Monday, March 31, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy and Sex Tape (Red Band) Trailers

I found myself completely disappointed at 2013's franchise origin, The Purge. However, one thing I said about the film is that the premise was awesome and any future sequel had an opportunity to be really good if handled correctly. Just one year later and we're given The Purge: Anarchy which is still centered around this futuristic and demented holiday. Perhaps they'll get it right this time around. Check out the first full trailer for The Purge: Anarchy below.

2011's Bad Teacher was another film I didn't actually enjoy. Therefore, I'm hoping that a little more Jason Segel is the missing ingredient. Segel returns to the screen with Cameron Diaz in this summer's R-rated comedy, Sex Tape. They star as a couple on a mission to destroy evidence of a leaked sex tape they made after trying to spice up their marriage. Scheduled for a July 25th release, enjoy the Red Band trailer for Sex Tape below.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Begin Again Trailers

Megan Fox leads the highly anticipated Summer return of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With action-director Jonathan Liebsman at the helm, this reboot follows the 4 Ninjitsu-trained turtles and their sensei Splinter on a journey to rid their city of evil. Scheduled for an August 8th release, check out the first teaser trailer for The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles below.

At this year's Sundance Film Festival my two favorite movies starred Mark Ruffalo (Infinitely Polar Bear) and Keira Knightley (Laggies). Primed for big years, the pair of stars are also matched together in the comedy-drama Begin Again. Ruffalo stars as a recently fired music executive who stumbles across a promising singer-songwriter (Knightley). Check out the first official trailer for Begin Again below.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Film: Noah

Starring: Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Ray Winstone (The Departed)

Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

U.S. Release: March 28th, 2014 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 139 minutes

If 2014 is any indication of where the future of cinema is headed, brace yourself for a huge religious movement. Mel Gibson's 2004 The Passion of the Christ became such a financial success that movie studios could no longer ignore the widespread audiences biblical films attract. Fast forward a decade and films like Son of God, Ridley Scott's Exodus and Darren Aronofsky's Noah headline a trio of bible-centered stories that are primed for big box-office results this year. While I haven't always been enamored with religious tales brought to the big screen, thankfully, Darren Aronofsky puts a fresh spin on the well-known story of Noah.

After the dawn of man Adam and Eve spawned many children, three of which are known as Cain, Abel & Seth. Their first-born child, Cain, killed Abel out of jealousy and god cursed the land for his unrighteous actions. Meanwhile, Seth's descendants were appalled at the wickedness of Cain's ruthless bloodline and segregated from them to reconnect with god.

Generations pass and Noah (Russell Crowe) is a born descendant of Seth who is surrounded in a world consumed by sin and hatred. He receives a premonition from the creator that a flood is coming to destroy all of mankind. With the help of "fallen angels", Noah builds an ark to withstand the storm and save the earth's creatures and his family from god's wrath.

Darren Aronofsky's fascinating interpretation of the story of Noah is brought to life in extraordinary fashion. Many people have discussed Aronofsky's lifelong obsession with this biblical tale, evident in a nationally recognized prize-winning poem the director wrote as a 7th grade student (story HERE courtesy of ACESHOWBIZ). His passion pays off as this epic adventure breeds an enormous amount of life to the film's title character. Russell Crowe is on-point in his depiction of the psychological and emotional struggles Noah endured on his path to serving the creator. Aronofsky's vision of an unrighteous and industrialized world is both unique and eye-opening, serving as a worthwhile bridge to the feature's amazingly executed visual effects. The flood sequences look phenomenal and take Noah's story down an unforeseeable path that drive the movie well past the two-hour mark. However, it's here where Crowe works his magic and delivers yet another unforgettable character.

