Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Draft Day

Film: Draft Day

Starring: Kevin Costner (Man of Steel), Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) and Frank Langella (Robot & Frank)

Director: Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters)

U.S. Release: April 11th, 2014 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: TBA

My appreciation for cinema can't be overstated. But if there's one thing I love as much as film, it's professional sports. As a lifelong fan of the NFL and Kevin Costner's sports-centered filmography, I consciously scooted the notion of typical early-year blunders to the back of my brain and welcomed excitement for Ivan Reitman's Draft Day. Yet, there was one simple flaw in my logic that trumps everything. Reitman hasn't been able to direct anything of relevance over the past two decades.

Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) is the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns and it's the most important day of his sports career, Draft Day. With an owner (Frank Langella) desperate to make a gaudy "splash" and a coach (Denis Leary) who doesn't believe in his ability to field a winning roster, Sonny must weave and maneuver to rebuild a franchise in disarray. And if these set of circumstances aren't stressful enough for the GM, secretly dating the team's Salary Cap Specialist (Jennifer Garner) is starting to present complications of its own.

According to Harris Polls conducted on a yearly basis, Football is far and away the most popular sport in America. Its hard-hitting product appeals to masses at an ever-growing rate. And more than the Sunday ritual itself, fans continue to develop an interest in the behind-the-scenes aspect of the NFL. Enter Ivan Reitman's latest cinematic dud, Draft Day. The film attempts to be clever in its back-door finagling, but all that remains is an unrealistic portrayal of the NFL's inner workings. The movie crafts an inauthentic and unbelievable atmosphere that throws the entire story off balance. Reitman's final product is both inexcusable and unforgivable, making Draft Day one of the most unsatisfying big-budgeted sports movies in recent memory.

Not only is the feature an inaccurate depiction of general managing, Draft Day also suffers from a weak story and elementary dialogue. Desperate to enhance the dramatics, debut motion-picture writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph create flat subplots that are simply glossed over and unproductive. The only interesting aspect to the film is its relation to the NFL, which just so happens to be enough to get you to the finish line, but nowhere near enough to leave any semblance of a lasting impression. Draft Day surrounds Kevin Costner with a wide selection of unlikable and often irritating characters that make any connection between viewer and film absolutely impossible.

Outside of a few genuine laughs from Griffin Newman's intern character Rick, Ivan Reitman's Draft Day is a complete miss. The movie's impractical sequence of events and Disney-like conclusion make the experience almost unbearable. When the film reaches the big screen less than a month before the NFL Draft in early May, please don't waste your hard-earned dollars.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

22 Jump Street (Red Band) and Adult World Trailers

One of 2012's funnies comedies came from the surprising reboot on an 80s show turned motion picture, 21 Jump Street. The film's overwhelming box-office success which grossed nearly $140 million guaranteed a sequel. In June of 2014 Channing Tatum and Academy Award Nominee Jonah Hill (I'm sure he appreciates that label) will reprise their roles in 22 Jump Street, but this time they travel to college.

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013 was the crowd-pleasing satirical comedy Adult World. Emma Roberts stars as Amy, an aspiring poet who constantly faces rejection and finds herself accepting the only job she can find at an adult book store. Co-starring John Cusack and Evan Peters (Kick-Ass), Adult World appears to be an on-point look at what many recent graduates have to face in the real world today.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Oscar Update 1/26/14

The Directors Guild of America has officially handed their prestigious award to Gravity visionary, Alfonso Cuaron, and all hell has broken loose on the Best Picture front. With merely 5 weeks left to go until the final showdown on Oscar night, prognosticators are in a frenzy trying to dissect the DGA impact and a bunch of surprisingly close races.

Best Picture

As it's been for some time, the Best Picture race is down to three real finalists. The Golden Globe wins for 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle left many believing that Gravity was slowly fading from the rest of the pack. Then, the SAG awards recognized American Hustle as its Best Ensemble and the arrows started pointing in its direction. Now, a DGA victory for filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and the extensive track-record that the Academy rarely splits Best Picture and Best Director, it appears that everyone is completely baffled by this race.

