Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Going Clear and Faults

The major film studios need to look over their shoulders, because a new player is in town. HBO Films entered the buyers market at this year's Sundance Film Festival by acquiring the massively anticipated documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Who knows what types of doors this will open to future purchases by the premium cable channel, but thankfully they wasting no time releasing the documentary to its subscribers.

Director Alex Gibney centers his film around author Lawrence Wright's book of the same name, and talks to former high ranking officials of the Church of Scientology who have since left the church. Going Clear skillfully uses archived footage and in-depth interviews with eight former church members to shed light on the current state of the wealthy "religion". What begins as a look into the crazed world of founder, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, develops into an enthralling examination of where the church has ventured since his passing in 1986.

For nearly three decades, David Miscavige, has used Scientology's church-status power to create a completely disconnected reality between his religion's members and the rest of the outside world. Going Clear also aggressively tackles the celebrity status of current members John Travolta and Tom Cruise in such a way that its two-hour running time passes with ease.

Scientology has always been a great mystery until recently, and Gibney refuses to overlook any of the various controversies surrounding the religion which include abuse of members, harsh living conditions for children and misconduct from its leaders. Going Clear is an eye-opening and captivating detailed account of Scientology account that you won't want to miss.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Currently available On Demand is the engrossing indie thriller, Faults, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and directed by her husband, Riley Stearns. I had the distinct pleasure of catching this 90-minute gem at last year's Philadelphia Film Festival and I've been clamoring for friends and readers to see it ever since.

Winstead stars as Claire, a member of a cult called Faults whose concerned parents seek out the assistance of a so-called mind control expert named Ansel (Played by Leland Orser). Together Ansel and Claire's parents kidnap her and lock her in a hotel room in order to deprogram the brainwashed young woman. However, as their relationship begins to develop Ansel becomes consumed by Claire's enchanting aura.

Faults succeeds wonderfully on the shoulders of excellent performances from Winstead and her counterpart, Leland Orser. As a huge fan of Winstead, this role delivers some of the most exceptional work of her career. And along with a commendably clever script, Faults takes the audience for a thrilling ride all the way to its explosive finale. It was quite an impressive debut feature for Stearns and I'm eager to see what the budding filmmaker has in store for the future.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, April 27, 2015

Black Mass and Ant-Man Trailers

We all know that Johnny Depp's career has been on a steady downward spiral for nearly a decade now. But, perhaps, Scott Cooper's gangster film, Black Mass, could give the beloved actor a huge resurgence. Cooper has shown the ability to please audiences using gritty stories and complex characters with his past works, Out of the Furnace and Crazy Heart. With Cooper's latest, Depp stars as real-life criminal Whitey Bulger, a south Boston native who grew to be the Godfather of the Irish mob and an entrant on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. Black Mass reaches theaters this September, so be on the look out.

Marvel keeps churning out new products and spin-offs, some appearing more peculiar than others. But if 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy taught us anything, it's to never count out a film from their studio, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang in Ant-Man, a con-man who's recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to wear an elaborate body-shrinking suit and pull off a master heist that's necessary to save the world. Following their traditional formula of infusing comedy into their action-packed scripts, Marvel's Ant-Man could have all the makings of a huge blockbuster this July.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ex Machina

Film: Ex Machina

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson (About Time), Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year) and Alicia Vikander

Director: Alex Garland

U.S. Release: April 24th, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller

Runtime: 108 minutes

In all walks of life you have to earn your stripes. The same can be said for Hollywood and the millions of big dreamers that flock to Los Angeles for a chance at stardom. Alex Garland is an English author who penned the 1996 novel, The Beach, which you'll probably remember as one of the many titles sitting comfortably in the middle of Leonardo DiCaprio's impressive filmography. Soon after, director Danny Boyle then lured Garland into the world of screenwriting where the author churned out scripts for science fiction films such as 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd. And finally, after a decade-plus of collecting screenplay credits for many well-regarded features, Garland's been given the opportunity to see his own vision through with the directorial debut of Ex Machina.

