Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Remembering the Best of Gene Wilder

Sadly, we lost another wonderful performer this week. One that brought joy and laughter into our lives with a natural and unfettered ease that's so rare to find in this modern age of shticks and one-dimensional comedians. Gene Wilder lost his battle with Alzheimer's Disease at the age of 83. Delivering many iconic roles throughout his career, I've decided to devote August's movie list of the month to best performances from Gene Wilder (July's list). Yet, since I was only born in 1983, I admittedly haven't seen all of Wilder's work. Therefore, my list only comprises of those roles in which I've had the distinct pleasure of enjoying. So here they are, the best performances from another lost legend of Hollywood:

Honorable Mention: The Frisco Kid, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy

#5. Blazing Saddles (1974)

Comedy is a universal language. And when it comes to Mel Brooks' controversial comedy Western, Blazing Saddles, the laughs are in endless supply. A western town is blocking a railroad and Hedley Lamarr will stop at nothing to make the place unlivable to drop the price of the land. And following the death of the town's sheriff, Lamarr convinces the governor to appoint the first African American to the job (Cleavon Little) who proves to be a worthy adversary to Lamarr. Wilder co-stars as Jim the Waco Kid, a recovering alcoholic and gunslinger who helps the new sheriff restore order to the town and foil the evil plan of Lamarr. The blatant racial humor scattered throughout Blazing Saddles certainly wouldn't work nowadays, yet Wilder and the rest of the cast do a wonderful job of making light of all these racial undertones in this Mel Brooks comedy classic.

#4. See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

Now that both Gene Wilder and his comedic partner-in-crime, Richard Pryor, have both passed, it's important to note that we lost a pair of pioneers that paved the way for other comedy duos such as Chris Farley & David Spade, Tina Fey & Amy Poehler, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and countless others. Perhaps their most memorable collaboration came from the riotous film, See No Evil, Hear No Evil. Two men witness a murder, Dave (Wilder) who is deaf and Wally (Pryor) who is blind. They must work together beyond their limitations to save themselves and bring justice to the killers. The laughs are phenomenal in this unforgettably nostalgic film from my youth.

#3. The Producers (1967)

Some of you might not be aware that the 2005 comedy musical, The Producers, was actually a remake. The 1967 original was another film from the hysterical mind of Mel Brooks. His collaborations with Gene Wilder always seemed to set the bar for comedies throughout the 60s and 70s. The film follows a theatrical producer and his accountant, Leo Bloom (Wilder), who discover they can make a fortune by producing a guaranteed flop. Wilder is exceptional in his supporting role, which also happened to be his only Oscar-nominated performance throughout his career. The original far exceeds its recent remake, so I highly recommend checking out another laugh-out-loud effort from Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder.

#2. Young Frankenstein (1974)

The Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder tandem continues on with the outrageously funny and legendary comedy, Young Frankenstein. While Gene Wilder's performance never landed him in the Oscar discussion, and not to anyone's surprise, he did earn an Oscar nod for his writing credit on the film alongside Mel Brooks. Young Frankenstein follows Dr. Frankenstein (Wilder), the grandson of the infamous scientist, who ventures to Transylvania and discovers how to reanimate a corpse. Although he's certainly not alone, thanks to fine supporting work from Marty Feldman and Cloris Leachman, Wilder's fantastically humorous performance helps transform Young Frankenstein into a comedy classic.

#1. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

It's impossible to deny Gene Wilder's magical performance as the titular character in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as the most notable of his career. Famous candy maker and recluse, Willy Wonka (Wilder), shocks the world when he announces a factory tour to 5 random winners. And When a poor boy name Charlie finds the final golden ticket, he embarks on a remarkable tour of Wonka's whimsical factory. Throughout the film Wilder manages to create a once in a lifetime character that proves the late-great actor's amazing range with fun-filled humor and earnest dramatics. Gene Wilder is another sadly lost acting talent, but his memory will live on forever thanks to his timeless work as Willy Wonka.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Manchester by the Sea and My Blind Brother Trailers

After earning an Oscar nomination for screenwriting with his 2000 directorial debut, You Can Count on Me, it took Kenneth Lonergan over ten years to return to filmmaking. And with controversial disputes between Lonergan and the movie studio resulting in a chopped down and heavily-trimmed version of the film, the 2011 indie Margaret never lived up to its hype. Lonergan finally returns with Manchester by the Sea, a Sundance selection that premiered to rave reviews. In the film, Casey Affleck stars as an uncle who's forced to become the guardian of his teenage nephew after the unexpected death of his brother. Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Matthew Broderick co-star in this November release that could be a huge Oscar player later this year.

