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‘Mockingjay’ sets up viewers for 2015 finale

With Hollywood trending in the direction of more movie franchises, viewers are beginning to see problems down the road. The same directors that create these mega-popular films are the ones trying to roll these collections into one long, continuous story. Miss one movie along the way--or fail to read the next book by opening weekend--and you may not be able to stay up on the running plot when the next film debuts. Now throw in release dates of every year for these epic saga movies and you’ve got theater audiences either completely bought-in to the product line or baffled altogether as to what’s just happened. This predicament is where “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1” finds itself...the third movie in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy novel split up into two parts--all in an attempt to fully capitalize (financially) on the franchise’s shining end next November.

  • ‘Birdman’ likely to land several Oscar nominations

    Most of us remember Michael Keaton’s successful string of comedies in the early 1980s that started off with “Night Shift” and “Mr. Mom”.  Afterwards, he starred in Tim Burton’s highly anticipated “Batman” in 1989. By 1992, he once again played the caped crusader in “Batman Returns”, earning Keaton widespread acclaim. Then something happened; Keaton’s movies were more “misses” than “hits” until he seemed to disappear from cinema screens overnight. Keaton’s career had fallen into the category of insignificance.  He missed out on meatier roles and blockbuster box office winners. Years later, even as he found himself providing voices to successful animated films (“Cars”, “Toy Story 3”), Keaton was never handed that potential Academy Award acting part or movie. Until now.Keaton’s enthralling performance completely dominates this film from start to finish. As the character Riggan Thomson, Keaton plays a once famous actor still revered by his fans for his superhero movie persona Birdman from years ago. Riggan, perhaps similar to Keaton following his Batman days, doesn’t want history to only remember him for wearing the crime-fighting costume. Unwilling to reprise the Birdman gig for a fourth movie installment, Keaton’s character leaves Hollywood for the world of Broadway plays. Now, struggling to gain acceptance from critics, fans and his family, Keaton’s Riggan becomes despondent. Keaton’s intensity shines throughout the movie like a laser in a dark theater.  But by no means does he carry this remarkable film solely. The film’s edgy behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway production reveals a combative storyline from its entire cast and crew.Just as impressive as Keaton’s acting gem in this movie is the extraordinary job two-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton (“Primal Fear”, 1996) does to keep the plot and film moving along effortlessly. Norton’s character, Mike, is hired as a last-minute replacement actor to co-star opposite Keaton’s delusional Riggan in the Broadway play. Together, Keaton and Norton give movie audiences a volatile mix of personalities so convincingly testy that viewers will be left cringing at times and shaking their heads. Likewise, Naomi Watts (2-time Academy Award nominee) perfectly stars as the uncertain female lead in the play’s production.  Rounding out the splendid cast are Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover” trilogy) and Emma Stone (“Amazing Spider-Man”).“Birdman” marks such a powerful, riveting masterpiece by Keaton and his co-stars, that this film should garner several Oscar nominations. It’s almost certain to make the list for Best Picture while Keaton is a heavy favorite to get a nod for Best Actor. “Birdman” also makes a strong case for Academy Award nominations in the Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) and Best Directing (Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) categories.Aside from the exceptionally strong acting performances, the movie also excels in the cinematography department. Despite being filmed almost entirely within the confines of their Broadway theater, the terrific camera angles and shots deserve separate mention. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu gallantly captures the long, maze-like hallways containing the brisk-paced walk of Keaton and others in single, continuous shots.  Viewers become transfixed on the theater set itself; both the happenings in front of the stage and behind it--never missing a step with the characters.  At other times, the film holds a shot an extra few seconds for effect and audience reflection. It’s that unique showcase of the film’s storyline on camera, combined with brilliant leading and supporting acting, that makes “Birdman” one of the best films in 2014.“Birdman” provides Michael Keaton the opportunity to remold his film legacy.  While Keaton has attempted for years to rekindle his 1990s popularly at the box office, fictional superhero Riggan Thomson has refused to be typecast as Birdman--despite the insecurity that his decision costs him.  It’s only fitting that Keaton’s character in “Birdman” desires relevancy and acceptance while taking on a new direction. After all, it’s the movie “Birdman” that stands to help return Keaton to the top of the entertainment business. And in return, look for this film to gain massive Oscar buzz come this January--thanks to the dynamic duo of Keaton and Norton.

