Friday, October 30, 2015

The Top 10 Tom Hanks Performances

Many have labeled him as, "the greatest living actor", but I've always referred to Tom Hanks as. "the best actor of all-time". Throughout Hanks' long and illustrious career as an entertainer he's just about done it all. Therefore, to coincide with the release of his latest Oscar contending drama, Steve Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, I'm devoting October's Movie List of the Month to the Top 10 performances of Hanks' career (September's List).

*** The list is courtesy of Reel True's Greg Rouleau

#10. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

It wouldn’t have been a shock if Hanks became the king of the rom-coms after Nora Ephron’s touching tale of a widowed man’s pursuit of new love with the help of his son.  The chemistry between Hanks and Meg Ryan was so palpable, Ephron reunited the two just five years later in You’ve Got Mail.  But it’s Hanks’ undeniable ability to garner empathy and laughs in Sleepless in Seattle that earns his performance a spot on this “best of” list.

#9. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

This breezy 2002 caper is certainly Leo’s show, but it’s difficult to argue that Dicaprio’s Frank Abagnale Jr. doesn’t work quite as well without the understated turn of Hanks’ Carl Hanratty.  Hanks gives the diligent, hard-nosed FBI agent the perfect amount of sympathy as he’s outwitted by Abagnale at every turn, eventually becoming somewhat of a father figure to the “kid” as the two play off each other wonderfully in one of Spielberg’s best. 

#8. Captain Phillips (2013) 

Hanks’ final scene in Captain Phillips alone is enough to earn him a spot on the list.  Those harrowing final moments for Hanks’ character as he deals with the aftermath of experiencing such a traumatic ordeal at the hands of Somalian pirates are heart-wrenching. That’s not to say he didn’t offer a great showing throughout the rest of the movie as the sturdy and steadfast Captain Richard Phillips in a role that was snubbed by the Academy that year, but the final scene for Hanks is some of his best work to date.  

#7. Apollo 13 (1995) 

Coming off of back-to-back Best Actor Oscar wins, Hanks seemed poised for an unprecedented third straight victory for his portrayal of Jim Lovell in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.  Hanks failed to receive a nomination that year but that doesn’t take away from what is one of the most compelling performances of an incredible oeuvre.  In particular, this role highlights one of the best decades an actor could ever dream of having and Apollo 13 was Hanks at his peak. 

#6. Forrest Gump (1994)

Hanks second Best Actor Oscar was earned for what is possibly his hallmark performance as the title character in Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump.  There’s an infectious charm to the simple southerner who experiences love, war, tragedy and triumph during his odyssey and an ease in which Hanks makes it all so believable as he rattles off numerous quotable lines one after another.  It was a well-earned second straight trip to the podium for Mr. Hanks. 

#5. A League of Their Own (1992)

For my money, A League of Their Own is the best baseball story ever put to screen and, despite a great ensemble of actresses, it’s Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan that steals the show.  He’s electric as the has-been slugger that begrudgingly takes the role of manager for the Rockford Peaches and is eventually turned into a loving mentor to the team.  It’s a great arc for the actor who got his start in comedy and gets to show off his impressive comedic timing here with just enough heart to make us love him, too. 

#4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

From the moment we see the trembling hand of Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller over a canteen, we’re transported to the beaches of Normandy in a strikingly realistic portrayal of the D-Day invasion.  It’s the best of the Hanks and Spielberg collaborations and although much of the film’s marvels are contributed to Spielberg’s deft hand, it’s Hanks visceral, somber performance that complements this brutal examination of men at war. 

#3. Cast Away (2000)

It takes a special kind of actor that can keep an audience captivated while being the sole performer for a majority of a film.  Hanks was up to the challenge in 2000’s Cast Away as he was reunited with Forrest Gump director, Robert Zemeckis.  While the movie isn’t as strong as the performance, it was a great way to remind us why we love Tom Hanks.  After the impressive resume he accumulated throughout the ‘90s, he starts off the 2000’s with another gem here that deservedly earned him his fifth and most recent Oscar nomination. 

