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‘Fury’ an intense, gripping WWII battle film

Five-time Academy Award nominee Brad Pitt delivers another gritty performance in this intense, gripping World War II thriller.  The 50-year old actor more than holds his own as the very capable and confident Army sergeant leading a five-man tank crew against Nazis in 1945 Germany.  Pitt, along with the other well cast soldiers in the movie, poignantly demonstrate the horrors found on the battlefield while showcasing the courage to stand up for each other even when their situation turns dire.

  • Prime Time Review: Disney may be planning three Obi-Wan Star Wars movies

    With all of the news, rumors, and spoilers surrounding the imminent release of Star Wars: Episode VII, it seems as though little else would hold importance in the Star Wars universe and its nearly unrivaled fandom. It has been quite the opposite, however, as the internet has been parsing over a new rumor.It seems as though Disney may be looking to expand its contribution to the Star Wars universe to even greater levels. Cinelinx has recently reported that sources inside Lucasfilm and Disney have told them there are some plans to create another movie trilogy, each film involving everyone’s favorite master Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi. These movies would be set between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Episode IV: A New Hope. While some have referred to the movies as a trilogy, the source of the rumor has stated the movies are planned to have as little interconnectivity as possible and would run independent of one another. This model would be similar to James Bond films.According to the source, one film would take place entirely on the planet Tatooine, while the other two would have Obi-Wan trekking across the galaxy. While the Jedi Master would likely encounter many familiar faces from the Clone Wars, the source specifically mentioned appearances by Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn. As this is still in the rumor phase, no mention of possible casting is even on the horizon, though it would be wonderful to see Liam Neeson reprise his role as Qui-Gon Jinn and Ewan McGregor come back to his masterful performance as Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan has become one of Star Wars’ most popular characters, especially amongst younger fans. As one of the heroes of the prequel trilogy, and with his continued appearance in the animated show, it comes as no surprise that Disney is even considering the possibility of giving this character a three-movie treatment. The galaxy far,far away seems to be growing even larger in the coming years.

  • ‘The Judge’ presides over superb cast

    To the excitement of movie fans, Robert Downey Jr. finally doffs his protective Iron Man suit and mega-successful Tony Stark character for his most vulnerable film role in years.  As high-priced Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer, Downey completely dominances the big-screen and courtroom in this emotionally charged legal drama.  He flawlessly transitions this strong-willed, egotistical lawyer between bouts of anger, compassion, arrogance and humility. Called back to his hometown after the unexpected death of his mother, Downey faces two very formidable foes—his estranged father (played naturally by Robert Duvall)—the small-town judge whom Downey must defend against a hit-and-run murder charge, and, the big city prosecutor brought in from upstate to get that conviction (a perfectly cast Billy Bob Thornton).  Although Thornton steals every scene he’s in without much difficulty, this movie comes down to Downey vs. Duvall—and the application of the law. The long-standing tension between father and son goes back to Downey’s poor choices and troubled youth under Duvall’s stern household.  The film unflinchingly looks back at the punishment dealt out by Duvall to his son growing up and compares it to those consequences he ordered since that time from the bench.  Sparks once again fly between them as Downey attempts to get two sticky statements from Duvall’s character—approval from his father on Downey’s own legal career accomplishments and answers from his client, Judge Palmer, on his whereabouts the night of the murder.“The Judge” makes a compelling argument on how our legal system often maneuvers within the gray area of the law.  Where circumstances must get factored into the enforcement of the law using the system’s best judgment of one’s intent.  Likewise, frustrations and guilt over punishments strike comparisons between a father’s firm discipline and a judge’s stiff sentence. Both actions require conviction and fortitude yet remain difficult to surmise its overall effectiveness until the end.My only objection during the movie was to the unnecessary and forced subplots director David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”, 2005) throws at the audience.  Rather than delve deeper into the relationship and scorched past between the father and son, Dobkin spends precious screen time on an irrelevant and meaningless side story on Downey’s old high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter.  This film is very watchable and flourishes when Downey and Duvall battle it out during their scenes together.  Both provide fireworks and realism not only to the father-son family dynamics but also to the film’s courtroom.  The short appearances by Billy Bob Thornton are highly flammable sequences in which both Thornton and Downey forcibly stake their legal positions. Thornton intuitively takes mere words on a movie script and, with only a glaring look, turns them into a combustible spark when opposite Downey.  “The Judge” is more than just a legal drama though.  It’s a story about acceptance, compassion and one’s reputation.

