Thursday, January 31, 2013

Side Effects

Film: Side Effects

Starring: Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Jude Law (Anna Karenina) and Channing Tatum (Magic Mike)

Director: Steven Soderbergh (Contagion)

U.S. Release: February 8th, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Runtime: 105 minutes

Director Steven Soderbergh has been quite the busy man of late. Over the past two calendar years, Soderbergh has somehow found the time to release four major motion pictures. The first one being the director's critically acclaimed outbreak film Contagion. He followed that release with the female-leading action film Haywire. Next up, Soderbergh tackled the widely loved male stripper feature Magic Mike. Now, the director gives us his most recent work to date with the mind-bending pharmaceutical thriller Side Effects. As the old saying goes, it just so happens that Soderbergh "saves the best for last".

Emily and Martin Taylor (played by Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum) have a far from typical marriage. Shortly after tying the knot, Martin was incarcerated for insider trading. Emily patiently stood by her husband and frequently visited him during the lengthy four year sentence. Upon his release, Martin vows to return things to the way they were. However, Emily's history of depression surfaces once again, ultimately landing her in the care of psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (played by Jude Law). After trying a series of medications that don't quite do the job, Emily begins taking a new pill called "Ablixa". Yet, the side effects unexpectedly lead to deadly consequences.

Steven Soderbergh's latest directorial effort, Side Effects, is a provocative and evolving thrill ride. Although the film's sequence of events unfold in an abnormal fashion, Soderbergh offers a unique and non-traditional perspective to this blend of drama and suspense. The ever-changing plot leads to plenty of twists and surprises that help keep the feature feeling fresh and new throughout its entire duration. And not only does Side Effects win over audiences with its sexy and captivating story, Soderbergh's entire cast adds an enormous amount to the whole experience. Backed by a pair of Oscar Nominees in Rooney Mara and Jude Law, perhaps Side Effects benefits most from strong supporting turns by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum and Ann Dowd. As someone who admittedly speaks out against a much of Soderbergh and Tatum's other work, both deliver some of the finest efforts of their careers and deserve serious praise for doing so. Through unconventional, yet profound, direction and a stellar storyline, Side Effects culminates as a welcome addition to an otherwise weak showing of early year releases.

For as strong of a film as Soderbergh's Side Effects is, there are a few detracting areas to the movie. First, a major eye-opening turn of events occurs directly in the middle of the feature. Therefore, it leads to a long and overdrawn resolution to the film that, in a perfect world, would have been cleaned up better. The picture's second half never quite equals up to its tension-filled opening portion. However, by dissecting this interesting story in a distinct way, Soderbergh creates an original modern brand that he can stamp as his own. Furthermore, for as clever as this wild cat & mouse game plays out, Soderbergh turns Side Effects into a somewhat pretentious and overblown psychological thriller. Instead of delivering a suspenseful second half of the film, Side Effects instead takes unexpected turn after unexpected turn feeling almost too smart for its own good. Flawed yet appealing, Soderbergh's recent work stands out as one of the director's finest releases to date.

Artistic styles of classic directors such as De Palma and Hitchcock resurface in Steven Soderbergh's contemporary thriller Side Effects. While the final product is far from the cinematic masterpieces offered by the previously mentioned directors, Side Effects is a welcome return to a forgotten style of filmmaking. Tense, suspenseful and thrilling, Soderbergh has found his niche. Hopefully he follows up Side Effects with many more films of this flavor. Although the picture is far from perfect, Side Effects is still worth seeing as it's clearly one of the finest early-year releases in 2013.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

DVD Outlook: January 2013

By now, the cinematic calendar year has become a known commodity. The biggest Oscar contenders start to hit the big screen in September and last through January. Therefore, it's also become a constant that those same films start to get DVD releases in February. Before you start to see an onslaught of top tier DVD releases next month, here's what January has to offer:

Seven Psychopaths - 3.5 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

Completely out of control and insanely hilarious, Martin McDonagh's sophomore effort, Seven Psychopaths, was 2012's finest comedy. Colin Farrell stars as Marty, a struggling screenwriter desperate to develop his next movie. But when Marty's dog-napping best friend Billy (played by Sam Rockwell) becomes the target of revenge by a kidnapped dog's unstable owner (played by Woody Harrelson), Marty may find all the inspiration he needs. Outrageously funny and bizarre, Seven Psychopaths is an oddball comedy that shouldn't be missed.

Looper - 3 stars out of 4 (read my full review here)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt star in Looper, a mind-bending sci-fi film that never seizes to amaze. Focusing on elements of time travel, Looper is an action-packed and imaginative adventure. Writer and director Rian Johnson shows flashes of creative brilliance by developing a futuristic world with limitless possibilities, only to cap off the feature with an unforgettable closing sequence.

