Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rapid Reviews: Get on Up and Wish I Was Here

*** Guest Review Courtesy of Greg Rouleau

This all seems very familiar.  That’s the impression we’re bound to get by the end of the James Brown biopic, Get On Up.  It’s another in the long line of musician biographies on film, this time tackled by The Help director Tate Taylor.  The Help featured an innocuous but heartfelt story of racism and civil rights in Mississippi during the 1960s.  In Get On Up we start back in roughly the same time period in Georgia.  Chadwick Boseman, who recently portrayed other famed African-American, Jackie Robinson in 42, plays the Godfather of Soul.

Boseman, who was rather underwhelming as Robinson, really impresses with his turn as Brown.  He’ll almost certainly, at the very least, be in the conversation for Best Actor at the conclusion of the year.  It’s unfortunate, however, the rest of the film can’t match the spark of his performance.   Taylor employs every biopic trope that even the audience can imagine each one being crossed off the figurative checklist.  From the rags to riches arc, the chance meeting that leads to a big break, marital and band issues as the result of an inflated ego and/or drug abuse, we’ve certainly been down this road before.

It’s understandable that we’re covering a mostly true story of a real-life figure, but perhaps more of a light should’ve been shined on the years where Brown made his mark.  It’s not all for naught, though.  The childhood years give us some decent albeit brief performances by The Help alum, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  Nelsan Ellis is also a welcome addition on screen as Bobby Byrd.  Taylor attempts to keep up the pace by frequently switching between time periods, but few scenes seem to have a chance to really stand out.  Despite the formulaic story, the musical pieces are certainly enjoyable and that’s a credit to Boseman whose enthusiasm for this character is quite infectious.  At 138 minutes, though, I imagine those that aren’t enamored with the music of Mr. Brown may be squirming for a final number.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+ 

*** Guest Review Courtesy of Greg Rouleau

Much has been made over Zach Braff’s controversial Kickstarter campaign from last year.   As a huge fan of Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State, no complaints we’re made on this end, especially since it’s been ten years since Garden State was released.  It’s almost difficult to believe that much time has passed in between projects.  That, and the fact the audience funded much of this film, certainly increased expectations for the actor’s sophomore effort.

Wish I Was Here stars Braff as Aiden Bloom, a thirty something year old that discovers his father’s dying and won’t be able to pay for his grandchildren’s expensive private school anymore.  Aiden, with the help of his breadwinning wife, Sarah, played by Kate Hudson, attempts to home school the little ones and an adventure ensues.  The movie debuted at Sundance earlier this year and was met with lukewarm reception.  It’s hard to argue that Wish I Was Here isn’t a bit of a disappointment but it certainly isn’t one to avoid. 

Much like Garden State the soundtrack is a shining star here.  Even though that serves as a crutch for some potentially weak storytelling, Braff certainly knows his fair share of solid indie tunes.  We can also be thankful that Braff was able to get the likes of Mandy Patinkin and Hudson on board, as they deliver the best performances by far.  There’s a little too much pondering the wonders and tragedies of life, some of which doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.  The film also works better when it’s trying to be funny rather than when the emotion gets dialed up, which is frequently in the final act.  Even though it may not leave a lasting impression, it’s difficult not to admire the passion that Braff so evidently poured into the writing and directing of Wish I Was Here. 

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Red Band) and Whiplash

As Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's long-awaited sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, creeps closer to its late-August release date, new Red Band footage of the film has been delivered to the masses. Boasting a cast filled with A-listers such as Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the return to one of cinema's most wicked towns is as anticipated as ever. Check out the R-rated trailer for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For below.

One of the most well-received films out of this year's Sundance class was the Grand Jury Prize Winner, Whiplash. Director Damien Chazelle's captivating tale of a music school Jazz drummer (played by Miles Teller) who develops an obsession with greatness thanks to his instructor's (J.K. Simmons) highly demanding personality. Whiplash is an impressive debut feature that successfully transforms Jazz drumming into an engaging backdrop to a much larger story. You'll definitely want to catch the trailer for this indie sensation below.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rapid Reviews: Begin Again and The Purge: Anarchy

Slowly expanding its way through screens across the country this month is John Carney's Begin Again. While many moviegoers will recall the title thanks to its biggest mainstream identifier, the film acting debut of Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, I was eager to catch the movie because of a lead pairing that features Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. Both performers starred separately in my two favorite films from this year's Sundance class, Infinitely Polar Bear and Laggies, and the idea of a collaborative effort immediately sparked my interest.

