Friday, March 29, 2013

Christopher Nolan Interstellar News

Whenever news breaks concerning Christopher Nolan's next project, Interstellar, everyone's ears perk up. The director's unscathed resume speaks for itself and now that he's officially finished with the Batman universe, we all want to know what's up with Interstellar? Although Nolan likes to keep his work as guarded as Fort Knox, some recent news regarding his upcoming project has surfaced. Apparently Nolan has seen Magic Mike, as has reported that the director has offered the male lead in Interstellar to Matthew McConaughey. Interstellar began as a Steven Spielberg project based on a scientific theory that wormholes could be used as a source for time travel. Spielberg brought sibling Jonah Nolan on board to write a script for the idea, making it very easy for Christopher to take the reigns after Spielberg jumped ship. The idea of a Christopher Nolan time travel film makes every other project floating around Hollywood seem as interesting as watching paint dry. Consider me sold.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

(New) World War Z and This is the End (RED BAND) Trailers

Scheduled to make a HUGE box-office splash in June is Marc Forster's World War Z starring Brad Pitt. After a debut trailer nearly a year ago and an unrevealing Super Bowl Spot in February, the highly anticipated zombie apocalypse film has finally released a more telling trailer for audiences to get a better glimpse inside of the story being told. What is clearly shaping up to be an extremely intense perspective into the recently popular zombie phenomenon, we can only hope that World War Z will deliver a fresh take on the subject matter.

Keeping up with the "end of the world" trend, another June release comes in the form of the comedy This is the End starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel and plenty of other big-named celebrities. Intended to be a real life satire in which these stars play themselves, This is the End follows a party at James Franco's house where everyone is forced to face the apocalypse.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Breakers

Film: Spring Breakers

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens (Sucker Punch), Ashley Benson and James Franco (Oz the Great and Powerful)

Director: Harmony Korine (Mister Lonely)

U.S. Release: March 22nd, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 92 minutes

If you've seen the trailer for Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, chances are you're somewhat intrigued. You're probably wondering if the outlandish looking crime-drama is a laughable farce or an original piece of filmmaking from a director best known as the writer of the controversial 1995 film Kids. Truth be told, Spring Breakers is a lot of both.

Childhood friends Faith, Brit, Candy and Cotty (played by Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens and Rachel Korine) want nothing more than to escape their small town life and travel to Florida for Spring Break. Having saved nowhere near enough money for the trip, the three girls (minus a somewhat ethical Faith) rob a local restaurant and secure enough funds to embark on their journey of personal discovery. However, while enjoying their time in the sun a little too much, they end up arrested and charged with some hefty fines. Consequently, a local drug-dealer/rapper named Alien (James Franco) bails the ladies out of jail and introduces them to a world of crime.

Attempting to stand out as an original art-form, Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers offers a unique approach backed by very little substance. With overly repetitive dialogue (I swear you hear the sound clip of James Franco saying "Spring Break" about a hundred times) and a minimally progressing plot, the film serves as nothing more than a platform for director Harmony Korine's artistic expression. However, the director takes full advantage of the opportunity and conjures up a rare stylistic gem. With enough quick-cuts in the editing room to trigger a seizure, Korine continually interweaves images of the present moment with short glimpses of the future. It becomes a highly anticipated and clever way of approaching an otherwise hollow story. Given such a bland foundation to build from, Spring Breakers blends together a high-octane score (courtesy of Drive's Cliff Martinez and Skrillex) and profound direction that can definitely be classified as avant-garde.

Another glowing aspect of Spring Breakers is a convincing enough cast that helps transform a ridiculous concept into an engaging movie. Most notable is an often up-and-down James Franco who never disappoints in his role. I was blown away by the actor's Oscar Nominated performance in 2010's 127 Hours, but still await a return to such heights. Although Franco's onscreen efforts are by no means as transcending as his 2010 work, they represent a glimmer of hope that the potential to achieve similar results is still there. In addition to Franco, it deserves mention that all four of the girls leave their own impression on the story. Through the cast's ability to generate memorable personas, it's evident that director Harmony Korine has a deep understanding and purpose for each of his film's characters. Yet, as a writer, Korine fails to deliver a reasonable enough script and dialogue to elevate Spring Breakers to something better than a lavish tale of social deviance.

