Foxcatcher: Very Creepy. Very Good. Not Great.

Posted in 7, Drama, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2014 by mducoing

FoxcatcherIt took director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) a decade to finally make Foxcatcher. Unable to secure funds (astoundingly) after Capote, Foxcatcher was an off-and-on project for Miller, collecting dust and unknown actors upon a shadowy, cinematic shelf (Miller cast Tatum early because he was –ironically- unknown at the time). But Moneyball and a stellar cast allowed the film to finally come to the screen, and for the most part, audiences can be thankful.

Premise: Wrestler Mark Schultz and millionaire John du Pont, collaborate in training for the 1988 games in Seoul – a relationship that ultimately leads to tragic results. Result: A strong, elegant film that ebbs and flows, making a lesser impact than one would expect.

Miller works with writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman to deliver an adaptation of the true, sensational tragedy that works on slow-burn from moment one. The film follows Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum) through a miserable existence; an Olympian and former Gold Medalist, Shultz wanders through life with none of the glory we associate with Gold today. Instead, Miller delivers audience’s stark scenes of low-grade humiliation, reminiscent of The Wrestler and The Fighter, where a once glorious athlete slowly succumbs to a moistened, insidious sense of betrayal.

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The Purge – Anarchy: Well, Better Than the First One

Posted in 6, Horror, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , on November 25, 2014 by mducoing

Purge2After the disappointing mess that was The Purge, audiences can be forgiven if thoughts of the sequel by the same director might not sound appealing. But writer/director James DeMonaco (The Purge) has actually made a better, more compelling sequel that will at least not waste viewers’ time.

Premise: Waylaid citizens try to survive Purge Night. Result: More complex themes more gracefully executed make this film a better time than expected.

While still far from greatness, Anarchy does what its predecessor does not: it advances a quasi-plausible story with characters we are actually interested in. While a healthy suspension of disbelief if certainly required, the film never ventures too far from acceptable levels.

The film follows several wayward groups of citizens that somehow find themselves on the street during Purge Night, that special time of year when all laws are suspended and citizens are permitted to murder one-another with impunity. Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz’s (Kiele Sanchez) car breaks down near the bad part of town just as their marriage threatens to implode (talk about bad timing!), while Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoë Soul) are attacked in their own home, first by a crazed neighbor and then by some mysterious militia force.

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Birdman (or The Virtue of Ignorance): Peculiarly Brilliant; Brilliantly Peculiar.

Posted in 9, Comedy, Drama, Independent, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2014 by mducoing

BirdmanThere are typically limits to how an audience can relate to a film. There are natural constraints, visual elements, sound, a sense of reality and personal entertainment to name a few. But writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel) somehow transcends normal viewer-film relationships with Birdman, delivering a cinematic experience that forces audiences to engage with his material in completely different, abrupt, immersive, often uncomfortable ways. And we are better for it.

Premise: A has-been actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and madness as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim past glory. Result: An exhilarating ride through insanity, although unclear whose.

Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), of Birdman fame, is going through a personal crisis. Long after starring in a super-hero film franchise that busted global box offices, Thompson feels the repercussions of his Faustian decision to become a “famous” actor, if not necessarily a good one. To remedy this, he has decided to pull off a risky Broadway debut, producing, directing and starring in the adaptation of one of his beloved plays.

While the idea of this is complex enough, the reality is far more troubling. Amidst the very real turmoil of pulling off such a project, he is faced with countless drawbacks: an injured actor, a recovering drug-addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), an insane co-star Mike (Edward Norton), a neurotic and insecure co-star Lesley (Naomi Watts), relationship issues with Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and mounting pressures from his best friend and attorney Jake (Zach Galifianakis). And, of course, there are the critics, the most important of which is the looming NY Times gate keeper Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), seemingly bent on his destruction.

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Interstellar: AN AWE-INSPIRING FILM with many, many little problems…

Posted in 8, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2014 by mducoing

InterstellarWriter/director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) along with co-writer Jonathan Nolan, offer audiences one of the more intense, stunning films in recent memories. Yet, despite its beauty, Interstellar is wrought with issues that, although troubling, must be overlooked to truly enjoy the film.

Premise: Earth explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to find a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity as time on Earth is running out. Result: A powerful and visually stunning film that is very good, but not quite great.

The film begins with a series of quick expository segments from the anonymous elderly recounting the Earth’s transition to degenerating wasteland.   Dust storms, ruined crops, decimated populations, are covered and intended to paint the Earth as a wasteland no longer suitable for humans. It is the twilight of Hope in our world.

But Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an ex-NASA pilot, needs to hope for his children, Tom and Murph, his Father in Law Donald (John Lithgow), and the people around him near Nowheresville, America. And through a strange stroke of transcendent power, he and his daughter reach a top-secret facility that will alter their lives forever.

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Bang, Marry, Kill: The Farrelly Brothers

Posted in Articles, Bang Marry Kill, Comedy, Laz's View with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2014 by notlaz

Bang_Marry_Kill_Logo

Laz’s View

***Disclaimer: I’m BMKing the Farrelly Brothers under duress because Dumb & Dumber To comes out this week.

Plus my editor likes to see me angry. He’s kind of a douche.***

Subjects: Peter & Bobby Farrelly

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Fury: Big Booms But Ultimately a Bust

Posted in 6, Action, Drama, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 12, 2014 by mducoing

FuryWhile a World War is no doubt breeding ground for an endless assortment of unique tales, writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch, Sabotage) manages to deliver one story we could have done without. The film has thrills and incredible action sequences, as well as having a clear, structured premise, but is nevertheless devoid of character development and the intangibles that move a story from forgotten to adored.

Premise: At the end of WWII, as the Allies make their final push into Germany, Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Result: Great action that misses the important points.

Amidst the aftermath of a devastating battle, we come across “Fury”, and American tank and its crew, led by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) and supported by Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Swan (Michael Peña), and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). But tragically, their co-pilot did not make it.

There is little time for mourning, although the few moments of confused, frustrated bickering speak volumes for the agony the crew internalizes. It is not long after they return to base that they reluctantly encounter their fallen comrade’s replacement, the painfully green Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), whose wide-eyes just aren’t what his new team quite had in mind to help keep them alive.

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Found Footage 3D: A New Direction in Horror Films? A Modest Discussion with Director Steve DeGennaro

Posted in Articles, Horror Films, Independent with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2014 by mducoing

found-footage-3dScream. Se7en. The Silence of the Lambs. The Blair Witch Project. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Night of the Living Dead. The list of classic horror films can go on and on. But much longer and far more depressing is the list of films that either missed the mark or purposefully attempted to ruin us. And in an age of gimmicky tactics and studio-driven cliché, that list only suggests an eternal lengthening.

Is there hope for horror films? Or are we destined for a perpetual landscape of reductive blather and pointless slashing without rhyme or reason? At best should we hope for a genre that survives on a “diamond in the rough” model, or can we expect a future of more consistently, well-made, well-conceived horror with the rest relegated to “straight to DVD” (in a future devoid of DVD players).

This article will not answer that question, but will attempt to offer some ray of hope.The impetus for this line of thinking comes from a (fairly) recent conversation with director and self-described horror-aficionado Steve DeGennaro. Setting out to understand what makes his new film Found Footage 3D good, the conversation inadvertently reminded us what makes certain horror films not only worth watching but worth remembering.

 

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