  • Reel Brief - ‘Gone Girl’ provides dark, disturbing mystery

    Like a roller coaster ride, the film “Gone Girl” starts off slow and steep, the familiar clank-clank-clank sound of the ascending chain lift marking a young couple’s courtship, and, ultimately, their wedding. As the relationship strains and tightens at its highest, most vulnerable point, the movie unleashes viewers on a thrilling adventure of unexpected plot twists and turns.Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a bar owner unhappy in his marriage who becomes the top suspect after his beautiful wife’s sudden disappearance on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. The story unfolds like a headline ripped straight from today’s tabloids, generating 24/7 news coverage and intense scrutiny for Affleck’s character. Viewers will find the criminal investigation, circumstances surrounding Nick and Amy Dunne’s relationship and others, to be dark, disturbing and yet intriguing to sit restlessly through.Director David Fincher is no stranger to dark, bizarre thrillers with “Fight Club”, “Seven”, and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on his vast resume (and Academy Award nominated for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Social Network”). However, in “Gone Girl” Fincher outshines all of his previous works with this believable he-said/she-said whodunit mystery.Gillian Flynn, who wrote the “Gone Girl” best seller, is sure to make faithful readers pleased with her screenplay adaptation for this film, which stays true to the story presented in her popular novel.Rosamund Pike provides an Oscar-worthy performance as the missing Amy Dunne and leads an ensemble cast that is brilliant from top to bottom. Every character’s competent portrayal spins this remarkable tale into a believable narrative yarn—particularly Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney and the high profile, celebrity attorney Tanner Bolt (played effortlessly by Tyler Perry).“Gone Girl” unravels enough surprises to moviegoers to make it an instant classic that will be talked about 40 years from now. Viewers in theaters will think they’ve got the mystery solved, only to have another sharp turn in the roller coaster ride throw them in another unexpected direction. This well cast thriller provides dark, edgy entertainment that has serious Oscar potential. Don’t miss this thrilling ride.

  • ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ - Handles life’s difficulties with humor and family

    In this family comedy-drama, Jason Bateman (from TV’s “Arrested Development) plays Judd Altman, a guy who sees his life seemingly fall apart right before his eyes—and ours.  With the unexpected death of his father, Judd must head to his parents’ home in the New York suburbs to rally his mother (two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda) and siblings, led by strong-willed sister Wendy (aptly portrayed by Golden Globe and Emmy Award winning actress Tina Fey).  Unfortunately, his father’s death is only the beginning of several difficulties about to face Judd, as one serious life-changing moment strikes after another.  It’s from these unfortunate circumstances that viewers will find entertainment value—similar to how motorists rubberneck a traffic accident, passing the victim off to the side of the road and eyes fixed upon the how and why.Judd’s difficult life becomes even more complicated as the family mourns together during a “sitting Shiva” ritual, a week-long Jewish custom in which the family receives visitors to the house following the father’s burial.  Under the same roof for seven days, the movie’s storyline expands to include the extended family members, all carrying their own personal problems for everyone to comment upon and capitalize for laughs.Director Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum” collection) deserves credit for nicely balancing a rather large ensemble cast around Bateman’s Judd, while keeping all the focus and family dynamics squarely on the son and brother whose life is being turned upside down.  Levy strides for and succeeds at making the film part funny and part serious, skillfully combining our vulnerable human nature with our resiliency to bounce back from adversity.  The fact we can laugh at, and find entertainment in, Judd Altman’s life is proof that our problems pale in comparison to his.  It’s also indicative of how useful humor is in coping with life’s hurdles.  Although the film is far from a slapstick comedy, it does provide enough smiles throughout to earn an above-average grade.“This Is Where I Leave You” achieves laughs and entertainment from others’ misfortunes, due mostly to a strong, supportive family with funny and endearing characters.  Director Shawn Levy smartly makes no attempt to correct or solve every problem for Judd or the other family members by the film’s end.  This allows the audience to reconcile their own conclusions to the story. A diverse cast manages to stand apart at times, and yet, come together at other moments to shine bright.  Judd Altman faces personal, professional and family adversity with humor and resolve. Together they make this movie more believable along the way and watchable in the end.Grade: B-

  • Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month 2014

    On PBS 6, ReadyTV, the UA Channel, WORLD, Vme and NPR 89.1Arizona Public Media (AZPM) presents an extensive lineup of special programming during Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 – Oct.15. From history to performing arts to independent film, PBS 6, WORLD, Vme, the UA Channel and NPR 89.1 offer viewers and listeners the opportunity to explore the rich, vibrant history and cultural contributions of Hispanic Americans.AZPM is proud to present three feature highlights:Latino Americans, a six-part series that goes back to the year 1500 to explore Latinos early settlement, conquest and immigration, as well as the gradual creation of a new American identity.Life on the Line: Coming of Age Between Nations, a documentary that follows a year in the life of 11-year-old Kimberly Torres, who each day travels from her home in Nogales, Mex., across the border to attend school in Arizona.Independent Lens: The Undocumented, examines the lives of migrants searching for a better life and who often die while trying to cross the border in an unforgiving desert.

