Film Review: The Gift (dir by Joel Edgerton)


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Because of the nature of The Gift, this post is going to contain minor spoilers.  There’s no way to talk about what makes the film work so brilliantly without giving away a few plot points.  Such is the nature of the beast and all that.  So, if you don’t want to deal with spoilers, allow me just to say this: Go see The Gift.  See it tonight.  See it tomorrow.  See it this weekend.  But, definitely — go see it!

(And if anyone tells you that The Gift is not worth seeing than that person is not really your friend and you need to start hanging out with a better class of people.)

Ryan has already reviewed The Gift and, having watched the film earlier today, I agree with everything that he had to say.  That’s why I am happy to add my voice to his and encourage you to see The Gift.  With this week pretty much dominated by ruminations on the colossal failure of The Fantastic Four and the upcoming weekend guaranteed to be dominated by the release of both Straight Outta Compton and The Man From UNCLE, there’s a definite risk that The Gift is going to get lost in the shuffle.

And that’s unfortunate.  Much like the thematically similar UnfriendedThe Gift comes disguised as a conventional thriller but, once you start to unwrap it, you discover that there are layers and layers of subtext and The Gift is actually one of the best and most thought-provoking films of the year.

Like many great Lifetime films, The Gift opens with a married couple living a deceptively wonderful life.  Simon (Jason Bateman) is friendly and charming and appears to be on the verge of getting a big promotion at work.  He and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), appears to be happy and in love.  They have also got a friendly dog named Mr. Bojangles and they’ve just moved into a beautiful new house.  After spending the last few years in Chicago, they’ve relocated to Simon’s home state of California.  They’re looking forward to starting a family.  Everything’s perfect.

And then, while out shopping for furniture, they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton).  Gordo explains that he went to high school with Simon.  (At first, Simon swears to his wife that he doesn’t even remember Gordo but that soon proves to be false.)  The socially awkward Gordo starts to send Simon and Robyn progressively more and more extravagant gifts.  After Simon tells Robyn that Gordon was known as Weirdo in high school, Robyn starts to feel sorry for Gordo and insists that Simon try to be friendly towards him.  Simon, however, remains weary of Gordo and his intentions.  At first, it seems like Simon is just being cautious but, as the film unfolds, we discover that Simon has his own reasons for wanting to avoid his old classmate.

The more Gordo tries to insert himself into Simon and Robyn’s life, the more we start to see the cracks behind their “perfect” marriage.  Robyn, it turns out, had previously suffered a miscarriage and has a history of abusing prescription medicine.  Meanwhile, it’s revealed that, behind Simon’s fast smile, there lies a condescending control freak.  (Gordo mentions that Simon ran for senior class president on a “Simon says” platform.)

There’s more to Simon and Gordo’s relationship than either one of them is initially willing to admit.  In high school, Simon was a bully and Gordo was his number one victim.  That Gordo wants revenge on Simon should not be surprising.  That’s obvious from the trailer.  No, the genius of the film is to be found in the way that it subtly reveals that, as an adult, Simon is still as much of a jerk and a bully as he was in high school.  He’s just gotten a lot better at hiding it. The same traits that made Simon a bully in high school have helped him to find material success in the real world.   When Gordo reeneters his life, Simon can no longer hide who he really is.  Gordo is not just his former victim.  Gordo is proof of what lies underneath Simon’s perfect facade.  When Robyn finally convinces Simon to apologize to Gordo, Simon cannot do so convincingly because he’s not so much sorry as he’s just inconvenienced.  When Gordo refuses to accept the apology, Simon’s mask falls away and he reveals his true nature, setting up the film’s devastating conclusion.

(I’m not going to spoil how the film ends but I will tell you that it left me breathless and stunned.  It’s not a happy ending but it is absolutely the right ending for the story that’s being told.  As both the film’s director and writer, Joel Edgerton deserves a lot of credit for staying true to the movie’s theme.)

Rebecca Hall is well-cast as Robyn but, ultimately, the film is dominated by the performances of Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton.  (Interestingly enough, both Bateman and Edgerton are made up so that they superficially resemble each other, allowing Gordo to literally become the personification of Simon’s ugly side.)  Edgerton transforms Gordo into a character who is both scary and pathetic at the same time.  Meanwhile, Jason Bateman — oh, where to begin?  For the longest time, it’s been impossible for me to look at Bateman without flashing back to that scene in Juno where he hit on Ellen Page.  Now, however, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Jason Bateman without hearing him yell, “Accept my apology!”  Jason Bateman has played a lot of less-than-sympathetic characters but Simon … well, Simon may be the worst.  As an actor, Jason Bateman deserves a lot of credit for not shying away from revealing the truth about Simon.  It takes courage to play such an unlikable character and talent to make that character compelling even when the viewer can’t stand him.

The Gift is an excellent and thought-provoking thriller, the type of film that will both make you jump with fright (I screamed during a certain shower scene and that’s all I’ll say about that) and leave you with much to think about after the end credits roll.

It’s a film that you need to see now.

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Val’s Movie Roundup #12: Hallmark Edition


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Finding A Family (2011) – This movie is about a kid named Alex (Jared Abrahamson) whose mother has serious mental problems. She has a great degree, but her mental problems absolutely cripple her. As you can guess, they create major issues for her son who has to live with her day after day. Ultimately, Alex has himself emancipated. He wants to go to Harvard and works hard in school to make this work while not forgetting his mother. Then he decides that he really does want a family and starts writing to people asking them to take him in. It’s a nice story that really only had one issue and a minor personal complaint.

