Saturday, October 21, 2017

Rapid Reviews: I, Tonya and Happy Death Day

Craig Gillespie has enjoyed a decade of marginal directing success with solid works that include Lars and the Real Girl, Million Dollar Arm and, to a lesser extent, The Finest Hours. Knowing that the talent has always been there, the filmmaker takes his career to a whole new level with the upcoming Oscar hopeful, I, Tonya. The Philadelphia Film Festival Opening Night selection didn't disappoint and, in fact, it not only set the bar for the entire 11-day long affair, I, Tonya sets the bar for the rest of the cinematic year.

Growing up as a self described redneck under the grueling and demanding guidance of her unaffectionate mother (Allison Janney), Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) drops out of school and dedicates her life to the sport of figure skating. But as she falls in love with a local buffoon named Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and becomes embroiled in a bitter and toxic relationship, Tonya also reaches new heights on the ice rink by making history as the first female skater to successfully land a triple axel in competition. Yet, when a rival U.S. skater named Nancy Kerrigan begins to pose a threat to her Olympic success, an "incident" occurs that will forever define Tonya's life.

Gillespie's wildly amusing and uber self-aware black comedy lures its audience by commanding a wide array of emotions. I, Tonya contains no shortage of laugh-out loud humor, often centered around copious amounts of stupidity and vulgarity, but the film also does a remarkable job of building empathy for its  notorious title character. Margot Robbie delivers a career best performance, one that will, at the very least, land her in the Oscar discussion. Similarly, her onscreen matriarch, played phenomenally by Allison Janney, feels primed for some awards season success as well. And don't be fooled, I, Tonya is far from a movie about figure skating. Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers dive deep into the background and upbringing of Tonya Harding with hopes of shining some clarity on the senseless pre-Olympic assault of Nancy Kerrigan that made Harding a nationwide headline. While a reliance on the most unreliable of sources ultimately leaves an open-ended debate as to the depth of Harding's overall involvement in the incident, I, Tonya plays to an uptempo beat and never shies away from an opportunity to break the fourth wall. Unapologetically profane and remarkably edgy, I, Tonya clearly stands out as one of 2017's finer films.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

The horror genre meets Groundhog Day in Christopher Landon's engaging new effort, Happy Death Day. We've seen this repetitious formula filter into the sci-fi/action genre with 2014's The Edge of Tomorrow, and it feels like such a natural fit for scary movies, making Happy Death Day's premise on odd combination of both familiar and original storytelling. But despite the film's creative foundation, the manner in which everything pieces together is less that satisfying.

When sorority queen Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday in the dorm room of an underclassman named Carter (Israel Broussard), she instantly regrets all of her previous night's decisions. Yet, little does Tree know that Carter may be the only person on campus she can actually trust. As Tree continues on with the rest of her day, it ends in a grisly murder at the hands of a determined killer sporting a mask of the university's mascot. And when she awakes to the same morning routine in Carter's dorm room, she quickly finds herself forced to relive the day over and over again until she can correctly identify her killer.

Happy Death Day is short on scares and gore, evident by its limiting PG-13 rating. For an idea as clever and death-filled as this one, the film is sorely mishandled with its tame and subdued demeanor. Instead, Christopher Landon and writer and Scott Lobdell deliver a more teen-centric and fun endeavor than a truly horrific one. And as Tree falls victim to her mysterious killer over and over again, she gains a newfound perspective on life that helps transform a once cruel and superficial sorority sister into a more grounded and introspective young woman. This nice and pretty little bow that's tied to Happy Death Day's main character is certainly gratifying, yet a head-scratching journey to unlocking Tree's killer is riddled with red herrings and plot holes. While some of the story's misdirection works well in the moment, the most notable twist is in many ways unforgivably bad. Happy Death Day proves to be another immature horror effort that squanders an otherwise creative premise. Thankfully, a brisk pace and likable main characters allow Christopher Landon's latest to be, at worst, a tolerable experience.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Friday, October 20, 2017

I, Tonya (TEASER) and I Love You, Daddy Trailers

A pair of films that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival just unveiled their first mainstream footage. First up is Craig Gillespie's unapologetically edgy biopic (of sorts), I, Tonya. Told through written court testimony and personal interviews from the most unreliable of source, the film follows the difficult upbringing of notorious Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie). As last night's Opening Night selection at the Philadelphia Film Festival, I can say with a large amount of confidence that audiences will eat up the wildly unhinged and engaging re-telling of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan and the ultimate demise of rival Tonya Harding. Check out I, Tonya's first official teaser trailer below.

Another film premiering at TIFF comes from the comedic mind writer, director and co-star Louis C.K. The funnyman's directorial debut I Love You, Daddy appears to intentionally frame Louis C.K.'s character in a Woody Allen-esqe manner, as a popular television writer whose younger daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) becomes the attraction of a much older actor (John Malkovich) with an awful past. Initial reviews were mixed for the black & white filmed comedy, but Louis C.K. possesses an intelligent and creative mind that, at the very least, has me intrigued. You can catch the debut trailer for I Love You, Daddy below.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

2017 Philadelphia Film Festival Preview

As the City of Brother Love prepares for the Halloween season, this special time of year means something a little bit different to local film lovers and enthusiasts. At the end of every October the Philadelphia Film Society brings many of the awards season's hottest titles to its annual film festival (for more information and tickets click here). This 26th annual crop of selections is no different from years past, loaded with potential Oscar contenders, festival circuit darlings and cinematic achievements from all across the globe. In preparation for Opening Night festivities that begin in one short week, here's a look at some of the biggest titles that I'm most excited to catch at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival.

Honorable Mention: Borg/McEnroe, Breathe, Most Beautiful Island and Where is Kyra?

#10. Wonderstruck

Carol and Far from Heaven helmer Todd Haynes offers his latest adapted feature Wonderstruck. This tale of parallel timelines follows the lives of a present day young boy living in the Midwest and a young girl from New York fifty years prior, as they both seek out a similar mysterious connection. Early buzz has been generally positive and Haynes owns a decent track record of finding his movies in the Oscar conversation.

#9. Gemini

Having already had the opportunity to attend the film's World Premiere at 2017's SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, I can certainly vouch for Aaron Katz's new crime mystery Gemini. With sleek direction and a crafty story that highlights the darker side of Los Angeles, the friend and personal assistant (Lola Kirke) of a prominent movie star (Zoe Kravitz) becomes the primary suspect after a grisly murder takes place. Gemini won't end up in any awards season discussion, but the film packs a nice and compact punch with its entertaining and brisk 90-minute run time.

#8. The Square

Winner of this year's prestigious Palm d'Or award at the Cannes Festival in France, Ruben Ostlund's The Square will take to the big screen twice during this year's Philadelphia Film Festival. The uber-talented Elisabeth Moss co-stars in this satirical drama that follows the curator of a contemporary art museum (Claes Bang) whose life is flung into an existential crisis following the ill-advised PR campaign for his latest feature. The Square could very well end up as this year's Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film.

