SPY (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Violence, and some Sexual Content including brief Graphic Nudity

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Directed by: Paul Feig

Written by: Paul Feig

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart & Bobby Cannavale

I know that a lot of people who love Melissa McCarthy, but I’m not what you’d call a fan. I thought THE HEAT was overrated, IDENTITY THIEF was mediocre, and last year’s TAMMY was downright insufferable. It seemed like McCarthy had given up a promising comedic career just to be typecast as an overweight buffoon in every film from BRIDESMAIDS on out. The trailer for SPY looked like yet another in a long line of these predictable, cheap, easy comedies. How very wrong I was. With a rock solid script, great performances and moments that will keep you laughing long after you’ve left the theater, SPY is absolutely hysterical. I’m more than a little pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed this film. I’m totally delighted and consider it be the funniest comedy that we’ve received in 2015 so far.

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Susan Cooper joined the CIA envisioning an exciting career, only to find herself spending a decade behind a desk and guiding active agents through their missions. She’s vicariously living the life of a spy through a computer screen and an earpiece. When her favorite agent’s latest assignment goes horribly wrong and a villainess (with access to a suitcase nuke) reveals that she knows the identities of every active CIA member, Susan becomes an unlikely agent in the field. Though her initial mission was to simply observe and report, things soon get complicated and Susan finds herself getting more action than she ever expected or was prepared for. Hilarity ensues.

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The first thing to mention right off the bat is the stellar cast. Though Melissa McCarthy may be hit-or-miss depending on the movie, she’s in top form as Susan Cooper. Aside from a few passing comments, I don’t think I can point out many specific fat jokes in this film and I cannot tell you how refreshing that is after we’ve seen a four film streak of that one-note shtick. McCarthy turns her usual fowl-mouthed protagonist into an actual fleshed-out heroine. Jude Law is enjoyable as Agent Fine and plays the character up as a sort of naïve James Bond type. Rose Byrne, who’s proven herself to be comically gifted in stuff like NEIGHBORS, plays the villainess with a snarky attitude. The way that she and McCarthy bounce off each other in scenes create some of the best moments in the whole film. It’s also worth mentioning that Peter Serafinowicz is a highlight as an overly seductive field agent aiding Cooper in her adventure.

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Even with all these big names, the real scene-stealer is Jason Statham. Known for being a modern action hero (and occasionally starring British crime flicks), Statham plays against type and knocks every one of his jokes out of the park. I burst into laugher whenever Statham was on the screen. Aside from good performances and great comedic timing, SPY has a surprisingly solid script. It’s so well written that this film could have easily been a quality straight-forward action thriller. The screenplay just happens to inject a ton of jokes and a hilarious sense of humor. There are lines in this film that I’m sure I’ll still be quoting for the rest of the week, but those comedic sensibilities don’t detract from the good story being told. There are enough plot twists and turns, though a couple can be called way in advance, to keep you interested in this movie for reasons other than the laughs. I’d compare SPY’s screenplay to HOT FUZZ in that it’s a well constructed story that also happens to be a hugely entertaining comedy.

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I’m not necessarily a big Melissa McCarthy fan, but I loved the hell out of SPY. If you like the NAKED GUN trilogy or HOT FUZZ, you are pretty much guaranteed to have a good time with this film. Jason Statham’s against-type character is worth the price of admission alone. It’s really a nice thing to see a comedy on the big screen that could work equally as well if it were a straight-forward serious flick. SPY is the biggest surprise of 2015 thus far. Highly recommended!

Grade: A

EXISTENZ (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sci-Fi Violence and Gore, and for Language

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Directed by: David Cronenberg

Written by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley & Willem Dafoe

Though he might be known for his dark dramas today, a strong argument can be made that David Cronenberg single-handedly pioneered the sub-genre of body-horror on film. From disturbing early efforts like SHIVERS, THE BROOD and VIDEODROME to his far more mainstream remake of THE FLY, Cronenberg has never been a director afraid to get his hands dirty with a few bodily fluids all while throwing more than a little social commentary into his work. EXISTENZ is Cronenberg’s final body-horror film before totally making it into art-house dramas and though it might not be at the peak of his bizarre masterpieces, it’s a damn fine note to go out on. This film is pretty much VIDEODROME with video games and that’s not a bad thing in the slightest.

