Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Rough Night and 47 Meters Down

Back in 2009 Paul Feig's Bridesmaids launched the R-rated female comedy genre into the middle of mainstream cinema. And since then, stars like Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey and Amy Schumer have carried the torch through a mostly unspectacular crop of releases. But in-steps the eye-popping Scarlett Johansson, an unlikely character actress who finds herself starring in Broad City director Lucia Aniello's feature film debut, Rough Night.

The film centers around bride-to-be Jess (Johansson), a state politician caught in the middle of a neck-and-neck race. Her former college roommate (Jillian Bell) demands an elaborate bachelorette getaway weekend, and things go completely sideways when a freak accident leads to a dead stripper in their shore house. Jess and her best friends need to put their petty grievances aside and work together to avoid some serious jail time.

There are a few strong positives provided in Lucia Aniello's Rough Night. Cleverly scripted humor is sprinkled throughout, allowing the film to do more than just rely on raunchy and vulgar jokes. In addition, Scarlett Johansson transitions from drama to comedy with exceptional ease. Her performance is the glue that holds the rest of this up-and-down cast together. Co-stars Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer and SNL's Kate McKinnon, who sports her finest Aussie accent, each offer a handful of shining moments. Yet, they also suffer from grossly embellished characters and instances of all-out absurdity. Sometimes the craziness is effective, but other times it's a legitimate concern. Futhermore, Rough Night's secondary storyline following Jess' fiance Peter (screenwriter and co-star Paul W. Downs) is way over the top. If you're seeking some easy and constant laughs with little regard for a sensible plot, Rough Night will surely suffice. But if you're searching for a comedy that's plausible and grounded in reality, then you should look elsewhere.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

The Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" marathon is right around the corner and if you're trying to find a way to set the mood for July's annual festivities, you may want to consider Johannes Roberts' new underwater thriller, 47 Meters Down. Roberts, who has also been handed the keys to the upcoming 2018 horror sequel Strangers 2, brings a recognizable lead, Mandy Moore, on board for this new release. And with shark infested waters and bikini clad women dominating the screen time, what more could a horror fan ask for?

Sisters Lisa (Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are vacationing in Mexico trying to break Lisa out of her conventional and boring lifestyle. But when Kate convinces her sister to climb into a rickety cage in the middle of the ocean surrounded by enormous Great White Sharks, things go south quickly when the cage breaks from the ship and crashes 47 meters below to the ocean floor. Running out of oxygen and with blood-thirsty sharks hovering above, the sisters try desperately to formulate a plan for survival.

There are some noteworthy elements to Johannes Roberts' tense new thriller. After a heart-pounding free-fall into the dark depths of the ocean floor, 47 Meters Down makes you feel the confinement of its lead characters. The film provides an inherent "ticking time bomb effect" with air-tank gauges that constantly remind the audience of the impending doom. Moreover, the visual effects with the sharks are superb, creating genuine fear during their timely arrivals on screen. But despite these effective attributes to the film, 47 Meters Down finds itself mired in a repetitious cycle of conflicts and resolutions that transform this 89-minute experience into an unimaginable marathon. And as the film crawls to its finale, Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera miss the mark completely with a crafty ending that doesn't quite provide the punch that they were expecting. 47 Meters Down is a frustratingly slow, albeit occasionally tense, thriller that turns its back on some golden opportunities.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Best Movie Dads

This being my first Father's Day celebration as a dad, I decided to put together a list of the best cinematic fathers for June's Movie List of the Month (May's list). Since being a dad is hard work and time consuming, this was a spur of the moment list and one that I may have missed some notable choices. Feel free to comment below with some of your personal favorites and ones I've regretfully omitted. Happy Father's Day to anyone out there who's performing a father-like role!

Honorable Mention: Bill Nighy - About TimeEugene Levy - American Pie, Ray Liotta - BlowStanley Tucci - Easy A, Sean Connery - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and J.K. Simmons - Juno

#5. (Voice of) Albert Brooks - Finding Nemo (2003)

I'm going to kick off my Top 5 with the animated film Finding Nemo, which tells the fantastic story of a father who goes to great depths to save his son. After Nemo becomes captured by a boat full of scuba divers, his father, Marlin (Brooks), teams with a forgetful Blue Tang (Ellen DeGeneres) to rescue him from impending doom at the hands a dentist's reckless, brace-faced niece. Marlin never gives up in his quest for Nemo and even learns a few positive parenting tips along the way. 

#4. Liam Neeson - Taken (2008)

Looking back at another heroic father whose love for his daughter knows no bounds, Liam Neeson reminds everyone to make sure that a girl's father doesn't know "a particular set of skills" before kidnapping her. Retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson) learns that his daughter's been abducted on a European trip and travels the globe to kill her captors and hopefully find her alive. Not only is Mills an absolute killing machine, but he also has a soft spot for the special young lady in his life.

#3. Marlon Brando - The Godfather (1972)

Not all dads can provide positive influences in every aspect of life, some are saddled with a darker side. Yet, no one can ever question Don Corleone's (Brando) love for his family. As the patriarch and head of an organized crime empire approaches the latter stages of life, he tries passing the immense responsibility and leadership onto his reluctant son Michael (Al Pacino). The Godfather isn't just a gangster-film masterpiece, it's a beautiful examination of loyalty and family-commitment through and through.

#2. Robin Williams - Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Here to lighten the mood is the late Robin Williams' masterful performance in Mrs. Doubtfire. After a fed up mother (Sally Field) decides to divorce her hilariously childish husband (Williams), they embark on a bitter custody battle that provider her full custody and leaves him with Saturday visits only. He decides to do whatever it takes to see more of his children, even if it means dressing in drag and posing as their new British nanny. This clever and comical story simply revolves around the boundless love between a father and his three kids.

#1. Chevy Chase - National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)

Finally, The National Lampoon's Clark Griswold (Chase) takes the top honor as cinema's greatest dad. Clark's patriarchal conquests (or lack thereof) span a collection of films, but I'll focus on his humble beginnings when a family road-trip to the Wally World theme park tests his patience and sanity. Life isn't always too kind to Clark, but he's been blessed with a (sometimes) loving family whom he cherishes. And through these ups and downs that the world constantly throws his way, Clark reminds us all that family is the most important thing we have.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rapid Reviews: It Comes at Night and The Book of Henry

Having experienced both of his films, it's clear that Trey Edward Schults cares more about how his movies make you feel rather than the boldness of their stories. Consequently, the young filmmaker has maneuvered a stranglehold over the independent filmmaking world with his festival-darling debut feature, Krisha. Countless accolades from the most prominent indie awards groups bridged Schults' accessibility to bigger talent and larger funds in order to return with his shamefully mis-marketed follow-up, It Comes at Night.

