Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2013 Philadelphia Film Festival Recap



As the calendar prepares its turn to November, we remember the 11 days of cinematic glory that took the city of Philadelphia by storm. in its 22nd year of operation, the Philadelphia Film Festival comprised of many Oscar-bound pictures along with hordes of world-renowned documentaries, foreign films and debut features. Here's a look back at the "best of" selections that I had the pleasure of viewing during the long-winded affair.


BEST PICTURE


Sometimes it's the surprising ones that get you the most. This year's Best Picture at the Philadelphia Film Festival was the delightful and sentimental treat, About Time, from director Richard Curtis (Love Actually and Pirate Radio). While the feature is a far cry from some of the Oscar juggernauts playing throughout the event, About Time transcends well beyond the stereotypical "rom-com" and serves as an eye-opening expedition into the lives we lead. Touching, sincere and downright hysterical, Curtis' latest project is one of the most enjoyable films of the year.



BEST DIRECTOR


The Best Director category was the most difficult for me to choose between. On one hand, I was enamored with J.C. Chandor's amazing efforts for his survival tale, All Is Lost, but Steve McQueen's visceral and gut-wrenching vision manufactured one of the year's finest true-stories. 12 Years a Slave is imperfect and certainly rough around the edges, but McQueen assists greatly in bringing Solomon Northup's harrowing tale to life. 

Runner-Ups In Order: J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), John Wells (August Osage County), Tommy Oliver (1982)


Best Actor


Robert Redford re-invents himself in the role of a lifetime. As the only credited actor in a film that boasts almost zero dialogue but an astonishing amount of action and intensity, Redford immediately lands in the forefront of the Best Actor race for this year's awards season. It could be the Academy's way on tying a perfect little bow on the tail end of a legendary career.

Runner-Ups In Order: Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Hill Harper (1982) and Joaquin Phoenix (The Immigrant)


Best Actress


The 22nd annual Philadelphia Film Festival proved to be a haven for many older legends of Hollywood. Robert Redford and Bruce Dern weren't the only old-timers to make a splash as this year's festival, the Best Actress winner comes from none other than Meryl Streep. As the melodramatic matriarch of the Weston family in the stage-play-turned-movie August: Osage County, Streep keeps her ever-extending streak of outstanding performances. 

Runner-Ups In Order: Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant), Judi Dench (Philomena), Kate Winslet (Labor Day) and Lindsay Duncan (Le Week-End)


Best Supporting Actor


When it comes to Michael Fassbender's diabolical supporting turn in this year's Best Picture contender, 12 Years a Slave, all I can say is, "What a performance!" Snubbed for his last great role in Steve McQueen's previous release, Shame, Fassbender should expect completely different results this time around. A towering and film-altering performance such as this can't be ignored, clearly making him a big-time player in this year's awards season.

Runner-Ups In Order: Bill Nighy (About Time), Will Forte (Nebraska), Josh Brolin (Labor Day) and Steve Coogan (Philomena)


Best Supporting Actor


Once again a lifelong actress puts her expertise on display as June Squibb completely steals the show in Alexander Payne's newest feature, Nebraska. Squibb never offers a dull moment and hits the mark on every perfectly-timed one-liner she so brilliantly spouts. Her performance is impressionable and stays with you long after the credits roll. I can only hope that the voting Academy Members feel the same way as I do.

Runner-Ups In Order: Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), Margo Martindale (August: Osage County) and Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave)


*** Stay tuned for an expansive review on Jason Reitman's Christmas Day release, Labor Day.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

About Time




Film: About Time

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina), Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris) and Bill Nighy (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

Director: Richard Curtis (Love Actually)

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

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 123 minutes


Nobody quite exemplifies that "British Charm" like filmmaker Richard Curtis. But before Curtis stepped behind the camera to direct popular films such as Love Actually and Pirate Radio, he began as a renowned screenwriter more than 20 years ago. His lifelong journey has brought him to his third major motion picture, one that propels Curtis' work to groundbreaking heights. Molding together dramatic heart-filled and heart-breaking elements with an appealing comedic allure, Curtis' newest feature, About Time, is one of the year's finest delights.

