Friday, July 29, 2016

The Best Matt Damon Performances

As Matt Damon's long and storied acting career continues to evolve, his exceptional talents become harder to ignore. And with the latest installment of the Bourne franchise arriving in theaters this weekend, which also marks Damon's return to the popular action series, I'm devoting my July movie list of the month to Damon's finest roles (June's list). Just to be clear, I haven't seen The Talented Mr. Ripley or either of the last two Oceans films. Other than that, my favorite Matt Damon performances are outlined below.

Honorable Mention: The Bourne series, Invictus, Rounders and True Grit.

#5. The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese's Best Picture winner, The Departed, is one of my favorite films of all-time. Boasting a remarkably entertaining story, phenomenal dialogue and an all-star cast, Scorsese's masterful direction is merely icing on the cake. Unfortunately for Damon, unbelievable performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson overshadowed his own stellar work. Damon clearly played second fiddle to these acting legends, but his role in The Departed still represents one of the finest in his career.

#4. School Ties (1992)

In order to find one of Matt Damon's most impressive performances, you'll have to go back more than two decades to his first starring role in Robert Mandel's School Ties. The film focuses on a prep school in the 1950s who recruit a big-time football player (Brandan Fraser) to become their star quarterback. But when a jealous teammate (Matt Damon) learns about the quarterback's biggest secret, he tries to tear him down by revealing it to everyone at the school. Damon's character, undoubtedly the film's antagonist, is executed with detailed precision that still holds up many years later. If you haven't seen School Ties, it's a very effective and overlooked film from the 90s.

#3. The Informant! (2009)

While Steven Soderbergh's quirky 2009 comedy, The Informant!, wasn't the greatest of movies, it's impossible to deny that Matt Damon delivered a dynamite lead performance. Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, the vice president of an agro-business giant. And when the FBI begins to investigate claims that the company is taking part in price fixing, Whitacre becomes their star informant. Damon's hysterical turn earned him a Golden Globe nomination and rightfully so. Mark Whitacre becomes an unforgettable character, in a rather forgettable film, thanks to Damon's ranging and committed work.

#2. The Martian (2015)

Everyone is well aware of the overwhelming success surrounding Ridley Scott's recent sci-fi effort, The Martian. Based on a best selling novel, the film's captivating story is brought to life through the unique vision of Ridley Scott and Matt Damon's extraordinary role as Mark Watney. And after a powerful storm bears down on a research team of astronauts stationed on Mars, Watney is presumed dead by his fellow crew members and left stranded all alone after they abort the mission and return to Earth. The Martian was an awards season powerhouse this past year and it wouldn't have happened without Matt Damon's amazing ability to command the screen.

#1. Good Will Hunting (1997)

Matt Damon is actually an Academy Award winner, yet his prized statue was earned for writing rather than acting. As the lead star and co-screenwriter for the acclaimed drama, Good Will Hunting, Damon immediately displayed his many talents as an artist. Although it was his co-star, the late Robin Williams, who took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Damon was nominated for Best Actor but failed to win. Either way, Matt Damon's towering performance in this heavy hitting and immaculately scripted drama continues to serve as his finest work to date.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge and Split Trailers

This morning the debut trailer for Mel Gibson's upcoming war drama, Hacksaw Ridge, officially dropped. Andrew Garfield stars in the true story of a World War II Army Medic named Desmond Doss who refused to carry a weapon or fire a bullet during battle. Originally shunned by his fellow soldiers, Doss' heroic efforts eventually earned him a Medal of Honor. Hacksaw Ridge arrives in November and you can catch its trailer below.

Another trailer to premiere recently belongs to M. Night Shyamalan's early 2017 thriller, Split. After a man (James McAvoy) abducts three teenage girls, his various multiple personalities begin to reveal themselves. I actually had the pleasure of participating in a test screener for this film back in the Spring, but I signed a confidentiality agreement that bars me from saying anything more. Therefore, you can check out the first-look trailer at Split below.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Justice League and Wonder Woman Trailers

While comic book lovers and movie geeks all across the country flock to California for this year's San Diego Comic Con, I'm always thankful for the popular event because of all its enormous trailer premieres. Perhaps the most notable trailer to debut what DC Comics upcoming franchise cornerstone, Justice League. Ben Affleck reprises his role as Gotham's caped crusader who works alongside Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to assemble a team of superheroes to protect the world for a grave threat. Zack Snyder's Justice League will finally introduce iconic characters Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Justice League lands in theaters on November 17th, 2017 and you can check out its trailer below.