When you look back on Spring Breakers you'll appreciate the feature for its innovative direction, rare style and memorable imagery. However, the memories will far surpasses the level of enjoyment you'll experience while watching the film. This unorthodox consequence is the result of a flimsy foundation built on a one-dimensional story concerning multi-dimensional characters. Spring Breakers proves to be immensely bittersweet. You appreciate Harmony Korine's keen vision, yet his work never feels as groundbreaking as it should. It's worth waiting for Spring Breakers on DVD unless you're absolutely dying for a disoriented rave-like party with some Dolby Digital sound mixing.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Top 5 Baseball Movies

Today marks the first day of Spring and with the sun shining bright and Spring Training baseball on the tube, I decided to make a list of my Top 5 Baseball Movies of All Time. While my list undoubtedly leaves off some dramatic crowd favorites, I had to keep it true to myself and, in many ways, my childhood. But before we dive into my Top 5 selections, let's acknowledge the honorable mention that failed to make the list: Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, The Bad News Bears (the original) and Rookie of the Year. They each offer a unique aspect that can be appreciated by the masses, but they just missed making the cut. Now, here are my Top 5 Baseball Movies of All Time:

*** View February's Movie List of the Month HERE

#5. Major League

I couldn't imagine playing baseball with a crazier group of guys. Talk about a collection of misfits and degenerates, 1989's Major League grouped together a recently imprisoned flamethrower Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), a washed up veteran named Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), a star only in his own mind Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) and the voodoo believing slugger Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert). And when the franchise owner wants to relocate her baseball team to a warmer climate, she assembles this collection of so-called bums in order to draw poor attendance enabling her a way out of the current deal. However, this odds-defying team of "losers" decide to show-up their owner by putting on their work boots and getting a little dirty. Truly a piece of comedic genius, Major League serves as one of the greatest baseball movies ever.

#4. The Sandlot

Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) moves to a new neighborhood and doesn't know anyone. But when a group of local kids need one more person for a pick-up game of baseball, Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) invites the new kid in town. Friendships evolve as these youngsters embark on a Summer filled with romance (we will always love you Wendy Peffercorn), rivalries, adventures and, most importantly, baseball. The Sandlot is a timeless film that perfectly embodies my youth through the love of America's Favorite Pastime. 

#3. The Natural

I'll never forget the first time I saw Barry Levinson's 1984 film, The Natural. There was something mystifying about Robert Redford's main character, Roy Hobbs. Hobbs is a middle-aged ballplayer who literally comes out of nowhere to help a losing baseball team climb to the top of the league in the 1930s. Hobbs and his bat "Wonderboy" (which was carved out of a fallen tree in his backyard that was struck by lightning) finally reach the heights that they were destined to accomplish 16 years earlier when Hobbs was shot by a crazed fan. With subtle elements of fantasy and mystique, The Natural is a brilliantly made film and one of baseball's finest theatrical representations.

#2. A League of Their Own

Call me crazy, but my second greatest baseball movie of all time is played by ... girls? 1992's A League of Their Own put such a fresh and innovative twist on my favorite sport by focusing on the women who were forced to play the game while men served overseas in World War II. Although some of these ladies could really play the game, like the Rockford Peaches' own Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh), A League of Their Own mainly succeeds on the shoulders of two-time Oscar Winner Tom Hanks. Offering up some of the most quotable lines of all time (i.e. "there's no crying in baseball"), Hanks and director Penny Marshall deliver a winning film in every sense of the word.

#1. 61*

Perhaps the biggest New York Yankees fan of all time is Billy Crystal and, in 2001, he gave us the greatest baseball film of all time, 61*. Centering around the historic chase to break Babe Ruth's single season home run record, we follow Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) and Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) on their unforgettable quest. With amazing attention to detail and historical accuracy, Crystal depicts the harsh actions demonstrated by Yankees' fans as "outsider" Roger Maris pulled away from his friend, teammate and fan favorite Mickey Mantle in the race to surpass Babe Ruth. Even more amazing is the fact that if you eliminate all steroid users from the equation, Roger Maris still holds the record with 61 home runs in a single season. It was an astonishing feat that forever impacted baseball and will always be remembered thanks, in large part, to a fantastic job by director Billy Crystal. Originally a made for TV movie, 61* transcends such a label and remains the greatest baseball movie of all time.

