Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Best Woody Harrelson Performances

Woody Harrelson has enjoyed a prosperous three-decade long career that, in many ways, has flown completely under the radar. He always demonstrates an ability to stand out in any role, no matter how big or small. Therefore, in honor of his new release, The Glass Castle, August's Movie List of the Month pays tribute to Harrelson's finest performances (July's list).

Honorable Mention: The Edge of Seventeen, The Glass Castle, King PinNatural Born Killers and Out of the Furnace

#5. Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Martin McDonagh's hysterical and under-appreciated comedic effort pits Harrelson, as an angry and unhinged mob boss, whose cherished dog is stolen by a reward-seeking dog-napper (played by Sam Rockwell). The absurdity of the film's primary storyline plays extremely well thanks in large part to Harrelson's fully committed performance. Seven Psychopaths is well worth a watch if you haven't seen it.

#4. Zombieland (2009)

Another outstanding comedy featuring Harrelson's singular talents is Ruben Fleischer's one-of-a-kind laugh-fest, Zombieland. Harrelson steals the show as Tallahassee, a vengeful and demented mad-man whose heart is as big as his penchant for zombie-killing. His off-the-wall demeanor is brought to life masterfully by Harrelson and helps cap-off this exceptional 88-minute comedic ride.

#3. The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

One of Harrelson's two Oscar-Nominated turns comes from Milos Forman's biopic The People vs. Larry Flynt. Harrelson stars in the title role as the Hustler magazine publisher who faced an enormous public blow-back that resulted in a court case battle surrounding free speech. Harrelson delivers a knockout performance that stands the test of time and serves as an illuminating reminder of his gifted acting abilities.

#2. White Men Can't Jump (1992)

Although Harrelson's role in Ron Shelton's White Men Can't Jump doesn't quite carry the same dramatic cachet as his Larry Flynt performance, the film will always stand as a staple of my childhood. Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) represents a flawed lead character whose knack for hustling on the basketball courts of Los Angeles is equally measured my his dimwitted ability for blowing all of his winnings on stupid bets. Harrelson manages to blend together a hilarious turn with tempered dramatics that illustrate his well-rounded talents.

#1. The Messenger (2009)

For an overall movie that's almost as towering as Harrelson's supporting work, Oren Moverman's The Messenger is an absolute Tour de Force. Harrelson, along with co-star Ben Foster, stars as a member of the Casualty Notification Team who's responsible for breaking the news of a soldier's death to their next of kin. Harrelson demonstrates the depths of his dramatic talents in this Oscar-Nominated turn that's every bit as powerful and moving as the film's premise suggests. Harrelson's character appears both cold but respectful in this challenging task that he's been saddled with. The Messenger serves as the epitome of independent filmmaking telling an emotional story through a modest budget and immense acting talent, thanks to the exceptional work of Hollywood legend Woody Harrelson.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Molly's Game and Rememory Trailers

After a quarter-century in the film industry, Oscar winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin finally takes a seat in the director's chair for his November biopic, Molly's Game. The superior talents of Jessica Chastain appear to be fully on display as she plays Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who became a target of the FBI after organizing the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game. Molly's Game could possess some clear Oscar potential with it's big-named cast and an always envious Sorkin screenplay. Yet, the most interesting aspect of the film will be seeing how well Sorkin can handle the overwhelming task of filmmaking. Check out the debut trailer for Molly's Game below.

Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage stars in the upcoming mystery thriller from writer/director Mary Palansky, Rememory. The Sundance-selected feature follows the invention of a device with the ability to record and play-back a person's memories. Dinklage plays a man who uses the device to help track down the killer of its inventor. Rememory premiered to polarizing results in January, but you can make your own decision when the film arrives later this year. In the mean time catch the film's first-look trailer below.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Ghost Story

David Lowery's filmmaking career has been all over the map. He first stepped onto the scene with his uber-artsy Bonnie & Clyde-esque Sundance selected drama, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, in 2013, only to follow it up with last year's successful re-imagining of Pete's Dragon. Lowery's upward trajectory following his well-received summer-film reboot would normally send a director in search of his or her next big venture, but Lowery went in a completely different direction. He returns to his artistic prowess in the ambitious festival darling, A Ghost Story.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara stars as a loving couple who experience an unforeseen tragedy following a car accident  that results in Affleck's character's death. As the saddened widow confirms his passing at the morgue, Affleck's spirit emerges from the bed as a sheet-covered ghost who transports back to his home where he watches his wife grieve the loss. But as she moves on with her life and leaves a secret note in the crack of a doorway as she sells and leaves the home, the ghost stays in the dwelling desperate to uncover the note's contents.

A Ghost Story is a beautifully poetic expression of love, loss and countless other emotions. Lowery's bold endeavor both captivates and mesmerizes throughout a loosely coherent storyline that becomes more and more muddled as it progresses. Nonetheless, uniqueness and originality effectively guide the audience through an existentially-crafted plot and mildly ambiguous resolve. Mara's soulful turn and Affleck's surprising depth, even cloaked behind a sheet for the majority of the film, are transcending enough to keep the effort afloat.