On a bit of a lighter note, Sophie Goodhart's indie comedy and festival darling, My Blind Brother, unveiled a trailer earlier this week. Sibling rivalry takes on a whole new meaning when Bill (Nick Kroll) and his overbearing blind brother, Robbie (Adam Scott), fight for the affection of the same woman (Jenny Slate). Goodhart's directorial debut has been well received on the festival circuit and its first-look trailer provides plenty of laughs and sincerity. My Blind Brother is slated for a limited theatrical release this September, check out the film's preview below.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Don't Breathe and Florence Foster Jenkins

There horror genre has been exploding recently. James Wan has taken haunting and possession films to a whole new level while an impressive string of clever premises have surfaced in films like The Babadook, It Follows, Lights Out and Fede Alvarez's new endeavor, Don't Breathe. Alvarez is best known for his 2013 gory and visceral remake of the genre classic Evil Dead. While he tones down the violence in his latest work, he still develops another winning recipe that propels him among the best contemporary horror directors.

On the mean streets of Detroit a trio of friends earn their money through a seemingly flawless burglary scheme. And when news breaks of a secluded and blind war veteran sitting on a king's ransom, Rocky (Jane Levy) sees the opportunity as her way out of town. But on what's supposed to be their final robbery, they unlock a sinister secret and a freakish nemesis who refuses to let them make it out alive.

There's an unruly tension caked beautifully into Don't Breathe's moments of deafening silence. Fede Alvarez has mastered the art of suspense and uses it to perfection in this slightly tamed horror effort. Jane Levy proves to be a more than capable leading star as the genre's iconic damsel in distress. And while the scares are effective and the performances are adequate, Don't Breathe suffers greatest in its flawed writing. Timely conveniences and plot holes are to be expected in horror movies, and they are certainly evident here, but it's the film's overbearing and everlasting finale that disappoints the most. An endless game of cat and mouse ensues to a somewhat predictable conclusion, one less impactful and safer than I was rooting for. As advertised, there's a bit of a twist within the film and it adds a deeper and more gruesome element to the story. There are a handful of just utterly vile moments, not necessarily gory or violent, just flat-out gross. But if you're looking for some solid scares and exceptional suspense, Don't Breathe certainly won't let you down in that regard.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

It isn't always a desire, but it's definitely a requirement. Every year I'm obligated to watch any movie involved in the major categories at the Academy Awards. Rumors have been swirling around the Oscars' most recognized star, Meryl Streep, garnering her unprecedented 20th nomination for her work in Florence Foster Jenkins. Therefore, I forced to sit through one of 2016's most overrated and underwhelming films.

Streep stars as the wealthy New York heiress, Florence Foster Jenkins, who dreams of being a beloved Opera singer, regardless of her dreadful voice. While her husband (Hugh Grant) and fellow upscale friends encourage her unfitting goals with dishonest praises of her vocal talents, mainly to keep the ill older woman in good spirits, things get out of hand when Florence decides to rent our Carnegie Hall and perform for thousands of listeners who aren't "in" on the secret.

Director Stephen Frears received immense recognition for his 2013 Oscar nominated feature, Philomena. Although I found that feature to be a little overrated as well, it isn't riddled with nearly as many flaws and miscues as his latest work. For a running time just shy of two hours, Florence Foster Jenkins offers shockingly superficial characters. Instead of developing characters that the audience can connect with, the film turns off the viewer with a story of true elitism, one that even finds Florence's husband threatening a newspaper for printing a poor review. The film offers little more than a bland story that's nowhere near as comical as advertised and mounting minutes of Florence's intolerable singing. Florence Foster Jenkins is a terrible investment of your time and energy, In fact, it would be virtually unforgivable for the Academy to honor Meryl Streep's middling performance in the film. Hopefully, they'll look past her seemingly "automatic" status and award the nomination to a new (or familiar) face who truly deserves the recognition.

