Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Film: Trance

Starring: James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) and Rosario Dawson (Unstoppable)

Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

U.S. Release: April 5th, 2013 (Limited - Rated R)

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 101 minutes

After having his 2010 critically praised film 127 Hours nominated for Best Picture by the Academy, director Danny Boyle took some time off from filmmaking. Instead of immediately jumping into a new and challenging project like he always does, the England native decided to take some time away from the director's chair and put together the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony in London. Accepting such a feat only adds to the versatile resume that Boyle's built in over two decades in the entertainment industry. With a filmography boasting a broad spectrum of genres (i.e. Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Millions and Best Picture Winner Slumdog Millionaire), there's no label big enough for such a multi-talented director like Danny Boyle.

Boyle's latest endeavor comes in the form of the drama-thriller Trance. James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auctioneer who becomes mixed up with a band of criminals by promising to help them steal a valuable painting. After the whole ordeal fails to go according to plan, a blow to the head causes Simon to forget where he left the piece of art. Therefore, the criminal leader Franck (played by Vincent Cassel) forces Simon to visit a hyno-therapist (played by Rosario Dawson) with hopes that hypnosis can help relocate the priceless painting.

Trance is a mind-bending affair that spends a majority of its running time carefully toeing the line between dream-like state and reality. Never knowing who to trust and who to root for, Danny Boyle's newest release demands that the audience think less and experience more. Under the circumstances, Trance becomes yet another insanely visual and audibly pleasing joy ride that only Boyle himself could conjure up. The director accomplishes a completely original and unique style that's worthy of recognition all on its own. Furthermore, cast members McAvoy, Cassel and especially Rosario Dawson (who fearlessly shows it all and then some with a few graphic nude scenes) offer the level of performances necessary to hoist Trance beyond other style-first films like this year's Spring Breakers. When you couple Boyle's singular sense of flair with such a brutally convincing and outstanding collection of actors and actresses, Trance clearly separates itself as one of 2013's finest achievements to date.

For all of Trance's stylistic successes, Boyle's "think less" approach does, however, induce some major plot holes and unforgivable blunders. Without spoiling too much, the film fails to close a few HUGE loops that inevitably call into question the movie's credibility. But like any true art-form, over-analysis causes you to miss the superficial beauty of the work. Boyle does an amazing job of helping the audience to trust their senses instead of their brains. Consequently, Trance begins with an uncontrollable amount of energy and finishes with an unparalleled amount of poetic beauty.

At the end of the day, Danny Boyle's Trance is a messy and complicated film that delivers in look, sound and feel. This little gem is a puzzle that's meant to be pieced together for you. If you're in the audience and trying to play "the detective", you're missing the punchline. Trance is the type of feature that you experience and savor. Let Boyle do the work for you, and you'll easily appreciate the film for the twists and unique style that pour out of the screen. With one of my favorite finales in recent memory, Trance is a fun and energetic thrill ride. One definitely worth checking out.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Film: Graceland

Starring: Arnold Reyes ans Menggie Cobarrubias

Director: Ron Morales

U.S. Release: April 26th, 2013 (Unrated)

Genre: Foreign/Thriller

Runtime: 84 minutes

Reaching a few select theatres this weekend is director Ron Morales’ foreign film, Graceland. Arnold Reyes stars as Marlon Villar, a loyal long-time driver to a corrupt Filipino Congressman named Manuel Changho (played by Menggie Cobarrubias). After picking up his daughter Elvie and Congressman Changho’s daughter Sophia from school one afternoon, Marlon finds himself in the most inconceivable situation after a plan to kidnap the politician’s child goes terribly awry. Desperate beyond belief, Marlon must do everything in his power to save Elvie from the men holding her hostage.

Graceland is a Filipino thriller that unfolds comfortably on the shoulders of writer and director Ron Morales. With the simplest of premises, the film crashes through the “mundane” barrier by paying close attention to detail and allowing the story to unravel fluently. This taut and suspenseful crime-drama develops with such intensity and unrelenting flavor that the credits roll before you even have a chance to let it all soak in. Graceland is a dark and devious ride that never feels easy, but never feels wrong.

Rarely does a movie begin and end without a scratch or blemish. Graceland generates some fair criticisms that ultimately address the subject matter more so than the film itself. Tackling some serious issues regarding underage prostitution, Graceland takes a moral stand but hardly delves deep into the heart of the problem. Rather than exposing the audience to the harsh reality of it all, Morales tip-toes around getting his film too caught up in the issue. Perhaps in doing so, Graceland ends up trading some credibility for a stronger, more direct, final project.

A convincing turn by Arnold Reyes, an evolving script from Ron Morales and a dark subject matter all manage to lift Graceland far past sustainable heights. A shocking and entertaining journey, Graceland is another glowing example of the exceptional world-wide films that often sneak past the typical American moviegoer. This 84 minute revenge thriller delivers the goods and never looks back. Currently available on Video On Demand and playing in select theatres, Graceland is one movie experience you won’t regret.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Thursday, April 25, 2013

(New) The East and Thor: The Dark World Trailers

One advanced screening I've already had the pleasure of seeing is the Sundance Film Festival hit, The East. Reaching theatres in a limited release at the end of May, The East tells the story of a privately-hired intelligence operative who infiltrates an anarchist collective planning to target major well-paying corporations. What's being marketed as a thriller is more of a slow-burning drama, but just as effective. Check out the newest trailer for Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling's The East.