For all its glory, Noah is far from a flawless effort. The Black Swan director certainly initiates some head-scratching with his fantasy-like approach to the story. In a very Tolkein-esque manner Aronofsky introduces computer-generated creatures that allow the building of the ark to make sense, but add a ridiculous mystic vibe to the film. This aspect will ruin the experience for some, and be easy to overlook by others. Furthermore, Noah's near two-hour and twenty minute journey is difficult to withstand at times. Although its crawling pace begins as a nuisance, the lull manages to directly elevate the third act of the film which is a magnificent saving grace to the picture. For all of its blunders and miscues, a memorable and impactful finale secure Noah as another winning project from Darren Aronofsky.

With this recent surge in biblical-based movies, I fear sitting through a non-stop "preachy" experience. Noah was none of the sorts. It's a straight-forward interpretation that rarely (if at all) uses the word "god". I appreciated the cumulative story and found the conclusion to pack a punch. It comes with its blemishes, but Noah is full of enough special effects and creativity to satisfy most moviegoers.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars and Let's Be Cops (Red Band) Trailers

Move over Jennifer Lawrence, because Shailene Woodley has set her sights on a familiar path of indie star turned blockbuster queen after this month's release of the critically panned, but box-office generating, Divergent. What's next for Woodley? How about a heartfelt drama adapted from John Green's fourth novel, The Fault in Our Stars. In the film she stars as Hazel, a 16 year old cancer patient who falls for a 17 year old amputee named Gus. Arriving in theatres on June 6th, check out the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars below.

On a lighter note, the official Red Band trailer for Let's Be Cops has been released. The August release finds Jake Johnson (The New Girl) and Damon Wayans Jr. as friends who mistakenly dress as police officers for a masquerade party and their wild antics transform them into neighborhood sensations. That is, until they find themselves caught up in a real life crime containing dirty cops and the mob. Check out the Red Band trailer for Let's Be Cops below.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted

Film: Muppets Most Wanted

Starring: Ricky Gervais (Ghost Town), Ty Burrell (Modern Family) and Tina Fey (30 Rock)

Director: James Bobin (The Muppets)

U.S. Release: March 21st, 2014 (Rated PG)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 107 minutes

After the inarguable success surrounding Jason Segel's long-developed return of Jim Henson's iconic Muppets in 2011, it became inevitable that there was no escaping a sequel. However, with Segel worn out from years of carefully honing each and every colorful joke enjoyed in The Muppets, he respectfully stepped away from the project. And although the highly anticipated follow-up, Muppets Most Wanted, is still a worthy addition to the storied franchise, the film never quite reaches the heights of its immediate predecessor.

Muppets Most Wanted picks up exactly where the last movie ended. Fresh off of their return, Kermit and the gang decide to plot a sequel that takes the lovable cast of characters on a world tour throughout Europe. After the naive hiring of an evil manager named Domonic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), Kermit becomes entangled in a mistaken-identity fiasco that lands him in a dangerous Russian prison with no way of escaping.

As expected, Muppets Most Wanted carries out its usual calling-card of family-friendly humor and entertaining musical numbers. The sequel doesn't quite stack up to the 2011 revival, yet the film manages to operate swiftly and provide a surplus of laughs. Another impressive aspect is the enormous amount of star-studded cameos scattered throughout the movie, ranging from P Diddy, to Usher, to Lady Gaga and a whole lot more. In fact, a huge part of the fun becomes pinpointing all of the celebrities as they quickly arrive and then disappear from the screen. Thankfully, Muppets Most Wanted stays true to its mold and concludes as another enjoyable effort that stands tall on its own.

If there's one major detractor to this 2014 follow-up feature, it's a weak story that works better in theory than execution. The whole Constantine-Kermit identity switch-a-roo begins well but never really sustains as a central focus to the film. Instead, the audience must rely on typical Muppet humor that we've grown accustomed to over the years and a diverse collection of well-constructed songs from Oscar-Winning songwriter, Bret McKenzie. Despite the Constantine storyline never amounting to much, there are still plenty of other shining factors to Muppets Most Wanted that keep it enjoyable for the whole family.

