Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Skeleton Twins

Movie:  The Skeleton Twins

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:  A whole lot of people make it to their mid thirties and realize that their lives are not going where they had hoped.  In fact, this is about the time major depression sets in, because realization has set in that life can really suck.  This is where Maggie (Kristen Wiig) finds herself, after rushing to the side of her brother Milo (Bill Hader) who has made a half-assed attempt to kill himself.  So Maggie does the sisterly thing and brings Milo back to live with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson), just to give him a chance to get his head together and figure out what he wants to do with his life.

Of course, even the best intentions can often go awry.  Milo is gay, and decides to seek out his former teacher, who took him on his first foray to sex.  Maggie and Lance talk happily about having a baby, although Maggie is secretly taking birth control pills.  We discover Maggie and Milo have been estranged for ten years, and that is a long time to be apart and not communicate.  We do know that they are in agreement that their mother Judy (Joanna Gleeson) is a major factor in how their lives are turning out.  And in what happened to their father….

Don’t let television ads fool you; this is not a comedy.  It is much too dark to even foist that “dramedy” term on the audience.  Yes, there are a few clever lines that may provoke a chuckle, and the highlight of the movie for people who enjoy these performers on Saturday Night Live is the lip-synching scene to “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship.  Pure delight.  Having said all that, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig will surprise you at how good they are as dramatic actors.  Dare I say it?  They both could (and should) get consideration for Best Acting when the Academy Award nominations go out.  This is a film I highly recommend.

Huh?  What the ….:   Milo goes to get his teeth cleaned in a dentist office.  Since when do people get “put under” with gas for a cleaning?

Dialogue Nuggets:  “I was a fat kid.  I looked like a pillow with legs.”

“You’re a restless housewife with whore-like tendencies.”

“God, what the hell happened to us?”

“This harness has my balls in my throat.  What are you, some kind of climbing Nazi?”

“Maybe next time you should cut deeper….”


This Is Where I Leave You

Movie:  This Is Where I Leave You

Rating:  3 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:  Everybody leads busy and complicated lives, which come to a halt when a family member dies.  Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda) summon her four children home (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, and Adam Driver) to spend a week together as a family observing the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva.  In addition to the children, they all have spouses or significant others that are brought into the house, and very quickly inter-family jealousies, gripes and various repressed emotions surface.  The house becomes a free fire zone of barbed comments with very little adult filtering taking place.  Occasionally the zingers evolve into physical altercations, and even Tina Fey displays a wicked right cross to the jaw of the jerk who slept with her brother’s wife.

Make no mistake, this is a serious film.  It should fall into the drama category, with frequent dialogue that may elicit a chuckle just because these characters say the things we usually think but are too polite to actually blurt out.  Sometimes the Altmans seem like they may hate some of their family members, but there is a thin line between love and hate, and the emotions they have seem pretty realistic and believable when we think about our own family relations and conflicts.  Not a lot of plot here, but that wasn’t the point of the movie.  It mostly wants us to take that roller-coaster ride for one week, and with the stellar cast and dialogue it is worth the trip.

Actors To Watch:  Jason Bateman and Tina Fey have primarily been in comedy vehicles, but they are terrific in a dramatic setting.  In relatively small roles, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant are big talents to have along for support.

Huh?  What the ….:  There is a scene where three characters share two small joints in a public building classroom.  Somehow they are able to create as much of a smoky haze as you might find in a Parisian nightclub.  Ahhhhh, I don’t think so.

Someone has a two year old kid in this house, and every time we see him he’s dragged his portable potty with him.   Leave it in the bathroom, for crying out loud!

Dialogue Nuggets:    “Have you had your man parts checked yet?”

“Those are not the same breasts you nursed us with!’

“We want the ones we can’t have, and crap all over the ones we do have.”

“I always knew there was something of a cold-hearted slut in you.”

“I think I am going to gather up the tattered remnants of my dignity and say goodbye.”

Altman 1 – “Do you ever think before you speak?”  Altman 2 – “No, that would take the fun out of it.”

A Walk Among The Tombstones

Movie:  A Walk Among The Tombstones

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:  Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is an alcoholic.  He used to be a pretty good NYC police detective, until three guys burst into a bar where Scudder was relaxing and killed the bartender.  The detective chased the hooligans into the street, and in a running gun battle killed two of them and wounded the third.  Tragically, a stray bullet from his gun also killed a young girl, and that precipitated the end of Scudder’s police career in 1991.