"Polarizing" would be an apt descriptor for Lowery's latest critically-adored work. The filmmaker begins by utilizing excessively long takes that the audience is forced to muscle through. Thankfully, nearly all of these shots include a purposeful conclusion that help alleviate the frustration. Furthermore, A Ghost Story possesses a misleading title. The film is strictly a drama and fantasy, so don't expect any horror whatsoever. In fact, the scariest moment in the film is a nearly five-minute shot of Mara sorrowfully spoon-feeding an entire pie down her throat following the loss of her husband. Symbolic of the film's painfully slow demeanor, but also its poignant capturing of human emotion, A Ghost Story is a sluggish 90-minute indie that certainly pays off from a creative and artistic perspective.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Glass Castle

Destin Cretton is anything but a household name. Yet, the gifted filmmaker turned heads with his massively overlooked 2013 drama, Short Term 12. The effort bridged together Cretton's singular story and vision with the remarkable acting talents of Brie Larson. Since then Larson has gone on to win an Academy Award (Room), but her career comes full circle in her latest collaboration with Destin Cretton in the adapted film The Glass Castle.

Told non-chronologically through various flashbacks, The Glass Castle follows the unconventional childhood of gossip columnist and eventual Best-Selling author Jeannette Walls (Larson). Prior to her career as a writer, Walls grows up under the dysfunctional supervision of her alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson) and her amateur artist mother (Naomi Watts). But as Jeannette and her siblings begin to mature and fully comprehend their squatter-lifestyle and impoverished upbringing, they must work together to escape the clutches of their deadbeat parents.

Destin Cretton's The Glass Castle serves as a heavy drama that illustrates the director's keen vision and his cast's stellar performances. There are many captured shots scattered throughout the film that transcend the normal standards of direction, reminding us just how impressive Cretton truly is. Likewise, Brie Larson continues to shine and reinforce her standing as one of the best actresses alive today. And her counterpart, the underappreciated Woody Harrelson, always has a knack for commanding the screen. Witnessing these two titanic performers deliver the goods over and over again for more than two hours is what keeps this film from crumbling at the hands of its weaker elements.

For starters, The Glass Castle begins its constant rewinding of time through flashbacks with a fluid approach that effectively links the present with the past. However, eventually, the film ditches its smooth transitions and forcefully breaks from its underlying format. And as Jeannette's character begins to truly ponder the joy vs. sorrow of her childhood, deciding whether her father was an inspiration or a burden, the flashbacks become a hokey and contrived element rather than a useful and informative tool. But even through much of the screenplay's over-extension and sloppiness, exceptional direction and performances keep the audience connected to this powerful tale of familial struggle.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Thursday, August 3, 2017

DVD Outlook: August 2017

It appears August is rather barren with new DVD and streaming options (July's suggestions). Thankfully, a hot slate of diverse theatrical offerings such as The Big Sick, Dunkirk, War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming and so much more, you can find a worthwhile movie to enjoy no matter what your personal preference may be. Either way, here's a look at what's available on DVD and streaming services this month.

Alien: Covenant - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Earlier this year Ridley Scott returned to his storied Alien universe once again with the follow-up to 2012's Prometheus. In the latest installment, Scott and company shift their efforts from cryptic to visceral and disturbing with a bloody and twisted affair that feels immensely more horror-based than its predecessor. While on a colonizing mission to jump-start the humanity on a distant planet, crew members of the Covenant are awoken from their hibernation state following a malfunction with the vessel. Consequently, they abandon their long-term plans for a closer destination that proves to be a deadly decision. Covenant isn't the craftiest effort from the franchise but it certainly delivers some fine moments. It's difficult to sense where Ridley Scott will take things from here but as long as there's another Alien film, you can count me in. (August 15th)

Chuck - Not Scored or Reviewed

Rarely do I put a film that I haven't seen in my top 3 suggestions, but Chuck is one I've heard good things about and I plan to watch immediately. I had an advanced screening planned but because of unforeseen circumstances I had to pass my tickets along to a friend who raved about the Chuck Wepner biopic. Liev Schreiber stars as the retired boxer whose real life title fight with Muhammad Ali inspired the screenplay for Sylvester Stallone's Best Picture Winner, Rocky. With co-stars Naomi Watts, Elisabeth Moss and Michael Rappaport, this intriguing examination regarding the origins of one of Hollywood's most prolific films has legitimate knockout potential. (August 15th)

Sleight - 2 stars out of 4 - (No review available)

Under a normal set of circumstances, a film like Sleight wouldn't land in my top 3 suggestions. However, a lackluster crop of titles opens the door for this rather intriguing tale with a mediocre delivery. Newcomer Jacob Latimore stars as Bo, a young street magician who's forced to care for his young sister after the loss of their parents. Taking his remarkable talents to the streets for a modest payday, Bo becomes entangled with a dangerous drug dealer in order to make ends meet. But once he realizes that he's getting in too deep, he must figure out a way to cut ties and make it out alive. There's definitely more than meets the eye with Sleight, including some unexpected sci-fi that fits very well into the storyline. However, creativity doesn't hold the film back, it's a weak delivery and unimpressive acting that tempers the overall experience. (August 1st)

Honorable Mention: One of August's biggest DVD releases is the highly anticipated, albeit very disappointing, Marvel sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (8/22). Other mediocre options that I've reviewed include the war thriller The Wall (8/15), Zach Braff's geriatric heist comedy Going in Style (8/1), and SXSW selection Colossal (8/1) with Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. I highly suggest avoiding one of 2017's weakest efforts, the sci-fi drama The Circle (8/1) starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Finally, other notable options that I haven't seen include Snatched (8/8), Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (8/8), Baywatch (8/29) and indie My Cousin Rachel (8/29).

