Friday, July 31, 2015

The Night Before (RED BAND) and Room Trailers

In 2011 my cinematic year was topped by an unforgettable dramedy that was both touching and hysterical all at the same time. Jonathan Levine's breakout directorial effort, 50/50, featured Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in career defining roles. This November Levine and his acting duo get a new addition to their team, The Hurt Locker's Anthony Mackie, in the new bro-mance comedy, The Night Before. After a trio of friends recognize that different future paths will ruin their long-standing tradition of spending Christmas Eve together, they embark on one final festive night of debauchery. Check out the debut red band trailer for The Night Before

I'm not ashamed to admit it and my wife is fully aware, but I'm in absolute awe over the stunning talent and beauty of Brie Larson. Her vastly under-watched drama, Short Term 12 (currently available on NetFlix), opened my eyes to how gifted the former 21 Jump Street co-star truly is. And although I felt as though her committed performance was snubbed of Oscar attention back in 2013, perhaps Larson will finally receive the recognition she deserves with the wildly anticipated indie drama, Room. Based on Emma Donoghue's novel of the same name, the story follows a mother (Larson) and her son, Jack, who are held captive in a single room which is the only place the boy has ever known. Room's debut trailer illustrates a powerful and gripping story of survival and maternal love, so check it out for yourself.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The End of the Tour

Film: The End of the Tour

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Jason Segel (The Muppets)

Director: James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now)

U.S. Release: July 31st, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 106 minutes

I've never been an avid reader, so it's safe to assume that I haven't wrapped my brain around David Foster Wallace's groundbreaking 1,079 page 1996 novel, Infinite Jest. Having very little prior knowledge of this unusual author who's known for always wearing his trademark bandanna, even though the idea of this personal choice representing some preconceived "fashion statement" would have ran maddening circles around his mind until it nearly exploded, I was intrigued to learn more about Wallace through a very impressive team of collaborators. Filmmaker James Ponsoldt's early work is impressive all on its own, but he emerged onto the scene in a big way with his most recent success, The Spectacular Now. And once you add two narrow, yet immense, acting talents like Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel into the mix, The End of the Tour becomes an indie drama I wouldn't think to miss.

Upon hearing news of David Foster Wallace's (Segel) tragic suicide in 2008, David Lipsky (Eisenberg) fishes through his closet and listens to some old cassette tapes. These conversations transport Lipsky back to 1996 where the one time Rolling Stone reporter embarked on a five-day journey with the lonely, albeit it brilliant, critically acclaimed author. As these two free-thinkers travel around the final dates of Wallace's book tour together, their interactions break down barriers and evolve into philosophical discussions surrounding society, fame and addiction. Conversations that Lipsky and the rest of the world will cherish long after the sad loss of this progressive writer.

James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour is a captivating and highly personal examination of the human psyche. Brought to life through the transcending performances of its two leading stars, the film's rich dialogue is both existential and enthralling. Jason Segel is an absolute revelation who embraces his portrayal of David Foster Wallace with an obvious sense of passion and respect. To experience The End of the Tour is to discover avenues of life and existence that often go ignored and become lost in the mundane patterns of every day behaviors. The film delivers an exuberance and awareness to one's cognitive being that's utterly refreshing. Ponsoldt places his audience into the unique perspective of Wallace's forward-thinking mind and shows how terrifying and lonely it can be to find enlightenment.

For all of the movie's remarkable dialogue-heavy interactions and sharp mental expansion, The End of the Tour is an extremely unconventional piece of work. The film circumvents any real story or plot.. Instead, it serves an homage of sorts to David Foster Wallace and the artistic genius we lost far too young. And despite an occasional sluggish pace, The End of the Tour presses on with its convictions and shapes a delicate piece of liberating art. One that leaves a rare imprint and will stick with me forever.