With very little circulating through cinemas right now, you'd be well served by taking a chance on a worthwhile sequel such as Muppets Most Wanted. It may lack the charm and surgeon-like attention to detail of Jason Segel's 2011 rebirth, but writer/director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller stick to the usual Muppet-mantra. And as we all know, that's a formula guaranteed to work!

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4.

Grade: B-

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Giver and The Signal Trailers

It's been a long time coming, but the famous Lois Lowry novel, The Giver, is finally hitting theatres this Summer. The film follows a futuristic utopia, free of pain and suffering, where a 12 year old boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man (Jeff Bridges) about the true pain and pleasures of the world. Arriving in theatres across the country on August 15th, check out the first trailer for The Giver below.

One of the most talked about mystery thrillers at this year's Sundance Film Festival was The Signal. The feature centers around "a group of college students who are lured to the middle of the desert by a hacker" (synopsis courtesy of IMDB). Laurence Fishburne leads a cast of virtual unknowns in The Signal, due to hit theatres on June 13th. Check out the trailer below.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bad Words

Film: Bad Words

Starring: Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses), Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers) and Rohan Chand (Lone Survivor)

Director: Jason Bateman

U.S. Release: March 14th, 2014 (Limited - Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 89 minutes

The actor-turned-director transition is one that many performers desire to accomplish. Sometimes the flow from onscreen star to behind the camera visionary is smooth and sleek. Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard and Ben Affleck are just a few shining examples of this evolution's success. On the other hand, actors such as Nicolas Cage (Sonny) and William Shatner (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) discovered that the conversion can be quite challenging. In fact, when it comes to a familiar star taking the reins and jumping into the director's chair for the first time, you never really know what to expect. And that's the major source of intrigue surrounding Jason Bateman's major motion picture directorial debut, Bad Words.

Guy Trilby (Bateman) is a middle-aged man who uses the fact that he never completed any schooling past the 8th grade as a loophole to infiltrate the world of competitive spelling. While the parents of these studious and ambitiously committed youth see him as a dark cloud over the entire process, Guy has a mysterious motivation to his dastardly antics. That is, until a young Indian-American boy named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) attempts to befriend the foul-mouthed and middle-aged competitor.

Despite the film's healthy dose of comedy, Bateman's Bad Words contains a flimsy script and glossed over characters. The leading star and director is serviceable in both regards, but all of the movie's characters are under-developed and one-dimensional. Bad Words offers no rooting interest and feels like a (very) poor man's Bad Santa. Bateman and company attempt to wrap a large layer of crude and R-rated humor around an ineffective and purposeless story. Bad Words is actually too simple and safe from a structural standpoint. Perhaps taking more risks and adding a blend of uniqueness could have given the film more to offer. Consequently, the audience is left with a slow moving journey to a mysteriously big reveal that isn't very shocking or exciting. All of which help identify Bad Words as the mediocre effort it so clearly is.

Jason Bateman's character, Guy Trilby, is intentionally straight-faced. His motives and emotions are meant to be unidentifiable, making it difficult to connect with the clean-canvased character. Therefore, the only remaining personae to latch on to is the Indian-American boy Chaitanya, played by youngster Rohan Chand. The child-actor has proven his abilities in Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill and 2013's late year success, Lone Survivor. Rohan continues raising the bar with a heartwarming performance that also demonstrates the boy's knack for comedic timing. However, the lovable-kid aspect can only carry the film so far and Bad Words ultimately suffers from countless other shortcomings.

