Friday, November 28, 2014

Star Wars: Episode VII and Peanuts Teaser Trailers

Two new teaser trailers have recently premiered that have what's left of my youth jumping for joy. First up is J.J, Abrams first attempt at the Star Wars franchise. The Force Awakens, which is due to reach theatres in December 2015, is a continuation of the saga set 30 years after Return of the Jedi. This teaser offers very little plot wise (I mean, it's only a teaser!) but shows an amazing level of visuals that we can hope to enjoy almost one year from now.

I was actually completely unaware of the second return to my childhood until the trailer for Peanuts was unveiled. Charlie, Snoopy and the rest of Charles Schulz's lovable characters will be making their big-screen debut Christmas 2015. Catch Snoopy and Woodstock doing their usual thing and a Charlie Brown appearance by the very end of the trailer that will make you eager for its release next year.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

2014: Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. I've always admired how its core principles are positive in nature, and I was raised by my parents to show gratitude and appreciation for the people, opportunities and possessions I've been given in my life. Therefore, this Thanksgiving I've decided to outline some of the great cinematic offerings throughout 2014 for which movie lovers should be thankful.

#5. A Successful Summer Blockbuster Season

You're going to find plenty of summer flops every year, it's inevitable. Thankfully, 2014's long list of blockbuster duds happened to be overshadowed by a pair of big winners. The Marvel addition, Guardians of the Galaxy, proved that superhero films don't need to be drowned in flashy long-winded action sequences. And then there was Matt Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. An even better and more daring installment than its franchise rebooting predecessor, Dawn tied together an intriguing story and a stellar cast of performers.

#4. A Long List of Memorable Performances

While many of these roles occur in movies that fall short of the year's best, I spent 2014 enjoying a wide range of committed performances. Oscar hopefuls Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones have burst onto the scene with impressive turns in the Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything. J.K. Simmons and his onscreen counterpart, Miles Teller, were unforgettable in the tense music drama, Whiplash. Although Teller has surprisingly been omitted from most Oscar conversations, Simmons has the inside edge in the Best Supporting Actor race. 

Other exceptional performances from Reese Witherspoon in Jean-Marc Vallee's Wild and Benedict Cumberbatch in Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game are well deserving roles believed to be major players in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. Despite the rare chance of either of these turns landing in the Best Actor top 5, I was captivated by Jeremy Renner as journalist Gary Webb in Kill the Messenger and Jake Gyllenhaal in the crime-thriller Nightcrawler

#3. Daring Filmmakers

Following in the footsteps of Gravity auteur, Alfonso Cuaron, director Alejandro G. Inarritu, constructed a transcending piece of work with his 2014 critical darling, Birdman. It's the type of film that cinema lovers need to see. Furthermore, the often Oscar-snubbed filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, continued to push boundaries this year with his wild sci-fi adventure, Interstellar. Nolan managed to bend both space and time in this well-crafted epic tale.

#2. Fantastic Indie Efforts

Richard Linklater, a groundbreaking filmmaker who could have also been mentioned above, reminded the general public of the powers of independent cinema with his coming-of-age story, Boyhood. By now it's widely known that Linklater filmed his masterpiece in bits and pieces over the span of 12 long years, but nothing can prepare you for just how fantastic of an experience Boyhood really is. Also, Jon Favreau returned to his indie roots with the wonderful father-son film, Chef. I wasn't a huge fan of its convenient ending, but the road-trip journey is an absolute pleasure to witness.

#1. Dark and Entertaining Dramas

It's no secret that the Academy Awards typically fawns over period pieces and hearty dramas, but two of 2014's finest films center on darker and more complex themes. Bennett Miller's enormously anticipated true-crime drama, Foxcatcher, dives deep into the human psyche and examines many complex individuals and their various obsessions. Channing Tatum and Steve Carell match extraordinary performances in one of the year's best films, period! Furthermore, David Fincher continues his trend of remarkably entertaining thrillers with the adapted tale, Gone Girl. Packing a hefty amount of twists and surprises, this missing-wife drama helped confirm that 2014's most notable films are of the dark-themed variety and there's no shame in that!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Jurassic World and The Interview (NEW) Trailers

The wait is finally over! After releasing a teaser advertising the first theatrical trailer, we've been given a full length preview into the new 2015 action blockbuster, Jurassic World. Safety Not Guaranteed director, Colin Trevorrow, appears to have jump-started the rebirth of this beloved franchise with a visually magnificent journey into a fully functioning dinosaur theme park that was originally intended 22 years earlier. Starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, check out the first-look into Jurassic World below.

If you're like me and you can't get enough sneak peeks into the upcoming Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy, The Interview, then you will definitely want to check out the film's latest and supposedly "final" trailer. Franco stars as Dave Skylark, the host of a popular celebrity tabloid show who is granted an exclusive interview with one of his biggest fans, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. As Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) prepare for the interview of a lifetime, the CIA recruits them to assassinate the dictator. This final trailer gives a more in-depth look into the Kim Jong-Un character, and it's pretty priceless. Check it out yourself.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Work of David Fincher

*** Guest write-up by Reel True's Greg Rouleau

Moviegoers have flocked to the theaters over the past month and a half to revel in the thrill of the newly released feature from director David Fincher - Gone Girl.   The Gillian Flynn novel adaptation marks the 10th major feature-length film for the auteur and his highest grossing one yet.  With that, it seemed appropriate to look back and examine his impressive résumé.  Getting a disclaimer out of the way: I have yet to see Alien 3, but all indications point to it being the consensus #10 on his list.  Succumbing to studio demands as a rookie film director on the 3rd installment of the Alien franchise, it appears the experience was influential in creating the director we know today, who began to take major ownership of his work and has a reputation of being a major control freak.