Some films tell magnificent and grand stories that dazzle and excite. Others search for something deeper and more profound. It's safe to say that The End of the Tour is the latter. David Foster Wallace believed that all different forms of entertainment can become mind-numbing and hypnotic to the point where people fail to exercise life's greatest gift, the ability to think for yourself. That's a valuable lesson and one that everyone deserves to hear. Thank you to James Ponsoldt, Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel for sharing it with me.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vacation (2015)

Film: Vacation (2015)

Starring: Ed Helms (The Hangover) and Christina Applegate (Anchorman)

Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

U.S. Release: July 29th, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 99 minutes

When Harold Ramis passed away last year, a comedic legend was lost. But while most people who look back at Ramis will see Dr. Egon Spengler from the Ghostbusters films, his greatest achievements came from beyond the camera where he directed classics like Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and National Lampoon's Vacation. Fast-forward a trio of decades and a promising young team of writers and directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, turn to funnyman Ed Helms to revive the Griswold's family legacy. And let's just say, Harold Ramis would be extremely proud of their decision.

When regional pilot and a grown up Rusty Griswold (Helms) detects some serious troubles at home, he decides to spice things up by taking his unenthusiastic family on a road trip to the majestic theme park from his childhood, "Walley World". But in typical Griswold tradition, what was supposed to be a fun-filled bonding experience turns into a hellish road trip that pushes each of them to their respective limits. Yet, if they can just make it to "Walley World" and ride the epic Velociraptor roller coaster, perhaps the trip will be worth it after all.

Unlike many (and I do mean many) 21st century comedies that rely on shock value to generate amusement from its crowd, Vacation finds humor in a reminiscently familiar place. Capturing all of the mannerisms and bone-headed charm of former patriarch, Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase), Ed Helms gives a nostalgic performance that is a breath of fresh air from all of these poorly written and contemporary comedies. The writing and directing duo, Daley and Goldstein, mold together a brilliant concoction of the older films with some modern edgy twists that allow Vacation to stand as a solid film all on its own. Each new member of the Griswold family plays a vital role to the story and truly encapsulates the all-for-one tradition of the iconic franchise.

Despite many riotous laughs and unforgettable scenes, Vacation fails to go from start to finish without a hiccup. There are a handful of over-the-top and unrealistic situations that would usually plague a film such as this, but Helms and his co-stars always guide the audience back to the Griswold family norm, which is too good of a place to resist. Another noticeable blemish resides in the somewhat hefty collection of jokes that don't pan out. Although these moments are sporadic but evident throughout the entire film, it becomes routine to let them pass by with ease as more of Vacation's cheeky and hysterical humor is always quick to follow.

In an age where reboots, remakes and sequels are typically off base and disappointing, Vacation serves as a gratifying reminder of when a new branding is handled with respect and class. While I must caution that the film is by no means an instant classic like its original source material, this new entry delivers an abundance of laughs and proves to be a worthy inclusion to the franchise. The actors go all-out and it pays huge dividends by the time the credits roll. If you're a fan of the Griswolds, then don't miss your chance to relive another adventure with one of our favorite movie families.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, July 20, 2015


Film: Trainwreck

Starring: Amy Schumer and Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins)

Director: Judd Apatow (This Is 40)

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

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 125 minutes

Over the course of the past decade Judd Apatow has quickly evolved into Hollywood's face of comedy. The writer, director and producer has had his hand in many of the funniest films and television shows that we've encountered in recent memory. But when it comes to Apatow's pet projects, the movies he directs and holds complete control over, you can sense his desperate desire to pack a dramatic punch. For better or worse (and in most cases, worse), this fixation with tapping into his audience's emotions inevitably launches his films past the two-hour threshold and loses sight of what we're all seeking from a prototypical Judd Apatow film ... to laugh.

Comedian Amy Schumer takes center stage as a carefree and uninhibited magazine writer who finds zero comfort in settling down with a man. But as she jumps from bedroom to bedroom, nothing can prepare her for the complexities she faces when she experiences a romantic evening the subject of her latest article, a prestigious sports surgeon named Aaron Conners (played by Bill Hader), who instantly falls for her. And as their relationship slowly begins to blossom, Amy struggles with changing her natural unencumbered perception of life.

