Thursday, May 30, 2013

This Is the End

Film: This Is the End

Starring: Seth Rogen (50/50), Jay Baruchel (Goon) and James Franco (127 Hours)

Directors: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

U.S. Release: June 12th, 2013

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 107 minutes

Seth Rogen's first legitimate major motion picture impact came in 2005's The 40 Year Old Virgin. It's hard to believe that Rogen's stranglehold on the comedy market hasn't even lasted a full decade yet. However, the actor/writer and now director uses his latest platform, This Is the End, to reiterate the fact that he's not quite done yet.

When the longtime friendship between Canadian-born pals Seth Rogen & Jay Baruchel begins to slowly wither away, Baruchel takes one last trip to California to salvage the relationship. Desperate to include Jay in his new group of friends, Rogen invites his childhood buddy to a party at James Franco's pad. But rather than spending the evening renewing their friendship and, from Rogen's standpoint, building new ones, the party full of celebrities must find a way to survive the apocalypse.

Crude, vulgar and downright hilarious, This Is the End is a refreshingly pleasing comedic affair. While some pundits may argue that the film offers nothing more than cheap jokes and excessively immature humor, I would refute that writers/directors Seth Rogen and childhood friend Evan Goldberg stay loyal to their story. Even by the film's satisfying conclusion (prior to the strange cameo-filled finale), This Is the End is a movie about "friendship". Surely the jokes are overtly simple and frequently vile, yet they're also plentiful and consistent. One huge selling point to the comedy is the fact that its characters are based on the real-life actors, actresses and entertainers we've grown to love over the years. In doing so, the cameo's are absolutely hysterical and the viewer becomes transported into the story. Perhaps the finest one comes from Michael Cera. The scrawny and pale actor is uproariously funny playing the party animal role. Cera's brief but impactful cameo is just one of many effective elements in the summer blockbuster.

Despite the fact that This Is the End is a worthwhile flick, its weaker elements certainly can't be ignored. For example, the film's midsection clearly drags on while the plot appears indecisive about where it wants to go. Therefore, the comedy feels every bit of its 107 minute running time. Moreover, since This Is the End addresses apocalyptic themes, there are a great deal of special effects needed to sell the feature. Some are convincing, but many aren't. But although the movie includes a slowly progressing storyline and weak visual effects, This Is the End accomplishes its ultimate goal of generating a plethora of laughs.

The beauty behind This Is the End is the hilarious interaction between its celebrity stars. Danny McBride, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson all deliver valuable supporting turns that aid in welcoming the moviegoer into the inside joke that is the film. With no shortage of laugh-out-loud moments and a purposeful "message" hidden somewhere in its moderately flimsy story, This Is the End feels like a summer comedy standout. If you find yourself searching for a fun-filled good time, I suggest taking a shot on This Is the End. Just make sure that you go in with tempered expectations.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Way, Way Back

Film: The Way, Way Back

Starring: Liam James (2012), Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths) and Steve Carell (Crazy Stupid Love)

Directors: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

U.S. Release: July 5th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 96 minutes

Things aren't usually better the second time around. Looking at real world examples like Hollywood remakes, cover songs and leftovers from last night's dinner, it's pretty difficult to refute this notion. Therefore, when I heard about the back story surrounding this summer's release, The Way, Way Back, I justifiably became a bit skeptical. From the same producers and featuring many of the same stars as the 2006 indie sensation, The Way, Way Back has been unfairly labeled as "the next Little Miss Sunshine". While in actuality, The Way, Way Back stands tall enough on its own.

Duncan (played by Liam James) is an awkward and lonely teenager "forced" to spend the summer months at his mom's boyfriend's shore house. As Duncan's mom (played by Toni Collette) appears blind to Trent's (played by Steve Carell) harsh belittling of him, the teenager ventures off to be as far away from her boyfriend as possible. Duncan eventually stumbles across a water park and sparks a unique friendship with the manager, Owen (played by Sam Rockwell). Owen senses the youngster's loneliness and offers him a summer job at the park. It's there where Duncan finally learns how to open up and be his true self.

