Thursday, August 29, 2013

The World's End

Film: The World's End

Starring: Simon Pegg (Paul), Nick Frost (Paul) and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)

Director: Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz)

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

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 109 minutes

Over the course of the past nine years, writer/actor Simon Pegg and writer/director Edgar Wright have worked together to mold a fresh comedic voice in the industry. With previous overwhelming successes such as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg and Wright return with their third collaborative effort, The World's End. And once again, critics and moviegoers alike are raving about the final product.

Former legend in his own mind, Gary King (played by Simon Pegg), makes a desperate attempt to reunite with an old group of friends in order to successfully complete a drinking marathon that they failed to accomplish 20 years prior. But as Gary and his odd-ball buddies embark on the evening's festivities, the drunken fools quickly discover that they may be the planet's only hope of surviving an alien presence.

Edgar Wright's The World's End is exactly what you'd expect it to be. Fans of his and longtime writing companion Simon Pegg's earlier work will be more than content with their latest film. The jokes are constant and the outlandishness is off the charts. While I openly admit that I'm not a huge fan Wright and Pegg's previous efforts (I find them to be a little more mediocre than the general masses), I can recognize when I'm a minority. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of both men separately. Run, Fatboy, Run can always brighten my day and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has a rugged and unique style that lures me in effortlessly. Therefore, as I watched The World's End, I was upset to find consistent well-written and exceptionally timed jokes fall victim to an overly long and absurdly boring plot. I understand, however, that most other viewers will appreciate the quaint humor and charming characters enough to disregard the ludicrous story that's used to hold the film together.

One of the most impressive facets of the feature is Wright's wonderful cast of actors and actresses. As we all know, Simon Pegg and co-star Nick Frost have the capability to elevate just about any movie they're in. But it's Ray Donovan's Eddie Marsan along with Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman who all shine in their own right and allow The World's End to exceed all of Wright and Pegg's other previous collaborations. In addition to its main stars, the film has one other area that really stands out and surprises the audience. I was shocked by the amount of highly-choreographed fight scenes that were all executed flawlessly. The action is believable and immensely detailed, something I really wasn't expecting to see. However, although the jokes are clever, the performances are strong and the action is a pleasant surprise, The World's End manages to numb the audience with a far-fetched sci-fi twist that clearly makes a mockery of itself by the time the credits roll.

Despite my lack of unfettered love for Edgar Wright's The World's End, it's definitely a film worth seeing if you enjoy his other work. Personally, I demand more in terms of story and effective subplots. Take a chance if you must, but consider yourself warned. Mediocrity reigns supreme.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club and Divergent Trailers

Matthew McConaughey has transformed from a romantic comedy heartthrob to a legitimate Oscar-caliber performer almost overnight. His most promising role of the year comes from the film Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey stars as RonWoodroof, a Texas native who was diagnosed with HIV in 1986 and forced to find alternate medications for his illness. After venturing to Mexico and discovering a more combative and plentiful supply of treatments, the renegade smuggler established an illegal market to help supply dying patients with the medicines they needed. As one of the year's most anticipated releases, check out the trailer for Dallas Buyers Club below.

The first official trailer has been released for the 2014 film, Divergent. Adapted from the Veronica Roth novel of the same name (in a similar vein of The Hunger Games), Divergent tells the futuristic story of a society divided into five factions that each represent a different virtue. Shailene Woodly stars as Beatrice Prior, a teenager who finds her life threatened by the fact that she doesn't fit into any one specific group. From Limitless director Neil Burger, check out the trailer for Divergent below.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Short Term 12

Film: Short Term 12

Starring: Brie Larson (21 Jump Street) and John Gallagher Jr. (Margaret)

Director: Destin Cretton (I Am Not a Hipster)

U.S. Release: August 23rd, 2013 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 96 minutes

Sometimes you stumble across the greatest treasures when you least expect it. As it turns out, the South By Southwest Film Festival Winner for Grand Jury Narrative Feature and the Narrative Audience Award, Short Term 12, is every bit as good as advertised. The independent drama journeys through a myriad of emotions on its way to a perfectly-timed finale, representing one of 2013's finest features.

Grace (played by Brie Larson) is a supervisor at a foster-care facility. Nurturing and gentle, the youth in her care truly appreciate everything she does for them. Along with the aid of her co-worker boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), the couple must navigate through the troubles at work as well as the problems in their own lives.