Stars: 1 star out of 4

Grade: D+

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Best Films of 2016 (so far) - Part II

Earlier this week I unveiled the first half of my list highlighting the best movies so far this year. If you haven't seen or read PART I, I recommend doing so before you go continue on. Now, if you're caught up with all of my films #6 through #10 and honorable mentions, then here they are, my top five movies so far this year:

If you're seeking one of the most fun and entertaining crime-comedies of the year, look no further than Shane Black's The Nice Guys. As the director of the cash-printing superhero success Iron Man 3, Black trades his Marvel credentials for a return to his buddy-comedy roots. His career in the industry launched with writing credits on the first and second Lethal Weapon films only to earn his directorial debut with 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Needless to say, Black's return to his roots goes very well as Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star as a misfit pair who team up to solve the mystery of a missing girl and her connection to the apparent suicide of a porn star. The most surprising attribute of the film is its non-stop hilarity that helps guide the audience through its slightly prolonged story. The Nice Guys is a wildly engaging ride that's most likely destined for a sequel. 

#4. The BFG

While I openly admit that I'm not the kindest of critics when it comes to children's flicks, even I was surprised by how captivated I was by Steven Spielberg's The BFG. Being familiar with the story, Spielberg doesn't only capture the essence of Roald Dahl's classic children's tale, he also brings it to life with his singular filmmaking vision. The visuals are spectacular and even newcomer Ruby Barnhill gives a fine performance as Sophie. The BFG struggled throughout its theatrical run, but don't be fooled. Steven Spielberg has a wonderful track record of delivering exceptional youth-based stories and that trend continues here. The film had me completely entranced with its stunning CGI, blissful familiarity and wholesome humor. In my opinion, The BFG was even better than advertised.

One of 2016's most impressive films also happens to an overlooked diamond in the rough. I had the distinct pleasure of catching Atom Egoyan's indie revenge drama, Remember, at the 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival. And even with all of the festival's many Oscar recognized features, Remember was one of the few that left a lasting impression. Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer stars as Zev Guttman, an elderly widower experiencing the beginning stages of dementia. And when he's reminded by a fellow wheel-chair bound resident (Martin Landau) at the retirement home of their days together in Auschwitz, Zev escapes the building and seeks to find the prison guard who murdered both of their families. Even through Remember's minimal 95 minute running time there are a few brief lulls. However, an unforgettable finale makes the entire viewing experience more than worth it. Remember is one marvelously acted and brilliantly written indie film that you shouldn't miss!

As a longtime and vocal fan of director David Mackenzie, I was anxious to see his Cannes film festival selection, Hell or High Water. And after finally having a chance to view the film, I highly recommend that you catch it before its current theatrical run comes to an end. Chris Pine and Ben Foster star as a pair of bank robbing brothers set to hold possession of their deceased mother's land in Texas. But as a nearly-retired sheriff (Jeff Bridges) closes in on the siblings, something has to give. This modern day western offers a nostalgic feel, fully equipped with well developed characters and perfect amounts of humor and action. Hell or High Water unravels beautifully and even a bit unconventionally. Quite a bit of the story remains to be told even after the film's climax. Yet, its all necessary and its all worthwhile. Any fans of the western genre are guaranteed to love the film, but I personally believe Hell or High Water can be enjoyed by just about anyone. See it while it's still in theaters, if you can.

And finally, my top film so far in 2016 belongs to the brilliant indie and Sundance selected feature, Captain Fantastic. Matt Ross delivers an unbelievably artistic and touching story of a mother and father (Viggo Mortensen) who are fed up with the way of the modern world. As a result, the highly independent couple ventures deep into the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest and build their own paradise where they live off the grid and provide a self sufficient lifestyle where they raise their six children. Not only is the film's main story gripping and insightful, all of the film's many subplots tackle interesting perspectives on the social consequences of this family's decision to raise their children in this environment. Captain Fantastic succeeds by forming a unique bond between the audience and the entire family. Humor and emotions run rampant throughout the film and mold together perfectly to create a mesmerizing journey of self discovery. Captain Fantastic is the type of movie that makes you feel a wide assortment of emotions, and those films are the best kind.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Best Films of 2016 (so far) - Part I