The Way, Way Back represents yet another fine indie selection from this year's exceptional Sundance Film Festival class. While it's inevitable to pit this effort against its festival foe, The Kings of Summer (which arrives in theatres in the next few weeks), The Way, Way Back is an overall small step down, but clearly a delightful film all on its own. The heart and soul of the feature resides in the role-model relationship built between Sam Rockwell's and Liam James' characters. The vastly underrated Rockwell once again shows why he belongs in the same conversation as Hollywood's best actors. He delivers his one-liners with remarkably-timed precision and his dramatic moments with profound tenderness. Through the use of his affable see-through "cool guy" exterior, Rockwell commands the screen and demonstrates that he can just about do it all. Furthermore, the always respectable Steve Carell goes against the grain and shows some versatility as a despicable and unforgivable confidence-crusher to the film's teenage protagonist. Having grown accustom to Carell as an often-lovable character, he is regrettably convincing and most likely setting the stage for his Oscar-bound role in this year's fall release, Foxcatcher. Although I could continue to go on-and-on in detail about all of the other fine performances in the film, instead I will couple them together by reaffirming that The Way, Way Back is a wonderfully acted and heartfelt coming-of-age film suitable for just about any viewer.

Despite the picture's all-around winning vibe, there are a few blemishes to discuss. For starters, many of the film's characters feel like completely overblown and animated caricatures. While the "good" are VERY good and the "bad" are VERY bad, The Way, Way Back suffers from a black and white approach to its onscreen roles. Therefore, expressing its characters in such a way creates an inauthentic and disingenuous feel. In addition, the feature opens in a very unusual manner. Although the first act fails to adequately hook the audience, it does serve a unique purpose to the film's bigger picture. But when all is said and done, The Way, Way Back hurdles these faults and offers laugh-out-loud humor and an assortment of endearing characters.

While The Way, Way Back comes close to, but never quite reaches, the heights of 2006's Little Miss Sunshine and its festival competitor The Kings of Summer, it's still a praiseworthy coming-of-age tale all on its own. And since the jokes are abundant and the performances are stellar, there's plenty to enjoy. When The Way, Way Back reaches theatres nationwide in July, you won't be disappointed by catching another indie gem such as this one.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Friday, May 24, 2013

Don Jon and We're The Millers (Red Band) Trailers

Rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in his Sundance comedy Don Jon. Gordon-Levitt plays a porn addict who finally meets a woman (played by Scarlett Johansson) that makes him want to overcome the addiction. With an interesting trailer, to say the least, Don Jon is slated for an October release. Check out the trailer for Don Jon below.

One of this summer's most talked about comedies is We're The Millers. Jason Sudeikis stars as a pot dealer who creates a fake family (the psuedo-wife played by Jennifer Aniston) in order to successfully transport a HUGE shipment of marijuana from Mexico to the United States. And as you could expect, everything imaginable goes wrong. I have my reservations about it, but check out the Red Band trailer for We're The Millers below and decide for yourself.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Hangover Part III

Film: The Hangover Part III

Starring: Zach Galifianakis (The Campaign), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) and Ed Helms (Cedar Rapids)

Director: Todd Phillips (Old School)

U.S. Release: May 23rd, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 100 minutes

2009 seems like such a short time ago. Yet, almost four years have passed since Todd Phillips' The Hangover helped set the bar for modern day comedies. Then, like clockwork, Phillips and the people at Warner Bros. decided to milk this cash cow for all it's worth. With dollar signs in their eyes, they began a four year plan releasing The Hangover Part II in 2011 and the third installment this weekend. While many may feel that the franchise has run its course, especially after the disappointment of "Part II", the newest inclusion is definitely a step up over its immediate predecessor.

Freshly off his meds, Alan (Galifianakis) has reclaimed his impulsive ways and becomes too much for his friends and family to handle. After agreeing to check into a facility, the Wolfpack ventures to Arizona to help Alan receive the treatment that he needs. However, the trip is quickly derailed when a drug lord named Marshall (played by John Goodman) takes Doug hostage and threatens to kill him in three days unless they bring him Leslie Chow (played by Ken Jeong), who has robbed the kingpin of millions of dollars.

Breaking from the tiresome and formulaic structure of the franchise's first two installments, The Hangover Part III is a fluctuating adventure filled with an abundance of hysterical moments alongside a downtrodden dose of Mr. Chow's character. Clearly an improvement over Phillips' previous visit to the Wolfpack universe, the film dishes out a healthy portion of outrageously hilarious scenes. It's also moderately gratifying to watch the franchise come full circle. Taking a Seinfeld finale approach, The Hangover Part III marks the return for many of the original's memorable characters (thankfully, there's no Mike Tyson). Phillips gives a valiant attempt at wrapping everything up with a nice little bow. However, the post credit clip reminds us that when it comes to a brand that's grossed north of $500 million dollars in box office revenue, the door must be left open for a return. Representing another unfitting and unjustifiable decision from the director.