A highly infectious disease has dwindled mankind and a former history teacher (Joel Edgerton) has managed to keep his wife and teenage son alive in a secluded and enclosed shelter in the middle of the woods. But when a stranger arrives at their safe-haven seeking water and refuge for his family, they agree to stay in the shelter together and combine resources. Yet, tensions arise when both families quickly discover that they'll do whatever's necessary to stay alive.

I can't understand why It Comes at Night has been branded as a horror film when its most terrifying scenes all occur in a handful of brief dream sequences. If you're chasing scares, then look elsewhere. Instead, Schults' sophomoric effort blends feelings of claustrophobia, paranoia and fear into a rangy psychological drama that offers rare and thinly-spread moments of suspense. Trey Edward Schults uses a manipulation of aspect ratios and clever camerawork to frame instances in the story that elicit various emotions from the viewer. It's a unique ability that resonates well, but one that also needs a complement of other factors to fully appease the audience. Therefore, despite the film's narrowly developed story, exceptional performances from the entire cast help ease its slow-building tension that mounts like a well-choreographed dance as the stakes for survival grow higher and higher. It Comes at Night shows a darker side of humanity through a largely ambiguous lens. Personally, I enjoyed connecting the dots and cementing my own belief to the film's events. However, if you're someone who needs to know every little detail of a story, then expect to be frustrated. But either way, we'll all remember exactly how the film's explosive finale made us feel.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Director Colin Trevorrow's career has been on an odd trajectory ever since his well-made 2012 indie debut, Safety Not Guaranteed. The film's sci-fi backdrop and critical success paved the way for Trevorrow's emergence on the big-budget blockbuster stage with the money-printing franchise reboot, Jurassic World. Yet, before he closes out the latest Star Wars trilogy as the visionary behind 2019's concluding Episode IX, Trevorrow changes course entirely with the new limited-release drama, The Book of Henry.

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is a remarkably gifted and bright 11 year old boy who serves as the voice of maturity in a household that includes his waitress mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). But when Henry discovers that his next door neighbor and classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler) is being abused by her police-chief stepfather (Dean Norris), he concocts a deadly plan to help free her from this miserable home life. Yet, unable to take care of matters himself, Henry pens a precisely detailed book so that his mother can carry out the plan.

At its core, The Book of Henry tells a heartbreaking, albeit somewhat uplifting, tale that satisfies with minor elements of humor, suspense and tenderness. Yet, an unforeseen sappy mid-section, one that would typically crumble under normal circumstances, plays surprisingly well thanks to a pair of Hollywood's most talented young performers. Jordan Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay. Lieberher broke into the industry as Bill Murray's sidekick in the affable comedy St. Vincent, while Tremblay is best known as the youngster in recent Best Picture nominee, Room. Together, these two stars in the making guide the audience through a messy and flawed story. Trevorrow and screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz attempt to wrap everything up in an inspiring fashion, yet force puzzling and unrealistic behaviors onto characters in order to make this narrative fit. Henry's cerebral and premeditated nature constantly preaches the notion that any miscalculation can throw off a plan entirely. Sadly, in opposition to what The Book of Henry teaches, flimsy and imperfect writing transforms this fun and heartfelt drama into a wildly mediocre film.

Stars: 2  stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Black Panther (TEASER) and American Made Trailers

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its expansion as we're given a teaser trailer for Ryan Coogler's (Creed) 2018 entry, Black Panther. Following the events from Civil War, King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to rule his technologically advanced African Country where he finds a faction of his civilians who desire to overthrow his power. Black Panther is set for a tempered February release early next year, but it should primed for another huge box office as a spin-off sage from Marvel. Catch the premiere teaser trailer below.

Tom Cruise's weekend release, The Mummy, hasn't fared too well, but the one-time king of the box office hopes to rebound with September's crime-thriller, American Made. Doug Liman's (The Bourne Identity) 1980s-set film follows a pilot (Cruise) who aids the CIA on a reconnaissance mission to a volatile Central America where he soon finds himself atop one of the agency's biggest covert missions of all-time. A Cruise-Liman collaboration should pique the interest of action fans everywhere, and you can see American Made's first-look trailer below.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Wonder Woman and Baby Driver

With inadequate disappointments such as Man of Steel, BvS: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad paving the way for the budding DC Comics film universe, something needed to jump-start this hypothetical super-world. And that film has finally arrived, courtesy of Monster director, Patty Jenkins, and what's only her second feature film. Wonder Woman tells the epic origin story of a god-like princess-warrior with some insane battle moves. What more could you possibly want?

Raised on the island paradise of Themyscira, a young Diana (Gal Gadot) develops a fascination with hand-to-hand combat training. Under the tutelage of her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), a skilled army general, Diana becomes the most gifted warrior among all her people. And when a British spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane off the coast of the island, Diana learns of the first great World War and accompanies Steve back into the heart of Europe in order to confront an ancient prophecy.

If the premise sounds a bit messy, well that's because it is. But Wonder Woman's hybrid-blending tale of mythology and chronicled world-history is a beautiful mess indeed. The film's first act details Diana's life on an island paradise hidden from the rest of the world. Surreal and other-worldly circumstances mold effortlessly with reality the moment Steve Trevor enters the picture. Chris Pine injects a much-needed energy that's complemented to perfection by co-star Gal Gadot's idealistic and infectious persona. Furthermore, Diana's obliviousness to the real world acts as a clever genesis to Wonder Woman's exceptional comedic elements. The banter between Steve and Diana is well-written and organic, which also allows for their characters to develop as the story progresses. But not only is the writing stellar, Pine and Gadot prove to be extremely capable leads as well. Perhaps, more surprising is Gadot's natural transition into the spotlight. Her charm, talent and beauty make stardom look so easy, it's impressive. And despite a finale that achieves its goal in a less-than perfect fashion, Wonder Woman is too smooth and enjoyable of a ride to shy away from.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

One of the hottest films out of this year's SXSW lineup was Edgar Wright's high octane action-comedy, Baby Driver. Wright is best known for his singular style with critically acclaimed titles like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End. This time around, though, Wright dives deep into the crime underworld of bank-robbing with a unique vision that only he can deliver.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the best get-away driver around, so he becomes the key cog in the operation of a powerful crime boss (Kevin Spacey) who masterminds bank robberies. But as Baby tries his hardest to give up this secret career, his waitress girlfriend (Lily James) and foster father find themselves entangled in the dangerous racket. This leaves Baby no choice but to take part in a heist that feels doomed to fail.