  • Prime Time Review: NCIS: New Orleans coming to your TV soon

    After some time in production, the newest spin-off of the “NCIS” TV franchise is making its way to your television sets. NCIS: New Orleans started on Sept. 23, right after that night’s episode of the original “NCIS”.NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the organization has been the inspiration for one of America’s most beloved procedural crime dramas. “NCIS” is the primary law enforcement and counterintelligence outfit of the U.S. Navy and investigates criminal offenses within the Department of the Navy. Starting in 2003 as a spin-off of “JAG”, the original NCIS series stars Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly, Pauley Perrette, Sean Murray, and David McCallum amongst others.Following the original show’s growing success, which culminated in winning most popular show in America in 2012, the first spin-off, “NCIS: LA”, was created in 2009 starring Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J. The Los Angeles version of the show has received mixed to positive reviews and has retained strong viewership since its debut.Now in its twelfth season, “NCIS” has given way to a second spin-off, “NCIS: New Orleans”. The staff behind the new show is not only hoping to bank in on the huge popularity of the two existing shows, but also that the show’s setting will work its own magic on set.“It’s really about the DNA of the city and the whole Gulf Coast,” said executive producer, Jeffrey Lieber.The show is taped, both on-set and on location, in New Orleans, bringing authenticity to one of the most unique cities in the country.

  • ‘A Walk among the Tombstones’ - Neeson serves justice in suspense thriller

    Justice hasn’t been served so effectively on the streets since Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan character snuffed out punk killers in the early 1970s.  Liam Neeson, in his most weighty film role yet, quietly and confidently leads this suspense thriller based off of the bestselling crime novel series by Lawrence Block.  Neeson plays retired NYPD cop Matt Scudder, an unflappable but also unlicensed private detective, who provides “favors” to clients wishing to make personal problems go away.  In “A Walk Among the Tombstones”, Neeson is hired to find the kidnapping killers of a drug trafficker’s wife, one of many gruesome deaths in this violent film from director Scott Frank (“Marley & Me”, 2008).  The dark, sinister plot is the perfect match for Neeson’s quiet demeanor and steady resolve on the big screen.  Matching every stone turned by Neeson for fresh leads in the case is an equally talented cast of associates and cold-blooded killers. Together, this cat-and-mouse high stakes thriller will leave audiences glued to their seats and many with their eyes shut during its most harrowing parts.  This film is not a continuation of the “Taken” films by Neeson, where hand-to-hand fight scenes dwindle the number of bad guys by tenfold.  Instead, Neeson relies on his investigative skills to follow each lead, attempting to keep his professional distance from the victims and not make the crimes too personal.  The movie’s pace, however, intensifies to a fever pitch when Neeson’s character finally grabs the phone and directly takes over ransom negotiations with the kidnappers.  From this point on, viewers will relish the intensity and fast-paced tempo of the movie.“A Walk Among the Tombstones” is a relentless suspense thriller that inspires easy comparisons to Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” in those 1970’s matchups against serial killers in San Francisco.  A man of few words and little regard for a criminal’s rights, Neeson’s former cop character deals with New York City killers the only way they understand; justice served in the street and on the spot.  This is a violent film with several torture scenes that will make viewers unsettled and squeamish until the end.  An excellent supporting cast provides the quintessential backdrop to a private investigator with much on his mind and yet little left to prove to others.  Neeson’s mystique role is sure to make this film an instant classic in the cops-and-killer genre.  It has also left open the option for more movies from the popular crime novel series by Block.  And that should make audiences and Harry Callahan fans excited.  Grade: B(Editor’s Note: Patrick King is a resident of Oro Valley and writer for the REEL BRIEF movie blog at www.reelbrief.com.  You may email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com)

