Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Comedy guru, Todd Phillips (The Hangover franchise), brings a crazy true story to the big screen with this Summer's War Dogs. Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star as a pair of young men who win a $300 million contract from the U.S. government in order to provide weapons for American allies fighting in Afghanistan. You can never count out a Todd Phillips comedy, so perhaps War Dogs will emerge as the summer's biggest comedy blockbuster this August.
Longtime drama director, Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman), apparently has a love for the interweaving story landscape. His previous pair of efforts, New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day, followed the same approach as his upcoming holiday film, Mother's Day. Once again, intertwined stories of different women collide on the famous holiday. With Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant and many others filling out the cast, hopefully Marshall can recapture the success from early in his career. Check out the second trailer for Mother's Day below.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
The long and often impatient wait has ended. Zack Snyder's daring attempt at bridging the two iconic universes belonging to DC Comics legends, Batman and Superman, officially opened to audiences this week and all of my reservations proved warranted. Not only is Dawn of Justice a muddled and overly ambitious cornerstone to the seemingly doomed DC universe, the film fails terribly at being the antithesis of its Marvel rival.
Following Superman's (Henry Cavill) colossal destruction of Metropolis during his fight with General Zod, the devastating effects linger into the mind of Gotham's caped crusader (Ben Affleck). Fearful of Superman's almighty power to rule planet Earth if he so desired, Batman must take matters into his own hands. And while these gladiators settle their own differences, the maniacal madman, Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg), summons a villainous creation of his own.
Let me preface by stating that I am by no means a Marvel loyalist. I'd considered myself a marginal fan of the widely stretched universe in which it continues to create. However, my deepest affinity for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy gave me a rooting interest for Snyder's new vision of the Batman legacy. Unfortunately, Dawn of Justice substitutes an obsessive amount of CGI and visual effects for a cohesive storyline. The result is a jumbled entry that fails to get a worthwhile performances out of any of its lead actors. Dawn of Justice packs far too many ideas into an already difficult premise of linking together DC's two most recognizable superheroes. Any hope of a resurgence will have to come from the intriguing super villain film, Suicide Squad, which opens this August.
Stars: 1 and a half out of 4
Perhaps best known for his role as Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, the late Alan Rickman's prestigious acting career goes well beyond this universal series. Rickman's untimely passing in January has placed a fair amount of attention on his final motion picture performance in Gavin Hood's wartime drama, Eye in the Sky.
With the United States' and Britain's number two, four and five most wanted terrorists all under the same roof in Kenya, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) seeks the approval of her general (Alan Rickman) and government officials to allow their U.S. drone pilot (Aaron Paul) to fire on the building. Yet, once a young Kenyan girl sets up a bread-selling stand within the collateral damage of the missile target, the situation grows far more complicated for everyone involved.
Eye in the Sky is a wonderfully executed film which takes a straight-forward premise and turns it into something much greater. Gavin Hood and company create a tense experience that's complemented well by fine moments of levity, usually brought on by Rickman's natural comedic touch. Helen Mirren delivers an exceptional performance, yet again, and shows quite a bit of range in her stern military role. Eye in the Sky tackles the controversial aspects of modern drone warfare and offer a worthwhile glance into the future of counter-terrorism.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
I haven't been keeping as up to date on things as I'd like, so in an effort to make up for lost time here's a joint look into the new DVD releases from both February and March. Usually handled in a monthly installment, missing February has forced me to play a little catch up (January's recommendations). And since there's no shortage of Oscar contenders arriving on DVD these past two months, I'm going to offer my top 8 movie selections for February and March.