In 2011, before we had the pleasure of watching The Avengers assemble, I thought that Thor was a pleasant surprise. As it should be expected, the superhero returns on November 8th, 2013 with Thor: The Dark World. As you will see in the trailer below, the newest installment marks the return of Chris Hemsworth (Thor) as well as Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and even Natalie Portman (Jane Foster). Check out the trailer for Thor: The Dark World by clicking below.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Film: Mud

Starring: Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike), Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) and Reese Witherspoon (This Means War)

Director: Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter)

U.S. Release: April 26th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 130 minutes

Matthew McConaughey has captured plenty of headlines lately as news of him joining Christopher Nolan's sci-fi blockbuster, Interstellar, made its way across entertainment outlets everywhere. McConaughey, who received plenty of recognition for his supporting turn in 2012's Magic Mike, has shifted his talents from rom-com star to legitimate dramatic actor. But perhaps he's never been better than he is in Jeff Nichols latest release, Mud.

Mud tells the coming-of-age story of a 14 year old boy named Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan) who ventures out with his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) to restore a trapped boat. While scouting out the boat, they discover that it's being inhabited by a fugitive on the run named Mud (McConaughey). The boys decide to make a pact with the outlaw, agreeing to help Mud fix up the vessel and escape the bounty hunters and law enforcement officers who have been tracking him down.

American filmmaker Jeff Nichols follows up his 2011 critically acclaimed indie film, Take Shelter, with another well-written, character driven movie. Although Mud offers a completely different vibe than Nichols' debut work, both pictures succeed on extraordinary performances from a talented crop of actors and actresses. Although McConaughey delivers one of his finest roles to date, it's youngster Tye Sheridan who shines the brightest. With a deep-rooted subplot of love, Mud follows a young and impressionable boy who begins to discover the inner workings of life's most powerful emotion all on his own. While the boy experiences a rocky marriage between his parents on a daily basis, Ellis becomes enamored with Mud's stories of true, unbreakable love. As a main character himself, Sheridan's performance becomes a huge "make or break" aspect to the film. However, Sheridan astonishes without a hiccup and completely impresses the audience by demonstrating a level of work that far surpasses most youthful performances.

Despite all of its obvious accomplishments, Mud does manage to suffer from a slightly bloated running time. Nichols, who also writes his own screenplays, uses a smooth blend of one-liners and appealing quips to help ease the audience through the first hour and a half of the film. However, the 40-minute finale ends up feeling too drawn out and tiresome for its own good. But all in all, Mud's tiny flaw is overlooked thanks in large part to top-flight direction, well-crafted character development and a uniquely talented cast.

After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in France last year, Mud will finally be making its way to American theatres. By evolving his work and tackling a more endearing subject matter, Nichols serves up an affable feature that will surely appeal to a much larger fan-base. Take Shelter was a brilliant piece of work, but his sophomore release is the type of movie that can be enjoyed by a grander audience. Mud is one of the finest efforts so far this year and I highly recommend checking out this great up-and-coming American filmmaker's latest feature.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Top 10 Films of the Decade, So Far

For over a week now, I've been running a segment featuring guest columnists who have made their genre-specific selections for the best movies so far this decade (2010-2019). Today, the segment will culminate with my choices for the overall Top 10 Films released since 2010. Before I offer up my list, I would like to say thank you one more time to everyone who helped with this week-long project. Thanks again to Chris Bandoian (Action), Ashley Doherty (Comedy), Greg Rouleau (Drama), Steve Fisher (Horror/Thriller) and Ryan Patrick (Animated). Finally, here are my selections for the Top 10 Films so far this decade:

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

I have been quoted as saying that Danny Boyle is my favorite director ever. In 2010 he brought his vibrant and unique style to the big screen in the form of the Oscar-Nominated film 127 Hours. Boyle's skilled direction and use of color and a fantastic soundtrack (courtesy of A.R. Rahman) helped bring the amazing true story of a trapped hiker to life. Facing death head on, James Franco gives a towering performance centering on personal transformation and the will to live. 127 Hours pulls you into the predicament and forced the audience to experience Aron Ralston's maddening life or death situation firsthand.

I can recall the Facebook phenomena ripping through my college campus in the early 2000s. David Fincher's impressive work, The Social Network, tells of the venomous story between friends and enemies during the creation and worldwide expansion of Facebook. Aaron Sorkin's Award-Winning screenplay assists the on-screen talents of Oscar-Nominee Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer and Justin Timberlake, making The Social Network one of the most interesting and well-rounded films of the decade.

#8 - Inception (2010)

While Christopher Nolan has spent the past five years mulling around Hollywood with the unofficial title of "Greatest Director Alive", his most thought-provoking film, Inception, generated quite the stir in the Summer of 2010. Following a futuristic outlaw named Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) who is desperate to return home to his children, Inception paints a thin line between dreams and reality. Nolan claims that if you watch the movie and pay close enough attention to everything, the controversial ending shouldn't be so controversial at all. However, after taking an intense set of notes and watching from start to finish a handful of times without blinking, I disagree with Nolan and believe that he has fooled us all. No matter the intention of the director, Inception is still an amazing cinematic feat that should be savored by all.

2012 was an unforgettable year for film. In fact, one of the most impressive aspects of last year was the enormous amount of under-seen gems that floated in and out of theatres without receiving the fanfare that they deserved. One of the best examples of such movies is Ben Lewin's The Sessions. Undoubtedly snubbed of a Best Actor Nomination from the Academy, John Hawkes stars as Mark O'Brien, a polio-stricken poet who has feeling, but can't really use any muscles, from his neck down. Confined to an iron lung and unsure of how many years he has left on this earth, Mark is a virgin who wants to experience sex before his clock expires. With the support of a friendly priest (played by Willian H. Macy), Mark hires a sex surrogate (played by Oscar-Nominee Helen Hunt) who can help accommodate his sensitive needs.The Sessions is an extremely heart-warming film that offers a rare sense of complete fulfillment.