End of Watch - 7.7 rating (IMDB) and 85% critic approval (Rotten Tomatoes)

Despite the fact that I haven't seen the film, End of Watch has been praised by critics and audiences alike. Therefore, I can't wait to catch the film on DVD/On Demand myself. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as a pair of Los Angeles Police Officers who become matched up against a force much greater than themselves. Shot in a documentary-type-style, End of Watch has all the makings of an action-filled cop thriller. Word on the street is it's a can't miss film.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Movie 43

Film: Movie 43

Starring: Kate Winslet (Contagion), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Directors: Multiple Credited Directors

U.S. Release: January 25th, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 90 minutes

On the surface, the immensely populated star-studded cast of the quasi-intertwined collection of short stories, Movie 43, appears to be reason enough to see the film. Boasting an ensemble filled with Academy Award Winners and Nominees such as Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard, Greg Kinnear and Uma Thurman, what could go wrong? Well, to be perfectly honest, just about everything could go wrong.

Following 12 main short stories, Movie 43 attempts to mold them together through the recurring story of an armed gunman (played by Dennis Quaid) who tries to force a movie executive (played by Greg Kinnear) to sign a lucrative movie deal. Each short story representing an off-the-wall idea of this deranged gunman, Movie 43 hopes to shock and disgust audiences by crossing just about every line known to man.

Unfortunately, the historic belief that a lengthy cast of A-List stars usually leads to a weak final product proves true once again. Movie 43 serves as an unsatisfying mess of profane jokes and crude ideas. Having no real semblance of a plot, the feature is only sporadically funny and mildly entertaining. In fact, Movie 43's over-the-top style of potty humor and shock value turns dull rather quickly. With an outrageous red band trailer, it's also disappointing to note that Movie 43 decides to advertise its most shining moments. 

Purposefully offensive and overly forced, Movie 43 is a self admitted farce. The collection of shorts plays out like a smorgasbord of interesting ideas taken to terrible lengths. But even at their finest moments, the stories manage to self-destruct by constantly taking their jokes to exhausting extremes. It's a recurring theme that never wavers and ultimately bogs down Movie 43 to the point of no return.

Somewhat optimistic beforehand, I was letdown by the jumbled mess called Movie 43. Therefore, the trend of sub-par early-year releases continues once again in 2013. The safest bet is to simply avoid Movie 43 and take a chance on Oscar contenders like Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained and The Impossible.

Stars: 1 star out of 4

Grade: D+

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis Trailer & More

Joel and Ethan Coen have teamed up for an illustrious film career verified with 4 Academy Award Winning efforts and 9 other nominations. The brothers return in 2013 with a seemingly unusual choice called Inside Llewyn Davis. Centering on the title character Llewyn Davis (played by Drive's own Oscar Isaac), the film follows the singer/songwriter as he treks to New York's folk scene in the 1960s. With supporting roles from John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and the always great Carey Mulligan, we'll have to wait and see if the Coen's latest work can keep up with their recurring Oscar tradition. Check out the trailer for Inside Llewyn Davis below.


Assuming the second additions to the Star Wars franchise didn't do enough to ruin the brand for you, there's plenty of news heating up in a galaxy far, far away. After the initial shock from Disney purchasing the rights to the Star Wars franchise, just about every director known to man was speculated to take over the next installment. Well, the hearsay can final stop. Director J.J. Abrams has officially signed on to helm the untitled Episode VII. As the visionary director of Super 8 and rival franchise reboots Star Trek and 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams certainly has the credentials to pull it off. However, no one can argue that it will be interesting to see him put his own personal stamp on the iconic film series. Look for the latest Star Wars installment to arrive in 2015 ... the wait begins.

2013 Academy Awards Update

One of the biggest surprises during January 10th's Oscar Nominations announcement was the massive support for Michael Haneke's foreign film Amour. As the movie received a Best Picture nod and Haneke himself helped aid in the nationally-outraged snubbing of Ben Affleck (Argo) for Best Director, Amour immediately became a motion picture I needed to see. Thankfully, the Philadelphia Film Society mustered up a special screening of Amour for myself and other high standing members of the organization. Having finally experienced the immensely touted Cannes Festival Palme d'Or Award Winner, I must say that I can somewhat justify the Academy's love-fest for the film. Although I still believe that Affleck is one of the most deserving directors of the year, Amour packs a powerful punch of emotions. Depressing, adorable and everything in between, Amour is a solid piece of filmmaking that definitely deserves some recognition. Despite falling massively short on sheer entertainment value, Amour is a meaningful examination of love at its deepest core. Backed by towering performances from legendary talent such as Best Actress Nominee Emmanuelle Riva and her onscreen husband Jean-Louis Trintignant, there's plenty to appreciate with Michael Haneke's Amour.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Evil Dead and The East Trailers

A remake of Sam Raimi's 1981 cult classic Evil Dead has been talked about for years. In 2013, the wait is over, as writer/director Fede Alvarez brings a new re-imagining to the Evil Dead story. Once again following the layout of 5 young adults in a remote cabin who discover a Book of the Dead and unknowingly summon demons, Alvarez's Evil Dead attempts to stay true to Raimi's classic tale. Hitting theatres on April 12th, 2013, check out the trailer for Evil Dead by clicking below.