There's certainly a magic surrounding Begin Again, a tale of a deadbeat alcoholic father (Ruffalo) who loses his job as a music executive and haphazardly discovers a promising young talent (Knightley) while drinking his sorrows away at the bar. How he envisions her simple acoustic song transformed to new heights by a full accompaniment of instruments is a memorable scene and one that truly captures the essence of the film. Each and every musical arrangement serves as a stepping stone from beginning to end and help keep afloat an otherwise mediocre affair.

Begin Again harbors many weak plot lines and a character arc that doesn't feel 100% authentic for Ruffalo. High on aesthetics and low on substance, there are plenty of ups and downs surrounding the movie. However, valiant performances from the collective cast, which also features Hallee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Catherine Keener (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), and a hearty amount of fantastic musical performances help elevate Begin Again above the norm.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

I typically get worked up for horror releases only to be let down by what transpires on screen. It's proven to be quite difficult capturing an effective scary movie nowadays. One of the most anticipated releases in recent memory was 2013's The Purge and, more so than usual, I was extremely disappointed in the final product. Yet, one feeling I remember having was that the premise was so intriguing, I would happily give future installments a fair shake at making the idea work.

New to theatres is the franchise's second go-around, The Purge: Anarchy. Undoubtedly a mighty improvement over its predecessor, the sequel takes the clever idea surrounding a futuristic American society where all crime is legal for one 12-hour period a year and sets it free. While the origin story is set entirely in a house during the annual purge, this latest effort takes moviegoers to the beastly streets where surviving the night seems very unlikely.

Interconnecting 3 stories of civilians on this stressful evening, most of whom want nothing to do with the holiday, it's Warrior's Frank Grillo who steals the show. The fast-rising actor adds a surprisingly effective action-hero element to this crazed horror tale. While Grillo's character takes to the mean streets to seek vengeance, he has a moment of sympathy for these helpless survivors and becomes their guardian angel with a machine gun. Although I still believe the franchise needs to wander away from the overly-referenced socio-economic subplots, as well as the whole guerrilla-style group who rivals the government, The Purge: Anarchy solidifies itself as a step in the right direction for the franchise. The well-conceived premise will always leave room for expansive creativity and it appears as though writer/director James DeMonaco finally recognizes that character-driven stories are the way to go.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fifty Shades of Grey and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Red Band) Trailers

Women everywhere can finally rejoice as the best-selling novel from E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey, has officially released a trailer for director Sam Taylor-Johnson's (Nowhere Boy) 2015 big-screen adaptation. Relatively unknown stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan tackle the roles of naive literature student, Anastasia Steele, and billionaire, Christian Grey, who develop a wild sexual relationship after a friendly interview together. Fans of the novel can check out the first look into Fifty Shades of Grey below.

Christmas brings an extra gift this year for fans of the 2010 wacky time-travel film, Hot Tub Time Machine, as its sequel is scheduled to reach theatres. Although John Cusack has bailed on the franchise, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke all reprise their roles, except this time they've been sent far into the future. While the original had its fair share of hilarious moments, we'll all have to take the wait-and-see approach with this slightly over-reaching follow-up feature. You can catch the official Red Band trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 below.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Film: Boyhood

Starring: Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke (Training Day)

Director: Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused)

U.S. Release: July 11th, 2014 (Limited - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 164 minutes

By now most people have heard the rumblings about Richard Linklater's spectacular new film, Boyhood. There's very little I can add to the warranted praises that have flooded radio airwaves and internet websites. Truth be told, Boyhood is a magnificent cinematic feat that required vision and collective patience from its director, cast and crew. And I'm sure almost everyone involved would agree on one simple fact, it was certainly worth the wait.

Boyhood follows its lead character, Mason (played by an evolving Ellar Coltrane), from the ages of 5 to 18 where life experiences uniquely shape his world views. Mason travels around with his mother and older sister from town to town as the matriarch struggles to provide the quintessential family environment for her children. Filmed masterfully in bits and pieces over the course of 12 lingering years, the movie gives a once-in-a-lifetime perspective into a boy's transition through adolescence.

It's difficult to put into words the culminating experience of witnessing a masterpiece such as Boyhood. An unbreakable bond is established immediately as we watch Ellar Coltrane grow before our very eyes. The ride is both a mirror of our own personal ventures into adulthood as well as a reminder that all of us must set an individual path. Be assured that Mason has his own story, filled with complexities and obstacles that continually mold him into the spirited young man we see just before the credits start to roll. Even after a long-winded and nearly three hour endeavor, it's painful to accept a finale. It almost feels as though any ending would be unjust because, like with our own lives, the story presses on.