Fincher may have been new to feature films at the time, but he had already begun to make a name for himself in the commercial and music video world. Partnering frequently with director of photography, Jeff Cronenweth, the pair has delivered some of the very best work on digital that’s ever been put to screen.  Gone Girl also marks the third straight collaboration with musicians Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  The duo’s morbid and ambient sounds have been the perfect complement for the tone of Fincher’s work.  Even today he continues to branch out with a short return to the music video world and directing two episodes of the series, House of Cards, for which he won an Emmy.  Fincher is also a two-time Oscar nominee for Best Director. Here’s an ordered look at director David Fincher’s other nine films:

#9. Fight Club

Grade: C+

The 1999 cult-classic starring Edward Norton, in an incredible leading performance, has been dissected to death in the 15 years since its release.  With a disappointing theater run, it found new life on home video and gained a reputation of being the “cool” movie that young film buffs proudly boast about.  It’s a satire with biting commentary on consumerism, self-destruction, and violence, with a wicked twist that’s actually insanely easy to spot when you think about it.  What puts Fight Club at the bottom of the rankings for me is its inability to entertain.  I appreciate, as always, the dark and moody tone that is prevalent throughout much of Fincher’s filmography, but ultimately it’s an overhyped, disappointing example of style over substance.

#8. The Game

Grade: B

The Game is once again an exercise in style over substance, but a large portion of the film is undeniably gripping.  Michael Douglas is admirable in his role as the target of “The Game”, Nicholas Van Orton.  Watching this one man’s world spiral out of control as he struggles to piece together the most twisted jigsaw puzzle ever throughout the 129-minute runtime can be pretty enthralling, but it’s overwrought at times and the quasi-twist ending is somewhat lackluster.  It’s not a classic by any means, but it again demonstrates Fincher’s knack for successfully portraying characters rotting away with angst, as well as his adept control over pacing and tension.

#7. Panic Room

Grade: B

Perhaps the most successful area of Panic Room is Jodie Foster’s role, which marked Fincher’s first film with a female protagonist.  It’s a solid thriller that plays in almost real-time and there are also some strong supporting turns from Jared Leto, the always amiable, Forest Whitaker, and pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart.  Coming off the heels of Fight Club, it’s somewhat forgotten, and it also would be the last film Fincher would director for the next five years.  It’s definitely a strong watch and worthy of a rental, at least, for anyone who may have let this one slip through the cracks.

#6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Grade: B+

Rooney Mara had a small role in The Social Network, prior to shooting Dragon, but it was enough to catch Fincher’s eye as he cast her in the title role of Lisbeth Salander.  She’s absolutely mesmerizing, commanding every scene she’s in and delivering one of the best performances in any Fincher film to date.  Daniel Craig is also right at home as the grizzled journalist, Mikael Blomkvist.  Considering this was adapted from a wildly popular novel with an already acclaimed Swedish version of the entire trilogy, Fincher was in some respects facing an uphill battle from the start.  It’s not entirely successful on every level, but there are some great moments sprinkled throughout including a tantalizing opening credits sequence and a few moments that may be hard to stomach from some viewers, but in essence, that’s Fincher’s specialty.

#5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Grade: B+

It’s difficult not to view Button as Fincher taking a swing at some ripe Oscar bait.  Expanded from a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, adapted for the screen by the Forrest Gump writer, on the surface, this Southern epic doesn’t seem like one that would attract Fincher, especially considering his filmography up to that point, but it was apparently the recent passing of his father – and this film's somber examination of death – that attracted him to the project.  Despite the film’s thematic bleakness, the cinematography is gorgeous and lush, perhaps the best of any film he’s directed.

Button runs a little long in the end and the present day story of Daisy does seem to weigh down the already heavy story and saturate it with even more melancholy.  Pitt and Blanchett are magnificent here and it’s around this time you could really sense Fincher was pulling the very best out of his actors, with even those in brief supporting roles leaving lasting impressions.  It wasn’t the awards juggernaut that it seemed poised to be, and despite being a slight letdown, it’s nonetheless enjoyable to see a master of his craft at work here. 

#4. Gone Girl

Grade: A-

Prior to being released, one of the most intriguing aspects of Fincher’s Gone Girl was the surprise casting announcements.  Ben Affleck, always capable, but never quite a standout, was penciled in for the leading role of Nick Dunne.  Rosamund Pike had barely made a name for herself up that point.  Then you throw in Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris – not exactly the names you’d expect when you think “Fincher movie”.  What resulted was an astonishing display of some of the very best acting you can get.  Everyone previously mentioned turned in perhaps career best, especially Affleck who appeared tailor-made for this role.  The story is a thrilling ride from start to finish, with twists and turns at every corner and a conclusion that should leave everyone stunned, as well as a little frightened.