Domhnall Gleeson stars as Caleb, a promising young programmer who wins a competition at his work to travel to the remote estate of the CEO to assist with a groundbreaking new project. After Caleb arrives to the lavish home of Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac), he's forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and then introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), a human-like robot with remarkable A.I. capabilities. Caleb must spend one week's time with Ava, monitoring her behavior to determine if she's able to demonstrate consciousness indistinguishable from that of a human.

Alex Garland's Ex Machina is a cerebral sci-fi thriller that wastes no time jumping into the story. The writer/director displays the type of subtle attention to detail that you'd certainly expect from a novelist, and it translates to the screen with unfettered ease. Ex Machina wraps a mysteriously sexy and provocative outer layer around a cleverly-constructed centerpiece. Manipulation and slight of hand keep the audience guessing throughout the trio of characters' week-long journey together. The cat and mouse games between creator and robot take their toll on Caleb, and Domhnall Gleeson displays a naturally deteriorating psyche to perfection. The former rom-com star of 2013's underrated work, About Time, proves he has the range to tackle any role handed to him. But equally impressive is the onscreen ability of the A.I. subject, Ava, played remarkably by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander. She truly captures the mystifying essence of Ava and finds a faultless balance between man and machine.

With excellent writing and exceptional acting on all fronts, you'd be hard pressed to find issues with Ex Machina. However, some do exist. The film's mid-section suffers from pacing issues that create a sluggish feel up until it's conclusion. But then, Garland nearly spoils a spine-chilling finale by refusing to end the movie at a climactic moment. Regrettably, the director pushes on for another five minutes or so in a less than gratifying result that allows the tension to dissipate. These aren't by any stretch detrimental flaws, but rather minor blemishes to an otherwise very impressive debut feature.

Ex Machina is a thought-provoking and compelling sci-fi entry that relies solely on intelligent dialogue and soulful performances. The beauty of Garland's work is its ability to transcend the stereotypical dependence on gaudy special effects and eye-popping visuals. Ex Machina is full of the substance and wisdom that turns blandness into art.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Thursday, April 23, 2015

NEW Jurassic World and The Force Awakens Trailers

2015 could be a monumental year for box office revenue, and one of the main reasons why is Colin Trevorrow's franchise rejuvenating, Jurassic World. This June 12th witness as Isla Nublar unveils a massive new genetically-modified dinosaur attraction at the theme park, Jurassic World, in order to combat declining profits. Unfortunately for everyone on the island, the intelligent monster they've created goes on a complete rampage. With Guardians of the Galaxy's Chris Pratt in a leading role, Jurassic World could be a summer blockbuster for the ages. Check out the film's latest trailer below.

As a committed fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, I was massively disappointed with George Lucas' return for episodes 1 through 3. However, with this fresh new look into J.J. Abrams' continuation of the legendary saga, I'm all in with the return! Plot details have been firmly kept under the wraps, but with the footage seen in the film's latest teaser trailer below, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens looks like an authentic homage to the franchise's original source material. December 18th can't come soon enough!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Age of Adaline

Film: The Age of Adaline

Starring: Blake Lively (Savages), Michiel Huisman (Wild) and Harrison Ford (42)

Director: Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste & Jesse Forever)

U.S. Release: April 24th, 2015 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 110 minutes

Back in my younger years, 2008 to be exact, I stubbornly brushed off an unusual tale of aging that went on to win a trio of Oscars. The movie was called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the film turned out to be one that I absolutely adored once I came to my senses and viewed it with an open mind. At first glance Lee Toland Krieger's The Age of Adaline transported me back to 2008, and I refused to allow myself to make the same mistake twice. So I eagerly ventured to the city for an advanced screening of this mystical love story.

Adaline Bowman (played by Blake Lively) was born shortly after the turn of the century in 1908. Following a surprise meeting with a charming young man, she marries him less than three months later and gives birth to their daughter, Flemming. One fateful night while traveling home during a rare snow storm in California, an unexpected car accident delivers Adaline with the ability to never age. Unfortunately, this unwanted curse forces her into a remote life for many decades until she meets Ellis (Michiel Huisman), a charming young man who may be worth the risk of divulging her closely kept secret.