Ranked as my #1 film of 2010, Get Low is an overlooked drama starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. Duvall, who was unfortunately snubbed in his early-year role, stars as Felix Bush, a local hermit who shows up at Frank Quinn's (Murray) funeral parlor with an odd request. Bush wishes to have a funeral party for himself while he's living. He plans to raffle off his land and invite everyone from the surrounding counties. As the film develops we learn of Bush's internal motives and the result is nothing short of genuine sentiments that's brilliantly carried out by Duvall. Get Low is a one-of-a-kind drama that's worth checking out.

George Clooney acted-in and directed The Ides of March, a remarkable political thriller that gets as down and dirty as you'd expect on the road to the presidency. Ryan Gosling headlines an all-star cast and stars as Stephen Meyers, an idealist and second in command to the campaign of the "perfect" presidential candidate (played by Clooney). But as the rival sides become pitted against one another in an extremely tight race, Stephen begins to see U.S. politics for what they really are, an ideal-less mirage. The Ides of March is an edge of your seat ride that zips by and exposes the political game for the soul-less entity that it's become.

Topping my list of 2011 films was Jonathan Levine's 50/50. Levine's movie is a true story about his writer's (Will Reiser) battle with cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam, carrying this heartfelt and sincere tale of survival and human connection. Seth Rogen, an actual real-life best friend to Reiser, gives a lighthearted and downright hilarious performance as Adam's best friend Kyle. Through the ups and downs of chemo and coming to grips with the harsh realities of fighting cancer, we follow a scared young man's journey. 50/50 is a four-star film that will make you feel a plethora of emotions.

Just how good was the 2012 cinematic year? Good enough to claim each of my top 3 spots for the best films of the decade. Coming in at #3 is Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, an epic decade-long journey focusing on the manhunt to locate the terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain delivers the goods as Maya, a CIA-Operative who makes finding Bin Laden more than just an occupation, it becomes her reason for waking up every morning. Following both good and bad leads, the audience witnesses the difficulty surrounding capturing the world's most wanted criminal. Perhaps the most rewarding moments of the feature occur in the final act when a Navy Seal Team is sent in to take care of business. Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping and unfathomable journey that makes for an excellent, well-directed piece of filmmaking.

Along with The Sessions, J.A. Bayona's The Impossible serves as another glowing example of unrecognized work from 2012. Oscar Nominee Naomi Watts and her on-screen husband Ewan McGregor lead a collection of great performances. However, youngster Tom Holland absolutely steals the film. The Impossible takes place in southeast Asia in 2004 when a tsunami struck and killed north of 150,000 people.  A vacationing family is separated and severely injured in the wake of this destruction. Fighting to find one another and survive the ordeal, The Impossible illustrates the depth of human kindness and compassion in the midst of chaos. It's a beautiful film that tells an amazing real-life story of a family's struggles to reconnect. Containing top-notch directing, stunning special effects and suspense like you wouldn't believe, The Impossible even surpasses the label of "great".

After a ridiculously impressive run to a Best Picture Win from the Academy and just about every major precursor, Argo has unfortunately become a casualty of the infamous "over-hyped" label. Having seen in before it hit theatres everywhere, I can honestly say that Argo felt like the perfect modern-day example of classic movie-making. The film's interesting story, effective comic relief and intense suspense combined for a trio of success. Leading star and director Ben Affleck has officially placed himself among Hollywood's elite directors. Like any great filmmaker will do with a true story, Affleck places the audience in the center of the issue and crafts a genuinely realistic final product. Argo does everything exceptionally well makes for one of the funnest movie experiences in a very long time.

Honorable Mention:
The Artist
The King's Speech
We Need to Talk About Kevin
The Music Never Stopped
Perfect Sense

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Best Animated Family Films of the Decade, So Far

Sometimes the best way to gain credibility as a movie critic is to watch as many movies as possible. Therefore, my friend, and father of two children, Ryan Patrick seemed like the most logical choice as a guest columnist deciding the Best Animated Films so far this decade (released in 2010 or later). Here's what Ryan had to say about the issue:

Being a father of two girls, I’ve seen my fair share of children’s animated movies. In fact, I’ve seen almost every one released in theatres since 2010.  Most of the animated films actually turn out to be pretty good. Although the movies are geared toward a much younger audience, a majority of the stories and jokes are enjoyable for adults as well. Here are my Top 5 Animated Family Films so far this decade (2010 or later):

#1 - Toy Story 3 (2010)

*Nominated for 5 Oscars and winner of 2. (Best Original Song and Best Animated Feature Film)

Two words, Michael Keaton. His portrayal of Ken not only made the movie, but elevated Toy Story 3 to the best animated film of the 2010’s. For the third title in the series, it proved to be uniquely original. The story begins as Andy is off to college and the toys are being packed to go into the attic. After mistakenly being donated to a day care center, it is up to Woody to keep the group together and to prove to them that the ordeal was a mistake. Not all of the toys want to leave the day care center. Barbie, for example, is immediately smitten with Ken.  Whether it’s his dream house, massive wardrobe, or his “nice ascot,” Barbie doesn’t want to leave. However, not all of the toys have such a sunny motive. It’s up to Woody and the gang to get to the bottom of it to save the daycare and get reunited with Andy.

