Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rapid Reviews: The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Mistress America

This weekend marks the theatrical release for one of the year's most talked about festival darlings, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. With critics and independent film lovers jointly voicing their approval for Marielle Heller's teen drama, needless to say I was eager to experience the movie for myself.

Newcomer Bel Powley stars as Minnie, an aspiring teen artist who has her first sexual encounter with her mother's boyfriend, Monroe (Alex Skarsgard). While they continue to sneak around engaging in a physical relationship with one another, Minnie confesses the dirty details of her taboo story to a cassette recorder. But as she comes to terms with her new-found sexual appetite and intense feelings for Monroe, Minnie soon discovers that the only person she needs approval from is herself.

Based on the Phoebe Gloeckner diaristic graphic novel of the same name, The Diary of a Teenage Girl paints a brutally honest picture of youth and finding one's sexuality. However, an overly devoted tribute to the novel from director Marielle Heller leads to an unconventional approach that's both unappealing and unnecessary. The frequent inclusion of cartoon animation and illustrations create a diversion from the earnest story at the film's core. And while The Diary of a Teenage Girl unapologetically journeys to some very dark places in a spiraling manner that's probably much better suited for a novel, at least the movie does a commendable job of wrapping a meaningful message around a flawed exterior.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

American filmmaker Noah Baumbach must be a busy man. After the release of his successful comedy, While We're Young, starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts earlier this year, Baumbach returns quickly with the indie film, Mistress America. While Baumbach and his film's co-star, Greta Gerwig, have a long-standing collaborative history together, this latest work represents another winning effort by the duo.

Tracy (played by Lola Kirke) is an out of place college freshman in New York who desperately craves some fun and excitement. So when she reluctantly reaches out to her eccentric soon-to-be sister in-law, Brooke (Gerwig), Tracy finds exactly the influence she's been seeking. Brooke's rapid quips and unrelenting zest for life become a vital source for Tracy's writing career and an inspiration for breaking out of her shell.

Mistress America is an oddball indie comedy that works on many levels but never fully branches out from its own self-limiting absurd clutches. Greta Gerwig has developed into a versatile performer who shines in what would normally feel like an unfitting role. Her exuberance comes to life through the witty screenplay of Noah Baumbach that delivers countless quotable one-liners. Despite a third act that toes the line of believable and outlandish, Mistress America overcomes this wacky finale and stands out as another winning effort from Baumbach.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Best Paul Giamatti Performances

For all of Straight Outta Compton's many (and I do mean many) fine performances, it became difficult to recognize any of the onscreen talent with my movie list of the month considering their careers are just beginning to blossom. Therefore, I had to look to the cast's veteran performer, Paul Giamatti, as my source material for August's Movie List of the Month (check out July's list). Throwing out the disclaimer that I haven't seen a notable indie film from Giamatti's past, American Splendor, here's my take on the greatest performances from the talented actor.

Honorable Mention: Love & Mercy (Dr. Eugene Landy), Private Parts (Kenny aka "Pig Vomit") and Straight Outta Compton (Jerry Heller)

#5. Barney's Version

While I admittedly enjoyed Paul Giamatti's title role performance in Richard J. Lewis' comedy, Barney's Version, much more than the entire film itself, the casting ultimately landed Giamatti his first Golden Globe victory in a motion picture category. The film tells the odd story of a rugged tv producer who reflects on his life's successes and failures as he counts down to the twilight of his own existence. Giamatti captures the essence of Barney Panofsky wonderfully even though the film finds itself tragically over-extended.

#4. The Ides of March

In what's unquestionably the smallest role on the list, I refused to ignore Giamatti's diabolical character in George Clooney's compelling political thriller, The Ides of March. Giamatti's limited face time on screen only enhances the dirty antics of his rival campaign manager character, Tom Duffy. The Ides of March is a fantastic and cynical examination of the modern political game that impresses greatly with the aid of Giamatti's ruthless portrayal.

