Saturday, May 31, 2014

This is Where I Leave You and A Walk Among the Tombstones Trailers

What do you get when you cross an unexpected death with a dysfunctional family? A generic plot line that's been done a million times over. However, director Shawn Levy hopes his latest work, This is Where I Leave You, has more to offer to this tiring premise. Jason Bateman and Tiny Fey star as two of four siblings who are forced to come together after the untimely passing out their father. With its debut trailer, This is Where I Leave You, certainly packs both a comedic and dramatic punch.

Based on a Lawrence Block novel of the same name, Scott Frank looks to make his return to the director's chair for the first time in seven years with A Walk Among the Tombstones. After a strong debut with 2007's relatively unknown gem, The Lookout, Frank's newest offering follows a cop-turned-unlicensed private detective played by Liam Neeson. After a drug kingpin's wife is kidnapped and murdered, he's hired to investigate but the underworld in which he discovers is paved with immense danger. A Walk Among the Tombstones seemingly features Liam Neeson doing what he does, and the possibilities appear endless.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hollywood's Rising Stars: Part 2

Yesterday I kicked off a two-part look into who could become Hollywood's next batch of superstars. While a few of Part 1's names were far less noticeable, the top five should bring a little more familiarity to the list. But just to quickly recap, here are numbers 10 through 6 once again:

And the Top 5 are ...

Eddie Redmayne catapulted onto the scene as a virtually unknown lead in the Simon Curtis Oscar Nominated film, My Week With Marilyn. This rising star was so impressive in the 2011 movie that it helped land him the role of Marius in Tom Hooper's Les Miserables a few years back. As a fan of the Broadway musical, and someone not particularly in love with the motion picture adaptation, I will admit that Redmayne was one of the film's brighter spots. With upcoming roles in the Wachowski's Jupiter Ascending, James Marsh's Theory of Everything (as Stephen Hawking) and a recently announced lead in Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl (as the first sex-change recipient), Redmayne is destined to become a household name. 

As the grandfather on the list, the soon to be 45 year-old is an Australian actor who's finally making a major impact on Hollywood. In 2012 Jason Clarke converged on the industry as a supporting star in John Hillcoat's Lawless and Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar contender, Zero Dark Thirty. Then, Clarke followed up his breakthrough successes with a small, but impactful, turn in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby just last year. But with all these supporting performances, why does Clarke rate so highly on my list? It's because the late-bloomer has already stocked up on some high profile projects in the near future. Clarke looks to attain stardom after the world watches him star in upcoming blockbusters such as this summer's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 2015's Terminator: Genesis (as the iconic John Connor character). 

As if I haven't rambled on tirelessly about the mesmerizing Brie Larson already, this beautiful and talented young star reminds me of another indie favorite I have, Michelle Williams. Both blondes possess a natural artistic ability that's so rare these days. While Larson is best remembered as Jonah Hill's semi-love interest in the hit blockbuster comedy 21 Jump Street, that doesn't begin to tell the story of her talents. One of the Academy Awards' greatest tragedies this past year was a failure to recognize Brie Larson's unforgettable work in the must-watch indie drama, Short Term 12. With a staple such as that already on her resume, major upcoming roles in the Judd Apatow comedy Trainwreck and Rupert Wyatt's The Gambler (alongside Mark Wahlberg and John Goodman) can only spell a recipe for success.

With my #2 pick on the list, some may see my selection of Ezra Miller as "going out on a limb". But believe me, there's a method to my madness. For starters, his knack for turning pedestrian characters into monumental ones is beyond comparison. Many have told me that the rather bland character of Patrick in the coming-of-age novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is completely transformed and brought to life by Miller's work in the onscreen adaptation. It's also an underrated supporting performance for which he definitely should have been nominated. Then, by watching his villainous portrayal in the skin-crawling We Need to Talk About Kevin, we're able to see just how far this actor's range extends. Miller has all of the makings of a legitimate and untouchable superstar. I just wonder if his film selection will take him there. Hopefully more exposure in the adulterous tale of Madame Bovary and a spot alongside #3 selection, Brie Larson, in Judd Apatow's next project, Trainwreck, will elevate Ezra Miller to stardom. 