#3. The Social Network

Grade: A

Coming off the heels of the Oscar-baity Benjamin Button was, ironically, the film for which Fincher rightfully deserved to win Best Director.  Facebook’s popularity seemingly peaked around 2009 with everyone in the world practically signing up and subsequently finding themselves wasting endless hours on the social media site.  Pair Fincher with heralded screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, with a story detailing the trials and tribulations of the site’s launch, and you have the zeitgeist film of the late-2000s.  It’s an intricately directed showcase for the auteur, and once again the performances across the board are extraordinary, most notably Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg.

#2. Se7en

Grade: A

This 1995 thriller was the first of three collaborations between Fincher and leading man, Brad Pitt, and essentially put the director on the map.  From a narrative perspective, it may be his best work.  The story unfolds revealing each of the seven sins, illustrated in murderous fashion, and Fincher deftly navigates us deeper into the twisted mind of John Doe in a way that we’re both horrified and yet intrigued to see where the story takes us.  In a stroke of brilliance, Fincher forced the studio to leave Kevin Spacey’s name out of the opening credits, which makes his reveal in the second half of the film all the more effective.  There’s not a smile to be had in Se7en.  It’s a morose, nihilistic tale, with some of the most disturbing imagery the director has ever put on screen and 20 years later, remains one of the best films ever made.  

#1. Zodiac

Grade: A

Some of my favorite films of all-time are ones that I enjoyed upon first viewing but found an urge to revisit frequently; growing on me with each subsequent viewing.   I found Zodiac intriguing and impressive on first watch, but after going back a few more times, it became apparent that this was easily my favorite Fincher film and a near masterpiece.  The movie tells the story of the Zodiac killer who terrorized the Bay area in the 1960s and 70s.  The story is laid out very simply, but the film is at its core a character study.  We see how this exhausting case affects the lives of some of the main individuals involved, and this is presented throughout the span of 22-years. 

The movie was in theaters for a brief run and had a disappointing gross, due to perhaps mis-marketing, as any of those expecting a common slasher/thriller will be rightfully disappointed.  The main cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr, all putting in some of their finest work and given almost equal time to shine.  The screenplay is impeccable and Fincher’s direction is an exercise is restraint, but a showcase for his ability to convey and master atmosphere.  There are only a handful of murder scenes in the 157-minute running time that are admirable in execution, as well uncomfortable by how realistic they seem to be.  After all, the killer left key witnesses alive who could retell their stories.  It’s not an easy film to enjoy, but it should be viewed by any who may have overlooked this underrated classic.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pitch Perfect 2 and Danny Collins Trailers

The phenomena that was Pitch Perfect returns in 2015 with supporting star Elizabeth Banks in line to make her directorial debut. In Pitch Perfect 2 the Barden Bellas we've all grown to love take their a cappella talents to an international competition that no American team has ever won before. Singing the "Cups Song"that was made popular by Anna Kendrick, here's a first look into the May release.

Another 2015 release debuted a trailer this week and it was the based on a true story film, Danny Collins. In the title role Al Pacino stars as an aging rock musician who discovers a letter written to him by John Lennon 30 years ago, and the revelation forces him to set his life on a new path. Co-starring Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer, Annette Benning, Jennifer Garner and a personal favorite of mine, Bobby Cannavale, check out the official trailer for Danny Collins below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Greatest Comedy Sequels

After doing one of my all-time favorite lists in October (Ranking the Halloween Franchise), I decided to take November's Movie List of the Month in a much lighter direction. With big-named comedy sequels arriving to theatres this month, namely Dumb and Dumber To and Horrible Bosses 2, I thought it would be fun to re-examine The Greatest Comedy Sequels ever made. With so many comparable titles to choose from, it became extremely difficult to construct my list. Let's first acknowledge the films that didn't quite make the cut.

Honorable Mention: Hot Shots! Part Deux, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Naked Gun 2 and Half, and Addams Family Values.

#10. Ghostbusters II

While Ghostbusters II could never live up to the greatness of its predecessor, the gang does a valiant job of generating laughter once their given the freedom to investigate supernatural activity again and they discover a river of ectoplasm running underneath New York City. A third installment has been confirmed, yet we'll be given a new all-female group on ghost hunters ,,, and yeah, I think it's a horrible idea too. 

#9. Rush Hour 2

Rush Hour 2 is one of those rare sequels that actually stacks up pretty well against its first installment. This time around, Detective Carter (Chris Tucker) is seeking some down time while vacationing in Hong Kong with Lee (Jackie Chan), yet Lee ends up ruining all the fun by getting tied up in another action-packed ordeal. Tucker's antics ended up getting old real quick and the franchise called it quits after number three. 

#8. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

Perhaps no comedy is greater than the origins film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Therefore, its hilarious follow up usually gets lost in its shadow. Ace (Jim Carrey) comes out of a harmonious retirement to investigate the disappearance of the only type of animal he hates, a rare white bat that's the symbol of an African tribe. And as we all know, whenever Ace gets involves all hell breaks loose.