2016 is reaching that transitional period where the cinematic year navigates from early year and blockbuster releases to the Oscar-destined features. It's at this time where I like to look back over the past eight months and highlight my favorites of the year, so far. Here they are, the best film I've witnessed up to this point:

Honorable Mention: Cafe Society, Eddie the EagleKeanu and Loving

Back in 2008 Marvel Studios kicked off Phase One of their ever-expanding film universe. It's been a long time coming and Phase Three finally arrived with the epic showdown between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in 2016's Civil War. Now I'm no comic geek or Marvel enthusiasts, but I have seen all of their films except one (Thor: The Dark World). And with the countless titles in their catalog, Civil War hovers confidently near the top of the totem pole. Boasting immaculate special effects, especially those during the Avenger vs Avenger fight scene, and a gripping next chapter in the universe's evolution, Captain America's third installment in definitely on of 2016's best.

With all of the mystery surrounding 10 Cloverfield Lane and its connection to the 2008 found footage film, let me preface by saying that it's completely overblown and mainly responsible for the biggest blemish within Dan Trachtenberg's debut motion picture. The film moonlight's as another entry in the Cloverfield universe, but its finest aspects reside in the psychological thriller that leads to a forced and unnecessary "bridge" of a finale. John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. all capture our attention on this gripping and tense story of a woman behind held captive in a bomb shelter, because something catastrophic lurks outside the doors. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a solid watch for any thriller fans, but consider yourself warned, the ending completely spoils an otherwise wonderful movie experience.

2016's cinematic year couldn't have started off any better. Marvel's first dip into the R-rated game also provided a box office record of its own. And as Deadpool-mania swept across the country, I experienced the laugh-out-loud funny thrill ride for myself. Deadpool is a highly self aware and self-proclaimed anti-superhero flick that follows that follows a terminally ill patient (Ryan Reynolds) who withstands some experimental treatments that ultimately give him insane special abilities. One thing Deadpool does far better than most of the Marvel entries is develop a worthwhile villain. And by effectively telling the story in a non-chronological fashion, the film captures the audience and takes them on an unforgettable ride.

You can actually catch one 2016's top films in theaters. Sausage Party is the hilarious new animated comedy from the minds of Superbad and This Is the End. The movie tackles the perspective of food and various other items within a grocery store. Stacked to the brim with sexual innuendo and racist metaphors, Sausage Party is without a doubt the edgiest comedy of the year. But while its humor is certainly of the raunchy variety, there's a deeper story and clever elements surrounding a large portion of its jokes. You're guaranteed to laugh and laugh some more, so give the comedy a chance if you can withstand its crude nature.

Gavin Hood's tense military drama, Eye in the Sky, was another early-year release that caught me by surprise. Exploring the highly controversial topic of drone warfare, this exceptional film turns a simple story into a morally complicated puzzle that will leave you questioning your own opinions. Helen Mirren is spectacular as British Colonel Katherine Powell, a committed military officer who's heading a mission to capture three of the most-wanted terrorists in the world. But when things beyond their control compromise the mission, they must decide whether or not to remove these threats with a drone strike that will kill innocent people, including a little girl, with its collateral damage. Although Eye in the Sky will always be remembered as the late Alan Rickman's final film, the entire product is far more than that sadly simplistic label suggests.

*** Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II featuring 2016's Top 5 films so far

Monday, August 22, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Light Between Oceans and Hell or High Water

August is coming to a close and that means the summer blockbuster lineup will begin to give way to fall and winter's slate of starry-eyed Oscar hopefuls. One such film comes from ambitious auteur, Derek Cianfrance, an indie success story whose 2010 film, Blue Valentine, landed Michelle Williams an Oscar nomination. a pair of years later the director returned with The Place Beyond the Pines, a lengthy three-act effort that examines the effects of a parental tragedy on their children many years later. The arduous attempt failed to resonate with Academy voters, but was still well received by critics and viewers alike. And, unfortunately, Cianfrance's new bold effort, The Light Between Oceans, once again represents a challenging tale that should fall shy of Oscar contention.

Adapted from M.L. Stedman's novel of the same name, Michael Fassbander stars as Tom Sherbourne, a war veteran who returns and finds work as a lighthouse keeper on a secluded island off the coast of Australia. After falling in love with Isabel (Alicia Vikander), the couple try desperately to have a baby but Isabel's body won't comply. Therefore, they end up living a lie once they decide to raise an infant rescued from a small boat floating adrift in the ocean.