The way I see it, with last year being a recent example of the Academy splitting Best Picture and Best Director winners, maybe there's a new trend developing. Clearly, none of these films have emerged from the pack and perhaps the voting members don't mind splitting their picks. Gravity seems the unlikeliest of the three with American Hustle just a nose ahead of 12 Years a Slave in my opinion. 

Best Director

It's always "too soon" to crown someone a winner, especially with over a month left until the Oscars, but Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron continues to separate himself from the rest of the field in the Best Director category. There's still an inkling of hope left for Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), given that the Academy hasn't been too kind to the sci-fi genre in the past. However, it currently feels like Cuaron is a safe bet come March 2nd.

Best Actor

On the surface it looks as though Matthew McConaughey is a clear favorite in the Best Actor race, having swept just about everything outside of the BAFTAs (who ignored Dallas Buyers Club altogether). However, Leonardo DiCaprio could very well play the spoiler role on Oscar night. Many feel as though DiCaprio is well-deserving of his first win and that The Wolf of Wall Street may be the finest work of his career (although I would tend to disagree). Leo's been victorious in both the Golden Globes and Critics' Choice in the comedy category, as well as a nomination from the BAFTAs. Perhaps the British voters will throw their support his way and it could spell an upset for the presumed frontrunner, McConaughey. 

While DiCaprio and McConaughey seem to have the upper hand, it's worth noting that longtime actor Bruce Dern (Nebraska) has been hot on the awards season trail, trying his best to earn an Academy Award for the first time in his career. Although I believe that a win for Dern would be extremely unlikely, it's easy to imagine a niche group of voters leaning in the old-time's direction.

Best Actress

In the likeliest of scenarios, Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) will take home the Best Actress statue at the Academy Awards. She's got a career full of exceptional work and this is arguably her pinnacle performance. She's been a slam dunk in all of the early precursor awards and all indicators say she'll be victorious on March 2nd. Yet, there's one tiny obstacle in her way, and that's the Amy Adams (American Hustle) freight train which none of us saw coming. After her Golden Globe victory, it seemed as though no one was more caught off guard by her rapid surge than Amy Adams herself. It's storylines like this that voting members of the Academy swoon over. Although unlikely, Adams is the only competitor with a real chance of bringing down Blanchett.

Best Supporting Actor

Perhaps the safest selection to guarantee 5 weeks from tonight is a Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) win for the Best Supporting Actor category. He's taken the precursors by storm and the musician's powerful return to the big screen has proved to be a great story. Leto is on a rampage and I'm beginning to doubt the likelihood of an upset for many reasons. For example, Michael Fassbender's turn in 12 Years a Slave feels too villainous for the Academy to favor and Bradley Cooper's (American Hustle) performance doesn't offer the same level of significance as Leto's. Unless it turns out to be a wild night for Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street team and Jonah Hill shocks us all, it's impossible to suspect anyone other than Leto claiming the award. 

Best Supporting Actress

The second most interesting race outside of the Best Picture frenzy is the Best Supporting Actress competition featuring Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) and Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle). Despite Lawrence's catapult to stardom with a Best Actress victory just last year, I'm starting to view Nyong'o as the slight favorite. As we all know the Academy is completely enamored with a solid story and this being the Kenyan performer's first motion picture role, it doesn't get much better than that. Lawrence has become the new face of Hollywood and we all assume she'll continue her reign for years to come, but 2014 feels like the perfect time for Lupita Nyong'o to make her mark.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

2014 Oscar Contest

Back by popular demand, co-writer Greg Rouleau and I will be running another Oscar Pool where you select winners in EVERY Academy Awards category. Different point values are assigned to the different races and the person with the most points wins a $50 gift card of their choice to either Regal/AMC.

It's completely free to enter, all you need is an e-mail address and to sign up by clicking HERE. After you submit an e-mail address and create a username use the following information to join the contest:

Pool Name: Greg's Academy Awards Pool
Password: flyers

You have until Sunday March 2nd to make your selections, so there's no immediate rush. Once again it's COMPLETELY FREE to join and a whole lot of fun for any fan of movies who plans on watching the Oscars anyway.