#1. Dane DeHaan

And finally, the top spot on my list of Hollywood's Fastest Rising Stars in none other than Dane DeHaan. Perhaps, with this month's blockbuster release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I'm a little behind the eight-ball. However, DeHaan's talents far exceed where his career currently stands. Not only has DeHaan captivated audiences with exceptional performances in films like Chronicle, Lawless, The Place Beyond the Pines and the indie hit, Kill Your Darlings, the gifted young actor has also shown that he recognizes a strong project when he sees one. With a thin upcoming schedule that includes a role as James Dean in the potentially career-boosting film, Life, I have full confidence that whatever DeHaan decides to work on in the future, it will be positively affected by his greatness. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hollywood's Rising Stars: Part 1

Like everything in life, Hollywood goes through cycles. Superstars come and go in this industry and, sometimes, they're completely unexpected. How many people watched Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984 and knew that a young unknown actor named Johnny Depp would grow into the success he's become? It happens all the time. So I decided to dig deep and look into the recent past and upcoming future to try and pinpoint the next wave of superstars about to unleash on Tinseltown. But before we begin this two-part look at ten of Hollywood's rising stars, I'll begin with a brief list of the honorable mention selections that also have a chance at becoming household names.

Honorable Mention: Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed and the TV hit New Girl), Eva Green (Casino Royale and the upcoming Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Tye Sheridan (Mud and The Tree of Life) and Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12 and the upcoming release from Sundance, Laggies)

The indie princess, Brit Marling, is my dark horse in this race to stardom. Best known for spectacular turns in Sundance hits like Another Earth, Arbitrage and The East, she hasn't broken into the blockbuster scene quite yet. However, she's created quite the stir with indie cinephiles and I have a feeling it won't be long until this highly intelligent and remarkably underrated actress takes Hollywood by storm.

Anyone who follows my work knows how much I enjoyed the tender and sentimental 2013 drama, About Time (which landed in my Top Ten Films of 2013). Although the always fantastic Bill Nighy stole the show, at its center was the charming and lovable Domhnall Gleeson. Having found serious face-time in the wildly successful Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1 and 2) and garnering a role in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII, Domhnall may just find himself taking over the industry before any of us know it.

Speaking of the hit drama, About Time, the next person on my list also carried a role in the film. Yet, the beautifully stunning Australian actress, Margot Robbie, is best known for capturing Leonardo DiCaprio's heart in Scorcese's entertaining comedy, The Wolf of Wall Street. While the jury is still out on whether or not she has serious staying power in the industry, Robbie will be given the opportunity to carry a major blockbuster film with 2016's Tarzan

Having caught the eyes of audiences as a young actor in HBO's The Wire and, since then, dazzling in well received films such as Chronicle and the 2013 Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner, Fruitvale Station, Michael B. Jordan is on a mission bound for success. The charismatic young man aims to turn some heads with the upcoming blockbuster reboot, The Fantastic Four, scheduled for 2015. It's also been announced that Jordan plans to re-team with his Fruitvale Station director, Ryan Coogler, for a spin-off of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky. He'll star as the grandson of fictional character, Apollo Creed, who fights under the tutelage of Stallone.

Upon my further research of the budding star, Miles Teller, I was shocked to discover that he was born in Downingtown, Pennsylvania (10 minutes from where I reside). Best known as Shailene Woodley's counterpart in the indie teen sensation, The Spectacular Now, I was most impressed with Teller's work in the upcoming character study out of Sundance, Whiplash. Anyone who can stand toe-to-toe in the acting ring with an immensely underrated talent like J.K. Simmons definitely has what it takes to become a superstar, so consider me "sold". Keep an eye out for Miles Teller who will star alongside Michael B. Jordan in The Fantastic Four reboot. 

*** Stay tuned for tomorrow when I take a look at the Top 5 Rising Stars in Hollywood.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight and Wish I Was Here Trailers

Despite all of his publicly disputed sexual abuse allegations, writer/director Woody Allen knows how to captivate an audience. This July, he plans to do it again with his highly anticipated release, Magic in the Moonlight. Colin Firth stars as a man brought in to debunk a potentially fraudulent clairvoyant (Emma Stone) but when he can't find a way to discredit her abilities, he ends up falling for the unique woman. Check out the debut trailer for Magic in the Moonlight below.

