Five-star trailers: “Gone Girl” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”

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For this post, I highlight trailers for two upcoming films with two seemingly similar plot lines: the disappearance of a female character. The films’ central genres, however, are vastly different.

First, in director David Fincher’s mystery-thriller Gone Girl, Ben Affleck stars as Nick, a man who becomes a suspect in the disappearance of his wife Amy (played by Rosamund Pike) and must deal with the investigation and media circus that results. Did Nick harm his wife? Is he being framed? How was the couple’s marriage? Was his wife afraid of him…so much so that she would just disappear? The trailer’s highlighting of Pike’s haunting voice as she narrates excerpts from Amy’s diary played a particular factor in drawing me in to the film—especially when she gets to five very telling (and insanely chilling) words: “This man may kill me.” The fact that this thriller (based on the best-selling novel of the same name) is directed by Fincher (The Social Network, Seven, Zodiac)—a favorite filmmaker of mine—is also more than enough to get me on edge to check the film out when it is released in the US on October 3.

Meanwhile, in writer/director Ned Benson’s drama The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, a couple’s relationship is explored from two different points of view—the guy, Conor (played by James McAvoy), and the girl, Eleanor (played by the always fantastic Jessica Chastain). While Gone Girl is more in the mystery/whodunit vein, Eleanor Rigby is a poignant romantic drama. The trailer opens with the courtship of the guy to the girl and presents the couple happy and in love. As the trailer moves forward, however, it shows that the couple’s relationship gets rocky, and Eleanor ultimately up and leaves Conor, which leaves him reeling and without a clue of where she has gone. The trailer does a fantastic job showcasing the clearly emotionally charged performances of McAvoy and, in particular, Chastain. Could Chastain be on her way to another Oscar nomination (after previous nods for The Help and Zero Dark Thirty) with her work here in Eleanor Rigby? Only time will tell—but, first things first, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby releases in the US on September 12, and it’s definitely a film I’m going to want to see!

Gone Girl trailer:

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby trailer:

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Linklater takes us on a remarkable journey through a boy’s childhood in “Boyhood”

boyhood pic

We’ve seen coming-of-age films many times before. Out of all likelihood, the movie would feature a child actor portray the character at a young age, and a different actor would take over the role when the character ages in the film. A film shoot may take only a year or so, and so there simply isn’t time for an actor to grow up, literally, with his or her character. But in director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood—the story of a boy dealing with life and the fragilities of growing up from age 6 to 18—Linklater has the same young actor (Ellar Coltrane) portray our protagonist, Mason, throughout the entirety of the film. In other words, the film required 12 years of filming so Coltrane could age with his character. The end result of Linklater’s unheard-of undertaking is a deeply involving coming-of-age story unlike any other.

The film opens in 2002 with six-year-old Mason lying on the grass, looking up to the skies, and his arm outstretched as though he was reaching out to the world that’s out there for his little hand to take hold of.  Coldplay’s song Yellow opens the film, which is appropriate considering the year and the popularity of the song at the time. The film quickly takes us into Mason’s life—he lives in a small house with his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and their divorced mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette). The kids are visited and taken out by their slacker father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), every once in a while. And with divorce comes disagreement and unpleasantness between the two exes, which the kids have known and seen all too well in their young lives.

The film invites us into Mason’s life as he lives it. We see how he deals with the things that come with growing up—moving away with his family to a different city, attending a new school, being constantly annoyed by an older sister, watching his mother remarry, and being a part of a newly extended family. We see Mason deal with the delicate nature of adolescence as he ages and the endless saga of family life, in particular, when his new stepfather, Bill (Marco Perella), becomes an abusive alcoholic. We see Mason’s struggles and triumphs with growing up and his eventual desire to discover and express his true identity. We see preteen Mason’s devastation at being forced to get a haircut he didn’t want and how it speaks volumes for his desire to be able to be himself. Many of us have been there at this age.

