“Jumping the still-catching-up-from-vacation blog queue with an advance screening. Kiera Knightly, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Sam Rockwell star in Laggies, a film about a millennial (Knightly’s Megan) who is taking a break from her stalled life in hopes of jump starting her future. On paper, it sounds kind of dull and sappy. Hell, the trailer didn’t even help matters there. But I will see Rockwell in just about anything, and those lovely ladies he’s costarring with add it to the priority list.

Little more elaboration on the story. Megan’s clique from high school is rapidly growing up: marriage, kids, jobs, the whole 9 yds. Between not having any career motivation, an unexpected proposal from her bf, and some tension with her parents, she hides out with high schooler Annika (Moretz) and her father (Rockwell). The plot does sound a little dull, but the strong cast really sells it and instills a lot of heart into it.

I was most impressed with how much presence Moretz has at her still very young age. Her tween character could easily be annoying or overlooked, but she commands the screen when she’s on it. It should be a strange dynamic, that a 20-something wants to hang out with a teen, but watching this, I wanted to hang out with her. Knightly is always so full of life, that she doesn’t let her character’s malaise drag down the film. She brings out the humor in the simple moments, also making you care about a character that’s not very easy to love. Rockwell got the short end of the stick as far as charaters go, being stuck with a less fleshed out trope, but his attack was a solid attempt to add some weight. Any other actor I may not have been as into, or at least I would have been bored during his scenes, but he did enough to keep me interested.

Ultimately, it was an enjoyable film, even if thinking back on it I start feeling some of the blahs driving our protagonist. I wouldn’t have wanted to see it with any other cast, and frankly these guys deserve a better film together. Still, a nice and light film as we start to dive into the weighty gloom of fall films

Laggies – \m/ \m/ \m/

Left Behind

“Oh dear. This movie. It looked like a trainwreck from the beginning. Yet I couldn’t look away. Reason being that I actually am familiar with the Left Behind series. I tore thru them all back in high school. All dozen or so books. And I saw the Kirk Cameron movies. It’s kind of a special series for me, so even if this new more mainstream adaptation looked pretty awful, I still had to check it out. You prolly shouldn’t.

Left Behind is basically a fictionalization of the book of Revelations (as in, the last book in the Bible). It interprets all of the prophesies and metaphor into a realistic story. Really cool idea, and worth checking out the books. What this version of the movie did is basically take the first quarter to a third of the first book and turn it into a natural disaster flick. And not a very good one at that.

Our main characters were there, father and pilot Rayford (Nicholas Cage), mother and firm believer Irene (Lea Thompson), free spirited daughter Chloe, and innocent young son Raymie. We also had Cameron “”Buck”” Williams, investigative reporter (Chad Michael Murray), who took every opportunity to remind us that he was in fact an investigative reporter. Irene’s faith pushes her family away, sending Rayford out on an overnight overseas flight. While he’s out, the rapture happens. Millions of people, including Irene, Raymie, and all children, instantly disappear. In the books (and the original film) this is just the starting point. Here, that’s pretty much all there was to it.

First major change is that instead of it happening during the middle of the night, it’s in the middle of the day. Raymie disappears mid-hug with Chloe at the mall instead of mysteriously in his sleep. Even though he disappears while she’s holding him, in a feat of Kim Bauer level stupidity, she still decides to wander the choas ridden streets searching hospitals for him. Rayford, instead of simply turning his plane around after some panic and sorting out the mess on the ground, has a whole ordeal with passengers pulling out guns, and crashing into an unmanned plane, and not having enough fuel, and just about every other cliche for a plane thriller. Only thing missing from his story was Liam Neeson.

I’m not one to typically nitpick movie vs book changes, but seriously, they just threw out more than half of the book. Rev Bruce Barnes, a major player in the series, was reduced to one scene. At least he showed up though. Not even a mention (at least not that I caught) of Nicolai Carpathia, the man who would eventually rise to power as the antichrist. Kind of important to a story about the end days.

Still, there’s a special place in my heart for these characters, particularly Buck. Murray was kind of adorable, and I did fall in love with his character (however thinly he may have been written) all over again. The other win, especially over the Kirk Cameron movie, is that it wasn’t quite as preachy. The first third laid it on a lil thick, but it backed off once it shifted into “”oh my God we’re all gonna die”” mode. As someone of faith who does believe in all of this (although I’m not sure how literally I take some things), I do think that pulling back was the right way to go. Especially since this was meant as a more mainstream film to appeal to a secular audience, at least they got one part almost right, even if I wouldn’t actually recommend anyone else see this ever.