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Best Performances in Christopher Nolan Films

Like a writer pushing his deadline, guest-writer Greg Rouleau has stepped in to deliver the first of a three-part Movie List of the Month featuring the magnificent Christopher Nolan just before the calendar changed to August (June's list). To begin the upcoming movie list series Greg begins by highlighting the Top 10 performances featured in Nolan's film catalog. Here's a look at the selections:

#10. Matthew McConaughey - Interstellar (2014)

The apex of the “McConaissance” came when McConaughey, fresh off an Academy Award win for Best Actor, signed on to star in Nolan’s big-budget sci-fi epic, with an ensemble that included its fair share of Oscar winners and nominees.  Heading this cast in impressive fashion, McConaughey’s Cooper perfectly embodies the rural American family man who can’t deny his dormant thrill for exploration when he’s chosen to lead a team through a wormhole in hopes of discovering a new home for Earth’s inhabitants.  Coop’s great balance of heart, heroism and exuberance captain us through the equally emotional and thrilling time-bending odyssey as he faces the possibility of never seeing his family again, in a mission that – while however bleak - he deems as completely necessary.  

#9. Al Pacino - Insomnia (2002)

Al Pacino (Will Dormer) has never had an issue with playing it big -- chewing up the scenery was almost his shtick around the time he won an Oscar in 1992 -- but what Nolan pulls out of Pacino in Insomnia is a tremendously subtle, nuanced performance.  He never allows his performance to overshadow the story.  The movie is a masterclass in atmosphere and much of that is aided by the veteran Pacino as a guilt-stricken detective suffering from major sleep deprivation as he tracks down the suspected killer.

#8. Guy Pearce - Memento (2000)

Memento is the movie that made Christopher Nolan a name on the indie scene, and much of that can be attributed to the strong performance by Guy Pearce as the short-term memory deficient Leonard Shelby.  Pearce brings Nolan’s screenplay to life with his ability to have us empathize with Leonard as he struggles to deal with his condition.  If it weren’t bad enough that he spends half the movie tattooing notes on his body that serve as reminders of mundane tasks, we also come to understand his desire for vengeance that motivates him as he tracks down his wife’s killer. 

#7. Marion Cotillard - Inception (2010)

Much of Nolan’s films are male dominated with the actresses relegated to background roles and love interests.  With Inception, the French Oscar winner was tasked with arguably the most well rounded role for a woman in a Nolan movie to date.  As Mal, she is both the ambiguous villain whose projection haunts Cobb and creates a barrier between him and his team’s goal.  And through flashbacks, she is the loving wife that our protagonist left behind and stands as a symbol of what he once had.  Cotillard conveys both sides of her character flawlessly and delivers one of the finest performances in a Nolan movie, regardless of gender.  

#6. Robin Williams - Insomnia (2002)

What makes Al Pacino’s role in Insomnia work incredibly well is that he’s playing opposite of another major star at the top of his game, in Robin Williams as the obsessed author, Walter Finch.  In a year that saw Williams shed his typical funnyman reputation in favor of darker, edgier roles -- also seen in the underrated One Hour Photo -- it was truly remarkable to see how easily he could make the transition.  Williams had always shown a knack for the dramatic, but it was eerie to see just how well he could play sadistic.  

#5. Gary Oldman - The Dark Knight (2008)

In The Dark Knight, Gary Oldman turns in one of the best performances in the entire Dark Knight trilogy.  Ironically -- in a film with an all-time classic villain portrayal -- Oldman, usually known for being cast as the antagonist, slips further into the straight-edged Gordon with grace and ease.  It was evident from Batman Begins that Oldman had a strong grasp on the character and here he’s given much more to do including facing off against both the Joker and Two-Face and delivering the rousing final monologue that hammers home why Batman truly is the “Dark Knight”.

#4. Christian Bale - Batman Begins (2006)

Christian Bale was a relative unknown when he was cast as Bruce Wayne in the summer of 2003.  In his audition, Christopher Nolan mentioned he could see in Bale’s eyes the determination of someone who would go to such great lengths to create something as extraordinary as the Batman.  Thankfully, the movie works because of what Nolan saw in that audition.  It’s difficult to remember now after a successful trilogy, but the Batman franchise was on life support after the critically panned Batman & Robin.  Batman Begins success rested on the shoulders of Bale who not only revived the franchise but sent it to new heights with his impeccable portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader.   

#3. Mark Rylance - Dunkirk (2016)

In a movie where dialogue is kept to a minimum, it takes a true artist to give the kind of performance that Mark Rylance pulls off in Dunkirk.  As the stiff upper-lipped Mr. Dawson, Rylance portrays him with such poise as he heads into a situation where the odds of survival are grim.  One standout moment is late in the film when Dawson must acknowledge that his son made the right move to pacify a shell-shocked soldier, as he nods approvingly at his son’s coming to terms with the gravity of the situation.  It’s the work of a master craftsman who for most of the movie conveys so much while saying so little.  

#2. Christian Bale - The Prestige (2006)

Following their successful venture into Gotham City, Nolan and Christian Bale teamed up again for what would be their second of four collaborations, in The Prestige.  As Alfred Borden, a working-class magician obsessed with pushing the boundaries and maintaining the illusion of his artform, even if the consequences are deadly, Bale adeptly depicts the con-man side of magic.  What makes the performance even more impressive is on subsequent viewings -- after you’ve learned the twist -- you see how Bale adds subtle differences to both characters he portrays but maintains enough similarities to keep the illusion alive.  