#2. Philadelphia (1993)

A gay man dying of AIDS and fighting his former employer over wrongful termination couldn’t seem more Oscar-baity, and this was exactly the role that earned Hanks his first Academy Award.  Despite the obvious award’s allure a role like this would come with, it’s the most emotional and nuanced, dramatic performance Hanks has ever put on screen. 

#1. Big (1988)

It was the flip of a coin to determine the best Tom Hanks performance, and here’s the argument for Big: strong comedic performances are often under-appreciated.  In addition, there’s a nice blend of drama and heart in here that allows Hanks to show off his impressive range, essentially putting him on the map as a major star who could pull off the more dramatic roles he would earn in the ‘90s. The film also landed Hanks his first and very deserved Oscar nomination.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Film: Brooklyn

Starring: Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines) and Domhnall Gleeson (Ex-Machina)

Director: John Crowley (Boy A)

U.S. Release: November 4th, 2015 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 111 minutes

In a bit of a perplexing twist, the 2015 cinematic slate appears to be dominated by a barrage of brilliant female performances. Typically, there are a dozen or so male roles every year worthy of Oscar discussion while the Best Actress race is sometimes relegated to dip into the foreign film ranks to help fill out its top five. Yet, 2015 has broken the mold and churned out an exceptional list of leading ladies primed to claim a highly coveted Oscar statue, and Brooklyn's star, Saoirse Ronan, finds herself nestled in the thick of the race.

After receiving the rare opportunity to travel to America in the 1950s and being set up with a job at a retail store and a place to stay, Irish native, Eilis Lacey (Ronan) leaves her elder sister and mother behind as she embarks on a new journey. Settling down in Brooklyn, New York, Eilis struggles coping with home sicknesses until she meets a charming Italian man named Tony (Emory Cohen) who sweeps her off her feet. Their relationship blossoms until Eiles is forced to venture back to Ireland where she is pursued by a wealthy and dashing young man (Domhnall Gleeson) who begs her to stay. Torn between these two wonderful men, Eilis must buckle down and choose the right destiny for her.

John Crowley's Brooklyn serves as a pleasing love story largely elevated by the refined onscreen work of its leading star, Saoirse Ronan. The gifted performer shines through a graceful and soft spoken character that forms an instantaneous bond with the audience. Her performance is complemented by a notable turn from supporting star, Emory Cohen. As someone put off by Cohen's small role in the 2012 drama, The Place Beyond the Pines, the actor re-brands himself in this winning drama. The entire ensemble is worthy of recognition as the complete cast plays a vital role in bringing Nick Hornby's delightful script to life, but it's the envious chemistry between Ronan and Cohen that sets the perfect tone for Brooklyn's triumphant love story.

Despite admirable acting and a top-notch screenplay, the films stumbles greatly in its third act. Brooklyn feels like it's on the clock and, as a result, this adapted story speeds through an ineffective and disingenuous love triangle in order to fall under the two-hour threshold. In addition, I've always praised the career work of supporting actor Domhnall Gleeson, yet he's completely mishandled in the role of Jim Farrell, Eilis' romantic interest when she returns home to Ireland. Unfortunately, this abrupt finale stands as a clear and tragic detractor from an otherwise brilliant film.

In what's become the mantra of the year, Brooklyn resides as another very stellar, yet unforgivably flawed, title. Thankfully, a witty screenplay and talented performers remain as the lasting memory with budding filmmaker, John Crowley's, latest work. You should expect to hear Saoirse Ronan's name during the awards season and a Best Picture nomination for Brooklyn would certainly be warranted as well.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Monday, October 26, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Carol and Anomalisa

One of the most anticipated films to play at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival is the latest adapted drama from Todd Haynes, Carol. At the center of the film is two-time Academy Award winner, Cate Blanchett. And outside of the indisputable icon of female performers, Meryl Streep, Blanchett may be the most prominent actress in Hollywood today. But despite the enormous talents of the film's leading lady, Carol struggles to capture the deepest emotions of its audience.

This 1950s set feature follows a separated wife and mother, Carol Aird (Blanchett), whose history of sexual relationships with other women put her on thin ice with her husband. But when she refuses his final attempt at reconciling their marriage and, instead, pursues a much younger department store clerk named Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), Carol jeopardizes her ongoing legal battle for joint custody of her daughter.

