Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years as filmmakers struggled to work out how to blend its inventive mismatch of genres. Enter Colin Trevorrow, who's first film Safety Not Included was a mix of comedy, drama and time-travel adventure. In between making blockbusters for the Jurassic and Star Wars franchises, Trevorrow invests this unconventional drama-cum-thriller with plenty of heart, eliciting terrific performances from his central cast. But it never feels very authentic.
The story centres on single mother Susan (Naomi Watts), whose complex life is managed by her genius 11-year-old son Henry (Jaeden Lieberher). Adorable younger brother Peter (Room's Jacob Tremblay) offers plenty of support, but it's Henry who keeps everything running and supports the family with his savvy investments. Then he begins to suspect that his classmate Christina (Maggie Ziegler), who lives next door, is being abused by her stepdad Glenn (Breaking Bad's Dean Norris). But Glenn is the police commissioner, so Henry knows that calling the cops is useless. Instead, he makes an elaborate plan and writes it down in his notebook so his mother can take action.
The film's first half is a fascinating drama about the delicate balance in this unusual family. Beautifully played with layers of resonance by Watts, Lieberher and Tremblay, these are people we would like to know a lot more about, and we settle in to discover their secrets. All three are excellent, continually surprising the audience with insightful character touches that make each person vivid and likeable, even with their flaws. And then the Hitchockian plot kicks in, the suspense gurgles over and everything begins to turn rather implausible. This is kind of the point of the story - that experience is perhaps more important than intelligence - but it's much more difficult to engage with.
Continue reading: The Book Of Henry Review
Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while grappling meaningfully with some very big topics. Set in present-day America, it's a story for today's social climate, but it feels like a classic Western in the way a pair of desperado bank robbers are pursued by a sly detective. It's also beautifully directed and skilfully acted to pull the audience all the way in.
In rural Texas, Tanner (Ben Foster) has just been released from prison when he agrees to help his brother Toby (Chris Pine) stage a series of small bank robberies to earn enough cash to guarantee a future for Toby's sons. Their mother has only recently died, and both are feeling a sense of pointlessness about life, willing to risk everything for a shot at something. But while Toby plans the heists carefully, Tanner is a hothead who continually attracts attention. Sure enough, Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) catches their scent, working with his loyal but sarcastic partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) to try to get one step ahead of the crimes. And since he's not looking forward to his impending retirement, Marcus is in no hurry.
Thankfully, director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) is in no hurry either, steadily building the suspense with each step in the story, keeping the focus tightly on the characters. This means that several scenes are breathlessly intense. There are so many intriguing things going on here that the film nearly bursts with resonance, from the old-versus-new world themes to the economic reality that has put Toby in this mess to begin with, and the corporate greed that's offering him a way out. Pine and Foster are perfectly cast in these roles, and both deliver layered performances that suggest at a more complex back-story than the one we learn. Opposite them, Bridges is the picture of calm, a terrific role that he seems to glide through effortlessly. But this is a carefully gauged performance that nails the tricky balance between tenacity, intelligence and grit.
Continue reading: Hell Or High Water Review
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
Like Benjamin Button, this drama plays around with the human lifespan, is slickly produced and feels far too serious for its own good. There's a sweeping romanticism to the premise, but it's ultimately so sentimental that it becomes rather corny. Fans of Nicholas Sparks-style movies will adore every golden-hued moment and yearning glance. More cynical viewers will enjoy the premise and performances, but will find the tidal wave of plot twists too yucky to bear.
In present-day San Francisco, Adaline (Blake Lively) is preparing to change identities as she does every decade or so. She's been 29 since a fateful accident in 1933 stopped her ageing process, due to a convergence of random factors at the time of a car crash, and she doesn't want to arouse suspicion. The only person who knows her secret is her daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn), who after all this time now introduces herself as Adaline's grandmother. Then the dashing Ellis (Michiel Huisman) tenaciously starts pursuing Adaline, and Flemming encourages her to stop running. So she decides to let herself live for a change, travelling with Ellis for a weekend to meet his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker). But fate has a few more surprises in store.
The story is told by an omniscient narrator (Hugh Ross) and camerawork that often stares down from a godlike point of view, as if Adaline has no say in her own story. And without a sense of humour or irony, it's tricky for a film audience to root for her. The story is engaging, and it's enjoyable to watch the events unfold, but the moment the plot loudly clanks into gear the film becomes difficult to like. Revelations and coincidences pile on top of each other in the story's final act, making everything both achingly emotional and suspiciously convenient.
Continue reading: The Age Of Adaline Review
Frankly, if you put Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin in your movie, you don't really need to worry about the script: we'd happily watch them do just about anything on-screen. And here they sieze every hint of humour, drama and action to keep us entertained and make us care about their characters. Indeed, they maintain their dignity by refusing to give in to the screenplay's lazy old-age jokes and convoluted plot.