I'll cut right to the chase, Destin Cretton's Short Term 12 is a premier example of how impactful a film can be on its audience. Tender and sweet, you rarely find a movie as innately compassionate as this one. There's plenty of evil in the world and, rather than trying to shy away from it, Short Term 12 stares it right in the eyes. Following a facility full of impressionable at-risk youth who find themselves teetering on the edge of transcending this evil or being consumed by it, the viewer is placed right in the center of these struggles. But it's the aptly named "Grace" who shelters her own personal troubles by waking up every day and offering unconditional love to these children who so desperately need it. Brie Larson is the glue that holds the film together. Her Oscar-worthy performance is both mesmerizing and masterful. The gifted young actress is so unbelievable in the role that the audience becomes a part of her character. You'll smile when she does and your heart will break alongside hers. However, Larson is far from the lone shining star. Her onscreen boyfriend, played by John Gallagher Jr., is almost equally as impressive. And in addition to an entire well-rounded collection of cast members, Short Term 12 succeeds in conjunction with a stellar script and fabulous direction from Destin Cretton.

While the indie drama tugs at the heartstrings with hopes of moving its viewers, the film drowns itself in a hopelessness only to culminate a little too gleefully for my liking. As Short Term 12 zips along, it feels extraordinarily authentic. Therefore, I found its resolution to be slightly bittersweet. "Sweet" in the sense that I left the theatre as uplifted as I should, and "bitter" in the sense that the finale feels forced and slightly unrealistic. But despite this minuscule blemish, Short Term 12 shines through and ends up as one of 2013's most noteworthy films.

Many filmmakers break into the "biz" determined to make their audiences feel an array of emotions. Short Term 12 stands out as the premier example of such films. Gripping and moving there's plenty to love about this little indie drama. It's the type of movie that deserves to be viewed and enjoyed by the masses. Short Term 12 is a strong feature by all accounts and hopefully it will catapult Brie Larson to the stardom she deserves. Do whatever it takes and check out one of the year's best films, Short Term 12.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Declare War

Film: I Declare War

Starring: Gage Munroe (Immortals) and Siam Yu

Director: Jason Lapeyre & Robert Wilson

U.S. Release: August 30th, 2013 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 94 minutes

After watching a movie such as Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson's I Declare War, it's becomes extremely easy to remember all the reasons why I love independent movies. Having journeyed around the festival circuit for well over a year now, I Declare War is anything but your "average" film. Remarkably original and blissfully imaginative, you won't believe your eyes. And you shouldn't.

The rules have been laid out and the game is simple. Twelve child acquaintances embark on an adventurous and tactical game of capture the flag. PK (played by Gage Munroe) is the undefeated leader who finds his army pitted against Quinn, his untrustworthy soldier Skinner and a band of minions. But with individual agendas and vendettas coming to light throughout the battle, which side will win the war?

I Declare War feels like a very difficult film to get made these days. Yet, I'm thrilled that it did. With no adult actors whatsoever and a child-filled vulgarity-fest, it seems like a difficult sell. But as a polar-opposite of the stereotypical big-budgeted action dreck that haunts me every summer, I Declare War is a fresh idea that proudly stands out from the rest. It's a movie that's brilliantly executed and superbly edited. There's an unbelievable amount of balance to the film. Tense yet witty. Genuine yet surreal. I Declare War delivers an ever-evolving tone that never feels out of place. It's a difficult and rare feat that filmmakers Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson perform with such ease.

While I thoroughly enjoyed enjoyed the film, I Declare War clearly isn't perfect. Its second act struggles to move the story forward and causes a sustainable lull. For boasting a running time barely north of 90 minutes, this little indie film really manages to drag on. However, some cleverly-crafted characters and a fantastically unique blend of reality verse imagination make for a constantly engaging movie experience. Outside of a few minor pacing issues and a couple weaker over-acted subplots, I Declare War represents another shining example of innovative independent filmmaking.

As an admitted harsh critic of action films, I Declare War is certainly one of the good ones. The special effects are limited and nothing is over-the-top. An original never-been-done story filled with wacky characters and an inescapable immature aura, I Declare War reminds us all just how thankful we should be for independent film.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Film: Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Starring: Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Rooney Mara (Side Effects) and Ben Foster (The Mechanic)

Director: David Lowery

U.S. Release: August 16th, 2013 (Limit Release - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 105 minutes

The Sundance Institute's Writing Lab has become one of the most instrumental stepping stones for amateur screenwriters to bring their stories to the big screen. Earlier this year we witnessed the shining example, Fruitvale Station. Well, another Sundance Institute's selection comes in the form of David Lowery's much talked about feature, Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Nontraditional and undoubtedly unique, Lowery's work has opened up many eyes within the industry.

