A Little Familiar

The Little Things

by Hope Madden

When you see a film whose plot synopsis exactly mirrors hundreds of other movies, it is the little things you have to look for to set it apart.

Writer/director John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things introduces plenty of those small details: a massive cross high in the Hollywood hills, a gun casing, a barrette, a radio station, a dog. Like the 1990s setting, though, they mostly amount to little more than understated flourish.

Hancock (who wrote and directed The Blind Side, but I will try not to hold that against him) introduces two cops. One, Deke (Denzel Washington, always a pleasure), is a Kern County sheriff’s deputy with bad blood back in LA. The other, Baxter (Rami Malek), is a climbing homicide detective hot shot in the big town.

When Deke is sent to the city to retrieve some evidence for a county case, Baxter inexplicably pulls him into a serial killer investigation, and there you have it: haunted veteran cop, ambitious newcomer, cold blooded killer (who may or may not be Jared Leto).

Again, that barebones description could be about 300 movies and TV series, including Netflix’s current true crime mini The Night Stalker (who is mentioned once during this film). How to elevate it?

Well, four Oscars among your three leads is a start. Perhaps that’s why this police procedural turns character study so quickly.

Washington’s worn out crime fighter offers a low key emotional center, which is a needed respite from the odd Baxter. Malek’s characterization of the by-the-books half of this duo is curiously manic, and Hancock spends frustratingly little time digging into Baxter’s motivation. Still, Malek and Washington offer quick chemistry that gives their scenes some depth.

Leto delivers a characteristically tic-heavy performance—perhaps also a tad overdone. Both he and Malek help generate a little energy with their accumulated weirdness, but it’s not enough to overcome the film’s general lack of momentum or purpose.

It doesn’t help that the color, period and low boil bring to mind two wildly superior Fincher efforts—Seven and, even more clearly, Zodiac. And however competently made (and it is) or impressively cast (obviously), The Little Things just can’t distinguish itself from the pack.

Losing the Will to Live

Suicide Squad

by Hope Madden

Through it all – casting changes, recuts, reshoots, August opening date – I remained cautiously optimistic. Suicide Squad could be good.

Why? Because the villains are the most interesting part of the DC universe and the idea of a film unburdened by some superhero or another’s conflicted conscience or internal crisis, free to revel in the wing-nut chaos of nothing but villains felt fresh and risky.

And there’s not one but nine villains … yeah, nine is a lot. It could be tough to piece together a story that feels less like a cattle call than a coherent film.

But Suicide Squad offers a marginally promising cast. Will Smith is tired, but Jared Leto (hot off his Oscar) as the Joker can’t help but pique interest, and Margot Robbie’s done nothing but impress (until Tarzan, anyway). Plus – get this – the genuinely excellent Viola Davis takes on ringleader duties in a film that corrals all the nastiest bad guys for a black ops mission against a meta-human menace.

When Viola Davis can’t deliver, your movie is doomed.

Suicide Squad is doomed.

Writer/director David Ayer has quietly built a solid career with incrementally more thoughtful, more brooding, more violent action films. For those who thought the DC catastrophe Batman V Superman was dark, Ayer was the promise of something truly gritty.

And what more does he need? All the “worst of the worst” gathered together, leading a mission to save the world or die trying – and maybe die when they’re finished, because we certainly can’t let them out, right? They’re the worst of the worst!

Except for the one who really just wants to know his daughter’s OK. Or the one who’s reformed, his conscience keeping him from fighting this fight. Or the one who’s not bad, she’s just in love. Or the others who are absolutely useless to any mission and are here just to clutter up an over-packed, under-impressive landscape of bloodless action and uninspired set pieces.

Ayer has shown promise across his previous five films, but self-serious drama tends to be his undoing. Imagine how he struggles with tone in this would-be flippant exercise in comic book self-indulgence. Robbie and Smith try to instill some badass levity, but any success is due to their talent and timing because there’s not a single funny line in the film.

Leto’s little more than a glorified cameo in a landscape so overstuffed with needless characters that you’re almost distracted from the stunning plot holes and absence of narrative logic.

Suicide Squad is not going to save this disappointing summer – you should save yourself the aggravation.

Verdict-1-5-Stars





Countdown: Who Wins the Oscars?

 

 

Sunday night, we invite you to join us at the Drexel Theatre, as we are once again pleased to host their annual Red Carpet Oscar Bash! You’ll have a chance to win great prizes if you can correctly pick the most winners, and on that note…here’s how we think the night will go:

Best Film

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

American Hustle and Gravity are strong contenders, but we think voters will do the right thing and award this magnificent piece of filmmaking with its just due.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Though the year offered a boon of wonderful, imaginative, powerful films, nothing quite compares to the meticulously created, absolutely visceral period piece.

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey will be rewarded for turning a career’s worth of lazy rom-com roles into two of the most impressive years in any working actor’s career.

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Unfortunately, McConaughey’s achievement will be at the cost of a phenomenal talent’s most blistering and brilliant performance, and hands down the best lead turn from an actor this year.

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

From her opening moments as Jasmine, the wildly talented and uniquely versatile Blanchett owned the film and the audience.

Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Amy Adams is going to have to take home an Oscar one of these days, and her turn in American Hustle certainly deserves consideration, but Blanchett took a gift of a part and created an unforgettable character.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Leto brings tenderness and tragedy to the belt-buckle-and-cowboy-hat tale Dallas Buyers Club with a beautifully dimensional performance, and his win is the second surest bet this awards season.