The Light Between Oceans is a heavy-themed drama that tells a massive story. Derek Cianfrance's unsurprisingly ambitious effort offers picturesque cinematography and a gripping plot that's constantly evolving. Yet, the enormity of the story proves to be better suited for a novel as the film's third act is terribly rushed. Cianfrance uses the majority of the film to build his characters and develop their relationship. Leading stars Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander give wonderful performances that stand out, but not quite at an Academy Awards type of level. Then, suddenly, this slow building and character-driven tale races off course by speeding through its finale. While pacing certainly would have been a larger issue, especially by adding another half hour or so to the running time, The Light Between Oceans never feels as all-encompassing as it should. Cianfrance's latest work definitely isn't a miss, but over-ambition gets the best of the filmmaker once again.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

After debuting at the Cannes Film Festival in May, early reviews for David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water were strong, but nothing over-the-top. I've been an outspoken fan of the filmmaker for a long time after catching my attention with strong and artistic indie hits such as Perfect Sense and Starred Up. Therefore, I'm confident in declaring Mackenzie's latest modern-day western as one of the year's finest pieces of filmmaking.

Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are a pair of poor Texan brothers who have taken to robbing a vulnerable bank chain in their home state. And after the nearly-retired sheriff, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), jumps on the case and finds himself right on their heels, these loyal siblings must balance accumulating the funds they need with the likelihood of getting caught by the police.

Fans of the western genre, like myself, are guaranteed to enjoy Mackenzie slow-classic touch. Hell or High Water adequately blends together timely humor, suspenseful action and exceptional characters. A stark contrast exists between these onscreen siblings. Ben Foster is unforgettable as an impulsive and edgier released felon, while Chris Pine shines as a more timid and smarter counterpart. Despite their many differences, connections are easily formed with both characters. Hell or Highwater reveals its intriguing secrets slow enough to let Foster and Pine hook the audience, but quick enough to never keep them waiting. And outside of a minimally prolonged finale, Hell or Highwater flows without a hitch, leaving Mackenzie's film as one of 2016's most impressive offerings.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Friday, August 19, 2016

Arrival and Allied Trailers

Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has been on a successful run of late with films such as Sicario and Prisoners. He returns once again in 2016 with the intriguing new sci-fi drama, Arrival. Amy Adams stars as a linguistics expert who is summoned by the U.S. government to join a team of specialists after a mysterious spacecraft arrives on Earth. She must try to communicate with these alien lifeforms and discover their overall intentions. Arrival appears to have all the makings of a late year Oscar contender and its worth keeping an eye out for the film's November 11th release

Robert Zemeckis gave us one of the greatest films in cinematic history, Best Picture winner Forrest Gump. The brilliant visionary is also responsible for hits such as the Back to the Future trilogy, Contact and Flight. Zemeckis delivers his latest effort, the World War II action drama Allied, later this year. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard co-star as an intelligence officer and a resistance fighter who cross paths for a mission behind enemy lines. Even with this debut teaser trailer, the remainder of the plot seems fairly mysterious. Either way, with this A-list cast and Zemeckis at the helm, Allied could be a legitimate awards season player.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Suicide Squad and Pete's Dragon (2016)

One of this summer's most hyped blockbuster releases surrounded David Ayer's super-villain action comedy, Suicide Squad. Despite overwhelmingly harsh reviews, the film opened to a record-breaking $133.6 million dollar weekend. Clearly audiences weren't initially deterred by what the critics had to say, but which is it? Is Suicide Squad an over-analyzed summer sensation or another dud from the DC Comics film universe?

When a dire threat unveils itself, the U.S. Government is forced to assemble a specially selected team on super-villains to restore order. With promises of reduced sentences looming over their heads upon the completion of their mission, all eyes shift to these worst of the worst who must decide whether or not to do something for the greater good.