The young beauty, Blake Lively, takes center stage in this whimsical tale of an ageless woman who defies science and logic in every way imaginable. Yet, despite Lively's finest efforts, a ludicrous and blindly absurd tall-tale stands firmly in her way of success. Everything from an unnecessary and irritating narrator, whose only purpose is to spew blasphemous scientific gibberish that somehow supports this completely fabricated medical condition, all the way to a typical over-acted role by Harrison Ford that we've come to expect in the twilight of his career.

The Age of Adaline is a mightily flawed film that suffers from lazy writing and over-embellished dramatics. As a bull-headed Adaline refuses to give into the advances of a persistent and intriguing young man, only a rare meeting with her daughter - who at this point appears even older than she does - can sway her opinion. But in an unconvincing fashion that's essential to the progression of the plot, Ellyn Burstyn's character bullies her neurotic mother into pursuing a relationship with a guy that neither of them know anything about. This is just one of the many examples of cheap and paper-thin writing that plagues The Age of Adaline.

For as unappealing and careless as the film is, The Age of Adaline does offer some exceptional cinematography and costume design. The constant flashbacks to early in Adaline's life do a superb job of transporting the audience to that time period. Furthermore, the onscreen efforts from Blake Lively and her love interest, Michiel Huisman, are anything but a hindrance to the feature. Instead, obvious twists and turns in the screenplay blend together terribly with an out-stretched running time to ultimately tear down an already flimsy foundation.

I'm a huge fan of well-executed and wonderfully told love stories. Films like Slumdog Millionaire and Silver Linings Playbook transcend the romance norm, but do so on the back of solid story-telling and carefully constructed characters. The Age of Adaline feels more like a gimmick, and one that isn't nearly worth the investment.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Unfriended and Clouds of Sils Maria

Despite it's unconvincing trailer and ridiculous-sounding premise, Russian filmmaker Leo Gabriadze's newest horror entry, Unfriended, definitely surpasses initial expectations. The film using tense thrills and a clever, almost Saw-like, script from Nelson Greaves to keep the audience fully engaged.

Unfriended follows a quintet of high school friends who meet online in a video-cam chatroom on the anniversary of their friend's suicide. Unbeknownst to them, a supernatural force hacks into the deceased teen's personal social media site and torments the five friends in a devious game of vengeance.

For as thrilling and smartly-written as Unfriended is, the short 80+ minute film develops at a crawling pace before it unleashes into a terrorizing second half. Moreover, the feature is viewed entirely through the computer screen of the lead female character. Hence, Unfriended makes for an unfriendly viewing experience. Too much time is dedicated to simply reading online messages between characters and it becomes a daunting task for the audience. But although this recent horror release certainly comes with its hitches, there are enough thrills and creativity keeping it a mediocre and tolerable scary movie.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Another limited release out in select theatres is Olivier Assayas' drama, Clouds of Sils Maria. I had the pleasure of catching the film at the 2014 Philadelphia Film Festival and walked away pleasantly surprised by its contents. Headlined by performances from Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche and a more refined role from Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria is a long-winded treat.

The feature follows an aging star actress (Binoche) who is forced to reflect on herself and her career as a co-star in a revival of the same production that spawned her stardom. The only problem is she's taking the opposite role of the manipulated older woman, rather than the seductive younger character. Mirroring her own life in many ways, she prepares for the difficult and eye-opening challenge with the help of her assistant (Stewart) in picturesque Sils Maria.

In a dialogue heavy and over-extending fashion, Clouds of Sils Maria paints a beautiful and personal portrait of facing your demons. There aren't many thrills and the pacing is sluggish, but a mesmerizing onscreen performance from Juliette Binoche and career-best work from Kristen Stewart draw the audience into a subtle and wonderful story. Clouds of Sils Maria is a film for cinephiles and fans of stage productions as it develops more like a play than a major motion picture.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Friday, April 17, 2015

Dawn of Justice Trailer (Leaked)

News surfaced last night that the highly anticipated Dawn of Justice trailer was leaked online. It appears that the trailer comes from another country (U.S. version is now below), hence the subtitles, but the first look into Batman vs. Superman is pretty exciting. Very few plot details have been revealed, but you can get a first-look sneak peek at the leaked trailer below (until it gets removed). The official trailer for the 2016 release, Dawn of Justice, will be unveiled on Monday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