A few months before DC Comics' main event drops, they plan to build the hype with another stand alone release with June's, Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot gave us a first look into her character in this year's Dawn of Justice, and next year we'll watch as the Amazonian warrior take her unique set of skills to modern civilization. Monster director Patty Jenkins delivers her first film since 2003 and we'll have to see just how well Wonder Woman sets up the immediate future of the DC films universe. Catch the film's debut trailer from Comic Con below.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Loving and Lights Out

Generally speaking, the only way a film has been released by July and possesses some serious Oscar potential, is if it premiered at the prestigious Canned Film festival. All of the above hold true for a director I've long vouched for and respected, Jeff Nichols, and his powerful dramatic release, Loving. The film centers around a real life civil rights struggle, the type of story that makes Academy members salivate, making it completely understandable why the film has been handed the "Oscar contender" label.

Once Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) discovers that his African American girlfriend, Mildred (Ruth Negga), is pregnant with their interracial child, the couple ventures to Washington, D.C. to obtain a marriage license. Yet, when they return to their small town Virginia home, local law enforcement arrests them for violating state law that prohibits interracial marriage. Richard and Mildred embark on a long and tireless court battle for their own civil rights that goes all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

As a long time admirer of filmmaker Jeff Nichols, thanks to an impressive catalog that includes indie hits such as Take Shelter and Mud, words can hardly describe my eagerness to catch his first legitimate Oscar-contending feature. With Loving, Nichols stays true to his indie roots and wavers from any semblance of a main-stream vibe. He keeps the experience intimate and authentic, peeling off layers of his characters as their unfair and unjust punishment for true love unravels itself. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga both give soulful performances that could very well turn them into Oscar finalists. Negga feels like a safer bet for major recognition, as both the stronger character and female role. And while Loving is a sweet and moving civil rights tale, the story isn't filled with many compelling or iconic moments. Therefore, Loving plays as a painfully slow true story that's told with grace and respect, but very little entertainment value.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

As a lifelong horror fan, I was extremely excited for my advanced screening of the cleverly concocted new entry, Lights Out. Director David F. Sandberg's innovative horror premise began as a short film in 2013 that sparked enough interest to get the major motion picture treatment. Although Lights Out left me slightly disappointed, due in large part to my elevated expectations, the film still stands as a decent scary movie that ratchets up the tension with a masterful level of creativity.

Rebecca (Theresa Palmer) is a young and independent woman living on her own. But when she learns that her little brother is experiencing the same traumatic events she encountered as a child, the siblings seek to discover the secrets behind a dark entity that lives in the shadows of their mother's (Maria Bello) home.

Lights Out uses visual effects to perfection with its dark and creepy villainous character, Diana. However, between all the suspenseful shrieking moments of terror that occur once the lights fade, the film is riddled with sub-par acting and ineffective characters. Instead of rallying for a protagonist that earns a deep-rooted connection with the viewer, Lights Out merely offers solid scares and a respectful 81-minute running time that keeps its pacing adequate. Normally I'm very critical of Maria Bello and have accused her of serious over-acting in the past. Yet, she provides a valuable role that enhances authenticity to the film's otherwise pedestrian story. Lights Out comes with its deficiencies, but Sandberg's big screen debut accomplishes the first goal of any horror film release, to scare the audience.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Friday, July 15, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Ghostbusters (2016) and Captain Fantastic

Paul Feig's all-female reboot of Ghostbusters has long been a source of criticism, even before a single soul had a chance to watch the film. But despite the countless naysayers and blind bashers, critics have thrown their support to Feig's latest comedic teaming with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. While it's important to acknowledge that the Feig/McCarthy combination has long been praised by critics, including films like Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, hopefully I can provide an unbiased point of view as to what to expect from Ghostbusters.

Estranged friends and co-authors, Erin and Abby (Wiig and McCarthy), reconnect and discover mysterious paranormal happenings all across New York City. And after they assemble a crew to investigate these strange occurrences, a ghostly invasion sweeps across the city. While mass hysteria begins to spread, these unlikely ladies must work together to save NYC from massive paranormal threats.