#7. Beverly Hills Cop II

Although you'd probably least expect it, Beverly Hills Cops II is one of the rare films on this list that was actually nominated for an Oscar. I'll give you a second to try and figure it out ... you give up yet? It was nominated for its catchy theme song of course! And in arguably the trilogy's best effort, Axel (Eddie Murphy) returns to Beverly Hills to help Rosewood and Taggart investigate the shooting of their friend, Chief Bogamil. Latest news reports that Brett Ratner is lined up to direct a fourth installment slated for a 2016 release.

#6. Wayne's World 2

"If you book them, they will come". Move over Field of Dreams cause Wayne's World 2 landed pretty high on my list. Sure, the first one set the bar, but Christopher Walken co-stars as a sleazy record producer set on stealing Cassandra from Wayne (Mike Myers) all while he and Garth (Dana Carvey) plan to organize a huge rock festival. There are plenty of laughs throughout and it just oozes "the 90s", my kind of movie!

#5. Bad Boys II

Buddy cop movies are all over this list of successful comedy sequels, but none do it better than Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys II. Having just recently caught parts of the film over my friend's place, Bad Boys II pits its action-inducing and destruction-seeking duo against a dangerous drug kingpin smuggling ecstacy into Miami. On top of full fledged comedy and explosions, who doesn't love hearing Will Smith unleash some R-rated jokes?

#4. Toy Story 3

For all the raunchy jokes I enjoy, I also find comfort in a nice family comedy like Toy Story 3. Its release was a long time coming, but certainly worth the wait. After Andy has grown up and prepares for college, his mom asks him to get rid of some old toys. Then, she mistakenly donates Woody and the gang to a day care center where an evil Purple Bear reigns supreme. Toy Story 3 is an all around funny and endearing film that captured the hearts of many.

#3. American Pie 2

Now that we got the wholesome inclusion to the list out of the way, it's back to the vulgar humor we go with American Pie 2. This riotous sequel delivers hordes of sexual jokes that stand the test of time a over a decade later. The group of friends reunite after their first year of college and decide to hold the biggest summer blowout party ever at their beach house, and clearly nothing goes as planned. American Pie 2 offers the best kind of raunchy situational humor that never gets old.

#2. Christmas Vacation

There aren't many families like the Griswolds, and there isn't a Lampoon's movie as good as Christmas Vacation. Wanting nothing more than to hold a wonderful Christmas holiday for his family, filled with good times and a Christmas lights display for the ages, Clark (Chevy Chase) can't seem to get anything right. And after his boss screws him over on his holiday bonus, the comedy that follows steps it up a notch. This is one that's worth reliving every Christmas season.

#1. Back to the Future Part II

While its Oscar-winning predecessor will always stand tallest, the almost equally impressive sequel, Back to the Future Part II, does a remarkable job of continuing on with Marty McFly's (Michael J. Fox) story. Once Marty returns from his first adventure, he and Doc travel to the future where their actions unfortunately alter the present (it's really not that confusing, I swear). With hoverboards, the Sports Almanac and enough Biff Tannen to put you into a laughing coma, what's not to love about Back to the Future Part II? Making it the greatest comedy sequel of all-time.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Escobar: Paradise Lost and The Cobbler Trailers

Arriving in theatres this January is Andrea Di Stefano's directorial debut, Escobar: Paradise Lost. As an official selection of the Philadelphia Film Festival, I was able to catch this mostly fictional and highly dramatized account (read my review here) of the world's most notorious drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar (played by Benicio Del Toro). The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson stars as Nick, a Canadian-born surfer who migrates to Columbia and discovers paradise when he meets and falls in love with Maria. However, Maria is a loyal niece to the rising politician and cocaine manufacturer, Pablo Escobar, which ultimately lures Nick into a world of crime and drug trafficking.

Despite his latest effort, The Cobbler, being panned by critics and moviegoers a like, I'm still willing to check out any film from Win Win writer/director, Thomas McCarthy. McCarthy is a fantastic story teller and his latest adventure straddles the line of fantasy and reality. Adam Sandler stars as Max, a shoe repairman in New York City who's trapped in a world of monotony. But after Max discovers a magical heirloom that gives him the power to literally "step into another man's shoes", he begins to see the world in a different way. Check out the debut trailer for The Cobbler below.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Rapid Reviews: Dumb and Dumber To and Nightcrawler

For any sequel 20 years in the making, the general consensus is you should hope for the best but expect the worst. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Farrelly brothers' attempt at reviving the Dumb and Dumber franchise, the worst is what we're given. To be fair, however, Dumb and Dumber To is a tolerable effort that elicits the occasional chuckle here and there. But when it comes to one of the greatest and iconic comedy classics of all-time, why couldn't Bobby and Peter Farrelly just leave well enough alone?

The film opens with a return to our two favorite knuckleheads nearly two decades after Mary Samsonite (or was it Swanson?) walked off with her husband and broke Lloyd's (Jim Carrey) heart. The devastating blow landed a speechless Lloyd in a psychiatric facility where he receives frequent visits from his best bud, Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels). After revealing that it's all been a 20 year "gag", the dimwitted duo embark on another journey, this time, to find Harry's newly revealed daughter, Penny (Rachel Melvin).