True Story

Film: True Story

Starring: Jonah Hill (The Wold of Wall Street), James Franco (127 Hours) and Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

Director: Rupert Goold

U.S. Release: April 17th, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 100 minutes

Whenever you hear a cast headlined by Jonah Hill and James Franco your natural instinct is to expect a comedy, but nothing could be further from the truth in Rupert Goold's Sundance selected drama, True Story. Despite Hill's and Franco's reputations as comedic powerhouses, both have proven that their more than capable of handling dramatic work. The duo, along with last year's Best Actress nominee Felicity Jones, form a trio of performing talent that undoubtedly elevate True Story to respectable heights.

The film is based on the real life story of a former FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted, Christian Longo (played by Franco), who was apprehended in Mexico and found to be living under the name of Michael Finkel (Hill), a recently dismissed writer for the New York Times. Once Finkle discovers this bizarre reality, he meets with Longo and the two form an unusual relationship as the prisoner awaits trial for the murder of his wife and three children. Longo grants the writing pariah exclusive rights to his story as Finkle dives deeper and deeper to learn the truth of what happened that fateful night.

True Story is an immensely gripping crime drama comprised of worthwhile performances and a stellar screenplay. At its core is the cerebral chess match so perfectly executed by the onscreen duo of Jonah Hill and James Franco. Writer and director Rupert Goold's well-crafted story does a fantastic job of taking the audience on Finkel's blind journey into the mind of an accused killer. The story regularly shifts back and forth between believing in Longo's innocence one moment, and then doubting it the next. True Story has all the appeal of a CSI crime show with top-flight acting and an edge-of-your-seat script.

Despite the film's strong performances and captivating screenplay, True Story finds flaws in various other areas. While The Theory of Everything star, Felicity Jones, is a remarkable talent, her efforts become nearly wasted in a melodramatic role that never provides an appropriate platform to shine. In addition, the film's concluding scene is completely unnecessary and a hokey way to wrap up an otherwise solid feature. However, it wasn't the only poor decision by Rupert Goold. The filmmaker also uses some peculiar camera angles and shots sporadically throughout the film that were head-scratching to say the least.

True Story is loaded with both bright spot and shortcomings, confirming it's far-removed from an awards contending drama. Yet, fantastic performances are on display and a grisly story will keep you engrossed in the film. Before the summer blockbuster season kicks off on May 1st with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, True story is an early-year release worthy of viewing.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Best Jonah Hill Films

It sounds strange to say, but Jonah Hill has justifiably earned himself a pair of Oscar Nominations throughout his rather short acting career, a feat that many actors and actresses aspire to accomplish. Hill emerged as a chubby comedy persona in comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Grandma's Boy, only to prove that he's immensely capable of transitioning to a dramatic actor. Although he's never strayed too far away from his laugh-inducing roots, regularly tapping back into his comedy comfort zone, Hill  has solidified himself as a rare youthful talent in Hollywood. And with his critically approved Sundance drama, True Story, finding a limited release this weekend, I've devoted April's Movie List of the Month to the best films starring Jonah Hill (click here for March's list).

Honorable Mention: 22 Jump Street, Accepted and Knocked Up

#5. Money Ball

As a huge outspoken fan of America's favorite pastime, I found plenty of home runs as well as swings and misses with Bennett Miller's Best Picture contender, Moneyball. One of its "home runs" came in the form of a fantastic and career defining performance from Hill. The role landed him his first Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Acting category and opened the world's eyes to his dramatic capabilities. As a sabermetrics stat-geek who helps modernize the sport of baseball under Billy Beane's determined guidance, Jonah Hill indisputably helped elevate Moneyball to an Oscar powerhouse.

#4. 21 Jump Street

Unavoidably so, when we think of Jonah Hill, we think comedy. And right near the top of that list comes Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's 80s television series-turned-big-screen-revival, 21 Jump Street. Alongside his meat-headed sidekick Jenko (Channing Tatum), Hill stars as the cerebral half of the duo whose antics prove immeasurably comical as they attempt to bring down a high school drug dealer selling a deadly synthetic drug. While I admittedly had my reservations as the first trailers for 21 Jump Street premiered, a strong and hysterical script helped the film gross north of $125 million dollars domestically and spawned an entire franchise with no ending in sight.