Left Behind – \m/ \m/”

Layer Cake

“For today’s lesson in film history, this Daniel Craig vehicle is responsible for him being James Bond. The movie got him on the producer’s radar, and it is a pretty good audition for the role. His character isn’t quite so confident and suave as Bond, but you can certainly glimpse a superspy in the making during this film about the layers of the criminal underworld.

I actually did see this one before he became Bond. At one point, it had Guy Ritchie attached to direct, and was often referred to along with Lock Stock… and Snatch. So I bought the DVD when it came out, took it to a friends’ dorm room to watch, and fell asleep about halfway thru. He was really into it though. Tried again a couple days later. Passed out again. I think I gave it another go after Craig was cast as Bond. Still didn’t make it. I even bought the book at one point, but couldn’t finish it either. To be fair though, I never really finished any books I tried reading in college. Well, I did make it thru a couple I read in the back of lectures. But that’s neither here nor there.

Watching it now, still having some trouble getting into it, but I at least made it thru the whole thing (minus a couple of Candy Crush breaks and a trip to the kitchen for some fishsticks). I’m kinda jaded on criminal underworld films, but this one does have some good moments. For example, this exchange upon receiving a threatening phone call:
-I’ve got an idea… Why don’t you come ’round for breakfast? I’ll squeeze some orange juice and grind some coffee and we can talk about this like adults. How’s that sound?
-Sounds very hospitable.
-Do you know where I live?
-Well, \m/off then.

Oh and it’s not only Daniel Craig who got his break in this movie. Tom Hardy’s here too! Okay, maybe this one wasn’t his big break yet, but it’s kind of trippy seeing a pre-Inception Hardy (since that was his springboard). It’s also strange for me seeing Michael Gambon as a shady boss man. Hearing threats and f bombs in Dumbledore’s voice is just tripping me out.

It actually is kind of a smart movie, if you can get past the pacing issues. Maybe on the next try I’ll get a bit more. Welcome to the layer cake, son.”

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

“There should prolly be a statute of limitations for how long it can be since I’ve seen a movie and still be able to write it up. It’s been two weeks and a day on this one. I could just walk away and no one would be the wiser, but I had a lot of thoughts on it. I didn’t do the write up immediately as I should have because I spent the whole film wrapping someone’s bday present and then it was late and I was tired. Then it’s been deprioritized after theater movies and write ups within the hour of credits rolling on the DVD.

I’ve come a very long way since I first saw this ten years ago. I pretty much just went to see it because of Elijah Wood. Remember, this was prime Frodo time for him. I would have followed him to any film. I was kinda intrigued to see Jim Carey in a more serious role. I’m generally a fan of comedic actors going dramatic like that. I wasn’t a fan of the seemingly romantic storyline, and I only knew Kate Winslet as that chick from Titanic. I’d never even heard of Mark Ruffalo.

I didn’t like it then. I was confused by the non-linear storyline. It was too sappy. Elijah Wood was kinda dumb. I simply didn’t get it, and I didn’t understand why people spoke so highly of it. I eventually acquired the DVD as a gift from a friend who owed me a favor. I gave it another chance, and wasn’t as opposed to it, but I was still missing something.

Over time, as it’d come up and I’d think about the movie, my opinion got more and more favorable of it. I learned more about film, and realized that this truly is a masterwork. When it’s cubby came up in the movie wall rotation, I had to give it another go.

This time, I loved it. The imagery is beautiful. The “”confusing”” storyline is inspired. The characters may be a little bit annoying for me, but the performances are spectacular. Jim Carey truly does nail it as Joel, in a very un-Jim Carey piece. Winslet is captivating and whimsical before she started chasing more serious and stoic roles. Maybe I still got caught up trying to untangle the order of things, but it didn’t matter. Maybe it was still a little sappy for me, but I didn’t care. I’ve seen so many movies over the past ten years, and nothing I’ve seen is anything remotely like this beautiful film.”

Men, Women, and Children

“Oh Jason Reitman. I thoroughly enjoyed Thank You For Smoking. I fell in love with Juno. I supported Up in the Air thru it’s awards run. Young Adult wasn’t my favorite, but I still backed it. Then Labor Day happened. I could forgive it as the inevitable misfire, and Reitman even admitted mistakes were made. Now comes Men, Women and Children. He’s one more bad idea in a row from striking out.

