Monday, October 31, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Arrival and The Edge of Seventeen

Denis Villeneuve has rapidly emerged as one of Hollywood's most notable filmmakers. Elevating his craft from the ranks of indie filmmaking to mainstream motion pictures, Villeneuve's most recent works include Prisoners and Sicario. This year, however, the director is angling for a clever and artistic entry with his newest endeavor, Arrival, in hopes of capturing some awards season glamour.

Five-time Academy Award Nominee Amy Adams (now, let that sink in for a bit) stars as Louise, a linguistics expert summoned by the United States Military following the arrival of unidentified spacecrafts across 12 different areas of the world. Tasked with making contact and learning the intentions of these aliens, Louise and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) try to unlock the secrets of their foreign language before a global catastrophe unravels.

Make no mistake about it, Arrival represents an artsy and cerebral effort merely using its sci-fi backdrop as a portal to its mind-bending story. Eric Heisserer's adapted screenplay delivers second level thinking that highlights a beautiful complexity within the framework of the plot. Yet, unlike ambiguous and open-ended tales of a similar style, Arrival reveals its entire hand well enough to allow the viewer to piece together every inch of its impressive story. Both leading lady Amy Adams and supporting star Jeremy Renner deliver fine performances, and I anticipate Adams being in line for her 6th trip to the Oscar finals.

Despite the film's exceptional cast and wonderfully original story, Arrival struggles to entertain. A sluggish opening struggles to gain momentum as the feature crawls to its powerful third act. Rather than engaging its audience with typical other worldly sci-fi elements, Villeneuve obsesses with a poetic vision that unquestionably looks amazing, yet fails to grab the general viewer's attention. There are plenty of aspects surrounding Arrival that are worth marveling at. However, just be warned that the film is more of a cerebral and tame drama piece than an upbeat sci-fi adventure.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

The 25th annual Philadelphia Film Festival found a commonality among many of its Centerpieces and Spotlight selections, they featured heavy themes and darker stories. Thankfully, one of the festival's late entries, the coming-of-age comedy, The Edge of Seventeen, helped lighten the mood with its witty situational humor and strong collection of characters.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) struggles to socialize with anyone at her school other than her best friend from 2nd grade, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), and an awkward classmate named Erwin (Hayden Szeto). Yet, when Nadine finds her biggest confidant in bed with her older brother (Blake Jenner), their unlikely romantic spark leaves her friendless and unable to handle life on her own.

The Edge of Seventeen represents a refreshing coming-of-age film that's carried quite well True Grit star, Hailee Steinfeld. She creates a realistic, albeit flawed, character that resonates well with the audience. Teenage years are a time for self-loathing and expanding beyond your comfort zone, both of which are evident in Kelly Fremon Craig's winning directorial debut. A strong script comprising of raw emotion, genuine laughs and everything in between helps support a long list of stellar performances. The most notable of which comes from veteran actor Woody Harrelson who stars as Nadine's favorite teacher. Harrelson dominates the film with striking one-liners and a comedic comfort zone that we've come to appreciate over his storied career. The Edge of Seventeen isn't the most groundbreaking film of its kind, but it's a worthwhile watch that entertains with remarkable ease.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Hacksaw Ridge and American Pastoral

Despite Mel Gibson's personal controversies, as a filmmaker he's managed to deliver impressive features like Braveheart, Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ. This November Gibson returns with the war drama, Hacksaw Ridge. While the film doesn't quite measure up to the director's most notable works, its incredible true story makes for an engaging cinematic experience.

After a near-fatal accident as a child, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) makes a personal vow to never physically harm another human being. And following an attack on Pearl Harbor, young men all across the country are enlisting in the army to help America win World War II. Doss decides to join the army as a medic, but encounters the vitriol of his fellow fighters when he refuses to carry a weapon on the battlefield.

Hacksaw Ridge is a film about convictions, a theme that's obviously near and dear to Mel Gibson's heart. And while Andrew Garfield reaffirms his ability to carry a film, there are countless elements to the storytelling that fail to capture the viewer. There's a sentimental love story that feels superficial and the mistreatment of Doss by his fellow infantry division and high ranking army officials is merely glossed over, Oddly, within the blink of an eye, all is forgotten and Doss becomes accepted with open arms. Eventually, the film picks up steam when Gibson transports the audience to the Battle of Okinawa, where a gruesome and graphic account of World War II reminds us all of the brutality of war. Hacksaw Ridge unveils some grisly imagery that makes for a puzzling complement to its earlier tempered tone. Yet, as you witness the bravery of Doss that earned him a Medal of Honor, the film immediately becomes a more satisfying endeavor. Hacksaw Ridge comes with its fair share of flaws, but there's a wonderful true story nestled within that's undeniably remarkable.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