Simply stated, Paul Feig's long-awaited and controversial remake is a worthy selection. Although this latest Ghostbusters film doesn't stack up to its original source material, or even the sequel, it still plays as a respectful and well-planned endeavor. Everything from timely cameos by all the original actors, including a thoughtful bust of the late comedic genius, Harold Ramis, to its refreshing detailed commitment surrounding the iconic cartoon series, Ghostbusters completely feels the part. Not all of the film's comedy is a home run, but enough humor sticks and helps to carry the film along. Each new female character comes with her pluses and minuses, yet their energy and enthusiasm becomes infectious to the audience. Paul Feig's Ghostbusters isn't going to blow you away, but the film solidifies itself as a worthwhile inclusion to the series.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

There's nothing better than going into a movie blind and being caught completely off guard by its effectiveness. Matt Ross (best known as Gavin Belson from HBO's Silicon Valley) writes and directs the indie gem and Cannes Film Festival prize-winning, Captain Fantastic. Ross emerges from this work as a true artist to watch, all while Captain Fantastic shines brightly as one of 2016's finest movies of the year.

Nestled deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, a devoted father (Viggo Mortensen) raises his children off the grid and secluded from civilization. Teaching all of the psychical tools required to hunt and survive, as well as cerebral critical thinking skills that allow the children to formulate their own opinions, the family is forced to leave their paradise after the unexpected death of their mother. Reconnecting with modern-day living tests the family and raises questions as to whether their father is helping or hindering their personal growth.

Captain Fantastic's lead character, Ben, lives the type of life that, deep down, we all long for to some degree. Completely self sufficient and free from the worries of the world, selling the audience on this far-fetched family lifestyle is an extremely difficult task. However, a detailed screenplay and brilliant performances by the entire cast transform this unrealistic backdrop into a believable plot catalyst. The obstacles and burdens on this family make for a dramatic, yet charmingly funny, experience. Captain Fantastic is a thought-provoking film that delivers a winning story and top notch performances. But these aren't the only strengths of the movie, Matt Ross offers exceptional direction for a rather inexperienced filmmaker. Although Captain Fantastic may have benefited greater from a few deeper and more emotional subplots concerning the children, in addition to cutting the running time down to improve pacing, these shortcomings hardly inhibit the film from being one of 2016's best entries.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Loving and A Monster Calls (NEW) Trailers

Jeff Nichols continues to impress audiences film after film. Credited with successes such as Take Shelter, Mud and this year's Midnight Special, the writer/director returns again in 2016 with the Oscar hopeful and Cannes Festival entrant, Loving. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple whose love and marriage is put to the ultimate test in 1958 Virginia. Early reviews have been very strong and many prognosticators can envision the film as a Best Picture finalist. Nichols deserves more recognition as a filmmaker and after a first-look at Loving's powerful true story, he may finally receive it during this year's awards season run.

J.A. Bayona is another filmmaker whose climbing up to that next tier of directors. Bayona's 2012 overlooked masterpiece, The Impossible, is one of the finest films of the decade. And after viewing the debut trailer from his upcoming imaginative adaptation, A Monster Calls, I've found another film I can't wait to catch this year. Newcomer Lewis MacDougall stars as a boy named Connor who enlists the help of a tree monster (voice of Liam Neeson) to cope with his mother's (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. The book was a best-seller and Bayona's vision is guaranteed to help bring this moving spectacle to life. You just have to watch the trailer for yourself, catch A Monster Calls below.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Imperium and Table 19 Trailers

Director Daniel Ragussis finds his debut film, Imperium, arriving in August. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Nate Foster, an idealistic FBI agent who goes undercover to expose a white supremacy group believed to be responsible for homegrown acts of violence and terror. Based on a true story, Imperium features Radcliffe in a diverse role and one he appears to tackle very well. Boasting an impressive first-look trailer and an intriguing premise, this crime thriller could very well be the summer-time's hidden gem.

On a bit of a lighter note, we've been given a first glimpse into 2017's early-year comedy, Table 19. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) was the maid of honor for her best friend's wedding, that is until she's dumped by her best friend's brother. But rather than bailing on the event, she decides to attend and finds herself relegated to table 19 with all the other odd-ball invites who RSVP-ed. With a script from the brilliant indie minds of brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, Table 19 appears to pack laughs and a hearty story all into one. Co-starring Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson and Stephen Merchant, check out the debut trailer from Table 19 below.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and The Purge: Election Year

The summer blockbuster season is known for its action-packed catalog filled with superhero sequels and eye-popping special effects. Yet, the summer time also stands as a platform for many of the year's funniest comedy films. And although I held a little hope that Jake Szymanski's debut major motion picture Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates would be that standout comedy release, unfortunately it's nothing more than a combination of poor acting and unnecessary amounts of vulgarity.