The issue is that I have some experience in this area and the depth to which his mother’s mental problems should affect him, don’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like The Blind Side (2009) where they gutted and flattened two amazing people, but it’s noticeable. The other thing is a minor complaint. In the old days you did receive a letter from colleges you applied to telling you whether you were accepted or not. However, I applied in 2006 and we was never sent a letter. You checked their website to find out whether you were accepted or not. This film was made in 2011. I know it’s more dramatic and familiar to go with the letter thing, but it’s time to move on.

You’ve seen it all before, but if you want to see again, then check this one out.

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Generation Gap (2008) – There really isn’t much to talk about here. You’ve seen this plot a million times before. We meet Dylan (Alex Black) who is just too much for his mother because of a few scenes of rebellion. His Mom, played by Catherine Mary Stewart, calls up her father played by Ed Asner and dumps Dylan on him. After a few scenes of Asner acting like a dick, which he seems to think he is entitled to do because he’s old, both him and the kid calm down. The film does three things: 1. Asner and the kid come to realize that despite being different ages, they both occupy the same time and place on Earth, 2. Asner hooks up with Rue McClanahan who sounds weird without her Southern accent, 3. The kid also gains a romantic interest.

The only other noteworthy things are that they age Asner by about 10 years to have his character able to have been in WWII. The other is that the kid walks in on Asner and three other guys playing Halo. Pretty funny. Remember that scene in The Wizard (1989) where Beau Bridges is supposedly playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but we now know thanks to AVGN that he was probably playing Winter Games for the NES? Well, they actually show that Halo is what is being played and I wouldn’t be surprised if Asner and the others were actually playing.

This one is cliched, but okay.

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Expecting A Miracle (2009) – This is a weird movie. It seems to be nice and have it’s heart in the right place, but there are some odd bits. It introduces us to a couple played by Jason Priestley and Teri Polo who have been trying to get pregnant. It seems that the couple has tried IVF several times, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of sex whatsoever. Did they try that?

To try and calm down, they take a vacation and wind up in a small Mexican town that seems to consist only of a courtyard. Cheech Marin is here along with some other characters who conveniently speak English. There is a kid who has something wrong with his leg and is convinced that a special ceremony is going to fix it. This is the kind of place populated with people who are like the magic negro/eccentric characters that turn your life around simply by coming into contact with them.

Polo is told a line that basically says God decides whether you will have kids or not. Okay, but does that mean God also controls the adoption process which is brought up numerous times during this film. Maybe it’s the film’s way of saying that God sometimes is trying to tell you that it’s not necessary to pass on your genetic material, but instead to save a poor kid who needs a family and people who will love them.

The rest is harmless and kind of nice, but then comes the ending. The kid in the village is miraculously cured of a condition with his leg during a ceremony. The couple talk about adopting him. At the very end, they are at home working through the adoption process, talking about how much paperwork there is to adopt a kid. The wife goes to the bathroom and takes a pregnancy test. She’s pregnant! Then there are the credits. Did they have sex? Was it IVF again? Did they still follow through and adopt the kid? No answers.

It’s nice and everything, but I can’t honestly recommend it. Just a little too weird and relies on people’s assumptions about the nobility and happiness about simple rural communities.

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Murder 101: If Wishes Were Horses (2007) – Another Hallmark murder mystery, but just like Murder 101, this was good. As always, I’m terrible about following the plots of these movies. It all begins when a horse is kidnapped. Once again, Dick Van Dyke is brought in to help with the case. Barry Van Dyke is back again as well, but this time Shane Van Dyke joins in on the fun. This is your standard murder mystery movie in the vein of Diagnosis Murder, Murder, She Wrote, and Mystery Woman as opposed to recent movies like Wedding Planner Mystery and Garage Sale Mystery. This one’s fine.

A Tease of Tarantino’s Eighth…The Hateful Eight.


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The Hateful Eight was never to be seen due to the unfortunate leak of the early draft of Tarantino’s screenplay for the film. It wasn’t meant to be seen outside of those he had trusted to become part of the film. Yet, the script still managed to leak and fanboys worldwide rushed to download and take a gander at what Tarantino had planned for his eight film.

After weeks and a couple months of cooling down from the betrayal of having his work leaked before it was time, Tarantino finally backed off from his promise that The Hateful Eight will never be filmed. With sighs of relief, fans, admirers and critics were glad to see Tarantino change his mind and put the script into production.

Months have gone by since that decision and the start of principal photography. Mini teasers were released and publicity shots were disseminated to the public, but a proper teaser trailer still hadn’t been released.

Now, the waiting has ended as The Weinstein Company has released the first official teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s eight film, The Hateful Eight.

The Hateful Eight will be seen in limited release this Christmas 2015 and everywhere else on January 8, 2016.

Hottie of the Day: Rebecca Ferguson


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It’s been awhile since we’ve featured a new beauty on the site. What better way to reintroduce a new one than with the current and hottest talent to grace the big-screen this summer: Rebecca Ferguson.

Rebecca Ferguson has been kicking ass and taking names through her role as mysterious rogue agent Ilsa Faust in the blockbuster summer hit, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Her character has made her the new go-to name for all upcoming female action-hero roles. Whether it’s to be cast as Captain Marvel in Marvel Studios’ future superhero film of the same name to the female lead in the upcoming Gambit live-action film over on Twentieth Fox. While she hasn’t been cast for either role it hasn’t stopped fans and film writers from wanting her to take the next step into the superhero film realm.

Yet, before her breakout role as Ilsa Faust opposite Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt on Rogue Nation, Ms. Ferguson had early success in soap opera roles over on Swedish TV before branching taking on the lead role in the BBC 10-part historical drama The White Queen.

For now, as fans and the world waits to see what’s next for Rebecca Ferguson, people should go out and see her light up the big-screen as Ilsa Faust on Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

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