After his 21st birthday Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is confronted by his father (Bill Nighy) and informed of a long-time family secret, he can time travel. But rather than using his unique ability for power or wealth, Tim makes his special gift all about love. He packs up his things and moves from the Cornwall coast to London where he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) and they fall madly in love. However, as time moves along Tim discovers that no matter how rare his gift is, there are things in life even he can't control.




What begins as a quest for love, About Time transforms from an endearing romantic comedy into a sincere and earnest tale about the realities of life. Director Richard Curtis hits the nail on the head and serves up a whimsical story built around fabulous characters thanks to a brilliant collaborative effort from the film's cast. The onscreen chemistry between Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams sets the table for a whirlwind of emotions, most of which come at the hands of the always amazing Bill Nighy. His supporting turn is the heart and soul of the feature, and one that humanizes a far-fetched and surreal notion such as time travel. Through all the ups and downs, the hurdles and obstacles, About Time reminds us that the adventure of living everyday life is the greatest form of time travel there is.




Although Richard Curtis' wonderful new feature is a tremendous success, many will attempt to thwart its greatest of intentions. Clearly tugging at the heart strings with an outpouring of sentiment, About Time doesn't try to mask its purpose. Rather, the film embraces its emotion and strives to view life in a more vibrant light. Furthermore, the feature walks a very delicate line by using the sci-fi notion of time travel as a backdrop. In doing so, Curtis and company conjure up some clever ideas, yet flaws in their logic are certainly evident. But all in all the feel-good nature surrounding About Time circumvents these bumps in the road, carefully illustrating that Curtis' sentimental approach is all the more worthwhile.

Don't be fooled, About Time exceeds far beyond the "romantic comedy" label. Mirroring our own lives in so many ways, the feature continually grows and expands into something much larger and abundantly greater. And while Curtis' latest effort delivers effective dramatics, you can't take the comedic aspects for granted. The jokes are non-stop and the laughs are plentiful, making About Time a witty and moving film. One that I strongly recommend for all types of audiences to enjoy.


Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4.

Grade: A-

Saturday, October 26, 2013

August: Osage County



Film: August: Osage County

Starring: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Julia Roberts (Eat Pray Love)

Director: John Wells (The Company Men)

U.S. Release: December 25th, 2013 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 130 minutes


*** Guest Review Courtesy of Greg Rouleau (Reel True)


“Let’s call the dinosaurs ‘Native Americans’ while we’re at it” quips a bumbling, prescription drug-fueled, Violet Weston during an early scene in August: Osage County.  A delicate topic that is revisited and regurgitated amongst the Weston family, along with a plethora of touchy subjects including extramarital affair, drug-smuggling, and carnivorous eating habits.  Violet, played ever so dutifully by the wondrous Meryl Streep, is at the center of most of these debates.  She’s without a doubt the anchor of this ensemble.

In the opening scene, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) is interviewing a young Native American girl, Johnna, in a thankless role by Misty Upham, for a caregiver position.  He informs her that his wife, recently diagnosed with cancer, has “gotten in the way of his drinking”.  Violet then stumbles in, revealing a decaying, chain-smoking, pill-popping shadow of a woman, and a strong contempt for Bev.  Shepard is having a solid 2013.  Earlier in the year he played a pivotal role in Mud, and has another supporting role in the yet to be released, but promising Out of the Furnace.  Here, his screentime is limited, as he meets his demise in the first 15 minutes. (This is no spoiler, as anyone that is familiar with the play, or has seen the trailer is clearly informed of.) But his impact is felt throughout, and his death is the catalyst for the story. 




The film is based on the play of the same name, and written for the stage and screen by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Tracy Letts and directed by TV mainstay, John Wells.  Wells seems to take a cue from last years Lincoln (also written by playwright Tony Kushner), where Steven Spielberg didn’t let the direction overshadow the players.  This is very much an actors film, and many scenes unfold just like a play.  The dialogue, sharp and snappy, rarely ever lets up throughout the nearly 130-minute running time.

While Streep has the broadest role in a film full of showy characters, Julia Roberts is equally as strong as Barbara in a much more internalized performance.  Both Meryl and Julia will likely receive some awards recognition at the end of the year.  Roberts turns away her husband’s (Ewan McGregor) attempts at affection and elicits much apprehension upon a return to see her estranged mother.  The two have lost control of their daughter, an adolescent Abigail Breslin.  But there’s something deeper churning away at Barb. 




The omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch has little to do in limited screentime other than pout his way through a few scenes.  He has a nice moment, however, where he serenades Julianne Nicholson’s character, Ivy, in one of the film’s more touching scenes.  On the lighter side of the things, his parents played by Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale, as the effervescent Mattie Fae, provide us with some of the most comical scenes.  It’s a joy to watch these two together.  Almost everyone in the ensemble has a chance to shine in at least one scene.  The story builds to a nearly 15-minute dinner table scene at the climax of the film, where some twists and turns are abound. 

The final moments of the film sort of limp to the finish line and the ending lacks some emotional weight.  While wishing for another scene with the rest of the family, but perhaps as it should be, we’re left focusing on Streep and Roberts’ characters.  George Clooney and Grant Heslov, the producing duo behind last year’s Best Picture winner Argo, teamed up with the Oscar machine himself, Harvey Weinstein, to bring Osage to the screen.  It’s not the best film of the year, but it’s certainly a nice effort all around.


Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Nebraska




Film: Nebraska

Starring: Bruce Dern (Monster), Will Forte (MacGruber) and June Squibb (About Schmidt)

Director: Alexander Payne (The Descendants)

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

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 110 minutes


In his still rather young career, acclaimed director Alexander Payne has almost become an "automatic" with voting Academy Members. Having earned a pair of Oscars, both in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for his two most recent works (The Descendants and Sideways), Payne's often characterized deadpan humor always manages to glaze over a tender and dramatic story. Apparently it's a recipe for success, and one that the filmmaker carries over with his newest addition, Nebraska.

Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant, a confused and muddled old man (thanks to many years of aggressive drinking) who believes he's the winner of a million-dollar sweepstakes. While Woody's wife (played by June Squibb) and eldest son (Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk) continually tell him it's nothing but a scam, his youngest son David (Will Forte) decides to humor his father. Together they embark on a sentimental road trip from Montana to Nebraska to redeem the prize money.




You can expect the norm from Alexander Payne's latest feature as he sticks to a similar formula and crafts another worthy achievement. Nebraska offers top-notch performances and a healthy surplus of laughs. While Bruce Dern was the toast-of-the-town during his Best Actor win at the Cannes Festival as the binge-drinking patriarch of the Grant family, none shine brighter than his onscreen significant other, June Squibb. Her comedic ability and perfectly-timed humor fuse together and generate one of the year's finest supporting roles. And in a surprisingly fresh turn, comedian and Saturday Night Live star, Will Forte, shows a spectacular amount of range. Forte's transition from comedy to drama goes without a hitch, as it's safe to assume he's officially paved the way for a prolonged and expansive career. Alongside a compilation of satisfying performances, the beautifully shot black and white film echoes a modern-day Depression Era vibe that gives Nebraska the heart and soul it needs.




Although Payne's career path has been an irrefutable success, the recognized filmmaker still hasn't elevated his level of work. Payne's resume is flooded with solid features that most directors could only dream of matching, yet Nebraska feels almost no better or no worse than the rest of his films. While the movie is intended to be a heartwarming and dainty tale, Nebraska flourishes more as a comedy than a drama. The laughs are plentiful and the charm is exquisite, but Payne's examination of the Grant family dynamic is far less impressionable.

Nebraska is a pleasant viewing experience that succeeds in the moment, but whisks away from your memory soon after the credits role. June Squibb's Oscar-bound performance is one of the film's few long-lasting aspects. While Nebraska is a far cry from the Best Picture Winner that we all wish to see in Payne's near future, it's a gratifying expedition to say the least.


Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Sunday, October 20, 2013

12 Years a Slave




Film: 12 Years a Slave

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster), Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) and Lupita Nyong'o

Director: Steve McQueen (Shame)

U.S. Release: October 18th, 2013 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 133 minutes


It always begins around this time of year. Prognosticators and hardcore fans of cinema make their initial claims for the upcoming awards season. And in 2013, many are pitting Alfonso CuarĂ³n's epic sci-fi adventure, Gravity, verse Steve McQueen's candid period piece, 12 Years a Slave. When broken down, it's a tantalizing match-up that could very well survive the annual December barrage of Oscar-bait films. Although it's only October and there's still a long road ahead, one fact remains assured. Be prepared to hear all of the clamoring and outpouring of love for 12 Years a Slave and its entire collection of cast members.

Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man living with his wife and children in Saratoga, New York prior to the Civil War. As an accomplished violinist and fan of the arts, two men arrive in Saratoga and offer Solomon a chance to earn a lofty amount of supplemental income playing music with their traveling circus for the next two weeks. Unable to refuse such a gracious offer, Solomon kindly accepts and begins his travels with the pair of gentleman. When they finally reach Washington D.C., Solomon is drugged by his associates and sold into slavery under the false name of Mr. Platt.




It's impossible to turn a blind eye to the cruel and inhumane history of slavery in the United States. Director Steve McQueen refuses to do so and addresses the harsh realities of that time period in his gripping new drama, 12 Years a Slave. The true life story of Solomon Northup is both horrific and astonishing, much like McQueen's film. Similar to the southern servants and field workers prior to the Civil War, 12 Years a Slave gives you no choice in the matter ... you're hooked. With a deep emotional attachment to Solomon's character, thanks in large part to an almost guaranteed Oscar-style performance from leading star Chiwetel Ejiofor, the feature embarks on a difficult, but necessary, journey. For as mesmerizing as Ejiofor is in his leading role, Michael Fassbender, a McQueen-regular, occasionally overshadows him with a devilish supporting turn. It rings eerily similar to Mo'Nique's Academy Award Winning effort in Lee Daniel's Precious. And while this is a proper platform to rave on and on about the onscreen brilliance from McQueen's entire cast, failing to mention the phenomenal debut work of supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o would be a huge injustice. In addition to the director's admirable ability to evoke these towering performances from his stars, Steve McQueen's vision is grandiose and executed favorably. 




Despite the overwhelming number of successful aspects surrounding 12 Years a Slave, there are a few obvious detractors. For starters, the film suffers from what I like to call "Schindler's List Disorder". Now, I'd have to be outside of my mind to discredit Steven Spielberg's timeless classic, and almost the same thought applies to this contemporary reflection. However, filmmakers ultimately desensitize the audience when they continually depict scenes of brutality. The first time it's shocking. The second time it's still appalling. The 13th time it's just flat-out excessive. But to combat my own criticism, I will laud McQueen for shying away from being overly graphic with the savage nature of slavery until the third act when it becomes completely necessary. Any run-of-the-mill director could rely on a simplistic approach of showing torturous moment after torturous moment, and McQueen recognizes this. Instead, he brushes past many of the barbaric realities of slavery using them only as a complement to Solomon's unforgettable tale. 

There are all different kinds of films. Some are intended to make you laugh, others to strictly entertain. Then, there are the movies meant to arouse deep-rooted emotion. This film is a prime example. While 12 Years a Slave is a worthwhile and spellbinding endeavor, it isn't a film intended for everyone. Yet, any fan of colossal performances, distinguished direction and compelling dramatics will find plenty to love. 


Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4.

Grade: B+

Saturday, October 19, 2013

All Is Lost




Film: All Is Lost

Starring: Robert Redford (All the President's Men)

Director: J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)

U.S. Release: October 18th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 106 minutes


Academy Award Winner Robert Redford is a legendary icon with over a half century in the film industry. The actor/director has truly mastered the art of cinema. In 2013, during the twilight of his career, Redford returns with another Oscar-level performance in J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost. With last year's release, Life of Pi, receiving a copious number of nominations throughout the awards season extravaganza, an alone-at-sea survival tale feels all too familiar. However, using merely a fraction of Ang Lee's Oscar-Winning budget (an estimated $9 million vs $120 million), Redford and Chandor combine to deliver a superior survival-film adventure.

In the midst of an independent journey through the Indian Ocean, a man (Redford) is awoken by the onslaught of water in the cabin of his sail boat. He quickly investigates the issue only to discover that his vessel has struck a huge metal shipping container floating aimlessly in the sea. The surging water has destroyed his radio equipment and, therefore, the lone resourceful sailor is forced to survive trying ordeals as he faces his own mortality.




