Before Midnight (2013)

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Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
Starring: Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke

This is the third installment of the 20 year relationship between Jesse and Celine.  We were first captivated by this couple when they met on a train in 1995.  In 2004, they reunited in Paris.  Now in 2014, we meet them again in Greece.   The movie, which is essentially a dialogue about relationships, men, women and a study in character development, is interesting in its uniqueness, honesty and its ability to engage our attention for a sweeping 2hours, despite being more suited to the stage.

What I liked:  These characters (and actors) are so comfortable with each other that you inevitably feel as though you’ve stumbled into their bedroom.  They are interesting, quirky, maddening and humourous, and have been since the beginning; only now they have matured and grown together.  Their dialogue is less self-conscious than the first, and less excited than the second. They have come into their own, so much so that it’s hard to remember that Jesse and Celine are characters.  I had forgotten Hawke’s charm as an actor and Delpy’s grace.  Linklater, once again, does a tremendous job easing the story forward by following the movements of a relationship in its natural habitat.  It is mesmerizing, heartbreaking and uplifting.

What I didn’t like:  The high ratings.  This will surely disappoint many who expect something quite different than what is actually presented onscreen.  What has elevated the ratings in this case, are those people who have seen the previous two or simply those who are excited about the possibility of filmmaking.   Linklater’s latest visit with these two characters exceeded my expectations.  The movie is not perfect and at times I was frustrated by the poignantly natural dialogue but Before Midnight is the smoothest and most heartfelt of the three.

My rating:  Couldn’t resist re-watching (and loving) the other two immediately after.

IMDb: 8.5     tomato: 98%

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The Heat (2013)

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Directed by:  Paul Feig
Written by:  Katie Dippold
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Taran Killam and Bill Burr.

I love Melissa McCarthy.  From her turn in Bridesmaids, to her two hilarious gigs hosting SNL, McCarthy had me in stitches.  Admittedly, I shied away from Identity Thief certain I would be disappointed (even though I love the cast) by the excessive slapstick shtick that I assumed would substitute for storytelling (the reviews lead me to believe I was right to avoid it).  With The Heat, I was unsure.  I give credit to the preview for not spoiling the movie’s funniest moments, but at the same time I felt it protected its jokes by solely promoting its cast; so much so that I had little desire to see another buddy cop flick about two mismatched cops forced to work together and take down a drug lord, in what looked like a carbon copy of everything that came before.   I’m happy to report, I was not disappointed.

What I liked:  McCarthy is hilarious, and arguably carries the movie, as the foul-mouthed, salt-of-the-earth cop who enjoys the misfortunes of others.  Bullock is perfect as the FBI agent and McCarthy’s uptight foil.  I commend her for downplaying her role enough to give McCarthy the spotlight, in fact, I found it made her funnier.  The two have great on-screen chemistry and it’s no wonder a second movie is already in the works.

What I didn’t like:  There is nothing new here other than unique performances.  As I expected, the movie is a carbon copy of everything that came before.  What makes it funny is that this time around the two mismatched cops are women, which offers a spectrum of reinvented jokes about the same tired scenarios.   The story takes a back seat to the slap stick humour but Bullock, a seasoned vet at this type of comedy, and McCarthy deftly endear  us to their characters.  I was also disappointed by the limited screen time for the supporting cast which could have been very funny.

Not to be missed: McCarthy’s scene with Buster Bluth (Tony Hale). Priceless.

My rating:  Women cops are funny.

IMDb: 7.1    tomato: 63%

Now You See Me (2013)

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Directed by: Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans, Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk)
Written by: Ed Solomon (screenplay), Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt (screenplay and story)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

I’ve learned to distrust trailers, as much as I enjoy them.  More times than not, a movie doesn’t live up to the hype presented in a 2min clip (Warm Bodies being the current exception).  In this case, the how’d-they-do-that thriller had me from the trailer and I rushed out to see it.  The movie, about four magicians who conduct a series of heists and the cop who is trying to capture them, has a great premise but it flounders as it tries to focus too much on a story that isn’t deftly constructed.

What I liked:  The movie is, quite simply, entertaining – if you ignore the holes.  It moves forward fluidly with a chuckle here and there and the characters are engaging if underdeveloped, to the movie’s great misfortune.  The Four Horsemen: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco have characters that suit their strengths as actors, which would be great fun if they were ever onscreen as more than a plot point.  Their grand spectacles are funny and baffling but fail to generate any tension.  Mark Ruffalo carries the film as the frustrated cop trying to catch up to their trail of larceny.  Riding his wave of frustration is the best part of the movie.

What I didn’t like:  Again, the premise is what engages but the follow-through is lacking.  For a movie that claims it is smarter than we are, I was overtly aware that it wasn’t, on most counts. That said, I did enjoy the trick reveals and the magicians’ great spectacles.  However, the movie never delves any deeper than the heist itself.  As David Denby noted in his New Yorker review, “It seems that the director, who also made “The Incredible Hulk” and “Clash of the Titans,” will do anything to distract us from the emptiness to which he has devoted himself.’  That said, we don’t all need depth to be entertained and I would recommend the movie as a fun summer flick.

My rating: Enjoy it for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

IMDb 7.5     rotten 47%

The Great Gatsby (2013)

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Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce (screenplay), based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke

I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the disparate reactions to Baz Luhrmann’s latest visual extravaganza, but I am, a little.  Granted, Luhrmann’s take on the classic novel, about a man desperate to prove his worth to his long-lost love and its symbolic reflection of American society in the post-war era, is more garish and unsentimental than the novel but it still works for a few reasons.

What I liked: Attention to performance is one of Baz Luhrmann’s strengths as a director.  Despite the volume of his films, with their prominent soundtracks and buzzing images he never forgets his actors.  The Great Gatsby is no exception.  In fact, Lurhmann takes greater care of his characters and their development here than in previous films.  Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton and Carey Mulligan are excellent.  Through Maguire’s concentrated stare we feel Nick’s loneliness; through Edgerton’s rough voice we feel Tom Buchanan’s arrogance; through Mulligan’s whimisical demeanor we sense Daisy’s unworthiness of Gatsby’s love.  Together with their strong supporting cast, they provide all the heart, emotion and intrigue that manage to retain our focus despite the visial chaos.  Lastly, Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jay Gatsby, is exceptional.  It’s been awhile since we’ve seen him as the romantic lead and his commitment to this iconic character made his performance far more profound and powerful than I have seen in his recent films.  Finally, I enjoyed the modernized soundtrack headed by Jay-Z.  I found the music timely and suited the moments over which it played.  Although, a contemporary soundtrack over period pieces is a staple in Lurhmann’s films, here it worked, whether or not intended, as an indication that American indulgence is still omnipresent.

What I didn’t like:  The narrative framework that posits Nick Carraway as a recovering alcoholic cathartically seeking solace through his writing about Gatsby didn’t at all work.  I found it added nothing to our understanding of the film and delayed my immersion into the story – so much so that I felt waves of fear  that I’d hate my most anticipated movie of 2013.   In fact, the moments of Nick’s voice-over postulations (comprised mainly of quotes from the novel) detracted from the flow and minimized Nick’s affection for Gatsby, which was so endearing during the film.

My rating:  I’ll buy it when it comes out.

In case you’re interested: Here is James Franco’s review of The Great Gatsby for Vice Magazine

IMDb 7.5     rotten 49%