Zach Braff returns with his first directorial effort since the release of his cult classic, Garden State. With Braff's latest effort, Wish I Was Here, he plays  a struggling actor, father and husband who begins homeschooling his two children after their grandfather can no longer afford to pay for their private education. Through his unorthodox teaching method, he begins to learn a lot about himself. This Sundance Film Festival selection was praised by critics and reaches theatres in late July. Check out the trailer for Wish I Was Here below.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Grand Piano

Film: Grand Piano

Starring: Elijah Wood (Sin City) and John Cusack (Hot Tub Time Machine)

Director: Eugenio Mira

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

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 90 minutes

Although the new thriller that reaches DVD today, Grand Piano, is technically a Eugenio Mira film, screenwriter Damien Chazelle possesses the hot new name that's floating around Hollywood. Chazelle, who's best known for directing the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize Winner, Whiplash, seems to have an affinity for music, as this time around his feature follows a world-renowned concert pianist. Yet, unlike his award-recognized debut film about a jazz drummer obsessed with "achieving greatness", this time Chazelle hits all the wrong notes.

Elijah Wood stars as Tom Selznick, a famous pianist who's giving his first performance in five years after a brutally flawed concert frazzled his psyche. Once the show begins and Selznick takes to his former mentor's grand concert piano in front of a sold-out crowd, he comes across threatening messages written on his sheet music. Selznick soon discovers that he and his wife are the target of a sadistic sniper (John Cusack) with a grandiose scheme.

Filmmaker Eugenio Mira's Grand Piano is a second-rate thriller with laughable intensity and illegitimate suspense. Despite some critics who argue that Mira's work is a fun-filled self-knowing mockery of the thriller genre, I find absolutely no need for a film of that breed. Given that its tension is far from nerve-racking and its threats aren't the least bit convincing, Grand Piano serves as a premier example of inauthentic and disingenuous filmmaking.

Although the feature is bogged down by many key deficiencies, Grand Piano has a few mitigating qualities. Sporting a brisk running time of 90 minutes, the film is easy to get through. Also, Grand Piano benefits from a memorable score inundated with fantastic classic compositions. Backed by a smooth pace and pleasing music, it's truly a shame that Mira couldn't construct a genuinely thrilling final product. Therefore, Grand Piano is an excessively underwhelming affair brimming with untapped potential.

Appreciating its clever and secretive motive behind the antagonist's devious plot, there really is an interesting story here. However, directorial issues with tone and style inhibit Grand Piano from capturing its audience. When seeing a thriller, don't we all wish for legitimate thrills that make us believe something's at risk? Unfortunately, Grand Piano never makes you feel that way.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Best Adam Sandler Movies

This past Friday I visited a friend of mine who's recovering from surgery and, needless to say, we discussed movies quite a bit. One difference in opinion we debated revolved around our favorite Adam Sandler films. While critics have repeatedly crushed Sandler's work throughout the years (and many times it's been warranted), I've always admired the performer as one of those rare actors successful at making the leap from comedy to drama. With his return to romantic comedies alongside longtime film-companion Drew Barrymore in this Summer's release, Blended, I decided to devote May's Movie List of the Month (here's April's List) to Adam Sandler's greatest films.

Honorable Mention: Click, Big Daddy, Airheads and Mr. Deeds.

#5. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Shortly following the turn of the millennium, five-time Academy Award Nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (director of Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood) saw something in Sandler that no one else ever had. The well-respected filmmaker cast him as the lead in Punch-Drunk Love, the story of a troubled and awkward novelty supplier who falls for an English woman after a chance encounter, and it changed Sandler's career forever. While the film comes with its glaring faults and it's never been regarded as one of PTA's best, the iconic feature left a significant imprint on Sandler's time in the industry.

#4. Billy Madison (1995)

Every great career has its first milestone and Sandler's began in grand fashion with arguably the most quotable comedy of all-time, Billy Madison. Sure, the story of a deadbeat son who repeats his entire schooling career at an accelerated pace to prove to his father that he's worthy of taking over the family company is completely absurd, but who hasn't stolen a genius one-liner and used it in a social setting? I used the famous, "anymore brain busters" just last week. Truth be told, most critics would turn up there noses at Billy Madison's immature and ludicrous intentions. However, Sandler's comedic breakthrough was a staple of my adolescence and one that I'll cherish forever.

