Monday, May 30, 2016

Finding Dory (NEW) and The Space Between Us Trailers

With June peeking its head right around the corner, it's time to prepare for what may be the best sequel of the summer, Pixar's Finding Dory. Following a long-winded 13 year gap in between films, Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks), Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), Nemo and others return for another ocean adventure. This time around the forgetful blue tang fish, Dory, gets the urge to find her family. And with the help of some trusty friends, they'll all learn a lesson in the meaning of family. Finding Dory is guaranteed to be an Oscar contender in the Best Animated Film category and it's one I can't wait to see. Check out the June 17th release's latest trailer below.

Also arriving this summer is the teen drama with an outer space setting, The Space Between Us. Asa Butterfield (Hugo and Ender's Game) stars as Gardner Elliot, a child born on Mars to an astronaut mother tasked with colonizing the planet. However, the woman dies from complications during birth and leaves the boy without knowing the identity of his father. Gardner begs to travel back to Earth, despite never touching foot on the planet before, in order to find his biological father and embrace the beauties of our world. The debut trailer for The Space Between Us gives off some hokey vibes, but it's an original tale with some sci-fi flair that could work wonders, Check out the first official look at the August release below.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and The Meddler

Nicholas Stoller's Neighbors was a successful summer comedy back in 2014. But despite the film's strong box office totals and well reception, it hardly felt like a starting point for a franchise. Apparently Stoller and his starring talent, Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron, believed differently. All return for the newly released sequel, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and the film shockingly surpasses tempered expectations.

After finally ridding themselves of their hellish fraternity of neighbors, parents Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Byrne) are trying desperately to sell their home before baby number two arrives. However, once a set of buyers put a strong offer on the house, the couple needs to withstand a 30 day inspection period before it's officially sold. Suddenly, a budding new sorority dead set on partying like crazy moves in right next door, putting the entire transaction in jeopardy. Therefore, Mac and Kelly must join forces with an old friend, Teddy (Efron), in order remove their latest lousy neighbors.

Structurally, Neighbors 2 is pretty run of the mill and exactly what you'd expect. Yet, where the film truly sets itself apart is in its clever writing that has plenty to say about modern day sexism and societal double standards. Its metaphors and reflective humor provides an added level of creativity that solidifies Neighbors 2 as a rare, welcomed sequel. The film's trio of stars all deliver acceptable performances that actually develop the characters further, rather than relying on recycled jokes from its predecessor. Neighbors 2 is far from a comedy classic, but it's still a strong follow-up feature that holds up all on its own.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Another comedy is making its theatrical rounds, but Lorene Scafaria's The Meddler is of the indie variety. As an industry screenwriter and the director of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Scafaria's sophomoric effort began with a modest premiere on the festival circuit. And in support of the general critical consensus, The Meddler does a fine job of telling a familiar story.

Susan Sarandon stars as Marnie, a widow who's still grieving over the loss of her late husband. And as a method of coping, the elder woman constantly pries into the personal life of her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), and whoever else will listen to her. But as Lori begins to distance herself from her overbearing mother, Marnie becomes entangled in the lives of a new set of people, including a retired police officer (J.K. Simmons), who help her get past her husband's death.

Despite The Meddler's common central storyline, the film's natural humor and honest characters make for an enjoying ride. Susan Sarandon is an absolute marvel in the leading role and completely steals the show. The subtle intricacies of her performance are a refreshing reminder of Sarandon's immense talent. You'll encounter moments where Marnie will irk you to death, and others where she's melt you with her uplifting charm. It's this wide spectrum that helps make the film such a worthwhile journey. And along with Sarandon, co-stars Rose Byrne and recent Academy Award winner, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), also shine in their supporting roles. The Meddler is clearly an indie, sprinkled with its artistic flair and simple production. Yet, you'll hardly notice as Sarandon draws you into her complex world, one that you'll thankful you experienced.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sausage Party (RED BAND) and Ghostbusters (NEW) Trailers

Although the vulgar red band trailer for Seth Rogen's imaginative summer animated comedy, Sausage Party, debuted a couple months back, I've been shocked by the large number of friends who hadn't seen it yet. The film uses the vantage point of food, mainly a sausage named Frank (voice of Rogen) and his love interest, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a bun if course. And as all the various foods in grocery stores work tirelessly to be chosen by human shoppers, they're appalled at the ensuing chaos that takes place once it's time for a meal. Sausage Party is an R-Rated animated treat for the adult population and, if you haven't had a chance to enjoy it's trailer, then you really shouldn't wait any longer.