#3. This Is the End

Jonah Hill's career goes hand in hand with other familiar faces such as Michael Cera, Seth Rogen and James Franco. Therefore, the hysterical 2013 comedy, This Is the End, is a no-brainer for this list. As these Hollywood party animals take center stage in mocking roles of their real identities, we watch as these softies try to survive the apocalypse at James Franco's house. The hilarity is off the charts and Jonah Hill definitely gets the raw end of the deal after a (SPOILER ALERT) big black evil entity penetrates his body and leads to a possession that ultimately requires a sad attempt at an exorcism from his fearful companions. This Is the End is spectacular comedic effort from Hill's close-knit group of friends.

#2. The Wolf of Wall Street

A Martin Scorsese and Leo collaboration is never anything new, but the addition of Jonah Hill not too far removed from his first Oscar nomination definitely caught moviegoers' attention. And not only did Jonah Hill shine in his drug-addled and over-the-top role, he was recognized by the Academy Awards a second time as Leo's money-printing sidekick in The Wolf of Wall Street. As an over-extended and polarizing feature that divided audiences, Hill's irrefutably dynamic work was both hysterical and convincing in every way imaginable. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed Scorsese's lavish satirical work and believe that the success surrounding The Wolf of Wall Street partially hinged on the work of Jonah Hill.

#1. Superbad

After a stint as a B-list comedy actor, Jonah Hill's career was propelled by the outrageous 2007 instant classic, Superbad. Alongside his onscreen best bud, Michael Cera, and their annoying third wheel McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), this trio of high school losers do whatever it takes to cap off their senior year by supplying alcohol for a popular girl's party. At this point we weren't even aware of Hill's capabilities as a dramatic actor, but Superbad confirmed his dominating presence as a comedic force. This iconic feature will always stand as the catalyst for Johan Hill's already impressive career. And at such a young age, we can expect many more years of greatness for an extremely talented individual.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Straight Outta Compton and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Trailers

In the mid-80s the rap and hip hop group N.W.A. emerged from the streets of Compton, California completely transforming pop culture in the United States. In 2015 Friday director, F. Gary Gray, reintroduces audiences nationwide to Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC-Ren and DJ Yella with the biopic Straight Outta Compton. Paul Giamatti stars as the group's musical businessman, Jerry Heller, and Short Term 12's Keith Stanfield plays rap sidekick Snoop Dog. Check out the first trailer for the summer release, Straight Outta Compton.

Arriving to theatres this June is the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Critics and audiences alike have raved about the story of a high school senior and his best friend Earl who take their ideas of making terrible movies to a whole different level when they befriend a fellow classmate with cancer. Infused with a perfect blend of drama and comedy, perhaps Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will be this year's Oscar-caliber entry from the 2015 Sundance class. Check out its debut trailer below.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

DVD Outlook: April 2015

We were spoiled in both February and March with a massive selection of top flight Oscar films. Unfortunately, it was difficult for me to sift through the lowly month of April's DVD and Blu-Ray offerings to find movies worth suggesting. While I'm hesitant to say that I recommend the following because they all come with their flaws, they are of the best options available this month.

The Babadook - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid view here)

All throughout its festival circuit run last year, rumblings ran wild about Jennifer Kent's horror film, The Babadook. Lavish praises were constantly doled out from nearly every critic and outlet. Despite feeling that such fawning was a little overblown, The Babadook truly is a solid spectacle. Aussie actress Essie Davis stars as a single mother who can't control her son's fear after they discover a demonic book about a monster living in their new house. While the scares are minimal, Jennifer Kent delivers a remarkable psychological thriller that crawls under your skin. It's impossible to refute that the film's young boy is overly annoying and that the finale is extremely anti-climactic. Yet, The Babadook's clever writing and deeply emotional story hurdle these shortcoming with ease. (April 14th)

