It’s been a long time since I wrote a movie review. I know most of you don’t really care about this as you’re only here to see pictures of my cute kid. But I tend to write less about all subjects when I don’t have movies to write about to get the blood flowing, as it were. Frankly, though, there just haven’t been any films I’ve really wanted to see let alone write about over the last six weeks. Even for the podcast, we’ve had to resort to reviews of films from years past because, I mean, what are we going to do, spend an hour on Let’s Be Cops? Come on. But finally there were movies out this week that I wanted to see and so I saw all of them. ALL OF THE MOVIES! So here’s a quick recap of these films that ranged from “pretty stinkin’ good” to “one of the worst movies ever.”
The Drop – Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace Rated R for language and violence Dennis Lehane (whose books have inspired films like Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River) wrote the script for The Drop based on one of his short stories and boy, does it feel like a Dennis Lehane film! The Drop is grim and gritty and features characters that thrive in the dark even as they attempt to make a go of it in sunnier pastures. The story here is thin (maybe there’s a reason it was a short story) but it is held together quite nicely through some terrific performances. This film will go down as James Gandolfini’s last, which is fitting since his character operates somewhere in the same realm as Tony Soprano might. The whole movie, however, belongs to Hardy and his portrayal of Bob Saginowski, the mysterious barkeep whose quiet demeanor just barely keeps his truths at bay. You know throughout The Drop that something is coming, that something is going to break, but the film plays it slow and lets that feeling sink in before allowing the movie itself to fully engage the elephant in the room. Grade: B+ Lesser performances would have left this movie to become a middling affair but Hardy is worth the price of admission by himself. It’s the sort of solid, adult-oriented drama that is often lacking from the theatrical release calendar.
Lucy – Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked Rated R for violence that could’ve easily been toned down to PG-13 level I’m not a very good artist; otherwise, I might just skip the writing part of this review and just draw a picture of me setting myself on fire. That might be less painful than digging through this colossal mess again. I have one simple rule when it comes to science fiction: Create rules that work within your world and then stick to them. Well, according to Lucy, if humans could somehow learn to use 100% of their brains, they would be able to exercise mind control on other humans, travel through digital wavelengths, and spread across the world like a computer virus. I think. Nothing, NOTHING, within this movie makes an ounce of sense even in a crazy sci-fi universe and while I’m usually okay with, “Leave your brain at the door” entertainment, Lucy felt like an assault on my brain on every single level. If I could use 100% of my brain, I would just strike the memory of this film entirely. Grade: F Somehow this movie is fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has made over $300 million worldwide. I don’t understand how either of those things are possible.
The One I Love – Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss Rated R for absolutely no reason, seriously, there’s like two curse words in the whole movie To accurately describe The One I Love would be to ruin it completely. It’s sci-fi…sort of…with some…comedy-ish moments…with an edge of…horror that’s not actually scary but you feel like it might get scary at some point… I don’t know. A couple on the verge of divorce heads to an out of town retreat to reinvigorate their marriage and weird things happen. That’s all I can say about the plot. It’s a quirky, off-putting little film produced on a shoestring budget and featuring two actors who both commit completely to a bonkers storyline. I’m thoroughly impressed with all involved. Grade: A- The One I Love isn’t going to be for everyone but I found it to be extremely charming even in its stranger, borderline creepy moments.
A Walk Among the Tombstones – Liam Neeson, David Harbour, Brian Bradley Rated R for language, violence, and general horrific imagery I wonder how many people went into this movie thinking, “Oh it’s about Liam Neeson taking down kidnappers. This’ll be a riot!” and came out a bit shaken. Yes, while A Walk Among the Tombstones does involve Liam Neeson tracking down a pair of kidnappers, it is a far cry from the ridiculousness of Taken, Taken 2, Taken on a Plane, and the other films he’s starred in over the last few years. This is a grim affair and while it pulls a few punches in terms of the on-screen violence, it’s certainly not, shall we say, an enjoyable film. Neeson, though, is good at this sort of thing and plays his role well even if most of the surrounding work is average at best. The plot, too, requires the surrounding characters to make too many dumb choices in order to work and thus leaves the whole film feeling somewhat hollow. Grade: B A Walk Among the Tombstones is dark and dreary and while it gets its job done effectively enough, it’s not a film that you’re going to remember in a month.
This is Where I Leave You – Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver Rated R for language and sexual situations Oh man. This one is tough to review. I have very rarely wanted to love a movie the way I wanted to love This is Where I Leave You. I read the book and found it to be heartbreakingly authentic in almost every way and could not have been more excited about the film’s cast. But it BADLY needed steadier hands at the helm than what director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) and writer Jonathan Tropper (who also wrote the book). In truth, this movie is a complete mess that is just BEGGING for someone to pump some air into the room and let it breathe a little. It moves far, far too fast in an effort to touch on all the beats of the book and as a result, it almost always feels rushed. From a purely filmmaking standpoint, This is Where I Leave You is a massive misstep. But…the cast is so good and the source material is so personal and honest that you get a dozen or more moments throughout the film that actually matter and ring completely true when they probably should fall flat. I think this is why critics hated it and audiences seem to appreciate it. It’s like a song that you know is bad but you keep singing along anyway because even though it sounds wrong, for some reason it feels right. I completely get why This is Where I Leave You has failed with critics but there’s a part of me that can’t toss the whole thing out in spite of its many flaws. Grade: B I guess? The stronger moments will resonate with me for a long time I think but the low points are supremely low and frustrating. Read the book and then maybe appreciate the movie just for Bateman and Driver if nothing else.
The Maze Runner – Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario Rated PG-13 for violence, language and thematic elements Another entry into the growing list of “young adult novel turned film franchise” properties, I was fairly unfamiliar with The Maze Runner having never been able to get through the book’s first couple of chapters. But for what it is, I actually quite liked this movie. The host of young actors are all fairly solid in their roles (it’s always a tricky proposition when you have this many young and unknown cast members) I was very impressed with the world director Wes Ball built. It’s a much more engrossing film than I might have expected. I can’t say The Maze Runner is up to the caliber of Harry Potter or The Hunger Games but I think it’s significantly better than most of the other YA adaptations that have made their way into theaters over the last few years. Grade: B+ I can’t there’s anything truly special or remarkable about this film but it’s an interesting concept that is fleshed out fairly well.