Category: Movie Dramas (Page 1 of 188)

Staff Pick: “Michael Clayton” (2007)

George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton 2007

“Michael Clayton” is a slow burn, with an ending that delivers quite a punch. It’s the type of film that many love but doesn’t fit neatly into the modern economics of Hollywood. Studios rarely make dramas like this for broad theatrical release anymore.

George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a middle-aged lawyer who works for a large law firm as its fixer. He cleans up messes for clients who get into trouble – stuff like accidents, domestic issues, etc. He’s also having his own problems as he tries to dig out of debt from a restaurant venture gone bad due to his alcoholic brother.

Clayton gets pulled into a crisis when the firm’s top litigator Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), threatens to blow up the firm’s largest case by exposing how the client chemical company (fictional U-North) knew its product was killing people. Arthur is a brilliant but troubled lawyer with mental health issues, He strips naked during a deposition while declaring his love for the lead plaintiff, a young, pretty woman from a farm in the Midwest.

The cast in this legal thriller is excellent. Clooney delivers one of his best performances as Michael, playing it straight and leaving aside the playful attitude we see in so many of his popular performances. He’s right out of central casting as the middle aged, big firm lawyer who is doing his best to remain calm as he deals with Arthur and his own issues.

Wilkinson, on the other hand, is brilliant as the manic Arthur who feels liberated by his decision to finally come clean about his client’s misconduct after grinding on the class-action lawsuit for years. He gives us some of the most memorable scenes of the film.

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Movie Flashback: “The Game” (2011)

Screenshot The Game Michael Douglas

I had never seen “The Game” so I was happy to see this film pop up on one of my streaming services. Starring Michael Douglas at the height of his powers along with the always entertaining Sean Penn, the film had star power along with a very intriguing story.

Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a successful and wealthy banker who seems to have everything. He looks like Gordon Gekko but Douglas plays him without the cockiness and bluster. He’s a straight-laced guy living a very comfortable life. His brother Conrad (Penn) is the opposite as we learn quickly when Nicholas meets Conrad for lunch. Their conversation sets up the contrast between the characters, and then Conrad offers up an odd birthday gift. He wants Nicholas to take part in a personalized, real-life game. Nicholas is skeptical but then reluctantly agrees to accept after looking into it. And then things spin out of control.

Screenshot The Game Sean Penn

The story has so many twists and turns that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. The audience is often left guessing as to whether Nicholas is truly experiencing a game or if it’s all real as his life spins out of control. The end of the film is over-the-top, with a final plot twist that will surprise most viewers.

Yet the movie is flawed. It’s difficult to explain this in detail without giving away the ending, but too many of the details don’t add up. It’s too hard to believe the story. We’re used to suspending disbelief in fantasy films like superhero movies or ghost stories, but the setup here is grounded in the real world.

Still, the movie is brilliantly shot and paced. I didn’t realize this was a David Fincher film until the closing credits. It makes sense, as the entire feel of the film fits his style. But Fincher admits he probably should not have directed this film due to problems with the story, particularly in the third act. His wife told him not to take on the project but he didn’t listen. The frenetic ending of the film delivers plenty of entertaining twists and action, but you’re left asking yourself how this is all possible.

While the film is far from perfect, the performances from the cast make up for the problems with the story. Douglas is brilliant as you would expect. He’s able to handle such a wide range of emotions without ever overacting. Events if the events around him seem far-fetched, his reactions always come across as authentic. Penn dials it up and delivers a manic performance that fits the character. He’s perfect for this role, even if this is far from the best performance in the film. Deborah Kara Unger is fantastic as Nicholas’ love interest. It’s surprising that her career fizzled after this film. James Rebhorn delivers his usual great performance as he convinces Nicholas to give this crazy idea a try.

Screenshot The Game Deborah Kara Unger

Do I recommend this movie? Yes. It’s a fun ride from a brilliant director featuring great performances from a stellar cast. But the film has issues that will leave some viewers less than satisfied. But you’ll probably enjoy it if you can get past some of the unbelievable sequences and treat this as a suspenseful popcorn movie.

Hidden Netflix Gems – Bringing Out the Dead

Today’s entry is a hidden gem not only in the catalogue of Netflix, but also in that of beloved director Martin Scorsese, one of several underrated masterpieces so often overshadowed by more well-known ones like Goodfellas and Raging Bull. Along with films like The King of Comedy and After Hours, Scorsese’s 1999 film Bringing Out the Dead has been unjustly overlooked for the most part, and deserves more recognition than it has gotten. Sure, you could dismiss it as simply “Ambulance Driver” for its similarity to Scorsese’s breakthrough masterpiece, Taxi Driver, as well as the fact that both films were written by frequent collaborator Paul Schrader, but there is more to it than that. I’m certainly not saying it’s better than Taxi Driver, but it’s certainly different enough to warrant appraisal on its own merits.

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Hidden Netflix Gems – Goon

I am not particularly interested in professional sports, generally ignoring all games except the occasional Olympics or Super Bowl viewing, but every year or so there is a sports movie that comes along and deeply and unexpectedly resonates with me. Four years ago, there was Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler, a beautiful, heartbreaking film that was easily among my favorite films of 2008; the following year, there was Big Fan, written and directed by The Wrestler writer, Robert D. Siegel. This year, the unexpected sports movie that finds a place in my heart is Michael Dowse‘s Goon, a movie about hockey that mostly ignores the game itself in favor of the fights that so often break out on the ice.

Seann William Scott delivers his best performance yet as Doug Glatt, a sweet, lovable Canadian bar bouncer who is troubled by the fact that he doesn’t have a “thing” that defines him. His father (Eugene Levy) and brother, Ira (David Paetkau), are both doctors, and his best friend, Pat (Jay Baruchel, who co-wrote the film with frequent Seth Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg), has a public access show about hockey, but Doug feels aimless, searching for his life’s real purpose. That changes one night at a hockey game, when he knocks out a player who climbs into the stands to beat up Pat, who has instigated the fight by being his usual loudmouth self. The fight in the stands garners more attention and applause than the game itself, and Doug soon finds himself recruited as an enforcer for a local minor league hockey team.

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Hidden Netflix Gems – Everything Must Go

Hollywood has a rich history of well-known comic actors taking on more serious and weighty roles, from Robin Williams to Ben Stiller to Jim Carrey, and now Will Ferrell, in what is probably his very best performance to date. Everything Must Go bears a strong resemblance to Stiller’s work in Noah Baumbach‘s Greenberg, or Adam Sandler‘s in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Punch-Drunk Love, in its portrayal of a flawed but basically good-hearted man going through difficult times and coming out better for it. The difference between Ferrell and Sandler, of course, is that Ferrell’s comedies generally don’t suck.

Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic who loses his job at the beginning of the film and, after an ill-advised revenge against his boss, Gary (Glenn Howerton), returns home to discover that his wife has left him. Not only that, she has locked him out of the house, frozen their joint bank account, and left all of his possessions out on the front lawn. Nick is understandably upset, and reacts in the defeated way that has apparently become his life’s standard recourse: he buys a lot of beer and camps out in his La-Z-Boy on the lawn for the night. In the morning, having exhausted his beer supply and unable to find his car keys, he borrows a bicycle from his twelve-year-old neighbor, Kenny Loftus (Christopher Jordan Wallace), and heads down to the convenience store for more beer while Kenny keeps an eye on his stuff.

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