Review: Ben Stiller and Adam Driver put a stake in hipster culture's heart in 'While We're Young'
Credit: A24

Review: Ben Stiller and Adam Driver put a stake in hipster culture's heart in 'While We're Young'

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
Plus an unexpected debate about ethics in modern documentary film

While I'm always up for watching a new film by Noah Baumbach, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't want to spend any time in the real world with the characters in his movies.

Take "While We're Young," for example, his latest film which just premiered here at the Toronto Film Festival. In it, Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a couple who have reached that point in life where all of their friends are having babies and they seem fairly sure that's not something they want. Josh is a documentary filmmaker who is coming up on his tenth year of tinkering with the same project, and Cornelia is a producer who works for her father (Charles Grodin), a successful older documentarian who used to be Josh's mentor. If they were the only three main characters in the film, there's still enough angst and tension and underlying pathology in the three of them to make me squirm for two full hours.

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Review: Salma Hayek's passion project brings 'Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet' to beautiful life
Credit: The Gibran National Committee

Review: Salma Hayek's passion project brings 'Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet' to beautiful life

HitFix
A
Readers
n/a
An impossible-to-adapt book somehow makes the jump intact

One of the highlights of the Cannes Film Festival for me this summer was a presentation of selected clips from "Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet," an ambitious animated film that adapts one of the most beloved works of poetry of the 20th Century, and I wrote in that piece that I hoped the final film would live up to the segments that I saw out of context.

It is safe to say that is the case.

Ultimately, this is a very simple, very direct film. There are plenty of movies playing at this festival that want to make you work for whatever meaning you take from them, but this feels like the opposite. "Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet" has been designed to be as emotionally direct as possible, easy to understand and very, very clear in its storytelling, and the result is a film that I would feel comfortable showing to my children but that manages to offer up some remarkably complex and adult ideas in a way that makes them seem fresh, no matter how familiar you are with the book.

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Review: An expert cast makes dysfunctional family pain funny in 'This Is Where I Leave You'
Credit: Warner Bros

Review: An expert cast makes dysfunctional family pain funny in 'This Is Where I Leave You'

HitFix
B
Readers
n/a
It also makes solving those problems look very easy

One of the overriding messages of almost any film festival is "Wow, families are screwed up."

What makes a dysfunctional family film work is when the specifics of how one particular family is broken manages to somehow illuminate something universal about how difficult that dynamic can be overall. There are times when I feel like I should call my parents and yell at them for being normal and loving and taking great care of me because maybe I'd be a more tormented and successful artist if only they'd been selfish dicks.

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Review: Denzel Washington's 'Equalizer' is more 'Home Alone' than 'Man On Fire'
Credit: Sony Pictures

Review: Denzel Washington's 'Equalizer' is more 'Home Alone' than 'Man On Fire'

HitFix
C-
Readers
n/a
Middle of the road doesn't get much more middle than this

The basic premise of the '80s TV series "The Equalizer" was just generic enough to survive on CBS in that decade of bland, and in making the jump to the big-screen, it appears to have survived with all of that bland firmly intact.

While I personally didn't care for much of anything about the film, I don't think it's ineptly made or awful so much as just forgettable. It's a teflon film. It slid right off my brain pan just as soon as it made it in through the rods and cones, and even trying to summon up specific scenes or gags a few days later, I can already feel it slipping away. Part of the problem is just plain familiarity with the tropes of the film. Denzel Washington plays Denzel Washington, essentially. This isn't a character the same way Creasy in "Man On Fire" was a character. It's a very mild riff on the persona that he's firmly established over the last 20 years, and the one thing that distinguishes him is the way he sort of thinks his way through a fight visually before it happens.

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Review: Kevin Smith's 'Tusk' is more a step forward than a return to form
Credit: A24

Review: Kevin Smith's 'Tusk' is more a step forward than a return to form

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a
Plus who is the mysterious Guy LaPointe?

There are a number of surprises built into Kevin Smith's "Tusk," not the least of which is that it is, all things considered, eminently watchable.

That's not faint praise, either. This is in many ways a ridiculous film, and well aware of itself. There are moments where you can practically hear Smith off-camera laughing at not just what's in front of the camera but also what's going to happen in the theater when people watch it. There is a glee to the filmmaking that is matched by a greater sense of control than I've seen from Smith before, and while I think the film is wildly uneven at times, I think that's also the point. I've always said that I grade a film based on how well I think it accomplishes what the filmmaker is trying to do, and in this case, I'd say Smith is fairly on his game.

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Review: Sam Jackson and a Finnish boy fight terrorists in the preposterously fun 'Big Game'
Credit: Altitude Film Entertainment

Review: Sam Jackson and a Finnish boy fight terrorists in the preposterously fun 'Big Game'

HitFix
A
Readers
n/a
It's like the best '80s Amblin' movie never made

When I saw "Super" at the Toronto Film Festival's Midnight Madness presentation, I really liked it. I wrote an enthusiastic review for it. I'm not sure I would have predicted, though, that the director of that film would have the biggest movie of the year for 2014, though.

It is much easier for me to confidently predict that within the next few years, Jalmari Helander is going to be writing and directing giant Hollywood movies, and that he's going to be very, very good at it.