In this early-year lull, the options are few and far between. Jason Bateman's Bad Words is easy to sit through, but nothing spectacular. If you're in search of some vulgar R-rated jokes in the vein of Bad Santa, you guaranteed to find some laughs and get your fix here. Otherwise, Bad Words is simply a run of the mill comedy with weak characters and an uneventful storyline.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Maleficent (NEW) and The Maze Runner Trailers

Broadway used Wicked to demonstrate the limitless success of a story-altering prequel. This summer Disney plans on delivering a similar theme with the release of its highly anticipated blockbuster, Maleficent. Everyone is familiar with the story of "Sleeping Beauty", but Angelina Jolie stars in the untold version of how the villain Maleficent came to be and what drove her to curse the baby Aurora. Arriving in theatres on May 30th, check out the latest trailer for Maleficent below.

Hollywood found the "golden ticket" with adapting young-adult novels into feature films in order to target the largest movie-going audience. First there was Twilight, and then the Hunger Games franchise. After Divergent makes a splash this summer, September offers The Maze Runner. Based on the James Dashner book series, The Maze Runner follows a community of young men who have all had their memories erased in a post-apocalyptic world. Trapped in a world where their only escape is to survive a mysterious maze, the group of men must band together. Check out the first official trailer for The Maze Runner below.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Best TV Stars Turned Movie Actors

I've been extremely candid and outspoken about my affinity for Vince Gilligan's drama masterpiece, Breaking Bad. The series illustrated an unbelievable tale of transformation, one that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. At its center was the unknown supporting star, Aaron Paul, who used the role of "Jesse Pinkman" as a catapult for his career. With Paul's major jump to blockbuster cinema in full swing after this weekend's successful release of the video game adapted Need for Speed, I've decided to devote March's Movie List of the Month (click here for February) to Hollywood's finest actors whose big break came from a role on a television series. Luckily for Aaron Paul, many huge stars have traveled this very same road.

Note: I deemed anyone coming from sketch comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live or In Living Color as ineligible. Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Angels in the Outfield) and Johnny Depp (A Nightmare on Elm Street) both held major roles in films before their starts on 3rd Rock from the Sun and 21 Jump Street, therefore, they were also ruled ineligible.

Honorable Mention: For starters, Will Smith was a difficult one to leave off the list but, as you can see, the Top 5 is awfully crowded (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Michelle Williams (Dawson's Creek), Bruce Willis (Moonlighting) and Michael J. Fox (Family Ties).

#5. Woody Harrelson (Cheers)

The Harrelson/Will Smith debate was a difficult one, but I ended up rooting in favor of Woody. While Will Smith dominated the 90s with a plethora of leading roles, Harrelson has been a lengthy source of consistency all the way to present day. After premiering on the hit television sitcom Cheers in 1985 (and who doesn't love that theme song?), Woody turned the humble role into quite the acting career. Having been nominated for a pair of Academy Awards over the years, we can all agree that Harrelson has given us many more unforgettable performances in films like Zombieland, No Country for Old Men, Kingpin and White Men Can't Jump

#4. George Clooney (ER)

Academy Award Winner George Clooney got his first break break as a regular on the hit medical series ER in 1994. After starring for years as Dr. Doug Ross, Clooney effortlessly bridged the gap from television to film on his way to an Oscar win for Syriana as well as nominations for Michael Clayton, Up in the Air and The Descendants. But acting success clearly wasn't enough for him, Clooney has turned his adoration for filmmaking into a successful career as an Oscar-Winning producer (Argo) and an Academy Award Nominated writer/director (Good Night, and Good Luck) as well.

#3. Robin Williams (Mork & Mindy)

One of the wackiest, but most talented, actors I've ever witnessed is Robin Williams. With a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his magnificent work in Good Will Hunting, it's important to remember that Williams found his humble beginnings on the television sitcom Mork & Mindy. In expected fashion, Williams starred as an alien (Mork from Ork) who actually first appeared on the hit series Happy Days. The dream-sequenced episode was such a success that it spawned a spin-off which ultimately propelled Williams' career to where it stands today. Williams will always be remembered for brilliant performances is films such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poet's Society and The Birdcage

#2. Denzel Washington (St. Elsewhere)

Much like George Clooney, legendary actor Denzel Washington also got his start on a medical drama series. While many will remember the show St. Elsewhere for its polarizing snow-globe final scene, I'll remember it as the root of Denzel's exquisite career. Since his debut on the show all the way back in 1982, Washington has managed to capture a pair of Academy Awards for Glory and Training Day. But those are hardly the full definition of his success, Denzel has also captured the attention of audiences with mesmerizing turns in Flight, Malcolm X, Philadelphia and one of my personal favorites, Remember the Titans. It's been a long, storied career for this fine tv star turned film actor.

