The “host” at the Arclight Theater where I saw RUSH joked that the movie wasn’t about a Canadian power trio. As disappointing as that was (haha), I quickly forgot about the power of three men on a stage and marveled at the power of two men racing around a track while buckled into a seat, riding on a bomb. I was worried that Ron Howard wouldn’t get it right. That the racing would feel fake and the cars would look ridiculous and not period correct. Then I realized as I was watching that this was Ron Howard!! He always gets it right. He is a master of the small details that other directors would overlook and take you out of the film. RUSH is the story to two men traveling different roads to the same goal. Chris Hemsworth is British bad boy James Hunt. Daniel Bruhl is Austrian technician Nikki Lauda. The two had a rivalry born in the early 1970’s and it reached its dramatic (and almost tragic) conclusion in 1976. I’m not spoiling anything since this actually happened, but the two were battling for the Formula 1 driver’s championship when Lauda was almost killed and seriously burned during a crash in Germany in August of that year. He got back in the car against all odds and advice just one month later.. his disfiguring burns apparent even under the bandages on his face and head. The drama builds as the season plays out to its conclusion in Japan. This is masterful and entertaining. Even if you’re not a racing fan, there is enough human drama to more than hold your attention. Both Hemsworth and Bruhl are wonderful.. capturing the personalities of both men with care. the rest of the cast is more than capable (good to see EPISODES Steven Mangan and Olivia Wilde is just the most beautiful woman in the world). So, strap in tight and get ready for a RUSH! — Alan Yudman
Just because you put together a great cast, doesn’t mean you are going to get a great movie. Oh sure, it can help elevate a mediocre script or shoddy directing. But good isn’t great and ultimately not memorable. The question is, will the movie stick with you when the lights come up in the theater. PRISONERS combines an outstanding cast with a very good script, perfect direction and gorgeous cinematography. Hugh Jackman for once isn’t playing the nice guy. His daughter (along with Terrence Howard’s) has been kidnapped on Thanksgiving. And he is pissed. The police cannot do enough. He is inconsolable. And when the suspect (a very creepy Paul Dano) is released, he goes vigilante and takes Dano because he knows he did it (did he? I’ll never tell). Jackman is a survivalist and a hunter and a man not to be fucked with. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is good, but not good enough for Jackman. He knows the odds of finding the girls alive go down with each day and he will extract the information and a pound of flesh from Dano until he cracks. PRISONERS pulls you along with suspense and a script full of twists and turns. The legendary Roger Deakins provides his expert cinematography (when the rain keeps falling you actually feel wet). Now, here is where the cast comes in. This material is very good, but the performances raise it to a level of excellence only really good actors can. Jackman is outstanding (better than last year’s nominated performance in Les Miserables). Gyllenhaal is subtle and wonderful. The supporting cast is comprised of a list of Oscar winners and nominees: Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis and Maria Bello just to name the key players. PRISONERS holds you captive, but willingly, even though it’s almost 2-and-a-half hours long. It’s nice to see a well done adult movie after a summer of meh. — Alan Yudman
I dunno. I guess I liked it a little more than the original, and it definitely improves in the second half after a plodding start. But possession movies seem to have hit a dead end; they’re merely repeating themselves. Inasmuch as this one is on its way to the highest September opening in history, you’d expect at least one good scare. Instead, we get a familiar laundry list of eerie happenings: the toy that lights up in the middle of the night for no reason, the ghost that rushes past at the end of the hallway only to disappear, the mysterious child sitting silently with her back to you, the chandelier that comes crashing down. The explanation for the haunting comes right out of PSYCHO, which is not a deal killer but is still long past a fresh plot’s sell-by date. And as with the first, the acting is just awful, especially Lyn Shaye, who apparently peaked 15 years ago topless in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne aren’t much better; nor does Barbara Hershey provide hoped-for crazy juice. A year from now, if you asked me to separate INSIDIOUS 2 from THE CONJURING, James Wan’s other 2013 horror flick (also starring Wilson) I’d be hard pressed. In fact, I’d have a tough time even now. — Jeff Schultz
Simply charming. A romantic comedy set in the comically cutthroat world of voice-over announcing. The movie begins with a nod to the real-life king of all such announcers, the late Don LaFontaine (including an interview clip from Fox-11 with John Beard!), then segues to the fictional plot of an aspiring female announcer whose father is a longtime voiceover artist who has always lived in LaFontaine’s shadow and who compensates by routinely belittling his daughter’s aspirations in what’s long been a male-dominated industry. The daughter, played by Lake Bell (who also wrote and directed), nonetheless pursues her dream, ultimately succeeds and finds love as well. The dad’s self-centered obnoxiousness is well played by Fred Melamed, who might want to use this performance as an audition reel should they ever do a biopic on Hollywood’s most reviled producer, Scott Rudin; he’s a dead ringer. On the other end of the sweetness scale is Demetri Martin, whose trademark Beatles moptop, giant nose and intelligent, sensitive eyes make him one of the more adorkable recent love interests. Along the way, there’s a tender side plot involving another couple’s breakup and reconciliation that shows what a good actor former “Daily Show” correspondent Rob Corddry has become — following in the footsteps of Steve Carrell and Ed Helms. There are a couple of plot devices that strain to make screenplay points — a gratuitously cruel lecture by Geena Davis as a powerful producer and a big “reveal” at an awards show banquet — but mostly, it’s all smiles. — Jeff Schultz
IN A WORLD… where there are too few truly funny comedies and at a time when there is precious little to see i theaters one movie outshines them all. Ok, sorry, had to do it. I absolutely loved this movie. Jeff has already detailed the plot as well as I ever could, so let me skip right to why this is so good. IN A WORLD… is smart comedy. It’s doesn’t resort to poking fun at the less intelligent or world wise. It’s not slapstick or filled with physical humor. It just throws the scenes at you and makes you laugh. That’s not to say it’s just a series of disjointed scenes. Far from it. It flows together perfectly and is completely satisfying on every level. Lake Bell is enormously talented as a screenwriter, director and actress. It’s her movie, but she allows everyone to join in the fun. Fred Melamed is loathsome, until he isn’t. Demetri Martin is sweet in the best thing he’s ever done. Nick Offerman, Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry all are wonderful. Despite their idiosyncrasies you can’t help but root for each character, because they all reveal their true nature in the end. In a summer filled with disappointing blockbusters and just one truly great film (THE WORLD’S END), IN A WORLD… is a little indie gem and should set the stage for a long successful career for Lake Bell.