After a bit of public backlash followed the release of Paul Feig's teaser trailer for the female makeover of the comedy classic, Ghostbusters, the film's new official sneak peek definitely digs deeper with its jokes. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig star as paranormal experts who band together to save New York City from a ghostly invasion. Skepticism remains high for Ghostbusters, but you can't discount Feig's recent string of success with acclaimed comedies such as Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy. Therefore, I'm going to hold off of judgment and give the film an honest chance when it arrives on July 15th. Check out the latest look at Ghostbusters below.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Nice Guys

Film: The Nice Guys

Starring: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling

Director: Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)

U.S. Release: May 20th, 2016 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 116 minutes

Considering Shane Black broke into the the industry as the writer of the 1987 buddy-cop comedy, Lethal Weapon, there's no surprise that he's returning to his roots for his third directorial effort, The Nice Guys. I've been on record speaking out against Black's previous entry as the visionary behind Iron Man 3, but I'm thrilled to see him transitioning back to a place of comfort. Black first stepped behind the camera for 2005's wildly acclaimed caper comedy, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and more than a decade has passed since, Yet, Black's able to rediscover his winning formula with a new pair of leading stars, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.

Set throughout 1970s Los Angeles, Jackson Healey (Crowe) is an enforcer who makes problems go away. And when a fearful young client named Amelia goes missing, Healey must team up with a binge-drinking private investigator named Hollard March (Gosling) to locate the girl. But as they dig deeper into the mystery, Healey and March become entangled with dangerous mobsters, porn stars and high-ranking government officials.

The Nice Guys stands as a refreshing new buddy comedy that delivers well-earned and cleverly crafted jokes. There is no shortage of laugh out loud moments, all of which solidify Shane Black's latest film as a clear-cut winner. Gosling and Crowe have a natural chemistry that allows the humor to flow naturally. Their characters possess contrasting personalities that perfectly complement one another. Gosling as the clumsy and more unprofessional investigator, and Crowe as the brute muscle who operates under a strict unwritten code of the industry. In addition to a fine script that allows for the film's talented leads to work their comedic magic, The Nice Guys has another surprising talent emerge from all of its splendor. Normally the overuse of a teenage character can be a hindrance to a movie, yet Black brilliantly incorporates newcomer Angourie Rice into the story. As Holland March's daughter and voice of humanity in the film, Rice sets herself apart as a valuable asset. Each of these glowing attributes come together masterfully in one of 2016's finest efforts.

Although the film's laughter and light-heartedness keep a positive and energized tone throughout its duration, The Nice Guys does manage to struggle in a few key areas. The overall mystery of their case lacks depth and unpredictability. Furthermore, many of March and Healey's big breaks are discovered by luck and sheer chance. Black's work could have used a little more investigative wit to counterbalance all of the film's accomplished comedy. And finally, The Nice Guys merely skims over any dramatic elements that it introduces. As a result, the film's characters appear cartoon-ish and one dimensional. Perhaps a slightly deeper dive into their personal lives would have gone a long way. Instead, we're left with a hysterical caper comedy, but very little more.