Being the forefather of the Sundance Film Festival and an advocate of insightful small-budget independent cinema, it's only fitting that Robert Redford's acting career returns to insurmountable heights on the backbone of a feature such as this. J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost is a heart-pounding and agonizing adventure into the human spirit's will to survive. With almost as little dialogue as recent Best Picture Winner and "silent film" The Artist, there's a great bit of irony in describing Chandor's transcending work as action-packed. Yet, Redford's one-man show (he's the only actor in the movie) and speechless approach somehow elevate the picture's situational intensity. Crafted by what the director has admitted was only a 31-page script, All Is Lost is a straightforward and forthright example of exceptional artistry.




For all of its intensity and dramatics, Redford's latest film offers a meager amount of entertainment value. A far cry from the typical big studio release, All Is Lost requires a level of cerebral devotion and emotional investment. Both of which build a formidable foundation for the movie to prosper. Although the feature boasts an indisputable appeal to the more human elements of life, All Is Lost is by no means a viewing pleasure for all occasions. However, if the mood is suitable and understood, J.C. Chandor's sophomore effort is an emotionally undulating ride.

The "survival tale" has become a recent norm throughout Hollywood. As the box-office smash Gravity, which is mesmerizing in its own right, is sure to attract audiences throughout the world with flashy special effects and a pair of  mega-stars in its leading roles, it's easy to overlook a superb film such as All Is Lost. Robert Redford's gritty Oscar-caliber performance and J.C. Chandor's direction are both stellar and worthy of recognition. My only hope is that the rest of the world will take notice.


Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Counselor (NEW) and That Awkward Moment (Red Band) Trailers

Ridley Scott looks to bring the intensity with his 2013 crime-thriller The Counselor. Michael Fassbender stars as a lawyer who gets involved in a "one-time only" multi-million dollar drug deal that ends up going terribly wrong. With the always impressive Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz co-starring alongside Fassbender, you won't want to miss the newest trailer for The Counselor.





After gaining a ton of notoriety with their 2013 Sundance Film Festival hits, Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) have officially joined Zac Efron's rank of elite-status. The trio star together in the 2014 comedy, That Awkward Moment. Three best friends decide to make a pact to live the single life together, but struggle to hold up their end of the bargain when they meet some interesting women and sparks begin to fly. The R-rated romantic comedy has officially released a RED BAND trailer, so enjoy it with a "cock-tail".




Monday, October 14, 2013

Philadelphia Film Festival Preview



There's plenty of reasons why I always argue that October is my favorite month of the year. First, there's the weather. The beautiful sunny days followed by chilly nights, I spend the Summer months just craving Fall's immaculate forecast. Next, October boasts my favorite holiday, Halloween. With all the horror movies and delicious candy floating around to keep us occupied, there's plenty to love about the tenth month of the year. But none of these irrefutable arguments can compare to my biggest reason why October is the best. It's the host month of the annual Philadelphia Film Festival. In its 22nd year, I decided to devote October's Movie-List of the Month to this year's 5 most anticipated film festival screenings. The Philadelphia Film Festival, which runs from October 17th to 27th, is the best way to get an early look at many of the biggest Oscar-contenders.

*** Click here for September's Movie-List of the Month


Honorable Mention: Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in Philomena, then there's Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner who star in The Immigrant, Le Week-End featuring Jeff Goldblum, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan and finally the thriller Grand Piano starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack.


#5. Labor Day 


Director Jason Reitman developed quite the fan base among voting members of the Academy with earlier works Juno and Up in the Air. While his previous release, Young Adult, failed to garner a nomination, the jury is still out on Reitman's latest effort, Labor Day. Kate Winslet stars as a depressed single mother who won't even venture outside of the house. But when she gathers up the courage to take a routine trip to the grocery store, she and her son end up helping out a fugitive on the run (Josh Brolin). 




Whenever you mention Meryl Streep's name, you have to assume that the Academy is listening. This year Streep stars as a recently widowed matriarch who takes center stage after a crisis brings her entire dysfunctional family back together. Co-starring Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch and many more, August: Osage County undeniably has dreams of awards season glory.




Opening Night of the Philadelphia Film Festival marks the triumphant and talked about return of Robert Redford in the survival tale All Is Lost. In the twilight of his career, Redford is in the early Best Actor conversation with his turn as a sailor who faces mortality after his boat collides into a shipping container floating aimlessly in the sea. 