#3. The Wedding Singer (1998)

Like I mentioned earlier, Sandler has frequented the romantic-comedy genre quiet a few times with co-star Drew Barrymore. Blended arrives in theatres this upcoming weekend and prior to that there was 50 First Dates. Yet, the Sandler-Barrymore tag-team duo began in 1998's iconic comedy classic, The Wedding Singer. Sandler stars as a hopeless romantic who's stranded at the alter on his wedding day. Unable to cope and carry out his duties as a first class singer of a wedding band, he befriends the engaged and soon to be Julia Guglia (what a name!) who helps guide him out of his emotional rut. The laughs are endless, the story is wholesome and the journey back to the 80s is nothing short of spectacular (we love you Billy Idol).

#2. Reign Over Me (2007)

I'll never forget the first moment I was blown away by Sandler's acting chops. He returned to dramas in 2007 with Mike Binder's Reign Over Me, which tells the heartbreaking story of a man who lost his family during the 911 attacks on New York City. Sandler gives a phenomenal turn as this emotionally unstable individual who reconnects with an old college friend (brilliantly played by Don Cheadle) as they slowly piece his life back together. Although the film obviously caters to its sentiment, Reign Over Me is an earnest tale brought to life by the indisputable talents of its leading star.

#1. Happy Gilmore (1996)

In the mid 90s Adam Sandler was the face of comedy (alongside superstar Jim Carrey of course). If Billy Madison was the film that put him on the map, Happy Gilmore is the one that allowed him to conquer it. The 1996 comedy centers around an untalented hockey player named Happy who discovers his remarkable ability for hitting a golf ball. Therefore, after his grandmother's house is taken by the bank, Happy must push his ego aside and use his golfing talents to generate income and buy back the residence. Happy Gilmore is the quintessential comedy. It has everything you could ever ask for, from a fistfight with Bob Barker to a midget cowboy doing the bull dance. Happy Gilmore is a comedy classic right up there with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. Sandler has brought us decades of laughs and, despite his altered career path of late, he'll always be remembered as a true face of comedy. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Interstellar (NEW) and Hellion Trailers

Perhaps the highlight of the recent Godzilla reboot was the sneak peak into director Christopher Nolan's (Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy) new sci-fi adventure, Interstellar. We're still about six months out from its November release and specifics have been unsurprisingly kept quiet, but this new trailer reveals just enough to build the anticipation. Matthew McConaughey stars as a father who joins a space exploration mission to discover a new place for human life to inhabit after Earth begins to run out of resources

One of the most buzzed about dramas out of this year's Sundance class was the heavy-hitting film Hellion. Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul stars as a single father unable to keep his teenage son under control. As the kid's behavior continues to spiral out of control, the state intervenes and takes the children away from their alcoholic father. Check out the first official trailer for Hellion below.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Film: Godzilla 

Starring: Bryan Cranston (Argo) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass)

Director: Gareth Edwards (Monsters)

U.S. Release: May 16th, 2014 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 123 minutes

After 1998's laughable attempt at a reboot, expectations for Gareth Edwards' Godzilla have grown to monstrous sizes. Yet, this isn't the young director's first go-around with over-sized creatures. His directorial debut came in 2010 with the successful indie sci-fi drama, Monsters, which centered around enormous alien creatures inhabiting the earth. But now, in 2014, Edwards is heavily tasked with reviving the greatest monster franchise the world has ever known.

After a mysterious disaster at a Tokyo nuclear facility claims the life of his spouse 15 years earlier, scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) must convince his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and other officials that the unexplained force which destroyed the city is about to return. And after discovering a secretive government conspiracy that spirals out of control, gigantic monsters are unleashed upon the world causing chaos and destruction. With no hope of resolution, the world must stand by and watch these mammoth creatures battle it out and let nature take its course.