In 2012, first-time director Zal Batmanglij gave us Sound of My Voice, a suspenseful story about two journalists who infiltrate a cult with a female leader claiming to be from the future. Batmanglij returns with The East, the tale of a contract worker paid to join and report on a violent anarchist group. With a back story very similar to his first work, The East boasts a very talented cast including Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgard. Check out the trailer for this Sundance Selection below.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Warm Bodies

Film: Warm Bodies

Starring: Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class), Teresa Palmer (Take Me Hone Tonight) and Rob Corddry (Cedar Rapids)

Director: Jonathan Levine (50/50)

U.S. Release: February 1st, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 97 minutes

Attempting to circumvent fans of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner, The Wackness, director Jonathan Levine's first real burst onto the scene came in the form of his 2011 hit 50/50. The indie drama resonated with audiences all across the country and impressed me enough to land in the #1 spot on my Top Ten Films of 2011. Levine returns nearly a year and a half later with the zombie comedy Warm Bodies. Boasting a main cast far less impressive than his previous hit, Levine and his employer Summit Pictures hope to gain a stranglehold on the teenybopper Valentine's Day market.

Warm Bodies follows R (played by Nicholas Hoult), a free thinking zombie who ends up falling in love with the girlfriend of one of his victims. However, the more time that R spends with Julie (played by Teresa Palmer), the more he begins to feel human again. This shocking revelation sets these unlikeliest of lovers on a journey to save the world.

At it's heart, director Jonathan Levine's Warm Bodies puts a clever spin on the prototypical love story. Although much like its contemporary counterpart the Twilight franchise, plots holes galore and unpredictable behavior consequently deteriorates an otherwise fun-filled affair. For example, Julie's character constantly begs R to let her return to her new zombie-free barricaded hometown. Yet, when given the opportunity to do exactly as she wishes, instead Julie ultimately drives a car back to her old neighborhood for no apparent reason. Warm Bodies clearly loses its focus and attention to detail, creating a frustrating piece of filmmaking that aspires to get by on charm and heart alone. However, Teresa Palmer feels too much like a spitting image of the often unimpressive Kristen Stewart, and the result is an emotion-less "other half" to this charismatic love story.

For as unpredictable and nonsensical as its characters are, Warm Bodies follows a rather generic and predetermined path to resolution. Unfolding exactly as you would imagine, there's nothing outside of a few creative components to the effects of eating brains to help keep the viewer's interest level elevated. All in all, it's a simple story filled with generic performances. Other than being an assured Valentine's Day box office success, Warm Bodies is clearly an average movie that never really wavers above or below the level of mediocrity.

As a HUGE fan of Levine's previous work 50/50, my hopes were pretty high for his latest effort, Warm Bodies. Instead, Levine delivers a to-be-expected final product that's superficial and often fun, but completely lacking in long term appeal. If you're looking for a solid date movie during the Valentine's Day holiday, then Warm Bodies is a decent choice. Otherwise, there's no loss in waiting for DVD and catching this film sometime down the line.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ted 2 Confirmed, Gremlins Reboot? And more!

In a recent interview, Mark Wahlberg officially confirmed that a deal was in place for a sequel and Ted 2  is currently getting under way as writers are hard at work putting together a script for the film. Wahlberg went on to spill the beans that the furry animated wise guy will also be making a guest appearance on February 24th's Academy Awards in which creator Seth MacFarlane will be hosting. [courtesy of Totalfilm]

As the new phrase in Hollywood seems to go, "All good things must be remade eventually". Nearly thirty years ago the cult classic Gremlins gave us (another) furry little Mogwai friend named Gizmo and 3 simple rules: Don't him to bright light (it will kill him), don't get him wet (he will multiply) and don't feed him after midnight (and now we all know why!). According to Vulture, Warner Bors. is in negotiations with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment to try and reboot the 1984 hit. Nothing is definite yet, but the seed has been planted and we may eventually get the return of Gizmo and Gremlins.

