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Review: Laggies

October 24, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

Laggies Poster

The trio at the centre of writer-director Lynn Shelton’s wonderful 2012 film Your Sister’s Sister provided one of the most strangely believable and oddly endearing three handers in recent memory.

Now comes Laggies, the latest dramedy from the quietly perceptive voice of Lynn Shelton, and the unlikely trio at the centre of this funny and wise character study also feels undeniably real.  After playing at TIFF, the film opens in limited release today, courtesy of VVS Films.

After her boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) proposes to her at the wedding of their mutual friend (Ellie Kemper), Megan (Keira Knightley) gets scared and bolts from the party.  On her way back, she runs into Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz) at the grocery store, a teen girl who convinces Megan to buy her friends some booze.

When she ends up spending the night drinking and hanging out with the group of teenagers, Megan decides to crash with Annika and her jaded single father Craig (Sam Rockwell) for the week, to avoid coming clean to her boyfriend.

Anthony is one of those almost smotheringly nice guys who plans out his every move, keeping a few days worth of carefully trimmed stubble on his face to try and look spontaneous.  The friends they share are all the same way, happily coasting down the stereotypical paths they have planned for themselves since high school.  But Megan isn’t ready to do the whole marriage and kids thing just yet, if at all, and who can really blame her?  Craig already did all that stuff over sixteen years ago, only to find himself and Annika unceremoniously abandoned.

Although working on a bigger budget than before, which shows through in the nicely polished cinematography, Lynn Shelton has thankfully retained the sharp dialogue and naturalistic characters that have made her previous films so strong.  Here she does a great job of subverting typical romantic comedy clichés, especially evident during an airport scene near the end that takes a refreshingly different turn.  This is a film that is enjoyable because of how believable the whole thing feels, allowing us to spend time with a group of almost uncannily relatable characters, who help justify our own life choices.

Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell are all great, and they have some wonderful chemistry together.  Even just in brief scenes, the supporting cast is equally solid.  Jeff Garlin has some very nice moments as Megan’s caring father, who openly admits that he has made some mistakes, and wished she would do the same.  Kaitlyn Dever, who also delivered excellent work in this month’s Men, Women & Children, is an absolute scene stealer here as Annika’s whip smart best friend.

Even if we can pretty much guess where the characters will end up by the final scene, it’s no small feat that the journey getting there still manages to feel completely fresh.  Enjoyable every step of the way, Laggies is a delightfully entertaining and even wise film about growing up on your own schedule, that hit home for this viewer.

Review: Whiplash

October 22, 2014

By John Corrado

**** (out of 4)

Whiplash Poster

When you search the word “whiplash” in the dictionary, one of the definitions that comes up is to “move suddenly and forcefully, like a whip being cracked.”

And what better way to describe Whiplash, a music film from promising young director Damien Chazelle that unfolds with the force and intensity of a sports movie or battlefield drama.  I left the theatre feeling positively high.

After earning acclaim at multiple festivals including Sundance, Cannes and TIFF, Whiplash arrives in limited release this week with plenty of accolades already behind it, and emerges as one of the absolute best films of 2014.

Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a talented young jazz drummer who dreams of being one of the greats.  But his aspirations mean having to endure the shocking abuse and demands dished out by his teacher Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), who sees no problem with pushing his students over the edge in the name of perfection and success.

Everything in Andrew’s life, including a budding relationship with Nicole (Melissa Benoist), the cute girl behind the counter at his favourite movie theatre, has to be put on hold.  His father (Paul Reiser) notices him becoming increasingly distant.  Practising becomes his sole focus and obsession, eventually moving fast enough to leave his hands cut and blood splattered across the drum set, as Fletcher barks orders at him like a military commander.

Right from the opening sounds of an insistent drum beat, as a mesmerizing tracking shot takes us down the basement hallways of the conservatory, revealing Andrew practising and Fletcher observing him from a doorway, I was hooked.  The experience of watching these two go at each other’s throats makes for gripping cinema, anchored by some of the finest acting we are bound to see all year.  Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons deliver two of the best performances of their respective careers, masterfully portraying the increasingly tense and volatile relationship between this abrasive instructor and his shy student.

As we already know from Rabbit Hole and The Spectacular Now, Miles Teller is one of our best young actors.  We can’t take our eyes off this character who keeps being chipped away at until he is completely raw and broken, only to piece himself back together and come back even stronger, and it’s a mesmerizing performance brought to life through small mannerisms and facial expressions.  Because the actor has been playing the drums since he was a teenager, the scenes of him performing feel authentic, and we really are witnessing an already talented performer pushing himself even further into greatness.