Although The Hangover Part III has no shortage of laughs, there is plenty to dislike about the Wolfpack's alleged final adventure. It became apparent during the less-than-acceptable sequel that Mr. Chow is a leech, sucking the blood and life out of the entire franchise. Therefore, his inexcusably grand role in this third chapter ultimately deflates the film. Chow receives far more onscreen attention than every other character except Alan. Moreover, much to its detriment, these two oddballs have managed to attract an increasing level of absurdity throughout the course of the trilogy. The beauty behind the original was the collaborative comedic efforts from its trio of stars. Yet, Cooper and Helms, along with an under-utilized cameo by the always phenomenal John Goodman, take a back seat to the shenanigans of Alan and Chow, merely making them props to the story. Consequently, it does the film a huge disservice, leaving plenty to be desired with The Hangover Part III.

If you've poured enough of your hard earned dollars into the first two inclusions of the franchise, then there's nothing lost by avoiding The Hangover Part III in theatres. Despite being a step up from the second installment, the newest effort is still a huge drop off from the timeless magic captured in the original. Hardcore fans will inevitably enjoy the full-circle approach taken by director Todd Phillips, yet there's no valid argument against waiting to catch The Hangover Part III on DVD.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Europa Report and V/H/S/2 (RED BAND) Trailers

In 2009, many of us were thankfully caught off-guard by Neill Blomkamp's deeply original sci-fi adventure District 9. The film's star, Sharlto Copley, plans to leave 2013 as the king of sci-fi. First, Copley holds a major role in Blomkamp's follow-up effort, Elysium, due to hit theatres in August. But before Copley and Blomkamp make a grand return to the big screen, Copley will star in the lesser known feature Europa Report. The film follows a team of astronauts (headed by Copley) who take a seemingly disastrous journey to Jupiter's fourth moon, Europa. With a premise eerily similar to 2011's dud Apollo 18, we can only hope that Europa Report offers much more. Intriguing at the least, check out the trailer for Europa Report below.

At 2012's Sundance Film Festival, horror fans spoke highly about the low budget found footage feature V/H/S. However, the film expanded to a somewhat mediocre reception from many horror gurus. This year, we're graced with the sequel, V/H/S/2, and critics are clamoring that the second installment is a must-see. Creepy as hell, the trailer is extremely enticing and this horror fan is about as giddy as a school girl over it. V/H/S/2 centers around two private investigators searching for a missing woman. But when they break into a house and discover a series of video tapes, they sense that something evil is behind the disappearance. Check out the Red Band trailer for V/H/S/2 below.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Now You See Me

Film: Now You See Me

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) and Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight Rises)

Director: Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans)

U.S. Release: May 21st, 2013

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 116 minutes

Despite being in the full swing of the summer blockbuster season, one less-than-typical big budget film to hit theatres this month is Louis Leterrier's Now You See Me. Leterrier, who's best known for his direction of Clash of the Titans and Transporter 1 & 2, gives a high octane dose of magic. This mystery-thriller surprisingly delivers enough action and energy to help warrant its "blockbuster" classification. Therefore, when you head to the theatre this summer seeking out the gaudiest box-office hits possible, writing off Now You See Me as a minuscule magic-centered movie simply means, the joke's on you.

A quartet of extremely talented street-performing illusionists and mentalists (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) are summoned together to accomplish some of the grandest feats in history. But after robbing millions of dollars from a Parisian bank as their Las Vegas stage finale (without ever leaving the room), the FBI must unravel how and why these magicians are up to no good. Yet, the closer agent Dylan Hobbs (Mark Ruffalo) and famed magic-debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) get to figuring it all out, the less they actually know.

Now You See Me is an above average thrill ride possessing a completely star-studded cast and a unique story. First and foremost, Jesse Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo lead a superb collection of new and old Hollywood greats. Legends such as Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and the always amazing Woody Harrelson cross talents with a newer generation of stars. The result is a set of wonderfully branded characters that undoubtedly raise Now You See Me to the next level. While Eisenberg and Ruffalo lead the way, Harrelson offers his usual scene-stealing supporting efforts that never leave a dull moment for the audience. In fact, Eisenberg admittedly stated that once Harrelson was on board, the script was slightly reworked to better fit his comedic talents. And believe me, the results show. Another significant glowing aspect to the film is its carefully crafted story. Thanks to a commendable amount of originality to the script, Now You See Me constantly feels fresh and new. With all of the remakes, sequels and rehashed ideas floating around the industry, it's refreshing to find an energetic and singular story.

