Review: Collateral Beauty

Director: David Frankel (Miami Rhapsody, The Devil Wears Prada, Marley and Me, Hope Springs)
Writer: Allan Loeb (Wall Street 2, Rock of Ages, Here Comes the Boom)
Producers: Michael Sugar, Allan Loeb, Bard Dorros, Anthony Bregman
Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslow, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 97 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


Love, Time, Death. The new instant hate watch holiday classic Collateral Beauty begins by telling us that these three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for Love. We wish we had more Time. We fear Death. In a way, you can apply the same principle to the experience of watching Collateral Beauty. In watching it, you waste your Time (97 minutes to be exact, if you stay for the whole credits trying to decompress what you just witnessed and contemplate your own existence), you pray for Death to offer you a sweet release from this monstrosity, and yet you Love every second of it because for all of its deformed themes, insane plot developments and bizarre decisions from top-notch actors to get involved with such a project (Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and even more are somehow all present and actually delivering these lines with a straight face), Collateral Beauty is one of the most deliriously entertaining movies of 2016. It’s only fitting that it comes at the tail end of a year that would have been absolutely hysterical to witness from a distance, but instead was a genuine nightmare come to life to experience up close and personal.

To call a movie “stupid” feels like a childish way to criticize something, but I suppose that fits a movie as insulting to the viewer’s intelligence as this. It’s truly something that needs to be seen to be believed. I thought about simply explaining what happens in this film to allow people to understand how overwhelmingly ridiculous it all is, but the truth is that if I wrote down everything that happens in this movie scene for scene, you genuinely would not believe me. It goes beyond the fact that the trailers and logline for the film that we were all sold on totally misrepresent how the film actually plays out, essentially spoiling the movie in a bizarrely indirect way that almost feels like the studio hated it and was passive aggressively sabotaging it. It goes beyond the fact that the whole plot of the movie centers around an idea that makes the people we’re supposed to care and root for horrible human beings who have no concept of how to help a “friend” whose young child tragically died. It goes beyond the fact that the movie ends with not one, but two of the most INSANE twists I’ve ever seen in a movie, which on top of being wildly outrageous in their own right are made even more extreme by how wildly incompetent the handling of their big reveals are. Ultimately, every scene in Collateral Beauty is some kind of wonder to behold – just not in the sense of wonder that they wanted it to be.

It’s easy to see what the people responsible for Collateral Beauty (namely director David Frankel and writer Allan Loeb) were going for – if you couldn’t then just watch a single interview with any member of the cast currently on the talk show circuit and wait five seconds before they bring up It’s A Wonderful Life and Frank Capra. This was intended to be a throwback to those wholesome holiday films of old that made you smile and feel loved and warm inside. There’s a place for that kind of gooey confection, but the thing is that there’s a way to play that spirit in earnest to make it go down smooth and cheerful. On the other end there’s Collateral Beauty, which is so over the top in its corny tone and its bizarrely arrogant writing, so satisfied with what Loeb clearly seems to think are some revolutionary twists despite the fact that you can see one of them coming the entire film and the other is so ridiculous that no one would be insane enough to even consider it, that you practically feel insulted the entire time you’re watching it. Part of me wants to do whatever I can to make sure that no one in the world sees Collateral Beauty because I wouldn’t want to inflict this kind of debacle on anyone, even my worst enemy. The other part of me wants everyone possible to see it, as I don’t think I had a more enjoyable experience this year than absolutely tearing this movie to shreds in my head while watching it. No matter what, one thing is for certain: Collateral Beauty is exactly the movie that best represents what a truly insane mess the year 2016 was.