It's impossible to overstate my admiration for Ewan McGregor. The brilliant actor has impressed the masses in big productions like Moulin Rouge!, but his most treasured work comes from the numerous indie films where he absolutely commands the screen. Lesser known gems such as The impossible, Beginners, Perfect Sense and I Love You Phillip Morris serve as shining examples of his unique ability. Needless to say, when I was given the opportunity to catch McGregor's anticipated directorial debut, American Pastoral, I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, it pains me to admit that the film is an obvious mess.

Based on Philip Roth's 1997 novel of the same name, McGregor stars as Swede, a middle class factory owner in New Jersey who lives with his former beauty queen wife (Jennifer Connelly) and their daughter Dawn (Dakota Fanning). Yet, as Dawn becomes involved with radical groups during the Civil Rights movement in the late 60s, Swede watches his seemingly perfect life fall victim to her rebellion.

There are countless odd aspects to the story and complexities surrounding American Pastoral. It opens with a peculiar Electra Complex that paints a portrait of Dawn's infatuation with Swede and a complete disregard for her mother. This element and other occurrences push her into a radical belief system that turns depressingly violent and shatters this once ideal family situation. A weak screenplay merely offers paper-thin characters and melodrama galore. As a result, decent performances and mediocre direction aren't enough to save the film from falling terribly flat. There's little connection bridged between viewer and character, leaving American Pastoral as a sad directorial debut for a true acting talent.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Saturday, October 22, 2016

La La Land

Film: La La Land

Starring: Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys) and Emma Stone (Birdman)

Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

U.S. Release: December 16th, 2016 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Musical

Runtime: 128 minutes

This year's Philadelphia Film Festival captured a gem for its 25th anniversary Opening Night selection. Damien Chazelle follows up his highly regarded Best Picture Nominee, Whiplash, with his dazzling sophomore effort, La La Land. Nostalgic and full of passion, the film pays its respects to old Hollywood all while providing a fresh vibe that will be difficult for any competitor to topple during the upcoming awards season. So if you're in search of an early Best Picture frontrunner, look no further than La La Land.

Mia's (Emma Stone) lifelong dream is to be a respected actress in Hollywood. But as the Nevada native experiences the ego-crushing defeat of Los Angeles' cutthroat audition process, she falls for a Jazz pianist named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who hopes of one-day running a club of his own. And while the pair of starry-eyed romantics fall madly in love with one another, the weight of their relationship makes it difficult staying committed to their dreams.

From the opening number all the way to its monumental finale, La La Land consumes its viewers with an extraordinary combination of a wonderfully composed score, intricate choreography, towering performances and tastefully advanced direction. Damien Chazelle is beyond deserving for a Best Director nod as his immaculate vision comes to life on the big screen. Six years in the making, Chazelle and his composer, Justin Hurwitz, used this abundance of time and patience to hone the story and fine-tune their music. This precise attention to detail spills through each and every scene as La La Land serves as a testament to originality and a shining example of its own greatest storyline, devoted passion to achieving ones dreams.

Not only are the film's direction and melodic score an absolute marvel, La La Land's lead co-stars are enchanting in their own right. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling offer a unique chemistry that breathes authenticity into their onscreen romance. The film can't capture all of its engaging essence without a sharply convincing love story, and boy do they deliver! This magical romance is reminiscent of legendary cinematic duos such as Bogart and Bacall or Tracy and Hepburn, while they naturally fall in line as a contemporary equivalence. And although Emma Stone's character is written with more depth and layers by comparison - which may be enough to tip the scales in her favor in this year's Best Actress race - it wouldn't be a surprise to hear Gosling's name called as an Oscar finalist as well.

Hollywood adores movies about the industry and La La Land uses this cachet to mold together the aura of classic cinema with a vibrant and updated appeal. It's challenging to identify a single glaring weakness within the film, making it destined for a justifiably successful awards season run. It's important to note that musicals aren't for everyone, but La La Land's transcends this generic label thanks to an infectious passion for the arts that makes you wish you could create something as everlasting as the film itself. Consequently, La La Land stands as one of 2016's finest offerings and it's clear-cut must-see effort from one of Hollywood's fastest-rising filmmakers.