#1. Tom Hanks (Bosom Buddies)

In an attempt to be as forthright and respectful as possible, without hesitation, I am reserving the number one spot on this list for one of the greatest actors in the history of film. A bold statement, sure, but Tom Hanks has reached the pinnacle of success with back-to-back Oscar Wins in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. While a pair of Academy Award victories hardly places you among the greatest ever, this one-time star of the sitcom Bosom Buddies also delivered meaningful roles in classics such as Big, Saving Private Ryan, A League of Their Own, Apollo 13, Catch Me If You Can and the list goes on and on. No one could have predicted that a tiny role back in 1980 as an advertiser forced to parade around as a woman in order to live in an affordable female-only apartment would have spawned such a towering and unparalleled career, but thankfully for us, it did. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Get on Up and The Devil's Knot Trailers

Tate Taylor fell wildly into favor with the Academy Awards after his directorial effort for The Help in 2011. Therefore, it's interesting to see whether Tate's newest endeavor, Get on Up, will be an Oscar-worthy feature or more like his leading star's previous work in the baseball drama 42. Lead actor Chadwick Boseman transforms from Jackie Robinson into James Brown for Taylor Tate's biopic which follows the musical icon's rise from poverty to stardom. The film's trailer has finally been released and you can take a first look at Get on Up below.

On a much different note, Academy Award Nominee Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) stars in the upcoming twisted drama Perfect Sisters. The film tells the real life story of best friends and siblings Sandra and Beth who watch their mother fall back into alcoholism as they're left to fend for themselves against her abusive boyfriend. But rather than sitting around and continuing to live as victims, the pair of sisters plot to do the unthinkable. Check out the trailer for Perfect Sisters below.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Starring: Ralph Fiennes (In Bruges), Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan (Hanna)

Director: Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)

U.S. Release: March 7th, 2014 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 99 minutes

After enduring an elongated journey to the Oscars this year, thanks to the awards show's refusal to compete against the Winter Olympics for viewership, it felt as though the 2014 cinematic year would never get going. Early offerings such as The Monuments Men and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit generated initial excitement that managed to wear off quickly. But finally, nearly two and a half months into the year, Wes Anderson strikes again and delivers a film worthy of praise. The long-time director's latest work, The Grand Budapest Hotel, also proves to be one of his finest to date.

Anderson's movie follows an author's fond recollection of the adventures surrounding legendary hotel concierge Gustave H. (played by Ralph Fiennes). The prominent figure at the famous Grand Budapest Hotel develops a strong bond with his trusty protege and lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), as the pair find themselves entangled in a web of murder and incarceration thanks to a priceless painting known only as "Boy with Apple". Gustave and Zero must work together swiftly in order to free their names and survive the pursuit of a ruthless henchmen named Jopling (Willem Defoe).

Although I've never been a huge outspoken fan of Wes Anderson's earlier works such as Rushmore or Life Aquatic, the director has certainly elevated his game in recent years. With 2012's indie success, Moonrise Kingdom, making a firm impression on his career, Anderson's newest feature nearly matches the effort. Leading man Ralph Fiennes puts on his finest acting display in over 15 years with this light-hearted and wacky role. The film's star is both charismatic and enchanting in his portrayal of the oddball concierge Gustave H. And in an expected trademark move by Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts an extensive list of actors and actresses in varying roles such as Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton (just to name a few). However, no matter how fun it always is to spot these stars in random scenes, Fiennes is the glue that holds it all together. On the shoulders of a top flight lead performance and another fabulously written screenplay by Wes Anderson himself, The Grand Budapest Hotel makes for an entertaining source of laughs and intrigue.