  • The Loft Cinema Presents: Paul Thomas Anderson Films

    The Loft Cinema continues its monthly celebration of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s exceptional film resume, giving local Tucson residents an opportunity to catch up with the elusive director’s work just in time for the release of his new crime drama “Inherent Vice” out December 12th. Influenced by the works of all-time greats like Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman, the multiple award winning Anderson has become one the most renowned filmmakers of the last twenty years with a body of work that flawlessly exhibits his knack for bold visuals and grandiose storytelling. Films being shown this week include Anderson’s eccentric romantic comedy “Punch-Drunk Love” followed by what many consider to be his masterpiece, the fiercely powerful “There Will Be Blood.”Punch-Drunk Love (2002)Painfully shy novelty supplier Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) lives a life of loneliness and repressed anger amidst the shadow of his merciless sisters; until one day he finds potential love in the form of the quietly kind Lena (Emily Watson). Juggling his impending romance while being extorted by a sleazy phone-sex operator and her boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Barry struggles to maintain control of his increasingly hectic life while still finding time to purchase excessive amounts of pudding, in hopes of winning a luxury vacation.Rest assured if this synopsis comes off a bit strange or eccentric, you’ve got it exactly right. “Punch-Drunk Love” easily remains the most puzzling and debated of Anderson’s seven films, mainly due to just how oddly it matches (or mismatches) up with his other works. Having developed a reputation as a director of lengthy epics like “Boogie Nights” (1997) and “Magnolia” (1999), Anderson sought to cleanse his cinematically overwhelmed palette with this intimate project; and purposely limited himself to a swift and tidy running time of ninety minutes. Free of the overwhelming pressures of crafting a big budget drama, Anderson discovered a newfound sense of liberation behind the camera that leaps off the screen with crackling energy and baroque attention to detail. Things like the endless cases of Healthy Choice pudding or the rickety harmonium are lovingly recurring images that lend immeasurably to the wooingly lovesick tone; while the rich navy blues that envelop the film makes “Punch-Drunk Love” a strong candidate for Anderson’s most visually beautiful work.The small main cast of Watson and Hoffman are predictably wonderful, but the revelation that is Adam Sandler’s performance is what steals the show here. Tapping into a much more complex and rich characterization of his typically goofy persona, Anderson manages to coax a career defining role from the comedic actor that continues to surprise even after repeat viewings. Filled with the quirkiest laughs this side of an art film and a true sense of the elations and anxieties of falling in love, “Punch-Drunk Love” couldn’t be less conventional if it tried. And for all these reasons it remains Anderson’s most delightfully eccentric and enduring film.Grade: A-

  • McConaughey propels thought-provoking ‘Interstellar’ voyage

    This latest Christopher Nolan film challenges audiences to keep up with the director’s cerebral vision and fast-paced storytelling.  “Interstellar” moves at a speed and distance that doesn’t afford us, the moviegoers, the time to get complete answers along this fascinating journey.  With such vast space to cover in the film, Nolan must play loose with the math and science equations, staying focussed instead on the many threats facing the talented cast.  After all, the stakes are high; Earth is becoming uninhabitable and another planet must be found…right now.  Like a rock skipped across the smooth waters of a lake, Nolan couldn’t slow down to fully explain the mathematics of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, or how space travel was possible from a Midwestern farm to deep inside a wormhole.  That deceleration would’ve halted the 3-time Oscar nominated director’s story and sank this movie.  Cleverly, Nolan decided to toss one life and death challenge after another at the cast and audience, keeping both groups entertained while the rock (the main story) skips along at a high velocity.  Despite being just shy of three hours long, “Interstellar” delivers full-throttle action at a nearly non-stop clip.  Every scene has new challenges or dangers lurking, often instigated by windy dust-ups or callous behavior by man.  Between buzz-kill talk of spatial and temporal coordinates along time dimensions and falling back to Morse Code for answers from above, the movie’s real strength is its sense of isolation and loneliness that comes across the big-screen in a jarring, powerful way. “Interstellar” strives to connect universes and planets for humanity’s survival, but it’s the film’s portrayal of people being separated from family and others that makes it enlightening and suspenseful.  Selling the notion of loneliness in outer space to grounded theater ticket buyers requires exceptional acting, which this movie has in spades.  Every member of the award-winning cast delivers, including youngster Mackenzie Foy (“The Conjuring” 2013) as Matthew McConaughey’s inquisitive daughter.  Academy Award winners Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”, 2012) and Michael Caine (“The Cider House Rules”, 1999) join a perfectly cast Jessica Chastain (Oscar-nominated in “Zero Dark Thirty” in 2012) as McConaughey’s now grown up daughter.  Notwithstanding those performances, “Interstellar” is about Matthew McConaughey and him alone.The first film I began to take notice of Matthew McConaughey’s dramatic acting chops was in 2011’s “The Lincoln Lawyer”. Before that, his talent was measured mostly by his looks or laughs in such comedies as “The Wedding Planner” (2001) or “How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days” (2003).  At the time of my review for “The Lincoln Lawyer”, one reader sarcastically asked me if McConaughey went shirtless in the movie.  Oh, how times and McConaughey’s devotion to his acting craft have changed for the better.  The truly great actors mature and get better with age, taking on the more vulnerable and risky roles to raise their game.  How important is Matthew McConaughey to “Interstellar” and its success?  Very.  As the stalwart father-engineer-astronaut figure who just goes by “Coop”, McConaughey takes a mind-boggling space travel narrative, without traces of romance or laughs, and transforms an above-average movie into a very good one.  Director Nolan’s nimble storytelling attempts to drop viewers the furthest distance from their starting point, omitting key connecting dots along the way.  It’s actually McConaughey that keeps the viewers glued to the galactic ride, using his slow, calming delivery to sell us the story.  In this thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, McConaughey leaves his shirt on, proving his dramatic acting skills and character “Coop” have made leaps and bounds over the years.Grade: A-