Despite Amy Schumer's admirable efforts, Trainwreck fails to establish a clear tone. In fact, the film is indisputably advertised as a comedy, but it plays to a much more dramatic rhythm. And while Apatow manages to develop a few spectacular and moving onscreen moments at the hands of his talented leading star, these highlights are merely sprinkled throughout an outstretched two hour affair. Unfortunately, the jokes are almost non-existent and it's inexcusable. Outside of a few obviously improvised and ineffective attempts at eliciting laughs, Trainwreck glosses over the humor and attempts to lure in the audience with a touching romantic story that never fully commits to the approach. Consequently, the film hangs in limbo and never rises to the occasion on either side of the spectrum.

For all of the movie's structural shortcomings, Trainwreck does serve as a coming out party for the versatile talent, Amy Schumer. In a bit of a twist, the comedian's emotional diversity far exceeds her improvised jokes. Therefore, Schumer should find a fair amount of future success in her transition to a big-screen actress. Along with Schumer, Bill Hader serves as a strong counterpart and the always magnificent Brie Larson also shines in a supporting role. And although Trainwreck pieces together some fine performances, LeBron James should really just stick to basketball.

As expected with any Apatow film these days, Trainwreck possesses many ups and downs throughout an over-extended story. Yet, unlike the Apatow films we've enjoyed in the past, the laughs aren't right around the corner to pick you up through the sluggish moments. I will applaud the film for proving to be one of Apatow's most exceptional dramatic examinations, as it finishes strongly with a charming and memorable finale, However, Trainwreck is light-years away from a comedy classic and plays more like a middling chick flick.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Revenant and Joy Trailers

Fresh off Best Picture and Best Director Oscar wins for last year's Birdman, Alejandro G. Inarritu is wasting no time jumping back into the awards season frenzy with this year's revenge tale, The Revenant. Based on the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who was viciously attacked by a bear on an expedition in the 1820s, he seeks vengeance on his hunting team who left him stranded to die and struggles to survive a brutal winter on his path back to his family. With two personal favorites, Tom Hardy and Domnhall Gleeson, set to co-star, The Revenant's first look is peculiar but still an intriguing late-year prospect.

Another presumed Oscar contender debuted a first-look trailer recently, David O. Russell has offered a glimpse into his Christmas Day release, Joy. From the director of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle comes the true story of a family's business and the woman who experienced multiple obstacles and turmoil on her path to creating a money-making dynasty. Starring Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence as the title character and Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in supporting roles, check out the debut trailer for Joy below,

Friday, July 17, 2015


Film: Ant-Man

Starring: Paul Rudd (This Is 40) and Michael Douglas (Traffic)

Director: Peyton Reed (Yes Man)

U.S. Release: July 17th, 2015 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 117 minutes

Evident by their massively interconnected stories that will come to an epic union in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, Marvel has been an extremely calculated and well-oiled machine. Therefore, upon hearing the news of an Ant-Man release starring comedy icon, Paul Rudd, and directed by Yes Man and The Break-Up filmmaker, Peyton Reed, these head-scratching choices felt very unorthodox for such a meticulous studio. And although Marvel placed all of their power and resources behind a team of stars unfamiliar with the superhero norm, Ant-Man still unfolds as another solid spectacle in a long line of interweaving tales.

After pulling what many would describe as an "ethical heist" that landed him in jail, burglar extraordinaire, Scott Lang (Rudd), is released from prison and dead-set on making things right with his young daughter. But after an honest lifestyle shows very little remorse for an ex-convict, Scott considers a return to his old ways. However, when the groundbreaking scientist, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), learns that his old protege has discovered the secrets to his most powerful invention, one that could be absolutely catastrophic if placed in the wrong hands, he enlists the help of Lang to break into a heavily guarded facility and steal back his secret.