Stars: 4 stars out of 4

Grade: A

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Rogue One (NEW) Trailers

James Gunn's wildly successful 2014 origins story, Guardians of the Galaxy, delivered an engaging story and laugh-out-loud humor, making it my favorite film from the expansive Marvel universe. Therefore, the franchise's anticipated sequel is guaranteed to be one of next year's biggest summer blockbusters. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 unveiled its premiere teaser trailer yesterday and while its tight-lipped regarding any specific plot points, we do know the film will address the mystery surrounding Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) father. Check out the debut teaser below.

While we have already witnessed some impressive footage surrounding Gareth Edwards' Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, can we ever really get enough? A new trailer for the December 16th release has dropped and it only elevates excitement to a whole new level. Academy Award Nominee Felicity Jones stars as Jyn Erso, a Rebellion soldier tasked with the mission of stealing the plans for the Death Star. James Earl Jones returns as the voice of Darth Vader and Rogue One should be one of the biggest releases in a busy month of December. You can catch the film's newest trailer below.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ben Affleck's Finest Works

The Accountant is the number one film in America and its leading star, Ben Affleck, is a two-time Oscar winner (neither of which were for acting, oddly). Therefore, this month felt like as good a time as any to recognize the writer, director and actor's most notable career achievements (September's list). So here they are, the finest films either written by, directed by, or starring Ben Affleck:

Honorable Mention: Chasing Amy, Dazed and Confused and Mallrats.

#5. Gone Girl (2014)

David Fincher's no holds barred mystery-thriller, Gone Girl, also happens to be the only film in the top 5 in which Affleck's only connection is as an actor. Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a disgruntled husband whose wife (Rosamund Pike) goes missing and all signs quickly point to him as the main suspect. There are twists, turns, gore, and so much more that help transform this brilliantly acted film into a thriller classic. And although Affleck's performance never quite resonated with the awards season voting bodies, co-star Rosamund Pike earned herself an Oscar Nomination.

#4. The Town (2010)

As Affleck's second directorial effort, The Town also represents the first time the actor starred in his own film. This gripping crime-drama follows Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his lifelong friends who execute masterfully crafted bank robberies. But when MacRay becomes too closely entangled with a witness (Rebecca Hall), it puts their entire operation in jeopardy. The Town was regrettably ignored as a Best Picture selection during the Oscar season, yet co-star Jeremy Renner managed to walk away with an Oscar Nomination for his fabulous role in Affleck's exceptional film.

#3. Argo (2012)

The top three selections on this list are so difficult for me to rank, but earning the bronze is Affleck's most accomplished work and most recent film, Argo. In a strange Oscar twist, Affleck failed to earn a Best Director Nomination despite his film earning the Best Picture crown (in which Affleck earned his second statue as a producer). This intense historical-drama centers around the CIA's covert extraction mission to rescue 6 Americans in a hostile Iran after their embassy was invaded by militants. The only minor flaw in the film is its middling character development. However, Argo's thrilling story, perfectly-timed humor and superb acting solidify Affleck's film as a worthy Best Picture winner.

#2. Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Affleck's phenomenal directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, also stands as the only film on the list in which he wasn't an actor. This vastly under-seen and roller-coaster ride of a mystery-drama demonstrates just how impressive of a filmmaker Affleck truly is. His brother, Casey Affleck, stars as a private investigator who's brought int o investigate the disappearance of a little girl, but the truth proves to be more than he ever bargained for. The film's elements of mystery are masterful and Casey Affleck's performance is something to be treasured. Gone Baby Gone transports you inside of a deeply controversial story that will leave you discussing the finale long after its credits roll. I recognize this film wasn't quite the Oscar juggernaut that Argo was, but's it's an absolute must-see film that deserves to be savored.

#1. Good Will Hunting (1997)

As I mentioned before, my top three picks were insanely difficult to rank. Yet, I'm going with the classic, Good Will Hunting, as my choice for Affleck's best career work. Co-writer and leading star Matt Damon plays Will, a remarkably intelligent janitor who was raised through the state's foster care system. After landing in a bit of trouble with the law, Will is required to meet with a psychiatrist (Robin Williams) in exchange for an early release into the custody of a Mathematician who hopes to groom him. Damon and Robin Williams give career-defining performances in this beautifully complex story of overcoming your past and facing your demons. Good Will Hunting not only landed the late-great Robin Williams in Oscar immortality with a win, it also handed Damon and Affleck Oscar statues of their own (Best Screenplay). Clearly, Affleck is an immensely talented individual both on the screen and behind the camera. Here's to many more magnificent films!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Accountant and Queen of Katwe

After a recent string of successful releases, one of which earned a Best Picture Oscar, Ben Affleck has proven to be a far more accomplished director than actor. However, Affleck puts his acting chops on display in Warrior director, Gavin O'Connor's, new action-drama, The Accountant.