This is matched by tremendous supporting work from J.K. Simmons, drawing us in with quiet moments that are quickly revealed to be cold and calculating, only to explode with bulging veins and the most cutting insults imaginable.  Many of his putdowns are homophobic and sexist, and he almost seems turned on by abusing the power he has over his students.  It’s the sort of raging and unforgettable performance that still manages to feel nuanced and reined in, a character who is both disturbingly cruel and impossible to look away from.

And then there’s the soundtrack, a stunning collection of jazz music that provides a fittingly propulsive and energetic backdrop to the performances.  This is quite simply one of the best music films since Bob Fosse’s masterpiece All That Jazz in 1979, with the seamless edits and quick cuts to match every note recalling the mesmerizing power of that iconic classic.  There are also undertones of Black Swan throughout Whiplash in the themes of pursuing perfection at any cost, even when nerves are long since shot and a breakdown not only seems inevitable, but also understandable.

This is one of those truly great films that constantly finds ways to surprise us, even when we think we know where the story is going to end up.  These sharp left turns keep us on the edge of our seats, like watching a musician perform an increasingly intricate solo, only letting out our collectively held breath once the last note is played and everything has fallen perfectly into place.  This all leads up to one of the most unforgettable endings of any movie this year, a finale that leaves us jumping to our feet in rapturous applause, an experience often more closely associated with a concert hall than a movie theatre.

This is among the most unforgettable moviegoing experiences of the year, delivering the sort of pulse quickening shot of pure adrenaline that is usually reserved for action movies or thrillers.  With outstanding performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, matched by stunning camerawork and brilliant editing, Whiplash is a gripping drama that plays with the intensity of a thriller, an energizing and emotionally powerful experience that reaches a stunning crescendo.  Wow!

Blu-ray Release: Sex Tape

October 21, 2014

Sex Tape Blu-ray

Today, Sony Pictures is releasing this summer’s Sex Tape on Blu-ray.  Disappointed with their love life post kids, mommy blogger Annie (Cameron Diaz) and her husband Jay (Jason Segel) make a sex tape.  But when the video gets synced to the iPads they gave out as gifts, which are now in the hands of their friends (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper) as well as her boss (Rob Lowe) and the mailman of all people, they go on a mad search to retrieve them.

Directed by Jake Kasden, reuniting with the stars of his pretty good previous film Bad Teacher, Sex Tape feels desperate and should have been a whole lot funnier.  The premise is quite stupid and doesn’t make sense, and the characters are more off putting than appealing, making so many lapses in common judgement that it’s hard to care about their whiny rich people problems.

Despite the best efforts of the usually likeable leads, this is a very disappointing and sadly laughless comedy, but with the relatively harmless feel of a lowbrow sitcom, Sex Tape might just find a more forgiving audience at home.

The Blu-ray includes bloopers, deleted and extended scenes, as well as several featurettes.

Sex Tape is 94 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Review: Fury

October 20, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

Fury Poster

“Ideals are peaceful, history is violent,” the tough Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) tells shy new recruit Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) in Fury, a very well made film that eschews the more idealistic views of some World War II movies with impressive historical accuracy and unwavering realism.

This is an authentically dirty and graphically violent film that celebrates the heroics of the soldiers by showing the gritty reality of their experiences and less than ideal living conditions.

After affectively putting us in the front of a squad car in the 2012 thriller End of Watch, writer-director David Ayer plunges us right into the middle of the Second World War, and the suspense of Fury similarly never lets up.

The film takes place in the final weeks of WWII, and Wardaddy is the determined commander of a Sherman tank travelling behind enemy lines.  With a crew rounded out by scripture-quoting Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), proud Mexican Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña), and the abrasive Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), they are fighting their way through the heart of Nazi Germany, struggling to survive with only the metal shell protecting them from enemy fire.

There isn’t much backstory offered for the soldiers, and at times some of the supporting players can feel like stock characters.  The film also runs a little long at 134 minutes.  But Fury is elevated by outstanding production values, which are one of the main draws of the film.  The cinematography is striking, with some memorably framed scenes that put us right on the sidelines of battle, as machine gun fire and grenades seem to explode above our heads.  The visceral action is matched by stirring sound design, with constant noises coming from all around us, utilizing the surrounding speakers to plunge us right into the disorientation of combat.