First and foremost, Cate Blanchett continues her long string of top-flight work with a turn that warrants the Oscar buzz which surrounds it. Rooney Mara delivers a fine performance in her own right, as does fellow supporting star, Sarah Paulson. However, all of this notable work is lost in an inept script and sluggishly paced film. Running at nearly a two-hour clip, a trudging and uneventful story regrettably spoils an otherwise superbly acted tale of true love.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Although this year's Opening Night selection felt a little peculiar, no one can deny the Philadelphia Film Festival's knack for drawing well-renowned industry talent. In town to rep his latest cerebral concoction, Academy Award winner Charlie Kaufman (writer of Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) unveiled his and Duke Johnson's Venice winning stop-motion animated drama, Anomalisa.

Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis) is a husband and father away on a business trip to Cincinnati where he's scheduled to give a big speech. While traveling he finds himself resenting the monotony of his life and pursues a pair of star-struck fans who are attending his talk the next day. That night he meets Lisa (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman unlike any other who sends his emotions into a tailspin.

In a smart and clever fashion, Anomalisa represents another winning effort from the mind of Charlie Kaufman. The unique visionary provides an artistically diverse effort that breaks from conventional storytelling. Despite massively outreaching its running time to an almost unnecessary 90 minutes, Anomalisa sets itself apart as a mastery of all the senses. See, feel and listen your way though another brainy and exquisite piece of work from Charlie Kaufman.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Official) and Hail Caesar Trailers

All I can say is, "Wow"! When it comes to the legendary Star Wars franchise that I hold in such high regard, in J.J. Abrams I trust. After an unfortunate trio of prequels tainted the late 1990s and early 2000s, visionary J.J. Abrams appears to have set the iconic franchise back on course. With the plot still extremely tight-lipped, all I can confirm is that Episode VII - The Force Awakens is set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The footage looks amazing and Christmas truly can't come fast enough, see for yourself below.

In February 2006, we get an unusual early-year treat from Joel & Ethan Coen. The prolific filmmaking siblings return with the comedy Hail, Caesar! starring George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum and Josh Brolin. The is set in 1950s Hollywood where a "fixer" is hired to handle a difficult situation after a film star is kidnapped and held for ransom during production of a huge blockbuster. The Coen brothers have a successful history of delivering on humor, so that makes Hail Caesar! something worth looking forward to this February.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bridge of Spies

Film: Bridge of Spies

Starring: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) and Mark Rylance (The Gunman)

Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

U.S. Release: October 16th, 2015 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 141 minutes

Whenever the great Steven Spielberg takes a seat in the director's chair, audiences worldwide watch intently in hopes of another epic masterpiece. That comes with the territory when you're a two-time Academy Award winning filmmaker. But even though Spielberg has cemented his legacy with classics like Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T., it's unreasonable to confuse his latest winning effort, Bridge of Spies, with these other exceptional films.

After insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), is handed the undesirable task of defending a newly arrested Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) during the height of the Cold War, his dedication to The Constitution and his belief that his client deserves a fair trial turn Donovan into a social target. But when an American pilot is shot down and captured by Soviet forces, Donovan must venture to Europe and negotiate an exchange of prisoners between these two enemies. With an entire nation relying on his efforts, Donovan must put his greatest bargaining skills to the test.

There are plenty of highlights surrounding Steven Spielberg's finest motion picture in over a decade, but perhaps none shine brighter than a terrific collaborative screenplay from Mark Charman and the Coen brothers. Their charming and witty dialogue form the foundation for this Oscar destined feature. And who better to bring these words to life then the greatest living actor, Tom Hanks? The two-time Academy Award winning actor shows he still has the skills to compete with the best as he nails the performance and makes a strong case for contending in the wide-open Best Actor race. But despite the massive amount of screen time devoted to Hanks' James Donovan character, supporting star Mark Rylance does an outstanding job of standing toe to toe with his highly regarded counterpart. Rylance's exceptional turn as a detained Soviet spy becomes so memorable that he feels like a safe bet in the Supporting Actor competition. Bridge of Spies also benefits from sound direction at the hands of Steven Spielberg, leaving the film as another all-around solid effort from the legendary director.