Despite the brilliance and handling of Linklater's undeniable instant classic, there were a few small hiccups existing throughout. For starters, Boyhood isn't compromised of many lasting moments like other coming-of-age gems such as Stand By Me and The Sandlot. Instead, the feature serves as a premier example of an instance where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, an overlooked facet that echoes the greatness of Linklater's achievement. But still, a couple more iconic scenes would have been preferred. Also, throughout a relatively well-paced 164 minute marathon to the finish line, Boyhood unravels with the occasional lull. However, a truly engaging and transformative journey eases the audience past all of the brief uninspiring moments.

Trust me, until you do, you've never seen anything like Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Perhaps more monumental in scope and execution than in substance and flavor, the result is still the same, an impressive feature that breeds innovation and personal connection. Boyhood is one of the year's finest films and something everyone deserves to witness.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: A-

Monday, July 21, 2014

Laggies and The One I Love Trailers

One of my favorite films from this year's Sundance Festival lineup was Lynn Shelton's Laggies. This heartfelt comedy stars Keira Knightley as Megan, a twenty-something woman finding difficulty branching out from adolescence. And when Megan's longtime boyfriend decides to propose to her, she lies about going on a retreat and stays with a teenage girl she just met (Chloe Grace Moretz) in order to figure things out. As someone not too far removed from my late-twenties, Laggies proves to be a relatable film that helps define an ever-growing cultural trend.

Another Sundance selection has recently released its debut trailer, but it's one that I wasn't able to catch at this year's festival and that's Charlie McDowell's The One I Love. Indie stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss star as a struggling married couple who attempt to escape for a weekend and save their marriage. Instead, they find themselves confronted with a very unusual dilemma. With solid buzz surrounding the film and a unique style to go along with it, The One I Love presents plenty of intrigue and mystery to the rom-com genre.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Film: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Starring: Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises)

Director: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)

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

Genre: Action

Runtime: 130 minutes

Following a well-received origin story that turned into a worldwide box office smash grossing just shy of $500 million, it was a no-brainer to expect a sequel to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Yet, rather than immediately churning out a rushed and thoughtless continuation, the studio handled things perfectly by assembling a whole new team and taking the necessary time to get the project done right. Consequently, director Matt Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stands tall as one of the summer blockbuster season's finest films.

A decade after a deadly virus first spread and super intelligent apes escaped into the forest, the human population has become scarce and their ability to survive hinges on a broken down dam miles from civilization. A team of explorers venture deep into the barren wilderness and stumble upon hordes of advanced chimps lead by Casear. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) explains their desperation and Caesar gives the humans permission to occupy the land and fix up the dam. However, co-existence between apes and humans becomes more difficult than either species could have ever imagined.

Similar to its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes decides to hook its viewers by establishing an instant connection with Caesar and the rest of the primate colony. Yet, director Matt Reeves and his team of writers deserve an abundance of credit for their exemplary job at building a bond from the film's opening sequence. From there a cleverly constructed story combining subplots of greed, jealousy and revenge take the wheel and steer the film to an action-packed and equally dramatic finale. Supported by sound performances from rising star Jason Clarke and amazing CGI work based on the movements and expressions of the under-appreciated artist Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes swings past the first film and represents a class of its own.

Despite my affection for the latest installment to the storied franchise of films, there were a few concerning aspects. One such area is the long-winded and action obsessed third act that I usually find troubling during the blockbuster season. However, a brilliant foundation and captivating story helps to soften the blows. Furthermore, images of apes wielding machine guns and riding on horseback to a brutal ambush seemed a little overboard to me. But once again, I felt compelled to overlook these minor annoyances thanks to a fundamentally strong creation from Matt Reeves and his team.

Although I felt as though Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins wonderfully and slowly weakens throughout, the end result was still a fine piece of work that transcends the prototypical summer blockbuster. Don't be fooled into believing that the feature is a revolutionary masterpiece, but find solace in accepting the film for what it is ... an entertaining and well-executed final product. I enjoyed the story, found the acting to be believable and embraced the ride. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Friday, July 11, 2014

Unbroken and Wild Trailers

As the elusive fall months begin to creep up on us, a barrage of theatrical trailers remind us that Oscar season is right around the corner. Early indicators have placed Angelina Jolie's sophomore directorial effort, Unbroken, as a serious awards contender. The gripping true story tells of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was captured and held in a Japanese prison during World War II. With a screenplay crafted by the Coen brothers, Unbroken appears to have the potential to be a truly epic feature.