Note: You must live in the continental United States to be eligible for the prize.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

2014 Sundance Film Festival Recap

Although the Sundance Film Festival is still screening until January 26th, like many other press and film critics, I've abandoned the hotel-life and returned to my humble abode. After 17 screenings spanning 5 days of movie-watching, I've decided to complete my 2014 Sundance experience with a tiny blurb about each film I watched. But before I begin, here's a look back at the extensive reviews for the films Whiplash, Blue Ruin, Infinitely Polar Bear, The Skeleton Twins, To Be Takei and Laggies. Also, feel free to check out my personal "Best of Sundance" picks as well.

God's Pocket - 2.3 stars out of 4 - B-

Although something feels remarkably incomplete about John Slattery's Philadelphia-based God's Pocket, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins and Ray Donovan's Eddie Marsan all headline a fine collaborative effort. There's a small gangster film vibe in this drama about a man named Mickey (Hoffman) who goes through hell trying to plan a funeral after the accidental death of his stepson.

Song One - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

A short-haired Anne Hathaway stars in the touching and sentimental drama Song One. After an accident leaves her brother in a comatose state, Franny (Hathaway) strikes up a relationship with his favorite musician, James Forester (played by Johnny Flynn). While the film is sweet and Johnny Flynn gives a breakout performance, the story is rather flat and simplistic.

Listen Up Philip - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

Jason Schwartzman is downright hilarious in this interesting examination of a young brash author whose actions ultimately push everyone away from him, except for a similar-minded elderly author (played by Jonathan Pryce). The film's mid-section takes Schwartzman out of the film for entirely too long and its pacing plays more like a marathon than a sprint. However, Listen Up Philip is still an enjoyably hysterical ride.

Hellion - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

Kat Candler's Hellion attempts to be bold and daring, yet this slow-burning drama could benefit from a constant intensity much like its third act. Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul isn't as convincing as I'd hope, but youngster Josh Wiggins does a fine job in his leading role as a trouble-maker kid who finds himself one step away from being thrown into a Juvenile Detention Facility.

Happy Christmas - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

While my opinion was on the less-populated side of Joe Swanberg's previous release, Drinking Buddies, I found myself enjoying his Sundance selection, Happy Christmas. Anna Kendrick is stellar as a recently single and irresponsible 20-something year old who moves in with her older brother (Swanberg) just before the holiday to get her feet on the ground. Her effects on his marriage are needed as much as the couple's effect on her. The story is a bit underwhelming and the pacing is slow, but Happy Christmas is still a well-executed drama.

Ping Pong Summer - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

Michael Tully's Ping Pong Summer is a spot-on return to 1985. The set, production and soundtrack are all phenomenal in this ode to the second-rate 1980s underdog formula. The laughs are fairly consistent but the film never leaps into greatness. A solid youth-filled cast follows Rad Miracle (played by Marcello Conte) on his quest to take down the local bully in an epic game of ping pong. 

Calvary - 2 stars out of 4 - C+

I find it ironic how the films I was most excited to see at Sundance ended up being some of the most mediocre efforts. One such film was John Michael McDonagh's Calvary. As a huge outspoken fan of McDonagh's last effort, The Guard, I was disappointed to find his newest release as a humor-less and never-ending journey. More so an existential examination than a comedy, Calvary is beautifully shot and strongly-acted by Brendan Gleeson, but the boredom and lack of entertainment is too much to overcome.

Locke - 2 stars out of 4 - C+

Knowing myself pretty well, I can honestly say that there couldn't have been anyone as excited as I was to catch a screening of Locke. After receiving nothing except rave reviews following a 2013 festival tour, I was shocked to find Locke to be a constricted feature. The amazing Tom Hardy is the only actor you see during this 85 minute car ride where we witness his character's life slowly falling apart. It's a daring attempt from director Steven Knight, although it lacks thrills and intrigue.

Cold in July - 2 stars out of 4 - C

I was surprised to hear such praise given to Jim Mickle's Cold in July. Dexter's Michael C. Hall stars as a reserved man who unwillingly murders an intruder in his home one evening, only to discover himself at the center of a much deeper mystery. Cold in July is the tale of two films. What begins as a tension-filled revenge thriller that works quite well, ends up morphing into a tasteless gore-comedy that feels completely out of place. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the feature only to watch it steadily decline upon the introduction of Don Johnson's character. 