Bob (played by Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are young lovers from Texas expecting a child and desperate for a better life. But when their aspirations turn them into outlaws, the couple finds itself in the midst of a shootout with local authorities. Bob claims responsibility for their actions and is sentenced to 25 years in jail, while Ruth plays naive and merely walks away with a slap on the wrist. As a few years pass and Ruth raises their young daughter, Bob escapes from prison with hopes of reuniting with his family.

Budding filmmaker David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints delivers profound aesthetics and very little more. Ambiguous to a fault, the feature claws its way to the finish line by offering a minimal amount of substance. Although the love story is sincere and the characters have a reasonable amount of depth to them, Ain't Them Bodies Saints would rather focus on its pristine cinematography than crafting a fluid and crowd-pleasing story. Make no mistake about it, Lowery's breakthrough film is flat out boring and uninformative. While I understand the director's intention by omitting various details, the plan ultimately backfires and fails to enhance what Lowery feels are the more important aspects of the story. Therefore, Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a polarizing feature that will be lauded by some and alienated by others.

No matter how you may feel about the movie, one thing is certain. Director David Lowery deserves to be recognized for his daring attempt at straying from the standard love story. There's something dark and ominous about their fiery relationship, and Ain't Them Bodies Saints refuses to shy away from that significant fact. However, the film generates a vibe that never wavers and, as a result, the conclusion lacks bravado. Conversely, another commendable facet of the film is its talented cast. Rooney Mara clearly gives the most impressive turn, yet Casey Affleck and Ben Foster are both exceptional as well. But despite these towering performances, Ain't Them Bodies Saints drowns in its tragic strive for artistic beauty.

David Lowery molds together a genuinely poetic feature, one that's intended to move the audience. Ironically, for as branched out as Ain't Them Bodies Saints feels on an artistic level, the film's story remains trapped inside of its shell. Breaking from the norm is always challenging. And although I praise director David Lowery for his efforts, his feature never successfully withstands the test.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Best Football Movies of All-Time

With the NFL preseason fully under way and opening kickoff in only two short weeks, I decided to dedicate my August 2013 List of the Month to the greatest football movies ever made. I'll preface by coming right out and saying that I am not a fan of the beloved football classic Rudy, so don't have an aneurysm when you see that it isn't on my list. Furthermore, many friends and individuals that I've talked to mentioned the film North Dallas Forty. Unfortunately I haven't seen the movie and that's why it's been omitted from my list. So here it is, my list of the best football movies of all-time.

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

Honorable Mention: Friday Night Lights, The Longest Yard (1974), Any Given Sunday and Necessary Roughness.

#5. The Program (1993)

We can go as far back as 1993 to David S. Ward's The Program, starring James Caan and Halle Berry, to see Hollywood addressing the dirtiness and deceit going on around college football at the major institutions. Caan is memorable as the coach of a struggling fictional school called ESU. The Program delivers accurate insight into the sport itself and stands out as an enjoyable sports film. Just another fun little fact, David S. Ward also directed the baseball comedy Major League (which made my list of the best baseball movies).

#4. Little Giants (1994)

A little bit of a goofier guilty pleasure of mine is Duwayne Dunham's Little Giants. Rick Moranis and Ed O'Neill star as feuding brothers who get a little too caught up in peewee football. There's The Icebox, her love interest Junior (played by a young Devon Sawa) and the unforgettable freak of nature Spike Hammersmith. Little Giants is a dose of some wholesome fun and the film even sports a cameo from the retired broadcaster, John Madden.

#3. Jerry Maguire (1996)

My #3 selection keeps us in the 1990s with Cameron Crowe's football drama Jerry Maguire. Tom Cruise is magnificent as a sports agent who verbalizes a late-night epiphany and ends up getting fired from work. With only one remaining client, a mediocre wide receiver talent named Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jr), Jerry tries to juggle his struggling career and a spontaneous relationship with a single mother. An Academy Award Best Picture Nominee and the film that won Cuba Gooding Jr an Oscar, Jerry Maguire is a wonderful drama that uses football as an effective backdrop.