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In the near-future, video games has taken a disturbing new turn. There is no such things as consoles with remote controls anymore, because why would you need that when you can just literally stick yourself into a game (or stick the game into you). Nifty body modifications, called Bioports, are holes drilled into your spine and you’ll just insert something that resembles an umbilical cord into said hole to play whatever game you choose. Not surprisingly, a faction of radical folks called Realists (some real subtle social commentary) have risen up and are making violent movements against this abomination of reality. Allegra Gellar is a highly influential gaming designer testing out her new product (titled Existenz) when an assassination attempt is made on her life. Rescued by trainee Ted Pikul, the two go on the run. Gellar is suspicious that her new game may have been damaged or corrupted so the two decide to “play” it and from there on the movie turns into a fever dream of surrealism and nightmarish body-horror.

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EXISTENZ asks certain suspension of belief from the viewer, but not in a bad way. We are thrust into a world where body modifications and video games are one and the same. All sorts of oddities are given that we’re automatically forced to accept as viewers. There’s a two-headed reptile creature that’s just sort of kept as a pet and no real answer is brought up to exactly what this thing is…aside from it’s a friggin’ two-headed reptile. There’s a ton of creativity here and any lesser filmmaker could have just wallowed in Cronenberg’s little ideas that are merely set-up to the bigger picture at hand. The body-horror, though not nearly as gory or graphic as VIDEODROME or THE BROOD, manages to be every bit as insane and disturbing as Cronenberg’s earlier efforts. I mean, the idea that you’re literally modifying your body to play a video game is creepy enough, but it progressively gets even freakier with organic systems being plugged into you and other biological twists (including the erotic licking of someone’s Bioport hole and a skeletal gun that shoots teeth for bullets).

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As you might imagine any film that deals with escaping reality will inevitably ask the question of what reality means. 1999 was a year in which many films asks philosophical questions about what constitutes our existence. Besides EXISTENZ, there was the far more popular MATRIX and the criminally underrated THIRTEENTH FLOOR. Each of these films morphed its science fiction concept into something wholly unique and Cronenberg uses conspiracy theories as his little spin in the plot. Even when our characters are not being hunted in the real world, they are being pursued through the world of Existenz by threatening forces. The script comes off as convoluted, but there’s no denying that was entirely intentional. As a whole, the movie is about our characters escaping reality (or as one of them calls it: “a cage”) and trying to find their way back to it…which may or may not work in their favor.

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There are a couple of flaws that do stick out in EXISTENZ though. Jude Law is enjoyable as Pikul, even if his character is a bit of a whiny pansy at the start. Willem Dafoe and Ian Holm have brief appearances that I’d argue are wasted, but they make the most of the screen time they’ve been given. However, Jennifer Jason Leigh is wooden as the gaming genius Geller. Though it’s mentioned near the beginning that she’s antisocial and that quality leads to her nervous character quirks, there’s a distinct line between playing a character and bad acting. I think that Leigh crosses that line on numerous occasions in this film delivering philosophical rantings about the benefits of extreme gaming in a wooden way. I can also see people being slightly pissed about this movie’s ending and yeah, I’ll admit that it can be seen as a bit of a cop-out. However, I felt this was the only logical way that Cronenberg could have concluded the already twisted and bizarre story.

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EXISTENZ may not be Cronenberg’s best film, but it’s a damn fine conclusion to his body-horror period of filmmaking. Shades of VIDEODROME can definitely be seen throughout (from organic guns to hallucinatory nightmare logic), but EXISTENZ remains a mighty original and insane ride. The acting from Jennifer Jason Leigh can be a little wonky and some folks might not be satisfied by the ending, but there are so many ways that one can interpret this film (I won’t go into specifics for fear of spoilers) and each of those readings is completely valid. Overall, EXISTENZ is a gleefully crazed ride loaded with violent twists and strange turns. The subtext might not exactly be subtle, but that’s part of the enjoyment. Highly recommended!

Grade: A-

BLACK SEA (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, some Graphic Images and Violence

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Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Written by: Dennis Kelly

Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Karl Davies & Michael Smiley

BLACK SEA is a nice surprise. Though I was sold on the concept and talent involved, the promotional material for this film made it look like a standard thriller about a killer picking people off one by one that happened to be set on a submarine. This was not the case at all. BLACK SEA turned out to be a thrilling adventure that had me on the edge of my seat and elicited many gasps from the decent sized audience who saw it with me. This might go down as one of 2015’s most underrated flicks.