As someone eager and motivated to rush out and catch Suicide Squad on Friday morning of its debut weekend, I had high hopes for this massively marketed DC Comics flick. However, a punishingly poor screenplay destroys any chance of a redeeming feature. Suicide Squad's progression is riddled with untimely and ineffective flashback sequences that spoil the entire essence of Jared Leto's Joker character and more. Furthermore, the film's lopsided amounts of screen-time for its many characters creates a highly uneven playing field. Margot Robbie shines as the most memorable performance, followed by Will Smith. Not surprisingly, both are awarded ample face-time while the rest of their bad-guy crew just goes along for the ride. Consequently, when the stakes are raised and the audience is required to make a connection with these ancillary characters, Suicide Squad falls regrettably flat.
Drowned by preachy and elementary dialogue that refuses to allow the viewer to ever forget that these are "bad guys", Suicide Squad culminates as another wildly mediocre inclusion in the ever-expanding DC Comics universe.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Full disclosure, I have always held a special place in my heart for the 1977 semi-animated Disney film, Pete's Dragon. And after learning that the artistic eye of indie writer/director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) would be in charge of this summer's remake, I became extremely critical of the release. Make no mistake about it, this new adaptation of Pete's Dragon deviates from the original and serves as its own film experience. Sadly, though, it loses a bit of the fun and flair that the 1977 delivered so well.

Following a tragic traffic accident that sends Pete (Oakes Fegley) off into the deep and desolate wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, he encounters a magnificent dragon named Elliot who helps provide a watchful eye over the orphaned child. Years pass and a state forest ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) discovers Pete and takes him back to the nearest town. But as she learns about his sidekick dragon, they venture back into the woods so she can meet Elliot herself.

Pete's Dragon is an overly safe effort from an artistic visionary such as David Lowery. While his direction is fine, the script revolves around a simplistic story that fails to generate the same depth as its predecessor. Buying into the film's rapidly developed family dynamic is essential, yet one dimensional characters generate more of a question mark than a connection. Moreover, the CGI dragon provides some visual spectacles that truly catch the eye. However, it was much more difficult to identify Elliot's facial expressions than the animated format which was used in the original. Also, a weak antagonist to the story leaves a gaping void in the plot that screams as the film's overall ineffectiveness. There are a few genuinely nice moments and I appreciate Lowery's bravery in taking this new version of the film in a completely different direction, but Pete's Dragon leaves a little to be desired.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Friday, August 12, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (NEW) and Bad Santa 2 (Red-Band) Trailers

Following the massive success of last year's Star Wars The Force Awakens, it opened up the floodgates for franchise spin-offs to dominate box offices for years to come. First up is Gareth Edwards' upcoming film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope in the scope of the series' timeline, this new effort centers around a rebellion criminal named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who's freed to embark on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. Early footage has looked amazing and this new trailer divulges even more about the story. James Earl Jones also offers his voice for the iconic villain, Darth Vader, once again. Check out the second trailer for Rogue One, which opens on December 16th, below.

Comedy sequels have become as common as the sunrise, even if they take over a decade to happen. I absolutely loved the 2003 hit, Bad Santa, therefore you can count me all in for its long-awaited sequel this November. In the latest chapter Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) re-teams with his "little" sidekick, Marcus (Tony Cox), to do what they do best, execute a plan to rob a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. While sequels tend to be a step down from their original source material, if Bad Santa 2 comes anywhere close to the original, it could be the best comedy of the year. You can catch the first official red-band trailer below.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sausage Party

Film: Sausage Party

Starring: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig and Michael Cera

Directors: Greg Tiernan (Thomas & Friends) and Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2)

U.S. Release: August 12th, 2016 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 89 minutes

It was love at first sight when I stumbled across the debut red-band trailer for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's latest stoner comedy, Sausage Party. From the same minds that delivered comedic gold such as This Is the End and Superbad, this new animated feature tackles the clever perspective of food and everyday household items living within a giant grocery store. And even though I possessed the loftiest of expectations for Sausage Party, I couldn't help but leave the theater satisfied with this summer's biggest breakout comedy.

Frank (voice of Seth Rogen) is a packaged sausage living inside of a grocery store beside the bun of his dreams, Brenda (Kristen Wiig). While the star-crossed lovers patiently await their selection from the human "gods", a bit of a mishap sends Frank on an existential journey to discover the true meaning of life. He eventually learns the truth behind what happens when food leaves the supermarket, and Frank must work to warn everyone in the store about their impending doom.