Although engaging dialogue and impressive performances sustain Bridge of Spies, the feature also suffers in a few notable areas. The intriguing true story being examined is actually quite simplistic. However, in typical Spielberg fashion, he finds a way to out-stretch the series of events into an unnecessary two hour and twenty minute affair. By the closing moments you'll be begging for the credits to roll and it's an unfortunate reality. In addition, after a gripping opening sequence that works perfectly on all levels, the film finds itself completely fixated on Tom Hanks and his character, James Donovan. Consequently, all of the difficult circumstances surrounding the captured U.S. pilot are blatantly overlooked and make it extremely difficult for the audience to forge a connection when these time-sensitive negotiations begin. Clearly these blemishes prevent Bridge of Spies from being an instant classic, yet the film still manages to do a stellar job of entertaining the viewer.

In what has become a recurring theme with 2016's lackluster collection of releases, Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies culminates as another good, but certainly not great, title. The film is worthy of a viewing for its Oscar-caliber performances from Hanks and Rylance, but just make sure to temper your expectations.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Friday, October 16, 2015


Film: Room

Starring: Brie Larson (Short Term 12) and Jacob Tremblay

Director: Lenny Abrahamson (Frank)

U.S. Release: October 16th, 2015 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 118 minutes

It was only two short years ago when I clamored for a budding female talent, Brie Larson, to receive her first Oscar Nomination for a gutsy and daring performance in the under-appreciated 2013 drama, Short Term 12. And despite Larson's unforgivable snub from the Academy that year, I still knew she would continue seeking out deep, personal roles that would eventually land her in the spotlight. Well, it didn't take long as Brie Larson's towering performance in the winner of the Toronto International Film Festival's highly coveted Audience Award, Room, is about to change the landscape of her career.

Larson stars as a young mother held captive in a 10 x 10 shed with her five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Having been kidnapped seven years prior and forced into a life as a personal sex slave for her captor, she eventually gives birth to his biological son. This room serves as the only world Jack has ever known, and his mother does her very best to raise him with the hopes of one day being freed from this prison on earth.

Lenny Abrahamson's Room is a riveting drama adapted from Emma Donoghue's international best-selling novel of the same name. A shocking story molded straight from the darkest evils of real life, the film examines the physical and emotional torment of a young mother tasked with putting on a courageous front for her naive child. Room relies on unmatched performances to bring its unimaginable story to life. Leading lady Brie Larson is no longer a star in the making, she's officially arrived. Her confidence to tackle challenging roles such as this one is almost as impressive as the acting showcase she puts on full display. Larson's natural chemistry with her onscreen son and child actor, Jacob Tremblay, is an absolute marvel, Together they form a 1-2 punch that's guaranteed to stand alongside any other casting ensemble this year. These beautifully developed characters allow the audience to join them on their gut-wrenching journey from prisoners to psychologically scarred news headliners. Room draws you in from start to finish with an engrossing and earnest story unlike anything you've ever encountered.

For as impressive as the film is, there are still a few low points that reveal themselves. Filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson leaves some meat on the bone with his direction. While it never becomes a deterrence to the film, there's nothing that stands out from a technical standpoint. Furthermore, Room's second half, which focuses on the mother's difficulty readjusting to the real world and questioning her parental choices, feels slightly rushed for such an integral part of the story. And since the film's running time amounts to an appropriate two-hours, a few alterations to the plot may have improved her unconventionally abrupt mental decline. But despite these apparent weaker aspects of the movie, Room unfolds terrifically and states its case as a legitimate awards season contender.

Some moviegoers venture to movie theaters for fun-filled amusement and simple pleasures. Room is hardly a joy to watch. Instead, the film uses a horrific backdrop to lure the audience into a compelling and realistic story of a mother's unwavering love for her child. Larson's inherent maternal instincts are convincing enough to give her a true shot at Oscar immortality. Room does a superb job of standing tall and separating itself as one of the 2015's finest entries.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Steve Jobs

Film: Steve Jobs

Starring: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Kate Winslet (Contagion) and Jeff Daniels (The Martian)

Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

U.S. Release: October 23rd, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 122 minutes

Danny Boyle has always been a stylish filmmaker whose work resonates with me on a very deep level. I loved his powerful illustration of survival in 127 Hours and his unforgettable love story with Slumdog Millionaire. Therefore, the moment I heard that Danny Boyle was teaming up with Academy Award winning writer, Aaron Sorkin, and leading man, Michael Fassbender, to resurrect the seemingly cursed film project, Steve Jobs, I became cautiously optimistic. And despite all of the film's well-documented hurdles and obstacles with assembling the proper team, Boyle and company still manage to deliver what PC pioneer Steve Wozniak himself described as the best on-screen depiction of the late Steve Jobs.