As a socially inept mathematical savant, Christian Wolff (Affleck) is raised by his military father and trained by martial arts experts to become a human weapon. As the years pass Christian works as a freelance accountant for some of the world's most dangerous criminals. But as the U.S. Treasury department closes in on Christian's identity, the accountant is left to solve the mystery surrounding his latest client.

The Accountant opens with a very strong first act that sadly crumbles throughout the rest of its more than two-hour running time. As the plot thickens and smaller storylines continue to form, the film reveals countless inadequacies. Surprisingly, The Accountant effectively uses comedic dialogue to its advantage, something that was rather unexpected, but it also serves as a reminder of the cloudy direction and undetectable tone missing from the film. Lately, leading star Ben Affleck has displayed a preference for roles in which his character is devoid of emotion (Gone Girl and Batman v Superman), something that rings true in this performance as well. That openness to social interaction does evolve into one of Christian Wolff's character arcs, thanks to a usual and type-casted supporting turn from Anna Kendrick. Yet, O'Connor's desire to put a nice bow on every little detail of the film actually backfires and transforms The Accountant into an over-filled and muddled mess of a story.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

When you hear the phrase "a Disney film", immediately there's an expectation of unrestrained sentiment. Most of the time this desperation for striking up emotions leaves a film feeling flat and undeserving, but sometimes these stories are handled earnestly and told with conviction. Mira Nair's Queen of Katwe is certainly the latter, making it a worthwhile true story painted on a Disney canvas.

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is a poor girl living in Katwe, the slums of Uganda. She spends her days selling vegetables with her siblings trying to help their mother pay the rent for their tiny and feeble shack which houses them. But after Phiona is introduced to the game of chess by a missionary (David Oyelowo) for the local ministry, her nature ability proves to be extraordinary as she works to transform her family's lives by achieving greatness on a global stage.

There's a natural appeal to the underdog story, something that's clearly the backbone of Queen of Katwe. You're transported into Phiona's undesirable third-world lifestyle, where she somehow finds content in her menial life. An interesting dynamic to the film occurs when she begins to find nationwide success in the game of chess and finally experiences the types of things we all take for granted in life. Upon her return to the tiny village of Katwe, seeing the other side of things broadens her perspective of the world and we watch as the young woman's content fades to resentment. Queen of Katwe tells a deep and insightful story that never feels predictable. Its talented pair of leading stars, Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo, are almost upstaged by the outstanding work of newcomer Madina Nalwanga. But despite these fine performances and this intriguing story, Queen of Katwe is slightly hampered by an anti-climactic finale and small doses of the stereotypical Disney sentiment.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Allied (NEW) and Patriots Day Trailers

Another potential Oscar contender from the heralded filmmaker, Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump and Back to the Future), makes its way into theaters at the end of November. Allied features Brad Pitt as an intelligence officer in North Africa during World War II who crosses paths with a French Resistance fighter (Marion Cotillard), and their developing relationship becomes complicated by the challenges of the war. Boasting a high-profile pair of leads and a renowned director, Allied becomes an intriguing fall prospect that could impact the awards season.

Peter Berg recently unveiled his latest true-story drama, Deepwater Horizon, which happened to be accompanied by a sneak peek into Berg's next project, Patriots Day. Slated for an early release in January of 2017, the film centers around an officer (Mark Wahlberg) and various others involved with the horrific Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt which followed in 2013. Berg has certainly followed a formulaic approach to his true-story works lately, and Patriots Day is sure to be another effort programmed to tug at the heartstrings of its viewers. Check out the first look into Patriots Day below.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

2016 Philadelphia Film Festival Preview

Nearly a week ago the Philadelphia Film Festival announced the lineup for its 25th anniversary of bringing Oscar-caliber films to the City of Brotherly Love. I was very pleased as they were able to secure the vast majority of the titles atop my wish-list. The event kicks off of on Thursday October 20th and runs through Sunday October 30th. For more information regarding the full film schedule or how to purchase tickets to this monumental event, you can visit the festival's website. Now, let's take a look at the most notable films appearing at this year's event.

