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Five-time Academy Award nominee Brad Pitt delivers another gritty performance in this intense, gripping World War II thriller. The 50-year old actor more than holds his own as the very capable and confident Army sergeant leading a 5-man tank crew against Nazis in 1945 Germany. Pitt, along with the other well cast soldiers in the movie, poignantly demonstrate the horrors found on the battlefield while showcasing the courage to stand up for each other even when their situation turns dire.

Moviegoers hoping that “Fury” resembles the 1998 Oscar-winning “Saving Private Ryan” (11 Academy Award nominations) will be mildly disappointed. Some similarities, however, do exist between the two war stories. The highpoint in “Fury” is marked by exceptional cinematography with very realistic, but gruesome, battle scenes. In fact, the final thirty-minutes of “Fury” are extremely captivating and will make audience members feel almost as though its them fighting the Germans from inside an American tank. In several scenes, it’s easy to draw connections to Tom Hanks’ squad pinned down by enemy fire throughout France during “Saving Private Ryan”.

“Fury” departs, though, from any likeness to the most successful war movies due to its blandly written script and the lack of any meaningful investment in the film’s characters--including Pitt’s—from the audience. For most of the actors we’re never even told their names; instead only given a nickname…like the movie’s title for their armored ride and the real star of the film. Between the fascinating battle engagements, none of the characters or their actions becomes particularly endearing to viewers or noteworthy. We care for these guys because of their vital mission and the extremely dangerous circumstances they find themselves, but the film doesn’t afford us much more than that on a personal level to the soldiers.

Fury

The bottom line is that “Fury” is a violent war movie that graphically illustrates the heavy burden America carried to stop fascism and Adolf Hitler in Europe. Rightfully, the movie pulls no punches on the violence of war and the high price paid by our nation and her greatest generation. While “Fury” may have sold the military storytelling a bit short in detailing the bigger picture, it gets the small stuff spot-on. It exhibits the many superstitions and silly slogans of those wearing the uniform, along with the foxhole bonding found only in men under deadly fire. “Fury” offers a grisly, unvarnished look inside one Sherman tank and her courageous men battling evil. It honors all those who have ever served our country and found themselves fighting long odds for survival. For that reason alone, “Fury” is a worth seeing and remembering.

Grade: B+

"Fury" is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Well deserved Oscar talk for this upcoming film, based upon the true story of two Olympic wrestlers--who also happen to be brothers--and how a bizarre relationship turns their lives upside down.

Riveting performances--like we've never seen them before--from both Steve Carell and Channing Tatum.  Mark Ruffalo ('Begin Again' 2014) is nearly unrecognizable. Carell and Tatum should make everyone's short-list for an Academy Award nomination.

'Foxcatcher' hits theaters on November 14.

Edge of Tomorrow

Let’s be honest, Tom Cruise’s last entertaining part was in 2008’s “Tropic Thunder” as Les Grossman. The young man, who introduced himself to us in the 1980s with films like “Taps” and “Risky Business”, has grown up right before our eyes, both physically and professionally. By 1986, he reached the highest watermark any Hollywood movie star could aspire to, flying F-14 Tomcats in the mega-blockbuster hit “Top Gun”. As an established box office sensation, Cruise then cemented himself to dramatic roles in such films as “Rain Man,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “A Few Good Men”—diversifying his acting portfolio with meatier leading roles.

It wasn’t until the inaugural “Mission: Impossible” film in 1996, that Cruise really began to jump at the opportunity to play action-packed heroes in Hollywood, perhaps attempting to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. The “Mission: Impossible” franchise forever linked Cruise to action movies, effortlessly discarding his many other acting talents to the side in a heaping ball of flames.

The truth is that Cruise is too good of an actor for directors to hide his theatric skills in action-packed thrillers. Cruise’s best films are when he’s the most vulnerable with a compelling story to tell. His efforts in “Magnolia”, “Jerry Maguire” or “The Last Samurai” all prove that. But his lackadaisical “Collateral” (2004) and “War of the Worlds” (2005) played like mid-life crisis films, desperate productions that only highlighted Cruise’s pigeonholed genre of mindless action thrillers.

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In “Edge of Tomorrow”, Cruise regains his lost film mojo and delivers his best leading actor performance in over a decade. He plays Major William Cage, a public affairs desk warrior assigned to the front lines to fight an alien species. Costarring, and perhaps most responsible for Cruise’s outstanding work in this film, is the talented and well-cast Emily Blunt as Cruise’s Special Forces sidekick. Together, they make a formidable force in this sci-fi thriller—with Blunt easily the deadlier of the two.