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Robinson is a dedicated submarine captain who has sacrificed his relationships for his job and has also just been unceremoniously fired. Frustrated with the prospect of living out of a dingy apartment and flipping burgers for the rest of his life, this former ocean expert is offered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and a specialized crew are hired to go on a treasure hunt. A sunken U-Boat lying at the bottom of the Black Sea is supposedly filled with millions in Nazi gold. The submarine is picked. The expedition is financed. The crew is assembled (half British and half Russian). As the trip begins, tensions ignite. Danger comes from all sides and the deep-sea voyage begin to go sour.

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Being partially misled by a trailer that seemingly gave away the whole plot, I was surprised that BLACK SEA not only to avoided generic thriller tropes, but quickly turned into a adrenaline-pumping adventure. The story isn’t only about tensions rising in a crew that’s split down in the middle, but also about the many perils of the treasure hunt to begin with. While there are bombastic scenes of bad things hitting the fan (especially in the final third), there are equally moments of quiet dread and tension coming from the outside of the submarine as well. Plot developments can be predictable in moments, including the addition of a teenage sidekick in the submarine and a few generic memory flashbacks from Jude Law’s character, but BLACK SEA is a highly entertaining blast.

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Director Kevin Macdonald masterfully piles on intense atmosphere. This film will definitely make claustrophobic viewers majorly uncomfortable as most of the story takes place under the sea where death surrounds the crew with no easy escape. The cinematography is beautiful and I was wholly convinced that this film was shot on location, though it was actually filmed in England and not war-torn waters of Russia. The story takes a dark turn as bodies pile up, but these aren’t simply the result of a crazy crew member (though there are a couple of those in tow). These deaths are made more devastating given how damned good most of the performers are in their roles. When a character died, I was sad to see them go.

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Jude Law is a quality actor and that hasn’t changed for his role as hardened Captain Robinson. Ben Mendelsohn is particularly memorable as a diver with a short fuse. Scoot McNairy seems to have a knack for playing assholes and that translates well into his role as a snobby high-class assistant thrown on board with a lower-class crew. Michael Smiley is a nice addition as well, but young Bobby Schofield is annoying as the young teenage Tobin. That might be attributed to this character being a casualty of a number of clichés that make their way on board. Besides a kid-in-peril, there’s also familiarity in where things ultimately wind up. However, these issues don’t detract too much from the terrifically fun experience.

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BLACK SEA might have a few clichés in tow, but is a great adventure nonetheless. This is not the generic thriller that was advertised, even if you can easily guess where the conclusion will wind up about 15 minutes before it hits. The performances are stellar as is the adrenaline rush left by this modern sea tale. BLACK SEA is a trip that’s well worth taking!

Grade: B+

My Top 10 Films of 2014

List by Derrick Carter

2014 has been a solid year for cinema. As with every film critic (freelance or professional), there comes a time of decision-making as to what the best movies of the year were. This list is all opinion based (like my reviews) and I can understand why people might not (and probably won’t) completely agree with every choice. In deciding how to rank my top 10 of the year, I noticed there was an equal amount of independent/foreign fare and big studio hits. This was unintentional, but is a nice detail that highlights how balanced this year really was for cinema all around.

Before I get into my actual list, it bears mentioning that I have not seen/reviewed every single film from this year (I plan on covering FOXCATCHER, INHERENT VICE, and AMERICAN SNIPER eventually). I’m only one man after all, so my selections come from the films that I’ve watched and reviewed this year. That all being said and without further ado, here are my 10 favorite films from 2014!

Honorable Mentions: BOUND BY FLESH, UNDER THE SKIN, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, FURY, THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, and A MOST WANTED MAN

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10. BIG BAD WOLVES: I wasn’t terribly impressed with Aharon Keshales’s and Navot Papushado’s directorial debut, RABIES. BIG BAD WOLVES serves as a drastic improvement. At first, the story seems relatively simple. However, the diabolical screenplay toys with the viewer in injecting a pitch-black sense of humor that works wonderfully and a dark tone that isn’t the slightest bit funny. Things aren’t as simple as they originally appear and a haunting conclusion ensures that this film will stick with you. I originally saw/reviewed it in January and it has held up on multiple viewings throughout the year. If you’re up for a disturbing tour-de-force of horror that defies expectations, BIG BAD WOLVES should be on your radar!