One of 2013's most recognized films was Jean-Marc Vallee's Dallas Buyers Club. The filmmaker returns just one year later with his follow-up feature, Wild, which stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman with a dark past who embarks on an 1,100 mile solo hike to recover from a recent trauma. We clearly know that Vallee has the ability to bring great characters to life and perhaps Wild will give us another unforgettable one. Check out its trailer below.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Best Coming-of-Age Movies

In honor of Richard Linklater's groundbreaking cinematic achievement, Boyhood, a coming-of-age tale filmed with the same crop of actors over a course of 12 long years, I've decided to dedicate July's Movie List of the Month to the Best Coming-of-Age movies of all-time (you can check out June's list here).

Now, I'm aware at how personal the genre can be to each and every individual, so I asked 9 of my movie-loving friends to choose from a relatively wide range of titles and order their favorite films. Then, each ranking was given a specific point value to create a collective list from all 10 of us. As the creator of the original list to choose from, I'm sorry for fans of The Breakfast Club and other popular options, but I went with my gut and here's what we came up with:

Chris Bandoian (#3 on his list): "Perks isn't just one of the best coming-of-age stories we've seen, but also one of the best all around movies. What better way is there to ensure a movie stays true to the book than to have to author direct it himself? The script is well-written, the performances are perfect, the score is excellent, and the cinematography is beautiful to the point of being surreal. Chobsky's work is personal and embodies some of the finest aspects of the rest of the movies on the list."

#7. The Outsiders

Gary Dickens (#1 on his list): "The Outsiders went on to show that just because you were from the wrong side of the tracks, it doesn't mean you don't know about family, loyalty and humanity."

#6. Big

Dave Traverso (#3 on his list): "Big is the quintessential example of an unforgettable coming-of-age tale. Through a brilliant performance from one of the greatest actors the world has ever known, Tom Hanks, we're all reminded that there's a beauty nestled inside of each and every stage of life and that there's no need to rush growing up."

 #5. Almost Famous

Greg Rouleau (#1 on his list): "With a fantastic soundtrack and one of the best screenplays ever written, Almost Famous makes you feel like you're floating on a cloud over a rainbow in 'Happy Land' for 120 minutes."

#4. A Bronx Tale

Jason Votta (#2 on his list): "A Bronx Tale is more than just a gangster movie, it's a life lesson on family, friendship, love, and what it means to be a real "tough guy". And the film poses the question, in the end, is it better to be feared or loved?"

#3. The Goonies

Amy Shoffner (#1 on her list): "The Goonies has most of the elements we all wanted (or feared) from our childhood ... a treasure hunt, pirates, befriending a deformed giant, cheerleaders wearing letter jackets, being kidnapped by a family of fugitives, booby traps, kissing your older brother's hot girlfriend, inspirational speeches by a teenager in a wishing well, and a bunch of kids sticking it to the man and saving the Goon Docks."

#2. The Sandlot

Joe "Chunk" Corcoran (#1 on his list): "The Sandlot goes to show you that a film doesn't need violence or death to show character development and growth. Just baseball."

#1. Stand by Me

Mike Sage (#1 on his list): "I picked Stand by Me because we all deal with fears and most of the time we don't face them. This movie inspires us to do just that and to go on our own journey!"

Note: A special thanks to everyone who helped offer their insight and compile this list: Mike Sage, Gary Dickens, Joe "Chunk" Corcoran, Chris Bandoian, Greg Rouleau, Jason Votta, Ryan O'Hara, Amy Shoffner and Ashley Traverso.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gone Girl (NEW) and Exodus: Gods and Kings Trailers

This week we've been given new glimpses into two potential Oscar potential films. For starters, there's Gone Girl from acclaimed director David Fincher which starts Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, a husband suspected of killing his wife after she disappears with very little evidence. Based on the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, Gone Girl's latest trailer solidifies the early hype.

The second feature is Exodus: Gods and Kings from Ridley Scott. Although Scott has struggled to regain his awards season stature of late with recent flops such as The Counselor and Robin Hood, perhaps this biblical tale will get him back on track. Christian Bale stars in Scott's retelling of the story of Moses and how he guided the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The visuals appear impressive and if the interpretation is strong enough, perhaps Ridley Scott and Bale will flourish throughout this winter's award season.