Honorable Mention: Bleed for This, Blue Jay, I, Daniel Blake, Jackie, Lion and Moonlight

Since I have a soft-spot for coming-of-age comedies, Kelly Fremon Craig's The Edge of Seventeen already felt like an intriguing prospect. Yet, after a wildly successful premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival a couple weeks ago, this late entry into the Philadelphia Film Festival (playing Thursday night October 27th only) quickly propelled into my "must-see" list. Woody Harrelson is always brilliant and Hailee Steinfeld has all the makings of a competent leading star, making The Edge of Seventeen a film worth keeping on your radar.

I've always been attracted to dark psychological dramas, especially of the true-story variety. Therefore, Antonio Campos' eerie upcoming release, Christine, is a festival entry I don't plan on missing. The film has enjoyed a successful run on the festival circuit after a debut at Sundance and a strong showing at TIFF. Now, Philadelphia gets to experience the true story of Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall), a 1970s Florida news reporter who spiraled into madness and made television history. As a Spotlight selection at the festival, you'll have two opportunities to catch Christine (either Saturday October 22nd or Wednesday October 26th), so keep your eyes peeled.

After the overwhelming success of last year's thrilling action title, Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve returns in 2016 with a cerebral sci-fi entry that has everyone talking. Amy Adams is primed for a big year and one major contributor is her role as a linguistics expert in Arrival. When a mysterious spacecraft arrives on Earth, the military summons the assistance of Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) to devise a method of communicating with these alien beings in order to prevent a global war The trailer for Arrival reeled me in hook, line and sinker and this Closing Night selection can be viewed one time only on Friday October 28th before its nationwide release this November.

I have a unique way of being consumed by effective emotional dramas. One of the year's most dramatic stories exists in Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea. Set in the Northeast, Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, an uncle forced to become the legal guardian of his nephew after the untimely death of his brother. Affleck and co-star Michelle Williams headline a stellar cast that's poised to deliver one of the year's most touching films. Manchester by the Sea has enjoyed a successful run on the festival circuit and it could very well be an Oscar player this year. If you're interested in catching the film at this year's festival, you'll have to purchase tickets for it's lone showing on Saturday night October 22nd.

Finally, the easy choice for the most anticipated film at this year's festival is Damien Chazelle's La La Land. After winning over audiences and the Academy with his debut feature, Whiplash, Chazelle returns with an original musical that's been described by early viewers as whimsical and magical. La La Land follows a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) who fall in love while struggling to find success in Los Angeles. The Oscars tend to fawn over musicals, especially if their "that" good. Early word is La La Land could be an early frontrunner for Best Picture and it represents the perfect choice for this year's Philadelphia Film Festival's Opening Night selection (Thursday October 20th).

Friday, October 7, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Birth of a Nation and Deepwater Horizon

The Sundance Film Festival has turned into a gold mine for major studios looking to profit off of reasonably budgeted works. And when one movie hits the trifecta of earning the Audience Award, the Grand Jury Prize and a record-setting $17.5 million deal with Fox Searchlight Pictures, in the famous words of Ron Burgundy, it's "kind of a big deal". Writer, director and star Nate Parker's debut feature, The Birth of a Nation, accomplished the difficult feat and leaves us all wondering, what exactly are the film's Oscar chances?

Prior to the Civil War, Nat Turner (Parker) is a literate slave and preacher who's spent his entire life on the plantation of inherited owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer). Considering the times, Samuel provides his workers with a more desirable lifestyle as he entrusts Nat to keep morale high. But as a drought strikes the area and finances grow tight, Samuel sells Nat's preaching services to nearby slave owners where Nat discovers terrible atrocities that ultimately push him into leading a violent uprising in Virginia.

Much has been written and discussed regarding director Nate Parker's 1999 rape case, but I'll choose to redirect my focus to his artistic expression in question. The Birth of a Nation is a mightily flawed film that struggles to tell a nuanced story or address any form of character development other than the movie's main protagonist. Parker's effort falls flat by failing to shed any new light on the slave-era genre. Instead, it relies on stereotypical white southern villains and abrasive imagery as an exploitative device to capture the audience's attention. This is neither constructive nor beneficial to the grand scope of storytelling. Yet, I imagine the tactics will end up successful in some instances among a general audience. On the flip side, Nate Parker does prove to be a strong actor who's capable of carrying a film. His passion for the subject matter pours through his veins in countless onscreen moments. However, a prolonged cookie-cutter introduction to the main character dilutes the emotional finale of a violent slave uprising. The Birth of a Nation was able to keep me engaged in the film all while unveiling its many faults. The blood-soaked closing sequence didn't disappoint, but the hour and 45 minute build-up certainly did.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