Although Sausage Party milks every drop out of its R-rating as possible, simply labeling it as a raunchy and vulgar animated comedy is inadequate on so many levels. Sure, the film pushes the envelope with countless scenes, including a mouth-dropping finale that's unlike anything you could ever imagine. Yet, there's a large level of creativity at the core of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's adult-only animated feature. By poking fun at spirituality and religion, in addition to human intolerance for one another, Sausage Party's edgy humor is both poignant and purposeful. The film definitely has plenty to say, even if uses an outrageous premise and fills space with highly sexualized humor. Some moviegoers will certainly take offense to Sausage Party's over-the-top approach, but if you manage to look beyond the copious amounts of superficial immature jokes, you'll find a deeper story that's actually quite insightful.

Lead characters Frank and Brenda aren't the only two that steal the film's screen time, numerous other quirky characters help bring the story to life. However, one character that's unnecessarily shoved down our throats is an ineffective pseudo-villain, the cleansing douche (Nick Kroll). His initial appearance is packed with quality laughs, but as he dominates more and more of the film's running time, the character continually reveals itself as an inadequate space-filler. And as I have mentioned before, Sausage Party's closing sequence seems to exist for no other reason than shock value.

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's imaginative animated comedy isn't without its flaws and blemishes, yet the duo manage to generate a bulk of hysterical laugh out loud scenes. If you're a fan of their prior work, Sausage Party will feel like a refreshing new direction for their brand of stoner-humor. Yet, if you've found their previous writing to be tasteless and underwhelming, you'll probably identify this newest effort as infantile. However, from a big-picture perspective, there's an enormous amount of creativity, craftiness and intelligent humor to help make Sausage Party the must-see comedy of the summer.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, August 8, 2016

DVD Outlook: August 2016

August has arrived and the money-printing blockbuster, Suicide Squad, is breaking box office records. My review is coming shortly for the latest DC Comics film, but (spoiler alert!) it's a pretty lofty letdown. Therefore, you may want to turn to some of the new films arriving to DVD and Blu-Ray this month (July's suggestions). So without making you wait any longer, here are my picks for August's newest movie options.

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

Despite being known for his most recent superhero effort, Iron Man 3, writer/director Shane Black has delivered on of 2016's finest films so far with his crime comedy, The Nice Guys. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe star as a private investigator and an "enforcer" who team up together to piece together the suicide of a porn star in 1970s Los Angeles and its possible connections with another missing woman. The Nice Guys succeeds with a heavy dose of laugh-out-loud humor that eases the audience through the film's nearly two hour running time. There's no shortage of entertainment value here and I wouldn't be surprised to see a sequel developed in the near future. (August 23rd)

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

As a fan of the sketch comedy show, Key & Peele, I was eager to watch the duo's major motion debut, Keanu. And needless to say, I was extremely pleased with the result. After being recently dumped by his girlfriend, Rell Williams (Jordan Peele) finds solace in an adorable kitten who wanders to his doorstep. But when the feline named Keanu goes missing, Rell and his best friend, Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) must pose as drug dealing gangsters on the mean city streets in order to bring Keanu home. The film's riotous laughs are in full force as the action comedy unfolds. Some of its subplots are hit or miss and its finale is a bit of a disappointment, yet Keanu is a stellar comedic effort that's certainly worth a watch. (August 2nd)

The Jungle Book - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Prior to seeing Jon Favreau's live action feature, I never had a formal introduction to the iconic children's tale, The Jungle Book. And for a first taste of the popular story, I was pleasantly surprised with the film. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a man-cub raised by wolves deep in the jungle. But after the villainous tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) threatens Mowgli's life and banishes him from the jungle, the boy embarks on a journey of self discovery as he migrates back to human civilization. Favreau's winning adaptation of the timeless Disney classic offers an engaging story and fantastic visual effects. I can only imagine that lovers of the animated version and newcomers like myself will all enjoy this well-made children's tale that's already garnered a sequel which is in early stages of development. (August 30th)

Honorable Mention: Indie films are all over August's newly available selections. The adapted fan-favorite romance film, Me Before You (8/30), and the odd futuristic film, The Lobster (8/2) headline the list. Other indie options include the comedy Weiner-Dog (8/23), Rebecca Miller's Maggie's Plan (8/23), and the well-received true story of Indian mathematician Ramanujan with The Man Who Knew Infinity (8/23). Also available are the children's flick Angry Birds (8/16) and the wild futuristic adapted feature, High-Rise (8/2).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Masterminds (NEW) and Office Christmas Party Trailers

