The Best Movie I Have Seen In Years

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The best movie I have seen in years.

That’s not hyperbole. Edge of Tomorrow has it all. Every element of execution is top-notch. And that’s not to say it’s a pastiche movie with a diffuse focus; it’s tight as a drum. Director Doug Liman weaves it all together flawlessly.

How did the director of Swingers get here? Did he always want to make high-concept films? Did his path just wind there organically through the people he met? I’m too lazy to seek answers to these questions and, really, it doesn’t matter. The work speaks for itself.

Now, here’s where I’m supposed to come up with an eloquent synopsis. But I’m not going to do that either. I went into it cold. It was a Saturday night at a small theatre called the Roxy. 9:20 p.m. showing. Just me and my wife, our first date in three months. You could argue that this all had something to do with it, but I don’t think so. I don’t think it would have mattered where, or how, I saw this movie.

I never got up once to go pee. I never went to get popcorn. I didn’t fiddle in my seat and look around and consider the sound equipment and wonder how recently it had been updated, or if that was the original proscenium arch framing the screen. I was completely engrossed from start to finish.

Edge of Tomorrow stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt and a host of superb supporting actors. Tom Cruise is one of those guys I kinda want to dislike, but dang-it if the guy hasn’t made some of the best movies around. And his ego seems to be aging well – he’s capable of roles where he isn’t The Most Amazing Guy Ever from the first scene.

In this movie, he earns it. Watch it and you’ll see. When the moment does come, and the camera slowly swings round his face, jaw set, eyes glinting beneath the shadow of his brow, he’s earned every inch of becoming this molded warrior over the previous hour of the story.

And Emily Blunt, well, what can you say. Captivating, convincing, perfectly suited for the part, just an immensely gifted actor. For the role she has to play, it’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling it off with quite the verve as Blunt.

No movie can really be a ten. A ten doesn’t exist – it’s the point on the horizon you can never quite get to. So I’m going to give this movie a 9.8. That’s the highest rating I’ve ever, in my own head, given any movie, anytime, anywhere. It’s not 9.8 for a sci-fi movie. It’s just 9.8. One of the point deductions is in keeping with the theory that a ten is unattainable. The other .1 deduction is because there was one moment – just one moment, lasting maybe a few seconds – where I fell out of the story. The screen was very dark for a couple frames, a night scene, and I couldn’t tell what was going on, so my mind wandered and I caught myself thinking about something else. Then I snapped right back.

The directing, the writing, the acting, the special effects, the concepts of the bad guys, the methods of the good guys, the sound, the music, the editing, all tip-top. I was thrown into the world of the film from the first frame. I could sense right away I was in good hands, so I let my guard down. Maybe it will be the same for you. Maybe the music will carry you, you’ll laugh, you’ll startle, you’ll root for the characters; you’ll smile at the person next to you because every moment in Edge of Tomorrow is somewhere you want to be.

Bravo.

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Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Gritty Crime Coming Soon 2014

These look good.

GONE GIRL  (October 3rd)

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Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)Basic information: Directed by David Fincher.  Screenplay by Gillian Flynn based on her book.  Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike

Synopsis:  Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Why it looks good: It’s a David Fincher film.

 

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THE ROVER  (June 13th)

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movies-the-rover-stillBasic information: Directed by David Michod.  Screenplay by Joel Edgerton and David Michod.  Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson

Synopsis: In a dangerous and dysfunctional near-future, a loner tracks the gang who stole his car from a desolate town in the Outback.

Why it looks good: It’s post-apocalyptic.

 

COLD IN JULY (May 23rd / June 27 wide release)

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coldinjulyBasic information: Directed by Jim Mickle.  Screenplay by Nick Damici based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale.  Starring Michael C. Hall, Vinessa Shaw, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson

Synopsis:  In 1980s East Texas, two fathers pitted against each other in revenge must band together to uncover a darker truth.

Why it looks good: See the closest guy in the picture glaring at you? Because he says it’s going to be good, that’s why.