Needless to say, Shane Black has another winner on his hands. Acceptable doses of action, mystery and hilariously scripted humor come together to deliver a wildly entertaining film. The Nice Guys doesn't break any barriers or demand a place on the Mount Rushmore of buddy comedies, but it definitely makes for a worthwhile movie experience. If your in need of some genuine laughs and an engaging couple of hours at the movies, then you certainly won't regret taking a chance on Shane Black's latest entry.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Light Between Oceans (NEW) and The Accountant Trailers

Derek Cianfrance is an ambitious filmmaker. Evident by the complex dramatics sprinkled all throughout his first pair of feature films, Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines. This September Cianfrance's latest work, an adaptation of M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans, appears to have the ability of being a major Oscar player. Michael Fassbender stars as a lighthouse keeper who, along with his wife (Alicia Vikander), raise an infant they find adrift on a rowboat after losing a child of their own. Check out a more in-depth look at The Light Between Oceans below.

Director Gavin O'Connor (Warrior and Miracle) unveiled the debut trailer for his upcoming dramatic thriller, The Accountant. Ben Affleck takes center stage as Christian Wolff, a socially awkward individual with unbelievable math skills. Not only is he a small town accountant, but Wolff also does freelance work for numerous criminal organizations where he begins to sense some escalating danger. The Accountant appears a bit puzzling at first glance, but in the vein of Joe Wright's Hanna it could be a surprisingly entertaining ride. Check out the first look into Gavin O'Conner's October release below.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Best Ryan Gosling Performances

He's "stolen the show" plenty of times throughout his career and, most likely, he's stolen your heart as well. Ryan Gosling isn't only a modern day sex symbol, he also happens to be a widely talented actor that preys on roles oozing with confidence. But don't get me wrong, he isn't a type-casted performer who's solely a one trick pony. Gosling has managed to display large amounts of diversity throughout his ever-growing career. And although the Oscars haven't been particularly kind to his work, I'm genuinely excited for his weekend release, The Nice Guys, and I'm honoring Ryan Gosling's career-best performances with May's movie list of the month (April's List).

Honorable Mention: The Big Short, Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Place Beyond the Pines

#5. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Fresh off a failed Best Actor nomination, Gosling rebounded with an Oscar-baity role of immense proportions in the oddball comedy, Lars and the Real Girl. He tried mightily to ugly himself up in the leading role of an awkwardly shy small town guy who brings home the girl of his dreams to meet his brother and sister-in-law. Only problem is, she's a sex doll. Therefore, the whole town goes out of its way to make Lars feel normal and accept his peculiar quest for a deep and meaningful relationship. Gosling plays the part wonderfully and devours the opportunity to shine in a not-so confident leading role.

#4. Drive (2011)

Another fantastic performance from Gosling comes from Nicolas Winding Refn's heart-pounding thriller, Drive. He stars as the nameless lead who's a mechanic and movie stunt driver by day, but a get-away driver in the shadows of L.A. by night. And when a good deed goes terribly wrong, he's forced to operate under any means necessary in order to protect the new woman and child in his life. His speaking lines are sparse but Drive wins over its audience with a cool and calmly delivered role that's a true testament to Gosling's ability as an actor.

#3. Half Nelson (2006)

In a bit of movie trivia, Ryan Gosling's only Oscar nomination comes from a little-known indie gem called Half Nelson. Gosling gives a soulful and humbling performance as Dan Dunne, an urban high school teacher who captures his students imagination within the classroom walls. However, Dunne also has a bitter drug habit and finds himself in a sticky situation when one of his loyal students discovers his secret. Life isn't always black and white or right and wrong and the brilliant intricacies of Half Nelson bring these unwelcoming truths to the forefront thanks to a magnificent turn from the film's leading star.

#2. The Ides of March (2011)

In what I'll always remember as one of the most overlooked films of its year, Ryan Gosling provided a phenomenal performance in George Clooney's political thriller, The Ides of March. This tightly wound feature examines the inner workings of the political process and the compromises insiders have to make to receive the power that they desire. Gosling takes center stage as Stephen Meyers, the second in command for the staff of presidential hopeful, Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). However, life on the campaign trail isn't without its speed bumps as Meyers is forced into a power struggle while the election draws near. We all know that U.S. politics is a dirty game and The Ides of March uses Goslings talents to illustrate just how messy it can actually be.