Life After Beth - 1 and a half stars out of 4 - C-

Zombie-mania has reached the "overkill" status much like the Vampire phenomena a few years back. However, Jeff Baena's Life After Beth merely uses the Zombie tag as a backdrop to a different story of regret and making up for lost time. After dying from a poisonous snake-bite on a hike one day, Zach's (played by Dane DeHaan) former girlfriend, Beth (Aubrey Plaza), mysteriously reappears from the dead. Appearing very much "alive" Zach plans to reconnect with Beth and take the time to do all the things he never did before. But much to his and everyone else's surprise, Beth is slowly transforming into a Zombie. Unfortunately, the laughs are almost non-existent in this comedy and, as a result, we're left with very little else to enjoy.

The Foxy Merkins - 0 stars out of 4 - F

I never walk out on movies, but this one was a struggle to get through. The very occasional laugh couldn't help salvage an otherwise unbearable look at two lesbian (or not?) hookers who are trying to survive being homeless in New York. The one joke they have going for them, a mockery of the clothing store Talbots, is beaten to death and overused, clearly illustrating that Madeleine Olnek's poorly shot film, The Foxy Merkins, offers no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Best of Sundance 2014

The rapid breakneck pace of the Sundance Film Festival forced me to cram 17 movies over the past 5 days. No matter how mentally and physically exhausting it's been, I loved the experience. Keeping in mind that I only watched 17 of these anticipated indie films, here's a quick rundown of the best movies, performances and directors the Sundance Film Festival had to offer in 2014.

Best Picture

Honorable Mention: The Skeleton Twins and Blue Ruin

#3. Laggies

#2. Whiplash

Best Director

Honorable Mention: Lynn Shelton (Laggies) and Kat Candler (Hellion)

#3. Craig Johnson  (The Skeleton Twins)

#2. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Winner - Maya Forbes (Infinitely Polar Bear)

Best Actor

Honorable Mention: Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins) and Jason Schwartzman (Listen Up Philip)

#3. Brendan Gleeson (Calvary)

#2. Miles Teller (Whiplash)

Winner - Mark Ruffalo (Infinitely Polar Bear)

Best Actress

Honorable Mention: Anna Kendrick (Happy Christmas)

#3. Anne Hathaway (Song One)

#2. Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins)

Winner - Keira Knightley (Laggies)

Best Supporting Actor

Honorable Mention: Luke Wilson (The Skeleton Twins) and Johnny Flynn (Song One)

#3. Richard Jenkins (God's Pocket)

#2. Sam Rockwell (Laggies)

Winner - J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress

Honorable Mention: Kaitlyn Dever (Laggies) and Mary Steenburgen (Song One)

#3. Melanie Lynskey (Happy Christmas)

#2. Chloe Grace Moretz (Laggies)

Winner - Elisabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip)


Film: Laggies

Starring: Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Sam Rockwell (The Way Way Back)

Director: Lynn Shelton (Your Sister's Sister)

U.S. Release: Sundance Film Festival Selection (Not Yet Rated)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 100 minutes

Writer/director Lynn Shelton is best known as an influential figure in the frequently coined "mumblecore" movement. This style of filmmaking often refers to a lower budget and the hefty use of natural improvisation rather than tightly sticking to a script. While the movement has gained a niche following and broader base, Shelton's latest go-around is far from the "mumblecore" label.

Laggies stars Keira Knightley as Megan, an unmotivated woman in her late 20s who has no idea of what she wants to do with her life. After watching her longtime friends and boyfriend of over a decade cleanly move on to adulthood, she struggles to discover her own identity. And after lying about going on a week-long career retreat, Megan instead shacks up with a new high school aged friend (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her skeptical father (Sam Rockwell) in order to take some time to figure out her future.