Review: Manchester by the Sea

Director: Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret)
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Producers: Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward, Kevin J. Walsh
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 137 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


2016 doesn’t deserve a film as good as Manchester By The Sea. To say that Kenneth Lonergan’s latest is the best film of his career may not seem like it means much, given that it’s only his third feature in 16 years after You Can Count on Me and the notoriously delayed Margaret. However, considering the fact that those two films are near masterpieces, giving Manchester By The Sea that qualification means that it ranks among the best of the century so far, and quite easily stands as the best film I’ve seen this year with only a month left to go for the unlucky contenders looking to unseat it. It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten so few Lonergan films over the course of such a long time, especially when you can’t turn around without another superhero extravaganza smacking you in the face, but if it takes this long for him to consistently deliver at this level of quality, then it is damn sure worth the wait. Manchester By The Sea takes the ideas and the skills that he’s been honing in his craft over his first two features and fine tunes them to create something devastating, beguiling, incredibly intimate, and emotionally raw.

Centered on janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who returns to his hometown that gives the film its title after the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lonergan’s film is as honest an exploration of grief as we’ve seen in the movies, examining both the immediate after effect of a devastating loss, as well as the ripples that continue to live on with us years after the fact, as the present day storyline is cut in with flashbacks to explain why Lee has shut himself off from the world to such a degree. Lonergan uses a brilliant and unconventional structure to dole out these fragments of the past in a way that feels almost poetic, like the waves of the sea splashing up against the present day as Lee struggles to face all of these old memories and suffers the guilt and self-destructive anger that he’s tried so hard to bury inside by running away all these years. Against his knowledge, Joe has named him the guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), forcing Lee to stick around longer than he had planned to try to figure out what to do with the boy, but it’s only a matter of time before the weight of this trauma crashes into him and finally knocks him over.

Led by an absolute powerhouse performance from the understated, incomparable Casey Affleck, there are scenes in Manchester By The Sea as devastating, grueling, almost impossible to watch through sheer heartache as any I’ve seen in recent years, and yet at the same time Lonergan knows that life is never a monotonous experience. Even in the most tragic of times, where it feels like all of our pain is insurmountable, there are moments of genuine humor, of awkwardness, of sheer unencumbered humanity that pop up to cut through the tension. The world doesn’t stop being the world just because we’re suffering, and so rarely has a filmmaker been able to capture this concept in such a genuine, organic way as this. Manchester By The Sea is an utterly wrenching watch at times, particularly in one standout scene featuring a performance from the great Michelle Williams (who is such a welcome sight to see back on our screens this year) that just tears the house down, but what’s most surprising is how hilarious it can be as well. Lonergan has such an acute finger on the pulse of humanity, all of its highs and lows and everything in between, and Manchester By The Sea is the most fully realized display of his powers to date.

Review: The Light Between Oceans

Director: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines)
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance
Novel: M.L. Stedman
Producer: Jeffrey Clifford
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery, Jack Thompson, Thomas Unger
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 133 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

After creating his first two films (Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines) from scratch, filmmaker Derek Cianfrance decided it was time to work from someone else’s material for his third effort, an adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s popular 2012 novel The Light Between Oceans. On paper, it’s seemingly a natural fit for the man, as even though the material doesn’t stem originally from his own brain it still fits very much within the themes that he explored in his previous efforts. Family is key here, and that’s what lighthouse keeper (and World War I veteran) Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is trying to create at his remote home off the coast of Western Australia with his new wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander). After two miscarriages, hope is seemingly far away for the anguished couple, until one day a rowboat washes up on their shore with a dead man and a living baby inside. Isabel, distraught over the losses she has faced, convinces Tom to keep the child and raise it as their own, despite him knowing that they are making a mistake by not reporting the incident. Surely this will all end well.