  • ‘Calvary’ results in average showing on the big screen

    A couple of times every year a movie will come out that completely surprises me  where I find the plot cleverly disguised and 180 degrees from what I was expecting after the first 20 minutes.  Like most everyone else, I detest movie trailers for the simple fact that they’ve become too long and too specific for my taste.  Trailers today spoil our movie experience by connecting too many dots in the storyline and test driving all the laugh lines on us viewers-- all before we’ve even settled into our theater seats.  The interesting part of the film “Calvary” is that not only did I have no idea what the story was about ahead of time, but that once I started watching the movie my perception of it changed dramatically with how I felt afterwards.The “Calvary” is about Father James (played splendidly by Brenden Gleeson), a priest in a small Irish town having to face parishioners who display little, if any, moral character or reverence for the man of the cloth and the Catholic church.  The stakes are high for Father James, personally and professionally, as he must continue to stay true to his faith while answering difficult questions about past Catholic priests’ behavior.   Gleeson’s exceptional performance captivates audiences with his earnestness and likeability in what is easily his best role to date.The beginning of the movie was extremely slow and nondescript, making me seriously contemplate getting up and leaving the theater by the 20-minute mark.  The film’s middle and ending, however, generated interest with the stark contrasts it draws between a society that openly rejects religion and those servants attempting to preach God’s word.  Gleeson convincingly does his best to chart a corrective course for the sinning souls at the remote outpost while nearing his own personal threshold in tolerating others.  It was due to Gleeson’s endearing role of Father James that viewers not only see right from wrong, but more importantly, are left asking how and why our world has become so mean and nasty?This film painstakingly builds its case for society’s mean-streak and how that lost moral compass may be due to the irrelevance placed upon religion.  Rather than forgive and understand, we tend to discard and dismiss others and their feelings.  Withstanding Gleeson’s moving performance, the “Calvary” is just an average showing on the big screen. Its message, however, resonates and intensifies upon further reflection afterwards.  That introspect is the film’s best message and one that makes it worthy seeing. Grade: B-

  • ‘The November Man’ - Brosnan re-cast in familiar assassin spy role

    Former James Bond 007 actor Pierce Brosnan returns to the world of professional assassins in this film based off the bestselling “November Man” book series by Bill Granger.  In “The November Man” Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA agent who earned the nickname of the movie’s title for always leaving an unmistakable path of death and destruction behind him.  Brosnan’s Devereaux is forced out of retirement and back into the field to help save an undercover agent and secure intelligence information. Directed by Roger Donaldson (“No Way Out” in 1987), “The November Man” is an espionage thriller that could have been ripped straight off of the front page of today’s newspapers. “The November Man” reminds us of why Brosnan was once selected as only the fifth person to play Bond (“GoldenEye” 1995)--he’s cool, confident, unflappable and never flustered by mayhem around him.  A strong and convincing Brosnan plays the experienced CIA killer, selected to teach to a new journeyman (Luke Bracey) his deadly trade skills.  This relationship between instructor and his flailing student provides a compelling back-story to a very watchable movie for viewers who enjoy the James Bond, Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible spy thrillers.  Yes, the overall plot in “The November Man” may not be difficult to decipher early on, but subtle intricacies to the storyline appear throughout to keep viewers entertained as the action slowly burns.Another 007 connection exists in the film with Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko portraying the woman Brosnan must keep alive long enough to provide vital information on a deadly Russian conspiracy.  Kurylenko, the former Bond Girl to Daniel Craig’s 007 in 2009’s “Quantum of Solace”, provides excellent company to Brosnan while showcasing her own undercover talents.Aside from these two main characters, Pierce Brosnan saves an otherwise weak cast.  The Peter Devereaux character in this movie is easily Brosnan’s best performance since 2005’s “The Matador”.  The former MI6 James Bond actor clearly shines in his covert spy roles, tugging beautiful girls through gunfire and chase scenes.  Despite several predictable themes, “The November Man” offers an intriguing and sleek film that will leave viewers making comparisons between Brosnan’s CIA assassin in this film and his alter ego, superspy gig as Britain’s 007 agent.  For that reason alone, “The November Man” will keep audiences entertained and thankful we have dedicated assets with these skillsets in today’s world of troublemakers.    Grade: B(Editor’s Note: Patrick King is a resident of Oro Valley and writer for the REEL BRIEF movie blog at www.reelbrief.com.  Email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.)