Despite the feature's winning array of perfectly timed jokes and hysterical dialogue, The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to suffer from flaws that typically run rampant throughout Wes Anderson's catalog of work. With a bloated emphasis on style and setting more so than the characters themselves, Anderson occasionally misses the mark by failing to create depth to his onscreen personae. It goes without question that the colorful scenes are visually appealing and the director has coined a unique and stylistic approach of his own, but his films generally lack the necessary emotion to move audiences and elevate the works to new heights. Instead, we're left with a "wordy" script containing a fair amount of humor and an excess of vibrant imagery.

Well-paced and delightfully pleasing, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a second consecutive entertaining product from the highly-regarded writer/director, Wes Anderson. Although I continue to wait for the filmmaker to turn the page with his career and take a bold step, I've still managed to find a semblance of enjoyment in his recent efforts. Good, but not great, fans of the quintessential Anderson-style are sure to appreciate The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Frank Trailers

It has been nine long years since Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez debuted their black and white cult phenomenon, Sin City. In 2014 the pair of directors return with the highly anticipated sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. The film's official synopsis states, "The town's most hard-boiled citizens cross paths with some of its more reviled inhabitants". Vague and a far cry from the hardcore fans' desire for a Red Band trailer, check out the first look at Sin City: A Dame to Kill For below.

One of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival's most talked about comedies has debuted its official trailer. Frank stars About Time's Domhnall Gleeson as Jon, a wanna-be musician who joins a pop band with a mysterious over-sized mask-wearing singer/songwriter. Michael Fassbender leads the way as the title character Frank with both Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy in supporting roles. Check out the odd but hysterical trailer for Frank below.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Annie and The Grand Budapest Hotel Trailers

As if being a musical icon isn't enough, mega-star Jay-Z has gone from infiltrating the sports agent market to producing (alongside Will Smith) a re-make of the 1982 musical film, Annie. This modern day version follows Beasts of the Southern Wild star, Quvenzhane Wallis, as the orphan Annie and Academy Award Winner Jamie Foxx as the wealthy politician who adopts her. Set for a December 19th holiday release, check out the first official trailer for Annie below.

Wes Anderson, famed director of indie comedy hits such as The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, returns in 2014 with this Friday's release of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave H, a legendary hotel concierge who becomes entangled in the theft of a priceless painting and an enormous family fortune of a former hotel guest. The long list of star-studded cast members is as impressive as its debut trailer. Check it out below and catch The Grand Budapest Hotel in theatres this weekend.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DVD Outlook: March 2014

As we find ourselves gloriously trapped in the pinnacle of the DVD calendar year, much like February, March offers a multitude of powerhouse selections. One tactful marketing strategy has always been riding the wave of success generated from the annual Academy Awards ceremony, and 2014 is no different. Once again, the top three picks of the month all landed in my 10 Best of 2013, which means you have plenty of excellent titles to choose between.

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

Nominated for a whopping 10 Academy Awards, David O. Russell's caper comedy, American Hustle, makes its way to DVD this month. Although the film found itself shutout at the awards ceremony, there's still plenty to love about the movie. Christian Bale headlines a lengthy list of knockout performances as Irving Rosenfeld, a deadbeat con-man who gets arrested by an FBI agent and is forced to assist the authorities in an elaborate plot to take down powerful politicians and members of the mafia. It has its flaws, but American Hustle is one of 2013's most thrilling and entertaining joy rides and one definitely worth seeing. (March 18th)