Dumb and Dumber To carefully delivers a blend of both new and rehashed jokes in an attempt to entertain the loyalists and the newcomers. And while the laugh out loud moments are almost non-existent, thanks to a brand of delivery that feels a little outdated and unoriginal after all these years, the film's biggest hindrance lives in its poorly concocted story. Therefore, if your seeking some genuine laughs these next few weeks, you're much better off revisiting the original.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

A couple weeks ago I posted a Guest Review from Greg Rouleau for Dan Gilroy's intriguing new crime-thriller, Nightcrawler, and he was pretty much spot on. As one of the finer films from 2014, Nightcrawler offers a dark and clever examination into the mind of a sociopath. With twisted undertones guaranteed to entertain horror and thriller enthusiasts, along with a tasteful lack of graphic content to help appeal to the masses, Gilroy's directorial debut is an unquestionable success.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lous Bloom, an abnormally goal-oriented individual desperate for work. But when Lou encounters a live car accident on a major highway, he pulls over and discovers the wild world of crime journalism. Completely consumed by the profession, Lou masters the craft of filming car wrecks, fires and crime scenes to the extreme where he finds himself involved in his stories.

Nightcrawler beautifully balances a taut and fascinating screenplay with one of the year's most notable ensembles. Gyllenhaal is mightily impressive in his creepy and skin-crawling leading role, but supporting turns from both Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed help round-out the feature. While I admittedly expected far more menacing violence throughout Nightcrawler, I was certainly pleased with how Gilroy pieced everything together,

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade B+

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

DVD Outlook: November 2014

With the Philadelphia Film Festival now behind me and having seen nearly all of the big November Oscar contenders, I skimmed over a list of titles arriving to DVD this month and was disappointed by the hefty number of mediocre films that highlighted the selections. My biggest suggestion would be heading to your local movie theatre and catching any of the fine offerings that are currently playing like Gone Girl, St. Vincent and Interstellar, or perhaps an upcoming releases such as Foxcatcher or The Imitation Game. However, if you aren't keen on the idea of overspending to see one of these films, then it's worth checking out October or September's DVD releases. Otherwise, here's what new in November:

Despite missing A Most Wanted Man (11/4) at Sundance this year, a big regret of mine looking back, I have every intention of viewing Anton Corbijn's spy thriller very soon. In one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final roles, A Most Wanted Man follows a suspected terrorist who ends up in Germany and it begins to catch the interest of both U.S. and German secret agencies.

Two other movies I have yet to see are Disney's Maleficent (11/4), starring Angelina Jolie, and the romantic comedy What If (11/25), featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. Maleficent follows the beginnings of  the beloved Sleeping Beauty story by examining the untold transformation of Maleficent into the vengeful fairy who casts a spell on Aurora. As for What If, Radcliffe stars as Wallace, a man coming of a string of terrible relationships who unexpectedly meets Chantry (Kazan) and experiences an instant connection. The issue, though, is Chantry lives with her longtime boyfriend, which leaves Wallace scrambling around in the "friend zone".

There's another batch of films that I've seen, but didn't particularly enjoy. First up are 22 Jump Street (11/18) and Jersey Boys (11/11), you can read both reviews here. Although there was an outspoken love for the buddy cop sequel, I personally thought 22 Jump Street was far less funny than the first one and way too over the top, but this time around we follow Schmidt and Jenko on an undercover mission to college. With Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys, we're given exceptional music and underwhelming performances in a story that's way too overextended for the big screen. I suggest seeing the Broadway show instead.

Other films I've seen include Let's be Cops (11/11), another buddy cop comedy that begins well but weakens late, The Giver (11/25), a visually stunning but softly told version of the hit young-adult novel of the same name, and Happy Christmas (11/11), featuring Anna Kendrick in a well-acted but relatively purposeless indie comedy.

Finally, there are a few more big-named titles that don't particularly interest me, but you should know are available. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez captivated audiences with their unique filming style in 2005, and the pair of directors returned in 2014 with their highly anticipated sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (11/18). Parents of young children will be thrilled to know that How to Train Your Dragon 2 (11/11) is currently available on DVD. And finally, adapted from a teen romance novel of the same name, Chloe Grace Moretz stars in If I Stay (11/18), the story of a comatose young woman trapped in an out of body experience as she fights for her life.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Oscar Talk - Part 1

With about two month until that brisk Thursday morning in mid-January when Oscar Nominations will finally be announced, I've decided to take a look at how the 6 major races are taking shape. I still have around a dozen movies left on my 2014 wish-list, but over 80 other titles released this year are in my rear view. Therefore, lets dive into what we know and where the road to the Oscars could be going from here.

Best Picture

Best Bets

With the highest of praises out of the Toronto International Film Festival, I see The Imitation Game as the early favorite for Best Picture. While MANY critics are clamoring for Birdman by calling it the greatest film of this century, I feel that its story is too weak to propel it to victory (think last year's Gravity). Boyhood is so strong on so many levels and I would expect to see it in the finals. 

The Next Tier

Although I view Foxcatcher as the best film of 2014 (so far), being a grim tale is never as easy sell for the Academy and Gone Girl faces the same difficulty. The Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything is pure Oscar bait, so I feel pretty strong about its chances in the long run. Less likely titles with an outside chance include Christopher Nolan's hot new sci-fi release, Interstellar, as well as the Sundance Grand Jury winner, Whiplash.