  • The Loft Cinema presents: Paul Thomas Anderson films

    In November, The Loft Cinema  will be presenting work from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s stellar filmography, just in time to get caught up for the release of his star-studded mystery thriller “Inherent Vice” (in theaters Dec.12). The Academy-Award-nominated Anderson has been one of cinema’s premier filmmakers since arriving on the scene with his crime thriller “Hard Eight” in 1996. Responsible for some of the most revered films of the last decade that include “There Will Be Blood” (2007) and “The Master” (2012); the California native has continued in the grand tradition of American masters (no pun intended) Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick as a stylistic tour-de-force specializing in both the frailty and strength of the human condition. Showing this week will be Anderson’s flashy debut “Hard Eight” followed by what the director himself considers to be his best work; the soul searching “Magnolia”.Hard Eight (1996)Down on his luck and penniless, well-meaning loser John (John C. Reilly) catches a break one day after a chance encounter with Sidney (Philip Baker Hall), a dapper and elderly gambler who seemingly takes him under his wing out of the goodness of his heart. Things get a little complicated however with the arrival of unstable waitress Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) and shifty security worker Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) as John and Sidney are plunged into the ugly world of blackmail, kidnapping and the eventual realization that all isn’t as it seems. Expanded on from the principle idea of Anderson’s 1993 short film “Cigarettes” and Coffee, “Hard Eight” is an intoxicating shot of modern film noir set amidst the neon glow of nighttime Reno; as the film stylishly jumps between the snappy casino atmosphere of an Ocean’s caper (preferably “Ocean’s 11”) and the afterhours seediness that sets in once the martinis begin to wear off. The small cast is uniformly excellent (a common recurrence in Anderson’s films) with Hall in particular stealing the show as the seasoned mentor with the solutions to everyone’s problems except his own. 

  • ‘Nightcrawler’ a dark, disturbing thriller

    The one point that director Dan Gilroy’s latest film hammers home to moviegoers is that we’ve emerged as a society with an inherent morbid curiosity.  We seek out and  are drawn to this fascination with other’s death or unpleasant circumstances.  Feeding this obsession with over-the-top gruesomeness is a news media hell-bent on higher ratings at any cost.  “Nightcrawler” unapologetically illustrates the high price television stations are willing to pay to get that grisly, leading story even if truth and fairness must be discarded to the side as collateral damage.  Gilroy’s vision for the movie is either a tongue-and-cheek play upon our grim desires as consumers of news or a gallant effort on his part to bring awareness to society’s lack of respect and dignity for one another.  Regardless, “Nightcrawler” is a dark and disturbing thriller about the sick, reciprocal relationship between television viewers and the media.Jake Gyllenhaal is superb as the emotionally troubled and socially awkward freelance cameraman capturing overnight violence for Los Angeles’ TV audiences.  Intellectually brilliant yet residing firmly within the autism spectrum, Gyllenhaal’s character skillfully manipulates others to achieve his primary goal of notoriety through violent videos.  Nominated for an Academy Award in 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain”, this could be the year and movie that Gyllenhaal actually wins the coveted award.  This unhinged role brings us a much darker and more unusual Gyllenhaal than we’ve seen in other films.  His demeanor is believably off-kilter with a dangerous, menacing angle that taps into the fears of his bright supporting cast--especially his sidekick and videographer Rick (exceptionally played by Riz Ahmed).  Any uncomfortableness viewers have watching this film is easily overmatched by one’s inability to turn away from the action, underscoring the strength of “Nightcrawler” and Gilroy’s salacious direction.  The message of the movie is clear; as we become more immune to violence in our lives and build up a tolerance, the media must work harder to induce fear in their TV viewers.  Not any crime story, however, will do.  It must make the untouchable now feel touchable.  Spinning this vicious cycle of violence through fear creates a slippery slope of media reporting that fuels higher ratings, burying any feel-good stories to later in a news cycle.  Although we hate our penchant for this type of reporting, there’s no denying it exists or our uneasiness with it.  It’s this unmistakable draw and one’s level of discomfort that “Nightcrawler” is counting on from filmgoers to make it a success.  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)