It's been announced that director Brian De Palma and actor Al Pacino will complete the trifecta. Having already worked together on classics such as Scarface and Carlito's Way, the duo are teaming up once again to chronicle the rise and fall of legendary football coach Joe Paterno in the upcoming film (currently titled) Happy Valley. Pacino was first reported to be in talks to play the controversial Penn State icon back in September, but it's just been released that Brian De Palma has signed on to direct. This will be their first collaboration since 1993 as they tackle a highly sensitive issue regarding Joe Paterno's prior knowledge of the horrendous child molestation scandal surrounding Penn State University. These revelations ultimately lead to Paterno's dismissal as head football coach and, shortly after, his death. [courtesy of Nextmovie]

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Movie 43 (RED BAND) and Mud Trailers

Movie 43 has become one of the most talked about comedies of late. People everywhere are starting to gear up for this collage of Hollywood A-Listers. Starring everyone from Emma Stone to Hugh Jackman to Kate Winslett, Movie 43 features over 30 of the best actors and comedians around. Centering on three teenagers scouring the internet for the most banned movie in the world, Movie 43 interconnects multiple short films. Arriving in theatres on January 25th, check out the Red Band trailer for Movie 43 below.

Ranking #8 on my Top Ten Films of 2011 was a little independent gem called Take Shelter, the second directorial effort from Jeff Nichols. Nichols returns with Mud, the tale of an escaped convict (Matthew McConaughey) who befriends to boys that promise to help him evade the bounty hunters chasing him in order to reunite with his one true love (Reese Witherspoon). Check out the trailer for Mud below.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Golden Globes Recap & a 2013 Oscar Update

Last evening's Golden Globe Awards kept up with the time honored tradition of being Hollywood's biggest party. Not only were hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler fantastic, but just about every presenter left some sort of mark on the event. After going 6 out of 9 on my Golden Globe Predictions, the Hollywood Foreign Press (HFP) threw a few curve balls last night. Instead of an outpouring of recognition for Steven Spielberg and his Oscar frontrunner Lincoln, like I anticipated, the HFP backed the Oscar-snubbed director Ben Affleck and his film Argo (which landed #1 on my 2012 Top Ten list). In doing so, the Golden Globe selections (which acknowledges more categories than I do) matched my personal 2012 Movie Awards' picks. Move over Oscars, because it seems like I have a new best friend. The most notable winners on the evening were Tom Hooper's Les Miserables (Best Picture & Best Actor - Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actress) and Argo (Best Director and Best Picture - Drama). Also, kudos to other much deserved winners Quentin Tarantino (Best Screenplay) and Christoph Waltz (Best Supporting Actor) from Django Unchained. For a complete list of Golden Globe Winners, click here (courtesy of

**2013 Oscar Update**

With only the Academy Awards left, here's my current top three leaders (in order) for the 6 major races:

Best Picture: 1. Lincoln - 2. Life of Pi and 3. Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director: 1. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) - 2. Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and      3. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Actor: 1. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) - 2. Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and 3. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Actress: 1. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) - 2. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and 3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Best Supporting Actor: 1. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) - 2. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) and 3. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Best Supporting Actress: 1. Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) - 2. Sally Field (Lincoln) and 3. Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2013 Golden Globe Predictions

With the Critics' Choice Awards behind us, next up is tomorrow night's Golden Globe Awards. With Tina Fey and Amy Poehler scheduled to host the 70th annual ceremony, I expect a few major differences between the Critics' Choice winners and tomorrow's event. Where Argo and Silver Linings Playbook reigned supreme on Thursday evening, it seems logical that the Hollywood Foreign Press will go in the opposite direction with Lincoln and Les Miserables Let's get on with the predictions.

Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Best Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Best Actress - Comedy or Musical - Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Actor - Comedy or Musical - Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)

Best Picture - Comedy or Musical - Les Miserables

Best Actress - Drama - Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

Best Actor - Drama - Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Best Director - Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Best Picture - Drama - Lincoln

So there you have it, my predictions for tomorrow night's Golden Globe Awards. The way I see it, Lincoln and Les Miserables will receive the most recognition. Therefore, expect Lincoln to ride this head of steam all the way to the Oscars.

Friday, January 11, 2013

2013 Oscar Snubs and Surprises

Two major stepping stones in the road to the 2013 Oscars happened just yesterday. First, at around 8:40 AM eastern time the Academy Award Nominees were announced. While I plan on simply dissecting the snubs and surprises, you can find a FULL list of the nominees by clicking here (courtesy of Then, later that night we were graced with the first major awards show of the season, the Critics' Choice Awards. At the event, Argo (Best Picture and Best Director) and Silver Linings Playbook (Best Comedy, Best Acting Ensemble and Best Actor and Actress in a Comedy) walked away as the biggest winners of the evening. For a complete list of Critics' Choice winners, you can go here (courtesy of Now, back to the Oscar debate.