Friday, July 4, 2014

DVD Outlook: July 2014

July has officially arrived and we're entrenched in the dog days of summer. And as far as the DVD prospects landing on shelves this month, there aren't any groundbreaking titles like I mentioned June, but there are definitely a few enjoyable selections. Here are the top three DVD releases for the month of July:

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

Although leading star Nick Frost's re-tweet of my review immediately boosted Cuban Fury to the most visited post of the year on my site, I give you my word that there is no bias to this selection. Cuban Fury is a legitimate laugh out loud comedy backed by stellar performances and a hilariously penned screenplay. After the arrival of their attractive new female boss (played by Rashida Jones), co-workers Bruce (Frost) and the overly confident Drew (Chris O'Dowd) compete for her affection through salsa dancing. With affable characters and a breakthrough supporting turn from Kayvan Novak that spews non-stop hilarity, Cuban Fury is an entertaining comedy that begins and ends without a hiccup. (July 29th)

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

Having missed an opportunity to catch Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin at the 2013 Philadelphia Film Festival, I pounced on the opportunity at Sundance in January. Macon Blair stars as Dwight, a homeless recluse who re-opens a dark past when he seeks vengeance on a recently paroled man. Gripping, tense and well-shot, Blue Ruin dishes out all the essential ingredients to a successful revenge movie. Elements of gore and violence are tastefully used throughout this well-paced and slow burning thriller. It surely isn't a film intended for all types of audiences, but fans of the genre will consider Macon Blair's fine performance and the entire feature as a welcome addition. (July 22nd)

Noah - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Please allow me to preface my recommendation by clearing up the fact that Darren Aronofsky's Noah is a completely off-kilter and bizarre interpretation of the biblical tale. In many ways this story of Noah incorporates a surprising amount of fantasy reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It's peculiar and odd as well as unique and imaginative. After a good-hearted and honest man named Noah (Russell Crowe) receives visions of a flood meant to destroy the evils of mankind, he and his family begin to build an ark in hopes of surviving the storm and preserving life on earth. I found the film to be a bit divisive and almost a combination of two separate movies. While the first half breeds a strange vision of the age-old story, the second half of the feature explores what happens after the flood, a captivating journey into the psyche of these few survivors. Darren Aronofsky's Noah is worth a try if you're open to an unpredictable twist on the well-known biblical tale. (July 29th)

Honorable Mention: Other titles arriving to DVD this month include a few that I haven't seen but look forward to viewing, such as Jonathan Glazer's sci-fi mystery Under the Skin (7/15) starring Scarlett Johansson, Richard Shepard's crime comedy Dom Hemingway (7/22) starring Jude Law, and even the critically panned directorial debut from Wally Pfister Transcendence (7/22) with Johnny Depp. Action junkies will be thrilled to hear that The Raid 2 hits shelves on 7/8, and a few mediocre titles that were enjoyed by others include Jason Bateman's spelling bee comedy Bad Words (7/8) and the chick-flick The Other Woman (7/29) with Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Foxcatcher (NEW) and Horrible Bosses 2 Trailers

I'm thrilled that during this temporary movie drought in the summer blockbuster season we're at least being given some anticipated trailers to enjoy. Although I've been dying to see Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher for almost two years now, thankfully the latest theatre trailer demonstrates just how intense the drama will be. Foxcatcher tells the real life story of multi-millionaire John du Pont (played by Steve Carell) and his obsessive relationship with Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) that ended in tragedy. Early word out of the Cannes Festival is Foxcatcher will be a serious Oscar contender for Best Picture and its latest trailer shows why that is.

On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, fans of the comedy Horrible Bosses finally have their first look into the sequel. The trio of friends return and attempt to start their own business, but things don't go as planned when an investor gets in their way and prompts them to get down and dirty again. Slated for a late November release, check out the debut trailer for Horrible Bosses 2.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Skeleton Twins and Life After Beth Trailers

I'm excited to announce the recent release of theatrical trailers for a pair of Sundance Film Festival selections that I had a chance to catch earlier this year. First up is the comedy/drama The Skeleton Twins starring Saturday Night Live standouts Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. After 10 years apart from one another, twins Maggie and Milo are forced to reconnect and discover where exactly their lives went wrong. There's plenty of laughs and certainly enough drama for both Hader and Wiig to put on fine acting displays. Feel free to read my review for The Skeleton Twins and check out the debut trailer for the September release.

The second debut trailer comes from the raved about zombie comedy, Life After Beth. Following the tragic death of his high school girlfriend, Zach (played by Dane DeHaan) struggles to overcome countless regrets and move forward with his life. Then, Beth (Aubrey Plaza) miraculously emerges from the dead and it gives Zach an opportunity to do and say everything he missed out on before. But one issue remains, Beth slowly transforms into a flesh-eating monster and it creates an awkward dynamic to their young romance. While you can read a brief description from my Sundance Recap on why I wasn't a huge fan of Life After Beth, catch the trailer and decide for yourself if it's something you may enjoy.