Frankly put, the plot for The Light Between Oceans is absolutely ludicrous. Things only become more absurd once we reach the introduction of Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), a woman whose husband rowed off to sea with their infant child and never returned, who crosses paths with Tom and Isabel when they make a return to the local town to christen their new baby. The Light Between Oceans is a laughable melodrama, and it ends up being quite an odd choice of material for Cianfrance, as he delivers it all with his usual grit and seriousness, making it seem even more daft as it is played so unrelentingly straight. He also unfortunately burdens it with the follies that have plagued his previous efforts when it comes to storytelling, with the 135-minute film becoming an utter chore to get through in its second half due to the director’s poor pacing, unnecessary structural chinks, and some faults in depicting the passage of time. It all equates to a film that isn’t lacking in emotion, something which naturally pours off the screen due to the larger than life nature of the source material, but is far too cumbersome and ambitious for its own good. Cianfrance continues to be a director who doesn’t know when enough is enough, trying to do too much with his movies instead of realizing that sometimes doing less would be of greater benefit.
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Review: Sully

Director: Clint Eastwood (High Plains Drifter, Unforgiven, A Perfect World, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, American Sniper)
Screenplay: Todd Komarnicki
Novel: Chesley Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow
Producers: Tim Moore, Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Valerie Mahaffey, Delphi Harrington, Mike O’Malley, Laura Linney
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 95 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

The Miracle on the Hudson, in which Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was forced to make an emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, saving all 155 lives on board, lasted all of 208 seconds. For Sully, director Clint Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki have to stretch that out into a 95-minute feature film. The result… well, the result is a film that feels like 208 seconds stretched out to 95 minutes. Komarnicki’s script (based on a book by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow) is a bit of a mess, unnecessarily jumping all over time in order to try to find loopholes to take this relatively thin story and make it something that justifies a feature length. Unfortunately, he can’t figure out the way in. While the idea of focusing on Sully’s (played by Tom Hanks) mental turmoils in the days following the landing, as him and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are investigated by the airline to make sure they did everything right in their situation, is a solid one, Komarnicki can’t really get into the meat of the character, instead resorting to repetitively hitting the same beats in almost the exact same way over and over again.

The result is a feature from a master filmmaker who feels like he threw in the towel a bit, as Sully only feels like half of a film, if that. Honestly, it’s probably closer to a third. There’s plenty of emotional exploration that could have been mined here to sustain a feature film, but whether it was Eastwood’s laziness, Komarnicki’s lack of skill, or a combination of the two, what ended up on the screen is a shambles. The limited timeline is a nice idea, keeping Sully restricted to a hotel room, unable to see his wife (Laura Linney) or children, but doing so also confines the script in a way that Komarnicki isn’t able to maneuver around in a manner that’s convincing or compelling. Instead of rising to the challenge, we instead are forced to sit through the same nightmare sequences that capitalize on 9/11 imagery showing the worst case scenario where Sully doesn’t succeed and crashes into any random building in New York. Alternatively, we also get to witness the fateful flight itself as shown from about 19 different angles chopped up and spliced out over the course of the movie, whether it’s the actual flight as it happened or any number of reenactments that fastidiously put us through the same motions. Further stupefying in Komarnicki’s total lack of storytelling ability, the one time that we do get an actual straight run of the flight from start to finish, it comes at a totally random moment in the middle of a phone call between Sully and his wife.

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Review: Suicide Squad

suicide-squad-posterDirector: David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch, Harsh Times, Street Kings)
Writer: David Ayer
Producers: Richard Suckle, Charles Roven
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Joel Kinnaman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 123 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


I want to start off this “review” of Suicide Squad, the third film in Warner Bros’ new attempt at building a universe out of DC comics characters to rival what Marvel is doing with their cinematic universe, by apologizing for the somewhat lax approach I am about to take to writing this. Rather than putting in a decent amount of time and effort towards proper format and review structure, with an introduction, middle, and conclusion, I’m instead going to take a more stream-of-consciousness style dig into my feelings on David Ayer’s botched, studio-meddled disaster of a product. This is mostly because I don’t feel like giving the energy that comes with a more legitimate review to this piece of trash, but also because something a lot more messy, chaotic, and poorly constructed actually feels like a proper fit for a movie that can be described as all of those things. If David Ayer and Warner Bros can blow upwards of $200 million on this shambolic production without thinking twice about the fans (of the comics, of movies in general, or really of life at large) blowing their hard-earned cash to see it, then why should any of us actually give them more of our valuable time than is necessary? It doesn’t seem right. Then again, nothing about what’s happened here does.