Believe it, anything director Alexander Payne touches turn to gold. He's a modern-day "King Midas". Payne returns in 2013 with his black & white comedy-drama Nebraska. Bruce Dern gives a highly buzzed-about performance as a befuddled old man who journeys with his estranged son (Will Forte) to Nebraska in order to claim his million-dollar sweepstakes prize. And not only does the Philadelphia Film Festival always offer a first look at Oscar-caliber features, they provide excellent insight with Hollywood insiders. Alexander Payne and Will Forte will be doing a brief Question & Answer session following the Monday screening of their film.




Despite being a late addition (not even mentioned in the festival's program), the film to be most-excited about is Steve McQueen's festival darling that's swept every competition it's been nominated for, 12 Years a Slave. The reviews have been astounding and the cast is star-studded. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup a free black man living in New York prior to the Civil War. However, Solomon is captured and transported to the south and sold into slavery where he suffers to stay alive and regain his freedom over the course of the next 12 years. Co-starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano, 12 Years a Slave could be this year's Best Picture Winner!

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Monuments Men (New) and American Hustle (New) Trailers

The late-year releases keep on pushing out new, more informative, trailers. George Clooney looks to take a page out of Ben Affleck's book as he stars in and directs the World War II drama The Monuments Men. The film follows a group of art enthusiasts, painters and sculptors who leave the safety of the United States and travel into the heart of Europe to help recover stolen art from the Nazi's before the end of the war. With Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin on board, The Monuments Men appears to have all the makings of a Best Picture contender.





Silver Linings Playbook took last year's awards season by storm, and director David O. Russell returns quickly with his newest project, American Hustle. Boasting an all-star cast including Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle centers around a pair of con artists who are forced to work for the FBI to help bring down the mafia. The feature's newest trailer is nothing short of excellent, and O. Russell's latest offering looks to give hope to 2013's end-of-year releases.




Wednesday, October 9, 2013

DVD Outlook: October 2013

Now, that's more like it! October offers a wide variety of strong DVD and Video-On-Demand selections (click here to view my September picks). And just in case you happened to miss any of these movies during their theatrical runs, now's your chance to make amends. So do the right thing!




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

Just in time for the holiday season (I'm talking about Halloween, not Christmas), James Wan's horror throwback, The Conjuring, receives its DVD release. Real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) attempt to help a desperate family being terrorized by a demonic presence in their new home. The story is strong, the scares are plentiful and the terror is authentic. James Wan delivers one of the finest gore-free horror films in recent memory. Turn the lights off and sit back and enjoy The Conjuring the way it's meant to be seen. (October 22nd)




The Way, Way Back - 3 stars out of 4 (Read my review here)

So you loved Little Miss Sunshine and you're dying to see Steve Carell in more of a "bad guy" role? Whether you answered "yes" or not, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's The Way, Way, Back should be on your October "To-Do List". The heartfelt and forthright coming-of-age tale delivers on both laughs and sincerity. Sam Rockwell shines brightest as Owen, an immature water-park owner who takes a teenage boy under his wing. The Way, Way Back is a suitable movie for just about any situation and it's certainly one you won't want to miss. (October 22nd)




This Is the End - 3 stars out of 4 (Read my review here)

What could be better than an apocalyptic comedy starring most of the funniest actors, comedians and entertainers floating around Hollywood? Almost nothing! My third recommendation of the month is the hysterical and crowd-pleasing raunchy comedy This Is the End. Follow along as childhood friends Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen attempt to rekindle a seemingly lost relationship all while trying to withstand the end of the world at James Franco's house. It's a no-brainer that This Is the End brings a healthy dose of laughs and outlandishness, but the icing on the cake is a stellar finale. (October 1st)


Honorable Mention: Since I wasn't blown away by many of the other October DVD releases that I've seen, my secondary selections are filled with features I'm interested in checking out myself. One of the biggest Summer blockbusters makes its way to DVD. Pacific Rim (10/15) was an out-of-nowhere critical success and a film I plan on renting ASAP. For fans of romantic comedies, the third installment of Richard Linklater's acclaimed indie trilogy, Before Midnight (10/22), is one I look forward to seeing. Finally, Joss Whedon enamored audiences with his superhero spectacle The Avengers. Now, he dabbles in Shakespeare. One indie release I wasn't able to catch in theatres but intend to watch immediately is Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing (10/8).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Out of the Furnace (NEW) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Trailers

Two late year releases have offered a second glance into their stories. First there's Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck. A story centering around one man's relentless journey to find his missing brother, Out of the Furnace appears to have all the makings of a compelling drama.