#7. Thoroughbreds

Following a World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and enjoying a successful run on the festival circuit, Cory Finley's Thoroughbreds makes its way to Philly prior to its March 2018 release date. Teaming up a pair of well rounded young actresses, The Witch's Anya Taylor-Joy and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl's Olivia Cooke, the film highlights the upper-class suburban murder plot of two teenage girls. In what's now the late Anton Yelchin's final film, Thoroughbreds brings together a crop of gifted young actors and an intriguing tale of murder and betrayal.

#6. The Florida Project

After the wildly successful debut Tangerine, Sean Bakes returns with another journey into the human soul with his upcoming release, The Florida Project. Willem Dafoe stars as a motel owner who watches as a permanent customer and mother inadequately raises her outspoken 6 year-old daughter (Broklynn Prince) in one of the rooms. The Florida Project has garnered immense praises and some have even labeled Dafoe as a possible Oscar contender in this examination of youthful innocence and familial heartbreak.

#5. Darkest Hour

It's no secret that veteran performer Gary Oldman is deserving of Oscar immortality, yet the elusive actor has somehow dodged the big win throughout his career. Perhaps those complaints will be put to rest with Oldman's trans-formative turn in Joe Wright's Darkest Hour. Oldman stars as the strong-willed Winston Churchill during the bleak days of World War II when England finds its back against the wall from the powerful and imposing forces of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Darkest Hour has been described as typical Oscar fodder and if Oldman's on board, then count me in.

#4. Lady Bird

While Greta Gerwig's directorial debut Ladybird may not carry the same Oscar clout as some of the other titles on this list, a strong theatrical trailer and a versatile lead actress have me eager for a viewing. Brooklyn's Saoirse Ronan stars as the self-nicknamed "Lady Bird", an outspoken teenage outcast who dreams of leaving her California home town and venturing to a more cultured east coast destination. Gerwig has shown a strong ability to deliver bold characters throughout her career and I have the utmost confidence that she's created another one with her screenplay for Lady Bird.

#3. I, Tonya

Without a trailer to fully understand its tone and delivery, Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya made quite a splash with its Audience Award runner-up debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. Margot Robbie stars as the controversial sports figure, Tonya Harding, who was notoriously involved in the attack of fellow U.S. Figure Skater Nancy Kerrigan during their Olympic run in the mid 90s. The film tackles Harding's harsh upbringing and her journey from the bare minimum to a world of class and privilege that she struggles to compete with. As this year's Opening Night selection, I, Tonya should be on every festival-goer's list of "must-see" films.

#2. Last Flag Flying

Richard Linklater has been an established visionary and filmmaker for quite some time now, but his more than a decade-long work on the Best Picture Nominee, Boyhood, placed him in a whole other class of director. Linklater returns in 2017 with the emotional road-trip comedy, Last Flag Flying. On the long drive to visit the dead body of his soldier son, a Vietnam vet (Steve Carell) enlists the emotional support of estranged fellow veterans Sal and Richard (Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, respectively) as he comes to grip with the painful loss. Linklater possesses a rare talent that beautifully molds together drama and hilarity, which we can expect in large doses with Last Flag Flying.

#1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Finally, if there's one film I'm itching to see more than anything else at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, it's undoubtedly Martin McDonagh's hysterical crime comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. From the same brilliant mind that brought In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths comes the story of a distraught small town mother (Frances McDormand) who buys a trio of billboards on a major road that shines a light on local law enforcement who still haven't solved her daughter's murder. McDonagh re-teams with the always phenomenal Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in this comedy-infused drama that have many industry insiders calling it a serious Best Picture contender. Three Billboards has all the makings of an instant classic and it will surely sell out the house as this year's Closing Night selection.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (NEW) and Pacific Rim Uprising Trailers

Despite all of the awards season contenders debuting to rave reviews all throughout the festival circuit, which is setting up an interesting final run to the Academy Awards, there's no movie more anticipated than the upcoming continuation of the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi. During last night's nationally televised Monday Night Football game, we were given a whole new glimpse into the sure-fire box-office smash. Rian Johnson's effort follows where The Force Awakens leaves off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeking out the guidance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in order to battle descendant Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the villainous First Order to restore balance in the galaxy. You can catch the latest footage from The Last Jedi below.

Keeping up with a sci-fi theme, I was surprisingly satisfied with Guillermo del Toro's 2013 Kaiju fighting action film, Pacific Rim. While my reservations with the upcoming sequel continue to grow, mainly due to the fact that del Toro has handed the keys to producer-turned-first-time-director Steven S. DeKnight, a whole new cast of characters carry on the story in March of 2018. The Last Jedi's John Boyega helps lead a new generation of Jaegar pilots against a catastrophic Kaiju attack that threatens the fate of the world. Pacific Rim Uprising unveiled its debut trailer earlier this week and you can check it out below.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Blade Runner 2049 and American Made

It was 35 years ago when Ridley Scott broke ground with his sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Trading action-packed thrills for a tempered and more cerebral science fiction endeavor helped make an impact on an entire generation of movie lovers. And if a sequel had to be done, what better filmmaker to take the reins than Arrival helmer Denis Villeneuve? Brandishing an intellectual screenplay and Villeneuve's keen visionary mastery, Blade Runner 2049 has clearly been placed in the most worthy of hands.

Set thirty years after the original, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a new-hybrid of replicant Blade Runner, programmed to fully obey his human masters. But as he becomes assigned to a very delicate case, the mystery he's supposed to solve slowly forces him to question his own existence. And with all of the answers belonging to former agent Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has gone into hiding for decades now, K must track down the legendary Blade Runner in order to finally unlock the truth to his cloudy past.

Much like Ridley Scott's Alien franchise, Blade Runner 2049 finds a unique beauty in its ability to pose more questions than answers. But despite a frustrating ambiguity that's assured to displease select audiences, Denis Villeneuve and company do an amazing job of expanding on the universe that Ridley Scott created 35 years ago. Taking the auteur's classic idea of building compassion for the replicant population and transforming that into a core principal within the structure of this new examination, Villeneuve enlightens the viewer with fascinating psychological quandaries and thought-provoking introspection. Ryan Gosling offers a stellar lead performance that's wonderfully complemented by a multitude of smaller, yet unbelievably effective, roles. And while Gosling undoubtedly hogs the film's face time, not a single side character wastes a moment on screen. Don't be fooled, though, Blade Runner 2049 comes with a fair share of criticisms. The film wallows in a sluggish and thrill-less delivery that snow-piles throughout an often painful 160-minute duration, and its uncharacteristically weak score with the great Hans Zimmer on board proves to be a bit of a disappointment. However, loyal and respectful fans of the original Blade Runner can look past these flaws and find solace in Denis Villeneuve's originality and heady subtext that rival the work of its predecessor.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Doug Liman returns with his second offering of 2017, re-teaming with his former Edge of Tomorrow star, Tom Cruise, in the wild true story of a commercial airline pilot-turned-CIA recon gatherer. American Made plays to a similar tone that we've witnessed on many occasions, shedding its light on the notorious Medellin drug cartel and leader Pablo Escobar. This aura of familiarity and a complete disregard for character building haunt Liman's latest and have us pining for the level of success he showed early in his career with hits like The Bourne Identity and Swingers.