I've been a longtime fan of actor and director Peter Berg. He's demonstrated admirable diversity between his anti-hero comedy, Hancock, and the more dramatic covert ops film, Lone Survivor. And since the 2013 release of the latter film, Berg has seemingly shifted his storytelling focus to the narrow direction of true events, as evident by his latest release Deepwater Horizon. Next on the docket for him is a drama circling around the events of the Boston Marathon bombing. This predictable transformation has me growing more skeptical of the filmmaker than I've ever been before.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, the Chief Electrical Engineer on the massive Deepwater Horizon oil rig nestled in the Gulf of Mexico. With deadlines passing and profits being effected every day, the BP oil company sends executives to the rig to trim down site inspections and improve the delayed timeline. However, system failures culminate in a tragic series of explosions that put the lives of all these workers at risk.

Following a successful string of early reviews, I was rather excited for the opportunity to catch Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon. Unfortunately, the film trades well-crafted and multi-dimensional characters for cheap sentiments and gaudy pyrotechnics. Offering very little more than a bare-bones story that plays second fiddle to a punishingly long sequence of explosions and special effects that suffocates what little emotion the film has managed to develop. Similar to my response in the review above, Deepwater Horizon only devotes its energy to one real character. Thankfully, Mark Wahlberg delivers a stellar performance that uses a pleasant blend of comedy and drama to generate a strong character. Yet, outside of any rooting interest for Wahlberg's lead character, Deepwater Horizon is a hollow story that never earns the sentiment it so desperately craves.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

DVD Outlook: October 2016

As the calendar turns to October, generally it represents a packed fall season filled with awards players and top-tier filmmakers (September's suggestions). Therefore, new DVD releases often take a backseat to these in-theater options until the December rush just prior to the lucrative holiday season. However, this October boasts one of the year's finest films and a must-watch that impressed me on all levels. So here's a look at the month's finest offerings:

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

The Sundance Film Festival has become a fruitful platform for the year's best independent films. One such under-the-radar selection, Silicon Valley's Matt Ross' directorial effort Captain Fantastic, captures every emotion and proves to be one of the year's finest movies. Viggo Mortensen stars as Ben, an independent father who's become disgusted with the concept of modern society. Along with his wife, the couple ventures deep into the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest and build their own self sufficient community where they raise their six children in isolation from the rest of the world. And when an unfortunate circumstance forces the family to leave their paradise and encounter everyday American society, they all begin to question the effectiveness of their lifestyle. Captain Fantastic blends together laugh out loud humor with genuine dramatics, all of which build up this thought-provoking and engaging story. This is one indie you won't want to miss. (October 25th)

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

Putting aside personal opinions of acclaimed writer and director, Woody Allen, his latest film Cafe Society is actually a notch above his standard entry. The film follows a New Yorker named Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) who travels to Hollywood and is taken under the wing of his big-shot uncle (Steve Carell). As he begins to adjust to the glamour of Tinseltown, Bobby falls for the lovely Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) and finds himself in the midst of a complicated love triangle. Cafe Society incorporates Allen's trademark qualities, such as fast-paced and witty dialogue and a conflict-filled story. Yet, it's the depth of his characters and the performances of his cast that make Cafe Society one of Allen's most memorable works. (October 18th)

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

While many critics have been touting this year's horror entries, I haven't necessarily been blown away by many of the lauded releases. However, I will admit that I've been pleased with the wide-ranging originality that has spearheaded the genre. One such premise resides in David Sandberg's Lights Out. Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) has vivid memories of a psychologically difficult childhood. And when she discovers that her little brother is experiencing the same dark entity that once haunted her youth. Rebecca's forced to confront her mother and put an end to this horror. There are pros and cons splashed all throughout this wildly original thrill ride. The scares are solid and the story is decent, but poor acting and flawed characters keep Lights Out from being a viable horror classic. But if you're looking for a new horror entry to satisfy your Halloween-season cravings, Lights Out is certainly worth a try. (October 25th)

Honorable Mention: A bunch of summer blockbusters find their DVD release this month. The long-awaited sequel Independence Day: Resurgence (10/18), The Legend of Tarzan (10/11) and X-Men: Apocalypse (10/4) are a trio that I haven't had a chance to see. Yet, the re-boot of Ghostbusters (10/11) proved to be a somewhat pleasant surprise, while The Purge: Election Year (10/4) marked a step backwards for the horror franchise. Finally, another pair of films on my radar are the wildly imaginative indie Swiss Army Man (10/4) and the crime-drama The Infiltrator (10/11).