Suicide Squad is unquestionably one of the worst films of not only this year, but of at least this decade so far. Man of Steel was a complete bomb, and Batman v Superman somehow lowered the bar even further than that, yet I honestly don’t think Ayer was able to measure up to that basement level standard. Warner Bros keeps dropping the ball monumentally with each one of these DC movies, making it seem like there’s no way that it could possibly get worse, then are apparently determined to prove just how wrong that is. I truly fear for the state of Wonder Woman (which at the moment actually seems promising) if this is what we’ve been given so far, as no company has been this consistent at delivering absolute garbage to this extreme. While Batman v Superman was an overstuffed disaster, its biggest offense was mostly that it was unbearably dull. Suicide Squad is just as bland, despite how hard it tries to give itself a sense of energy that didn’t exist in that previous effort, and despite the fact that it’s actually half an hour shorter, yet somehow feels just as long, if not more so. Adding on to that, though, it is also a total fucking mess from top to bottom. I truly can not think of a movie that I’ve seen that was so blatantly torn to shreds in post-production in the editing room, to a point where it feels like no single scene belongs in the same movie as any other one, and that no one working on the film even realized they were working on the same one as all of these other people involved. Ayer clearly has no control as a writer or director, the cast feel like they are worlds apart from one another in every way, and the studio clearly cut the film to hell trying to salvage whatever they could out of the mess that he gave them. They weren’t successful.

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Review: Star Trek Beyond

stbeyond-posterDirector: Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow, Annapolis, Fast & Furious 3-6)
Writers: Doug Jones, Simon Pegg
Producers: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 120 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the rebooted version of the long-running series spearheaded by mastermind and all-around geek legend J.J. Abrams, is distinguishable from its predecessors for two important reasons. First, it’s been released in 2016, which marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise, five decades since it all began with Gene Roddenberry’s original television series starring William Shatner and the late Leonard Nimoy (who receives a touching tribute in the film’s closing credits, as does the recently departed Anton Yelchin, who reprises his role in the film as crew member Pavel Chekov). Second, it isn’t directed by J.J. Abrams. Although the leader of this new incarnation of these iconic characters does remain on board as producer, he quickly departed the director’s seat in favor of that other epic space saga (the one he not so secretly always favored), and was replaced by Justin Lin, who is most known for directing four of the Fast & Furious films. Both of these things have a heavy influence on Star Trek Beyond, and both tie in to the way that the film takes a more grounded, less spectacle-driven approach that feels different from what Abrams had done with the series, while still very much within the same spirit.

Any time you get three films into a series, you should have a pretty good idea as to what works and what doesn’t. Whether it’s from critical or fan response, or just seeing the final product yourself, you can see the places where you want to try and keep things the same, and where you should maybe think about changing it up a bit. It’s no secret that the first two films in this new trilogy, particularly the second, received some heavy backlash from the hardcore fanbase over what they felt was a betrayal of the spirit that Roddenberry had originally envisioned this franchise as being. It’s not surprising, really, as Abrams has always favored big spectacle and cinematic wonder over anything else, so the larger social and political themes were somewhat abandoned in his explosive popcorn blockbusters. Those worked for some people, myself included, but they weren’t necessarily what Star Trek was all about. With Abrams gone, and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof replaced by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg (another geek legend and self-confessed Trekker, as well as actor in the series) on script duties, Star Trek Beyond makes a noticeable effort to return things to where the series started, stripping down the bombast in favor of a more analog, character-driven take.