Set in three scenarios directly prior to product launches during the 1980s and 1990s, Steve Jobs (Fassbender) is forced to sift through personal issues regarding the daughter he denied, malfunctions with his software and grudges with his closest confidants. Through the aid of his hard-nosed assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Jobs manages to keep his life somewhat in order as he navigates through our world's greatest technological boom.

There are plenty of commendable attributes surrounding Danny Boyle's latest work. Steve Jobs is a perfectly-paced and well oiled biopic that leaves an abundance of room for Michael Fassbender to reveal his natural acting talents. And although Fassbender's charasmatic performance will most likely nestle him into Oscar contention, perhaps it's the fine-tuned work of Kate Winslet that rings most memorable. The Academy Award winning actress not only displays herself as the rock in Jobs' unpredictable and capricious work environment, her character acts as the voice of reason in the Apple co-founder's personal life as well. If there's a reason worth watching the latest examination of Steve Jobs, it's for all the fine performances from these two scene stealing leads all the way down to Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Despite the top flight acting splashed all throughout Steve Jobs, there are many disappointing aspects to the film. First and foremost, writer Aaron Sorkin's peculiar decision to frame the story within three distinct moments provides a wide set of pros and cons. Although its refreshing to branch away from the traditional structure of a biopic, which generally meanders through a checklist of pivotal moments in a subject's life, Sorkin's choice creates a setting unnatural for proper character development. Furthermore, this dialogue drowned script provides absolutely zero action throughout the film. But thankfully, Danny Boyle utilizes sound filming techniques to keep conversations interesting to the viewer and the cast delivers their often snarky and humerus quips to perfection. These saving graces both provide a counterbalance to an otherwise less than thrilling screenplay.

Steve Jobs is a worthwhile film that offers a fair amount of highs and lows. And to its benefit, all of the film's events and situations unfold smoothly in a quick and painless fashion that will leave the credits rolling before you know it. Steve Jobs is far from Danny Boyle's finest work and nowhere near a Best Picture contender, but it's another strong effort from a fantastic filmmaker that showcases plenty of award-worthy performances.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, October 12, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Film Festival Preview

Every year the City of Brotherly Love welcomes an eclectic crop of independent and major studio films in late October. Generally, the Philadelphia Film Festival includes major Oscar contenders and the most noted selections from other showcases throughout the world such as Cannes and the Venice Film Festival. This year's lineup continues to offer countless titles worth checking out before they officially reach movie theaters all across the globe. Here's a look at the top 10 films I'm most excited to catch during this year's Philadelphia Film Festival.

#10. Youth

Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel & Rachel Weisz

Paolo Sorrentino's latest film is set along the picturesque backdrop of the Alps where two aging in-laws (Caine and Keitel), one a famed composer and the other an American screenwriter, spend a memorable vacation in the twilight of their lives. Youth has been praised for its fine performances and majestic cinematography, both of which could represent this indie title at this year's Oscars.

#9. Macbeth

Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard & Paddy Considine

Justin Kurzel's cinematic adaptation of the classic William Shakespeare play has captured the attention of audiences and critics alike. Kurzel, who is known for his visceral filmmaking, gives a violent and dark interpretation of Macbeth that you'll never forget. Keep and eye on Marion Cotillard as an awards season player for her role as Lady Macbeth in the film.

#8. Kilo Two Bravo

Starring David Elliot, Mark Stanley and Scott Kyle

Kilo Two Bravo tells the incredible true story of a British paratrooper company that landed in Afghanistan only to find themselves trapped within a mine field. Paul Katis' tense drama focuses on the dangers of warfare and the risks we take while fighting for freedom. Although Kilo Two Bravo doesn't carry the same Oscar clout as many of these other titles, its immense amount of praise has me excited to screen the film.