Marvel's Ant-Man, the latest in a lengthy string of newly introduced superheros with a long-standing history in the comic book realm, is a worthwhile endeavor for fans of this widely developed universe. While the film is a far cry from the most unforgettable superhero flicks to ever captivate audiences, it does a stellar job of sticking to Marvel's indistinguishable formula of constant jokes and heavy action. Sporting a sleek and toned physique for the role, Paul Rudd handles each of the fast-paced sequences just as well as his more natural comedic moments. Ant-Man is such an interesting character who possesses unique abilities that make for a cleverly filmed movie. Constant changes in physical size from small to large give the director a lot of freedom to use his imagination and he doesn't disappoint. Furthermore, it would be a huge disservice to address all of the fine attributes to the film and ignore one of Ant-Man's true highlights, the hysterical co-starring work from Michael Pena. As one of Scott Lang's partners in crime, Pena provides such an elevated level of humor that he almost steals the show himself.

Despite a funny script loaded with timely laughs and a fresh sense of creativity, Ant-Man can't avoid a few unfortunate issues. With a tiring mid-section that results from a major shift to a more dramatic tone, one that proves wildly ineffectively, the film leaves you begging to reach the finish line. In addition, Ant-Man suffers from another common blemish evident in many recent Marvel productions. These films devote so much of their attention to bridging characters together that they often avoid building a strong villainous foe. I don't know about you, but when I'm going into a superhero flick, I want a nemesis for the ages. It's something Christopher Nolan mastered so well in his Dark Knight trilogy, but a non-existent theme in many of Marvel's latest works.

Ant-Man is nowhere near a must-see summer blockbuster, but it's another above average addition to Marvel's quickly-expanding universe. Any doubts surrounding Paul Rudd in the leading role should be squashed like a bug. He and his many co-stars keep the film light and entertaining all at the same time. If you're someone committed to Marvel's illustrious future plans, then don't worry because Ant-Man is another inclusion that warrants a watch.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Suicide Squad and Fantastic Four (New) Trailers

Given Marvel's enormous head-start, DC has a lot of catching up to do. They're expediting the process in 2016 with the release of both Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and its villain-filled counterpart, Suicide Squad. With recent Academy Award winner, Jared Leto, taking over the role of Joker and co-starring Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie and many more, Suicide Squad follows an assembled group of super-villains who execute missions for the police in exchange for reduced prison sentences. This brand new footage out of Comic-Con looks exceptional and has me eager to see how well DC's response to the Marvel universe plays out.

While we have to wait until 2016 for DC's pair of films, Marvel has Ant-Man and another Fantastic Four reboot slated for release this summer. Boasting a star-studded cast including Whiplash's Miles Teller, House of Cards' Kate Mara and Fruitvale Station's Michael B. Jordan, a mishap with an experiment gives remarkable powers to four scientists who must band together to fight a dangerous foe. This newly dropped trailer is the final look into the August 7th release, Fantastic Four.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Best Paul Rudd Movies

For over two decades now Paul Rudd has provided audiences with countless laughs and an endearing persona. The funny man has proven his adaptability throughout his career, and this weekend Rudd will try his hand as Marvel's latest superhero, Ant-Man. Therefore, I'm dedicating July's Movie List of the Month to the best films featuring Paul Rudd (June's List).

Honorable Mention: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, I Love You, Man and Our Idiot Brother

#5. This Is 40 (2012)

While I'll always hold a gripe regarding Judd Apatow's habitual and annoying obsession with dragging his comedies past the two hour mark, This Is 40 at least keeps the laughs coming throughout its entire duration. Paul Rudd and his onscreen companion, Leslie Mann, remind us all about the struggles and burdens that come with getting older. 

#4. Clueless (1995)

How can you make a "Best of Paul Rudd" list without including his breakout film, Clueless? I mean ... as if! Alicia Silverstone was definitely the draw in this 90s chick-flick centered around a valley girl's seemingly important social life, but Rudd proved early on that he has a knack for playing the kind-hearted love interest. Clueless put Paul Rudd on the map, and it achieves some quality laughs along the way too. 

