This time of year tends to be a slow time for the movies.. with summer having ended, and it is not yet that holiday stretch in which big movies pull all the stops for the biggest box office draws. That being said, not all movies that are worth your time have to come during the holidays or summer. This happens to be one of those cases in which people be pleasantly surprised; enter John Wick.
Let’s jump into the bare bones of John Wick. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a former contract killer who is just trying to lead a normal life( or as normal as one with a history of his could). John spent one of his days driving his sweet 1969 Boss Mustang around and some young thug, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) inquires about the price of the car. John tells him it is not for sale, but despite that, Iosef and his boys follow John home, surprise attack him, steal the Mustang, and kill his dog because it was barking at them. To add insult to injury, that dog was a parting gift from John’s wife (Bridget Moynahan) in her final days before losing her battle with an unnamed illness (cancer?). Some may scoff at the basic premise of the film, but you have to ask yourself if you had a skill set akin to John’s, and people took some of your property, something of sentimental value; i.e. the life of the dog and it’s connection to someone dear to you, would you not do something about it? People in real life have actually killed for much less.
I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!
– William Tecumseh Sherman
If there is one singular purpose in Fury, it is to convince you of the notion that war is hell. Most people didn’t need convincing of this fact before seeing the film, but they’ll likely leave the theater echoing the sentiment in their heads. Fury brutally beats you over the head with the atrocities of war in its quest to show you the hardship faced by many combat troops in World War II.
The film revolves around the lives of a seasoned Sherman tank crew led by Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt). The crew has successfully made it through Africa, D-Day, and are continuing to cause havoc as the Allied forces invade Germany. Despite their stellar record, they lose one of their members shortly before the film begins. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a fresh trained clerical typist, is thrust into the front lines of war as he replaces the deceased member of ‘Fury’. Over the next two hours we follow Norman as he struggles through the worst parts of war, as he struggles with the inevitable doom facing him on the front lines.
One of the most anticipated films of 2014 is finally here. Gone Girl, based on the 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn, stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as two out of work writers whose marriage has steadily declined over its five year lifespan. When the wife suddenly goes missing, all eyes turn to the husband. Directed by the immensely talented David Fincher, the film beautifully captures the mystery and intrigue of the book through a dark and eerie tone that he has perfected. Add a score by Trent Reznor to the mix, and what you get is a combination destined for glory.
Nick (Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) have fallen upon tough times since they first met. What started as a whirlwind romance has slowly disintegrated over the years. The once successful New York writers have both lost their jobs, most of their money, and more importantly – their love for one another. After moving back to Missouri to take care of Nick’s dying mother, the two of them continued to grow further apart. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick leaves to clear his head and visit his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) with whom he co-owns a small bar with – aptly named “The Bar.” When he returns home, Amy is gone – leaving behind what appears to be a crime scene. Nick calls the police and what follows is a back and forth chronicle of days since Amy went missing, and the years leading up to her disappearance.
Casting for the film couldn’t have been any more perfect. As someone who has read the book, the announcement of Affleck as Nick Dunne was a slam dunk. In the book Nick says,”Looking at my smarmy grin, my hooded eyes, I thought, I would hate this guy.” Affleck is talented actor, not to mention writer and director. And one of the qualities he has is the ability to come off as smug or arrogant. Think back to Dazed and Confused, or Mallrats – even many of his roles where he isn’t the bad buy. He just has that quality, which works in his favor as Nick. At the first press conference, when he is supposed to be a wreck, yet manages to give off the “insane love me! grin,” described in the book – it sealed the deal. Affleck does a great job of going back and forth between lovable and loath-able, and shows a wide range of emotions.
“Is man indeed a walrus at heart?”
This is one of the pseudophilosophical questions posed in Kevin Smith’s new film Tusk, the first film adapted from a podcast (see Smodcast #259 “The Walrus and the Carpenter”). Not so much a horror film in the traditional blood and guts fashion, the Clerks director’s latest opus is more psychological – with plenty of humor mixed in throughout. And if you are a fan of the SmodCo podcast brand, there is no shortage of homage to be enjoyed.
Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is one half of the duo who hosts the “Not-See Party” podcast, which centers around his travels to interview quirky internet celebrities (like the “Kill Bill Kid,” who chops off his own leg with a samurai sword). Wallace then explains his story to Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) who did “not see” what happened. Upon packing his bags for Canada to interview the the aforementioned legless star, he leaves his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) in the States – stating that he basically doesn’t want her to stop him from being entertaining. Ally is not a fan of his mean-spirited podcast antics, and wishes that the “old Wallace” she fell in love with would come back.
Wallace arrives in Manitoba only to find that the “Kill Bill Kid” has taken his own life, leaving him out the cost of his plane ticket and the interview he came for. As he drowns his sorrows at a local bar, he stumbles upon an ad posted by an old man who has lived “A life of adventure, with stories to tell.” Intrigued by the posting (based on the real-life Gumtree ad by UK hoaxer / eventual Tusk associate producer Chris Parkinson, which inspired the podcast), Wallace travels a couple of hours to a secluded mansion owned by Howard Howe (Michael Parks). After a couple of fascinating stories, and some delicious tea, Wallace find out that he has been roped into much more than listening to the old man’s stories.
If Tinker, Tailor, Solidier, Spy is croquembouche (the elaborate, ornate dessert), simultaneously being rich and decadent with its twisty, turny plots, and subtle and nuanced, with its labyrinthine undercurrents, then The November Man is a skittle.
There’s an approximation of what the spy/espionage genre entails, it’s just not actually there… which is why we have an agency handler saying things like, “I want eyes on him!” or a reporter uttering, “Let me get my dictaphone.”
Based on a series of books by Bill Granger, “The November Man” is a spy thriller/revenge flick in the vein of the Bourne series or Taken… but without the thrills. Or much of the spying. What we do have is not James Bond doing a lot of not James Bond stuff (unless James Bond liked to sit around and talk. Or walk and talk. Or just talk.)