Although Louis Leterrier's Now You See Me successfully grabs the audience, the feature still manages to illustrate some significant flaws. For starters, as a film about illusionists and magicians, there was an immense focus on delivering an abundance of stunning visuals. While I can understand their desire to do so, I found some of the effects to be completely unnecessary and distracting to the movie's finer elements. Furthermore, Now You See Me caters to a summertime audience by doing all of the work for you. As an active-viewer who enjoys thinking for himself (to a reasonably attainable and not overly-ambiguous degree), the film refuses to allow the moviegoer to dissect the mystery on their own. Containing an almost insurmountable amount of unrealistic sequences followed by an undetectable conclusion, Now You See Me requires that the audience simply watch and be entertained. At least the thrills and uniqueness make the ride enjoyable.

There will be plenty of hits and even more misses during this summer's blockbuster season. Now You See Me is one of those films that lands somewhere in between. For sheer entertainment value, it's well worth the price of admission. The jokes are a nice little touch, the action is beyond what you'd expect and the story isn't very robust, but compelling nonetheless. While I wouldn't recommend flocking to theatres to catch Now You See Me (a DVD rental will do just fine), you won't be disappointed if you do.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Monday, May 13, 2013

DVD Outlook: May 2013

The major wave of Oscar films turned DVD releases has certainly passed, as May's selection offers a significant step down from the previous months. That being the case, if you're on the hunt for a strong movie rental and you don't like this month's new crop of features, feel free to check out my DVD recommendations for April, March and February. Now, here's my top DVD rental suggestions for the month of May.

Cloud Atlas - 3 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

While I openly recognize that the Wachowski's and Tom Tykwer's Cloud Atlas is an (arguably) over-ambitious and messy piece of filmmaking, the film is also a wonderfully captivating and transcendent piece of art. Personally, I can't wait to watch Cloud Atlas for a second and third time around (with paper and pen) to finally piece together the puzzle behind all six of its fantastic stories.  Visually groundbreaking and aesthetically pleasing, Cloud Atlas is a polarizing film that lands somewhere on the spectrum of flop to cinephiles dream. For me, it was much closer to the latter. Any passionate fan of cinema should truly see this film. However, I admit that Cloud Atlas is certainly not a movie for everyone. This is a lengthy and epic-bound journey more so than a casual rental. Know what you're getting in to and proceed with caution. But if you're open for the experience, I think it's an easy one to enjoy. (MAY 14TH)

Stand Up Guys - 3 stars out of 4

At last year's Philadelphia Film Festival, I was thrilled to be a part of only the second screening worldwide for Fisher Stevens' action-comedy Stand Up Guys. Boasting an unbelievable cast including Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, Stand Up Guys serves as a hilarious and amusing return to the crime drama for its stars. In the story, Val (Pacino) is released from prison and looking to reconnect with his lifelong friend Doc (Walken) after 20 years in the joint. However, Doc's been ordered by a crime boss to murder his best friend. Trying to provide one last night of insanely fun times, the pair break Hirsch (Arkin) out of a retirement home and relive the good old days. A likable watch and a thrillingly wild ride, Stand Up Guys makes for a stellar DVD rental. (MAY 21ST)

Side Effects - 3 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

Standing out as a rare bright spot in an always glum crowd of early-year releases, Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects took February moviegoers by storm. Offering a slight Hitchcockian vibe as an outside the modern-day norm thriller, Side Effects grabs the audience in a skin crawling and disturbing way. When a doctor's (Jude Law) prescription for a patient (Rooney Mara) leads to murderous results, his world gets turned upside down. Unique and intoxicating, Side Effects makes for a slightly over-extended but worthwhile movie experience. (MAY 21ST)

Honorable Mention: Also reaching DVD this month is Tom Cruise's Jack Reacher (5/7). While I didn't see the movie myself, it was recommended by Action Guru Chris Bandoian as well as many critics. In addition, horror fans were suggested by Horror Enthusiast Stephen Fisher to check out Jessica Chastain in Mama (5/7). Finally, although I wasn't completely sold on the film, Nicholas Sparks fans and romance lovers will certainly enjoy the author's latest from novel to screen adaptation, Safe Haven (5/7).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Captain Phillips and Fruitvale Station Trailers

Perhaps the greatest actor alive, Tom Hanks returns in 2013 like you've never seen him before. Hanks stars as the title character in Paul Greengrass' (The Bourne Ultimatium and The Bourne Supremacy) true story action film, Captain Phillips. The movie centers around an unarmed United States cargo ship that is taken under siege by a band of pirates off of the coast of Somalia in 2009. Marking the first time in over 200 hundred years that an American cargo vessel had been hijacked. Hanks continues to demonstrate his versatility with an unusual action-packed performance. Check out the trailer for Captain Phillips below.