Room - 3 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)
Lenny Abrahamson's Best Picture nominee, Room, is an emotional conquest that possesses 2015's finest performance. The well-deserved Best Actress Oscar winner, Brie Larson, is an absolute marvel. Her deep-rooted portrayal of an imprisoned sex slave and mother who's forced to raise her child in a 10 foot by 10 foot shed is as gut-wrenching as it sounds. But equally as amazing is her character's second half of the film where she has to come to terms with the choices she made while raising her son. It's introspective and moving on so many levels. Room is one of 2015's most powerful films and it's clearly a must-see. (March 1st)
Spotlight - 3 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)
There are plenty of reasons why Tom McCarthy's gripping true story, Spotlight, won the Oscar for Best Picture just last month. On top of an excellent screenplay the film's cast offers one of 2015's finest ensembles. There are no shortage of spectacular moments from onscreen talents such as Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and many more. Spotlight examines the hard-nosed investigation performed by The Boston Globe's reporting team into sexual abuse allegations and an eventual cover-up by the Catholic Church. Spotlight is a well-paced and riveting film and that's worthy of its Best Picture title. (February 23rd)
Brooklyn - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)
2015's most memorable romance is the adapted crowd-pleaser from John Crowley, Brooklyn. Best Actress Nominee, and perhaps a winner on any other year, Saoirse Ronan gives an earnest turn as Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman who journeys to Brooklyn in the 1950s in hopes of a better life. But as home-sickness begins to stir up second thoughts, an emotional romance with an Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen) helps her find happiness thousands of miles from her family. Despite an obviously rushed third act that's intended to generate more controversy than it manages to, Brooklyn wins over its audience with passionate and endearing characters that leave a lasting impression. (March 15th)
The Hateful Eight - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)
Writer and director Quentin Tarantino's latest linguistic masterpiece, The Hateful Eight, blends together a Western-style backdrop with the filmmaker's unique storytelling. Kurt Russell stars as "The Hangman", a bounty hunter transporting a wanted criminal, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to be hung in a nearby city. But when blizzard conditions forces them to take shelter in a store for the evening with a mysterious collection of strangers, "The Hangman" must see to it that he and his prisoner escape the night alive. A natural comparison will be made between The Hateful Eight and Tarantino's other most recent work and Western, Django Unchained. And although this latest entry is a tiny step below its predecessor, make no mistake about it that The Hateful Eight stands very well all on its own. (March 29th)
The Big Short - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)
The Academy Awards' Best Picture race came down to a trio of mighty competitors. Mentioned above was the eventual winner, Spotlight, and one of the other heavy hitters was Adam McKay's true story comedy of sorts, The Big Short. Spanning from 2005 through the eventual 2008 housing crisis that devastated this country, McKay's film examines a select few who had the foresight to see this inevitable economic disaster. Christian Bale rightfully earned an Oscar nomination and other strong performances were turned in by Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and many more. Perhaps the greatest aspect of The Big Short was the film's ability to put a more entertaining and comedic twist on an otherwise intimidating and wordy industry.
99 Homes - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)
Andrew Garfield delivers what may be a career best performance in Ramin Bahrani's hard-hitting drama, 99 Homes. Similar to The Big Short, this film addresses a more personal representation of the horrors that surrounded the housing market collapse in 2008. After a recently unemployed father (Garfield) loses his family's home in a foreclosure, he must sell his soul to the same crooked real estate broker (Michael Shannon) who evicted him. What begins as a saddening examination culminates in a tense and gripping finale that's beautifully executed. The Big Short garnered an enormous amount of acclaim but, in all honesty, 99 Homes stands right up there with it. (February 9th)
Bridge of Spies - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)
Steven Spielberg's latest Best Picture Nominee, Bridge of Spies, marks a triumphant return for leading star Tom Hanks, who missed out on a nomination himself, as well as the emergence of a new star, Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance. During the height of the Cold War a Russian spy (Rylance) is captured by the U.S. Government and ordered to stand trial. Meanwhile, an American pilot is forced to eject from his plane and becomes seized by the Russians. An insurance lawyer (Hanks) is handed the difficult task of negotiating a swap between these two hostile nations. Spielberg always swings for the fences and, although Bridge of Spies falls short of being a home run, the films represents a solid line drive double in the gap. (February 2nd)
Steve Jobs - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)
I've been pretty clear in labeling Danny Boyle as my favorite director. I love his colorful style and phenomenal use of music to tell imaginative stories. But while his most recent endeavor, the biopic Steve Jobs, fell short of my expectations, it still represents a solid film in its own right. The uniquely structured screenplay examines the controversial and iconic technological visionary at three specific product launches throughout his career. Aaron Sorkin's dialogue heavy script delivers plenty of fantastic one-liners and Michael Fassbender offers a brilliant portrayal, but the overall effect leaves something to be desired. Danny Boyle always has a way of generating such an explosive and unforgettable finale in almost all of his works, but Steve Jobs never packs an impactful punch like it should. (February 16th)
Honorable Mention: The latest James Bond film, Spectre (2/9), is available as well as critically adored options such as Creed (3/1) and Black Mass (2/16). I wasn't as big of a fan of those two films but I found modest enjoyment in other marketed titles such as Concussion (3/29), The Night Before (3/1) and the Tina Fey & Amy Poehler comedy, Sisters (3/15). A trio of Oscar contenders I'd suggest staying away from are Trumbo (2/16), The Danish Girl (3/1) & Carol (3/15), as well as Ron Howard's special effects letdown, In the Heart of the Sea (3/8).