 

INHERENT VICE  (December 12th)

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Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin PhoenixBasic information: Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  Screenplay by Anderson based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon.  Starring Jena Malone, Josh Brolin, Joaquin Phoenix

Synopsis:  In Los Angeles in 1970, drug-fueled detective Larry “Doc” Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.

Why it looks good: Anderson’s films somehow manage to feel like classics the first time you watch them.  Here the director of There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and The Master takes on a Pynchon novel.  Classic?  Probably.

 

INTERSTELLAR  (November 7th)

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interstellar-posterBasic information: Directed by Christopher Nolan.  Screenplay by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan.  Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway

Synopsis: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

Why it looks good: As long as it’s not too full of its own indoctrination (which characterizes 2010’s Inception for some critics), with  a concept this rock-n-roll nerdy in the hands of such writing, directing, and acting talent, Interstellar could be one of the best films of the year, certainly the best sci-fi.

 

COMING SOON TO DVD / BLURAY / VOD (These look good, too)

JOE 

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An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.

 

ENEMY 

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A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER 

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Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

 

UNDER THE SKIN 

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An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.

 

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Some synopses from IMDb

Michael Gaylin – Five Questions

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These days, interns are suing producers for making them… well, intern… including reading scripts and writing script coverage when they’re not fetching coffee.  People are in an uproar.  If it’s not educational, and it doesn’t benefit the intern, then it’s involuntary servitude – or, illegal.  But is reading screenplays educational?  If so, how do the screenwriters feel about pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into a feature script only to have some unpaid intern read it and dismiss it out of hand?

I decided to sit down with Michael Gaylin, a USC Graduate who rewrote the script for the 1994 sci-fi thriller No Escape, and not ask him any of these questions.

Instead, I thought I’d see if Michael’s own story could illuminate something amid all the controversy; that no one ever said making it in the film business was easy.

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TJB: Let’s get right to it and start this off with No EscapeThat movie is unimpeachably awesome.  First of all, it has Ray Liotta in it.  And it’s about the future.  On another planet.  Which is a prison.  I mean, come on.  How did this happen for you?

posterMG: I am a huge science-fiction and action movie fan myself so not only did I have a kick writing this, but I also had a large mental library of genre elements and scenes that I could reference. Joel Gross wrote the first versions of the screenplay. I was hired to rewrite his script by Gale Anne Hurd’s Pacific Western production company.

At the time, Gale was unhappy with the way Richard Herley’s English novel was adapted. I went back to the novel and saw why it was a difficult task. Hurley’s novel was interesting, but it was a heavily philosophical, literary and at times talky story of banished prisoners who attempted to set up a kind of utopian society on a remote island. What it needed, I felt…was more action!  I more or less started from scratch and the result was that very little was left of both the Joel Gross’s script or Mr. Hurley’s original novel, save the basic concept. Luckily Gale and the executive producer liked what I what done and the movie was given a green light.

 

TJB: Can you walk us through how you got there?  Was there schooling, was there an agent, was there a pact with the devil? How many scripts do you write, if any, before No Escape?

MG: I’d gone to USC as a graduate student in the 1980’s. Shortly after graduating I started writing. My first project was to co-write a script with a friend from USC who had been hired by Disney. We’d worked together during school and he brought me in to pitch some ideas to the studio. They liked one of our ideas and we went to work. Unfortunately, when we were done with the project the studio decided (as if often the case) that they were not interested in going forward with the project and the script was shelved.

I was on my own and felt I had few options but to write a spec script. It took me more than a year to write the screenplay and quite a while after that to see anything came of it. Agents were distinctly cool to the story of “a crack investigative reporter who is forced into hiding in a small mid-western town when the mob puts a price on his head.” But, when a friend of mine who worked at Jon Davis’ production company at Fox read the script, she liked it. She gave it to her boss and he offered to option the script. Suddenly, now that a deal was on the table, the same agents who scoffed at the script were newly excited about its potential. (What foresight!)