Steven Price mixes haunting vocals in the background of his excellent orchestral score, which gives the music an appropriately unnerving effect.  The battle sequences are impressively pulled off, showing the brutality of war in shocking and often disturbingly realistic ways.  The film doesn’t shy away from showing the effects of bullets ripping through bodies, leaving human remains strewn about, and this unwavering attention to detail is admittedly admirable.  Because of this brutally realistic approach, Fury is a hard and sometimes gruelling film to watch, but the excellent performances keep us gripped.

Recalling his unforgettable work in Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant Inglourious Basterds, Brad Pitt shines in another solid and fiercely dedicated performance here.  Logan Lerman delivers standout supporting work, affectively showing the sheer fear of his character, a typist turned fighter who observes the situation unfolding around him with a quiet anxiety behind his eyes.  Rebounding from his embarrassing real life persona, Shia LaBeouf also gets some excellent scenes, bringing surprising depth to his character through a dedicated performance that had him refrain from showering during the shoot.

Through these performances, we really feel the claustrophobia of the tank that forces them to become a family, and the actors bring an authentic quality to their interactions.  A powerfully written scene at the home of German cousins Irma (Anamaria Marinca) and Emma (Alicia von Rittberg), provides an excellent showcase for the believable and sometimes explosive chemistry that they share.  This memorable extended sequence offers a reprieve from the fighting but not the tension that permeates the entire film, allowing words to become the most powerful force in a story largely dominated by gunfire.

The finale is an incredibly tense sequence that sees them struggling to hold off hundreds of enemy soldiers, culminating with heartbreaking images of carnage that close the film on a sobering note, even though we know that the Nazis are about to be defeated and the war is within weeks of being over.  With powerful themes of loyalty, brotherhood and self sacrifice, matched by scriptural quotes and biblical undertones, Fury has the feel of a classic American war movie, as channelled through a gritty and impressively realistic lens.

Review: The Guest

October 17, 2014

By John Corrado

***1/2 (out of 4)

The Guest Poster

Right from the opening title card, which lands on screen with a boom clearly meant to elicit the first jump scare of the film, The Guest positions itself as a throwback to the classic genre busting horror comedies and action thrillers of the 1980s.

And everything that follows lives up to this promise, becoming one of the most purely entertaining films of the year.  Knowingly aware of horror movie cliches, and wringing some pitch black humour out of the situation and appropriately atmospheric October setting, the film seems destined to become a modern Halloween classic.

After closing out the Midnight Madness section of TIFF last month, The Guest finally arrives for a limited run in theatres this weekend, courtesy of D Films.  See this one with a good crowd.

When David (Dan Stevens) arrives on the doorstep of the grieving Peterson family, claiming to have fought with their son who was killed overseas, he is immediately welcomed into their home by the well meaning mother (Sheila Kelley).  The seemingly charming David becomes a confidante to their bullied teen son Luke (Brendan Meyer), but as Halloween approaches and people start mysteriously showing up dead, their crafty young adult daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) becomes suspicious of the new houseguest.

Starting as a drama with comedic undertones, before seamlessly morphing into an exciting action thriller and finally becoming a full stop horror film in the last act, The Guest is simply a great blast of genre filmmaking from director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett, the same team behind You’re Next.  This is all expertly handled with creeping suspense and a wicked sense of humour, and the film works because of this carefully balanced tone, culminating with a brilliantly done set piece in a haunted maze that puts mirrors and fog machines to particularly inventive use.

The performances are also top notch.  Dan Stevens is perfectly cast as this former soldier who almost seems too good to be true, and in typical horror movie fashion arouses the suspicion of almost no one, even as it becomes increasingly clear that he’s not exactly who he seems, and his sinister side start to be revealed.  Just watch the way that he flicks open a knife to carve a pumpkin.  Maika Monroe is refreshingly given more to work with than just being the usual scream queen or damsel in distress, rocking the role with a cunning confidence that is refreshing for a horror movie heroine.

From the stylish cinematography to the perfect soundtrack, there are any number of memorable scenes throughout this tense, darkly funny and just scary enough film that is suspenseful and entertaining as hell to watch unfold.  And a film like this wouldn’t be complete without that before credits scene that sends a final shiver down our spines, which The Guest also generously offers.