The long-awaited and highly anticipated return of Godzilla carries a fair share of criticism and the occasional praise. For audiences craving action-packed sequences of rampage and demolition, Gareth Edwards gives you plenty to look forward to. However, with this reboot the dramatics are forced, the plot is flimsy and, to be perfectly honest, there just isn't enough of the title monster. Given that the blockbuster's running time is north of the two hour mark, I was excited to witness a Godzilla overload. Instead, Edwards pulls back on the reins time and time again throughout the film with hopes of building momentum for a massive finale. To the director's credit, the final 25 minutes deliver a huge punch of non-stop monster-fighting-mania which is almost worth the price of admission all on its own. But otherwise, a lackluster attempt at stirring up the drama and devoting too much attention to a sketchy storyline leaves plenty to be desired with Godzilla.

Another major flaw with Gareth Edwards' latest effort is the inefficiency of a typically talented cast. First, under-utilizing the film's most gifted performer, Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, is a huge disservice to the final product. Furthermore, as someone who has always admired the work of Kick-Ass star Aaron Taylor-Johnson (especially as a young John Lennon in 2010's Nowhere Boy), it was difficult to accept that this recent effort happens to be the most insignificant of his budding career. With Godzilla, not only is the long list of performances a letdown, but the elementary dialogue is stacked with cliches and thoughtless verbiage. From top to bottom, Gareth Edwards offers very little outside of a remarkably effective closing sequence.

I went into Godzilla with elevated expectations and walked out of the theatre slightly disappointed. As someone who enjoyed the well thought-out plotlines in Edwards' Monsters, I hoped for something more interesting than what was given. The first half of Godzilla begs to elicit the dramatics while the latter portion serves as a prototypical action movie. Yet, neither half is exceptional, and that means we'll just have to continue to wait for the next worthy installment of the Godzilla franchise.

Stars: 1.5 stars out of 4.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Film: Chef

Starring: Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Emjay Anthony and John Leguizamo (The Lincoln Lawyer)

Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man)

U.S. Release: May 9th, 2014 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 115 minutes

It's safe to say that Jon Favreau's humble, yet significant, career has officially come full circle. After a small onscreen debut in the sports classic, Rudy, Favreau cemented his place in Hollywood as writer and co-star of the 1996 indie hit, Swingers. Almost two decades have passed since Favreau first made his mark on the industry, and since then he's helped birth the superhero franchise, Iron Man, as director of the first two installments and a supporting actor in all three. But how did this gifted filmmaker decide to follow up his bloated career as a blockbuster director? Favreau returns to his roots with Chef, a modest festival darling that's captured the hearts and stomachs of audiences world-wide.

Carl Casper (Favreau) is a culinary artist immensely dedicated to his craft. However, when the most powerful food critic on the internet comes to taste his cuisine, Casper panders to his employer's demands and prepares the same boring menu he's grown to resent. After a negative review of the restaurant drops and leads to a social networking feud that spirals out of control, Casper decides to pursue his creative passion by purchasing a food truck. With the help of his best friend, Martin (John Leguizamo), and young son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), Casper is finally able to discover happiness and piece his entire life back together.

As an Audience Award Winner at this year's Tribecca Film Festival, Chef is a delectable and savory delight from writer, director and star, Jon Favreau. Much like its fresh ingredients sliced, diced and marinated on screen, Chef is a winning combination of various well-executed components. Everything from a heartwarming screenplay, to a brilliant cast and back again to its visionary filmmaker, Chef has all the makings of a sure-fire hit. For starters, Favreau trained extensively in the kitchen with renowned L.A. chef, Roy Choi, and the practice pays off as he both looks and acts the part. But not only is the ambiance authentic in the film, we're also given fine-tuned and carefully constructed characters that add an enormous amount of soul to the feature. Carl Casper lives and breathes a passion for his craft, which is conveyed brilliantly with a meticulous attention to detail by the actor and filmmaker. The audience can't help but share in his love and adoration for the culinary arts and it's a transcending feat. This exemplary element, coupled with a flavorful charm and wit that's unwavering throughout the entire film, transforms Chef into an undeniable treat.

Although the feature is chock-full of redeeming qualities, Chef suffers in two specific areas. One irritating aspect of the film is the continuous references to major social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. It's fair to say that, at times, Chef feels like a near two-hour advertisement for these digital pipelines. In addition to an astounding amount of product placement, Favreau's indie sensation is given an almost unjust "Hollywood Ending" that feels slightly unnecessary to the central purpose of the film. Yet, to be fair to the movie, this overly sentimental resolution is rapidly tied up with a pretty little bow in no more than three to five minutes. While its miscues are small in stature and forgivable, Chef does a remarkable job of pleasing the audience.