#7. The Program

Starring Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd & Jesse Plemons

Despite the film's lackluster early reviews, I'm all in on Philomena director, Stephen Frears', latest biopic, The Program. Based on the true story of an Irish sports journalist (O'Dowd) whose relentless reporting revealed the intricate doping program used by famed cyclist, Lance Armstrong (Foster), throughout his Tour de France wins. As a longtime fan of Ben Foster and a believer in Chris O'Dowd, I'm still excited to watch The Program.

#6. 45 Years

Starring Charlotte Rampling, Dolly Wells & Geoff Mercer

While I admittedly knew very little about Andrew Haigh's drama, 45 Years, some deeper research unveiled a potential Oscar player. The film follows an aging couple who, during the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary, receives some life-changing news that will test their relationship. Early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and that helps propel 45 Years reasonably high on my list of must-see movies.

#5. Carol

Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara & Sarah Paulson

Set in the 1950s Carol follows an adulterous relationship between a wealthy married woman named Carol (Blanchett) and department store cashier (Mara) in search of a better life. Todd Haynes directs and many are already voicing their praises for stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara who should both end up in Oscar races of their own.

#4. Anomalisa

While I haven't loved everything touched by the unique vision of Charlie Kaufman, I can openly recognize talent when I see and hear it. There's no one quite like Kaufman and he's at it again with his last film Anomalisa, a stop-motion animation film that dazzles audiences on its way to winning the top honors at the Venice Film Festival. Cinephiles are lining up with their compliments and that makes Anomalista an intriguing Opening Night selection on Thursday, October 22nd.

#3. Legend

Starring Tom Hardy & Emily Browning

All you have to say is, "Tom Hardy" and you can sign me up. Hardy is a personal favorite of mine who has rarely let me down in the past. He comes to the Philadelphia Film Festival in a dual role as twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray who ruled the streets of London during the 1960s. Despite middling early reviews, I'll happily take a chance on a double dose of Tom Hardy in Academy Award winning writer, Brian Helgeland's, latest directorial effort, Legend.

#2. Brooklyn

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Michael Zegen & Domhnall Gleeson

You may not know it, but behind this rugged exterior is a true romantic. I'm definitely a sucker for a well executed and rare love story. Hence, my interest level in John Crowley's love triangle drama, Brooklyn, is extremely elevated. Set in the 1950s between New York and Ireland, Saoirse Ronan stars as a young woman torn between two exceptional men in two different countries. Ronan is being highlighted as a serious Oscar candidate, making Brooklyn a clear cut must-see entry at this year's festival.

#1. Room

Starring Brie Larson & Jacob Tremblay

One of the bright spots about being a movie critic is the chance to gloat when you're ahead of the curve. After recognizing the indie drama, Short Term 12, as one of the best films of 2013 and labeling the film's star, Brie Larson, as a brutally snubbed Oscar omission for her unforgettable role, it appears as though the industry is finally taking notice. The phenomenal talents of Brie Larson will be on full display in this one of these year's most raved about dramas, Room. Larson stars as a woman held captive in a tiny 10 x 10 room with her son, Jack (Tremblay), who has never experienced life beyond these walls. Both Larson and the feature's young star, Jacob Tremblay, could be Oscar contenders as well as a whole heap of other nominees. If you can't make it out to the festival's lone screening of Room on Friday, October 23rd, then definitely keep an eye out for the film as it arrives in theaters soon.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Freeheld and Everest

2015 has been a landmark year for countless civil rights and perhaps nothing was more monumental than the Supreme Court's ruling for gay marriage. Filmmaker Peter Sollett transports us to the grass roots of this movement where last year's Academy Award winner, Julianne Moore, stars as a cancer-stricken woman fighting for her equal rights. And despite the wave of success following the film's leading star, Freeheld reveals itself as a poorly written and unconvincing dramatic effort.

After entering a domestic partnership with her significantly younger partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen page), New Jersey police officer and lesbian, Laurel Hester (Moore), discovers she has cancer in her lungs. And as Laurel's health starts to deteriorate, she begins a tireless battle with local authorities to have her well-earned pension passed along to her partner after she passes away. However, the five county freeholders reject her request and are forced into a bitter social feud with the dying woman.