Review: The Skeleton Twins

October 15, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

The Skeleton Twins Poster

At the beginning of The Skeleton Twins, we watch as failed actor Milo (Bill Hader) drops a picture of his boyfriend into his fish tank, turns up the volume on his stereo and lies down in the bathtub.  The water slowly turns red with the blood of his suicide attempt.

When his estranged twin sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig) gets the call, she is contemplating swallowing the fistful of pills in her own hand, but instead goes to meet her brother at the hospital.  There is painful irony to the fact that his failed attempt to take his own life has potentially just saved hers, forcing them to see each other for the first time in ten years.

Milo goes to stay with Maggie, who never left the town where they grew up and is stuck in a dead end marriage to Lance (Luke Wilson), the sort of well meaning but overbearing and almost annoyingly nice guy whose needs for a happy life don’t go very deep.

Lance desperately wants to start a family, and has probably been dreaming about having kids since he was one himself, but children aren’t in Maggie’s life plan, putting further strain on their crumbling relationship.  Milo takes the opportunity to track down his former English teacher Rich Levitt (Ty Burrell), who left him confused after becoming inappropriately involved back in high school.

Milo and Maggie are both depressed, but they are depressed in the way that real people are as they go about their quiet lives.  They aren’t walking around constantly brooding and sullen, and the often wacky sense of humour that they share is still very much intact, finding time to laugh and joke with each other just like they always have.  But they go about their lives with a quiet desperation, seeking happiness that has been eluding them since high school when their beloved father died, and instead waiting for the next wave of unbearable melancholia to hit them.

I’ve always been fascinated by watching comedic actors do drama.  I think there is an inherent honesty and truth to a lot of humour that lends itself well to being played as drama, and some of the finest sequences in The Skeleton Twins effortlessly walk this tightrope.  A scene at the dentist’s office where laughing gas is inhaled and secrets are revealed immediately springs to mind, as does a night out on Halloween where even the over the top costumes can’t mask the heartfelt truth of their reconnection.  An impromptu dance to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” makes us simultaneously smile and tear up, a perfectly handled sequence that seems destined to become iconic.

Bill Hader has never been better, imbuing so much depth into this character that in the wrong hands could have just been another “tragic gay cliché.”  It’s a powerful turn that draws us into his pain.  Kristen Wiig also delivers one of her finest performances, portraying a broken woman trying desperately to hold herself together for both her brother and husband.  The two have a natural and very believable chemistry as brother and sister, easily and authentically falling into the sort of shorthand that real siblings share, to deliver a pair of deeply affective and nuanced performances that complement each other quite nicely.

Although some viewers will see the actors on the poster and come expecting comedy, and there are some delightful moments of levity, The Skeleton Twins is in fact a quiet film that cuts deep.  This is a touching and sometimes heartbreakingly believable human drama that rings true every step of the way, and the emotions of this very good little film linger long after the credits roll.

Blu-ray Release: White Christmas

October 14, 2014

White Christmas Blu-ray

Today, Paramount is releasing a Diamond Anniversary Edition of the beloved 1954 holiday classic White Christmas on Blu-ray.  After the war, song and dance men Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up with the popular sister act of Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera Ellen), to perform together and help save the Vermont inn owned by their former general (Dean Jagger).

Featuring a selection of Irving Berlin’s most beloved songs, including the Oscar-nominated “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and the Oscar-winning title track originally heard in the 1942 Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire vehicle Holiday Inn, White Christmas is an entertaining musical that still holds up after sixty years.

This is the sort of film that lends itself well to repeated viewings, and this beautiful new edition would make a wonderful Christmas gift, complete with sparkly red and white packaging and a very enjoyable bonus CD featuring the cast singing a dozen holiday classics.

The Blu-ray boasts sing along lyrics on thirteen songs, five TV appearances by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye including a virtual duet with Michael Bublé, the 1954 UNICEF documentary Assignment Children with Goodwill Ambassador Danny Kaye, and more.  Also included is commentary by Rosemary Clooney and over an hour of previously released featurettes.

White Christmas is 120 minutes and rated PG.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Kingpin

October 14, 2014

Kingpin Blu-ray

Today, Paramount is releasing a new edition of the 1996 comedy Kingpin, for the first time on Blu-ray.  After losing his hand and promising career, washed up bowler Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) starts training Amish prodigy Ismael (Randy Quaid) to compete at a national competition, and hopefully defeat his sleazily successful rival, Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray).

Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, right in between their iconic classics Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, Kingpin is still a lot of fun.  This is a very entertaining and often delightfully ridiculous sports comedy that offers plenty of big laughs, and is worth seeing for the hilarious performances of Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and of course Bill Murray.

The Blu-ray includes two cuts of the film, as well as commentary with the Farrelly Brothers and a new featurette.

The Theatrical Version is 113 minutes and rated PG, and the Extended Version is 117 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Review: St. Vincent

October 13, 2014

By John Corrado

***1/2 (out of 4)

St. Vincent Poster

“A saint is a human being we celebrate for the sacrifices that they make, for their commitment to making the world a better place,” Father Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd) tells his Catholic school class in the wonderful dramedy St. Vincent.

And this definition of a saint not only provides inspiration for the name of the film, but also justifies why the unlikely title character deserves to be elevated to that status.  After premiering at TIFF, St. Vincent opens this week in limited release.

After moving to a new neighbourhood with his single mother Maggie (Meilssa McCarthy), preteen Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) finds an unlikely mentor and friend in Vincent (Bill Murray), the ornery older man who lives next door.  Vincent is a depressed Vietnam war veteran who spends his days drinking, making bets at the racetrack, and sleeping with pregnant stripper Daka (Naomi Watts), but there is also a genuinely caring side to him that Oliver starts to uncover.

Maggie needs someone to watch Oliver after school, and Vincent needs money, so he agrees to babysit.  Vincent is the kind of man who takes a kid gambling and to hang out at the bar, while finding ways to justify these activities as important life lessons.  Oliver is the sort of likeable kid who sees the best in everybody, and gives Vincent a chance even when others have gotten fed up with him.  Vincent becomes an odd sort of confidante to Oliver, teaching him how to stand up for himself against bullies, and watching their unlikely friendship develop is one of the many joys that the film offers.

Director Theodore Melfi nails the perfect tone in the entertaining and touching St. Vincent, moving seamlessly between comedy and drama, with a unique cast of characters that we really come to love as more layers of depth are revealed throughout the film.  There are a lot of comedic moments throughout, but the nicely written screenplay also takes some genuinely moving dramatic turns, and it’s hard not to get choked up during a climactic scene that justifies the title character’s nomination for sainthood.

This is his first leading role since the quietly revelatory Broken Flowers in 2005, and Bill Murray is in top form in St. Vincent, offering plenty of expectedly quotable lines, but also stealing our hearts as the poignant backstory of his character is slowly revealed.  As he has proven so many times over the years, including with his Oscar-nominated performance in the modern classic Lost in Translation, the actor has a genuine gift for playing characters who hide their depression through sardonic wit.

Bill Murray has an incredible screen presence, and so much of this character is brought to life through his small mannerisms, like the way that he moves about his yard while mumbling along to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” during an oddly mesmerizing sequence.  Filled with so many great moments like this, St. Vincent is a perfect showcase for his comedic talents and genuine dramatic ability, and his performance is matched by some wonderful work from newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, who easily holds his own alongside the now legendary actor.

Melissa McCarthy is quite affecting in her first dramatic role, providing laughs with her sharp delivery of the lines, but also delivering many genuinely touching moments.  A heartrending scene where she breaks down talking about how hard she works trying to provide the best life for her son, is a career highlight for the actress.  Naomi Watts shines in perhaps her best and most scene stealing supporting work since I Heart Huckabees ten years ago, and Chris O’Dowd also gets some nice moments.

I laughed out loud during St. Vincent, but I also teared up during several scenes, which in my opinion makes for one of the best kinds of movies.  This is a warm film that is just edgy enough to get away with being so bighearted, a feel good film that leaves us feeling better about the world, celebrating the people who dedicate their lives to helping others and making the planet a better place.  It’s also a celebration of Bill Murray, who has done all of these things over the years, and that’s reason enough to see St. Vincent.

Three Views: The Judge

October 10, 2014

The Judge Poster

The Judge – A Warner Bros. Release

Release Date: October 10th, 2014
Rated 14A for coarse language
Running Time: 141 minutes

David Dobkin (director)

Nick Schenk (screenplay)
Bill Dubuque (screenplay)

Thomas Newman (music)

Robert Downey Jr. as Hank Palmer
Robert Duvall as Joseph Palmer
Vera Farmiga as Samantha Powell
Billy Bob Thornton as Dwight Dickham
Vincent D’Onofrio as Glen Palmer
Jeremy Strong as Dale Palmer
Dax Shepard as C.P. Kennedy
Leighton Meester as Carla Powell
Ken Howard as Judge Warren
Emma Tremblay as Lauren Palmer

The Judge

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) and Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) in The Judge.

