Prisoners starts out as a tense and gripping story of every parent’s worst nightmare after two young girls disappear on Thanksgiving Day.

Hugh Jackman is Keller Dover, a husband and father with a survivalist bent whose motto is “hope for the best, prepare for the worst. ” Dover with his wife Grace (Maria Bello) and kids, Anna and Ralph join neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis) and their daughters Joy and Eliza for the occasion.

The day suddenly takes a turn from ordinary to nightmarish when the two families realize the girls, who’ve gone off to play, are missing. The main suspect becomes Alex Jones, a young man with the mind of a 10 year-old who is parked in a camper at a nearby house right before the girls go missing.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Loki, the loner detective assigned to the investigation who has solved every case he’s ever worked. Gyllenhaal who early in his career wasn’t very interesting to watch has morphed into a versatile, three-dimensional actor and he’s intense and convincing as the dogged, determined Loki who is always watching and connecting the dots. Continue reading »

End of Watch follows two street cops Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) as they patrol the gang infested neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles. The film uses the now familiar device of showing the action through the lens of a camera. At first this overused gimmick is distracting but as Brian and Mike go about their day, the camera settles down and the technique delivers a voyeuristic quality and a sense of urgency to the unfolding action.

The camaraderie between Brian and Mike is the heart of the film. The relationship between the two feels lived in and authentic from the start. You believe these two guys are cops and best friends. Peña and Gyllenhaal both give natural and organic performances. They both are at times funny, charming, vulnerable and tough. There’s an unpretentious, stripped down quality to the dialogue and story that makes it feel real and immediate. Continue reading »

The Impossible, the true story of a family that was caught in the horror of the 2004 tsunami that killed over 230,000 people is an intensely visceral experience that produces a physical reaction as you watch the ocean rip through the land leaving behind utter devastation.

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are Maria and Henry, a couple vacationing with their three children at a beach resort in Thailand during the Christmas holidays. Through the eyes of this real life family, the viewer is put at the center of the violent and deadly natural disaster in an immediate and palpable way that no news account can match. It is a transfixing sight to see the family swept away and separated from each other by the rushing, massive wave of water that scatters the people on the beach like pieces on a game board.

The film traces an injured Maria’s struggle to survive with the help of her eldest son, 13-year old Lucas (Tom Holland) and Henry’s desperate search to find the two.  Tom Holland is commanding as Lucas in an authentic and deeply moving performance as a typical self-absorbed teenage boy who transforms into a fierce protector of his mother and advocate of those in need around them. Naomi Watts is equally affecting as a mother determined to stay alive for the sake of her son and quietly  touching yet strong as the roles reverse and she must let her son take care of her. Continue reading »

“I’m the motherf**ker who found this place.” With that line Jessica Chastain as CIA analyst Maya sums up her single-minded, no holds barred pursuit of Osama Bin Laden and the film’s narrative, the search for where the defiantly elusive Bin Laden is hiding.

Zero Dark Thirty is an extended, big budget procedural that details the painstaking hunt for the most wanted terrorist in American history. If like me you wondered why it took so long to capture Bin Laden, the film based on accounts of actual events relates how incredibly complicated, dangerous, and grueling such a massive undertaking is and the toll it takes on those involved.

The movie opens with audio of 9/11. The familiar visual of the planes hitting the towers is not shown and so the impact as you listen to the voice of one of the victims tell the 911 operator “I’m going to die, aren’t I?” is as immediate and heartbreaking as it was on that day. The story jumps directly from that horrific moment to the Saudi Group, a team of CIA operatives in the process of extracting information from a detainee with the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, which is the euphemism used by U.S. officials for torture. Continue reading »

I add movies to my Netflix queue and then forget about them. Getting the DVDs has become somewhat like opening a fortune cookie. I know there will be something inside but I don’t know what it will be. When I opened up the red envelope to find Hachi: A Dog’s Tale I was relieved because I’d read it was a heartwarming story and I wasn’t in the mood for anything dark. I was also curious to see this film starring Richard Gere and Joan Allen that had gone straight to DVD.

Gere is Parker Wilson a music professor who finds a lost puppy at the train station on his way home one night. He brings the puppy back to his house but his wife Cate (Joan Allen) insists he cannot keep the dog. Parker and his daughter Andy (Sarah Roemer) are instantly smitten with the dog and despite putting up flyers around town and a half-hearted attempt to find the dog another home it’s clear he isn’t going anywhere. Continue reading »

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