#3. Sideways

It's fair to say that 2004 put Paul Giamatti on the map when he starred as Miles in Alexander Payne's Oscar darling Sideways. Although his co-star and comedic presence, Thomas Haden Church, managed to land a best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy, Giamatti walked away empty handed that year and had to settle for topping all of the major "biggest snubs" lists. Nonetheless, his iconic work as a middle-aged struggling writer who unknowingly embarks on a journey of self discovery through the California wine country with his best friend will certainly stand the test of time.

#2. Cinderella Man

Following his disappointing awards season for Sideways, Giamatti rebounded in grand fashion with the 2005 role of Joe Gould in Ron Howard's boxing drama, Cinderella Man. While many will argue that Giamatti's first and only Oscar nomination as a Best Supporting Actor in the film came on the coattails of his snub the year prior, I'd argue that this performance is far more memorable. As the boxing coach of former boxing champion, James J. Braddock (portrayed onscreen by Russell Crowe), Giamatti delivers a heartfelt performance in one of the best underdog films in recent memory. 

#1. Win Win

And finally, my favorite Paul Giamatti performance comes from the underrated and exceptionally honest 2011 family drama, Win Win. Starring as Mike Flaherty, a struggling suburban lawyer and high school wrestling coach who finds himself in a complicated situation when the grandson of his elderly incapacitated client moves into his family's home. Mike is shocked to discover the teenager's historic talents for wrestling and learns the hard way what it means to be a good father and a real role model. Win Win is such a down to earth and overlooked film that shines ultra-bright thanks to an unforgettable turn by the always wonderful Paul Giamatti.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Straight Outta Compton and No Escape

By now you've probably heard plenty about F. Gary Gray's gangster rap biopic, Straight Outta Compton. I'm here to reaffirm that everything you've heard about the film is correct, Straight Outta Compton is a well executed and massively engaging movie experience.

Although the frequent appearances of corrupt and irrational police officers at the onset of the film seems oddly forced, Gray quickly devotes the focus to his central characters and never looks back. My highest regards go out to the casting director who did a phenomenal job of finding exceptional raw acting talent. O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell are a trio of unknowns who develop compelling characters in the form of rap super-group NWA's own Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, respectively.

And despite Straight Outta Compton's eye-popping two and a half hour running time, the film possesses excellent pacing and stays loyal to the facts surrounding the rise and fall of NWA and its key members. Considering the group's dissatisfaction with censorship, there is tons of vulgarity (as expected) splashed all throughout the entire affair. However, whether or not you're a fan of rap and hip hop, F Gary Gray and his versatile cast of up and coming actors transform Straight Outta Compton into a worthwhile piece of cinema.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

If you've seen the (above) trailer for the upcoming thriller, No Escape, then you've probably scratched your head at the casting choice of funnyman Owen Wilson. In all fairness to Wilson, he does a reasonable job in the film's leading role and never feels like a distraction. In fact, he's a bright spot by comparison to the many shortcomings in John Erick Dowdle's No Escape.

After relocating his family to an unnamed southeastern Asian country for financial reasons, Jack (played by Wilson) tries to make the best of his new situation. Yet, to the family's unfortunate surprise, an uprising of local militia result in a coup of the government and force Jack to find any means necessary to survive and protect his family.

Never before have "conveniences" played such a pivotal role in a film. Since there's absolutely zero character development and plot to latch on to, No Escape devotes itself solely to the art of suspense. Thankfully, Dowdle achieves success in this realm through the use of conveniently timed occurences, but building a tense atmosphere is just about the only aspect of No Escape that shines. As I previously stated, a paper-thin script gives Wilson and his usually terrific co-star, Lake Bell, absolutely nothing to work with and the film suffers immensely. Coupling that brutal fact with a cartoon-ish performance from Pierce Brosnan and No Escape comes and goes as a run of the mill thriller that fails to separate itself from the pack.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Witch and Trumbo Trailers

There's a new horror entry generating a buzz and it isn't your every day scary movie. The Witch has begun making its early rounds throughout the festival circuit, and audiences have been very impressed. This period piece is set in 1630s New England where a Puritan family struggles to grow crops and fend for themselves after their newborn son mysterious vanishes. Believing it could be the work of a supernatural witch, their lives continue to unravel within the bounds of their own fears and anxieties. This indie horror appears to use the perfect time-period to tell a cerebral story about the darkness of the human psyche. The Witch is slated for a 2016 U.S. release.