#2 - Wreck It Ralph (2012)

*Nominated for 1 Oscar. (Best Animated Feature)

Ralph is a video game villain who no longer wants to be a bad guy. The movie starts out with Ralph in a support group for bad guys and continues to impress from there. Ralph is on a quest to earn a medal and finally get the same respect and admiration as Fix it Felix, his video game’s protagonist.  Ralph’s misadventures lead him to the game “Sugar Rush,” where he gets some unexpected help from the game’s “glitch” Vanellope von Schweetz. It’s their budding relationship that helps Ralph realize that being a “bad guy,” doesn’t make him a bad guy.

#3 - Tangled (2010)

*Nominated for 1 Oscar. (Best Original Song)

Tangled is the best Disney Princess film since Beauty and the Beast (1991). It’s a retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale, Rapunzel, with Disney’s touch. The story follows a sheltered girl who’s locked away in a one room tower, with only her pet chameleon as a companion. When Flynn Rider, a thief on the run from the royal guard, discovers the tower and attempts to hide in it, he meets Rapunzel there and agrees to take her to see the “lights.” The “lights” are floating candles that the king and queen release every year on their missing daughter’s birthday. It’s on that journey to the castle that Rapunzel discovers who he she is and, even more importantly, Flynn Rider discovers who he wants to become.

#4 - Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012)

In my opinion, it’s the best Madagascar film in the series. The animals, with the help of the penguins, join the circus in their attempt to return to America. Their plan was to use the circus to get them back to New York, and then ditch it. But that might prove too difficult for them, as they become attached to the performers and the circus itself. During their travels they are being chased by Chantel Dubois, the captain of animal control. An excellent movie, that’s truly enhanced by watching it in 3D.

#5 – Megamind (2010)

Superhero stories have been around for the long time. The story of good versus evil has been around for even longer. Megamind sets out to put a unique twist on the age-long story of good versus will. The movie centers around an inept super-villain who loses all purpose when the town’s superhero decides to retire.  Megamind spends all of his days battling Metro Man, only to be beaten and sent home to create a new evil plan for tomorrow. When the redundancy of their relationship begins to take its toll, Metro Man retires. With nothing left to do, Megamind sets out to create a new superhero, Titan, who proves to be too much to handle. With Titan taking the reins as the new town in villain, it is up to Megamind and his sidekick Minion to save the town.

Honorable mentions:

Hotel Transylvania: Horrors greatest monsters made enjoyable and fun for the whole family. It’s the story of a father, Dracula ( Adam Sandler), who wants to protect and keep his only daughter, Mavis  (Selena Gomez),  safe from humans.  A human, Jonathan  (Andy Samberg), does his best to inadvertently make the hotel more enjoyable during Mavis’ 118th birthday party.

Gnomeo and Juliet: The retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, using British lawn ornaments and garden gnomes.

Despicable Me:  An evil super- villain sets out to use three orphan sisters in his plans to steal the moon. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Best Horror/Thriller Films of the Decade, So Far

Throughout this week of guest columnists, I've had friends schooled in film and members of the Philadelphia Film Society. Today, I have asked Stephen Fisher to offer some input on the finest horror and thriller movies so far this decade (released after 2010). While anyone who knows Stephen is well aware of his deep-rooted affinity for the horror genre, I felt comfortable placing this task in his hands. Although I disagree with some of his selections (his picks were heavy on the horror side while the honorable mention list was filled with recognized cinematic thrillers), Stephen offers a reputable insight into the genre that sparked my love of film. Here's his take on the best horror and thriller movies released since 2010:

            Sinister is a supernatural horror film that recently came out not too long ago.  The film follows a true crime novelist Ellison Oswalt (played by Ethan Hawke) who’s trying to publish his first bestseller since his previous book “Kentucky Blood” more than ten years ago.  He and his family move into a new house where a gruesome crime once took place.  Upon moving into the home, Ellison stumbles across a box in the attic filled with home movies shot on 8mm film.  Ellison watches one of the films and comes across the family who recently lived there; only to watch the final shot of how the family was brutally murdered by an unknown killer.   
            This modern horror film differs from others because director Scott Derrickson really focuses on plot development.  Also, he tries a different method by combing a “found footage” approach with traditional cinematography.  He does this by filming from the main character’s POV while watching these family films on the projector.  Overall this is a very well made horror film with some insane scares. 

            It had been 11 years since a previous installment from the Scream franchise arrived in movie theaters, but the wait was well worth it.  Kevin Williamson, the writer of the first trilogy, really put a lot of thought into this one and pays homage to his original.  The opening scene for this entry is by far the best he’s ever written for the entire franchise.  I don’t want to spool it because it’s that good and you need to see it for yourself to appreciate the experience. 

            The film starts off 10 years after the 3rd entry and takes place in the same town as the original, Woodsboro, where local teenagers are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the murders.  The original cast of Sidney, Dewey, and Gale (Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox) return for this 4th go-around, but we’re also introduced to the “new” generation of kids as well such as Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe).  There are others young characters who enter the mix such as Charlie (Rory Culkin), who is the “film buff” and knows everything about horror, and his buddy Robbie (Erik Knudsen).  The collection of young actors and actresses do a fine job of making Scream 4 stand out as a horror film. The movie builds on a strong foundation of plot and character development and concludes with an unforgettable final act.  Although the film pushes a two hour running time, which rarely bodes well in the horror genre, it all manages to pay off in the end. 