While many people had the lesser known films such as Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour on their radars, I felt that the Academy would find other ways to acknowledge them. Simply a Best Foreign Film Nomination (and most likely a win) for Amour and some sort of acting nomination or maybe even a Best Picture Nomination for Beasts of the Southern Wild. Instead, the Academy shocked us all by recognizing both of them with a massive collection of Best Picture, Best Director and Best Lead Actress nominations. Clearly a surprise that no one saw coming, the Academy managed to throw another annual curveball.


In a year overflowing with top-notch filmmaking, some may try to justify the craziness behind the Academy's selections in the Best Director category. Most notable are the omissions of Ben Affleck (Argo - pictured above) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty - pictured below). Even if the voters felt the need to include Michael Haneke (Amour) and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) in the final five, it goes without saying that the direction illustrated by Affleck and Bigelow surpasses other nominated efforts given by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) and Ang Lee (Life of Pi). After receiving recognition in the Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor categories, it's completely shameful to deny Affleck his first directorial nomination for Argo.

Another major snub goes to John Hawkes (pictured below) who gave one of the best lead performances of the year in the indie hit The Sessions. I understand that there were 6 shining performances this year and someone had to be the odd-man-out, but Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Denzel Washington (Flight) failed to deliver the same level of performance as Hawkes. Playing a polio-stricken quadriplegic who spends most of his life confined to an iron long, Hawkes gives us an authentic look into the real life story of poet and writer Mark O'Brien. With this role of a lifetime, the Academy absolutely misses on this one. 

There are clearly some other snubs and surprises such as Marion Cotillard's (Rust and Bone) omission and Jacki Weaver's (Silver Linings Playbook) inclusion. But all in all, the Academy did a stellar job recognizing a large majority of the top tier performances we expected it to. While I would have loved to have seen Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) in the Best Supporting Actor category and some Best Director and Best Picture love for J.A. Bayona's The Impossible, most of the announced nominations (outside of the Best Director category) were what we anticipated. Now, all we can do is process what we've been given and try to dissect the future winners. Until then, stay tuned for Sunday January 13th's Golden Globe Awards as we continue our road to the Oscars.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2013 Director's Guild Nominations

Reaffirming my 2013 Oscar Nomination predictions, the Directors Guild of America announced their top five choices for the 2012 year. Matching with my selections from top to bottom, the DGA awarded nominations to Ben Affleck (Argo - my Top Film of 2012), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Tom Hooper (Les Miserables), Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln). First time nominee Ben Affleck (who I gave the Best Director award to in my personal 2012 picks) will join an otherwise crowded list of DGA regulars. For starters, Bigelow and Hooper have each taken home a DGA win the last three years. Ang Lee has already won twice before and, although Spielberg hasn't won since 1999, he still has three career victories to his credit. Next up are the Oscar Nominations on Thursday morning January 10th, followed by the Critics' Choice Awards that same evening. It should be a fun week on the long road to the Oscars.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Gangster Squad

Film: Gangster Squad

Starring: Josh Brolin (True Grit), Sean Penn (The Tree of Life) and Ryan Gosling (Drive)

Director: Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland)

U.S. Release: January 11th, 2012 (Rated R)

Genre: Action/Crime

Genre: 113 minutes

We will always remember the tragic events that took place in Aurora, Colorado this past Summer. At a midnight showing of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, a gunman (who I refuse to sadistically glorify and identify by name) fired shots into a packed movie theatre killing 12 and injuring 58 others. For as horrific as the act was, the shooting also had its impact on Hollywood. Ruben Fleischer's first trailer for Gangster Squad included an unforgettable clip with tommy guns firing throughout a movie theatre and, out of respect for the victims and their families, Warner Bros. forced the director to re-shoot parts of his feature. Originally slated to hit theatres in September of 2012, Gangster Squad finally arrives in theatres four months later than scheduled. Despite the prolonged build up of anticipation, Fleischer's third directorial effort never reaches expectations.

In post World War II Los Angeles, east coast mobster Mickey Cohen (played by Sean Penn) has transformed the city into a morally corrupt and dishonest haven for criminals. With most of local law enforcement in Cohen's pocket, Chief Parker (played by Nick Nolte) turns to none other than Sgt. John O'Mara (played by Josh Brolin) to restore justice in Los Angeles. Through a carefully structured screening process, O'Mara gathers a group of specially skilled officers who put down their badges and go to war against Mickey Cohen's crime syndicate.

Fleischer's Gangster Squad plays out like a thoughtless and made-for-profit crime drama. Clearly picking and choosing from classic mob films of the past, Gangster Squad never truly develops its own identity. Predictable to a fault and overly formulaic, Fleischer swings and misses with this unimaginative and unoriginal effort. The characters lack depth, the script is virtually hollow and his star-studded cast is never given the appropriate platform to shine. For as reputable of an ensemble as he's given, Fleischer fails to generate the performances you would hope for out of rising stars like Ryan Gosling, Michael Pena and Emma Stone. It almost feels like a waste of immense talent. When you start to piece together each of these shortcomings, you begin to recognize Gangster Squad for what it really is ... a cash cow. Now, no one will ever know how much of the film needed to be altered after the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado, but clearly the new final product leaves much to be desired. Never breaking any ground in the often-loved mob genre, Gangster Squad is the second straight mediocre release (let's not forget 30 Minutes or Less) from director Ruben Fleischer.