A Most Violent Year - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

As one of my final viewing pleasures of 2014, J.C. Chandor's late-year release, A Most Violent Year, actually fell well short of its lofty Oscar-filled expectations. This slow-burning psuedo-gangster flick follows Oscar Issac as an ambitious oil man during New York City's most violent year on record. This honest man avoids using his wife's mob connections to combat a string of brutal attacks on his company's delivery drivers by the competition, all while trying to fend off a police investigation into his finances. Playing more like a drawn-out character study than an up-tempo mob movie, A Most Violent Year never really amounts to much during its long-winded running time which is north of 2 hours. But if you enjoy diving deep into a character and you're willing to take the journey, it's a somewhat rewarding watch. (April 7th)

The Wedding Ringer - 2 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

It was difficult finding a third movie to suggest for the month, so I went to with the default comedy choice. Released early in 2015 was the hilarious buddy comedy, The Wedding Ringer. Josh Gad stars as Doug, an in over his head groom who's promised his fiance a best man and seven groomsmen for their upcoming wedding. Luckily for Doug, Jimmy (Kevin Hart) provides such a service and the duo embark on a fake wedding for the ages. There are plenty of funny moments all throughout The Wedding Ringer. However, a cliched script and a heavy reliance on shock-value humor that's overplayed these days prevent the film from reaching its pinnacle. Yet, if you're looking for some mindless laughs this month, you could do much worse than The Wedding Ringer. (April 28th)

Honorable Mention: A trio of Golden Globe Nominated films arrive to DVD this month. There's Tim Burton's Big Eyes (4/14) featuring fine performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, an Oscar-snubbed Jennifer Aniston role for the melodrama Cake (4/21), and Oscar winner Julianne Moore's other recognized film from 2014, Map to the Stars (4/14). A few other big-named titles released this month include the latest from Liam Neeson's money-printing franchise, Taken 3 (4/21), a remake of The Gambler (4/28) starring Mark Wahlberg, Paul Thomas Anderson's punishingly long detective comedy, Inherent Vice (4/28), and the unbearable Jennifer Lopez thriller, The Boy Next Door (4/28). Finally, the documentary surrounding the aftermath of the Penn State sex abuse scandal, Happy Valley (4/7), is available in April, as well as the wildly adored foreign film, Mommy (4/28).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Rapid Reviews: It Follows and While We're Young

I had the distinct pleasure of catching David Robert Mitchell's new lavishly praised horror film, It Follows, at the Philadelphia Film Festival in October. But for anyone who knows what the daily film festival grind is like, It Follows was my third film that day and it played around 10pm which can feel late for an aging man like myself. Therefore, I wanted to shake off my initial gut reaction from the viewing and give Mitchell's clever suspense film a clean slate, so I ventured to my local theatre for a second go-around.

Maika Monroe stars as Jay, a young woman who meets a boy she really likes and, after a few dates together, decides she wants to sleep with him. After an intimate evening together, he breaks some terrifying news to Jay. He tells her that by having sex together he's passed on a curse to her that appears in the form of an apparition that constantly heads straight for her in a slow creepy walk. But if the entity, which is invisible to anyone who hasn't been cursed, actually reaches her, she's dead.

David Robert Mitchell's brand new horror entry deserves to be lauded for its originality and uniqueness. However, It Follows suffers from a typical fate of never truly developing into much. The film's 100 minute running time plays more like a marathon as the scares are too infrequently scattered and the plot hits a wall. It Follows boasts an indeniably brilliant premise that fails to take the next step. Genre fans will find a few shining aspects surrounding this STD thriller, but the fact remains that there's very little substance here.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Acclaimed U.S. filmmaker Noah Baumbach and I have never really seen eye-to-eye. Over the course of his two decade-long career, I've never encountered a film of his that I truly enjoyed. However, the first-look trailer for his latest comedy, While We're Young, really caught my attention. With Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts at the center of this intriguing cross-generational tale, I was more than convinced to give Baumbach another shot.

When a 40-something couple (Stiller and Watts) finds themselves lost in an evolving world of friends having children and embarking on the next journey in life, they meet a hip young couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) that re-energizes their relationship. It doesn't sound like much, but Baumbach's story actually evolves quite nicely and takes a few unsuspected turns in this charming and enjoyable comedy.