There's something strange and crazy about director Lynn Shelton's Laggies. For such an unorthodox story, the film is surprisingly heartwarming and honest. The writing and acting breeds an inordinate amount of purpose and identity to all of its characters. Some may refute that the feature's secondary characters are campy and embellished, but in the entire context of the film they work quite nicely. It all begins with a solid foundation from leading lady Keira Knightley. Her sweet and soulful performance enables the audience to connect with Megan on a deeper level and look past her periodically flawed judgment. And while Chloe Grace Moretz dishes out fine supporting work once again, there's two other names that need to mentioned. First, there's up-and-comer Kaitlyn Dever. The young actress gave a breakout performance in last year's unforgettable drama, Short Term 12 (one of my Top 10 films of 2013). Here she has a diminished role, although it's one that adds spice and bravado to the movie. Furthermore, we're given ANOTHER amazing turn from the vastly under-appreciated Sam Rockwell. From the moment he appears on screen, the film immediately picks up and dashes to the finish line. Rockwell is a true talent that's never given the respect he deserves. But thankfully for his game changing performance, Laggies ends up being a wonderfully executed drama.

Despite the feature's exceptional dialogue and charming wit, Laggies has its detractors. The first act has a noticeable drag, but Rockwell's introduction quickly takes care of that tiny problem. It's easy to disregard a bumpy beginning thanks to a lofty amount of perfectly timed humor and fantastic performances throughout. And while some of the decision making of its characters feels suspect and unrealistic at times, these simply become minor flaws in an otherwise fine feature.

Lynn Shelton has found budding success in her filmmaking career, but you can expect Laggies to launch her to a whole other level. The movie generates an unbreakable bond between its characters and the audience, one that lasts long after the credits role. Making Laggies one of the finest films at Sundance this year and one that you should look forward to in 2014.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, January 20, 2014

To Be Takei

Film: To Be Takei

Starring: George Takei (Star Trek) and Brad Takei

Director: Jennifer M. Kroot

U.S. Release: Sundance Film Festival Selection (Not Yet Rated)

Genre: Documentary

Runtime: 90 minutes

George Takei represents different things to different people. For frequenters of Comicon extravaganzas all across the globe, he’s a pop icon renowned for his role as Captain Hikaru Sulu on three seasons and six films regarding the sci-fi classic, Star Trek. And to fans of his uncharacteristically popular Facebook page, Takei is an ingenious source of laughs on a daily basis. But for all of these various masks and titles that Takei proudly displays, the people closest to him are most thankful for George’s life as a pioneer in multiple civil rights movements. 

In the documentary To Be Takei from filmmaker Jennifer M. Kroot, the audience is catapulted into the life and struggles of a true trailblazer. The feature exams many facets of Takei’s personal life, including his time as a Japanese-American youth placed in harsh internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and George’s secretive upbringing as a closet homosexual actor trying to make a name for himself in Los Angeles. For Takei, the road has never been easy, but he’s also never shied away from adversity.

For 90 entertaining minutes filled with laughter and sincerity, George and his now husband, but partner for 25 years, Brad Takei (formerly Brad Altman), dive into the inner workings of the aging performer’s life. We witness George’s outspoken stance on gay rights as well as his involvement in the newly released musical “Allegiance”, which details a Japanese-American man’s imprisonment by the U.S. government during the end of World War II. The musical closely resembles the Takei family’s hardships during one of our nation’s most heinous acts and is a remarkable source of passion for the multi-talented star.

To Be Takei not only focuses on these serious moral platforms which inhabit George’s life, it also ventures into his well-documented and long-lasting feud with former co-star, William Shatner. The documentary provides a first-hand look at the infamous rivalry and perhaps why it has escalated to such heights. Furthermore, To Be Takei briefly discusses George’s time and inclusion on Howard Stern’s wildly popular radio show. You truly learn everything there is to know about this amazing man and the movie is both hilarious and earnest in its storytelling.