Next up is one of the most anticipated indie releases of the year, Fruitvale Station. As the winner of the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for a Dramatic, Fruitvale Station relives the final day of 22 year old Oscar Grant's life. The real life story follows Grant through a day-long journey of revelations and resolutions that culminate in a New Years Eve scuffle on a transit system in the Bay Area. When officers arrive and detain Oscar and the other men involved, a terrible tragedy shakes the entire city and ultimately costs the young man his life. Check out the trailer for Fruitvale Station below.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Gravity and August: Osage Country Trailers

Due to hit theatres in early October is the potential sci-fi phenomenon Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. After a supposed routine mission to space goes terribly wrong, two astronauts (Clooney and Bullock) are left stranded and floating in outer space. With some big names attached to the film and a late year release date, Gravity seemingly hopes to make an Oscar push. Check out its first trailer below.

Another Oscar hopeful due out in November of 2013 is director John Wells' August: Osage County. Boasting a star-studded cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch, the film centers around the Weston family who finds themselves reunited at the hands of a major crisis. Awards season hopes are extremely high for this comedy/drama that appears apt to follow in the footsteps of 2012's Silver Linings Playbook. Check out the trailer for August: Osage County below.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Film: The Great Gatsby

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained), Carey Mulligan (Drive) and Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man)

Director: Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!)

U.S. Release: May 10th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 143 minutes

*** I was unable to attend a pre-screening of the film, but fellow Philadelphia Film Society member and Reel True Video Production Company owner Greg Rouleau offers his guest review below. Enjoy!

With themes of over-indulgence, self-delusion and superficiality, this was quite possibly the perfect project for the excessive production design of a Baz Luhrmann film. With past works including a contemporary but over-the-top Romeo + Juliet and the uber-melodramatic Moulin Rouge!, the director has never been short on style. Here he tackles the “Great American Novel”, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, and Tobey Maguire as our narrator, Nick Carraway.

From the sprawling opening shot over the Long Island Sound, to the powerful final words of the novel that flash across the screen in Courier New, narrated by Tobey Maguire as he hammers away on his typewriter, we experience a digitally-enhanced 1920s New York where it’s easy to get lost in the entrancing beauty. While never totally succumbing to style over substance, the film makes a bold attempt to capture the dense themes of the Fitzgerald novel, and while it’s not a complete miss, it somehow falls short. 

The driving force behind the story is Nick’s fascination with the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, and Gatsby’s love for Daisy, played tirelessly by Carey Mulligan. DiCaprio and Mulligan generate some mild chemistry that sparks in a few scenes but never quite bursts.  One memorable montage includes the two spending the day together accompanied by Lana Del Ray’s “Young and Beautiful” that recalls Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. The main cast all deliver capable performances, but this flick’s scene-stealer nod would go to Joel Edgerton with his portrayal of Tom Buchanan. This film’s 2 ½ hour length may have been aided by another scene or two with Edgerton and Leo.

Originally planned for a December 2012 release, in the heat of the awards season, it was pushed back to May of this year, presumably to increase profitability. A smart move, because the movie lacks the gravitas of typical Oscar-fodder, and delivers more panache for the summer blockbuster crowd. The elaborate party scenes, with some recognizable contemporary music are infectious and deserved to be experienced on the big screen, 3D or not.

While the film zips along the first 100 minutes or so, the climax is where the film starts to fall somewhat flat. No spoilers here, even if you’re familiar with the novel, it’s hard not to imagine the final scenes could’ve packed more of an emotional punch. There’s evidence that those involved tried to deliver a great movie, dripping with style but not completely devoid of substance, and it’s not. But I think tempered expectations are the key to enjoying this one. Those expecting to be completely intoxicated by Luhrmann’s glitzy, glamorous affair, will have to settle for a decent buzz. 

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C+

*** NOTE: I recently caught the film The Great Gatsby myself and agree, in large part, with Greg's analysis. I, however, enjoyed the finale much more than he did and gave The Great  Gatsby the following rating:

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Top 5 Leonardo DiCaprio Performances

In honor of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, which arrives in theatres everywhere on Friday May 10th, I decided to dedicate this month's list to the best performances by the film's leading star, Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio, who has been nominated three times but never won an Oscar, landed himself atop my blog's list of "The Best Actors of My Generation" (back in 2010). Although he's been unrecognized on the biggest stage possible, it goes without question that MANY people view DiCaprio as an elite actor. While I highly doubt that The Great Gatsby will help Leo grab that first golden statue, let's remember the fine cinematic performances of his well established career.