As the summer months get under way and big-budget blockbusters overtake our local theatres, Jon Favreau's Chef stands out as a fine example of top-notch filmmaking. The feature is a premier character study with a wholesome and good-natured moral at its core. Entertaining and easy to enjoy, it's worth seeking out one of 2014's finest offerings.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (NEW) and Good People Trailers

A few months back we were given a tiny glimpse into the latest installment to the Planet of the Apes franchise. Now, less than two months away from its July 11th release, we've finally been handed our first full official look into Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The story picks up in a world torn between genetically evolved apes and a small militia of humans who still remain. A brief moment of peace quickly turns into one final war to determine which species will rule the Earth. Check out the debut full-length trailer for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes below.

Although it's a premise we've seen time and time again, the first look into Good People has me a little intrigued. James Franco and Kate Hudson star as a financially burdened couple who find an enormous amount of money in their dead tenant's apartment. When investigators arrive to the scene, they decide to keep quiet about their jackpot discovery. However, the police may be the only ones who can save them from a deadly killer destined to retrieve the money. With an undisclosed release date, check out the first official trailer for Good People below.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Million Dollar Arm

Film: Million Dollar Arm

Starring: Jon Hamm (The Town), Lake Bell (In a World ...) and Aasif Mandvi (The Internship)

Director: Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl)

U.S. Release: May 16th, 2014 (Rated PG)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 120 minutes

The greatest sports movies find a way to transcend their athletic focus. Films like Rocky transform a deadbeat bruiser for a loan shark into a heavyweight boxing contender determined to "go the distance" with the champ, and Remember the Titans develops a unified high school football team in Virginia during the Civil Rights Movement. With Craig Gillespie's Million Dollar Arm, the unlikely real-life story of the first India-born players to sign major league baseball contracts, tugs at the heart-strings and does an exceptional job of elevating its story beyond the baseball diamond.

Jon Hamm stars as JB Bernstein, a financially strapped sports agent who ventures to the untapped market of India in order to find a pair of up-and-coming MLB pitching prospects. With the assistance of an India-native named Amit who promises to work for free, JB holds a country-wide pitching contest that discovers the potential of two young men named Rinku (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal). These athletes decide to leave their tiny humble India villages for the first time and travel to the United States determined to master the difficult game of professional baseball.

We're all familiar with "the Disney touch" and its potential to turn an amazing true story into an over-dramatized and sappy affair. While Million Dollar Arm refuses to shy away from the sentiment, it uses an expansive and refined script from Tom McCarthy (director of the overlooked independent film Win Win) to mold together a conflict-filled story of struggle and perseverance. It's a joy watching Jon Hamm excel in his leading role, reminding us all that his talents go well beyond the AMC drama Mad Men. The entire supporting cast earns their label, and the result is a well-balanced blend of comedy and drama. Lake Bell, Aasif Mandvi and Alan Arkin play a delightful second fiddle to Hamm and the rest of the film's stars, creating no shortage of likable onscreen personas.

A remarkable real-life story and brilliant cast propel Million Dollar Arm to praiseworthy heights, however, an overly long running time stops it in its tracks. Scratching and clawing its way to a two hour finish line, the film could have easily shed 20 minutes without losing any of its charm. Instead, we wait and we wait for a predetermined resolve that could have packed a much more meaningful punch if we hadn't laboriously journeyed to get there. But despite the occasional drag and out-stretching the story as far as it will go, Million Dollar Arm succeeds in shining a light on such a truly amazing tale.

It would be an unjustified exaggeration to try and argue Craig Gillespie's Million Dollar Arm among the finest sports movies of all time. Yet, this sincere and heartwarming narrative goes well beyond mediocrity and warrants a viewing. Thanks to a PG rating, Million Dollar Arm is a suitable family film that keeps the laughs consistent and sentiment tolerable.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tammy and 22 Jump Street (New) Trailers

Melissa McCarthy is one of the few women at the forefront of the recent female comedic surge. This Summer she's given another opportunity to shine in the upcoming film, Tammy. McCarthy stars in the title role as a woman who hits the road with her profane alcoholic grandmother (Susan Sarandon) after she loses her job and discovers her husband's infidelity. While I'm not entirely sold yet, you can check out the latest trailer for Tammy below.