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Another summer blockbuster unveiled a new-look and more detailed trailer. David Yates' The Legend of Tarzan shows what you can expect from this adapted classic tale. Alexander Skarsgard stars as the title character who returns to the jungle in order to stop a destructive mining project. With the always brilliant Academy Award winner, Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) set to co-star, check out the latest trailer for The Legend of Tarzan below.
Horror fans have an imaginative new anthology to get excited about in 2016. With director Kevin Smith headlining a long list of filmmakers, Holidays puts a dark twist on stories revolving around society's most treasured days of the year. With a genre unapologetically polluted by sequels and re-brandings, it's a sigh of relief to have a fresh new idea to look forward to. Holidays arrives in select theaters on April 22nd so, in the meantime, scary movie lovers can enjoy the film's debut trailer below.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Despite missing the last two months, I'm reviving my Movie List of the Month segment (December's list). It's incredible to think that the brilliant character actor, John Goodman, has never been nominated for an Academy Award. And to drive home the point even further, Goodman has only managed to secure a lone Golden Globe Nomination for a motion picture performance. So despite his many omissions from the awards season festivities, March's movie list of the month honors John Goodman's finest roles.
Honorable Mention: Arachnophobia, Inside Llewyn Davis and O Brother, Where Art Thou?
#5. Argo (2012)
Co-star, Alan Arkin, overshadowed Goodman's exceptional work in Ben Affleck's Best Picture winning film, Argo. As Hollywood make-up artist, John Chambers, it's Goodman's character that sets the CIA's outrageous extraction plan into motion in this gripping true story. Goodman creates an endearing character that helps breed life into the Oscar-winning film.
#4. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Considering the film reached theaters just last week, some may feel it's a bit premature labeling Goodman's work in the mysterious thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane, as some of the best in his career. Truth be told, Goodman is given a bulk of the screen time and makes the most of this rare opportunity. He blends together a long list of emotions to develop a complex character that's difficult to truly identify. Perhaps it's because of the major platform he's given to work with, but Goodman's work here is clearly transcendent.
#3. Flight (2012)
While John Goodman's work in Argo was worthy of admiration, it was even his best role of the year. The biggest letdown of the run-up to the 2013 Academy Awards was the regrettable omission of Goodman's energetic performance in Robert Zemeckis' Flight. Goodman gives an unforgettable turn as airline pilot, Whip Whitaker's (Denzel Washington), trusty drug dealer. Goodman commands every scene he's a part of and, although it was a crowded year in the Best Supporting Actor category, this performance stands toe-to-toe with the most notable ones of 2012.
#2. Barton Fink (1991)
John Goodman has become a staple in the storied filmography of writing and directing siblings, Joel & Ethan Coen. It wasn't Goodman's first collaboration with the brothers, but his role in Barton Fink certainly set the stage for a brilliant industry partnership with these clever filmmaking minds. In what stands as Goodman's only motion picture role to ever get nominated for a Golden Globe, he gives a hilarious performance as Charlie Meadows, an insurance salesman who tries to aid a Hollywood screenwriter suffering from severe writer's block. And believe me, in typical Coen brothers fashion hilarity ensues.
#1. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Is there even a debate as to John Goodman's most memorable and effective performance? Sadly, the Coen brothers' instant colt classic, The Big Lebowski, never garner the same admiration from the Academy voters, leaving John Goodman as an afterthought during the awards season hoopla. However, we all know just how magnificent he is as Walter Sobchak, a temperamental Vietnam Vet who's always packing heat. Together with his bowling buddies "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) and Donny (Steve Buscemi), the trio embark on a wild journey of compensation for damages to The Dude's rug. The Big Lebowski is another film filled with scene-stealing moments from a largely overlooked acting talent. But no matter what the prestigious voting bodies may think, we all appreciate John Goodman for the wonderful onscreen memories he's provided over the years.
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Film: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kill the Messenger), John Goodman (Trumbo) and John Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12)
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
U.S. Release: March 11, 2016 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 105 minutes
There's such a peculiar backstory surrounding Dan Trachtenberg's debut motion picture, 10 Cloverfield Lane. What began as a psychological thriller with the working title, The Cellar, the screenplay went through some minimal changes to link the idea to 2008 release, Cloverfield, as Trachtenberg took control of the film. Then, executive producer, J.J. Abrams, worked diligently to point out that this wasn't a sequel, but rather a new and singular story operating in a similar cinematic universe as its 2008 monster flick namesake. Therefore, anyone expecting a closely tied film is sorely mistaken, because 10 Cloverfield Lane proudly stands as a unique entity.