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

Honorable Mention: The Aviator, Revolutionary Road and Inception

The Top 5 Leonardo DiCaprio Performances

#5. Django Unchained (2012)

If you weren't excited about seeing Leonardo play a villain in Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti western Django Unchained, you're just lying to yourself. The outcome was spectacular! Leo certainly didn't disappoint and he'll always be remembered for his hammer and skull scene. 

#4. The Departed (2006)

Perhaps I'm a bit biased, as Martin Scorsese's The Departed is one of my favorite films of all time. However, I thought that DiCaprio was utterly brilliant as the undercover officer sent in to infiltrate a crime syndicate. Always appearing uneasy on screen and scared for his life, Leo made Billy Costigan one hell of a believable character.

#3. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Another fantastic role from Leonardo DiCaprio came in the form of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. Leo stole the show as Frank Abagnale Jr. (alongside another timeless performance from perhaps the greatest actor alive, Tom Hanks), a runaway teenager who scams just about everyone and their mother by forging checks. 

#2. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

DiCaprio dazzled audiences, even at a young age, which his first Oscar-Nominated role in Lasse Hallstrom's What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Playing the mentally disabled Arnie Grape, Leo showed off his acting chops and set the tone for what has become a remarkable (and quite unfinished) career. 

#1. Blood Diamond (2006)

Back in 2006, Leonardo DiCaprio dished out his finest onscreen performance ever in Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond. Leo stars as a diamond smuggler named Danny Archer who makes a pact with a fisherman whose family has been torn apart. Archer promises to help the man find his family in exchange for the location of a priceless diamond. Nominated for the turn, DiCaprio portrays an extremely multi-dimensional character that the entire audience grows to love and admire. What a performance!

Whether you agree or disagree with my list, feel free to comment below. Also, stay tuned for tomorrow when guest columnist and Reel True owner Greg Rouleau offers his review on DiCaprio's latest feature, The Great Gatsby.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Kings of Summer

Film: The Kings of Summer

Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso (Super 8) and Moises Arias

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

U.S. Release: May 31st, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 93 minutes

Serving as the most notable platform for independent film, the Sundance Film Festival's contributions toward improving the industry go far beyond the recognition that it receives. In 2012, audiences were graced with one of the finest crop of Sundance selections in recent memory. Titles such as The Sessions (formerly The Surrogate), Safety Not Guaranteed and the Academy Award Best Picture Nominee The Beasts of the Southern Wild (love it or hate it) headlined an unforgettable class of films. However, the 2013 festival lineup appears to be another exceptional collection of independent movies. Perhaps none are finer than Jordan Vogt-Roberts' The Kings of Summer (originally titled Toy's House).

Joe Toy (played by Nick Robinson) is a typical teenager who's growing increasingly irritated by his single father (played by Nick Offerman). Joe's best friend Patrick Keenen (played by Gabriel Basso) also can't take his overwhelming parents. The duo, along with an oddball teenage wildcard named Biaggio, decide to run away from home and build their own house hidden deep inside the woods. Free at last, the trio of friends experience the most important summer of their lives.

Shockingly original and insanely hilarious, The Kings of Summer is a rare R-Rated coming-of-age gem that stands up against classics such as The Sandlot and Stand By Me. As with any accomplished film of its type, The Kings of Summer succeeds on the the shoulders of its trio of young actors. Starring as the recluse Biaggio is Moises Arias, a budding talent who has already mastered the art of the delivery. Arias steals the show as the movie's main source of laughs and humor. Each bringing their own unique presence to the big screen, Arias and co-stars Robinson and Basso all give stellar performances. On the other end of the spectrum, the older Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman dishes out a healthy dose of clever one-liners himself. With no shortage of laugh-out-loud scenes, The Kings of Summer makes for nothing less than an entertaining and enjoyable movie experience.

Clearly a comedic standout, The Kings of Summer offers less in terms of story and substance. While the writing does a fine job of generating an enormous amount of laughter, there isn't much depth below its paper-thin jokes. As a result, nothing ever legitimately feels "at stake" for the characters, leaving The Kings of Summer as a one-dimensional affair. However, to the film's credit, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts never tries to mold the feature into something it isn't. He openly embraces the comedy genre and even circles the more dramatic moments with a lighthearted tone. By sticking to the blueprint, The Kings of Summer thrives as a satisfying and delightful comedic effort.