After a pair of hard-partying brothers, Mike and Dave (Adam Devine and Zac Efron), are forced to avoid going stag to their sister's upcoming wedding in Hawaii, their search for dates becomes a viral sensation. Meanwhile, low-life alcoholics and recently unemployed roommates, Tatiana and Alice (Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick), catch wind of the story and put on their most respectable faces in hopes of cashing in on a free trip. While their deceptive plans work, perhaps these four clueless idiots are exactly what's needed to make the bride's perfect wedding come to life.

For starters, there are sporadic laughs scattered all throughout the film. However, the humor isn't nearly consistent enough to outshine a poor storyline and unusually inadequate acting from some young talents I've praised in the passed. I had a difficult time figuring out if these shortcomings were due to misguided direction or weak characters. Either way, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a long-winded 95 minutes that fails to win over audiences with dimwitted humor and enough f-bombs to put Scarface to shame. Just to be clear, the film isn't unbearable but it's wildly mediocre. So if you're on the lookout for this summer's breakout comedy feature, I suggest you keep looking.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

It's difficult to deny the clever premise behind James DeMonaco's horror franchise, The Purge. And following a bitterly disappointing debut in 2013, DeMonaco rebounded nicely with his Anarchy sequel. However, with the recent release of the series' third installment, Election Year, it's obvious that the franchise has taken a step backwards.

Former police sergeant Barnes (Frank Grillo) has become the head of security for politician Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who promises to eliminate the purge if elected. And with the deadly holiday becoming a direct target on the poor, her chances of winning continue to grow as the election approaches. Therefore, the New Founding Fathers of America must use the upcoming purge holiday to execute the senator and eliminate the threat of her campaign.

Election Year continues to expand on DeMonaco's creative idea with a natural progression to the franchise's storyline. Yet, this latest installment misses greatly with a long list of new characters that are never properly developed. And by the time the film wraps up, there's a huge disconnect between the audience and these characters. Hence, Election Year feels like a cheapened version of its previous effort, and a lackluster continuation of the series. Although the finale leaves it wide open to take the saga even further, faith in DeMonaco's franchise seems to be diminishing.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

DVD Outlook: July 2016

Last month I mentioned how the summer blockbuster season is in full throttle, however the annual showcasing has left plenty to be desired. Therefore, if you're in search on some intriguing movie options, look no further than July's fresh new DVD releases to satisfy your movie cravings (June's suggestions). Here are my top three selections arriving this month:

Everybody Wants Some!! - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Richard Linklater created a cult classic with his 1994 stoner-comedy, Dazed and Confused. This year the Oscar-nominated director returns with what he's self-described as its spiritual sequel, Everybody Wants Some!!. A fresh cast of mostly unfamiliar faces star in this hilarious story of a first-class college baseball team in Texas that welcomes in a new crop of freshman. This coming-of-age film plays as a passing of the torch as we follow the lives of quirky and irrational star athletes who must comes to terms with new beginnings. As you would expect from a Linklater film, Everybody Wants Some!! succeeds on the backbone of many exceptional onscreen moments. While the overall story is a bit of a meandering mess and the running time feels a little over-extended, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud scenes to carry you along from start to finish. (July 12th)

Green Room - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

After news of last month's tragic accident that took the life of Anton Yelchin, a young and gifted actor, Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room is a chance to catch one of the talented performer's finer films. This visceral thriller follows a touring hardcore punk band who's forced to fight for their lives when things go south after a gig at a skinhead bar. Patrick Stewart and Imogen Poots co-star in this bloody and tense effort that refuses to hold anything back. With a mere 95 minutes of total screen time, Green Room is well-paces and energetic. The late Anton Yelchin provides a stellar leading turn that reminds us all of his many talents. And if you enjoy Green Room, it's also worth catching filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier's previous debut feature and revenge flick, Blue Ruin. (July 12th)