Ben Stiller directs and stars in another Oscar-potential feature, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. An office worker who frequently zones out and experiences an imaginative and adventurous fantasy world inside of his head is forced to make things right after he puts a co-worker's job and his own at risk.




Friday, October 4, 2013

Captain Phillips




Film: Captain Phillips

Starring: Tom Hanks (Cloud Atlas) and Barkhad Abdi

Director: Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum)

U.S. Release: October 11th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 134 minutes


It's been more than a decade since Tom Hanks has landed a swoon-worthy kind of role for the Academy to recognize. With back-to-back Oscar wins in the Best Actor category for marvelous performances in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, Hanks spent much of the 90s and early 2000s nestled comfortably at the peak of the awards season mountain. The brilliant artist returns in 2013 with a pair of highly anticipated true-story roles as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks and Paul Greengrass' self-titled Captain Phillips. As it appears, the stars have aligned once again and Tom Hanks is finally back atop the proverbial mountain.

Richard Phillips (played by Hanks) is a hard-nosed and dedicated Captain of the cargo vessel Maersk Alabama. On a typical voyage to deliver food and supplies around eastern Africa and the middle east, a band of Somali pirates hijack Phillips' ship and unarmed crew. Desperate to keep himself and his team out of harm's way, Captain Phillips demonstrates remarkable heroics throughout this trying ordeal.




Relentlessly tense and nerve-racking beyond belief, action guru Paul Greengrass summons one the most suspenseful movies of the year. Captain Phillips is a lengthy journey filled with highs, lows and just about everything in between. But rather than catering to an all-too-easy "good vs evil" approach implemented by many run-of-the-mill directors floating around Hollywood these days, Greengrass and writer Billy Ray mold together an honest and multi-layered film. Not only does Captain Phillips venture through the minute-after-minute terror experienced by the hijacked crew, the feature also dives deep into the desperate mindset of the vessel's captors. The ambitious attempt to witness the entire story surrounding this historic event allows Captain Phillips to develop into a more authentic and believable thrill ride.




Despite crafting a captivating and gut-wrenching encounter, Greengrass misses the mark on a few key areas. For starters, the well-rounded director over-extends every single aspect of the film. He could have easily attained his goal by cutting many of the feature's scenes in half. Whether it's the intense bickering and power struggle between the pirates or the Red Light/Green Light back-and-forth by the Navy Seals team near the film's conclusion, Captain Phillips is filled with anxiety-overkill and its clearly a deterrent. Furthermore, the movie's third act rings all too familiar to last year's Best Picture Nominee, Zero Dark Thirty. Therefore, being so fresh in our minds and far superior to this rehashed effort, Captain Phillips becomes a poor man's version of Kathryn Bigelow's hit ... but still worth the price of admission.

Tom Hanks has always been a magnificent performer, and his role in the action/drama Captain Phillips reiterates that notion. It doesn't matter if he's winning Golden Statues or not, Hanks is one of the greatest actors of all-time. And once again, you won't be disappointed with this one. If you can handle the anxiety and withstand the suspense, then you can't go wrong with Captain Phillips.


Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Philomena and Dom Hemingway Trailers


Academy Award Winner Judi Dench and comedian Steve Coogan star in the upcoming feel-good comedy Philomena. Centering around a journalist who tackles the story of a woman forced to give up her son at birth decades ago, Philomena has received a ton of attention following its first world screenings at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. As a dark horse for Oscar contention, check out the trailer for Philomena below.





After spending twelve years in prison for simply keeping his mouth shut, Dom Hemingway (played by Jude Law) reemerges in London to collect the money that he's owed. From the producers of Sexy Beast and the director of The Matador, Dom Hemingway has all the makings of a fun-filled crime comedy. Check out the film's firth theatrical trailer below.