Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) becomes evil incarnate and grows horns (hence the title), and uses his new found power to find the killer of his recently deceased girlfriend (Juno Temple). The story itself is interesting and at times clever, but the tonal switch from drama to dark comedy to horror is a big problem—and the film’s eventual undoing. Overall, the performances by Radcliffe and supporting cast are very good. The production design and its special effects for an indie film are quite exceptional.
Godard’s 3D experimental film explores ideas that any thoughtful college student contemplates during their years of self-actualization. This is not an interesting film, and lacks any attempt to be clever in its approach to the “destruction” of language. There is only one moment of uniqueness to saying adieu, and that is a gimmick he uses with multiple images in 3D, but even that is a feeble attempt. As tiresome as the film is, credit must be given to a master like Godard that attempts to do something as heady as this film, even if he fails miserably.
Bill Murray’s performance as Vincent—a cranky, yet kind hearted, alcoholic gambler who has sex with a pregnant prostitute (Naomi Watts)—is a good reason to see Theodore Melfi’ directorial debut (he also wrote and produced). Jaeden Lieberher, the boy that Vincent watches and mentors as his mother (Melissa McCarthy) works long shifts at the hospital, is also good. The first two-thirds of the film is pretty much by the numbers, but an unexpected twist in the third act makes Murray’s performance and the film all the more memorable.
GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME is a touching and tragic tribute documentary of the legendary musician. Campbell, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s at the beginning of the film, is encouraged by his wife and family to go on a music tour to promote his latest album. Surrounded by a few of his children that play in the band, the film documents the early concerts like a family home movie. But the film’s poignancy comes later during some gut-wrenching scenes when Campbell is succumbing to the memory ravaging disease of Alzheimer’s during the last leg of the tour.
Director and screenwriter Ruben Östlund’s film, FORCE MAJEURE, the winner of 2014 Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard, explores the fragility of the male ego. Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), the father of a model Swedish family on a ski vacation in the French Alps, has a flaw in his “masculinity” revealed when Ebba, his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli), shields their two kids from an oncoming avalanche while he runs (first grabbing his iPhone) for personal safety. This single act of perceived cowardice threatens Tomas’ status as the family’s patriarch, and indirectly puts into question his manliness.
REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS gives more of an impression rather than an actual story of the Chinese gangs and the human trafficking that was happening in New York City in the late 1980s and 90s. Devoid of scenes and replete with montage sequences, we never get a true sense of the film’s characters. A bright spot was the performance of Shuya Chang, who played Tina, a shy young woman who despises the violence of the Chinese gangs. The film had all the elements to be a great, but unfortunately it just isn’t that good.
Anchored by a superb performance from Michael Keaton and bravado direction by Alejandro González Iñárritu, BIRDMAN is a whirlwind of digitally connected long takes about a washed-up commercial film actor, Riggan Thomson (Keaton), trying to regain relevance by opening a play on Broadway that he adapts, directs, and stars. But Keaton and Iñárritu aren’t the only ones doing the heavy lifting, Edward Norton is wonderful as a smug and arrogant Broadway actor and Emma Stone, who plays Keaton’s wide-eyed, drug rehabbed daughter, is also great. There is a lot to like about this film, but there is a lot more to love.
FURY is a World War II film that is more a product of the modern plot-driven action film than an accurate historical period piece. Laced with gruesome imagery and excellent action scenes, the film gives little, if any, depth to the five characters manning a Sherman tank as they make a final push towards Berlin. Two performances do standout: Brad Pitt as Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier and Shia LaBeouf as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan. The other performances by Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal are good, but they are never able to get beyond stereotype.
A lively and vibrant-looking animation, THE BOOK OF LIFE is bookended by an unnecessary storytelling device of a present day museum guide regaling the story of two young Mexicans, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum), vying for the love of a young Mexican woman, Maria (Zoe Saldana), to a bunch of school kids. After a slow start establishing the love triangle, the film does pick up its pace and becomes enjoyable. The animation itself is colorful and unique—the people of the Mexican village are created like wooden toys! Overall, it is a fun experience, but not a great one.
After starring in the blockbuster TWILIGHT, Kristen Stewart continues to make good role choices that proves she’s has acting chops. In CAMP X-RAY Ms. Stewart plays an Army MP at Guantanamo Bay. She befriends Ali, played marvelously by Payman Maadi (best known for his performance in Farhadi’s A SEPARATION), who has been imprisoned there for eight years. Their relationship effectively demonstrates reasons for imprisoning detainees are not as black and white as the U.S. Government wants us to believe. Where the film scores high marks in revealing the darker underbelly of the military lifestyle.
Justin Simien’s directorial debut (he also wrote it) is a satire that explores racism at a college campus from both its white and the black community. The film is more thought provoking than funny (although there are some funny moments), more engaging than entertaining. It is a bit preachy at times, but the film is intelligent in its execution and smart in its presentation at revealing racism. Laden with several storylines, Simien deftly weaves each story to its maximum effectiveness. There is a lot being said about racism in modern America in 108 minutes, but all of it needs to be heard.
All the pieces to making GONE GIRL are perfect. Gillian Flynn’s screen adaption of her book of the same title is a great modern day thriller. David Fincher’s direction is excellent at maintaining the intrigue and suspense in a visual temporal puzzle of lies and deceptions. Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry (who knew!), and Neil Patrick Harris are perfect choices for their roles. And Pike is at her worst (see the film and you’ll understand what I mean because her performance is amazing) playing Amy Dunne. This is a film that will keep you guessing from start to finish in a good way.
Damien Chazelle’s great second feature film about a promising young drummer attending a music conservatory is supported by amazing performances from J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. Simmons, especially, is hypnotic as a tyrannical instructor using military drill sergeant tactics to get the best from the school’s top jazz band. Miles, overshadowed by Simmons, keeps up with his co-star, and by the end, in a flourish of pure moxy, demonstrates that WHIPLASH is his film. It should also be noted that Tom Cross, the film’s editor, does a masterful job of editing that compliments the film’s musical rhythm and themes.
An ultra plot-driven, re-imagining of the Dracula mythology, that attempts to fit into the mold of the super-hero adventure genre. Luke Evans does his best as the lead in this heavily laden special effects film that lacks any true moments. That said, the set pieces are quite spectacular and fun to watch, but that alone can’t save this film from its attempt at pleasing fanboys.
Jason Reitman has directed some really great films over the past nine years—THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, JUNO, UP IN THE AIR, YOUNG ADULT—but MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is not one of them. What Reitman is attempting to make is a film that is rather insightful and intellectual about the societal disconnect in the age of technological interpersonal connectivity, but he just doesn’t pull it off. Perhaps there are too many plotlines or Emma Thompson’s ill-advised narration, but his message (which I know there is one—Mr. Reitman is quite smart) is muddied.
The strength of THE EQUALIZER is that for the first 30 minutes of the film it methodically and effectively setups the story and its characters. This ardent approach to development makes the turn of Denzel Washington’s character from mild-manner man to a badass killing machine all the more effective. This is not a great film, but the team of director Antoine Fuqua and Washington who worked together on TRAINING DAY, have created a fun film to watch as Washington systematically and violently misleads and destroys the bad guys.