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DVD Review: Miles Ahead

milesahead-posterDirector: Don Cheadle
Writers: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle
Producers: Robert Ogden Barnum, Don Cheadle, Pamela Hirsch, Darryl Porter, Daniel Wagner, Vince Wilburn Jr., Lenore Zerman
Starring: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 100 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


A long-brewing passion project for Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead sees the actor making his big screen debut as director and writer, as well as starring as legendary musician Miles Davis (he also produced the film – no word on whether or not he did catering). It’s a noble endeavor that the star clearly put his back into getting made, but there’s also a lot of kinks here that maybe someone with more experience behind the camera could have ironed out. You do have to give Cheadle credit for not simply making another dull greatest hits hagiography, the kind of musician biopic we see all too often. Instead, Miles Ahead uses a framing device that presents its story as if it’s a piece of music that Miles is playing for Rolling Stone reporter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor). In it, Cheadle’s script (co-written by Steven Baigelman) weaves together the tumultuous relationship between Davis and Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) with a completely fictional story about Davis and Brill teaming up to try and recover a session tape that was stolen by Michael Stuhlbarg’s sleazy producer and Keith Stanfield’s aspiring musician.

It’s a bold move for Cheadle to make, brazenly fictionalizing part of this telling of the life of a real person in a genre that is often criticized for not telling the whole truth, but ironically it’s the made up stuff that works the best here. Cheadle and McGregor make for a very fun duo, and watching them stumble over themselves as they run around the city on this crime caper is an absolute delight. Unfortunately, that groovy spirit comes to a dead halt whenever events shift back to the rote, underdeveloped depiction of the falling apart of Davis and Taylor’s relationship. Maybe a director with more experience could have fused this into something less chaotic, or then again someone more used to the traditional form of storytelling might have just dulled out the rougher edges that make Cheadle’s debut stand out to at least some degree. Either way, Miles Ahead is a clunky first run for the actor turned director, one which doesn’t exactly show a lot of promise for him if he desires to continue to stretch himself behind the camera.


Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Director: Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement, Neighbors))
Writers: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Producers: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver
Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Dave Franco, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Beanie Feldstein, Clara Mamet, Selena Gomez, Hannibal Buress
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 92 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


As a pretty big fan of the original Neighbors, even I can admit that Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is one of the more unnecessary sequels to come out in recent years, which is saying a lot given how quick studios have been to hit the greenlight on continuations of any movie that makes them a couple bucks lately, no matter how unwarranted they actually are. Thankfully, they were smart enough to get the ball rolling on this one quickly and have it released just two years after its predecessor, rather than risking a longer wait that would have resulted in its release being met with a lot of, “Wait… what was Neighbors again?”. Instead, the response is more, “… why are they doing a sequel to that?”, and it’s a pretty justified question. The truth is money. Certainly from watching the movie, you can tell that there’s no artistic or creative reason behind putting all of these people back onto the screen together to play out more or less the same scenario that we saw two years ago. It is worth mentioning that they at least brought back the entirety of the cast from the original, as well as Nicholas Stoller in the directing chair, something which doesn’t often happen with sequels these days, and helps it feel more like a return than a cash-in, even if that is ultimately what it is.

This time, instead of moving into their home with their new baby, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) have just sold their house in order to move into a new one with their soon to be born second kid, and instead of being tormented by a fraternity led by Zac Efron’s Teddy Sanders, they are up against a new sorority led by Chloe Grace Moretz’s Shelby, who is helped out by Teddy because obviously they had to figure out a way to get him back in the game (via a quarter life crisis that’s actually pretty amusingly played by Efron). That’s the ridiculous setup that tries to wring the same jokes from the same well, and surprisingly a lot of it does actually work the second time around. Everything about Neighbors 2 feels like you saw it already, because you did, but the reason the first film was so well-received is because the gags really worked, and so seeing them again with very slight variations is still pretty amusing a lot of the time. If you sit down and think about it for too long, it’s easy to get dismayed by the utter laziness in plugging tens of millions of dollars into doing the same exact thing. Fortunately, the movie makes sure that you’re having too much fun to really concern yourself with any of that.
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Review: Money Monster