Escape-Ray-Liotta_610From that point on, I was a working writer with an agent. But it was a difficult road. I wrote many, many drafts of The Cover for Paramount, but ultimately it too was shelved. I was at square one again and felt I had few prospects other than to write another spec script. I sat down for more than a year again to write a story. When it was finished I used the material to find a new agent that I thought would fight more aggressively for me. I was lucky and the script sold, in a bidding war, for a more than reasonable sum.

At this point, I think I was finally on the map. A small speck on the map and certainly not a household name, but nevertheless I had several offers for work. But, again as is often the case, after writing many different versions of my spec for MGM, who had bought the script, I was taken off the project and a new writer reassigned. I learned later the story was ultimately canned.

For the next several years I worked, as many writers in Hollywood do, as a rewriter. I was hired to write scripts based on original material, whether it was an idea from a producer, a novel, or an original screenplay. Most of these projects were in the action, action/comedy, or sci-fi genres. None of them went on to be produced.

At some point I met with Betsy Beers of Pacific Western where she asked if I was interested in looking at project they had called “The Colony,” a futuristic story of prisoners banished to a remote island to serve out their sentences. I was excited about the idea and set out to write the script. Many months later, over Thanksgiving holiday, I got a call from the producers, telling me that on the basis of my script the project was given a green light and was going into production.

 

TJB: What are you currently working on? 

MG: Well…I’m no longer a screenwriter! As you can probably glean from the answers to your first questions, I was increasingly frustrated with the life of a screenwriter. Don’t get me wrong – I was happy and felt lucky to have the work. But for someone like me, who was always excited about the prospect of filmmaking, I felt a lot like a hamster on a spinning wheel – working hard but getting no closer to my ultimate goal of making films. Even after No Escape was released it was back to behind the scenes work rewriting stories that always seemed, at some point, to get shelved.

I eventually moved away from Hollywood back to the East Coast where I was raised. I founded a small video production studio called Aurora Video in upstate New York that is now thriving. And I’m much more satisfied. These days, nothing ends up on the shelf. And I’m still making short films, documentaries and am working on a script for a feature film that I hope one day to direct.

 

TJB: You live in Woodstock, NY, not far from where transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson did their signature work.  What is it about the area, then and now, which seems to draw creative thinkers?

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Thoreau

MG: The area does have a rich history as a draw for artists of all types. Actors, painters, and especially musicians. It’s a beautiful area. And its proximity to New York means a lot of talented people who have made their careers in the city find their way here. In the early 20th century a lot of maverick, free thinkers came to this area and established artist’s colonies. And I think that spirit has survived.

 

TJB: What’s to become of us on Planet Earth?  To tailor that question to suit the fact you wrote a movie about a prison-planet:  What do you make of the prisoner-to-citizen ratio in the U.S.?  Is the money-market a de facto system failure?  Can we build a resource-based economy? 

MG: As you may suspect, I am rather cynical about the direction we seem to be taking the planet these days. And as a father of a 12 year-old daughter, I’m extremely worried about all the challenges. But one of the reasons I was drawn to Woodstock is this is a very progressive, future-thinking community. I think it’s from this kind of local base, and others around the world, that the solutions to such existential problems as global warming, increasing income inequality, and the incarceration epidemic are to be found. And I think the will to follow through with these solutions will be forged here as well. Otherwise, we may find ourselves, like the inhabitants of a fictional future prison colony – with no escape.

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The Wolf of Wall Street – a review of reviews

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The Wolf of Wall Street stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a mercurial stock broker who rose in the 1990s to become a ridiculously wealthy, drug-addled mogul of Long Island.

Wolf lays it all out in one of the first scenes, when a younger Belfort is being schooled by a reptilian, almost goofball version of Satan played by Matthew McConaughey.  They’re sitting there, on top of the world, and McConaughy explains the rules of the game:  They don’t care about making their clients any money, they only care about making themselves money.  And there is a lack of culpability, because what they’re doing, what they do for a living, it’s not really real.