  • Bill Murray delivers his finest performance in the lastest Box Office hit ‘St. Vincent’

    Thirty-seven years ago, a young comedian named Bill Murray debuted on the second season of the TV show “Saturday Night Live” to replace original cast member Chevy Chase.  Three short years later and with an Emmy Award clutched in his hand, the 30-year-old Murray followed Chase’s lead and also departed “SNL” for the big-screen.  As quickly as Murray had succeeded in television, his success in movies was even more staggering by comparison.  Less than five years after making his transition from award-winning TV to a film career, he landed a trio of iconic ‘80s comedies that people can still quote Murray’s money lines from: “Caddyshack” (1980), “Stripes” (1981) and “Ghostbusters” (1984).  Bill Murray showed us how the world of comedy worked and made it look effortless.Fast-forward 30 years and we find Bill Murray’s character in “St. Vincent” proclaiming to the mother of a 12-year old boy named Oliver; “I’m showing him how the world works” as he smokes, drinks and gambles his life and money away.  Murray plays the cranky old neighbor Vincent McKenna, who is asked by the single mom (Melissa McCarthy) living next door if he’ll babysit the youngster while she desperately works long hours trying to make ends meet.  Murray admirably attempts to fill the parenting and mentorship void in the sixth grader’s life (brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) leading to hilarious scenes and one-liners throughout the film.  The same trademarks we’ve become accustomed to getting from the comedian.During his nearly four decades of entertaining us—the smirking and wisecracking comic has provided audiences with laughs over and over again, like he did in the mega-hit “Groundhog Day” in 1993.  That’s the Bill Murray we’ve grown to love and expect since his days of chasing paranormal activity and busting ghosts as Doctor Peter Venkman.  What I didn’t expect in this film, though, was the phenomenal and touching performance given by Murray.  First-time director Theodore Melfi wisely allowed Murray to be the face and voice of the movie, resulting in the “SNL” veteran nailing every debauchery scene and lewd line perfectly.  But more importantly, Melfi didn’t settle for a movie only filled with gag lines to bring smiles to viewers’ faces.  Instead, he added several compassionate, heartwarming aspects to Murray’s cat-loving Vincent persona.  The film combines comedy and drama, often within the same conversation.  Murray and McCarthy are both equally remarkable as they put their serious acting prowess on display, enduring each bump from along their characters’ difficult road in a believable story. “St. Vincent” shows everyone’s personal warts, unabashedly, through a constant mix of anxiety, humor, strength and vulnerability.  That combination of feelings, coupled with Murray’s creative talent to pull them off, easily makes this his finest performance ever in film.

  • ‘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.Moviegoers hoping that “Fury” resembles the 1998 Oscar-winning “Saving Private Ryan” (11 Academy Award nominations) will be mildly disappointed.  Some similarities, however, do exist between the two war stories.  The high point in “Fury” is marked by exceptional cinematography with very realistic, but gruesome, battle scenes.  In fact, the final 30 minutes of “Fury” are extremely captivating and will make audience members feel almost as though it’s them fighting the Germans from inside an American tank.  In several scenes, it’s easy to draw connections to Tom Hanks’ squad pinned down by enemy fire throughout France during “Saving Private Ryan”.“Fury” departs, though, from any likeness to the most successful war movies due to its blandly written script and the lack of any meaningful investment in the film’s characters—including Pitt’s—from the audience.  For most of the actors we’re never even told their names; instead only given a nickname…like the movie’s title for their armored ride and the real star of the film. Between the fascinating battle engagements, none of the characters or their actions becomes particularly endearing to viewers or noteworthy.  We care for these guys because of their vital mission and the extremely dangerous circumstances they find themselves, but the film doesn’t afford us much more than that on a personal level to the soldiers.The bottom line is that “Fury” is a violent war movie that graphically illustrates the heavy burden America carried to stop fascism and Adolf Hitler in Europe.  Rightfully, the movie pulls no punches on the violence of war and the high price paid by our nation and her greatest generation.  While “Fury” may have sold the military storytelling a bit short in detailing the bigger picture, it gets the small stuff spot-on. It exhibits the many superstitions and silly slogans of those wearing the uniform, along with the foxhole bonding found only in men under deadly fire.  “Fury” offers a grisly, unvarnished look inside one Sherman tank and her courageous men battling evil.  It honors all those who have ever served our country and found themselves fighting long odds for survival.  For that reason alone, “Fury” is  worth seeing and remembering.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.)

  • 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.

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