Baby Driver utilizes a phenomenal soundtrack to its advantage. The film's title character suffers from a constant hum in the eardrum following an accident as a child, and he's always listening to music in her earphones to drown out the noise. Consequently, Wright uses this behavior to edit his film accordingly in an uptempo and rhythmic sequence that keeps the pace flowing. Baby Driver moves without a hitch throughout its first two acts, lining up insanely-choreographed stunt driving with a witty dialogue that's become a staple in Wright's oeuvre. However, for no good reason whatsoever, Wright ditches his rhythmic approach during a third act that falls completely off the rails in both a realistic sense and structure. Baby Driver bounces from what feels like ending, to ending, to ending in a roundabout fashion that does absolutely no justice to the film. A once compelling effort becomes tarnished by cheaply dramatic flashback sequences and a forgettable finale. Thankfully, a thrilling and comical majority of the film makes its blemished conclusion worth sitting through.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Sunday, June 4, 2017

DVD Outlook: June 2017

With Wonder Woman's massive weekend opening just the beginning of what could become a busy month of big-screen cinema, June's new streaming and purchase options may have a hard time competing (May's suggestions). But if you're trying to avoid the movie crowds and prefer a stay-at-home option for the month, you can find June's upcoming releases below:

T2 Trainspotting - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

A clear cut above the rest of the month's options (of the movies that I've seen, at least), Danny Boyle's long-awaited sequel to the iconic 90s junkie comedy, Trainspotting, proves to be a successful return. T2 picks up twenty years after the original, a cleaned-up Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to his Edinburgh roots where he attempts to make amends with the same friends that he ripped off during a major drug deal before he left. Boyle's follow-up does a fantastic job of standing alone as its own film (so don't feel obligated to have seen the original), all while being completely nostalgic and respectful to its source material. Comedy and drama combine in an extraordinary fashion in T2 Trainspotting. (June 27th)

The Lego Batman Movie - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

I'm not the easiest critic when it comes to animated family films, but I found The Lego Batman Movie to be a humorous watch. While its predecessor, The Lego Movie, cleaned up at the box office and mustered an Oscar Nomination for Best Original Song, this spin-off of sorts clearer outshines the former. The film dives deep into the superhero vs. villain world of Batman (voice of Will Arnett) where the caped-crusader has to ditch his solo Gotham-saving ways and work in tandem with some new faces in order to stop The Joker's (voice of Zach Galifianakis) latest Earth-shattering scheme. The Lego Batman Movie sells a valuable message of teamwork wrapped inside of a silly, yet enjoyable, story. (June 13th)

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

As an avid horror fan, Greg McLean's The Belko Experiment delivers some pretty chilling footage. From the mind of Guardians of the Galaxy figurehead, James Gunn, comes the twisted story of a government office tucked away in Bogota, Colombia, where the building randomly turns into an inescapable fortress and the employees are pitted against one another in a game of survival. If you're into blood, guts and heads exploding, well The Belko Experiment doesn't shy away from extremely graphic imagery. The film succeeds on its strengths, while also possessing its fair share of weaknesses. Like most horror movies, The Belko Experiment suffers from a few shaky plot-holes. However, the violence and bloodshed is guaranteed to satisfy your horror movie cravings. (June 27th)

Honorable Mention: It's a popular title that I anticipate enjoying, but I still haven't seen Disney's Beauty and the Beast (6/6) remake yet. Also, John Wick: Chapter 2 (6/13) continues to earn solid reviews and a loyal cult following, while Power Rangers (6/27) and Life (6/20) are two other notable releases available this month that I haven't seen. I wasn't overly impressed by either Gore Verbinski's latest thriller A Cure for Wellness (6/6), or the wedding comedy Table 19 (6/13) starring Anna Kendrick. Closing out the month of June are a pair of comedies I haven't watched yet, the buddy cop film CHIPS (6/27) and Woody Harrelson's latest vulgar work, Wilson (6/20).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express and Rough Night (NEW) Trailers

This November Kenneth Branagh stars in and directs the adapted remake, Murder on the Orient Express. The stylish mystery follows a train-full of passengers who quickly become suspects when a murder occurs on-board. Luckily, renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is one of the surviving riders who must work to identify the killer before he strikes again. Some feel that Murder on the Orient Express could be an awards season player thanks to its prominent cast and strong source material, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Check out the film's first full trailer below.

On the opposite end of the spectrum comes the summer comedy, Rough Night. Lucia Aniello writes and directs this hilarious tale of a bachelorette weekend that goes terribly wrong when a male stripper ends up dead and the women try desperately to cover it up. Scarlett Johansson, SNL's Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer star in this R-Rated comedy that arrives later this month. You can catch the latest trailer for Rough Night below.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Alien: Covenant

Film: Alien: Covenant

Starring: Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Billy Crudup (Almost Famous)

Director: Ridley Scott (Gladiator)

U.S. Release: May 26th, 2017 (Rated R)

Genre: Horror

Runtime: 123 minutes

For as puzzling and ambiguous as Ridley Scott's long awaited return to the Alien franchise was with 2012's prequel, Prometheus, the symbiotic relationship between filmmaker and sci-fi saga still rang true. And a handful of years since that release, Scott dives back into the unfriendly confines of outer space with the follow-up, Alien: Covenant. With similarities and differences abound, Covenant fully embraces its predecessor while unveiling its purpose with a massively altered approach.

A colonization mission is under way on the spaceship known as Covenant. But when an unforeseen issue awakens many of the vessel's passengers from their sleep chambers, they soon discover an Earthly signal from nearby inhabitable planet. They change their course for this mysterious land and soon discover that the superficial paradise they hope to call home is anything but a utopia.

If there's one thing I loved about Covenant, it's Ridley Scott's commitment to the same horror elements that made his 1979 original so transcendent. The dark depths of outer space are as frightening as they are exciting, and this film embraces that notion with an immensely gory take on the sci-fi genre. The film is filled with both strong and unappealing performances. Thankfully, its leading stars, Michael Fassbender (in a brilliant dual-role) and Katherine Waterston, offer fantastic turns that help propel Covenant into one of the finer big-budget horror films in recent memory. Ridley Scott has seen a fair share of awards season success and critical bashing over his long run as a filmmaker. And although we won't see Covenant's name resurface when major nominations are handed out later in the cinematic year, countless lasting images from the film reaffirm the director's exceptional abilities as a unique visionary.