#1. Blue Valentine (2010)

Rounding out the list is another small-time indie flick that packs a powerful punch. Blue Valentine follows the toxic relationship of a working class family through a non-chronological lens. Most romances begin with enormous passion, and the same holds true for Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). But as their relationship progresses, resentment slowly starts to fill in the gaps between their love for one another and deteriorates their family's home. Michelle Williams ended up with an Oscar nomination for her work in the film, yet Gosling sadly missed out in a crowded year of leading male performances. Despite the omission from Hollywood's most respected awards show, Blue Valentine serves as a platform for Gosling amazing talents. On screen he'll win you over and break your heart. It's a brilliant turn that's emblematic of his fine career and, thankfully, one that's far from over.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and The Phenom Trailers

Academy Award winning filmmaker, Ang Lee (Life of Pi & Brokeback Mountain) returns this fall with another presumed Oscar contender, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Based on Ben Fountain's best-selling novel, the film follows a 19 year old soldier named Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) who becomes a national hero after a traumatic battle in Iraq. The audience witnesses the details of this tragic event through flashback as Private Lynn is honored during and NFL halftime ceremony. Ang Lee has a knack for the dramatics and I'm sure we can expect more of the same with this November release. Check out the debut trailer for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk below.

Arriving this summer in a limited capacity is Noah Buschel's gritty sports drama, The Phenom. The film's initial trailer gives off a tone similar to former Best Picture nominee, Whiplash, in an effort to examine the controversial methods in which adults use to push young athletes and performers. When a highly touted MLB prospect (Johnny Simmons) struggles during his rookie season, the team sends him back down to the minor leagues and forces him to meet with a sports psychologist (Paul Giamatti) who learns about the boy's overbearing father (Ethan Hawke). As a lover of baseball I'm all in on The Phenom, and you can catch its trailer below.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Money Monster and High-Rise

Jodie Foster has spent a lifetime in the film industry, literally. She began acting at the age of seven and became a movie star as a teenager after a breakthrough role in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Eventually, her skill-set evolved from a performer into a visionary as she first stepped behind the camera as a director in the early 90s. While Foster has steered clear of the spotlight over the past two decades, tackling the occasional role and, even less frequently, directing a film or two, she returns in 2016 with her Wall Street drama, Money Monster.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a popular television host who specializes in the financial sector. But when a priceless stock-tip backfires and loses a disgruntled viewer (Jack O'Connell) his entire savings, the young man breaks onto Gates' set and holds the studio hostage. Along with the aid of his trusty producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), Gates works to alleviate the situation and help the gunman discover the real reasons why his stock plummeted overnight.

Jodie Foster's Money Monster serves as an engaging drama that further assists itself by utilizing perfectly placed comic relief and legitimate moments of suspense. George Clooney, as expected, represents the film's most prominent character and he completely commands the screen with a narcissistic and quirky delivery that fits the money mogul figure all too well. And through a mostly predictable story that creates a stellar character arc, Money Monster is a serviceable and worthwhile feature that's ultimately restricted by its own structural faults. By its third act, the feature's authenticity is shattered due to flimsy writing that's alarming, but by no means detrimental. If you're able to suspend reality just a little bit, you'll find plenty to enjoy with Jodie Foster's Money Monster.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Another recent release that I experienced also preached a message of class warfare within a societal structure. High-Rise, an adapted film from a director unlike any other, Ben Wheatley, uses his familiar elements of surrealism and offbeat comedy to tell an ultra-visual story. Based on J.G. Ballard's 1975 futuristic-set novel of the same name, Wheatley's latest endeavor is guaranteed to be a polarizing piece of work.

The film opens with a disheveled Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) capturing a dog and cooking it over a fire on the completely-trashed balcony of his apartment building. Then, it proceeds to show the three months leading up to this anarchic setting, where the doctor moves into a desirable high-rise apartment that offers all the amenities of the outside world. However, a specific structure exists within the building where the number of your floor signifies the amount of your wealth. And as the higher-up elitists in the apartment begin hoarding all of the power and resources, chaos begins to climb in the high-rise from the ground floor up.