What makes the film so special and unique is that it’s relatable. Many of us remember growing up and all the trials and tribulations we went through over the years. What the film sets out to express, very vividly through Coltrane’s remarkable performance, is that childhood is a crucial time for learning (sometimes the hard way) about the difficulties of life, the desires for expressing one’s identity, and the hopes and directions one would want to take to figure out his or her place in the world once high school (childhood) is over. It’s through Linklater’s vision that we are taken back through that journey from innocence to adulthood. We see Coltrane grow up, and it’s quite something to see him turn from a young boy lying in the grass, taking in the world around him, to a young man who needs to figure out where his life will lead him with the arrival of adulthood. The film relies heavily on us caring about this boy, and it’s through Coltrane’s honest portrayal and Linklater’s compelling storytelling and direction that we do.

Also worthy of recognition in the film is Arquette, who delivers an excellent supporting turn here as a woman doing the best she can for herself and her children despite life’s many setbacks and heartbreaks.

Linklater deserves a great deal of acclaim for his bold, patient undertaking in Boyhood. Despite its summer theatrical release, I’m hoping it’s remembered come Oscar time. It’s a relatable and unforgettable journey through a young boy’s life, and it’s a film I highly recommend.

5 out of 5 stars

About Boyhood:

This is the story of a boy as he grows up from age 6 to 18 and charts his path from the innocence of childhood to the realities and possibilities of adulthood.

For more on Boyhood, visit the official IFC website, like it on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter.

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Oscar Watch Trailer: “12 Years a Slave”

12-years-a-slave-posterNow that the Summer season of big-budgeted, popcorn films is over, we enter into the end-of-the-year releases that are more award-caliber in nature. In other words, my favorite time of year at the movies! For films that could potentially get on the radar of Oscar voters, I will discuss them in my newly created “Oscar Watch Trailer” section, a spinoff of my “Five-star Trailers” postings.

And first up on “Oscar Watch” is director Steve McQueen’s pre-Civil War drama 12 Years a Slave. From all the early buzz I’m hearing about the film, this will be the movie that will put the spotlight of arrival on actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. In the based-on-a-true-story 12 Years, Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery. Known mostly for supporting roles in films such as Children of Men, American Gangster and Inside Man, the positive buzz surrounding Ejiofor’s lead performance has been absolutely deafening. And if the positive reviews keep rolling in, Ejiofor could very well be the frontrunner for the Oscar—with a potential showdown with Matthew McConaughey for his performance in the drama Dallas Buyers Club.

Also garnering attention is a supporting turn by Michael Fassbender as a ruthless slave owner. If Fassbender grabs an Oscar nomination, it’ll be a nice “makeup nod” after the Academy snubbed his excellent lead performance in McQueen’s Shame two years ago. The film itself is even being compared to Schindler’s List­—which suggests a heart-wrenching, emotionally difficult and yet extremely important story captured on screen. Director McQueen could also be a strong candidate for a Best Director nod for bringing this searing true story to life on film.

The trailer for the film makes it very clear that this will be a brutal and unforgettable film, and it is now placed on the top of my Fall movie season must-see list! And after hearing that the film received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival, all signs to me are pointing to a film that could be one of the very best of 2013.

12 Years a Slave is Rated R and is slated for release in the U.S. on October 18.

About 12 Years a Slave:

In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery in this based-on-a-true-story drama.

For more on 12 Years a Slave, visit the official Fox Searchlight Web site or follow the film on Facebook.

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A young man tries to get his life back on track in the unforgettable drama “Fruitvale Station”

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In writer/director Ryan Coogler’s true-story drama Fruitvale Station, star-on-the-rise Michael B. Jordan gives an outstanding performance as a young man who yearns to find redemption and lead a better life for his future.

Fruitvale tells the tragic story of Oscar Grant III (played by Jordan)—a 22-year-old Bay-Area man with a troubled past. Years earlier, Grant had run-ins with the law. We see in flashbacks Oscar behind bars. In one instance, we see his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), visiting him in jail. She sees that her son hasn’t changed his ways and can do nothing but give up on him. It’s a heartbreaking scene, to say the least.