After growing tired of the monotony involved in his everyday life as a commercial pilot for TWA in the late 70s, a rare opportunity falls in the lap of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) when he's recruited by the CIA to fly recon missions in South and Central America. Barry's thirst for adventure proves reckless when he finds himself immersed in a cocaine smuggling scheme under the behest of ruthless dealer Pablo Escobar. With all sorts of government agencies on his trail and danger certainly looming, Barry puts everything at risk when he makes a compromising decision that places him and his loved ones in grave danger.

Eerily reminiscent of Ted Demme's 2001 cult classic, Blow, American Made suffers from what can only be described as an apparent egotistical grandstanding from leading star Tom Cruise. You'd be hard-pressed to find any extended period of time without Cruise's long, flowy locks and devilish grin plastered across the screen. Sadly, the film focuses exclusively on Barry Seal, and its failure to properly address the impacts of Barry's decisions on everyone else in his life through an adequate development of side characters proves detrimental. Barry's family, most notably, is nothing more than a silhouette to Cruise's demanding character. But despite this glaring weakness and unforgivable oversight to the film, American Made still manages to attract an audience with an energetic and amusingly tragic story. As Barry continues to fall deeper into his corrupt world of drug trafficking and money laundering, its like watching a car crash develop, where you refuse to look away for fear of missing the most destructive moment of impact. Cruise isn't at his best but he certainly remains capable of carrying a film, even if we're forced to take him in overflowing doses. But for as engaging and consuming as American Made's story allows it be, you can't help but feel like Liman should have accomplished so much more.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

DVD Outlook: October 2017

Just as the fall movie season begins to heat up, a fresh new crop of DVD and streaming options available this this include a pair from my Early Year Top 10 Films of 2017 so far (September's suggestions). So if you're looking for alternatives to what's in movie theaters this October, you'll have plenty of worthwhile titles to choose from.

War for the Planet of the Apes - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Matt Reeves dynamic Planet of the Apes set of prequels finds another winner in its third installment. The franchise reboot has developed a unique way of jostling dramatic themes with full fledged action sequences that reaffirm the benefits to carefully constructed CGI. And with War for the Planet of the Apes, a rather dubious title selection considering the film's reliance on a more emotionally-driven story line, we follow Caesar (Andy Serkis) into the next chapter of the saga where the ape leader once again finds himself at odds with a human foe. Woody Harrelson stars as the Colonel, a rogue military leader who recruits his forces to terminate the ape population once and for all. Anyone invested in the first two films of the series shouldn't hesitate taking a chance with this third inclusion. And although I felt it was a small step down from its immediate predecessor, War for the Planet of the Apes still stands as a worthwhile exploration into this storied franchise. (October 24th)

Spider-Man: Homecoming - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

The unstoppable force that has become the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) bulldozes along with its most recent release, Spider-Man: Homecoming. And where this year's disappointing Guardians of the Galaxy sequel felt disjointed from everything that's been building up within the MCU, Homecoming brings the audience back to a familiar place that looks and feels like the trademark branding we've come to expect. A teenage Peter Parker (Tom Holland) finds himself desperate to join the elite ranks of The Avengers, but Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to keep a safe distance due to the teen's immaturity. So as Peter works tirelessly to prove his worth to the world's greatest superheroes, he finds a formidable foe in an average Joe (Michael Keaton) who gets his hands on some alien weaponry. Like most entries from the MCU Homecoming brandishes some highs and lows, but all in all it's a welcome return to the formulaic approach that boasts a lucrative track record. (October 17th)

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

Admittedly, I have been historically critical of the adored filmmaker Edgar Wright. While many have succumbed to his cheeky and outlandishly implausible action-comedy delivery, which includes films such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End, I've been disappointed by the unhinged demeanor in which these movies culminate. The director's latest effort, the wildly engrossing Baby Driver, offers more of the same, but it waits until a fatefully late third act until this otherwise exceptional work finally spins off the rails. After being coerced into a crime underworld where he becomes the best getaway driver in the business, Baby (Ansel Elgort) reaches a point where he'll do anything to escape this fateful lifestyle. The uptempo driving sequences are insane and the film's choreographed-style plays eloquently to its phenomenal soundtrack. Yet, the whole experienced becomes soured when Edgar Wright once again ditches his successful game-plan and takes the film's final act into a completely different and ludicrous direction. Thankfully, a wonderful majority of the ride makes a bitter finale easier to swallow. (October 10th)

Honorable Mention: David Lowery offers a captivating Sundance selection and one of the year's most talked-about indies, A Ghost Story (10/3). Sophia Coppola returns with the critically acclaimed drama, The Beguiled (10/10), and unimpressive films The Book of Henry (10/3) and Will Ferrell comedy The House (10/10) are available this month. October is the perfect time for some scary movies as Annabelle: Creation (10/24) received some surprisingly strong reviews, as did the female-centric comedy Girls Trip (10/17). Finally, Stephen King's The Dark Tower (10/31), Halle Berry's Kidnap (10/31) and yet another Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (10/3) close out this month's new releases.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Battle of the Sexes and Brad's Status

Following an unusual career path to filmmaking that included nearly two decades of making MTV music videos for accomplished artists like REM, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer and countless others, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris began their Hollywood career with a bang. The husband and wife's debut feature Little Miss Sunshine went on to win a pair of Oscars (Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay) and earn heaps of critical praise. And despite an egregiously overlooked second feature, the superbly told fantasy love story Ruby Sparks, the couple's latest work has them back in the spotlight.

Battle of the Sexes tells the timely true tale of female tennis great, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), as she emerged as a beacon of the women's liberation movement during the early 1970s. While embroiled in a bitter fight concerning equal cash prize payouts for the men's and women's tournament winners, King also discovers her inner desires and begins a secret and risque affair with a pretty young hair dresser named Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). Meanwhile, 55 year old former men's champion and gambling aficionado , Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), comes up with a crazy sideshow idea to play King in an exhibition match, and puts on a chauvinistic display to help make it happen.