Unlike many other documentaries, To Be Takei never feels too agenda-driven and instead works to transport the viewer into the brilliant life of George Takei. Sure its subject clearly has a motivation and message of spreading equality in all areas of life across the United States, but that’s merely because it’s what George Takei represents. To Be Takei is a joyous watch and something any fan will certainly enjoy.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

The Skeleton Twins

Film: The Skeleton Twins

Starring: Bill Hader (The To Do List) and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)

Director: Craig Johnson

U.S. Release: Sundance Film Festival Selection (Not Yet Rated)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 88 minutes

The trend for movies has shifted lately. With depressing dramas crowding movie screens all across the festival circuit, films like Hellion, Blue Ruin, God's Pocket and Cold in July are all recent examples of this phenomena taking over the 2014 Sundance lineup. There's generally a sigh of relief upon entering screenings for comedies, especially one starring Saturday Night Live stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. However, even a laugh-fest such as Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins carries a dark and gloomy tone from joke to joke. At this point, I guess we should just expect it.

A terrible set of circumstances brings together twin siblings Milo (played by Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) after a decade apart. The reunion forces both of them to re-examine their lives and confront their problems, no matter the cost.

At its core The Skeleton Twins never feels like groundbreaking material. However, this murky self-loathing drama whisks along nicely thanks to genuine heartfelt performances from a pair of comedians turned "serious" actors. Bill Hader is given more face time than his counterpart, but Kristen Wiig is equally as effective. With over seven years together on SNL, the onscreen chemistry between these two stars is simply remarkable and their voyage into dramatic acting goes without a hitch. Another welcome surprise is the direction of Craig Johnson. During a long and hysterical lip-syncing rendition of Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now", we see a masterful use of the camera, helping to draw the audience into one of the film's finest moments.

Another glowing aspect revolving around The Skeleton Twins is a more expected one, the film's outpouring of laughs and humor. Watching these estranged siblings instantly regain their lost bond through the use of comedy is absolutely priceless. In fact, almost any scene shared by Hader and Wiig is sure to generate some laughs. But the most fascinating realization is that their innate knack for jokes doesn't seem to take take away from their dramatic execution, instead acting as a complementing force that helps give life to The Skeleton Twins.

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy this film. Outside of the wonderful performances from Hader and Wiig, Luke Wilson gives a standout supporting turn as well. The feature's use of music is great and the story is somber, yet uplifting. While some subplots are more enticing than others and the whole excessive depression bit is clearly played up, The Skeleton Twins leaps over its blemishes and plays as a successful laugh-inducing drama.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Infinitely Polar Bear

Film: Infinitely Polar Bear

Starring: Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) and Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furnace)

Director: Maya Forbes

U.S. Release: Sundance Film Festival Selection (Not Yet Rated)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 90 minutes

Nominations have been handed out and we're fresh in the swing of Oscar season. While many of us are using these precious moments to reflect on the past cinematic year, ironically, Sundance premiered one of the finest performances we may witness in 2014. Maya Forbes' Infinitely Polar Bear has pounced onto the scene, firmly grabbing a stranglehold atop the list of films I've seen at the festival.

Cam (played by Mark Ruffalo) is a loving husband and father of two outspoken young girls, but Cam is also bipolar. When his temperamental breakdowns and inability to hold a job or function like an adult reach a tipping point, his wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) separates from him and demands he seek treatment in their hometown of Boston. After stints in a hospital and a halfway house where Cam slowly learns to assume responsibility, Maggie receives an offer to get her MBA at Colombia in New York and improve their family's insufficient financial situation. What does that mean for Cam? He must prove he can handle his manic depression and play "Mr. Mom" to his two young girls all while his wife is away at school for 18 long months.


Infinitely Polar Bear shows a family in ruins. Clearly depicting the old adage that "sometimes love just ain't enough", the film wavers like the up-and-down mental state of Cam. When things are going well, the family thrives and bonds strongly together. But when times are tough, they crumble and wither into despair. Infinitely Polar Bear hits all the right keys and tackles this delicate issue with an earnest respect, one that isn't overly sentimental. While the script is strong and the direction is on point, it's obvious to say that the film works so well thanks in large part to another brilliant turn from Mark Ruffalo. The actor gives a realistic first-hand look into living with this illness and the horrors it can create in the family dynamic. With lunacy and tenderness blended perfectly together in his chain-smoking character, Ruffalo shows a remarkably complex individual that's absolutely endearing. His performance alone makes Infinitely Polar Bear a great movie-watching experience, but there's still plenty of other elevating factors to the film.