Although the feature clearly has its faults, Gangster Squad is by no means a disaster. To its benefit, the film is well paced and fluent enough to begin and end without a hiccup. The screenplay's scarcity of substance and character development make for a fast-moving release. In addition to its smooth feel, Gangster Squad scrounges up just enough violence and action to satisfy any fan of mob movies. However, the rare memorable scene and "over before you know it" approach fails to make up for the film's overabundance of cliche dialogue and regurgitated ideas.

Unable to create a unique identity, Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad is sadly a letdown. With the blame falling mostly on the shoulders of its director and its screenwriter, Will Beall, even a talented crop of actors and actresses can't resurrect this bland screenplay. If you're looking for a superficial and action-filled movie experience, then Gangster Squad may be enough to satisfy your needs. Yet, if you're looking for a never-before-seen addition to the mob genre, you won't find it here. Mediocrity reigns supreme and becomes the perfect identifier for the squandered crime drama Gangster Squad. Be warned.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dave's 2012 Movie Awards

In honor of the Academy Award Nominations which will be announced on Thursday January 10th, I give you my personal 2012 year-end movie awards. 2012 proved to be an extraordinary year in cinema, one that will certainly leave its mark in history. Having seen nearly 100 new releases over this past calendar year, here are my top 5 picks for each of the 6 major races:

Notable films I missed in 2012: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Skyfall and Rust and Bone

Best Supporting Actress

#5 Sally Field - Lincoln

#4 Helen Hunt - The Sessions

#3 Pauline Collins - Quartet

#2 Amy Adams - The Master 

and the winner is ...

#1 Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables

Much like the Academy is sure to do in late February, I reward Anne Hathaway with the Best Supporting Actress role of 2012. For all of the focus on Jean Valjean's character in Tom Hooper's Les Miserables, it's Anne Hathaway who serves as the film's heart and soul. Her emotionally-crushed rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" will live on as a Hollywood highlight reel forever, making her the clear cut winner here.

Best Supporting Actor

#5 Benicio Del Toro - Savages

#4 Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Master

#3 Sam Rockwell - Seven Psychopaths

#2 Ezra Miller - The Perks of Being a Wallflower

and the winner is ...

#1 Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Spaghetti Western Django Unchained stood out as one of the year's funnest movie experiences. The film's most lovable character was Dr. King Schultz, played by Academy Award Winner Christoph Waltz. While I am starting to feel as though Waltz will be the odd man out in the Best Supporting Actor category when Oscar nominations are announced on Thursday (read about my 2013 Oscar Nomination Predictions), it would be a shame for the Academy to omit his transcending performance. 

Best Actress

#5 Helen Mirren - Hitchcock

#4 Naomi Watts - The Impossible

#3 Zoe Kazan - Ruby Sparks

#2 Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook

and the winner is ...

#1 Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty

After storming onto the scene in 2011 with a handful of unforgettable roles, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that Jessica Chastain was a star in the making. Taking home my 2011 Best Supporting Actress Award for Take Shelter, Chastin raises the bar again with her phenomenal portrayal in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. Chastain's character transforms throughout the feature and her development becomes a valuable aspect of the narrative. Although she finds worthy Oscar competition from my runner-up, Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Chastain gives the most decisive female performance of the year.

Best Actor

#5 Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook

#4 Denzel Washington - Flight

#3 Joaquin Phoenix - The Master

#2 John Hawkes - The Sessions

and the winner is ...

#1 Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln

This race feels like the biggest "no-brainer" to me. For as many brilliant lead actor performances as there were this year (and believe me there were a TON), none of them were even in the same stratosphere as Daniel-Day Lewis' once in a life time portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Every chance I get to watch Day-Lewis deliver groundbreaking role after groundbreaking role, it becomes more apparent that I'm experiencing greatness. Steven Spielberg's Best Picture contender, Lincoln, survives solely on the shoulders of the actor's performance. There's no question who deserves this win.

Best Director

#5 David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook

#4 J.A. Bayona - The Impossible

#3 Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained

#2 Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty

and the winner is ...

#1 Ben Affleck - Argo

The Best Director race was the most difficult for me to decide. The Kathryn Bigelow/Ben Affleck debate becomes very difficult to dissect. The direction's outstanding in both Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, but the difference-maker was Affleck's ability to conjure up a multi-dimensional movie experience. Bigelow's feature is more of a character based journey, while Affleck focuses on bringing a remarkable true story to life. Distinct opposites in approach, both films are premier examples of modern day filmmaking. However, I just happened to enjoy Argo slightly more than Bigelow's gripping manhunt tale.