#1. Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight (2008)

It’s somewhat remarkable to think about how the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker was met with such criticism.  Despite showcasing a broad range of talent in a diverse filmography, the late actor had some naysayers to prove wrong.  As it turned out, Ledger’s take on the Clown Prince of Gotham was seemingly the role he was born to play.  Inspired by A Clockwork Orange, his anarchic Joker seamlessly fit into the dark, twisted Gotham that Nolan created and will go down as one of the greatest villains ever put to screen.  As the film opened to a record setting box-office debut (at the time) and heaps of critical and fan adulation, Heath removed all doubt of what was once a suspicious casting decision and enforced Nolan’s keen eye for talent.  No amount of hyperbolic praise can do justice to what Heath created with this character. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Atomic Blonde and Wind River

Another raved-about entry from this year's SXSW lineup finds its way into theaters nationwide this weekend. David Leitch makes his directorial debut (well, sort of ... he was an uncredited but otherwise acknowledged co-director of 2014's John Wick) with Atomic Blonde, a Cold War spy-thriller headlined by the shape-shifting talents of Academy Award Winner Charlize Theron. And what's next on tap for the budding filmmaker who possesses a knack for intensely-choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences? Leitch has been handed the keys to the Deadpool franchise with June 2018's highly anticipated sequel.

A remarkably skilled and insanely attractive M-16 Agent from England (Theron) is thrust into the heart of Berlin during the Cold War. Her mission is to coordinate with another implanted spy (James McAvoy) in order to investigate the death of a fellow agent, and to recover a widely valuable list of double-agents. But as her plans quickly become foiled, one after another, she realizes that no one can be trusted.

Action gets a whole lot sexier with Atomic Blonde. But for as eye-popping as the film is, on many accounts, Leitch's effort stands as a classic example of style over substance. Atomic Blonde captures its Cold War setting perfectly thanks to an infusion of 80s retro in every inch of every scene. Yet, the film's desperate desire to outsmart the smartest person in the room with a twisty third-act feels forcibly unnatural and dissatisfying. Atomic Blonde opens with an explosive bang but the excitement and effect dissipates as the story further unravels. Theron's rangy skill-set is on full display as she both looks and feels the part in a role that requires rigorous amounts of physicality. Leitch does show why he's a strong choice to take over the reins of the Deadpool franchise, with impressively stylish and uptempo direction. But as Atomic Blonde presses on to its slightly disappointing final moments, the movie closes in a noticeably weaker fashion than it opens.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water and Sicario) knows a thing or two about crafting a well-oiled story. But nowadays, the hot commodity has his sights set on a larger role as he directs his first feature film since 2011, the Wyoming-set crime thriller Wind River. Sheridan's Cannes and Sundance selected feature takes a little time to get going, but it ultimately plays quite well by the time the credits roll.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy) works as a hunter and tracker for the Department of Game and Fish in the snowy mountains of Wyoming. And when Cory stumbles upon the body of a dead girl on a Native American reservation, he teams with a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and the reservation's head of police (Graham Greene) to investigate the murder. Together they battle jurisdiction complications and harsh wintry conditions while trying to solve the local crime.

Taylor Sheridan's Wind River struggles through a moping first act that reaches boldly for distractingly ineffective dramatics. Leading pair Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen also stumble out of the gate, never feeling right for their roles at first glance. But as Sheridan's cohesive story begins to take shape so do their characters, which allows the film to build momentum en route to its sleekly delivered "big reveal". Wind River's mystery comes together through an original and remarkably fluid explanation that reminds us just how talented of a writer Sheridan truly is. And although his direction clearly plays second fiddle to a riveting murder mystery, Wind River improves with every passing minute and closes with an absolute bang, once again solidifying the writer/director's standing in contemporary Hollywood.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League (NEW) Trailers

Comic-Com is always a hot bed for debuting new footage, and one of the hot trailers to drop at this year's event belongs to Thor: Ragnarok. In the latest Thor (Chris Hemsworth) saga, the God of Thunder is forced to assemble a team of fighters including The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and others to fend off the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett) who plans to destroy Asgard and reconstruct it in her own dubious image. Thor: Ragnarok arrives in theaters early this November and you can catch the film's first-look trailer below.

Another Comic-Com release includes DC's upcoming major title, Justice League. With rumors of re-shoots and Zach Snyder's unfortunate family matter that resulted in him stepping away from the film late in the process, DC's once "gem" is beginning to look like a cursed effort. Batman (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to recruit a team of metahumans to combat a world-destroying threat before it's too late. Justice League will introduce Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to DC's ever-expanding universe. While some may argue this as a make-or-break effort for the Marvel counterpart, as long as the box office results stay strong, there's no reason to expect an ending in sight. Check out the latest footage for Justice League below.

Friday, July 21, 2017


Christopher Nolan, a name that needs no introduction. As one of the most notable filmmakers in the world today, Nolan has earned the right to not be questioned. "Unconventional" is his calling card. So when it was reported that his new WWII epic, Dunkirk, boasts a running time of only 106 minutes, a far cry from the two and half and three hour staples we've come to expect from iconic war films, the only thought running through my head was "in Nolan we trust".