Despite an initial trailer release almost a year ago, director Jared Hess' (Napoleon Dynamite) action comedy, Masterminds, has dropped another preview before its late-September theatrical run. This unfathomable true story follows David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), an armored truck driver caught in the monotony of life and desperate for some thrills. And when David's work-crush Kelly (Kristen Wiig) convinces him to rob their armored truck together, they take off with $17 million which leads to a deep and twisted sequence of double-crossing. While I have some reservation regarding Masterminds, a mere 94 minute running time could be a breath of fresh air for this large collection of comedy stars. Catch the newest trailer for Masterminds below.

Another over-the-top comedy arriving in 2016 belongs to filmmakers Josh Gordon and Will Speck, co-directors of The Switch and Blades of Glory. Their latest endeavor centers around a branch manager named Josh (Jason Bateman) who discovers that his sister and CEO (Jennifer Aniston) plans to shut down his entire branch. In a last ditch effort to save all their jobs, Josh decides to throw an epic Christmas party in hopes of locking down a major client, but the event inevitably grows out of control. Office Christmas Party co-stars Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon and T.J. Miller, which means it could be a surprisingly hilarious comedy hit. Check out the first-look trailer for Office Christmas Party below.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Bad Moms and Cafe Society

I've still been in search of that quintessential breakout comedy of the summer blockbuster season. Therefore, as I stumbled upon this past weekend's release of the well received female-centric comedy, Bad Moms, my fingers were crossed that co-writers and directors, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (21 and Over), wouldn't disappoint. Yet, despite a strong first half to the film, Bad Moms culminates in an all too familiar, over-the-top fashion.

Life has been hard for Amy (Milas Kunis) since she had her first child at the young age of 20. With a less than helpful husband at home, an unappreciative boss and constant pressure from the many "perfect" moms at her children's school, Amy deserves a much-needed break from it all. So when she discovers her husband has feelings for another woman, she unites with fellow moms, Carla and Kiki (Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell), to let loose and enjoy her newfound sense of freedom.

I've always appreciated the work of Mila Kunis. She continually tackles interesting characters and she's very easy on the eyes. Once again, Kunis does an exceptional job of naturally luring the audience into her crazed and chaotic daily routine. A steady dose of cornball, sitcom-like comedy plays extremely well to the tone of the film. And just as you're about to fully commit to Bad Moms, unforgivable writing completely destroys its third act. Storylines escalate to unrealistic situations and inconceivably circle back to a head-scratching fairytale ending that spoils the entire experience. Bad Moms could have been a nice little film, but a weakly constructed finale allows it to remain mired in mediocrity.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

I've probably said this a few times before, but Woody Allen is one of those filmmakers who never shockingly surprises or disappoints me. With all of his many - and I do mean many - films, there are always signature aspects to a Woody Allen picture that keep it familiar and comfortable. Hence, you can add his latest feature, Cafe Society, to the long list of solid, but unspectacular, films from the Oscar-winning writer/director.

Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young New York native who uproots to California where he seeks the guidance of his estranged uncle and Hollywood insider, Phil Stern (Steve Carell). But while there, Bobby falls head over heels for his uncle's beautiful assistant, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who has a boyfriend of her own. As the romance between Bobby and Vonnie continues to build, turning away from their obvious connection could be a lifelong regret for both of them.

All of his personal faults aside, Woody Allen tells remarkably engaging stories. With his new 1930s period dramedy, Cafe Society, he examine the many depths of true love. While Jesse Eisenberg has been on a somewhat downward trajectory, especially after his unflattering role as the iconic villain Lex Luther in Batman v. Superman, Kristen Stewart is a star on the rise. I adored Stewart's recent supporting work in the effective drama, Clouds of Sils Maria, and her stellar string of performances continues here. Stewart's onscreen chemistry with Eisenberg is infectious and helps make all of the odd complexities surrounding their relationship that much more impactful. Cafe Society isn't the smoothest 85 minute ride you've witnessed, mainly due to its numerous less than appealing subplots, but the film proves to be another successful attempt from Woody Allen that features a story certainly worth telling.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-