As you would expect from a unique filmmaker such as Wheatley, High-Rise is an ambitious effort that amazes and disappoints in varying aspects all at the same time. Fans of nuanced story-telling that requires massive attention to detail will find great admiration scattered within Wheatley's unconventional methods. High-Rise is visually fantastic and boasts a brilliant score. However, the film's messy narrative and jumbled structure will surely create issues with a more general audience. Personally, I loved the acting and stylish aspects of the movie, but sluggish pacing and a confusing plot make the film an unfitting singular watch. Perhaps, multiple viewings are required to piece Wheatley's entire long-winded and absurdly bizarre puzzle together.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Inferno and Deepwater Horizon Trailers

Acclaimed novelist, Dan Brown, has his first classic work, The Da Vinci Code, adapted a decade ago in 2006. Angels & Demons followed a few years later in 2009 and, once again, the literary character, Robert Langdon, returns with this October's Inferno. Famed symbologist, Langdon (Tom Hanks), awakes in an Italian hospital and experiences amnesia. He must team up with a doctor (Felicity Jones) to recover his lost memories and prevent a global catastrophe from unfolding. Inferno sounds like more of the same from the Dan Brown franchise, so at least we know what to expect. Check out the film's debut trailer below.

Peter Berg delivered an exceptional depiction of courage and brotherhood with 2013's based on a true story, Lone Survivor. This September Berg returns with Deepwater Horizon, another fact-based tale starring Mark Wahlberg, In 2010 off the U.S. coast a massive oil rig exploded, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Berg's latest effort follows the lives of the workers on the rig leading up to that tragic event. If this go-around can even come close to the effectiveness of his last entry, it will definitely be a film worth seeing. Check out the first look into Deepwater Horizon below.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Film: Captain America: Civil War

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. & Scarlett Johansson

Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

U.S. Release: May 6th, 2016 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 147 minutes

Whether you glance outside your window this morning and it looks that way or not, Summer has officially arrived. Maybe not in the form of cargo shorts and sandals, but rather the sizzling summer blockbuster season that's guaranteed to fill movie theater seats all across the globe. Captain America: The Winter Soldier directors, siblings Anthony and Joe Russo, kick off the slate of summertime features with an explosion of a sequel, Civil War. And as the third phase of Marvel's ever-expanding universe gets under way, we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this beloved superhero saga is in careful hands.

While the civilian casualties suffered at the expense of earth's most trusted protectors, The Avengers, continue to mount, global leaders demand more regulations on the team of superheroes. Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) reaches out to the group as an advocate for more oversight, while Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) refuses to let his superhuman abilities operate under the direction of anyone other than himself. And as unknown personal connections between these two iconic superhero figures further reveal themselves, a rift slowly divides The Avengers and they're forced to battle for their unwavering beliefs.

Make no mistake about it, Marvel takes its next step in grand fashion. Following the universal success of The Winter Soldier, Anthony & Joe Russo pick up right where they left off. A brilliantly constructed storyline transforms the franchise into a daring spectacle of superheroes vs. superheroes, one that's indescribably choreographed to perfection. With a dozen participants evenly split and made up of both new and familiar faces, this ultimate showdown is what you're paying to see and it's more than worth the price of admission. Packed with witty dialogue and massive special effects, Civil War will forever reside as an iconic step in Marvel's series of films. And, thankfully, the film is a successful endeavor that stacks up well against any of its predecessors.

While I know it's an unjust comparison to measure Marvel's wildly developed film universe against Christopher Nolan's gritty trilogy surrounding The Dark Knight of Gotham, especially since their tones are so vastly different, I can't help but feel slightly underwhelmed by a few deficiencies. For starters, Civil War opens with a lengthy sequence that does very little to progress the story. Rather than keep its running time concise and its focal point sharp, the film repeatedly deviates into mind-numbing doses of action. I'm fully aware that its impossible to argue against the precision of the film's intricate hand-to-hand combat sequences, but after nearly two and a half hours, these moments grow tiresome. Furthermore, it's become a recurring theme within the Marvel structure to deliver villainous foes that are weakly developed and unsatisfying as a main resisting force. Therefore, as expected, the trend continues in Civil War where the feature's primary antagonist takes a back seat to disputing factions of The Avengers.