Caught in the midst of a heated social climate, Dayton and Faris' Battle of the Sexes proudly parades its pro-feminism and pro-LGBTQ rights agenda. You'll be hard pressed to find a single scene where King's character is on screen and neither of those issues are involved. Consequently, the film will assuredly polarize audiences, so it's important to take all passionate opinions regarding the movie with a grain of salt. And even though Academy Award Winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy's (Slumdog Millionaire) script comes off as a bit preachy, recent Oscar Winner Emma Stone and co-star Steve Carell both deliver outstanding performances. If anything, Battle of the Sexes could have used a larger dose of Steve Carell, as Bobby Riggs' energetic character merely lurks around in the film's first two acts, giving way to a tepid romance story between Billie and Marilyn. Both Austin Stowell, as Billie's husband Larry King, and Andrea Riseborough fail to offer convincing and meaningful characters, which certainly creates a void in the film. Battle of the Sexes tells an interesting true story in a rather uninteresting way, making it a decent but unfulfilling watch.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

At first glimpse of its movie trailer and before knowing anything about the film whatsoever, I wrongly assumed that Brad's Status was the newest addition to indie auteur Noah Baumbach's extensive catalog. With Ben Stiller in tow and a personal examination of the human psyche at its core, Mike White's film seemed to look and feel exactly like a Baumbach picture. Unfortunately, Brad's Status fails to play out anything like the heralded American filmmaker's work. Instead, writer and director Mike White reminds us all just how frustrating and immature we can be as individuals.

Ben Stiller stars as Brad Sloan, a middle-aged owner of a mildly successful non-profit organization who can't help but feel resentful of his inner circle of college friends who all grew up to become insanely successful. And as Brad ventures onto a college tour with his smart and put-together teenage son Troy (Austin Abrams) who has goals of getting into Harvard, Brad continues to be plagued by regret and self loathing that makes him question all of his life's decisions.

Selling an audience on a character as irritating and emotionally inept as Brad is quite difficult. And even worse, the depth of his character is built almost exclusively through the cheap narrative tool of voice over. Brad's Status attempts to paint a meaningful tale of self discovery, but as Brad's character finally begins to peel away at his layers of cynicism, he's already alienated the viewer with an annoying obsession over stature and prominence. Mike White tries his hardest to provide a silver lining and he actually does conjure up a worthwhile, albeit obvious, message to the story. Yet, it's quite the challenge to still be invested in Brad's irrational psyche by the time the film finally arrives at its well-intended conclusion.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Best Jake Gyllenhaal Performances

Jake Gyllenhaal has enjoyed a quietly effective acting career that some may even label as underrated thanks to only one Oscar Nomination after all of these years on the big screen. But no matter how deep your affinity for Gyllenhaal runs, it's impossible to deny the actor's versatility and commanding presence every time he graces the screen. And in recognition of Gyllenhaal's new Oscar-baity performance in the sobering drama, Stronger, September's Movie List of the Month highlight's the actor's finest roles (August's list).

Honorable Mention: End of Watch, Love & Other Drugs, Prisoners and Source Code

#5. Donnie Darko (2001)

Gyllenhaal really began putting his talents on display in 1999's October Sky, but he eventually took things to a whole new level in Richard Kelly's boldly intricate and clever sci-fi drama Donnie Darko. After narrowly surviving a freak accident, Donnie (Gyllenhaal) begins experiencing dark visions of a man in a rabbit suit as he tries to unlock the keys to a fascinating mystery. The cult classic wins over its loyal audiences with a creepy collection of characters and many stellar performances, all of which are capped by the magnificent early-career work from Jake Gyllenhaal. 

#4. Stronger (2017)

It's very new and fresh in my mind, but I was surprised by the convincing manner in which Gyllenhaal delivers his role in David Gordon Green's Stronger. Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman, an unreliable young man who runs into his on-again-off-again girlfriend at a bar. When he promises to cheer her on at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and actually comes through with his word, he falls victim to the devastating bomb blast that takes both of his legs. Normally, a heart-tugging story can be a difficult sell for me, but Gyllenhaal's earnest delivery is spot on as he effortlessly crafts a wildly sympathetic, albeit flawed, character. But even through all of Jeff's obvious faults, Gyllenhaal masterfully earns your rooting interest.

#3. Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Tom Ford's mildly polarizing story-within-a-story thriller, Nocturnal Animals, utilizes Gyllenhaal's talents in a rare dual role for the actor. Within both stories Gyllenhaal pays his usual attention to detail and offers up a pair of subtle performances that span very different tones. On one end, he's a struggling writer unable to convince his wife (Amy Adams) of his abilities due to a lack of profound inspiration. On the other hand, he's a vengeful husband who watches as his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter are kidnapped and later found murdered. Gyllenhaal illustrates a vast range and high level of competence in two smaller, less flashy supporting roles.

#2. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Jake Gyllenhaal finally landed in Oscar contention following a powerful supporting turn in Ang Lee's drama Brokeback Mountain. After an unlikely romance forms between a pair of Wyoming cowboys (Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger), they struggle to keep their true feelings secret from the lives that they built at home. In a delicate story of homosexuality and prejudices, something very edgy for its time, Gyllenhaal and his onscreen counterpart, Heath Ledger, respond with towering performances that are respectful of their material and complex in beauty. While Gyllenhaal's clearly out-shined by Ledger's more prominent role, both offer unforgettable work that will forever stand the test of time.

#1. Nightcrawler (2014)

Sadly, the Academy Awards missed greatly when it turned its back on Jake Gyllenhaal's finest performance to date in Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler. The film tells the skin-crawling tale of a sociopath (Gyllenhaal) who finds his life calling as a freelance videographer of freshly-bloodied crime scenes. There's no shortage of fantastic onscreen work from the likes of the late Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, and The Night Of's Riz Ahmed. However, it's Jake Gyllenhaal's film and he refuses to waste a moment of face-time with an eerily captivating turn. His works really takes you into the demented psyche of a crazed-lunatic and it's truly a shame that this apex of Gyllenhaal's career was regrettably ignored by Hollywood's biggest awards show. Thankfully, he'll have plenty of future opportunities to set the record straight.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Stronger and Mother!

Less than a year ago Peter Berg, a director increasingly known for tackling events from recent history, delivered a tense and thrilling recreation of 2013's Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent days-long manhunt for the suspects at large with Patriots Day. The film was effective but lacked a subtle and more personal feel to the Boston-Strong tragedy that rocked the world. Yet, nearly nine months later we're given just that perspective from a mildly unexpected source. David Gordon Green, an indie filmmaker who finally broke through with his 2008's stoner-comedy Pineapple Express, finally returns to his dramatic roots. Stronger tells the emotional true story of Jeff Bauman, a bombing victim who struggles to come to grips with the debilitating results of this tragic event.

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unreliable and immature jokester living in the Boston suburb of Chelmsford. And when he runs into his long-time on-and-off girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) at a local bar trying to raise money for the marathon, he promises to be there at the finish line to cheer her on as she finishes the race. But Jeff's decision to finally come through on his promise leads to the greatest struggle of his life when he losses both of his legs in the bombing and reluctantly becomes a hero to the entire city of Boston.