I don't know about you, but I can't get enough of these 22 Jump Street trailers. We know it'll be a hit if the final product can deliver outside of all the hilarious footage captured in each of the film's sneak previews. Today we were given yet another look into the upcoming Summer Blockbuster, 22 Jump Street, which follows Schmidt and Jenko on an undercover assignment. Only this time, the duo ventures off to college and Spring Break. Here's the official international trailer for the June 13th release, 22 Jump Street.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

DVD Outlook: May 2014

With a stellar lineup of Summer Blockbusters and Indie releases slated from now through August, the DVD outlook for May is up against some fierce competition in theatres (check out April's DVD picks). Yet, there's still a handful of worthy titles to choose from arriving on DVD this month, including an Oscar-Winning film and some thrilling independent selections.

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

After missing a golden opportunity to catch this little gem at the 2013 Philadelphia Film Festival, I pounced on Geekscape's offer to watch Cheap Thrills a second time around and I was by no means disappointed. This independent thriller, starring some familiar faces such as Anchorman's David Koechner, Can't Hardly Wait's Ethan Embry and Compliance's Pat Healy, is a twisted tale of financial struggles and economic desperation. The story follows a blue-collar husband and father who spends a day at the bar after unexpectedly losing his job. With no funds and the threat of eviction looming over his head, a chance meeting with an old friend and a rich married couple leads to a night of high octane dares with rapidly growing payouts. Cheap Thrills never offers a dull moment and delivers a knockout finale that you're guaranteed to remember forever. (May 27th)

Her - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (No review available)

One of 2013's enormous class of well-regarded films includes Spike Jonze's Best Picture Nominee and Best Original Screenplay winner, Her. Set in the not-so distant future, Joaquin Phoenix stars as a lonely writer who begins an unlikely relationship with his brand new, state-of-the-art operating system. Writer/director Spike Jonze crafts a bold and unique story for the ages, one that transcends the typically modern-day love story. While I was nowhere near as satisfied with the final product as many other critics who deemed Her as the finest film of 2013, I still found the feature to be a thought-provoking and earnest exploration into the heart of love and romance. Uplifting and heartbreaking all at the same time, Her is a worthy recommendation for any passionate fan of independent cinema and creative story-telling. (May 13th)

The Art of the Steal - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (No review available)

As an official selection of the 2013 Philadelphia Film Festival, I decided to take a chance on the heist comedy The Art of the Steal. This stereotypical caper film centers around Crunch Calhoun (played by Kurt Russell), a former thief who decides to get back into the game after a stint in a hard-nosed Polish prison. Crunch and his new apprentice (This Is the End's Jay Baruchel) get the old team back together in order to steal a priceless historic book. While The Art of the Steal rarely paints a unique twist to the heist-movie genre, an engaging story loaded with precisely-timed humor eases this fun-filled affair to a very manageable 90 minute finish line. Although The Art of the Steal won't leave a lasting impression, it's the perfect movie for a mindless evening of sheer entertainment. (May 6th)

Honorable Mention: Most of my secondary picks for the month revolve around films I haven't seen, but they're ones I'm interested in or ones that garnered positive feedback. A reliable friend of mine and die-hard fan of the show has praised the new Veronica Mars movie (5/6), so any fan of the series will definitely want to check it out. Also, negative reviews steered me away from the Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan comedy That Awkward Moment (5/13), but I will most likely give it a try myself. Critics praised the growing old drama Still Mine (5/6) and I had a little interest in seeing the Elizabeth Olsen and Oscar Isaac period-piece drama In Secret (5/20). Finally, it was mainly a mediocre final product, but George Clooney's World War II art-saving comedy The Monuments Men (5/20) warrants a mention.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

2014 Summer Indie Preview

The Summer Blockbuster season is intended to be an early Christmas for fans of special effects and flashy action-sequences. However, what about those 12-month a year moviegoers who crave the sincere touch of independent films? While I spent part of April taking an extensive look at the big-named Summer Blockbusters worth getting excited over, I will begin May by examining the most noteworthy indie titles arriving in theatres this Summer.