Where Prometheus poses many more questions than answers it provides, Covenant scraps the cryptic formula for an overly-direct storytelling approach. It's an irritating overcompensation that spells out far more than what's necessary to the viewer. There's a sweet-spot somewhere in between the manner in which this new film and its predecessor handle the mystery and intrigue that makes Alien such a compelling franchise. And while I prefer this sequel in comparison, mainly for its horror-rich infusion into the plot, there are a few clear deficiencies that can easily be corrected to make any future installment an absolute masterpiece.

For as mediocre as 2017 has been so far, Covenant makes for one of the stronger titles in the first half of the year. Expect a more visceral and blood-filled sci-fi adventure than Prometheus, and one that addresses its predecessor closely, all a while harboring a tone similar to the 1979 original. Ridley Scott hasn't quite perfected his re-branding of this classic franchise, yet Covenant is clearly a huge step in the right direction.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (NEWEST) and Despicable Me 3 Trailers

We've been given a ton of Spider-Man: Homecoming footage, perhaps enough to know most of the film's storyline already, but who would really refuse another look into Jon Watts' upcoming summer blockbuster? Tom Holland reprises his brief cameo role as Peter Parker from Civil War and we're given a deeper look into the teenager's chaotic life. Peter masks his alter ego with an internship at Stark Industries where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) provides an assortment of gadgets to Spider-Man's suit that he'll need to master in order to defeat a new foe, The Vulture (Michael Keaton). Catch the final trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming below.

People who follow me know that I'm not the softest of critics when it comes to animated features. However, one franchise that has a direct line to my funny bone is the Despicable Me series. A third installment finds its way to theaters on June 30th, where former super-villain Gru (voice of Steve Carell) discovers a twin brother he never knew he had, Dru (also Carell), who tries to lure his now kind-hearted sibling back into the maniacal game. If you're a fan of the series, like I am, then the film's new trailer will be a satisfying look into what's ahead. Check it out below.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Best Tom Hardy Performances

Tom Hardy's career trajectory is still trending upwards. Co-starring in another Christopher Nolan collaboration, Dunkirk, and with the recent news that Hardy has agreed to play the Marvel super-villain, Venom, the future looks bright for this British acting talent. Tom Hardy is a personal favorite of mine and I'm thrilled to devote May's movie list of the month to honoring his spectacular career (April's list).

Honorable Mention: Legend, Locke, Max Max: Fury Road and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

#5. The Drop (2014)

Michael R. Roskam's The Drop will forever be remembered as the late James Gandolfini's last film. This slow-burning crime drama, adapted from a Dennis Lehane short story. follows a bartender (Hardy) at the center of a bar robbery in the underworld of Brooklyn's mob scene. Hardy molds an emotionally broad character whose maneuvered development truly stands as the film's most impressive component. 

#4. Warrior (2011)

While I had certainly seen earlier work from Tom Hardy before I had the wonderful opportunity to savor Gavin O'Connor's phenomenal sports drama, Warrior, it was this defining role that opened my eyes to the actor's unique abilities. Hardy stars as Tommy Conlon, an AWOL Marine who returns to his troubled hometown to train for a multi-million-dollar MMA tournament where he's pitted against his estranged brother (Joel Edgerton). Warrior will always carry the "MMA Movie" stigma, but it's remarkable onscreen work from Hardy, Nick Nolte (who was Nominated for the role) and Edgerton that place this sports drama into the upper echelon of its genre.

#3. Lawless (2012)

Hardy followed up the success from Warrior with a brilliant year as Bane in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, and an unforgettable role as Forrest Bondurant in John Hillcoat's Lawless. Channeling his inner John Wayne, Hardy delivers a quiet and effective role as the head of a family-run bootlegging operation that faces stiff opposition from a corrupt special deputy (Guy Pearce) set on cutting into their profits. Lawless blends together strong performances and a witty tale of southern folklore that makes for a compelling western entry.

#2. Bronson (2008)

As a fan of Hardy, I made a conscious effort to backtrack in his portfolio and stumbled across a remarkably transformative role in Nicolas Winding Refn's odd biopic, Bronson. Before Refn captured the world's attention with Drive, he gave us the true story of a maniac named Michael Peterson (Hardy) who was sentenced to prison for 7 years after robbing a post office. However, Peterson went on to spend three decades in solitary confinement where he's masterminded the self proclaimed alter-ego, "Charles Bronson". Hardy's versatility is on clear display and he navigates the un-navigable mind of a demented psychopath.

#1. The Revenant (2015)

It's a bit of a common theme, but Hardy's superb and even Oscar-Nominated talents in Alejandro G. Inarritu's revenge tale, The Revenant, was ultimately overshadowed by the end of Leonardo DiCaprio's career-long quest at earning an Academy Award. DiCaprio finally got to give that speech while unfairly Hardy played second fiddle as Fitzgerald, a member of a hunting team who leaves a colleague (DiCaprio) for dead after a vicious bear attack. This performance finally put Tom Hardy on the Oscars' radar and with continuous talent and maybe even a little bit of luck, one day he'll get to give an acceptance speech as well.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Glass Castle and It (NEW) Trailers

Brie Larson became a household name thanks to her Oscar-winning performance in the heavy 2015 drama, Room. Yet, anyone who's followed Larson knows that she's been offering quality work for quite some time now. Her most unforgivable omission came following a masterful turn in Destin Cretton's Short Term 12. The duo re-team in the 2017 August release, The Glass Castle. Larson stars as a young woman who must come to grips with her dysfunctional childhood upbringing at the hands of her drunkard father (Woody Harrelson), as she examines where her life currently stands. I was blown away by Short Term 12 and look forward to anything the collaborative talents of Cretton and Larson attempt. You can catch the debut trailer for The Glass Castle below.