#2. Remember the Titans (2000)

Deciding between my two finalists was an extremely difficult task. On one hand, Boaz Yakin's Remember the Titans is an emotional and often hilarious depiction of competitive high school football during the Civil Rights Movement. Denzel Washington stars as Herman Boone, the newly appointed football coach for a recently integrated school. With racial tensions dividing his team and an unjust set of circumstances immediately putting his job in jeopardy, Herman Boone unifies his players en route to an unforgettable season. Remember the Titans is a fantastic film that I love on so many different levels.

#1. Brian's Song (1971)

I'll never forget the first time a movie made my eyes tear up. It was Buzz Kulik's amazingly sincere football drama, Brian's Song. James Caan reappears on my list in the #1 spot as Brian Piccolo, a rookie running back who's forced to take the backseat to a promising young star named Gale Sayers (played by Billy Dee Williams). But after a leg injury to Sayers creates an opportunity for Piccolo to shine, the two teammates form a special bond and work together to speed up Sayers' rehab. Based on a touching true story of friendship and camaraderie, Brian's Song is a brilliant drama and an excellent football film.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler

Film: Lee Daniels' The Butler

Starring: Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) and Oprah Winfrey (Beloved)

Director: Lee Daniels (Precious)

U.S. Release: August 16th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 126 minutes

Director Lee Daniels bombarded his way onto the Hollywood scene with Best Picture and Best Directing Nominations for his eye-opening drama, Precious. While a racial tone is clearly prevalent in Daniels' work thus far, it's impossible to ignore the filmmaker's uncanny ability to craft an emotionally charged motion picture. Needless to say, I was quite anxious to screen the director's most recent offering, Lee Daniels' The Butler.

Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker) grew up on a cotton plantation in Georgia during the 1920s. More than half a century had passed since Lincoln freed the slaves, yet very little changed down south. After witnessing his father's murder at the hands of a hate-filled white man, Cecil is brought to work inside of the plantation owner's home. The young boy learns the ins and outs of proper etiquette but longs for a better life. A young Cecil flees from his plantation job and migrates to North Carolina where he meets an elderly server who takes him under his wing and teaches him even more about the craft. All of which lead to Cecil getting a job as a butler in the White House all throughout our nation's Civil Rights Movement.

If there's ever been a case of artistic license, Lee Daniels' The Butler has to be the poster child. About as loosely based on a true story as you can get (which means yeah, there was a butler), the film becomes a mockery of itself and detracts from its initial focus of opening eyes to the civil rights movement. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of civil rights centered films. Let's take The Help, for example. What makes movies of this genre so appealing are the genuine moments of acceptance and compassion. Seeing the Civil Rights Movement in a positive light where African Americans are welcomed-in by their Caucasian counterparts, that's what makes these style of films transcending. It's meant to be sincere, emotional and all-loving. However, in Lee Daniels' The Butler it's difficult to find any cross-racial compassion or other positively framed examples as to why the Civil Rights Movement worked. All in all Lee Daniels' The Butler is an overextended feature packed with too many insignificant characters and far too much fluff to give it any real credibility.

Although I felt very indifferent towards the feature, I will gladly praise the filmmaker and his cast for those rare but spectacular onscreen moments. Lee Daniels' The Butler delivers a handful of Oscar-bait scenes that ultimately make the film feel like a letdown. Because outside of those glowing moments, there isn't much soul to the film. Furthermore, there is a very talented ensemble in the picture. Whitaker is wonderful, Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding Jr are stellar, and even Oprah offers a fine performance. Moreover, Liev Schreiber may steal the show in his small but crowd-pleasing role as President Lyndon Johnson. But despite a fine cast and a few brilliant scenes, Lee Daniels' The Butler is an off-the-mark and unbalanced film.

After all of the hoopla financier Harvey Weinstein went through to keep its name, many prognosticators had Oscar-level expectations for the film. Instead we're left with a run of the mill Civil Rights piece that solely focuses on the hatred and bigotry that plagued this great nation for far too long. There aren't many redeeming qualities here, so I suggest passing on Lee Daniels' The Butler.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Muppets Most Wanted and A.C.O.D. Trailers

We were all grateful for Jason Segel's revival of the Muppets in 2011. Now, we can only hope that Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell are as effective as Segel since the sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, is slated for a Spring 2014 release. With a released synopsis describing the gang on a world tour that entangles them in a European jewel-heist, check out the first official teaser trailer for Muppets Most Wanted by clicking below.