#3. Anchorman (2004)

While Clueless kick-started Rudd's career, Anchorman was the film that truly made him a household name. Over a decade ago Will Ferrell was the face of comedy and, in typical Paul Rudd form, his co-star took the backseat in this clever and hysterical examination of a local news team. But as the years pass, Ferrell falls further and further from his previous glory while Rudd's career has held impressively strong. Simply reaffirming that Paul Rudd is a very gifted actor and not just some flavor of the week,

#2. Role Models (2008)

Perhaps Paul Rudd's most overlooked film is the 2008 comedy, Role Models. With some amazing films released that year like The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, Gran Torino and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it's easy to understand how this oddly-timed November release got lost in the shuffle. Rudd stars alongside American Pie's Seann William Scott as best friends who find themselves in a bit of trouble with the law. But rather than jail time, they're afforded the opportunity to serve as "big brothers" to a pair of outlandish youth. The humor is top-notch and the characters are all magnificent in this massively underrated comedy

#1. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Without a doubt the best film starring Paul Rudd is one of the greatest comedy's ever constructed, Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Although Apatow obviously has an obsession with the mid-life age of 40, there's no question that this comedy classic has stood the test of time. Immensely quotable and filled with non-stop laugh out loud humor, you can tell that I hold The 40-Year-Old Virgin in extremely high regard. Paul Rudd delivers an iconic side character, Dave, who can't seem to get over his ex-girlfriend from two years ago and who pushes his big box of porn (featuring "Boner James '03") onto Andy (Steve Carell). Throughout his storied career Rudd has clearly left an impression on the comedic community and beyond. Perhaps with Ant-Man, we'll get to see another noteworthy side to this talented performer. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dawn of Justice (New) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens Reel

Every year San Diego Comic-Con is guaranteed to debut some amazing trailers, and this year is no exception. The new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has just dropped and the over three and a half minute look into DC's masterpiece from Zack Snyder is a mind melt. Ben Affleck takes over the role of Bruce Wayne as the vigilante hero confront's the god-like powers of Superman in this  presumed battle for the ages. The always memorable Jesse Eisenberg appears absolutely maniacal in the role of Lex Luther, and it will be interesting to see just how well this will stack up against Marvel's ever-growing universe of superheroes.

While the moaning and groaning Star Wars fanboys were upset to discover that Episode VII: The Force Awakens wouldn't be dropping a new trailer for the mega-anticipated November release, they received the next best thing from filmmaked J.J. Abrams. As a continuation of George Lucas' iconic saga, a brand new video reel depicting behind the scenes footage of production gives an insightful view into just how committed this new team is to bringing back the original aura to Star Wars. And if this doesn't get you excited for The Force Awakens, then nothing will!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Goosebumps and The Finest Hours Trailers

Author R.L. Stine created one of the most iconic book franchises from my childhood, "Goosebumps". His collection of short scary stories helped shaped a young generation of readers, and now it gets the Hollywood treatment. Jack Black stars as Stine, who currently lives with his niece (Halston Sage) in the small town of Greendale, Maryland. But when a new teenage neighbor (Dylan Minnette) moves in next door and unknowingly unlocks all of the monsters from Stine's classic books, they must band together and save the town from these dastardly creations. Seemingly imaginative and hopefully as enjoyable as it appears, Goosebumps arrives in theaters on October 16th.

Disney has just unveiled the debut trailer of a 2016 early-year drama release which is based on a true story, The Finest Hours. Channeling memories of an old guilty pleasure of mine, the 2000 film The Perfect Storm, Chris Pine and Ben Foster star in this re-telling of the Coast Guard's daring 1952 rescue mission after two oil tankers are destroyed during a violent blizzard off the shores of Cape Cod. Prepare for the dramatics as Disney certainly aims to tug at those heartstrings. With an expected release date in January of 2016, check out the first look into The Finest Hours.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Gallows

Film: The Gallows

Starring: Reese Mishler and Pfeifer Brown

Directors: Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing

U.S. Release: July 10th, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Horror

Runtime: 87 minutes

We all hoped it was just a phase, but unfortunately the "found footage" filming technique doesn't appear to be going away any time soon. Love it or hate it, The Blair Witch Project pioneered the movement just before the turn of the millennium in 1999. And what once began as an innovative method of story telling and pseudo-realism, has since spiraled out of control and plagued the modern horror genre. Yet, if the biggest blunder surrounding the latest scare-filled release, The Gallows, resides in its first-person camera approach, then we should all be thankful.