Yet to See

Unbroken is the great unknown and many are expecting the Christmas Day release to shape most of the major races. A Most Violent Year could be an epic crime drama and we all know the Academy loves a good musical, so be on the lookout for Into the Woods. Two other darkhorses who could make a push in the race include American Sniper and Selma.

Best Director

Best Bets

No one can argue against the technological achievements of Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman, hence his frontrunner status in the Best Director race (once again, think Alfonso Cuaron and Gravity). Richard Linklater dazzled audiences with his groundbreaking work in Boyhood, and if The Imitation Game is as strong of a contender as I envision, Morten Tyldum will certainly find his way into the top five. 

The Next Tier

Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher) has an extremely reputable career and Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) has been overlooked in the past, making them both interesting names in the competition. I wouldn't be surprised to see David Fincher (Gone Girl) or James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) in the final group as well.

Yet to See

Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) is the big x-factor and any of J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year), Ava DuVernay (Selma) and Rob Marshall (Into the Woods) have an outside chances of sneaking into the finals.

Best Actor

Best Bets

Michael Keaton (Birdman) headlines a strong list of Oscar hopefuls that will most likely find their way into the final five. The other three performances are portrayals of real life figures featuring Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) as English mathematician Dr. Alan Turing, Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) as physicist Stephen Hawking and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) as the devious multi-millionaire John E. du Pont.

The Next Tier

Of the films I've seen this year I'd say Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Bill Murray (St. Vincent) and Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar) are on the outside looking in, but still fighting for that final spot. Fiennes has to overcome being in an early year release and Bill Murray's role as a lovable grump hasn't picked up much steam since its release. McConaughey's performance was strong, but he could suffer from the year-after hangover since this tier realistically holds no chance of winning.

Yet to See

The chatter surrounding Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner) hasn't ceased and Oscar Issac looks fantastic in A Most Violent Year. Everyone's calling Angelina Jolie's Unbroken the December game-changer, which makes Jack O'Connell a dangerous player, and both David Oyelowo (Selma) and Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) are performances to look out for. 

Best Actress

Best Bets

We all know what Jean-Marc Vallee can do with a leading role, so Reese Witherspoon (Wild) seems like a major contender, along with other standouts like Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything).

The Next Tier

Since the Best Actress race contains a paper-thin crop of talent, Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars) is more so a name I'm just throwing out there rather than someone who I think will make the final cut.

Yet to See

There are quite a few female performances I'm eager to catch by the year's end. First is Julianne Moore's (Still Alice) turn as a woman experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease. Many have already proclaimed Moore as the winner, but Amy Adams (Big Eyes) always delivers an Oscar-caliber role. Also keep an eye on Emily Blunt (Into the Woods), Hilary Swank (The Homesman) and Jennifer Aniston (Cake) as well.

Best Supporting Actor

Best Bets

From Farmers Insurance commercials to Academy Award frontrunner, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) could be in for a huge awakening. He's outstanding and the role is big enough to warrant the win. His biggest competitors are Edward Norton (Birdman) and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), who both happen to fade in and out of their respective films. Finally, Ethan Hawke's performance in Boyhood was strong enough to round out the top four.

The Next Tier

If the fifth and final spot doesn't come from any of the films I haven't seen this year, then that means Charlie Cox (The Theory of Everything) will mostly join the group, or even a little more of a reach would be the highly touted Andy Serkis who many argue deserves to recognition for his CGI work in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Yet to See

People have lauded Josh Brolin's turn in Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice and, with an uncharacteristically weak class, older statesman Robert Duvall (The Judge) could sneak into the race. Furthermore, the wait-and-see approach keeps names like Miyari (Unbroken), Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes) and John Goodman (The Gambler) as intriguing possibilities as well. 

Best Supporting Actress

Best Bets

While all indicators point to Boyhood's Patricia Arquette as the early leader, I was most impressed with Emma Stone's work in Birdman. Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) has worked her way into the final five as well, leaving two spots up for grabs. 

The Next Tier

Two other impressive performances that I've caught this year come from Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) and Laura Dern (Wild), both of which face an uphill battle with the names they'll be up against later this year.

Yet to See

Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) is always magnificent and I anticipate her return to the final five. Another year means another Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) nomination ... usually, but Sienna Miller (American Sniper) and Carmen Ejogo (Selma) are formidable opponents we are anxious to see.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Film: Interstellar

Starring: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

Director: Christopher Nolan (Inception)

U.S. Release: November 7th, 2014 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Sci-fi

Runtime: 169 minutes

Just as though his latest endeavor proposes, Christopher Nolan, the fearless filmmaker, has never shied away from pushing boundaries and venturing into the unknown. Love him or hate him, Nolan commands respect for the monumental standards he sets for himself and filmmakers all across the globe. And with today's official release of the writer/director's newest sci-fi adventure, Interstellar, Nolan has tackled his most ambitious feature yet.

Earth is dying. With corn as their last main source of food, violent dust storms sweep across the world effecting humanity's fresh air supply and compromising their chance of future existence. Former NASA pilot turned farmer Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) is led to the doorstep of a NASA revival facility and tasked with one very difficult decision. Either remain on Earth to wither away with his two children, Murph and Tom, or lead a team of scientists on a journey to the furthest reaches of outer space in order to find a new home for the human race.