A.C.O.D. was another indie comedy that premiered at Sundance back in January. On its way to a general release at the turn of the year, the film follows a grown man (played by Adam Scott) who is still caught in the crossfire of his parent's divorce fifteen years after the fact. Also starring Jessica Alba, Jane Lynch, Amy Poehler, Richard Jennings and many more, check out the trailer for A.C.O.D. by clicking below.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Film: Jobs

Starring: Ashton Kutcher (No Strings Attached) and Josh Gad (The Internship)

Director: Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote)

U.S. Release: August 16th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 127 minutes

Steve Jobs was, without question, one of the greatest innovative minds to bridge the millennium. But before he was creating the iPod and other fun little gadgets that we enjoy using on a daily basis, Jobs helped change the world by helping bring personal computers to homes all across the globe. Now, less than two years after the passing of the late-great technological icon, Hollywood brings his story to life in the new biopic, Jobs.

Ashton Kutcher stars as Apple founder, Steve Jobs, who goes from college dropout to billionaire. But as you'd expect, no billion-dollar journey leaves a clean trail. Jobs finds himself tangled in a morally-corrupted web of lies and betrayal. And with obstacles at every turn, the innovative thinker will stop at nothing to change the mindset of the world.

Although there are many to choose from, the biggest issue with Joshua Michael Stern's recent work, Jobs, is the directors inability to generate a tone. You can have the greatest actors in the world and the most interesting story imaginable, but without purpose and direction, you'll never have a great movie. Throughout all of the cliche moments and ironically uninspiring motivational-speeches, Jobs fails to find itself. And that isn't to say that a historically mediocre-at-best Ashton Kutcher didn't pour his heart and soul into this role, because it's obvious that he did. It's just that this overly-long and abundantly-bland feature is uncertain on all levels. The film never sets a path of course because Stern appears undecided on whether to vilify his subject matter or honor him. Ultimately, the director attempts to do both and the final result is an insincere and uneven ride.

Jobs is certainly a missed opportunity, but one that doesn't necessarily rest on the shoulders of its predominantly B-List cast. Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad are most notable as Jobs and his Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak. Their friendship stands as one of the most interesting relationships examined in the film. As portrayed on screen, Steve Jobs was the vision behind Apple, while Wozniak was the hands-on computer-developer who turned those visions into reality. But outside of those commendable lead performances, Jobs makes the mistake of openly criticizes its subject and showing him as an egotistical and pompous jerk. By taking such an appropriate, it makes humanizing Jobs and rejoicing in his return to glory a difficult sell. One that filmmaker Joshua Michael Stern never quite accomplishes.

Jobs carries a bloated running time north of two hours and only a few interesting plot lines. Many of the film's intriguing angles and stories are left dangling and never elaborated on, making this biopic a frustrating watch. As the old saying goes, "there are plenty of fish in the sea". I'd swim somewhere else.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

DVD Outlook: August 2013

Although July included my favorite film of the year so far, August offers a much stronger selection of DVD and Video-On-Demand rentals. With a wide array of choices spanning all different types of genres, let's take a closer look at what August is offering.

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

I was first introduced to the great young American filmmaker, Jeff Nichols, with his 2011 under-recognized work, Take Shelter. And although Nichols' most recent effort is a small step down from the aforementioned, Mud is still strong enough to have a strange-hold over my #2 spot on the top films of 2013. The film follows two teenage friends who try to restore an old boat only to find that it's being inhabited by a fugitive named Mud (played by Matthew McConaughey). The escaped criminal convinces the boys to help him fix up the boat so that he can run away with his one true love. Mud is a gripping coming-of-age tale that only suffers from a bloated running time. Otherwise, it's an exceptional piece of modern American filmmaking. (AUGUST 6TH)

The Sapphires - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

One of the funnest movie experiences of 2013 comes in the form of the unlikely indie hit, The Sapphires. Chris O'Dowd, who's most memorable for his turns in Bridesmaids and Pirate Radio, absolutely steals the show as the manager of an aboriginal group from Australia who travel to Vietnam to perform for U.S. soldiers in the late 1960s. Soulful, moving and downright hilarious, The Sapphires tells an uplifting true story about a family of outcasts who starve for something more out of life. The music is wonderful and the movie's even better. The Sapphires is one indie comedy definitely worth checking out. (AUGUST 6TH)