Director Doug Liman (“Swingers”, 1996) creates a time loop saga that will have audiences making the easy comparison to “Groundhog Day” (1993) for its repeated reliving of the day’s events over and over. Likewise, “Edge of Tomorrow” garners quick resemblance to the alien battles in 1997’s “Starship Troopers”, with the fate of the planet resting on the outcome of the war. Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow” narrowly avoids replaying the opening scene one too many times. It’s obvious that all his efforts in the film were focused on these repeated, yet compelling, time shenanigans versus developing a thoughtful movie conclusion.

The good acting in “Edge of Tomorrow” by Cruise and Blunt overcomes a weak script and an anticlimactic finish. In fact, the relationship between Cruise and Blunt holds this film together long enough for viewers to give it a solid grade and come away satisfied. The first hour of the movie is fascinating with the use of the time loop and affords Cruise many opportunities to appear vulnerable, weak and timid…showcasing several layers to his evolving character. The second half of the film, unfortunately, dissolves into a less thought-out finale prompted by a lack of investment and caring from moviegoers into the outcome of the battle. Once the time loop is closed and Cruise’s work over with Blunt’s deadly Rita Vrataski, viewers will be thankful the ordeal and film have concluded. But not before realizing that the Tom Cruise of old is back. And that’s good news.

"Edge of Tomorrow" is available to rent or buy at Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Redbox and VUDU.  It is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes.

1.  Robert Downey Jr., has decided that venturing out into normal movie roles can be dangerous to your box office tally.  Thus, Marvel has announced today that RDJ will return as Iron Man for "Captain America 3".  According to The Hollywood Reporter (THR);

The move, which THR has confirmed, is a stunner since at this stage Marvel has no plans to make a fourth Iron Man movie and by many accounts, the actor was to be done with the character of appearances in the second and third installments of the Avengers franchise.

2.  Prepare to be slimmed...."Ghostbusters 3" is now a go!  Marking the 30th anniversary of the original, this remake about 4 jumpsuit-wearing souls chasing paranormal activity is set to begin filming sometime next year.  However, no release date has been set.  As for who will be starring in this classic remake--who ya gonna call?  Rumors are that it'll be an all-girl squad issued jumpsuits in "Ghostbusters 3".  Here's one strong volunteer.

GB3

3.  Mark your calendars for notable upcoming movie releases, all of which are gaining Oscar buzz;

Brad Pitt's "Fury" and Michael Keaton's "Birdman" get released this weekend.

"Whiplash" hits theaters on October 31st.

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway's "Interstellar" by Christopher Nolan comes out November 7th.

"Foxcatcher" with Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo debuts on November 14th.

And like anyone needs reminding, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1" comes out November 21st with Jennifer Lawrence.

Timely.

The already crowded movie releases hitting Christmas Day just got even more crowded.  Joining "The Interview" in theaters on Dec. 25 are "Unbroken", "Into the Woods", "Paddington" and "American Sniper" (limited showings).

Probably save this one to watch it on DVD during the next Chuseok holiday in 2015.

 

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The Judge

To the excitement of movie fans, Robert Downey Jr. finally doffs his protective Iron Man suit and mega-successful Tony Stark character for his most vulnerable film role in years. As high-priced Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer, Downey completely dominates the big-screen and courtroom in this emotionally charged legal drama. He flawlessly transitions this strong-willed, egotistical lawyer between bouts of anger, compassion, arrogance and humility.

Called back to his hometown after the unexpected death of his mother, Downey faces two very formidable foes--his estranged father (played naturally by Robert Duvall)--the small town judge whom Downey must defend against a hit-and-run murder charge, and, the big city prosecutor brought in from upstate to get that conviction (a perfectly cast Billy Bob Thornton). Although Thornton steals every scene he’s in without much difficulty, this movie comes down to Downey vs. Duvall--and the application of the law.

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The long-standing tension between a father and son goes back to Downey’s poor choices and troubled youth under Duvall’s stern household. The film unflinchingly looks back at the punishment dealt out by Duvall to his son growing up and compares it to those consequences he ordered since that time from the bench. Sparks once again fly between them as Downey attempts to get two sticky statements from Duvall’s character—approval from his father on Downey’s own legal career accomplishments and answers from his client, Judge Palmer, on his whereabouts the night of the murder.