Considering Marvel's ever-growing collection of superheroes, it's amazing how well the studio has kept all of their films and characters in order. It's truly a testament to their dedication. However, the cookie cutter structure in which they force their entire catalog to conform to won't work forever. Much like all of the previous installments, Civil War wins over its audience with energetic action and well-timed humor. It's an approach that has worked well to this point, but I question whether it can sustain for the long haul. It will be interesting to see how these storylines develop over the next few years, but in the meantime, we should all enjoy it while it lasts.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bad Moms and Snowden (NEW) Trailers

As the summer blockbuster season kicks off with a bang this weekend, thanks to the wildly anticipated Marvel's Captain America: Civil War, another late-summer entry debuted a trailer. Bad Moms is giving the raunchy comedy genre a full femme makeover this July. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn star as a trio of overly exhausted moms who decide its time to let loose as they plot to take-down a group of seemingly perfect mothers. Bad Moms initially peaked my interest with a wide-ranging and talented cast, yet this debut trailer left a little to be desired. You should decide for yourself, though, if Bad Moms can be the breakout comedy of the summer.

After watching the Oscar-winning documentary, Citizenfour, which chronicled Edward Snowden's shocking revelation of the U.S. government's infringement on our personal privacy, I was excited to hear that there was a dramatic adaptation in the works. However, putting an important story such as this in the hands of filmmaker Oliver Stone can be a risky proposition. Joseph Gordon-Levitt alters his voice and all in the lead role of whistle blower, Edward Snowden. And as Snowden discoveries what exactly is going on behind closed doors at the NSA, he becomes the world's most notorious fugitive as he leaks classified information to the press. It's a truly remarkable story and hopefully Oliver Stone can tell the story in an objective and genuine way. Here's a look at Snowden's newest trailer, it arrives in theaters this September.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

DVD Outlook: May 2016

There was no hiding from that fact that last month offered a scarce selection of quality DVD releases (April's suggestions). However, May's crop of titles is far more expansive and should be a warm welcome for lovers of all genres. Without waiting any longer, let's take a look at the best films arriving to DVD this month.

Remember - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

As one of the biggest surprises from last year's Philadelphia Film Festival lineup, Atom Egoyan's Remember packs an awfully powerful punch, Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer stars as Zev Guttman, an elderly man living at a nursing home and experiencing signs of dementia. And after Zev's wife passes, he's reminded of a pact in which he promised to track down and kill a former Auschwitz prison guard living under an alias in the U.S. who murdered his family during World War II. This hazily recollected drama-thriller crafts beautifully mounted tension that culminates in an unforgettable finale. Remember is a rare diamond in the rough that utilizes a clever screenplay from Benjamin August and an award-worthy performance from the talented Christopher Plummer. (May 3rd)

Deadpool - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

In a hasty turnaround that I never saw coming, Marvel's greatest anti-hero is going right from the big screen to your home television screen. Deadpool delivered record-breaking box office sales early in 2016 and now its arrives on DVD in May. Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade, a former Special Forces operative who learns of a terminal illness. But after he enlists in a rogue experiment that's meant to cure him, Wade earns rapid healing powers and assumes the alter ego Deadpool. Reynold delivers a fully committed performance in this non-chronological action hero origins story. Deadpool blends together witty one-liners and full-throttle action sequences that ease the audience through this unconventional superhero saga. (May 10th)

The Program (2015) - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (No review available)