I'm sure Bryan Cranston would love any role that could separate himself from the iconic character of Breaking Bad's Walter White. He gives a valiant effort in Jay Roach's true story biopic, Trumbo. Cranston stars as 1940s Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, whose career comes to a screeching halt when he's blacklisted by all studios for being a communist. Director Jay Roach has made his mark in the comedy realm as the man behind Austin Powers and Meet the Parents, but this time around he's attempted a more heavy-handed drama. Trumbo arrives in theaters on November 6th.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

2015 Oscar Preview - Part 2

Yesterday in Part 1 of my Oscar preview I highlighted the most intriguing titles debuting in September and October. However, we all know that the biggest contenders generally hold off their releases until the November and December months. And while it's still very early in the game and most of this is based purely on speculation, here's a list of the late year films you should have on your radar.


Spotlight - Starring Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams & Mark Ruffalo

Although director Tom McCarthy hit a dud of epic proportions with his most recent effort, The Cobbler, it's impossible to ignore his otherwise very impressive catalog of work. In his upcoming dramatic release, Spotlight, McCarthy tackles the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalism executed by the Boston Globe which unveiled the diabolical child molestation scandal and cover-up within the Catholic Church. With a lengthy all-star cast and an Oscar-drooling source material, Spotlight has the potential to command a bevy of acting nominations and perhaps a Best Picture nod. Assuming McCarthy recovers from his latest and only cinematic blunder. (November 6th)

Carol - Starring Cate Blanchette & Rooney Mara

Most of the time, timing is everything. Especially when it pertains to the Academy Awards. With the recent victories for the same-sex battles in the Supreme Court, perhaps now is as good a time as any for the upcoming Todd Haynes drama, Carol. Rooney Mara stars as a department store clerk in 1950s New York who dreams of a more glamorous life and falls for a wealthy married woman named Carol (Cate Blanchette). Early indicators point to Blanchette and Mara earning Oscar recognition for their work, as well a potential Director nomination for Haynes. (November 20th)

The Danish Girl - Starring Eddie Redmayne & Alicia Vikander

Eddie Redmayne has been one of the fastest rising actors in Hollywood of late, especially thanks to his Academy Award winning performance as Stephen Hawking in last year's The Theory of Everything. Redmayne returns this year in a collaboration with his Les Miserables director, Tom Hooper, in The Danish Girl, The film follows the true story of 1920s Danish painter, Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), and her husband (Eddie Redmayne) who became the first documented person to go through a male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Yet another film seemingly arriving at the perfect time, The Danish Girl has all the makings of a top flight Oscar contender that could land nominations for all of Redmayne, Vikander, Hooper as well as Best Picture and beyond. (November 27th)


In the Heart of the Sea - Starring Chris Hemsworth & Cillian Murphy

Everyone is fully aware of Herman Melville's iconic novel, Moby Dick, about a mammoth whale that attacked a vessel in the 1820s. This year, Ron Howard re-teams with his Rush star, Chris Hemsworth, to tell a whole other side to that story with In the Heart of the Sea. Following the assault of a massive whale, the Essex and its crew must fight to survive brutal conditions and circumstances all while killing this beast and finding direction out on the open sea. Rush became a regrettably snubbed film two years ago, and we'll see if the Academy looks to honor the brilliant filmmaker and his anticipated feature. (December 11th)