Save a stripper, save yourself. That appears to be the message of the promising, but ultimately flawed AFTERNOON DELIGHT. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is a stay-at-home mother who lives in Silver Lake. Now before you dismiss it just because of the location no, it’s not filled with hipster douchebags or insufferable yuppies. These are real people who don’t seem outsized in a fakey movie way. Life with her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) is unsatisfying both emotionally and sexually. They go to a strip club to spice things up. That’s where Rachel gets a lap dance from “McKenna” and figures, “hey, I know what will make me feel fulfilled… saving a stripper from a life of sex work”. As the movie plods along, we figure out that McKenna doesn’t need saving, it’s Rachel who is completely lost. AFTERNOON DELIGHT is filled with awkward moments as Rachel tries to help. Or is Rachel becoming enamoured with McKenna’s freedom and comfort in the life of a sex worker. It’s all very obtuse and left in some part to the audiences own interpretation. Jill Soloway’s direction and writing are sometimes stilted and awkward, but at times brilliant and heart-wrenching. What elevates the material is the cast, particularly Kathryn Hahn. She is simply fantastic. Think of the most awkward drunky-truthy scene you’ve ever watched and the one in this movie is equal to it. Blissfully short at only 95 minutes, AFTERNOON DELIGHT could have been so much worse (think Lifetime movie), but it also could have been quite a bit better. — Alan Yudman
Woody Allen must really know about depression. He sure as shit knows how to make his audiences depressed, even while keeping them wildly entertained. That’s the feeling I got as I watched BLUE JASMINE. Cate Blanchett is Jasmine (or is it Jeannette, we never clearly find out). Her husband (Alec Baldwin) is a more handsome Bernie Madoff. He’s robbed from the rich and poor and went to prison, then hanged himself. Jasmine is a complete mess. But is it from all that’s befallen her? She’s lost everything and has to move to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Or is it because of some other reason which I won’t reveal because it would spoil a twist in the plot. Jasmine is neurotic in an Allen-esque way, but she’s also obviously had a psychotic break. Blanchett’s performance makes this movie. She is fabulous and even appears to have ingested and repurposed some of Allen’s mannerisms. the supporting cast is equally good, special props to Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Canavale and Hawkins. But the problem with this movie is that I don’t really care about any of them. That’s a problem in a lot of Woody Allen’s movies. Everyone is so self-involved that they don’t let the audience in. That said, this is definitely one to watch for Allen’s smart dialogue and Blanchett’s acting chops. — Alan Yudman
A character study in which not much happens, complicated by the dislikable anti-heroine, Jasmine (or Jeannette, her actual name). Jasmine was a spoiled rich bitch when she was up and becomes a self-entitled poor bitch after her Madoff-like husband’s downfall. In “happier” times, she shows no enjoyment of her good fortune and standing among the New York elite; as a near-destitute castoff, she continues to behave badly and seems oblivious when others refuse to take her shit. The overall situation is a nod to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, but the fragility and vulnerability — the pathos — of Blanche DuBois is not a part of Cate Blanchett’s quite actress-y performance. She’s working hard to make you not care what happens to her, and that leaves the rest of the cast to sympathize with. And it is with them that the movie is most successful. Woody Allen is not a director associated with blue-collar, common man and woman types, but he gets great stuff out of Andrew Dice Clay (especially) and Bobby Cannavale and Sally Hawkins and several others who inhabit working-class San Francisco. People have been urging Woody to venture outside of his Upper East Side comfort zone, and until now that’s mostly meant other well-heeled settings like Paris and London. But scenes like one between Clay and Hawkins that bring the playful if edgy familiarity of people who were once married and still have affection for each other felt fresh to me, in a way that that the wooden encounters between Blanchett and an uninspired Alec Baldwin did not. The former’s lives are messy; they can’t be papered over with the trappings of wealth. And Allen feels right at home with them. — Jeff Schultz