Pick Up The Drop

Dennis Lehane is a master story teller and his genius as an author has not gone unnoticed by Hollywood. Classics such as Mystic River and Shutter Island have been adapted to the big screen by prominent directors. Lehane has lent his talents to the small screen as well as working on The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. Now, on Blu-ray and DVD, one of his short stories comes to.

The Drop is based on the short story “Animal Rescue” which Lehane expanded it into a novel and adapted it as a feature film. Bob (Tom Hardy) is a quiet bartender whose bar has been taken over by organized crime. The bar is used as a “drop” point, a place where dirty money is held until it can be picked up. When the bar is robbed, Bob and his boss have to deal with the repercussions and angry mobsters. Meanwhile, Bob finds a beaten pit bull in a trash can and decides to adopt it. But trouble ensues after the dog’s original owner comes back wanting the dog. Bob must deal with the pressure on both his personal and professional life.THE-DROP-TOM-HARDY_0

The tale is classic Lehane. Viewers become entangled with characters and react emotionally to them. Viewers feel sympathy for Hardy as Bob and his life begins to unravel. Then, suddenly, the whole tale is flipped on its side and viewers see a new side of the characters, giving them more depth and realism. This keeps the plot from being just another mob movie.

Lehane has been lucky with the casting and directing of his adaptations. When in the skilled hands of Clint Eastwood or Martin Scorsese, these tales come to life in vivid detail. The Drop features unknown Michaël R. Roskam, a more subtle director, who pairs well with the simple Bob. But, what truly makes the film stand out is the cast.

Lehane’s characters are heart breaking, real, and moving when handled by great actors. Shutter Island would have been a wreck if Leonardo DiCaprio had not handled the intricacies of the main character with ease, and the same can be said here. At first, it seems like James Gandolfini gives the strongest performance. He is great as the cranky Marv who wishes his life has been different. Hardy’s understated performance seems very low key for him but once Lehane twists the plot viewers truly see the work Hardy has done with the character. The intensity is balanced with an everyman vibe and Hardy shines. A lesser actor could not have pulled off the performance.

The Drop is a carefully woven tale that proves why Dennis Lehane is a master at his craft. The film is also a wonderful testament to the late James Gandolfini. Pick up this twist on Mobster movies today.

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American Sniper Misses Its Mark

American Sniper garnered great attention when it was nominated for six Oscars. The hype for the film was propelled by critics and viewers alike. But, sadly, the film does not live up to that that hype.

The movie details the military life of Chris Kyle (played by a Texas twanged Bradley Cooper), the deadly American military sniper credited with 160 kills over his four tours. The movie (SPOILER) follows his life from a rodeo ranch hand to his eventual death at the hands of another veteran. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie pays homage to the titular Navy Seal.

The film suffers from a horrible screen play. Jason Hall created elements that weren’t in the memoir and changed many things to try to create a typical movie story. This hurts the movie. The lines are cliché and are no different than any other mediocre war film. The movie is disjointed and doesn’t flow. Here’s a scene with the Seals, here’s a scene of Yaya crying on the phone, here’s a scene of Chris holding his baby awkwardly. It’s hard to follow exactly what the story is trying to show. Is it about PTSD? Is it about the legend? Is it about revenge?

Eastwood and Cooper both falter. In the final act, Eastwood gives into Hollywood clichés of a slow motion shot which is meant to amplify the action but it just slows it down. We’ve seen the same shooting/breath sequences in other films; this adds nothing new. Cooper does well with accent never faltering from the Texas twang and impressively bulks up his physical appearance. But there are sequences where he is trying too hard to portray his feeling with his body language and it’s awkward.

But Cooper excels in those few and far between sniper moments. He does well portraying the thoughts that go through Chris’ head as he decides who is a target. Chris is given the authcooper43ority to decide who is a threat and who isn’t. Cooper shows how heavy these decisions are on the man and how it affects his life in and outside of the Seals. The moments where Chris deals with his PTSD are when you feel for him the most; you want to reach out and comfort him.

Speaking of comfort, the movie does a horrible job of portraying the families of our war heroes. The role is written very one sided and Taya Kyle becomes a harpy always screaming at Chris and telling him to move on. When we do truly see the heart ache she feels for his husband, Sienna Miller butchers these moments with insane histrionics.

But, after all, it is the story of Chris’ life.  In the final moments, as you find out his fate and see footage from his memorial and the irony of the situation hits you, it’s deeply moving and brings tears to your eyes. The movie does well with showing you his life, his sacrifices, and his desire to protect our country. That sticks with you as you leave the theater and maybe that’s how it should be. You remember the man, not the movie.