Much has been made about the highly anticipated remake of Stephen King's classic tale, It. The film's debut trailer painted a familiar picture and Andres Muschietta's latest preview provides an in-depth look at the horror icon Pennywise. It centers around a group of unpopular kids living in the town of Derry, Maine who come face to face with an evil clown. It arrives in theaters this September, so in order to get your fix in the meantime, enjoy this new footage from Muschiettit and the entire team behind the reboot.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Battle of the Sexes and War for the Planet of the Apes (NEW)

As an outspoken fan of the directing duo Jonathan Davis and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine & Ruby Sparks), when news broke that they'd be teaming with the Academy Award winning screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire & 127 Hours), Battle of the Sexes immediately sprung to the top section of my year's most anticipated releases. In her first performance since capturing the Best Actress Oscar, Emma Stone stars as famed tennis player Billie Jean King, who accepted the circus-show challenge of former champ, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), to square off in a man vs. woman tennis match. Battle of the Sexes unveiled its debut trailer yesterday and the September release could set an early bar for the awards season.

There are some positives and negatives hovering around the third venture into the Planet of the Apes reboot. Matt Reeves is back at the helm in a clearly escalating franchise, all things worth getting excited over. However, you can only pit man against beast so many times before you reach the saga's inevitable conclusion. The addition of the always fantastic Woody Harrelson provides another reason for optimism, as he stands as the latest opposition to the apes in what's sure to be an epic battle. Yet, the possibility of redundancy feels almost assured to set in with War for the Planet of the Apes. We'll find out soon enough, July 14th to be exact, as you can catch the final trailer for the sequel below.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Wall

Recently I offered an outpouring of love for James Gunn's surprisingly successful first installment, Guardians of the Galaxy, by labeling it as the best entry within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Needless to say, my anticipation for the franchise's second film was astronomical, something I haven't said about any sequel for quite some time. Yet, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fails to advance the Marvel story with a dull and lifeless character examination of Peter Quill.

Daddy issues resurface as the mystery surrounding Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) biological father becomes quickly addressed. Kurt Russell co-stars as Ego, the mystery man who helped spawn Star-Lord, and he returns with a bit of surprising news. Ego is what's referred to as a celestial, a god-like being with immense powers, and he helps Peter recognize his own superior abilities as they slowly reconnect after decades apart.

As I have stated before, I am no purist to the Marvel comics. In fact, the MCU is merely a refreshing brand of comedic and action-packed superhero fodder that's managed to progress and expand fluidly into an unstoppable machine. However, GOTG Vol. 2 takes a step out of the natural progression and dives deep into its source material's influence. James Gunn uses a wide combination of both familiar characters and new ones, bolstering a lineup that comic book loyalists are sure to appreciate, in order to expand on Star-Lord's character rather than act as a proper stepping stone towards the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. While this approach isn't necessarily destined to fail all own its own, Peter Quill's lack of personal conflict in the third act butchers this entire game-plan. GOTG Vol. 2's rampant attempts at comedic relief feel nowhere near as natural as its predecessor and, in conjunction with hokey dramatics and an irritatingly mind-numbing dose of Baby Groot, this sequel feels wildly off the mark. Marvel's typical formulaic approach is scrapped from James Gunn's latest work and, oddly enough, it leaves you longing for the cookie-cutter sequel. Simply stated, GOTG Vol. 2 feels twice as long and about not even half as good as the original.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Doug Liman has emerged as an action aficionado of sorts. The long-time filmmaker broke onto the scene in the mid-90s as the visionary behind the indie classic, Swingers. But since then, Liman has pivoted to a more uptempo directing approach with successes such as The Bourne Identity and The Edge of Tomorrow. Yet, even as a heralded filmmaker within the action genre, Liman's latest cat & mouse sniper thriller, The Wall, becomes hampered by its claustrophobic setting.

Set during 2007 in Iraq, after President Bush had declared victory, a pair of soldiers (Aaron-Taylor Johnson and John Cena) are investigating the murder scene of American contractors in the middle eastern country. Consequently, the two soldiers fall under the gunfire of an undetectable and skillful sniper. Left with nothing but a flimsily built rock wall to shelter him from the sniper's accuracy, Isaac (Johnson) finds himself immersed in a battle of wits and warfare with the opposing shooter.

Filmed predominantly in the same setting, The Wall tries desperately to avoid an aura of monotony with a mere 85-minute running time. Unfortunately, a severed amount of screen time still can't stop Liman's effort from standing as a tiresome affair. An insufficient and bland story overshadows an initially intriguing psychological opening. However, as the minutes begin to mount and the film's third act ultimately takes shape, a decent final sequence isn't nearly enough to salvage an utter lack of connection between viewer and characters. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, fresh off a Golden Globe win for his supporting role in Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, delivers a committed performance, but even his unique talents fail to withstand a rather unimaginative screenplay from Dwain Worrell. The Wall is more gimmicky than substantive, something that clearly doesn't suit Doug Liman's proven abilities as a filmmaker.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wonder Woman (NEW) and Blade Runner 2049 Trailers

It's no secret that the DC Comics has tried desperately to keep pace with Marvel's massive film universe and the results have been lackluster to date. Yet, DC  hopes that all changes soon with the upcoming releases of Wonder Woman this summer and Justice League in November. Gal Gadot continues her role as Diana Prince, a prehistoric princess trained to be an unbeatable warrior. Fast forward many, many years and Prince uses her alter ego of Wonder Woman to resolve a world-threatening conflict. Wonder Woman is meant to set up Justice League, DC's answer to The Avengers, making Gadot and company's film a pivotal moment in the newly expanding DC film universe. Check out the latest trailer for the June 2nd release below.

Ridley Scott's pioneering 1982 sci-fi thriller, Blade Runner, is getting the sequel treatment. And while many will naturally respond with a rolling of the eyes, and perhaps rightfully so, there's an enormous reason for optimism knowing that Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival & Sicario) is at the helm of this sacred reboot. Set three decades after the original, Ryan Gosling stars as a new Blade Runner who discovers a shocking secret that could plunge the world into chaos. The only way to stop this impending doom is to enlist the help of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who's been missing for 30 years. Blade Runner 2049 has all the makings of a successful sequel, as we're given a new look into this October release.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

DVD Outlook: May 2017

As the summer blockbuster season takes over movie theaters nationwide with Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 kicking off the annual tradition, May's DVD and streaming outlook offers a modest collection of new releases (April's suggestions). While I can't vouch for many of the titles arriving this month, I will say that the finest entry from 2017 I've seen so far headlines the crop of films for May.