The Great Gatsby - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

A very long time in the making, May finally marked the release of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character. While Luhrmann's rendition of the often-told F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is certainly flawed, Leo and company truly bring the extravagant nature of the book to life. The feature centers around a former soldier named Jay Gatsby who comes into a great fortune and moves across the bay from his former and now-married love interest, Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan). Can Gatsby will her away from her struggling marriage and reclaim past desire, or will Daisy flatly surrender to her adulterous husband Tom Buchanan (played by Joel Edgerton)? If you're familiar with the story, then you already know. But either way, Luhrmann's vision is one to be savored all on its own. (AUGUST 27TH)

Honorable Mention: There are quite a few other options that you may want to consider taking a chance with this month. First and foremost, there's the Acadamy Award Best Picture Nominee Amour. The foreign film is an extremely slow-paced, yet eye-opening, look into the inevitable truths around growing old with a loved one. Next, there's the ambitious drama The Place Beyond the Pines. While I thoroughly enjoyed the undeniable over-extended feature, there's certainly a fair share of pros and cons to the film. Finally, there's the new Tom Cruise sci-fi adventure Oblivion that had many audiences buzzing. Despite having not seen the film myself, I've heard a decent amount of positive feedback regarding the feature. It may be worth looking into if you enjoy the genre.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Film: Elysium

Starring: Matt Damon (Contagion), Jodie Foster (Carnage), Sharlto Copley (District 9)

Director: Neill Blomkamp (District 9)

U.S. Release: August 9th, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 109 minutes

It's widely accepted that 2009 was a "down year" for movies. However, one remarkably surprising diamond in the rough came from a then first-time director, Neill Blomkamp. Blomkamp's debut feature, District 9, fused together riveting sci-fi and action with dramatic elements concerning social warfare. Blomkamp dazzled audiences and delivered one of the year's biggest highlights. In 2013, the director returns with his followup blockbuster, Elysium. Being of a similar mold as its predecessor, Elysium marks a dissatisfying regression for the young filmmaker.

In 2154 Earth has become so overpopulated that the rich and privileged have abandoned their former planet and moved to a high-class and luxurious man-made space station called Elysium. Free of crime and disease, Elysium is merely a dream for the downtrodden and lowly citizens of Earth such as Max Da Costa (played by Matt Damon). But when a terrible accident leaves Da Costa with only five days to live, he'll stop at nothing to venture to the forbidden space station and rid his body of the deadly effects.

Four years in the making, it's shameful to find that Neill Blomkamp's Elysium is merely a hollow shell that attempts to recapture the poetic beauty of the director's first feature, but misses entirely. Everything about Blomkamp's sophomore effort holds tightly to District 9. The look, the feel and even the great social divide. In fact, committed performances from A-List stars such as Matt Damon and Jodie Foster still fail to keep Elysium afloat. Where District 9 felt realistic and believable, the director's new release feels overblown and tacky. In addition to its mildly compelling story, Elysium suffers from a complete action overdose. Trading crafty dialogue and genuine drama for gunfire and more gunfire, this summer blockbuster culminates as nothing more than a cheap imitation of Blomkamp's earlier work.

If there's any noteworthy silver lining in Elysium, it comes in the form of Sharlto Copley's unforgettable villainous role. Copley, who starred as the meek main man Wikus in District 9, gives a transcending 180-degree turn as one of the film's prominent antagonists, Kruger. The truly talented actor demonstrates his immense versatility and ultimately steals the show. But outside of Copley, Elysium is otherwise filled with mediocrity and countless disappointing aspects. Everything from a thoughtless and far-fetched story (only ONE person has access to the computer coding that controls ALL of the law enforcement robots ... seriously?) to an unoriginal mood and tone. Instead of breaking out from the norm like he did with his debut effort, Blomkamp lazily attempts to draw from his own work and the lack of creativity proves vital.

For as groundbreaking as District 9 managed to be, I was completely let down by the director's latest feature. Infused with an abundance of action and mind-numbing special effects, Elysium offers nothing more than a bland and mediocre movie experience. While those elements can sometimes make for a crowd-pleaser that many will enjoy, I'd rather get lost in a thought-provoking story with a unique vibe. Unfortunately, Elysium delivers none of the above.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Monuments Men and Thor: The Dark World Trailers

One of this year's expected Best Picture contenders has finally released an official trailer. George Clooney directs and stars in The Monuments Men, the real life story about a group of art historians and museum curators who band together to recover pieces of art from the Nazi's during World War II. Also starring Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett, check out the first trailer for The Monuments Men below.