Holiday Big Openers

 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

In this final installment of The Hobbit adaptation, the story is stretched way beyond the point of APphoto_Film Review The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armiesentertaining. Peter Jackson uses material from the various appendices by J.R.R. Tolkien himself  to pad the story and just plain makes stuff up.

Laketown must deal with the deadly dragon that was released in the second movie. This hassle is taken of quickly and the story moves on to the fight over the dragon’s treasure. The Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Humans each want a piece of the treasures held within the Lonely Mountain But the Dwarves, Human, and Elves have to band together to defeat the Orcs and save the legacy of their races.

The problem with this movie is that it is too long. The story suffers at the expense of expanding for three movies.  The entirety of The Hobbit could have easily been two movies while still expanding on Tolkien’s supplemtantal material.

Like the two before it, the movie looks good.  The effects are gorgeous and the make-up is effective. This go-around I did notice something: the two Dwarves we are supposed to empathize with the most  are the two that look the most human.  Quality actors help round out characters but even they can’t smooth over dodgy bits of exposition.

Honestly, I wanted more or the dragon and less of the endless battles. Hell, I just wanted the damn movie to be over.

Into The Woods

Into the Woods follows several well-known fairy tale characters as they try to obtain their greatestdepp-wolf1 wishes. It seems that to have each wish granted, they must enter the spooky woods that surround their homes. The characters find that they help each other achieve their dreams, but then, too late, they learn their wishes were not what they were cut out to be.

Unfortunately, the movie adaption of the Broadway show does not translate well. The story rambles on and changes focus. It becomes preachy and tries too hard to have a moral.  There were some interesting points with the highlight being Johnny’s Depp short appearance as The Wolf. This was the best musical sequence in the whole film.

The casting is the second issue.  James Corden and Emily Blunt are passable but Chris Pine can’t sing even though he’s great at being a charming jerk.  I also don’t understand why everyone loves Anna Kendrick so much, and she does not ever embody Cinderella for me. It seems like the casting was looking for big names instead of talent. But that’s not to say there isn’t some talent there. Meryl Streep was fantastic as was Lilla Crawford who played Red Riding Hood.

I’ll admit it looks good. Director Rob Marshall always manages to make his films look like the worlds they are set whether it is a Cook County Prison, pirate infested jungles, or creepy fairy tale woods.  Marshall does well with what he has, but the biggest issue is that he wasn’t given great material and actors to work with.

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Telltale Tackles Game of Thrones

Telltale forays into TV adaptations bringing Game of Thrones to the video gaming world.  The first installment was released for the PlayStation 3 last week, and fans devoured it.

The six-episode sage follows House Forrester, a less prominent house which the game could really expand on, and how they move through the war ridden world.  The Foresters span the lands giving view points from Ironrath, Kings Landing, The Wall and Mereen as they interact with character prominent in the show. Happily, these characters are voiced by their respective actor.

Iron from Ice introduces player to the key family members in House Forrester. You begin as Gared Tuttle a family squire who delivers the House’s sword when the Lord of the house is killed. The children Ethan, Talia, and Ryon deal with taking over the house and the pressure of Ramsey Snow. Meanwhile, Mira is in King’s landing trying to get help from Margaery Tyrell.

Overall, it is a fantastic game. The controls are fantastic as Tell Tale has learned a lot since that first Walking Dead Episode.  The game is smoother integrating the right and left hand easily. Game-of-Thrones-Telltale-6

The atmosphere is typical of Tell Tale Games, and the opening sequence from the TV show is recreated in the game high lightening the major places on the episode. This is a great homage making the show seem more organic. The only downside to the atmosphere is that many of the background become blurry like hazy paint brush streaks and characters become blurred when walking past these areas.

The plot continues in the Game of Thrones tradition, so be prepared for betrayals and deaths galore. In fact, this episode packs a huge emotional punch reminiscent of the work of George R.R. Martin. Download Telltale Games A Game of Thrones and become immersed in Westeros.

Fall Movie Snapshot

Horrible Bosses 2

horrible_bosses_2Need some adult movie time? This movie is your best bet. When Nick, Kurt, and Dale (don’t say that too fast!) are cheated out of payment by an evil CEO, they kidnap his psychopathic son in order to collect the ransom for their lost money. But of course these guys aren’t smart enough to pull off a kidnapping. Hijinks ensue as the three men run into their old bosses, break into houses, and orchestrate the greatest ransom drop ever. This movie is ridiculously fun, and you’ll leave the theater feeling better about your day.

 

Mockingjay Part 1

15558194588_9309c0692a_kThe studio decided to split the final installment of the Hunger Games, Mockingjay, into two parts giving viewers more time to really see what pain is caused to the victors of the Hunger Games. Katniss must deal with becoming the Mockingjay and leading the revolution while reeling from the horrors of the games. It doesn’t help that Peeta is still in the Capital and speaking about a cease fire. This movie is emotion filled but it’s the weakest in the series. And fans will have to wait a year for the explosive conclusion.

 

Big Hero 6

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This fun, family film is a lot of laughs. Young Hiro inherits Baymax after his brother’s tragic death. The robot is made to be a nurse drone but Hiro gets him ready to do battle against the a villain who has stolen Hiro’s technology and using it for evil. The film blends action, humor, and emotion. A story about what really makes a hero; this animated film is a great solution for family movie time.

 

Gone Girl

4121433fGone Girl is hands down the most anticipated movie of the Fall. People devoured the book about a wife that goes missing and all signs point to her husband killed her. The movie stays mostly true to the book, and the twist is amazing. But the story doesn’t stop there. It continues to twist and turn into the bizarre. Instead of being a psychological look into the minds of married people, it’s weird mind bender. I can say one thing for certain, if you haven’t read the book, you won’t see what’s coming!

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Theirs is the Fury

Everyone is talking about David Ayers’ new project Suicide Squad spreading rumors and guessing at casting. But let’s take a minute to look at Fury, Ayer’s World War II tank crew ode. The film is compelling, sad, and brings to life the true courage of those who worked in the tank squads.

During World War II the Axis’ tankers were far superior to those of the Allies. Most tank squad lasted about six weeks but the story follows a team that has been together for four years. When their gunner is killed, the position is filled by Norman Ellison, a military typist. He has not seen battle and is not used to the brutality. But working under “War Daddy” he quickly sees what the war really is: death and destruction. As the tanks move through the German landscape, Ellison bonds with his team and, when it comes to a final show down, they band together to hold off the Germans.

The cast works well together. Each actor takes their role and makes it their own. You’d never believe that they are the guy from Interview with the Vampire and the kid in Percy Jackson and the jackass from The Walking Dead. Brad Pitt, Jon Bernthal, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, and Michael Peña round out Fury’s squad and each one brings something to their role whether it is innocence, leadership or faith.

But is the realm of the movie that affects you. Ayer doesn’t shy away from the hard truth of war: violence and cruelty ran rampant. Soldiers on both sides committed offenses. You see the terror in their eyes. You realize how desperate the Allie was coming for soldiers near the end of the war. You see the struggles of having les advanced equipment. This is not a feel good movie but an ode to those who served.
I had some one tell me the movie was missing something. Not a lot of time is spent the men’s home lives. They don’t reminisce 1413227235_4much about their lives at home but pictures of their loved ones are clearly shown. This helps keep the story in the now and focusing on the present action. But the biggest thing missing is there is no happy conclusion at the end of the film. There is so write up about how the team managed to complete their task and win the war. This is because Fury is a fictional tale. Ayers used a composite of different stories about tank teams to create this one story. So while it doesn’t give you the kind of closure you expect from most war movies, it is still a brutal look at a different section of the military during WWII.

Overall, Fury is a moving film. It looks at the complex world of war with realism. You hate the characters and you love them. It helps us realize what people did to secure our freedom, something we often take for granted.

By the Book: Horns

Joe Hill is an amazing writer weaving unique tales of the macabre.  Through his various novels and comics, Hill has made a name for himself outside of being Stephen King’s son. It is no surprise that his materials have been made into a movie. The adaption of his novel Horns hit theater for Halloween but lacked the intricacies of the novel.

horns-book-coverThe movie follows the same basic premise. Ig’s girlfriend is killed and he is the prime suspect of her murder. The evidence neither clears nor condemns him but he must deal with a town that persecutes him anyway. One drunk, emotional night, Ig wakes up not remembering what he did the night before but finds horns growing on his head. These horns have the ability to make people tell him their darkness secrets, bringing out the devil inside them. The story follows Ig as he adapts to his new talent and as well as solves the mystery of his girlfriend’s murder.

The movie is enjoyable but never reaches its full potential. Unfortunately, Keith Bunin, the screen writer, decided that lots of changes needed to be made to Hill’s tale. The problems start immediately as the movie opens with gushy platitudes and fuzzy emotions that would never appear in Hill’s work. This continues to be a flaw throughout the film, each change softening the edges too far. And it’s not just the additions that hurt the film. Bunin chooses to cut vital information that leave major plot holes. Spoiler: the movie never explains how the horns came about.

Ironically, as most of the changes of the book are the movie’s down fall, the best scene actually does not take place in the book. horns_ver5_xxlgThe movie is at its height when Ig uses his powers to make paparazzi battle themselves to Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Personal Jesus.” This scene manages to define the theme the movie is trying (but never manages) to portray: revenge, though sweet, causes our downfall.