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens - Starring Oscar Isaac & John Boyega

Despite the fact that Science Fiction films are always overlooked by the Academy, there might not be a film more talked about than The Force Awakens. Director J.J. Abrams trades his Star Trek loyalty for the opportunity to revive one of the greatest franchises in film history. While details of the plot have been closed lip and will continue to be, the early footage looks phenomenal and the final clip of Harrison Ford and Chewbacca is guaranteed to give you the chills. I'd put Oscar hopes at "less than likely", but that doesn't mean The Force Awakens won't be a late-year treat. (December 18th)

Joy - Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper & Robert De Niro

David O. Russell have developed into a "sure-thing" director with the critical adoration of his previous trio of titles The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Yet, I must admit tht the first look into his latest work, Joy, offers a bit of a puzzling vibe that we'll just have to wait and see for ourselves. Jennifer Lawrence stars in the title role as a strong mother figure who, after four generations of guidance, becomes the leader of a highly successful family business. I continue to hold my reservations, however history would suggest that Jennifer Lawrence is a safe bet in the Best Actress race while co-star Bradley Cooper may be in line for a supporting nod and David O. Russell could very well garner another Director's nomination. (December 25th)

The Revenant - Starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Tom Hardy

In the "what have you done for me lately" would in which we find ourselves, perhaps no film is as anticipated as last year's Best Picture winning filmmaker, Alejandro G. Inarritu's, The Revenant. By now everyone is fully aware of megastar Leonardo DiCaprio's quest for an Oscar and, as expected, this latest film has us all wondering if this will be the one. DiCaprio stars as frontiersman Hugh Glass who was viciously attacked and mauled by a bear during an expedition in the uncharted American wilderness in the 1820s. Left for dead by the rest of his hunting team, headed by the betrayal of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass must struggle to survive a harsh winter and seek vengeance on Fitzgerald. What's been described by the studio as a visceral cinematic experience, all eyes will be on The Revenant as this year's early frontrunner for Oscar glory. (December 25th)

Honorable Mention: November 6th marks the release of the newest James Bond film, Spectre, which could very well end up in the Oscar mix if everything goes well, as well as the drama Brooklyn which finds Saoirse Ronan in a complicated love triangle.

Angelina Jolie tries once again to break into the Oscar ranks with her relationship drama, By the Sea, starring her and her current beau, Brad Pitt, which arrives on November 13th. And on December 4th the raved about indie, Youth, could land Academy Award acting nominations to its two leading men, Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel.

Finally, a pair of Christmas day releases worth noting are Quentin Tarantino's newest western entry, The Hateful Eight, which could prove a career first Oscar nom for supporting actor Kurt Russell, and the latest from Oliver Stone, Snowden, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the whistleblowing title character.

Monday, August 17, 2015

2015 Oscar Preview - Part 1

For many people scattered across the country, the fall means more mild weather and football of all varieties. But to movie lovers everywhere, the fall means the first big step in the long awards season race to the Oscars. Here's my first look at the fall releases we all should keep an eye on.


Black Mass - Starring Johnny Depp & Benedict Cumberbatch

Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace director, Scott Cooper, unveil the first intriguing film of the season on September 18th. Black Mass stars Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, one of America's most notorious violent criminals who ran the streets of south Boston and turned into an informant when a rival mafia family tried invading his turf. Although Oscar prospects seems very slim, if anything, Black Mass is too high profile of a film to ignore. (September 18th)

Everest - Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke & Josh Brolin

Also arriving this September, Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur (2 Guns and Contraband) delivers what could be one of the most magnificent visual films of the year with the true story, Everest. An enormously star-studded and talented cast unearths the 1996 expedition up the mountain that was devastated by a catastrophic blizzard. Oscar hopes seem slim at this point, but some visual effects awards could be a possibility if this movie crushes with the thrills. (September 25th)


Steve Jobs - Starring Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen & Kate Winslet