Monday, March 18, 2013

DVD Outlook: March 2013

While February saw the DVD release of Best Picture Winner Argo, March follows suit with many other Oscar contenders being released for your home-viewing pleasure. Although I was less in love with nominees like Life of Pi (3/12), Les Miserables (3/22) and Hitchcock (3/12), they are still big-named releases this month that will surely catch your eye. Now, on to the films I suggest renting for the month of March.

Zero Dark Thirty - 4 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

There was a moment in recent history when every prognosticator believed that Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty would win Best Picture. However, in the midst of controversy, the film only walked away with the Best Sound Editing trophy at the Oscars. Controversy aside, Zero Dark Thirty tells the unbelievable true story of a determined CIA operative (played by Jessica Chastain) who embarks on a decade long manhunt to find the Most Wanted fugitive in the world, Osama Bin Laden. Unrelenting, gripping and full of suspense, Zero Dark Thirty is a fantastic and well-rounded film that deserves every bit of your attention during its entire fast-moving two and a half hour running time. (MARCH 19TH)

Lincoln - 2 and a half stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

Immediately following my initial viewing of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, I never quite felt "blown away" by the film. Despite being somewhat let down by the heavy dose of dialogue that spans close to three hours, Lincoln has kept crawling back into my brain of late. Perhaps like a fine wine, Lincoln sits better with age. Therefore, I'm very eager to catch a second viewing of Spielberg's Best Picture Nominee later this month, The film mainly focuses on the 16th president's commitment to passing a law that would abolish slavery. Throughout the movie we see the inner workings of political posturing and some of the dirty deeds that float around our nation's capital. Brilliantly acted (including a game-changing turn by Best Actor Winner Daniel Day-Lewis) and phenomenally written, Lincoln is yet another wonderful piece of filmmaking by Steven Spielberg. (MARCH 26th)

This is 40 - 2 and a half stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

Let me preface by saying that This is 40 is by no means a fantastic film. Overly long and bloated with an abundance of side characters and subplots, there's plenty of blemishes with Judd Apatow's latest work. On the other hand, This is 40 offers continual laugh out loud comedy from start to finish. No one can deny Apatow's unique sense of humor, but the director's obsession with creating a comedy-drama blend has proved problematic in the past (i.e. Funny People). This time around Apatow pushes the envelope a little too far, but enough to ruin the final product. The jokes are regular enough and funny enough to salvage the film. If you're looking for a light and hilarious piece of entertainment this month, look no further than This is 40. (MARCH 22ND)

Honorable Mention: The Oscar-Nominated children's film Wreck-It Ralph (3/5) is now available and horror fans may be interested in checking out Barry Levinson's The Bay (3/5) or The Collection (3/26). Until next month!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kick-Ass 2 (Red Band) and American Mary Trailers

Back in 2010, I was one of many moviegoers completely shocked by the unexpectedly hilarious R-Rated comedy Kick-Ass. As 2013 continues to unravel as "The Year of the Sequel", it's only fitting that the super hero and his sidekick, Hit Girl, return for another go around. Along with newcomer Jim Carrey, Aaron Johnson, Chloe Grace-Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are back in action with Kick-Ass 2 (scheduled to hit theatres in August). Check out its Red Band Trailer below.

Boasting an extremely creepy and skin-crawling trailer, the Soska sisters' horror/thriller American Mary looks quite intriguing. The film follows a student named Mary who becomes increasingly broke and decides to drop out of medical school after losing interest in the surgical world she used to love. Suddenly, an opportunity for a rich pay-day sends Mary into an underworld of freakish cosmetic surgeries that begin leaving her psyche with scars of her own. Check out the quietly disturbing trailer for American Mary below.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Film: Oz the Great and Powerful

Starring: James Franco (127 Hours), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) and Mila Kunis (Black Swan)

Director: Sam Raimi (Spider-Man)

U.S. Release: March 8th, 2013 (Rated PG)

Genre: Family/Adventure

Runtime: 130 minutes

It's safe to say that famed director Sam Raimi likes to "dabble". He burst onto the scene in 1981 with his cult-classic horror film The Evil Dead. Continuing down a similar circuit for over the next 15 years, Raimi tweaked his strictly horror approach with 1998's well-received crime thriller A Simple Plan starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton. From there, the director tried his hand at a sports film (For Love of the Game) and a superhero franchise (Spider-Man). But now, in 2013, Raimi has ventured somewhere very few people have ever gone ... somewhere over the rainbow.