Spike Jonze returns as the writer/director of the November release, simply titled, Her. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore, a lonely writer who begins an awkward relationship with his new, hi-tech operating system, a female artificial intelligence named Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson). Captivating to say the least, check out the trailer for Her by clicking below.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Film: Blue Jasmine

Starring: Cate Blanchett (Hanna), Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham) and Bobby Cannavale (Win Win)

Director: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)

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

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 98 minutes

After the ballooned success from writer/director Woody Allen's imaginative indie comedy, Midnight in Paris, the legend of Hollywood continues to please audiences in the twilight of his career with Blue Jasmine. Allen's latest release not only marks the theatrical return of Andrew Dice Clay, it also has the writer/director matching talents with Academy Award Winner Cate Blanchett. With all of its parts perfectly in place, Blue Jasmine is another winning effort filmed in typical Woody Allen fashion.

Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine, an over-the-top socialite who is forced to move in with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in the wake of her crumbling marriage to a crooked financial investor (Alec Baldwin). Completely self-obsessed and undeniably shallow, Jasmine can't seem to escape the trail of destruction that follows her into the next phase of her life.

Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine deserves to be both lauded and bashed for a multitude of interconnected reasons. While scratching and clawing your way through the film's sluggish 98 minute running time, you can't help but revel in the onscreen brilliance of Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett. It's extremely challenging to center a movie around such a despicable and unlikable character, however, the skilled actress delivers a seemingly effortless performance. Blanchett's onscreen work definitely stands out as one of the finest Lead Actress performances that I've seen all year. So impressive, in fact, that even with highly anticipated roles such as Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) and Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman) patiently waiting to make an awards-season strike, I still wouldn't count her out of Oscar contention just yet. In addition to Blanchett, Allen maximizes the talent from his cast by sculpting secondary characters that demonstrate an enormous amount of depth. Extraordinary turns from Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay simply reinforce the fact that Blue Jasmine is a superbly acted feature.

For as wonderful as its cast is, Blue Jasmine struggles to achieve in many other areas. For example, the film's cyclic approach and repetitive nature help generate an interesting thought ... not much really happens in the movie. We're given a completely inexplicable title character who constantly drowns in her own self pity. She tells the same stories, lives by the same mantra and expects her life to change somehow. It's an irritating facet that's hard to ignore and even more difficult to overcome. In many ways I found solace in Allen's work by convincing myself that Jasmine is simply the glue that ties together a collection of more engaging sub-stories concerning its secondary characters. Although Jasmine may never learn from her mistakes, perhaps those affected by her nonsense can improve for the better. Thanks to Allen's universe of notable supporting characters, Blue Jasmine conquers its faults and makes for a worthwhile feature.

I've always enjoyed the carefully calculated blend of drama and comedy that's prevalent in any Woody Allen film. The writer/director has his own style of telling what often feels like a fable, and Blue Jasmine is no exception. Allen's latest effort has heart and meaning, even if you have to jump over some hurdles to get there. If you've found yourself enjoying other Woody Allen films of the past, then it's worth it to take a chance on Blue Jasmine.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hollywood Headlines 8/6/13

Nothing too grand has been circulating around Hollywood this week other than the first theatrical trailer releases for notable Oscar Contenders like 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, The Counselor and American Hustle.

In other news, it appears that Tom Cruise and Jack Reacher director, Christopher McQuarrie, will be teaming up once again in the 5th installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise. McQuarrie took to the twitter-sphere to confirm the reports by saying "Mission: Accepted". Mission: Impossible 5 is expected to reach theatres some time in 2015.

Something rare happened this week, actor Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have lashed out at critics and are almost screaming conspiracy. Depp and Bruckheimer formally accuse some critics of having their reviews written for the summer flop, The Lone Ranger, seven to eight months before the film's theatrical release. Depp's co-star, Armie Hammer, echoed their statements and blamed harsh critical reviews on Disney's anticipated $150 million loss.

After initial reports a few weeks ago that confirmed the Man of Steel sequel will, in fact, be a Superman vs Batman movie, rumors have been swirling over who will take the reins from previous caped crusader, Christian Bale. Early indicators claim that Warner Bros. "really likes" actor Josh Brolin for the part. Other names being thrown into the mix are Brolin's Gangster Squad co-star, Ryan Gosling (although he's the longest of long-shots) and Matthew Goode. It's interesting to note that the project's director, Zack Snyder, also worked with Goode on the superhero flick Watchmen.