Should Win: Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave

Fassbender will be ignored again by the Academy (who failed to even notice his devastating turn in 2011’s Shame), and that’s a shame in itself because his performance in 12 Years a Slave was more explosive, fearless and honest than anything he’s done, which is saying a lot.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Hope Says

Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

She won the SAG, Golden Globe, and even the coveted Central Ohio Film Critics Association award for her work. Oscar will follow.

Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o

At first glance, Nyongo’s performance as field slave Patsy seemed a tad heavy handed, but as the character’s hellish existence is slowly revealed, we realize that this performer has found a way to make the unimaginable a reality.

George Says

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nyong’o does win, I just have a hunch that Lawrence (who also won a Golden Globe as American Hustle was in the comedy category) will prevail.

Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence

It really is a toss up, but I give JLaw the edge for stealing the movie right out from under the the best ensemble cast of the year. “Science oven” for the win!

 

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

This is a tough call. Basically, we think the best directing and best film nods will be split between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Last year, Ang Lee took the honor mostly for the technical/craftsman merits of his Life of Pi. We think Cuaron will receive the same treatment for the unarguably superior Gravity.

Should Win: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

It’s McQueen’s first dance with Oscar, and though his efforts in drawing performances, staging an epic, and keeping dusty old history as visceral and present as any other film this year are magnificent, we think the voters might side with Cuaron’s technical mastery.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: American Hustle

It’s a dazzling work of writing, heartfelt and character driven, funny and touching, full of excitement and spot-on with period. Plus, David O. Russell’s never cashed in on his 5 nominations, so it’s probably time.

Should Win: Her

Spike Jonze’s uncommon voice and vision turned out the year’s loveliest and most original love story, and the sheer uniqueness of the project deserves the Oscar.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

It’s simply the strongest contender.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

The ability to take a text more than a century and a half old, and from it create multi-dimensional characters and achingly relevant conflict, is a talent that needs to be recognized.

 

Enjoy the Oscars!





Double Big Mac for Your Queue

The film that may finally win Matthew McConaughey an Oscar is released to DVD today. Dallas Buyers Club is more than a socially relevant biopic. It’s more than a character-driven glimpse at the grinding reality of the dawning AIDS crisis, even. Between McConaughey’s multidimensional performance as AIDS victim and unabashed Texan Ron Woodruff and Jared Leto’s brilliant, Oscar-frontrunning work as Woodruff’s partner in crime, literally and figuratively, the film offers the defining moments in two careers that are just hitting their strides.

For another of McConaughey’s more recent, brilliant but serious performances (as opposed to his recent, brilliant but insane performances), check out Mud. This Huck Finn style adventure is the follow up to the bewilderingly wonderful Take Shelter, both written and directed by the underseen filmmaker of extraordinary talent Jeff Nichols. McConaughey plays the titular Mud, a man-child fugitive who befriends a couple young river rats in search of adventure. The result is a lovely journey of lost innocence and a vanishing American lifestyle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFBC8ohhVUs





McConaughey: More than Naked Bongo Drumming

by Hope Madden

It took the man almost 20 years in the business to find his real calling, but god damn, Matthew McConaughey knows how to create a character. And Ron Woodruff was nothing if not a character.

McConaughey plays the role of the real life AIDS victim and Texan in the compelling and surprisingly entertaining Dallas Buyers Club.

Woodruff was a part-time bull rider, an occupation that almost defines him as fearless, determined, thrill-seeking, and probably not long for this world. He was man who “preferred to die with his boots on,” and he makes for an unlikely hero. After a lifetime of dangerous behavior on every level, Woodruff lands in the hospital with the news that he has HIV and a predicted 30 days to get his affairs in order.

Well, he saw that news as bullshit, and thanks to those defining characteristics, his subsequent journey makes for a singularly fascinating film.

A character-driven historical piece on the grinding reality of the dawning AIDS crisis, Dallas Buyers Club offers a glimpse at desperation, isolation, bigotry and resilience. Regardless of the facts, this is not the tragic story of a charismatic straight man struggling with AIDS. It’s the story of AIDS in Texas in 1985.

There is something formulaic, even predictable, about the film’s structure, and the screenplay speechifies here and there, but Jean-Marc Vallee’s understated direction and the performances of the entire ensemble buoy the effort above its “socially relevant biopic” label.

McConaughey’s charmingly assholish depiction is never less than compelling. He doesn’t make a saint of this man because there’s no saint to be made. What he makes him is human, an effort aided immeasurably by the supporting work of Jared Leto.

Leto plays Rayon, Woodruff’s reluctantly-accepted partner in a health care whirlwind. Their work together recalls the barbaric money grab at the heart of any attempt to cure those dying every day of AIDS. Quietly and with genuine tenderness, Leto’s performance reminds you that no one was defined by this disease alone.

Both actors are likely to be remembered come awards time, and some will point to Oscar’s preference for true stories and physical transformation. (Because of the weight lost for the roles, both McConaughey and Leto are almost unrecognizable.) Celebrating their superficial metamorphoses, though, limits their work. With the aid of a director’s steady hand and an ensemble’s quietly powerful work, they provide the heart and soul of an exceptional and surprisingly fresh true tale.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cC6mv0KhOBY