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9. THE LEGO MOVIE: On New Year’s Day, I was chatting with a friend about how much I thought THE LEGO MOVIE was going to suck. This concept seemed doomed from the beginning and I was reluctantly dragged to the theater at the urging of my younger siblings. In all of 2014, I have never been so happy that I was so wrong about a film! Blending meta-elements, rapid fire jokes, and a hilarious storyline, THE LEGO MOVIE is 2014’s biggest surprise! The animation (which appears to combine stop-motion and computer graphics) is stellar. Tons of jokes are present so that it takes multiple viewings to catch every little piece (pun intended) that the movie has to offer. LEGO MOVIE is not only the best family film of 2014, everything about it is awesome!

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8. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: The X-MEN movies have a good vs. bad ratio of 5 to 2. Those are fantastic odds for any blockbuster series. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST delivered the best entry in the mutant saga to date. This much-anticipated comic book storyline was fantastically brought to life by returning director Bryan Singer. In lesser hands, FUTURE PAST could have become a standard blockbuster with the gimmick of time travel used to combine both casts of the franchise. Instead, this film was a delight to sit through for myself and many film goers this past summer. Easily the best comic book film since Christopher Nolan graced the silver screen with his take on Batman. Definitely count me in for APOCALYPSE in 2016!

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7. NIGHTCRAWLER: Scarier than any true horror film that I saw in all of 2014, NIGHTCRAWLER is a truly disturbing movie. Disappearing completely into the main character of Lou, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an award-worthy performance that creeped me out to the point where I was wriggling in my seat as he manipulated everyone around him. In a sense, Lou is a vampire sucking the moral decency out of everyone he comes across. As a dark, disturbing, and unflinching masterwork, NIGHTCRAWLER serves as cinematic nightmare that I can’t wait to revisit in the near future.

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6. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: This was the summer blockbuster that delivered on every possible level. It had grand action and amazing effects (those monkeys look so real), but also incorporated them into a smart story and complicated characters. While RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was a huge surprise for everyone, DAWN has cemented itself as my personal favorite APE movie. DAWN blended spectacle and a fantastic plot so perfectly that it makes me shake with anticipation for the newest upcoming APES film (Summer 2016). Having seen RISE and DAWN, I’m more than prepared to bow down to our future primate overlords. This movie rocked!

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5. THE RAID 2: I watched the original RAID at its Sundance premiere and thought it was an impressive action flick, but a tad overrated in the end. This exhilarating sequel pulls out all the stops to one up the original in every possible way. While APES blended spectacle with an intelligent story, RAID 2 blends an intense gangster thriller with mind-blowing action scenes. I was exhausted by the end of this film and that’s the biggest compliment I can give any action movie. Each fight scene has its own unique spin so none of them blended into one another. A few that stick out in my mind are a prison yard fight, one of the most intense/realistic car chases that I’ve ever seen, and a stunning confrontation between two highly skilled, deadly men. Those are just a few of the phenomenal sequences that this epic-length modern action classic has to offer. It plays like THE DEPARTED had a baby with a Bruce Lee movie. It’s friggin’ nuts and I loved every second of it!

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4. WHIPLASH: How do you turn a protégé story about a young man trying to be a successful drummer into a nail-bitingly thriller? Apparently, you get Damien Chazelle to write and direct it. Though he is a young newcomer, Chazelle struck gold in this fantastic and deep drama. I didn’t like Miles Teller before watching this movie and now appreciate that he has some serious acting chops on him. J.K. Simmons, usually a side character or background actor, is given room to be the most intimidating antagonist that I saw in a film all year. He plays a conductor, but Simmons is downright scary as hell and entertaining to watch at the same time. Well shot, well written, well acted, and all around well constructed, WHIPLASH is a masterpiece!

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3. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: The evening that I spent watching this magical film was an enchanting experience. Evoking a sense of classic comedies and a fairy tale color palette, Wes Anderson’s GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL sucked me into its oddball world from the first frame. Ralph Fiennes’s Gustave H. and Adrien Brody’s villain had me breaking into hysterical laughter throughout this whole film. Besides the humor, there’s a unique sweetness to BUDAPEST as well as a compelling storyline (background happenings reward repeat viewings). GRAND BUDAPEST is sincere in its story, humor, honest emotions, and ridiculous nature. Cinematic heaven!