David Gordon Green's Stronger grips its audience with a compelling character-driven story that's eloquently brought to the screen by Jake Gyllenhaal. The actor's storied career adds another shining inclusion to his already long list of achievements as Gyllenhaal delivers the year's most notable performance to date. But for as masterful as Gyllenhaal is on screen, co-star Tatiana Maslany complements his work with an earnest and skillful turn of her own. Stronger tells a nuanced story that's thin on memorable scenes but effective because of its refusal to cater the the heart-tugging backdrop of its over-arcing tale. The film's undeniable dramatic moments are supported by laugh-out-loud humor courtesy of Jeff Bauman's family members, which add a layer of depth to the entire experience. Stronger isn't anything exceptional, and it may not even end up in the Best Picture field, but David Gordon Green shows why he's a capable storyteller and exemplary filmmaker.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Darren Aronofsky is no stranger to crafting polarizing pieces of film. As the visionary behind works like Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and even Noah, Aronofsky has a profound way of both dazzling and alienating select audiences. But perhaps none of his oeuvre has divided critics and moviegoers quite like his latest ambitious feat, Mother!, a dark and spiraling journey into madness and creation.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as the wife of a world renowned writer (Javier Bardem). But as she works tirelessly to restore his childhood home to the exact proportions from before it tragically burned to the ground, her husband can't seem to find the inspiration he needs to create his next great masterpiece. However, when a strange cast of unexpected visitors (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive at their home, the ensuing chaos leads to a chain of events that send the writer's career to even greater heights, which begin to threaten the sanctity of their marriage.

Equal parts bold and absurd, Aronsky's Mother! rings familiar to the recent adapted work of another ambitious filmmaker, Ben Wheatley. Wheatley's High-Rise serves as a metaphor for societal breakdown and anarchy in a lawless skyscraper where the higher the floor, the more power and wealth. Similarly, Mother! has much to say about the deterioration of society and structure. But where Wheatley's effort unapologetically prides itself on the foolish lunacy of its story, Mother! half-heartedly masks the same goal with mystery and intrigue. And when Aronofsky finally reveals his hand, the bravado has already begun to wear thin. Mother! stands as a periodically gripping tale with committed performances from a rangy and impressive cast. Yet, much like the chintzy exclamation point thrown at the end of the film's title, Mother! is as subtle as a sledge-hammer, mercilessly dragging the viewer to a far-off finish line that provides very little in terms of a reward when all is said and done.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade C

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Shape of Water (RED BAND) and The Disaster Artist (NEW) Trailers

The Venice Film Festival came and went, debuting some of the fall's most notable titles. But no film could match adoration of the Gold Lion award winner from Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water. This sci-fi fantasy is set in 1962 during a tense period of the Cold War where a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works in a government laboratory. Everything changes when her and a co-worker (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret experiment. The Shape of Water's tantalizing debut trailer has officially been backed up by this brand new Red Band sneak peek. Catch the latest footage from Venice's big winner below.

At SXSW this year James Franco premiered an unfinished "work-in-progress" cut of his upcoming comedic gem, The Disaster Artist. The film centers around the unskilled actor and director Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) as he conjures up the idea to create "The Room", an effort that's widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made. Fans of Wiseau's cult classic film are sure to love The Disaster Artist, but Franco's latest trailer illustrates a high dose of clever comedy that's guaranteed to please even the unfamiliar moviegoer. Check out the new extended look into The Disaster Artist below.

It (2017)

Stephen King's high profile work is no stranger to the Hollywood adaptation. Having been the genesis behind iconic tales like The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery and Carrie, just to name a few, King's stories always provide a unique tone that make for a memorable experience. Back in 1990, Stephen King's It was developed into a two-part miniseries that introduced mainstream audiences to Pennywise the clown. But 27 years later, in conjunction with Pennywise's incremental return to the town of Derry, Maine, Andy Muschietti reintroduces the world to Hollywood's creepiest clown.

In the small town of Derry, Maine locals have been disappearing at an alarming rate, especially children. And when a group of bullied kids known as "The Losers Club" each encounter the terrorizing clown figure known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), they must band together to fight back against whatever "it" is.

Nostalgic and compelling, Andy Muschietti's It marks a triumphant return to Stephen King's source material. An exceptionally creepy vibe and the Losers Club's non-stop comically immature banter help mask a few deficiencies, mainly a miscasting of the lead character Bill and some noticeable changes between this adaptation story and the original. Despite Jaeden Lieberher's strong accumulation of career performances (namely St. Vincent and Midnight Special), the youngster misses the mark with his latest role. Furthermore, Chase Palmer and company develop a screenplay that weakens the core of the film. By swapping trademark qualities among members of the Losers Club, It offers a clear distinction between which characters are more vital to the story and which ones aren't, thus losing a bit of the original's collective charm.

Although Andy Muschietti's reboot is far from perfect, the film possesses many fine components as well. I have heard rumblings regarding It's lack of legitimate scares, yet the mild frights arrive in high frequency and do just enough to carry the movie through an otherwise exhausting 135-minute running time. The film also delivers the goods on many of the original's iconic scenes, molding both reminiscence and a fresh new perspective into a winning remake of the classic miniseries. It focuses solely on the children's perspective and face-to-face encounters with Pennywise, whose essence is wonderfully captured by Bill Skarsgard, paving the way for an adult-centric sequel that's already in the works. It stands as a satisfying return to the town of Derry and makes the most out of its iconic lead villain.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Downsizing and Mother! (NEW) Trailers

The Venice Film Festival has become a launching point for major fall releases and Oscar hopefuls, and this year's impressive lineup is no exception. One such film debuting at Venice was acclaimed director Alexander Payne's fresh and original idea, Downsizing. When overpopulation begins to plague the world, a new scientific breakthrough shrinks the human body down to a minuscule size, prompting an Occupational Therapist (Matt Damon) and his wife (Kristen Wiig) to undergo the surgery and chip in to help save the planet. Payne's trademark deadpan humor should complement this satire well, especially considering the film's strong critical reception. Check out the first official trailer for Downsizing below.

Darren Aronofsky has proven to be a master of the psychological thriller thanks to accomplished and adored titles such as Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. Aronofsky also debuted his latest work at this year's Venice Festival, where Mother! played to many polarizing reviews. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star as a couple whose marriage quickly becomes tested following the arrival of some uninvited guests. Mother! finds a theatrical release in the upcoming weeks, so fans of Aronofsky and the horror/thriller genres may want to consider taking flyer on his new release. Check out the latest trailer for Mother! below.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Top Ten Films of the Year (So Far) - Part II

Yesterday I discussed the bottom half of my Top 10 Films of 2017 so far (Part I), and today I will continue on with the 5 best that I've seen this year. In fact, some of these titles may even find their way onto my end-of-the-year list when all is said and done. So here they are, the Top 5 films of 2017's early-year and summer releases.