Backed by a somewhat surprising R rating (for a fair amount of adult language and teenage drinking), make no mistake about it, The Kings of Summer is an adolescent tale perfectly suitable for an adult audience. With very limited resources, many independent films fall through the cracks and become vastly under-seen and under-appreciated pieces of work. Hopefully, The Kings of Summer avoids such an unwarranted demise. Currently standing out as my favorite comedy of 2013, make sure to check out The Kings of Summer later this month.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Saturday, May 4, 2013

More Interstellar News

UPDATED: As the anticipation continues to grow for Christopher Nolan's next project, Interstellar, the director has decided to mix a little old with a little new. DEADLINE.COM has reported that Michael Caine has joined the already spectacular cast of Nolan's latest groundbreaking sci-fi effort. This will mark the 6th time that Caine and Nolan have teamed up for some mesmerizing cinematic moments. Along with Caine, the Interstellar project has also locked down Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. But who's next?

You may want to sit down for this. One of the greatest actresses alive could be jumping on board the latest project of one of the greatest directors alive. Zero Dark Thirty star Jessica Chastain has reportedly begun talks with Christopher Nolan's Interstellar team about signing on for one of the lead roles in the film. What sounds like a true match made in heaven, Chastain would most likely play one of the scientific explorers who enter a wormhole that sends the team across different dimensions and results in time travel. What began as a Steven Spielberg project over 6 years ago, Nolan's brother, Jonah, was originally brought on to write the script. With Spielberg leaving the idea in the dark, Nolan jumped on board and reworked the script. Interstellar has already locked down a revamped Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 3

Film: Iron Man 3

Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Gwyneth Paltrow (Contagion) and Guy Pearce (Lawless)

Director: Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)

U.S. Release: May 3rd, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 130 minutes

As the first Marvel installment to reach the big screen since last year's billion dollar worldwide box office smash, The Avengers, Iron Man 3 has some mighty big shoes to fill. With a new vision behind this third addition to the franchise, Shane Black finds himself facing the difficult task of outperforming previous director Jon Favreau (who still happens to reprise his role as Happy Hogan). Needless to say, Iron Man 3 begins where The Avengers leaves off. However, playing the annoying little brother in the analogy, Iron Man 3 becomes 2013's first indisputable Summer Blockbuster dud.

After facing off against aliens in The Avengers, Tony Stark's (played by Robert Downey Jr.) psychological battle scars pay a huge toll on his current psyche. Unable to sleep and focusing solely on his work, Stark's relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) begins to take a turn for the worse. But with an outspoken terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) terrorizing the United States, Stark pushes his relationship issues aside and wages a personal vendetta against the villain.

Completely hollow and overblown, Iron Man 3 is merely a shell of a successful superhero flick. Desperate to follow the same formula as The Avengers, director Shane Black falls well short of expectations. Suffering from an overuse of jokes and prolonged action sequences, Iron Man 3 offers absolutely no substance. While kool-aid drinking fans of The Avengers may brainwash themselves into enjoying the film, this third installment is riddled with flaws. Everything from an over-emphasis on worthless characters (i.e. the youngster Harley Keener and scientist Maya Hansen) to ineffective plot twists, Iron Man 3 is a clear-cut letdown. Even the whole plant and human regeneration idea is a carbon copy from The Amazing Spider-Man. Although there is a serious lack of originality revolving around the feature, the most unconventional plot decision is, ironically, the biggest disappointment. No one can rightfully justify the complete mishandling of Ben Kingsley's character, The Mandarin. All I can say is, what a waste!

Attempting to appeal to younger audiences with insane visual effects and blatantly forced humor, Iron Man 3 is nothing more than a superficial big-budget production. What you see is what you get, and with a remarkable collection of actors and actresses on board, one could only hope for a better result. Instead, we're left with a franchise seemingly in disarray. With other Marvel releases such as Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier due out in theatres within the calendar year, hopefully their scripts mark a return to well thought-out ideas and cleverly constructed stories. The cheap laughs and smothering amount of action have become too overbearing and monotonous, to the point where I was legitimately bored at times.

As someone who enjoyed both of Favreau's earlier Iron Man releases (yes, even the second one), I truly wanted Shane Black's latest effort to meet the challenge. However, Iron Man 3 swings for an Avengers-esque fence and can't even get out of the infield. There will be plenty of Summer Blockbusters arriving in movie theatres over the next few months. Heed my advice, you're better off waiting for one of them.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Girl Most Likely and Odd Thomas Trailers

The last time Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig headlined a major motion picture, it grossed north of $150 million. Bridesmaids went on to be an absolute phenomenon, even receiving two Oscar Nominations (Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress). Wiig returns in 2013 with the comedy Girl Most Likely, where she stars as a failed playwright named Imogene whose career and relationship bottom out. As a result, she's forced to leave New York City and move back to her dreaded New Jersey hometown with her unconventional mother (played by Annette Bening) and younger brother. Check out the trailer for Girl Most Likely below.