Get Out - Three stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Jordan Peele, best known as one of the figureheads from Comedy Central's former sketch comedy show, Key & Peele, offers his directorial debut with the massively horror film, Get Out. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris Washington, an African-American man whose traveling to rural upstate area to visit his Caucasian girlfriend's (Allison Williams) parents for the first time. But the more time Chris spends at their upscale estate, the more he begins to notice how strange all of the other Black people he encounters seem to be acting, and he suspects a darker motive. Get Out plays well to its racial undertones, but the film shines brightest with it's creative horror and thriller twists that keep the audience guessing the entire film. Get Out is the year's best offering (so far) and it instantly makes me eager for whatever Jordan Peele has lined up next. (May 23rd)

Logan - Two and a half stars out of 4 - (No review available)

After hearing all of the lofty praises for James Mangold's Logan, some as bold as calling it the greatest superhero movie of all-time, I caught the film very late in its theatrical run. And while Logan stands as a serviceable superhero entry, Mangold's latest venture into the world of Wolverine has been unquestionably overblown by its loyal fans. Hugh Jackman reprises his title character role as a former member of the X-Men whose caring for an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in a remote home off the Mexican border. But despite Logan's valiant efforts to stay off the grid, he finds himself consumed by a new foe when he's asked by a desperate woman to help escort her and a peculiar child to the Canadian border. Logan has moments of intense gratifying action, but it also succumbs to hokey dramatics and immense overacting from its leading star. In a weak month of new releases, Logan finds itself near the top of my suggestions strictly by default. (May 23rd)

I Am Not Your Negro - Unrated

In these tumultuous times of racial tension and a divided nation, Raoul Peck reintroduces the world to the powerful and insightful African-American author and activist, James Baldwin. Interweaving public interviews and known writings form Baldwin (which are narrated by Samuel L. Jackson), this poignant documentary feels eerily reminiscent with today's unfortunate state of events. I was only able to catch snippets of I am Not Your Negro, which was also an Oscar-Nominee for Best Documentary, and I found its message of hope and equality to be a powerful reminder of how far we still need to go as a society to come together. Some will label the doc as politicizing propaganda, but I commend Peck's efforts for bringing the intellectual and outspoken thoughts and beliefs of Baldwin to the forefront of our country's racial equality discussion. It's a message that everyone should know and hear. (May 2nd)

Honorable Mention: If you're looking for some cheap laughs and a rather mindless comedy experience, Fist Fight (5/30), is nothing spectacular but it will do the trick. While I admittedly haven't seen either film, My Life as a Zucchini (5/23), was one of the five Oscar-nominated animated features from 2016, and The Salesman (5/2) won the Foreign Film Oscar. Matthew McConaughey stars in the middling drama, Gold (5/2), and the sentimental heart-warming flick, A Dog's Purpose (5/2), has already arrived as well. Teen sci-fi drama, The Space Between Us (5/16), is also available this month, as is the sequel Fifty Shades Darker (5/16).

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Dunkirk (NEW) and The Dark Tower Trailers

Christopher Nolan is one of Hollywood's most prominent filmmakers. So whenever he dons a new release, the whole world awaits with bated breath. This time around Nolan tackles the harrowing WWII evacuation of Dunkirk. Civilians assisted the British Naval fleet to help recover stranded Allied soldiers completely surrounded by German forces on the shoreline of Dunkirk, France. Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh star in Nolan's first work since the 2014 sci-fi drama, Interstellar. This early footage of Dunkirk doesn't disappoint and immediately catapults the film to the top of the Summer movie season. Catch the latest trailer for Dunkirk below.

From the unique mind of Stephen King comes Nikolaj Arcel's adaptation of The Dark Tower. The expansive book series gets its first film this August as Idris Elba stars as "The Gunslinger", Roland Deschain, who searches amongst a western backdrop for a mysterious tower and a "man in black" (Matthew McConaughey). This action-fantasy tale has been long rumored and it finally reaches the big screen this summer. Check out the debut trailer for The Dark Tower below.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Since 2008 the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has developed into a carefully constructed and delicately linked cash-cow that's expanded masterfully over the span of 14 films. And with the universe's 15th installment, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, slated to dominate the box office on May 5th, I'm devoting April's Movie List of the Month to the best of Marvel's expansive series (March's list). Full disclosure, I'm not a comic book fanatic who's examining the universe from such a nerd-centric standpoint. Instead, I'm detailing the MCUs most entertaining films.

Honorable Mention: Captain America: Winter Soldier, Iron Man 2 and Thor

#5. Ant-Man (2015)

I've always had a soft spot for Paul Rudd and the comedic actor's venture into the superhero genre felt effortless with Peyton Reed's Ant-Man. Rudd stars as cat burglar Scott Lang who's recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to assume the identity of Ant-Man, a special suit that gives its wearer the unique ability to shrink in size but increase in strength. While Ant-Man doesn't feel all that essential to the MCU, the film's laugh-out-loud humor and strong supporting performances from Michael Pena and Corey Stoll help solidify the effort.

#4. Iron Man (2008)

Before the MCU reached the enormity which it now possesses, it began as a vision that hinged heavily on its pioneer endeavor, Iron Man. Leading star Robert Downey Jr. immersed himself in the role of billionaire tycoon, Tony Stark, and the rest is history. With Iron Man, it became abundantly clear that the MCU formulaic approach would consist of comedy and action, both in heavy doses. Tony Stark's arrogant and snarky attitude is a natural fit for Downey Jr. who introduces audiences to the amazing armored suit that helps lead to the creation of The Avengers.

#3. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Some of the MCU's finest moments come from ambitious storylines that were executed exceptionally. One such moment occurs in the pivotal third isntallment of the Captain America saga, Civil War. Following the devastating effects of Ultron from the second Avengers film, two sides form pitting superhero against superhero in an unforgettable showdown. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Downey Jr.) battle over the mystery surrounding Steve Rogers' old friend, Bucky Barnes all while a new foe emerges. Civil War stands as a climactic entry in the MCU and one that doesn't fail to impress.

#2. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)

A handful of years ago, it was a daring attempt for the MCU to bring together a wide collection of superhero's in Joss Weedon's The Avengers. This final installment of the well-chronicled "Phase One" takes shape as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) heads an international peace-keeping agency that requires the assistance of Earth's greatest superhero's when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his alien combatants threaten our planet's existence.  The Avengers was a bold film that Weedon and company handled with extreme care, and it's overwhelming success shattered barriers that sent the MCU on an unbounded upward trajectory.