With the polarizing Ben Stiller at the film's center, While We're Young rests almost entirely on his shoulders. Yet, the veteran actor welcomes the challenge and gives a praiseworthy performance. Co-stars Adam Driver (HBO's Girls) and Namoi Watts are quite impressive in their roles as well, but it's the unexpected musician, the Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz (Ad Rock), who will have you asking, "who was that guy". While We're Young gives and earnest examination of life and relationships all while keeping you laughing with a finely executed screenplay which was also carefully handled by the director.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 Summer Movie Preview: August

As I prepare to close out the final month of my 2015 Summer Movie Preview, I suggest taking a look back at all of the amazing selections arriving in May, June and July. August appears to be headlined by a new franchise reboot, a potential Oscar contending thriller and a high profile crime-comedy, so there's plenty of titles to keep an eye out for in the latter stages of the summer.

Honorable Mention: Friday director, F. Gary Gray, recounts the origins of the West Coast rap phenomena N.W.A. during their rise in the 1980s with Straight Outta Compton (August 7th). Guy Ritchie returns in 2015 with the espionage action-thriller The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (August 14th). Man of Steel's Henry Cavill stars as a 1960s CIA agent who's forced to team up with Russian KGB operative in order to stop a dangerous organization from producing a mass supply of nuclear weapons. Horror fans flocked to the theatres to see Scott Derrickson's Sinister in 2012. This year they'll be given the long awaited sequel, albeit in the hands of newbie director Ciaran Foy, Sinister 2 (August 21st). Finally, the espionage action genre raves supreme with Aleksander Bach's highly anticipated Hitman: Agent 47 (August 28th). The film follows a genetically engineered elite assassin who joins forces with a young woman to take down a powerful corporation with malicious plans of creating their own super-soldiers.

Fantastic Four (August 7th)

This August Marvel plans to make yet another attempt at reviving the downtrodden Fantastic Four franchise. The latest go around features young up-and-comers Miles Teller (Whiplash), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) and Jamie Bell alongside the lovely Kate Mara as four scientists who gain superhuman abilities after an experiment goes terribly wrong. The quartet must learn to harness their powers and work together to fend off a villainous tyrant with devilish intentions. More so than the team chosen a decade ago to jump-start the franchise, 2015's cast boasts a high level of intrigue that's definitely worth getting excited over. You can count me in for this reboot.

Masterminds (August 7th)

Based on a true story of the 1997 Loomis Fargo bank robbery in North Carolina, this country's most lucrative heist, Napolean Dynamite filmmaker, Jared Hess, delivers Masterminds. Zach Galifianakis stars as a dim-witted night guard for an armored car company that befriends a fellow worker (Kristen Wiig) and organizes a massive robbery. Despite its wildly absurd trailer, this crime comedy offers a star-studded cast, which also includes Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson, making Masterminds an undeniably interesting release early this August.

Regression (August 28th)

Rumors have already begun swirling around the Oscar-potential surrounding Emma Watson's role in Alejandro Amenabar's dark thriller, Regression. Ethan Hawke stars as a detective trying to unravel a dangerous mystery surrounding a sexually abused young girl (Watson) and her family. While most details regarding the film have been tight-lipped, Regression's remarkably gripping international trailer is spine-chilling and perfect in every way imaginable. Unlike most newer movies that divulge far too much information in their previews, Regression's dark mystery is kept hidden from the audience and that's the way it should be!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Poll Question Results: March 2015

In anticipation for a potentially historic summer blockbuster season, I've begun outlining my Summer Movie Preview. Also, last month's poll question asked my visiting audience, "Which Summer Blockbuster are you most eager to see". The winner, by an a large majority, was Marvel's sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron which tallied 46% of the votes. A somewhat distant runner-up came in the form of Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World (23%). Directly behind the dinosaur action-adventure was Seth MacFarlane's comedy sequel, Ted 2 (15%). And finally, closing out the competition was a head to head tie for last place with both Marvel's Ant-Man and Disney's Tomorrowland (7% each).

Check out April's poll question of the month (located in the upper right-hand corner), which targets the filmography of one of my favorite actors, Tom Hardy. Hardy's newest film, Child 44, hits theatres on April 17th, and I want to know, "What's your favorite Tom Hardy movie". So be sure to check out the list and offer up your opinion!