3. Frozen (2010)
Probably the most underrated thriller of 2010 goes to Frozen.  Adam Scott, who is best known for his old-school slasher-style Hatchet franchise, gives us quite a nail biter here.  The plot of the film is very simple, three college friends go up the mountains to take a break from school and enjoy the slopes.  Just before closing time, the friends go on the lift for one last run. However, a series of unfortunate circumstances and misunderstandings leave the three of them stranded there dangling stories above the frozen ground.  The plot may sound dumb, but the way Adam Green sets everything up forces the audience to form a connection with the characters. 

            The film is shot extremely well with intense close-ups of characters and their reactions to the bitter cold temperatures and the frost bite they’re experiencing.  The three main characters Joe, (Shawn Ashmore) Dan, (Kevin Zegers) and Parker (Emma Bell) give very convincing performances.  Compliments are also in order for the make-up team, as this is a film you don’t want to miss. 

            Talk about a film that is great from its opening shot until its closing credits.  This is Jeff Nichols’ second film and it illustrates his potential in becoming a household name in the movie industry.  He knows how to create genuine characters through an excellent screenplay.

            The film is about a middle-aged man named Curtis (Michael Shannon) who’s been having strange apocalyptic dreams.  He believes they’re going to come true, so he starts to build a storm shelter underneath the ground to protect his family.  Jessica Chastain plays Curtis’ wife and both her and Shannon have great chemistry onscreen which helps solidify their outstanding performances.  This should give Hollywood a wake up call and give Michael Shannon more leading roles, because the man is one damn good actor.  

            Talk about the best horror film of the last decade, first time director Drew Goddard hits it out of the park with The Cabin in the Woods.  The movie was written by both Drew and Joss Whedon, the director of the smash-hit The Avengers.  This film shows just how much these two men appreciate the horror genre by paying homage to various classics from the past few decades.   There are many hints in the film as to how they’re appreciating their predecessors’ work, but any true horror fan can surely figure it out.  Not only does the movie generate some good scares, but smart writing and a perfect blend of horror and comedy really help The Cabin in the Woods to stand out.  The last time this was executed so well was in the original Scream film, which is a completely iconic horror masterpiece.  There are also a few recognizable stars in the movie such as Chris Hemsworth and Richard Jenkins.

            The film follows 5 stereotypical college friends who set out for a fun weekend at a deserted cabin in the middle of nowhere.  When I say “stereotypical teenagers”, I mean there’s a jock, nerd, burnout, slut and, of course, the sacred virgin.  Once they reach the cabin, you’re introduced to mysterious people who are monitoring their activities for unknown reasons.  But one thing is for sure, they want these kids killed. That’s all I can say about the plot.  You’re in for a special treat if you take the time to watch this amazing film.  The last 15 minutes are an absolute blast!

Honorable Mention:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

BRAND NEW Man of Steel and Only God Forgives Trailers

Now that Christopher Nolan has left the Batman universe, all we have to look forward to is Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, which will shed a new light on the story of Superman. A few months ago we received our first real dose of Superman, but now Snyder returns with an an even longer extended look into this summer's blockbuster, Man of Steel. Check out the film's brand new trailer by clicking below.

In similar fashion, Drive director Nicholas Winding Refn offers us a second glimpse into his follow-up revenge film, Only God Forgives, once again starring Ryan Gosling. This brand new trailer really revs up the revenge angle and gives us a bloody look into what's in store with Only God Forgives. Check out the trailer by clicking below.

Best Dramas of the Decade, So Far

While I was hoping to publish my friend, Greg Rouleau's, list of the Best Dramas so far this decade (2010-2019) later in the week, some complications are making me announce it earlier than I wanted to. Greg studied Film and Media Arts at Temple University and currently owns the video production company, Reel True. Greg combines his passion for film with an extremely knowledgeable background that makes anyone who talks to him about movies truly value his opinion. Therefore, I handed Greg the difficult task of ranking the Best Dramas since 2010 and here is what he had to say:

For me, a quality drama always begins with the characters. While the goal of a comedy is to make one laugh, the auteurs on the other side of the aisle wish to evoke empathy; caring and investing in the lives of those on screen. Blue Valentine and The Perks of Being a Wallflower both exemplify films with a firm grasp on character. The same can be said for A Separation, one of the more enthralling foreign films in years. On the other hand, Drive shows us that not all drama has to be dripping with sentiment, as it delivers some ultra-chic, neo-noir mixture of style and action. In the case of The Artist, an Oscar-Winning throwback to silent films, we’re reminded about the pure magic of cinema.

Next, 127 Hours and Moneyball are bolstered by top-notch performances from their protagonists (James Franco and Brad Pitt), which, once again, illustrate the power of character. As a result, both Oscar-Nominated films are clearly elevated to an elite class by the work of their leading men. Then, how could anyone argue against a drama blended perfectly with some thrills and laughs, such as last year’s Best Picture Winner Argo?

Finally, my top 2 picks for the Best of Drama were both over-looked during the Oscar season for the big prize but, perhaps with time, we’ll remember The Social Network and Zero Dark Thirty as two of the great movies of the early 2010s. With each film, directors Fincher and Bigelow, respectively, are in command of all their pitches, displaying a deft hand in bringing their visions to life. It’s really a coin-flip between the two, The Social Network could take the honor for sheer entertainment value and re-watch-ability, but I’ve given the nod to Zero Dark Thirty for its fantastic finale and brilliant leading lady, Jessica Chastain.