To me, this movie felt like it was about two things: technology dependency and impersonal sex. Both were explored between two disparate age groups: teenagers and their parents. The technology stuff I could get behind. I really liked the images of people’s screens floating Sims style above their heads, seeing text messages and IMs and playlists. The parental interferance with the technology was annoying. Jennifer Garner’s character was grating, constantly going on an anti-technology rant as she cleared her daughter’s Facebook history in an attempt to “”protect her””. Or the way that Dean Norris just didn’t get his son’s (Ansel Elgort)’s MMORPG playing. The divide between the technology use was pretty striking and extremely stereotypical.

While that part was interesting, the storylines that had to do with sex were just awkward and uncomfortable to watch. It wasn’t even about good sex. I don’t think anyone who had it in the film enjoyed themselves. They just felt dirty and/or guilty. So that was fun. (It really wasn’t). Everything here was also minimized to caricature. Some tied back into the technology aspects, some didn’t.

At least the cast was good. Well, they were good actors. They didn’t have much material to work with, but good efforts at least. I want to go on record and say that I rather like serious Adam Sandler. Please make him stop doing dumb comedies. He’s peaked in that genre. Also a fan of Rosemarie DeWitt, although it’d be nice to see her play a happy and contented character for once. This wasn’t it. Judy Greer got a chance to graduate from bit part to ensemble role, so yay for her. One day you’ll get a lead role, and it will be worthy of you, Judy! I believe in you!

Jason Reitman, you’ve been warned. One more clunker, and you’re gonna hafta fight to regain my affection! Thin ice, buddy!

Men, Women, & Children – \m/ \m/”

Panic Room

“After Gone Girl, I needed a little more David Fincher in my life. Don’t we all, really?

I’d previously bought this film whilst on a Jared Leto kick, presumably not long after seeing Requiem for a Dream. As I was not yet a Fincher-phile, I didn’t really pay much attention and then promptly forgot everything about the movie. This time, I was very much into it. The cats were too. Lestat sat on my legs staring at the screen the whole time, and Nosferatu was on a giant stuffed teddy bear next to us. Family movie night at the Cave of Wonders!

Jodie Foster’s Meg and her daughter Sarah (pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart) have just moved into an old house in NYC. Unbeknownst to them, the recently deceased former occupant hid a small fortune in a panic room in the house. Not knowing that new residents have moved in, one of the owner’s descendants, Junior (Jared Leto), and his accomplishes Burnham (Forrest Whitaker) and Raoul (Dwight Yoakum) break in to try and steal the money. Meg and Sarah hide in said panic room, only to find that might not be the best idea.

Movies that occur in small spaces are difficult to pull off. If your director doesn’t know what he’s doing, it can feel claustophobic or it can feel very thin. But we all know Fincher knows what he’s doing. The film is incredibly suspenseful (there were many times when I paused mid-stitch in the cross stitch I was working on because I was so absorbed) and effective. It’s interesting how the one room that’s meant to provide safety is the one that brings the most danger.

Foster is such a formidable actress. She’s a no nonsense Mama Bear protecting her cub, no matter what it takes. Such gravitas and determination she brings to the role. Don’t know if it’s surprising or typical, but this may be Kristen Stewart’s career best performance, at least from what I’ve seen. She was actually emoting instead of just brooding or pining, and the little girl had some attitude. Sigh. What happened to her? See kids, this is why not all vampires are good vampires.

In anticipation of Gone Girl a friend had sent me a video detailing a lot of Fincher’s signatures, and it was fun watching for them. Even if this is considered one of his lesser films, there’s no denying he’s a brilliant filmmaker.”

Gone Girl

“Don’t worry, details are purposely vague to be spoiler free.

No question, this was the most anticipated movie of the year for me. Not just of the year, but for recent memory. I read Gillian Flynn’s book back when it was released a few years ago. I’d previously read her debut novel Sharp Objects and really liked it. I remember being drawn to it. It’d been a while since I read something that I hadn’t seen the movie or was already familiar with the author and/or series. The shiny picture of the razor blade grabbed my attention, and the endorsement from Stephen King on the cover sold me. When Gone Girl came out, it took over pop culture. It was particularly all over Entertainment Weekly, which I read um weekly, mostly because Flynn used to be a writer there. I loved the book so much. It was one of the most disturbing things I’d ever come across, which is really saying something. As is often the case when I read, I tore thru it so fast (especially when approaching the end) that much of it is a blur.