Running away from a seemingly rocky relationship with her boyfriend, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) hops in her car to move on from him both literally and figuratively. Yet, a vicious car accident knocks Michelle unconscious and places the young woman in an underground bunker overseen by Howard (John Goodman), a doomsday prepper who informs her that there's been a chemical attack and they can't leave the shelter. Another third survivor, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), confirms Howard's unsettling claims, all while Michelle struggles to determine whether she's being held captive in the bunker or if a darker threat lurks outside.
A select amount of praise is in order for local product and debut director, Dan Trachtenberg. The Temple alumnus transforms an unnecessary branding into a skin-crawling and intense motion picture experience. A cloudy element of mystery drifts effortlessly throughout the film and builds beautifully into heart-pounding suspense on the undulating backbone of eerie silence and boiling character outbursts. John Goodman is perfectly cast as a charismatic and unstable gun-wielding authoritarian of the bunker. And Goodman's counterpart, leading lady Mary Elizabeth Winstead, makes the most of her rare starring opportunity. As a supporting actress extraordinaire with a long list of wonderful work, the audience clutches onto Winstead's character and embarks on a Twilight-Zone-esque journey that clearly separates 10 Cloverfield Lane from its 2008 titular film.
Despite the successful execution of this newest entry's tense psychological elements, 10 Cloverfield Lane suffers in a few obvious areas. Less detrimental are the raw dramatics moments shared by shelter dwellers Michelle and Emmett. Their hokey backstories play far too important of a role in the overall scope of the feature. Furthermore, there's a more serious problem with the movie's final 15 minutes. An unwarranted and misguided attempt at linking the 10 Cloverfield Lane to its brand results in a disappointing sci-fi filled finale that doesn't fit to the modus operandi. Such a decision sabotages the tone of the film and deteriorates a well crafted piece of work up until that point.
Considering we've just reached March and Hollywood doesn't have much of a track record when it comes to the quality of early year releases, 10 Cloverfield Lane does a fine job of entertaining audiences. It will win you over with a gripping and unwavering intensity that flows throughout the film. However, a poorly constructed conclusion leaves, what would have been, The Cellar as a great film, and 10 Cloverfield Lane as merely a good one.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Friday, March 11, 2016
The long awaited climax to the Marvel universe arrives this May with Captain America: Civil War, but the film's second trailer introduces the addition of Spiderman. After a rift revolving around accountability and oversight forms between Captain America and Iron Man, all of the Avengers must choose a side in this epic battle of superhero greats. The latest trailer for Captain America: Civil War reveals even more plot details than the first and offers an impressive look into this destined blockbuster.
For lovers of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, comes the latest adapted film centered around a middle schooler titled Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. Rafe Katchadorian (Griffin Gluck) is an artistic-loving new kid in school who makes it his mission to break every rule in the creativity-crushing principal's handbook. I sense some charm and certainly some fun in this October release. Catch the debut trailer for Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life below.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have flown under the radar for quite some time. They launched their collaborative filmmaking careers with 2009's clever con-man comedy, I Love You Phillip Morris, only to follow it up with the well-received 2011 laugher, Crazy, Stupid, Love. and last year's less impressive effort, Focus. With a speedy turnaround, Ficarra and Requa return early in 2016 alongside SNL alumnus, Tina Fey, in the adapted true story, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
Kim Baker (Fey) struggles accepting the mundanity of her life as a journalist tackling low-profile stories. And when the opportunity arrives to report from the front lines in Afghanistan, she packs her suitcase and tells her boyfriend she'll be back in three months. Initial doubts regarding her reactionary decision quickly fade as Kim forms friendships with a fellow reporter (Margot Robbie), a freelance photographer (Martin Freeman) and her Afghan translator (Christopher Abbott).
Once again Glenn Ficarra and John Requa deliver a winning effort with their wartime dramedy, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Although the film is a slow-crawling and over-extended affair, it really stands as an acting showcase for leading star, Tina Fey. I've been mightily unimpressed by Fey's filmography to date, but she seizes complete control of the movie and takes a big step forward in her career. A powerful connection between Kim Baker and the audience becomes inevitable, but Whiskey Tango Foxtrot succeeds even further thanks to wonderful supporting turns from Christopher Abbott and Martin Freeman. Abbott was a festival darling for last year's James White and backs up the beloved performance with a valuable turn here. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot isn't the most entertaining or clever film, but it's a story about people and its executed very well thanks to a remarkable collection of actors and actresses.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
I've never been an animated film enthusiast, but every now and again you come across an absolute gem such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Shrek. Problem being, though, critics generally seem to adore an overabundance of family films, which forces me to sit through many mediocre efforts while I search for the greats. The latest raved about children's film, Zootopia, represents a prime example of the middling films over-hyped by critical acclaim.