Freeheld begs for your sympathy but does very little to earn it. Supported by typical scenes and rehashed subplots, there is nothing unique brought to the table by Sollett and his writer, Ron Nyswaner. Instead, we're forced to watch Moore throw herself into a flimsily crafted role that screams, "Oscar bait". While this is far from Moore's most admirable work, co-star Ellen Page delivers well in her supporting role and so does the underrated scene-stealer, Michael Shannon, who gives a hearty turn as a fellow police officer. It's truly a shame because Laurel Hester was a brave woman who fought for her ideals and whose story deserves a better platform than this. Sadly, Freeheld only offers more of the same and never really provides a valid reason worth watching.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

The latest survival tale to hit theaters, Everest, brings the dangers of mountain-climbing to light. Director Baltasar Kormakur examines the unsettling true story surrounding a group of climbers attempting to conquer Mount Everest who run into a blistering snowstorm during their descent. And while Everest paints itself as a suspenseful must-see movie experience, it's actually a drama-heavy retelling of this harrowing ordeal.

Back in 1996, dangerous expeditions up Mount Everest were commercialized by a select few who were willing to lead these operations. Expensive financially and extremely taxing on the body, clients would do anything to scale the Earth's highest point. However, as Everest shows, nothing can prepare you for the worst.

Backed by a talented cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes, the film adequately holds your attention as it reveals the ins and outs of preparing for a journey up the mountain. Throughout this lengthy mid-section the characters are examined closely and a formidable bond is formed between them and the audience. Therefore, as the dangers begin to unfold, Everest becomes highly engaging and surprisingly gripping. But despite a strong pacing to the film, no area in particular stands out as exceptional, leaving Everest as an above-average selection that falls short of something special.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

DVD Outlook: October 2016

While the past few months have lacked in high quality DVD and Blue-Ray releases (September's offerings), October brings some fantastic choices. This month's crop of titles brings my favorite movie so far this year as well as another in my top five. In addition to those superior selections, there is a long list of other films worthy to choose from as well, so enjoy your movie watching all this month!

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - 4 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Ever year the major studios hold back (or rush out) their awards season hopefuls in time for an often packed fall and winter movie season. This year, however, it will be hard for any film to top the emotionally moving and occasionally hilarious Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon delivers a thoughtful and endearing coming-of-age film that admittedly tugs at the heartstrings, but does so in a unique and sincere way. As Greg's (Thomas Mann) senior year gets under way he's forced by his mother to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow classmate recently diagnosed with leukemia. And as their unexpected friendship grows stronger, Rachel's immune system struggles to combat her fatal illness. Supported by a brilliant adapted screenplay, exceptional performances from a crop of talented young actors and impressive direction, there is simply no downside to the heart-grabbing hit, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It's my top film so far this year and an absolute must-watch. (October 6th)

The Gift - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

It wasn't that long ago the buzzed about debut psychological thriller, The Gift, from actor turned writer/director, Joel Edgerton, made its rounds in theaters across the country. And despite a curious trailer that screamed, "hokey" more than "innovative", The Gift proved to be an unforeseen and cleverly taut film that will leave a lasting impression for any moviegoer. When Simon and his wife (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) return to his hometown to try and start a family, an unsuspecting meeting with an old classmate of his named Gordo (Edgerton) leads to a series of strange encounters. And after tensions between the two men start to boil, everyone's true colors are shown in a powerful and twisted finale. Nowadays, when modern thriller and horror titles are resorting to violence and gore as a substitute for creative writing, The Gift stands out as a cerebral thriller that needs none of the above to captivate its audiences. (October 27th)