In the early stages of World War II, the Germans have cornered Allied forces onto the beaches of Dunkirk, France. And rather than wasting valuable tanks to finish them off, the Germans bombard these helpless soldiers with an aerial attack of gunfire and bombs. But as word spreads to the common folk of Great Britain that their young fighters are stranded on the beachfront, they take matters into their own hands and embark on a heroic rescue mission across the channel to retrieve their soldiers.

Look no further than works such as The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento, Interstellar and many others to understand that Christopher Nolan has made a career off of unforgettable filmmaking. His latest entry is yet another spellbinding experience that refuses to waver in intensity. Nolan's direction is sharp and on point while Dunkirk's cinematography is nothing short of majestic. But when all is said and done, the true all-star behind this film is Nolan's regular collaborating partner, composer Hans Zimmer. His relentless score keeps your heart pounding as the bullets fly and the bombs explode throughout the entire duration of the film.

Although Dunkirk represents an exceptionally-made piece of cinematic art, it doesn't come without its blemishes. Dialogue is rare to come by, not that it necessarily matters, but it leads to a lack of character development and any real semblance of a story that ultimately plagues the film and keeps it from being an absolute masterpiece. Instead, Dunkirk simply unravels as a sequence of events which capture a truly amazing real-life occurrence. And the film's underlying dichotomy of both bravery and cowardice in the face of danger is delivered eloquently. Dunkirk is another strong piece of filmmaking from Nolan, something we've come to expect with each new release of his, but its complete disregard for character building and failure to offer a true narrative structure absolutely destroy the film's re-watchability. Oscar chatter is already being thrown around for this July release and I really wouldn't be surprised one way or the other. But if you're in search of a gut-wrenching and high octane throwback to World War II, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk will certainly take you on a ride unlike any other.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Snowman and The Disaster Artist Trailers

From the acclaimed Best Selling Novel comes Tomas Alfredson's (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let the Right One In) October murder-mystery, The Snowman. Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, a detective determined to find a killer who taunts the police with snowmen at his crime scenes. Readers were enthralled by the novel and if the film can be anywhere near as good, then we may have the year's most gripping crime-thriller on our hands. Check out the debut trailer for The Snowman which just dropped this morning.

Tommy Wiseau's 2003 indie film, The Room, has been labeled as one of the worst films ever made, but that hasn't stopped it from earning an impressive cult following. And after debuting a "work in progress" screening at this year's SXSW Film Festival, James Franco's behind-the-scenes darkly comic, albeit respectful, dramatization, The Disaster Artist, became the talk of the town. Franco's brother, Dave, and regular partner in crime, Seth Rogen, co-star in this underdog December release. Catch the first-look teaser trailer for The Disaster Artist below.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves closes out his third (and perhaps final?) installment of the rejuvenated Planet of the Apes franchise with this weekend's release. And while lofty praises continue to pour in for this latest effort, the film doesn't quite justify its combative title. Instead, Reeves bridges his story arc with the 1968 original film through an ambitious effort that reaches for a more emotional angle than battle-infused centerpiece.

While Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the rest of his advanced ape society reside deep in the wilderness, they suffer a severe number of casualties during ambush attacks from a human army led by "The Colonel" (Woody Harrelson). But as the majority of the ape population wishes to trek beyond the mountains in search of a new land to call home, Caesar and a select few turn their backs on the tribe and seek vengeance on The Colonel. The feuding leaders meet in the midst of a deadly showdown that could determine the fate of humanity.

Matt Reeves' aspiring epic prides itself on themes of family, revenge, sacrifice and morality. And one of the most profound aspects of the film is how Reeves and co-writer Matt Bomback circumvent any sense of repetition with the franchise's last film and continually drive heady, new ideas into this 140-minute tour de force. In doing so, War for the planet of the Apes always provides a clever turning of the page in its story and never falls victim to what could have been a long-winded endeavor. But despite these well-crafted shifts throughout the film, its screenplay does miss the mark with some puzzling new developments, especially those transforming Koba-loyalist apes into traitors who now pledge their allegiances to the humans. Koba was so anti-human and the backbone of the second film's brutal battle between the two ape factions, that it seems completely implausible.

Another interesting development is the lack of full fledged combat in a film that carries a title such as this one. Rather than funneling his attention to a string of action-packed fight scenes, Reeves and company pivot their tale to a more emotional side of Caesar. In some regards this element of the film becomes very preachy, often reminding the viewer via dialogue all along the way as to why Caesar and his small pack are on their mission. Yet, this lofty attempt at the dramatics also serves as a refreshing and much-needed twist to the saga that Reeves captures pretty well. War for the Planet of the Apes isn't exactly the masterpiece some have labeled it to be, but the latest and possibly final chapter in this set of prequels is without a doubt a satisfying one.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, July 17, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (NEW) and A Wrinkle in Time (Teaser) Trailers

This October Denis Villeneuve (Arrival and Sicario) will re-brand Ridley Scott's beloved sci-fi universe with the sequel Blade Runner 2049. Set three decades after Scott's effort, a new Blade Runner named Officer K (Ryan Gosling) enlists the assistance of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in order to combat a dark secret with the potential to destroy society. Villeneuve is one of the hottest filmmakers in the industry and fresh off an Oscar nod, Ryan Gosling in the lead role has to excite everyone. Catch the just-released newest trailer for Blade Runner 2049 below.