Once again, here’s my Top Ten Dramas since 2010 in order:

8 – A Separation (2011)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Best Comedies of the Decade, So Far

Next up on my weekly list of the Decade's Best Films, So Far (in all different genres) is Ashley Doherty with her picks for the Best Comedies since 2010. As my fiance and personal guest to almost every screening I receive with the Philadelphia Film Society, Ashley has seen more than her fair share of films. Therefore, I have given her the task of picking the best comedies that this latest decade has to offer. Here are Ashley's picks for the funniest films since 2010:

With all of this genre labeling and categorizing movies, the comedy pool included some films that, in my opinion, could have landed in the drama section as well. However, given what I was told to work with, here are my favorite comedies of the last three and one-third year.

Crazy Stupid Love was hilarious, heartfelt and an all-around complete film. Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling combine for a unique on-screen relationship that may not have worked out as well with a different group of actors. Combining an excellent cast with a hysterical script (which even has a shocking twist that I never saw coming!), Crazy Stupid Love is a fantastic comedy with a very high re-watch factor.

While I was forced to categorize last year's Academy Award Nominee, Silver Linings Playbook, as a comedy, I personal view the movie as more of a drama. That being said, I couldn't exclude Silver Linings Playbook from this list because it's such a great movie. The lighthearted balance between Bradley Cooper's character's mental illness and the craziness that ensues between him and his love interest, Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook is a rare, outside-the-box romantic comedy gem.

Cedar Rapids is a quirky little comedy that caught me off guard and came out of nowhere. With tempered expectations, I was thrilled to discover an onslaught of outrageous one-liners and constant jokes. While the leading man is rarely the funniest character in a comedy, star Ed Helms allows John C. Reilly to take charge and deliver a hysterical middle-aged comedy that gets better every time you watch it. It's a lesser-known title, so I suggest seeing Cedar Rapids once or twice and make sure you pay close attention to Reilly's character. He never misses!

Another pleasant surprise that I ran into during the 2011 Philadelphia Film Festival was the hockey comedy, Goon, starring American Pie's own Seann William Scott (aka Stiffler). Scott packs on the pounds and muscle mass to star as a lovable meat-head bouncer who finds his niche in the world as an inspirational hockey goon. Scott isn't the only source of laughs either. His cast of misfit teammates are sure to make you laugh, so pay close attention to them all. Despite writer and co-star Jay Baruchel's annoying on-screen presence, Goon still manages to stand out as one of the great comedies of the decade.

In 2011, the hit comedy Bridesmaids swept across the nation and generated a loyal fan-base of both women and men. What was being sold to the general public as the female's version of The Hangover, Bridesmaids managed to traverse the gender barrier thanks in large part to a solid lead performance by Kristen Wiig. Proving she could clearly carry a film on her own, the comedy was elevated even higher by a stellar screenplay, a likable love interest (Chris O'Dowd is completely underrated) and the off-the-wall Oscar-Nominated performance given by Melissa McCarthy. Although the comedy's running time was a little too long for my full approval, Bridesmaids was still a hilarious effort worthy of making my list.

Honorable Mentions: 
Easy A 
The Muppets 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Best Action Films of the Decade, So Far

All week long I will be running a guest segment with a bunch of my friends offering their picks for the best films of the decade, so far (released in 2010 or later). By giving you a bunch of different tastes in film, perhaps you'll find something new to enjoy. First up is Chris Bandoian, a fellow member of the Philadelphia Film Society. Here's what Chris had to say about the Best Action Movies since 2010:

When taking a look back at the last few years of cinema, I came to realize that Hollywood no longer makes action movies the way that I grew up knowing them. It seems that the conventional action film doesn't really exist anymore. In recent years, I've found that the closest thing I hope to the unforgettable action movies of my childhood are the new-wave brand of super hero movies. You’ll notice that the list is dominated by this type of film. You’ll also notice that the list contains no true sci-fi movies. Simply put, there haven’t been many genuinely good sci-fi movies in the last few years. If this were 2005, you know Serenity would be up here. But it’s not.  So…yeah. 

#1 - Inception (2010)

In my opinion, there is no question that Inception would be number one on any list. It’s a beast of a movie. Original, thought provoking, excellent cast, and truly beautifully shot and conceived. What more do I have to say?

Django Unchained was a great movie reminiscent of the 60’s spaghetti westerns, but with Tarantino flair. The movie was engaging and unexpectedly funny. Christop Waltz and Jamie Foxx were so good that when it came time to award the best supporting actor; people weren't sure who was supporting whom. In the film business, that’s a good problem to have.

For reasons I’m not going to get into here, The Dark Knight Rises was by far my least favorite and weakest of the trilogy. That’s not to say that it was bad by any measure. The Dark Knight and Batman Begins were just really, really good movies (but not released in this decade).

The Avengers was another excellent graphic novel/super hero movie. From the cast, to the dialogue, to the effects, it was one of 2012’s most enjoyable movies to watch.  Even taking into account the awkward Hawkeye (Renner) and Black Widow (Johansson) character arc, it still leaves you excited for what’s to come.

#5 - Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass was a movie that people wanted to hate, stating that it was too gory and essentially a cautionary tale about contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Get a life. It was original, perfectly cast, fun, and full of action.  Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) stole the show.  Hopefully Kick-Ass 2 (out in August) will do the first offering justice. 

Honorable Mention Selections: 
The Raid: Redemption  
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
The Expendables and The Expendables 2  
The Man from Nowhere 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Decade's Best ... So Far

For this month's "List", I decided to look at the best movies of the decade, so far. The end of April represents the one-third mark of the decade (from 2010 to 2019). Therefore, stay tuned during ALL OF NEXT WEEK when I give my top picks of what the decade has offered as well as daily guest columnists who make their picks in all different genres.