Twenty years have passed since drama student Charlie Grimille died tragically as a result of a prop malfunction during his high school's play, "The Gallows". And after a long hard-fought battle with the school board, the present day drama class is reviving the show. However, its leading man, Reese, barely knows his lines and is bound to ruin the entire production. That is, until his best friend Ryan convinces him to save face by breaking into the school and trashing the set before opening night which would force a postponement. Unfortunately, the ghost of Charlie has different plans and the show must go on.

On the surface The Gallows appears to be a bit of a disaster. The premise seems almost as shaky as the film's first-person camera style, but thankfully newbie directors Travis Cluff (who also co-stars as the drama teacher) and Chris Lofing take excellent care of their debut effort. In fact, the greatest disappointment surrounding the scary movie is that it could have been even better than it already plays. The Gallows survives on the shoulders of a cleverly crafted haunting tale that culminates with a bang. And although the acting isn't top-notch, it's certainly adequate for a film of this genre. Cluff and Lofing develop a truly original idea and execute it shockingly well. While The Gallows is by no means an exceptional horror entry, the movie stands fairly well on its own even after spoiling a portion of its high-end potential.

You may be wondering, where exactly does the feature go wrong? As I stated above, the whole "found footage" aspect is hokey and distracting. This technique has grown to become massively ineffective, and it's a compliment to the filmmakers for piecing together a successful outcome in spite of this awful decision. Furthermore, The Gallows takes a while to really get the blood pumping. Considering the film doesn't even reach the 90-minute mark, Cluff and Lofing spend nearly half their running time setting up the story and wasting more than a few minutes in the process. However, once The Gallows gets moving and Charlie begins his vengeance, you're in for a real treat that makes it worth the wait.

Despite giving The Gallows my endorsement, I must offer a few disclaimers. Horror movies are habitually ruined in a movie theater setting thanks to audience members who attempt to mask their own fear with untimely laughs and constant banter. To maximize the effects of ANY horror film, make sure you see it during a less crowded time of day or a couple weeks into its release. Because if you view The Gallows under the perfect set of conditions, you'll easily look past the film's unnecessary first-person camera aspect and slow beginning to fully appreciate its original story and intense second half.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Steve Jobs and Ant-Man (NEW) Trailers

You don't have to ask me how excited I am for Danny Boyle's upcoming biopic, Steve Jobs, because Boyle is hands down my favorite filmmaker. And although it's only been two year's since Joshua Michael Stern attempted a similar examination with Ashton Kutcher in the title role, there's no comparison once you place Boyle at the helm and pair him with an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. This time around Michael Fassbender stars as the iconic title figure, as both he and his hands-on partner, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), pioneer America into the technological age. As expected, Steve Jobs will surely tackle this modern-day genius' commitment to his work and the overlapping consequences it had on his personal life. 

We're less than two weeks away from Marvel's newest superhero arrival, Ant-Man, and we've been given another glimpse into the film. Paul Rudd stars as con-man, Scott Lang, who's given the unique task of armoring up as Ant-Man, a special suit that shrinks him in size but (in a reverse-proportion) gives him immense strength. I was on board with Ant-Man prior to this latest preview, and now I'm even more eager to catch it on the big screen this July 17th.

Monday, July 6, 2015

DVD Outlook: July 2015

Although the summer DVD and Blu-Ray releases never seem to stack up very well against the in-theater blockbuster selections, July offers a diverse selection of worthwhile titles (June's releases). In fact, two of this month's top recommendations currently sit among my favorite films so far this year. Here are the best offerings for the month of July.