Ava DuVernay tackles the classic Madeleine L'Engle novel, A Wrinkle in Time, slated for a March 2018 release. Following the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine), Meg Murry (Storm Reid) travels into space with her brother and friend in order to find him. This debut trailer for DuVernay's effort looks spectacular and feels authentic. With Reese Witherspoon, Michael Pena, Zach Galifianakis, Oprah Winfrey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in supporting roles, A Wrinkle in Time could be a surprisingly worthwhile early-year release in 2018. Catch the film's first-look footage below.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Despicable Me 3 and The House

If there's one current animated franchise I always look forward to, it's the Despicable Me films. Credited directors Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillon (co-director) bring to theaters the third installment of this series. Yet, with each subsequent journey into the hilarious and complicated life of former-super-villain Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the Despicable Me franchise seems to take a step backwards.

After foiling an attempt at capturing the disgruntled former child star and 80s retro villain, Balthazar Bratt (voiced by South Park creator Trey Parker), Gru and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from the Anti-Villain League (AVL). And just as Gru breaks the unfortunate news to his trio of adopted daughters, he's visited by a man who reveals that Gru has a twin brother named Dru (also Steve Carell) who happens to possess a taste for villainy himself. The estranged siblings engage in some mischievous behavior behind Lucy's back and it leads on a path back to Balthazar Bratt once again.

Despicable Me 3 misses a grand opportunity with the franchise's over-arching story to develop a deep and impactful character conflict with Gru, all while continuing to keep its running time under the 100-minute threshold. Rather, the team involved takes a simpler and thoughtless approach that keeps the effort from ever really standing out. Sure, the film delivers familiar laughs with its quirky main characters and boundless minions, who always find clever ways of bringing the humor, but devoting all of its attention to a contrived twin-brother creation fails to take the Despicable Me franchise any further. If you aren't already an invested fan of the series, then there isn't nearly enough to warrant a watch.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Over the last two decades Will Ferrell's career trajectory has been trending in the wrong direction. Its path falling steeper and steeper with each passing movie decision. But it's the latest co-called "comedy" from first-time director and established screenwriter, Andrew Jay Cohen (Neighbors 1 & 2 and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), that marks an absolute low for the one-time king of comedy.

Timid suburban parents Scott and Kate (Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are banking on a local town scholarship to help pay for their daughter's expensive college tuition. But when a crooked councilman (Nick Kroll) votes to terminate the scholarship fund in favor of building a fancy new community pool, they must do whatever it takes to afford the first fall payment, even if it means opening an underground casino in their emotionally unstable friend's (The League's Jason Mantzoukas) house. The couple quickly learns that they have to toughen up in order to run a successful and respectable illegal gambling operation.

The story borderlines on lunacy, the laughs are almost non-existent and, in fact, there's almost nothing redeeming in Cohen's The House. I apply to the school where comedies are supposed to be clever and make you laugh. The "clever" tag has faded a bit over the years, but at least most modern comedies can still generate a response with some type of identifiable humor. Oddly, The House doubles down on incoherently improvised gibberish that's neither funny or effective in any way, shape or form. Known for his outlandishly over-the-top personae in tv shows and on the big screen, Jason Mantzoukas stands as the only lifeline in the film and, honestly, he isn't all that great either. Roll the dice with something, even anything, else and take a long walk away from The House.

Stars: 1 star out of 4

Grade: D

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Dark Tower (NEW) and Geostorm Trailers

It took a while for Stephen King's series-origin novel, The Dark Tower, to finally get transferred onto the big-screen, but with each new trailer the excitement builds for Nikolaj Arcel's adaptation. Idri Elba stars as The Gunslinger, a man who protects the Dark Tower from The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who wishes to reign terror on both their world and planet Earth. A new international trailer has just landed for The Dark Tower and gives an even deeper glimpse into the upcoming August release. Check out the new footage below.

If you're itching for a cheesy end of the world action flick with some insane visual effects, then Dean Devlin and Danny Cannon's have just what you're looking floor with their October release, Geostorm. Set in a future where severe storms have threatened human survival on Earth, humanity comes together to build a satellite system that can control the weather. But when those satellites begin to malfunction just as Earth faces a catastrophic storm, a pair of brothers (Gerard Butler and Jim Sturgess) are on a race against time to fix the issue and save humanity from annihilation. You can catch the debut trailer for Geostorm below.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Beguiled

While many critics and outlets constantly insist that audiences are starving for the Spider-Man film that they deserve, it feels too much like revisionist history. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man starring Tobey McGuire in 2002 (89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 73 Meta-Critic score) and Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield in 2012 (72%, 66) both opened to strong critical approval. Yet, this rapid return to the Peter Parker character is a whole new ballgame with a completely different feel and trajectory. Marvel's Cinematic Universe (MCU) enters the heart of its third "Phase" with a mountain of steam, but can Spider-Man: Homecoming deliver?

Set a few months after the events of Captain America:Civil War, a 15 year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is operating under the watchful eye of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his loyal assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). But as Peter tries harder and harder to impress Stark with his superhero alter ego Spider-Man, he uncovers an underground arms creator and dealer (Michael Keaton) whose powerful weaponry bridges alien technology with human machinery. Instructed by Stark to stop his pursuit of the arms dealer, Peter disobeys the orders and finds himself face to face with a nefarious foe.