In a developed animal world where predators and prey live in harmony, Zootopia is a lavish city where any mammal can grow up to be what it wants. Yet, while most animals settle for their natural life-callings, rabbit Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) possesses grand visions of being the first prey animal to become a police officer in Zootopia. Pushed to the side and ignored by her fellow law enforcement, she must team up with a sly and cunning fox (Jason Bateman) to solve the city's most notorious case.
One compliment that must be given to Zootopia is the valuable message at the film's core. A story centered on open-mindedness and equality for all, there is a bit of charm in the movie's main characters. However, sluggish pacing proves to be punishing as even I witnessed a mother and child leaving the theater long before the closing credits. And as a result, Zootopia feels more like a chore than a valuable movie experience.
Stars: 2 stars out of 4
Saturday, March 5, 2016
With the sad loss of comedy great Harold Ramis in 2014 and Bill Murray's pronounced pledge to avoid a return to the franchise, a new branding of Ghostbusters seemed completely inevitable. Much to the surprise of everyone, the Ghostbusters were given a gender remake headed by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and a pair of current Saturday Night Live cast members. Here's a look at the polarizing debut trailer from this summer's fresh new take on a storied franchise.
I've never been a huge fan of the animated family film genre. However, I've always loved the 2003 classic, Finding Nemo. Now, 13 years later, Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks offer up their voices along with a whole new collection of characters in the long-awaited sequel, Finding Dory. We can only hope that this upcoming effort can come close to the brilliance of its predecessor, but I guess we'll find out when it arrives in theaters on June 17th this summer. Can't the brand new trailer for Finding Dory below.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Now that the Oscars have come and gone, it's time to officially put 2015 behind us and enjoy what the new year of cinema has to offer. Triple 9 represents a recent theatrical arrival boasting a loaded cast and intriguing premise from Lawless filmmaker, John Hillcoat. With Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck and Anthony Mackie all on board in prominent roles, you may start to wonder why Triple 9's an early year release.
A crew of criminals and crooked cops find themselves as pawns for the overseeing wife (Winslet) of an imprisoned Russian mob boss. And with a slew of personal and financial agendas guiding everyone involved in a chaotic direction, a new cop on the beat (Case Affleck) lands in the middle of a maniacal plot.
One of the most infuriating elements surrounding John Hillcoat's new dirty cop flick, Triple 9, is the screenplays disregard for character development. Instead, the film relies on cheap pseudo-emotional scenes and situations to progress its long-winded and surprisingly hollow story. Consequently no real attachment is formed between viewer and film, leaving Triple 9 as yet another disappointing early-year release. Films don't get any more superficial than this substance-free effort which sadly squanders an all-star cast of acting talent.
Stars: 2 stars out of 4
Full disclosure, I passed on an advanced screening of Eddie the Eagle because of my complete lack of interest in the film's trailer. Another hokey sports film was the last thing I was looking forward to at the moment, but impressive critical reviews forced me to reconsider. And honestly, I'm grateful for giving Dexter Fletcher's comedy a chance.
Growing up with physical limitations never stopped Eddie Edwards (Kingsman's Taron Egerton) from believing he'd compete at the Olympic games one day. And well into his lifelong pursuit, he finally discovered an above average ability to ski. Eddie soon discovers that England doesn't have a ski jumper and goes to insane measures to weasel his way into sports history during the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Leading star, Taron Egerton, won me over with a wonderful turn in the 2015 action-comedy, Kingsman, but he takes an even greater step forward with a transformative title role in Eddie the Eagle. With an energetic 80s vibe that goes far beyond the costume design and a fantastic score, courtesy of Matthew Margeson, the film does a remarkable job of drawing you into Eddie's outrageous destiny. Supporting star, Hugh Jackman, has his highs and lows throughout the movie but ultimately wins the audience over by the finale as well. Eddie the Eagle is surprisingly fun and effectively moving with its comedy-laced underdog story. Walking out of the theater will make you want to search for old footage of the 1988 Winter Olympics to relive the journey of this anti-athlete who captured the world's heart. Eddie the Eagle is far from sports movie immortality, but it's a delightful and engaging crowd-pleaser in its own right.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4