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The Judge Review By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

After being chosen as the opening night selection at TIFF, The Judge is being released in the middle of awards season, and this well made if overstuffed film can’t quite live to these lofty expectations.  But the excellent performances of legendary actors Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, as a father and son with painful memories struggling to forgive each other and confront their difficult past, are enough to make this lengthy legal drama worth seeing.

When his mother passes away, hotshot Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downy Jr.) returns to his hometown in Indiana, where him and his brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong) where raised under the iron fist of their father, esteemed local judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).  But when blood is found on the front of Joseph’s car, and a man that he sentenced over twenty years ago is found dead on the side of the road, a court case mounts questioning whether this was murder or manslaughter.  A bumbling local lawyer (Dax Shepard) is hired, but Hank ends up having to defend his father against the ruthless prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton).

The film feels overly long at 140 minutes, and at times there is simply too much here, with some of the characters and subplots seeming clichéd.  There is a presumably autistic brother, a high school girlfriend (Vera Farmiga) still bitter from a bad breakup, a pending divorce and serious illness to contend with among other things, which all leads to heightened histrionics between the family.  It’s not that none of these elements work, because some of them are affective and even touching, just that they often distract from the tight two person drama at hand.

Although there are a few tonally off moments, like the misjudged opening scene where Hank pees on a rival lawyer, former comedy director David Dobkin does a fine job helming his first drama and delivers some very well staged sequences.  But it’s ultimately the excellent work of Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. that is the glue holding The Judge together, and this is a fine opportunity to watch these two master actors go head to head.  Backed up by a rock solid supporting cast, the uniformly strong performances are reason enough to make the film worth your time.

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The Judge Review By Erin V.

*** (out of 4)

The opening night film at TIFF last month, The Judge stars Robert Downey Jr. as Hank Palmer, a top-class lawyer, who goes back to his childhood town of Carlinville, Indiana, for his mother’s funeral.  While he’s there, his estranged father and local judge in the town (Robert Duvall), is arrested for a hit-and-run, and Hank has to stay behind to defend him.

Dealing with issues he tried to run from in the past, including the strained relationship with his father, as well as facing his two brothers after years of being away makes Hank wonder why he is even doing this.  But as the film goes on, we see that he cares enough about his family to want to win this case, even if at times it seems like his father is fighting him every step of the way.

There is a lot going on in this movie.  Ex-girlfriends, divorce, estranged parents, grief, a brother with a disability, and so on and so on.  At times, it seems like a little too much, and is clearly a contributor to the film’s slightly excessive two hour, twenty minute running length.  But overall, the strong performances by Downey Jr. and Duvall make up for it enough for this to be a watchable – if at times slightly melodramatic – film that centres around the relationship between a father and son.

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The Judge Review By Tony

**** (out of 4)

The Judge is the latest among recent films such as August: Osage County and This Is Where I Leave You, featuring a dysfunctional family reunited in their home town for a parent’s funeral.

Small town Indiana Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) has just lost his wife of fifty years. His son Hank (Robert Downey Jr.), an arrogant Chicago defence lawyer for unsavoury clients estranged from his tough love father since childhood, returns reluctantly to a cool welcome from the Judge. Hank has two brothers back home: Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), a local merchant, and Dale (Jeremy Strong), who is developmentally challenged with a special interest in 8 mm home movies. Hank also meets up with his high school sweetheart Sam (Vera Farmiga).

Once his mother is in the ground, Hank can’t get out of town fast enough, but when his father is charged with murder he has to come back to defend him. A vile local man recently released after a twenty year murder sentence imposed by the Judge was found run down by his car. At first, his father refuses Hank’s help, but when a local lawyer (Dax Shepard) is clearly outclassed by the city prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton), who has taken the case as a grudge match against his former rival, Hank is taken on for the fight which will change their lives forever.

Co-written (with Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque) and directed by David Dobkin, The Judge is a strong story delivered by an excellent cast. Every element, from the fine production shot by Spielberg’s cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to the Thomas Newman score, is first rate, with fine details and maturity that an intelligent audience will appreciate.

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Consensus: Although some will find the film overlong and the story somewhat clichéd, The Judge is a classically made legal drama that features excellent performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, as well as a strong supporting cast. ***1/4 (out of 4)


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