As a lover of the original and an outspoken fanboy of director Danny Boyle, learning that T2 Trainspotting was the "secret screening" at this year's SXSW Film Festival was huge for me. Perhaps the most impressive quality surrounding Danny Boyle's long-awaited sequel is how well is plays as both a stand-alone film and how smoothly it carries over from its predecessor. This ensures that T2 can be enjoyed by any moviegoer. Ewan McGregor reprises his role as Renton, who returns to Edinburgh two decades after screwing over his closest friends and associates by running off with their money in an attempt to relocate and break free from his heroin addiction. But as Renton soon discovers, trying to correct all of his past wrongs isn't as easy as it's cracked up to be. Riotous laughs and a compelling story make T2 a worthwhile sequel, even 20 years later. 

While I thoroughly enjoyed Danny Boyle's Trainspotting sequel, it was sibling directors Eshom and Ian Nelms' Small Town Crime that stood out as the finest entry from this year's SXSW lineup. The great John Hawkes, a vastly under-appreciated talent in the industry, stars as a former cop who begins his own investigation after he drunkenly stumbles across a dead body. Yet, in doing so, he puts himself and all of his loved ones in grave danger. Small Town Crime delivers a Coen brothers-esque vibe with impressionable elements of dark humor, murder and exquisite performances. Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson and Clifton Collins Jr. all shine in their supporting work, which completely round out this stellar crime comedy. Small Town Crime hasn't garnered an official release date yet, but it's a film to certainly keep in the back of your mind.

#3. Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is without question one of Hollywood's most prolific contemporary filmmakers. With hits like Memento, The Prestige, Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy as just the beginnings of his storied filmography, Nolan clearly wanted to venture into new territory with his World War II action-drama, Dunkirk. Hans Zimmer's relentless score paves the way for non-stop intensity that demonstrates how everything must work together on the land, in the air and in the sea, in order to rescue countless stranded Allied soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Despite the film's lack of attention to character development, an insanely realistic depiction of war and all of its horrors make Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk an absolute must-see experience. If you haven't seen it on the big screen, hurry up and do it before the film exits theaters in the near future.

It feels like Judd Apatow has his hands in just about every cookie jar nowadays as both a filmmaker and producer. The latest effort bearing his trademark Apatow-stamp is Michael Showalter's humbling dramedy, The Big Sick. Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani stars as an amateur comedian who falls head over heels for Emily (Zoe Kazan) despite his Pakistani family's plans for his arranged marriage. While Apatow's trademark has evolved into overly dramatizing a story, The Big Sick keeps a comedy-first approach that makes for a far more enjoyable movie experience. Don't get me wrong, the dramatics are effective, thanks to a less-is-more handling, but these elements blend together masterfully in one of the year's most notable efforts. The Big Sick is still playing in select theaters and it makes a fantastic choice for all types of audiences.

#1. Get Out

And here we have it, the best film so far in 2017 comes from debut director Jordan Peele. The former Key & Peele standout trades laughs for thrills in the clever early-year horror mystery, Get Out. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris Washington, an African American boyfriend who takes a trip to the rural upstate to meet his Caucasian girlfriend's (Allison Williams) parents for the first time. While visiting their impressively large estate he begins to notice that all the other African Americans he encounters are acting very strange, forcing Chris to determine whether all of this is just in his head, or if there's something more sinister at work. Get Out's rare creativity shines through in an unpredictable manner as it gently toes the line between horror and psychological thriller. The film is a remarkable debut for Jordan Peele, who quickly becomes a director worth watching in the future. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Top Ten Films of the Year (So Far) - Part I

As the Fall season crashes upon us and the cinematic year begins to unveil its prized possessions leading up to the Academy Awards, I'm going to take a look back at the early-year and summer releases that stand firmly as my Top Ten Films of 2017 so far. Many have been released on DVD and are available for streaming, so I recommend taking a chance on any of these strong entries from 2017.

Honorable Mention: Alien: Covenant, Beauty and the BeastGemini and Like Me

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues its expansion with Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) own film. Spider-Man: Homecoming delves into the teenage life of a nerdy kid with super powers who wants nothing more than to join Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and The Avengers, as well as taking his high school crush to the homecoming dance. But when a former contractor (Michael Keaton) who's stumbled on hard economic times gets his hands on some powerful alien weapons, Spider-Man struggles to balance both his social and extracurricular lives. Sticking to the typical Marvel script with a barrage of jokes and intense action sequences, Homecoming stands as another strong inclusion to the MCU.

Still currently playing in select movie theaters in Taylor Sheridan's gripping new crime drama, Wind River. The Hell or High Water and Sicario scribe takes a seat in the director's chair for this grim tale of a local Game Tracker (Jeremy Renner) who helps assist an inexperienced FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) in the investigation of a brutal murder and rape of a young woman found on a Native American reservation. Wind River is short on mystery but heavy on dramatics and suspense. The film takes a little to get going but as Sheridan's work begins to hit its stride, there's no turning away from this hypnotic thrill ride.

While Marvel's enormous head-start has placed their cinematic universe light-years ahead of their rival, DC's less-than-impactful first few entries only added insult to injury. Until, however, Patty Jenkins got the ball rolling with her winning origins saga, Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot stars as the Amazon princess warrior Diana who aids a stranded pilot (Chris Pine) and ventures into the middle of the first World War in order to save the world from a dastardly German plot. Surprisingly humorous and exceptionally acted by both Gadot and Chris Pine, Wonder Woman deeply develops its lead character and single-handedly rejuvenates the DC film universe.

#7. War for the Planet of the Apes

In what's become an unexpected and formidable prequel trilogy, Matt Reeves delivers another stellar inclusion into the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise. This third endeavor follows Caesar (Andy Serkis) on a quest to confront a rogue Army Colonel (Woody Harrelson) dead set on eliminating the advanced ape species. War for the Planet of the Apes tackles deeper and more personal themes that make for a falsely titled film. But despite the movie's lack of action and full fledged battle sequences, Reeves paints an unpredictable and valiant portrait of family, survival and sacrifice. 

Much like the previous entry, Trey Edward Schults offers a wildly mis-marketed feature that satisfies on many unexpected levels with the indie hit It Comes at Night. Joel Edgerton takes center stage as a former history teacher whose only mission is to keep his family alive while a mysterious and fatal illness sweeps across the world. But when he discovers a trespasser (Christopher Abbott) on his property and their families decide to shack up together into order to combine valuable resources, tensions mount as these fathers must first and foremost protect their loved ones. Exploring elements of fear and paranoia, It Comes at Night stands as a wonderfully filmed and superbly acted psychological thriller. Trey Edward Schults' effort is short on scares and by no means a horror entry. But as long as you know what you're getting into, It Comes at Night serves as a psychologically haunting and brisk 90-minute ride.