My Top 3 Most Anticipated Summer Indie Releases

#3. Magic in the Moonlight - July 25th

Normally I wouldn't get so worked up over a Woody Allen release, yet two of his latest efforts (Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine) have been so good, I can't wait to see what Magic in the Moonlight has to offer. With details regarding the film kept to a minimum and a duo featuring Emma Stone and Colin Firth set to star, there's plenty worth getting excited about with Woody Allen's upcoming release.

#2. Boyhood - July 11th

Richard Linklater is best known for directing the indie romance trilogy that began with 1995's Before Sunrise and ended with 2013's Before Midnight. Although each installment of his trilogy has been lauded as a critical success, the filmmaker plans to change the face of cinema with his newest release, Boyhood. Dating back to 2002, Linklater began filming what would become a movie 12 years in the making by using the same actor from age 5 to 18 in order to tell the story of an adolescent boy growing up and maturing in a broken home with divorced parents. This tactic has never been done before and the first theatrical trailer for Boyhood looks remarkably impressive. Hence, I can't wait to catch the film on the big-screen this July.

#1. Chef - May 9th

Following a grand debut at the SXSW Film Festival in March and an Audience Award from the Tribecca Film Festival this past past week, I'm beginning to salivate over Jon Favreau's latest offering, Chef. The comedy centers around a prideful cook who leaves the restaurant business and opens a food truck to explore his creativity, all while reconnecting with his estranged family. Boasting an impressive debut trailer as well, I can't wait for Chef's theatrical release in a couple weeks.

Movies I've Already Seen

With unlimited access to the 2013 Philadelphia and the 2014 Sundance Film Festivals, I had the opportunity to get an early look into some of the Summer's most talked-about indie releases. God's Pocket (May 9th - 3 stars out of 4) stars the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as a Philadelphian who goes through hell trying to plan and pay for a funeral following the accidental death of his stepson. I appreciated all of the local ties scattered throughout the movie, however, there were character inconsistencies and other noticeable flaws in this wannabe gangster flick.

Cold in July (May 23rd - 2 stars out of 4) stars Dexter's Michael C. Hall as a timid man in 1980s Texas who shockingly guns down a burglar in his home one evening. Lauded as a local hero, things start going south once the victim's father is released from prison and shows up in town. While other critics praised this revenge film, I personally hated the shift in tone mid-way though the feature. 

There are rumblings about how impressive Marion Cotillard's performance was in The Immigrant (May 16th - 2 stars out of 4) and I completely agree. We see the darker side of 1920s Manhattan when a poor Polish native is forced into prostitution to survive life in America.  Also, two other Sundance crowd favorites were the 80s-era coming-of-age comedy Ping Pong Summer (June 6th - 2.5 stars out of 4) and Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul's single-father drama Hellion (June 13th - 2.5 stars out of 4)

Monthly Honorable Mentions

May: Jesse Eisenberg is driven into madness after he discovers his doppleganger in The Double (5/9). James Franco stars in Palo Alto (5/9) which follows a group of teens who stir up all sorts of trouble. Mia Wasikowska plays a young woman who treks 1,700 miles across the Australian desert in Tracks (5/23).

June: Sundance darling Jenny Slate generates the laughs as a Brooklyn comedian who gets knocked up after a one night stand in Obvious Child (6/6). Guy Pearce plays a man who's only remaining possession (his car) is stolen and he must force one of the robbers who was left behind (Robert Pattinson) to help him find the automobile in the near-future Australian drama The Rover (6/13). Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler find romance after a hate-fueled first encounter in the off-beat romantic comedy They Came Together (6/27)

July: Zach Braff returns to the director's chair and stars in Wish I Was Here (7/18), which centers around a mid-thirties father, husband and struggling actor still going through a bit of an identity crisis. Philip Seymour Hoffman also delivers one of his final performances in the spy-thriller A Most Wanted Man (7/25) which sees German and U.S. Security Agencies tracking down a suspected terrorist who illegally migrates to Hamburg.

August: The Comedy Love Is Strange (8/22) follows John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a married homosexual forced to live apart in New York. I heard from many pleasantly surprised critics after it screened at Sundance.