Best Picture

#5 Perfect Sense

#4 The Sessions

#3 Zero Dark Thirty

#2 The Impossible

and the winner is ...

#1 Argo

No one can question the abundance of top tier films released in 2012. It was a difficult decision and very close, but I'm going with Argo as the Best Picture of 2012. A roller coaster ride of emotions, Ben Affleck's Argo interweaves between espionage thriller and comedy. The pacing and tone is perfect, making Argo the most enjoyable film of the year. Its Oscar hopes are still very much alive, despite a major December-long onslaught of competitive releases. Affleck continues to solidify himself as a bonafide filmmaker and gives us Argo, 2012's Best Picture.

*** Where am I right and where am I wrong? Leave a comment and spark a debate

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 Oscar Nomination Predictions

With Oscar Nominations being announced one week from today on January 10th, I decided to throw my predictions out there for the 6 major categories. Having seen most of the major awards season contenders (excluding Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour and Rust and Bone) this year, here's how I see the 2013 Oscar Nominations panning out:



Having just seen Zero Dark Thirty, it has all the makings of a Best Picture champion. The film will find its biggest competition from other top tier contenders such Lincoln, Argo and Les Miserables, all of which will find nominations. Under a newer set of rules, the Academy can allow up to 10 nominees in the Best Picture category (depending upon percentage of #1 votes). I am going to make a guess at 8 films making the final cut. The way I see it, Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi are two other safe bets. My last two dark horse nominees are Moonrise Kingdom and Django Unchained

Best Director

Over the last six years, the Oscars have rewarded the Best Picture and Best Director winner as a tandem. Therefore, if Zero Dark Thirty separates itself as the leader of the pack, then you have to like Kathryn Bigelow's chances of winning the Best Director race. I feel confident in throwing other big name contenders like Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Ben Affleck (Argo) and Tom Hooper (Les Miserables). And while my heart screams for David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), I think it will be Ang Lee (Life of Pi) that sneaks into that 5th spot. 

Best Actor

Although it's important to remember that nothing is a "sure-thing", Daniel Day-Lewis gave the year's best performance in Lincoln and I expect him to be rewarded for the role with his third Academy Award. The four remaining nominations are up for grabs with five big-time performances in the hunt. My number two pick comes from John Hawkes who starred in one of my year's favorite films, The Sessions. My last three guesses are Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) and Denzel Washington (Flight). Going off the trusty old "eye-test", that means Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) is the odd man out. However, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Jackman makes the cut and any of my last three names get left off the board.

Best Actress

It should be obvious to see which direction I expect the Oscars to take in late February. Riding the wave of a late and impactful release date, Jessica Chastain and the entire team behind Zero Dark Thirty should expect some hardware. Furthermore, the Best Actress competition seems to be the most predictable of the bunch. I feel safe suggesting that nominations are in store for Chastain's biggest rival Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) as well as Naomi Watts (The Impossible), Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour).

Best Supporting Actor

The Best Supporting Actor category feels pretty wide open at the moment, with a slight advantage going to Tommy Lee Jones for his role in Lincoln. I feel confident backing Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) and Alan Arkin (Argo) as well. While it feels like a safe bet that the fifth nominee will come from Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, my heart says Christoph Waltz but my brain says Leonardo DiCaprio.

Best Supporting Actress

While it may make more sense to just give Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) her statue now and avoid all of the hoopla, the rest of the Best Supporting Actress race is far less certain. Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions) and Amy Adams (The Master) seem like confident picks, leaving only one spot remaining. With your guess being as good as mine, I wouldn't be shocked to see Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy), Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) or Ann Dowd (Compliance) rounding out the group.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

December 2012 Poll Recap

Clearly biased by one of the greatest trilogies of all time, voters screamed for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises as their choice for Best Picture of the Year on December's poll question of the month. Winning by a landslide, The Dark Knight Rises finished with an overwhelming 56% of the vote. Nolan's final installment was followed by a distant runner-up with Ben Affleck's Argo (claiming 18% of votes). Rounding out the top three was another Oscar hopeful with Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, which ended up tallying 12% of all votes. Also receiving votes were Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master and Joss Whedon's Marvel's The Avengers (with 6% each).