Oz the Great and Powerful follows Oscar Diggs (played by Franco), a small-time circus magician with extremely questionable morals. But when his one true love is proposed to by another man, Oscar is whisked away from Kansas to the Land of Oz where he meets three witches (played by Williams, Kunis and Rachel Weisz), a monkey named Finley, a "China Doll" and a whole bunch of munchkins who help turn him into a great wizard and an even greater man.

With all due respect to the Late-Great King of Pop, Michael Jackson, director Sam Raimi's journey to the Land of Oz serves as the most memorable addition since 1939's The Wizard of Oz. Raimi's repeated and systematic approach offers moviegoers a friendly reminder of childhood nostalgia without ever breaking much new ground. An over-pouring of visual effects and vibrant imagery make for embellished technological achievements and diluted substance. Hence, Oz the Great and Powerful plays out like a living conundrum. For each of the film's various glowing aspects, there lurks revisited ideas and flashy visuals. Much like the original journey to Oz that we're all so familiar with, Raimi pays attention (and homage) to its distant predecessor by molding the entire experience around a wholesome and well-intended "moral to the story". In doing so, Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful makes for a rather fun and affectionate film.

Although Oz the Great and Powerful can be chalked up as an acceptable prequel, many of the feature's shortcomings keep the movie straddling the line of mediocrity. While many will and should expect a visual extravaganza, the special effects aren't all fantastic. The audience's introduction to "the wicked witch" is a rather big letdown. Visually unappealing and completely unrealistic-looking, the big "reveal" becomes one of the picture's most notable disappointments. In addition to some faulty visual aspects, Oz the Great and Powerful suffers from an almost unforgivable amount of poorly-acted scenes. Even relatively well regarded cast members such as James Franco and Rachel Weisz deserve an occasional "shame on you". However, neither of the two disappoint as a much as an immensely miscast Mila Kunis. Despite many blatant flaws, Oz the Great and Powerful utilizes a simple brand of innocent humor and a kind-hearted nature to almost force the audience into a thumbs-up submission.

Sam Raimi's broad perspective on filmmaking helps make for an enjoyable return to the Land of Oz. Even though Oz the Great and Powerful will never come close to standing up to the towering effect of the original, Raimi wins over the moviegoer by serving up a reminiscent and similar enough story. While I would normally suggest waiting for DVD for a film of this standing, most of its visual mastery warrants a trip to the big screen. If you're up for the prolonged 130 minute journey, then take a chance with Oz the Great and Powerful.

Stars: 2 and a half out of 4.

Grade: B-

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Hangover Part III Trailer

While little is known about the plot to Todd Phillips' third go around with "the wolfpack", the debut of The Hangover Part III's trailer shows the trio venturing back to Las Vegas for one reason or another. With the second installment being an undisputed box office smash (but a laughing stock among critics), many fans of the franchise hope that the Memorial Day Weekend release can pick up where the original left off. What is being sold as the final chapter of Phil, Alan and Stu's wild shenanigans, The Hangover Part III is sure to sell out movie theatres all across the country. Check out the film's first official trailer below.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Iron Man 3 and Disconnect Trailers

Fresh off the heels of a box office gross north of $1.5 billion with Marvel's The Avengers, Robert Downey Jr returns, once again, in this summer's blockbuster Iron Man 3. Along with Guy Pearce, Academy Award Winner Ben Kingsley also joins the franchise as Tony Starks' newest rival, The Mandarin. Check out the newest trailer for Iron Man 3 below.

On a more serious note, a trailer has arrived for the Henry Alex Rubin drama Disconnect. Multiple stories and characters collide after modern technology ends up shattering each of their worlds. Starring Jason Bateman, Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton, Disconnect is an eye-opening thriller about the dangers of an inter-connected world in which we currently live. Due to hit theatres in April, check out the trailer for Disconnect below.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Sapphires

Film: The Sapphires

Starring: Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) and Deborah Mailman (Rabbit-Proof Fence)

Director: Wayne Blair

U.S. Release: March 22, 2013 (Limited - Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 103 minutes

Back in October, I managed to view over 20 films during the Philadelphia Film Festival. But despite seeing many big-named releases such as Silver Linings Playbook, Flight and Cloud Atlas, I kept hearing rumblings about an Australian independent film called The Sapphires. Scheduling conflicts forced me to miss the movie, however, The Sapphires still managed to boast a pair of impressive sellout shows. Therefore, when the indie film made another trip back to Philadelphia last night, I refused to miss out on the experience.