#1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

If you're wondering what separates James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy from the rest of the MCU, there's no simple answer. Personally, I felt that the film's quirky humor was unlike anything else the MCU offered. Chris Pratt's portrayal of Peter Quill is wonderfully complemented by his misfit collection of sidekicks who form an unlikely bond to become the Guardians of the Galaxy. Ronan makes for a compelling villain, something that the MCU often struggles to develop, as James Gunn takes the audience on an entertaining thrill ride with a fantastic soundtrack. Guardians of the Galaxy separated itself as a step above the rest which makes its upcoming sequel one of my most anticipated films of the year.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Beguiled Trailers

J.J. Abrams carefully resurrected the Star Wars franchise with the wildly praised seventh installment, The Force Awakens. Yet, he passes the reins to Looper and Brick director, Rian Johnson, for this December's continuation, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Mark Hamill is primed to reprise his iconic role of Luke Skywalker as Johnson progresses the stories of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Despite the debut trailer's laughable similarities to the previous film's premiere footage (you need to watch this if you haven't), The Last Jedi is destined to be a box office smash. Catch the film's first-look teaser below.

Sofia Coppola, daughter of acclaimed Godfather helmer, Francis Ford Coppola, looks to correct her professional trajectory with the Cannes Film Festival entry, The Beguiled. Colin Farrell stars as John McBurney, a wounded Civil War soldier who finds himself recuperating in a home filled with sheltered women who run rampant with sexual tension and rivalries following his arrival. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning co-star in this seemingly creepy and twisted affair that certainly has me intrigued as well. Check out the The Beguiled's first theatrical below.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Free Fire and Going in Style

One of the hottest headliners at this year's SXSW Film Festival was Ben Wheatley's action-comedy shootout flick, Free Fire. Unfortunately, the crowds were too overwhelming, so I took my movie-watching schedule in a different direction that day. But now, a month after missing out on it's United States premiere, I nestled in for an advance screening of Free Fire and enjoyed Wheatley's most simple and cohesive narrative to date.

In late 1970s Boston, Justine (Brie Larson) brokers a weapons-swap in an abandoned warehouse between Northern Ireland fighters in search of assault rifles to bring back home, and a local gang looking to unload illegal arms for cash. But after members of each of these groups recognize each other from a falling out the previous night, tensions begin to mount and eventually erupt into a chaotic gun battle for survival. With some alliances stronger then others, and a back-stabbing group of rifled snipers entering the fray, it's a wonder if anyone will make it out of this mess alive.

While I'm mainly familiar with director Ben Wheatley's two most recent works, High-Rise and A Field in England, he's definitely a polarizing filmmaker who possesses clear talents. In this upcoming title, Wheatley trades uniqueness for convention and sets out to deliver a fun and energetic action-comedy, something he accomplishes with remarkable ease. Co-writer Amy Jump and Wheatley team up to mold an assortment of quirky characters that add a zest to this cacophony of gunfire and madness. Sharlto Copely provides a majority of Free Fire's encompassing comedy, while Cillian Murphy truly transforms his Northern Irish character into a film-favorite by giving soul to an open-ended creation from the writers. Co-star Armie Hammer also shines in a cocky and arrogant role that always suits him extremely well. And just as the numbness of gunfire sound effects begins to take its toll, Wheatley quickly wraps up his work with a rather bittersweet conclusion. Yet, once I thought I had the finale figured out, one that seemed remarkably satisfying within the confines of my own imagination, we're thrown a curve-ball that feels cheap in the moment, but more acceptable in retrospect. Free Fire isn't a must-watch, but it's certainly an entertaining piece of action-comedy that doesn't disappoint.

Stars: 2 and a half out of 4

Grade: B-

It's hard to believe that it's been 13 years since Zach Braff proved he's more than just a comedic sitcom actor with the uber-personal indie drama, Garden State. Yet, it took Braff an entire decade to follow up his successful debut with 2014's Wish I Was Here, which opened to harshly mediocre reviews. But the director is on the rebound in surprisingly quick fashion with a reboot of the late 70s caper comedy, Going in Style.

Willie, Joe and Albert (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin, respectively) are best friends enjoying the carefree lifestyle of retirement together. Until one day, when Joe visits the bank and learns that his mortgage rates have spiked to a level far too high for him to keep up with, leaving the retired grandfather with only 30 days to save his family's house from foreclosure. Adding insult to injury, the company which Joe, Willie and Albert devoted a lifetime of work to unexpectedly freeze their pension payouts, prompting the elderly trio to hatch a bank-robbery scheme in order to stay afloat financially for the rest of their days.

Zach Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi (co-writer and director of this past year's Best Picture Nominee, Hidden Figures) make a valiant attempt at crafting a light-hearted, feel-good comedy film. Instead, Going in Style serves as a miscalculated and emotionally-bland endeavor that hopes to masquerade re-hashed geriatric jokes as a form of relevant humor. Just to be clear, these shortcomings certainly doesn't rest on the shoulders of the film's well-chronicled veteran actors, who each provide a fully committed performance, they're sadly a product of Melfi's superficial screenplay and Braff's obsessive desire to capture the classic caper "style". In conjunction with a crop of vastly underdeveloped lead characters, Going in Style merely unveils its bank-robbery scheme via a brisk and uninformative montage that completely undermines Braff's clear dedication to the genre. It's unfortunate, but I'm starting to doubt that we'll ever witness a level of filmmaking and subtle storytelling from Braff that was so evident in his iconic debut.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Detroit and Thor: Ragnarok (NEW) Trailers

Kathryn Bigelow owns the rare distinction of being the only female to ever win a Best Director Oscar, for her Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker. Bigelow then followed up the successful feature with perhaps her best work, Zero Dark Thirty. It's been 5 years since her last feature and Bigelow returns in 2017 with the heavy-hitting action-drama, Detroit, which chronicles the chaotic riots within the city during racial tensions in 1967. John Krasinski, John Boyega and Anthony Mackie star in this potential Oscar contender which arrives in theaters this August. Catch the first-look trailer of Detroit below.

The marvel universe continues its expansion with the third installment Thor: Ragnarok. Director Taika Waititi takes over the franchise and puts his imprints on the Thor sage which now finds the superhero (Chris Hemsworth) forced to face off against The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a gladiator match in order to save Asgard from destruction. Cate Blanchett joins the series and a cameo from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) also headline this November release. Check out the newest trailer from Thor: Ragnarok below.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

All Eyez on Me (NEW) and Chuck Trailers

Two years ago F Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton took audiences nationwide by surprise with its compelling journey back to the roots of early 90s gangster rap. The late-great Tupac Shakur gets the biopic treatment this summer with Benny Boom's All Eyez on Me. Boom doesn't carry the same clout as Gray, yet his alleged "untold" story of the legendary rapper, actor and activist features newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. and hopes to ride the wave of Compton's success. All Eyez on Me arrives in theaters this June and you can catch the film's newest trailer below.