The story kicks off when Val (Pacino) gets out of prison after 28 years behind bars. His only remaining friend is Doc (Walken), who lets him stay in his humble apartment. But Val wants to get back in the game, and tries to get Doc to abandon his austere retirement. Then Val learns that Doc is only alive because gangster Claphands (Margolis) is forcing him to kill Val on his release - an act of vengeance against both of them. With nothing to lose, they liberate their dying buddy Hirsch (Arkin) from hospital and decide to go out with a bang.
Screenwriter Haidle seems to want this to be a geriatric Apatow-style comedy, as these men continually talk frankly about their sex lives (including of course a tired Viagra joke). But this is more squirm-inducing than amusing. And director Stevens lets the action set-pieces drag on too long, trying to crank up the energy by giving every scene a madcap spin. But none of this was necessary with these actors: they are geniuses at adding zing to even the most weakly written and directed scenes, keeping us engaged by constantly upstaging each other. They may be past their prime, but they prove that there's plenty of life still in them.
Continue reading: Stand Up Guys Review
Mainstream audiences may be disappointed that this isn't a gritty thriller pitting the acting talents of Gosling and Cooper against each other, as it's instead a boldly artful, often moving drama. The three-part structure may soften the emotional punch, but a raw script and intimate direction let the actors find real resonance in every scene.
The title is a loose translation of the Mohawk word Schenectady, the New York town where the story is set. In the first section, carnival stunt rider Luke (Gosling) returns to town and tries to rekindle a previous fling with Romina (Mendes). When he discovers that his last visit produced a son, he decides to leave the circus and settle down, taking a job with a local mechanic (Mendelsohn). To make some extra cash, the two team up to rob banks, which puts Luke on a collision course with beat cop Avery (Cooper), who has a wife (Byrne) and young son of his own. Years later, their now-teen sons Jason and AJ (DeHaan and Cohen) discover a past connection they knew nothing about.
To explore the generational ramifications of these men's actions, the film switches perspective twice, first from Luke to Avery and finally to Jason and AJ. But the script never simplifies anyone into "good" or "bad": these are complex people facing difficult situations the best way they can. And sometimes their choices lead to tragic consequences. With this structure, though, the characters are somewhat fragmented, and only Avery emerges as a fully rounded figure, giving Cooper the best role in the film as he becomes unable to work out what is right and wrong, even though he knows it in his gut.
Continue reading: The Place Beyond The Pines Review
Far better made than it has any right to be, this cheesy 70s-style thriller is given a thoroughly engaging kick by veteran filmmaker Hackford working outside his usual dramatic genre. It's predictable and far too long, but Hackford grounds everything in gritty reality, avoiding obnoxious effects work while indulging in entertaining innuendo and riotously nasty action sequences.
None of this is much of a stretch for the cast, and Statham's Parker is essentially the same character he always plays: a ruthlessly efficient, indestructible criminal with a conscience. After a gang of thugs (including Chiklis and Collins) betrays him following a fairgrounds heist, Parker miraculously recovers from his hideous injuries and heads to Florida to get revenge. He uses local estate agent Leslie (Lopez) to find the gang's lair, and she's instantly attracted to the way he fills out his designer suit. Living with her soap-addict mum (LuPone), Leslie is looking for a wealthy man to rescue her. And she's already too involved when she realises that Parker isn't who he seems to be.
There isn't much to the plot, which is packed with contrived twists and turns and never follows through the intriguing possibilities along the way. At least the film avoids the usual action cliches, as Hackford sharply orchestrates each fight sequence to make it both lucid and startlingly brutal. This earthy approach keeps things relatively believable, until Parker emerges with yet another serious injury that doesn't slow him down at all. Meanwhile, Hackford injects plenty of eyebrow-raising flirtation that keeps us smiling. Statham and Lopez may not be stretching themselves as actors, but they clearly have a lot of fun circling around each other like dogs on heat.
Continue reading: Parker Review
Aspiring author Aaron (Rock) is preparing his father's funeral amid all kinds of distractions. His novelist brother Ryan (Lawrence) jets in from New York, but won't help at all. His wife Michelle (Hall) is pushing him to move out from their mother's (Devine) house. The boyfriend (Marsden) of his cousin (Saldana) has just accidentally been given a hallucinogen. Uncle Russell (Glover) is on the rampage. And a small man (Dinklage) has something shocking to announce.
Through all of this, Aaron's hypochondriac best friend Norman (Morgan) tries to maintain some semblance of order. But he's useless.
Continue reading: Death At A Funeral Review
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