Ex Machina - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

My top suggestion of the month is the cerebral sci-fi thriller, Ex Machina, which comes from the inventive mind of writer/director Alex Garland. Also a notable novelist, Garland is best known for authoring The Beach, in addition to his many collaborations as a screenwriter for filmmaker Danny Boyle on other projects like 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Yet, finally given the freedom to work alone on his own unique vision, Garland delivers the story of a young programmer (About Time's Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a competition at his company that affords him the opportunity to spend a week with their CEO (Oscar Isaac) working on a groundbreaking new project. But once he arrives, he quickly learns that his job is to assist in an experiment with the world's first legitimate artificially intelligent robot. Ex Machina dives deep into the psyche with many fascinating subplots tackling all different angles of this scary and not-so-distant possibility. The writing it top notch and the performances are gripping in this rare sci-fi treat. (July 14th)

Clouds of Sils Maria - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

As the old adage says, "never judge a book by its cover". While scouring through the programming for last year's Philadelphia Film Festival, I noticed a lot of attention had been given to the female centric film, Clouds of Sils Maria. Since nothing else in its time slot caught my attention, I reluctantly gave Olivier Assayas' drama a chance and I was pleasantly surprised. In the later stages of her career, famous actress, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), is forced to confront her middle-aged reality after being asked to star in the revival of the same play that sparked her career. Except this time around, she tackles the opposite role of a frail and older woman who's manipulated by her younger co-star. As both the writer and director, Assayas conjures up an insightful and clever screenplay that draws heavy parallels between the current life of this veteran actress and the storyline of play she's co-starring in once again. Binoche is tremendous in the role and Kristen Stewart gives a career best performance. Admittedly, though, Clouds of Sils Maria is a slow paced and dialogue heavy film that should be solely reserved for fans of stage-plays, because that's exactly how the movie unravels. (July 14th)

'71 - 3 stars out of 4 - (No official review available)

Another premiere selection from last year's Philadelphia Film Festival was Yann Damange's action-thriller, '71. Unbroken star, Jack O'Connell, had a breakout year in 2014, and this entry is a far more engaging war-time film than Angelina Jolie's religiously-infused clunker. O'Connell stars as Gary Hook, a young British soldier who is mistakenly left behind by his unit following a riot on the volatile streets of Belfast. Scared and unable to distinguish between allies and enemies, Gary must survive the night in hopes that his unit will return to rescue him. '71 brandishes an elevated amount of intensity and suspense that's guaranteed to appeal to moviegoers of all different tastes, especially those with an affection for war-centered features. (July 7th)

Honorable Mention: The comedy sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (7/14), doesn't quite stack up to the original but it's sure to appease select audiences. Another crowd-pleasing, albeit it hokey, drama reaching the shelves this month is Simon Curtis' Woman in Gold (7/7). For anyone craving a romantic flick, Nicholas Sparks strikes again with The Longest Ride (7/14). The rest of this month's second tier mentions have a darker angle to them. First up is one of the most raved about American indie horror films in recent memory, It Follows (7/14). And finally, the vampire comedy-horror that dazzled audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival and garnered lavish reviews is What We Do in the Shadows (7/21).

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Creed and Secret in Their Eyes Trailers

As a lifelong resident of the greater Philadelphia region, the Rocky franchise has always been embedded in my culture. In 2015 the iconic series will receive a face-lift from budding filmmaker, Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), with the latest inclusion, Creed. Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed, the son of fallen former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. And as the youngster gets his boxing career off the ground, he turns to Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to help train and take him to the next level. The Rocky franchise has been down for the count over the last couple decades, but perhaps the November release, Creed, can rejuvenate the series.

Another debut trailer was recently unveiled, this time it's for Billy Ray's crime-thriller, Secret in Their Eyes. Boasting an all-star cast including Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), the film follows a group of tight-knit FBI investigators and a District Attorney who experience inner turmoil after one of their children are murdered. In the vein of Law Abiding Citizen, the killer walks free and the mother of the victim seeks vengeance on the perpetrator while the rest of the team tries to interject and bring him down lawfully. Arriving in theaters in October, check out the first look into Secret in Their Eyes.