Despite feeling like an overused bit of source material, especially after the 2013 snooze-fest Jobs wasn't all that long ago, having Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours auteur, Danny Boyle, and Academy Award winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin should alleviate any concerns. Michael Fassbender stars in the title role as Apple's visionary, Steve Jobs. The film could find potential Oscar suitors in Fassbender (Actor), Seth Rogen (Supporting Actor), Kate Winslet (Supporting Actress), Boyle (Director), Sorkin (Adapted Screenplay) and an overall Best Picture. (October 9th)

Bridge of Spies - Starring Tom Hanks & Alan Alda

This October acclaimed filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, and Tom Hanks are at it again. This time, the duo are tackling the Cold War. Hanks stars as an American lawyer recruited by the CIA to help negotiate with the Soviets during the Cold War to retrieve a detained pilot. There could be plenty of Oscar implications for Bridge of Spies including Hanks (Actor), Spielberg (Director) and, of course, Best Picture. (October 22nd)

Suffragette - Starring Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep & Helena Bonham Carter

Unfortunately, every year there are only a handful of female-centered films that generally fill out the Actress categories. And this year, you can tell by the title that Suffragette will be one of those films. Carey Mulligan stars as a mother who joins the early women's movement working aggressively to gain their right to vote. Mulligan could very well end up in the Best Actress race while early word has Helena Bonham Carter as the top Support Actress, although you can never count Streep out of any race. Also, there's an outside chance of Sarah Gavron landing as a finalist in the Director's category. (October 23rd)

Unannounced Releases

Miles Ahead - Starring Don Cheadle & Ewan McGregor

Although no trailer has been debuted, Don Cheadle's passion project, Miles Ahead, finds the gifted performer atop the director's chair and a co-writer as well. Cheadle takes center stage as famous Jazz musician Miles Davis. While little is known about the film, it did garner a highly coveted premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 10th. Keep a lookout for what the early response is, because many insiders believe Miles Ahead could be a huge player this awards season.

The Program - Starring Ben Foster & Chris O'Dowd

Underrated talents Ben Foster and Chris O'Dowd headline the gripping true story from Philomena director Stephen Frears, The Program. Foster stars as renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong, who went from cancer survivor to Tour de France sensation all while battling accusations of cheating. Eventually, it was an Irish reporter (O'Dowd) whose persistence ultimately discovered the shocking truth behind Armstrong's tainted success. The Program is currently an underdog in the the awards season circus, but I have a feeling this one could become a viable contender after its France release on September 16th.

Honorable Mention: On October 2nd a pair of intriguing titles will find their way to the big screen. Ridley Scott's epic sci-fi, The Martian, starring Matt Damon has a very distant chance at receiving some recognition considering Scott's history, and the same-sex drama, Freeheld, featuring last year's Best Actress winner, Julianne Moore, and her onscreen partner, Ellen Page.

Forrest Gump director, Robert Zemeckis, returns on October 9th with the biopic, The Walk, which finds Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role of French high-wire enthusiast, Philippe Petit, who schemed a daring attempt to walk across the World Trade Center in 1974.

And finally, October 16th marks the release of two more films worth knowing. Room starring Brie Larson as a mother held captive in a single room for years with her son as she tries to raise him as normal as she can all while plotting their escape from captivity, and Truth finds Robert Redford in the role of news anchor Dan Rather in a look at his final days on air before broadcasting a false report that cost him his boss (Cate Blanchett) their jobs.

*** Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Oscar preview coming tomorrow

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Hateful Eight and Life (2015) Trailers

Quentin Tarantino is back at it again and you better believe that everyone has their eyes on the debut trailer for his new western, The Hateful Eight. The film follows a collection of bounty hunters who try to seek shelter during a massive blizzard in Wyoming and they find themselves entangled in a plot of betrayal and deception. We're all well aware of what Tarantino can do for his supporting actors, just ask Christoph Waltz. Many this year claim Kurt Russell could be in line for an Oscar run with his role in The Hateful Eight.