For the movie, expectations could not possibly have been any higher. I was already excited to hear it was in the works, but finding out David Fincher was directing increased that exponentially. He’s a favorite because A) he’s such an incredibly smart and genius director and 2) most of his films are deliciously dark and subversive, exactly how I like them and perfect for this. More news started coming out. Ben Affleck was cast. Despite some career mistakes he’s made, he’s redeemed himself of late, and he really is a good actor. Fincher later said part of why Affleck was cast was his history with paparazzi and the tabloid spotlight (mostly from his Bennifer days), which is perfect experience to draw for Nick Dunne. That little known Rosamund Pike beat out some pretty big starlet names (including producer Reese Witherspoon) for Amy was a bit of a shock, but an intriguing one at that. And it’s exactly that mystery around her that’s fitting for the character. As more and more details emerged, all I could do was wait.

Now, could the film possibly live up to these impossibly high expectations? Surprisingly yes. Wait, let’s make that sound a bit more exciting. Yes! In most cases, when I see a movie based on a book that I have read, there’s two possibilities. It either feels dry or deviant. It sticks too closely to the source and/or stays with it in a very high level (pretty much all I’m likely to remember) or it’s so different that it feels like its not related to the book. Going into Gone Girl, I remembered a lot of the high level stuff, but the details I’d forgotten about came to life in front of me. It all flooded back watching the film unfold.

Real quick recap. The story is about Nick and Amy. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears. The plot flip flops between Nick and the investigation and Amy’s diary entries recounting their relationship. Over time, you see how completely contradictory their stories are. The overall themes are about how you never really know how well you know someone, even if you’re married to them. After five years, these two have such different views of what their marriage is, and that’s where a lot of the real scare comes from. Not from the suspense of the disappearance, but from the possibility of not knowing the person you’re living with.

Not a big surprise that the film stuck close to the book, seeing as how Flynn write the screenplay herself. I was particularly impressed with the pacing of the first act, which revolves around the mystery of whether or not Nick is involved in his wife’s disappearance. Suspicions and doubts ebbed and flowed exactly the same way I remember feeling them before. Now of course I won’t spoil the ending, but there was some controversy about how Flynn supposedly threw out the third act and rewrote it. That’s the section I remember least from the book, but it did hit on the few points I did recall, and I remember feeling slight dissatisfaction with the end of the book. With the movie, I wasn’t dissatisfied with how it ended story wise, I just didn’t like that they took a note from LOTR and gave it a bunch of false endings on the way to the final conclusion. But I can forgive that. Especially since the screenplay picks up bonus points for some really twisted dark humor. I don’t specifically recall that from the book, but it was laced throughout the script. Uncomfortably funny moments that set you off balance. So good.

Affleck and Pike delivered exactly what I expected of them. This seriously has to be among Ben’s career best performances. There’s a lot of complexity behind that character, and he nailed every nuance. Even more complex is Amy and Pike was stunning. My favorite character in the book was Nick’s twin sister Margo, portrayed on screen by Carrie Coon. Still my favorite. But the really fun one to watch was Neil Patrick Harris, in an uncharacteristically understated and creepy role. Very much skeeved out, but in that same twisted way that I love everything else about this story. Others worth keeping an eye out for: Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry, Patrick Fugit, Scoot McNairy, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward, and Casey Wilson. For any fellow 90’s enhtusists, keep an eye out for Lee Norris. You’ll remember him as Minkus from Boy Meets World. That was a trip. Seriously Fincher can clearly get any actor he wants.

Oh and speaking of Fincher collaborations, he brought back his buddy Trent “”Nine Inch Nails”” Reznor to do the score again. Absolutely haunting perfection.

Fun fact: Fincher really wanted Affleck to wear a Yankees hat for one scene. Boston Boy Ben flatly refused. You’ll see him wear a Mets hat instead.

I went to see this with a couple of friends who’d “”reserved”” this movie with me like two months in advance. I gotta say, given the film’s idea of marriage and the themes it plays with there, kind of awkward sitting in between a newlywed couple, but damn there were some fun conversations over Corona margaritas afterwards. We fawned over Fincher and his achievements, hypothesized what would happen if the story picked up in the future, went over book vs film, and basically just basked in the glow of an awesome film. For the record, they didn’t know each others blood types either.