More so than its dramatics, Maya Forbes' phenomenal feature hammers home the comedy. Ruffalo and the pair of gifted young female actors who portray his daughters all assist in keeping the humor flowing. The gap between laughs is always short and the emotional storylines dispersed throughout are merely icing on the cake. Infinitely Polar Bear opens your eyes and makes you see the world in a different light, one that seems difficult but magnificent all at the same time. You grow with Cam and his family, in a way that makes the journey fun-filled and life affirming.

Watching Ruffalo at the top of his game makes me even more excited for another 2014 release of his, Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher. But without getting ahead of myself, there's greatness right here scattered throughout Infinitely Polar Bear. Ruffalo is unforgettable and his film is a fantastic ride from start to finish. Make a note, because this is one movie you won't want to miss when it receives a general release.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blue Ruin

Film: Blue Ruin

Starring: Macon Blair and Devin Ratray (Nebraska)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

U.S. Release: Sundance Film Festival Selection (Rated R)

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 91 minutes

Audiences and press have come to expect an abundance of slow-burning dramas playing throughout the Sundance Film Festival. Park City's movie-mecca is rarely known for dishing out revenge thrillers, but this year they've got one worth flaunting.

Macon Blair stars as Dwight, a homeless man rummaging through the Delaware shore-line eating out of trash bins and sleeping in his car. His big bushy beard and out-stretched baggy clothes give off a downtrodden and dismal appearance. But when a friendly local officer informs Dwight that a man from his past is being released from prison, the homeless man seeks vengeance against the parolee.

Blue Ruin is a revenge-film done right. Its main character is flawed and perhaps unjust in his pursuit, but you still helplessly root for him. Macon Blair perfectly portrays the odd and few-of-words protagonist. Blair feels like an ideal fit for the role and his excellent performance should certainly pave the way for future roles, but we'll just have to wait and see on the diversity of his skill set. Another welcoming turn comes from Devin Ratray, a 2013 familiar face. Ratray has most recently impressed with his fine work as one of Will Forte's character's twin-cousins in Alexander Payne's Nebraska. Here he plays a war veteran who offers his services to Dwight, a close friend from their days in high school. Despite its collection of fine performances, Blue Ruin also benefits from a well-paced script that delivers on the gore and violence, an absolute must for any successful revenge-flick.

More than just a bunching of stellar aspects regarding movies of its breed, Blue Ruin has a strong story with a voice. The film's message of vengeance being a never-ending cycle is brilliantly executed. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier paints a bleak picture, but it's one that resonates. This somber feature also transcends past the stereotypical bloody revenge-thriller by incorporating a darkly comedic undertone that plays well. Not only does Blue Ruin generate tension and suspense, it's guaranteed to elicit a surprising amount of laughs. All of which play to its favor.

Although Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin is far from unblemished, it's a highly entertaining and extremely engaging feature. Surely it has some weak dialogue and unrealistic situations, but they become easy to overlook in order to appreciate the essence of Blue Ruin.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Film: Whiplash

Starring: Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) and J.K. Simmons (The Music Never Stopped)

Director: Damien Chazelle

U.S. Release: Sundance Film Festival Selection (Not Yet Rated)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 106 minutes

The 2014 Sundance Film Festival kicked off with a bang. In fact, it kicked off with a whole lot of them. Damien Chazelle's Opening Night selection, Whiplash, is a surprisingly provocative examination of "greatness" and a desire for perfection. Being the best at any facet of life requires dedication, sacrifice and a reasonable amount of obsession. And Whiplash brilliantly tackles this dynamic through the inconceivable backdrop of Jazz music. Implanted firmly in our nation's roots, Jazz music has become a forgotten treasure that's about as American as apple pie.

Andrew (played by Miles Teller) attends the finest music school in the country for one reason, and one reason only, he has every intention of being the greatest Jazz drummer of all-time. And with the guidance of the most skilled and feared instructor on the planet, Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), there's no limit to Andrew's success. That is, if his body and mind can handle the abuse.