The Sapphires tells the true story of four female Australian aboriginal singers who join forces with an outgoing talent scout (played by Chris O'Dowd) and journey to Vietnam to entertain U.S. troops in 1968. Throughout the danger-filled tour all over hostile parts of Vietnam, the girls and their manager must carefully learn how to balance ambition, love and deep-rooted family issues all while increasing morale for the American troops that they're entertaining.

Filled with a fantastic soundtrack, talented acting and a genuine story, The Sapphires serves as a rich and delightful piece of family entertainment. The Australian indie film made its world premier at the Cannes Festival in May, 2012. The credits rolled to a monstrous standing ovation and, at that exact moment, The Sapphires became much larger than anyone could have ever imagined. What mainly sets the movie apart is its semi-animated characters that the cast and script so brilliantly elaborate. The unbreakable bond formed between the audience and the story is slowly built on the shoulders of the film's leading star, Chris O'Dowd. Many will recognize O'Dowd as the lovable police officer who wins the heart of Kristen Wiig in the comedy hit Bridesmaids. However, the long time actor's career has finally begun to blossom and The Sapphires reminds us all that his talents are awfully impressive. This may be O'Dowd's finest work yet, as his on-screen romance with co-star Deborah Mailman becomes the make-or-break cornerstone of the feature. In addition to the fine performances from O'Dowd, Mailman and the rest of the cast, The Sapphires also incorporates stellar cinematography and outstanding direction from the man behind the curtain, Wayne Blair. Their economical approach and stunning perspective bring life to the film and help elevate The Sapphires to stardom.

Although the film is clearly a success, The Sapphires is far from perfection. The movie begins in a patchy and brow-raising manner in which many of the stories are pieced together ineffectively. The first act suffers from a messy concoction of back-story overload and meandering ideas. But thanks in large part to Chris O'Dowd's character, The Sapphires manages to correct its course by delivering a toe-tapping and rhythmic flow that sway-fully carries the audience all the way through the film's emotionally charged mid-section and conclusion. By surviving a sputtering beginning, Blair and company's remarkable true story comes to life in an unforgettable fashion.

The Sapphires is an entertaining blend of comedy and drama. Its light-hearted moments are complemented by intense war scenes and dramatic flair, perfectly illustrating the well-rounded nature of the film. If you can find enjoyment in a quasi-musical (there are numerous singing sequences throughout), then there's plenty to love about Wayne Blair's The Sapphires. Due out in limited release on March 22nd, The Sapphires is worth taking a flyer on.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, March 4, 2013

Nolan and Bale in on Justice League?

Throughout the months leading up to the much anticipated release of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, the director and his leading star, Christian Bale, continually claimed that they'd "never" return to the Batman saga. After soaring over a billion dollars in world-wide box office gross, the pair, time and time again, reiterated the end of their reign in Gotham. Now, for the biggest "however" you could ever imagine, rumors surfaced last night that Nolan has "completely taken over" and everything involving the Justice League "goes through him". While it's expected that Nolan will only hold the semi-meaningless title of "producer" on Warner Bros. response to Marvel's The Avengers, these new rumors have also claimed that Christian Bale may sign on to play the caped crusader one more time (perhaps because of Nolan's growing presence on the film?). Either way, we can only hope that both will "officially" sign on and give their blood, sweat and tears to the project in order to help propel Justice League to the level of grandeur that we're all hoping for. Fingers crossed.

For additional info on the topic of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale joining Justice League, click either of the links below.



Saturday, March 2, 2013

February 2013 Poll Recap

In honor of the 85th annual Academy Awards, my February 2013 poll question of the month asked, "Who will win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor". A hefty 46% of voters threw their weight behind Tommy Lee Jones from the supposed Oscar-juggernaut Lincoln. Although a majority of voters were wrong, the true winner, a well-deserved Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), was the runner up in voting with 23%. Just to illustrate how tight of a race most of us anticipated it to be, Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) closed out the voting with about 15% a piece.

In half-hearted honor of 2013's enormous amount of franchise sequels, be sure to check out and vote for March's poll question of the month (located in the top right-hand corner of the page) which asks, "What is the best sequel of all time".