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2. GONE GIRL: Going into 2014, there was one film that I was highly anticipating. That was David Fincher’s adaptation of the best-selling mystery, GONE GIRL. The novel is acclaimed, for good reason, of having a nasty sleight of hand that trips up the reader’s preconceived notions. Fincher masterfully transfers that level of Hitchcockian suspense onto the screen in this deeply disturbing and haunting thriller. I didn’t spoil anything in my review and I won’t spoil anything here either. If anyone does try to give away the plot, slap them in the face before they can give away any detail. Though it’s really your fault for having not seen this film yet. Go see it! Seriously! It’s the smartest, entirely compelling and most intense thriller that I’ve seen all year. Once you’ve seen GONE GIRL, you’ll know why everyone is raving about it so much.

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1. BIRDMAN or (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE): What do I even say about this film? When I saw the trailer for BIRDMAN, I felt iffy on it. This looked to be a quirky comedy that could potentially be good, but might rely far too much on the gimmick of having a washed-up former superhero actor playing a washed-up former superhero actor. Nevertheless, I walked into the movie theater hoping for a good flick. In less than 10 minutes, I was under the film’s spell. This wasn’t just good or funny, this was fantastic and amazing. Telling the story in a stylistic choice that appears to be caught in one take (through various hidden cuts) and containing some of the best performances that this entire year had to offer, BIRDMAN is an extraordinary piece of cinema. I’ve bad-mouthed Michael Keaton for a couple of crappy movies he did earlier this year, but his performance really is something to behold in this film! There’s never been anything quite like BIRDMAN before and there’s never going to be anything quite like it again. BIRDMAN is perfection!

2014 was a solid year and produced a lot of phenomenal films. I hope 2015 is even better!

ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language

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Directed by: Sam Mendes

Written by: David Self

(based on the graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION by Max Alan Collins & Richard Piers Rayner)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Liam Aiken, Dylan Baker & Ciaran Hinds

Try to think of nice guy Tom Hanks as a hitman. It’s not exactly an easy image to get into your head, let alone process how it might play out. Talented director Sam Mendes and versatile actor Tom Hanks pull of this unlikely feat in ROAD TO PERDITION. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, this film combines a father-son drama with a crime thriller. The result is one of the best movies from 2002!

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Michael Sullivan is a devoted husband and loving father who works closely with notorious mob boss/father figure John Rooney. His life is simple and he deeply loves his wife and two sons. When Michael Sullivan Jr. (his elder son) gets curious about his father’s mysterious work, he makes the shocking discovery that his father is actually a hitman for Rooney. This results in lives being lost and both Michael Sullivans (Sr. and Jr.) trying to get make it out of a bullet-ridden cat-and-mouse game alive, while also seeking revenge against Rooney’s gang.

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I was hesitating about details in that initial synopsis of this film. It’s very easy to give key plot points away that might come as shocking to someone who doesn’t know too much about this movie to begin with. I will say that the premise sounds simple on paper, but things actually get complex. With those twists and turns included, it never felt as if story was overly complicating itself. There’s a looming suspense that’s hovering over the whole film from the moment Hanks’s job is revealed.

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It goes without saying that if you have a movie where a son discovers that his father is a hitman, you’d expect the father and son to spend a lot of time together from that point onwards. That is the case here and it’s made all the better that their relationship feels real. Tom Hanks, though technically a bad guy, comes off as more of a concerned father than a cold-hearted killer. I never forgot what his violent profession was, but he was still a fantastic character. His job may have gotten his family into an awful mess, but I was rooting for him for the entire movie. Hanks breathes life into a character that was probably difficult to balance. A newcomer at the time this was filmed, Tyler Hoechlin (who hasn’t gone on to do much since) is phenomenal as Sullivan Jr. The pairing of Hanks and Hoechlin seems like a match made in heaven as they play off each other so well.

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Besides Hanks, a lot of other big names populate the cast. The best of which is Paul Newman (in his final live-action appearance) as Rooney. The late actor (who still had a joyful glint in his eye) excels in mafia boss role, injecting conflicted emotions that help the audience feel the struggle of his tough dilemma. Rooney isn’t just a cut-and-dried villain. He’s actually a sympathetic guy. You understand the appeal of working for a man like this and he’s also a father being torn apart by the sins of his son (played by Daniel Craig, pulling off a damn good American accent). The relationship between Newman and Craig is the antithesis of Hanks and Hoechlin, but there are also a lot of parallels that make things even more interesting. Stanley Tucci and Dylan Baker aren’t given a lot of screen time, but make the most of what they have. Then there’s Jude Law as the creepy Maguire. With long fingernails, thinning hair, and a devilish smirk, Law embodies a ghoul with a gun. As if that wasn’t enough to make his character terrifying, he also has an unusual hobby (shown in his introduction).