In the present day, Oscar is a caring father to his young daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal). He’s still with his daughter’s mother, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and he’s on much better terms with his mother. Oscar seems to have his life back on track—but he hasn’t quite let go of the irresponsible young man he once was. He lost his job at a grocer due to excessive tardiness, and now he’s on the verge of selling drugs again for money. From the looks of it, it seems as though Oscar won’t ever change.

Fruitvale chronicles the last day of 2008—Wanda’s birthday. It’s New Year’s Eve—a time for celebration and, for some, a time for change. New Year’s Eve 2008 ultimately becomes the day Oscar reaches an epiphany about his life and the man he wants to become for those around him. Jordan (who showed tremendous talent in TV’s Friday Night Lights), is a revelation here as Oscar. He fully takes on the role of a young man struggling within himself and trying so desperately to change his fate. Fruitvale is the film that will have Hollywood take notice of a young actor with a bright future ahead of him.

The rest of the cast is also terrific. Diaz is excellent as Oscar’s girlfriend who will stand by her man until the end, and Academy Award winner Spencer delivers another fine performance as a mother who just wants to see her son become a better man. Coogler’s direction and screenplay for the film are also praise-worthy in that he tells an emotionally absorbing story from beginning to end.

This being the true story of Oscar Grant, the unfortunate outcome of his fate on December 31, 2008 is unavoidable. Coogler may have named his film Fruitvale Station, but he doesn’t intend for the tragic events that happened there to be what Oscar would solely be remembered by. His intention for the film is for us to know and understand the man that met a regretful fate that day in 2008. And through Jordan’s award-worthy performance, Fruitvale Station became a devastatingly unforgettable film that will affect you and won’t let you go long after you’ve finished watching it. It’s no wonder this film was an absolute sensation at the Sundance Film Festival. Without a doubt, Fruitvale Station is a must-see and is one of the best films of the year.

5 out of 5 stars

About Fruitvale Station:

Based on the true story of Oscar Grant III, Fruitvale Station tells the story of a young man with a troubled past who reaches a crossroads in his life one tragic New Year’s Eve.

For more on Fruitvale Station, visit the official Web site or follow it on Facebook and Twitter. 

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Five-star trailer: “Her”

herWriter/director Spike Jonze–best known for the acclaimed, quirky dramedies Being John Malkovich and Adaptation–looks like he has another offbeat winner on his hands with the new film Her. Fresh off his critically-adored, Oscar-nominated turn in last year’s The Master, Joaquin Phoenix stars as a depressed recluse who develops a relationship with a uniquely intelligent operating system that adapts itself completely to its user. Phoenix’s operating system goes by the name Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The premise reminds me a bit of the 2007 Ryan Gosling dramedy Lars and the Real Girl, which also tells the story of a lonely guy in a highly unconventional relationship.

By the looks of the trailer for Her, Phoenix looks as though he’s bound to deliver yet another praise-worthy performance. Here, it looks as though he puts his usual intensity aside to play a more sensitive character. Buzz around Her is so positive that the film is being pushed back from its original release of November 20 to December 18–presumably so the film and Phoenix are fresh in Oscar voters’ minds. Also featuring Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde, Her looks like a film I’m going to want to check out come December!

About Her:

A lonely writer forms an surprisingly real relationship with his newly-purchased operating system that’s catered to meet his every need.

For more on Her, visit the official Web site or follow it on Facebook.

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The McConaughey ‘career renaissance’ continues in the excellent Southern drama “Mud”

mud poster

Matthew McConaughey. A few years ago, that name was synonymous for romantic-comedy “fluff” films such as The Wedding Planner and Failure to Launch. He was pretty much perceived as a “pretty boy” whose prerequisite for a film was to have a few scenes with his shirt off so ladies would swoon at the screen. Then, 2011 came along and he shed his rom-com reputation by starring in the acclaimed legal drama The Lincoln Lawyer. What has followed since has been what the media has labeled a “career renaissance” for the guy a girl was supposed to lose in ten days. And now with his turn in director Jeff Nichols’ remarkable drama Mud, McConaughey continues to prove that there is indeed a talented actor in him after all.

