murders children – and all the challenges that agent faces because his government forbids him to say the deaths are murders. This is Stalin’s Russia, a communist utopia – and there are no murders in paradise, as one of the characters comments. Leo Demidov (Tom
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Keen McRae Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language Cheryl Strayed is known on two axes: her popular advice column / essay column under the nom de plume “Sugar,” and her fiction writing under her own name. When her memoir “Wild” came out, she announced her identity to Sugar fans and put the column on hold to deal with the book. It’s understandable – “Wild” was a run-away success, with people like Oprah raving about it. Strayed knew it was a filmable book and sent a copy to Reese Witherspoon, who loved it and set about making the film happen. It’s a beautiful and moving film, full of lush wilderness and beautifully-shot but thoroughly un-beautiful itself squalor; of loving family interactions and screaming fights. The story is told through interwoven flashbacks as we follow Strayed on her 1,100 mile hike up
The first warning sign “John Wick” gives us is that there was very, very little publicity about it. Your humble reviewer sees several movies a month, plus previews, and saw nary a single preview for Keanu Reeves’ latest vehicle. The second, of course, is that Reeves is in it. He’s not untalented, but he definitely has trouble picking quality movies on anything resembling a regular basis.
The two together should have been enough to warn even a person who enjoys bad movies for how bad they are to stay away. Sadly, it was not.
Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam Rated: R for some strong violence and pervasive language Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz There’s a subgenre of crime films that linger over their characters, whose plots move slowly at first, but gradually become increasingly tense until the final confrontation is not only inevitable, but startlingly intense. “The Drop” is a shining example of this genre, and it seems a fitting final cinematic role for the late James Gandolfini, who gets to showcase both his sense of timing and his ability to layer complexity into seemingly simple characters. The film rotates around Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a bartender who tries to hold himself aloof from the organized crime that surrounds him. Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) used to own the bar where Bob works, but now it’s owned by a Chechen crime family. The Chechens periodically use it as a “drop” – a place for their
Directed by: John Eric Dowdle Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar Rated: R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout So many movies in the last few years have focused on using visceral horror and supremely disgusting special effects to be scary that it’s refreshing to find one that not only avoids those for the most part but also avoids the “creepy ghost moving suddenly” style of jump scare borrowed from Asian horror cinema. “As Above, So Below” aims to be more of a “Blair Witch Project” style scary movie: it avoids expensive gross makeup in favor of creeping paranoia and dread with a slowly increasing sense of doom. It’s not a terribly good film, but it goes through the familiar paces with determination. All of the shots are from cameras held by the characters: Benji (Edwin Hodge), the documentary cameraman; Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), the subject of his documentary;
Directed by: Spike Lee Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli Rated: R for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language “Oldboy” is Spike Lee’s first major film in some time, and it’s an interesting choice. It’s a remake of a Korean thriller (“Oldboy,” starring Min-sik Choi), which was loosely based upon a Japanese comic book. It’s full of graphic violence but contains no guns. The story was already convoluted, and the changes Lee has made result is a film that which displays consummate craft and skill, but whose underpinnings are so inconsistent and surreal that it’s hard to say whether it’s good or bad. The story follows an ordinary fellow, Joe Doucette (Josh Brolin), who is kidnapped, held in a hotel room for twenty years, and then mysteriously released. The man who orchestrated the ordeal demands that Joe discover his captor’s identity and the
There is a very small group of films which I think are brilliant but never particularly want to see again. “The Counselor” is in that group. It’s not a flawless film, but the performances and dialog are incredible, and while it’s a cautionary tale at heart, it’s never preachy. It’s also one of the best portrayals of someone completely and utterly ruining his own and several other people’s lives I have ever seen.
The 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Carrie” is well known enough that a remake seems unnecessary. Director Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) proves that wrong, modernizing the setting, highlighting the modern tropes in the story, and drawing fantastic performances out of her cast. She also drenches it with a bleak, heartbreaking horror. With the focus on bullying in recent years, “Carrie” is a very timely film, but also one not for the faint of heart.
Directed by: Edgar Wright Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddy Marsan, Rated: R for pervasive language including sexual references. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have brought us a pair of films that manage to be several things at once: “Shaun of the Dead” was a romantic comedy, a zombie movie, and a coming-of-age flick; “Hot Fuzz” was a buddy cop movie, a conspiracy thriller, and a tale about finding a place you belong where you least expect it. They continue this pattern with what they’re calling the third installment in “The Cornetto Trilogy,” “The World’s End.” It’s a sci-fi thriller, a story about the difficulty of becoming an adult, and a look at the importance of friendship. Back in high school, Gary King (Simon Pegg) and his friends were an inseparable group. After graduation, they attempted a legendary pub crawl in their tiny hometown, The Golden Mile: twelve pubs, have at
“Kick-Ass 2,” the follow up to 2010’s “Kick-Ass”, seems unsure of what exactly it wants to be. The first film was an (admittedly very, very violent) exploration of what happens when ordinary people try to be superheroes, and the psychological toll that takes on ordinary kids. The sequel seems to be trying to continue that theme (and the violence) but also examine identity, compare the trials of adolescence to the trials of fighting crooks, the importance of genuine friendship, and throw in a little slapstick, juvenile humor for good measure. It’s kind of a mess, and how much you like it (or indeed, whether you like it at all) will depend heavily on your tolerance for incoherence and whether any of the elements included are dealbreakers.