Homecoming fits seamlessly into the MCU with a familiar foundation of humor and action. Built on the shoulders of an ingratiating and clumsy teenage geek, played wonderfully by rising star Tom Holland, Marvel's latest release places the universe's macro storyline back on course. Insane visual effects form a web-like cohesion with witty one-line zingers to help keep the action-train churning. These over-extended sequences occur frequently and dwindle in effectiveness with each recurring appearance in the film, yet they're easily overshadowed by some clever maneuvering with the screenplay and Tom Holland's alluring performance. And as I usually criticize the MCU for its lack of attention to its film's central villains, Michael Keaton's Vulture is birthed from a truly intriguing concept. Although Homecoming fails to adequately venture down that creative path, instead delving too deep into Peter's buffoonish teenage quandaries, there's enough meat on the bones to entertain in exactly the way a summer blockbuster should.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Having grown up under the tutelage of her father and directing great, Francis Ford Coppola, it's no surprise that filmmaking and storytelling stream through the bloodlines of Sophia Coppola. Her natural talents earned Sophia capture an Oscar nomination for Directing before her 33rd birthday with the widely-adored Best Picture nominee, Lost in Translation. But since then, Coppola has struggled to return to the same heights she once scaled early in her career. And not much changes with Coppola's new dark and Southern Gothic tale, The Beguiled.

During the Civil War in Virginia, a few remaining women at an All-Girl's school shelter and care for a severely injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) they find just off their property. And as he slowly progresses in health, sexual tensions begin to overtake the house and lead to a competition for his affection. Yet, all of this attention from the woman turns out to be a curse in the making.

As expected Sophia Coppola continues to shine as a filmmaker, flashing riveting camera work and spectacular vision. She has an attraction to period pieces, where she brings together spectacular set design and exquisite costume design to create a genuine mood to the feature. But despite this strong foundation that supports The Beguiled. the slow-burning drama's somber story fails to deliver a bold-enough conclusion. Coppola's latest is an adapted work, which means this disappointment can't rest squarely on her shoulders. However, a compelling and well-acted build-up, courtesy of noteworthy turns from Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, ends up squandered by a timid finale that doesn't do any justice to The Beguiled.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Monday, July 3, 2017

DVD Outlook: July 2017

If I'm being honest, July doesn't have much to offer in terms of its upcoming DVD and streaming releases. You'd be better served catching up on other movies from previous months (June's suggestions), heading to the theaters for a new release, or binge watching a show or two. Either way, here's a look at the new titles available this month.

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

I haven't been too kind to directly Ben Wheatley in the past, but the unique filmmaker puts his stylish eye to good use in the shoot em up action comedy, Free Fire. Set during the late 70s in Boston, two parties meet inside of an abandoned warehouse to take part in a massive arms deal. Yet, when tensions begin to rise for a multitude of reasons, the weapons get put to good use in an epic shoot out. Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley lead a strong cast that produce stellar performances in a script that's heavy on both action and humor. And just as the non-stop gunfire begins to grow tiresome, Wheatley wraps up his film in an unexpected fashion. There's nothing groundbreaking at work in Free Fire, but it's a sure-fire good time. (July 18th)

Kong: Skull Island - 2 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

The latest Kong reboot offers a ludicrous script with phenomenal visual effects. Unlike the recent return to the Godzilla saga, Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers plenty of the title monster and a whole lot more. As a team of scientists are escorted by the military towards an uncharted island in the Pacific following the close of the Vietnam war, they discover that monsters exist all over the mysterious island. Samuel L. Jackson does what he does best, providing genuine comic relief at the hands of an absurd storyline, but the military presence in the film does stand as an intriguing element. But beyond all of the muck and playful craziness that lurks throughout Kong, the films manages to entertain adequately enough. (July 18th)

Gifted - 2 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Chris Evans trades his Captain America outfit and shield for a more sentimental flavor in Marc Webb's Gifted. Evans stars as the primary caretaker of his brilliant and spirited 7 year-old niece. He hopes to raise the girl in a simple and sociable atmosphere, but things get complicated when his mother (and her grandmother) arrives and a custody battle ensues. Youngster McKenna Grace delivers an exceptional performance, and co-star Octavia Spencer continues her string of exceptional work in this moving film. Yet, as you engage in this custody battle throughout Gifted, the resolution feels cheaply written and nonsensical, forcing the movie to end on a bit of a sour note. (July 25th)

Honorable Mention: Two lesser known films I haven't seen but are on my radar include the based on a true-story adventure, The Lost City of Z (7/11), and the British dramedy, Their Finest (7/11). Franchise blockbuster The Fate of the Furious (7/11) also arrives this month, and so does the WWII true drama, The Zookeeper's Wife (7/4), starring Jessica Chastain. A pair of options for the whole family include The Boss Baby (7/25) and Smurfs: The Lost Village (7/11), while Terrence Malick's SXSW Opening Night film, Song to Song (7/4), and ScarJo's sci-fi entry, Ghost in the Shell (7/25), round out July's new options.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Greatest Showman and Breathe (2017) Trailers

Fresh off of La La Land's remarkable success comes Michael Gracey's original new musical, The Greatest Showman. The Christmas release will be a directorial debut for Gracey and it stars the theatrical stamina of Hugh Jackman. Its story follows the rise of P.T. Barnum (Jackman) and his revolutionary origins of "show business". Also featuring Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Rebecca Ferguson, The Greatest Showman delivers some spectacular footage in its first official trailer. See it for yourself below.