Stockbroking is about speculation; a realm of phantoms.  Projecting how well a business will do, hiking up shares for that company, this epitomizes a dark failure of our money-market system.  Empires are made, lives are shattered.  McConaughey says, “The stocks go up, the stocks go down,” and none of it comes from anything real, anything of value.  It’s taking from one person to give to someone else – in this case, yourself.

Like so much else in our modern world, reactions to the film have been polarized.  The Financial Times considers the film too late-in-the-game to be poignant, saying “Been there, done that, got the Enron prison shirts.”  Meanwhile, the UK’s Daily Telegraph hails it as “Scorsese’s Best Film in 20 Years.”

Some of the films detractors say that it doesn’t take time to show us the ruined lives of the victims.  Others cite that there is not enough punishment for Belfort – the denouement is too brief and he gets off too easy.  After a long, hyper-real ride through his sordid, spectacular life, he gets a slap on the wrist.

Yet this is faithful to the book adapted for the film, written by Belfort, and told from his perspective.  And it is faithful to the realities of white collar crimes.  We may boo and hiss at the CEOs who parachute away from danger when their fraudulent behavior cripples lives, but we remain either unwittingly trapped by or fiercely loyal to our financial system and the ideology of the free marketplace which created these men in the first place.

Without question, Wolf is one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in years, full of everything that makes cinema great, and easily considerable as a master work for Scorsese.  There were a couple of times I felt a slight drag (perhaps one too many self-aggrandizing speeches from Belfort), but the editing, the cinematography, the score – just manna from Scorsese heaven.

The film does not paint its moral message across the sky.  As the Telegraph observes, Scorsese grants his audience the intelligence to draw their own conclusions: “…Glamorizing without endorsing, treating the audience like adults, trusting that our moral sense will compensate for his characters’ lack of one.”

Viewers unhappy with the film consider experiencing three hours of debauchery “for nothing.”  Perhaps the hyperactivity and decadence has left them feeling a bit as though they’d gone on one of Belfort’s benders themselves.  And perhaps this is the message, or, at least, the reaction Scorsese might be looking for: That this kind of shit is wild, it’s crazy, some parts are even attractive, but it’s like working for the devil – in the end, if it doesn’t kill you, it will leave you empty.

The movie is possibly harder to take for female viewers.  Women are relentlessly objectified in Wolf.  They’re either giving blow jobs, or stripping, or sweet and understanding (like Belfort’s first wife), then dumped for the newer, younger, more gold-plated model.  I watched it with my wife, and while I roared at the scenes like Belfort pantomiming that he’s physically “giving it” to a client while he suckers him in over the phone, her reaction was a bit more subdued.  It’s a real frat party, and while I can laugh at their antics from this safe distance, enjoy an actor’s performance and a filmmaker’s skills, in real life I would probably hate these stockbroker guys, or at least want to have nothing to with them.

Yet…I can’t…look…away…

In the riveting climactic scene where Belfort’s personal life finally comes crashing down around him, the blows he gives to his wife signal us that the party is over.  He’s no longer just riding out there on the edge, he’s past it now, he’s lost in the abyss, fully in the clutches of hell.  This ramification for his life of the devil’s work is deserved.  Yet beyond this, he does little-to-no penance, since his money stretches through the bars of the jail cell, and he goes on to write a book, and then, yeah, have a movie made about him.  In some ways, he doesn’t get the punishment we’d like to think he deserves – instead he’s cashing in.

Despite dissatisfaction with either the length of the film, the bombardment to the senses, or of justice ill-fitted to financial crimes, The Wolf of Wall Street is a powerhouse movie.  It’s a cinematic gem from Scorsese.  It’s why movies are made – to take us into another experience, to provide for us a collective dream, a spectacle, to strike a nerve within us.  Wolf is a breathtaking glimpse of the imperious, ultimately joyless and carnal side to the American dream.

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