Now it is 1999, and Matt Scudder gets by as a de facto private detective.  He has no badge and no license, but he gets clients through word of mouth and does jobs for “gifts”.  One night Matt’s dinner is interrupted, and he hears a sad tale from a drug dealer named Kenny Cristo (Dan Stevens).  Cristo’s wife was kidnapped, and even though he came through with a $400,000 ransom, she was still brutally murdered.  The sick animals even sent back a cassette tape of her last moments.  Matt takes the case. Real detective work is not glamorous, it’s not easy, and it is almost never quick.  Matthew Scudder is used to plodding along talking to anyone in the neighborhood who might have seen or heard anything, he frequents the library to read newspaper articles on microfiche, and basically pounds the pavement hoping to find enough pieces of the puzzle to find that one clue that might lead to answers.  Along the way Scudder befriends a smart street kid named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), who becomes a valuable side kick in the investigation.

As crime story films go, this is as good as they get.  Matthew Scudder is a recurring character in a number of Lawrence Block novels, and Block is probably the best at writing these hard bitten crime stories since Raymond Chandler and Sam Spade, P.I.  Liam Neeson is perfect as the world weary knight errant of the mean streets of New York City, doing battle on behalf of those who can’t catch a break from the legal system while fighting his own internal demons.  This story is very dark and not for the squeamish, but one of the very best films of 2014.

Actor To Watch:  Liam Neeson is a marvel to watch.  At 62 he just keeps rolling along, the best tough guy in movies who can really act as well.

Dialogue Nuggets:  “Whoever did this to your wife didn’t pick your name out of a hat.”

Kidnapper:  “How much does she weigh?  You’d pay a million for her if she were product.  Is she worth as much to you?”

TJ:  “What does it take to be a good detective?”  Matt:  “A strong bladder.”

“It’s the other two you have to worry about.  They’re not human.”

“I quit drinking that day.  It just…wasn’t so much fun anymore….”

“I just wanted to (BANG)….”

The Drop

Movie:  The Drop

Rating:  3 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:  Life is funny; you never know what seemingly minor action might have major consequences down the road.  That whole theory about a butterfly in Malaysia affecting the NY stock exchange.  What happened to Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) wasn’t a butterfly, it was a dog.  Bob was heading home late at night from his job tending bar and heard a pitiful cry from inside a garbage can.  Inside was a puppy, beaten bloody, and helpless.  Bob took pity on the animal and took him home, and in the process got involved with a waitress named Nadia (Noomi Rapace).  Dominoes fall, and Bob starts to have issues with Nadia’s former boyfriend Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), a self proclaimed badass and possible killer.

Bob is a pretty ordinary guy, seems almost slow witted, and works hard at a run down bar in Brooklyn that used to be owned by his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini).  Marv still manages the joint, but it is secretly owned by the Chechnya mob, and these are some very scary dudes.  Marv is not doing so well in his life, mostly living on his days of past glory as a neighborhood tough guy.  Every night some people stop into the bar to leave their “drop”, an envelope of money from some illicit activity, and Bob accepts the drops for collection at the end of the evening by the mobsters.  Heaven help anyone who robs a bar owned by the Chechnya mob….

This is a very solid crime story, with extremely well developed characters and plotting.  It is based on a story by novelist Dennis Lehane, who also did the screenplay for the movie.  It is a dark, gritty film in a Brooklyn setting where you know not much good is ever going to happen.  I definitely recommend this movie for anyone who likes a gripping crime tale.

Actors To Watch:  Last film for James Gandolfini, a powerful character actor.  A very solid cast featuring a surprising number of foreign actors.  Tom Hardy, best known as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, gives an excellent performance.  Matthias Schoenaerts is from Belgium, but you would never know he wasn’t a New York native.   Noomi Rapace, star of the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is from Sweden, and she was fine as well in her role.

Huh?  What the….:  (Scene in a church) – Who knew there was a Saint Rocco?

Sorry, but I don’t see patrons of a run down bar in Brooklyn always drinking Dos Equis and Stella Artois beers.  These folks would think Budweiser was a premium beer.

Dialogue Nuggets:     “In Brooklyn, money changes hands all night long.”

“Let’s assume I’m not some asshole without a plan.”

“When I walked into a place people noticed and sat up straight.  I was respected!”

“No one ever sees you coming, do they …?”