12 Years a Slave - 3 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Unlike American Hustle, Steve McQueen's adapted true story, 12 Years a Slave, had quite the successful showing at this past Sunday's Oscar awards ceremony. Taking home three Academy Awards for its heartbreaking screenplay, a magnificent debut performance from Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong'o and the highly coveted Best Picture statue, 12 Years a Slave is a prototypical Oscar delight. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York prior to the Civil War who is drugged and forced into a harsh life of slavery where he must struggle to survive. Uneasy and authentic, 12 Years a Slave isn't the type of film you look forward to experiencing, but its one that's saddled with great importance. (March 4th)

The Wolf of Wall Street - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Martin Scorsese's epic satire, The Wolf of Wall Street, also found itself shutout on Oscar night, but this blockbuster has blown away audiences since its Christmas Day release. Irreverent and ambitious, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort's (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) towering rise to success and his ultimate demise. The debauchery is endless and the jokes are outrageous, in fact, there's nothing low key and normal about Scorsese's latest work. While some label this controversial tale as a perverse glorification of illegal activity, I view it as a comical journey into the modern day American-Dream mindset. (March 25th)

Honorable Mention: With a top three as strong as the films listed above, March is full of worthwhile secondary selections. First, there's the crop of movies I still haven't seen but I can't wait to get my hands on, the list includes The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (3/7), indie sensation Kill Your Darlings (3/18) and the Academy Award Winning animated film Frozen (3/18). Three other flawed but enjoyable films finding their way to DVD this month are Out of the Furnace (3/11), one of the Coen brothers' weakest but a still worthy feature Inside Llewyn Davis (3/11), and finally Disney's movie about making a movie Saving Mr. Banks (3/18).

Monday, March 3, 2014

2014 Oscar Recap

The Academy Awards have come and gone, but the memories will last a lifetime. Ellen DeGeneres proved to be a hilarious choice as host of an evening that spotlighted amazing speeches from first time winners such as Matthew McConaughey and Lupita Nyong'o, as well as a magical rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Pink. As always, Oscar night failed to unravel without a hitch as low points included the Pizza Delivery Guy joke that ran about 5 minutes too long and Bette Midler's raspy performance of "Wind Beneath My Wings". But all in all, the 86th annual Academy Awards was a crowd-pleasing affair that we're guaranteed to never forget.

The competitions went almost entirely as expected. In fact, this year's crop of winners felt extremely scripted as presumed frontrunner 12 Years a Slave took home the major hardware with a Supporting Actress win by Lupita Nyong'o and a Best Adapted Screenplay victory to back it up. Meanwhile, the groundbreaking technical achievements from Best Director winner Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity went completely recognized as the film finished the evening with a total of 7 awards, the most of any movie in competition last night.

It was also a successful affair for the drama Dallas Buyers Club which found a pair of first-time acting winners in Jared Leto (Supporting Actor) and leading star Matthew McConaughey. The film also took home an award for Make-Up giving it 3 victories all together. McConaughey's speech was uplifting and heartfelt as the officially transformed actor even gave the audience his trademark "Alright, Alright, Alright!". Congratulations to him as he was clearly, in my opinion, the most deserving actor of the year.

Furthermore, in expected fashion, Cate Blanchett took home the Best Actress award for her phenomenal early-year work in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. One of the most polarizing films of the year, Spike Jonze's Her, took home the final major win for Best Original Screenplay. With a huge outspoken fan-base that clamored for the semi-futuristic relationship movie as a legitimate Best Picture contender, this is a consolation prize they'll graciously accept. On the other hand, loyal fans of David O. Russell's American Hustle (myself included) had to sit through a shutout as the film finished a whopping zero for ten ... ouch!

*** On a side note, congratulations to our Oscar Pool winner Amy Shoffner out of Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. Amy finished in a four way tie for 1st place with three others who managed to pick an astounding 22-2 on the evening, however Shoffner's tiebreaker answer put her over the top. Thanks to everyone who participated and I hope to see each of you return to the competition next year!