Be sure to check out January's poll question (located in the top right-hand corner of the webpage) regarding the most exciting 2013 releases.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Top 10 Films of 2012

Goodbye 2012, hello 2013. But before we turn the page and look to the future, it's important to reflect on the past year of cinema. 2012 will forever stand out as a fantastic year for movies. To put it into context, most of my honorable mention picks would have landed in the top ten of any year between 2009 - 2011. This cinematic year has been, simply stated, unforgettable. Therefore, if you come across any movies on my list that you're unfamiliar with, I urge you to give them an honest effort. To kick off my countdown to the year's finest films, here are my five honorable mention selections that just missed out on the top ten: Safety Not Guaranteed, Ruby Sparks, Looper, Flight and Cloud Atlas. Now, for my top ten films of 2012 ...

#10  Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's highly anticipated Django Unchained landed in a dead lock on my ratings with a little indie comedy called Safety Not Guaranteed (definitely worth seeing). Seeing that Tarantino's latest effort is his most entertaining film to date and one of the funnest movie experiences of the year, I had to give the tiebreaker to Django Unchained. Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio give superb performances that manage to join forces with Tarantino's fine script and a mood-setting score. The result is a cinematic conquest.

#9  The Dark Knight Rises

When Christopher Nolan's conclusion to his Batman trilogy hit theatres in July, the mega-hit surprisingly met my lofty expectations. But after Fall and Winter seasons packed with top-notch films, I was shocked to see The Dark Knight Rises stumble down the list. Despite the movie's sloppy decline in realism, I still felt that The Dark Knight Rises had all the makings of a worthy finale. It's sad to see Nolan's Batman universe come to an end, but at least he went out strong.

#8  Lawless

While many critics were divided on John Hillcoat's Lawless and even some calling it a run-of-the-mill gangster movie, I found the prohibition era tale to far surpass such a disrespectful label. Containing all the necessary ingredients of a legendary gangster film, Lawless goes above and beyond with its comedic undertone and witty screenplay. Based on a historical novel penned by the grandson of Shia LaBeouf's character, Lawless has all the makings of an upper echelon film.

#7  Silver Linings Playbook

Leaving the Toronto International Film Festival as the Best Picture favorite back in September, David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook has since fallen into the background of the Best Picture race. Downright hilarious, Silver Linings Playbook surpasses the typical comedy with its charming script and brilliantly acted romance between two lovable crazies played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. 

#6  Seven Psychopaths

Sometimes, the best movies are the ones you least expect to enjoy. Being somewhat reserved about seeing Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths, the collection of actors gave me a tiny sense of hope. However, Seven Psychopaths shockingly sets the bar as 2012's funniest feature. Sam Rockwell steals the show, but that isn't any slight to the hysterical performances also offered by Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Colin Farrell.

#5  Perfect Sense

When you begin seeing 100 new releases every calendar year, there's always going to be an independent film that simply blows your mind. It's crazy to think that I first saw David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense at the Philadelphia Film Festival in October, 2011. Since the remarkably original apocalyptic romance never found its way to theatres until the turn of the year, therefore, I had to make room for Perfect Sense on my 2012 list. Reeling in a laughable box office totaling under $1 million dollars, Perfect Sense is an amazing love story that's gone virtually unseen. 

#4  The Sessions

Having first seen The Sessions at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, I was completely blown away. Intimate, sentimental and laugh out loud funny, The Sessions succeeds on a multitude of levels. John Hawkes stars as a polio-stricken 38 year old who wishes to experience sex for the first time, before his "clock runs out". Containing a pair of sure-fire Oscar Nominations for supporting actress Helen Hunt and its leading star, Ben Lewin's The Sessions is a wonderfully uplifting movie experience.

#3  Zero Dark Thirty

This year was more difficult than ever to sift through. Each of my top three films are perfect 4-star examples of exquisite filmmaking. Landing in my third spot is Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. Exhilarating to the core and perfectly well rounded, Zero Dark Thirty has all the makings of a Best Picture winner (and that's what I see happening at this year's Oscars). Jessica Chastain gives a knockout performance as a passionate young CIA Analyst determined to locate the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. With Zero Dark Thirty you'll be mesmerized, captivated and enthralled by the manhunt. 

#2  The Impossible

While finishing up my top ten films of 2012, I noticed that each of my top four movies are based on a true story. Perhaps that's what makes J.A. Bayona's The Impossible such an amazing feature. Following a family on a winter vacation to Thailand for the Christmas holiday in 2004, we watch as a tsunami tears apart the entire region of Southeast Asia. Desperate to survive and find each other in the wake of unprecedented devastation, one family's journey becomes the unbelievable foundation for The Impossible.

#1  Argo

Rounding out my top ten films of the year is Ben Affleck's Argo. Mixing together strong elements of comedy, drama and suspense, Argo makes for an entertaining and wild ride. Following the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, Affleck brings us the remarkable covert story about the rescue mission of six U.S. diplomats. Experiencing Argo is like riding a roller coaster of emotions all the way to an intense finale. Alan Arkin and John Goodman deliver the valuable comic relief and the result is 2012's finest feature.