Running at nearly a three hour clip, Nolan does a fantastic job of maneuvering his science-fueled story in countless directions in order to keep the film engaging for audiences. At the heart of Interstellar is a wonderful father/daughter story, but equally impressive are Nolan's suitably timed sub-plots that come and go throughout the feature. Nolan plants plenty of surprises and twists along the way that generate thought-provoking ideas of blind heroism vs. the natural human instinct of survival. In context they're all brilliantly handled and brought to the surface by a barrage of spectacular performances from leading star Matthew McConaughey all the way down to a brief cameo from Matt Damon. Although I'm skeptical that any of these performances will garner the level of recognition that they probably deserve, Interstellar would be a far less effective film without the exceptional work of McConaughey, Anne Hatheway and many others.

One honest downside to the film is the head-spinning scientific dialogue that runs rampant throughout the script. It's so prevalent that I wish I had watched a few more episodes of Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman or brushed up on my Neil deGrasse Tyson reading. However, Nolan has enough self-awareness to recognize his ambitious goals and refuses to deliver a thought-less account of space travel, even if a large amount of the content will soar over the typical moviegoer's head. But all in all, Interstellar overcomes its head-scratching immersion in science lingo to take the audience on a multi-dimensional journey, both literally and figuratively, that's nothing short of mesmerizing.

While it becomes much easier to point out and criticize plot holes regarding the film's "bootstrap paradox" than it is to create a captivating, nearly three hour, science-supported action adventure, I'd say that this round definitely goes to Nolan. Admittedly, in many ways Interstellar is a far from Nolan's most taut or complete feature, especially with a polarizing and mind-blowing third act that's guaranteed to summon its fair share of detractors. Yet, it can't be denied that Interstellar is a visually immaculate ride that should be savored for a multitude of reasons. And much like the environmentally battered civilization his film introduces us to, I hope that Nolan continues to remain unafraid to "go gentle into that good night".

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

*** For a spoiler-filled recount of the film, I highly recommend this interpretation. I completely agree with everything the article had to say about Interstellar.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Into the Woods (NEW) and The Gambler (NEW) Trailers

On Christmas day the Broadway musical Into the Woods will be releasing its theatrical adaptation from director Rob Marshall. As a modern twist to the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tales, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and Meryl Streep star in this highly anticipated release. Check out the trailer for Into the Woods below.

Remakes continue their reign over Hollywood as 2014 welcomes Rupert Wyatt's remake of the 1974 classic, The Gambler. A couple weeks ago we were given a teaser red band trailer and now we get the theatrical version, which stars Mark Wahlberg as an English professor with his back against the wall after some high-roller gambling troubles leave a few loan-sharks demanding repayment. Early glances into The Gambler have moviegoers cautiously excited over the mid-December remake.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Film: Foxcatcher

Starring: Channing Tatum (Magic Mike), Steve Carell (Crazy Stupid Love) and Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers)

Director: Bennett Miller (Moneyball)

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

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 134 minutes

The sound of a single gunshot shook the city of Philadelphia this past Monday evening. While local residents sat safely in their homes, a packed house at the Prince Music Theater held their collective breath completely enamored with Bennett Miller's latest achievement, Foxcatcher. Miller's impeccable credentials speak for themselves. With two feature films under his belt, and both earning Best Picture nominations from the Academy Awards, Miller's Foxcatcher has all of the necessary ingredients for making it three in a row.

Channing Tatum takes center stage as Mark Schultz, a 1984 Olympic Gold Medalists in the sport of wrestling and someone who still manages to get lost in his older brother Dave's (Mark Ruffalo) shadow. But when a multi-millionaire named John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) invites Mark to move into his estate and lead a group of world-competitive wrestlers at his private Foxcatcher facility, Schultz graciously accepts and begins to branch out and form his own legacy. However, du Pont's powerful manipulation and stranglehold over Mark begins to escalate to the point where even peacemaker Dave Schultz can't stop an unfortunate tragedy from occurring.

Foxcatcher's cinematic prowess is evident on nearly every level imaginable. Bennett Miller's finely tuned and nuanced storytelling is a lost art in modern filmmaking. Subtlety is key, and the director carefully places every tiny detail in its necessary place in order to shape this spine-chilling tale of obsession and madness. Channing Tatum gives the performance of a lifetime in a role he seems destined to play. Standing toe-to-toe with his presumably Oscar-destined counterpart, Steve Carell, Tatum reveals a beautifully complex character. A physical beast with a burning desire for another Olympic Gold Medal and a young man determined to pave his own path in life, Mark Schultz is the last person you'd expect to be emotionally frail. Yet, Tatum captures this multi-dimensional character perfectly and, as a result, helps heighten an intentionally unbalanced and disturbing performance by Carell in a rare villainous role. Predatory and shrewd in nature, Carell's transformational role establishes du Pont's eerily reprehensible essence and, in many ways, carries Foxcatcher by itself.