Escobar: Paradise Lost - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

My third and final top tier suggestion for the month is an outside-the-box indie that's probably unknown to most of you. The beauty of attending a film festival such as Philadelphia's long-standing event each year in late-October is the surprising titles that satisfy your tastes. At last year's Philadelphia's annual showcase I had the pleasure of catching Escobar: Paradise Lost, an intense fictionalized thriller surrounding the Colombian kingpin, Pablo Escobar. A young surfer named Nick (The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson) migrates to the beaches of Colombia and begins giving lessons and living in utter paradise. That is, until Nick meets a beautiful young woman who draws him into her family circle headed by a violent and increasingly desperate uncle, Pablo Escobar (Benicio Del Toro). In a role perfectly suited for the maniacal actor, Del Toro steals every scene he's in. And, ultimately, Escobar: Paradise Lost culminates as a winning thrill ride filled with edge-of-your-seat suspense. (October 6th)

Honorable Mention: A pair of summer blockbusters headline the movies available to rent and own this month, Avengers: Age of Ultron (10/2) and Jurassic World (10/20). The sequel Magic Mike XXL (10/6) was a pleasant surprise and so was the indie high school inner city comedy, Dope (10/13). Although I haven't seen either the boxing drama, Southpaw (10/27), or the coming-of-age film, Paper Towns (10/20), both are on my radar this month. And finally it's worth noting the disaster blockbuster, San Andreas (10/13), and the Disney film Tomorrowland (10/13) are both available this October as well.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Walk

Film: The Walk

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50) and Ben Kingsley (Hugo)

Director: Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump)

U.S. Release: October 2nd, 2015 (Rated PG)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 123 minutes

Although his name isn't stained in the fabric of our society like Steven Spielberg or James Cameron, director Robert Zemeckis is a legend of Hollywood in his own right. As an Academy Award winning filmmaker who graced us with one of the most notable cinematic achievements of all-time, Forrest Gump, Zemeckis knows what it takes to captivate an audience. He returns this weekend to movie theaters all across the country with a soaring spectacle unlike anything we've ever seen. Alongside his show-stealing lead actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Walk unfolds as yet another winning effort from the iconic filmmaker.

As a young child growing up in France, Philippe Petit's (Gordon-Levitt) interest in magic and juggling culminates into something much more daring, a passion for tightrope walking. And in 1974 after Philippe hones his skill-set under the tutelage of a circus professional named Papa Rudy (Ben Kinglsey), he sets his sights on a higher and more death-defying target, an unharnessed walk between the world's new tallest buildings in New York City. Petit ventures to the Big Apple and, with his team of accomplices, pulls off the greatest artistic crime the world has ever witnessed.

One of my favorite revelations surrounding Robert Zemeckis' historical retelling, The Walk, is the surprising tone of the film. Sporting a more playful vibe rather than intense melodrama, the movie peels back layers of famed wire-walker Philippe Petit. And by taking the audience back to his childhood where the central figure's passion and appreciation for performing began, we're given a clear understanding of the fearless (and arguably insane) psyche of Petit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to deliver fine performances adding his portrayal of Petit to an already long list of quality work. While Gordon-Levitt is given almost the entirety of the screen time, he makes the most of his opportunity and shines in the role. Sprinkling in a pleasant collection of well-timed humor and an outstanding score from Alan Silvestri (who also composed the music for Forrest Gump), The Walk equates to far more than just a visual masterpiece.

Despite all of the film's impressive attributes, there are a few facets in which the movie is mishandled. Throughout Petit's criminal plot to set up a wire between New York City's Twin Towers prior to his dangerous tightrope walk (which he always refers to as "le coup"), we're introduced to the members of his team who help make the event possible. However, such little devotion is given to these side characters that the dramatic moments surrounding them all as the big day approaches end up falling flat. Even the relationship between Petit and his girlfriend throughout the film, Annie (played by Charlotte Le Bon), is widely underdeveloped. Furthermore, the visual returns to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's narration is oddly placed. It comes and goes throughout the film, but it never feels necessary or even warranted. Although The Walk fails to utilize its side characters appropriately and it relies on a poorly executed narration tactic, Zemeckis and company succeed in countless other areas that help dwarf these miscues by comparison.

I typically avoid any 3D showing of a film when possible. I tend to find the technique distracting and less enjoyable. However, The Walk does such a superb job of incorporating the I-MAX 3D into the film that I believe it actually enhances the experience. All of its breathtaking visuals are absolutely stunning and give the film a truly unique feel. Yet, while I wouldn't declare The Walk as a "must-see" feature, it certainly doesn't disappoint.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B