An international trailer has dropped for the latest festival circuit film from Anton Corbijn called Life. A revamped Robert Pattinson stars as a photographer for Life Magazine who's assigned to shoot pictures of James Dean (played by Dane DeHaan) during the rise of his career. Corbijn is always a safe best for a slow-burning drama, but he usually delivers decent work. Life doesn't have a U.S. release date yet, but here's your first glimpse into the film.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Film: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Starring: Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

Director: Guy Ritchie (Snatch)

U.S. Release: August 14th, 2015 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 116 minutes

In the modern world of remakes and reboots, the industry's current lack of creativity and imagination usually leads to a complete mishandling of movies and television shows we once held near and dear to our hearts. However, one filmmaker has done an indescribable job of issuing successful returns to the characters we love. After a well-executed two film go-around with the mystery solving, Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie tries his hand at transforming the iconic 1960s television show, The Man from UNCLE, into a big screen phenomenon ... and boy does he succeed.

Napolean Solo (played by Henry Cavill), is a former thief turned suave CIA specialist who finds comfort in working alone. Yet, when Solo discovers he must partner up with a super-trained Soviet KGB operative (Armie Hammer), the pair attempts to put their differences aside for the good of the world. The unlikely duo use the daughter of a missing scientist (Alicia Vikander) to try and locate his whereabouts in order to stop an underground criminal organization from producing large quantities of nuclear weapons.

Anyone familiar with Guy Ritchie knows that he's a stylish auteur with an impressive film catalog. And his latest endeavor, The Man from UNCLE, hovers right around the top of the director's filmography. Ritchie has a knack for brilliantly meshing action with comedy, and UNCLE becomes yet another platform for him to unleash his skills. Boasting a clever script filled with sharp and jovial dialogue, these elegantly chosen words are brought to life by a perfectly selected trio of talents. As an outspoken hater of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, I had very little praise for anything involved with the film, Henry Cavill's performance included. However, Guy Ritchie manages to extract the best from his actors and actresses, like he always does, and Cavill demonstrates his true potential in a role that was destined for him. Co-star Armie Hammer refuses to take a back seat and delivers a performance equally as effective to his counterpart. Alicia Vikander rounds out the trio in what's proving to be an acting year for the ages with the success of Ex Machina and the upcoming Oscar shoe-in, The Danish Girl.

Although a well-rounded script and gifted performances would usually be enough to hang your hat on, UNCLE takes its winning formula even further with tasteful and exhilarating action sequences that never disappoint. Everything from the opening car chase scene to finely-tuned and choreographed fights, there are a plethora or positive attributes that helps make UNCLE the type of film that satisfies a diversity of audiences. And despite a finale that pushes on just a tad-bit too long, it's a blemish that's swept under the rug by a barrage of other outstanding traits.

As someone who went into the film with modest expectations, I was blown away by the level of excitement and laughs splashed all throughout The Man from UNCLE. Guy Ritchie has always been a fantastic source of fun-filled entertainment and his latest work is no exception to the norm. So do yourself a favor and take a chance on one of 2015's most thrilling and engaging offerings. You won't regret it.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Monday, August 10, 2015

By the Sea and Freeheld Trailers

The last time we discussed an Angelina Jolie film with Oscar aspirations, we ended up immensely let down by the actress turned filmmaker's 2014 December release, Unbroken. Although Jolie's dedication to the amazing life of Louis Zamperini never matched the hype, she's jumping back into this year's mix of presumed contenders with the relationship drama, By the Sea. Jolie and her real life beau, Brad Pitt, star as a couple falling out of love who travel to a small seaside town in France and grow close with local inhabitants. Slated for a November 13th release, check out the debut teaser trailer for By the Sea.