Here's a special thanks to those helping me out with picks of their own: 

Greg Rouleau (Drama)
Chris Bandoian (Action & Sci-Fi)
Stephen Fisher (Horror & Thriller)
Ryan Patrick (Family & Animated)
Ashley Doherty (Comedy)

Be sure to check back next week for the decade's best in all of the above genres!!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

Film: The Place Beyond the Pines

Starring: Ryan Gosling (Drive), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) and Dane DeHaan (Lawless)

Director: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)

U.S. Release: March 29th, 2013 (Limited - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 140 minutes

Derek Cianfrance is an artist. The writer/director imposes a rare ambition that enables his lifelong passions to make it to the big screen. Cianfrance's sophomore effort (but first real major motion picture release), Blue Valentine, was a project 12 years in the making. However, the director used the film as a platform to make his mark as a visionary filmmaker set on exploring the deepest, and sometimes darkest, depths of humanity. And as we saw with Blue Valentine, Cianfrance is no sucker for a happy ending. Instead, when making an impressive feature such as his latest release, The Place Beyond the Pines, the director demonstrates immense loyalty to the most important people around him, his characters. For example, when Cianfrance was looking for a financier and pitching his film, he was told to trim down his lofty 158 page script to 120. How did he respond? Cianfrance widened the margins and shrunk the text, never deleting a single word. Loyalty.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a three-chapter story following a multitude of characters. First, there's the danger-seeking stunt motorcyclist named Luke Glanton (played by Ryan Gosling). Traveling from city to city as an entertainer, Glanton returns to Schenectady, NY for the first time in over a year only to discover that a one-night stand has turned him into an absentee father. Desperate to offer support and remain in his child's life, Luke uses his unique set of skills to execute a few bank robberies in an attempt to provide for his son. Next up is the ambitious and youthful newbie police officer, Avery Cross (played by Bradley Cooper), whose world changes after he thwarts one of Glanton's robberies. However, these men's decisions have long-lasting effects on their children and loved ones, proving that life is never as black and white as it seems.

Embodied by the impressive prolonged and uncut scene which begins the movie, The Place Beyond the Pines is a lengthy, but engrossing, effort from mastermind Derek Cianfrance. The writer/director delivers a grand story filled with harrowing subplots and sincere themes. And although the film fails to unravel with the smoothest of rides, The Place Beyond the Pines becomes a shining example of an entire feature being greater than the sum of its parts. Broken down and dissected on a microscopic level, Cianfrance's latest work is faulty and imperfect. On the other hand, The Place Beyond the Pines measures up as a carefully-calculated piece of filmmaking that survives on sheer sincerity and realism. Like each and every one of us, Cianfrance's characters are flawed human beings who face difficult choices in life. But no matter their intent, the consequences live on and effect everyone around them. The Place Beyond the Pines explores generational burdens with a brutal honesty and integrity that Cianfrance has clearly mastered in his brief career.

Despite the film's grand intent, The Place Beyond the Pines is far from unblemished. Operating as a slow-churning three chapter story, each progressing chapter manages to be weaker than the last. Therefore, the feature begins with a solid hook revolving around Gosling's affable character, but then it undoubtedly loses its flare as the running time begins to stockpile. Yet, to its benefit, Cianfrance generates a suspenseful conclusion that can end in only one of two ways. Perhaps the beauty of The Place Beyond the Pines is the fact that either ending would make for a fitting resolve to the story (although they'd be completely different in mood and purpose).

Derek Cianfrance has made his mark as a risk taker, all of which have paid off extremely well. Unfortunately, over the years, Hollywood has begun to rid itself of such filmmakers. Living in fear of financial repercussions and a lack of an artistic-appreciative audience that flocks to movie theatres nowadays, directors like Cianfrance are finding it difficult to make purposeful films. The Place Beyond the Pines is a challenging movie that's wonderfully shot and wonderfully acted. Despite all of its shortcomings, it deserves to be lauded for its underlying themes of cause and effect as well as forgiveness. Far from the watered-down and superficial fluff that finds its way across screens all over America, The Place Beyond the Pines is a welcoming return to the art-form of storytelling.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hathaway To Join Interstellar

Christopher Nolan and Anne Hathaway, so we meet again! The director and Academy Award Winning actress teamed up in last summer's mega-blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises, but Deadline.com reports that Hathaway is just about set to join Nolan's next project, Interstellar. Hathaway will headline alongside recently confirmed actor Matthew McConaughey in the sci-fi thriller that focuses on a scientific theory that wormholes can be used as a source for time travel. It's becoming a regular staple in Nolan's short career that every "next" project is the most anticipated film on the planet. Well, as long as you keep delivering exceptional work, Mr. Nolan, get used to it.

DVD Outlook: April 2013

April represents another month of big-named DVD releases with Oscar Nominees galore. But before we get to my picks for the best DVD rentals coming out this month, there are a few films that I didn't love, but you'll probably want to know about. Two somewhat anticipated films that never really resonated with me in 2012 were Hyde Park on Hudson (4/9 starring Bill Murray as former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and the mob movie Gangster Squad (4/23 Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling). Instead of those letdowns, I suggest checking out any or all of the following three films which landed on my Top Ten List of 2012. Make sure you find time to sit back and enjoy some of the marvelous movies that April has to offer.

