Monday, November 24, 2014

John Wick

On Wednesday, I saw John Wick, starring Keanu Reeves and Willem Dafoe.

John (Reeves) is a man of few words. Then again, he doesn't need many. He left a legendary life of crime when he fell in love with his wife, but now she's passed on and he's alone. Oh, so alone.

Until ... a puppy arrives. A gift arranged by his late wife, this little guy (who is painfully cute, but devoid of a name) becomes the light of his life. We see the puppy navigating his new life in the mansion that years of bloodshed built, and we can't help but fall for him too.

Of course, it's all a ploy to get us so emotionally attached to the dog that we won't be able to bear it when he's horrifically killed. What's worse? It's by some painfully dumb bad guys who don't realize this man's best friend belongs to John Wick.


That's when things get interesting. They stole Wick's car and killed his dog. Now, he wants revenge.

After unloading an arsenal of weapons that look like something out of a Middle-East military bunker, he begins to make that happen.

With a lot of clever choreography and some token at-the-loud-and-flashy club scenes, his fury is unleashed. Keanu broods a lot.

And it's fun, if you're into that sort of thing.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Theory of Everything

Last night I saw The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

Most people have heard of Stephen Hawking's famous book A Brief History of Time, but perhaps less know of his personal struggles with ALS.

Diagnosed at age 21, Hawking (Redmayne), refused to accept the death sentence delivered to him (two years) and decided to accelerate his study of scientific theories while he battled the unimaginable physical hurdle of his body failing him day after day.

Of course, as he is still living today, we know that he triumphed, but there were a lot of things that propelled him to success along the way; not least of which was his first wife Jane (Jones), who married him after she learned of his ailment, bore his three children and nursed him day-by-day as his condition got progressively worse.

This film (based on a book written by Jane), is just as much a story about her as it is the famous scientist.

Basically, we see their life beginning when they meet at college and ending just a few years ago, with a satisfying post script explaining their present day existences. Everything in between is like any other family: uplifting, gut-wrenching, confusing, amazing and joyous. It's life.

That's not to say that it's normal—of course marrying someone who is 'supposed' to die in two years is admirable, but hanging on for the long haul is the behavior of a saint, for sure.

Both lead actors master their parts here in an almost eerie authenticity. Jones wears the pain of her situation not in her words, but in her eyes, and a lesser actress may not have pulled it off quite so flawlessly. Redmayne was so chill-inducing accurate (and physically similar) that Hawking himself thought at one point he was watching old footage of his life. There can be no greater endorsement, right?

Although the story is scripted well, and there are no points of boredom for the audience to endure, the real reason to see this sure-to-be-Oscar-contending film is the performances.

Acting doesn't get any better than this.


Sunday, November 09, 2014

St. Vincent

Today I saw St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.

Maggie (McCarthy) is a single mother enduring an ugly divorce, who is determined to provide a good life to her young son, Oliver (Jaeden Leiberher).

Vin (Murray) is the drunken next-door neighbor who they meet after their moving truck smashes into his tree, damaging his car and fence. Understandably, he's less than pleased.

Though they get off on the wrong foot, Vin soon becomes Oliver's babysitter by default and an odd, if not sweet, bond begins to form between the two after-school friends.

Though at first Vin seems like a very one-dimensional loser, we quickly learn there's more to him than meets the eye: He's unimaginably kind to the prostitute (played by Naomi Watts, sporting a Russian accent) he patronizes regularly; he makes sure his wife in the nursing home is treated with the best care possible and he treats his fluffy white cat, Felix, like royalty.

Children are typically good judges of character and Oliver is no exception. Though he deems Vin as "grouchy", there is something about him that he admits is redeeming.

The first half of the film is very much like About a Boy, with Vin playing hero to Oliver when he's bullied, etc., but then the second half takes a darker turn.

McCarthy's performance as a woman scorned is fantastic—it's actually nice to see her play it straight in this movie, instead of her usual comedic self. She's very raw and convincing as a woman trying to keep it together as her world is crumbling around her.

Murray is predictably phenomenal as well, playing both the dramatic and comedic parts with equal swagger. He's just a master, that's all.

And newcomer, Lieberher doesn't fall prey to the typical annoying kid acting traps. He is wise, but not mature and smart but not precocious. Delightful at any angle.

The only major flaw this film has is its formulaic script. Though there are a few small twists that you may not see coming, the end result is pretty obvious from the time the opening credits roll.

But sometimes, that's okay.


Saturday, November 08, 2014


Tonight I saw Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain.

Cooper (McConaughey) is a mid-western widower and father of two who is stuck farming corn after earth becomes nearly inhabitable. In a former life he was an engineer and astronaut, and he's never gotten over the fact that the technology died out before mankind could be saved.

Murphy (Chastain) is Cooper's daughter who is convinced that a ghost in her room is trying to communicate with her. He's certain she doesn't have a ghost, but can find no scientific explanation for the weird occurrences.

The whole family (which also includes a son and a grandpa) is tested when Cooper discovers a way to possibly remedy the predicament humans have gotten themselves into. Of course, this means he has to travel through a 'wormhole' in space to explore other planets that may provide favorable living conditions, and take years off his life, but hey—he's up for the challenge.

He has a few comrades on his trip; Dr. Bryant (Anne Hathaway) the only female. When they set out on the trip, you wonder if they'll even come close to accomplishing their mission since their pleasantries are so icy, but of course they thaw out. How could they not? They have three hours to do so.

Therein lies the problem: a movie that's already been done—whether you call it Moon or Gravity or 2001: A Space Odyssey—is what you see, plus the family back home waiting for dad to come home, plus the folks at the command center, plus a few surprises in the next galaxy, plus a few cameos that you're sure were put there just because the actors wanted cameos. And a lot of spinning.

I've never been so alternately nauseous and exhausted.

Of course the acting is top notch, but with a script that struggles and sequences in space that carry on far too long, it almost feels as if you're hanging out atop a roller coaster right before it's about to go off the edge and then you drop and take that long way back to the top. Several times.

There were some jumpy moments, some tense-filled scenes, no doubt. But not enough when woven together to create a seamless film.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

Before I Go to Sleep

Tonight I saw Before I Go to Sleep, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.

Chris Lucas (Kidman) wakes up every day remembering nothing about her life for the past 18 years. She's 40, but in her head, she's 22. During the day her husband (Colin Firth) tries to catch her up by placing post-it notes and photos around the house, reminding her of their life, but by the time she retains it all, it's time for bed.

Her amnesia is the result of a traumatic attack she suffered at the hands of a mystery man several years ago. He was never caught or punished due to her lack of recollection about the incident.

Attempting to help her is Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), who has developed an experimental therapy that has Chris recording a diary on camera each night. He hopes that the ritual will gradually begin to bring things back for her, but decides to remove himself from her case when he becomes too close to her.

Her instincts tell her that there are people in her life who should not be trusted, but determining who causes her great peril.

Kidman is convincing as a confused, disturbed woman trying to piece together her history from conflicting stories and evidence; Firth is effortlessly handsome (as usual) and compassionate as he's forced to repeat the same retelling of his wife's life every day.

I'll have to admit I found this story very depressing until the unexpected twist took hold of the plot and turned it upside down. I didn't see it coming, though I suspect if I went back and watched it again, the clues would all be there staring me in the face.

What started as a quiet drama evolved into a nail-biting thriller with a an ending that gave the characters a well-deserved exploration.

One of the nicest surprises I've had at the cinema in a while.