Julianne Moore never seems to turn down a role that we could define as, "Oscar bait". The result was her first Oscar win for her performance in a mediocre melodrama with last year's Still Alice. Moore clearly hopes to return for a repeat with this year's Freeheld. When a New Jersey police lieutenant (Moore) becomes diagnosed with terminal cancer, she must fight to have her pension benefits legally carried over to her domestic partner (Ellen Page). This same-sex couple drama is sure to garner the Academy's attention for at least content alone, so here's a first look into Freeheld.

Friday, August 7, 2015

DVD Outlook: August 2015

In all honesty, this month's crop of new DVD and Blu-Ray selections isn't anything to get excited over. In fact, I'd suggest either looking into July's titles (or earlier) or taking a trip to the movie theater and watching a gripping new thriller like, The Gift. Filled with early year blunders and slow-churning period pieces, August/s new releases leave plenty to be desired. Here are the best suggestions I can give:

True Story - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

My most prominent recommendation of the month is the Sundance selection, True Story. Rupert Goold's compelling film tells the real life tale of Christian Longo (James Franco), an America's Most Wanted fugitive accused of killing his wife and children who was eventually found in Mexico using the identity of a recently dismissed New York Times reporter, Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill). And once Finkel discovers that Longo had been operating under his name, he's granted one-on-one access by the prisoner who slowly divulges the truth behind what happened on that fateful night. Academy Award Nominees Jonah Hill and James Franco put their talents on display in this skin-crawling and gripping drama. (August 4th)

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

Although I never formally wrote up a review for the Academy Award winning documentary, Citizenfour, I was immediately captivated by the film during its HBO release. Laura Poitras is granted unique access into the life of whistleblower Edward Snowden as they capture his first-hand confessionals on why he felt obligated to alert the public of the U.S. government's surveillance and privacy breaching capabilities. The documentary opens with an enormous bang and slowly fizzles as the running time amounts to nearly two hours, but make no mistake that Citizenfour is an eye-opening journey into the current state of our government's handling (or mishandling) of private information. (August 25th)

Far from the Madding Crowd - N/A stars  - (No review available)

Although I haven't seen the newly adapted version of Thomas Hardy's novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, it's a rare female-centric period-piece that I'm actually interested in watching. Thomas Vinterberg's vision stars the always phenomenal Carey Mulligan in the iconic role of Bathsheba Everdene, a single and independent woman who attracts the attention of three male suitors vying for her affection. Critical reviews were very solid for the film and moviegoers also vocalized their approval through various rating outlets. Given Mulligan's strong track record for fine performances in films such as An Education, Drive, The Great Gatsby and Shame, I feel extremely confident that Far from the Madding Crowd won't disappoint. (August 4th)

Honorable Mention: One prominent new release is a foreign title Two Days, One Night (8/25) that landed Marion Cotillard an Oscar Nomination in the Best Actress category. Child 44 (8/4) stars Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman in Stalin-Era Soviet Union as they try to identify a serial child murderer. Another teen franchise pushes forward with Insurgent (8/4) starring Shailene Woodley. The irritatingly shot but decent horror flick, Unfriended (8/11) is released this month as well as a pair of comedies I need to mention but certainly won't recommend, Hot Pursuit (8/11) starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, as well as Cameron Crowe's disappointment, Aloha (8/25), starring Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Spotlight and Deadpool (RED BAND) Trailers

Based on its content, cast and exceptional director, there's every reason to view the November release, Spotlight, as a viable Oscar contender. Despite filmmaker Tom McCarthy's critically panned 2014 clunker, The Cobbler (starring Adam Sandler), he's backed by a rather strong career with solid features such as Win Win, The Station Agent and The Visitor. His latest offering centers around the real life Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporting done by the Boston Globe to expose the Catholic Church of long-stemming sexual abuse allegations and cover-up. Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and many others, Spotlight appears to be a riveting true story that just may warrant some awards season recognition.