The Impossible - 4 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

Coming in a very close second on my Top Ten Films of 2012 is J.A. Bayona's The Impossible. The remarkably moving and undoubtedly sentimental feature received rave reviews from critics all across the globe and landed an Academy Award Nomination in the Best Actress category for its leading lady, Naomi Watts. Centering on a family divided by the horrific tsunami that struck southeast Asia in 2004, The Impossible is an eye-opening and intense piece of filmmaking that will surely win you over. Filled with grand special effects and a healthy blend of suspense and drama, The Impossible is truly one of 2012's most under-seen films. (APRIL 23RD)

Silver Linings Playbook - 3 and a half stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

One of 2012's most lovable films is David O. Russell's romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook. Following  a recently released mental patient named Pat (played by Bradley Cooper) and a young depressed widow named Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence), Silver Linings Playbook delivers a heartfelt and well-balanced comedy/drama. Focusing on serious issues such as mental illness, David O. Russell gives us a genuine, yet absurdly upbeat, movie experience. Receiving Oscar Nominations in all four of the acting categories, Silver Linings Playbook is one of 2012's most well-rounded features. (APRIL 30TH)

Django Unchained - 3 and a half stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

The highly regarded Quentin Tarantino gives us Django Unchained, his finest directorial effort to date. With an Oscar-winning screenplay and a gold-statue-worthy Best Supporting Actor turn from an immensely talented Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained is clearly an unforgettable experience. Following a bounty hunter (played by Waltz) who needs the aid of a slave named Django (played by Jamie Foxx), their wild journey ultimately brings them to a crazy plantation owner's home (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in order to free Django's wife. Despite Tarantino's obscene fascination with gore and the film's over-extended ending, Django Unchained still manages to provide a bloody good time. (APRIL 16TH)

Honorable Mention: A few other noteworthy releases this month come in the form of Gus Van Sant's Promised Land (4/23) and famed documentarian Ken Burns' The Central Park Five (4/23). Although both films prove to be overly long, they were still decent enough to warrant a thumbs up from me.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

(Official) Carrie and See Girl Run Trailers

If you haven't seen Brian De Palma's Carrie, well then brace yourself for the first official trailer to Kimberly Peirce's ambitious remake of the horror classic. At first viewing, I was shocked by how much of the story was actually shown on the trailer. By including many of the original's pivotal scenes in the trailer, it made me anxious to see what Peirce and her leading stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore have in store for the rest of the film. Carrie follows a bullied teenage girl (played by Moretz) who discovers her telekinetic powers and is forced to unleash them when her classmates push her too far.

Although I am still pretty unfamiliar with the upcoming indie drama See Girl Run, Adam Scott has become a lesser know actor that I've thoroughly enjoyed. Following a thirty-something at a crossroads in her life, See Girl Run explores how emotionally consuming hypotheticals of past relationships can be once you begin to question your current situation. There is a very raw and genuine feel to the trailer (which fits directly into the strengths of Adam Scott's acting ability) that hopefully plays out well throughout the entire film.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Only God Forgives (RED BAND) and The Purge Trailers

If you enjoyed Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive as much as I did, then chances are you can't wait for his follow up revenge film Only God Forgives. Prior to its scheduled world premier at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Refn and company has released the film's first official red band trailer. Once again starring Ryan Gosling, Only God Forgives follows a Bangkok police lieutenant and a gangster whose long awaited showdown culminates in an epic revenge-filled Thai boxing match. Check out the red band trailer for Only God Forgives below.

Another recently released trailer that caught my eye was for The Purge, starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. From the producers of Hawke's 2012 horror release, Sinister, The Purge offers a fresh idea in the horror/thriller genre. Set in the somewhat near future, immensely overcrowded prisons force the U.S. government to allow a 12 hour period one day a year (known as "the purge") in which all crime is legal. During this time, a family must protect itself against a home invasion. Check out the film's trailer below.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Interstellar News and Justice League Rumors

Rumors have been circling that Warner Bros. is desperately pursuing Mega-Star Bradley Cooper to join their upcoming Justice League movie as the role of Flash. It's also rumored that the studio is starting to doubt the entire project, in fear that a $200 million investment could be squandered. Therefore, locking in a household name like Bradley Cooper could be just the motivator Warner Bros. needs to restore confidence in the Justice League project. Another important factor will be the box-office in-take from this summer's Man of Steel. Just to point it out, Bradley Cooper's camp has not confirmed anything.

2012 proved to be a huge breakout year for Matthew McConaughey. The one-time Rom-Com star used dramatic turns in films like Magic Mike, Bernie and Mud to catch the eye of many Hollywood directors. None bigger than Christopher Nolan. Last week, rumors surfaced that Nolan had offered a role in his upcoming Sci-Fi picture, Interstellar, to McConaughey. It's finally been confirmed by McConaughey himself that the breakout star has officially signed on to Interstellar. While we can expect virtually no details on Nolan's (always secretive) project before its release, Interstellar supposedly follows a group of explorers who travel through a wormhole and experience time travel and alternate dimensions. Sounds pretty mind-boggling!

Monday, April 1, 2013

March 2013 Poll Recap

We all loved Christopher Nolan's 2008 sequel, The Dark Knight. The late-great Heath Ledger branded such a psychopathic and fearful interpretation of the Joker, one the world had never seen. In fact, that's most likely the biggest reason that you voters picked Nolan's The Dark Knight as "the greatest sequel of all-time". Pummeling the competition with 46% of the votes, Nolan's sequel was followed by a typical list-topping film, The Godfather: Part II (26%). Rounding out the vote-getters were Terminator 2 (20%) and The Empire Strikes Back (6%).

Thank you for all the votes, and be sure to check out April's poll question of the month as well (located in the upper right-hand corner of the page). In honor of this month's anticipated release, Evil Dead, the poll question asks, "What is the Greatest Remake of All-Time?"