Gone Girl – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Equilizer

“Haven’t we seen Denzel do this before? Maybe not all these exact pieces, but if you take bits of Safe House, mix in Training Day, lil bit of Man on Fire, don’t we pretty much get The Equalizer? I think the best thing about this movie were all the jokes running around on Twitter about the title. How he runs around sweetening people’s coffee when they’re not looking until he faces his nemesis SplendaMan. Or something.

Anyways, Denzel’s Bob is a quiet guy with a dark past, who is very good at kicking butt for some unknown and mysterious reasons. He befriends a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who frequently visits the same diner where he spends his sleepless nights. When he finds out she’s being mistreated by her shady pimp employer, he goes for revenge. Then he finds some other helpless neighbors to avenge. And some other stuff happens.

Decent if overdone concept, but a much slower film than you’d expect for a certain promised level of action. There was a decent sequence partway thru that had him doing is do-gooder thing in rapid succession, but otherwise, too much time between action sequences. That time was filled with boring “”plot””, and the action was muted. Can you hear it clunking all the way over there?

I love me some Denzel, but I love him better when he’s not just phoning it in. He’s capable of choosing smart movies and challenging roles. This was not either of those. The relationships he built with some of the victimized characters were kinda interesting, but not enough to carry it. At least this closes out September. Hopefully October will start to bring better films.

The Equalizer – \m/ \m/”

The I Inside

“Sometimes I love technology. I was torn between a couple options, so I went to the good old YouTubes and watched the trailers for said options. The vibe for this one felt right. Yet another neglected DVD that’s been sitting on the shelf since the first time I saw it. Didn’t remember much. Kinda appropriate.

Ryan Phillippe’s Simon wakes up in a hospital room. He’s lost two years of his life. In that time, he’s lost a brother and gained a wife. God only knows what else has happened to him. While trying to navigate this, he ends up finding himself pulled back to the same hospital 2 years prior. What then follows is a mind bending and time twisting suspense. What really happened? What’s real? Who can he trust?

THe consensus on the interwebz, which in this case I tend to agree with, is that the first two thirds or so are pretty good. The mystery deepens as the suspense builds. You can’t quite untangle it, but you’re so absorbed trying not to miss anything. Then we get a sort of cop out resolution. Oh. That’s where they went. It’s just like movie-that-I-wont-mention-by-name-for-fear-of-spoilage-of-both-but-no-really-its-just-like-it. And that one was just like another one. And this is sort of like another one too. Cue the sad trombone. Nice try. Thanks for playing.

Phillippe does really drive the film with 100% committment, a big part of why what does work does work. Robert Sean Leonard is in this too, and he’s pretty much what tipped this one for tonight’s winner. I like him, and I haven’t seen nearly enough of him as anyone who isn’t James Wilson.

I guess Sun nights tend to be good for this sort of cheesy thriller. Right, cause I saw and wrote this on Sun, but post-dated it due to playing catch up. Then again, who knows what day you’ll be reading this. Is someone even reading this? Hellooooooooo?”

The Boxtrolls

“I love stop motion animation! This is the same team that did Coraline and Paranorman, pretty much the only major players left for the technique. Or at least the only ones producing full length feature films. While computer animation is great and all, I do get nostalgic for the more old school techniques sometimes.

Although even this older technology is evolving. Now with 3D printing and other advances, they’re able to make the animation more fluid, and give their puppets more expression. It almost looks computer animated, and thus loses some of its clunky charm. It was still very cute. I did fall in love with those adorable little creatures (that aren’t too unlike Minions), and they get super bonus awesome points for being engineers.

As cute as the boxtrolls are, that’s not enough to carry a movie. Sadly, it seems like so much focus was on creating these little dudes that plot was kind of an afterthought. And therefore it was dull. Not a lot was happening, and things that did happen were entirely expected. Some humor, especially from the characters voiced by Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracey Morgan, but even then it wasn’t that strong. An important part of a good kiddie film is humor that includes the “”bigger”” kids. Not nearly enough effort there.

I’d be more than happy to see these cute little critters in future shorts, but they’re gonna need a lil more if they wanna carry a full feature.

The Boxtrolls – \m/ \m/ \n”