*** Stay tuned for Part II which will look at the Top 5 Films of 2017 so far. ***

Sunday, September 3, 2017

DVD Outlook: September 2017

After a disappointing crop of titles arrived to DVD and streaming last month (August's suggestions), September rebounds with a stellar set of top tier selections. Whether you're looking for some legitimate laughs, a mysterious thriller, or an action-packed superhero flick, there's something for everyone available this month. Here's a look at the new release:

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

Judd Apatow produces The Big Sick, a hysterical and moving dramedy that stands as one of the early year's finest films. Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani stars as an amateur comedian who falls hard for Emily (Zoe Kazan), despite his Pakistani family's intention of arranging a marriage for him. There's so much heart and humor weaved into Nanjiani and his real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon's semi-autobiographical screenplay. The Big Sick admittedly suffers from an over-extended third act, but Apatow's return to a comedy-first approach proves to be a winning formula. (September 19th)

It Comes at Night - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

One of the most inaccurately marketed films of the year is Trey Edward Schults' It Comes at Night. Angling for a horror audience, this modestly budgeted indie gem is really an intensifying psychological thriller. A former history teacher (Joel Edgerton) is in full survival mode keeping his wife and son safe from a mysterious fatal illness outside of their boarded-up home. But when a desperate man shows up on their property, a combination of resources finds two families forced to live under the same roof with these looming conditions just beyond their walls. Paranoia and tension mount beautifully in It Comes at Night, but expecting a scary horror entry will result in immense disappointment. Yet, if you're eager to watch an artistic psychological thriller that unfolds at a gripping pace, Trey Edward Schults provides a worthwhile watch. (September 12th)

Wonder Woman - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Release after release, DC Comics felt a pummeling from the brilliantly crafted Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, now the DC has found its cornerstone to build off of with Patty Jenkins' wildly effective origin film, Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot is hypnotic as Diana, a princess warrior of the Amazons who, with the help of a stranded pilot (Chris Pine), thrusts herself into the first World War to help save the world from defeat. Wonder Woman provides breakneck action, immaculately choreographed fight sequences and perfectly-timed humor that helps make the film a quintessential summer blockbuster and backbone for the DC film universe. (September 19th)

Honorable Mention: A trio of new releases this month that I've reviewed include the female-centric comedy Rough Night (9/5), the shark infested waters thriller 47 Meters Down (9/26), and Selma Hayek's indie drama Beatriz at Dinner (9/12). Indie horror sensation Raw (9/5) arrives in September, as does the military drama Megan Leavey (9/5). Finally, a few critically panned films are also available such as the Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me (9/5), Tom Cruise's The Mummy (9/12), and newest installment Transformers: The Last Knight (9/26).

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Logan Lucky and Good Time

Early in 2013 Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh announced that he was through with Hollywood and declared Side Effects as his final film. Less than a handful of years have passed and Soderbergh is back in the game, re-teaming with his Magic Mike star Channing Tatum in the new screwball heist comedy Logan Lucky. The critics continue to fawn over Soderbergh's work, and although the film's hardly the type of effort to emerge from retirement to deliver, Logan Lucky marks another successful endeavor from the filmmaker.

After Jimmy Logan (Tatum) loses his job and then learns that his ex (Katie Holmes) plans to move their daughter further away than he finds acceptable, the one-time football star pitches a heist idea to his one-and-a-half-armed brother (Adam Driver). The siblings embark on an unconventional plan to rob a NASCAR venue on race-day that includes breaking a fellow partner (Daniel Craig) out of jail to pull this thing off. And with the odds stacked completely against them, and time certainly not on their side, the Logan brothers hope to break from their cursed family history.

As the visionary behind the Oceans trilogy, heist films are far from uncharted territory for Steven Soderbergh. Yet, he uses some familiar elements in conjunction with a fresh crop of quirky characters to deliver a smooth and enjoyable ride. Channing Tatum continues to show he's an effective lead, all while Adam Driver quietly steals the show. In tandem they provide enough laughs and slow-witted misdirection to help make the impossible a reality. Logan Lucky is never as hilarious as it should be, yet Rebecca Blunt's carefully crafted screenplay maneuvers through the robbery with masterful precision that helps solidify the film. Perhaps Logan Lucky's achievements are a bit embellished, thanks to an outpouring of critical adoration, but the film still stands as a strong return for Soderbergh.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Indie filmmaking siblings Josh and Benny Safdie have quietly delivered highly regarded short and feature films over the last ten years. But none of their timely work has made a splash as big as their latest Cannes selection and Best Composer winner, Good Time. Teaming with a nearly unrecognizable Robert Pattinson and co-starring Benny Safdie himself, Good Time blends together a stylish vision with a pulse-pounding original score that provides relentless thrills.

Connie Nikas (Pattinson) cares deeply for his mentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie), even if he's too blind to notice his toxic influence on him. And after a bank robbery sends Nick into the brutal prison system and Connie on the run from the cops, the fugitive will do whatever it takes to get his brother out of jail. Yet, Connie's foiled plan sends him on a wild chain of events that even he can't control anymore.

The first thing you notice about Good Time is Daniel Lopatin's gripping score. But the film offers plenty more, piecing together a stimulating character study with sleek direction. Robert Pattinson has transformed his career since the early Twilight days, tackling diverse roles that are often small in stature but exceptionally delivered. He takes over the screen in Good Time, commanding your attention with his survivalist mentality and dwarfing the performances of everyone around him, including Oscar nominees Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips). However, for all of Good Time's strong attributes, the film frustrates witha bitterly unrealistic sequence of events that takes 100 minutes to end up exactly where it should have been after only a half hour. But despite this infuriating blemish with its script, Good Time still represents a fine independent effort from Robert Pattinson and the Safdie brothers.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Friday, August 25, 2017

Last Flag Flying and Suburbicon (NEW) Trailers

Richard Linklater (Boyhood and Dazed and Confused) returns to Oscar-craved dramatics with the upcoming November release, Last Flag Flying. A former Navy Corps medic (Steve Carell) reunites with a pair of his old service buddies (Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne) for a road trip to bury his son, a casualty of the Iraq war. Heavy with heart and laughter, Last Flag Flying carries a deeply talented cast that looks every bit the awards season contender that you would expect. Check out the film's debut trailer below.

George Clooney returns to the directors chair with his wildly anticipated late-year release, Suburbicon. Matt Damon stars in this Coen brothers scripted tale of a deadly home invasion that shakes a small suburban town. Quirky, darkly comedic, and oozing with the siblings' trademark style, Suburbicon could be a major Oscar player this year. You can catch the latest look at Clooney's film below.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ranking Christopher Nolan's Filmography

Guest-writer Greg Rouleau unveiled his Top 10 Performances in Christopher Nolan's films as part of a tribute to the Dunkirk director. This month Rouleau returns by ranking all of Nolan's feature films from best to worst. Nolan has enjoyed an illustrious start to his movie-making career, so let's honor this visionary as best we can. And here it is, Christopher Nolan's filmography ranked in order:

#10. Following (1998)

It’s difficult to stack this ultra-low budget indie against the rest of Nolan’s filmography – especially when most of his epic blockbusters command budgets north of nine figures.  Reportedly shot over weekends while the director maintained a full-time day job, Following still shows a glimpse of the talent that would burst through in his next movie.  The black and white, neo-noir thriller, featuring a notable performance by Jeremy Theobald, as well as some twists and a nonlinear structure that would eventually become Nolan’s trademark.  At 70-minutes it’s an easy watch and an admirable first feature.