Andrew Garfield has quite a cinematic year in 2016 with an Oscar-nominated turn in Hacksaw Ridge and a lead showing in Scorsese's Silence. Garfield returns this October in Andy Serkis' awards season hopeful, Breathe. Garfield stars as Robin Cavendish, an adventurous fellow who wins the love of his beautiful wife (Claire Foy), only to succumb to the paralyzing effects of polio. At first glance Breathe appears to filled with and Oscar-baity story and performance, but I'm feeling a bit skeptical of its chances. However, Garfield is a remarkably gifted actor and if anyone can pull it off, it's him. Catch the debut trailer for Breathe below.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rapid Reviews: The Big Sick and Beatriz at Dinner

Kudos are in order as Judd Apatow has officially transformed an acclaimed filmmaking career into legitimate brand-name recognition. The "Apatow" name has become synonymous with comedy, and it's been plastered all over television screens and billboards as a luring attraction for the general public. His film company's latest production, director Michael Showalter's Sundance Audience Award winner The Big Sick, brings hilarity back to the forefront of independent cinema, reminding us why it's always worthwhile to take a chance on any creative endeavor cloaked with the "Apatow" seal.

Kumail (Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani-born amateur comedian living in Chicago. After a performance one night, he meets a free-spirited white woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan) and their instant connection quickly turns into a meaningful relationship. But when the strict Muslim beliefs of Kumail's family force a wedge in their relationship, Emily soon suffers a severe sickness that leaves her comatose, and the trying situation helps give Kumail the strength he needs to confront his loved-ones.

The Big Sick is a poignant and timely examination of the modern Americanized Muslim struggling with their own faith. In an era of division across all walks of life, Michael Showalter's hysterical work addresses cultural and religious differences with nothing but sheer love. The tenderness displayed from scene to scene is effortlessly organic and stems from the real-life inspirations of star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife and co-writer, Emily V. Gordon. Scripted from their own crazy and true love story, taking creative license with only a few minor exceptions, Nanjiani and Gordon pen a wonderful screenplay that does a phenomenal job of setting up perfect comedic conclusions to the film's more personal moments. No matter what direction the story wanders, The Big Sick always circles back to its humor-first foundation. This well-balanced dramedy also benefits from brilliantly crafted characters that come to life through unique chemistry and fearless performances. Nanjiani and Kazan light up the screen together, which allows for a bitterly outstretched third act to feel like nothing more than a mere hiccup in an otherwise exceptional romantic comedy.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

It's rare, but I went into Miguel Arteta's new drama, Beatriz at Dinner, completely blind. I hadn't seen a trailer or read a synopsis. It was the film's modest 82-minute running time and familiar favorites such as Salma Hayek and John Lithgow that were enough to draw me into the theater. Yet, this darkly-comedic Sundance selection packages together the story of an unlikely encounter with an absurdly frustrating finale that leaves Beatriz at Dinner as a remarkably forgettable film.

Beatriz (Hayek) is an illegal immigrant who happens to be an expert at holistic medicine. She lives a very simple lifestyle, but travels to the wealthy Los Angeles home of a family she's helped treat for years. And when car troubles leave her stranded at the residence just moments before an important business-related dinner party, Beatriz becomes an extra dinner guest at a table that includes billionaire real estate developer, Doug Strutt (Lithgow). The evening's events provide Beatriz with an in-depth look at how the rich and powerful view the world around them, and how different it is from her own experiences.

Director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White deliver a tone-deaf effort, one whose underlying sense of mystery and intrigue can only take the film so far. Eventually, Beatriz at Dinner becomes forced to show its hand, and everything spirals downward quickly from that point on. There aren't any issues with the onscreen work of this finely-assembled cast. The audience takes an unfamiliar journey into the life of Beatriz, an extremely unique character which Hayek engulfs so well. However, as the minutes mount and tensions between these opposing lifestyles grow, Beatriz at Dinner loses its voice with motivated rhetoric and pseudo thrills. The entire chance-encounter between the title character and tycoon Doug Strutt seemlessly morphs into a caricature of a dinner party. Both characters deviate into bloated figureheads of conflicting ideals, settling into a nauseating resolve that's littered with disappointment after disappointment until the final credits arrive to rescue us all from the torment.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Stronger and Thank You for Your Service Trailers

As we get into the swing of the summer season, fall's potential Oscar players begin to unveil their trailers. One such film comes from the long-time comedy guru, David Gordon Green. Stronger's Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman, a Boston native who lost his legs during the deadly 2013 marathon attack. And as he struggles to accept his fate, Jeff also serves as a valuable resource for investigators as they work diligently to find the bombers. It's evident that Stronger will be a heavy drama and perhaps one that could propel Jake Gyllenhaal into the heart of the Best Actor race. Stronger debuts September 22nd and you can catch the film's first trailer below

From the screenwriter of American Sniper and the producers of Lone Survivor comes the latest tale of a soldier struggling to adjust to life after war in Jason Hall's Thank You for Your Service. Miles Teller stars as Adam Schumann, a decorated soldier experiencing severe PTSD as he attempts to live a normal life with his family, Thank You for Your Service appears to be a respectful nod to the soldiers who put their lives on the line for freedom, as well as the lack of resources our country provides for them after the fact. Thank You for Your Service arrives in late October and you can catch the film's debut trailer below.