  • ‘When The Game Stands Tall’ - Football story gets fumbled on the big screen

    Inspired by true events, “When The Game Stands Tall” is the story of the De La Salle High School (Concord, Calif.) football team posting the longest winning streak in football history.  The film neatly illustrates the De La Salle Spartans 12-year rule on the gridiron and how “the streak” ending comes almost as shocking to the world as a Harlem Globetrotter loss in basketball.  The problems the coaches, players and community have in confronting their rare defeat and moving on in life gave the film so much potential.  Unfortunately, the remarkable real-life story that helped propel De La Salle to triumph once again on and off of the football field fails to inspire film-goers the same way on the big-screen.Thomas Carter, who brought us the stirring “Coach Carter” movie starring Samuel L. Jackson in 2005, directs the film.  Jackson’s Coach Ken Carter character brilliantly turned around his underachieving high school basketball team from worst-to-first using stern practices and tough love.  In “When The Game Stands Tall”, De La Salle football coach Bob Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel) also stresses personal responsibility, focusing on each player’s future after football.  But Caviezel (from CBS’ “Person of Interest” and the 2004 film “Passion of the Christ”) doesn’t provide any spark or connect with audiences like Samuel L. Jackson’s demeanor did on the hardwood floor.Caviezel’s monotone locker room and pre-game speeches, combined with blank stares over the practice field and fruitless discussions with his wife about a job at Stanford, all lack emotional fireworks.  As an absent father, Ladouceur gets respected by his son more for his X’s and O’s strategy than any investment to the family dynamics.  Denzel Washington’s memorable portrayal of the even-keeled coach Herman Boone in “Remember the Titans” (2000) used very effective outbursts and flashes of raw emotion to bring the story and Boone’s character alive both on the field and at home.  Director Carter played it too safe with Caviezel’s coaching character in this film, stiff-arming the marriage and co-parenting aspects of Ladouceur’s life—both of which could have offered Caviezel a chance to make us want to stand up and cheer not only the successful coach, but also the honorable man.“When The Game Stands Tall” had a playbook full of established and proven storylines to call upon; faith-based teachings and mentorship, unexpected adversity for a close knit community, successful inner-city kids earning a life-changing opportunity at college, and a coach — with job security for life — weighing lucrative offers to teach elsewhere.  Together, these themes should have made “When The Game Stands Tall” the perfect feel-good movie heading into football season.  Perhaps sports films about already successful teams attempting to stay on top are less enjoyable to watch than a group of underdogs making their quest to be the best.  Regardless, “When The Game Stands Tall” fumbled in its emotional connection to viewers as a result of the inexpressive, monotone delivery by Caviezel’s coach “Lad”.  And that turnover cost movie-goers the chance to be as inspired by the De La Salle’s coaching staff as the players were back in 2004.Grade: C+

  • Prime Time Review: Two new ‘Jungle Book’ movies hitting theaters soon

    With movie theaters being overrun by a plethora of science fiction and fantasy movies, it may be difficult to find something to take young kids to. Between the cursing, violence and bloodshed, some movies just don’t make the cut as child-appropriate. Luckily, there are two separate renditions of “The Jungle Book” in production.The Jungle Book is a collection of stories written by English author Rudyard Kipling. Originating in the late 19th century, the book contains the collected stories of Mowgli, a young boy who is raised by wolves in the Indian jungle, and is assisted by anthropomorphic jungle animals throughout his adventures. The stories of The Jungle Book were adapted to the big screen for a young audience in 1967 by Disney. This movie originally followed the more dark and sinister tone of Kipling’s stories but was lightened up before its release to become more kid-friendly. The original animated movie grossed over $73 million in its first release, an impressive figure, at that time, for an animated movie. An animated sequel was released in 2003 but spent little time in theaters before being sent to home video.There are currently two new renditions of this timeless children’s movie in the works. Andy Serkis, best known for his work as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings”, will be stepping back from live-action work to direct an animated movie of Mowgli’s adventures under Warner Bros. This movie will also be Serkis’ feature directorial debut; he also worked on “King Kong”, “The Adventures of Tintin”, and “Planet of the Apes”. Working under Serkis’ directorial guidance will be Benedict Cumberbatch, who is lending his voice to the human-hating tiger, Shere Khan. The Warner Bros. film will be sticking closer to the original material, creating a relatively dark movie that shifts away from the 1967 Disney version of the film. While Serkis and Cumberbatch are on confirmed to be working on this new release, there is little else known as far as casting goes.Disney will have its own rendition of The Jungle Book, staying in line with a more kid-friendly movie.  Disney’s version of the movie has a pretty impressive cast, Idris Elba will be voicing Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Bill Murray as Baloo, and Christopher Walken as King Louie. With Warner Bros. bringing in two impressive cast members and Disney pulling out all the A-list stops, these two movies will surely be vying for supremacy in the box office. While there will be a year difference between their release dates, movie goers will, no doubt, be comparing the two.

  • A tribute to Robin Williams

    The Loft Cinema is celebrating the cinematic legacy of the late, great actor/comedian/Oscar-winner Robin Williams with special Labor Day holiday weekend screenings of three of his most beloved films, all showcasing his range, versatility and one-of-a-kind talent.  Net proceeds to benefit COPE Community Services, Inc.Saturday, Aug 30 - JumanjiSunday, Aug 31 - Good Will HuntingMonday, Sep 1 - Hook August 30, 2014 - September 01, 2014Event Location: 3233 E. Speedway Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85716 

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