Needless to say Marvel's at it again (and again) with the 2016 action-comedy, Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds. This time, though, we may have an R-rated comic book flick on our hands courtesy of the film's first red band trailer. The film follows an ex-special forces operative (Reynolds) who undergoes a rogue experiment after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, the experiment leaves him with remarkably accelerated healing powers that allow him to adopt the alter ego of Deadpool and fight a villainous foe. While the trailer feels a bit over the top and nowhere near a PG-13 money-making rating that the studio surely wants, we'll have to wait and see what comes about from this February 2016 release.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Gift (2015)

Film: The Gift (2015)

Starring: Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses), Rebecca Hall (The Town) and Joel Edgerton (Warrior)

Director: Joel Edgerton

U.S. Release: August 7th, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 108 minutes

Australia, the land down under, is most commonly known for its massive Great Barrier Reef and a wide variety of unique animals such as kangaroos, koala bears and duck-billed platypuses. But as of late, Australia has delivered some exceptional Hollywood talent that is headlined by a relatively unknown writer, director and actor, Joel Edgerton. After a breakout in 2010 with the overlooked sibling drama, Warrior, Edgerton is best known for his role in Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby. And whether or not you're familiar with this rare multifaceted industry talent, once Edgerton's controversial psychological thriller, The Gift, generates quite a stir following its nationwide release this weekend, he'll become a household name.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a young married couple who relocate to the nearby suburbs of Simon's childhood looking for a fresh start. While doing some routine shopping for their new home, they're approached by Gordo (Edgerton), an old classmate of Simon. And after Gordo oversteps his welcome in their lives and eventually references a past secret between him and Simon, the couple quickly grows fearful of his intentions.

One of the beauties surrounding Joel Edgerton's major motion picture directorial debut, The Gift, is the effective manner in which it utilizes its tension. Where countless other films look to surprise jumps and scares as a flimsy device to shock its audiences, Edgerton and the rest of his talented cast are exceptional and convincing enough to transform these often hokey tactics into legitimate moments of terror. Furthermore, The Gift does an immaculate job of tearing down the safe haven and boundaries of the home dynamic. Part of the feature's allure is how vulnerable the home environment becomes and it leads to a wildly impressive and thrilling ride. My highest praises go out to the entire cast. Edgerton himself delivers an eerily iconic performance that's balanced perfectly with the work of his co-stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall. Detailed writing and top-flight performances allow The Gift to take on a life of its own.

Despite all of its amazing attributes, The Gift suffers from a sluggish midsection that trades thrills for dramatics. And although the film loses its suspenseful tone during this portion, it's a necessary evil that evolves into an explosive and unforeseen finale that's guaranteed to keep audiences talking long after the credits roll. The Gift paints a unique and realistic picture of humanity. We all have our demons and the movie intentionally shows every character's true colors before it unravels in the craziest and most compelling of fashions.

Joel Edgerton has emerged as a true industry talent not only on screen, but behind the camera and as a writer as well. The Gift is one of those rare psychological thrillers that transcends the norm and takes chances. Thankfully for audiences everywhere who are destined to enjoy this fine piece of work, those chances pay off in one of the year's most cerebral and taut films.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

13 Hours and The 33 Trailers

Action guru Michael Bay returns to the director's chair in 2016 with his high octane war thriller, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Bay's latest effort exams the tragic attacks in 2012 on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya where an American Ambassador lost his life to Islamic militants. A beefed up John Krasinski (The Office) stars as a member of an elite ex-military security team tasked with protecting CIA outposts who tries to make sense of all this chaos and turmoil in Benghazi. Slated for a January 2016 release, here's the debut trailer for 13 Hours.

Another emotional drama dropping a trailer recently was Patricia Riggen's The 33. Antonio Banderas takes center stage as a Chilean miner who becomes trapped with 32 others after a devastating collapse leaves them for dead. They must struggle to survive for an unbelievable 69 days while the government and families work tirelessly to rescue these 33 workers. The 33 is due for a November 15th U.S. release, you can catch its first-look trailer below.