#9. Insomnia (2002)

The 2002 thriller about a detective summoned to investigate a homicide in an Alaskan town where darkness is null displays Nolan’s continued mastery of moody, noir-inspired films with a guilt-ridden protagonist.  Anchored by a pair of notable performances from industry vets, with Al Pacino as the sleep-deprived cop who harbors quite the burden, and Robin Williams – adeptly slipping into the psychotic, homicidal role – Insomnia is a somber, but effective studio debut for the director that proved instrumental in opening up the doors for Nolan’s relationship with Warner Bros., a partnership that would prove incredibly fruitful for the director.

#8. Batman Begins (2005)

Batman doesn’t make an appearance until nearly an hour into Batman Begins, but by the time the iconic superhero announces his arrival to a frightened Carmine Falcone, it’s clear we have a winner on our hands.  With a gripping first act – complete with the director’s trademark nonlinear storytelling – we’re treated to the most complete and engrossing retelling of the Batman origin story.  Christian Bale – surrounded by a stellar supporting cast – more than delivers in arguably his best role of the trilogy, commandeering the Dark Knight persona with ease as well as portraying the dual-sided Bruce Wayne, who creates a public persona as a drunken playboy to keep his caped crusader identity hidden, and the tortured Bruce Wayne who only a select few come to truly know.

#7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

While Batman Begins revived the stalled DC franchise,The Dark Knight Rises cemented Nolan’s Batman films as the greatest comic book trilogy of all-time.  Rises concludes Bruce Wayne’s arc in epic fashion bringing the story full circle with an incredibly powerful and satisfying conclusion, but not before Batman is physically pushed to his limits by Tom Hardy’s memorable Bane.  Anne Hathaway is also a standout as the ambiguously aligned Selina Kyle.  This final chapter also features some stunning IMAX sequences – the most of The Dark Knight movies.

#6. Interstellar (2014)

After completing one of the most critically and commercially successful trilogies, Nolan essentially had carte blanche for his next endeavor, so the auteur known for mind-bending narratives on an epic scale decided to venture into the far reaches of outer space.  Theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne, laid the groundwork with some scientific theory and Chris, along with brother Jonathan, scripted the sci-fi epic about a group of researchers who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for Earth’s inhabitants.   Matthew McConaughey leads quite the prestigious ensemble through this 169-minute odyssey.  For this ambitious vision, Nolan – in his first collaboration with DP Hoyte Van Hoytema – utilized IMAX cameras in new, innovative ways essentially treating them like GoPros.  What resulted is a spectacle for the eyes but the story also holds up because it’s perhaps Nolan’s most personal and emotional, heart-wrenching story as it deals with themes of love, survival and loss.

#5. Memento (2000)

In only his second feature, Christopher Nolan crafted a modern classic with his noir-inspired thriller Memento.  Much of the hype with Nolan’s sophomore effort surrounded the atypical approach to the layout of the movie, in which a series of black and white narrated scenes that run linear are interspersed with color scenes that show the story happening in reverse.  Another ambitious feat for the young director, who wanted to put the audience into the mind of the protagonist – played dutifully by Guy Pearce – as Leonard, a man seeking revenge for his wife’s death while he suffers from anterograde amnesia and is unable to retain short term memory.  With strong supporting turns from Joe Pantoliano and Carrie Anne-Moss and an Oscar nominated screenplay, the highly re-watchable Memento undoubtedly announced Nolan’s arrival as a director to keep an eye on.

#4. Dunkirk (2017)

With Dunkirk, it appeared the key elements of Nolan’s cinematic style dovetailed into one stunning, harmonious achievement.  The perfected use of IMAX cameras, shooting exclusively on large format for this movie, allowing us to feel as if we’re right there with the stranded soldiers on the beach and in the cockpits of the spitfires.  Nolan’s frequent collaborations with composer Hans Zimmer have always yielded memorable results, but never has the score been so effectively implemented in a way that contributes to perfectly building tension to a dramatic climax.  This World War II survival thriller could’ve been a straightforward war movie with subplots, Generals strategizing over maps, and frequent breaks in action to spend time on more character driven moments, but Nolan boldly eschews all of the unnecessary exposition that would’ve only muddied the waters.  Dunkirk is not devoid of emotion, however, and at a relatively brisk 106 minutes, it’s the shortest Nolan film since his low budget indie Following that allows the action to continually build for a gripping ride that never lets up.

#3. The Prestige (2006)

Released between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight -- and in the same year another turn of the century magician centric movie was released -- The Prestige unfortunately was overlooked at the time, but it’s ultimately the most re-watchable in the Nolan catalog, improving upon repeat viewings.  With a duo of great performances by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as dueling magicians turned deadly rivals, The Prestige is a thrilling maze of twists and turns, including the most memorable surprise ending of any Nolan movie.  The shocking finale is built to perfectly by mimicking the three acts of a magic trick (alluded to by Michael Caine in the opening narration) and helps this one stand up to the more extravagant, big-budget fare the director has to offer.

#2. Inception (2010)

Inception was arguably the first movie that could be marketed on the Nolan name alone.  Hot off the heels of the blockbuster The Dark Knight, Warner Bros green-lit this 160-million dollar heist movie with an original screenplay, a rarity in the current landscape of the industry for a studio to bank on a movie not based on any larger cinematic universe.  It’s the perfect blend of cerebral narrative and awe-inspiring set pieces that only the visionary mind of Christopher Nolan could dream of.  Nolan’s continued push for favoring practical effects over CGI must be highlighted here as it lead to some spectacular sequences -- notably the hallway fight scene with Joseph Gordon Levitt.  Start to finish it may be the most entertaining of Nolan’s movies and one that will continue conversation for years to come.

#1. The Dark Knight (2008)

From the opening moments it’s clear this isn’t just another superhero movie, this was a genre changing, crime thriller that happened to feature the greatest superhero and the most iconic villain of all-time facing off. Christian Bale’s Batman is given some weighty moments to further display the turmoil Bruce Wayne must endure in his fight to take back Gotham City.  Heath Ledger’s Joker is an all-time classic performance that shows how critical a great antagonist is for storytelling.  Not to be overshadowed, Aaron Eckhart delivers his best work as the White Knight Harvey Dent and Gary Oldman also shines as Commissioner Gordon.  This was the first movie to feature IMAX cameras which were used for several sequences including a stunning prologue that was screened in the winter before release to build hype. Nolan will undoubtedly continue to produce more great efforts in the years to come but his greatest contribution to cinema will always be the 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight.