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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ten Years Later... Alfie (2004)

On this day in 2004


Director: Charles Shyer
Starring: Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei, Sienna Miller, Nia Long, Omar Epps

2004 was going to be the year of Jude Law. After breaking through in 1999 with his supporting turn in The Talented Mr. Ripley (and earning his first Oscar nomination in the process), Law's appearances in film were fairly sporadic, with him starring in just one film a year (save for 2001, when he had a leading role in Enemy at the Gates and a supporting role in A.I. Artificial Intelligence) until 2004 when, coming off his second Oscar nomination (for Cold Mountain), he would have 6 films in theaters. The films and his roles varied from being part of the ensemble in the would-be prestige film Closer, playing the lead in the would-be special effect game changer Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, providing voice work as the narrator in the would-be franchise starting Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, playing a cameo role in The Aviator, being part of the ensemble in David O. Russsell's least appreciated film I Heart Huckabees, and playing the lead in the deeply unnecessary and ultimately ill-conceived remake of the 1960s classic Alfie. That Law's big year is probably best remembered for a joke Chris Rock made at the Oscars and Sean Penn's snitty, on-air response, probably says it all about the collective success of his various performances in 2004.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Fury (2014)

* * *

Director: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LeBeouf

For much of its running time David Ayer's Fury plays like the best movie Sam Peckinpah never made. A WWII movie about the blood and the mud, rather than ideals and the honor inherent in fighting the last good war, Ayer's film is like a punch to the gut as it builds one scene of brutality atop another. This is a story of unrelenting ugliness where circumstances have made violence, in all its forms, as natural to the characters as breathing, and it unfolds in an unromanticized fashion - at least until the end, when it finally and fully surrenders to war movie cliches and conventions. To be sure, those conventions are present even from the beginning, but it's only at the end when the story seems to find itself at the mercy of those tropes. Still, despite the stock (and arguably weak) ending, Fury is a solid movie, possessed of the visceral intensity of a film like Saving Private Ryan, even if it lacks that kind of grand scale ambition.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Don't Look Now (1973)

* * * *

Director: Nicholas Roeg
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie

Don't Look Now is one of the most dread-filled movies ever made. A shadow hangs over it from the first to the last, and every scene has a palpable sense that the other shoe is about to drop. A psychological horror thriller about the lingering effects of grief, this adaptation of a short story by Daphne du Maurier is a deeply creepy and deeply effective movie that has influenced filmmakers far and wide since its release in 1973. It's taken me a while to catch up this this film, which is now considered a modern classic, and what struck me about it (aside from the fact of how good it is) is how the elements that made it controversial in 1973 still stand out now. Often it's difficult, so many years later (in this case forty), to see why something would have once caused such heated debate, but the frankness of Nicholas Roeg's film remains somewhat out of the ordinary. Don't Look Now would still be a compelling film even if that frankness had become muted by time, but the fact that it remains so sharp helps give the film a greater sense of timelessness than it would otherwise have.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

Like a lot of people (judging by the film's tepid box office) I didn't catch Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow as it has been rebranded) when it was in theaters. I missed out by not making time for it because the film - whatever you want to call it; a rose by any other name, and all that - is one of the year's best pure entertainments. A smart science fiction action movie which has confidence enough in the audience not to spoon feed the plot, and instead to trust that the audience will keep up and follow along, Edge of Tomorrow is the sort of popcorn movie that most of us always say we want - but, based on the fact that it grossed less than half of what the last Transformers movie made, it is perhaps not the popcorn movie we deserve. If you haven't caught up with it yet, I highly recommend it. It's a film that is entertaining and intelligent in equal measure.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Netflix Recommends... Warrior (2011)

* * * 1/2

Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte

Today's Netflix recommendation comes as a result of three films that I've watched: The Warriors, The Dark Knight Rises, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Warrior really isn't anything like any of those movies, except that it has a similar title to one and shares a star in Tom Hardy with the other two. Once again, Netflix's algorithms baffle me, but on this particular occasion the ill-thought correlation actually made for an excellent recommendation. I had vaguely recalled Warrior as a film that scored Nick Nolte a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination a couple of years ago, but the only other thing I knew about it was that the plot revolved around mixed martial arts. Not being into UFC, I wasn't sure how much Warrior was going to appeal to me, but it's actually a very classic type of Hollywood story and so emotionally engaging that any reservations I had were quickly dispensed with.