In addition to a well-crafted story and a pair of superb leading performances, Foxcatcher rhythmically mounts an enormous amount of tension that builds like a symphony. Gradual and meticulous in its approach, what some may view as a slow-paced character study can also be described as a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. And when it finally does, your heart will burst out of your chest in one single instance. Similar in vibe to another slow-building and agonizing journey of impending doom with 2012's We Need to Talk About Kevin, Foxcatcher cloaks its rapacious themes with illusions of patriotism and grandeur. Everyone is in need of something, but as you sometimes come to discover in a real-life tragedy such as this, you must be careful what you wish for.

Foxcatcher is by no means a feel good story or a film you should seek out to enjoy, but rather a deeply insightful and provocative examination into one of our country's most perplexing crimes. Anyone fascinated by this national story is guaranteed to be utterly consumed from opening to closing credits. With Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller paints a perfect portrait of all his characters, an epic accomplishment that will undoubtedly stand as one of 2014's most prestigious films.

Stars: 4 stars out of 4

Grade: A+

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Most Violent Year (NEW) and Chappie Trailers

All Is Lost director J.C. Chandor returns in 2014 with the highly anticipated Oscar hopeful, A Most Violent Year. The film follows an immigrant business owner (Oscar Isaac) who is forced to fight for his family and business during one of the most violent years in New York City history. Expanding on the release of its previous teaser trailer, A Most Violent Year appears to have all the makings of a viable Oscar contender.

2009's District 9 was an out of nowhere sci-fi masterpiece that really impressed me. Director Neill Blomkamp returns in March of 2015 with the science fiction dramedy Chappie. Dev Patel stars as an engineer of sorts who brings the most advanced robot ever seen into the world, Chappie. With the gift of an adapting understanding of the world and the ability to feel, Chappie looks to capture the hearts of us all. Comprised of equal parts Wall-E and Short Circuit's Johnny 5, the film looks both interesting and inspiring to say the least.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Theory of Everything

Film: The Theory of Everything

Starring: Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) and Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman)

Director: James Marsh (Man on Wire)

U.S. Release: November 7th, 2014 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 123 minutes

Academy Award winning filmmaker James Marsh, best known for his popular documentaries Man on Wire and Project Nim, debuted his new biopic, The Theory of Everything, at the Toronto International Film Festival in early-September. The result was a shake-up in nearly all of the major Oscar races thanks to beloved performances from a pair of young up-and-comers, Les Miserables' Eddie Redmayne and the adorable Felicity Jones. And although I wasn't nearly as enamored with the overall final product as those in Toronto, the fact remains that The Theory of Everything has the staying power of a late-year Best Picture contender.

As a remarkably gifted doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in 1963, a young aspiring physicist named Stephen Hawking (played by Redmayne) discovers that he's suffering from a motor neuron disease (ALS) and is given only two years to live. Deeply depressed and feeling utterly hopeless, only the loyalty and devotion of a recent love interest named Jane Wilde (Jones) can keep Stephen motivated enough to continue his scientific pursuit of understanding the origins of the universe. Yet, many years after the two young lovers marry, Stephen's deteriorating physical abilities and Jane's tireless efforts at caring for their family prove to be the ultimate match for the couple.

Building a flourishing career upon the foundation of documentary filmmaking, it appears that very little changes with James Marsh's approach in The Theory of Everything. The director takes the audience through a realistically shaped journey with both of its lead characters who are brilliantly portrayed by superstars in the making, Eddie Redmayne and Felcity Jones. Redmayne, who was highlighted in my Top Rising Stars write-up back in May, accepts the daunting task of transforming the virtually paralyzed genius, Stephen Hawking, to the big screen, and he does so with remarkable ease. But don't be fooled, The Theory of Everything isn't just Stephen's story. The film also forces the viewer to relive the physicist's escalating physical limitations through the eyes of his wife, Jane. Hence, Felicity Jones' powerful turn as the rock of the Hawking household and a woman who valiantly stares down any obstacle even tends overshadow Redmayne's work by the closing credits. Make no mistake about it, though, both performances are equally deserving of all their praises.

While top notch portrayals clearly highlight this biopic, where the movie fails is in its pacing and lack of depth to Hawking's ideas and achievements in the science community. Rather than exploring the brain inside of this living genius who has soared past unspeakable odds, The Theory of Everything takes the safe systematic approach by following the presumed biopic template. Thankfully, Marsh receives exemplary performances that almost single-handedly support his relationship-driven narrative. While it's true that very few couples can admit to facing life-altering hardships comparable to those that Stephen and Jane had to endure, the couple's complicated marriage and unfathomable circumstances are vastly outstretched and inundated with glossed-over milestones. A more earnest approach would have been to examine the daily grind associated with a loved one suffering from ALS. Instead, The Theory of Everything stumbles along from checkpoint to checkpoint giving it a somewhat artificial feel.

The talent surrounding James Marsh's The Theory of Everything is magnificent, and the film is almost certainly going to stand out as the feature that elevated both Redmayne and Jones' careers to new heights. However, the true mark of a great film is to counterbalance transcending performances with an equally effective story, which doesn't happen here. For people with any knowledge of Hawking's personal life, The Theory of Everything will open very few doors into the unknown of the man at its center. And for someone as groundbreaking and exceptional as Stephen Hawking, that just doesn't feel acceptable.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-