With its darkly emotive themes and brittle humour, this well-made drama by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) isn't quite what it appears to be. It's not, for example, an exploration of grief, although that's in here. And it also isn't meant to be taken literally, because it's more of a parable. The main clue is in the moment when the central character comments that everything in his life seems to be a metaphor. Indeed it is. And this heightened sense of meaning makes the entire film unusually vivid.
The film opens as Wall Street banker Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) emerges unscratched from a car crash that kills his beautiful wife Julia (Heather Lind). Unable to grieve, he begins to feel like the world around him is shifting inexplicably. So he starts taking things apart to see how they work, or why they don't. Soon he's dismantling his entire house. His father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper), who is also his boss, becomes increasingly perplexed at Davis' erratic behaviour. And the only person Davis confides in is customer services rep Karen (Naomi Watts) and her confused 15-year-old son Chris (Judah Lewis). As Davis worms his way into their world, he slowly begins to see his own life more clearly.
This is a film about how some people let themselves drift along in the expected ways, never questioning what happens even though it doesn't feel quite right. In Davis' case, his wife's death jolts him awake. He begins to see the real world around him for the first time, including the absurdities of the life he had built around himself. Gyllenhaal invests Davis with remarkable layers of emotion as a generally cheerful guy being pulled apart from within by something he initially can't understand. His reactions to people around him grow increasingly more honest as the film progresses. And by the end, he's defying expectations and conventions in ways that feel shocking but are actually bracingly truthful.
Continue reading: Demolition Review
Polly Draper - Opening night after party for the New Group production Buried Child, held at the Out Hotel - Arrivals. at Out Hotel, - New York, New York, United States - Wednesday 17th February 2016
Davis Mitchell is very successful in what he does for a living, though he's not as productive when it comes to his marriage. He's an investment banker stuck in the same old daily routine and he tends not to ever think about anything else. However, he is forced to re-evaluate himself and the way he lives his life when his wife Julia dies suddenly in a car accident. His father-in-law and boss Phil doesn't think much of Davis, but encourages him to pick himself up off the ground and start appreciating the world around him. After deciding to file a complaint to a vending machine company, Davis ends up writing numerous letters about his personal struggles and confessions. When they are discovered by a woman named Karen whose struggling to overcome problems of her own, they start a friendship that will encourage Davis to take apart his life, and re-build.
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An inventive take on the rom-com genre, this genuinely hilarious film is even more engaging because its characters and premise are unexpectedly honest. It also has a level of realistic unpredictability, as the feisty characters refuse to behave like the people we normally see in the movies. And the story is consistently laugh-out-loud funny even as the plot is essentially very serious.
It centres on struggling stand-up comic Donna (Jenny Slate), whose regular venue is an open-mic bar in Brooklyn where she's offered moral support by her sparky pals Nellie and Joey (Gaby Hoffmann and Gabe Liedman). She may not make much money, but she has a great life. Her boyfriend (Paul Briganti), on the other hand, is tired of being the butt of all of her best jokes. So he dumps her. Donna reacts by having a meltdown on-stage and then getting drunk in another bar with Max (Jake Lacy). He may be a stranger, but he seems like a nice guy, so she takes him home. A few weeks later she discovers that she's pregnant, and her emotionally supportive friends and parents (Polly Draper and Richard Kind) can't help her make the big decisions ahead of her.
This is a film about a young woman finally taking responsibility for her own life, facing up to some difficult responsibilities and moving forward. But since this is a comedy, it's of course not very smooth sailing. Slate plays the role with impeccable comical timing, somehow making the rather pathetic Donna thoroughly likeable. And the actors around her add crisp humour exactly where its needed, providing much more than mere comic relief: each one is an integral element in Donna's journey. One of the most cringe-inducing sequences features the terrific David Cross as a predatory old friend who offers Donna a riotously messy distraction.
Continue reading: Obvious Child Review
Donna Stern is a comedienne from Brooklyn who has a very unfunny meltdown on stage after finding out that her best friend has been sleeping with her boyfriend. Subsequently, she loses her stage residency and seeks comfort in her supportive parents and the friends she can still trust. In a bid to ease her pain, she makes a brave move to venture out of her home and she eventually meets a handsome man of a similar personality named Max. He is intrigued by her unapologetic honesty and boundless energy but, after their one night stand, Donna finds herself with one more huge problem. She is now pregnant and feeling pretty dead set on having an abortion, but first she has to tell Max; something that proves harder than it sounds when it becomes obvious that he has made her feel happy again.
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Thrillers don't get much more enjoyable than this one, which shifts cleverly from an issue-based drama to an intriguing mystery and finally into riotously camp mayhem. Over his career, Soderbergh has proven himself adept at all three approaches, and the way he and writer Burns morph from one to the other is so mercilessly entertaining that we can't help but smile. And the cast is having a great time playing along with them.
It starts as an expose of psychotropic drugs, as Emily (Mara) struggles with depression after her husband Martin (Tatum) is released following a four-year prison term for insider trading. Emily's therapist Dr Banks (Law) prescribes a series of anti-anxiety pills to help her, adjusting the medication until the side effects even out. But something still isn't right, and a fatal incident leads to a criminal trial. Meanwhile, Banks begins his own investigation into the case, consulting Emily's previous therapist (Zeta-Jones). But the fallout from all of this is threatening both his career and his marriage to Dierdre (Shaw).
Soderbergh gives the film a seductive tone that's irresistible, with his own gleaming cinematography and witty editing, plus a teasing Thomas Newman score. This allows the actors to create layered characters who can constantly surprise us along the way. Law holds our sympathies as a desperate man trying against all odds to get his life back, while Zeta-Jones is icy and dismissive until her character takes a lively turn about halfway in. But it's Mara who's the real revelation in a tricky role. As Emily's world seems to shift and collapse around her, she reveals an astonishing array of emotions and intentions.
Continue reading: Side Effects Review
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