Daniel Radcliffe is the perfect Ig brining to life the description of the character from the book, and the character is pretty spot on. But most of the other characters are warped. Juno Temple’s Merrin is a travesty of the original character and I know the book version would have a few choice derogative terms for her portrayal. She’s not the only one changed. The brother becomes more melodramatic and the true villain is skewed from the start of the film. The characters needed none of these changes, and it detracts from the tale that Hill was actually trying to tell.

The movie is enjoyable if you haven’t read the book but I would never suggest it to you. Instead I would send you straight to the bookstore or library. Horns is a dish best severed in paper format.

Ultra-Violence and the Equalizer

Hype set up Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington’s latest pairing. After Training Day, critics were chomping at the bit for this TV show modernization. The trailer for the vigilante justice film The Equalizer had fans lining up. However the film fails to hit any emotional note but instead is moved forward by unneeded ultra-violence.equalizer
Robert McCall lives an ordinary and simple life. He spends his days working at a home store and spends his sleepless night at a diner reading. He has a peculiar habit of timing himself at everything and shows various signs of OCD, so Bob is a little off, but seems like a nice guy. But then a teen hooker and acquaintance of his is beaten nearly to death, and Bob decides that he must do something about it. He takes on the pimp and his four goons in a matter of minutes. This starts a trail of actions leading him further into the mobster world.
The original series in the ‘80s was known for its violent realism but this movie goes beyond that. But there is no deep purpose for the level of violence bestowed on the bad men. There was no philosophical discussion of them deserving such brutal ending such as being hanged by barbed wire. It is just the tool the movie uses to entertain culminating to a Walking Dead-esque massacre. Fugua hopes that through violence and editing you will miss the flaws in the film.
These flaws include a lack of buildup. It takes forever for the plot to establish itself. In an effort to show what a basic and simple guy he is, too much time is spent showing his mundane activates from encouraging co-workers and washing his dishes. Its great pay off when he finally plays karma to the pimps, but the story gets dragged down into the organized mob. Instead of developing the character or taking a new spin on the lone hero, viewers watch him show a shot class into one of the villain’s eyes.
I was truly disappointed in the film as I loved Olympus Has Fallen. But this movie not only failed to channel the ideals from the TV show but it failed to be anything other than a man violently killing bad people.

By the Book: The Maze Runner

Very rarely does a movie adaptation do the book justice. For every Hunger Games there is a Mortal Instruments. Luckily, The Maze Runner does well translating the literary onto the big screen.

the_maze_runner_book_cover_01Thomas awakens in a moving elevator not knowing who he is or where he is. He is introduced to a group of boys named The Gladers, the inhabitants of a lush valley. But beyond the valley is The Maze, a dangerous puzzle that the boys try each day trying to figure out how to solve and escape captivity. Thomas is just the many is a long line of boys who are sent to this world not knowing their purpose. But then suddenly things change when girl is dropped off along with a note saying she will be the last. Suddenly, the game seems even more dire.

The movie makes minimal changes, usually to facilitate the movie’s action. The biggest change is the complete removal of Thomas and Teresa’s telepathic link. In fact, Teresa herself is mostly down played.  In the book she is unconscious when she arrives. In fact, she talks to Thomas telepathically and tells him that her appearance has triggered “The Ending.”  This is the first of many clues that she and Thomas are not only linked but that they have something to do with what is happening to these boys. The two make use of their telepathy many times throughout the series, so it will be interesting to see how this deletion changes the aspects of the other movies.

The movie is a beautiful representation of The Glade and The Maze. It looks exactly as I hadMV5BMjUyNTA3MTAyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTEyMTkyMjE@__V1_SX640_SY720_ envisioned it except for The Maze walls. Due to filming limitations, you can see the ends of the massive walls but this allows for gorgeous Ariel shots of not just The Maze but the boys’ habitat in relation to The Maze. The production team manages to make the whole area beautiful yet unsettling.

The casting fits perfectly. The group of boys in the book has a wide variety of nationalities, ethnicities and ages, and the movies portray this well. No character is white washed and except for two of the actors, everyone is a relative unknown. This helps when casting an isolated, post-apocalyptic movie. It seems more real when Tom Cruise isn’t being reborn every five minutes. My favorites include Patricia Clarkson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones). Clarkson is perfect as the tester who makes a short but impactful appearance about the boys’ origins, and Brodie-Sangster is perfect as Newt, a fan favorite. He balances the aspects of being a leader as well as a scared teen boy well.

The Maze Runner made almost all of its $34 million budget its first week, and the sequels have been ordered. In fact, another Game of Throne actor (Aiden Gillen) is set to join. Here’s hoping the sequels will be as true to their book origins as this one was.