Also arriving in 2013 is an adaption of the 2003 Dean Koontz novel, Odd Thomas, starring Anton Yelchin (Fright Night) and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man). Yelchin stars as a short-order cook living in a California desert town with clairvoyant abilities. What's being slightly described as a weird twist between Beetle Juice and Men in Black, Odd Thomas boasts a trailer that certainly leaves a large element of intrigue. Check it out below.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The East

Film: The East

Starring: Brit Marling (Another Earth), Alexander Skarsgard (Melancholia) and Ellen Page (Inception)

Director: Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice)

U.S. Release: May 31st, 2013 (Limited - Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 116 minutes

In the eyes of many, Brit Marling has truly become the Queen of Sundance. In 2011 she erupted onto the independent scene as a writer and star of two very well-received films, Another Earth and Sound of My Voice. She followed up her sparkling debut at the festival by returning in 2012 with another solid supporting turn in the suspense-drama Arbitrage. Completing the "hat-trick" in 2013, Marling officially became the "bell of the ball" with this year's provocative thriller, The East. As the writer and star, once again, Marling and her Sound of My Voice director, Zal Batmanglij, continue to raise the bar. Leaving only one question left. How high can it go? Perhaps we'll find out at next year's Sundance Film Festival.

Sarah (Marling) works as an operative for a privately owned intelligence firm. Some of their biggest clients are many of the world's largest companies. When an underground eco-terrorist group called "The East" publicly threatens to attack three major corporations in the upcoming months, Sarah is sent to infiltrate the elusive anarchist collective. While working undercover, she begins to form a strong connection with the group and its charismatic leader Benji (played by Alex Skarsgard), forcing Sarah to re-think almost every aspect of her life.

Without a doubt, The East is the finest work yet from writer/actress Brit Marling and her long-time friend, director Zal Batmanglij. Having previously worked together on Sound of My Voice, which follows a similarly-themed group of investigators into a growing cult, Marling and Batmanglij perfect the "outsider" storyline. For as wonderful as Marling is on screen, alongside other massively convincing performances from co-stars Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard, her writing ability truly shines the brightest. To her discredit, however, all three of her motion picture screenplays to date have centered on characters weaseling their way into a situation where their true identity is unknown. That being said, I'd love to see her expand her creativity by tackling different themes. Don't get me wrong, The East has a magnificent screenplay, but I believe Marling is capable of delivering a breakthrough story that goes off in a separate direction from her past work. Furthermore, The East offers multi-dimensional characters throughout a slow-burning and suspenseful thrill ride. What the film lacks in action, it makes up with fine-tuned creativity and an interesting collection of subplots circling faith and religion. There's no shortage of memorable scenes, making The East an intriguing option against this year's crop of summer blockbusters.

For all of its glowing attributes, there are a few small deterrents to the film. The East flows a little slower than the falsely advertised action-packed trailer that it proudly displays. Instead of the big-budget special effects and gaudy action sequences we've come to expect during the summer months, the feature prides itself on a gradual intensity that never feels overbearing, but never lets up. Moreover, as the eco-terrorist group proclaims, it will attack three major corporations in the upcoming months. Therefore, the audience is forced to submit to the cyclic approach taken by screenwriters Marling and Batmanglij. It's by no means a burden, but rather a similarity that slightly waters down the appeal as the running time continues to mount.

For what it's worth, The East is another commendable piece of work from the young up-and-comers Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. It's always refreshing seeing the undeniable talents of youthful artists, with hopes that they haven't even scratched the surface of their abilities. I would expect many more joint efforts from the duo in the future. However, I strongly suggest getting ahead of the curve and keeping an eye out later this month for the release of The East. It's one of the good ones.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

The Kings of Summer and Aftershock (Red Band) Trailers

I am looking forward to tonight's screening of the coming-of-age film from the Sundance Film Festival, The Kings of Summer. Gabriel Basso (Super 8), Nick Robinson and Moises Arias star as three teenage friends who make the ultimate pact of freedom by running away from home during summer vacation. They build their own house in the woods and decide to live off the land, free from any parental reign and responsibility. Check out the trailer for this lighthearted comedy below.

Horror guru Eli Roth returns as a producer for Aftershock, the chilling tale about a group of travelers in Chile who are partying in an underground nightclub when an earthquake creates utter chaos. However, when they finally reach the surface, the realize this is just the beginning of their nightmare. The new Red Band trailer for Aftershock holds nothing back, as Roth and company plan to deliver on gore and insane death scenes yet again. Check out the trailer below.