I've grown to have a soft spot for the lovable comedy-actor Josh Gad. As it turns out, Gad has been lined up to star as the late-great comedian Sam Kinison in the upcoming film about the comedy legend. With Borat director Larry Charles at the helm, many insiders think it could be a perfect collaboration for everyone involved. I always loved Sam Kinison's vulgar and enthusiastic History Professor role in the Rodney Dangerfield comedy, Back to School.

In recent years, Sam Rockwell has skyrocketed up my personal list of favorite actors with memorable turns in films like Moon, Conviction, Seven Psychopaths and The Way Way Back. The versatile performer has proved he can handle just about anything, so why not tackle horror? Although it's still early in the process, Rockwell has been linked to the MGM and Fox 2000 reboot of Poltergeist. With Rosemarie Dewitt (Insidious & Bridesmaids) already attached to the project, it could make for an interesting twist in Rockwell's under-appreciated career.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lone Survivor and All Is Lost Trailers

Director Peter Berg has won audiences over with films like Friday Night Lights, Hancock and The Kingdom. Next year he returns with the war drama Lone Survivor starring Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Ludwig as four members of SEAL Team 10 who were tasked with the failed mission to kill a Taliban leader. Infusing heavy doses of drama, action and camaraderie, Berg's latest effort looks to make an early-year impact in 2014. Check out the trailer for the real life story, Lone Survivor, by clicking below.

J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in May to extremely positive reviews. The films stars the legendary Robert Redford as a resourceful sailor who finds his vessel colliding with a shipping container in the middle of the ocean. The sailor must struggle to survive being completely alone and lost at sea. Described as a tense adventure drama, check out the trailer for the October release, All Is Lost, by clicking below.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Only God Forgives

Film: Only God Forgives

Starring: Ryan Gosling (Drive), Kristin Scott Thomas (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) and Vithaya Pansringarm

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)

U.S. Release: July 19th, 2013 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 89 minutes

Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn watched his career skyrocket after the critical success of his 2011 breakout film, Drive. While a small niche of fans have always been familiar with his unique style that's present in earlier works such as the Pusher trilogy, Valhalla Rising and Bronson, Refn's brand was placed front and center of the general public after his Best Director crown at the Cannes Film Festival. But love him or hate him, the filmmaker returns with another highly controversial and immensely polarizing piece of cinema in his latest work, Only God Forgives.

Julian (played by Ryan Gosling) and Billy are American-born drug-smuggling siblings living in the criminal underworld of Bangkok. But when Billy is brutally murdered through the oversight of a local police officer, their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in town and demands that Julian seek vengeance for the death of his older brother.

Writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives is a perverse and depraved feature, one that alienates a large portion of any viewing audience. But despite the film's ultra-violent approach and despicably uncomfortable sexual undertones, the Danish filmmaker's most recent effort is both stylish and compelling. For all of its brutality and uncontrollable downward spiraling, Only God Forgives is exactly like the accident that unfolds before your eyes, but you can't look away. There's something dark and animalistic deep within humanity and Refn not only tries to capture that essence, he actually savors it. I applaud the director's keen sense of wonder and the reckless ambition that drives him to make such a gritty and daring film. Because without filmmakers pushing the envelope and crossing boundaries, we're left with nothing but summer blockbusters and mundane stories. If not for any other reason, Nicolas Winding Refn deserves a gratuitous amount of respect.

Truth be told, Only God Forgives is messy feature with a slew of shortcomings. For anyone who felt that Drive was too sluggish of a film with minimal dialogue and drawn-out sequences, Refn's newest release takes those aspects to a whole other level. Doing so merely for dramatic effect, the end result is a poorly paced and unfulfilled viewing experience. Rather than dialing up the adrenaline and keeping the movie up-tempo, Refn resorts to long sustained shots that force Only God Forgives to unwind at a crawling pace. And while I'm usually not the type of person to harp on about excessive violence, Winding leaves nothing to the imagination with his show-all approach. Clearly the type of film meant for a select audience, Only God Forgives is certainly an acquired taste.

Highly regarded stars Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas find themselves in the forefront of Nicolas Winding Refn's latest piece of work. Although many will question their decisions to jump on board this revenge-filled tale of murder and sexual deviance, it's these gifted performers who truly make Refn's unconventional story come to life. While I emphatically suggest staying away from this film for a multitude of reasons, any avid fan of Refn's previous stylish work may find a silver lining just like I did. But only if you can stomach it.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-