In Mud, McConaughey plays the title role—a man hiding out on a nearby island in the South who is discovered by two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Although McConaughey dominates much of the publicity for the film, the lead belongs more to Sheridan. The film is his coming-of-age story. With a backdrop of the Mississippi River, Mud has been compared quite often to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – and the film very much plays out like a classic novel. Nichols immerses us beautifully in 14-year-old Ellis’ world in the South, where he lives in a rickety house on the water with his father (Ray McKinnon) and mother (Sarah Paulson).

Ellis and Neckbone befriend Mud, particularly Ellis. They become intrigued (as young adolescents would be) by Mud’s stories of his snake tattoo, his lucky shirt and the crosses on the heels of his boots. Even his hideout of choice on the island – a boat that is hanging precariously up in a tree – mesmerizes them. The reason Mud is in hiding is because he is being pursued by bounty hunters for killing the abusive lover of his childhood sweetheart Juniper (Reese Witherspoon, also impressively shedding a bit of her “fluff” film persona here). Mud has hopes to reunite with Juniper and escape it all together. Everything about Mud—his backstory, his personality, his current lot in life—is portrayed precisely like a character out of a Huck Finn-like novel, and therein lies much of the beauty of the film. And with a lead in a young adolescent boy in the South (a la Huck), the comparisons are unavoidable.

With Mud’s declarations of love and unyielding devotion for Juniper, Ellis becomes fascinated by the notion of love, and it becomes a major running theme throughout the film. He’s a young boy just now discovering what love means and feels like. He ends up pining for and pursuing a slightly older local girl, May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant). But this being a coming-of-age story, Ellis also comes to discover that love just isn’t that easy—not only with May Pearl, but with the conflicts he sees in Mud and Juniper, as well as in his own, near-separating parents.

Under Nichols’ rock-solid direction, young Sheridan leads the film nicely in his portrayal of Ellis and we are immersed in his adventures with Mud and in himself. And he’s aided greatly by McConaughey’s willing turn as a man with a dark past and a hope for a future with his love. Within this very flawed character and his enthralling predicament, McConaughey was able to show a great deal of dramatic range and throw a little, well, mud on the way we have perceived him all these years. He engaged himself with the character and embodied his plight in every way an actor who cares about his craft would.

Overall, Mud impressively showcases a Matthew McConaughey that I would hope we will see more of in the future. And by the looks of his next two projects – Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and the true-life drama Dallas Buyers Club – it looks like the McConaughey “renaissance” isn’t about to stop anytime soon.

Mud is now available to rent or own on DVD/Blu-ray, so be sure to check out one of the best films of the year!

5 out of 5 stars

About Mud:

Two young boys in the South encounter a fugitive and help him evade the bounty hunters who are hot on his trail and to reunite him with his troubled childhood sweetheart.

For more on Mud, visit the film’s official Web site or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

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Five-star trailer: “American Hustle”

american hustleJust one year after writer/director David O. Russell gave us the acclaimed, multiple-Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook, it seems as though he’s done it again with his new, star-studded crime drama American Hustle.

Back with Russell are Playbook actors Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (fresh off her Best Actress Oscar win). Also reuniting with Russell are his The Fighter co-stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams. And you can add Jeremy Renner to the cast as well. So you have two past Oscar winners and three Oscar nominees, all being directed by the Oscar-nominated Russell. On paper, American Hustle couldn’t scream “awesome” more –and the newly introduced trailer only illustrates it all the more. Russell looks like he has the atmosphere for the era down nicely (featuring Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” to boot!), and his actors are looking to be oozing tons of raw emotion, which suggests everyone is bringing his or her A-game to this project.

American Hustle looks like it’s going to be a must watch and I look forward to checking it out!

The film is not yet rated and is scheduled for U.S. release in December.

About American Hustle:

The film tells the story of a con artist and his partner in crime, who were forced to work with a federal agent to turn the tables on other cons, mobsters and political figures – specifically, the unstable mayor of impoverished Camden, New Jersey.

For more on American Hustle, visit the Sony Pictures Web site or follow the film on Facebook and Twitter.

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