Whiplash is a brutally realistic character study that succeeds on the shoulders of a pair of fine performances. This time last year, the young and impressive Miles Teller was virtually an unknown. But following the renowned critical success from 2013 Sundance selection, The Spectacular Now, we're all very aware of his capabilities. Even more remarkable is how easily Teller stands toe-to-toe with the always overlooked and always sensational J.K. Simmons. While some may shortchange Simmons' character by calling the film's primary antagonist devious or even a bully, there's far more depth to him than that. To the point where Whiplash transcends pure entertainment value and raises intellectual debates, such as whether or not this harmfully influential instructor is in the wrong. The way I see it, there's a price you must pay to achieve greatness. Even if it means abruptly halting a relationship with the girl of your dreams, or spilling your blood to improve your hand speed. Our character's darkly obsession leaves him fully capable of anything, and that's the scariest part of all.

For as emotionally and physically draining as Whiplash is, there's an equal amount of humor circulating throughout the screenplay. It isn't your typical happy-go-lucky comedy, but these offensive and abrasive one-liners certainly do the trick. And whenever the continuous loud banging around starts to test your patience, Simmons is quick to crack a joke, simply reinforcing the wide spectrum of emotions that Whiplash forces you to encounter. It's a unique story delivered in a compelling manner, all the way through to its bitterly prolonged finale.

You couldn't have asked for a better way to kick off the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. I laughed, I cringed and I empathized. Already scooped up by Sony Pictures Worldwide, this definitely won't be the last we've heard of Whiplash. Music fans everywhere, rejoice!

Stars: 3 stars out of 4.

Grade: B

2014 Oscar Snubs and Surprises

While I was in flight early this morning from Philadelphia on my way to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the ever-so-important Oscar Nominations were officially announced. As is the case every year, it's easy to list who was forgotten and who was surprisingly included. So let's take an in-depth look at all of this year's Oscar snubs and surprises. For a complete list of nominees, click here!

#1. Hungry Like The "Wolf"

One of the biggest unknowns coming into this year's nominations would be how the Academy accepted Martin Scorsese's newly controversial three-hour epic, The Wolf of Wall Street. It turns out the voting members went for it, BIG TIME! Not only did the film end up in the Best Picture race like I predicted, but stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and director Martin Scorsese himself all landed in the big dance. Not bad for one of the year's most talked-about films.

#2. Whatever Happened to Mr. Banks and Mr. Davis?

Even though I sensed a downward spiral and even mentioned so, I found myself rather surprised at Emma Thompson's omission in the Best Actress category. Not that I was in love with Saving Mr. Banks, but I thought her performance was exceptional, more so than say Sandra Bullock (Gravity). Not only was Disney's movie about movies virtually ignored, Academy Awards regulars Joel and Ethan Coen found their latest picture, Inside Llewyn Davis, shut out of everything except Cinematography ... even the music categories! An absolute stunner.

#3. Tom Hanks who?

2013 was supposed to be a resurgent year for the legendary acting talent, Tom Hanks, and it was. However, the Oscars felt all right passing him by not once, but twice. Hanks had an outside shot in the crowded Supporting Actor category with his turn as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, but mostly everyone believed he'd be recognized for his work in the crowd-pleasing true thriller, Captain Phillips

#4. "Hustling" the Competition

It turns out that politicians weren't all they were hustling. Amy Adams and Christian Bale found themselves in the big dance after playing prognosticators all over the country for fools. As they say, "one man's loss is another man's gain". This rang true for the pair of American Hustle stars who found themselves in the Oscar conversation at the expense of two previously mentioned victims, Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. Kudos to American Hustle and it's astounding 10 nominations. Everyone knew Gravity would clean up the technical nominations, but David O. Russell's crime drama did an amazing job keeping pace. 

#5. The Forgotten

Like we're all forced to learn in life, not everyone can win. Unfortunately, two of my favorite films this year were completely overlooked and shut out by the Academy. With my personal picks of the year, I gave an outpouring of love for Ron Howard's directing renaissance, Rush, and debut director Destin Cretton's tender drama, Short Term 12. Both films featured exceptional performances, one from Brie Larson and the other from Daniel Bruhl. Neither of which found their way into the final pool. While these films may have been overlooked and forgotten by voting members of the Academy, I'll always cherish them for the strong pieces of work that they are.