Director: Jodie Foster (Little Man Tate, The Beaver)
Writers: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf
Producers: Lara Alameddine, George Clooney, Daniel Dubiecki, Grant Heslov
Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 98 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


It sounds crazy given their decades of working in Hollywood as some of the biggest names in the business, but somehow Jodie Foster has never worked with George Clooney or Julia Roberts. That all changes now, but the three Oscar winners don’t all find themselves in front of the screen in Money Monster. No, while Clooney and Roberts headline the piece, Foster stays behind the scenes, making her return to the directing chair for her fourth feature. You can’t blame her for being drawn back into the position for this one, as she gets to bring audiences an exciting popcorn thrill ride set within the financial world with one hell of a ticking clock. It’s a sign of the changing of the times that 15 years ago this combination of A-list stars would have been one of the biggest events of the year, whereas now Money Monster is a sleeper bit of counter-programming for viewers seeking out a more adult alternative to the mammoth blockbusters flooding in for the summer movie season. On that front, Foster more than delivers.

Clooney plays Lee Gates, the host of a “Mad Money” type of television show that advises wannabe traders on what the best bets are to help line their pockets. Lee is a smart guy who knows what he’s talking about, but when we meet him his fame has clearly gone to his head after so many years in the spotlight, and at this point he’s more of an arrogant celebrity than anything else. In one of the opening scenes he boasts about how he hasn’t had dinner alone since the ‘90. On the receiving end of that conversation is Roberts, taking on the role of Patty Fenn, the producer of the show, a position that she doesn’t intend to occupy for long as she has taken a new job across the street and away from Lee. As these things so often go, however, her final days on the program don’t go down smoothly, as their broadcast is interrupted by Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a blue collar worker who lost his entire savings on a bad tip from Lee and now looks to get some answers by bringing a gun into the building, as well as a bomb vest that he forces Lee to put on. So begins a nail-biting 90 minutes of suspense that moves in real time as Kyle demands to know what exactly happened.


Figuring out the truth brings in a few other players, like Dominic West’s shady CEO and his right-hand woman played by Caitriona Balfe, but Money Monster primarily centers itself on the dynamics between those initial three. While Kyle and Lee are on camera, the unstable everyman capable of blowing the whole studio to kingdom come at any moment, Patty is in Lee’s ear, doing her best work as a producer to help him keep the situation calm by using his talents as a showman to stall Kyle and keep his mind busy. It’s a tactic similar to the one that Foster uses as a director, as she has to find ways to keep the audience entertained, despite us knowing that we aren’t going to get a resolution for 90 minutes. She manages the job incredibly well, clearly having taken some influence from her time in front of the camera starring in Spike Lee’s heist thriller Inside Man. That movie took an adult approach to making a Hollywood picture that gave us great actors and genuine excitement without having to pander for the four-quadrant appeal of your typical summer blockbuster, and Money Monster manages that same balance of taking its subject matter seriously while still having a lot of fun.

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VOD Review: Dark Places

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key, Walled In, UV)
Novel: Gillian Flynn
Producers: Azim Bolkiah, A.J. Dix, Matt Jackson, Beth Kono, Stéphane Marsil, Matthew Rhodes, Cathy Schulman, Charlize Theron
Starring: Charlize Theron, Sterling Jerins, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Corey Stoll, Tye Sheridan, Chloë Grace Moretz
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 113 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

For an alternate take, Kurt’s festival review of the film can be found here.

After Gillian Flynn’s third novel, Gone Girl, and its subsequent David Fincher film adaptation, took the world by storm, it was only a matter of time before her two previous works were adapted to the screen in one form or another. While her debut work, Sharp Objects, is still in the process of being turned into a television series, the film adaptation of middle child Dark Places has finally been released after having been shot almost two years ago, and the results are less than impressive. Often times writers aren’t usually the best option when it comes to translating their work from the page to the screen, but with Gone Girl Flynn demonstrated a ruthless pragmatism in terms of what needed to be altered and excised for the new medium. Her hands are sorely missed in Dark Places, as director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key) takes on adapting duties as well, and misses the mark by a thousand miles.