Sylvester Stallone's prolific underdog film, Rocky, went on to capture a Best Picture Oscar. Yet, Stallone's inspiration for his franchise-building character was scrappy New Jersey heavyweight boxer, Chuck Wepner, who also gets the biopic treatment Philippe Falardeau upcoming feature, Chuck. Liev Schreiber stars in the title role as audiences will receive an in-depth look at the sad but true source material for a Hollywood classic. You can watch the trailer for Chuck below.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Gifted and Colossal

Most directors would envy a debut as successful as Marc Webb's 2009 Golden Globe-nominated film, (500) Days of Summer. Webb then took a bit of a leap by following-up his rom-com with superhero blockbusters, The Amazing Spider-Man and its 2014 sequel. But success is fickle in this industry and, like many do, the filmmaker has gone from being handed a major franchise to taking on the new limited-release drama, Gifted.

Chris Evans trades in his Captain America uniform for a much simpler life as Frank Adler, a boat repairman raising his deceased sister's child, Mary (Mckenna Grace), who's firm understanding of advanced mathematics is a rarity. But as Frank pushes Mary towards a conventional childhood built on playing and making friends in the public school sector, rather than a taxing life of studying rigorous mathematics at a specialized institution, his mother (Lindsay Duncan) resurfaces and takes legal action with a custody battle over guardianship of the seven year-old girl.

As a professor of mathematics myself, Gifted's distinct premise certainly raised my interest. Marc Webb's latest work attempts to master the delicate balance between a hearty drama and frequent humor. Chris Evans' sarcastic delivery feels organic and newcomer McKenna Grace offers an impressive turn as well, however the entire cast ultimately becomes limited by a one-dimensional screenplay. At it's core, Gifted merely scratches the surface of its fundamental moral quandary regarding whether or not a truly exceptional child prodigy should be pushed towards a lifetime commitment of study and research as a duty to humanity, or if they're should also be entitled to a "normal" upbringing. But rather than tackling this issue head-on, Gifted tip-toes around the predicament with an overly sentimental examination of its story. Regrettably, co-stars Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate find their talents wasted as expendable characters who are written into the script as obvious fillers. Yet. while Gifted does manage to boast a few tender moments of cinematic expression, they are far too sporadic to withstand a fatally flawed screenplay from writer Tom Flynn.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

One of the strangest and most original stories out of this year's SXSW festival comes from none other than Nacho Vigalondo. And although his film has enjoyed a nice little run on the festival circuit, with a premiere in Toronto and an inclusion at Sundance, Colossal finally finds a limited theatrical release in select cities later this month. Vigalondo teams his unconventional comedy tale with the fully committed talents of Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis in this truly limitless story.

After losing her job and being kicked out of her boyfriend's apartment, Gloria (Hathaway) is forced to bite the bullet and move back to her hometown. Upon her return she runs into Oscar (Sudeikis), a former classmate and current bar owner who offers Gloria a job at his establishment to try and help her get back on her feet. But as her work life transitions into after-hours binge drinking, Gloria soon discovers an unexplained connection between her and a giant monster that's been terrorizing the citizens of South Korea.

If the premise of Colossal sounds absolutely absurd, it's because it undoubtedly is. However, the clever metaphor created by Nacho Vigalondo surrounding the monster we can become when we've had one too many to drink screams originality. However, Vigalondo's clear aptitude for conjuring up a new and fresh idea becomes soured by the film's tone-deaf delivery. Colossal cycles around moments of comedy, romance, action and drama with reckless abandon, unsure of what it wants to be and how it should get there. The effort works best as a comedy, but completely spins off the rails in a gritty third act that trades its laughs for a superhero-like finale that Hathaway against an unsuspecting foe. Colossal possesses so much promise from a creative standpoint, allowing me to believe that Nacho Vigalondo has plenty more left in the tank. Yet, despite immensely committed performances from Hathaway and Sudeikis, Colossal remains too scatter-brained and unfocused to delivery the knockout punch that Vigalondo is desperately going for.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Monday, April 3, 2017

DVD Outlook: April 2017

April's variety of new DVD and Streaming options isn't as expansive as last month's top-heavy crop, but it does offer 2016's Best Film (March's suggestions). Outside of April's most notable release, there are a few other noteworthy titles that are assured to satisfy your movie-watching cravings. Here's what this month has in store:

La La Land - 4 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Damien Chazelle's magical film La La Land went into the Oscar ceremony as the overwhelming favorite to nab the Best Picture honor. While the evening's gaff won't be forgotten any time soon, Moonlight may have actually won the crown, but Chazelle's original musical is truly the more accomplished piece of filmmaking. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star as a struggling actress and jazz pianist who fall in love in Los Angeles while trying to capture their dreams. La La Land has it all, phenomenal performances, a creative script, a stand-out score and nostalgic choreography. There's a reason everyone raved about La La Land and you should experience this instant classic for yourself later this month. (April 25th)

The Founder - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

David Fincher's 2010 biographical drama, The Social Network, went on to win 3 Oscars and set the blueprint for John Lee Hancock's similarly themed biopic, The Founder. When milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) stumbles across a California-based burger joint unlike anything else in the world, he needs to be a part of the action. And after weaseling his way into the McDonald brothers' partnership, Kroc stops at nothing to elevate the brand when his vision differs from the original owners. Business is cutthroat and The Founder tackles that notion with great depth as Michael Keaton delivers another fantastic turn. (April 18th)

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

Closing out my top 3 suggestions is Theodore Melfi's sophomore feature, Hidden Figures. This historical drama follows a trio of African American women who overcame great odds and societal prejudices to help NASA put John Glenn into orbit and thrust the United States into the forefront of the race to space. Janelle Monae gives the film's most impressive turn, despite co-star Octavia Spencer's Oscar recognition, as the effort satisfies with its science-centric theme. As a civil rights drama it fails to break any new ground, but Hidden Figures reminds us all just how important math and science are in the real world. (April 11th)

Honorable Mention: Best Picture Nominee Lion (4/11) and Best Foreign Film Nominee Toni Erdmann (4/11) add a bit of clout to April's new releases as well. Box office smash Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (4/4) and M. Night Shyamalan's latest, Split (4/18), also stand as solid films available this month. Seasonal comedy Office Christmas Party (4/4) and indie darling Paterson (4/4) fill out the crop of titles throughout April.