Barbershop: The Next Cut - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Ice Cube continues to stand as a cultural voice of a new generation, and he's an excellent voice to have leading the way. In the next line of Barbershop films, we revisit Calvin's (Ice Cube) shop nestled in the heart of South Side Chicago. But as the neighborhood's violence spirals out of control and gang-related murders become a daily occurrence, Calvin needs to decide if it's time to abandon the mean streets he grew up on, or take back the city he knows and loves. The Next Cut wins over its audience with a hysterical crop of characters that keep a strong balance between comedy and drama. Cedric the Entertainer, Regina Hall, Common, Nicky Manaj and J.B. Smoove co-star in this welcome return to a solid franchise that packs a powerful dramatic punch. (July 26th)

Honorable Mention: As you can tell, July is short on exceptional options. Therefore many of these other films are either mediocre efforts or works that I haven't seen. Either way, the D.C. Comics' release, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (7/19), and first-person action adventure, Hardcore Henry (7/26), are both available this month. A few intriguing indie options this month include the British teen comedy, Sing Street (7/26), Jake Gyllenhall stars in the drama, Demolition (7/19), and Don Cheadle writes, directs and stars in the Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead (7/19). And finally, fans of Melissa McCarthy can catch her latest comedic effort, The Boss (7/26), where she stars as a wealthy CEO who loses it all after she's convicted of insider trading.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Sully and Why Him? Trailers

Nowadays, you never really know what you're going to get from a Clint Eastwood film. He could amaze you like he did with Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby, or he could let you down like he did with J. Edgar and Hereafter. Either way, the debut trailer for Eastwood's latest, Sully, has officially dropped and a pairing with acting legend, Tom Hanks, has to intrigue you at the very least. Hanks stars as pilot Chesley Sullenberger, a national hero who successfully landed his passenger flight on the Hudson River following engine failure at 3,000 feet in the air. Sully arrives in theaters on September 9th and you can catch its first-look below.

Another debut trailer to drop recently belongs to the Christmas day comedy release, Why Him?. Bryan Cranston stars as a loving father who travels to meet his daughter's (Zoey Deutch) new boyfriend (James Franco), a wealthy internet mogul who could never be good enough for his little girl. I was pleasantly surprised by director John Hamburg's (I Love You, Man and Along Came Polly) initial trailer. Why Him? has all the makings of a successful light-hearted Christmas-time comedy and one I'm interesting in seeing.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The BFG (2016)

Film: The BFG

Starring: Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

Director: Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan)

U.S. Release: July 1st, 2016 (Rated PG)

Genre: Family Drama

Runtime: 117 minutes

Stephen Spielberg is a filmmaker that needs no introduction. The two-time Oscar-winning director boasts a never-ending list of credentials that extends well beyond his most acclaimed classics like Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws. And with today's release of Spielberg's massively anticipated adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's tale, The BFG, he adds another successful title to his long, storied career.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a young orphan living in London who suffers from a self proclaimed bit of insomnia. One evening, while wandering around the orphanage at all hours of the night, she encounters a lovable giant named BFG (voice of Mark Rylance) dancing along the streets outside her bedroom window. BFG snatches Sophie from her room and introduces the girl to a secret world of other giants and the whimsical source of all our nightly dreams.

Based on the source material alone, The BFG is a story that's truly suitable for audiences of all ages. Couple that with masterful direction through the singular eye of legendary filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, and you've got an instant-classic. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and declare The BFG as Spielberg's finest film since his 2002 crime comedy, Catch Me If You Can. It's his majestic perspective that magnifies an already solid tale filled with grand visual effects and a charming adventure. Mark Rylance, who won an Oscar himself at the hands of Spielberg's Bridge of Spies just last year, provides the voice and soul behind the titular character. Yet, it's the exceptional turn by youngster Ruby Barnhill that brings the entire film together. Her delivery is organic and fits the role extremely well. With so many shining qualities surrounding The BFG, Spielberg offers another brilliant effort.

It's difficult identifying glaring faults to the film, but I will admit that I was slightly underwhelmed by the children-eating giants who oppose BFG. They serve their purpose, but their inclusions in the film are merely mediocre at best. Furthermore, there are a few sluggish moments spaced far apart in this long but otherwise engaging journey. While The BFG has a few minor blemishes, they pass along fairly unnoticed thanks to an abundance of other amazing attributes.

Steven Spielberg's The BFG is a wonderful adaptation that's enjoyable for the entire family. Bursting with humor, heart and energy, there are so many special components that make this film one of 2016's finest. You won't find another film in theaters that will top Spielberg's The BFG, so heed my advice and check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B