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To put the icing on the cake, the mood and atmosphere created in PERDITION is potent! If other directors had attempted to tell this story, they might have included tons of explosions and clichés galore. Sam Mendes opts for a more subtle approach and creates a quiet sense of tension that escalates in the more exciting scenes. It’s not all about brooding suspense though, as plenty of emotional moments (including a couple of devastating scenes) had enough impact to bring me close to tears. Adding to the mix is the awesome soundtrack from Thomas Newman, who seems to have constructed the music to fit the mood of each scene perfectly with a subtle pieces of music.

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Overall, ROAD TO PERDITION is not nearly as big today as it was upon its original release, but remains an amazing movie that still has a powerful emotional core. The premise might sound predictable on paper, but it moves into some pretty unexpected directions. Instead of just being a movie about violence, tragedy and revenge, ROAD TO PERDITION is more focused on fathers, sons, actions and consequences. This movie is perfect and I adored every second of it! One of the greatest crime films I’ve ever seen!

Grade: A+

DOM HEMINGWAY (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, Nudity, Pervasive Language, some Violence and Drug Use

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Directed by: Richard Shepard

Written by: Richard Shepard

Starring: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon, Jumayn Hunter, Madalina Diana Ghenea & Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

DOM HEMINGWAY tries to be fun. God bless it, because it tries so very hard to nail a certain style in the same vein of Guy Ritchie’s best work. However, it’s not anywhere near that level of skill when mixing crime, comedy and drama into one singular film. It’s safe to say that DOM HEMINGWAY feels like three distinctly different movie genres wrapped up in the space of 93 minutes, but none of them are done particularly well. The biggest problem with DOM is that it never knows exactly what it wants to be and winds up as a unfocused mess.

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Dom Hemingway is a safe cracker who’s spent the last 12 years of his life locked up in prison. Being released after all that time, Dom finds himself making up for his wasted period of life by trying to live it up. He asks for a reward in favor of not snitching in prison (which would have cut his time significantly) and finds that the world isn’t kind to him. Bad luck follows this former criminal wherever he goes. This includes trying to mend a shattered relationship with his estranged daughter and getting revenge on his former nemesis.

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One thing becomes very clear while watching DOM: Jude Law is having a blast as the title character. He’s a smartass who dishes out plenty of quick-witted insults and comebacks. He’s a funny guy and frequently entertaining to watch. The film suffers from throwing Dom into scenarios where he’s forced to show serious emotion (which just doesn’t work in his character) and every side performer (as colorful as they might be) falls by the wayside as Law parades around in many different scenes that don’t fit well together.

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One thing that I really dug about DOM HEMINGWAY was its style. Director/writer Richard Shepard may have been overly confident in a lot of ways, because the story really is a jumbled combination of three entirely separate ideas that could take up features on their own. The cinematography is gorgeous and the London night life (seen later on in the film) is brought to life with lots of colors and extravagant lighting. A comical night club, in which one of the film’s better sequences takes place, looks like “a brothel by the way of Elton John” (as Dom lovingly describes it). It’s little touches like this that actually made me enjoy this movie more than I might have otherwise. Title cards popping up every 10 minutes seemed desperate in a “we want to desperately be a Wes Anderson movie” sort of way. DOM is definitely a style over substance film, but that style can put tasty icing on a rather bland cake.

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As far as the actual storytelling goes, the pacing is sluggish and the script feels like a rough draft of sketched premises. As mentioned before, there are three different movies here and none of them blend well together. Dom gets out of prison, but also tries to make amends with his daughter and grandchild, and also tries to get revenge on a nemesis in a creative way. I am aware that was a run-on sentence, but the plot of the movie feels like a run-on sentence. It’s a mess, but it can be entertaining in small moments. There are a couple of noteworthy great scenes that work purely based on Law’s giddy performance as Dom. Otherwise, the movie is disjointed and disappointing.

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DOM HEMINGWAY is more focused on Jude Law going crazy as the title character and rocking its own style than in telling an actual story with real quality behind it. The experience is a hollow one as a whole. The jumbled mess of a story is really what sinks this movie to being subpar. It’s almost like there could have been a DOM HEMINGWAY trilogy, but all three screenplays got combined into one feature just in case it didn’t pan out. Just like the title character, this movie is overly confident in its own style and preaches that it’s far better than it actually is.