“The Judge” makes a compelling argument on how our legal system often maneuvers within the gray area of the law. Where circumstances must get factored into the enforcement of the law using the system’s best judgment of one’s intent. Likewise, frustrations and guilt over punishments strike comparisons between a father’s firm discipline and a judge’s stiff sentence. Both actions require conviction and fortitude yet remain difficult to surmise it’s overall effectiveness until years later.

The only objection I raised during the movie was to the unnecessary and forced subplots director David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”, 2005) throws at the audience. Rather than delve deeper into the relationship and scorched past between the father and son, Dobkin spends precious screen time on an irrelevant and meaningless side story on Downey’s old high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter.

This film is very watchable and flourishes when Downey and Duvall battle it out during their scenes together. Both provide fireworks and realism not only to the father-son family dynamics but also to the film’s courtroom. The short appearances by Billy Bob Thornton are highly flammable sequences in which both Thornton and Downey forcibly stake their legal positions. Thornton intuitively takes mere words on a movie script and, with only a glaring look, turns them into a combustible spark when mixed opposite Downey. “The Judge” is more than just a legal drama though. It’s a story about acceptance, compassion and one’s reputation.

Grade: B

"The Judge" is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 22 minutes.

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An entertaining, palate pleasing experience with easy laughs.

Jon Favreau directs and stars in this delectable entrée from this past summer about a talented chef attempting to follow his creative cooking instincts while balancing life’s demands outside the kitchen. Favreau’s character, Carl Casper, is a rising culinary star that must overcome setbacks on his journey towards the American dream.

Chef Carl, or “El Jefe” as he’s more commonly known, once had a conviction for transforming ordinary dishes into mouth-watering crowd-pleasing dishes. In the movie he finds his artistic side stifled by his boss and a renowned food critic. His emphatic response to personal criticism escalates into a social media Twitter war, leaving Carl searching for answers and a job.

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Audiences get a taste of the one man’s journey toward fulfilling the American dream; unwilling to accept no for an answer while constantly striving to improve his craft. The film’s navigation of the social media network provides “Chef” with easy laughs, an entrepreneurship storyline, and a richly rewarding trip for a father and son. Together, these ingredients combine to make the film an entertaining, palate pleasing experience…just don’t watch this movie on an empty stomach.

The "Chef" is available on to buy or rent at; Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Google Play, Netflix and Walmart's VUDU.

"Chef" also stars Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey, Jr. It is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.

 

 

Still Alice

Julianne Moore as Dr. Alice Howland in "Still Alice" (2014)

This movie is garnering rave reviews from its debut at film festivals--and lots of Oscar talk too, particularly in the Best Actress category for Julianne Moore (a 4-time Academy Award nominee).

Moore plays Dr. Alice Howland, a linguistics professor, wife and mother to 3 children who unexpectedly begins to experience trouble with her memory.  "Still Alice" is based upon the book by first-time author Lisa Genova on Alzheimer's, and who earned a Ph.D from Harvard University in neuroscience.

A quick snippet of a scene from the movie "Still Alice" with Moore and Kristen Stewart--both of whom give career-best performances, according to audiences who've seen the film:

And here's author Lisa Genova discussing why she decided to write her first book....

"Still Alice" will arrive in limited theaters in December in order to get the 1-week qualifying run for Oscar consideration this year.  The film will be widely distributed in mid-January to U.S. theaters.

The Fault In Our Stars

 

"The Fault In Our Stars" (2014) is now available on DVD to buy or rent.  Catch it via Flixster, iTunes, Netflix or Amazon.

***

No Fault In Our Stars

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort team up again (“Divergent”, 2014) in this heart-wrenching teenage love story adapted from the best-selling novel by author John Green. Woodley’s character, Hazel, is suffering from Stage IV thyroid cancer and meets a cancer survivor, Gus Waters (Elgort). They embark on a quest to get closure on a book’s ending that results in learning more about each other along the way. Hazel and Gus support and grow closer to one another, and in doing so, they draw in audiences--all left to cope and carry on despite emotional setbacks. The resilient message is to acknowledge the pain we’re dealt while continuing to embrace life and its sometimes incomplete endings.

Grade: A-

You can read my complete movie review on the "The Fault In Our Stars" movie here.