His first film, "Rare Exports," felt like the sort of movie that Joe Dante would have made in the 1980s, a film that takes this left-of-center approach to some high concept idea, a film that would have a passionate cult fan base. His new film, which premiered at tonight's Midnight Madness, is an action movie called "Big Game," and it feels more like the sort of movie that Steven Spielberg would have made in the 1980s, a film that aims right down the middle, a film that knocks that high concept right out of the park with style and clockwork precision.

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Review: Kristen Wiig walks a comic tightrope in the uncomfortable 'Welcome To Me'
Credit: Bron Studios/Gary Sanchez Productions

Review: Kristen Wiig walks a comic tightrope in the uncomfortable 'Welcome To Me'

HitFix
B
Readers
n/a
The film walks a fine line but knows that mental illness is no joke

When I reviewed "The Judge" last night, I talked about how one character in particular really rubbed the wrong way. In the film, Robert Downey Jr's character has a younger brother who is portrayed as "slow." I put that in quotes because the film goes out of its way to avoid ever naming what's wrong with him, and it's that movie thing where they're afraid to offend anyone so they make it so generic that it's basically offensive to everyone.

It bothers me because it treats the character as an easy punchline, a cheap laugh, and they use him for convenient exposition. Need to explain something? Just have the slow brother ask someone to explain it to him again. I'll be honest… it made my skin crawl, and they certainly aren't the first to do it. When I first heard the premise for "Welcome To Me," I was afraid it might be the same sort of thing, but Shira Piven, working from a script by Elliot Laurence, has directed a beautiful, sad, sweet and funny movie that deals honestly with mental illness while also earning big laughs and offering up some hard truths. And it helps that Kristen Wiig gives the best sustained performance of her entire career in the lead.

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Review: Jake Gyllenhaal gets next-level creepy in great, disturbing 'Nightcrawler'
Credit: Open Road

Review: Jake Gyllenhaal gets next-level creepy in great, disturbing 'Nightcrawler'

HitFix
A
Readers
n/a
This is a jet black but beautiful ride through the darkest corners of LA

Dan Gilroy's been at this for a while now. His first produced screenplay was the largely-forgotten "Freejack," a science-fiction action movie starring Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, and a fresh-off-his-Oscar-win Anthony Hopkins in 1992. The other main co-star in the film was Rene Russo, who ended up married to Gilroy after that film, and now, a full 22 years later, she's co-starring in "Nightcrawler," which is Gilroy's move from being a writer to being a writer-director.

If this is any indication of what he can do when he's in full control, then let the era of Dan Gilroy commence.

Disturbing and dark, "Nightcrawler" is many things. It is a remarkable LA movie, something I would not say lightly. I have a lot of problems watching movies that are "about" LA, just like I have a lot of problems watching movies about making movies. I have trouble separating what I know from what I'm watching. It is also a pretty spot on savaging of news media and what runs the business.

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Exclusive: First 'Force Majeure' poster captures the moment a family crumbles
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Exclusive: First 'Force Majeure' poster captures the moment a family crumbles

And who is that quoted on the poster?

When crafting a review of a film, one of the last things I ever have on my mind is how something might get pulled or quoted on a poster. It's happened enough times over the years now that the novelty has worn off, and at this point, the one kick that remains is knowing that my endorsement somehow meant enough to the filmmakers or was stated in such a way that it was something they wanted to use to help reach potential viewers.

One of the movies I really, really liked at this year's Cannes Film Festival was one I knew nothing about when I walked in. Didn't know the filmmaker, didn't know the subject matter, and really had no idea what to expect. I ended up thinking "Force Majeure" was one of the best films of the festival, and it's really stuck with me since then.

The film deals with what happens to a family on a ski vacation when, during what looks like an out-of-control avalanche, the father gets up and runs, leaving his family behind. Everyone's fine, but that moment and that decision end up creating a potentially unfixable rift in the family, and the film plays out in a very smart, very unusual way.

You'll get your own chance to see the film soon, and right now, it's playing here at Toronto. When we were asked if we wanted to debut the film's American poster, I was thrilled to do so. The moment on the poster is that moment that everything hinges on in the film, and it seems to me like about as smart a choice for an image as they could have made.

In a year where I've seen a number of strong films about family and how it is defined, "Force Majeure" remains one of the very best of the bunch, and I'll be excited to see how people respond to this one when it hits general release.

"Force Majeure" will be in theaters October 24, 2014.

Review: Robert Downey Jr. is guilty of being shameless in 'The Judge'
Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: Robert Downey Jr. is guilty of being shameless in 'The Judge'

HitFix
D+
Readers
n/a
Prepare to be manipulated. Poorly.

Someone really, really needs a hug from Robert Downey Sr.

Written by Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque, and a blender full of better legal thrillers and family dramas, "The Judge" has been directed by David Dobkin almost entirely in ornate second-unit establishing shots and dramatic entrances. It is an insistent film, and "subtle" isn't even a consideration. This is a movie that will tell you the same piece of information nine times to make a point because it has no faith at all that you will understand it. It also features more endings than "Return Of The King," and it feels like a movie the younger, rowdier Robert Downey Jr. would have made fun of mercilessly.

Honestly, as soon as the first scene with Downey played out, I started to worry. There's a trial. He's a big high-powered defense attorney. We meet him standing at a urinal. The opposing counsel, played by David Krumholtz, comes in to confront him.

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