Grade: C-

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexual Content and Violence

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Directed by: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Lea Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson & Tony Revolori

Wes Anderson has gained a reputation over his career for unique style and an oddball sense of humor. Anderson’s newest film carries an air of sophistication and the logistics of a cartoon. Layered with quirky sensibilities and having a genuine heart at the center, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is my favorite film of the year thus far! This already has a spot reserved on my Best of 2014 list. The entire affair is an absolutely entrancing experience of wonderful magic that only phenomenal filmmaking can bring.

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Beginning in the present, a young girl visits a memorial and reads a book by a character known simply as “The Author.” The film then cuts back to the 1980’s to find the Author describing a trip he made in the 1960’s. Flashing back to the 1960’s, we see a younger Author meet the elderly owner of the once prestigious/now rustic Grand Budapest Hotel. This elderly fellow relates the tale of how he came to own the Grand Budapest. So to break this down we open with a narration within a book that takes us to a flashback that then takes us to another flashback. Instead of coming off as convoluted in the slightest (as it almost certainly would have in any other film), this technique offers satisfying bookends to the main story at hand. Speaking of which…

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Set in the 1930’s, the main plot (e.g. the elderly owner’s story) is the tale of a famous concierge and his loyal lobby boy. The concierge is Gustave H., a philosophical and poetic gentleman, who takes to romancing many of the rich elderly (blonde) women who frequently visit the hotel. The lobby boy is Zero, a refugee from a less fortunate country, who has found a fatherly figure and devoted friend in Gustave. After Madam D (a former lover of Gustave) is found murdered, a priceless painting (titled Boy With Apple) is left in the possession of the two. Unfortunately for Gustave, something sinister is afoot and he’s been framed for Madam D’s death. Zero must rise up to the occasion, band together with Agatha (love of his life and candy-maker), and prove Gustave’s innocence!

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From the onset, there are many things unusual about THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Model work was done for the landscape shots and the film has a candy-colored sensibility in nearly all of the sets. Everything has been put together with care and attention to detail. In its most unusual opening, the viewer is sucked into the oddball world of this story. A thick atmosphere covers the whole thing like frosting on one of Agatha’s cakes. The amazing soundtrack adds even more flavor and perfectly encapsulates the tone of the movie. It should also be noted that the frame ratio of the film changes based on the time period the film is currently in. For example, its widescreen (2.35:1) in the present day, goes down to 1:85 when the Author is relating his story, and goes to traditional 1:33 for Zero’s tale. Purposely executed, this added yet another sense of wonder to an already amazing film.

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The film sports a large cast of big names. Some of these notable actors only appear for a minute or two, but their presence was a nice touch. Tony Revolori doesn’t have a long list of titles to his name, but delivers as young Zero. It’s easy for the viewer to sympathize with his bad history and root for him to overcome the odds to get his beloved mentor back. Speaking of which, Ralph Fiennes is simply brilliant as Gustave H. This character goes from waxing poetic to fowl-mouthed ruffian in the blink of an eye. Though the character might have come off as a quirky scumbag in any other film, Fiennes makes him into lovable guy. There’s certainly something to be said for that. Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe both appear as villains. Brody is hysterical as the ill-tempered fascist son of Madam D. His off-the-cuff profanity is only outweighed by Gustave’s frequent outbursts. Dafoe is a quiet, intimidating, leering man whose fashion sense includes a constant pair of brass-knuckles. Last but not least, Saoirse Ronan is Agatha. Though her character isn’t devoted nearly as much time as Gustave or Zero, she’s an essential part of the film.

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As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. This was the case when the end credits began to roll on GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. The film is a true crowd-pleaser in every sense of the term. The humor is hilarious, but there’s also an unspoken sentimental factor that doesn’t truly reveal itself until the final moments. In some comedies, this might be uncalled for or felt forced. In GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, every emotion is genuine and absolutely earned. The best way of describing the magic and wonder this film holds is by saying it’s an adult story set in an absurd fairy-tale landscape. Walking out of the darkened movie theater, a nearly overwhelming wave of awe washed over me from the whole adventure I had just gone through with a colorful cast of characters. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is phenomenal and nothing short of a masterpiece!

Grade: A+

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