Although it was a less than impressive release for the team surrounding the Lance Armstrong biopic, The Program, I still found the film to be a gripping account of an athlete's obsession with winning. Ben Foster stars as the controversial sports icon, Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor who went on to become the face of competitive cycling. After seven consecutive years as the champion of the prestigious Tour de France, an Irish sports journalist (Chris O'Dowd) works to uncover the truth behind Armstrong's improbable success. While The Program itself is mired in a fair amount of mediocrity, the film does a superb job of capturing the audience's attention with the facts surrounding Lance Armstrong's high sophisticated and regimented doping scheme that helped propel him to greatness. (May 17th)

Honorable Mention: There are plenty of familiar titles arriving this month including the raunchy Zac Efron and Robert De Niro comedy, Dirty Grandpa (5/17), as well as Oscar contender Joy (5/3) from David O.Russell, both of which I didn't enjoy. The crowdpleasing Jesse Owens biopic, Race (5/31), finds a DVD release later this month, as does the Coast Guard drama, The Finest Hours (5/24). Horror fans also have some options with the well-received psychological period-piece, The Witch (5/17), and the more conventional early year release, The Boy (5/10).

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Barbershop: The Next Cut and Green Room

Sequels and new franchise installments are a tricky element to dissect. In some instances they can be rushed into production quickly for studios to cash in on the name recognition, or they may take a decade or two until a follow up film is given the green light. Either way, there's no full proof method of using a time-frame to know whether or not a new entry to a series will be serviceable. Personally, I believe it comes down to how much commitment and care is invested in the overall project. Thankfully, Barbershop: The Next Cut represents a valuable third installment nearly a dozen years in the making.

The film takes the audience back to the south side of Chicago to Calvin's Barbershop, where the owner (Ice Cube) is making ends meet by splitting the rental space four ways with his friends and co-workers. But as the local neighborhood becomes infested with gang rivalries and daily drive-by shootings, Calvin begins to worry that it's time to relocate his business to the north side and remove his teenage son from all of this chaos.

The Next Cut is a refreshing follow-up film that molds together sharp-witted comedy with an insightful fable-like message to the inner city youth all across the country. I have always been a fan of Ice Cube's work, but it's clear that the gifted performer is becoming a respected icon for urban communities, both as an actor and a voice of reason. The old wise African American character is a cliched staple in comedies, but The Next Cut uses Ice Cube's sage wisdom to try and reach the future generation of America. Cedric the Entertainer reprises his role in the franchise and proves that he's still got it. The comedy-infused dialogue is both hysterical and insightful, a true accomplishment by today's standards. And even though The Next Cut over-embellishes its dramatic elements thanks to a PG-13 rating that's a necessary evil, its pacing and positive message reinforce the film as a winning comedy.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

After skipping out on Jeremy Saulnier's debut revenge thriller, Blue Ruin, during the 2013 Philadelphia Film Festival, I immediately regretted the decision and put the movie near the top of my must-see list at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Blue Ruin was a slow burning and violent entry that proved you don't need a massive budget to mesmerize audiences. Therefore, I can assure you that I was first in line for Saulnier's follow-up thriller, Green Room.

Set in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, a hardcore punk rock band, The Ain't Rights, find themselves in the midst of an unsuccessful tour. Broke and tired, they consider returning home until they're promised a solid payout at an impromptu gig held at a white supremacist venue. But after they finish up their set and return to the back room, they discover that a murder has been committed. As witnesses, they must fight for their own lives against a violent band of skin-heads.

Jeremy Saulnier provides relentless tension through the use of visceral violence and well-crafted situational horror. Once again, the director gives way to the stereotypical big-budget horror-thriller genre and creates a far more suspenseful atmosphere than those cookie-cutter cash cows we're typically given. Green Room unravels slow enough to give the audience time to connect with the characters all before a blood-shedding finale that includes some unforgettable moments. Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots headline an effective B-list cast and Blue Ruin star, Macon Blair, re-teams with the director once again. The film's biggest weaknesses comes from a few noticeable plot-holes and conveniences that seem bitterly unrealistic. However, Green Room delivers no shortage of thrills and a fantastic closing line of dialogue that perfectly sums up the entire feature. Sometimes less is more and Saulnier has mastered that concept through the early stages of his career.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-