Dark Places tells the exceptionally bleak story of Libby Day (Charlize Theron), the survivor of the brutal massacre of her family decades earlier, for which her brother Ben (Corey Stoll) was convicted, largely based on her testimony. Libby has coasted through her life of squalor on the donations of people who felt sorry for the poor young girl ever since, as well as payment from a hokey tell-all that she’s never read, let alone had actually written. As her finances begin to dry up, she realizes that the only people left who even care about this old tragedy are those belonging to a seedy underground society called The Kill Club. Led by Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult), this group of makeshift detectives is obsessed with grisly true crimes, with Lyle in particular leading a faction to try and discover what truly happened that night at Libby’s Kansas farm so many years ago. Desperate for cash, Libby agrees to help Lyle investigate the truth and see if they can help free the brother who she helped put away. If he’s truly innocent, that is.
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Review: The Bronze

bronze-posterDirector: Bryan Buckley
Writers: Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch
Producer: Stephanie Langhoff
Starring: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Cecily Strong
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 100 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


Weirdly the third Olympics related movie to be released within the past month (after Race and Eddie the Eagle), The Bronze ironically earns its title by being decidedly the third best (aka the worst) of the three. Coming at things quite differently from those other two titles, The Bronze isn’t an inspiring true story of tenacity and courage, but rather a repugnant crass comedy masquerading as the kind of bold and daring indie character story that Sundance eats up every year. It was the opening film of last year’s festival, and it’s no surprise that you haven’t heard a peep about it for the past 14 months between then and its release. The directorial debut of Bryan Buckley, The Bronze serves as a star vehicle for The Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch, who also co-wrote the screenplay with her husband Winston (their first, and it shows), and it makes you wonder why anyone would write such a vile, intolerable character for themselves to play.

I suppose Rauch’s sense of humor just veers in a different direction than mine, and she gets a kick out of the violently unfunny material that she offers up for herself here as Hope Ann Greggory, a former wild child bronze medalist turned washed-up has-been who spends her days milking whatever glory she can from her fifteen minutes in the spotlight over a decade ago while living in the one horse town of Amherst, Ohio. Through a series of contrived circumstances, Hope finds herself coaching Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), a plucky young superstar gymnast who is everything Hope could have been back in the day (and happens to be living in the same nobody town), if an injury didn’t prevent her from achieving her dreams. Cue the redemption arc as Hope finds true happiness and softens her aggressively unpleasant shell to let some people in, like her put-upon father Stan (Gary Cole) and coach’s aid Ben (Thomas Middleditch), whom she mocks for his involuntary facial twitch. Sebastian Stan shows up as her male counterpart, an egomaniacal showboat who won gold back in the day and is training the Olympics team that Maggie is hoping to become a part of.


Aside from one admittedly inspired character turn in the final act, the Rauchs’ screenplay goes exactly where you think it’s going to, following one of the most annoying characters in years as she plays out her own kind of Bad Santa road to moral salvation or whatever. The only problem is that she’s so impossible to have any kind of affection for or investment in that you don’t even want her to succeed on this path. You’d rather just run away and never have to suffer through another second of time spent with her on the screen. Things get a little more bearable after the first act (which is so violently unpleasant that I really considered walking out of the theater and just accepting my losses), but The Bronze never approaches anything close to “watchable”. If you had any awareness of this movie even existing, it was likely from the word about the outrageous gymnastics sex scene that occurs. Even I have to admit that this scene is quite amusing, in a ridiculous Will Ferrell comedy kind of way, but one moment in a sea of utter waste isn’t nearly enough to wash the bad taste out of your mouth.